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Title: Modern Italian Poets; Essays and Versions
Author: Howells, William Dean
Language: English
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MODERN ITALIAN POETS

ESSAYS AND VERSIONS


By William Dean Howells



CONTENTS.


INTRODUCTION

ARCADIAN SHEPHERDS

GIUSEPPE PARINI

VITTORIO ALFIERI

VINCENZO MONTI

UGO FOSCOLO

ALESSANDRO MANZONI

SILVIO PELLICO

TOMMASO GROSSI

LUIGI CARRER

GIOVANNI BERCHET

GIAMBATTISTA NICCOLINI

GIACOMO LEOPARDI

GIUSEPPE GIUSTI

FRANCESCO DALL’ ONGARO

GIOVANNI PRATI

ALEARDO ALEARDI

GIULIO CARCANO

ARNALDO FUSINATO

LUIGI MERCANTINI

CONCLUSION


PORTRAITS.

VITTORIO ALFIERI

VINCENZO MONTI

UGO FOSCOLO

ALESSANDRO MANZONI

TOMMASO GROSSI

GIAMBATTISTA NICCOLINI

GIACOMO LEOPARDI

GIUSEPPE GIUSTI

FRANCESCO DALL’ ONGARO

GIOVANNI PRATI

ALEARDO ALEARDI



INTRODUCTION


This book has grown out of studies begun twenty years ago in Italy,
and continued fitfully, as I found the mood and time for them, long
after their original circumstance had become a pleasant memory. If any
one were to say that it did not fully represent the Italian poetry
of the period which it covers chronologically, I should applaud his
discernment; and perhaps I should not contend that it did much more
than indicate the general character of that poetry. At the same time,
I think that it does not ignore any principal name among the Italian
poets of the great movement which resulted in the national freedom and
unity, and it does form a sketch, however slight and desultory, of the
history of Italian poetry during the hundred years ending in 1870.

Since that time, literature has found in Italy the scientific and
realistic development which has marked it in all other countries. The
romantic school came distinctly to a close there with the close of the
long period of patriotic aspiration and endeavor; but I do not know
the more recent work, except in some of the novels, and I have not
attempted to speak of the newer poetry represented by Carducci. The
translations here are my own; I have tried to make them faithful; I am
sure they are careful.

Possibly I should not offer my book to the public at all if I knew of
another work in English studying even with my incoherence the Italian
poetry of the time mentioned, or giving a due impression of its
extraordinary solidarity. It forms part of the great intellectual
movement of which the most unmistakable signs were the French
revolution, and its numerous brood of revolutions, of the first,
second, and third generations, throughout Europe; but this poetry is
unique in the history of literature for the unswerving singleness of
its tendency.

The boundaries of epochs are very obscure, and of course the poetry of
the century closing in 1870 has much in common with earlier Italian
poetry. Parini did not begin it, nor Alfieri; it began them, and its
spirit must have been felt in the perfumed air of the soft Lorrainese
despotism at Florence when Filicaja breathed over his native land the
sigh which makes him immortal. Yet finally, every age is individual;
it has a moment of its own when its character has ceased to be
general, and has not yet begun to be general, and it is one of these
moments which is eternized in the poetry before us. It was, perhaps,
more than any other poetry in the world, an incident and an instrument
of the political redemption of the people among whom it arose.
“In free and tranquil countries,” said the novelist Guerrazzi in
conversation with M. Monnier, the sprightly Swiss critic, recently
dead, who wrote so much and so well about modern Italian literature,
“men have the happiness and the right to be artists for art’s sake:
with us, this would be weakness and apathy. When I write it is because
I have something _to do_; my books are not productions, but deeds.
Before all, here in Italy we must be men. When we have not the
sword, we must take the pen. We heap together materials for building
batteries and fortresses, and it is our misfortune if these structures
are not works of art. To write slowly, coldly, of our times and of our
country, with the set purpose of creating a _chef-d’oeuvre_, would be
almost an impiety. When I compose a book, I think only of freeing my
soul, of imparting my idea or my belief. As vehicle, I choose the form
of romance, since it is popular and best liked at this day; my picture
is my thoughts, my doubts, or my dreams. I begin a story to draw the
crowd; when I feel that I have caught its ear, I say what I have
to say; when I think the lesson is growing tiresome, I take up the
anecdote again; and whenever I can leave it, I go back to my
moralizing. Detestable aesthetics, I grant you; my works of siege will
be destroyed after the war, I don’t doubt; but what does it matter?”


II

The political purpose of literature in Italy had become conscious long
before Guerrazzi’s time; but it was the motive of poetry long before
it became conscious. When Alfieri, for example, began to write, in the
last quarter of the eighteenth century, there was no reason to suppose
that the future of Italy was ever to differ very much from its past.
Italian civilization had long worn a fixed character, and Italian
literature had reflected its traits; it was soft, unambitious,
elegant, and trivial. At that time Piedmont had a king whom she loved,
but not that free constitution which she has since shared with
the whole peninsula. Lombardy had lapsed from Spanish to Austrian
despotism; the Republic of Venice still retained a feeble hold upon
her wide territories of the main-land, and had little trouble in
drugging any intellectual aspiration among her subjects with the
sensual pleasures of her capital. Tuscany was quiet under the
Lorrainese dukes who had succeeded the Medici; the little states of
Modena and Parma enjoyed each its little court and its little Bourbon
prince, apparently without a dream of liberty; the Holy Father ruled
over Bologna, Ferrara, Ancona, and all the great cities and towns of
the Romagna; and Naples was equally divided between the Bourbons and
the bandits. There seemed no reason, for anything that priests or
princes of that day could foresee, why this state of things should not
continue indefinitely; and it would be a long story to say just why it
did not continue. What every one knows is that the French revolution
took place, that armies of French democrats overran all these languid
lordships and drowsy despotisms, and awakened their subjects, more or
less willingly or unwillingly, to a sense of the rights of man, as
Frenchmen understood them, and to the approach of the nineteenth
century. The whole of Italy fell, directly or indirectly, under French
sway; the Piedmontese and Neapolitan kings were driven away, as were
the smaller princes of the other states; the Republic of Venice ceased
to be, and the Pope became very much less a prince, if not more a
priest, than he had been for a great many ages. In due time French
democracy passed into French imperialism, and then French imperialism
passed altogether away; and so after 1815 came the Holy Alliance with
its consecrated contrivances for fettering mankind. Lombardy, with
all Venetia, was given to Austria; the dukes of Parma, of Modena, and
Tuscany were brought back and propped up on their thrones again. The
Bourbons returned to Naples, and the Pope’s temporal glory and power
were restored to him. This condition of affairs endured, with more
or less disturbance from the plots of the Carbonari and many other
ineffectual aspirants and conspirators, until 1848, when, as we know,
the Austrians were driven out, as well as the Pope and the various
princes small and great, except the King of Sardinia, who not only
gave a constitution to his people, but singularly kept the oath
he swore to support it. The Pope and the other princes, even the
Austrians, had given constitutions and sworn oaths, but their memories
were bad, and their repute for veracity was so poor that they were not
believed or trusted. The Italians had then the idea of freedom and
independence, but not of unity, and their enemies easily broke, one
at a time, the power of states which, even if bound together, could
hardly have resisted their attack. In a little while the Austrians
were once more in Milan and Venice, the dukes and grand-dukes in their
different places, the Pope in Rome, the Bourbons in Naples, and all
was as if nothing had been, or worse than nothing, except in Sardinia,
where the constitution was still maintained, and the foundations of
the present kingdom of Italy were laid. Carlo Alberto had abdicated on
that battle-field where an Austrian victory over the Sardinians sealed
the fate of the Italian states allied with him, and his son, Victor
Emmanuel, succeeded him. As to what took place ten years later, when
the Austrians were finally expelled from Lombardy, and the transitory
sovereigns of the duchies and of Naples flitted for good, and the
Pope’s dominion was reduced to the meager size it kept till 1871, and
the Italian states were united under one constitutional king--I need
not speak.

In this way the governments of Italy had been four times wholly
changed, and each of these changes was attended by the most marked
variations in the intellectual life of the people; yet its general
tendency always continued the same.


III

The longing for freedom is the instinct of self-preservation in
literature; and, consciously or unconsciously, the Italian poets of
the last hundred years constantly inspired the Italian people with
ideas of liberty and independence. Of course the popular movements
affected literature in turn; and I should by no means attempt to
say which had been the greater agency of progress. It is not to be
supposed that a man like Alfieri, with all his tragical eloquence
against tyrants, arose singly out of a perfectly servile society. His
time was, no doubt, ready for him, though it did not seem so; but, on
the other hand, there is no doubt that he gave not only an utterance
but a mighty impulse to contemporary thought and feeling. He was in
literature what the revolution was in politics, and if hardly any
principle that either sought immediately to establish now stands, it
is none the less certain that the time had come to destroy what they
overthrew, and that what they overthrew was hopelessly vicious.

In Alfieri the great literary movement came from the north, and by far
the larger number of the writers of whom I shall have to speak were
northern Italians. Alfieri may represent for us the period of time
covered by the French democratic conquests. The principal poets under
the Italian governments of Napoleon during the first twelve years
of this century were Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo--the former a
Ferrarese by birth and the latter a Greco-Venetian. The literary as
well as the political center was then Milan, and it continued to be so
for many years after the return of the Austrians, when the so-called
School of Resignation nourished there. This epoch may be most
intelligibly represented by the names of Manzoni, Silvio Pellico, and
Tommaso Grossi--all Lombards. About 1830 a new literary life began
to be felt in Florence under the indifferentism or toleration of the
grand-dukes. The chiefs of this school were Giacomo Leopardi;
Giambattista Niccolini, the author of certain famous tragedies of
political complexion; Guerrazzi, the writer of a great number of
revolutionary romances; and Giuseppe Giusti, a poet of very marked and
peculiar powers, and perhaps the greatest political satirist of the
century. The chief poets of a later time were Aleardo Aleardi, a
Veronese; Giovanni Prati, who was born in the Trentino, near the
Tyrol; and Francesco Dall Ongaro, a native of Trieste. I shall mention
all these and others particularly hereafter, and I have now only named
them to show how almost entirely the literary life of militant Italy
sprang from the north. There were one or two Neapolitan poets of less
note, among whom was Gabriele Rossetti, the father of the English
Rossettis, now so well known in art and literature.


IV

In dealing with this poetry, I naturally seek to give its universal
and aesthetic flavor wherever it is separable from its political
quality; for I should not hope to interest any one else in what I had
myself often found very tiresome. I suspect, indeed, that political
satire and invective are not relished best in free countries. No
danger attends their exercise; there is none of the charm of secrecy
or the pleasure of transgression in their production; there is no
special poignancy to free administrations in any one of ten thousand
assaults upon them; the poets leave this sort of thing mostly to the
newspapers. Besides, we have not, so to speak, the grounds that such
a long-struggling people as the Italians had for the enjoyment of
patriotic poetry. As an average American, I have found myself very
greatly embarrassed when required, by Count Alfieri, for example, to
hate tyrants. Of course I do hate them in a general sort of way; but
having never seen one, how is it possible for me to feel any personal
fury toward them? When the later Italian poets ask me to loathe spies
and priests I am equally at a loss. I can hardly form the idea of a
spy, of an agent of the police, paid to haunt the steps of honest
men, to overhear their speech, and, if possible, entrap them into a
political offense. As to priests--well, yes, I suppose they are bad,
though I do not know this from experience; and I find them generally
upon acquaintance very amiable. But all this was different with the
Italians: they had known, seen, and felt tyrants, both foreign and
domestic, of every kind; spies and informers had helped to make
their restricted lives anxious and insecure; and priests had leagued
themselves with the police and the oppressors until the Church, which
should have been kept a sacred refuge from all the sorrows and wrongs
of the world, became the most dreadful of its prisons. It is no wonder
that the literature of these people should have been so filled with
the patriotic passion of their life; and I am not sure that literature
is not as nobly employed in exciting men to heroism and martyrdom for
a great cause as in the purveyance of mere intellectual delights. What
it was in Italy when it made this its chief business we may best learn
from an inquiry that I have at last found somewhat amusing. It will
lead us over vast meadows of green baize enameled with artificial
flowers, among streams that do nothing but purl. In this region the
shadows are mostly brown, and the mountains are invariably horrid;
there are tumbling floods and sighing groves; there are naturally
nymphs and swains; and the chief business of life is to be in love
and not to be in love; to burn and to freeze without regard to the
mercury. Need I say that this region is Arcady?



ARCADIAN SHEPHERDS


One day, near the close of the seventeenth century, a number of
ladies and gentlemen--mostly poets and poetesses according to their
thinking were assembled on a pleasant hill in the neighborhood of
Rome. As they lounged upon the grass, in attitudes as graceful and
picturesque as they could contrive, and listened to a sonnet or an
ode with the sweet patience of their race,--for they were all
Italians,--it occurred to the most conscious man among them that here
was something uncommonly like the Golden Age, unless that epoch had
been flattered. There had been reading and praising of odes and
sonnets the whole blessed afternoon, and now he cried out to the
complaisant, canorous company, “Behold Arcadia revived in us!”

This struck everybody at once by its truth. It struck, most of all, a
certain Giovan Maria Crescimbeni, honored in his day and despised in
ours as a poet and critic. He was of a cold, dull temperament; “a mind
half lead, half wood”, as one Italian writer calls him; but he was an
inveterate maker of verses, and he was wise in his own generation. He
straightway proposed to the tuneful _abbés, cavalieri serventi_, and
_précieuses_, who went singing and love-making up and down Italy in
those times, the foundation of a new academy, to be called the Academy
of the Arcadians.

Literary academies were then the fashion in Italy, and every part of
the peninsula abounded in them. They bore names fanciful or grotesque,
such as The Ardent, The Illuminated, The Unconquered, The Intrepid, or
The Dissonant, The Sterile, The Insipid, The Obtuse, The Astray,
The Stunned, and they were all devoted to one purpose, namely, the
production and the perpetuation of twaddle. It is prodigious to think
of the incessant wash of slip-slop which they poured out in verse; of
the grave disputations they held upon the most trivial questions; of
the inane formalities of their sessions. At the meetings of a famous
academy in Milan, they placed in the chair a child just able to talk;
a question was proposed, and the answer of the child, whatever it was,
was held by one side to solve the problem, and the debates, _pro_ and
_con_, followed upon this point. Other academies in other cities had
other follies; but whatever the absurdity, it was encouraged alike by
Church and State, and honored by all the great world. The governments
of Italy in that day, whether lay or clerical, liked nothing so well
as to have the intellectual life of the nation squandered in the
trivialities of the academies--in their debates about nothing, their
odes and madrigals and masks and sonnets; and the greatest politeness
you could show a stranger was to invite him to a sitting of your
academy; to be furnished with a letter to the academy in the next city
was the highest favor you could ask for yourself.

In literature, the humorous Bernesque school had passed; Tasso had
long been dead; and the Neapolitan Marini, called the Corrupter of
Italian poetry, ruled from his grave the taste of the time. This
taste was so bad as to require a very desperate remedy, and it was
professedly to counteract it that the Academy of the Arcadians had
arisen.

The epoch was favorable, and, as Emiliani-Giudici (whom we shall
follow for the present) teaches, in his History of Italian Literature,
the idea of Crescimbeni spread electrically throughout Italy. The
gayest of the finest ladies and gentlemen the world ever saw, the
_illustrissimi_ of that polite age, united with monks, priests,
cardinals, and scientific thinkers in establishing the Arcadia; and
even popes and kings were proud to enlist in the crusade for the true
poetic faith. In all the chief cities Arcadian colonies were formed,
“dependent upon the Roman Arcadia, as upon the supreme Arch-Flock”,
and in three years the Academy numbered thirteen hundred members,
every one of whom had first been obliged to give proof that he was a
good poet. They prettily called themselves by the names of shepherds
and shepherdesses out of Theocritus, and, being a republic, they
refused to own any earthly prince or ruler, but declared the Baby
Jesus to be the Protector of Arcadia. Their code of laws was written
in elegant Latin by a grave and learned man, and inscribed upon
tablets of marble.

According to one of the articles, the Academicians must study to
reproduce the customs of the ancient Arcadians and the character of
their poetry; and straightway “Italy was filled on every hand with
Thyrsides, Menalcases, and Meliboeuses, who made their harmonious
songs resound the names of their Chlorises, their Phyllises, their
Niceas; and there was poured out a deluge of pastoral compositions”,
some of them by “earnest thinkers and philosophical writers, who were
not ashamed to assist in sustaining that miserable literary vanity
which, in the history of human thought, will remain a lamentable
witness to the moral depression of the Italian nation.” As a pattern
of perfect poetizing, these artless nymphs and swains chose Constanzo,
a very fair poet of the sixteenth century. They collected his verse,
and printed it at the expense of the Academy; and it was established
without dissent that each Arcadian in turn, at the hut of some
conspicuous shepherd, in the presence of the keeper (such was the
jargon of those most amusing unrealities), should deliver a commentary
upon some sonnet of Constanzo. As for Crescimbeni, who declared that
Arcadia was instituted “strictly for the purpose of exterminating bad
taste and of guarding against its revival, pursuing it continually,
wherever it should pause or lurk, even to the most remote and
unconsidered villages and hamlets”--Crescimbeni could not do less than
write four dialogues, as he did, in which he evolved from four of
Constanzo’s sonnets all that was necessary for Tuscan lyric poetry.

“Thus,” says Emiliani-Giudici, referring to the crusading intent of
Crescimbeni, “the Arcadians were a sect of poetical Sanfedista, who,
taking for example the zeal and performance of San Domingo de Gruzman,
proposed to renew in literature the scenes of the Holy Office among
the Albigenses. Happily, the fire of Arcadian verse did not really
burn! The institution was at first derided, then it triumphed and
prevailed in such fame and greatness that, shining forth like a
new sun, it consumed the splendor of the lesser lights of heaven,
eclipsing the glitter of all those academies--the Thunderstruck, the
Extravagant, the Humid, the Tipsy, the Imbeciles, and the like--which
had hitherto formed the glory of the Peninsula.”


I

Giuseppe Torelli, a charming modern Italian writer, in a volume called
_Paessaggi e Profili_ (Landscapes and Profiles), makes a study of
Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni, one of the most famous of the famous Arcadian
shepherds; and from this we may learn something of the age and society
in which such a folly could not only be possible but illustrious. The
patriotic Italian critics and historians are apt to give at least a
full share of blame to foreign rulers for the corruption of their
nation, and Signor Torelli finds the Spanish domination over a vast
part of Italy responsible for the degradation of Italian mind and
manners in the seventeenth century. He declares that, because of the
Spaniards, the Italian theater was then silent, “or filled with the
noise of insipid allegories”; there was little or no education among
the common people; the slender literature that survived existed solely
for the amusement and distinction of the great; the army and the
Church were the only avenues of escape from obscurity and poverty; all
classes were sunk in indolence.

The social customs were mostly copied from France, except that purely
Italian invention, the _cavaliere servente_, who was in great vogue.
But there were everywhere in the cities coteries of fine ladies,
called _preziose_, who were formed upon the French _précieuses_
ridiculed by Molière, and were, I suppose, something like what is
called in Boston demi-semi-literary ladies--ladies who cultivated
alike the muses and the modes. The preziose held weekly receptions at
their houses, and assembled poets and cavaliers from all quarters,
who entertained the ladies with their lampoons and gallantries, their
madrigals and gossip, their sonnets and their repartees. “Little by
little the poets had the better of the cavaliers: a felicitous rhyme
was valued more than an elaborately constructed compliment.” And this
easy form of literature became the highest fashion. People hastened to
call themselves by the sentimental pastoral names of the Arcadians,
and almost forgot their love-intrigues so much were they absorbed in
the production and applause of “toasts, epitaphs for dogs, verses on
wagers, epigrams on fruits, on Echo, on the Marchioness’s canaries, on
the Saints. These were read here and repeated there, declaimed in
the public resorts and on the promenades”, and gravely studied and
commented on. A strange and surprising jargon arose, the utterance of
the feeblest and emptiest affectation. “In those days eyes were not
eyes, but pupils; not pupils, but orbs; not orbs, but the Devil knows
what,” says Signor Torelli, losing patience. It was the golden age
of pretty words; and as to the sense of a composition, good society
troubled itself very little about that. Good society expressed itself
in a sort of poetical gibberish, “and whoever had said, for example,
Muses instead of Castalian Divinities, would have passed for a lowbred
person dropped from some mountain village. Men of fine mind, rich
gentlemen of leisure, brilliant and accomplished ladies, had resolved
that the time was come to lose their wits academically.”


II

In such a world Arcadia nourished; into such a world that illustrious
shepherd, Carlo Innocenze Frugoni, was born. He was the younger son of
a noble family of Genoa, and in youth was sent into a cloister as a
genteel means of existence rather than from regard to his own wishes
or fitness. He was, in fact, of a very gay and mundane temper, and
escaped from his monastery as soon as ever he could, and spent his
long life thereafter at the comfortable court of Parma, where he sang
with great constancy the fortunes of varying dynasties and celebrated
in his verse all the polite events of society. Of course, even a life
so pleasant as this had its little pains and mortifications; and it is
history that when, in 1731, the last duke of the Farnese family died,
leaving a widow, “Frugoni predicted and maintained in twenty-five
sonnets that she would yet give an heir to the duke; but in spite
of the twenty-five sonnets the affair turned out otherwise, and the
extinction of the house of Farnese was written.”

Frugoni, however, was taken into favor by the Spanish Bourbon who
succeeded, and after he had got himself unfrocked with infinite
difficulty (and only upon the intercession of divers princes and
prelates), he was as happy as any man of real talent could be who
devoted his gifts to the merest intellectual trifling. Not long before
his death he was addressed by one that wished to write his life.
He made answer that he had been a versifier and nothing more,
epigrammatically recounted the chief facts of his career, and ended by
saying, “of what I have written it is not worth while to speak”; and
posterity has upon the whole agreed with him, though, of course, no
edition of the Italian classics would be perfect without him. We know
this from the classics of our own tongue, which abound in marvels of
insipidity and emptiness.

But all this does not make him less interesting as a figure in that
amusing literarified society; and we may be glad to see him in Parma
with Signor Torelli’s eyes, as he “issues smug, ornate, with his
well-fitting, polished shoe, his handsome leg in its neat stocking,
his whole immaculate person, and his demure visage, and, gently
sauntering from Casa Caprara, takes his way toward Casa Landi.”

I do not know Casa Landi; I have never seen it; and yet I think I can
tell you of it: a gloomy-fronted pile of Romanesque architecture, the
lower story remarkable for its weather-stained, vermiculated stone,
and the ornamental iron gratings at the windows. The _porte-cochère_
stands wide open and shows the leaf and blossom of a lovely garden
inside, with a tinkling fountain in the midst. The marble nymphs and
naiads inhabiting the shrubbery and the water are already somewhat
time-worn, and have here and there a touch of envious mildew; but as
yet their noses are unbroken, and they have all the legs and arms
that the sculptor designed them with; and the fountain, which after
disasters must choke, plays prettily enough over their nude
loveliness; for it is now the first half of the eighteenth century,
and Casa Landi is the uninvaded sanctuary of Illustrissimi and
Illustrissime. The resplendent porter who admits our melodious Abbate
Carlo, and the gay lackey who runs before his smiling face to open
the door of the _sala_ where the company is assembled, may have had
nothing to speak of for breakfast, but they are full of zeal for the
grandeur they serve, and would not know what the rights of man were if
you told them. They, too, have their idleness and their intrigues and
their life of pleasure; but, poor souls! they fade pitiably in the
magnificence of that noble assembly in the sala. What coats of silk
and waistcoats of satin, what trig rapiers and flowing wigs and laces
and ruffles; and, ah me! what hoops and brocades, what paint and
patches! Behind the chair of every lady stands her cavaliere servente,
or bows before her with a cup of chocolate, or, sweet abasement!
stoops to adjust the foot-stool better to her satin shoe. There is a
buzz of satirical expectation, no doubt, till the abbate arrives,
“and then, after the first compliments and obeisances,” says Signor
Torelli, “he throws his hat upon the great arm-chair, recounts
the chronicle of the gay world,” and prepares for the special
entertainment of the occasion.

“‘What is there new on Parnassus?’ he is probably asked.

“‘Nothing’, he replies, ‘save the bleating of a lambkin lost upon the
lonely heights of the sacred hill.’

“‘I’ll wager,’ cries one of the ladies, ‘that the shepherd who has
lost this lambkin is our Abbate Carlo!’

“‘And what can escape the penetrating eye of Aglauro Cidonia?’ retorts
Frugoni, softly, with a modest air.

“‘Let us hear its bleating!’ cries the lady of the house.

“‘Let us hear it!’ echo her husband and her cavaliere servente.

“‘Let us hear it!’ cry one, two, three, a half-dozen, visitors.

“Frugoni reads his new production; ten exclamations receive the first
strophe; the second awakens twenty _evvivas_; and when the reading
is ended the noise of the plaudits is so great that they cannot be
counted. His new production has cost Frugoni half an hour’s work; it
is possibly the answer to some Mecaenas who has invited him to his
country-seat, or the funeral eulogy of some well-known cat. Is fame
bought at so cheap a rate? He is a fool who would buy it dearer;
and with this reasoning, which certainly is not without foundation,
Frugoni remained Frugoni when he might have been something very much
better.... If a bird sang, or a cat sneezed, or a dinner was given, or
the talk turned upon anything no matter how remote from poetry, it
was still for Frugoni an invitation to some impromptu effusion. If he
pricked his finger in mending a pen, he called from on high the god of
Lemnos and all the ironworkers of Olympus, not excepting Mars, whom it
was not reasonable to disturb for so little, and launched innumerable
reproaches at them, since without their invention of arms a penknife
would never have been made. If the heavens cleared up after a long
rain, all the signs of the zodiac were laid under contribution and
charged to give an account of their performance. If somebody died, he
instantly poured forth rivers of tears in company with the nymphs of
Eridanus and the Heliades; he upraided Phaethon, Themis, the Shades of
Erebus, and the Parcae.... The Amaryllises, the Dryads, the Fauns, the
woolly lambs, the shepherds, the groves, the demigods, the Castalian
Virgins, the loose-haired nymphs, the leafy boughs, the goat-footed
gods, the Graces, the pastoral pipes, and all the other sylvan rubbish
were the prime materials of every poetic composition.”


III

Signor Torelli is less severe than Emiliani-Giudici upon the founders
of the Arcadia, and thinks they may have had intentions quite
different from the academical follies that resulted; while Leigh Hunt,
who has some account of the Arcadia in his charming essay on the
Sonnet, feels none of the national shame of the Italian critics, and
is able to write of it with perfect gayety. He finds a reason for its
amazing success in the childlike traits of Italian character; and,
reminding his readers that the Arcadia was established in 1690,
declares that what the Englishmen of William and Mary’s reign would
have received with shouts of laughter, and the French under Louis XIV,
would have corrupted and made perilous to decency, “was so mixed up
with better things in these imaginative and, strange as it may seem,
most unaffected people, the Italians,--for such they are,--that, far
from disgusting a nation accustomed to romantic impulses and to the
singing of poetry in their streets and gondolas, their gravest and
most distinguished men and, in many instances, women, too, ran
childlike into the delusion. The best of their poets”, the
sweet-tongued Filicaja among others, “accepted farms in Arcadia
forthwith; ... and so little transitory did the fashion turn out
to be, that not only was Crescimbeni its active officer for
eight-and-thirty years, but the society, to whatever state of
insignificance it may have been reduced, exists at the present
moment”.

Leigh Hunt names among Englishmen who were made Shepherds of Arcadia,
Mathias, author of the “Pursuits of Literature”, and Joseph Cowper,
“who wrote the Memoirs of Tassoni and an historical memoir of Italian
tragedy”, Haly, and Mrs. Thrale, as well as those poor Delia Cruscans
whom bloody-minded Gifford champed between his tusked jaws in his
now forgotten satires. Pope Pius VII. gave the Arcadians a suite of
apartments in the Vatican; but I dare say the wicked tyranny now
existing at Rome has deprived the harmless swains of this shelter, if
indeed they had not been turned out before Victor Emmanuel came.

In the chapter on the Arcadia, with which Vernon Lee opens her
admirable Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy, she tells us of
several visits which she recently paid to the Bosco Parrasio, long the
chief fold of the Academy. She found it with difficulty on the road to
the Villa Pamphili, in a neighborhood wholly ignorant of Arcadia and
of the relation of Bosco Parrasio to it. “The house, once the summer
resort of Arcadian sonneteers, was now abandoned to a family of
market-gardeners, who hung their hats and jackets on the marble heads
of improvvisatori and crowned poetesses, and threw their beans, maize,
and garden-tools into the corners of the desolate reception-rooms,
from whose mildewed walls looked down a host of celebrities--brocaded
doges, powdered princesses, and scarlet-robed cardinals, simpering
drearily in their desolation,” and “sad, haggard poetesses in
sea-green and sky-blue draperies, with lank, powdered locks and meager
arms, holding lyres; fat, ill-shaven priests in white bands and
mop-wigs; sonneteering ladies, sweet and vapid in dove-colored
stomachers and embroidered sleeves; jolly extemporary poets, flaunting
in many-colored waistcoats and gorgeous shawls.”

But whatever the material adversity of Arcadia, it still continues
to reward ascertained merit by grants of pasturage out of its ideal
domains. Indeed, it is but a few years since our own Longfellow, on a
visit to Rome, was waited upon by the secretary of the Arch-Flock,
and presented, after due ceremonies and the reading of a floral and
herbaceous sonnet, with a parchment bestowing upon him some very
magnificent possessions in that extraordinary dreamland. In telling me
of this he tried to recall his Arcadian name, but could only remember
that it was “Olympico something.”



GIUSEPPE PARINI


I

In 1748 began for Italy a peace of nearly fifty years, when the Wars
of the Succession, with which the contesting strangers had ravaged
her soil, absolutely ceased. In Lombardy the Austrian rulers who had
succeeded the Spaniards did and suffered to be done many things for
the material improvement of a province which they were content to
hold, while leaving the administration mainly to the Lombards; the
Spanish Bourbon at Naples also did as little harm and as much good to
his realm as a Bourbon could; Pier Leopoldo of Tuscany, Don Filippo I.
of Parma, Francis III. of Modena, and the Popes Benedict XIV., Clement
XIV., and Pius VI. were all disposed to be paternally beneficent to
their peoples, who at least had repose under them, and in this period
gave such names to science as those of Galvani and Volta, to humanity
that of Beccaria, to letters those of Alfieri, Filicaja, Goldoni,
Parini, and many others.

But in spite of the literary and scientific activity of the period,
Italian society was never quite so fantastically immoral as in this
long peace, which was broken only by the invasions of the French
republic. A wide-spread sentimentality, curiously mixed of love and
letters, enveloped the peninsula. Commerce, politics, all the business
of life, went on as usual under the roseate veil which gives its hue
to the social history of the time; but the idea which remains in
the mind is one of a tranquillity in which every person of breeding
devoted himself to the cult of some muse or other, and established
himself as the conventional admirer of his neighbor’s wife. The
great Academy of Arcadia, founded to restore good taste in poetry,
prescribed conditions by which everybody, of whatever age or sex,
could become a poetaster, and good society expected every gentleman
and lady to be in love. The Arcadia still exists, but that gallant
society hardly survived the eighteenth century. Perhaps the greatest
wonder about it is that it could have lasted so long as it did. Its
end was certainly not delayed for want of satirists who perceived its
folly and pursued it with scorn. But this again only brings one doubt,
often felt, whether satire ever accomplished anything beyond a lively
portraiture of conditions it proposed to reform.

It is the opinion of some Italian critics that Italian demoralization
began with the reaction against Luther, when the Jesuits rose to
supreme power in the Church and gathered the whole education of the
young into the hands of the priests. Cesare Cantù, whose book on
_Parini ed il suo Secolo_ may be read with pleasure and instruction by
such as like to know more fully the time of which I speak, was of this
mind; he became before his death a leader of the clerical party in
Italy, and may be supposed to be without unfriendly prejudice. He
alleges that the priestly education made the Italians _literati_
rather than citizens; Latinists, poets, instead of good magistrates,
workers, fathers of families; it cultivated the memory at the expense
of the judgment, the fancy at the cost of the reason, and made them
selfish, polished, false; it left a boy “apathetic, irresolute,
thoughtless, pusillanimous; he flattered his superiors and hated his
fellows, in each of whom he dreaded a spy.” He knew the beautiful and
loved the grandiose; his pride of family and ancestry was inordinately
pampered. What other training he had was in the graces and
accomplishments; he was thoroughly instructed in so much of warlike
exercise as enabled him to handle a rapier perfectly and to conduct or
fight a duel with punctilio.

But he was no warrior; his career was peace. The old medieval Italians
who had combated like lions against the French and Germans and against
each other, when resting from the labors and the high conceptions
which have left us the chief sculptures and architecture of the
Peninsula, were dead; and their posterity had almost ceased to know
war. Italy had indeed still remained a battle-ground, but not for
Italian quarrels nor for Italian swords; the powers which, like
Venice, could afford to have quarrels of their own, mostly hired other
people to fight them out. All the independent states of the Peninsula
had armies, but armies that did nothing; in Lombardy, neither
Frenchman, Spaniard, nor Austrian had been able to recruit or draft
soldiers; the flight of young men from the conscription depopulated
the province, until at last Francis II. declared it exempt from
military service; Piedmont, the Macedon, the Boeotia of that Greece,
alone remained warlike, and Piedmont was alone able, when the hour
came, to show Italy how to do for herself.

Yet, except in the maritime republics, the army, idle and unwarlike as
it was in most cases, continued to be one of the three careers open to
the younger sons of good family; the civil service and the Church were
the other two. In Genoa, nobles had engaged in commerce with equal
honor and profit; nearly every argosy that sailed to or from the port
of Venice belonged to some lordly speculator; but in Milan a noble who
descended to trade lost his nobility, by a law not abrogated till the
time of Charles IV. The nobles had therefore nothing to do. They could
not go into business; if they entered the army it was not to fight;
the civil service was of course actually performed by subordinates;
there were not cures for half the priests, and there grew up that odd,
polite rabble of _abbati_, like our good Frugoni, priests without
cures, sometimes attached to noble families as chaplains, sometimes
devoting themselves to literature or science, sometimes leading lives
of mere leisure and fashion; they were mostly of plebeian origin when
they did anything at all besides pay court to the ladies.

In Milan the nobles were exempt from many taxes paid by the plebeians;
they had separate courts of law, with judges of their own order,
before whom a plebeian plaintiff appeared with what hope of justice
can be imagined. Yet they were not oppressive; they were at worst only
insolent to their inferiors, and they commonly used them with the
gentleness which an Italian can hardly fail in. There were many ties
of kindness between the classes, the memory of favors and services
between master and servant, landlord and tenant, in relations which
then lasted a life-time, and even for generations. In Venice, where it
was one of the high privileges of the patrician to spit from his box
at the theater upon the heads of the people in the pit, the familiar
bond of patron and client so endeared the old republican nobles to the
populace that the Venetian poor of this day, who know them only by
tradition, still lament them. But, on the whole, men have found it
at Venice, as elsewhere, better not to be spit upon, even by an
affectionate nobility.

The patricians were luxurious everywhere. In Rome they built splendid
palaces, in Milan they gave gorgeous dinners. Goldoni, in his charming
memoirs, tells us that the Milanese of his time never met anywhere
without talking of eating, and they did eat upon all possible
occasions, public, domestic, and religious; throughout Italy they have
yet the nickname of _lupi lombardi_ (Lombard wolves) which their
good appetites won them. The nobles of that gay old Milan were very
hospitable, easy of access to persons of the proper number of
descents, and full of invitations for the stranger. A French writer
found their cooking delicate and estimable as that of his own nation;
but he adds that many of these friendly, well-dining aristocrats had
not good _ton_. One can think of them at our distance of time and
place with a kindness which Italian critics, especially those of the
bitter period of struggle about the middle of this century, do not
affect. Emiliani-Giudici, for example, does not, when he calls them
and their order throughout Italy an aristocratic leprosy. He assures
us that at the time of that long peace “the moral degradation of what
the French call the great world was the inveterate habit of centuries;
the nobles wallowed in their filth untouched by remorse”; and he
speaks of them as “gilded swine, vain of the glories of their blazons,
which they dragged through the mire of their vices.”


II

This is when he is about to consider a poem in which the Lombard
nobility are satirized--if it was satire to paint them to the life. He
says that he would be at a loss what passages to quote from it, but
fortunately “an unanimous posterity has done Parini due honor”; and he
supposes “now there is no man, of whatever sect or opinion, but has
read his immortal poem, and has its finest scenes by heart.” It is
this fact which embarrasses me, however, for how am I to rehabilitate
a certain obsolete characteristic figure without quoting from Parini,
and constantly wearying people with what they know already so well?
The gentle reader, familiar with Parini’s immortal poem----

_The Gentle Reader._--His immortal poem? What _is_ his immortal poem?
I never heard even the name of it!

Is it possible? But you, fair reader, who have its finest scenes by
heart----

_The Fair Reader._--Yes, certainly; of course. But one reads so many
things. I don’t believe I half remember those striking passages
of----what is the poem? And who did you say the author was?

Oh, madam! And is this undying fame? Is this the immortality for which
we waste our time? Is this the remembrance for which the essayist
sicklies his visage over with the pale cast of thought? Why, at this
rate, even those whose books are favorably noticed by the newspapers
will be forgotten in a thousand years. But it is at least consoling
to know that you have merely forgotten Parini’s poems, the subject of
which you will at once recollect when I remind you that it is called
The Day, and celebrates The Morning, The Noon, The Evening, and The
Night of a gentleman of fashion as Milan knew him for fifty years in
the last century.

This gentleman, whatever his nominal business in the world might
be, was first and above all a cavaliere servente, and the cavaliere
servente was the invention, it is said, of Genoese husbands who had
not the leisure to attend their wives to the theater, the promenade,
the card-table, the _conversazione_, and so installed their nearest
idle friends permanently in the office. The arrangement was found so
convenient that the cavaliere servente presently spread throughout
Italy; no lady of fashion was thought properly appointed without one;
and the office was now no longer reserved to bachelors; it was not at
all good form for husband and wife to love each other, and the husband
became the cavalier of some other lady, and the whole fine world was
thus united, by a usage of which it is very hard to know just how far
it was wicked and how far it was only foolish; perhaps it is safest to
say that at the best it was apt to be somewhat of the one and always
a great deal of the other. In the good society of that day, marriage
meant a settlement in life for the girl who had escaped her sister’s
fate of a sometimes forced religious vocation. But it did not matter
so much about the husband if the marriage contract stipulated that
she should have her cavaliere servente, and, as sometimes happened,
specified him by name. With her husband there was a union of fortunes,
with the expectation of heirs; the companionship, the confidence, the
faith, was with the cavalier; there could be no domesticity, no family
life with either. The cavaliere servente went with his lady to church,
where he dipped his finger in the holy-water and offered it her to
moisten her own finger at; and he held her prayer-book for her when
she rose from her knees and bowed to the high altar. In fact, his
place seems to have been as fully acknowledged and honored, if not by
the Church, then by all the other competent authorities, as that of
the husband. Like other things, his relation to his lady was subject
to complication and abuse; no doubt, ladies of fickle minds changed
their cavaliers rather often; and in those days following the
disorder of the French invasions, the relation suffered deplorable
exaggerations and perversions. But when Giuseppe Parini so minutely
and graphically depicted the day of a noble Lombard youth, the
cavaliere servente was in his most prosperous and illustrious state;
and some who have studied Italian social conditions in the past bid
us not too virtuously condemn him, since, preposterous as he was, his
existence was an amelioration of disorders at which we shall find it
better not even to look askance.

Parini’s poem is written in the form of instructions to the hero for
the politest disposal of his time; and in a strain of polished irony
allots the follies of his day to their proper hours. The poet’s
apparent seriousness never fails him, but he does not suffer his
irony to become a burden to the reader, relieving it constantly with
pictures, episodes, and excursions, and now and then breaking into a
strain of solemn poetry which is fine enough. The work will suggest to
the English reader the light mockery of “The Rape of the Lock”, and in
less degree some qualities of Gray’s “Trivia”; but in form and manner
it is more like Phillips’s “Splendid Shilling” than either of these;
and yet it is not at all like the last in being a mere burlesque of
the epic style. These resemblances have been noted by Italian critics,
who find them as unsatisfactory as myself; but they will serve to make
the extracts I am to give a little more intelligible to the reader
who does not recur to the whole poem. Parini was not one to break a
butterfly upon a wheel; he felt the fatuity of heavily moralizing upon
his material; the only way was to treat it with affected gravity, and
to use his hero with the respect which best mocks absurdity. One
of his arts is to contrast the deeds of his hero with those of his
forefathers, of which he is so proud,--of course the contrast is to
the disadvantage of the forefathers,--and in these allusions to the
past glories of Italy it seems to me that the modern patriotic poetry
which has done so much to make Italy begins for the first time to feel
its wings.

Parini was in all things a very stanch, brave, and original spirit,
and if he was of any school, it was that of the Venetian, Gasparo
Gozzi, who wrote pungent and amusing social satires in blank verse,
and published at Venice an essay-paper, like the “Spectator”, the
name of which he turned into _l’Osservatore_. It dealt, like the
“Spectator” and all that race of journals, with questions of letters
and manners, and was long honored, like the “Spectator”, as a model of
prose. With an apparent prevalence of French taste, there was in fact
much study by Italian authors of English literature at this time,
which was encouraged by Dr. Johnson’s friend, Baretti, the author of
the famous _Frusta Letteraria_ (Literary Scourge), which drew blood
from so many authorlings, now bloodless; it was wielded with more
severity than wisdom, and fell pretty indiscriminately upon the bad
and the good. It scourged among others Goldoni, the greatest master of
the comic art then living, but it spared our Parini, the first part of
whose poem Baretti salutes with many kindly phrases, though he cannot
help advising him to turn the poem into rhyme. But when did a critic
ever know less than a poet about a poet’s business?


III

The first part of Parini’s Day is Morning, that mature hour at which
the hero awakes from the glories and fatigues of the past night. His
valet appears, and throwing open the shutters asks whether he will
have coffee or chocolate in bed, and when he has broken his fast and
risen, the business of the day begins. The earliest comer is perhaps
the dancing-master, whose elegant presence we must not deny ourselves:

                  He, entering, stops
    Erect upon the threshold, elevating
    Both shoulders; then contracting like a tortoise
    His neck a little, at the same time drops
    Slightly his chin, and, with the extremest tip
    Of his plumed hat, lightly touches his lips.

In their order come the singing-master and the master of the violin,
and, with more impressiveness than the rest, the teacher of French,
whose advent hushes all Italian sounds, and who is to instruct the
hero to forget his plebeian native tongue. He is to send meanwhile to
ask how the lady he serves has passed the night, and attending her
response he may read Voltaire in a sumptuous Dutch or French binding,
or he may amuse himself with a French romance; or it may happen that
the artist whom he has engaged to paint the miniature of his lady (to
be placed in the same jeweled case with his own) shall bring his work
at this hour for criticism. Then the valets robe him from head to
foot in readiness for the hair-dresser and the barber, whose work is
completed with the powdering of his hair.

    At last the labor of the learned comb
    Is finished, and the elegant artist strews
    With lightly shaken hand a powdery mist
    To whiten ere their time thy youthful locks.

       *       *       *       *       *

                            Now take heart,
    And in the bosom of that whirling cloud
    Plunge fearlessly. O brave! O mighty! Thus
    Appeared thine ancestor through smoke and fire
    Of battle, when his country’s trembling gods
    His sword avenged, and shattered the fierce foe
    And put to flight. But he, his visage stained,
    With dust and smoke, and smirched with gore and sweat,
    His hair torn and tossed wild, came from the strife
    A terrible vision, even to compatriots
    His hand had rescued; milder thou by far,
    And fairer to behold, in white array
    Shalt issue presently to bless the eyes
    Of thy fond country, which the mighty arm
    Of thy forefather and thy heavenly smile
    Equally keep content and prosperous.

When the hero is finally dressed for the visit to his lady, it is in
this splendid figure:

    Let purple gaiters, clasp thine ankles fine
    In noble leather, that no dust or mire
    Blemish thy foot; down from thy shoulders flow
    Loosely a tunic fair, thy shapely arms
    Cased in its closely-fitting sleeves, whose borders
    Of crimson or of azure velvet let
    The heliotrope’s color tinge. Thy slender throat,
    Encircle with a soft and gauzy band.
                     Thy watch already
    Bids thee make haste to go. O me, how fair
    The Arsenal of tiny charms that hang
    With a harmonious tinkling from its chain!
    What hangs not there of fairy carriages
    And fairy steeds so marvelously feigned
    In gold that every charger seems alive?

This magnificent swell, of the times when swells had the world quite
their own way, finds his lady already surrounded with visitors when he
calls to revere her, as he would have said, and he can therefore make
the more effective arrival. Entering her presence he puts on his very
finest manner, which I am sure we might all study to our advantage.

    Let thy right hand be pressed against thy side
    Beneath thy waistcoat, and the other hand
    Upon thy snowy linen rest, and hide
    Next to thy heart; let the breast rise sublime,
    The shoulders broaden both, and bend toward her
    Thy pliant neck; then at the corners close
    Thy lips a little, pointed in the middle
    Somewhat; and from thy month thus set exhale
    A murmur inaudible. Meanwhile her right
    Let her have given, and now softly drop
    On the warm ivory a double kiss.
    Seat thyself then, and with one hand draw closer
    Thy chair to hers, while every tongue is stilled.
    Thou only, bending slightly over, with her
    Exchange in whisper secret nothings, which
    Ye both accompany with mutual smiles
    And covert glances that betray, or seem
    At least, your tender passion to betray.

It must have been mighty pretty, as Master Pepys says, to look at the
life from which this scene was painted, for many a dandy of either
sex doubtless sat for it. The scene was sometimes heightened by the
different humor in which the lady and the cavalier received each
other, as for instance when they met with reproaches and offered the
spectacle of a lover’s quarrel to the company. In either case, it is
for the hero to lead the lady out to dinner.

                                   With a bound
    Rise to thy feet, signor, and give thy hand
    Unto thy lady, whom, tenderly drooping,
    Support thou with thy strength, and to the table
    Accompany, while the guests come after you.
    And last of all the husband follows....

Or rather--

                      If to the husband still
    The vestige of a generous soul remain,
    Let him frequent another board; beside
    Another lady sit, whose husband dines
    Yet somewhere else beside another lady,
    Whose spouse is likewise absent; and so add
    New links unto the chain immense, wherewith
    Love, alternating, binds the whole wide world.

    Behold thy lady seated at the board:
    Relinquish now her hand, and while the servant
    Places the chair that not too far she sit,
    And not so near that her soft bosom press
    Too close against the table, with a spring
    Stoop thou and gather round thy lady’s feet
    The wandering volume of her robe. Beside her
    Then sit thee down; for the true cavalier
    Is not permitted to forsake the side
    Of her he serves, except there should arise
    Some strange occasion warranting the use
    Of so great freedom.

When one reads of these springs and little hops, which were once so
elegant, it is almost with a sigh for a world which no longer springs
or hops in the service of beauty, or even dreams of doing it. But a
passage which will touch the sympathetic with a still keener sense of
loss is one which hints how lovely a lady looked when carving, as she
then sometimes did:

                        Swiftly now the blade,
    That sharp and polished at thy right hand lies,
    Draw naked forth, and like the blade of Mars
    Flash it upon the eyes of all. The point
    Press ‘twixt thy finger-tips, and bowing low
    Offer the handle to her. Now is seen
    The soft and delicate playing of the muscles
    In the white hand upon its work intent.
    The graces that around the lady stoop
    Clothe themselves in new forms, and from her fingers
    Sportively flying, flutter to the tips
    Of her unconscious rosy knuckles, thence
    To dip into the hollows of the dimples
    That Love beside her knuckles has impressed.

Throughout the dinner it is the part of the well-bred husband--if so
ill-bred as to remain at all to sit impassive and quiescent while the
cavalier watches over the wife with tender care, prepares her food,
offers what agrees with her, and forbids what harms. He is virtually
master of the house; he can order the servants about; if the dinner is
not to his mind, it is even his high prerogative to scold the cook.

The poet reports something of the talk at table; and here occurs one
of the most admired passages of the poem, the light irony of which it
is hard to reproduce in a version. One of the guests, in a strain of
affected sensibility, has been denouncing man’s cruelty to animals:

    Thus he discourses; and a gentle tear
    Springs, while he speaks, into thy lady’s eyes.
                           She recalls the day--
    Alas, the cruel day!--what time her lap-dog,
    Her beauteous lap-dog, darling of the Graces,
    Sporting in youthful gayety, impressed
    The light mark of her ivory tooth upon
    The rude foot of a menial; he, with bold
    And sacrilegious toe, flung her away.
    Over and over thrice she rolled, and thrice
    Rumpled her silken coat, and thrice inhaled
    With tender nostril the thick, choking dust,
    Then raised imploring cries, and “Help, help, help!”
     She seemed to call, while from the gilded vaults
    Compassionate Echo answered her again,
    And from their cloistral basements in dismay
    The servants rushed, and from the upper rooms
    The pallid maidens trembling flew; all came.
    Thy lady’s face was with reviving essence
    Sprinkled, and she awakened from her swoon.
    Anger and grief convulsed her still; she cast
    A lightning glance upon the guilty menial,
    And thrice with languid voice she called her pet,
    Who rushed to her embrace and seemed to invoke
    Vengeance with her shrill tenor. And revenge
    Thou hadst, fair poodle, darling of the Graces.
    The guilty menial trembled, and with eyes
    Downcast received his doom. Naught him availed
    His twenty years’ desert; naught him availed
    His zeal in secret services; for him
    In vain were prayer and promise; forth he went,
    Spoiled of the livery that till now had made him
    Enviable with the vulgar. And in vain
    He hoped another lord; the tender dames
    Were horror-struck at his atrocious crime,
    And loathed the author. The false wretch succumbed
    With all his squalid brood, and in the streets
    With his lean wife in tatters at his side
    Vainly lamented to the passer-by.

It would be quite out of taste for the lover to sit as apathetic as
the husband in the presence of his lady’s guests, and he is to mingle
gracefully in the talk from time to time, turning it to such topics
as may best serve to exploit his own accomplishments. As a man of the
first fashion, he must be in the habit of seeming to have read Horace
a little, and it will be a pretty effect to quote him now; one may
also show one’s acquaintance with the new French philosophy, and
approve its skepticism, while keeping clear of its pernicious
doctrines, which insidiously teach--

    That every mortal is his fellow’s peer;
    That not less dear to Nature and to God
    Is he who drives thy carriage, or who guides
    The plow across thy field, than thine own self.

But at last the lady makes a signal to the cavalier that it is time to
rise from the table:

                             Spring to thy feet
    The first of all, and drawing near thy lady
    Remove her chair and offer her thy hand,
    And lead her to the other rooms, nor suffer longer
    That the stale reek of viands shall offend
    Her delicate sense. Thee with the rest invites
    The grateful odor of the coffee, where
    It smokes upon a smaller table hid
    And graced with Indian webs. The redolent gums
    That meanwhile burn sweeten and purify
    The heavy atmosphere, and banish thence
    All lingering traces of the feast.--Ye sick
    And poor, whom misery or whom hope perchance
    Has guided in the noonday to these doors,
    Tumultuous, naked, and unsightly throng,
    With mutilated limbs and squalid faces,
    In litters and on crutches, from afar
    Comfort yourselves, and with expanded nostrils
    Drink in the nectar of the feast divine
    That favorable zephyrs waft to you;
    But do not dare besiege these noble precincts,
    Importunately offering her that reigns
    Within your loathsome spectacle of woe!
    --And now, sir, ‘tis your office to prepare
    The tiny cup that then shall minister,
    Slow sipped, its liquor to thy lady’s lips;
    And now bethink thee whether she prefer
    The boiling beverage much or little tempered
    With sweet; or if perchance she like it best
    As doth the barbarous spouse, then, when she sits
    Upon brocades of Persia, with light fingers
    The bearded visage of her lord caressing.

With the dinner the second part of the poem, entitled The Noon,
concludes, and The Afternoon begins with the visit which the hero and
his lady pay to one of her friends. He has already thought with which
of the husband’s horses they shall drive out; he has suggested which
dress his lady shall wear and which fan she shall carry; he has
witnessed the agonizing scene of her parting with her lap-dog,--her
children are at nurse and never intrude,--and they have arrived in
the palace of the lady on whom they are to call:

    And now the ardent friends to greet each other
    Impatient fly, and pressing breast to breast
    They tenderly embrace, and with alternate kisses
    Their cheeks resound; then, clasping hands, they drop
    Plummet-like down upon the sofa, both
    Together. Seated thus, one flings a phrase,
    Subtle and pointed, at the other’s heart,
    Hinting of certain things that rumor tells,
    And in her turn the other with a sting
    Assails. The lovely face of one is flushed
    With beauteous anger, and the other bites
    Her pretty lips a little; evermore
    At every instant waxes violent
    The anxious agitation of the fans.
    So, in the age of Turpin, if two knights
    Illustrious and well cased in mail encountered
    Upon the way, each cavalier aspired
    To prove the valor of the other in arms,
    And, after greetings courteous and fair,
    They lowered their lances and their chargers dashed
    Ferociously together; then they flung
    The splintered fragments of their spears aside,
    And, fired with generous fury, drew their huge,
    Two-handed swords and rushed upon each other!
    But in the distance through a savage wood
    The clamor of a messenger is heard,
    Who comes full gallop to recall the one
    Unto King Charles, and th’ other to the camp
    Of the young Agramante. Dare thou, too,
    Dare thou, invincible youth, to expose the curls
    And the toupet, so exquisitely dressed
    This very morning, to the deadly shock
    Of the infuriate fans; to new emprises
    Thy fair invite, and thus the extreme effects
    Of their periculous enmity suspend.

Is not this most charmingly done? It seems to me that the warlike
interpretation of the scene is delightful; and those embattled
fans--their perfumed breath comes down a hundred years in the verse!

The cavalier and his lady now betake them to the promenade, where
all the fair world of Milan is walking or driving, with a punctual
regularity which still distinguishes Italians in their walks and
drives. The place is full of their common acquaintance, and the
carriages are at rest for the exchange of greetings and gossip, in
which the hero must take his part. All this is described in the
same note of ironical seriousness as the rest of the poem, and The
Afternoon closes with a strain of stately and grave poetry which
admirably heightens the desired effect:

        Behold the servants
    Ready for thy descent; and now skip down
    And smooth the creases from thy coat, and order
    The laces on thy breast; a little stoop,
    And on thy snowy stockings bend a glance,
    And then erect thyself and strut away
    Either to pace the promenade alone,--
    ‘T is thine, if ‘t please thee walk; or else to draw
    Anigh the carriages of other dames.
    Thou clamberest up, and thrustest in thy head
    And arms and shoulders, half thyself within
    The carriage door. There let thy laughter rise
    So loud that from afar thy lady hear,
    And rage to hear, and interrupt the wit
    Of other heroes who had swiftly run
    Amid the dusk to keep her company
    While thou wast absent. O ye powers supreme,
    Suspend the night, and let the noble deeds
    Of my young hero shine upon the world
    In the clear day! Nay, night must follow still
    Her own inviolable laws, and droop
    With silent shades over one half the globe;
    And slowly moving on her dewy feet,
    She blends the varied colors infinite,
    And with the border of her mighty garments
    Blots everything; the sister she of Death
    Leaves but one aspect indistinct, one guise
    To fields and trees, to flowers, to birds and beasts,
    And to the great and to the lowly born,
    Confounding with the painted cheek of beauty
    The haggard face of want, and gold with tatters.
    Nor me will the blind air permit to see
    Which carriages depart, and which remain,
    Secret amidst the shades; but from my hand
    The pencil caught, my hero is involved
    Within the tenebrous and humid veil.

