« ZurückWeiter »
our readers to follow our author in his examination of the comparative value of the different historical accounts of this great event. We recommend the perusal of the work itself to those who may wish to test the accuracy of the story as told by Sismondi, and other late historians.
It should be remarked, that although the Vespers must not be considered as the result of a conspiracy, there is reason to believe that a conspiracy did exist. We have already stated, that Peter of Aragon and Giovanni da Procida formed a plot with some of the Sicilians to restore Constance to the throne of her fathers ; that they entered into communication with some Italian noblemen ; but that these noblemen would not have been able to overthrow the French government, if the Sicilian people, with that impetuosity and want of prudence which are characteristic of an uneducated multitude, had not undertaken to free themselves from the oppression and tyranny of their rulers. The concerted plan, therefore, remained without effect, until the people, generally more capable of making a revolution than of governing themselves after the revolution is accomplished, were no longer able to resist the attempts of the French to reconquer the country. Pedro was then called to the throne, and the object of the conspiracy finally attained.
The origin of the popular account of the Vespers may be explained without difficulty. The republican government, which was in reality the result of the massacre at Palermo and the insurrection of the Sicilians, lasted so short a time, and the king of Aragon was so soon afterwards called 10 the throne, that it was very easy to consider the two events as cause and effect, and to believe that the accession of Pedro to the throne of Sicily was the immediate result of the Vespers ; yet it was only the effect of the disunion of the people after they had recovered their liberty, and of their manifest unfitness to govern themselves. In consequence of the erroneous account which modern historians have given of this affair, Giovanni da Procida has been chosen as the hero of many a romance and drama, while even the name of the young man who gave the signal for this terrible massacre by striking the Frenchman has not been transmitted to posterity. Such are the caprices of history; the story of the adventurer who sought a refuge at the court of Pedro of Aragon is preserved ; the name of him who had the courage to strike the first blow for the liberty of his country has been forgotten.
Looking at the event with the fullest knowledge we can gain of its causes and consequences, it is natural to ask what the Sicilians gained by this bloody insurrection. Was it any thing more than a mere change of name in those who held the reins of government ? At first, it was much more.
When a change of the reigning family appears to be the only result of a successful rebellion, the government which succeeds is not likely, unless deprived of all freedom of action, to fall into the same errors as its predecessor. But a revolutionary government is apt soon to forget the causes of its origin, and the persons to whom it is indebted for its establishment. This was the case with the government of the house of Aragon in Sicily. At first, the Spanish princes introduced many useful reforms into the administration ; but these soongave way to new abuses, and the island was again involved in all the evils of misgovernment, which it had sought to avoid by the fearful tragedy of the Sicilian Vespers. The people were oppressed by their new tyrants in the same manner as they had been by the house of Anjou, and to a certain degree by that of the Hohenstauffen.
Posterity, however, may gain much by the remembrance of this event. The history of this period places before the eyes of the present oppressors of Italy a terrible example of the energy displayed in defence of their most sacred rights, by the ancestors of the people whom they now trample upon. Let us hope that the Italians, who are still suffering under the odious yoke of a foreign dominion, may never be tempted to repeat in the streets of Venice or Milan the bloody scenes of the Sicilian Vespers; but rather, when the time is at hand for their deliverance, that Italy may be freed from all foreign rule, without any violent commotion and may once more become what it was in former years, the flourishing abode of commerce, civilization, and the arts.
ART. XI.-CRITICAL NOTICES.
1. — Passages from the History of Liberty. By SAMUEL
Eliot. Boston: William D. Ticknor & Co. 1847. 16mo. pp.
This little book, planned not only in the spirit of scholarship, but in profound sympathy with the services to humanity rendered by the great men whom it commemorates, is an interesting labor of a student earnestly devoted to high moral and intellectual purposes. The idea is to show, in a connected way, the toils and sufferings borne by isolated individuals, in the cause of reform and human progress, during the mediæval period; to gather, as it were, into one bright picture the scattered rays of light illumining here and there the darkness of that night which preceded the glad dawn of modern civilization and civil and religious liberty. The study of the Middle Ages, and especially of the Italian Republics, in that period of confusion and transition, is necessary to the full understanding of the struggles endured and the progress made by men and states for the last three centuries. In Milton's comprehensive scheme of reading, this department of history is said to have occupied fifteen months. But in Milton's time, all the bearings of that act in the world's drama could not, of course, have been appreciated.