The concluding section of the poem, by chance or by wise design of
the author, remains a fragment. In this he follows his hero from the
promenade to the evening party, with an account of which The Night is
mainly occupied, so far as it goes. There are many lively pictures in
it, with light sketches of expression and attitude; but on the whole
it has not so many distinctly quotable passages as the other parts
of the poem. The perfunctory devotion of the cavalier and the lady
continues throughout, and the same ironical reverence depicts them
alighting from their carriage, arriving in the presence of the
hostess, sharing in the gossip of the guests, supping, and sitting
down at those games of chance with which every fashionable house was
provided and at which the lady loses or doubles her pin-money. In
Milan long trains were then the mode, and any woman might wear them,
but only patricians were allowed to have them carried by servants;
the rich plebeian must drag her costly skirts in the dust; and the
nobility of our hero’s lady is honored by the flunkeys who lift her
train as she enters the house. The hostess, seated on a sofa, receives
her guests with a few murmured greetings, and then abandons herself to
the arduous task of arranging the various partners at cards. When the
cavalier serves his lady at supper, he takes his handkerchief from his
pocket and spreads it on her lap; such usages and the differences of
costume distinguished an evening party at Milan then from the like joy
in our time and country.


IV

The poet who sings this gay world with such mocking seriousness was
not himself born to the manner of it. He was born plebeian in 1729 at
Bosisio, near Lake Pusiano, and his parents were poor. He himself adds
that they were honest, but the phrase has now lost its freshness. His
father was a dealer in raw silk, and was able to send him to school
in Milan, where his scholarship was not equal to his early literary
promise. At least he took no prizes; but this often happens with
people whose laurels come abundantly later. He was to enter the
Church, and in due time he took orders, but he did not desire a cure,
and he became, like so many other accomplished abbati, a teacher in
noble families (the great and saintly family Borromeo among others),
in whose houses and in those he frequented with them he saw the life
he paints in his poem. His father was now dead, and he had already
supported himself and his mother by copying law-papers; he had, also,
at the age of twenty-three, published a small volume of poems, and
had been elected a shepherd of Arcadia; but in a country where one’s
copyright was good for nothing across the border--scarcely a fair
stone’s-throw away--of one’s own little duchy or province, and the
printers everywhere stole a book as soon as it was worth stealing, it
is not likely that he made great gains by a volume of verses which,
later in life, he repudiated. Baretti had then returned from living in
London, where he had seen the prosperity of “the trade of an author”
 in days which we do not now think so very prosperous, and he viewed
with open disgust the abject state of authorship in his own country.
So there was nothing for Parini to do but to become a _maestro in
casa_. With the Borromei he always remained friends, and in their
company he went into society a good deal. Emiliani-Giudici supposes
that he came to despise the great world with the same scorn that shows
in his poem; but probably he regarded it quite as much with the amused
sense of the artist as with the moralist’s indignation; some of his
contemporaries accused him of a snobbish fondness for the great, but
certainly he did not flatter them, and in one passage of his poem he
is at the pains to remind his noble acquaintance that not the smallest
drop of patrician blood is microscopically discoverable in his veins.
His days were rendered more comfortable when he was appointed editor
of the government newspaper,--the only newspaper in Milan,--and yet
easier when he was made professor of eloquence in the Academy of Fine
Arts. In this employment it was his hard duty to write poems from time
to time in praise of archdukes and emperors; but by and by the French
Revolution arrived in Milan, and Parini was relieved of that labor.
The revolution made an end of archdukes and emperors, but the liberty
it bestowed was peculiar, and consisted chiefly in not allowing one
to do anything that one liked. The altars were abased, and trees of
liberty were planted; for making a tumult about an outraged saint a
mob was severely handled by the military, and for “insulting” a tree
of liberty a poor fellow at Como was shot. Parini was chosen one of
the municipal government, which, apparently popular, could really do
nothing but register the decrees of the military commandant. He proved
so little useful in this government that he was expelled from it, and,
giving his salary to his native parish, he fell into something like
his old poverty. He who had laughed to scorn the insolence and
folly of the nobles could not enjoy the insolence and folly of the
plebeians, and he was unhappy in that wild ferment of ideas, hopes,
principles, sentiments, which Milan became in the time of the
Cisalpine Republic. He led a retired life, and at last, in 1799,
having risen one day to studies which he had never remitted, he died
suddenly in his arm-chair.

Many stories are told of his sayings and doings in those troubled days
when he tried to serve the public. At the theater once some one cried
out, “Long live the republic, death to the aristocrats!” “No,”
 shouted Parini, who abhorred the abominable bloodthirstiness of the
liberators, “long live the republic, death to nobody!” They were
going to take away a crucifix from a room where he appeared on public
business. “Very well,” he observed; “where Citizen Christ cannot stay,
I have nothing to do,” and went out. “Equality doesn’t consist in
dragging me down to your level,” he said to one who had impudently
given him the _thou_, “but in raising you to mine, if possible. You
will always be a pitiful creature, even though you call yourself
Citizen; and though you call me Citizen, you can’t help my being the
Abbate Parini.” To another, who reproached him for kindness to an
Austrian prisoner, he answered, “I would do as much for a Turk, a
Jew, an Arab; I would do it even for you if you were in need.” In his
closing years many sought him for literary counsel; those for whom
there was hope he encouraged; those for whom there was none, he made
it a matter of conscience not to praise. A poor fellow came to repeat
him two sonnets, in order to be advised which to print; Parini heard
the first, and, without waiting further, besought him “Print the
other!”



VITTORIO ALFIERI


Vittorio Alfieri, the Italian poet whom his countrymen would
undoubtedly name next after Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso, and
who, in spite of his limitations, was a man of signal and distinct
dramatic power, not surpassed if equaled since, is scarcely more than
a name to most English readers. He was born in the year 1749, at Asti,
a little city of that Piedmont where there has always been a greater
regard for feudal traditions than in any other part of Italy; and he
belonged by birth to a nobility which is still the proudest in Europe.
“What a singular country is ours!” said the Chevalier Nigra, one
of the first diplomats of our time, who for many years managed the
delicate and difficult relations of Italy with France during the
second empire, but who was the son of an apothecary. “In Paris they
admit me everywhere; I am asked to court and petted as few Frenchmen
are; but here, in my own city of Turin, it would not be possible for
me to be received by the Marchioness Doria;” and if this was true
in the afternoon of the nineteenth century, one easily fancies what
society must have been at Turin in the forenoon of the eighteenth.


I

It was in the order of the things of that day and country that Alfieri
should leave home while a child and go to school at the Academy of
Turin. Here, as he tells in that most amusing autobiography of his, he
spent several years in acquiring a profound ignorance of whatever
he was meant to learn; and he came away a stranger not only to the
humanities, but to any one language, speaking a barbarous mixture of
French and Piedmontese, and reading little or nothing. Doubtless he
does not spare color in this statement, but almost anything you like
could be true of the education of a gentleman as a gentleman got it
from the Italian priests of the last century. “We translated,” he
says, “the ‘Lives of Cornelius Nepos’; but none of us, perhaps not
even the masters, knew who these men were whose lives we translated,
nor where was their country, nor in what times they lived, nor under
what governments, nor what any government was.” He learned Latin
enough to turn Virgil’s “Georgics” into his sort of Italian; but when
he read Ariosto by stealth, he atoned for his transgression by failing
to understand him. Yet Alfieri tells us that he was one of the first
scholars of that admirable academy, and he really had some impulses
even then toward literature; for he liked reading Goldoni and
Metastasio, though he had never heard of the name of Tasso. This was
whilst he was still in the primary classes, under strict priestly
control; when he passed to a more advanced grade and found himself
free to do what he liked in the manner that pleased him best, in
common with the young Russians, Germans, and Englishmen then enjoying
the advantages of the Academy of Turin, he says that being grounded in
no study, directed by no one, and not understanding any language well,
he did not know what study to take up, or how to study. “The reading
of many French romances,” he goes on, “the constant association with
foreigners, and the want of all occasion to speak Italian, or to hear
it spoken, drove from my head that small amount of wretched Tuscan
which I had contrived to put there in those two or three years of
burlesque study of the humanities and asinine rhetoric. In place of
it,” he says, “the French entered into my empty brain”; but he is
careful to disclaim any literary merit for the French he knew, and he
afterward came to hate it, with everything else that was French, very
bitterly.

It was before this, a little, that Alfieri contrived his first sonnet,
which, when he read it to the uncle with whom he lived, made that old
soldier laugh unmercifully, so that until his twenty-fifth year the
poet made no further attempts in verse. When he left school he spent
three years in travel, after the fashion of those grand-touring days
when you had to be a gentleman of birth and fortune in order to
travel, and when you journeyed by your own conveyance from capital to
capital, with letters to your sovereign’s ambassadors everywhere, and
spent your money handsomely upon the dissipations of the countries
through which you passed. Alfieri is constantly at the trouble to have
us know that he was a very morose and ill-conditioned young animal,
and the figure he makes as a traveler is no more amiable than
edifying. He had a ruling passion for horses, and then several smaller
passions quite as wasteful and idle. He was driven from place to place
by a demon of unrest, and was mainly concerned, after reaching a city,
in getting away from it as soon as he could. He gives anecdotes enough
in proof of this, and he forgets nothing that can enhance the surprise
of his future literary greatness. At the Ambrosian Library in Milan
they showed him a manuscript of Petrarch’s, which, “like a true
barbarian,” as he says, he flung aside, declaring that he knew nothing
about it, having a rancor against this Petrarch, whom he had once
tried to read and had understood as little as Ariosto. At Rome the
Sardinian minister innocently affronted him by repeating some verses
of Marcellus, which the sulky young noble could not comprehend. In
Ferrara he did not remember that it was the city of that divine
Ariosto whose poem was the first that came into his hands, and
which he had now read in part with infinite pleasure. “But my poor
intellect,” he says, “was then sleeping a most sordid sleep, and every
day, as far as regards letters, rusted more and more. It is true,
however, that with respect to knowledge of the world and of men I
constantly learned not a little, without taking note of it, so many
and diverse were the phases of life and manners that I daily beheld.”
 At Florence he visited the galleries and churches with much disgust
and no feeling, for the beautiful, especially in painting, his
eyes being very dull to color. “If I liked anything better, it was
sculpture a little, and architecture yet a little more”; and it is
interesting to note how all his tragedies reflect these preferences,
in their lack of color and in their sculpturesque sharpness of
outline.

From Italy he passed as restlessly into France, yet with something
of a more definite intention, for he meant to frequent the French
theater. He had seen a company of French players at Turin, and had
acquainted himself with the most famous French tragedies and comedies,
but with no thought of writing tragedies of his own. He felt no
creative impulse, and he liked the comedies best, though, as he says,
he was by nature more inclined to tears than to laughter. But he does
not seem to have enjoyed the theater much in Paris, a city for which
he conceived at once the greatest dislike, he says, “on account of the
squalor and barbarity of the buildings, the absurd and pitiful pomp
of the few houses that affected to be palaces, the filthiness and
gothicism of the churches, the vandalic structure of the theaters of
that time, and the many and many and many disagreeable objects that
all day fell under my notice, and worst of all the unspeakably
misshapen and beplastered faces of those ugliest of women.”

He had at this time already conceived that hatred of kings which
breathes, or, I may better say, bellows, from his tragedies; and he
was enraged even beyond his habitual fury by his reception at court,
where it was etiquette for Louis XV. to stare at him from head to foot
and give no sign of having received any impression whatever.

In Holland he fell in love, for the first time, and as was requisite
in the polite society of that day, the object of his passion was
another man’s wife. In England he fell in love the second time, and as
fashionably as before. The intrigue lasted for months; in the end it
came to a duel with the lady’s husband and a great scandal in the
newspapers; but in spite of these displeasures, Alfieri liked
everything in England. “The streets, the taverns, the horses, the
women, the universal prosperity, the life and activity of that island,
the cleanliness and convenience of the houses, though extremely
little,”--as they still strike every one coming from Italy,--these and
other charms of “that fortunate and free country” made an impression
upon him that never was effaced. He did not at that time, he says,
“study profoundly the constitution, mother of so much prosperity,” but
he “knew enough to observe and value its sublime effects.”

Before his memorable sojourn in England, he spent half a year at Turin
reading Rousseau, among other philosophers, and Voltaire, whose prose
delighted and whose verse wearied him. “But the book of books for me,”
 he says, “and the one which that winter caused me to pass hours of
bliss and rapture, was Plutarch, his Lives of the truly great; and
some of these, as Timoleon, Caesar, Brutus, Pelopidas, Cato, and
others, I read and read again, with such a transport of cries, tears,
and fury, that if any one had heard me in the next room he would
surely have thought me mad. In meditating certain grand traits of
these supreme men, I often leaped to my feet, agitated and out of my
senses, and tears of grief and rage escaped me to think that I was
born in Piedmont, and in a time, and under a government, where no high
thing could be done or said; and it was almost useless to think or
feel it.”

{Illustration: Vittorio Alfieri.}

These characters had a life-long fascination for Alfieri, and his
admiration of such types deeply influenced his tragedies. So great was
his scorn of kings at the time he writes of, that he despised even
those who liked them, and poor little Metastasio, who lived by the
bounty of Maria Theresa, fell under Alfieri’s bitterest contempt when
in Vienna he saw his brother-poet before the empress in the imperial
gardens at Schonbrunn, “performing the customary genuflexions with a
servilely contented and adulatory face.” This loathing of royalty was
naturally intensified beyond utterance in Prussia. “On entering the
states of Frederick, I felt redoubled and triplicated my hate for that
infamous military trade, most infamous and sole base of arbitrary
power.” He told his minister that he would be presented only in civil
dress, because there were uniforms enough at that court, and he
declares that on beholding Frederick he felt “no emotion of wonder, or
of respect, but rather of indignation and rage.... The king addressed
me the three or four customary words; I fixed my eyes respectfully
upon his, and inwardly blessed Heaven that I had not been born
his slave; and I issued from that universal Prussian barracks ...
abhorring it as it deserved.”

In Paris Alfieri bought the principal Italian authors, which he
afterwards carried everywhere with him on his travels; but he says
that he made very little use of them, having neither the will nor the
power to apply his mind to anything. In fact, he knew very little
Italian, most of the authors in his collection were strange to him,
and at the age of twenty-two he had read nothing whatever of Dante,
Petrarch, Tasso, Boccaccio, or Machiavelli.

He made a journey into Spain, among other countries, where he admired
the Andalusian horses, and bored himself as usual with what interests
educated people; and he signalized his stay at Madrid by a murderous
outburst of one of the worst tempers in the world. One night his
servant Elia, in dressing his hair, had the misfortune to twitch one
of his locks in such a way as to give him a slight pain; on which
Alfieri leaped to his feet, seized a heavy candlestick, and without
a word struck the valet such a blow upon his temple that the blood
gushed out over his face, and over the person of a young Spanish
gentleman who had been supping with Alfieri. Elia sprang upon his
master, who drew his sword, but the Spaniard after great ado quieted
them both; “and so ended this horrible encounter,” says Alfieri, “for
which I remained deeply afflicted and ashamed. I told Elia that he
would have done well to kill me; and he was the man to have done it,
being a palm taller than myself, who am very tall, and of a strength
and courage not inferior to his height. Two hours later, his wound
being dressed and everything put in order, I went to bed, leaving the
door from my room into Elia’s open as usual, without listening to the
Spaniard, who warned me not thus to invite a provoked and outraged man
to vengeance: I called to Elia, who had already gone to bed, that
he could, if he liked and thought proper, kill me that night, for I
deserved it. But he was no less heroic than I, and would take no other
revenge than to keep two handkerchiefs, which had been drenched in his
blood, and which from time to time he showed me in the course of many
years. This reciprocal mixture of fierceness and generosity on both
our parts will not be easily understood by those who have had no
experience of the customs and of the temper of us Piedmontese;” though
here, perhaps, Alfieri does his country too much honor in making his
ferocity a national trait. For the rest, he says, he never struck a
servant except as he would have done an equal--not with a cane, but
with his fist, or a chair, or anything else that came to hand; and he
seems to have thought this a democratic if not an amiable habit. When
at last he went back to Turin, he fell once more into his old life of
mere vacancy, varied before long by a most unworthy amour, of which he
tells us that he finally cured himself by causing his servant to tie
him in his chair, and so keep him a prisoner in his own house. A
violent distemper followed this treatment, which the light-moraled
gossip of the town said Alfieri had invented exclusively for his own
use; many days he lay in bed tormented by this anguish; but when he
rose he was no longer a slave to his passion. Shortly after, he wrote
a tragedy, or a tragic dialogue rather, in Italian blank verse, called
Cleopatra, which was played in a Turinese theater with a success of
which he tells us he was at once and always ashamed.

Yet apparently it encouraged him to persevere in literature, his
qualifications for tragical authorship being “a resolute spirit, very
obstinate and untamed, a heart running over with passions of every
kind, among which predominated a bizarre mixture of love and all its
furies, and a profound and most ferocious rage and abhorrence against
all tyranny whatsoever; ... a very dim and uncertain remembrance of
various French tragedies seen in the theaters many years before; ...
an almost total ignorance of all the rules of tragic art, and an
unskillfulness almost total in the divine and most necessary art of
writing and managing my own language.” With this stock in trade, he
set about turning his Filippo and his Polinice, which he wrote first
in French prose, into Italian verse, making at the same time a careful
study of the Italian poets. It was at this period that the poet Ossian
was introduced to mankind by the ingenious and self-sacrificing Mr.
Macpherson, and Cesarotti’s translation of him came into Alfieri’s
hands. These blank verses were the first that really pleased him; with
a little modification he thought they would be an excellent model for
the verse of dialogue.

He had now refused himself the pleasure of reading French, and he had
nowhere to turn for tragic literature but to the classics, which he
read in literal versions while he renewed his faded Latin with the
help of a teacher. But he believed that his originality as a tragic
author suffered from his reading, and he determined to read no more
tragedies till he had made his own. For this reason he had already
given up Shakespeare. “The more that author accorded with my humor
(though I very well perceived all his defects), the more I was
resolved to abstain,” he tells us.

This was during a literary sojourn in Tuscany, whither he had gone to
accustom himself “to speak, hear, think, and dream in Tuscan, and not
otherwise evermore.” Here he versified his first two tragedies, and
sketched others; and here, he says, “I deluged my brain with the
verses of Petrarch, of Dante, of Tasso, and of Ariosto, convinced that
the day would infallibly come in which all these forms, phrases, and
words of others would return from its cells, blended and identified
with my own ideas and emotions.”

He had now indeed entered with all the fury of his nature into the
business of making tragedies, which he did very much as if he had
been making love. He abandoned everything else for it--country, home,
money, friends; for having decided to live henceforth only in Tuscany,
and hating to ask that royal permission to remain abroad, without
which, annually renewed, the Piedmontese noble of that day could not
reside out of his own country, he gave up his estates at Asti to his
sister, keeping for himself a pension that came only to about half his
former income. The king of Piedmont was very well, as kings went in
that day; and he did nothing to hinder the poet’s expatriation. The
long period of study and production which followed Alfieri spent
chiefly at Florence, but partly also at Rome and Naples. During this
time he wrote and printed most of his tragedies; and he formed that
relation, common enough in the best society of the eighteenth century,
with the Countess of Albany, which continued as long as he lived. The
countess’s husband was the Pretender Charles Edward, the last of
the English Stuarts, who, like all his house, abetted his own evil
destiny, and was then drinking himself to death. There were
difficulties in the way of her living with Alfieri which would not
perhaps have beset a less exalted lady, and which required an especial
grace on the part of the Pope. But this the Pope refused ever to
bestow, even after being much prayed; and when her husband was dead,
she and Alfieri were privately married, or were not married; the fact
is still in dispute. Their house became a center of fashionable and
intellectual society in Florence, and to be received in it was the
best that could happen to any one. The relation seems to have been a
sufficiently happy one; neither was painfully scrupulous in observing
its ties, and after Alfieri’s death the countess gave to the painter
Fabre “a heart which,” says Massimo d’Azeglio in his Memoirs,
“according to the usage of the time, and especially of high society,
felt the invincible necessity of keeping itself in continual
exercise.” A cynical little story of Alfieri reading one of his
tragedies in company, while Fabre stood behind him making eyes at the
countess, and from time to time kissing her ring on his finger, was
told to D’Azeglio by an aunt of his who witnessed the scene.

In 1787 the poet went to France to oversee the printing of a complete
edition of his works, and five years later he found himself in Paris
when the Revolution was at its height. The countess was with him, and,
after great trouble, he got passports for both, and hurried to the
city barrier. The National Guards stationed there would have let them
pass, but a party of drunken patriots coming up had their worst fears
aroused by the sight of two carriages with sober and decent people in
them, and heavily laden with baggage. While they parleyed whether they
had better stone the equipages, or set fire to them, Alfieri leaped
out, and a scene ensued which placed him in a very characteristic
light, and which enables us to see him as it were in person. When the
patriots had read the passports, he seized them, and, as he says,
“full of disgust and rage, and not knowing at the moment, or in my
passion despising the immense peril that attended us, I thrice shook
my passport in my hand, and shouted at the top of my voice, ‘Look!
Listen! Alfieri is my name; Italian and not French; tall, lean, pale,
red hair; I am he; look at me: I have my passport, and I have had it
legitimately from those who could give it; we wish to pass, and, by
Heaven, we _will_ pass!’”

They passed, and two days later the authorities that had approved
their passports confiscated the horses, furniture, and books that
Alfieri had left behind him in Paris, and declared him and the
countess--both foreigners--to be refugee aristocrats!

He established himself again in Florence, where, in his forty-sixth
year, he took up the study of Greek, and made himself master of
that literature, though, till then, he had scarcely known the Greek
alphabet. The chief fruit of this study was a tragedy in the manner of
Euripides, which he wrote in secret, and which he read to a company so
polite that they thought it really was Euripides during the whole of
the first two acts.

Alfieri’s remaining years were spent in study and the revision of
his works, to the number of which he added six comedies in 1800. The
presence and domination of the detested French in Florence embittered
his life somewhat; but if they had not been there he could never have
had the pleasure of refusing to see the French commandant, who had a
taste for literary people if not for literature, and would fain have
paid his respects to the poet. He must also have found consolation
in the thought that if the French had become masters of Europe, many
kings had been dethroned, and every tyrant who wore a crown was in a
very pitiable state of terror or disaster.

Nothing in Alfieri’s life was more like him than his death, of which
the Abbate di Caluso gives a full account in his conclusion of the
poet’s biography. His malady was gout, and amidst its tortures he
still labored at the comedies he was then writing. He was impatient at
being kept in-doors, and when they added plasters on the feet to
the irksomeness of his confinement, he tore away the bandages that
prevented him from walking about his room. He would not go to bed, and
they gave him opiates to ease his anguish; under their influence his
mind was molested by many memories of things long past. “The studies
and labors of thirty years,” says the Abbate, “recurred to him, and
what was yet more wonderful, he repeated in order, from memory, a good
number of Greek verses from the beginning of Hesiod, which he had read
but once. These he said over to the Signora Contessa, who sat by his
side, but it does not appear, for all this, that there ever came to
him the thought that death, which he had been for a long time used to
imagine near, was then imminent. It is certain at least that he made
no sign to the contessa though she did not leave him till morning.
About six o’clock he took oil and magnesia without the physician’s
advice, and near eight he was observed to be in great danger, and the
Signora Contessa, being called, found him in agonies that took away
his breath. Nevertheless, he rose from his chair, and going to the
bed, leaned upon it, and presently the day was darkened to him, his
eyes closed and he expired. The duties and consolations of religion
were not forgotten, but the evil was not thought so near, nor haste
necessary, and so the confessor who was called did not come in time.”
 D’Azeglio relates that the confessor arrived at the supreme moment,
and saw the poet bow his head: “He thought it was a salutation, but it
was the death of Vittorio Alfieri.”


II

I once fancied that a parallel between Alfieri and Byron might be
drawn, but their disparities are greater than their resemblances, on
the whole. Both, however, were born noble, both lived in voluntary
exile, both imagined themselves friends and admirers of liberty,
both had violent natures, and both indulged the curious hypocrisy of
desiring to seem worse than they were, and of trying to make out a
shocking case for themselves when they could. They were men who hardly
outgrew their boyishness. Alfieri, indeed, had to struggle against so
many defects of training that he could not have reached maturity in
the longest life; and he was ruled by passions and ideals; he hated
with equal noisiness the tyrants of Europe and the Frenchmen who
dethroned them.

When he left the life of a dissolute young noble for that of tragic
authorship, he seized upon such histories and fables as would give the
freest course to a harsh, narrow, gloomy, vindictive, and declamatory
nature; and his dramas reproduce the terrible fatalistic traditions of
the Greeks, the stories of Oedipus, Myrrha, Alcestis, Clytemnestra,
Orestes, and such passages of Roman history as those relating to
the Brutuses and to Virginia. In modern history he has taken such
characters and events as those of Philip II., Mary Stuart, Don Garzia,
and the Conspiracy of the Pazzi. Two of his tragedies are from the
Bible, the Abel and the Saul; one, the Rosmunda, from Longobardic
history. And these themes, varying so vastly as to the times, races,
and religions with which they originated, are all treated in the same
spirit--the spirit Alfieri believed Greek. Their interest comes from
the situation and the action; of character, as we have it in the
romantic drama, and supremely in Shakespeare, there is scarcely
anything; and the language is shorn of all metaphor and picturesque
expression. Of course their form is wholly unlike that of the romantic
drama; Alfieri holds fast by the famous unities as the chief and
saving grace of tragedy. All his actions take place within twenty-four
hours; there is no change of scene, and so far as he can master that
most obstinate unity, the unity of action, each piece is furnished
with a tangible beginning, middle, and ending. The wide stretches of
time which the old Spanish and English and all modern dramas cover,
and their frequent transitions from place to place, were impossible
and abhorrent to him.

Emiliani-Giudici, the Italian critic, writing about the middle of
our century, declares that when the fiery love of freedom shall have
purged Italy, the Alfierian drama will be the only representation
worthy of a great and free people. This critic holds that Alfieri’s
tragical ideal was of such a simplicity that it would seem derived
regularly from the Greek, but for the fact that when he felt
irresistibly moved to write tragedy, he probably did not know even the
names of the Greek dramatists, and could not have known the structure
of their dramas by indirect means, having read then only some
Metastasian plays of the French school; so that he created that ideal
of his by pure, instinctive force of genius. With him, as with the
Greeks, art arose spontaneously; he felt the form of Greek art by
inspiration. He believed from the very first that the dramatic poet
should assume to render the spectators unconscious of theatrical
artifice, and make them take part with the actors; and he banished
from the scene everything that could diminish their illusion; he would
not mar the intensity of the effect by changing the action from
place to place, or by compressing within the brief time of the
representation the events of months and years. To achieve the unity of
action, he dispensed with all those parts which did not seem to him
the most principal, and he studied how to show the subject of the
drama in the clearest light. In all this he went to the extreme, but
he so wrought “that the print of his cothurnus stamped upon the field
of art should remain forever singular and inimitable. Reading his
tragedies in order, from the Cleopatra to the Saul, you see how
he never changed his tragic ideal, but discerned it more and more
distinctly until he fully realized it. Aeschylus and Alfieri are two
links that unite the chain in a circle. In Alfieri art once more
achieved the faultless purity of its proper character; Greek tragedy
reached the same height in the Italian’s Saul that it touched in the
Greek’s Prometheus, two dramas which are perhaps the most gigantic
creations of any literature.” Emiliani-Giudici thinks that the
literary ineducation of Alfieri was the principal exterior cause of
this prodigious development, that a more regular course of study would
have restrained his creative genius, and, while smoothing the way
before it, would have subjected it to methods and robbed it of
originality of feeling and conception. “Tragedy, born sublime,
terrible, vigorous, heroic, the life of liberty, ... was, as it were,
redeemed by Vittorio Alfieri, reassumed the masculine, athletic forms
of its original existence, and recommenced the exercise of its lost
ministry.”

I do not begin to think this is all true. Alfieri himself owns his
acquaintance with the French theater before the time when he began to
write, and we must believe that he got at least some of his ideas of
Athens from Paris, though he liked the Frenchmen none the better for
his obligation to them. A less mechanical conception of the Greek idea
than his would have prevented its application to historical subjects.
In Alfieri’s Brutus the First, a far greater stretch of imagination is
required from the spectator in order to preserve the unities of time
and place than the most capricious changes of scene would have asked.
The scene is always in the forum in Rome; the action occurs within
twenty-four hours. During this limited time, we see the body of
Lucretia borne along in the distance; Brutus harangues the people with
the bloody dagger in his hand. The emissaries of Tarquin arrive and
organize a conspiracy against the new republic; the sons of Brutus are
found in the plot, and are convicted and put to death.


III

But such incongruities as these do not affect us in the tragedies
based on the heroic fables; here the poet takes, without offense,
any liberty he likes with time and place; the whole affair is in his
hands, to do what he will, so long as he respects the internal harmony
of his own work. For this reason, I think, we find Alfieri at his best
in these tragedies, among which I have liked the Orestes best, as
giving the widest range of feeling with the greatest vigor of action.
The Agamemnon, which precedes it, and which ought to be read first,
closes with its most powerful scene. Agamemnon has returned from Troy
to Argos with his captive Cassandra, and Aegisthus has persuaded
Clytemnestra that her husband intends to raise Cassandra to the
throne. She kills him and reigns with Aegisthus, Electra concealing
Orestes on the night of the murder, and sending him secretly away with
Strophius, king of Phocis.

In the last scene, as Clytemnestra steals through the darkness to her
husband’s chamber, she soliloquizes, with the dagger in her hand:

    It is the hour; and sunk in slumber now
    Lies Agamemnon. Shall he nevermore
    Open his eyes to the fair light? My hand,
    Once pledge to him of stainless love and faith,
    Is it to be the minister of his death?
    Did I swear that? Ay, that; and I must keep
    My oath. Quick, let me go! My foot, heart, hand--
    All over I tremble. Oh, what did I promise?
    Wretch! what do I attempt? How all my courage
    Hath vanished from me since Aegisthus vanished!
    I only see the immense atrocity
    Of this, my horrible deed; I only see
    The bloody specter of Atrides! Ah,
    In vain do I accuse thee! No, thou lovest
    Cassandra not. Me, only me, thou lovest,
    Unworthy of thy love. Thou hast no blame,
    Save that thou art my husband, in the world!
    Of trustful sleep, to death’s arms by my hand?
    And where then shall I hide me? O perfidy!
    Can I e’er hope for peace? O woful life--
    Life of remorse, of madness, and of tears!
    How shall Aegisthus, even Aegisthus, dare
    To rest beside the parricidal wife
    Upon her murder-stained marriage-bed,
    Nor tremble for himself? Away, away,--
    Hence, horrible instrument of all my guilt
    And harm, thou execrable dagger, hence!
    I’ll lose at once my lover and my life,
    But never by this hand betrayed shall fall
    So great a hero! Live, honor of Greece
    And Asia’s terror! Live to glory, live
    To thy dear children, and a better wife!
    --But what are these hushed steps? Into these rooms
    Who is it comes by night? Aegisthus?--Lost,
    I am lost!

    _Aegisthus._ Hast thou not done the deed?

    _Cly._                                 Aegisthus----

    _Aeg._ What, stand’st thou here, wasting thyself in
    tears?
    Woman, untimely are thy tears; ‘t is late,
    ‘T is vain, and it may cost us dear!

    _Cly._                                     Thou here?
    But how--woe’s me, what did I promise thee!
    What wicked counsel--

    _Aeg._ Was it not thy counsel?
    Love gave it thee and fear annuls it--well!
    Since thou repentest, I am glad; and glad
    To know thee guiltless shall I be in death.
    I told thee that the enterprise was hard,
    But thou, unduly trusting in the heart,
    That hath not a man’s courage in it, chose
    Thyself thy feeble hands to strike the blow.
    Now may Heaven grant that the intent of evil
    Turn not to harm thee! Hither I by stealth
    And favor of the darkness have returned
    Unseen, I hope. For I perforce must come
    Myself to tell thee that irrevocably
    My life is dedicated to the vengeance
    Of Agamemnon.

He appeals to her pity for him, and her fear for herself; he reminds
her of Agamemnon’s consent to the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and goads
her on to the crime from which she had recoiled. She goes into
Agamemnon’s chamber, whence his dying outcries are heard:--

                        O treachery!
    Thou, wife? O headens, I die! O treachery!

Clytemnestra comes out with the dagger in her hand:

    The dagger drips with blood; my hands, my robe,
    My face--they all are wet with blood. What vengeance
    Shall yet be taken for this blood? Already
    I see this very steel turned on my breast,
    And by whose hand!

The son whom she forebodes as the avenger of Agamemnon’s death passes
his childhood and early youth at the court of Strophius in Phocis. The
tragedy named for him opens with Electra’s soliloquy as she goes to
weep at the tomb of their father:--

    Night, gloomy, horrible, atrocious night,
    Forever present to my thought! each year
    For now two lusters I have seen thee come,
    Clothed on with darkness and with dreams of blood,
    And blood that should have expiated thine
    Is not yet spilt! O memory, O sight!
    Upon these stones I saw thee murdered lie,
    Murdered, and by whose hand!...
                                     I swear to thee,
    If I in Argos, in thy palace live,
    Slave of Aegisthus, with my wicked mother,
    Nothing makes me endure a life like this
    Saving the hope of vengeance. Far away
    Orestes is; but living! I saved thee, brother;
    I keep myself for thee, till the day rise
    When thou shalt make to stream upon yon tomb
    Not helpless tears like these, but our foe’s blood.

While Electra fiercely muses, Clytemnestra enters, with the appeal:

    _Cly._ Daughter!

    _El._           What voice! Oh Heaven, thou here?

    _Cly._                                My daughter,
    Ah, do not fly me! Thy pious task I fain
    Would share with thee. Aegisthus in vain forbids,
    He shall not know. Ah, come! go we together
    Unto the tomb.

    _El._        Whose tomb?

    _Cly._                          Thy--hapless--father’s.

    _El._ Wherefore not say thy husband’s tomb? ‘T is well:
    Thou darest not speak it. But how dost thou dare
    Turn thitherward thy steps--thou that dost reek
    Yet with his blood?

    _Cly._                  Two lusters now are passed
    Since that dread day, and two whole lusters now
    I weep my crime.

    _El._        And what time were enough
    For that? Ah, if thy tears should be eternal,
    They yet were nothing. Look! Seest thou not still
    The blood upon these horrid walls the blood
    That thou didst splash them with? And at thy presence
    Lo, how it reddens and grows quick again!
    Fly, thou, whom I must never more call mother!

     *     *     *     *

    _Cly._ Oh, woe is me! What can I answer? Pity--
    But I merit none!--And yet if in my heart,
    Daughter, thou couldst but read--ah, who could look
    Into the secret of a heart like mine,
    Contaminated with such infamy,
    And not abhor me? I blame not thy wrath,
    No, nor thy hate. On earth I feel already
    The guilty pangs of hell. Scarce had the blow
    Escaped my hand before a swift remorse,
    Swift but too late, fell terrible upon me.
    From that hour still the sanguinary ghost
    By day and night, and ever horrible,
    Hath moved before mine eyes. Whene’er I turn
    I see its bleeding footsteps trace the path
    That I must follow; at table, on the throne,
    It sits beside me; on my bitter pillow
    If e’er it chance I close mine eyes in sleep,
    The specter--fatal vision!--instantly
    Shows itself in my dreams, and tears the breast,
    Already mangled, with a furious hand,
    And thence draws both its palms full of dark blood,
    To dash it in my face! On dreadful nights
    Follow more dreadful days. In a long death
    I live my life. Daughter,--whate’er I am,
    Thou art my daughter still,--dost thou not weep
    At tears like mine?

Clytemnestra confesses that Aegisthus no longer loves her, but she
loves him, and she shrinks from Electra’s fierce counsel that she
shall kill him. He enters to find her in tears, and a violent scene
between him and Electra follows, in which Clytemnestra interposes.

    _Cly._ O daughter, he is my husband. Think, Aegisthus,
    She is my daughter.
    _Aeg._ She is Atrides’ daughter!

    _El._ He is Atrides’ murderer!

    _Cly._                             Electra!
    Have pity, Aegisthus! Look--the tomb! Oh, look,
    The horrible tomb!--and art thou not content?

    _Aeg._ Woman, be less unlike thyself. Atrides,--
    Tell me by whose hand in yon tomb he lies?

    _Cly._ O mortal blame! What else is lacking now
    To my unhappy, miserable life?
    Who drove me to it now upbraids my crime!

    _El._ O marvelous joy! O only joy that’s blessed
    My heart in these ten years! I see you both
    At last the prey of anger and remorse;
    I hear at last what must the endearments be
    Of love so blood-stained.

The first act closes with a scene between Aegisthus and Clytemnestra,
in which he urges her to consent that he shall send to have Orestes
murdered, and reminds her of her former crimes when she revolts from
this. The scene is very well managed, with that sparing phrase which
in Alfieri is quite as apt to be touchingly simple as bare and poor.
In the opening scene of the second act, Orestes has returned in
disguise to Argos with Pylades the son of Strophius, to whom he
speaks:

    We are come at last. Here Agamemnon fell,
    Murdered, and here Aegisthus reigns. Here rose
    In memory still, though I a child departed,
    These natal walls, and the just Heaven in time
    Leads me back hither.

    Twice five years have passed
    This very day since that dread night of blood,
    When, slain by treachery, my father made
    The whole wide palace with his dolorous cries
    Echo again. Oh, well do I remember!
    Electra swiftly bore me through this hall
    Thither where Strophius in his pitying arms
    Received me--Strophius, less by far thy father
    Than mine, thereafter--and fled onward with me
    By yonder postern-gate, all tremulous;
    And after me there ran upon the air
    Long a wild clamor and a lamentation
    That made me weep and shudder and lament,
    I knew not why, and weeping Strophius ran,
    Preventing with his hand my outcries shrill,
    Clasping me close, and sprinkling all my face
    With bitter tears; and to the lonely coast,
    Where only now we landed, with his charge
    He came apace; and eagerly unfurled
    His sails before the wind.

Pylades strives to restrain the passion for revenge in Orestes,
which imperils them both. The friend proposes that they shall feign
themselves messengers sent by Strophius with tidings of Orestes’
death, and Orestes has reluctantly consented, when Electra re-appears,
and they recognize each other. Pylades discloses their plan, and when
her brother urges, “The means is vile,” she answers, all woman,--

    Less vile than is Aegisthus. There is none
    Better or surer, none, believe me. When
    You are led to him, let it be mine to think
    Of all--the place, the manner, time, and arms,
    To kill him. Still I keep, Orestes, still
    I keep the steel that in her husband’s breast
    She plunged whom nevermore we might call mother.

    _Orestes._ How fares it with that impious woman?

    _Electra._                                 Ah,
    Thou canst not know how she drags out her life!
    Save only Agamemnon’s children, all
    Must pity her--and even we must pity.
    Full ever of suspicion and of terror,
    And held in scorn even by Aegisthus’ self,
    Loving Aegisthus though she know his guilt;
    Repentant, and yet ready to renew
    Her crime, perchance, if the unworthy love
    Which is her shame and her abhorrence, would;
    Now wife, now mother, never wife nor mother,
    Bitter remorse gnaws at her heart by day
    Unceasingly, and horrible shapes by night
    Scare slumber from her eyes.--So fares it with her.

In the third scene of the following act Clytemnestra meets Orestes
and Pylades, who announce themselves as messengers from Phocis to the
king; she bids them deliver their tidings to her, and they finally
do so, Pylades struggling to prevent Orestes from revealing himself.
There are touchingly simple and natural passages in the lament that
Clytemnestra breaks into over her son’s death, and there is fire, with
its true natural extinction in tears, when she upbraids Aegisthus, who
now enters:

    My only son beloved, I gave thee all.

       *       *       *       *       *

    All that I gave thou did’st account as nothing
    While aught remained to take. Who ever saw
    At once so cruel and so false a heart?
    The guilty love that thou did’st feign so ill
    And I believed so well, what hindrance to it,
    What hindrance, tell me, was the child Orestes?
    Yet scarce had Agamemnon died before
    Thou did’st cry out for his son’s blood; and searched
    Through all the palace in thy fury. Then
    The blade thou durst not wield against the father,
    Then thou didst brandish! Ay, bold wast thou then
    Against a helpless child!...
    Unhappy son, what booted it to save thee
    From thy sire’s murderer, since thou hast found
    Death ere thy time in strange lands far away?
    Aegisthus, villainous usurper! Thou,
    Thou hast slain my son! Aegisthus--Oh forgive!
    I was a mother, and am so no more.

Throughout this scene, and in the soliloquy preceding it, Alfieri
paints very forcibly the struggle in Clytemnestra between her love for
her son and her love for Aegisthus, to whom she clings even while
he exults in the tidings that wring her heart. It is all too baldly
presented, doubtless, but it is very effective and affecting.

Orestes and Pylades are now brought before Aegisthus, and he demands
how and where Orestes died, for after his first rejoicing he has come
to doubt the fact. Pylades responds in one of those speeches with
which Alfieri seems to carve the scene in bas-relief:

    Every fifth year an ancient use renews
    In Crete the games and offerings unto Jove.
    The love of glory and innate ambition
    Lure to that coast the youth; and by his side
    Goes Pylades, inseparable from him.
    In the light car upon the arena wide,
    The hopes of triumph urge him to contest
    The proud palm of the flying-footed steeds,
    And, too intent on winning, there his life
    He gives for victory.

    _Aeg._                       But how? Say on.

    _Pyl._ Too fierce, impatient, and incautious, he
    Now frights his horses on with threatening cries,
    Now whirls his blood-stained whip, and lashes them,
    Till past the goal the ill-tamed coursers fly
    Faster and faster. Reckless of the rein,
    Deaf to the voice that fain would soothe them now,
    Their nostrils breathing fire, their loose manes tossed
    Upon the wind, and in thick clouds involved
    Of choking dust, round the vast circle’s bound,
    As lightning swift they whirl and whirl again.
    Fright, horror, mad confusion, death, the car
    Spreads in its crooked circles everywhere,
    Until at last, the smoking axle dashed
    With horrible shock against a marble pillar,
    Orestes headlong falls--

    _Cly._                   No more! Ah, peace!
    His mother hears thee.

    _Pyl._               It is true. Forgive me.
    I will not tell how, horribly dragged on,
    His streaming life-blood soaked the arena’s dust--
    Pylades ran--in vain--within his arms
    His friend expired.

    _Cly._                       O wicked death!

    _Pyl._                             In Crete
    All men lamented him, so potent in him
    Were beauty, grace, and daring.

    _Cly._                     Nay, who would not
    Lament him save this wretch alone? Dear son,
    Must I then never, never see thee more?
    O me! too well I see thee crossing now
    The Stygian stream to clasp thy father’s shade:
    Both turn your frowning eyes askance on me,
    Burning with dreadful wrath! Yea, it was I,
    ‘T was I that slew you both. Infamous mother
    And guilty wife!--Now art content, Aegisthus?

Aegisthus still doubts, and pursues the pretended messengers with such
insulting question that Orestes, goaded beyond endurance, betrays that
their character is assumed. They are seized and about to be led to
prison in chains, when Electra enters and in her anguish at the sight
exclaims, “Orestes led to die!” Then ensues a heroic scene, in which
each of the friends claims to be Orestes. At last Orestes shows the
dagger Electra has given him, and offers it to Clytemnestra, that
she may stab Aegisthus with the same weapon with which she killed
Agamemnon:

    Whom then I would call mother. Take it; thou know’st how
    To wield it; plunge it in Aegisthus’ heart!
    Leave me to die; I care not, if I see
    My father avenged. I ask no other proof
    Of thy maternal love from thee. Quick, now,
    Strike! Oh, what is it that I see? Thou tremblest?
    Thou growest pale? Thou weepest? From thy hand
    The dagger falls? Thou lov’st Aegisthus, lov’st him
    And art Orestes’ mother? Madness! Go
    And never let me look on thee again!

Aegisthus dooms Electra to the same death with Orestes and Pylades,
but on the way to prison the guards liberate them all, and the Argives
rise against the usurper with the beginning of the fifth act, which I
shall give entire, because I think it very characteristic of Alfieri,
and necessary to a conception of his vehement, if somewhat arid,
genius. I translate as heretofore almost line for line, and word for
word, keeping the Italian order as nearly as I can.


SCENE I.

AEGISTHUS _and Soldiers._

   _Aeg._ O treachery unforseen! O madness! Freed,
   Orestes freed? Now we shall see....

   _Enter_ CLYTEMNESTRA.

   _Cly._                              Ah! turn
   Backward thy steps.

   _Aeg._            Ah, wretch, dost thou arm too
   Against me?

   _Cly._        I would save thee. Hearken to me,
   I am no longer--

   _Aeg._          Traitress--

   _Cly._        Stay!

   _Aeg._                       Thou ‘st promised
   Haply to give me to that wretch alive?

   _Cly._ To keep thee, save thee from him, I have sworn,
   Though I should perish for thee! Ah, remain
   And hide thee here in safety. I will be
   Thy stay against his fury--

   _Aeg._                         Against his fury
   My sword shall be my stay. Go, leave me!
   I go--

   _Cly._ Whither?

   _Aeg._      To kill him!

   _Cly._                 To thy death thou goest!
   O me! What dost thou? Hark! Dost thou not hear
   The yells and threats of the whole people? Hold!
   I will not leave thee.

   _Aeg._               Nay, thou hop’st in vain
   To save thy impious son from death. Hence! Peace!
   Or I will else--

   _Cly._             Oh, yes, Aegisthus, kill me,
   If thou believest me not. “Orestes!” Hark!
   “Orestes!” How that terrible name on high
   Rings everywhere! I am no longer mother
   When thou ‘rt in danger. Against my blood I grow
   Cruel once more.

   _Aeg._          Thou knowest well the Argives
   Do hate thy face, and at the sight of thee
   The fury were redoubled in their hearts.
   The tumult rises. Ah, thou wicked wretch,
   Thou wast the cause! For thee did I delay
   Vengeance that turns on me now.

   _Cly._                             Kill me, then!

   _Aeg._ I’ll find escape some other way.

   _Cly._                                 I follow--

   _Aeg._ Ill shield wert thou for me. Leave me--away, away!
   At no price would I have thee by my side! {_Exit._

   _Cly._ All hunt me from them! O most hapless state!
   My son no longer owns me for his mother,
   My husband for his wife: and wife and mother
   I still must be! O misery! Afar
   I’ll follow him, nor lose the way he went.

   _Enter_ ELECTRA.

   _El._ Mother, where goest thou! Turn thy steps again
   Into the palace. Danger--

   _Cly._                            Orestes--speak!
   Where is he now? What does he do?

   _El._                                   Orestes,
   Pylades, and myself, we are all safe.
   Even Aegisthus’ minions pitied us.
   They cried, “This is Orestes!” and the people,
   “Long live Orestes! Let Aegisthus die!”

   _Cly._ What do I hear?

   _El._                  Calm thyself, mother; soon
   Thou shalt behold thy son again, and soon
   Th’ infamous tyrant’s corse--

   _Cly._                        Ah, cruel, leave me!
   I go--

   _El._ No, stay! The people rage, and cry
   Out on thee for a parricidal wife.
   Show thyself not as yet, or thou incurrest
   Great peril. ‘T was for this I came. In thee
   A mother’s agony appeared, to see
   Thy children dragged to death, and thou hast now
   Atoned for thy misdeed. My brother sends me
   To comfort thee, to succor and to hide thee
   From dreadful sights. To find Aegisthus out,
   All armed meanwhile, he and his Pylades
   Search everywhere. Where is the wicked wretch?

   _Cly._ Orestes is the wicked wretch!

   _El_.                                    O Heaven!

   _Cly._ I go to save him or to perish with him.

   _El._ Nay, mother, thou shalt never go. Thou ravest--

   _Cly._ The penalty is mine. I go--

   _El._                                    O mother!
   The monster that but now thy children doomed
   To death, wouldst thou--

   _Cly._ Yes, I would save him--I!
   Out of my path! My terrible destiny
   I must obey. He is my husband. All
   Too dear he cost me. I will not, can not lose him.
   You I abhor, traitors, not children to me!
   I go to him. Loose me, thou wicked girl!
   At any risk I go, and may I only
   Reach him in time! {_Exit._

   _El_.                   Go to thy fate, then, go,
   If thou wilt so, but be thy steps too late!
   Why can not I, too, arm me with a dagger,
   To pierce with stabs a thousand-fold the breast
   Of infamous Aegisthus! O blind mother, oh,
   How art thou fettered to his baseness! Yet,
   And yet, I tremble--If the angry mob
   Avenge their murdered king on her--O Heaven!
   Let me go after her--But who comes here?
   Pylades, and my brother not beside him?

   _Enter_ PYLADES.

   Oh, tell me! Orestes--?

   _Pyl._                     Compasses the palace
   About with swords. And now our prey is safe.
   Where lurks Aegisthus! Hast thou seen him?

   _El._                                        Nay,
   I saw and strove in vain a moment since
   To stay his maddened wife. She flung herself
   Out of this door, crying that she would make
   Herself a shield unto Aegisthus. He
   Already had fled the palace.

   _Pyl._                            Durst he then
   Show himself in the sight of Argos? Why,
   Then he is slain ere this! Happy the man
   That struck him first. Nearer and louder yet
   I hear their yells.

   _El._                  “Orestes!” Ah, were’t so!

   _Pyl._ Look at him in his fury where he comes!

   _Enter_ ORESTES _and his followers_.

   _Or._ No man of you attempt to slay Aegisthus:
   There is no wounding sword here save my own.
   Aegisthus, ho! Where art thou, coward! Speak!
   Aegisthus, where art thou? Come forth: it is
   The voice of Death that calls thee! Thou comest not?
   Ah, villain, dost thou hide thyself? In vain:
   The midmost deep of Erebus should not hide thee!
   Thou shalt soon see if I be Atrides’ son.
   _El._ He is not here; he--

   _Or._                  Traitors! You perchance
   Have slain him without me?

   _Pyl._                           Before I came
   He had fled the palace.

   _Or._                       In the palace still
   Somewhere he lurks; but I will drag him forth;
   By his soft locks I’ll drag him with my hand:
   There is no prayer, nor god, nor force of hell
   Shall snatch thee from me. I will make thee plow
   The dust with thy vile body to the tomb
   Of Agamemnon,--I will drag thee thither
   And pour out there all thine adulterous blood.

   _El._ Orestes, dost thou not believe me?--me!

   _Or._ Who’rt thou? I want Aegisthus.

   _El._                                He is fled.

   _Or._ He’s fled, and you, ye wretches, linger here?
   But I will find him.

   _Enter_ CLYTEMNESTRA.

   _Cly._            Oh, have pity, son!

   _Or._ Pity? Whose son am I? Atrides’ son
   Am I.

   _Cly._ Aegisthus, loaded with chains--

   _Or._                               He lives yet?
   O joy! Let me go slay him!

   _Cly._                Nay, kill me!
   I slew thy father--I alone. Aegisthus
   Had no guilt in it.

   _Or._         Who, who grips my arm!
   Who holds me back? O Madness! Ah Aegisthus!
   I see him; they drag him hither--Off with thee!

   _Cly._ Orestes, dost thou not know thy mother?

   _Or._                                         Die,
   Aegisthus! By Orestes’ hand, die, villain! {_Exit._

   _Cly._ Ah, thou’st escaped me! Thou shalt slay me
   first! {_Exit_.

   _El._ Pylades, go! Run, run! Oh, stay her! fly;
   Bring her back hither! {_Exit_ PYLADES.
                          I shudder! She is still
   His mother, and he must have pity on her.
   Yet only now she saw her children stand
   Upon the brink of an ignoble death;
   And was her sorrow and her daring then
   As great as they are now for him? At last
   The day so long desired has come; at last,
   Tyrant, thou diest; and once more I hear
   The palace all resound with wails and cries,
   As on that horrible and bloody night,
   Which was my father’s last, I heard it ring.
   Already hath Orestes struck the blow,
   The mighty blow; already is Aegisthus
   Fallen--the tumult of the crowd proclaims it.
   Behold Orestes conqueror, his sword
   Dripping with blood!

   _Enter_ ORESTES.

                        O brother mine, come,
   Avenger of the king of kings, our father,
   Argos, and me, come to my heart!

   _Or._                         Sister,
   At last thou seest me Atrides’ worthy son.
   Look, ’t is Aegisthus’ blood! I hardly saw him
   And ran to slay him where he stood, forgetting
   To drag him to our father’s sepulcher.
   Full twice seven times I plunged and plunged my sword
   Into his cowardly and quaking heart;
   Yet have I slaked not my long thirst of vengeance!

   _El_. Then Clytemnestra did not come in time
   To stay thine arm?

   _Or._            And who had been enough
   For that? To stay my arm? I hurled myself
   Upon him; not more swift the thunderbolt.
   The coward wept, and those vile tears the more
   Filled me with hate. A man that durst not die
   Slew thee, my father!

   _El._            Now is our sire avenged!
   Calm thyself now, and tell me, did thine eyes
   Behold not Pylades?

   _Or._         I saw Aegisthus;
   None other. Where is dear Pylades? And why
   Did he not second me in this glorious deed?

   _El._ I had confided to his care our mad
   And desperate mother.

   _Or._           I knew nothing of them.

   _Enter_ PYLADES.

   _El._ See, Pylades returns--O heavens, what do I see?
   Returns alone?

   _Or._     And sad? Oh wherefore sad,
   Part of myself, art thou? Know’st not I’ve slain
   Yon villain? Look, how with his life-blood yet
   My sword is dripping! Ah, thou did’st not share
   His death-blow with me! Feed then on this sight
   Thine eyes, my Pylades!

   _Pyl._               O sight! Orestes,
   Give me that sword.

   _Or._              And wherefore?

   _Pyl._                                   Give it me.

   _Or._ Take it.

   _Pyl._        Oh listen! We may not tarry longer
   Within these borders; come--

   _Or._                      But what--

   _El_.                                      Oh speak!
   Where’s Clytemnestra?
   _Or._                 Leave her; she is perchance
   Kindling the pyre unto her traitor husband.

   _Pyl._ Oh, thou hast far more than fulfilled thy vengeance.
   Come, now, and ask no more.

   _Or._                           What dost thou say?

   _El._ Our mother! I beseech thee yet again!
   Pylades--Oh what chill is this that creeps
   Through all my veins?

   _Pyl._               The heavens--

   _El._                              Ah, she is dead!

   _Or._ Hath turned her dagger, maddened, on herself?

   _El._ Alas, Pylades! Why dost thou not answer?

   _Or._. Speak! What hath been?

   _Pyl._                 Slain--

   _Or._                     And by whose hand?

   _Pyl._                                      Come!

   _El._ (_To_ ORESTES.) Thou slewest her!

   _Or._                            I parricide?

   _Pyl._                                   Unknowing
   Thou plungèdst in her heart thy sword, as blind
   With rage thou rannest on Aegisthus--

   _Or._                                        Oh,
   What horror seizes me! I parricide?
   My sword! Pylades, give it me; I’ll have it--

   _Pyl._ It shall not be.

   _El._                 Brother--

   _Or._                       Who calls me brother?
   Thou, haply, impious wretch, thou that didst save me
   To life and matricide? Give me my sword!
   My sword! O fury! Where am I? What is it
   That I have done? Who stays me? Who follows me?
   Ah, whither shall I fly, where hide myself?--
   O father, dost thou look on me askance?
   Thou wouldst have blood of me, and this is blood;
   For thee alone--for thee alone I shed it!

   _El._ Orestes, Orestes--miserable brother!
   He hears us not! ah, he is mad! Forever,
   Pylades, we must go beside him.

   _Pyl._                               Hard,
   Inevitable law of ruthless Fate!


IV

Alfieri himself wrote a critical comment on each of his tragedies,
discussing their qualities and the question of their failure or
success dispassionately enough. For example, he frankly says of his
Maria Stuarda that it is the worst tragedy he ever wrote, and the only
one that he could wish not to have written; of his Agamennone, that
all the good in it came from the author and all the bad from the
subject; of his Fillippo II., that it may make a very terrible
impression indeed of mingled pity and horror, or that it may disgust,
through the cold atrocity of Philip, even to the point of nausea. On
the Orestes, we may very well consult him more at length. He declares:
“This tragic action has no other motive or development, nor admits any
other passion, than an implacable revenge; but the passion of revenge
(though very strong by nature), having become greatly enfeebled among
civilized peoples, is regarded as a vile passion, and its effects are
wont to be blamed and looked upon with loathing. Nevertheless, when it
is just, when the offense received is very atrocious, when the persons
and the circumstances are such that no human law can indemnify the
aggrieved and punish the aggressor, then revenge, under the names of
war, invasion, conspiracy, the duel, and the like, ennobles itself,
and so works upon our minds as not only to be endured but to be
admirable and sublime.”

In his Orestes he confesses that he sees much to praise and very
little to blame: “Orestes, to my thinking, is ardent in sublime
degree, and this daring character of his, together with the perils he
confronts, may greatly diminish in him the atrocity and coldness of a
meditated revenge.... Let those who do not believe in the force of a
passion for high and just revenge add to it, in the heart of Orestes,
private interest, the love of power, rage at beholding his natural
heritage occupied by a murderous usurper, and then they will have
a sufficient reason for all his fury. Let them consider, also, the
ferocious ideas in which he must have been nurtured by Strophius, king
of Phocis, the persecutions which he knows to have been everywhere
moved against him by the usurper,--his being, in fine, the son of
Agamemnon, and greatly priding himself thereon,--and all these things
will certainly account for the vindictive passion of Orestes....
Clytemnestra is very difficult to treat in this tragedy, since she
must be here,

    “Now wife, now mother, never wife nor mother,

“which is much easier to say in a verse than to manage in the space
of five acts. Yet I believe that Clytemnestra, through the terrible
remorse she feels, the vile treatment which she receives from
Aegisthus, and the awful perplexity in which she lives ... will be
considered sufficiently punished by the spectator. Aegisthus is never
able to elevate his soul; ... he will always be an unpleasing, vile,
and difficult personage to manage well; a character that brings small
praise to the author when made sufferable, and much blame if not made
so.... I believe the fourth and fifth acts would produce the highest
effect on the stage if well represented. In the fifth, there is a
movement, a brevity, a rapidly operating heat, that ought to touch,
agitate, and singularly surprise the spirit. So it seems to me, but
perhaps it is not so.”

This analysis is not only very amusing for the candor with which
Alfieri praises himself, but it is also remarkable for the justice
with which the praise is given, and the strong, conscious hold which
it shows him to have had upon his creations. It leaves one very little
to add, but I cannot help saying that I think the management of
Clytemnestra especially admirable throughout. She loves Aegisthus with
the fatal passion which no scorn or cruelty on his part can quench;
but while he is in power and triumphant, her heart turns tenderly to
her hapless children, whom she abhors as soon as his calamity comes;
then she has no thought but to save him. She can join her children in
hating the murder which she has herself done on Agamemnon, but she
cannot avenge it on Aegisthus, and thus expiate her crime in their
eyes. Aegisthus is never able to conceive of the unselfishness of her
love; he believes her ready to betray him when danger threatens and to
shield herself behind him from the anger of the Argives; it is a deep
knowledge of human nature that makes him interpose the memory of her
unatoned-for crime between her and any purpose of good.

Orestes always sees his revenge as something sacred, and that is a
great scene in which he offers his dagger to Clytemnestra and bids her
kill Aegisthus with it, believing for the instant that even she must
exult to share his vengeance. His feeling towards Aegisthus never
changes; it is not revolting to the spectator, since Orestes is so
absolutely unconscious of wrong in putting him to death. He shows his
blood-stained sword to Pylades with a real sorrow that his friend
should not also have enjoyed the rapture of killing the usurper. His
story of his escape on the night of Agamemnon’s murder is as simple
and grand in movement as that of figures in an antique bas-relief.
Here and elsewhere one feels how Alfieri does not paint, but
sculptures his scenes and persons, cuts their outlines deep, and
strongly carves their attitudes and expression.

Electra is the worthy sister of Orestes, and the family likeness
between them is sharply traced. She has all his faith in the
sacredness of his purpose, while she has, woman-like, a far keener and
more specific hatred of Aegisthus. The ferocity of her exultation when
Clytemnestra and Aegisthus upbraid each other is terrible, but the
picture she draws for Orestes of their mother’s life is touched with
an exquisite filial pity. She seems to me studied with marvelous
success.

The close of the tragedy is full of fire and life, yet never wanting
in a sort of lofty, austere grace, that lapses at last into a truly
statuesque despair. Orestes mad, with Electra and Pylades on either
side: it is the attitude and gesture of Greek sculpture, a group
forever fixed in the imperishable sorrow of stone.

In reading Alfieri, I am always struck with what I may call the
narrowness of his tragedies. They have height and depth, but not
breadth. The range of sentiment is as limited in any one of them as
the range of phrase in this Orestes, where the recurrence of the same
epithets, horrible, bloody, terrible, fatal, awful, is not apparently
felt by the poet as monotonous. Four or five persons, each
representing a purpose or a passion, occupy the scene, and obviously
contribute by every word and deed to the advancement of the tragic
action; and this narrowness and rigidity of intent would be
intolerable, if the tragedies were not so brief: I do not think any of
them is much longer than a single act of one of Shakespeare’s plays.
They are in all other ways equally unlike Shakespeare’s plays. When
you read Macbeth or Hamlet, you find yourself in a world where the
interests and passions are complex and divided against themselves, as
they are here and now. The action progresses fitfully, as events do
in life; it is promoted by the things that seem to retard it; and it
includes long stretches of time and many places. When you read
Orestes, you find yourself attendant upon an imminent calamity, which
nothing can avert or delay. In a solitude like that of dreams, those
hapless phantasms, dark types of remorse, of cruel ambition, of
inexorable revenge, move swiftly on the fatal end. They do not grow or
develop on the imagination; their character is stamped at once, and
they have but to act it out. There is no lingering upon episodes, no
digressions, no reliefs. They cannot stir from that spot where they
are doomed to expiate or consummate their crimes; one little day is
given them, and then all is over.

Mr. Lowell, in his essay on Dryden, speaks of “a style of poetry whose
great excellence was that it was in perfect sympathy with the genius
of the people among whom it came into being”, and this I conceive to
be the virtue of the Alferian poetry. The Italians love beauty of
form, and we Goths love picturesque effect; and Alfieri has little or
none of the kind of excellence which we enjoy. But while

    I look and own myself a happy Goth,

I have moods, in the presence of his simplicity and severity, when I
feel that he and all the classicists may be right. When I see how much
he achieves with his sparing phrase, his sparsely populated scene, his
narrow plot and angular design, when I find him perfectly sufficient
in expression and entirely adequate in suggestion, the Classic alone
appears elegant and true--till I read Shakespeare again; or till I
turn to Nature, whom I do not find sparing or severe, but full of
variety and change and relief, and yet having a sort of elegance and
truth of her own.

In the treatment of historical subjects Alfieri allowed himself every
freedom. He makes Lorenzo de’ Medici, a brutal and very insolent
tyrant, a tyrant after the high Roman fashion, a tyrant almost after
the fashion of the late Edwin Forrest. Yet there are some good
passages in the Congiura dei Pazzi, of the peculiarly hard Alfierian
sort:

    An enemy insulted and not slain!
    What breast in triple iron armed, but needs
    Must tremble at him?

is a saying of Giuliano de’ Medici, who, when asked if he does not
fear one of the conspirators, puts the whole political wisdom of the
sixteenth century into his answer,--

    Being feared, I fear.

The Filippo of Alfieri must always have an interest for English
readers because of its chance relation to Keats, who, sick to death of
consumption, bought a copy of Alfieri when on his way to Rome. As Mr.
Lowell relates in his sketch of the poet’s life, the dying man opened
the book at the second page, and read the lines--perhaps the tenderest
that Alfieri ever wrote--

    Misero me! sollievo a me non resta
    Altro che il pianto, e il pianto è delitto!

Keats read these words, and then laid down the book and opened it no
more. The closing scene of the fourth act of this tragedy can well be
studied as a striking example of Alfieri’s power of condensation.

Some of the non-political tragedies of Alfieri are still played;
Ristori has played his Mirra, and Salvini his Saul; but I believe
there is now no Italian critic who praises him so entirely as Giudici
did. Yet the poet finds a warm defender against the French and German
critics in De Sanctis, {note: Saggi Critici. Di Francesco de Sanctis.
Napoli: Antonio Morano. 1859.} a very clever and brilliant Italian,
who accounts for Alfieri in a way that helps to make all Italian
things more intelligible to us. He is speaking of Alfieri’s epoch and
social circumstances: “Education had been classic for ages. Our ideal
was Rome and Greece, our heroes Brutus and Cato, our books Livy,
Tacitus, and Plutarch; and if this was true of all Europe, how much
more so of Italy, where this history might be called domestic, a thing
of our own, a part of our traditions, still alive to the eye in our
cities and monuments. From Dante to Machiavelli, from Machiavelli
to Metastasio, our classical tradition was never broken.... In the
social dissolution of the last century, all disappeared except this
ideal. In fact, in that first enthusiasm, when the minds of men
confidently sought final perfection, it passed from the schools into
life, ruled the imagination, inflamed the will. People lived and died
Romanly.... The situations that Alfieri has chosen in his tragedies
have a visible relation to the social state, to the fears and to the
hopes of his own time. It is always resistance to oppression, of
man against man, of people against tyrant.... In the classicism of
Alfieri there is no positive side. It is an ideal Rome and Greece,
outside of time and space, floating in the vague, ... which his
contemporaries filled up with their own life.”

Giuseppe Arnaud, in his admirable criticisms on the Patriotic Poets of
Italy, has treated of the literary side of Alfieri in terms that seem
to me, on the whole, very just: “He sacrificed the foreshortening,
which has so great a charm for the spectator, to the sculptured full
figure that always presents itself face to face with you, and in
entire relief. The grand passions, which are commonly sparing of
words, are in his system condemned to speak much, and to explain
themselves too much.... To what shall we attribute that respectful
somnolence which nowadays reigns over the audience during the
recitation of Alfieri’s tragedies, if they are not sustained by some
theatrical celebrity? You will certainly say, to the mediocrity of
the actors. But I hold that the tragic effect can be produced even by
mediocre actors, if this effect truly abounds in the plot of the
tragedy.... I know that these opinions of mine will not be shared by
the great majority of the Italian public, and so be it. The contrary
will always be favorable to one who greatly loved his country, always
desired to serve her, and succeeded in his own time and own manner.
Whoever should say that Alfieri’s tragedies, in spite of many eminent
merits, were constructed on a theory opposed to grand scenic effects
and to one of the two bases of tragedy, namely, compassion, would
certainly not say what was far from the truth. And yet, with all this,
Alfieri will still remain that dry, harsh blast which swept away the
noxious miasms with which the Italian air was infected. He will
still remain that poet who aroused his country from its dishonorable
slumber, and inspired its heart with intolerance of servile conditions
and with regard for its dignity. Up to his time we had bleated, and he
roared.” “In fact,” says D’Azeglio, “one of the merits of that proud
heart was to have found Italy Metastasian and left it Alfierian; and
his first and greatest merit was, to my thinking, that he discovered
Italy, so to speak, as Columbus discovered America, and initiated the
idea of Italy as a nation. I place this merit far beyond that of his
verses and his tragedies.”

Besides his tragedies, Alfieri wrote, as I have already stated, some
comedies in his last years; but I must own my ignorance of all six of
them; and he wrote various satires, odes, sonnets, epigrams, and other
poems. Most of these are of political interest; the Miso-Gallo is an
expression of his scorn and hatred of the French nation; the America
Liberata celebrates our separation from England; the Etruria Vendicata
praises the murder of the abominable Alessandro de’ Medici by
his kinsman, Lorenzaccio. None of the satires, whether on kings,
aristocrats, or people, have lent themselves easily to my perusal; the
epigrams are signally unreadable, but some of the sonnets are very
good. He seems to find in their limitations the same sort of strength
that he finds in his restricted tragedies; and they are all in the
truest sense sonnets.

Here is one, which loses, of course, by translation. In this and other
of my versions, I have rarely found the English too concise for the
Italian, and often not concise enough:

    HE IMAGINES THE DEATH OF HIS LADY.

    The sad bell that within my bosom aye
      Clamors and bids me still renew my tears,
    Doth stun my senses and my soul bewray
      With wandering fantasies and cheating fears;
    The gentle form of her that is but ta’en
      A little from my sight I seem to see
    At life’s bourne lying faint and pale with pain,--
      My love that to these tears abandons me.
    “O my own true one,” tenderly she cries,
      “I grieve for thee, love, that thou winnest naught
    Save hapless life with all thy many sighs.”
       Life? Never! Though thy blessed steps have taught
    My feet the path in all well-doing, stay!--
      At this last pass ‘t is mine to lead the way.

There is a still more characteristic sonnet of Alfieri’s, with which I
shall close, as I began, in the very open air of his autobiography:

    HIS PORTRAIT.

    Thou mirror of veracious speech sublime,
      What I am like in soul and body, show:
    Red hair,--in front grown somewhat thin with time;
      Tall stature, with an earthward head bowed low;
    A meager form, with two straight legs beneath;
      An aspect good; white skin with eyes of blue;
    A proper nose; fine lips and choicest teeth;
      Face paler than a throned king’s in hue;
    Now hard and bitter, yielding now and mild;
      Malignant never, passionate alway,
    With mind and heart in endless strife embroiled;
      Sad mostly, and then gayest of the gay.
    Achilles now, Thersites in his turn:
    Man, art thou great or vile? Die and thou ‘lt learn!



VINCENZO MONTI AND UGO FOSCOLO


I

The period of Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo is that covered in
political history by the events of the French revolution, the French
invasion of Italy and the Napoleonic wars there against the Austrians,
the establishment of the Cisalpine Republic and of the kingdom of
Italy, the final overthrow of the French dominion, and the restoration
of the Austrians. During all these events, the city of Milan remained
the literary as well as the political center of Italy, and whatever
were the moral reforms wrought by the disasters of which it was also
the center, there is no doubt that intellectually a vast change had
taken place since the days when Parini’s satire was true concerning
the life of the Milanese nobles. The transformation of national
character by war is never, perhaps, so immediate or entire as we are
apt to expect. When our own war broke out, those who believed that we
were to be purged and ennobled in all our purposes by calamity looked
for a sort of total and instant conversion. This, indeed, seemed to
take place, but there was afterward the inevitable reaction, and it
appears that there are still some small blemishes upon our political
and social state. Yet, for all this, each of us is conscious of some
vast and inestimable difference in the nation.

It is instructive, if it is not ennobling, to be moved by great and
noble impulses, to feel one’s self part of a people, and to recognize
country for once as the supreme interest; and these were the
privileges the French revolution gave the Italians. It shed their
blood, and wasted their treasure, and stole their statues and
pictures, but it bade them believe themselves men; it forced them to
think of Italy as a nation, and the very tyranny in which it ended was
a realization of unity, and more to be desired a thousand times
than the shameless tranquillity in which it had found them. It is
imaginable that when the revolution advanced upon Milan it did not
seem the greatest and finest thing in life to serve a lady; when the
battles of Marengo and Lodi were fought, and Mantua was lost and won,
to court one’s neighbor’s wife must have appeared to some gentlemen
rather a waste of time; when the youth of the Italian legion in
Napoleon’s campaign perished amidst the snows of Russia, their
brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, must have found
intrigues and operas and fashions but a poor sort of distraction. By
these terrible means the old forces of society were destroyed, not
quickly, but irreparably. The cavaliere servente was extinct early in
this century; and men and women opened their eyes upon an era of work,
the most industrious age that the world has ever seen.

The change took place slowly; much of the material was old and
hopelessly rotten; but in the new generation the growth towards better
and greater things was more rapid.

Yet it would not be well to conjure up too heroic an image of Italian
revolutionary society: we know what vices fester and passions rage
in war-time, and Italy was then almost constantly involved in war.
Intellectually, men are active, but the great poems are not written in
war-time, nor the highest effects of civilization produced. There is
a taint of insanity and of instability in everything, a mark of
feverishness and haste and transition. The revolution gave Italy a
chance for new life, but this was the most the revolution could do.
It was a great gift, not a perfect one; and as it remained for the
Italians to improve the opportunity, they did it partially, fitfully,
as men do everything.


II

The poets who belong to this time are numerous enough, but those best
known are Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo. These men were long the
most conspicuous literati in the capital of Lombardy, but neither was
Lombard. Monti was educated in the folds of Arcadia at Rome; Foscolo
was a native of one of the Greek islands dependent on Venice, and
passed his youth and earlier manhood in the lagoons. The accident of
residence at Milan brought the two men together, and made friends
of those who had naturally very little in common. They can only be
considered together as part of the literary history of the time in
which they both happened to be born, and as one of its most striking
contrasts.

In 1802, Napoleon bestowed a republican constitution on Lombardy and
the other provinces of Italy which had been united under the name of
the Cisalpine Republic, and Milan became the capital of the new state.
Thither at once turned all that was patriotic, hopeful, and ambitious
in Italian life; and though one must not judge this phase of Italian
civilization from Vincenzo Monti, it is an interesting comment on its
effervescent, unstable, fictitious, and partial nature that he was its
most conspicuous poet. Few men appear so base as Monti; but it is not
certain that he was of more fickle and truthless soul than many other
contemplative and cultivated men of the poetic temperament who are
never confronted with exigent events, and who therefore never betray
the vast difference that lies between the ideal heroism of the poet’s
vision and the actual heroism of occasion. We all have excellent
principles until we are tempted, and it was Monti’s misfortune to be
born in an age which put his principles to the test, with a prospect
of more than the usual prosperity in reward for servility and
compliance, and more than the usual want, suffering, and danger in
punishment of candor and constancy.

He was born near Ferrara in 1754; and having early distinguished
himself in poetry, he was conducted to Rome by the Cardinal-Legate
Borghesi. At Rome he entered the Arcadian fold of course, and piped
by rule there with extraordinary acceptance, and might have died a
Shepherd but for the French Revolution, which broke out and gave him
a chance to be a Man. The secretary of the French Legation at Naples,
appearing in Rome with the tri-color of the Republic, was attacked by
the foolish populace, and killed; and Monti, the petted and caressed
of priests, the elegant and tuneful young poet in the train of
Cardinal Borghesi, seized the event of Ugo Bassville’s death, and
turned it to epic account. In the moment of dissolution, Bassville,
repenting his republicanism, receives pardon; but, as a condition of
his acceptance into final bliss, he is shown, through several cantos
of _terza rima_, the woes which the Revolution has brought upon France
and the world. The bad people of the poem are naturally the French
Revolutionists; the good people, those who hate them. The most admired
episode is that descriptive of poor Louis XVI.’s ascent into heaven
from the scaffold.

{Illustration: VINCENZO MONTI.}

There is some reason to suppose that Monti was sincerer in this
poem than in any other of political bearing which he wrote; and the
Dantesque plan of the work gave it, with the occasional help of
Dante’s own phraseology and many fine turns of expression picked up
in the course of a multifarious reading, a dignity from which the
absurdity of the apotheosis of priests and princes detracted nothing
among its readers. At any rate, it was received by Arcadia with
rapturous acclaim, though its theme was _not_ the Golden Age; and on
the _Bassvilliana_ the little that is solid in Monti’s fame rests at
this day. His lyric poetry is seldom quoted; his tragedies are no
longer played, not even his _Galeoto Manfredi_, in which he has stolen
almost enough from Shakespeare to vitalize one of the characters.
After a while the Romans wearied of their idol, and began to attack
him in politics and literature; and in 1797 Monti, after a sojourn of
twenty years in the Papal capital, fled from Rome to Milan. Here he
was assailed in one of the journals by a fanatical Neapolitan, who had
also written a _Bassvilliana_, but with celestial powers, heroes and
martyrs of French politics, and who now accused Monti of enmity to the
rights of man. Monti responded by a letter to this poet, in which
he declared that his _Bassvilliana_ was no expression of his own
feelings, but that he had merely written it to escape the fury of
Bassville’s murderers, who were incensed against him as Bassville’s
friend! But for all this the _Bassvilliana_ was publicly burnt before
the cathedral in Milan, and Monti was turned out of a government place
he had got, because “he had published books calculated to inspire
hatred of democracy, or predilection for the government of kings, of
theocrats and aristocrats.” The poet was equal to this exigency; and
he now reprinted his works, and made them praise the French and the
revolutionists wherever they had blamed them before; all the bad
systems and characters were depicted as monarchies and kings and
popes, instead of anarchies and demagogues. Bonaparte was exalted,
and poor Louis XVI., sent to heaven with so much ceremony in the
_Bassvilliana_, was abased in a later ode on Superstition.

Monti was amazed that all this did not suffice “to overcome that fatal
combination of circumstances which had caused him to be judged as
the courtier of despotism.” “How gladly,” he writes, “would I have
accepted the destiny which envy could not reach! But this scourge of
honest men clings to my flesh, and I cannot hope to escape it, except
I turn scoundrel to become fortunate!” When the Austrians returned to
Milan, the only honest man unhanged in Italy fled with other democrats
to Paris, whither the fatal combination of circumstances followed him,
and caused him to be looked on with coldness and suspicion by the
republicans. After Bonaparte was made First Consul, Monti invoked his
might against the Germans in Italy, and carried his own injured virtue
back to Milan in the train of the conqueror. When Bonaparte was
crowned emperor, this democrat and patriot was the first to hail and
glorify him; and the emperor rewarded the poet’s devotion with a chair
in the University of Pavia, and a pension attached to the place of
Historiographer. Monti accepted the honors and emoluments due to
long-suffering integrity and inalterable virtue, and continued in the
enjoyment of them till the Austrians came back to Milan a second time,
in 1815, when his chaste muse was stirred to a new passion by the
charms of German despotism, and celebrated as “the wise, the just, the
best of kings, Francis Augustus”, who, if one were to believe Monti,
“in war was a whirlwind and in peace a zephyr.” But the heavy
Austrian, who knew he was nothing of the kind, thrust out his surly
under lip at these blandishments, said that this muse’s favors were
mercenary, and cut off Monti’s pension. Stung by such ingratitude,
the victim of his own honesty retired forever from courts, and
thenceforward sang only the merits of rich persons in private station,
who could afford to pay for spontaneous and incorruptible adulation.
He died in 1826, having probably endured more pain and rungreater
peril in his desire to avoid danger and suffering than the bravest and
truest man in a time when courage and truth seldom went in company.
It is not probable that he thought himself despicable or other than
unjustly wretched.

Perhaps, after all, he was not so greatly to blame. As De Sanctis
subtly observes: “He was always a liberal. How not be liberal in those
days when even the reactionaries shouted for liberty--of course,
_true_ liberty, as they called it? And in that name he glorified all
governments.... And it was not with hypocrisy.... He was a man who
would have liked to reconcile the old and the new ideas, all opinions,
yet, being forced to choose, he clung to the majority, with no desire
to play the martyr. So he became the secretary of the dominant
feeling, the poet of success. Kindly, tolerant, sincere, a good
friend, a courtier more from necessity and weakness than perversity or
wickedness; if he could have retired into his own heart, he might have
come out a poet.” Monti, in fact, was always an _improvvisatore_, and
the subjects which events cast in his way were like the themes which
the improvvisatore receives from his audience. He applied his poetic
faculty to their celebration with marvelous facility, and, doubtless,
regarded the results as rhetorical feats. His poetry was an art, not a
principle; and perhaps he was really surprised when people thought him
in earnest, and held him personally to account for what he wrote. “A
man of sensation, rather than sentiment,” says Arnaud, “Monti cared
only for the objective side of life. He poured out melodies, colors,
and chaff in the service of all causes; he was the poet-advocate, the
Siren of the Italian Parnassus.” Of course such a man instinctively
hated the ideas of the Romantic school, and he contested their
progress in literature with great bitterness. He believed that poetry
meant feigning, not making; and he declared that “the hard truth was
the grave of the beautiful.” The latter years of his life were spent
in futile battle with the “audacious boreal school” and in noxious
revival of the foolish old disputes of the Italian grammarians; and
Emiliani-Giudici condemns him for having done more than any enemy
of his country to turn Italian thought from questions of patriotic
interest to questions of philology, from the unity of Italy to the
unity of the language, from the usurpations and tyranny of Austria to
the assumptions of Della Crusca. But Monti could scarcely help any
cause which he espoused; and it seems to me that he was as well
employed in disputing the claims of the Tuscan dialect to be
considered the Italian language as he would have been in any other
way. The wonderful facility, no less than the unreality, of the
man appears in many things, but in none more remarkably than his
translation of Homer, which is the translation universally accepted
and approved in Italy. He knew little more than the Greek alphabet,
and produced his translation from the preceding versions in Latin and
Italian, submitting the work to the correction of eminent scholars
before he printed it. His poems fill many volumes; and all display the
ease, perspicuity, and obvious beauty of the improvvisatore. From a
fathomless memory, he drew felicities which had clung to it in his
vast reading, and gave them a new excellence by the art with which
he presented them as new. The commonplace Italians long continued to
speak awfully of Monti as a great poet, because the commonplace mind
regards everything established as great. He is a classic of those
classics common to all languages--dead corpses which retain their
forms perfectly in the coffin, but crumble to dust as soon as exposed
to the air.


III

From the _Bassvilliana_ I have translated the passage descriptive of
Louis XVI.’s ascent to heaven; and I offer this, perhaps not quite
justly, in illustration of what I have been saying of Monti as a
poet. There is something of his curious verbal beauty in it, and his
singular good luck of phrase, with his fortunate reminiscences of
other poets; the collocation of the different parts is very comical,
and the application of it all to Louis XVI. is one of the most
preposterous things in literature. But one must remember that the poor
king was merely a subject, a theme, with the poet.

    As when the sun uprears himself among
    The lesser dazzling substances, and drives
    His eager steeds along the fervid curve,--

    When in one only hue is painted all
    The heavenly vault, and every other star
    Is touched with pallor and doth veil its front,

    So with sidereal splendor all aflame
    Amid a thousand glad souls following,
    High into heaven arose that beauteous soul.

    Smiled, as he passed them, the majestical,
    Tremulous daughters of the light, and shook
    Their glowing and dewy tresses as they moved,

    He among all with longing and with love
    Beaming, ascended until he was come
    Before the triune uncreated life;

    There his flight ceases, there the heart, become
    Aim of the threefold gaze divine, is stilled,
    And all the urgence of desire is lost;

    There on his temples he receives the crown
    Of living amaranth immortal, on
    His cheek the kiss of everlasting peace.

    And then were heard consonances and notes
    Of an ineffable sweetness, and the orbs
    Began again to move their starry wheels.

    More swiftly yet the steeds that bore the day
    Exulting flew, and with their mighty tread,
    Did beat the circuit of their airy way.

In this there are three really beautiful lines; namely, those which
describe the arrival of the spirit in the presence of God:

    There his flight ceases, there the heart, become
    Aim of the threefold gaze divine, is stilled,
    And all the urgence of desire is lost;

Or, as it stands in the Italian:

    Ivi queta il suo voi, ivi s’appunta
    In tre sguardi beata, ivi il cor tace,
    E tutta perde del desio la punta.

It was the fortune of Monti, as I have said, to sing all round
and upon every side of every subject, and he was governed only by
knowledge of which side was for the moment uppermost. If a poem
attacked the French when their triumph seemed doubtful, the offending
verses were erased as soon as the French conquered, and the same poem
unblushingly exalted them in a new edition;--now religion and the
Church were celebrated in Monti’s song, now the goddess of Reason and
the reign of liberty; the Pope was lauded in Rome, and the Inquisition
was attacked in Milan; England was praised whilst Monti was in the
anti-French interest, and as soon as the poet could turn his coat of
many colors, the sun was urged to withdraw from England the small
amount of light and heat which it vouchsafed the foggy island; and the
Rev. Henry Boyd, who translated the _Bassvilliana_ into our tongue,
must have been very much dismayed to find this eloquent foe of
revolutions assailing the hereditary enemy of France in his next poem,
and uttering the hope that she might be surrounded with waves of blood
and with darkness, and shaken with earthquakes. But all this was
nothing to Monti’s treatment of the shade of poor King Louis XVI. We
have seen with how much ceremony the poet ushered that unhappy
prince into eternal bliss, and in Mr. Boyd’s translation of the
_Bassvilliana_, we can read the portents with which Monti makes the
heavens recognize the crime of his execution in Paris.

    Then from their houses, like a billowy tide,
    Men rush enfrenzied, and, from every breast
    Banished shrinks Pity, weeping, terrified.
    Now the earth quivers, trampled and oppressed
    By wheels, by feet of horses and of men;
    The air in hollow moans speaks its unrest;
    Like distant thunder’s roar, scarce within ken,
    Like the hoarse murmurs of the midnight surge,
    Like the north wind rushing from its far-off den.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Through the dark crowds that round the scaffold flock
    The monarch see with look and gait appear
    That might to soft compassion melt a rock;
    Melt rocks, from hardest flint draw pity’s tear,--
    But not from Gallic tigers; to what fate,
    Monsters, have ye brought him who loved you dear?

It seems scarcely possible that a personage so flatteringly attended
from the scaffold to the very presence of the Trinity, could afterward
have been used with disrespect by the same master of ceremonies; yet
in his Ode on Superstition, Monti has later occasion to refer to the
French monarch in these terms:

                     The tyrant has fallen. Ye peoples
                     Oppressèd, rise! Nature breathes freely.
                     Proud kings, bow before them and tremble;
                     Yonder crumbles the greatest of thrones!
    (_Repeat_.) There was stricken the vile perjurer Capet,

(He will only give Louis his family name!)

                     Who had worn out the patience of God!
                     In that pitiless blood dip thy fingers,
                     France, delivered from fetters unworthy!
                     ‘T is blood sucked from the veins of thy children
                     Whom the despot has cruelly wronged!
                     O freemen to arms that are flying,
                     Bathe, bathe in that blood your bright weapons,
                     Triumph rests ‘mid the terror of battle
                     Upon swords that have smitten a king!

This, every one must allow, was a very unhandsome way of treating an
ex-martyr, but at the time Monti wrote he was in Milan, in the midst
of most revolutionary spirits, and he felt obliged to be rude to the
memory of the unhappy king. After all, probably it did not hurt the
king so much as the poet.


IV

The troubled life of Ugo Foscolo is a career altogether wholesomer
than Monti’s to contemplate. There is much of violence, vanity, and
adventure in it, to remind of Byron; but Foscolo had neither the
badness of Byron’s heart nor the greatness of his talent. He was,
moreover, a better scholar and a man of truer feeling. Coming to
Venice from Zante, in 1793, he witnessed the downfall of a system
which Venetians do not yet know whether to lament or execrate; and he
was young and generous enough to believe that Bonaparte really
meant to build up a democratic republic on the ruins of the fallen
oligarchy. Foscolo had been one of the popular innovators before the
Republic perished, and he became the secretary of the provisional
government, and was greatly beloved by the people. It is related that
they were so used to his voice, and so fond of hearing it, that one
day, when they heard another reading in his place, they became quite
turbulent, till the president called out with that deliciously
caressing Venetian familiarity, _Popolo, ste cheto; Foscolo xe
rochio_! “People, be quiet; Foscolo is hoarse.” While in this office,
he brought out his first tragedy, which met with great success; and
at the same time Napoleon played the cruel farce with which he had
beguiled the Venetians, by selling them to Austria, at Campo-Formio.
Foscolo then left Venice, and went to Milan, where he established
a patriotic journal, in which a genuine love of country found
expression, and in which he defended unworthy Monti against the
attacks of the red republicans. He also defended the Latin language,
when the legislature, which found time in a season of great public
peril and anxiety to regulate philology, fulminated a decree against
that classic tongue; and he soon afterward quitted Milan, in despair
of the Republic’s future. He had many such fits of disgust, and in one
of them he wrote that the wickedness and shame of Italy were so great,
that they could never be effaced till the two seas covered her. There
was fighting in those days, for such as had stomach for it, in every
part of Italy; and Foscolo, being enrolled in the Italian Legion, was
present at the battle of Cento, and took part in the defense of Genoa,
but found time, amid all his warlike occupations, for literature. He
had written, in the flush of youthful faith and generosity, an ode to
Bonaparte Liberator; and he employed the leisure of the besieged
in republishing it at Genoa, affixing to the verses a reproach to
Napoleon for the treaty of Campo-Formio, and menacing him with a
Tacitus. He returned to Milan after the battle of Marengo, but his
enemies procured his removal to Boulogne, whither the Italian Legion
had been ordered, and where Foscolo cultivated his knowledge of
English and his hatred of Napoleon. After travel in Holland and
marriage with an Englishwoman there, he again came back to Milan,
which he found full as ever of folly, intrigue, baseness, and envy.
Leaving the capital, says Arnaud, “he took up his abode on the hills
of Brescia, and for two weeks was seen wandering over the heights,
declaiming and gesticulating. The mountaineers thought him mad.
One morning he descended to the city with the manuscript of the
_Sepoleri_. It was in 1807. Not Jena, not Friedland, could dull the
sensation it imparted to the Italian republic of letters.”


V

It is doubtful whether this poem, which Giudici calls the sublimest
lyrical composition modern literature has produced, will stir the
English reader to enthusiastic admiration. The poem is of its
age--declamatory, ambitious, eloquent; but the ideas do not seem great
or new, though that, perhaps, is because they have been so often
repeated since. De Sanctis declares it the “earliest lyrical note of
the new literature, the affirmation of the rehabilitated conscience
of the new manhood. A law of the Republic--“the French Republic”--
prescribed the equality of men before death. The splender of monuments
seemed a privilege of the nobles and the rich, and the Republicans
contested the privilege, the distinction of classes, even in this form
... This revolutionary logic driven to its ultimate corollaries clouded
the poetry of life for him.... He lacked the religious idea, but the
sense of humanity in its progress and its aims, bound together by the
family, the state, liberty, glory--from this Foscolo drew his harmonies,
a new religion of the tomb.”....

He touches in it on the funeral usages of different times and peoples,
with here and there an episodic allusion to the fate of heroes and
poets, and disquisitions on the aesthetic and spiritual significance
of posthumous honors. The most-admired passage of the poem is that in
which the poet turns to the monuments of Italy’s noblest dead, in the
church of Santa Croce, at Florence:

    The urnèd ashes of the mighty kindle
    The great soul to great actions, Pindemonte,
    And fair and holy to the pilgrim make
    The earth that holds them. When I saw the tomb
    Where rests the body of that great one,{1} who
    Tempering the scepter of the potentate,
    Strips off its laurels, and to the people shows
    With what tears it doth reek, and with what blood;
    When I beheld the place of him who raised
    A new Olympus to the gods in Rome,{2}--
    Of him{3} who saw the worlds wheel through the heights
    Of heaven, illumined by the moveless sun,
    And to the Anglian{4} oped the skyey ways
    He swept with such a vast and tireless wing,--
    O happy!{5} I cried, in thy life-giving air,
    And in the fountains that the Apennine
    Down from his summit pours for thee! The moon,
    Glad in thy breath, laps in her clearest light
    Thy hills with vintage laughing; and thy vales,
    Filled with their clustering cots and olive-groves,
    Send heavenward th’ incense of a thousand flowers.
    And thou wert first, Florence, to hear the song
    With which the Ghibelline exile charmed his wrath,{6}
    And thou his language and his ancestry
    Gavest that sweet lip of Calliope,{7}
    Who clothing on in whitest purity
    Love in Greece nude and nude in Rome, again
    Restored him unto the celestial Venus;--
    But happiest I count thee that thou keep’st
    Treasured beneath one temple-roof the glories
    Of Italy,--now thy sole heritage,
    Since the ill-guarded Alps and the inconstant
    Omnipotence of human destinies
    Have rent from thee thy substance and thy arms,
    Thy altars, country,--save thy memories, all.
    Ah! here, where yet a ray of glory lingers,
    Let a light shine unto all generous souls,
    And be Italia’s hope! Unto these stones
    Oft came Vittorio{8} for inspiration,
    Wroth to his country’s gods. Dumbly he roved
    Where Arno is most lonely, anxiously
    Brooding upon the heavens and the fields;
    Then when no living aspect could console,
    Here rested the Austere, upon his face
    Death’s pallor and the deathless light of hope.
    Here with these great he dwells for evermore,
    His dust yet quick with love of country. Yes,
    A god speaks to us from this sacred peace,
    That nursed for Persians upon Marathon,
    Where Athens gave her heroes sepulture,
    Greek ire and virtue. There the mariner
    That sailed the sea under Euboea saw
    Flashing amidst the wide obscurity
    The steel of helmets and of clashing brands,
    The smoke and lurid flame of funeral pyres,
    And phantom warriors, clad in glittering mail,
    Seeking the combat. Through the silences
    And horror of the night, along the field,
    The tumult of the phalanxes arose,
    Mixing itself with sound of warlike tubes,
    And clatter of the hoofs of steeds, that rushed
    Trampling the helms of dying warriors,--
    And sobs, and hymns, and the wild Parcae’s songs!{9}


Notes:

{1} Question of Machiavelli. Whether “The Prince” was
written in earnest, with a wish to serve the Devil, or in irony,
with a wish to serve the people, is still in dispute.

{2} Michelangelo.

{3} Galileo.

{4} Newton.

{5} Florence.

{6} It is the opinion of many historians that the _Divina
Commedia_ was commenced before the exile of Dante.--_Foscolo_.

{7} Petrarch was born in exile of Florentine parents.--_Ibid_.

{8} Alfieri. So Foscolo saw him in his last years.

{9} The poet, quoting Pausanias, says: “The sepulture of the
Athenians who fell in the battle took place on the plain of
Marathon, and there every night is heard the neighing of the
steeds, and the phantoms of the combatants appear.”


The poem ends with the prophecy that poetry, after time destroys
the sepulchers, shall preserve the memories of the great and the
unhappy, and invokes the shades of Greece and Troy to give an
illusion of sublimity to the close. The poet doubts if there be
any comfort to the dead in monumental stones, but declares that
they keep memories alive, and concludes that only those who leave
no love behind should have little joy of their funeral urns. He
blames the promiscuous burial of the good and bad, the great and
base; he dwells on the beauty of the ancient cemeteries and the
pathetic charm of English churchyards. The poem of _I Sepolcri_
has peculiar beauties, yet it does not seem to me the grand work
which the Italians have esteemed it; though it has the pensive
charm which attaches to all elegiac verse. De Sanctis attaches
a great political and moral value to it. “The revolution, in the
horror of its excesses, was passing. More temperate ideas
prevailed; the need of a moral and religious restoration was felt.
Foscolo’s poem touched these chords ... which vibrated in all
hearts.”

The tragedies of Foscolo are little read, and his unfinished but
faithful translation of Homer did not have the success which met
the facile paraphrase of Monti. His other works were chiefly
critical, and are valued for their learning. The Italians claim
that in his studies of Dante he was the first to reveal him to
Europe in his political character, “as the inspired poet, who
availed himself of art for the civil regeneration of the people
speaking the language which he dedicated to supreme song”; and
they count as among their best critical works, Foscolo’s
“exquisite essays on Petrarch and Boccaccio”. His romance, “The
Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis”, is a novel full of patriotism,
suffering, and suicide, which found devoted readers among youth
affected by “The Sorrows of Werther”, and which was the first cry
of Italian disillusion with the French. Yet it had no political
effect, De Sanctis says, because it was not in accord with the
popular hopefulness of the time. It was, of course, wildly
romantic, of the romantic sort that came before the school had
got its name, and it was supposed to celebrate one of Foscolo’s
first loves. He had a great many loves, first and last, and is
reproached with a dissolute life by the German critic, Gervinius.

He was made Professor of Italian Eloquence at the University of
Pavia in 1809; but, refusing to flatter Napoleon in his inaugural
address, his professorship was abolished. When the Austrians
returned to Milan, in 1815, they offered him the charge of their
official newspaper; but he declined it, and left Milan for the
last time. He wandered homeless through Switzerland for a while,
and at last went to London, where he gained a livelihood by
teaching the Italian language and lecturing on its literature;
and where, tormented by homesickness and the fear of blindness,
he died, in 1827. “Poverty would make even Homer abject in London,”
 he said.

One of his biographers, however, tells us that he was hospitably
welcomed at Holland House in London, and “entertained by the most
illustrious islanders; but the indispensable etiquette of the
country, grievous to all strangers, was intolerable to Foscolo,
and he soon withdrew from these elegant circles, and gave himself
up to his beloved books.” Like Alfieri, on whom he largely modeled
his literary ideal, and whom he fervently admired, Foscolo has left
us his portrait drawn by himself, which the reader may be interested
to see.

    A furrowed brow, with cavernous eyes aglow;
      Hair tawny; hollow cheeks; looks resolute;
    Lips pouting, but to smiles and pleasance slow;
      Head bowed, neck beautiful, and breast hirsute;
    Limbs shapely; simple, yet elect, in dress;
      Rapid my steps, my thoughts, my acts, my tones;
    Grave, humane, stubborn, prodigal to excess;
      To the world adverse, fortune me disowns.
    Shame makes me vile, and anger makes me brave,
      Reason in me is cautious, but my heart
    Doth, rich in vices and in virtues, rave;
      Sad for the most, and oft alone, apart;
    Incredulous alike of hope and fear,
      Death shall bring rest and honor to my bier.

{Illustration: UGO FOSCOLO.}

Cantù thinks that Foscolo succeeded, by imitating unusual models, in
seeming original, and probably more with reference to the time in
which he wrote than to the qualities of his mind, classes him with the
school of Monti. Although his poetry is full of mythology and classic
allusion, the use of the well-worn machinery is less mechanical than
in Monti; and Foscolo, writing always with one high purpose, was
essentially different in inspiration from the poet who merchandised
his genius and sold his song to any party threatening hard or paying
well. Foscolo was a brave man, and faithfully loved freedom, and he
must be ranked with those poets who, in later times, have devoted
themselves to the liberation of Italy. He is classic in his forms, but
he is revolutionary, and he hoped for some ideal Athenian liberty for
his country, rather than the English freedom she enjoys. But we cannot
venture to pronounce dead or idle the Greek tradition, and we must
confess that the romanticism which brought into literary worship the
trumpery picturesqueness of the Middle Ages was a lapse from generous
feeling.



ALESSANDRO MANZONI


I

It was not till the turbulent days of the Napoleonic age were past,
that the theories and thoughts of Romance were introduced into Italy.
When these days came to an end, the whole political character of
the peninsula reverted, as nearly as possible, to that of the times
preceding the revolutions. The Bourbons were restored to Naples, the
Pope to Rome, the Dukes and Grand Dukes to their several states, the
House of Savoy to Piedmont, and the Austrians to Venice and Lombardy;
and it was agreed among all these despotic governments that there was
to be no Italy save, as Metternich suggested, in a geographical sense.
They encouraged a relapse, among their subjects, into the follies and
vices of the past, and they largely succeeded. But, after all, the
age was against them; and people who have once desired and done great
things are slow to forget them, though the censor may forbid them to
be named, and the prison and the scaffold may enforce his behest.

With the restoration of the Austrians, there came a tranquillity to
Milan which was not the apathy it seemed. It was now impossible for
literary patriotism to be openly militant, as it had been in Alfieri
and Foscolo, but it took on the retrospective phase of Romance, and
devoted itself to the celebration of the past glories of Italy. In
this way it still fulfilled its educative and regenerative mission. It
dwelt on the victories which Italians had won in other days over
their oppressors, and it tacitly reminded them that they were still
oppressed by foreign governments; it portrayed their own former
corruption and crimes, and so taught them the virtues which alone
could cure the ills their vices had brought upon them. Only
secondarily political, and primarily moral, it forbade the Italians to
hope to be good citizens without being good men. This was Romance in
its highest office, as Manzoni, Grossi, and D’Azeglio conceived it.
Aesthetically, the new school struggled to overthrow the classic
traditions; to liberate tragedy from the bondage of the unities, and
let it concern itself with any tragical incident of life; to give
comedy the generous scope of English and Spanish comedy; to seek
poetry in the common experiences of men and to find beauty in any
theme; to be utterly free, untrammeled, and abundant; to be in
literature what the Gothic is in architecture. It perished because
it came to look for Beauty only, and all that was good in it became
merged in Realism which looks for Truth.

These were the purposes of Romance, and the masters in whom the
Italian Romanticists had studied them were the great German and
English poets. The tragedies of Shakespeare were translated and
admired, and the dramas of Schiller were reproduced in Italian verse;
the poems of Byron and of Scott were made known, and the ballads of
such lyrical Germans as Bürger. But, of course, so quick and curious a
people as the Italians had been sensitive to all preceding influences
in the literary world, and before what we call Romance came in from
Germany, a breath of nature had already swept over the languid
elegance of Arcady from the northern lands of storms and mists; and
the effects of this are visible in the poetry of Foscolo’s period.

The enthusiasm with which Ossian was received in France remained, or
perhaps only began, after the hoax was exploded in England. In Italy,
the misty essence of the Caledonian bard was hailed as a substantial
presence. The king took his spear, and struck his deeply sounding
shield, as it hung on the willows over the neatly kept garden-walks,
and the Shepherds and Shepherdesses promenading there in perpetual
_villeggiatura_ were alarmed and perplexed out of a composure which
many noble voices had not been able to move. Emiliani-Giudici declares
that Melchiorre Cesarotti, a professor in the University of Padua,
dealt the first blow against the power of Arcadia. This professor of
Greek made the acquaintance of George Sackville, who inflamed him with
a desire to read Ossian’s poems, then just published in England; and
Cesarotti studied the English language in order to acquaint himself
with a poet whom he believed greater than Homer. He translated
Macpherson into Italian verse, retaining, however, in extraordinary
degree, the genius of the language in which he found the poetry. He
is said (for I have not read his version) to have twisted the Italian
into our curt idioms, and indulged himself in excesses of compound
words, to express the manner of his original. He believed that the
Italian language had become “sterile, timid, and superstitious”,
through the fault of the grammarians; and in adopting the blank verse
for his translation, he ventured upon new forms, and achieved complete
popularity, if not complete success. “In fact,” says Giudici, “the
poems of Ossian were no sooner published than Italy was filled with
uproar by the new methods of poetry, clothed in all the magic of
magnificent forms till then unknown. The Arcadian flocks were thrown
into tumult, and proclaimed a crusade against Cesarotti as a subverter
of ancient order and a mover of anarchy in the peaceful republic--it
was a tyranny, and they called it a republic--of letters. Cesarotti
was called corrupter, sacrilegious, profane, and assailed with titles
of obscene contumely; but the poems of Ossian were read by all, and
the name of the translator, till then little known, became famous in
and out of Italy.” In fine, Cesarotti founded a school; but, blinded
by his marvelous success, he attempted to translate Homer into the
same fearless Italian which had received his Ossian. He failed, and
was laughed at. Ossian, however, remained a power in Italian letters,
though Cesarotti fell; and his influence was felt for romance before
the time of the Romantic School. Monti imitated him as he found him in
Italian; yet, though Monti’s verse abounds, like Ossian, in phantoms
and apparitions, they are not northern specters, but respectable
shades, classic, well-mannered, orderly, and have no kinship with
anything but the personifications, Vice, Virtue, Fear, Pleasure, and
the rest of their genteel allegorical company. Unconsciously, however,
Monti had helped to prepare the way for romantic realism by his choice
of living themes. Louis XVI, though decked in epic dignity, was
something that touched and interested the age; and Bonaparte, even in
pagan apotheosis, was so positive a subject that the improvvisatore
acquired a sort of truth and sincerity in celebrating him. Bonaparte
might not be the Sun he was hailed to be, but even in Monti’s verse he
was a soldier, ambitious, unscrupulous, irresistible, recognizable in
every guise.

In Germany, where the great revival of romantic letters took
place,--where the poets and scholars, studying their own Minnesingers
and the ballads of England and Scotland, reproduced the simplicity and
directness of thought characteristic of young literatures,--the life
as well as the song of the people had once been romantic. But in
Italy there had never been such a period. The people were municipal,
mercantile; the poets burlesqued the tales of chivalry, and the
traders made money out of the Crusades. In Italy, moreover, the
patriotic instincts of the people, as well as their habits and
associations, were opposed to those which fostered romance in Germany;
and the poets and novelists, who sought to naturalize the new element
of literature, were naturally accused of political friendship with
the hated Germans. The obstacles in the way of the Romantic School at
Milan were very great, and it may be questioned if, after all, its
disciples succeeded in endearing to the Italians any form of romantic
literature except the historical novel, which came from England, and
the untrammeled drama, which was studied from English models. They
produced great results for good in Italian letters; but, as usual,
these results were indirect, and not just those at which the
Romanticists aimed.

In Italy the Romantic School was not so sharply divided into a first
and second period as in Germany, where it was superseded for a time by
the classicism following the study of Winckelmann. Yet it kept, in its
own way, the general tendency of German literature. For the “Sorrows
of Werther”, the Italians had the “Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis”; for
the brood of poets who arose in the fatherland to defy the Revolution,
incarnate in Napoleon, with hymn and ballad, a retrospective national
feeling in Italy found the same channels of expression through the
Lombard group of lyrists and dramatists, while the historical romance
flourished as richly as in England, and for a much longer season.

De Sanctis studies the literary situation in the concluding pages of
his history; they are almost the most brilliant pages, and they embody
a conception of it so luminous that it would be idle to pretend to
offer the reader anything better than a résumé of his work. The
revolution had passed away under the horror of its excesses; more
temperate ideas prevailed; the need of a religious and moral
restoration was felt. “Foscolo died in 1827, and Pellico, Manzoni,
Grossi, Berchet, had risen above the horizon. The Romantic School, ‘the
audacious boreal school,’ had appeared. 1815 is a memorable date....
It marks the official manifestation of a reaction, not only political,
but philosophical and literary.... The reaction was as rapid and
violent as the revolution.... The white terror succeeded to the red.”

Our critic says that there were at this time two enemies, materialism
and skepticism, and that there rose against them a spirituality
carried to idealism, to mysticism. “To the right of nature was opposed
the divine right, to popular sovereignty legitimacy, to individual
rights the State, to liberty authority or order. The middle ages
returned in triumph.... Christianity, hitherto the target of all
offense, became the center of every philosophical investigation, the
banner of all social and religious progress.... The criterions of art
were changed. There was a pagan art and a Christian art, whose highest
expression was sought in the Gothic, in the glooms, the mysteries, the
vague, the indefinite, in a beyond which was called the ideal, in an
aspiration towards the infinite, incapable of fruition and therefore
melancholy.... To Voltaire and Rousseau succeeded Chateaubriand, De
Staël, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Lamennais. And in 1815 appeared the
Sacred Hymns of the young Manzoni.”

The Romantic movement was as universal then as the Realistic movement
is now, and as irresistible. It was the literary expression of
monarchy and aristocracy, as Realism is the literary expression of
republicanism and democracy. What De Sanctis shows is that out of
the political tempest absolutism issued stronger than ever, that the
clergy and the nobles, once its rivals, became its creatures; the
prevailing bureaucracy interested the citizen class in the perpetuity
of the state, but turned them into office-seekers; the police became
the main-spring of power; the office-holder, the priest and the
soldier became spies. “There resulted an organized corruption called
government, absolute in form, or under a mask of constitutionalism.
... Such a reaction, in violent contradiction of modern ideas, could
not last.” There were outbreaks in Spain, Naples, Piedmont, the
Romagna; Greece and Belgium rose; legitimacy fell; citizen-kings came
in; and a long quiet followed, in which the sciences and letters
nourished. Even in Austria-ridden Italy, where constitutionalism was
impossible, the middle class was allowed a part in the administration.
“Little by little the new and the old learned to live together: the
divine right and the popular will were associated in laws and writs.
... The movement was the same revolution as before, mastered by
experience and self-disciplined.... Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Victor
Hugo, Lamennais, Manzoni, Grossi, Pellico, were liberal no less
than Voltaire and Rousseau, Alfieri and Foscolo.... The religious
sentiment, too deeply offended, vindicated itself; yet it could
not escape from the lines of the revolution ... it was a reaction
transmuted into a reconciliation.”

The literary movement was called Romantic as against the old
Classicism; medieval and Christian, it made the papacy the hero of its
poetry; it abandoned Greek and Roman antiquity for national antiquity,
but the modern spirit finally informed Romanticism as it had informed
Classicism; Parini and Manzoni were equally modern men. Religion is
restored, but, “it is no longer a creed, it is an artistic motive....
It is not enough that there are saints, they must be beautiful; the
Christian idea returns as art.... Providence comes back to the world,
the miracle re-appears in story, hope and prayer revive, the
heart softens, it opens itself to gentle influences.... Manzoni
reconstructs the ideal of the Christian Paradise and reconciles it
with the modern spirit. Mythology goes, the classic remains; the
eighteenth century is denied, its ideas prevail.”

The pantheistic idealism which resulted pleased the citizen-fancy;
the notion of “evolution succeeded to that of revolution”; one said
civilization, progress, culture, instead of liberty. “Louis Philippe
realized the citizen ideal.... The problem was solved, the skein
untangled. God might rest.... The supernatural was not believed, but
it was explained and respected. One did not accept Christ as divine,
but a human Christ was exalted to the stars; religion was spoken of
with earnestness, and the ministers of God with reverence.”

A new criticism arose, and bade literature draw from life, while a
vivid idealism accompanied anxiety for historical truth. In Italy,
where the liberals could not attack the governments, they attacked
Aristotle, and a tremendous war arose between the Romanticists and
the Classicists. The former grouped themselves at Milan chiefly, and
battled through the Conciliatore, a literary journal famous in Italian
annals. They vaunted the English and Germans; they could not endure
mythology; they laughed the three unities to scorn. At Paris Manzoni
had imbibed the new principles, and made friends with the new masters;
for Goethe and Schiller he abandoned Alfieri and Monti. “Yet if the
Romantic School, by its name, its ties, its studies, its impressions,
was allied to German traditions and French fashions, it was at bottom
Italian in accent, aspiration, form, and motive.... Every one felt
our hopes palpitating under the medieval robe; the least allusion, the
remotest meanings, were caught by the public, which was in the closest
accord with the writers. The middle ages were no longer treated with
historical and positive intention; they became the garments of our
ideals, the transparent expression of our hopes.”

It is this fact which is especially palpable in Manzoni’s work, and
Manzoni was the chief poet of the Romantic School in that land where
it found the most realistic development, and set itself seriously to
interpret the emotions and desires of the nation. When these were
fulfilled, even the form of Romanticism ceased to be.


III

ALESSANDRO MANZONI was born at Milan in 1784, and inherited from his
father the title of Count, which he always refused to wear; from his
mother, who was the daughter of Beccaria, the famous and humane writer
on Crimes and Punishments, he may have received the nobility which his
whole life has shown.