One great source of interest in Mr. Eliot's little book is the true perception he has and so clearly expresses, of the individuality of the men whom he has selected for commemoration. Great as is the influence each has exerted upon the course of human affairs, each stood upon his own strength, contending against overpowering odds of hostile interests, and risking every thing in the encounter. To recall these great but obscured names to our present contemplation was a pious duty to the illustrious dead; and lovingly and piously has that duty been
per. formed. The researches of the young scholar have been given to objects of pure and permanent interest. The motive and design of this work are excellent. Enlightened and comprehensive views of the moral dignity of the persons and scenes he describes, and a religious sense of the dealings of Providence with the history of man, seem ever present to the mind and conscience of the author. The style, with some faults and mannerisms which further experience will remove or amend, is clear and perspicu
The various scholarship which Mr. Eliot has treasured up in travel and study is used, not for show, but to furnish the
materials of his work, and is consecrated to the high aims of Christian philanthropy.
The materials of the work are distributed in four general divisions. The first embraces the history of the early Italian reformers. In this division, the isolation of the Middle Ages is first graphically delineated; then, under the three somewhat quaint titles of Labor for Liberty, Labor for Peace, and Labor for Country, we have, as exponents and symbols of the principles these topics involve, well-drawn historical sketches of Arnaldo da Brescia, Giovanni di Vicenza, and Jacopo de' Bussolari. The peculiar merits of these men, whose great spirits far outran their ages, are set forth and illustrated with fulness of knowledge, clearness of apprehension, and sympathy of feeling. In the concluding section of this part, the failures in such reforms are ably discussed.
In our judgment, the second division of the book, which is exclusively occupied with the life and labors of John Wycliffe, is the most able and valuable. The services of this truly Christian and most admirable person — who, to most minds, even now is but the shadow of a mighty name, a distant foreboding only of Luther- are here distinctly traced and developed. We see in them the germ of those great additions to human happiness and liberty which have occupied the minds of men during the last three centuries, and some of which even the present age is employed in making or perfecting. The scope of his reforms embraced church and state ; and the nineteenth century has scarcely surpassed the wise and Christian spirit in which those reforms were conceived, and so far as lay in the power of the Reformer himself, carried into effect. Mr. Eliot adorns his work with striking expressions from Wycliffe's writings. Among the most remarkable things about this man was the view he took of war, astonishing for his age, for even the nineteenth century is not sufficiently Christianized to renounce this direst work of the Devil. “ What honor," exclaims Wycliffe, “ falls to a knight that he kills many men ? The hangman killeth many more, and with a better title; better were it for men to be butchers of swine than slayers of their brethren."
The third division is occupied with the reforms of Savonarola, and the fourth, with the war of the Communities in Castile. These complete Mr. Eliot's well-considered plan. We regard the book, notwithstanding occasional crudities of sentiment and expression, as a valuable contribution to historical literature.
2. – The Statesmen of America in 1846. By Sarah Mytton
Maury. London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Long. man ; Paternoster Row. 1847. 12mo. pp. 508.
We do not wonder it took so many publishers to bring out this book. It is one of the most remarkable productions of the present age. Nor do we wonder at the ill-treatment it has received from a portion of the London press. The journalists of England have always been a prejudiced race, and jealous of American superiority in arts and arms; and the greater part of the English travellers have played into the hands of these narrow-minded gentlemen, by attributing to us the same faults that mark the other portions of the human race. Our orations on the Fourth of July and in the general Congress constantly deny the soft impeachment; but John Bull refuses to be convinced. Mrs. Maury has come out on our side with such unanswerable examples, that Mr. Bull grows angry, and tries to evade the conclusion by railing at * politics in petticoats.” He is unwilling that such impartial and strong testimony in our favor should go forth uncontradicted to the world, and thinks to counteract it by an alliteration upon that sacred and characteristic garment, which even Mr. Weller the elder, in his conversation with the old housekeeper, shrunk with delicate awe from mentioning. But pray, what objection can there be, in the nature of things, to politics in petticoats? not John Bull, or his organ the London Spectator, know that in the languages of the two most politic and polished nations that have fourished in the world's history, the very science of politics is of the feminine gender? How does he construe » IIolitikń and la Politique ? And what does he say to himself for submitting to that which good King James used to call “ the monstrous regiment of women”? What does he think of Queen Victoria, the source of every political honor he can enjoy? Why, John is under petticoat government himself, but without seeming to know it, though every body is on the broad grin. Let us hear from him, then, no more taunting alliterations, no more unbecoming allusions to one part or another of the feminine dress, remembering that the great Pericles was taught politics and eloquence by the fair lips of Aspasia.
We hope we have disposed of John Bull and the London Spectator. Now let us consider, for a few moments, the extraor. dinary book which has so stirred up the insular mind. The qual. ity which most strikes us, in the analysis of its contents, is the laudable discrimination displayed in the political portraits. An envious person might possibly insinuate that Mrs. Maury someVOL. LXIV, — No. 135.