{Illustration: Alessandro Manzoni.}

In his youth he was a liberal thinker in matters of religion; the
stricter sort of Catholics used to class him with the Voltaireans,
and there seems to have been some ground for their distrust of his
orthodoxy. But in 1808 he married Mlle. Louisa Henriette Blondel, the
daughter of a banker of Geneva, who, having herself been converted
from Protestantism to the Catholic faith on coming to Milan, converted
her husband in turn, and thereafter there was no question concerning
his religion. She was long remembered in her second country “for her
fresh blond head, and her blue eyes, her lovely eyes”, and she made
her husband very happy while she lived. The young poet signalized his
devotion to his young bride, and the faith to which she restored him,
in his Sacred Hymns, published in this devout and joyous time. But
Manzoni was never a Catholic of those Catholics who believed in the
temporal power of the Pope. He said to Madam Colet, the author of
“L’Italie des Italiens”, a silly and gossiping but entertaining book,
“I bow humbly to the Pope, and the Church has no more respectful son;
but why confound the interests of earth and those of heaven? The Roman
people are right in asking their freedom--there are hours for nations,
as for governments, in which they must occupy themselves, not with
what is convenient, but with what is just. Let us lay hands boldly
upon the temporal power, but let us not touch the doctrine of the
Church. The one is as distinct from the other as the immortal soul
from the frail and mortal body. To believe that the Church is attacked
in taking away its earthly possessions is a real heresy to every true
Christian.”

The Sacred Hymns were published in 1815, and in 1820 Manzoni gave the
world his first tragedy, _Il Conte di Carmagnola_, a romantic drama
written in the boldest defiance of the unities of time and place. He
dispensed with these hitherto indispensable conditions of dramatic
composition among the Italians eight years before Victor Hugo braved
their tyranny in his Cromwell; and in an introduction to his tragedy
he gave his reasons for this audacious innovation. Following the
Carmagnola, in 1822, came his second and last tragedy, _Adelchi_.
In the mean time he had written his magnificent ode on the Death of
Napoleon, “Il Cinque Maggio”, which was at once translated by Goethe,
and recognized by the French themselves as the last word on the
subject. It placed him at the head of the whole continental Romantic
School.

In 1825 he published his romance, “I Promessi Sposi”, known to every
one knowing anything of Italian, and translated into all modern
languages. Besides these works, and some earlier poems, Manzoni wrote
only a few essays upon historical and literary subjects, and he always
led a very quiet and uneventful life. He was very fond of the country;
early every spring he left the city for his farm, whose labors he
directed and shared. His life was so quiet, indeed, and his fate
so happy, in contrast with that of Pellico and other literary
contemporaries at Milan, that he was accused of indifference in
political matters by those who could not see the subtler tendency of
his whole life and works. Marc Monnier says, “There are countries
where it is a shame not to be persecuted,” and this is the only
disgrace which has ever fallen upon Manzoni.

When the Austrians took possession of Milan, after the retirement of
the French, they invited the patricians to inscribe themselves in
a book of nobility, under pain of losing their titles, and Manzoni
preferred to lose his. He constantly refused honors offered him by the
Government, and he sent back the ribbon of a knightly order with the
answer that he had made a vow never to wear any decoration. When
Victor Emanuel in turn wished to do him a like honor, he held himself
bound by his excuse to the Austrians, but accepted the honorary
presidency of the Lombard Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts. In
1860 he was elected a Senator of the realm; he appeared in order
to take the oath and then he retired to a privacy never afterwards
broken.


IV

“Goethe’s praise,” says a sneer turned proverb, “is a brevet of
mediocrity.” Manzoni must rest under this damaging applause, which was
not too freely bestowed upon other Italian poets of his time, or upon
Italy at all, for that matter.

Goethe could not laud Manzoni’s tragedies too highly; he did not find
one word too much or too little in them; the style was free, noble,
full and rich. As to the religious lyrics, the manner of their
treatment was fresh and individual although the matter and the
significance were not new; and the poet was “a Christian without
fanaticism, a Roman Catholic without bigotry, a zealot without
hardness.”

The tragedies had no success upon the stage. The Carmagnola was given
in Florence in 1828, but in spite of the favor of the court, and the
open rancor of the friends of the Classic School, it failed; at Turin,
where the Adelchi was tried, Pellico regretted that the attempt to
play it had been made, and deplored the “vile irreverence of the
public.”

Both tragedies deal with patriotic themes, but they are both concerned
with occurrences of remote epochs. The time of the Carmagnola is the
fifteenth century; that of the Adelchi the eighth century; and however
strongly marked are the characters,--and they are very strongly
marked, and differ widely from most persons of Italian classic tragedy
in this respect,--one still feels that they are subordinate to the
great contests of elements and principles for which the tragedy
furnishes a scene. In the Carmagnola the pathos is chiefly in the
feeling embodied by the magnificent chorus lamenting the slaughter of
Italians by Italians at the battle of Maclodio; in the Adelchi we are
conscious of no emotion so strong as that we experience when we
hear the wail of the Italian people, to whom the overthrow of their
Longobard oppressors by the Franks is but the signal of a new
enslavement. This chorus is almost as fine as the more famous one in
the Carmagnola; both are incomparably finer than anything else in the
tragedies and are much more dramatic than the dialogue. It is in the
emotion of a spectator belonging to our own time rather than in that
of an actor of those past times that the poet shows his dramatic
strength; and whenever he speaks abstractly for country and humanity
he moves us in a way that permits no doubt of his greatness.

After all, there is but one Shakespeare, and in the drama below him
Manzoni holds a high place. The faults of his tragedies are those
of most plays which are not acting plays, and their merits are much
greater than the great number of such plays can boast. I have not
meant to imply that you want sympathy with the persons of the drama,
but only less sympathy than with the ideas embodied in them. There are
many affecting scenes, and the whole of each tragedy is conceived in
the highest and best ideal.


V

In the Carmagnola, the action extends from the moment when the
Venetian Senate, at war with the Duke of Milan, places its armies
under the command of the count, who is a soldier of fortune and
has formerly been in the service of the Duke. The Senate sends two
commissioners into his camp to represent the state there, and to be
spies upon his conduct. This was a somewhat clumsy contrivance of the
Republic to give a patriotic character to its armies, which were often
recruited from mercenaries and generaled by them; and, of course, the
hireling leaders must always have chafed under the surveillance. After
the battle of Maclodio, in which the Venetian mercenaries defeated the
Milanese, the victors, according to the custom of their trade,
began to free their comrades of the other side whom they had taken
prisoners. The commissioners protested against this waste of results,
but Carmagnola answered that it was the usage of his soldiers, and
he could not forbid it; he went further, and himself liberated some
remaining prisoners. His action was duly reported to the Senate, and
as he had formerly been in the service of the Duke of Milan, whose
kinswoman he had married, he was suspected of treason. He was invited
to Venice, and received with great honor, and conducted with every
flattering ceremony to the hall of the Grand Council. After a brief
delay, sufficient to exclude Carmagnola’s followers, the Doge ordered
him to be seized, and upon a summary trial he was put to death. From
this tragedy I give first a translation of that famous chorus of which
I have already spoken; I have kept the measure and the movement of the
original at some loss of literality. The poem is introduced into the
scene immediately succeeding the battle of Maclodio, where the two
bands of those Italian _condottieri_ had met to butcher each other
in the interests severally of the Duke of Milan and the Signory of
Venice.

    CHORUS.

    On the right hand a trumpet is sounding,
      On the left hand a trumpet replying,
    The field upon all sides resounding
        With the trampling of foot and of horse.
      Yonder flashes a flag; yonder flying
    Through the still air a bannerol glances;
    Here a squadron embattled advances,
        There another that threatens its course.

    The space ‘twixt the foes now beneath them
      Is hid, and on swords the sword ringeth;
    In the hearts of each other they sheathe them;
        Blood runs, they redouble their blows.
      Who are these? To our fair fields what bringeth
    To make war upon us, this stranger?
    Which is he that hath sworn to avenge her,
        The land of his birth, on her foes?

    They are all of one land and one nation,
      One speech; and the foreigner names them
    All brothers, of one generation;
        In each visage their kindred is seen;
      This land is the mother that claims them,
    This land that their life blood is steeping,
    That God, from all other lands keeping,
        Set the seas and the mountains between.

    Ah, which drew the first blade among them
      To strike at the heart of his brother?
    What wrong, or what insult hath stung them
        To wipe out what stain, or to die?
      They know not; to slay one another
    They come in a cause none hath told them;
    A chief that was purchased hath sold them;
        They combat for him, nor ask why.

    Ah, woe for the mothers that bare them,
      For the wives of these warriors maddened!
    Why come not their loved ones to tear them
        Away from the infamous field?
      Their sires, whom long years have saddened,
    And thoughts of the sepulcher chastened,
    In warning why have they not hastened
        To bid them to hold and to yield?

    As under the vine that embowers
      His own happy threshold, the smiling
    Clown watches the tempest that lowers
        On the furrows his plow has not turned,
      So each waits in safety, beguiling
    The time with his count of those falling
    Afar in the fight, and the appalling
        Flames of towns and of villages burned.

    There, intent on the lips of their mothers,
      Thou shalt hear little children with scorning
    Learn to follow and flout at the brothers
        Whose blood they shall go forth to shed;
    Thou shalt see wives and maidens adorning
    Their bosoms and hair with the splendor
    Of gems but now torn from the tender,
        Hapless daughters and wives of the dead.

    Oh, disaster, disaster, disaster!
      With the slain the earth’s hidden already;
    With blood reeks the whole plain, and vaster
        And fiercer the strife than before!
      But along the ranks, rent and unsteady,
    Many waver--they yield, they are flying!
    With the last hope of victory dying
        The love of life rises again.

    As out of the fan, when it tosses
      The grain in its breath, the grain flashes,
    So over the field of their losses
        Fly the vanquished. But now in their course
      Starts a squadron that suddenly dashes
    Athwart their wild flight and that stays them,
    While hard on the hindmost dismays them
        The pursuit of the enemy’s horse.

    At the feet of the foe they fall trembling,
      And yield life and sword to his keeping;
    In the shouts of the victors assembling,
        The moans of the dying are drowned.
      To the saddle a courier leaping,
    Takes a missive, and through all resistance,
    Spurs, lashes, devours the distance;
        Every hamlet awakes at the sound.

    Ah, why from their rest and their labor
      To the hoof-beaten road do they gather?
    Why turns every one to his neighbor
        The jubilant tidings to hear?
      Thou know’st whence he comes, wretched father?
    And thou long’st for his news, hapless mother?
    In fight brother fell upon brother!
      These terrible tidings _I_ bring.

    All around I hear cries of rejoicing;
      The temples are decked; the song swelleth
    From the hearts of the fratricides, voicing
       Praise and thanks that are hateful to God.
      Meantime from the Alps where he dwelleth
    The Stranger turns hither his vision,
    And numbers with cruel derision
        The brave that have bitten the sod.

    Leave your games, leave your songs and exulting;
      Fill again your battalions and rally
    Again to your banners! Insulting
        The stranger descends, he is come!
      Are ye feeble and few in your sally,
    Ye victors? For this he descendeth!
    ‘Tis for this that his challenge he sendeth
        From the fields where your brothers lie dumb!

    Thou that strait to thy children appearedst,
      Thou that knew’st not in peace how to tend them,
    Fatal land! now the stranger thou fearedst
        Receive, with the judgment he brings!
      A foe unprovoked to offend them
    At thy board sitteth down, and derideth,
    The spoil of thy foolish divideth,
        Strips the sword from the hand of thy kings.

    Foolish he, too! What people was ever
      For bloodshedding blest, or oppression?
    To the vanquished alone comes harm never;
        To tears turns the wrong-doer’s joy!
      Though he ‘scape through the years’ long progression,
    Yet the vengeance eternal o’ertaketh
    Him surely; it waiteth and waketh;
        It seizes him at the last sigh!

    We are all made in one Likeness holy,
      Ransomed all by one only redemption;
    Near or far, rich or poor, high or lowly,
        Wherever we breathe in life’s air,
      We are brothers, by one great preëmption
    Bound all; and accursed be its wronger,
    Who would ruin by right of the stronger,
        Wring the hearts of the weak with despair.

Here is the whole political history of Italy. In this poem the
picture of the confronted hosts, the vivid scenes of the combat, the
lamentations over the ferocity of the embattled brothers, and the
indifference of those that behold their kinsmen’s carnage, the strokes
by which the victory, the rout, and the captivity are given, and then
the apostrophe to Italy, and finally the appeal to conscience--are all
masterly effects. I do not know just how to express my sense of near
approach through that last stanza to the heart of a very great and
good man, but I am certain that I have such a feeling.

The noble, sonorous music, the solemn movement of the poem are in
great part lost by its version into English; yet, I hope that enough
are left to suggest the original. I think it quite unsurpassed in its
combination of great artistic and moral qualities, which I am sure my
version has not wholly obscured, bad as it is.


VI

The scene following first upon this chorus also strikes me with the
grand spirit in which it is wrought; and in its revelations of the
motives and ideas of the old professional soldier-life, it reminds me
of Schiller’s Wallenstein’s Camp. Manzoni’s canvas has not the breadth
of that of the other master, but he paints with as free and bold a
hand, and his figures have an equal heroism of attitude and motive.
The generous soldierly pride of Carmagnola, and the strange _esprit du
corps_ of the mercenaries, who now stood side by side, and now front
to front in battle; who sold themselves to any buyer that wanted
killing done, and whose noblest usage was in violation of the letter
of their bargains, are the qualities on which the poet touches, in
order to waken our pity for what has already raised our horror. It is
humanity in either case that inspires him--a humanity characteristic
of many Italians of this century, who have studied so long in the
school of suffering that they know how to abhor a system of wrong, and
yet excuse its agents.

The scene I am to give is in the tent of the great _condottiere_.
Carmagnola is speaking with one of the Commissioners of the Venetian
Republic, when the other suddenly enters:

   _Commissioner._     My lord, if instantly
   You haste not to prevent it, treachery
   Shameless and bold will be accomplished, making
   Our victory vain, as’t partly hath already.

   _Count._ How now?

   _Com._ The prisoners leave the camp in troops!
   The leaders and the soldiers vie together
   To set them free; and nothing can restrain them
   Saving command of yours.

   _Count._              Command of mine?

   _Com._ You hesitate to give it?

   _Count._                   ‘T is a use,
   This, of the war, you know. It is so sweet
   To pardon when we conquer; and their hate
   Is quickly turned to friendship in the hearts
   That throb beneath the steel. Ah, do not seek
   To take this noble privilege from those
   Who risked their lives for your sake, and to-day
   Are generous because valiant yesterday.

   _Com._ Let him be generous who fights for himself,
   My lord! But these--and it rests upon their honor--
   Have fought at our expense, and unto us
   Belong the prisoners.

   _Count._              You may well think so,
   Doubtless, but those who met them front to front,
   Who felt their blows, and fought so hard to lay
   Their bleeding hands upon them, they will not
   So easily believe it.

   _Com._                And is this
   A joust for pleasure then? And doth not Venice
   Conquer to keep? And shall her victory
   Be all in vain?

   _Count._         Already I have heard it,
   And I must hear that word again? ‘Tis bitter;
   Importunate it comes upon me, like an insect
   That, driven once away, returns to buzz
   About my face.... The victory is in vain!
   The field is heaped with corpses; scattered wide,
   And broken, are the rest--a most flourishing
   Army, with which, if it were still united,
   And it were mine, mine truly, I’d engage
   To overrun all Italy! Every design
   Of the enemy baffled; even the hope of harm
   Taken away from him; and from my hand
   Hardly escaped, and glad of their escape,
   Four captains against whom but yesterday
   It were a boast to show resistance; vanished
   Half of the dread of those great names; in us
   Doubled the daring that the foe has lost;
   The whole choice of the war now in our hands;
   And ours the lands they’ve left--is’t nothing?
   Think you that they will go back to the Duke,
   Those prisoners; and that they love him, or
   Care more for _him_ than _you_? that they have fought
   In _his_ behalf? Nay, they have combatted
   Because a sovereign voice within the heart
   Of men that follow any banner cries,
   “Combat and conquer!” they have lost and so
   Are set at liberty; they’ll sell themselves--
   O, such is now the soldier!--to the first
   That seeks to buy them--Buy them; they are yours!

   _1st Com._ When we paid those that were to fight with
   them,
   We then believed ourselves to have purchased them.

   _2d Com._ My lord, Venice confides in you; in you
   She sees a son; and all that to her good
   And to her glory can redound, expects
   Shall be done by you.

   _Count._                 Everything I can.

   _2d Com._ And what can you not do upon this field?

   _Count._ The thing you ask. An ancient use, a use
   Dear to the soldier, I can not violate.

   _2d Com._ You, whom no one resists, on whom so
   promptly
   Every will follows, so that none can say,
   Whether for love or fear it yield itself;
   You, in this camp, you are not able, you,
   To make a law, and to enforce it?

   _Count._                              I said
   I could not; now I rather say, I _will_ not!
   No further words; with friends this hath been ever
   My ancient custom; satisfy at once
   And gladly all just prayers, and for all other
   Refuse them openly and promptly. Soldier!

   _Com._   Nay--what is your purpose?

   _Count._             You will see anon.
                    {_To a soldier who enters_
   How many prisoners still remain?

   _Soldier._                           I think,
   My lord, four hundred.

   _Count._              Call them hither--call
   The bravest of them--those you meet the first;
   Send them here quickly.            {Exit soldier.
                              Surely, I might do it--
   If I gave such a sign, there were not heard
   A murmur in the camp. But these, my children,
   My comrades amid peril, and in joy,
   Those who confide in me, believe they follow
   A leader ever ready to defend
   The honor and advantage of the soldier;
   _I_ play them false, and make more slavish yet,
   More vile and base their calling, than ‘tis now?
   Lords, I am trustful, as the soldier is,
   But if you now insist on that from me
   Which shall deprive me of my comrades’ love,
   If you desire to separate me from them,
   And so reduce me that I have no stay
   Saving yourselves--in spite of me I say it,
   You force me, you, to doubt--

   _Com._                          What do you say?

   {_The prisoners, among them young Pergola, enter._

   _Count (To the prisoners)._ O brave in vain! Unfortunate!
   To you,
   Fortune is cruelest, then? And you alone
   Are to a sad captivity reserved?

   _A prisoner._ Such, mighty lord, was never our belief.
   When we were called into your presence, we
   Did seem to hear a messenger that gave
   Our freedom to us. Already, all of those
   That yielded them to captains less than you
   Have been released, and only we--

   _Count._                                Who was it,
   That made you prisoners?

   _Prisoner._                        We were the last
   To give our arms up. All the rest were taken
   Or put to flight, and for a few brief moments
   The evil fortune of the battle weighed
   On us alone. At last you made a sign
   That we should draw nigh to your banner,--we
   Alone not conquered, relics of the lost.

   _Count._ You are those? I am very glad, my friends,
   To see you again, and I can testify
   That you fought bravely; and if so much valor
   Were not betrayed, and if a captain equal
   Unto yourselves had led you, it had been
   No pleasant thing to stand before you.

   _Prisoner._                                And now
   Shall it be our misfortune to have yielded
   Only to you, my lord? And they that found
   A conqueror less glorious, shall they find
   More courtesy in him? In vain, we asked
   Our freedom of your soldiers--no one durst
   Dispose of us without your own assent,
   But all did promise it. “O, if you can,
   Show yourselves to the Count,” they said. “Be sure,
   He’ll not embitter fortune to the vanquished;
   An ancient courtesy of war will never
   Be ta’en away by him; he would have been
   Rather the first to have invented it.”

   _Count._ (_To the Coms._) You hear them, lords? Well,
         then, what do you say?
   What would you do, you? _(To the prisoners)_
                                 Heaven forbid that any
   Should think more highly than myself of me!
   You are all free, my friends; farewell! Go, follow
   Your fortune, and if e’er again it lead you
   Under a banner that’s adverse to mine,
   Why, we shall see each other. _(The Count observes
         young Pergola and stops him.)_
                                 Ho, young man,
   Thou art not of the vulgar! Dress, and face
   More clearly still, proclaims it; yet with the others
   Thou minglest and art silent?

   _Pergola._               Vanquished men
   Have nought to say, O captain.

   _Count._                 This ill-fortune
   Thou bearest so, that thou dost show thyself
   Worthy a better. What’s thy name?

   _Pergola._                        A name
   Whose fame ‘t were hard to greaten, and that lays
   On him who bears it a great obligation.
   Pergola is my name.

   _Count._          What! thou ‘rt the son
   Of that brave man?
   _Pergola._        I am he.

   _Count._                   Come, embrace
   Thy father’s ancient friend! Such as thou art
   That I was when I knew him first. Thou bringest
   Happy days back to me! the happy days Of hope.
   And take thou heart! Fortune did give
   A happier beginning unto me;
   But fortune’s promises are for the brave.
   And soon or late she keeps them. Greet for me
   Thy father, boy, and say to him that I
   Asked it not of thee, but that I was sure
   This battle was not of his choosing.

   _Pergola._                      Surely,
   He chose it not; but his words were as wind.

   _Count._ Let it not grieve thee; ‘t is the leader’s shame
   Who is defeated; he begins well ever
   Who like a brave man fights where he is placed.
   Come with me, _(takes his hand)_
       I would show thee to my comrades.
   I’d give thee back thy sword. Adieu, my lords;
                                      (_To the Coms._)
   I never will be merciful to your foes
   Till I have conquered them.

A notable thing in this tragedy of Carmagnola is that the interest of
love is entirely wanting to it, and herein it differs very widely
from the play of Schiller. The soldiers are simply soldiers; and this
singleness of motive is in harmony with the Italian conception of art.
Yet the Carmagnola of Manzoni is by no means like the heroes of the
Alfierian tragedy. He is a man, not merely an embodied passion
or mood; his character is rounded, and has all the checks and
counterpoises, the inconsistencies, in a word, without which nothing
actually lives in literature, or usefully lives in the world. In his
generous and magnificent illogicality, he comes the nearest being
a woman of all the characters in the tragedy. There is no other
personage in it equaling him in interest; but he also is subordinated
to the author’s purpose of teaching his countrymen an enlightened
patriotism. I am loath to blame this didactic aim, which, I suppose,
mars the aesthetic excellence ofthe piece.

Carmagnola’s liberation of the prisoners was not forgiven him by
Venice, who, indeed, never forgave anything; he was in due time
entrapped in the hall of the Grand Council, and condemned to die. The
tragedy ends with a scene in his prison, where he awaits his wife and
daughter, who are coming with one of his old comrades, Gonzaga, to bid
him a last farewell. These passages present the poet in his sweeter
and tenderer moods, and they have had a great charm for me.

SCENE--THE PRISON.

   _Count_ (_speaking of his wife and daughter_). By this time
       they must know my fate. Ah! why
   Might I not die far from them? Dread, indeed,
   Would be the news that reached them, but, at least,
   The darkest hour of agony would be past,
   And now it stands before us. We must needs
   Drink the draft drop by drop. O open fields,
   O liberal sunshine, O uproar of arms,
   O joy of peril, O trumpets, and the cries
   Of combatants, O my true steed! ‘midst you
   ‘T were fair to die; but now I go rebellious
   To meet my destiny, driven to my doom
   Like some vile criminal, uttering on the way
   Impotent vows, and pitiful complaints.

          *       *       *       *       *

   But I shall see my dear ones once again
   And, alas! hear their moans; the last adieu
   Hear from their lips--shall find myself once more
   Within their arms--then part from them forever.
   They come! O God, bend down from heaven on them
   One look of pity.

         {_Enter_ ANTONIETTA, MATILDE, _and_ GONZAGA.
   _Antonietta._         My husband!

   _Matilde._                         O my father!

   _Antonietta._ Ah, thus thou comest back! Is this the moment
   So long desired?

   _Count._           O poor souls! Heaven knows
   That only for your sake is it dreadful to me.
   I who so long am used to look on death,
   And to expect it, only for your sakes
   Do I need courage. And you, you will not surely
   Take it away from me? God, when he makes
   Disaster fall on the innocent, he gives, too,
   The heart to bear it. Ah! let _yours_ be equal
   To your affliction now! Let us enjoy
   This last embrace--it likewise is Heaven’s gift.
   Daughter, thou weepest; and thou, wife! Oh, when
   I chose thee mine, serenely did they days
   Glide on in peace; but made I thee companion
   Of a sad destiny. And it is this thought
   Embitters death to me. Would that I could not
   See how unhappy I have made thee!

   _Antonietta._                       O husband
   Of my glad days, thou mad’st them glad! My heart,--
   Yes, thou may’st read it!--I die of sorrow! Yet
   I could not wish that I had not been thine.

   _Count._ O love, I know how much I lose in thee:
   Make me not feel it now too much.

   _Matilde._                          The murderers!

   _Count._ No, no, my sweet Matilde; let not those
   Fierce cries of hatred and of vengeance rise
   From out thine innocent soul. Nay, do not mar
   These moments; they are holy; the wrong’s great,
   But pardon it, and thou shalt see in midst of ills
   A lofty joy remaining still. My death,
   The cruelest enemy could do no more
   Than hasten it. Oh surely men did never
   Discover death, for they had made it fierce
   And insupportable! It is from Heaven
   That it doth come, and Heaven accompanies it,
   Still with such comfort as men cannot give
   Nor take away. O daughter and dear wife,
   Hear my last words! All bitterly, I see,
   They fall upon your hearts. But you one day will have
   Some solace in remembering them together.
   Dear wife, live thou; conquer thy sorrow, live;
   Let not this poor girl utterly be orphaned.
   Fly from this land, and quickly; to thy kindred
   Take her with thee. She is their blood; to them
   Thou once wast dear, and when thou didst become
   Wife of their foe, only less dear; the cruel
   Reasons of state have long time made adverse
   The names of Carmagnola and Visconti;
   But thou go’st back unhappy; the sad cause
   Of hate is gone. Death’s a great peacemaker!
   And thou, my tender flower, that to my arms
   Wast wont to come and make my spirit light,
   Thou bow’st thy head? Aye, aye, the tempest roars
   Above thee! Thou dost tremble, and thy breast
   Is shaken with thy sobs. Upon my face
   I feel thy burning tears fall down on me,
   And cannot wipe them from thy tender eyes.
                               ... Thou seem’st to ask
   Pity of me, Matilde. Ah! thy father
   Can do naught for thee. But there is in heaven,
   There is a Father thou know’st for the forsaken;
   Trust him and live on tranquil if not glad.

          *      *       *       *       *

   Gonzaga, I offer thee this hand, which often
   Thou hast pressed upon the morn of battle, when
   We knew not if we e’er should meet again:
   Wilt press it now once more, and give to me
   Thy faith that thou wilt be defense and guard
   Of these poor women, till they are returned
   Unto their kinsmen?

   _Gonzaga._              I do promise thee.

   _Count._ When thou go’st back to camp,
   Salute my brothers for me; and say to them
   That I die innocent; witness thou hast been
   Of all my deeds and thoughts--thou knowest it.
   Tell them that I did never stain my sword
   With treason--I did never stain it--and
   I am betrayed.--And when the trumpets blow,
   And when the banners beat against the wind,
   Give thou a thought to thine old comrade then!
   And on some mighty day of battle, when
   Upon the field of slaughter the priest lifts
   His hands amid the doleful noises, offering up
   The sacrifice to heaven for the dead,
   Bethink thyself of me, for I too thought
   To die in battle.

   _Antonietta._       O God, have pity on us!

   _Count._ O wife! Matilde! now the hour is near
   We needs must part. Farewell!

   _Matilde._             No, father--

   _Count._                           Yet
   Once more, come to my heart! Once more, and now,
   In mercy, go!

   _Antonietta._ Ah, no! they shall unclasp us
   By force!

               {_A sound of armed men is heard without._

   _Matilde._ What sound is that?

   _Antonietta._                    Almighty God!

            {_The door opens in the middle; armed men
                 are seen. Their leader advances toward
                 the Count; the women swoon._

   _Count._ Merciful God! Thou hast removed from them
   This cruel moment, and I thank Thee! Friend,
   Succor them, and from this unhappy place
   Bear them! And when they see the light again,
   Tell them that nothing more is left to fear.


VII

In the Carmagnola having dealt with the internal wars which desolated
medieval Italy, Manzoni in the Adelchi takes a step further back in
time, and evolves his tragedy from the downfall of the Longobard
kingdom and the invasion of the Franks. These enter Italy at the
bidding of the priests, to sustain the Church against the disobedience
and contumacy of the Longobards.

Desiderio and his son Adelchi are kings of the Longobards, and the
tragedy opens with the return to their city Pavia of Ermenegarda,
Adelchi’s sister, who was espoused to Carlo, king of the Franks,
and has been repudiated by him. The Longobards have seized certain
territories belonging to the Church, and as they refuse to restore
them, the ecclesiastics send a messenger, who crosses the Alps on
foot, to the camp of the Franks, and invites their king into Italy to
help the cause of the Church. The Franks descend into the valley of
Susa, and soon after defeat the Longobards. It is in this scene that
the chorus of the Italian peasants, who suffer, no matter which
side conquers, is introduced. The Longobards retire to Verona, and
Ermenegarda, whose character is painted with great tenderness and
delicacy, and whom we may take for a type of what little goodness and
gentleness, sorely puzzled, there was in the world at that time (which
was really one of the worst of all the bad times in the world), dies
in a convent near Brescia, while the war rages all round her retreat.
A defection takes place among the Longobards; Desiderio is captured; a
last stand is made by Adelchi at Verona, where he is mortally wounded,
and is brought prisoner to his father in the tent of Carlo. The
tragedy ends with his death; and I give the whole of the last scene:


                {_Enter_ CARLO _and_ DESIDERIO.

   _Desiderio._ Oh, how heavily
   Hast thou descended upon my gray head,
   Thou hand of God! How comes my son to me!
   My son, my only glory, here I languish,
   And tremble to behold thee! Shall I see
   Thy deadly wounded body, I that should
   Be wept by thee? I, miserable, alone,
   Dragged thee to this; blind dotard I, that fain
   Had made earth fair to thee, I digged thy grave.
   If only thou amidst thy warriors’ songs
   Hadst fallen on some day of victory,
   Or had I closed upon thy royal bed
   Thine eyes amidst the sobs and reverent grief
   Of thy true liegemen, ah; it still had been
   Anguish ineffable! And now thou diest,
   No king, deserted, in thy foeman’s land,
   With no lament, saving thy father’s, uttered
   Before the man that doth exult to hear it.

   _Carlo._ Old man, thy grief deceives thee. Sorrowful,
   And not exultant do I see the fate
   Of a brave man and king. Adelchi’s foe
   Was I, and he was mine, nor such that I
   Might rest upon this new throne, if he lived
   And were not in my hands. But now he is
   In God’s own hands, whither no enmity
   Of man can follow him.

   _Des._               ‘T is a fatal gift
   Thy pity, if it never is bestowed
   Save upon those fallen beyond all hope--
   If thou dost never stay thine arm until
   Thou canst find no place to inflict a wound!

          (_Adelchi is brought in, mortally wounded._)

   _Des._ My son!

   _Adelchi._    And do I see thee once more, father?
   Oh come, and touch my hand!

   _Des._ ‘T is terrible
   For me to see thee so!

   _Ad._         Many in battle
   Did fall so by my sword.

   _Des._           Ah, then, this wound
   Thou hast, it is incurable?

   _Ad._          Incurable.

   _Des._                  Alas, atrocious war!
   And cruel I that made it. ‘T is I kill thee.

   _Ad._ Not thou nor he _(pointing to Carlo)_, but the
         Lord God of all.

   _Des._ Oh, dear unto those eyes! how far away
   From thee I suffered! and it was one thought
   Among so many woes upheld me. ‘T was the hope
   To tell thee all one day in some safe hour
   Of peace--

   _Ad._ That hour of peace has come to me.
   Believe it, father, save that I leave thee
   Crushed with thy sorrow here below.

   _Des._                             O front
   Serene and bold! O fearless hand! O eyes
   That once struck terror!

   _Ad._                 Cease thy lamentations,
   Cease, father, in God’s name! For was not this
   The time to die? But thou that shalt live captive,
   And hast lived all thy days a king, oh listen:
   Life’s a great secret that is not revealed
   Save in the latest hour. Thou’st lost a kingdom;
   Nay, do not weep! Trust me, when to this hour
   Thou also shalt draw nigh, most jubilant
   And fair shall pass before thy thought the years
   In which thou wast not king--the years in which
   No tears shall be recorded in the skies
   Against thee, and thy name shall not ascend
   Mixed with the curses of the unhappy. Oh,
   Rejoice that thou art king no longer! that
   All ways are closed against thee! There is none
   For innocent action, and there but remains
   To do wrong or to suffer wrong. A power
   Fierce, pitiless, grasps the world, and calls itself
   The right. The ruthless hands of our forefathers
   Did sow injustice, and our fathers then
   Did water it with blood; and now the earth
   No other harvest bears. It is not meet
   To uphold crime, thou’st proved it, and if ‘t were,
   Must it not end thus? Nay, this happy man
   Whose throne my dying renders more secure,
   Whom all men smile on and applaud, and serve,
   He is a man and he shall die.

   _Des._                          But I
   That lose my son, what shall console me?

   _Ad._                                      God!
   Who comforts us for all things. And oh, thou
   Proud foe of mine!        _(Turning to Carlo.)_

   _Carlo._            Nay, by this name, Adelchi,
   Call me no more; I was so, but toward death
   Hatred is impious and villainous. Nor such,
   Believe me, knows the heart of Carlo.

   _Ad._                                 Friendly
   My speech shall be, then, very meek and free
   Of every bitter memory to both.
   For this I pray thee, and my dying hand
   I lay in thine! I do not ask that thou
   Should’st let go free so great a captive--no,
   For I well see that my prayer were in vain
   And vain the prayer of any mortal. Firm
   Thy heart is--must be--nor so far extends
   Thy pity. That which thou can’st not deny
   Without being cruel, that I ask thee! Mild
   As it can be, and free of insult, be
   This old man’s bondage, even such as thou
   Would’st have implored for thy father, if the heavens
   Had destined thee the sorrow of leaving him
   In others’ power. His venerable head
   Keep thou from every outrage; for against
   The fallen many are brave; and let him not
   Endure the cruel sight of any of those
   His vassals that betrayed him.

   _Carlo._                         Take in death
   This glad assurance, Adelchi! and be Heaven
   My testimony, that thy prayer is as
   The word of Carlo!

   _Ad._                And thy enemy,
   In dying, prays for thee!

   _Enter_ ARVINO.

   _Armno._ (_Impatiently_) O mighty king, thy warriors and chiefs
   Ask entrance.

   _Ad._ (_Appealingly_.) Carlo!

   _Carlo._                    Let not any dare
   To draw anigh this tent; for here Adelchi
   Is sovereign; and no one but Adelchi’s father
   And the meek minister of divine forgiveness
   Have access here.

   _Des._              O my beloved son!

   _Ad._                                 O my father,
   The light forsakes these eyes.

   _Des._                           Adelchi,--No!
   Thou shalt not leave me!

   _Ad._                     O King of kings! betrayed
   By one of Thine, by all the rest abandoned:
   I come to seek Thy peace, and do Thou take
   My weary soul!

   _Des._           He heareth thee, my son,
   And thou art gone, and I in servitude
   Remain to weep.


I wish to give another passage from this tragedy: the speech which the
emissary of the Church makes to Carlo when he reaches his presence
after his arduous passage of the Alps. I suppose that all will note
the beauty and reality of the description in the story this messenger
tells of his adventures; and I feel, for my part, a profound effect
of wildness and loneliness in the verse, which has almost the solemn
light and balsamy perfume of those mountain solitudes:


                                      From the camp,
   Unseen, I issued, and retraced the steps
   But lately taken. Thence upon the right
   I turned toward Aquilone. Abandoning
   The beaten paths, I found myself within
   A dark and narrow valley; but it grew
   Wider before my eyes as further on
   I kept my way. Here, now and then, I saw
   The wandering flocks, and huts of shepherds. ‘T was
   The furthermost abode of men. I entered
   One of the huts, craved shelter, and upon
   The woolly fleece I slept the night away.
   Rising at dawn, of my good shepherd host
   I asked my way to France. “Beyond those heights
   Are other heights,” he said, “and others yet;
   And France is far and far away; but path
   There’s none, and thousands are those mountains--
   Steep, naked, dreadful, uninhabited
   Unless by ghosts, and never mortal man
   Passed over them.” “The ways of God are many,
   Far more than those of mortals,” I replied,
   “And God sends me.” “And God guide you!” he said.
   Then, from among the loaves he kept in store,
   He gathered up as many as a pilgrim
   May carry, and in a coarse sack wrapping them,
   He laid them on my shoulders. Recompense
   I prayed from Heaven for him, and took my way.
   Beaching the valley’s top, a peak arose,
   And, putting faith in God, I climbed it. Here
   No trace of man appeared, only the forests
   Of untouched pines, rivers unknown, and vales
   Without a path. All hushed, and nothing else
   But my own steps I heard, and now and then
   The rushing of the torrents, and the sudden
   Scream of the hawk, or else the eagle, launched
   From his high nest, and hurtling through the dawn,
   Passed close above my head; or then at noon,
   Struck by the sun, the crackling of the cones
   Of the wild pines. And so three days I walked,
   And under the great trees, and in the clefts,
   Three nights I rested. The sun was my guide;
   I rose with him, and him upon his journey
   I followed till he set. Uncertain still,
   Of my own way I went; from vale to vale
   Crossing forever; or, if it chanced at times
   I saw the accessible slope of some great height
   Rising before me, and attained its crest,
   Yet loftier summits still, before, around,
   Towered over me; and other heights with snow
   From foot to summit whitening, that did seem
   Like steep, sharp tents fixed in the soil; and others
   Appeared like iron, and arose in guise
   Of walls insuperable. The third day fell
   What time I had a mighty mountain seen
   That raised its top above the others; ‘t was
   All one green slope, and all its top was crowned
   With trees. And thither eagerly I turned
   My weary steps. It was the eastern side,
   Sire, of this very mountain on which lies
   Thy camp that faces toward the setting sun.
   While I yet lingered on its spurs the darkness
   Did overtake me; and upon the dry
   And slippery needles of the pine that covered
   The ground, I made my bed, and pillowed me
   Against their ancient trunks. A smiling hope
   Awakened me at daybreak; and all full
   Of a strange vigor, up the steep I climbed.
   Scarce had I reached the summit when my ear
   Was smitten with a murmur that from far
   Appeared to come, deep, ceaseless; and I stood
   And listened motionless. ‘T was not the waters
   Broken upon the rocks below; ‘twas not the wind
   That blew athwart the woods and whistling ran
   From one tree to another, but verily
   A sound of living men, an indistinct
   Rumor of words, of arms, of trampling feet,
   Swarming from far away; an agitation
   Immense, of men! My heart leaped, and my steps
   I hastened. On that peak, O king, that seems
   To us like some sharp blade to pierce the heaven,
   There lies an ample plain that’s covered thick
   With grass ne’er trod before.  And this I crossed
   The quickest way; and now at every instant
   The murmur nearer grew, and I devoured
   The space between; I reached the brink, I launched
   My glance into the valley and I saw,
   I saw the tents of Israel, the desired
   Pavilion of Jacob; on the ground
   I fell, thanked God, adored him, and descended.


VIII

I could easily multiply beautiful and effective passages from the
poetry of Manzoni; but I will give only one more version, “The Fifth
of May”, that ode on the death of Napoleon, which, if not the most
perfect lyric of modern times as the Italians vaunt it to be, is
certainly very grand. I have followed the movement and kept the
meter of the Italian, and have at the same time reproduced it quite
literally; yet I feel that any translation of such a poem is only a
little better than none. I think I have caught the shadow of this
splendid lyric; but there is yet no photography that transfers the
splendor itself, the life, the light, the color; I can give you the
meaning, but not the feeling, that pervades every syllable as the
blood warms every fiber of a man, not the words that flashed upon the
poet as he wrote, nor the yet more precious and inspired words that
came afterward to his patient waiting and pondering, and touched the
whole with fresh delight and grace. If you will take any familiar
passage from one of our poets in which every motion of the music is
endeared by long association and remembrance, and every tone is sweet
upon the tongue, and substitute a few strange words for the original,
you will have some notion of the wrong done by translation.

    THE FIFTH OF MAY.

    He passed; and as immovable
      As, with the last sigh given,
    Lay his own clay, oblivious,
      From that great spirit riven,
    So the world stricken and wondering
       Stands at the tidings dread:
    Mutely pondering the ultimate
      Hour of that fateful being,
    And in the vast futurity
      No peer of his foreseeing
    Among the countless myriads
       Her blood-stained dust that tread.

    Him on his throne and glorious
      Silent saw I, that never--
    When with awful vicissitude
      He sank, rose, fell forever--
    Mixed my voice with the numberless
       Voices that pealed on high;
    Guiltless of servile flattery
      And of the scorn of coward,
    Come I when darkness suddenly
      On so great light hath lowered,
    And offer a song at his sepulcher
       That haply shall not die.

    From the Alps unto the Pyramids,
      From Rhine to Manzanares
    Unfailingly the thunderstroke
      His lightning purpose carries;
    Bursts from Scylla to Tanais,--
       From one to the other sea.
    Was it true glory?--Posterity,
      Thine be the hard decision;
    Bow we before the mightiest,
      Who willed in him the vision
    Of his creative majesty
       Most grandly traced should be.

    The eager and tempestuous
      Joy of the great plan’s hour,
    The throe of the heart that controllessly
      Burns with a dream of power,
    And wins it, and seizes victory
       It had seemed folly to hope--
    All he hath known: the infinite
      Rapture after the danger,
    The flight, the throne of sovereignty,
      The salt bread of the stranger;
    Twice ‘neath the feet of the worshipers,
       Twice ‘neath the altar’s cope.

    He spoke his name; two centuries,
      Armed and threatening either,
    Turned unto him submissively,
      As waiting fate together;
    He made a silence, and arbiter
       He sat between the two.
    He vanished; his days in the idleness
      Of his island-prison spending,
    Mark of immense malignity,
      And of a pity unending,
    Of hatred inappeasable,
       Of deathless love and true.

    As on the head of the mariner,
      Its weight some billow heaping,
    Falls even while the castaway,
      With strained sight far sweeping,
    Scanneth the empty distances
       For some dim sail in vain;
    So over his soul the memories
      Billowed and gathered ever!
    How oft to tell posterity
      Himself he did endeavor,
    And on the pages helplessly
       Fell his weary hand again.

    How many times, when listlessly
      In the long, dull day’s declining--
    Downcast those glances fulminant,
      His arms on his breast entwining--
    He stood assailed by the memories
       Of days that were passed away;
    He thought of the camps, the arduous
      Assaults, the shock of forces,
    The lightning-flash of the infantry,
      The billowy rush of horses,
    The thrill in his supremacy,
       The eagerness to obey.

    Ah, haply in so great agony
      His panting soul had ended
    Despairing, but that potently
      A hand, from heaven extended,
    Into a clearer atmosphere
       In mercy lifted him.
    And led him on by blossoming
      Pathways of hope ascending
    To deathless fields, to happiness
      All earthly dreams transcending,
    Where in the glory celestial
       Earth’s fame is dumb and dim.

    Beautiful, deathless, beneficent
      Faith! used to triumphs, even
    This also write exultantly:
      No loftier pride ‘neath heaven
    Unto the shame of Calvary
       Stooped ever yet its crest.
    Thou from his weary mortality
      Disperse all bitter passions:
    The God that humbleth and hearteneth,
      That comforts and that chastens,
    Upon the pillow else desolate
       To his pale lips lay pressed!


IX

Giuseppe Arnaud says that in his sacred poetry Manzoni gave the
Catholic dogmas the most moral explanation, in the most attractive
poetical language; and he suggests that Manzoni had a patriotic
purpose in them, or at least a sympathy with the effort of the
Romantic writers to give priests and princes assurance that patriotism
was religious, and thus win them to favor the Italian cause. It must
be confessed that such a temporal design as this would fatally affect
the devotional quality of the hymns, even if the poet’s consciousness
did not; but I am not able to see any evidence of such sympathy in
the poems themselves. I detect there a perfectly sincere religious
feeling, and nothing of devotional rapture. The poet had, no doubt, a
satisfaction in bringing out the beauty and sublimity of his faith;
and, as a literary artist, he had a right to be proud of his work, for
its spirit is one of which the tuneful piety of Italy had long been
void. In truth, since David, king of Israel, left making psalms,
religious songs have been poorer than any other sort of songs; and
it is high praise of Manzoni’s “Inni Sacri” to say that they are in
irreproachable taste, and unite in unaffected poetic appreciation
of the grandeur of Christianity as much reason as may coexist with
obedience.

The poetry of Manzoni is so small in quantity, that we must refer
chiefly to excellence of quality the influence and the fame it has won
him, though I do not deny that his success may have been partly owing
at first to the errors of the school which preceded him. It could
be easily shown, from literary history, that every great poet has
appeared at a moment fortunate for his renown, just as we might prove,
from natural science, that it is felicitous for the sun to get up
about day-break. Manzoni’s art was very great, and he never gave
his thought defective expression, while the expression was always
secondary to the thought. For the self-respect, then, of an honest
man, which would not permit him to poetize insincerity and shape
the void, and for the great purpose he always cherished of making
literature an agent of civilization and Christianity, the Italians
are right to honor Manzoni. Arnaud thinks that the school he founded
lingered too long on the educative and religious ground he chose; and
Marc Monnier declares Manzoni to be the poet of resignation, thus
distinguishing him from the poets of revolution. The former critic is
the nearer right of the two, though neither is quite just, as it seems
to me; for I do not understand how any one can read the romance and
the dramas of Manzoni without finding him full of sympathy for all
Italy has suffered, and a patriot very far from resigned; and I think
political conditions--or the Austrians in Milan, to put it more
concretely--scarcely left to the choice of the Lombard school that
attitude of aggression which others assumed under a weaker, if not a
milder, despotism at Florence. The utmost allowed the Milanese poets
was the expression of a retrospective patriotism, which celebrated
the glories of Italy’s past, which deplored her errors, and which
denounced her crimes, and thus contributed to keep the sense of
nationality alive. Under such governments as endured in Piedmont until
1848, in Lombardy until 1859, in Venetia until 1866, literature must
remain educative, or must cease to be. In the works, therefore, of
Manzoni and of nearly all his immediate followers, there is nothing
directly revolutionary except in Giovanni Berchet. The line between
them and the directly revolutionary poets is by no means to be traced
with exactness, however, in their literature, and in their lives they
were all alike patriotic.

Manzoni lived to see all his hopes fulfilled, and died two years after
the fall of the temporal power, in 1873. “Toward mid-day,” says a
Milanese journal at the time of his death, “he turned suddenly to
the household friends about him, and said: ‘This man is
failing--sinking--call my confessor!’

“The confessor came, and he communed with him half an hour, speaking,
as usual, from a mind calm and clear. After the confessor left the
room, Manzoni called his friends and said to them: ‘When I am dead,
do what I did every day: pray for Italy--pray for the king and his
family--so good to me!’ His country was the last thought of this great
man dying as in his whole long life it had been his most vivid and
constant affection.”



SILVIO PELLICO, TOMASSO GROSSI, LUIGI CAREER, AND GIOVANNI BERCHET


I

As I have noted, nearly all the poets of the Romantic School were
Lombards, and they had nearly all lived at Milan under the censorship
and espionage of the Austrian government. What sort of life this must
have been, we, born and reared in a free country, can hardly imagine.
We have no experience by which we can judge it, and we never can do
full justice to the intellectual courage and devotion of a people who,
amid inconceivable obstacles and oppressions, expressed themselves in
a new and vigorous literature. It was not, I have explained, openly
revolutionary; but whatever tended to make men think and feel was a
sort of indirect rebellion against Austria. When a society of learned
Milanese gentlemen once presented an address to the Emperor, he
replied, with brutal insolence, that he wanted obedient subjects
in Italy, nothing more; and it is certain that the activity of the
Romantic School was regarded with jealousy and dislike by the
government from the first. The authorities awaited only a pretext for
striking a deadly blow at the poets and novelists, who ought to have
been satisfied with being good subjects, but who, instead, must needs
even found a newspaper, and discuss in it projects for giving the
Italians a literary life, since they could not have a political
existence. The perils of contributing to the _Conciliatore_ were such
as would attend house-breaking and horse-stealing in happier countries
and later times. The government forbade any of its employees to write
for it, under pain of losing their places; the police, through whose
hands every article intended for publication had to pass, not only
struck out all possibly offensive expressions, but informed one of
the authors that if his articles continued to come to them so full of
objectionable things, he should be banished, even though those things
never reached the public. At last the time came for suppressing this
journal and punishing its managers. The chief editor was a young
Piedmontese poet, who politically was one of the most harmless and
inoffensive of men; his literary creed obliged him to choose Italian
subjects for his poems, and he thus erred by mentioning Italy; yet
Arnaud, in his “Poeti Patriottici”, tells us he could find but two
lines from which this poet could be suspected of patriotism, and he
altogether refuses to class him with the poets who have promoted
revolution. Nevertheless, it is probable that this poet wished Freedom
well. He was indefinitely hopeful for Italy; he was young, generous,
and credulous of goodness and justice. His youth, his generosity, his
truth, made him odious to Austria. One day he returned from a visit
to Turin, and was arrested. He could have escaped when danger first
threatened, but his faith in his own innocence ruined him. After a
tedious imprisonment, and repeated examinations in Milan, he was taken
to Venice, and lodged in the famous _piombi_, or cells in the roof of
the Ducal Palace. There, after long delays, he had his trial, and was
sentenced to twenty years in the prison of Spielberg. By a sort of
poetical license which the imperial clemency sometimes used, the
nights were counted as days, and the term was thus reduced to ten
years. Many other young and gifted Italians suffered at the same time;
most of them came to this country at the end of their long durance;
this Piedmontese poet returned to his own city of Turin, an old and
broken-spirited man, doubting of the political future, and half a
Jesuit in religion. He was devastated, and for once a cruel injustice
seemed to have accomplished its purpose.

Such is the grim outline of the story of Silvio Pellico. He was
arrested for no offense, save that he was an Italian and an
intellectual man; for no other offense he was condemned and suffered.
His famous book, “My Prisons”, is the touching and forgiving record of
one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated.

Few have borne wrong with such Christlike meekness and charity as
Pellico. One cannot read his _Prigioni_ without doing homage to his
purity and goodness, and cannot turn to his other works without the
misgiving that the sole poem he has left the world is the story of
his most fatal and unmerited suffering. I have not the hardihood to
pretend that I have read all his works. I must confess that I found it
impossible to do so, though I came to their perusal inured to drought
by travel through Saharas of Italian verse. I can boast only of having
read the _Francesca da Rimini_, among the tragedies, and two or three
of the canticles,--or romantic stories of the Middle Ages, in blank
verse,--which now refuse to be identified. I know, from a despairing
reference to his volume, that his remaining poems are chiefly of a
religious cast.


II

A much better poet of the Romantic School was Tommaso Grossi, who,
like Manzoni and Pellico, is now best known by a prose work--a novel
which enjoys a popularity as great as that of “Le Mie Prigioni”, and
which has been nearly as much read in Italy as “I Promessi Sposi”. The
“Marco Visconti” of Grossi is a romance of the thirteenth century; and
though not, as Cantù says, an historic “episode, but a succession of
episodes, which do not leave a general and unique impression,” it yet
contrives to bring you so pleasantly acquainted with the splendid,
squalid, poetic, miserable Italian life in Milan, and on its
neighboring hills and lakes, during the Middle Ages, that you cannot
help reading it to the end. I suppose that this is the highest praise
which can be bestowed upon an historical romance, and that it implies
great charm of narrative and beauty of style. I can add, that the
feeling of Grossi’s “Marco Visconti” is genuine and exalted, and that
its morality is blameless. It has scarcely the right to be analyzed
here, however, and should not have been more than mentioned, but for
the fact that it chances to be the setting of the author’s best thing
in verse. I hope that, even in my crude English version, the artless
pathos and sweet natural grace of one of the tenderest little songs in
any tongue have not wholly perished.

{Illustration: TOMMASO GROSSI.}


    THE FAIR PRISONER TO THE SWALLOW.

    Pilgrim swallow! pilgrim swallow!
      On my grated window’s sill,
    Singing, as the mornings follow,
      Quaint and pensive ditties still,
    What would’st tell me in thy lay?
    Prithee, pilgrim swallow, say!

    All forgotten, com’st thou hither
      Of thy tender spouse forlorn,
    That we two may grieve together,
      Little widow, sorrow worn?
    Grieve then, weep then, in thy lay!
    Pilgrim swallow, grieve alway!

    Yet a lighter woe thou weepest:
      Thou at least art free of wing,
    And while land and lake thou sweepest,
      May’st make heaven with sorrow ring,
    Calling his dear name alway,
    Pilgrim swallow, in thy lay.

    Could I too! that am forbidden
      By this low and narrow cell,
    Whence the sun’s fair light is hidden,
      Whence thou scarce can’st hear me tell
    Sorrows that I breathe alway,
    While thou pip’st thy plaintive lay.

    Ah! September quickly coming,
      Thou shalt take farewell of me,
    And, to other summers roaming,
      Other hills and waters see,--
    Greeting them with songs more gay,
    Pilgrim swallow, far away.

    Still, with every hopeless morrow,
      While I ope mine eyes in tears,
    Sweetly through my brooding sorrow
      Thy dear song shall reach mine ears,--
    Pitying me, though far away,
    Pilgrim swallow, in thy lay.

    Thou, when thou and spring together
     Here return, a cross shalt see,--
    In the pleasant evening weather,
      Wheel and pipe, here, over me!
    Peace and peace! the coming May,
    Sing me in thy roundelay!

It is a great good fortune for a man to have written a thing so
beautiful as this, and not a singular fortune that he should have
written nothing else comparable to it. The like happens in all
literatures; and no one need be surprised to learn that I found the
other poems of Grossi often difficult, and sometimes almost impossible
to read.

Grossi was born in 1791, at Bollano, by lovely Como, whose hills and
waters he remembers in all his works with constant affection. He
studied law at the University of Pavia, but went early to Milan, where
he cultivated literature rather than the austerer science to which he
had been bred, and soon became the fashion, writing tales in Milanese
and Italian verse, and making the women cry by his pathetic art of
story-telling. “Ildegonda”, published in 1820, was the most popular of
all these tales, and won Grossi an immense number of admirers, every
one (says his biographer Cantù) of the fair sex, who began to wear
Ildegonda dresses and Ildegonda bonnets. The poem was printed and
reprinted; it is the heart-breaking story of a poor little maiden in
the middle ages, whom her father and brother shut up in a convent
because she is in love with the right person and will not marry the
wrong one--a common thing in all ages. The cruel abbess and wicked
nuns, by the order of Ildegonda’s family, try to force her to take the
veil; but she, supported by her own repugnance to the cloister, and,
by the secret counsels of one of the sisters, with whom force
had succeeded, resists persuasion, reproach, starvation, cold,
imprisonment, and chains. Her lover attempts to rescue her by means of
a subterranean vault under the convent; but the plot is discovered,
and the unhappy pair are assailed by armed men at the very moment
of escape. Ildegonda is dragged back to her dungeon; and Rizzardo,
already under accusation of heresy, is quickly convicted and burnt at
the stake. They bring the poor girl word of this, and her sick brain
turns. In her delirium she sees her lover in torment for his heresy,
and, flying from the hideous apparition, she falls and strikes her
head against a stone. She wakes in the arms of the beloved sister who
had always befriended her. The cruel efforts against her cease now,
and she writes to her father imploring his pardon, which he gives,
with a prayer for hers. At last she dies peacefully. The story is
pathetic; and it is told with art, though its lapses of taste are
woful, and its faults those of the whole class of Italian poetry to
which it belongs. The agony is tedious, as Italian agony is apt to
be, the passion is outrageously violent or excessively tender, the
description too often prosaic; the effects are sometimes produced
by very “rough magic”. The more than occasional infelicity and
awkwardness of diction which offend in Byron’s poetic tales are not
felt so much in those of Grossi; but in “Ildegonda” there is horror
more material even than in “Parisina”. Here is a picture of Rizzardo’s
apparition, for which my faint English has no stomach:


    Chè dalla bocca fuori gli pendea
    La coda smisurata d’ un serpente,
    E il flagellava per la faccia, mentre
    Il capo e il tronco gli scendean nel ventre.

    Fischia la biscia nell’ orribil lutta
    Entro il ventre profondo del dannato,
    Che dalla bocca lacerata erutta
    Un torrente di sangue aggruppato;
    E bava gialla, venenosa e brutta,
    Dalle narici fuor manda col fiato,
    La qual pel mento giù gli cola, e lassa
    Insolcata la carne, ovunque passa.

It seems to have been the fate of Grossi as a poet to achieve fashion,
and not fame; and his great poem in fifteen cantos, called “I Lombardi
alla Prima Crociata”, which made so great a noise in its day, was
eclipsed in reputation by his subsequent novel of “Marco Visconti”.
Since the “Gerusalemma” of Tasso, it is said that no poem has made so
great a sensation in Italy as “I Lombardi”, in which the theme treated
by the elder poet is celebrated according to the aesthetics of the
Romantic School. Such parts of the poem as I have read have not
tempted me to undertake the whole; but many people must have at least
bought it, for it gave the author thirty thousand francs in solid
proof of popularity.

After the “Marco Visconti”, Grossi seems to have produced no work of
importance. He married late, but happily; and he now devoted himself
almost exclusively to the profession of the law, in Milan, where he
died in 1853, leaving the memory of a good man, and the fame of a poet
unspotted by reproach. As long as he lived, he was the beloved friend
of Manzoni. He dwelt many years under the influence of the stronger
mind, but not servile to it; adopting its literary principles, but
giving them his own expression.


III

Luigi Carrer of Venice was the first of that large number of minor
poets and dramatists to which the states of the old Republic have
given birth during the present century. His life began with our
century, and he died in 1850. During this time he witnessed great
political events--the retirement of the French after the fall of
Napoleon; the failure of all the schemes and hopes of the Carbonarito
shake off the yoke of the stranger; and that revolution in 1848 which
drove out the Austrians, only that, a year later, they should return
in such force as to make the hope of Venetian independence through
the valor of Venetian arms a vain dream forever. There is not wanting
evidence of a tender love of country in the poems of Carrer, and
probably the effectiveness of the Austrian system of repression,
rather than his own indifference, is witnessed by the fact that he has
scarcely a line to betray a hope for the future, or a consciousness of
political anomaly in the present.

Carrer was poor, but the rich were glad to be his friends, without
putting him to shame; and as long as the once famous _conversazioni_
were held in the great Venetian houses, he was the star of whatever
place assembled genius and beauty. He had a professorship in a private
school, and while he was young he printed his verses in the journals.
As he grew older, he wrote graceful books of prose, and drew his
slender support from their sale and from the minute pay of some
offices in the gift of his native city.

Carrer’s ballads are esteemed the best of his poems; and I may offer
an idea of the quality and manner of some of his ballads by the
following translation, but I cannot render his peculiar elegance, nor
give the whole range of his fancy:


    THE DUCHESS.


    From the horrible profound
      Of the voiceless sepulcher
    Comes, or seems to come, a sound;
      Is’t his Grace, the Duke, astir?
    In his trance he hath been laid
    As one dead among the dead!

    The relentless stone he tries
      With his utmost strength to move;
    Fails, and in his fury cries,
      Smiting his hands, that those above,
    If any shall be passing there,
    Hear his blasphemy, or his prayer.

    And at last he seems to hear
      Light feet overhead go by;
    “O, whoever passes near
      Where I am, the Duke am I!
    All my states and all I have
    To him that takes me from this grave.”

    There is no one that replies;
      Surely, some one seemed to come!
    On his brow the cold sweat lies,
      As he waits an instant dumb;
    Then he cries with broken breath,
    “Save me, take me back from death!”

    “Where thou liest, lie thou must,
      Prayers and curses alike are vain:
    Over thee dead Gismond’s dust--
      Whom thy pitiless hand hath slain--
    On this stone so heavily
    Rests, we cannot set thee free.”

    From the sepulcher’s thick walls
      Comes a low wail of dismay,
    And, as when a body falls,
      A dull sound;--and the next day
    In a convent the Duke’s wife
    Hideth her remorseful life.

Of course, Carrer wrote much poetry besides his ballads. There are
idyls, and romances in verse, and hymns; sonnets of feeling and of
occasion; odes, sometimes of considerable beauty; apologues, of such
exceeding fineness of point, that it often escapes one; satires and
essays, or _sermoni_, some of which I have read with no great
relish. The same spirit dominates nearly all--the spirit of pensive
disappointment which life brings to delicate and sensitive natures,
and which they love to affect even more than they feel. Among Carrer’s
many sonnets, I think I like best the following, of which the
sentiment seems to me simple and sweet, and the expression very
winning:

    I am a pilgrim swallow, and I roam
      Beyond strange seas, of other lands in quest,
    Leaving the well-known lakes and hills of home,
      And that dear roof where late I hung my nest;
    All things beloved and love’s eternal woes
      I fly, an exile from my native shore:
    I cross the cliffs and woods, but with me goes
      The care I thought to abandon evermore.
    Along the banks of streams unknown to me,
      I pipe the elms and willows pensive lays,
    And call on her whom I despair to see,
      And pass in banishment and tears my days.
    Breathe, air of spring, for which I pine and yearn,
    That to his nest the swallow may return!

The prose writings of Carrer are essays on Aesthetics and morals, and
sentimentalized history. His chief work is of the latter nature.
“I Sette Gemme di Venezia” are sketches of the lives of the seven
Venetian women who have done most to distinguish the name of their
countrywomen by their talents, or misfortunes, or sins. You feel,
in looking through the book, that its interest is in great part
factitious. The stories are all expanded, and filled up with facile
but not very relevant discourse, which a pleasant fancy easily
supplies, and which is always best left to the reader’s own thought.
The style is somewhat florid; but the author contrives to retain in
his fantastic strain much of the grace of simplicity. It is the work
of a cunning artist; but it has a certain insipidity, and it wearies.
Carrer did well in the limit which he assigned himself, but his range
was circumscribed. At the time of his death, he had written sixteen
cantos of an epic poem called “La Fata Vergine”, which a Venetian
critic has extravagantly praised, and which I have not seen. He
exercised upon the poetry of his day an influence favorable to lyric
naturalness, and his ballads were long popular.


IV

GIOVANNI BERCHET was a poet who alone ought to be enough to take from
the Lombard romanticists the unjust reproach of “resignation”. “Where
our poetry,” says De Sanctis, “throws off every disguise, romantic
or classic, is in the verse of Berchet.... If Giovanni Berchet had
remained in Italy, probably his genius would have remained enveloped
in the allusions and shadows of romanticism. But in his exile at
London he uttered the sorrow and the wrath of his betrayed and
vanquished country. It was the accent of the national indignation
which, leaving the generalities of the sonnets and the ballads,
dramatized itself and portrayed our life in its most touching phases.”

Berchet’s family was of French origin, but he was the most Italian of
Italians, and nearly all his poems are of an ardent political tint and
temperature. Naturally, he spent a great part of his life in exile
after the Austrians were reestablished in Milan; he was some time in
England, and I believe he died in Switzerland.

I have most of his patriotic poems in a little book which is curiously
historical of a situation forever past. I picked it up, I do not
remember where or when, in Venice; and as it is a collection of pieces
all meant to embitter the spirit against Austria, it had doubtless not
been brought into the city with the connivance of the police. There is
no telling where it was printed, the mysterious date of publication
being “Italy, 1861”, and nothing more, with the English motto: “Adieu,
my native land, adieu!”

The principal poem here is called “Le Fantasie”, and consists of a
series of lyrics in which an Italian exile contrasts the Lombards,
who drove out Frederick Barbarossa in the twelfth century, with the
Lombards of 1829, who crouched under the power defied of old. It is
full of burning reproaches, sarcasms, and appeals; and it probably
had some influence in renewing the political agitation which in Italy
followed the French revolution of 1830. Other poems of Berchet
represent social aspects of the Austrian rule, like one entitled
“Remorse”, which paints the isolation and wretchedness of an Italian
woman married to an Austrian; and another, “Giulia”, which gives a
picture of the frantic misery of an Austrian conscription in Italy.
A very impressive poem is that called “The Hermit of Mt. Cenis”. A
traveler reaches the summit of the pass, and, looking over upon the
beauty and magnificence of the Italian plains, and seeing only their
loveliness and peace, his face is lighted up with an involuntary
smile, when suddenly the hermit who knows all the invisible disaster
and despair of the scene suddenly accosts him with, “Accursed be he
who approaches without tears this home of sorrow!”

At the time the Romantic School rose in Italian literature, say from
1815 till 1820, society was brilliant, if not contented or happy.
In Lombardy and Venetia, immediately after the treaties of the Holy
Alliance had consigned these provinces to Austria, there flourished
famous _conversazioni_ at many noble houses. In those of Milan many
distinguished literary men of other nations met. Byron and Hobhouse
were frequenters of the same _salons_ as Pellico, Manzoni, and Grossi;
the Schlegels represented the German Romantic School, and Madame de
Staël the sympathizing movement in France. There was very much that
was vicious still, and very much that was ignoble in Italian society,
but this was by sufferance and not as of old by approval; and it
appears that the tone of the highest life was intellectual. It cannot
be claimed that this tone was at all so general as the badness of the
last century. It was not so easily imitated as that, and it could not
penetrate so subtly into all ranks and conditions. Still it was very
observable, and mingled with it in many leading minds was the strain
of religious resignation, audible in Manzoni’s poetry. That was a time
when the Italians might, if ever, have adapted themselves to foreign
rule; but the Austrians, sofar from having learned political wisdom
during the period of their expulsion from Italy, had actually
retrograded; from being passive authorities whom long sojourn was
gradually Italianizing, they had, in their absence, become active and
relentless tyrants, and they now seemed to study how most effectually
to alienate themselves. They found out their error later, but when too
late to repair it, and from 1820 until 1859 in Milan, and until 1866
in Venice, the hatred, which they had themselves enkindled, burned
fiercer and fiercer against them. It is not extravagant to say that
if their rule had continued a hundred years longer the Italians would
never have been reconciled to it. Society took the form of habitual
and implacable defiance to them. The life of the whole people might be
said to have resolved itself into a protest against their presence.
This hatred was the heritage of children from their parents, the bond
between friends, the basis of social faith; it was a thread even in
the tie between lovers; it was so intense and so pervasive that it
cannot be spoken.

Berchet was the vividest, if not the earliest, expression of it in
literature, and the following poem, which I have already mentioned,
is, therefore, not only intensely true to Italian feeling, but
entirely realistic in its truth to a common fact.


    REMORSE.

    Alone in the midst of the throng,
      ‘Mid the lights and the splendor alone,
    Her eyes, dropped for shame of her wrong,
      She lifts not to eyes she has known:
    Around her the whirl and the stir
      Of the light-footing dancers she hears;
    None seeks her; no whisper for her
      Of the gracious words filling her ears.

    The fair boy that runs to her knees,
      With a shout for his mother, and kiss
    For the tear-drop that welling he sees
      To her eyes from her sorrow’s abyss,--
    Though he blooms like a rose, the fair boy,
      No praise of his beauty is heard;
    None with him stays to jest or to toy,
      None to her gives a smile or a word.

    If, unknowing, one ask who may be
      This woman, that, as in disgrace,
    O’er the curls of the boy at her knee
      Bows her beautiful, joyless face,
    A hundred tongues answer in scorn,
      A hundred lips teach him to know--
    “Wife of one of our tyrants, forsworn
      To her friends in her truth to their foe.”

    At the play, in the streets, in the lanes,
      At the fane of the merciful God,
    ‘Midst a people in prison and chains,
      Spy-haunted, at home and abroad--
    Steals through all like the hiss of a snake
      Hate, by terror itself unsuppressed:
    “Cursed be the Italian could take
      The Austrian foe to her breast!”

    Alone--but the absence she mourned
      As widowhood mourneth, is past:
    Her heart leaps for her husband returned
      From his garrison far-off at last?
    Ah, no! For this woman forlorn
      Love is dead, she has felt him depart:
    With far other thoughts she is torn,
      Far other the grief at her heart.

    When the shame that has darkened her days
      Fantasmal at night fills the gloom,
    When her soul, lost in wildering ways,
      Flies the past, and the terror to come--
    When she leaps from her slumbers to hark,
      As if for her little one’s call,
    It is then to the pitiless dark
      That her woe-burdened soul utters all:

    “Woe is me! It was God’s righteous hand
      My brain with its madness that smote:
    At the alien’s flattering command
      The land of my birth I forgot!
    I, the girl who was loved and adored,
      Feasted, honored in every place,
    Now what am I? The apostate abhorred,
      Who was false to her home and her race!

    “I turned from the common disaster;
      My brothers oppressed I denied;
    I smiled on their insolent master;
      I came and sat down by his side.
    Wretch! a mantle of shame thou hast wrought;
      Thou hast wrought it--it clingeth to thee,
    And for all that thou sufferest, naught
      From its meshes thy spirit can free.

    “Oh, the scorn I have tasted! They know not,
      Who pour it on me, how it burns;
    How it galls the meek spirit, whose woe not
      Their hating with hating returns!
    Fool! I merit it: I have not holden
      My feet from their paths! Mine the blame:
    I have sought in their eyes to embolden
      This visage devoted to shame!

    “Rejected and followed with scorn,
      My child, like a child born of sin,
    In the land where my darling was born,
      He lives exiled! A refuge to win
    From their hatred, he runs in dismay
      To my arms. But the day may yet be
    When my son shall the insult repay,
      I have nurtured him in, unto me!

    “If it chances that ever the slave
      Snaps the shackles that bind him, and leaps
    Into life in the heart of the brave
      The sense of the might that now sleeps--
    To which people, which side shall I cleave?
      Which fate shall I curse with my own?
    To which banner pray Heaven to give
      The triumph? Which desire o’erthrown?

    “Italian, and sister, and wife,
      And mother, unfriended, alone,
    Outcast, I wander through life,
      Over shard and bramble and stone!
    Wretch! a mantle of shame thou hast wrought;
      Thou hast wrought it--it clingeth to thee,
    And for all that thou sufferest, naught
      From its meshes thy spirit shall free!”



GIAMBATTISTA NICCOLINI


I

The school of Romantic poets and novelists was practically dispersed
by the Austrian police after the Carbonari disturbances in 1821-22,
and the literary spirit of the nation took refuge under the mild and
careless despotism of the grand dukes at Florence.

In 1821 Austria was mistress of pretty near all Italy. She held in
her own grasp the vast provinces of Lombardy and Venetia; she had
garrisons in Naples, Piedmont, and the Romagna; and Rome was ruled
according to her will. But there is always something fatally defective
in the vigilance of a policeman; and in the very place which perhaps
Austria thought it quite needless to guard, the restless and
indomitable spirit of free thought entered. It was in Tuscany, a
fief of the Holy Roman Empire, reigned over by a family set on the
grand-ducal throne by Austria herself, and united to her Hapsburgs by
many ties of blood and affection--in Tuscany, right under both noses
of the double-headed eagle, as it were, that a new literary and
political life began for Italy. The Leopoldine code was famously mild
toward criminals, and the Lorrainese princes did not show themselves
crueler than they could help toward poets, essayists, historians,
philologists, and that class of malefactors. Indeed it was the
philosophy of their family to let matters alone; and the grand duke
restored after the fall of Napoleon was, as has been said, an absolute
monarch, but he was also an honest man. This _galantuomo_ had even a
minister who successfully combated the Austrian influences, and so,
though there were, of course, spies and a censorship in Florence,
there was also indulgence; and if it was not altogether a pleasant
place for literary men to live, it was at least tolerable, and there
they gathered from their exile and their silence throughout Italy.
Their point of union, and their means of affecting the popular mind,
was for twelve years the critical journal entitled the _Antologia_,
founded by that Vieusseux who also opened those delightful and
beneficent reading-rooms whither we all rush, as soon as we reach
Florence, to look at the newspapers and magazines of our native land.
The Antologia had at last the misfortune to offend the Emperor of
Russia, and to do that prince a pleasure the Tuscan government
suppressed it: such being the international amenities when sovereigns
really reigned in Europe. After the Antologia there came another
review, published at Leghorn, but it was not so successful, and in
fact the conditions of literature gradually grew more irksome in
Tuscany, until the violent liberation came in ‘48, and a little later
the violent reënslavement.

Giambattista Niccolini, like nearly all the poets of his time and
country, was of noble birth, his father being a _cavaliere_, and
holding a small government office at San Giuliano, near Pistoja. Here,
in 1782, Niccolini was born to very decided penury. His father had
only that little office, and his income died with him; the mother had
nothing--possibly because she was descended from a poet, the famous
Filicaja. From his mother, doubtless, Niccolini inherited his power,
and perhaps his patriotism. But little or nothing is known of his
early life. It is certain, merely, that after leaving school, he
continued his studies in the University of Pisa, and that he very
soon showed himself a poet. His first published effort was a sort of
lamentation over an epidemic that desolated Tuscany in 1804, and this
was followed by five or six pretty thoroughly forgotten tragedies in
the classic or Alfierian manner. Of these, only the _Medea_ is still
played, but they all made a stir in their time; and for another he was
crowned by the Accademia della Crusca, which I suppose does not mean a
great deal. The fact that Niccolini early caught the attention and won
the praises of Ugo Foscolo is more important. There grew up, indeed,
between the two poets such esteem that the elder at this time
dedicated one of his books to the younger, and their friendship
continued through life.

When Elisa Bonaparte was made queen of Etruria by Napoleon, Niccolini
became secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts, and professor of history
and mythology. It is said that in the latter capacity he instilled
into his hearers his own notions of liberty and civic virtue. He was,
in truth, a democrat, and he suffered with the other Jacobins, as they
were called in Italy, when the Napoleonic governments were overthrown.
The benefits which the French Revolution conferred upon the people of
their conquered provinces when not very doubtful were still such as
they were not prepared to receive; and after the withdrawal of the
French support, all the Italians through whom they had ruled fell a
prey to the popular hate and contumely. In those days when dynasties,
restored to their thrones after the lapse of a score of years, ignored
the intervening period and treated all its events as if they had no
bearing upon the future, it was thought the part of the true friends
of order to resume the old fashions which went out with the old
_régime_. The queue, or pigtail, had always been worn, when it was
safe to wear it, by the supporters of religion and good government
(from this fashion came the famous political nickname _codino_,
pigtail-wearer, or conservative, which used to occur so often in
Italian talk and literature), and now whoever appeared on the street
without this emblem of loyalty and piety was in danger of public
outrage. A great many Jacobins bowed their heads to the popular will,
and had pigtails sewed on them--a device which the idle boys and other
unemployed friends of legitimacy busied themselves in detecting. They
laid rude hands on this ornament singing,

    If the queue remains in your hand,
      A true republican is he;
    Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
      Give him a kick for liberty.

It is related that the superficial and occasional character of
Niccolini’s conversion was discovered by this test, and that he
underwent the apposite penalty. He rebelled against the treatment he
received, and was arrested and imprisoned for his contumacy. When
Ferdinando III had returned and established his government on the
let-alone principle to which I have alluded, the dramatist was made
librarian of the Palatine Library at the Pitti Palace, but he could
not endure the necessary attendance at court, where his politics were
remembered against him by the courtiers, and he gave up the place.
The grand duke was sorry, and said so, adding that he was perfectly
contented. “Your Highness,” answered the poet, “in this case it takes
two to be contented.”


II

The first political tragedy of Niccolini was the _Nebuchadnezzar_,
which was printed in London in 1819, and figured, under that
Scriptural disguise, the career of Napoleon. After that came his
_Antonio Foscarini_, in which the poet, who had heretofore been a
classicist, tried to reconcile that school with the romantic by
violating the sacred unities in a moderate manner. In his subsequent
tragedies he seems not to have regarded them at all, and to have been
romantic as the most romantic Lombard of them all could have asked.
Of course, his defection gave exquisite pain to the lovers of Italian
good taste, as the classicists called themselves, but these were
finally silenced by the success of his tragedy. The reader of it
nowadays, we suspect, will think its success not very expensively
achieved, and it certainly has a main fault that makes it strangely
disagreeable. When the past was chiefly the affair of fable, the
storehouse of tradition, it was well enough for the poet to take
historical events and figures, and fashion them in any way that served
his purpose; but this will not do in our modern daylight, where a
freedom with the truth is an offense against common knowledge, and
does not charm the fancy, but painfully bewilders it at the best,
and at the second best is impudent and ludicrous. In his tragedy,
Niccolini takes two very familiar incidents of Venetian history: that
of the Foscari, which Byron has used; and that of Antonio Foscarini,
who was unjustly hanged more than a hundred years later for privity
to a conspiracy against the state, whereas the attributive crime of
Jacopo Foscari was the assassination of a fellow-patrician. The poet
is then forced to make the Doge Foscari do duty throughout as the
father of Foscarini, the only doge of whose name served out his term
very peaceably, and died the author of an extremely dull official
history of Venetian literature. Foscarini, who, up to the time of his
hanging, was an honored servant of the state, and had been ambassador
to France, is obliged, on his part, to undergo all of Jacopo Foscari’s
troubles; and I have not been able to see why the poet should have
vexed himself to make all this confusion, and why the story of the
Foscari was not sufficient for his purpose. In the tragedy there is
much denunciation of the oligarchic oppression of the Ten in Venice,
and it may be regarded as the first of Niccolini’s dramatic appeals to
the love of freedom and the manhood of the Italians.

It is much easier to understand the success of Niccolini’s subsequent
drama, _Lodovico il Moro_, which is in many respects a touching and
effective tragedy, and the historical truth is better observed in
it; though, as none of our race can ever love his country with that
passionate and personal devotion which the Italians feel, we shall
never relish the high patriotic flavor of the piece. The story is
simply that of Giovan-Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, whose uncle,
Lodovico, on pretense of relieving him of the cares of government, has
usurped the sovereignty, and keeps Galeazzo and his wife in virtual
imprisonment, the young duke wasting away with a slow but fatal
malady. To further his ambitious schemes in Lombardy, Lodovico has
called in Charles VIII. of France, who claims the crown of Naples
against the Aragonese family, and pauses, on his way to Naples, at
Milan. Isabella, wife of Galeazzo, appeals to Charles to liberate
them, but reaches his presence in such an irregular way that she is
suspected of treason both to her husband and to Charles. Yet the king
is convinced of her innocence, and he places the sick duke under the
protection of a French garrison, and continues his march on Naples.
Lodovico has appeared to consent, but by seeming to favor the popular
leaders has procured the citizens to insist upon his remaining in
power; he has also secretly received the investiture from the Emperor
of Germany, to be published upon the death of Galeazzo. He now,
therefore, defies the French; Galeazzo, tormented by alternate hope
and despair, dies suddenly; and Lodovico, throwing off the mask of a
popular ruler, puts the republican leaders to death, and reigns the
feudatory of the Emperor. The interest of the play is almost entirely
political, and patriotism is the chief passion involved. The main
personal attraction of the tragedy is in the love of Galeazzo and
his wife, and in the character of the latter the dreamy languor of a
hopeless invalid is delicately painted.

The _Giovanni da Procida_ was a further advance in political
literature. In this tragedy, abandoning the indirectly liberal
teachings of the Foscarini, Niccolini set himself to the purpose
of awakening a Tuscan hatred of foreign rule. The subject is the
expulsion of the French from Sicily; and when the French ambassador
complained to the Austrian that such a play should be tolerated by
the Tuscan government, the Austrian answered, “The address is to the
French, but the letter is for the Germans.” The Giovanni da Procida
was a further development of Niccolini’s political purposes in
literature, and at the time of its first representation it raised the
Florentines to a frenzy of theater-going patriotism. The tragedy
ends with the terrible Sicilian Vespers, but its main affair is with
preceding events, largely imagined by the poet, and the persons are in
great part fictitious; yet they all bear a certain relation to fact,
and the historical persons are more or less historically painted.
Giovanni da Procida, a great Sicilian nobleman, believed dead by
the French, comes home to Palermo, after long exile, to stir up the
Sicilians to rebellion, and finds that his daughter is married to the
son of one of the French rulers, though neither this daughter Imelda
nor her husband Tancredi knew the origin of the latter at the time of
their marriage. Precida, in his all-absorbing hate of the oppressors,
cannot forgive them; yet he seizes Tancredi, and imprisons him in his
castle, in order to save his life from the impending massacre of the
French; and in a scene with Imelda, he tells her that, while she was a
babe, the father of Tancredi had abducted her mother and carried
her to France. Years after, she returned heart-broken to die in her
husband’s arms, a secret which she tries to reveal perishing with her.
While Imelda remains horror-struck by this history, Procida receives
an intercepted letter from Eriberto, Tancredi’s father, in which
he tells the young man that he and Imelda are children of the same
mother. Procida in pity of his daughter, the victim of this awful
fatality, prepares to send her away to a convent in Pisa; but a French
law forbids any ship to sail at that time, and Imelda is brought back
and confronted in a public place with Tancredi, who has been rescued
by the French.

He claims her as his wife, but she, filled with the horror of what she
knows, declares that he is not her husband. It is the moment of the
Vespers, and Tancredi falls among the first slain by the Sicilians. He
implores Imelda for a last kiss, but wildly answering that they are
brother and sister, she swoons away, while Tancredi dies in this
climax of self-loathing and despair. The management of a plot so
terrible is very simple. The feelings of the characters in the hideous
maze which involves them are given only such expression as should come
from those utterly broken by their calamity. Imelda swoons when she
hears the letter of Eriberto declaring the fatal tie of blood that
binds her to her husband, and forever separates her from him. When she
is restored, she finds her father weeping over her, and says:

                 Ah, thou dost look on me
    And weep! At least this comfort I can feel
    In the horror of my state: thou canst not hate
    A woman so unhappy....
     ... Oh, from all
    Be hid the atrocity! to some holy shelter
    Let me be taken far from hence. I feel
    Naught can be more than my calamity,
    Saving God’s pity. I have no father now,
    Nor child, nor husband (heavens, what do I say?
    He is my brother now! and well I know
    I must not ask to see him more). I, living, lose
    Everything death robs other women of.

By far the greater feeling and passion are shown in the passages
describing the wrongs which the Sicilians have suffered from the
French, and expressing the aspiration and hate of Procida and his
fellow-patriots. Niccolini does not often use pathos, and he is on
that account perhaps the more effective in the use of it. However this
may be, I find it very touching when, after coming back from his long
exile, Procida says to Imelda, who is trembling for the secret of her
marriage amidst her joy in his return:

                      Daughter, art thou still
      So sad? I have not heard yet from thy lips
      A word of the old love....
          ... Ah, thou knowest not
      What sweetness hath the natal spot, how many
      The longings exile hath; how heavy’t is
      To arrive at doors of homes where no one waits thee!
      Imelda, thou may’st abandon thine own land,
      But not forget her; I, a pilgrim, saw
      Many a city; but none among them had
      A memory that spoke unto my heart;
      And fairer still than any other seemed
      The country whither still my spirit turned.

In a vein as fierce and passionate as this is tender, Procida relates
how, returning to Sicily when he was believed dead by the French, he
passed in secret over the island and inflamed Italian hatred of the
foreigners:

                      I sought the pathless woods,
    And drew the cowards thence and made them blush,
    And then made fury follow on their shame.
    I hailed the peasant in his fertile fields,
    Where, ‘neath the burden of the cruel tribute,
    He dropped from famine ‘midst the harvest sheaves,
    With his starved brood: “Open thou with thy scythe
    The breasts of Frenchmen; let the earth no more
    Be fertile to our tyrants.” I found my way
    In palaces, in hovels; tranquil, I
    Both great and lowly did make drunk with rage.
    I knew the art to call forth cruel tears
    In every eye, to wake in every heart
    A love of slaughter, a ferocious need
    Of blood. And in a thousand strong right hands
    Glitter the arms I gave.

In the last act occurs one of those lyrical passages in which
Niccolini excels, and two lines from this chorus are among the most
famous in modern Italian poetry:

    Perchè tanto sorriso del cielo
    Sulla terra del vile dolor?

The scene is in a public place in Palermo, and the time is the moment
before the massacre of the French begins. A chorus of Sicilian poets
remind the people of their sorrows and degradation, and sing:

    The wind vexes the forest no longer,
    In the sunshine the leaflets expand:
    With barrenness cursed be the land
    That is bathed with the sweat of the slave!

    On the fields now the harvests are waving,
    On the fields that our blood has made red;
    Harvests grown for our enemy’s bread
    From the bones of our children they wave!

    With a veil of black clouds would the tempest
    Might the face of this Italy cover;
    Why should Heaven smile so glorious over
    The land of our infamous woe?

    All nature is suddenly wakened,
    Here in slumbers unending man sleeps;
    Dust trod evermore by the steps
    Of ever-strange lords he lies low!


{Illustration: Giambattista Niccolini.}

“With this tragedy,” says an Italian biographer of Niccolini, “the
poet potently touched all chords of the human heart, from the most
impassioned love to the most implacable hate.... The enthusiasm rose
to the greatest height, and for as many nights of the severe winter of
1830 as the tragedy was given, the theater was always thronged by the
overflowing audience; the doors of the Cocomero were opened to the
impatient people many hours before the spectacle began. Spectators
thought themselves fortunate to secure a seat next the roof of the
theater; even in the prompter’s hole {Note: On the Italian stage the
prompter rises from a hole in the floor behind the foot-lights, and is
hidden from the audience merely by a canvas shade.} places were
sought to witness the admired work.... And whilst they wept over the
ill-starred love of Imelda, and all hearts palpitated in the touching
situation of the drama,--where the public and the personal interests
so wonderfully blended, and the vengeance of a people mingled
with that of a man outraged in the most sacred affections of the
heart,--Procida rose terrible as the billows of his sea, imprecating
before all the wrongs of their oppressed country, in whatever
servitude inflicted, by whatever aliens, among all those that had
trampled, derided, and martyred her, and raising the cry of resistance
which stirred the heart of all Italy. At the picture of the abject
sufferings of their common country, the whole audience rose and
repeated with tears of rage:

   “Why should heaven smile so glorious over
    The land of our infamous woe?”

By the year 1837 had begun the singular illusion of the Italians, that
their freedom and unity were to be accomplished through a liberal and
patriotic Pope. Niccolini, however, never was cheated by it, though he
was very much disgusted, and he retired, not only from the political
agitation, but almost from the world. He was seldom seen upon the
street, but to those who had access to him he did not fail to express
all the contempt and distrust he felt. “A liberal Pope! a liberal
Pope!” he said, with a scornful enjoyment of that contradiction in
terms. He was thoroughly Florentine and Tuscan in his anti-papal
spirit, and he was faithful in it to the tradition of Dante, Petrarch,
Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Alfieri, who all doubted and combated
the papal influence as necessarily fatal to Italian hopes. In 1843 he
published his great and principal tragedy, _Arnaldo da Brescia_, which
was a response to the ideas of the papal school of patriots. In due
time Pius IX. justified Niccolini, and all others that distrusted him,
by turning his back upon the revolution, which belief in him, more
than anything else, had excited.

The tragedies which succeeded the Arnaldo were the _Filippo Strozzi_,
published in 1847; the _Beatrice_ _Cenci_, a version from the English
of Shelley, and the _Mario e i Cimbri_.

A part of the Arnaldo da Brescia was performed in Florence in 1858,
not long before the war which has finally established Italian freedom.
The name of the Cocomero theater had been changed to the Teatro
Niccolini, and, in spite of the governmental anxiety and opposition,
the occasion was made a popular demonstration in favor of Niccolini’s
ideas as well as himself. His biographer says: “The audience now
maintained a religious silence; now, moved by irresistible force,
broke out into uproarious applause as the eloquent protests of the
friar and the insolent responses of the Pope awakened their interest;
for Italy then, like the unhappy martyr, had risen to proclaim the
decline of that monstrous power which, in the name of a religion
profaned by it, sanctifies its own illegitimate and feudal origin,
its abuses, its pride, its vices, its crimes. It was a beautiful and
affecting spectacle to see the illustrious poet receiving the
warm congratulations of his fellow-citizens, who enthusiastically
recognized in him the utterer of so many lofty truths and the prophet
of Italy. That night Niccolini was accompanied to his house by the
applauding multitude.” And if all this was a good deal like the honors
the Florentines were accustomed to pay to a very pretty _ballerina_
or a successful _prima donna_, there is no doubt that a poet is much
worthier the popular frenzy; and it is a pity that the forms of
popular frenzy have to be so cheapened by frequent use. The two
remaining years of Niccolini’s life were spent in great retirement,
and in a satisfaction with the fortunes of Italy which was only marred
by the fact that the French still remained in Rome, and that the
temporal power yet stood. He died in 1861.


III

The work of Niccolini in which he has poured out all the lifelong
hatred and distrust he had felt for the temporal power of the popes is
the Arnaldo da Brescia. This we shall best understand through a sketch
of the life of Arnaldo, who is really one of the most heroic figures
of the past, deserving to rank far above Savonarola, and with the
leaders of the Reformation, though he preceded these nearly four
hundred years. He was born in Brescia of Lombardy, about the year
1105, and was partly educated in France, in the school of the famous
Abelard. He early embraced the ecclesiastical life, and, when he
returned to his own country, entered a convent, but not to waste his
time in idleness and the corruptions of his order. In fact, he began
at once to preach against these, and against the usurpation of
temporal power by all the great and little dignitaries of the Church.
He thus identified himself with the democratic side in politics, which
was then locally arrayed against the bishop aspiring to rule Brescia.
Arnaldo denounced the political power of the Pope, as well as that
of the prelates; and the bishop, making this known to the pontiff at
Rome, had sufficient influence to procure a sentence against Arnaldo
as a schismatic, and an order enjoining silence upon him. He was also
banished from Italy; whereupon, retiring to France, he got himself
into further trouble by aiding Abelard in the defense of his
teachings, which had been attainted of heresy. Both Abelard and
Arnaldo were at this time bitterly persecuted by St. Bernard, and
Arnaldo took refuge in Switzerland, whence, after several years,
he passed to Rome, and there began to assume an active part in the
popular movements against the papal rule. He was an ardent republican,
and was a useful and efficient partisan, teaching openly that, whilst
the Pope was to be respected in all spiritual things, he was not to
be recognized at all as a temporal prince. When the English monk,
Nicholas Breakspear, became Pope Adrian IV., he excommunicated and
banished Arnaldo; but Arnaldo, protected by the senate and certain
powerful nobles, remained at Rome in spite of the Pope’s decree, and
disputed the lawfulness of the excommunication. Finally, the whole
city was laid under interdict until Arnaldo should be driven out. Holy
Week was drawing near; the people were eager to have their churches
thrown open and to witness the usual shows and splendors, and they
consented to the exile of their leader. The followers of a cardinal
arrested him, but he was rescued by his friends, certain counts of the
Campagna, who held him for a saint, and who now lodged him safely in
one of their castles. The Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, coming to Rome
to assume the imperial crown, was met by embassies from both parties
in the city. He warmly favored that of the Pope, and not only received
that of the people very coldly, but arrested one of the counts who had
rescued Arnaldo, and forced him to name the castle in which the monk
lay concealed. Arnaldo was then given into the hands of the cardinals,
and these delivered him to the prefect of Rome, who caused him to
be hanged, his body to be burned upon a spit, and his ashes to be
scattered in the Tiber, that the people might not venerate his relics
as those of a saint. “This happened,” says the priest Giovanni
Battista Guadagnini, of Brescia, whose Life, published in 1790, I have
made use of--“this happened in the year 1155 before the 18th of June,
previous to the coronation of Frederick, Arnaldo being, according to
my thinking, fifty years of age. His eloquence,” continues Guadagnini,
“was celebrated by his enemies themselves; the exemplarity of his life
was superior to their malignity, constraining them all to silence,
although they were in such great number, and it received a splendid
eulogy from St. Bernard, the luminary of that century, who, being
strongly impressed against him, condemned him first as a schismatic,
and then for the affair of the Council of Sens (the defense of
Abelard), persecuted him as a heretic, and then had finally nothing to
say against him. His courage and his zeal for the discipline of the
Church have been sufficiently attested by the toils, the persecutions,
and the death which he underwent for that cause.”


IV

The scene of the first act of Niccolini’s tragedy is near the
Capitoline Hill, in Rome, where two rival leaders, Frangipani and
Giordano Pierleone, are disputing in the midst of their adherents.
The former is a supporter of the papal usurpations; the latter is a
republican chief, who has been excommunicated for his politics, and is
also under sentence of banishment; but who, like Arnaldo, remains
in Rome in spite of Church and State. Giordano withdraws to the
Campidôglio with his adherents, and there Arnaldo suddenly appears
among them. When the people ask what cure there is for their troubles,
Arnaldo answers, in denunciation of the papacy:

                Liberty and God.
    A voice from the orient,
    A voice from the Occident,
    A voice from thy deserts,
    A voice of echoes from the open graves,
    Accuses thee, thou shameless harlot! Drunk
    Art thou with blood of saints, and thou hast lain
    With all the kings of earth. Ah, you behold her!
    She is clothed on with purple; gold and pearls
    And gems are heaped upon her; and her vestments
    Once white, the pleasure of her former spouse,
    That now’s in heaven, she has dragged in dust.
    Lo, is she full of names and blasphemies,
    And on her brow is written _Mystery!_
    Ah, nevermore you hear her voice console
    The afflicted; all she threatens, and creates
    With her perennial curse in trembling souls
    Ineffable pangs; the unhappy--as we here
    Are all of us--fly in their common sorrows
    To embrace each other; she, the cruel one,
    Sunders them in the name of Jesus; fathers
    She kindles against sons, and wives she parts
    From husbands, and she makes a war between
    Harmonious brothers; of the Evangel she
    Is cruel interpreter, and teaches hate
    Out of the book of love. The years are come
    Whereof the rapt Evangelist of Patmos
    Did prophesy; and, to deceive the people,
    Satan has broken the chains he bore of old;
    And she, the cruel, on the infinite waters
    Of tears that are poured out for her, sits throned.
    The enemy of man two goblets places
    Unto her shameless lips; and one is blood,
    And gold is in the other; greedy and fierce
    She drinks so from them both, the world knows not
    If she of blood or gold have greater thirst....
    Lord, those that fled before thy scourge of old
    No longer stand to barter offerings
    About thy temple’s borders, but within
    Man’s self is sold, and thine own blood is trafficked,
    Thou son of God!

The people ask Arnaldo what he counsels them to do, and he advises
them to restore the senate and the tribunes, appealing to the glorious
memories of the place where they stand, the Capitoline Hill:

    Where the earth calls at every step, “Oh, pause,
    Thou treadest on a hero!”

They desire to make him a tribune, but he refuses, promising, however,
that he will not withhold his counsel. Whilst he speaks, some
cardinals, with nobles of the papal party, appear, and announce the
election of the new Pope, Adrian. “What is his name?” the people
demand; and a cardinal answers, “Breakspear, a Briton.” Giordano
exclaims:

    Impious race! you’ve chosen Rome for shepherd
    A cruel barbarian, and even his name
    Tortures our ears.

    _Arnaldo._ I never care to ask
    Where popes are born; and from long suffering,
    You, Romans, before heaven, should have learnt
    That priests can have no country....
    I know this man; his father was a thrall,
    And he is fit to be a slave. He made
    Friends with the Norman that enslaves his country;
    A wandering beggar to Avignon’s cloisters
    He came in boyhood and was known to do
    All abject services; there those false monks
    He with astute humility cajoled;
    He learned their arts, and ‘mid intrigues and hates
    He rose at last out of his native filth
    A tyrant of the vile.

The cardinals, confounded by Arnaldo’s presence and invectives,
withdraw, but leave one of their party to work on the fears of the
Romans, and make them return to their allegiance by pictures of the
desolating war which Barbarossa, now approaching Rome to support
Adrian, has waged upon the rebellious Lombards at Rosate and
elsewhere. Arnaldo replies:--

                                        Romans,
    I will tell all the things that he has hid;
    I know not how to cheat you. Yes, Rosate
    A ruin is, from which the smoke ascends.
    The bishop, lord of Monferrato, guided
    The German arms against Chieri and Asti,
    Now turned to dust; that shepherd pitiless
    Did thus avenge his own offenses on
    His flying flocks; himself with torches armed
    The German hand; houses and churches saw
    Destroyed, and gave his blessing on the flames.
    This is the pardon that you may expect
    From mitered tyrants. A heap of ashes now
    Crowneth the hill where once Tortona stood;
    And drunken with her wine and with her blood,
    Fallen there amidst their spoil upon the dead,
    Slept the wild beasts of Germany: like ghosts
    Dim wandering through the darkness of the night,
    Those that were left by famine and the sword,
    Hidden within the heart of thy dim caverns,
    Desolate city! rose and turned their steps
    Noiselessly toward compassionate Milan.
    There they have borne their swords and hopes: I see
    A thousand heroes born from the example
    Tortona gave. O city, if I could,
    O sacred city! upon the ruins fall
    Reverently, and take them in my loving arms,
    The relics of thy brave I’d gather up
    In precious urns, and from the altars here
    In days of battle offer to be kissed!
    Oh, praise be to the Lord! Men die no more
    For chains and errors; martyrs now at last
    Hast thou, O holy Freedom; and fain were I
    Ashes for thee!--But I see you grow pale,
    Ye Romans! Down, go down; this holy height
    Is not for cowards.  In the valley there
    Your tyrant waits you; go and fall before him
    And cover his haughty foot with tears and kisses.
    He’ll tread you in the dust, and then absolve you.

    _The People._ The arms we have are strange and few,
    Our walls Are fallen and ruinous.

    _Arnaldo._           Their hearts are walls
    Unto the brave....
                         And they shall rise again,
    The walls that blood of freemen has baptized,
    But among slaves their ruins are eternal.

    _People._ You outrage us, sir!

    _Arnaldo._               Wherefore do ye tremble
    Before the trumpet sounds? O thou that wast
    Once the world’s lord and first in Italy,
    Wilt thou be now the last?

    _People._ No more!  Cease, or thou diest!

Arnaldo, having roused the pride of the Romans, now tells them that
two thousand Swiss have followed him from his exile; and the act
closes with some lyrical passages leading to the fraternization of the
people with these.

The second act of this curious tragedy, where there may be said to
be scarcely any personal interest, but where we are aware of such an
impassioned treatment of public interests as perhaps never was before,
opens with a scene between the Pope Adrian and the Cardinal Guido. The
character of both is finely studied by the poet; and Guido, the type
of ecclesiastical submission, has not more faith in the sacredness
and righteousness of Adrian, than Adrian, the type of ecclesiastical
ambition, has in himself. The Pope tells Guido that he stands doubting
between the cities of Lombardy leagued against Frederick, and
Frederick, who is coming to Rome, not so much to befriend the papacy
as to place himself in a better attitude to crush the Lombards. The
German dreams of the restoration of Charlemagne’s empire; he believes
the Church corrupt; and he and Arnaldo would be friends, if it were
not for Arnaldo’s vain hope of reëstablishing the republican liberties
of Rome. The Pope utters his ardent desire to bring Arnaldo back to
his allegiance; and when Guido reminds him that Arnaldo has been
condemned by a council of the Church, and that it is scarcely in his
power to restore him, Adrian turns upon him:

                           What sayest thou?
    I can do all. Dare the audacious members
    Rebel against the head? Within these hands
    Lie not the keys that once were given to Peter?
    The heavens repeat as ‘t were the word of God,
    My word that here has power to loose and bind.
    Arnaldo did not dare so much. The kingdom
    Of earth alone he did deny me. Thou
    Art more outside the Church than he.

    _Guido_ (_kneeling at Adrian’s feet_). O God,
    I erred; forgive! I rise not from thy feet
    Till thou absolve me. My zeal blinded me.
    I’m clay before thee; shape me as thou wilt,
    A vessel apt to glory or to shame.

Guido then withdraws at the Pope’s bidding, in order to send a
messenger to Arnaldo, and Adrian utters this fine soliloquy:

    At every step by which I’ve hither climbed
    I’ve found a sorrow; but upon the summit
    All sorrows are; and thorns more thickly spring
    Around my chair than ever round a throne.
    What weary toil to keep up from the dust
    This mantle that’s weighed down the strongest limbs!
    These splendid gems that blaze in my tiara,
    They are a fire that burns the aching brow,
    I lift with many tears, O Lord, to thee!
    Yet I must fear not; He that did know how
    To bear the cross, so heavy with the sins
    Of all the world, will succor the weak servant
    That represents his power here on earth.
    Of mine own isle that make the light o’ the sun
    Obscure as one day was my lot, amidst
    The furious tumults of this guilty Rome,
    Here, under the superb effulgency
    Of burning skies, I think of you and weep!

The Pope’s messenger finds Arnaldo in the castle of Giordano, where
these two are talking of the present fortunes and future chances of
Rome. The patrician forebodes evil from the approach of the emperor,
but Arnaldo encourages him, and, when the Pope’s messenger appears, he
is eager to go to Adrian, believing that good to their cause will
come of it. Giordano in vain warns him against treachery, bidding him
remember that Adrian will hold any falsehood sacred that is used
with a heretic. It is observable throughout that Niccolini is always
careful to make his rebellious priest a good Catholic; and now Arnaldo
rebukes Giordano for some doubts of the spiritual authority of the
Pope. When Giordano says:

    These modern pharisees, upon the cross,
    Where Christ hung dying once, have nailed mankind,

Arnaldo answers:

    He will know how to save that rose and conquered;

And Giordano replies:

    Yes, Christ arose; but Freedom cannot break
    The stone that shuts her ancient sepulcher,
    For on it stands the altar.

Adrian, when Arnaldo appears before him, bids him fall down and kiss
his feet, and speak to him as to God; he will hear Arnaldo only as a
penitent. Arnaldo answers:

                                   The feet
    Of his disciples did that meek One kiss
    Whom here thou representest. But I hear
    Now from thy lips the voice of fiercest pride.
    Repent, O Peter, that deniest him,
    And near the temple art, but far from God!

       *       *       *       *       *

                             The name of the king
    Is never heard in Rome. And if thou are
    The vicar of Christ on earth, well should’st thou know
    That of thorns only was the crown he wore.

    _Adrian._ He gave to me the empire of the earth
    When this great mantly I put on, and took
    The Church’s high seat I was chosen to;
    The word of God did erst create the world,
    And now mine guides it. Would’st thou that the soul
    Should serve the body? Thou dost dream of freedom,
    And makest war on him who sole on earth
    Can shield man from his tyrants. O Arnaldo,
    Be Wise; believe me, all thy words are vain,
    Vain sound that perish or disperse themselves
    Amidst the wilderness of Rome. I only
    Can speak the words that the whole world repeats.

    _Arnaldo_. Thy words were never Freedom’s; placed between
    The people and their tyrants, still the Church
    With the weak cruel, with the mighty vile,
    Has been, and crushed in pitiless embraces
    That emperors and pontiffs have exchanged.
    Man has been ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Why seek’st thou empire here, and great on earth
    Art mean in heaven? Ah! vainly in thy prayer
    Thou criest, “Let the heart be lifted up!”
     ‘T is ever bowed to earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

                       Now, then, if thou wilt,
    Put forth the power that thou dost vaunt; repress
    The crimes of bishops, make the Church ashamed
    To be a step-mother to the poor and lowly.
    In all the Lombard cities every priest
    Has grown a despot, in shrewd perfidy
    Now siding with the Church, now with the Empire.
    They have dainty food, magnificent apparel,
    Lascivious joys, and on their altars cold
    Gathers the dust, where lies the miter dropt,
    Forgotten, from the haughty brow that wears
    The helmet, and no longer bows itself
    Before God’s face in th’ empty sanctuaries;
    But upon the fields of slaughter, smoking still,
    Bends o’er the fallen foe, and aims the blows
    O’ th’ sacrilegious sword, with cruel triumph
    Insulting o’er the prayers of dying men.
    There the priest rides o’er breasts of fallen foes,
    And stains with blood his courser’s iron heel.
    When comes a brief, false peace, and wearily
    Amidst the havoc doth the priest sit down,
    His pleasures are a crime, and after rapine
    Luxury follows. Like a thief he climbs
    Into the fold, and that desired by day
    He dares amid the dark, and violence
    Is the priest’s marriage. Vainly did Rome hope
    That they had thrown aside the burden vile
    Of the desires that weigh down other men.
    Theirs is the ungrateful lust of the wild beast,
    That doth forget the mother nor knows the child.
    ... On the altar of Christ,
    Who is the prince of pardon and of peace,
    Vows of revenge are registered, and torches
    That are thrown into hearts of leaguered cities
    Are lit from tapers burning before God.
    Become thou king of sacrifice; ascend
    The holy hill of God; on these perverse
    Launch thou thy thunderbolts; and feared again
    And great thou wilt be. Tell me, Adrian,
    Must thou not bear a burden that were heavy
    Even for angels? Wherefore wilt thou join
    Death unto life, and make the word of God,
    That says, “My kingdom is not of this world,”
     A lie? Oh, follow Christ’s example here
    In Rome; it pleased both God and her
    To abase the proud and to uplift the weak.
    I’ll kiss the foot that treads on kings!

    _Adrian._                       Arnaldo,
    I parley not, I rule; and I, become
    On earth as God in heaven, am judge of all,
    And none of me; I watch, and I dispense
    Terrors and hopes, rewards and punishments,
    To peoples and to kings; fountain and source
    Of life am I, who make the Church of God
    One and all-powerful. Many thrones and peoples
    She has seen tost upon the madding waves
    Of time, and broken on the immovable rock
    Whereon she sits; and since one errless spirit
    Rules in her evermore, she doth not rave
    For changeful doctrine, but she keeps eternal
    The grandeur of her will and purposes.
     ... Arnaldo,
    Thou movest me to pity. In vain thou seek’st
    To warm thy heart over these ruins, groping
    Among the sepulchers of Rome. Thou’lt find
    No bones to which thou canst say, “Rise!” Ah, here
    Remaineth not one hero’s dust. Thou thinkest
    That with old names old virtues shall return?
    And thou desirest tribunes, senators,
    Equestrian orders, Rome! A greater glory
    Thy sovereign pontiff is who doth not guard
    The rights uncertain of a crazy rabble;
    But tribune of the world he sits in Rome,
    And “I forbid,” to kings and peoples cries.
    I tell thee a greater than the impious power
    That thou in vain endeavorest to renew
    Here built the dying fisherman of Judea.
    Out of his blood he made a fatherland
    For all the nations, and this place, that once
    A city was, became a world; the borders
    That did divide the nations, by Christ’s law
    Are ta’en away, and this the kingdom is
    For which he asked his Father in his prayer.
    The Church has sons in every race; I rule,
    An unseen king, and Rome is everywhere!

    _Arnaldo_. Thou errest, Adrian. Rome’s thunderbolts
    Wake little terror now, and reason shakes
    The bonds that thou fain would’st were everlasting.
     ... Christ calls to her
    As of old to the sick man, “Rise and walk.”
     She ‘ll tread on you if you go not before.
    The world has other truth besides the altar’s.
    It will not have a temple that hides heaven.
    Thou wast a shepherd: be a father. The race
    Of man is weary of being called a flock.

Adrian’s final reply is, that if Arnaldo will renounce his false
doctrine and leave Rome, the Pope will, through him, give the Lombard
cities a liberty that shall not offend the Church. Arnaldo refuses,
and quits Adrian’s presence. It is quite needless to note the bold
character of the thought here, or the nobility of the poetry, which
Niccolini puts as well into the mouth of the Pope whom he hates as the
monk whom he loves.

Following this scene is one of greater dramatic force, in which the
Cardinal Guido, sent to the Campidoglio by the Pope to disperse the
popular assembly, is stoned by the people and killed. He dies full of
faith in the Church and the righteousness of his cause, and his
body, taken up by the priests, is carried into the square before St.
Peter’s. A throng, including many women, has followed; and now
Niccolini introduces a phase of the great Italian struggle which was
perhaps the most perplexing of all. The subjection of the women to
the priests is what has always greatly contributed to defeat Italian
efforts for reform; it now helps to unnerve the Roman multitude; and
the poet finally makes it the weakness through which Arnaldo is dealt
his death. With a few strokes in the scene that follows the death of
Guido, he indicates the remorse and dismay of the people when the Pope
repels them from the church door and proclaims the interdict; and then
follow some splendid lyrical passages, in which the Pope commands the
pictures and images to be veiled and the relics to be concealed, and
curses the enemies of the Church. I shall but poorly render this curse
by a rhymeless translation, and yet I am tempted to give it:

    _The Pope._ To-day let the perfidious
    Learn at thy name to tremble,
    Nor triumph o’er the ruinous
    Place of thy vanished altars.
    Oh, brief be their days and uncertain;
    In the desert their wandering footsteps,
    Every tremulous leaflet affright them!

    _The Cardinals._ Anathema, anathema, anathema!

    _Pope._ May their widows sit down ‘mid the ashes
    On the hearths of their desolate houses,
    With their little ones wailing around them.

    _Cardinals._ Anathema, anathema, anathema!

    _Pope._ May he who was born to the fury
    Of heaven, afar from his country
    Be lost in his ultimate anguish.

    _Cardinals._ Anathema, anathema, anathema!

    _Pope._ May he fly to the house of the alien oppressor
    That is filled with the spoil of his brothers, with women
    Destroyed by the pitiless hands that defiled them;
    There in accents unknown and derided, abase him
    At portals ne’er opened in mercy, imploring
    A morsel of bread.

    _Cardinals._       Be that morsel denied him!

    _Pope._ I hear the wicked cry: I from the Lord
    Will fly away with swift and tireless feet;
    His anger follows me upon the sea;
    I’ll seek the desert; who will give me wings?
    In cloudy horror, who shall lead my steps?
    The eye of God maketh the night as day.
                O brothers, fulfill then
                The terrible duty;
                Throw down from the altars
                The dim-burning tapers;
    And be all joy, and be the love of God
    In thankless hearts that know not Peter, quenched,
    As is the little flame that falls and dies,
    Here in these tapers trampled under foot.


In the first scene of the third act, which is a desolate place in the
Campagna, near the sea, Arnaldo appears. He has been expelled from
Rome by the people, eager for the opening of their churches, and he
soliloquizes upon his fate in language that subtly hints all his
passing moods, and paints the struggle of his soul. It appears to me
that it is a wise thing to make him almost regret the cloister in
the midst of his hatred of it, and then shrink from that regret with
horror; and there is also a fine sense of night and loneliness in the
scene:

                             Like this sand
    Is life itself, and evermore each path
    Is traced in suffering, and one footprint still
    Obliterates another; and we are all
    Vain shadows here that seem a little while,
    And suffer, and pass. Let me not fight in vain,
    O Son of God, with thine immortal word,
    Yon tyrant of eternity and time,
    Who doth usurp thy place on earth, whose feet
    Are in the depths, whose head is in the clouds,
    Who thunders all abroad, _The world is mine!_
    Laws, virtues, liberty I have attempted
    To give thee, Rome. Ah! only where death is
    Abides thy glory. Here the laurel only
    Flourishes on the ruins and the tombs.
    I will repose upon this fallen column
    My weary limbs. Ah, lower than this ye lie,
    You Latin souls, and to your ancient height
    Who shall uplift you? I am all weighed down
    By the great trouble of the lofty hopes
    Of Italy still deluded, and I find
    Within my soul a drearer desert far
    Than this, where the air already darkens round,
    And the soft notes of distant convent bells
    Announce the coming night.... I cannot hear them
    Without a trembling wish that in my heart
    Wakens a memory that becomes remorse....
    Ah, Reason, soon thou languishest in us,
    Accustomed to such outrage all our lives.
    Thou know’st the cloister; thou a youth didst enter
    That sepulcher of the living where is war,--
    Remember it and shudder! The damp wind
    Stirs this gray hair. I’m near the sea.
    Thy silence is no more; sweet on the ear
    Cometh the far-off murmur of the floods
    In the vast desert; now no more the darkness
    Imprisons wholly; now less gloomily
    Lowers the sky that lately threatened storm.
    Less thick the air is, and the trembling light
    O’ the stars among the breaking clouds appears.
    Praise to the Lord! The eternal harmony
    Of all his work I feel. Though these vague beams
    Reveal to me here only fens and tombs,
    My soul is not so heavily weighed down
    By burdens that oppressed it....
    I rise to grander purposes: man’s tents
    Are here below, his city is in heaven.
    I doubt no more; the terror of the cloister
    No longer assails me.

Presently Giordano comes to join Arnaldo in this desolate place, and,
in the sad colloquy which follows, tells him of the events of Rome,
and the hopelessness of their cause, unless they have the aid and
countenance of the Emperor. He implores Arnaldo to accompany the
embassy which he is about to send to Frederick; but Arnaldo, with
a melancholy disdain, refuses. He asks where are the Swiss who
accompanied him to Rome, and he is answered by one of the Swiss
captains, who at that moment appears. The Emperor has ordered them to
return home, under penalty of the ban of the empire. He begs Arnaldo
to return with them, but Arnaldo will not; and Giordano sends him
under a strong escort to the castle of Ostasio. Arnaldo departs with
much misgiving, for the wife of Ostasio is Adelasia, a bigoted papist,
who has hitherto resisted the teaching to which her husband has been
converted.

As the escort departs, the returning Swiss are seen. One of their
leaders expresses the fear that moves them, when he says that the
Germans will desolate their homes if they do not return to them.
Moreover, the Italian sun, which destroys even those born under it,
drains their life, and man and nature are leagued against them there.
“What have you known here!” he asks, and his soldiers reply in chorus:

    The pride of old names, the caprices of fate,
    In vast desert spaces the silence of death,
    Or in mist-hidden lowlands, his wandering fires;
    No sweet song of birds, no heart-cheering sound,
    But eternal memorials of ancient despair,
    And ruins and tombs that waken dismay
    At the moan of the pines that are stirred by the wind.
    Full of dark and mysterious peril the woods;
    No life-giving fountains, but only bare sands,
    Or some deep-bedded river that silently moves,
    With a wave that is livid and stagnant, between
    Its margins ungladdened by grass or by flowers,
    And in sterile sands vanishes wholly away.
    Out of huts that by turns have been shambles and tombs,
    All pallid and naked, and burned by their fevers,
    The peasant folk suddenly stare as you pass,
    With visages ghastly, and eyes full of hate,
    Aroused by the accent that’s strange to their ears.
    Oh, heavily hang the clouds here on the head!
    Wan and sick is the earth, and the sun is a tyrant.

Then one of the Swiss soldiers speaks alone:

    The unconquerable love of our own land
    Draws us away till we behold again
    The eternal walls the Almighty builded there.
    Upon the arid ways of faithless lands
    I am tormented by a tender dream
    Of that sweet rill which runs before my cot.
    Oh, let me rest beside the smiling lake,
    And hear the music of familiar words,
    And on its lonely margin, wild and fair,
    Lie down and think of my beloved ones.

There is no page of this tragedy which does not present some terrible
or touching picture, which is not full of brave and robust thought,
which has not also great dramatic power. But I am obliged to curtail
the proof of this, and I feel that, after all, I shall not give a
complete idea of the tragedy’s grandeur, its subtlety, its vast scope
and meaning.

There is a striking dialogue between a Roman partisan of Arnaldo, who,
with his fancy oppressed by the heresy of his cause, is wavering in
his allegiance, and a Brescian, whom the outrages of the priests have
forever emancipated from faith in their power to bless or ban in the
world to come. Then ensues a vivid scene, in which a fanatical and
insolent monk of Arnaldo’s order, leading a number of soldiers,
arrests him by command of Adrian. Ostasio’s soldiers approaching to
rescue him, the monk orders him to be slain, but he is saved, and the
act closes with the triumphal chorus of his friends. Here is fine
occasion for the play of different passions, and the occasion is not
lost.

With the fourth act is introduced the new interest of the German
oppression; and as we have had hitherto almost wholly a study of the
effect of the papal tyranny upon Italy, we are now confronted with
the shame and woe which the empire has wrought her. Exiles from the
different Lombard cities destroyed by Barbarossa meet on their way
to seek redress from the Pope, and they pour out their sorrows in
pathetic and passionate lyrics. To read these passages gives one a
favorable notion of the liberality or the stupidity of the government
which permitted the publication of the tragedy. The events alluded to
were many centuries past, the empire had long ceased to be; but the
Italian hatred of the Germans was one and indivisible for every moment
of all times, and we may be sure that to each of Niccolini’s readers
these mediaeval horrors were but masks for cruelties exercised by the
Austrians in his own day, and that in those lyrical bursts of rage
and grief there was full utterance for his smothered sense of present
wrong. There is a great charm in these strophes; they add unspeakable
pathos to a drama which is so largely concerned with political
interests; and they make us feel that it is a beautiful and noble work
of art, as well as grand appeal to the patriotism of the Italians and
the justice of mankind.

When we are brought into the presence of Barbarossa, we find him
awaiting the arrival of Adrian, who is to accompany him to Rome and
crown him emperor, in return for the aid that Barbarossa shall give in
reducing the rebellious citizens and delivering Arnaldo into the power
of the papacy. Heralds come to announce Adrian’s approach, and riding
forth a little way, Frederick dismounts in order to go forward on foot
and meet the Pope, who advances, preceded by his clergy, and attended
by a multitude of his partisans. As Frederick perceives the Pope and
quits his horse, he muses:

                               I leave thee,
    O faithful comrade mine in many perils,
    Thou generous steed! and now, upon the ground
    That should have thundered under thine advance,
    With humble foot I silent steps must trace.
    But what do I behold? Toward us comes,
    With tranquil pride, the servant of the lowly,
    Upon a white horse docile to the rein
    As he would kings were; all about the path
    That Adrian moves on, warriors and people
    Of either sex, all ages, in blind homage,
    Mingle, press near and fall upon the ground,
    Or one upon another; and man, whom God
    Made to look up to heaven, becomes as dust
    Under the feet of pride; and they believe
    The gates of Paradise would be set wide
    To any one whom his steed crushed to death.
    With me thou never hast thine empire shared;
    Thou alone hold’st the world! He will not turn
    On me in sign of greeting that proud head,
    Encircled by the tiara; and he sees,
    Like God, all under him in murmured prayer
    Or silence, blesses them, and passes on.
    What wonder if he will not deign to touch
    The earth I tread on with his haughty foot!
    He gives it to be kissed of kings; I too
    Must stoop to the vile act.

Since the time of Henry II. it had been the custom of the emperors to
lead the Pope’s horse by the bridle, and to hold his stirrup while he
descended. Adrian waits in vain for this homage from Frederick, and
then alights with the help of his ministers, and seats himself in his
episcopal chair, while Frederick draws near, saying aside:

    I read there in his face his insolent pride
    Veiled by humility.

He bows before Adrian and kisses his foot, and then offers him the
kiss of peace, which Adrian refuses, and haughtily reminds him of the
fate of Henry. Frederick answers furiously that the thought of this
fate has always filled him with hatred of the papacy; and Adrian,
perceiving that he has pressed too far in this direction, turns and
soothes the Emperor:

                                I am truth,
    And thou art force, and if thou part’st from me,
    Blind thou becomest, helpless I remain.
    We are but one at last....
                                Caesar and Peter,
    They are the heights of God; man from the earth
    Contemplates them with awe, and never questions
    Which thrusts its peak the higher into heaven.
    Therefore be wise, and learn from the example
    Of impious Arnaldo. He’s the foe
    Of thrones who wars upon the altar.

But he strives in vain to persuade Frederick to the despised act of
homage, and it is only at the intercession of the Emperor’s kinsmen
and the German princes that he consents to it. When it is done in the
presence of all the army and the clerical retinue, Adrian mounts, and
says to Frederick, with scarcely hidden irony:

                         In truth thou art
    An apt and ready squire, and thou hast held
    My stirrup firmly. Take, then, O my son,
    The kiss of peace, for thou hast well fulfilled
    All of thy duties.

But Frederick, crying aloud, and fixing the sense of the multitude
upon him, answers:

                     Nay, not all, O Father!--
    Princes and soldiers, hear! I have done homage
    To Peter, not to him.

The Church and the Empire being now reconciled, Frederick receives the
ambassadors of the Roman republic with scorn; he outrages all their
pretensions to restore Rome to her old freedom and renown; insults
their prayer that he will make her his capital, and heaps contempt
upon the weakness and vileness of the people they represent. Giordano
replies for them:

                    When will you dream,
    You Germans, in your thousand stolid dreams,--
    The fume of drunkenness,--a future greater
    Than our Rome’s memories? Never be her banner
    Usurped by you! In prison and in darkness
    Was born your eagle, that did but descend
    Upon the helpless prey of Roman dead,
    But never dared to try the ways of heaven,
    With its weak vision wounded by the sun.
    Ye prate of Germany. The whole world conspired,
    And even more in vain, to work us harm,
    Before that day when, the world being conquered,
    Rome slew herself.
     ... Of man’s great brotherhood
    Unworthy still, ye change not with the skies.
    In Italy the German’s fate was ever
    To grow luxurious and continue cruel.

The soldiers of Barbarossa press upon Giordano to kill him, and
Frederick saves the ambassadors with difficulty, and hurries them
away.

In the first part of the fifth act, Niccolini deals again with the
_rôle_ which woman has played in the tragedy of Italian history, the
hopes she has defeated, and the plans she has marred through those
religious instincts which should have blest her country, but which
through their perversion by priestcraft have been one of its greatest
curses. Adrian is in the Vatican, after his triumphant return to Rome,
when Adelasia, the wife of that Ostasio, Count of the Campagna, in
whose castle Arnaldo is concealed, and who shares his excommunication,
is ushered into the Pope’s presence. She is half mad with terror at
the penalties under which her husband has fallen, in days when the
excommunicated were shunned like lepers, and to shelter them, or to
eat and drink with them, even to salute them, was to incur privation
of the sacraments; when a bier was placed at their door, and their
houses were stoned; when King Robert of France, who fell under the
anathema, was abandoned by all his courtiers and servants, and the
beggars refused the meat that was left from his table--and she comes
into Adrian’s presence accusing herself as the greatest of sinners.
The Pope asks:

                       Hast thou betrayed
    Thy husband, or from some yet greater crime
    Cometh the terror that oppresses thee?
    Hast slain him?

    _Adelasia._ Haply I ought to slay him.

    _Adrian._                            What?

    _Adelasia._ I fain would hate him and I cannot.

    _Adrian._                            What
    Hath his fault been?

    _Ad._            Oh, the most horrible
    Of all.

    _Adr._ And yet is he dear unto thee?

    _Ad._ I love him, yes, I love him, though he’s changed
    From that he was. Some gloomy cloud involves
    That face one day so fair, and ‘neath the feet,
    Now grown deformed, the flowers wither away.
    I know not if I sleep or if I wake,
    If what I see be a vision or a dream.
    But all is dreadful, and I cannot tell
    The falsehood from the truth; for if I reason,
    I fear to sin. I fly the happy bed
    Where I became a mother, but return
    In midnight’s horror, where my husband lies
    Wrapt in a sleep so deep it frightens me,
    And question with my trembling hand his heart,
    The fountain of his life, if it still beat.
    Then a cold kiss I give him, then embrace him
    With shuddering joy, and then I fly again,--
    For I do fear his love,--and to the place
    Where sleep my little ones I hurl myself,
    And wake them with my moans, and drag them forth
    Before an old miraculous shrine of her,
    The Queen of Heaven, to whom I’ve consecrated,
    With never-ceasing vigils, burning lamps.
    There naked, stretched upon the hard earth, weep
    My pretty babes, and each of them repeats
    The name of Mary whom I call upon;
    And I would swear that she looks down and weeps.
    Then I cry out, “Have pity on my children!
    Thou wast a mother, and the good obtain
    Forgiveness for the guilty.”

Adrian has little trouble to draw from the distracted woman the fact
that her husband is a heretic--that heretic, indeed, in whose castle
Arnaldo is concealed. On his promise that he will save her husband,
she tells him the name of the castle. He summons Frederick, who
claims Ostasio as his vassal, and declares that he shall die, and his
children shall be carried to Germany. Adrian, after coldly asking the
Emperor to spare him, feigns himself helpless, and Adelasia too late
awakens to a knowledge of his perfidy. She falls at his feet:

    I clasp thy knees once more, and I do hope
    Thou hast not cheated me!... Ah, now I see
    Thy wicked arts! Because thou knewest well
    My husband was a vassal of the empire,
    That pardon which it was not thine to give
    Thou didst pretend to promise me. O priest,
    Is this thy pity? Sorrow gives me back
    My wandering reason, and I waken on
    The brink of an abyss; and from this wretch
    The mask that did so hide his face drops down
    And shows it in its naked hideousness
    Unto the light of truth.

Frederick sends his soldiers to secure Arnaldo, but as to Ostasio and
his children he relents somewhat, being touched by the anguish of
Adelasia. Adrian rebukes his weakness, saying that he learned in the
cloister to subdue these compassionate impulses. In the next scene,
which is on the Capitoline Hill, the Roman Senate resolves to defend
the city against the Germans to the last, and then we have Arnaldo a
prisoner in a cell of the Castle of St. Angelo. The Prefect of Rome
vainly entreats him to recant his heresy, and then leaves him with the
announcement that he is to die before the following day. As to the
soliloquy which follows, Niccolini says: “I have feigned in Arnaldo in
the solemn hour of death these doubts, and I believe them exceedingly
probable in a disciple of Abelard. This struggle between reason
and faith is found more or less in the intellect of every one, and
constitutes a sublime torment in the life of those who, like the
Brescian monk, have devoted themselves from an early age to the study
of philosophy and religion. None of the ideas which I attribute to
Arnaldo were unknown to him, and, according to Müller, he believed
that God was all, and that the whole creation was but one of his
thoughts. His other conceptions in regard to divinity are found in one
of his contemporaries.” The soliloquy is as follows:

    Aforetime thou hast said, O King of heaven,
    That in the world thou wilt not power or riches.
    And can he be divided from the Church
    Who keeps his faith in thine immortal word,
    The light of souls? To remain in the truth
    It only needs that I confess to thee
    All sins of mine. O thou eternal priest,
    Thou read’st my heart, and that which I can scarce
    Express thou seest. A great mystery
    Is man unto himself, conscience a deep
    Which only thou canst sound. What storm is there
    Of guilty thoughts! Oh, pardon my rebellion!
    Evil springs up within the mind of man,
    As in its native soil, since that day Adam
    Abused thy great gift, and created guilt.
    And if each thought of ours became a deed,
    Who would be innocent? I did once defend
    The cause of Abelard, and at the decree
    Imposing silence on him I, too, ceased.
    What fault in me? Bernard in vain inspired
    The potentates of Europe to defend
    The sepulcher of God. Mankind, his temple,
    I sought to liberate, and upon the earth
    Desired the triumph of the love divine,
    And life, and liberty, and progress. This,
    This was my doctrine, and God only knows
    How reason struggles with the faith in me
    For the supremacy of my spirit. Oh,
    Forgive me, Lord. These in their war are like
    The rivers twain of heaven, till they return
    To their eternal origin, and the truth
    Is seen in thee, and God denies not God.
    I ought to pray. Thinking on thee, I pray.
    Yet how thy substance by three persons shared,
    Each equal with the other, one remains,
    I cannot comprehend, nor give in thee
    Bounds to the infinite and human names.
    Father of the world, that which thou here revealest
    Perchance is but a thought of thine; or this
    Movable veil that covers here below
    All thy creation is eternal illusion
    That hides God from us. Where to rest itself
    The mind hath not. It palpitates uncertain
    In infinite darkness, and denies more wisely
    Than it affirms. O God omnipotent!
    I know not what thou art, or, if I know,
    How can I utter thee? The tongue has not
    Words for thee, and it falters with my thought
    That wrongs thee by its effort. Soon I go
    Out of the last doubt unto the first truth.
    What did I say? The intellect is soothed
    To faith in Christ, and therein it reposes
    As in the bosom of a tender mother
    Her son. Arnaldo, that which thou art seeking
    With sterile torment, thy great teacher sought
    Long time in vain, and at the cross’s foot
    His weary reason cast itself at last.
    Follow his great example, and with tears
    Wash out thy sins.

We leave Arnaldo in his prison, and it is supposed that he is put to
death during the combat that follows between the Germans and Romans
immediately after the coronation of Frederick. As the forces stand
opposed to each other, two beautiful choruses are introduced--one
of Romans and one of Germans. And, just before the onset, Adelasia
appears and confesses that she has betrayed Arnaldo, and that he is
now in the power of the papacy. At the same time the clergy are heard
chanting Frederick’s coronation hymn, and then the battle begins. The
Romans are beaten by the number and discipline of their enemies, and
their leaders are driven out. The Germans appear before Frederic and
Adrian with two hundred prisoners, and ask mercy for them. Adrian
delivers them to his prefect, and it is implied that they are put to
death. Then turning to Frederick, Adrian says:

    Art thou content? for I have given to thee
    More than the crown. My words have consecrated
    Thy power. So let the Church and Empire be
    Now at last reconciled. The mystery
    That holds three persons in one substance, nor
    Confounds them, may it make us here on earth
    To reign forever, image of itself,
    In unity which is like to that of God.


V

So ends the tragedy, and so was accomplished the union which rested so
heavily ever after upon the hearts and hopes, not only of Italians,
but of all Christian men. So was confirmed that temporal power of the
popes, whose destruction will be known in history as infinitely the
greatest event of our greatly eventful time, and will free from the
doubt and dread of many one of the most powerful agencies for good in
the world; namely, the Catholic Church.

I have tried to give an idea of the magnificence and scope of this
mighty tragedy of Niccolini’s, and I do not know that I can now add
anything which will make this clearer. If we think of the grandeur of
its plan, and how it employs for its effect the evil and the perverted
good of the time in which the scene was laid, how it accords perfect
sincerity to all the great actors,--to the Pope as well as to Arnaldo,
to the Emperor as well as to the leaders of the people,--we must
perceive that its conception is that of a very great artist. It seems
to me that the execution is no less admirable. We cannot judge it by
the narrow rule which the tragedies of the stage must obey; we must
look at it with the generosity and the liberal imagination with which
we can alone enjoy a great fiction. Then the patience, the subtlety,
the strength, with which each character, individual and typical, is
evolved; the picturesqueness with which every event is presented; the
lyrical sweetness and beauty with which so many passages are enriched,
will all be apparent to us, and we shall feel the esthetic sublimity
of the work as well as its moral force and its political significance.



GIACOMO LEOPARDI


I

In the year 1798, at Recanati, a little mountain town of Tuscany, was
born, noble and miserable, the poet Giacomo Leopardi, who began even
in childhood to suffer the malice of that strange conspiracy of ills
which consumed him. His constitution was very fragile, and it early
felt the effect of the passionate ardor with which the sickly boy
dedicated his life to literature. From the first he seems to have had
little or no direction in his own studies, and hardly any instruction.
He literally lived among his books, rarely leaving his own room except
to pass into his father’s library; his research and erudition were
marvelous, and at the age of sixteen he presented his father a Latin
translation and comment on Plotinus, of which Sainte-Beuve said that
“one who had studied Plotinus his whole life could find something
useful in this work of a boy.” At that age Leopardi already knew all
Greek and Latin literature; he knew French, Spanish, and English; he
knew Hebrew, and disputed in that tongue with the rabbis of Ancona.

The poet’s father was Count Monaldo Leopardi, who had written little
books of a religious and political character; the religion very
bigoted, the politics very reactionary. His library was the largest
anywhere in that region, but he seems not to have learned wisdom in
it; and, though otherwise a blameless man, he used his son, who grew
to manhood differing from him in all his opinions, with a rigor that
was scarcely less than cruel. He was bitterly opposed to what was
called progress, to religious and civil liberty; he was devoted to
what was called order, which meant merely the existing order of
things, the divinely appointed prince, the infallible priest. He had
a mediaeval taste, and he made his palace at Recanati as much like a
feudal castle as he could, with all sorts of baronial bric-à-brac. An
armed vassal at his gate was out of the question, but at the door of
his own chamber stood an effigy in rusty armor, bearing a tarnished
halberd. He abhorred the fashions of our century, and wore those of
an earlier epoch; his wife, who shared his prejudices and opinions,
fantastically appareled herself to look like the portrait of some
gentlewoman of as remote a date. Halls hung in damask, vast mirrors
in carven frames, and stately furniture of antique form attested
throughout the palace “the splendor of a race which, if its fortunes
had somewhat declined, still knew how to maintain its ancient state.”

In this home passed the youth and early manhood of a poet who no
sooner began to think for himself than he began to think things most
discordant with his father’s principles and ideas. He believed in
neither the religion nor the politics of his race; he cherished with
the desire of literary achievement that vague faith in humanity, in
freedom, in the future, against which the Count Monaldo had so
sternly set his face; he chafed under the restraints of his father’s
authority, and longed for some escape into the world. The Italians
sometimes write of Leopardi’s unhappiness with passionate condemnation
of his father; but neither was Count Monaldo’s part an enviable one,
and it was certainly not at this period that he had all the wrong in
his differences with his son. Nevertheless, it is pathetic to read how
the heartsick, frail, ambitious boy, when he found some article in a
newspaper that greatly pleased him, would write to the author and ask
his friendship. When these journalists, who were possibly not always
the wisest publicists of their time, so far responded to the young
scholar’s advances as to give him their personal acquaintance as well
as their friendship, the old count received them with a courteous
tolerance, which had no kindness in it for their progressive ideas.
He lived in dread of his son’s becoming involved in some of the many
plots then hatching against order and religion, and he repressed with
all his strength Leopardi’s revolutionary tendencies, which must
always have been mere matters of sentiment, and not deserving of great
rigor.

He seems not so much to have loved Italy as to have hated Recanati.
It is a small village high up in the Apennines, between Loreto and
Macerata, and is chiefly accessible in ox-carts. Small towns
everywhere are dull, and perhaps are not more deadly so in Italy than
they are elsewhere, but there they have a peculiarly obscure, narrow
life indoors. Outdoors there is a little lounging about the _caffè_,
a little stir on holidays among the lower classes and the neighboring
peasants, a great deal of gossip at all times, and hardly anything
more. The local nobleman, perhaps, cultivates literature as Leopardi’s
father did; there is always some abbate mousing about in the local
archives and writing pamphlets on disputed points of the local
history; and there is the parish priest, to help form the polite
society of the place. As if this social barrenness were not enough,
Recanati was physically hurtful to Leopardi: the climate was very
fickle; the harsh, damp air was cruel to his nerves. He says it seems
to him a den where no good or beautiful thing ever comes; he bewails
the common ignorance; in Recanati there is no love for letters, for
the humanizing arts; nobody frequents his father’s great library,
nobody buys books, nobody reads the newspapers. Yet this forlorn and
detestable little town has one good thing. It has a preëminently good
Italian accent, better even, he thinks, than the Roman,--which would
be a greater consolation to an Italian than we can well understand.
Nevertheless it was not society, and it did not make his
fellow-townsmen endurable to him. He recoiled from them more and more,
and the solitude in which he lived among his books filled him with a
black melancholy, which he describes as a poison, corroding the life
of body and soul alike. To a friend who tries to reconcile him to
Recanati, he writes: “It is very well to tell me that Plutarch and
Alfieri loved Chaeronea and Asti; they loved them, but they left them;
and so shall I love my native place when I am away from it. Now I say
I hate it because I am in it. To recall the spot where one’s childhood
days were passed is dear and sweet; it is a fine saying, ‘Here you
were born, and here Providence wills you to stay.’ All very fine! Say
to the sick man striving to be well that he is flying in the face of
Providence; tell the poor man struggling to advance himself that he is
defying heaven; bid the Turk beware of baptism, for God has made him a
Turk!” So Leopardi wrote when he was in comparative health and able to
continue his studies. But there were long periods when his ailments
denied him his sole consolation of work. Then he rose late, and walked
listlessly about without opening his lips or looking at a book the
whole day. As soon as he might, he returned to his studies; when he
must, he abandoned them again. At such a time he once wrote to a
friend who understood and loved him: “I have not energy enough to
conceive a single desire, not even for death; not because I fear
death, but because I cannot see any difference between that and my
present life. For the first time _ennui_ not merely oppresses and
wearies me, but it also agonizes and lacerates me, like a cruel pain.
I am overwhelmed with a sense of the vanity of all things and the
condition of men. My passions are dead, my very despair seems
nonentity. As to my studies, which you urge me to continue, for the
last eight months I have not known what study means; the nerves of my
eyes and of my whole head are so weakened and disordered that I cannot
read or listen to reading, nor can I fix my mind upon any subject.”

{Illustration: GIACOMO LEOPARDI}

At Recanati Leopardi suffered not merely solitude, but the contact
of people whom he despised, and whose vulgarity was all the greater
oppression when it showed itself in a sort of stupid compassionate
tenderness for him. He had already suffered one of those
disappointments which are the rule rather than the exception, and
his first love had ended as first love always does when it ends
fortunately--in disappointment. He scarcely knew the object of his
passion, a young girl of humble lot, whom he used to hear singing at
her loom in the house opposite his father’s palace. Count Monaldo
promptly interfered, and not long afterward the young girl died. But
the sensitive boy, and his biographers after him, made the most of
this sorrow; and doubtless it helped to render life under his father’s
roof yet heavier and harder to bear. Such as it was, it seems to have
been the only love that Leopardi ever really felt, and the young
girl’s memory passed into the melancholy of his life and poetry.

But he did not summon courage to abandon Recanati before his
twenty-fourth year, and then he did not go with his father’s entire
good-will. The count wished him to become a priest, but Leopardi
shrank from the idea with horror, and there remained between him and
his father not only the difference of their religious and political
opinions, but an unkindness which must be remembered against the
judgment, if not the heart, of the latter. He gave his son so meager
an allowance that it scarcely kept him above want, and obliged him to
labors and subjected him to cares which his frail health was not able
bear.

From Recanati Leopardi first went to Rome; but he carried Recanati
everywhere with him, and he was as solitary and as wretched in the
capital of the world as in the little village of the Apennines. He
despised the Romans, as they deserved, upon very short acquaintance,
and he declared that his dullest fellow-villager had a greater share
of good sense than the best of them. Their frivolity was incredible;
the men moved him to rage and pity; the women, high and low, to
loathing. In one of his letters to his brother Carlo, he says of Rome,
as he found it: “I have spoken to you only about the women, because
I am at a loss what to say to you about literature. Horrors upon
horrors! The most sacred names profaned, the most absurd follies
praised to the skies, the greatest spirits of the century trampled
under foot as inferior to the smallest literary man in Rome.
Philosophy despised; genius, imagination, feeling, names--I do not say
things, but even names--unknown and alien to these professional poets
and poetesses! Antiquarianism placed at the summit of human learning,
and considered invariably and universally as the only true study
of man!” This was Rome in 1822. “I do not exaggerate,” he writes,
“because it is impossible, and I do not even say enough.” One of the
things that moved him to the greatest disgust in the childish and
insipid society of a city where he had fondly hoped to find a response
to his high thoughts was the sensation caused throughout Rome by the
dress and theatrical effectiveness with which a certain prelate said
mass. All Rome talked of it, cardinals and noble ladies complimented
the performer as if he were a ballet-dancer, and the flattered prelate
used to rehearse his part, and expatiate upon his methods of study
for it, to private audiences of admirers. In fact, society had then
touched almost the lowest depth of degradation where society had
always been corrupt and dissolute, and the reader of Massimo
d’Azeglio’s memoirs may learn particulars (given with shame and
regret, indeed, and yet with perfect Italian frankness) which it is
not necessary to repeat here.

There were, however, many foreigners living at Rome in whose company
Leopardi took great pleasure. They were chiefly Germans, and first
among them was Niebuhr, who says of his first meeting with the poet:
“Conceive of my astonishment when I saw standing before me in the
poor little chamber a mere youth, pale and shy, frail in person, and
obviously in ill health, who was by far the first, in fact the only,
Greek philologist in Italy, the author of critical comments and
observations which would have won honor for the first philologist
in Germany, and yet only twenty-two years old! He had become thus
profoundly learned without school, without instructor, without help,
without encouragement, in his father’s house. I understand, too, that
he is one of the first of the rising poets of Italy. What a nobly
gifted people!”

Niebuhr offered to procure him a professorship of Greek philosophy in
Berlin, but Leopardi would not consent to leave his own country;
and then Niebuhr unsuccessfully used his influence to get him some
employment from the papal government,--compliments and good wishes it
gave him, but no employment and no pay.

From Rome Leopardi went to Milan, where he earned something--very
little--as editor of a comment upon Petrarch. A little later he went
to Bologna, where a generous and sympathetic nobleman made him tutor
in his family; but Leopardi returned not long after to Recanati, where
he probably found no greater content than he left there. Presently we
find him at Pisa, and then at Florence, eking out the allowance from
his father by such literary work as he could find to do. In the latter
place it is somewhat dimly established that he again fell in love,
though he despised the Florentine women almost as much as the Romans,
for their extreme ignorance, folly, and pride. This love also was
unhappy. There is no reason to believe that Leopardi, who inspired
tender and ardent friendships in men, ever moved any woman to love.
The Florentine ladies are darkly accused by one of his biographers of
having laughed at the poor young pessimist, and it is very possible;
but that need not make us think the worse of him, or of them either,
for that matter. He is supposed to have figured the lady of his latest
love under the name of Aspasia, in one of his poems, as he did his
first love under that of Sylvia, in the poem so called. Doubtless the
experience further embittered a life already sufficiently miserable.
He left Florence, but after a brief sojourn at Rome he returned
thither, where his friend Antonio Ranieri watched with a heavy heart
the gradual decay of his forces, and persuaded him finally to seek
the milder air of Naples. Ranieri’s father was, like Leopardi’s, of
reactionary opinions, and the Neapolitan, dreading the effect of their
discord, did not take his friend to his own house, but hired a villa
at Capodimonte, where he lived four years in fraternal intimacy with
Leopardi, and where the poet died in 1837.

Ranieri has in some sort made himself the champion of Leopardi’s fame.
He has edited his poems, and has written a touching and beautiful
sketch of his life. Their friendship, which was of the greatest
tenderness, began when Leopardi sorely needed it; and Ranieri devoted
himself to the hapless poet like a lover, as if to console him for
the many years in which he had known neither reverence nor love. He
indulged all the eccentricities of his guest, who for a sick man had
certain strange habits, often not rising till evening, dining at
midnight, and going to bed at dawn. Ranieri’s sister Paolina kept
house for the friends, and shared all her brother’s compassion for
Leopardi, whose family appears to have willingly left him to the care
of these friends. How far the old unkindness between him and his
father continued, it is hard to say. His last letter was written to
his mother in May, 1837, some two weeks before his death; he thanks
her for a present of ten dollars,--one may imagine from the gift and
the gratitude that he was still held in a strict and parsimonious
tutelage,--and begs her prayers and his father’s, for after he has
seen them again, he shall not have long to live.

He did not see them again, but he continued to smile at the anxieties
of his friends, who had too great reason to think that the end was
much nearer than Leopardi himself supposed. On the night of the 14th
of June, while they were waiting for the carriage which was to take
them into the country, where they intended to pass the time together
and sup at daybreak, Leopardi felt so great a difficulty of
breathing--he called it asthma, but it was dropsy of the heart--that
he begged them to send for a doctor. The doctor on seeing the sick man
took Ranieri apart, and bade him fetch a priest without delay, and
while they waited the coming of the friar, Leopardi spoke now and then
with them, but sank rapidly. Finally, says Ranieri, “Leopardi opened
his eyes, now larger even than their wont, and looked at me more
fixedly than before. ‘I can’t see you,’ he said, with a kind of sigh.
And he ceased to breathe, and his pulse and heart beat no more; and
at the same moment the Friar Felice of the barefoot order of St.
Augustine entered the chamber, while I, quite beside myself, called
with a loud voice on him who had been my friend, my brother, my
father, and who answered me nothing, and yet seemed to gaze upon
me.... His death was inconceivable to me; the others were dismayed and
mute; there arose between the good friar and myself the most cruel and
painful dispute, ... I madly contending that my friend was still
alive, and beseeching him with tears to accompany with the offices of
religion the passing of that great soul. But he, touching again and
again the pulse and the heart, continually answered that the spirit
had taken flight. At last, a spontaneous and solemn silence fell upon
all in the room; the friar knelt beside the dead, and we all followed
his example. Then after long and profound meditation he prayed, and we
prayed with him.”

In another place Ranieri says: “The malady of Leopardi was indefinable,
for having its spring in the most secret sources of life, it was like
life itself, inexplicable. The bones softened and dissolved away,
refusing their frail support to the flesh that covered them. The flesh
itself grew thinner and more lifeless every day, for the organs of
nutrition denied their office of assimilation. The lungs, cramped into
a space too narrow, and not sound themselves, expanded with difficulty.
With difficulty the heart freed itself from the lymph with which a slow
absorption burdened it. The blood, which ill renewed itself in the hard
and painful respiration, returned cold, pale, and sluggish to the
enfeebled veins. And in fine, the whole mysterious circle of life,
moving with such great effort, seemed from moment to moment about to
pause forever. Perhaps the great cerebral sponge, beginning and end of
that mysterious circle, had prepotently sucked up all the vital forces,
and itself consumed in a brief time all that was meant to suffice the
whole system for a long period. However it may be, the life of Leopardi
was not a course, as in most men, but truly a precipitation toward death.”

Some years before he died, Leopardi had a presentiment of his death,
and his end was perhaps hastened by the nervous shock of the terror
produced by the cholera, which was then raging in Naples. At that time
the body of a Neapolitan minister of state who had died of cholera
was cast into the common burial-pit at Naples--such was the fear of
contagion, and so rapidly were the dead hurried to the grave. A heavy
bribe secured the remains of Leopardi from this fate, and his dust now
reposes in a little church on the road to Pozzuoli.


II

“In the years of boyhood,” says the Neapolitan critic, Francesco de
Sanctis, “Leopardi saw his youth vanish forever; he lived obscure, and
achieved posthumous envy and renown; he was rich and noble, and he
suffered from want and despite; no woman’s love ever smiled upon him,
the solitary lover of his own mind, to which he gave the names of
Sylvia, Aspasia, and Nerina. Therefore, with a precocious and bitter
penetration, he held what we call happiness for illusions and deceits
of fancy; the objects of our desire he called idols, our labors
idleness, and everything vanity. Thus he saw nothing here below equal
to his own intellect, or that was worthy the throb of his heart; and
inertia, rust, as it were, even more than pain consumed his life,
alone in what he called this formidable desert of the world. In such
solitude life becomes a dialogue of man with his own soul, and the
internal colloquies render more bitter and intense the affections
which have returned to the heart for want of nourishment in the world.
Mournful colloquies and yet pleasing, where man is the suicidal
vulture perpetually preying upon himself, and caressing the wound that
drags him to the grave.... The first cause of his sorrow is Recanati:
the intellect, capable of the universe, feels itself oppressed in an
obscure village, cruel to the body and deadly to the spirit.... He
leaves Recanati; he arrives in Rome; we believe him content at
last, and he too believes it. Brief illusion! Rome, Bologna, Milan,
Florence, Naples, are all different places, where he forever meets the
same man, himself. Read the first letter that he writes from Rome: ‘In
the great things I see I do not feel the least pleasure, for I know
that they are marvelous, but I do not feel it, and I assure you that
their multitude and grandeur wearied me after the first day.’... To
Leopardi it is rarely given to interest himself in any spectacle of
nature, and he never does it without a sudden and agonized return to
himself.... Malign and heartless men have pretended that Leopardi was
a misanthrope, a fierce hater and enemy of the human race!... Love,
inexhaustible and almost ideal, was the supreme craving of that
angelic heart, and never left it during life. ‘Love me, for God’s
sake,’ he beseeches his brother Carlo; ‘I have need of love, love,
love, fire, enthusiasm, life.’ And in truth it may be said that pain
and love form the twofold poetry of his life.”

Leopardi lived in Italy during the long contest between the Classic
and Romantic schools, and it may be said that in him many of the
leading ideas of both parties were reconciled. His literary form was
as severe and sculpturesque as that of Alfieri himself, whilst the
most subjective and introspective of the Romantic poets did not
so much color the world with his own mental and spiritual hue as
Leopardi. It is not plain whether he ever declared himself for one
theory or the other. He was a contributor to the literary journal
which the partisans of the Romantic School founded at Florence; but he
was a man so weighed upon by his own sense of the futility and vanity
of all things that he could have had little spirit for mere literary
contentions. His admirers try hard to make out that he was positively
and actively patriotic; and it is certain that in his earlier youth he
disagreed with his father’s conservative opinions, and despised
the existing state of things; but later in life he satirized the
aspirations and purposes of progress, though without sympathizing with
those of reaction.

The poem which his chief claim to classification with the poets
militant of his time rests upon is that addressed “To Italy”. Those
who have read even only a little of Leopardi have read it; and I must
ask their patience with a version which drops the irregular rhyme of
the piece for the sake of keeping its peculiar rhythm and measure.

      My native land, I see the walls and arches,
    The columns and the statues, and the lonely
    Towers of our ancestors,
    But not their glory, not
    The laurel and the steel that of old time
    Our great forefathers bore. Disarmèd now,
    Naked thou showest thy forehead and thy breast!
    O me, how many wounds,
    What bruises and what blood! How do I see thee,
    Thou loveliest Lady! Unto Heaven I cry,
    And to the world: “Say, say,
    Who brought her unto this?” To this and worse,
    For both her arms are loaded down with chains,
    So that, unveiled and with disheveled hair,
    She crouches all forgotten and forlorn,
    Hiding her beautiful face
    Between her knees, and weeps.
    Weep, weep, for well thou may’st, my Italy!
    Born, as thou wert, to conquest,
    Alike in evil and in prosperous sort!
      If thy sweet eyes were each a living stream,
    Thou could’st not weep enough
    For all thy sorrow and for all thy shame.
    For thou wast queen, and now thou art a slave.
    Who speaks of thee or writes,
    That thinking on thy glory in the past
    But says, “She was great once, but is no more.”
     Wherefore, oh, wherefore? Where is the ancient strength,
    The valor and the arms, and constancy?
    Who rent the sword from thee?
    Who hath betrayed thee? What art, or what toil,
    Or what o’erwhelming force,
    Hath stripped thy robe and golden wreath from thee?
    How did’st thou fall, and when,
    From such a height unto a depth so low?
    Doth no one fight for thee, no one defend thee,
    None of thy own? Arms, arms! For I alone
    Will fight and fall for thee.
    Grant me, O Heaven, my blood
    Shall be as fire unto Italian hearts!
      Where are thy sons? I hear the sound of arms,
    Of wheels, of voices, and of drums;
    In foreign fields afar
    Thy children fight and fall.
    Wait, Italy, wait! I see, or seem to see,
    A tumult as of infantry and horse,
    And smoke and dust, and the swift flash of swords
    Like lightning among clouds.
    Wilt thou not hope? Wilt thou not lift and turn
    Thy trembling eyes upon the doubtful close?
    For what, in yonder fields,
    Combats Italian youth? O gods, ye gods,
    For other lands Italian swords are drawn!
    Oh, misery for him who dies in war,
    Not for his native shores and his beloved,
    His wife and children dear,
    But by the foes of others
    For others’ cause, and cannot dying say,
    “Dear land of mine,
    The life thou gavest me I give thee back.”

This suffers, of course, in translation, but I confess that in
the original it wears something of the same perfunctory air. His
patriotism was the fever-flame of the sick man’s blood; his real
country was the land beyond the grave, and there is a far truer note
in this address to Death.

    And thou, that ever from my life’s beginning
    I have invoked and honored, Beautiful Death! who only
    Of all our earthly sorrows knowest pity:
    If ever celebrated
    Thou wast by me; if ever I attempted
    To recompense the insult
    That vulgar terror offers
    Thy lofty state, delay no more, but listen
    To prayers so rarely uttered:
    Shut to the light forever,
    Sovereign of time, these eyes of weary anguish!

I suppose that Italian criticism of the present day would not give
Leopardi nearly so high a place among the poets as his friend Ranieri
claims for him and his contemporaries accorded. He seems to have been
the poet of a national mood; he was the final expression of that long,
hopeless apathy in which Italy lay bound for thirty years after the
fall of Napoleon and his governments, and the reëstablishment of all
the little despots, native and foreign, throughout the peninsula. In
this time there was unrest enough, and revolt enough of a desultory
and unorganized sort, but every struggle, apparently every aspiration,
for a free political and religious life ended in a more solid
confirmation of the leaden misrule which weighed down the hearts of
the people. To such an apathy the pensive monotone of this sick poet’s
song might well seem the only truth; and one who beheld the universe
with the invalid’s loath eyes, and reasoned from his own irremediable
ills to a malign mystery presiding over all human affairs, and
ordering a sad destiny from which there could be no defense but death,
might have the authority of a prophet among those who could find no
promise of better things in their earthly lot.

Leopardi’s malady was such that when he did not positively suffer
he had still the memory of pain, and he was oppressed with a dreary
ennui, from which he could not escape. Death, oblivion, annihilation,
are the thoughts upon which he broods, and which fill his verse. The
passing color of other men’s minds is the prevailing cast of his, and
he, probably with far more sincerity than any other poet, nursed his
despair in such utterances as this:

    TO HIMSELF.

    Now thou shalt rest forever,
    O weary heart! The last deceit is ended,
    For I believed myself immortal. Cherished
    Hopes, and beloved delusions,
    And longings to be deluded,--all are perished!
    Rest thee forever! Oh, greatly,
    Heart, hast thou palpitated. There is nothing
    Worthy to move thee more, nor is earth worthy
    Thy sighs. For life is only
    Bitterness and vexation; earth is only
    A heap of dust. So rest thee!
    Despair for the last time. To our race Fortune
    Never gave any gift but death. Disdain, then,
    Thyself and Nature and the Power
    Occultly reigning to the common ruin:
    Scorn, heart, the infinite emptiness of all things!

Nature was so cruel a stepmother to this man that he could see nothing
but harm even in her apparent beneficence, and his verse repeats again
and again his dark mistrust of the very loveliness which so keenly
delights his sense. One of his early poems, called “The Quiet after
the Storm”, strikes the key in which nearly all his songs are pitched.
The observation of nature is very sweet and honest, and I cannot see
that the philosophy in its perversion of the relations of physical and
spiritual facts is less mature than that of his later work: it is a
philosophy of which the first conception cannot well differ from the
final expression.

    ... See yon blue sky that breaks
    The clouds above the mountain in the west!
    The fields disclose themselves,
    And in the valley bright the river runs.
    All hearts are glad; on every side
    Arise the happy sounds
    Of toil begun anew.
    The workman, singing, to the threshold comes,
    With work in hand, to judge the sky,
    Still humid, and the damsel next,
    On his report, comes forth to brim her pail
    With the fresh-fallen rain.
    The noisy fruiterers
    From lane to lane resume
    Their customary cry.
    The sun looks out again, and smiles upon
    The houses and the hills. Windows and doors
    Are opened wide; and on the far-off road
    You hear the tinkling bells and rattling wheels
    Of travelers that set out upon their journey.

    Every heart is glad;
    So grateful and so sweet
    When is our life as now?

       *       *       *       *       *

    O Pleasure, child of Pain,
    Vain joy which is the fruit
    Of bygone suffering overshadowèd
    And wrung with cruel fears
    Of death, whom life abhors;
    Wherein, in long suspense,
    Silent and cold and pale,
    Man sat, and shook and shuddered to behold
    Lightnings and clouds and winds,
    Furious in his offense!
    Beneficent Nature, these,
    These are thy bounteous gifts:
    These, these are the delights
    Thou offerest unto mortals! To escape
    From pain is bliss to us;
    Anguish thou scatterest broadcast, and our woes
    Spring up spontaneous, and that little joy
    Born sometimes, for a miracle and show,
    Of terror is our mightiest gain. O man,
    Dear to the gods, count thyself fortunate
    If now and then relief
    Thou hast from pain, and blest
    When death shall come to heal thee of all pain!

“The bodily deformities which humiliated Leopardi, and the cruel
infirmities that agonized him his whole life long, wrought in his
heart an invincible disgust, which made him invoke death as the sole
relief. His songs, while they express discontent, the discord of the
world, the conviction of the nullity of human things, are exquisite in
style; they breathe a perpetual melancholy, which is often sublime,
and they relax and pain your soul like the music of a single chord,
while their strange sweetness wins you to them again and again.” This
is the language of an Italian critic who wrote after Leopardi’s death,
when already it had begun to be doubted whether he was the greatest
Italian poet since Dante. A still later critic finds Leopardi’s style,
“without relief, without lyric flight, without the great art of
contrasts, without poetic leaven,” hard to read. “Despoil those verses
of their masterly polish,” he says, “reduce those thoughts to prose,
and you will see how little they are akin to poetry.”

I have a feeling that my versions apply some such test to Leopardi’s
work, and that the reader sees it in them at much of the disadvantage
which this critic desires for it. Yet, after doing my worst, I am
not wholly able to agree with him. It seems to me that there is the
indestructible charm in it which, wherever we find it, we must call
poetry. It is true that “its strange sweetness wins you again and
again,” and that this “lonely pipe of death” thrills and solemnly
delights as no other stop has done. Let us hear it again, as the poet
sounds it, figuring himself a Syrian shepherd, guarding his flock by
night, and weaving his song under the Eastern moon:

    O flock that liest at rest, O blessèd thou
    That knowest not thy fate, however hard,
    How utterly I envy thee!
    Not merely that thou goest almost free
    Of all this weary pain,--
    That every misery and every toil
    And every fear thou straightway dost forget,--
    But most because thou knowest not ennui
    When on the grass thou liest in the shade.
    I see thee tranquil and content,
    And great part of thy years
    Untroubled by ennui thou passest thus.
    I likewise in the shadow, on the grass.
    Lie, and a dull disgust beclouds
    My soul, and I am goaded with a spur,
    So that, reposing, I am farthest still
    From finding peace or place.
    And yet I want for naught,
    And have not had till now a cause for tears.
    What is thy bliss, how much,
    I cannot tell; but thou art fortunate.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Or, it may be, my thought
    Errs, running thus to others’ destiny;
    May be, to everything,
    Wherever born, in cradle or in fold,
    That day is terrible when it was born.

It is the same note, the same voice; the theme does not change, but
perhaps it is deepened in this ode:

    ON THE LIKENESS OP A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN CARVEN
                  UPON HER TOMB.

    Such wast thou: now under earth
    A skeleton and dust. O’er dust and bones
    Immovably and vainly set, and mute,
    Looking upon the flight of centuries,
    Sole keeper of memory
    And of regret is this fair counterfeit
    Of loveliness now vanished. That sweet look,
    Which made men tremble when it fell on them,
    As now it falls on me; that lip, which once,
    Like some full vase of sweets,
    Ran over with delight; that fair neck, clasped
    By longing, and that soft and amorous hand,
    Which often did impart
    An icy thrill unto the hand it touched;
    That breast, which visibly
    Blanched with its beauty him who looked on it--
    All these things were, and now
    Dust art thou, filth, a fell
    And hideous sight hidden beneath a stone.
    Thus fate hath wrought its will
    Upon the semblance that to us did seem
    Heaven’s vividest image! Eternal mystery
    Of mortal being! To-day the ineffable
    Fountain of thoughts and feelings vast and high,
    Beauty reigns sovereign, and seems
    Like splendor thrown afar
    From some immortal essence on these sands,
    To give our mortal state
    A sign and hope secure of destinies
    Higher than human, and of fortunate realms,
    And golden worlds unknown.
    To-morrow, at a touch,
    Loathsome to see, abominable, abject,
    Becomes the thing that was
    All but angelical before;
    And from men’s memories
    All that its loveliness
    Inspired forever faults and fades away.

      Ineffable desires
    And visions high and pure
    Rise in the happy soul,
    Lulled by the sound of cunning harmonies
    Whereon the spirit floats,
    As at his pleasure floats
    Some fearless swimmer over the deep sea;
    But if a discord strike
    The wounded sense, to naught
    All that fair paradise in an instant falls.

      Mortality! if thou
    Be wholly frail and vile,
    Be only dust and shadow, how canst thou
    So deeply feel? And if thou be
    In part divine, how can thy will and thought
    By things so poor and base
    So easily be awakenèd and quenched?

Let us touch for the last time this pensive chord, and listen to its
response of hopeless love. This poem, in which he turns to address
the spirit of the poor child whom he loved boyishly at Recanati, is
pathetic with the fact that possibly she alone ever reciprocated the
tenderness with which his heart was filled.

    TO SYLVIA.

      Sylvia, dost thou remember
    In this that season of thy mortal being
    When from thine eyes shone beauty,
    In thy shy glances fugitive and smiling,
    And joyously and pensively the borders
    Of childhood thou did’st traverse?

      All day the quiet chambers
    And the ways near resounded
    To thy perpetual singing,
    When thou, intent upon some girlish labor,
    Sat’st utterly contented,
    With the fair future brightening in thy vision.
    It was the fragrant month of May, and ever
    Thus thou thy days beguiledst.

      I, leaving my fair studies,
    Leaving my manuscripts and toil-stained volumes,
    Wherein I spent the better
    Part of myself and of my young existence,
    Leaned sometimes idly from my father’s windows,
    And listened to the music of thy singing,
    And to thy hand, that fleetly
    Ran o’er the threads of webs that thou wast weaving.
    I looked to the calm heavens,
    Unto the golden lanes and orchards,
    And unto the far sea and to the mountains;
    No mortal tongue may utter
    What in my heart I felt then.

      O Sylvia mine, what visions,
    What hopes, what hearts, we had in that far season!
    How fair and good before us
    Seemed human life and fortune!
    When I remember hope so great, beloved,
    An utter desolation
    And bitterness o’erwhelm me,
    And I return to mourn my evil fortune.
    O Nature, faithless Nature,
    Wherefore dost thou not give us
    That which thou promisest? Wherefore deceivest,
    With so great guile, thy children?

      Thou, ere the freshness of thy spring was withered.
    Stricken by thy fell malady, and vanquished,
    Did’st perish, O my darling! and the blossom
    Of thy years sawest;
    Thy heart was never melted
    At the sweet praise, now of thy raven tresses,
    Now of thy glances amorous and bashful;
    Never with thee the holiday-free maidens
    Reasoned of love and loving.

      Ah! briefly perished, likewise,
    My own sweet hope; and destiny denied me
    Youth, even in my childhood!
    Alas, alas, belovèd,
    Companion of my childhood!
    Alas, my mournèd hope! how art thou vanished
    Out of my place forever!
    This is that world? the pleasures,
    The love, the labors, the events, we talked of,
    These, when we prattled long ago together?
    Is this the fortune of our race, O Heaven?
    At the truth’s joyless dawning,
    Thou fellest, sad one, with thy pale hand pointing
    Unto cold death, and an unknown and naked
    Sepulcher in the distance.


III

These pieces fairly indicate the range of Leopardi, and I confess that
they and the rest that I have read leave me somewhat puzzled in the
presence of his reputation. This, to be sure, is largely based upon
his prose writings--his dialogues, full of irony and sarcasm--and his
unquestionable scholarship. But the poetry is the heart of his fame,
and is it enough to justify it? I suppose that such poetry owes very
much of its peculiar influence to that awful love we all have
of hovering about the idea of death--of playing with the great
catastrophe of our several tragedies and farces, and of marveling what
it can be. There are moods which the languid despair of Leopardi’s
poetry can always evoke, and in which it seems that the most life can
do is to leave us, and let us lie down and cease. But I fancy we all
agree that these are not very wise or healthful moods, and that their
indulgence does not fit us particularly well for the duties of life,
though I never heard that they interfered with its pleasures; on the
contrary, they add a sort of zest to enjoyment. Of course the whole
transaction is illogical, but if a poet will end every pensive strain
with an appeal or apostrophe to death--not the real death, that comes
with a sharp, quick agony, or “after long lying in bed”, after many
days or many years of squalid misery and slowly dying hopes and
medicines that cease even to relieve at last; not this death, that
comes in all the horror of undertaking, but a picturesque and
impressive abstraction, whose business it is to relieve us in the most
effective way of all our troubles, and at the same time to avenge
us somehow upon the indefinitely ungrateful and unworthy world we
abandon--if a poet will do this, we are very apt to like him. There is
little doubt that Leopardi was sincere, and there is little reason why
he should not have been so, for life could give him nothing but pain.

De Sanctis, whom I have quoted already, and who speaks, I believe,
with rather more authority than any other modern Italian critic, and
certainly with great clearness and acuteness, does not commit himself
to specific praise of Leopardi’s work. But he seems to regard him as
an important expression, if not force or influence, and he has some
words about him, at the close of his “History of Italian Literature”,
which have interested me, not only for the estimate of Leopardi which
they embody, but for the singularly distinct statement which they make
of the modern literary attitude. I should not, myself, have felt that
Leopardi represented this, but I am willing that the reader should
feel it, if he can. De Sanctis has been speaking of the Romantic
period in Italy, when he says:

“Giacomo Leopardi marks the close of this period. Metaphysics at
war with theology had ended in this attempt at reconciliation. The
multiplicity of systems had discredited science itself. Metaphysics
was regarded as a revival of theology. The Idea seemed a substitute
for providence. Those philosophies of history, of religion, of
humanity, had the air of poetical inventions.... That reconciliation
between the old and new, tolerated as a temporary political necessity,
seemed at bottom a profanation of science, a moral weakness.... Faith
in revelation had been wanting; faith in philosophy itself was now
wanting. Mystery re-appeared. The philosopher knew as much as the
peasant. Of this mystery, Giacomo Leopardi was the echo in the
solitude of his thought and his pain. His skepticism announced the
dissolution of this theologico-metaphysical world, and inaugurated the
reign of the arid True, of the Real. His songs are the most profound
and occult voices of that laborious transition called the nineteenth
century. That which has importance is not the brilliant exterior of
that century of progress, and it is not without irony that he speaks
of the progressive destinies of mankind. That which has importance is
the exploration of one’s own breast, the inner world, virtue, liberty,
love, all the ideals of religion, of science, and of poetry--shadows
and illusions in the presence of reason, yet which warm the heart, and
will not die. Mystery destroys the intellectual world; it leaves the
moral world intact. This tenacious life of the inner world, despite
the fall of all theological and metaphysical worlds, is the
originality of Leopardi, and gives his skepticism a religious stamp.
... Every one feels in it a new creation. The instrument of this
renovation is criticism.... The sense of the real continues to develop
itself; the positive sciences come to the top, and cast out all the
ideal and systematic constructions. New dogmas lose credit. Criticism
remains intact. The patient labor of analysis begins again....
Socialism re-appears in the political order, positivism in the
intellectual order. The word is no longer liberty, but justice.
... Literature also undergoes transformation. It rejects classes,
distinctions, privileges. The ugly stands beside the beautiful; or
rather, there is no longer ugly or beautiful, neither ideal nor real,
neither infinite nor finite.... There is but one thing only, the
Living.”



GIUSEPPE GIUSTI

I


Giuseppe Giusti, who is the greatest Italian satirist of this century,
and is in some respects the greatest Italian poet, was born in 1809 at
Mossummano in Tuscany, of parentage noble and otherwise distinguished;
one of his paternal ancestors had assisted the liberal Grand Duke
Pietro Leopoldo to compile his famous code, and his mother’s father
had been a republican in 1799. There was also an hereditary taste for
literature in the family; and Giusti says, in one of his charming
letters, that almost as soon as he had learned to speak, his father
taught him the ballad of Count Ugolino, and he adds, “I have always
had a passion for song, a passion for verses, and more than a passion
for Dante.” His education passed later into the hands of a priest,
who had spent much time as a teacher in Vienna, and was impetuous,
choleric, and thoroughly German in principle. “I was given him to be
taught,” says Giusti, “but he undertook to tame me”; and he remembered
reading with him a Plutarch for youth, and the “Lives of the Saints”,
but chiefly was, as he says, so “caned, contraried, and martyred” by
him, that, when the priest wept at their final parting, the boy could
by no means account for the burst of tenderness. Giusti was then going
to Florence to be placed in a school where he had the immeasurable
good fortune to fall into the hands of one whose gentleness and wisdom
he remembered through life. “Drea Francioni,” he says, “had not time
to finish his work, but he was the first and the only one to put into
my heart the need and love of study. Oh, better far than stuffing the
head with Latin, with histories and with fables! Endear study, even if
you teach nothing; this is the great task!” And he afterward dedicated
his book on Tuscan proverbs, which he thought one of his best
performances, to this beloved teacher.

He had learned to love study, yet from this school, and from others
to which he was afterward sent, he came away with little Latin and no
Greek; but, what is more important, he began life about this time as a
poet--by stealing a sonnet. His theft was suspected, but could not be
proved. “And so,” he says of his teacher and himself, “we remained, he
in his doubt and I in my lie. Who would have thought from this ugly
beginning that I should really have gone on to make sonnets of my
own?... The Muses once known, the vice grew upon me, and from my
twelfth to my fifteenth year I rasped, and rasped, and rasped, until
finally I came out with a sonnet to Italy, represented in the usual
fashion, by the usual matron weeping as usual over her highly
estimable misfortunes. In school, under certain priests who were more
Chinese than Italian, and without knowing whether Italy were round or
square, long or short, how that sonnet to Italy should get into my
head I don’t know. I only know that it was found beautiful, and I was
advised to hide it,”--that being the proper thing to do with patriotic
poetry in those days.

After leaving school, Giusti passed three idle years with his family,
and then went to study the humanities at Pisa, where he found the
_café_ better adapted to their pursuit than the University, since
he could there unite with it the pursuit of the exact science of
billiards. He represents himself in his letters and verses to have led
just the life at Pisa which was most agreeable to former governments
of Italy,--a life of sensual gayety, abounding in the small
excitements which turn the thought from the real interests of the
time, and weaken at once the moral and intellectual fiber. But how
far a man can be credited to his own disgrace is one of the unsettled
questions: the repentant and the unrepentant are so apt to over-accuse
themselves. It is very wisely conjectured by some of Giusti’s
biographers that he did not waste himself so much as he says in the
dissipations of student life at Pisa. At any rate, it is certain that
he began there to make those sarcastic poems upon political events
which are so much less agreeable to a paternal despotism than almost
any sort of love-songs. He is said to have begun by writing in the
manner of Béranger, and several critics have labored to prove the
similarity of their genius, with scarcely more effect, it seems to us,
than those who would make him out the Heinrich Heine of Italy, as they
call him. He was a political satirist, whose success was due to his
genius, but who can never be thoroughly appreciated by a foreigner,
or even an Italian not intimately acquainted with the affairs of his
times; and his reputation must inevitably diminish with the waning
interest of men in the obsolete politics of those vanished kingdoms
and duchies. How mean and little were all their concerns is scarcely
credible; but Giusti tells an adventure of his, at the period, which
throws light upon some of the springs of action in Tuscany. He had
been arrested for a supposed share in applause supposed revolutionary
at the theater; he boldly denied that he had been at the play. “If
you were not at the theater, how came your name on the list of the
accused?” demanded the logical commissary. “Perhaps,” answered Giusti,
“the spies have me so much in mind that they see me where I am not....
Here,” he continues, “the commissary fell into a rage, but I remained
firm, and cited the Count Mastiani in proof, with whom the man often
dined,”--Mastiani being governor in Pisa and the head of society. “At
the name of Mastiani there seemed to pass before the commissary a long
array of stewed and roast, eaten and to be eaten, so that he instantly
turned and said to me, ‘Go, and at any rate take this summons for a
paternal admonition.’” Ever since the French Revolution of 1830, and
the sympathetic movements in Italy, Giusti had written political
satires which passed from hand to hand in manuscript copies, the
possession of which was rendered all the more eager and relishing by
the pleasure of concealing them from spies; so that for a defective
copy a person by no means rich would give as much as ten scudi. When a
Swiss printed edition appeared in 1844, half the delight in them was
gone; the violation of the law being naturally so dear to the human
heart that, when combined with patriotism, it is almost a rapture.

But, in the midst of his political satirizing, Giusti felt the sting
of one who is himself a greater satirist than any, when he will,
though he is commonly known for a sentimentalist. The poet fell in
love very seriously and, it proved, very unhappily, as he has recorded
in three or four poems of great sweetness and grace, but no very
characteristic merit. This passion is improbably believed to have
had a disastrous effect upon Giusti’s health, and ultimately to have
shortened his life; but then the Italians always like to have their
poets _agonizzanti_, at least. Like a true humorist, Giusti has
himself taken both sides of the question; professing himself properly
heart-broken in the poems referred to, and in a letter written late
in life, after he had encountered his faded love at his own home in
Pescia, making a jest of any reconciliation or renewal of the old
passion between them.

“Apropos of the heart,” says Giusti in this letter, “you ask me about
a certain person who once had mine, whole and sound, roots and all. I
saw her this morning in passing, out of the corner of my eye, and I
know that she is well and enjoying herself. As to our coming together
again, the case, if it were once remote, is now impossible; for you
can well imagine that, all things considered, I could never be such a
donkey as to tempt her to a comparison of me with myself. I am
certain that, after having tolerated me for a day or two for simple
appearance’ sake, she would find some good excuse for planting me a
yard outside the door. In many, obstinacy increases with the ails
and wrinkles; but in me, thank Heaven, there comes a meekness, a
resignation, not to be expressed. Perhaps it has not happened
otherwise with her. In that case we could accommodate ourselves, and
talk as long as the evening lasted of magnesia, of quinine, and of
nervines; lament, not the rising and sinking of the heart, but of the
barometer; talk, not of the theater and all the rest, but whether it
is better to crawl out into the sun like lizards, or stay at home
behind battened windows. ‘Good-evening, my dear, how have you been
to-day?’ ‘Eh! you know, my love, the usual rheumatism; but for the
rest I don’t complain.’ ‘Did you sleep well last night?’ ‘Not so bad;
and you?’ ‘O, little or none at all; and I got up feeling as if all my
bones were broken.’ ‘My idol, take a little laudanum. Think that when
you are not well I suffer with you. And your appetite, how is it?’ ‘O,
don’t speak of it! I can’t get anything down.’ ‘My soul, if you don’t
eat you’ll not be able to keep up.’ ‘But, my heart, what would you do
if the mouthfuls stuck in your throat?’ ‘Take a little quassia; ...
but, dost thou remember, once--?’ ‘Yes, I remember; but once was
once,’ ... and so forth, and so forth. Then some evening, if a priest
came in, we could take a hand at whist with a dummy, and so live on
to the age of crutches in a passion whose phases are confided to the
apothecary rather than to the confessor.”

{Illustration: GIUSEPPE GIUSTI.}

Giusti’s first political poems had been inspired by the revolutionary
events of 1830 in France; and he continued part of that literary force
which, quite as much as the policy of Cavour, has educated Italians
for freedom and independence. When the French revolution of 1848 took
place, and the responsive outbreaks followed all over Europe, Tuscany
drove out her Grand Duke, as France drove out her king, and, still
emulous of that wise exemplar, put the novelist Guerrazzi at the head
of her affairs, as the next best thing to such a poet as Lamartine,
which she had not. The affair ended in the most natural way; the
Florentines under the supposed popular government became very tired
of themselves, and called back their Grand Duke, who came again with
Austrian bayonets to support him in the affections of his subjects,
where he remained secure until the persuasive bayonets disappeared
before Garibaldi ten years later.

Throughout these occurrences the voice of Giusti was heard whenever
that of good sense and a temperate zeal for liberty could be made
audible. He was an aristocrat by birth and at heart, and he looked
upon the democratic shows of the time with distrust, if not dislike,
though he never lost faith in the capacity of the Italians for an
independent national government. His broken health would not let him
join the Tuscan volunteers who marched to encounter the Austrians in
Lombardy; and though he was once elected member of the representative
body from Pescia, he did not shine in it, and refused to be chosen
a second time. His letters of this period afford the liveliest and
truest record of feeling in Tuscany during that memorable time of
alternating hopes and fears, generous impulses, and mean derelictions,
and they strike me as among the best letters in any language.

Giusti supported the Grand Duke’s return philosophically, with a
sarcastic serenity of spirit, and something also of the indifference
of mortal sickness. His health was rapidly breaking, and in March,
1850, he died very suddenly of a hemorrhage of the lungs.


II

In noticing Giusti’s poetry I have a difficulty already hinted, for if
I presented some of the pieces which gave him his greatest fame among
his contemporaries, I should be doing, as far as my present purpose is
concerned, a very unprofitable thing. The greatest part of his poetry
was inspired by the political events or passions of the time at which
it was written, and, except some five or six pieces, it is all of a
political cast. These events are now many of them grown unimportant
and obscure, and the passions are, for the most part, quite extinct;
so that it would be useless to give certain of his most popular pieces
as historical, while others do not represent him at his best as a
poet. Some degree of social satire is involved; but the poems are
principally light, brilliant mockeries of transient aspects of
politics, or outcries against forgotten wrongs, or appeals for
long-since-accomplished or defeated purposes. We know how dreary this
sort of poetry generally is in our own language, after the occasion
is once past, and how nothing but the enforced privacy of a desolate
island could induce us to read, however ardent our sympathies may have
been, the lyrics about slavery or the war, except in very rare cases.
The truth is, the Muse, for a lady who has seen so much of life and
the ways of the world, is an excessively jealous personification, and
is apt to punish with oblivion a mixed devotion at her shrine. The
poet who desires to improve and exalt his time must make up his mind
to a double martyrdom,--first, to be execrated by vast numbers of
respectable people, and then to be forgotten by all. It is a great
pity, but it cannot be helped. It is chiefly your

    Rogue of canzonets and serenades

who survives. Anacreon lives; but the poets who appealed to their
Ionian fellow-citizens as men and brethren, and lectured them upon
their servility and their habits of wine-bibbing and of basking away
the dearest rights of humanity in the sun, who ever heard of them? I
do not mean to say that Giusti ever lectured his generation; he was
too good an artist for that; but at least one Italian critic forebodes
that the figure he made in the patriotic imagination must diminish
rapidly with the establishment of the very conditions he labored to
bring about. The wit of much that he said must grow dim with the
fading remembrance of what provoked it; the sting lie pointless and
painless in the dust of those who writhed under it,--so much of the
poet’s virtue perishing in their death. We can only judge of all this
vaguely and for a great part from the outside, for we cannot pretend
to taste the finest flavor of the poetry which, is sealed to a
foreigner in the local phrases and racy Florentine words which Giusti
used; but I think posterity in Italy will stand in much the same
attitude toward him that we do now. Not much of the social life of his
time is preserved in his poetry, and he will not be resorted to as
that satirist of the period to whom historians are fond of alluding in
support of conjectures relative to society in the past. Now and then
he touches upon some prevailing intellectual or literary affectation,
as in the poem describing the dandified, desperate young poet of
fashion, who,

    Immersed in suppers and balls,
    A martyr in yellow gloves,

sings of Italy, of the people, of progress, with the rhetoricalities
of the modern Arcadians; and he has a poem called “The Ball”, which
must fairly, as it certainly does wittily, represent one of those
anomalous entertainments which rich foreigners give in Italy, and to
which all sorts of irregular aliens resort, something of the local
aristocracy appearing also in a ghostly and bewildered way. Yet even
in this poem there is a political lesson.

I suppose, in fine, that I shall most interest my readers in Giusti,
if I translate here the pieces that have most interested me. Of all,
I like best the poem which he calls “St. Ambrose”, and I think the
reader will agree with me about it. It seems not only very perfect
as a bit of art, with its subtly intended and apparently capricious
mingling of satirical and pathetic sentiment, but valuable for its
vivid expression of Italian feeling toward the Austrians. These
the Italians hated as part of a stupid and brutal oppression; they
despised them somewhat as a torpid-witted folk, but individually liked
them for their amiability and good nature, and in their better moments
they pitied them as the victims of a common tyranny. I will not be
so adventurous as to say how far the beautiful military music of the
Austrians tended to lighten the burden of a German garrison in an
Italian city; but certainly whoever has heard that music must have
felt, for one base and shameful moment, that the noise of so much of
a free press as opposed his own opinions might be advantageously
exchanged for it. The poem of “St. Ambrose”, written in 1846, when the
Germans seemed so firmly fixed in Milan, is impersonally addressed
to some Italian, holding office under the Austrian government, and,
therefore, in the German interest.

    ST. AMBROSE.

    Your Excellency is not pleased with me
    Because of certain jests I made of late,
    And, for my putting rogues in pillory,
    Accuse me of being anti-German. Wait,
    And hear a thing that happened recently:
    When wandering here and there one day as fate
    Led me, by some odd accident I ran
    On the old church St. Ambrose, at Milan.

    My comrade of the moment was, by chance,
    The young son of one Sandro{1}--one of those
    Troublesome heads--an author of romance--
    _Promessi Sposi_--your Excellency knows
    The book, perhaps?--has given it a glance?
    Ah, no? I see! God give your brain repose;
    With graver interests occupied, your head
    To all such stuff as literature is dead.

    I enter, and the church is full of troops:
    Of northern soldiers, of Croatians, say,
    And of Bohemians, standing there in groups
    As stiff as dry poles stuck in vineyards,--nay,
    As stiff as if impaled, and no one stoops
    Out of the plumb of soldierly array;
    All stand, with whiskers and mustache of tow,
    Before their God like spindles in a row.

    I started back: I cannot well deny
    That being rained down, as it were, and thrust
    Into that herd of human cattle, I
    Could not suppress a feeling of disgust
    Unknown, I fancy, to your Excellency,
    By reason of your office. Pardon! I must
    Say the church stank of heated grease, and that
    The very altar-candles seemed of fat.

    But when the priest had risen to devote
    The mystic wafer, from the band that stood
    About the altar came a sudden note
    Of sweetness over my disdainful mood;
    A voice that, speaking from the brazen throat
    Of warlike trumpets, came like the subdued
    Moan of a people bound in sore distress,
    And thinking on lost hopes and happiness.

    ‘T was Verdi’s tender chorus rose aloof,--
    That song the Lombards there, dying of thirst,
    Send up to God, “Lord, from the native roof.”
     O’er countless thrilling hearts the song has burst,
    And here I, whom its magic put to proof,
    Beginning to be no longer I, immersed
    Myself amidst those tallowy fellow-men
    As if they had been of my land and kin.

    What would your Excellency? The piece was fine,
    And ours, and played, too, as it should be played;
    It drives old grudges out when such divine
    Music as that mounts up into your head!
    But when the piece was done, back to my line
    I crept again, and there I should have staid,
    But that just then, to give me another turn,
    From those mole-mouths a hymn began to yearn:

    A German anthem, that to heaven went
    On unseen wings, up from the holy fane;
    It was a prayer, and seemed like a lament,
    Of such a pensive, grave, pathetic strain
    That in my soul it never shall be spent;
    And how such heavenly harmony in the brain
    Of those thick-skulled barbarians should dwell
    I must confess it passes me to tell.

    In that sad hymn, I felt the bitter sweet
    Of the songs heard in childhood, which the soul
    Learns from beloved voices, to repeat
    To its own anguish in the days of dole;
    A thought of the dear mother, a regret,
    A longing for repose and love,--the whole
    Anguish of distant exile seemed to run
    Over my heart and leave it all undone:

    When the strain ceased, it left me pondering
    Tenderer thoughts and stronger and more clear;
    These men, I mused, the self-same despot king,
    Who rules in Slavic and Italian fear,
    Tears from their homes and arms that round them cling.
    And drives them slaves thence, to keep us slaves here;
    From their familiar fields afar they pass
    Like herds to winter in some strange morass.

    To a hard life, to a hard discipline,
    Derided, solitary, dumb, they go;
    Blind instruments of many-eyed Rapine
    And purposes they share not, and scarce know;
    And this fell hate that makes a gulf between
    The Lombard and the German, aids the foe
    Who tramples both divided, and whose bane
    Is in the love and brotherhood of men.

    Poor souls! far off from all that they hold dear,
    And in a land that hates them! Who shall say
    That at the bottom of their hearts they bear
    Love for our tyrant? I should like to lay
    They’ve our hate for him in their pockets! Here,
    But that I turned in haste and broke away,
    I should have kissed a corporal, stiff and tall,
    And like a scarecrow stuck against the wall.

Note {1}: Alessandro Manzoni.


I could not well praise this poem enough, without praising it too
much. It depicts a whole order of things, and it brings vividly before
us the scene described; while its deep feeling is so lightly and
effortlessly expressed, that one does not know which to like best,
the exquisite manner or the excellent sense. To prove that Giusti was
really a fine poet, I need give nothing more, for this alone would
imply poetic power; not perhaps of the high epic sort, but of the
kind that gives far more comfort to the heart of mankind, amusing and
consoling it. “Giusti composed satires, but no poems,” says a French
critic; but I think most will not, after reading this piece, agree
with him. There are satires and satires, and some are fierce enough
and brutal enough; but when a satire can breathe so much tenderness,
such generous humanity, such pity for the means, at the same time
with such hatred of the source of wrong, and all with an air of such
smiling pathos, I say, if it is not poetry, it is something better,
and by all means let us have it instead of poetry. It is humor, in its
best sense; and, after religion, there is nothing in the world can
make men so conscious, thoughtful, and modest.

A certain pensiveness very perceptible in “St. Ambrose” is the
prevailing sentiment of another poem of Giusti’s, which I like very
much, because it is more intelligible than his political satires, and
because it places the reader in immediate sympathy with a man who had
not only the subtlety to depict the faults of the time, but the sad
wisdom to know that he was no better himself merely for seeing them.
The poem was written in 1844, and addressed to Gino Capponi, the
life-long friend in whose house Giusti died, and the descendant of
the great Gino Capponi who threatened the threatening Frenchmen when
Charles VIII occupied Florence: “If you sound your trumpets,” as a
call to arms against the Florentines, “we will ring our bells,” he
said.

Giusti speaks of the part which he bears as a spectator and critic of
passing events, and then apostrophizes himself:

    Who art thou that a scourge so keen dost bear
    And pitilessly dost the truth proclaim,
    And that so loath of praise for good and fair,
    So eager art with bitter songs of blame?
    Hast thou achieved, in thine ideal’s pursuit,
    The secret and the ministry of art?
    Did’st thou seek first to kill and to uproot
    All pride and folly out of thine own heart
    Ere turning to teach other men their part?

       *       *       *       *       *

    O wretched scorn! from which alone I sing,
    Thou weariest and saddenest my soul!
    O butterfly that joyest on thy wing,
    Pausing from bloom to bloom, without a goal--
    And thou, that singing of love for evermore,
    Fond nightingale! from wood to wood dost go,
    My life is as a never-ending war
    Of doubts, when likened to the peace ye know,
    And wears what seems a smile and is
    a throe!

There is another famous poem of Giusti’s in quite a different mood.
It is called “Instructions to an Emissary”, sent down into Italy to
excite a revolution, and give Austria a pretext for interference,
and the supposed speaker is an Austrian minister. It is done with
excellent sarcasm, and it is useful as light upon a state of things
which, whether it existed wholly in fact or partly in the suspicion of
the Italians, is equally interesting and curious. The poem was written
in 1847, when the Italians were everywhere aspiring to a national
independence and self-government, and their rulers were conceding
privileges while secretly leaguing with Austria to continue the old
order of an Italy divided among many small tyrants. The reader will
readily believe that my English is not as good as the Italian.


    INSTRUCTIONS TO AN EMISSARY.

    You will go into Italy; you have here
      Your passport and your letters of exchange;
    You travel as a count, it would appear,
      Going for pleasure and a little change;
    Once there, you play the rodomont, the queer
      Crack-brain good fellow, idle gamester, strange
    Spendthrift and madcap. Give yourself full swing;
    People are taken with that kind of thing.

    When you behold--and it will happen so--
      The birds flock down about the net, be wary;
    Talk from a warm and open heart, and show
      Yourself with everybody bold and merry.
    The North’s a dungeon, say, a waste of snow,
      The very house and home of January,
    Compared with that fair garden of the earth,
    Beautiful, free, and full of life and mirth.

    And throwing in your discourse this word _free_,
      Just to fill up, and as by accident,
    Look round among your listeners, and see
      If it has had at all the effect you meant;
    Beat a retreat if it fails, carelessly
      Talking of this and that; but in the event
    Some one is taken with it, never fear,
    Push boldly forward, for the road is clear.

    Be bold and shrewd; and do not be too quick,
      As some are, and plunge headlong on your prey
    When, if the snare shall happen not to stick,
      Your uproar frightens all the rest away;
    To take your hare by carriage is the trick;
      Make a wide circle, do not mind delay;
    Experiment and work in silence; scheme
    With that wise prudence that shall folly seem.

The minister bids the emissary, “Turn me into a jest; say I’m
sleepy and begin to dote; invent what lies you will, I give you
_carte-bianche_.”

    Of governments down yonder say this, too,
      At the cafés and theaters; indeed
    For this, I’ve made a little sign for you
      Upon your passport that the wise will read
    For an express command to let you do
      Whatever you think best, and take no heed.

Then the emissary is instructed to make himself center of the party of
extremes, and in different companies to pity the country, to laugh at
moderate progress as a sham, and to say that the concessions of
the local governments are merely _ruses_ to pacify and delude the
people,--as in great part they were, though Giusti and his party did
not believe so. The instructions to the emissary conclude with the
charge to

    Scatter republican ideas, and say
      That all the rich and all the well-to-do
    Use common people hardly better, nay,
      Worse, than their dogs; and add some hard words, too:
    Declare that _bread_’s the question of the day,
      And that the communists alone are true;
    And that the foes of the agrarian cause
    Waste more than half of all by wicked laws.

Then, he tells him, when the storm begins to blow, and the pockets of
the people feel its effect, and the mob grows hungry, to contrive that
there shall be some sort of outbreak, with a bit of pillage,--

    So that the kings down there, pushed to the wall,
    For congresses and bayonets shall call.

    If you should have occasion to spend, spend,
      The money won’t be wasted; there must be
    Policemen in retirement, spies without end,
      Shameless and penniless; buy, you are free.
    If destiny should be so much your friend
      That you could shake a throne or two for me,
    Pour me out treasures. I shall be content;
    My gains will be at least seven cent, per cent.

    Or, in the event the inconstant goddess frown,
      Let me know instantly when you are caught;
    A thunderbolt shall burst upon your crown,
      And you become a martyr on the spot.
    As minister I turn all upside down,
      Our government disowns you as it ought.
    And so the cake is turned upon the fire,
    And we can use you next as we desire.

    In order not to awaken any fear
      In the post-office, ‘t is my plan that you
    Shall always correspond with liberals here;
      Don’t doubt but I shall hear of all you do.
    ...’s a Republican known far and near;
      I haven’t another spy that’s _half_ as true!
    You understand, and I need say no more;
    Lucky for you if you get me up a war!

We get the flavor of this, at least the literary flavor, the satire,
and the irony, but it inevitably falls somewhat cold upon us, because
it had its origin in a condition of things which, though historical,
are so opposed to all our own experience that they are hard to be
imagined. Yet we can fancy the effect such a poem must have had, at
the time when it was written, upon a people who felt in the midst of
their aspirations some disturbing element from without, and believed
this to be espionage and Austrian interference. If the poem had also
to be passed about secretly from one hand to another, its enjoyment
must have been still keener; but strip it of all these costly and
melancholy advantages, and it is still a piece of subtle and polished
satire.

Most of Giusti’s poems, however, are written in moods and manners very
different from this; there is sparkle and dash in the movement, as
well as the thought, which I cannot reproduce, and in giving another
poem I can only hope to show something of his varying manner.
Some foreigner, Lamartine, I think, called Italy the Land of the
Dead,--whereupon Giusti responded with a poem of that title, addressed
to his friend Gino Capponi:

    THE LAND OF THE DEAD.

    ‘Mongst us phantoms of Italians,--
      Mummies even from our birth,--
    The very babies’ nurses
      Help to put them under earth.

    ‘T is a waste of holy water
      When we’re taken to the font:
    They that make us pay for burial
      Swindle us to that amount.

    In appearance we’re constructed
      Much like Adam’s other sons,--
    Seem of flesh and blood, but really
      We are nothing but dry bones.

    O deluded apparitions,
      What do _you_ do among men?
    Be resigned to fate, and vanish
      Back into the past again!

    Ah! of a perished people
      What boots now the brilliant story?
    Why should skeletons be bothering
      About liberty and glory?

    Why deck this funeral service
      With such pomp of torch and flower?
    Let us, without more palaver,
      Growl this requiem, of ours.

And so the poet recounts the Italian names distinguished in modern
literature, and describes the intellectual activity that prevails in
this Land of the Dead. Then he turns to the innumerable visitors of
Italy:

    O you people hailed down on us
      From the living, overhead,
    With what face can you confront us,
      Seeking health among us dead?

    Soon or late this pestilential
      Clime shall work you harm--beware!
    Even you shall likewise find it
      Foul and poisonous grave-yard air.

    O ye grim, sepulchral friars
      Ye inquisitorial ghouls,
    Lay down, lay down forever,
      The ignorant censor’s tools.

    This wretched gift of thinking,
      O ye donkeys, is your doom;
    Do you care to expurgate us,
      Positively, in the tomb?

    Why plant this bayonet forest
      On our sepulchers? what dread
    Causes you to place such jealous
      Custody upon the dead?

    Well, the mighty book of Nature
      Chapter first and last must have;
    Yours is now the light of heaven,
      Ours the darkness of the grave.

    But, then, if you ask it,
      We lived greatly in our turn;
    We were grand and glorious, Gino,
     Ere our friends up there were born!

    O majestic mausoleums,
      City walls outworn with time,
    To our eyes are even your ruins
      Apotheosis sublime!

    O barbarian unquiet
      Raze each storied sepulcher!
    With their memories and their beauty
      All the lifeless ashes stir.

    O’er these monuments in vigil
      Cloudless the sun flames and glows
    In the wind for funeral torches,--
      And the violet, and the rose,

    And the grape, the fig, the olive,
      Are the emblems fit of grieving;
    ‘T is, in fact, a cemetery
      To strike envy in the living.

    Well, in fine, O brother corpses,
      Let them pipe on as they like;
    Let us see on whom hereafter
      Such a death as ours shall strike!

    ‘Mongst the anthems of the function
      Is not _Dies Irae_? Nay,
    In all the days to come yet,
      Shall there be no Judgment Day?

In a vein of like irony, the greater part of Giusti’s political poems
are written, and none of them is wanting in point and bitterness, even
to a foreigner who must necessarily lose something of their point
and the _tang_ of their local expressions. It was the habi
the satirist, who at least loved the people’s quaintness and
originality--and perhaps this is as much democracy as we ought to
demand of a poet--it was Giusti’s habit to replenish his vocabulary
from the fountains of the popular speech. By this means he gave his
satires a racy local flavor; and though he cannot be said to have
written dialect, since Tuscan is the Italian language, he gained by
these words and phrases the frankness and fineness of dialect.

But Giusti had so much gentleness, sweetness, and meekness in his
heart, that I do not like to leave the impression of him as a satirist
last upon the reader. Rather let me close these meager notices with
the beautiful little poem, said to be the last he wrote, as he passed
his days in the slow death of the consumptive. It is called

    A PRAYER.

    For the spirit confused
    With misgiving and with sorrow,
    Let me, my Saviour, borrow
    The light of faith from thee.
    O lift from it the burden
    That bows it down before thee.
    With sighs and with weeping
    I commend myself to thee;
    My faded life, thou knowest,
    Little by little is wasted
    Like wax before the fire,
    Like snow-wreaths in the sun.
    And for the soul that panteth
    For its refuge in thy bosom,
    Break, thou, the ties, my Saviour,
    That hinder it from thee.



FRANCESCO DALL’ ONGARO


I

In the month of March, 1848, news came to Rome of the insurrection in
Vienna, and a multitude of the citizens assembled to bear the tidings
to the Austrian Ambassador, who resided in the ancient palace of the
Venetian Republic. The throng swept down the Corso, gathering numbers
as it went, and paused in the open space before the Palazzo di
Venezia. At its summons, the ambassador abandoned his quarters, and
fled without waiting to hear the details of the intelligence from
Vienna. The people, incited by a number of Venetian exiles, tore down
the double-headed eagle from the portal, and carried it for a more
solemn and impressive destruction to the Piazza del Popolo, while a
young poet erased the inscription asserting the Austrian claim to
the palace, and wrote in its stead the words, “Palazzo della Dieta
Italiana.”

The sentiment of national unity expressed in this legend had been the
ruling motive of the young poet Francesco Dall’ Ongaro’s life, and had
already made his name famous through the patriotic songs that were
sung all over Italy. Garibaldi had chanted one of his Stornelli when
embarking from Montevideo in the spring of 1848 to take part in the
Italian revolutions, of which these little ballads had become the
rallying-cries; and if the voice of the people is in fact inspired,
this poet could certainly have claimed the poet’s long-lost honors of
prophecy, for it was he who had shaped their utterance. He had ceased
to assume any other sacred authority, though educated a priest, and at
the time when he devoted the Palazzo di Venezia to the idea of united
Italy, there was probably no person in Rome less sacerdotal than he.

Francesco Dall’ Ongaro was born in 1808, at an obscure hamlet in
the district of Oderzo in the Friuli, of parents who were small
freeholders. They removed with their son in his tenth year to Venice,
and there he began his education for the Church in the Seminary of the
Madonna della Salute. The tourist who desires to see the Titians and
Tintorettos in the sacristy of this superb church, or to wonder at the
cold splendors of the interior of the temple, is sometimes obliged to
seek admittance through the seminary; and it has doubtless happened to
more than one of my readers to behold many little sedate old men in
their teens, lounging up and down the cool, humid courts there, and
trailing their black priestly robes over the springing mold. The sun
seldom strikes into that sad close, and when the boys form into long
files, two by two, and march out for recreation, they have a torpid
and melancholy aspect, upon which the daylight seems to smile in vain.
They march solemnly up the long Zattere, with a pale young father
at their head, and then march solemnly back again, sweet, genteel,
pathetic specters of childhood, and reënter their common tomb,
doubtless unenvied by the hungriest and raggedest street boy, who asks
charity of them as they pass, and hoarsely whispers “Raven!” when
their leader is beyond hearing. There is no reason to suppose that
a boy, born poet among the mountains, and full of the wild and free
romance of his native scenes, could love the life led at the Seminary
of the Salute, even though it included the study of literature and
philosophy. From his childhood Dall’ Ongaro had given proofs of
his poetic gift, and the reverend ravens of the seminary were
unconsciously hatching a bird as little like themselves as might be.
Nevertheless, Dall’ Ongaro left their school to enter the University
of Padua as student of theology, and after graduating took orders, and
went to Este, where he lived some time as teacher of belles-lettres.

At Este his life was without scope, and he was restless and unhappy,
full of ardent and patriotic impulses, and doubly restricted by his
narrow field and his priestly vocation. In no long time he had trouble
with the Bishop of Padua, and, abandoning Este, seems also to have
abandoned the Church forever. The chief fruit of his sojourn in that
quaint and ancient village was a poem entitled II Venerdì Santo, in
which he celebrated some incidents of the life of Lord Byron, somewhat
as Byron would have done. Dall’ Ongaro’s poems, however, confess
the influence of the English poet less than those of other modern
Italians, whom Byron infected so much more than his own nation.

From Este, Dall’ Ongaro went to Trieste, where he taught literature
and philosophy, wrote for the theater, and established a journal in
which, for ten years, he labored to educate the people in his ideas of
Italian unity and progress. That these did not coincide with the ideas
of most Italian dreamers and politicians of the time may be inferred
from the fact that he began in 1846 a course of lectures on Dante, in
which he combated the clerical tendencies of Gioberti and Balbo, and
criticised the first acts of Pius IX. He had as profound doubt of
Papal liberality as Niccolini, at a time when other patriots were
fondly cherishing the hope of a united Italy under an Italian pontiff;
and at Rome, two years later, he sought to direct popular feeling from
the man to the end, in one of the earliest of his graceful Stornelli.

    PIO NONO.

    Pio Nono is a name, and not the man
      Who saws the air from yonder Bishop’s seat;
    Pio Nono is the offspring of our brain,
      The idol of our hearts, a vision sweet;
    Pio Nono is a banner, a refrain,
      A name that sounds well sung upon the street.

    Who calls, “Long live Pio Nono!” means to call,
    Long live our country, and good-will to all!
    And country and good-will, these signify
    That it is well for Italy to die;
    But not to die for a vain dream or hope,
    Not to die for a throne and for a Pope!

During these years at Trieste, however, Dall’ Ongaro seems to have
been also much occupied with pure literature, and to have given
a great deal of study to the sources of national poetry, as he
discovered them in the popular life and legends. He had been touched
with the prevailing romanticism; he had written hymns like
Manzoni, and, like Carrer, he sought to poetize the traditions and
superstitions of his countrymen. He found a richer and deeper vein
than the Venetian poet among his native hills and the neighboring
mountains of Slavonia, but I cannot say that he wrought it to much
better effect. The two volumes which he published in 1840 contain many
ballads which are very graceful and musical, but which lack the fresh
spirit of songs springing from the popular heart, while they also want
the airy and delicate beauty of the modern German ballads. Among the
best of them are two which Dall’ Ongaro built up from mere lines and
fragments of lines current among the people, as in later years he more
successfully restored us two plays of Menander from the plots and
a dozen verses of each. “One may imitate,” he says, “more or less
fortunately, Manzoni, Byron, or any other poet, but not the simple
inspirations of the people. And ‘The Pilgrim who comes from Rome,’ and
the ‘Rosettina,’ if one could have them complete as they once were,
would probably make me blush for my elaborate variations.” But study
which was so well directed, and yet so conscious of its limitations,
could not but be of great value; and Dall’ Ongaro, no doubt, owed to
it his gift of speaking so authentically for the popular heart. That
which he did later showed that he studied the people’s thought and
expression _con amore_, and in no vain sentiment of dilettanteism, or
antiquarian research, or literary patronage.

It is not to be supposed that Dall’ Ongaro’s literary life had at this
period an altogether objective tendency. In the volumes mentioned,
there is abundant evidence that he was of the same humor as all men
of poetic feeling must be at a certain time of life. Here are pretty
verses of occasion, upon weddings and betrothals, such as people write
in Italy; here are stanzas from albums, such as people used to write
everywhere; here are didactic lines; here are bursts of mere sentiment
and emotion. In the volume of Fantasie, published at Florence in 1866,
Dall’ Ongaro collected some of the ballads from his early works, but
left out the more subjective effusions.

I give one of these in which, under a fantastic name and in a
fantastic form, the poet expresses the tragic and pathetic interest of
the life to which he was himself vowed.

    THE SISTER OF THE MOON.

    Shine, moon, ah shine! and let thy pensive light
             Be faithful unto me:
    I have a sister in the lonely night
             When I commune with thee.

    Alone and friendless in the world am I,
             Sorrow’s forgotten maid,
    Like some poor dove abandoned to die
             By her first love unwed.

    Like some poor floweret in a desert land
            I pass my days alone;
    In vain upon the air its leaves expand,
            In vain its sweets are blown.

    No loving hand shall save it from the waste,
            And wear the lonely thing;
    My heart shall throb upon no loving breast
            In my neglected spring.

    That trouble which consumes my weary soul
            No cunning can relieve,
    No wisdom understand the secret dole
            Of the sad sighs I heave.

    My fond heart cherished once a hope, a vow,
            The leaf of autumn gales!
    In convent gloom, a dim lamp burning low,
            My spirit lacks and fails.

    I shall have prayers and hymns like some dead saint
            Painted upon a shrine,
    But in love’s blessed power to fall and faint,
            It never shall be mine.

    Born to entwine my life with others, born
            To love and to be wed,
    Apart from all I lead my life forlorn,
            Sorrow’s forgotten maid.

    Shine, moon, ah shine! and let thy tender light
            Be faithful unto me:
    Speak to me of the life beyond the night
            I shall enjoy with thee.


II

It will here satisfy the strongest love of contrasts to turn from
Dall’ Ongaro the sentimental poet to Dall’ Ongaro the politician, and
find him on his feet and making a speech at a public dinner given to
Richard Cobden at Trieste, in 1847. Cobden was then, as always, the
advocate of free trade, and Dall’ Ongaro was then, as always, the
advocate of free government. He saw in the union of the Italians
under a customs-bond the hope of their political union, and in their
emancipation from oppressive imposts their final escape from yet
more galling oppression. He expressed something of this, and, though
repeatedly interrupted by the police, he succeeded in saying so much
as to secure his expulsion from Trieste.

Italy was already in a ferment, and insurrections were preparing in
Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome; and Dall’ Ongaro, consulting with
the Venetian leaders Manin and Tommaseo, retired to Tuscany, and took
part in the movements which wrung a constitution from the Grand Duke,
and preceded the flight of that prince. In December he went to Rome,
where he joined himself with the Venetian refugees and with other
Italian patriots, like D’Azeglio and Durando, who were striving to
direct the popular mind toward Italian unity. The following March he
was, as we have seen, one of the exiles who led the people against the
Palazzodi Venezia. In the mean time the insurrection of the glorious
Five Days had taken place at Milan, and the Lombard cities, rising one
after another, had driven out the Austrian garrisons. Dall’ Ongaro
went from Rome to Milan, and thence, by advice of the revolutionary
leaders, to animate the defense against the Austrians in Friuli;
one of his brothers was killed at Palmanuova, and another severely
wounded. Treviso, whither he had retired, falling into the hands of
the Germans, he went to Venice, then a republic under the presidency
of Manin; and here he established a popular journal, which opposed the
union of the struggling republic with Piedmont under Carlo Alberto.
Dall’ Ongaro was finally expelled and passed next to Ravenna, where he
found Garibaldi, who had been banished by the Roman government, and
was in doubt as to how he might employ his sword on behalf of his
country. In those days the Pope’s moderately liberal minister, Rossi,
was stabbed, and Count Pompeo Campello, an old literary friend and
acquaintance of Dall’ Ongaro, was appointed minister of war. With
Garibaldi’s consent the poet went to Rome, and used his influence
to such effect that Garibaldi was authorized to raise a legion of
volunteers, and was appointed general of those forces which took so
glorious a part in the cause of Italian Independence. Soon after, when
the Pope fled to Gaeta, and the Republic was proclaimed, Dall’ Ongaro
and Garibaldi were chosen representatives of the people. Then followed
events of which it is still a pang keen to read: the troops of the
French Republic marched upon Rome, and, after a defense more splendid
and heroic than any victory, the city fell. The Pope returned, and all
who loved Italy and freedom turned in exile from Rome. The cities of
the Romagna, Tuscany, Lombardy, and Venetia had fallen again under the
Pope, the Grand Duke, and the Austrians, and Dall’ Ongaro took refuge
in Switzerland.

{Illustration: FRANCESCO DALL’ ONGARA}

Without presuming to say whether Dall’ Ongaro was mistaken in his
political ideas, we may safely admit that he was no wiser a politician
than Dante or Petrarch. He was an anti-Papist, as these were, and
like these he opposed an Italy of little principalities and little
republics. But his dream, unlike theirs, was of a great Italian
democracy, and in 1848-49 he opposed the union of the Italian patriots
under Carlo Alberto, because this would have tended to the monarchy.


III

But it is not so much with Dall’ Ongaro’s political opinions that we
have to do as with his poetry of the revolutionary period of 1848,
as we find in it the little collection of lyrics which he calls
“Stornelli.” These commemorate nearly all the interesting aspects of
that epoch; and in their wit and enthusiasm and aspiration, we feel
the spirit of a race at once the most intellectual and the most
emotional in the world, whose poets write as passionately of politics
as of love. Arnaud awards Dall’ Ongaro the highest praise, and
declares him “the first to formulate in the common language of Italy
patriotic songs which, current on the tongues of the people, should
also remain the patrimony of the national literature.... In his
popular songs,” continues this critic, “Dall’ Ongaro has given all
that constitutes true, good, and--not the least merit--novel poetry.
Meter and rhythm second the expression, imbue the thought with
harmony, and develop its symmetry.... How enviable is that
perspicuity which does not oblige you to re-read a single line to
evolve therefrom the latent idea!” And we shall have no less to admire
the perfect art which, never passing the intelligence of the people,
is never ignoble in sentiment or idea, but always as refined as it is
natural.

I do not know how I could better approach our poet than by first
offering this lyric, written when, in 1847, the people of Leghorn rose
in arms to repel a threatened invasion of the Austrians.

    THE WOMAN OF LEGHORN.

    Adieu, Livorno! adieu, paternal walls!
      Perchance I never shall behold you more!
    On father’s and mother’s grave the shadow falls.
      My love has gone under our flag to war;
    And I will follow him where fortune calls;
      I have had a rifle in my hands before.

    The ball intended for my lover’s breast,
    Before he knows it my heart shall arrest;
    And over his dead comrade’s visage he
    Shall pitying stoop, and look whom it can be.
    Then he shall see and know that it is I:
    Poor boy! how bitterly my love will cry!

The Italian editor of the “Stornelli” does not give the closing lines
too great praise when he declares that “they say more than all the
lament of Tancred over Clorinda.” In this little flight of song, we
pass over more tragedy than Messer Torquato could have dreamed in
the conquest of many Jerusalems; for, after all, there is nothing so
tragic as fact. The poem is full at once of the grand national
impulse, and of purely personal and tender devotion; and that
fluttering, vehement purpose, thrilling and faltering in alternate
lines, and breaking into a sob at last, is in every syllable the
utterance of a woman’s spirit and a woman’s nature.

Quite as womanly, though entirely different, is this lament, which
the poet attributes to his sister for their brother, who fell at
Palmanuova, May 14, 1848.

    THE SISTER.

    (Palma, May 14, 1848.)

    And he, my brother, to the fort had gone,
      And the grenade, it struck him in the breast;
    He fought for liberty, and death he won,
      For country here, and found in heaven rest.

    And now only to follow him I sigh;
    A new desire has taken me to die,--
    To follow him where is no enemy,
    Where every one lives happy and is free.

All hope and purpose are gone from this woman’s heart, for whom Italy
died in her brother, and who has only these artless, half-bewildered
words of regret to speak, and speaks them as if to some tender and
sympathetic friend acquainted with all the history going before their
abrupt beginning. I think it most pathetic and natural, also, that
even in her grief and her aspiration for heaven, her words should have
the tint of her time, and she should count freedom among the joys of
eternity.

Quite as womanly again, and quite as different once more, is the lyric
which the reader will better appreciate when I remind him how the
Austrians massacred the unarmed people in Milan, in January, 1848,
and how, later, during the Five Days, they murdered their Italian
prisoners, sparing neither sex nor age.{1}

Note {1}: “Many foreigners,” says Emilie Dandolo, in his restrained
and temperate history of “I Volontarii e Bersaglieri Lombardi”, “have
cast a doubt upon the incredible ferocity of the Austrians during the
Five Days, and especially before evacuating the city. But, alas! the
witnesses are too many to be doubted. A Croat was seen carrying a babe
transfixed upon his bayonet. All know of those women’s hands and ears
found in the haversacks of the prisoners; of those twelve unhappy men
burnt alive at Porta Tosa; of those nineteen buried in a lime-pit at
the Castello, whose scorched bodies we found. I myself, ordered with a
detachment, after the departure of the enemy, to examine the Castello
and neighborhood, was horror-struck at the sight of a babe nailed to a
post.”

    THE LOMBARD WOMAN.

    (Milan, January, 1848.)

    Here, take these gaudy robes and put them by;
      I will go dress me black as widowhood;
    I have seen blood run, I have heard the cry
      Of him that struck and him that vainly sued.
    Henceforth no other ornament will I
      But on my breast a ribbon red as blood.

    And when they ask what dyed the silk so red,
    I’ll say, The life-blood of my brothers dead.
    And when they ask how it may cleanséd be,
    I’ll say, O, not in river nor in sea;
    Dishonor passes not in wave nor flood;
    My ribbon ye must wash in German blood.

The repressed horror in the lines,

    I have seen blood run, I have heard the cry
      Of him that struck and him that vainly sued,

is the sentiment of a picture that presents the scene to the reader’s
eye as this shuddering woman saw it; and the heart of woman’s
fierceness and hate is in that fragment of drama with which the brief
poem closes. It is the history of an epoch. That epoch is now past,
however; so long and so irrevocably past, that Dall’ Ongaro commented
in a note upon the poem: “The word ‘German’ is left as a key to the
opinions of the time. Human brotherhood has been greatly promoted
since 1848. German is now no longer synonymous with enemy. Italy has
made peace with the peoples, and is leagued with them all against
their common oppressors.”

There is still another of these songs, in which the heart of womanhood
speaks, though this time with a voice of pride and happiness.

    THE DECORATION.

    My love looks well under his helmet’s crest;
      He went to war, and did not let them see
    His back, and so his wound is in the breast:
      For one he got, he struck and gave them three.
    When he came back, I loved him, hurt so, best;
      He married me and loves me tenderly.

    When he goes by, and people give him way,
    I thank God for my fortune every day;
    When he goes by he seems more grand and fair
    Than any crossed and ribboned cavalier:
    The cavalier grew up with his cross on,
    And I know how my darling’s cross was won!

This poem, like that of La Livornese and La Donna Lombarda, is a vivid
picture: it is a liberated city, and the streets are filled with
jubilant people; the first victorious combats have taken place, and
it is a wounded hero who passes with his ribbon on his breast. As the
fond crowd gives way to him, his young wife looks on him from her
window with an exultant love, unshadowed by any possibility of harm:

    Mi menò a moglie e mi vuol tanto bene!

This is country and freedom to her,--this is strength which despots
cannot break,--this is joy to which defeat and ruin can never come
nigh! It might be any one of the sarcastic and quickwitted people
talking politics in the streets of Rome in 1847, who sees the
newly elected Senator--the head of the Roman municipality, and the
legitimate mediator between Pope and people--as he passes, and speaks
to him in these lines the dominant feeling of the moment:

    THE CARDINALS.

    O Senator of Rome! if true and well
      You are reckoned honest, in the Vatican,
    Let it be yours His Holiness to tell,
      There are many Cardinals, and not one man.

    They are made like lobsters, and, when they are dead,
    Like lobsters change their colors and turn red;
    And while they are living, with their backward gait
    Displace and tangle good Saint Peter’s net.

An impulse of the time is strong again in the following Stornello,--a
cry of reproach that seems to follow some recreant from a beleaguered
camp of true comrades, and to utter the feeling of men who marched to
battle through defection, and were strong chiefly in their just cause.
It bears the date of that fatal hour when the king of Naples, after a
brief show of liberality, recalled his troops from Bologna, where they
had been acting against Austria with the confederated forces of the
other Italian states, and when every man lost to Italy was as an
ebbing drop of her life’s blood.

    THE DESERTER.

    (Bologna, May, 1818.)

    Never did grain grow out of frozen earth;
      From the dead branch never did blossom start:
    If thou lovest not the land that gave thee birth,
      Within thy breast thou bear’st a frozen heart;
    If thou lovest not this land of ancient worth,
      To love aught else, say, traitor, how thou art!

    To thine own land thou could’st not faithful be,--
    Woe to the woman that puts faith in thee!
    To him that trusteth in the recreant, woe!
    Never from frozen earth did harvest grow:
    To her that trusteth a deserter, shame!
    Out of the dead branch never blossom came.

And this song, so fine in its picturesque and its dramatic qualities,
is not less true to the hope of the Venetians when they rose in 1848,
and intrusted their destinies to Daniele Manin.

    THE RING OF THE LAST DOGE.

    I saw the widowed Lady of the Sea
      Crownéd with corals and sea-weed and shells,
    Who her long anguish and adversity
      Had seemed to drown in plays and festivals.

    I said: “Where is thine ancient fealty fled?--
    Where is the ring with which Manin did wed
    His bride?” With tearful visage she:
    “An eagle with two beaks tore it from me.
    Suddenly I arose, and how it came
    I know not, but I heard my bridegroom’s name.”
     Poor widow! ‘t is not he. Yet he may bring--
    Who knows?--back to the bride her long-lost ring.

The Venetians of that day dreamed that San Marco might live again, and
the fineness and significance of the poem could not have been lost on
the humblest in Venice, where all were quick to beauty and vividly
remembered that the last Doge who wedded the sea was named, like the
new President, Manin.

I think the Stornelli of the revolutionary period of 1848 have a
peculiar value, because they embody, in forms of artistic perfection,
the evanescent as well as the enduring qualities of popular feeling.
They give us what had otherwise been lost, in the passing humor of
the time. They do not celebrate the battles or the great political
occurrences. If they deal with events at all, is it with events that
express some belief or longing,--rather with what people hoped or
dreamed than with what they did. They sing the Friulan volunteers, who
bore the laurel instead of the olive during Holy Week, in token that
the patriotic war had become a religion; they remind us that the first
fruits of Italian longing for unity were the cannons sent to the
Romans by the Genoese; they tell us that the tricolor was placed in
the hand of the statue of Marcus Aurelius at the Capitol, to signify
that Rome was no more, and that Italy was to be. But the Stornelli
touch with most effect those yet more intimate ties between national
and individual life that vibrate in the hearts of the Livornese and
the Lombard woman, of the lover who sees his bride in the patriotic
colors, of the maiden who will be a sister of charity that she may
follow her lover through all perils, of the mother who names her
new-born babe Costanza in the very hour of the Venetian republic’s
fall. And I like the Stornelli all the better because they preserve
the generous ardor of the time, even in its fondness and excess.

After the fall of Rome, the poet did not long remain unmolested even
in his Swiss retreat. In 1852 the Federal Council yielded to the
instances of the Austrian government, and expelled Dall’ Ongaro from
the Republic. He retired with his sister and nephew to Brussels, where
he resumed the lectures upon Dante, interrupted by his exile from
Trieste in 1847, and thus supported his family. Three years later he
gained permission to enter France, and up to the spring-time of 1859
he remained in Paris, busying himself with literature, and watching
events with all an exile’s eagerness. The war with Austria broke out,
and the poet seized the long-coveted opportunity to return to Italy,
whither he went as the correspondent of a French newspaper. On the
conclusion of peace at Villafranca, this journal changed its tone, and
being no longer in sympathy with Dall’ Ongaro’s opinions, he left it.
Baron Ricasoli, to induce him to make Tuscany his home, instituted
a chair of comparative dramatic literature in connection with the
University of Pisa, and offered it to Dall’ Ongaro, whose wide general
learning and special dramatic studies peculiarly qualified him to hold
it. He therefore took up his abode at Florence, dedicating his main
industry to a comparative course of ancient and modern dramatic
literature, and writing his wonderful restorations of Menander’s
“Phasma” and “Treasure”. He was well known to the local American and
English Society, and was mourned by many friends when he died there,
some ten years ago.

As with Dall’ Ongaro literature had always been but an instrument for
the redemption of Italy, even after his appointment to a university
professorship he did not forget this prime object. In nearly all that
he afterwards wrote, he kept the great aim of his life in view, and
few of the events or hopes of that dreary period of suspense and
abortive effort between the conclusion of peace at Villafranca and the
acquisition of Venice went unsung by him. Indeed, some of his most
characteristic “Stornelli” belong to this epoch. After Savoy and Nice
had been betrayed to France, and while the Italians waited in angry
suspicion for the next demand of their hated ally, which might be the
surrender of the island of Sardinia or the sacrifice of the Genoese
province, but which no one could guess in the impervious Napoleonic
silence, our poet wrote:

    THE IMPERIAL EGG.

    (Milan, 1862.)

    Who knows what hidden devil it may be
      Under yon mute, grim bird that looks our way?--
    Yon silent bird of evil omen,--he
      That, wanting peace, breathes discord and dismay.
    Quick, quick, and change his egg, my Italy,
      Before there hatch from it some bird of prey,--

    Before some beak of rapine be set free,
    That, after the mountains, shall infest the sea;
    Before some ravenous eaglet shall be sent
    After our isles to gorge the continent.
    I’d rather a goose even from yon egg should come,--
    If only of the breed that once saved Rome!

The flight of the Grand Duke from Florence in 1859, and his
conciliatory address to his late subjects after Villafranca, in which
by fair promises he hoped to win them back to their allegiance;
the union of Tuscany with the kingdom of Italy; the removal of the
Austrian flags from Milan; Garibaldi’s crusade in Sicily; the movement
upon Rome in 1862; Aspromonte,--all these events, with the shifting
phases of public feeling throughout that time, the alternate hopes and
fears of the Italian nation, are celebrated in the later Stornelli
of Dall’ Ongaro. Venice has long since fallen to Italy; and Rome has
become the capital of the nation. But the unification was not
accomplished till Garibaldi, who had done so much for Italy, had been
wounded by her king’s troops in his impatient attempt to expel the
French at Aspromonte.

    TO MY SONGS.

    Fly, O my songs, to Varignano, fly!
      Like some lost flock of swallows homeward flying,
    And hail me Rome’s Dictator, who there doth lie
      Broken with wounds, but conquered not, nor dying;
    Bid him think on the April that is nigh,
      Month of the flowers and ventures fear-defying.

    Or if it is not nigh, it soon shall come,
    As shall the swallow to his last year’s home,
    As on its naked stem the rose shall burn,
    As to the empty sky the stars return,
    As hope comes back to hearts crushed by regret;--
    Nay, say not this to his heart ne’er crushed yet!

Let us conclude these notices with one of the Stornelli which is
non-political, but which I think we won’t find the less agreeable for
that reason. I like it because it says a pretty thing or two very
daintily, and is interfused with a certain arch and playful spirit
which is not so common but we ought to be glad to recognize it.

    If you are good as you are fair, indeed,
      Keep to yourself those sweet eyes, I implore!
    A little flame burns under either lid
      That might in old age kindle youth once more:
    I am like a hermit in his cavern hid,
      But can I look on you and not adore?

    Fair, if you do not mean my misery
    Those lovely eyes lift upward to the sky;
    I shall believe you some saint shrined above,
    And may adore you if I may not love;
    I shall believe you some bright soul in bliss,
    And may look on you and not look amiss.

I have already noted the more obvious merits of the Stornelli, and I
need not greatly insist upon them. Their defects are equally plain;
one sees that their simplicity all but ceases to be a virtue at times,
and that at times their feeling is too much intellectualized. Yet for
all this we must recognize their excellence, and the skill as well
as the truth of the poet. It is very notable with what directness he
expresses his thought, and with what discretion he leaves it when
expressed. The form is always most graceful, and the success with
which dramatic, picturesque, and didactic qualities are blent, for
a sole effect, in the brief compass of the poems, is not too highly
praised in the epithet of novelty. Nothing is lost for the sake of
attitude; the actor is absent from the most dramatic touches, the
painter is not visible in lines which are each a picture, the teacher
does not appear for the purpose of enforcing the moral. It is not the
grandest poetry, but is true feeling, admirable art.



GIOVANNI PRATI


I

The Italian poet who most resembles in theme and treatment the German
romanticists of the second period was nearest them geographically in
his origin. Giovanni Prati was born at Dasindo, a mountain village of
the Trentino, and his boyhood was passed amidst the wild scenes of
that picturesque region, whose dark valleys and snowy, cloud-capped
heights, foaming torrents and rolling mists, lend their gloom and
splendor to so much of his verse. His family was poor, but it was
noble, and he received, through whatever sacrifice of those who
remained at home, the education of a gentleman, as the Italians
understand it. He went to school in Trent, and won some early laurels
by his Latin poems, which the good priests who kept the _collegio_
gathered and piously preserved in an album for the admiration and
emulation of future scholars; when in due time he matriculated at the
University of Padua as student of law, he again shone as a poet,
and there he wrote his “Edmenegarda”, a poem that gave him instant
popularity throughout Italy. When he quitted the university he visited
different parts of the country, “having the need” of frequent change
of scenes and impressions; but everywhere he poured out songs,
ballads, and romances, and was already a voluminous poet in 1840,
when, in his thirtieth year, he began to abandon his Teutonic phantoms
and hectic maidens, and to make Italy in various disguises the heroine
of his song. Whether Austria penetrated these disguises or not, he was
a little later ordered to leave Milan. He took refuge in Piedmont,
whose brave king, in spite of diplomatic remonstrances from his
neighbors, made Prati his _poeta cesareo_, or poet laureate. This was
in 1843; and five years later he took an active part in inciting with
his verse the patriotic revolts which broke out all over Italy. But
he was supposed by virtue of his office to be monarchical in his
sympathies, and when he ventured to Florence, the novelist Guerrezzi,
who was at the head of the revolutionary government there, sent the
poet back across the border in charge of a carbineer. In 1851 he had
the misfortune to write a poem in censure of Orsini’s attempt upon the
life of Napoleon III., and to take money for it from the gratified
emperor. He seems to have remained up to his death in the enjoyment of
his office at Turin. His latest poem, if one may venture to speak of
any as the last among poems poured out with such bewildering rapidity,
was “Satan and the Graces”, which De Sanctis made himself very merry
over.

The Edmenegarda, which first won him repute, was perhaps not more
youthful, but it was a subject that appealed peculiarly to the heart
of youth, and was sufficiently mawkish. All the characters of the
Edmenegarda were living at the time of its publication, and were
instantly recognized; yet there seems to have been no complaint
against the poet on their part, nor any reproach on the part of
criticism. Indeed, at least one of the characters was nattered by
the celebrity given him. “So great,” says Prati’s biographer, in the
_Gallerìa Nazionale_, “was the enthusiasm awakened everywhere, and in
every heart, by the Edmenegarda, that the young man portrayed in it,
under the name of Leoni, imagining himself to have become, through
Prati’s merit, an eminently poetical subject, presented himself to the
poet in the Caffè Pedrocchi at Padua, and returned him his warmest
thanks. Prati also made the acquaintance, at the Caffè Nazionale in
Turin, of his Edmenegarda, but after the wrinkles had seamed the
visage of his ideal, and canceled perhaps from her soul the memory of
anguish suffered.” If we are to believe this writer, the story of a
wife’s betrayal, abandonment by her lover, and repudiation by her
husband, produced effects upon the Italian public as various as
profound. “In this pathetic story of an unhappy love was found so much
truth of passion, so much naturalness of sentiment, and so much power,
that every sad heart was filled with love for the young poet, so
compassionate toward innocent misfortune, so sympathetic in form,
in thought, in sentiment. Prom that moment Prati became the poet of
suffering youth; in every corner of Italy the tender verses of the
Edmenegarda were read with love, and sometimes frenzied passion; the
political prisoners of Rome, of Naples, and Palermo found them a
grateful solace amid the privations and heavy tedium of incarceration;
many sundered lovers were reconjoined indissolubly in the kiss of
peace; more than one desperate girl was restrained from the folly of
suicide; and even the students in the ecclesiastical seminaries at
Milan revolted, as it were, against their rector, and petitioned
the Archbishop of Gaisruk that they might be permitted to read the
fantastic romance.”

{Illustration: GIOVANNI PRATI.}

What he was at first, Prati seems always to have remained in character
and in ideals. “Would you know the poet in ordinary of the king of
Sardinia?” says Marc-Monnier. “Go up the great street of the Po, under
the arcades to the left, around the Caffè Florio, which is the center
of Turin. If you meet a great youngster of forty years, with brown
hair, wandering eyes, long visage, lengthened by the imperial,
prominent nose, diminished by the mustache,--good head, in fine, and
proclaiming the artist at first glance, say to yourself that this is
he, give him your hand, and he will give you his. He is the openest of
Italians, and the best fellow in the world. It is here that he lives,
under the arcades. Do not look for his dwelling; he does not dwell,
he promenades. Life for him is not a combat nor a journey; it is a
saunter (_flânerie_), cigar in mouth, eyes to the wind; a comrade whom
he meets, and passes a pleasant word with; a group of men who talk
politics, and leave you to read the newspapers; _puis cà et là, par
hasard, une bonne fortune_; a woman or an artist who understands you,
and who listens while you talk of art or repeat your verses. Prati
lives so the whole year round. From time to time he disappears for a
week or two. Where is he? Nobody knows. You grow uneasy; you ask his
address: he has none. Some say he is ill; others, he is dead; but some
fine morning, cheerful as ever, he re-appears under the arcades. He
has come from the bottom of a wood or the top of a mountain, and he
has made two thousand verses.... He is hardly forty-one years old, and
he has already written a million lines. I have read seven volumes of
his, and I have not read all.”

I have not myself had the patience here boasted by M. Marc-Monnier;
but three or four volumes of Prati’s have sufficed to teach me the
spirit and purpose of his poetry. Born in 1815, and breathing his
first inspirations from that sense of romance blowing into Italy with
every northern gale,--a son of the Italian Tyrol, the region where the
fire meets the snow,--he has some excuse, if not a perfect reason, for
being half-German in his feeling. It is natural that Prati should love
the ballad form above all, and should pour into its easy verse the
wild legends heard during a boyhood passed among mountains and
mountaineers. As I read his poetic tales, with a little heart-break,
more or less fictitious, in each, I seem to have found again the sweet
German songs that fluttered away out of my memory long ago. There is
a tender light on the pages; a mistier passion than that of the south
breathes through the dejected lines; and in the ballads we see all our
old acquaintance once more,--the dying girls, the galloping horsemen,
the moonbeams, the familiar, inconsequent phantoms,--scarcely changed
in the least, and only betraying now and then that they have been at
times in the bad company of Lara, and Medora, and other dissipated and
vulgar people. The following poem will give some proof of all this,
and will not unfairly witness of the quality of Prati in most of the
poetry he has written:

    THE MIDNIGHT RIDE.

    I.

    Ruello, Ruello, devour the way!
      On your breath bear us with you, O winds, as ye swell!
    My darling, she lies near her death to-day,--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!

    That my spurs have torn open thy flanks, alas!
      With thy long, sad neighing, thou need’st not tell;
    We have many a league yet of desert to pass,--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!

    Hear’st that mocking laugh overhead in space?
      Hear’st the shriek of the storm, as it drives, swift and fell?
    A scent as of graves is blown into my face,--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!

    Ah, God! and if that be the sound I hear
      Of the mourner’s song and the passing-bell!
    O heaven! What see I? The cross and the bier?--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!

    Thou falt’rest, Ruello? Oh, courage, my steed!
      Wilt fail me, O traitor I trusted so well?
    The tempest roars over us,--halt not, nor heed!--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!

    Gallop, Ruello, oh, faster yet!
      Good God, that flash! O God! I am chill,--
    Something hangs on my eyelids heavy as death,--
      Gallop, gallop, gallop, Ruel!


    II.

    Smitten with the lightning stroke,
      From his seat the cavalier
    Fell, and forth the charger broke,
      Rider-free and mad with fear,--
    Through the tempest and the night,
    Like a winged thing in flight.

    In the wind his mane blown back,
      With a frantic plunge and neigh,--
    In the shadow a shadow black,
      Ever wilder he flies away,--
    Through the tempest and the night,
    Like a winged thing in flight.

    From his throbbing flanks arise
      Smokes of fever and of sweat,--
    Over him the pebble flies
      From his swift feet  swifter yet,--
    Through the tempest and the night,
    Like a winged thing in flight.

    From the cliff unto the wood,
      Twenty leagues he passed in all;
    Soaked with bloody foam and blood,
      Blind he struck against the wall:
    Death is in the seat; no more
    Stirs the steed that flew before.


    III.

    And the while, upon the colorless,
      Death-white visage of the dying
    Maiden, still and faint and fair,
      Rosy lights arise and wane;
    And her weakness lifting tremulous
      From the couch where she was lying
    Her long, beautiful, loose hair
      Strives she to adorn in vain.

    “Mother, what it is has startled me
      From my sleep I cannot tell thee:
    Only, rise and deck me well
      In my fairest robes again.
    For, last night, in the thick silences,--
      I know not how it befell me,--
    But the gallop of Ruel,
      More than once I heard it plain.

    “Look, O mother, through yon shadowy
      Trees, beyond their gloomy cover:
    Canst thou not an atom see
      Toward us from the distance start?
    Seest thou not the dust rise cloudily,
      And above the highway hover?
    Come at last! ‘T is he! ‘t is he!
      Mother, something breaks my heart.”

    Ah, poor child! she raises wearily
      Her dim eyes, and, turning slowly,
    Seeks the sun, and leaves this strife
      With a loved name in her breath.
    Ah, poor child! in vain she waited him.
      In the grave they made her lowly
    Bridal bed. And thou, O life!
      Hast no hopes that know not death?

Among Prati’s patriotic poems, I have read one which seems to me
rather vivid, and which because it reflects yet another phase of that
great Italian resurrection, as well as represents Prati in one of his
best moods, I will give here:

    THE SPY.

    With ears intent, with eyes abased,
    Like a shadow still my steps thou hast chased;
    If I whisper aught to my friend, I feel
    Thee follow quickly upon my heel.
    Poor wretch, thou fill’st me with loathing; fly!
                          Thou art a spy!

    When thou eatest the bread that thou dost win
    With the filthy wages of thy sin,
    The hideous face of treason anear
    Dost thou not see? dost thou not fear?
    Poor wretch, thou fill’st me with loathing; fly!
                          Thou art a spy!

    The thief may sometimes my pity claim;
    Sometimes the harlot for her shame;
    Even the murderer in his chains
    A hidden fear from me constrains;
    But thou only fill’st me with loathing; fly!
                          Thou art a spy!

    Fly, poor villain; draw thy hat down,
    Close be thy mantle about thee thrown;
    And if ever my words weigh on thy heart,
    Betake thyself to some church apart;
    There, “Lord, have mercy!” weep and cry:
                         “I am a spy!”

    Forgiveness for thy great sin alone
    Thou may’st hope to find before his throne.
    Dismayed by thy snares that all abhor,
    Brothers on earth thou hast no more;
    Poor wretch, thou fill’st me with loathing; fly!
                         Thou art a spy!



ALEARDO ALEARDI

I.

In the first quarter of the century was born a poet, in the village of
San Giorgio, near Verona, of parents who endowed their son with the
magnificent name of Aleardo Aleardi. His father was one of those small
proprietors numerous in the Veneto, and, though not indigent, was by
no means a rich man. He lived on his farm, and loved it, and tried to
improve the condition of his tenants. Aleardo’s childhood was spent in
the country,--a happy fortune for a boy anywhere, the happiest fortune
if that country be Italy, and its scenes the grand and beautiful
scenes of the valley of the Adige. Here he learned to love nature with
the passion that declares itself everywhere in his verse; and hence he
was in due time taken and placed at school in the Collegio {note:
Not a college in the American sense, but a private school of a high
grade.} of Sant’ Anastasia, in Verona, according to the Italian
system, now fallen into disuse, of fitting a boy for the world by
giving him the training of a cloister. It is not greatly to Aleardi’s
discredit that he seemed to learn nothing there, and that he drove his
reverend preceptors to the desperate course of advising his removal.
They told his father he would make a good farmer, but a scholar,
never. They nicknamed him the _mole_, for his dullness; but, in the
mean time, he was making underground progress of his own, and he came
to the surface one day, a mole no longer, to everybody’s amazement,
but a thing of such flight and song as they had never seen before,--in
fine, a poet. He was rather a scapegrace, after he ceased to be a
mole, at school; but when he went to the University at Padua, he
became conspicuous among the idle, dissolute students of that day for
temperate life and severe study. There he studied law, and learned
patriotism; political poetry and interviews with the police were the
consequence, but no serious trouble.

One of the offensive poems, which he says he and his friends had the
audacity to call an ode, was this:

    Sing we our country. ‘T is a desolate
          And frozen cemetery;
          Over its portals undulates
          A banner black and yellow;
          And within it throng the myriad
          Phantoms of slaves and kings:

    A man on a worn-out, tottering
          Throne watches o’er the tombs:
          The pallid lord of consciences,
          The despot of ideas.
          Tricoronate he vaunts himself
          And without crown is he.

In this poem the yellow and black flag is, of course, the Austrian,
and the enthroned man is the pope, of whose temporal power our
poet was always the enemy. “The Austrian police,” says Aleardi’s
biographer, “like an affectionate mother, anxious about everything,
came into possession of these verses; and the author was admonished,
in the way of maternal counsel, not to touch such topics, if he would
not lose the favor of the police, and be looked on as a prodigal son.”
 He had already been admonished for carrying a cane on the top of which
was an old Italian pound, or lira, with the inscription, Kingdom of
Italy,--for it was an offense to have such words about one in any way,
so trivial and petty was the cruel government that once reigned over
the Italians.

In due time he took that garland of paper laurel and gilt pasteboard
with which the graduates of Padua are sublimely crowned, and returned
to Verona, where he entered the office of an advocate to learn the
practical workings of the law. These disgusted him, naturally enough;
and it was doubtless far less to the hurt of his feelings than of his
fortune that the government always refused him the post of advocate.

In this time he wrote his first long poem, Arnaldo, which was
published at Milan in 1842, and which won him immediate applause. It
was followed by the tragedy of Bragadino; and in the year 1845 he
wrote Le Prime Storie, which he suffered to lie unpublished for twelve
years. It appeared in Verona in 1857, a year after the publication of
his Monte Circellio, written in 1846.

{Illustration: ALEARDO ALEARDI.}

The revolution of 1848 took place; the Austrians retired from the
dominion of Venice, and a provisional republican government, under the
presidency of Daniele Manin, was established, and Aleardi was sent as
one of its plenipotentiaries to Paris, where he learnt how many fine
speeches the friends of a struggling nation can make when they do not
mean to help it. The young Venetian republic fell. Aleardi left Paris,
and, after assisting at the ceremony of being bombarded in Bologna,
retired to Genoa. He later returned to Verona, and there passed
several years of tranquil study. In 1852, for the part he had taken
in the revolution, he was arrested and imprisoned in the fortress at
Mantua, thus fulfilling the destiny of an Italian poet of those times.

All the circumstances and facts of this arrest and imprisonment are so
characteristic of the Austrian method of governing Italy, that I do
not think it out of place to give them with some fullness. In the year
named, the Austrians were still avenging themselves upon the patriots
who had driven them out of Venetia in 1848, and their courts were
sitting in Mantua for the trial of political prisoners, many of whom
were exiled, sentenced to long imprisonment, or put to death. Aleardi
was first confined in the military prison at Verona, but was soon
removed to Mantua, whither several of his friends had already been
sent. All the other prisons being full, he was thrust into a place
which till now had seemed too horrible for use. It was a narrow room,
dark, and reeking with the dampness of the great dead lagoon which
surrounds Mantua. A broken window, guarded by several gratings, let in
a little light from above; the day in that cell lasted six hours,
the night eighteen. A mattress on the floor, and a can of water for
drinking, were the furniture. In the morning they brought him two
pieces of hard, black bread; at ten o’clock a thick soup of rice and
potatoes; and nothing else throughout the day. In this dungeon he
remained sixty days, without books, without pen or paper, without any
means of relieving the terrible gloom and solitude. At the end of this
time, he was summoned to the hall above to see his sister, whom he
tenderly loved. The light blinded him so that for a while he could not
perceive her, but he talked to her calmly and even cheerfully, that
she might not know what he had suffered. Then he was remanded to his
cell, where, as her retreating footsteps ceased upon his ear, he cast
himself upon the ground in a passion of despair. Three months passed,
and he had never seen the face of judge or accuser, though once the
prison inspector, with threats and promises, tried to entrap him into
a confession. One night his sleep was broken by a continued hammering;
in the morning half a score of his friends were hanged upon the
gallows which had been built outside his cell.

By this time his punishment had been so far mitigated that he had
been allowed a German grammar and dictionary, and for the first time
studied that language, on the literature of which he afterward
lectured in Florence. He had, like most of the young Venetians of his
day, hated the language, together with those who spoke it, until then.

At last, one morning at dawn, a few days after the execution of his
friends, Aleardi and others were thrust into carriages and driven to
the castle. There the roll of the prisoners was called; to several
names none answered, for those who had borne them were dead. Were the
survivors now to be shot, or sentenced to some prison in Bohemia or
Hungary? They grimly jested among themselves as to their fate. They
were marched out into the piazza, under the heavy rain, and there
these men who had not only not been tried for any crime, but had not
even been accused of any, received the grace of the imperial pardon.

Aleardi returned to Verona and to his books, publishing another poem
in 1856, called Le Città Italiane Marinare e Commercianti. His next
publication was, in 1857, Rafaello e la Fornarina; then followed Un’
Ora della mia Giovinezza, Le Tre Fiume, and Le Tre Fanciulle, in 1858.

The war of 1859 broke out between Austria and France and Italy.
Aleardi spent the brief period of the campaign in a military prison at
Verona, where his sympathies were given an ounce of prevention. He had
committed no offense, but at midnight the police appeared, examined
his papers, found nothing, and bade him rise and go to prison. After
the peace of Villafranca he was liberated, and left the Austrian
states, retiring first to Brescia, and then to Florence. His
publications since 1859 have been a Canto Politico and I Sette
Soldati. He was condemned for his voluntary exile, by the Austrian
courts, and I remember reading in the newspapers the official
invitation given him to come back to Verona and be punished. But,
oddly enough, he declined to do so.


II

The first considerable work of Aleardi was Le Prime Storie (Primal
Histories), in which he traces the course of the human race through
the Scriptural story of its creation, its fall, and its destruction by
the deluge, through the Greek and Latin days, through the darkness and
glory of the feudal times, down to our own,--following it from Eden
to Babylon and Tyre, from Tyre and Babylon to Athens and Rome, from
Florence and Genoa to the shores of the New World, full of shadowy
tradition and the promise of a peaceful and happy future.

He takes this fruitful theme, because he feels it to be alive with
eternal interest, and rejects the well-worn classic fables, because

    Under the bushes of the odorous mint
    The Dryads are buried, and the placid Dian
    Guides now no longer through the nights below
    Th’ invulnerable hinds and pearly car,
    To bless the Carian shepherd’s dreams. No more
    The valley echoes to the stolen kisses,
    Or to the twanging bow, or to the bay
    Of the immortal hounds, or to the Fauns’
    Plebeian laughter. From the golden rim
    Of shells, dewy with pearl, in ocean’s depths
    The snowy loveliness of Galatea
    Has fallen; and with her, their endless sleep
    In coral sepulchers the Nereids
    Forgotten sleep in peace.

The poet cannot turn to his theme, however, without a sad and scornful
apostrophe to his own land, where he figures himself sitting by the
way, and craving of the frivolous, heartless, luxurious Italian
throngs that pass the charity of love for Italy. They pass him by
unheeded, and he cries:

                             Hast thou seen
    In the deep circle of the valley of Siddim,
    Under the shining skies of Palestine,
    The sinister glitter of the Lake of Asphalt?
    Those coasts, strewn thick with ashes of damnation,
    Forever foe to every living thing,
    Where rings the cry of the lost wandering bird
    That, on the shore of the perfidious sea,
    Athirsting dies,--that watery sepulcher
    Of the five cities of iniquity,
    Where even the tempest, when its clouds hang low,
    Passes in silence, and the lightning dies,--
    If thou hast seen them, bitterly hath been
    Thy heart wrung with the misery and despair
    Of that dread vision!

                             Yet there is on earth
    A woe more desperate and miserable,--
    A spectacle wherein the wrath of God
    Avenges him more terribly. It is
    A vain, weak people of faint-heart old men,
    That, for three hundred years of dull repose,
    Has lain perpetual dreamer, folded in
    The ragged purple of its ancestors,
    Stretching its limbs wide in its country’s sun,
    To warm them; drinking the soft airs of autumn
    Forgetful, on the fields where its forefathers
    Like lions fought! From overflowing hands,
    Strew we with hellebore and poppies thick
    The way.

But the throngs have passed by, and the poet takes up his theme. Abel
sits before an altar upon the borders of Eden, and looks with an
exile’s longing toward the Paradise of his father, where, high above
all the other trees, he beholds,

    Lording it proudly in the garden’s midst,
    The guilty apple with its fatal beauty.

He weeps; and Cain, furiously returning from the unaccepted labor of
the fields, lifts his hand against his brother.

                        It was at sunset;
    The air was severed with a mother’s shriek,
    And stretched beside the o’erturned altar’s foot
    Lay the first corse.

                        Ah! that primal stain
    Of blood that made earth hideous, did forebode
    To all the nations of mankind to come

    The cruel household stripes, and the relentless
    Battles of civil wars, the poisoned cup,
    The gleam of axes lifted up to strike
    The prone necks on the block.

                       The fratricide
    Beheld that blood amazed, and from on high
    He heard the awful voice of cursing leap,
    And in the middle of his forehead felt
    God’s lightning strike....

                    ....And there from out the heart
    All stained with guiltiness emerged the coward
    Religion that is born of loveless fears.

    And, moved and shaken like a conscious thing,
    The tree of sin dilated horribly
    Its frondage over all the land and sea,
    And with its poisonous shadow followed far
    The flight of Cain....
                        .... And he who first
    By th’ arduous solitudes and by the heights
    And labyrinths of the virgin earth conducted
    This ever-wandering, lost Humanity
    Was the Accursed.

Cain passes away, and his children fill the world, and the joy of
guiltless labor brightens the poet’s somber verse.

    The murmur of the works of man arose
    Up from the plains; the caves reverberated
    The blows of restless hammers that revealed,
    Deep in the bowels of the fruitful hills,
    The iron and the faithless gold, with rays
    Of evil charm. And all the cliffs repeated
    The beetle’s fall, and the unceasing leap
    Of waters on the paddles of the wheel
    Volubly busy; and with heavy strokes
    Upon the borders of the inviolate woods
    The ax was heard descending on the trees,
    Upon the odorous bark of mighty pines.
    Over the imminent upland’s utmost brink
    The blonde wild-goat stretched forth his neck to meet
    The unknown sound, and, caught with sudden fear,
    Down the steep bounded, and the arrow cut
    Midway the flight of his aerial foot.

So all the wild earth was tamed to the hand of man, and the wisdom of
the stars began to reveal itself to the shepherds,

    Who, in the leisure of the argent nights,
    Leading their flocks upon a sea of meadows,

turned their eyes upon the heavenly bodies, and questioned them in
their courses. But a taint of guilt was in all the blood of Cain,
which the deluge alone could purge.

    And beautiful beyond all utterance
    Were the earth’s first-born daughters. Phantasms these
    That now enamor us decrepit, by
    The light of that prime beauty! And the glance
    Those ardent sinners darted had beguiled
    God’s angels even, so that the Lord’s command
    Was weaker than the bidding of their eyes.
    And there were seen, descending from on high,
    His messengers, and in the tepid eyes
    Gathering their flight about the secret founts
    Where came the virgins wandering sole to stretch
    The nude pomp of their perfect loveliness.
    Caught by some sudden flash of light afar,
    The shepherd looked, and deemed that he beheld
    A fallen star, and knew not that he saw
    A fallen angel, whose distended wings,
    All tremulous with voluptuous delight,
    Strove vainly to lift him to the skies again.
    The earth with her malign embraces blest
    The heavenly-born, and they straightway forgot
    The joys of God’s eternal paradise
    For the brief rapture of a guilty love.
    And from these nuptials, violent and strange,
    A strange and violent race of giants rose;
    A chain of sin had linked the earth to heaven;
    And God repented him of his own work.

The destroying rains descended,

                          And the ocean rose,
    And on the cities and the villages
    The terror fell apace. There was a strife
    Of suppliants at the altars; blasphemy
    Launched at the impotent idols and the kings;
    There were embraces desperate and dear,
    And news of suddenest forgivenesses,
    And a relinquishment of all sweet things;
    And, guided onward by the pallid prophets,
    The people climbed, with lamentable cries,
    In pilgrimage up the mountains.

                          But in vain;
    For swifter than they climbed the ocean rose,
    And hid the palms, and buried the sepulchers
    Far underneath the buried pyramids;
    And the victorious billow swelled and beat
    At eagles’ Alpine nests, extinguishing
    All lingering breath of life; and dreadfuller
    Than the yell rising from the battle-field
    Seemed the hush of every human sound.

      On the high solitude of the waters naught
    Was seen but here and there unfrequently
    A frail raft, heaped with languid men that fought
    Weakly with one another for the grass
    Hanging about a cliff not yet submerged,
    And here and there a drowned man’s head, and here
    And there a file of birds, that beat the air
    With weary wings.

After the deluge, the race of Noah repeoples the empty world, and the
history of mankind begins anew in the Orient. Rome is built, and the
Christian era dawns, and Rome falls under the feet of the barbarians.
Then the enthusiasm of Christendom sweeps toward the East, in the
repeated Crusades; and then, “after long years of twilight”, Dante,
the sun of Italian civilization, rises; and at last comes the dream of
another world, unknown to the eyes of elder times.

      But between that and our shore roared diffuse
    Abysmal seas and fabulous hurricanes
    Which, thought on, blanched the faces of the bold;
    For the dread secret of the heavens was then
    The Western world. Yet on the Italian coasts
    A boy grew into manhood, in whose soul
    The instinct of the unknown continent burned.
    He saw in his prophetic mind depicted
    The opposite visage of the earth, and, turning
    With joyful defiance to the ocean, sailed
    Forth with two secret pilots, God and Genius.
    Last of the prophets, he returned in chains
    And glory.

In the New World are the traces, as in the Old, of a restless
humanity, wandering from coast to coast, growing, building cities,
and utterly vanishing. There are graves and ruins everywhere; and the
poet’s thought returns from these scenes of unstoried desolation, to
follow again the course of man in the Old World annals. But here,
also, he is lost in the confusion of man’s advance and retirement, and
he muses:

    How many were the peoples? Where the trace
    Of their lost steps? Where the funereal fields
    In which they sleep? Go, ask the clouds of heaven
    How many bolts are hidden in their breasts,
    And when they shall be launched; and ask the path
    That they shall keep in the unfurrowed air.
    The peoples passed. Obscure as destiny,
    Forever stirred by secret hope, forever
    Waiting upon the promised mysteries,
    Unknowing God, that urged them, turning still
    To some kind star,--they swept o’er the sea-weed
    In unknown waters, fearless swam the course
    Of nameless rivers, wrote with flying feet
    The mountain pass on pathless snows; impatient
    Of rest, for aye, from Babylon to Memphis,
    From the Acropolis to Rome, they hurried.

      And with them passed their guardian household gods,
    And faithful wisdom of their ancestors,
    And the seed sown in mother fields, and gathered,
    A fruitful harvest in their happier years.
    And, ‘companying the order of their steps
    Upon the way, they sung the choruses
    And sacred burdens of their country’s songs,
    And, sitting down by hospitable gates,
    They told the histories of their far-off cities.
    And sometimes in the lonely darknesses
    Upon the ambiguous way they found a light,--
    The deathless lamp of some great truth, that Heaven
    Sent in compassionate answer to their prayers.

      But not to all was given it to endure
    That ceaseless pilgrimage, and not on all
    Did the heavens smile perennity of life
    Revirginate with never-ceasing change;
    And when it had completed the great work
    Which God had destined for its race to do,
    Sometimes a weary people laid them down
    To rest them, like a weary man, and left
    Their nude bones in a vale of expiation,
    And passed away as utterly forever
    As mist that snows itself into the sea.

The poet views this growth of nations from youth to decrepitude, and,
coming back at last to himself and to his own laud and time, breaks
forth into a lament of grave and touching beauty:

    Muse of an aged people, in the eve
    Of fading civilization, I was born
    Of kindred that have greatly expiated
    And greatly wept. For me the ambrosial fingers
    Of Graces never wove the laurel crown,
    But the Fates shadowed, from my youngest days,
    My brow with passion-flowers, and I have lived
    Unknown to my dear land. Oh, fortunate
    My sisters that in the heroic dawn
    Of races sung! To them did destiny give
    The virgin fire and chaste ingenuousness
    Of their land’s speech; and, reverenced, their hands
    Ran over potent strings. To me, the hopes
    Turbid with hate; to me, the senile rage;
    To me, the painted fancies clothed by art
    Degenerate; to me, the desperate wish,
    Not in my soul to nurse ungenerous dreams,
    But to contend, and with the sword of song
    To fight my battles too.

Such is the spirit, such is the manner, of the Prime Storie of
Aleardi. The merits of the poem are so obvious, that it seems scarcely
profitable to comment upon its picturesqueness, upon the clearness
and ease of its style, upon the art which quickens its frequent
descriptions of nature with a human interest. The defects of the poem
are quite as plain, and I have again to acknowledge the critical
acuteness of Arnaud, who says of Aleardi: “Instead of synthetizing
his conceptions, and giving relief to the principal lines, the poet
lingers caressingly upon the particulars, preferring the descriptive
to the dramatic element. Prom this results poetry of beautiful
arabesques and exquisite fragments, of harmonious verse and brilliant
diction.”

Nevertheless, the same critic confesses that the poetry of Aleardi “is
not academically common”, and pleases by the originality of its very
mannerism.


III.

Like Primal Histories, the Hour of my Youth is a contemplative poem,
to which frequency of episode gives life and movement; but its scope
is less grand, and the poet, recalling his early days, remembers
chiefly the events of defeated revolution which give such heroic
sadness and splendor to the history of the first third of this
century. The work is characterized by the same opulence of diction,
and the same luxury of epithet and imagery, as the Primal Histories,
but it somehow fails to win our interest in equal degree: perhaps
because the patriot now begins to overshadow the poet, and appeal
is often made rather to the sympathies than the imagination. It is
certain that art ceases to be less, and country more, in the poetry
of Aleardi from this time. It could scarcely be otherwise; and had it
been otherwise, the poet would have become despicable, not great, in
the eyes of his countrymen.

The Hour of my Youth opens with a picture, where, for once at least,
all the brilliant effects are synthetized; the poet has ordered here
the whole Northern world, and you can dream of nothing grand or
beautiful in those lonely regions which you do not behold in it.

    Ere yet upon the unhappy Arctic lands,
    In dying autumn, Erebus descends
    With the night’s thousand hours, along the verge
    Of the horizon, like a fugitive,
    Through the long days wanders the weary sun;
    And when at last under the wave is quenched
    The last gleam of its golden countenance,
    Interminable twilight land and sea
    Discolors, and the north-wind covers deep
    All things in snow, as in their sepulchers
    The dead are buried. In the distances
    The shock of warring Cyclades of ice
    Makes music as of wild and strange lament;
    And up in heaven now tardily are lit
    The solitary polar star and seven
    Lamps of the Bear. And now the warlike race
    Of swans gather their hosts upon the breast
    Of some far gulf, and, bidding their farewell
    To the white cliffs, and slender junipers,
    And sea-weed bridal-beds, intone the song
    Of parting, and a sad metallic clang
    Send through the mists. Upon their southward way
    They greet the beryl-tinted icebergs; greet
    Flamy volcanoes, and the seething founts
    Of Geysers, and the melancholy yellow
    Of the Icelandic fields; and, wearying,
    Their lily wings amid the boreal lights,
    Journey away unto the joyous shores
    Of morning.

In a strain of equal nobility, but of more personal and subjective
effect, the thought is completed:

    So likewise, my own soul, from these obscure
    Days without glory, wings its flight afar
    Backward, and journeys to the years of youth
    And morning. Oh, give me back once more,
    Oh, give me, Lord, one hour of youth again!
    For in that time I was serene and bold,
    And uncontaminate, and enraptured with
    The universe. I did not know the pangs
    Of the proud mind, nor the sweet miseries
    Of love; and I had never gathered yet,
    After those fires so sweet in burning, bitter
    Handfuls of ashes, that, with tardy tears
    Sprinkled, at last have nourished into bloom
    The solitary flower of penitence.
    The baseness of the many was unknown,
    And civic woes had not yet sown with salt
    Life’s narrow field. Ah! then the infinite
    Voices that Nature sends her worshipers
    From land, from sea, and from the cloudy depths
    Of heaven smote the echoing soul of youth
    To music. And at the first morning sigh
    Of the poor wood-lark,--at the measured bell
    Of homeward flocks, and at the opaline wings
    Of dragon-flies in their aërial dances
    Above the gorgeous carpets of the marsh,--
    At the wind’s moan, and at the sudden gleam
    Of lamps lighting in some far town by night,--
    And at the dash of rain that April shoots
    Through the air odorous with the smitten dust,--
    My spirits rose, and glad and swift my thought
    Over the sea of being sped all-sails.

There is a description of a battle, in the Hour of my Youth, which.
I cannot help quoting before I leave the poem. The battle took place
between the Austrians and the French on the 14th of January, 1797, in
the Chiusa, a narrow valley near Verona, and the fiercest part of the
fight was for the possession of the hill of Rivoli.

                     Clouds of smoke
    Floated along the heights; and, with her wild,
    Incessant echo, Chiusa still repeated
    The harmony of the muskets. Rival hosts
    Contended for the poverty of a hill
    That scarce could give their number sepulcher;
    But from that hill-crest waved the glorious locks
    Of Victory. And round its bloody spurs,
    Taken and lost with fierce vicissitude,
    Serried and splendid, swept and tempested
    Long-haired dragoons, together with the might
    Of the Homeric foot, delirious
    With fury; and the horses with their teeth
    Tore one another, or, tossing wild their manes,
    Fled with their helpless riders up the crags,
    By strait and imminent paths of rock, till down,
    Like angels thunder-smitten, to the depths
    Of that abyss the riders fell. With slain
    Was heaped the dreadful amphitheater;
    The rocks dropped blood; and if with gasping breath
    Some wounded swimmer beat away the waves
    Weakly between him and the other shore,
    The merciless riflemen from the cliffs above,
    With their inexorable aim, beneath
    The waters sunk him.

The Monte Circellio is part of a poem in four cantos, dispersed, it
is said, to avoid the researches of the police, in which the poet
recounts in picturesque verse the glories and events of the Italian
land and history through which he passes. A slender but potent cord
of common feeling unites the episodes, and the lament for the present
fate of Italy rises into hope for her future. More than half of the
poem is given to a description of the geological growth of the earth,
in which the imagination of the poet has unbridled range, and in which
there is a success unknown to most other attempts to poetize the facts
of science. The epochs of darkness and inundation, of the monstrous
races of bats and lizards, of the mammoths and the gigantic
vegetation, pass, and, after thousands of years, the earth is tempered
and purified to the use of man by fire; and that

             Paradise of land and sea, forever
    Stirred by great hopes and by volcanic fires,
    Called Italy,

takes shape: its burning mountains rise, its valleys sink, its plains
extend, its streams run. But first of all, the hills of Rome lifted
themselves from the waters, that day when the spirit of God dwelling
upon their face

    Saw a fierce group of seven enkindled hills,
    In number like the mystic candles lighted
    Within his future temple. Then he bent
    Upon that mystic pleiades of flame
    His luminous regard, and spoke to it:
    “Thou art to be my Rome.” The harmony
    Of that note to the nebulous heights supreme,
    And to the bounds of the created world,
    Rolled like the voice of myriad organ-stops,
    And sank, and ceased. The heavenly orbs resumed
    Their daily dance and their unending journey;
    A mighty rush of plumes disturbed the rest
    Of the vast silence; here and there like stars
    About the sky, flashed the immortal eyes
    Of choral angels following after him.

The opening lines of Monte Circellio are scarcely less beautiful than
the first part of Un’ Ora della mia Giovinezza, but I must content
myself with only one other extract from the poem, leaving the rest
to the reader of the original. The fact that every summer the Roman
hospitals are filled with the unhappy peasants who descend from the
hills of the Abruzzi to snatch its harvests from the feverish Campagna
will help us to understand all the meaning of the following passage,
though nothing could add to its pathos, unless, perhaps, the story
given by Aleardi in a note at the foot of his page: “How do you live
here?” asked a traveler of one of the peasants who reap the Campagna.
The Abruzzese answered, “Signor, we die.”

                                     What time,
    In hours of summer, sad with so much light,
    The sun beats ceaselessly upon the fields,
    The harvesters, as famine urges them,
    Draw hither in thousands, and they wear
    The look of those that dolorously go
    In exile, and already their brown eyes
    Are heavy with the poison of the air.
    Here never note of amorous bird consoles
    Their drooping hearts; here never the gay songs
    Of their Abruzzi sound to gladden these
    Pathetic hands. But taciturn they toil,
    Reaping the harvest for their unknown lords;
    And when the weary tabor is performed,
    Taciturn they retire; and not till then
    Their bagpipes crown the joys of the return,
    Swelling the heart with their familiar strain.
    Alas! not all return, for there is one
    That dying in the furrow sits, and seeks
    With his last look some faithful kinsman out,
    To give his life’s wage, that he carry it
    Unto his trembling mother, with the last
    Words of her son that comes no more. And dying,
    Deserted and alone, far off he hears
    His comrades going, with their pipes in time
    Joyfully measuring their homeward steps.
    And when in after years an orphan comes
    To reap the harvest here, and feels his blade
    Go quivering through the swaths of falling grain,
    He weeps and thinks: haply these heavy stalks
    Ripened on his unburied father’s bones.

In the poem called The Marine and Commercial Cities of Italy (Le Città
Italiane Marinare e Commercianti), Aleardi recounts the glorious rise,
the jealousies, the fratricidal wars, and the ignoble fall of Venice,
Florence, Pisa, and Genoa, in strains of grandeur and pathos; he has
pride in the wealth and freedom of those old queens of traffic,
and scorn and lamentation for the blind selfishness that kept them
Venetian, Florentine, Pisan, and Genoese, and never suffered them
to be Italian. I take from this poem the prophetic vision of the
greatness of Venice, which, according to the patriotic tradition of
Sabellico, Saint Mark beheld five hundred years before the foundation
of the city, when one day, journeying toward Aquileja, his ship lost
her course among the islands of the lagoons. The saint looked out over
those melancholy swamps, and saw the phantom of a Byzantine cathedral
rest upon the reeds, while a multitudinous voice broke the silence
with the Venetian battle-cry, “Viva San Marco!” The lines that follow
illustrate the pride and splendor of Venetian story, and are notable,
I think, for a certain lofty grace of movement and opulence of
diction.

    There thou shalt lie, O Saint!{1} but compassed round
    Thickly by shining groves
    Of pillars; on thy regal portico,
    Lifting their glittering and impatient hooves,
    Corinth’s fierce steeds shall bound;{2}
    And at thy name, the hymn of future wars,
    From their funereal caves
    The bandits of the waves
    Shall fly in exile;{3} brought from bloody fields
    Hard won and lost in far-off Palestine,
    The glimmer of a thousand Arab moons
    Shall fill thy broad lagoons;
    And on the false Byzantine’s towers shall climb
    A blind old man sublime,{4}
    Whom victory shall behold
    Amidst his enemies with thy sacred flag,
    All battle-rent, unrolled.

Notes:

{1} The bones of St. Mark repose in his church at Venice.

{2} The famous bronze horses of St. Mark’s still shine with the gold
that once covered them.

{3} Venice early swept the Adriatic of the pirates who infested it.

{4} The Doge Enrico Dandolo, who, though blind and bowed with eighty
years of war, was the first to plant the banner of Saint Mark on the
walls of Constantinople when that city was taken by the Venetians and
Crusaders.


The late poems of Aleardi are nearly all in this lyrical form, in
which the thought drops and rises with ceaseless change of music,
and which wins the reader of many empty Italian canzoni by the mere
delight of its movement. It is well adapted to the subjects for which
Aleardi has used it; it has a stateliness and strength of its own, and
its alternate lapse and ascent give animation to the ever-blending
story and aspiration, appeal or reflection. In this measure are
written The Three Rivers, The Three Maidens, and The Seven Soldiers.
The latter is a poem of some length, in which the poet, figuring
himself upon a battle-field on the morrow after a combat between
Italians and Austrians, “wanders among the wounded in search of
expiated sins and of unknown heroism. He pauses,” continues his
eloquent biographer in the _Galleria Nazionale_, “to meditate on the
death of the Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian, Croatian, Austrian, and
Tyrolese soldiers, who personify the nationalities oppressed by the
tyranny of the house of Hapsburg. A minister of God, praying beside
the corpses of two friends, Pole and Hungarian, hails the dawn of the
Magyar resurrection. Then rises the grand figure of Sandor Petofi,
‘the patriotic poet of Hungary,’ whose life was a hymn, and whose
miraculous re-appearance will, according to popular superstition, take
place when Hungary is freed from her chains. The poem closes with a
prophecy concerning the destinies of Austria and Italy.” Like all the
poems of Aleardi, it abounds in striking lines; but the interest,
instead of gathering strongly about one central idea, diffuses itself
over half-forgotten particulars of revolutionary history, and the
sympathy of the reader is fatigued and confused with the variety of
the demand upon it.

For this reason, The Three Rivers and The Three Maidens are more
artistic poems: in the former, the poet seeks vainly a promise of
Italian greatness and unity on the banks of Tiber and of Arno, but
finds it by the Po, where the war of 1859 is beginning; in the latter,
three maidens recount to the poet stories of the oppression which has
imprisoned the father of one, despoiled another’s house through the
tax-gatherer, and sent the brother of the third to languish, the
soldier-slave of his tyrants, in a land where “the wife washes the
garments of her husband, yet stained with Italian blood”.

A very little book holds all the poems which Aleardi has written, and
I have named them nearly all. He has in greater degree than any other
Italian poet of this age, or perhaps of any age, those qualities
which English taste of this time demands--quickness of feeling and
brilliancy of expression. He lacks simplicity of idea, and his style
is an opal which takes all lights and hues, rather than the crystal
which lets the daylight colorlessly through. He is distinguished no
less by the themes he selects than by the expression he gives them.
In his poetry there is passion, but his subjects are usually those to
which love is accessory rather than essential; and he cares better to
sing of universal and national destinies as they concern individuals,
than the raptures and anguishes of youthful individuals as they
concern mankind. The poet may be wrong in this, but he achieves an
undeniable novelty in it, and I confess that I read him willingly on
account of it.

In taking leave of him, I feel that I ought to let him have the last
word, which is one of self-criticism, and, I think, singularly just.
He refers to the fact of his early life, that his father forbade him
to be a painter, and says: “Not being allowed to use the pencil, I
have used the pen. And precisely on this account my pen resembles
too much a pencil; precisely on this account I am too much of a
naturalist, and am too fond of losing myself in minute details. I am
as one, who, in walking, goes leisurely along, and stops every moment
to observe the dash of light that breaks through the trees of the
woods, the insect that alights on his hand, the leaf that falls on
his head, a cloud, a wave, a streak of smoke; in fine, the thousand
accidents that make creation so rich, so various, so poetical, and
beyond which we evermore catch glimpses of that grand, mysterious
something, eternal, immense, benignant, and never inhuman or cruel, as
some would have us believe, which is called God.”



GUILIO CARCANO, ARNALDO FUSINATO AND LUIGI MERCANTINI


No one could be more opposed, in spirit and method, to Aleardo Aleardi
than Giulio Carcano; but both of these poets betray love and study
of English masters. In the former there is something to remind us of
Milton, of Ossian, who is still believed a poet in Latin countries,
and of Byron; and in the latter, Arnaud notes very obvious
resemblances to Gray, Crabbe, and Wordsworth in the simplicity or the
proud humility of the theme, and the courage of its treatment. The
critic declares the poet’s aesthetic creed to be God, the family, and
country; and in a beautiful essay on Domestic Poetry, written amidst
the universal political discouragement of 1839, Carcano himself
declares that in the cultivation of a popular and homelike feeling in
literature the hope of Italy no less than of Italian poetry lies. He
was ready to respond to the impulses of the nation’s heart, which he
had felt in his communion with its purest and best life, when, in
later years, its expectation gave place to action, and many of his
political poems are bold and noble. But his finest poems are those
which celebrate the affections of the household, and poetize the
pathetic beauty of toil and poverty in city and country. He sings with
a tenderness peculiarly winning of the love of mothers and children,
and I shall give the best notion of the poet’s best in the following
beautiful lullaby, premising merely that the title of the poem is the
Italian infantile for sleep:

    Sleep, sleep, sleep! my little girl:
    Mother is near thee. Sleep, unfurl
    Thy veil o’er the cradle where baby lies!
    Dream, baby, of angels in the skies!
    On the sorrowful earth, in hopeless quest,
    Passes the exile without rest;
    Where’er he goes, in sun or snow,
    Trouble and pain beside him go.

    But when I look upon thy sleep,
    And hear thy breathing soft and deep,
    My soul turns with a faith serene
    To days of sorrow that have been,
    And I feel that of love and happiness
    Heaven has given my life excess;
    The Lord in his mercy gave me thee,
    And thou in truth art part of me!

    Thou knowest not, as I bend above thee,
    How much I love thee, how much I love thee;
    Thou art the very life of my heart,
    Thou art my joy, thou art my smart!
    Thy day begins uncertain, child:
    Thou art a blossom in the wild;
    But over thee, with his wings abroad,
    Blossom, watches the angel of God.

    Ah! wherefore with so sad a face
    Must thy father look on thy happiness?
    In thy little bed he kissed thee now,
    And dropped a tear upon thy brow.
    Lord, to this mute and pensive soul
    Temper the sharpness of his dole:
    Give him peace whose love my life hath kept:
    He too has hoped, though he has wept.

    And over thee, my own delight,
    Watch that sweet Mother, day and night,
    To whom the exiles consecrate
    Altar and heart in every fate.
    By her name I have called my little girl;
    But on life’s sea, in the tempest’s whirl,
    Thy helpless mother, my darling, may
    Only tremble and only pray!

    Sleep, sleep, sleep! my baby dear;
    Dream of the light of some sweet star.
    Sleep, sleep! and I will keep
    Thoughtful vigils above thy sleep.
    Oh, in the days that are to come,
    With unknown trial and unknown doom,
    Thy little heart can ne’er love me
    As thy mother loves and shall love thee!


II

Arnaldo Fusinato of Padua has written for the most part comic poetry,
his principal piece of this sort being one in which he celebrates
and satirizes the student-life at the University of Padua. He had
afterward to make a formal reparation to the students, which he did in
a poem singing their many virtues. The original poem of The Student is
a rather lively series of pictures, from which we learn that it
was once the habit of studious youth at Padua, when freshmen, or
_matricolini_, to be terrible dandies, to swear aloud upon the public
ways, to pass whole nights at billiards, to be noisy at the theater,
to stand treat for the Seniors, joyfully to lend these money, and to
acquire knowledge of the world at any cost. Later, they advanced to
the dignity of breaking street-lamps and of being arrested by the
Austrian garrison, for in Padua the students were under a kind of
martial law. Sometimes they were expelled; they lost money at play,
and wrote deceitful letters to their parents for more; they shunned
labor, and failed to take degrees. But we cannot be interested in
traits so foreign to what I understand is our own student-life.
Generally, the comic as well as the sentimental poetry of Fusinato
deals with incidents of popular life; and, of course, it has hits
at the fleeting fashions and passing sensations: for example, Il
Bloomerismo is satirized.

The poem which I translate, however, is in a different strain from any
of these. It will be remembered that when the Austrians returned to
take Venice in 1849, after they had been driven out for eighteen
months, the city stood a bombardment of many weeks, contesting every
inch of the approach with the invaders. But the Venetians were very
few in number, and poorly equipped; a famine prevailed among them; the
cholera broke out, and raged furiously; the bombs began to drop into
the square of St. Mark, and then the Venetians yielded, and ran up the
white flag on the dearly contested lagoon bridge, by which the railway
traveler enters the city. The poet is imagined in one of the little
towns on the nearest main-land.

    The twilight is deepening, still is the wave;
    I sit by the window, mute as by a grave;
    Silent, companionless, secret I pine;
    Through tears where thou liest I look, Venice mine.

    On the clouds brokenly strewn through the west
    Dies the last ray of the sun sunk to rest;
    And a sad sibilance under the moon
    Sighs from the broken heart of the lagoon.

    Out of the city a boat draweth near:
    “You of the gondola! tell us what cheer!”
     “Bread lacks, the cholera deadlier grows;
    From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows.”

    No, no, nevermore on so great woe,
    Bright sun of Italy, nevermore glow!
    But o’er Venetian hopes shattered so soon,
    Moan in thy sorrow forever, lagoon!

    Venice, to thee comes at last the last hour;
    Martyr illustrious, in thy foe’s power;
    Bread lacks, the cholera deadlier grows;
    From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows.

    Not all the battle-flames over thee streaming;
    Not all the numberless bolts o’er thee screaming;
    Not for these terrors thy free days are dead:
    Long live Venice! She’s dying for bread!

    On thy immortal page, sculpture, O Story,
    Others’iniquity, Venice’s glory;
    And three times infamous ever be he
    Who triumphed by famine, O Venice, o’er thee.

    Long live Venice! Undaunted she fell;
    Bravely she fought for her banner and well;
    But bread lacks; the cholera deadlier grows;
    From the lagoon bridge the white banner blows.

    And now be shivered upon the stone here
    Till thou be free again, O lyre I bear.
    Unto thee, Venice, shall be my last song,
    To thee the last kiss and the last tear belong.

    Exiled and lonely, from hence I depart,
    But Venice forever shall live in my heart;
    In my heart’s sacred place Venice shall be
    As is the face of my first love to me.

    But the wind rises, and over the pale
    Face of its waters the deep sends a wail;
    Breaking, the chords shriek, and the voice dies.
    On the lagoon bridge the white banner flies!


III

Among the later Italian poets is Luigi Mercantini, of Palermo, who has
written almost entirely upon political themes--events of the different
revolutions and attempts at revolution in which Italian history
so abounds. I have not read him so thoroughly as to warrant me in
speaking very confidently about him, but from the examination which
I have given his poetry, I think that he treats his subjects with as
little inflation as possible, and he now and then touches a point of
naturalness--the high-water mark of balladry, to which modern poets,
with their affected unaffectedness and elaborate simplicity, attain
only with the greatest pains and labor. Such a triumph of Mercantini’s
is this poem which I am about to give. It celebrates the daring and
self-sacrifice of three hundred brave young patriots, led by Carlo
Pisacane, who landed on the coast of Naples in 1857, for the purpose
of exciting a revolution against the Bourbons, and were all killed. In
a note the poet reproduces the pledge signed by these young heroes,
which is so fine as not to be marred even by their dramatic, almost
theatrical, consciousness.

  We who are here written down, having all sworn,
  despising the calumnies of the vulgar, strong in the
  justice of our cause and the boldness of our spirits, do
  solemnly declare ourselves the initiators of the Italian
  revolution. If the country does not respond to our appeal,
  we, without reproaching it, will know how to die
  like brave men, following the noble phalanx of Italian
  martyrs. Let any other nation of the world find men
  who, like us, shall immolate themselves to liberty, and
  then only may it compare itself to Italy, though she still
  be a slave.

Mercantini puts his poem in the mouth of a peasant girl, and calls it

    THE GLEANER OF SAPRI.

    They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead!
    That morning I was going out to glean;
    A ship in the middle of the sea was seen
    A barque it was of those that go by steam,
    And from its top a tricolor flag did stream.
    It anchored off the isle of Ponza; then
    It stopped awhile, and then it turned again
    Toward this place, and here they came ashore.
    They came with arms, but not on us made war.
    They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead!

    They came in arms, but not on us made war;
    But down they stooped until they kissed the shore,
    And one by one I looked them in the face,--
    A tear and smile in each one I could trace.
    They were all thieves and robbers, their foes said.
    They never took from us a loaf of bread.
    I heard them utter nothing but this cry:
    “We have come to die, for our dear land to die.”
     They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead!

    With his blue eyes and with his golden hair
    There was a youth that marched before them there,
    And I made bold and took him by the hand,
    And “Whither goest thou, captain of this band?”
     He looked at me and said: “Oh, sister mine,
    I’m going to die for this dear land of thine.”
     I felt my bosom tremble through and through;
    I could not say, “May the Lord help you!”
     They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead!

    I did forget to glean afield that day,
    But after them I wandered on their way.
    And twice I saw them fall on the gendarmes,
    And both times saw them take away their arms,
    But when they came to the Certosa’s wall
    There rose a sound of horns and drums, and all
    Amidst the smoke and shot and darting flame
    More than a thousand foemen fell on them.
    They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead!

    They were three hundred and they would not fly;
    They seemed three thousand and they chose to die.
    They chose to die with each his sword in hand.
    Before them ran their blood upon the land;
    I prayed for them while I could see them fight,
    But all at once I swooned and lost the sight;
    I saw no more with them that captain fair,
    With his blue eyes and with his golden hair.
    They were three hundred; they were young and strong,
                And they are dead.



CONCLUSION


Little remains to be said in general of poetry whose character and
tendency are so single. It is, in a measure, rarely, if ever, known
to other literatures, a patriotic expression and aspiration. Under
whatever mask or disguise, it hides the same longing for freedom, the
same impulse toward unity, toward nationality, toward Italy. It is
both voice and force.

It helped incalculably in the accomplishment of what all Italians
desired, and, like other things which fulfill their function, it died
with the need that created it. No one now writes political poetry
in Italy; no one writes poetry at all with so much power as to make
himself felt in men’s vital hopes and fears. Carducci seems an
agnostic flowering of the old romantic stalk; and for the rest, the
Italians write realistic novels, as the French do, the Russians, the
Spaniards--as every people do who have any literary life in them. In
Italy, as elsewhere, realism is the ultimation of romanticism.

Whether poetry will rise again is a question there as it is everywhere
else, and there is a good deal of idle prophesying about it. In the
mean time it is certain that it shares the universal decay.



Compendio della Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Di Paolo
Emiliano-Giudici. Firenze: Poligrafia Italiana, 1851.

Della Letteratura Italiana. Esempj e Giudizi, esposti da Cesare Cantù.
A Complemento della sua Storia degli Italiani. Torino: Presso l’Unione
Tipografico-Editrice, 1860.

Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Di Francesco de Sanctis. Napoli:
Antonio Morano, Editore, 1879. Saggi Critici. Di Francesco de Sanctis.
Napoli: Antonio Morano, Librajo-Editore, 1869.

I Contemporanei Italiani. Galleria Nazionale del Secolo XIX. Torino:
Dall’Unione Tipografico-Editrice, 1862.

L’Italie est-elle la Terre des Morts? Par Marc-Monnier. Paris:
Hachette & Cie., 1860.

I Poeti Patriottici. Studii di Giuseppe Arnaud. Milano: 1862.

The Tuscan Poet Giuseppe Giusti and his Times. By Susan Horner.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1864.





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