« ZurückWeiter »
came the Lombards, and after them the Franks, and later still the Germans; and meanwhile, new duchies and kingdoms and independent republics were springing up along the wide extent of sea-coast, and on the river-banks, and in the midst of her fertile plains, and among the craggy fastnesses of her mountains, till every little state could boast of its capital, and every capital had become endeared by some hallowing association.
And all this seems to have been, in a measure, the result of one of those general laws by which man is so often unconsciously governed, and which seem to retard his progress until a more thorough knowledge of their nature and bearing enables him to act in perfect harmony with them. The first glance at the map is sufficient to show that Italy was not designed for a uniform development, or for the elaboration of any single idea. On the north, you see the broad valley of the Po, with its rich alluvial soil, and its lakes and streams, extending from the Cozzian Alps to the gulf of Venice. You see the granite wall of the Alps, shutting it in from Germany,* and then bending around its western border, and assuming a new name where it sends out its projecting masses to meet the blue waves of the Mediterranean, hold its course eastward beyond the centre of the peninsula, till its skirts reach almost down to the shores of the Adriatic. And all along its course you see valleys beginning with the wildness of a mountain solitude, and gradually softening as they expand, till their sunny slopes sink down into the plain amid vineyards and cornfields and meadows of the loveliest green. And from the north and the west and the south pour down innumerable streams, pure and cool from their snowy sources, some in rapid torrents, some with a river-like flow, many to shrink into their channels when they meet the first rays of summer, and others to continue
"See Petrarch's beautiful allusion :
"Ben provvide natura al nostro stato
Pose tra noi e la Tedesca rabbia."
Some writers have proposed to read mal instead of ben. Bembo, too, has two beautiful descriptive verses in his sonnet to Italy: —
"O pria si cara al ciel del mondo parte,
Che l'acqua cigne e l' sasso orrido serra,
Che 'l superbo Apennin segna e dis parte," &c.
throughout the year in a full and equal current.
west to east, throughout the whole extent of this mountaingirdled plain, flows the "king of rivers," * holding its course from where its first murmurs mingle with the Alpine winds, as it bubbles up a crystal rill from the sunless glens of Monte Viso, to where, gathering in the tribute of every lake and torrent and stream, it rolls the full tide of its congregated waters, laden with deeply-freighted barks and galleys gayly-decked, through many a bloody battle-field, and under the walls of ancient cities, and pours them at last, a turbid and impetuous mass, into the receding waters of the Adriatic.
And then this same great chain, which began as the Alps and ends as the Apennines, takes its way southeast towards the foot of the peninsula, dividing it into unequal halves, and resting on the Mediterranean close by the straits of Messina at its southern extremity. Where it approaches the Adriatic, it leaves between its base and the sea a tract of singular fertility, but broken up by the mountains and highlands, which run through it, into deep valleys and narrow strips of plain. On the opposite side, and much farther from the sea, the Arno rises among the wildest passes of the mountains, and, flowing southward, a narrow streamlet, as it bends around the Casentino, turns its face northward, gradually widening and deepening as it runs, till having returned, after a course of upwards of sixty miles, to within about eleven of its source, it once more changes its direction, and holds its way westward towards the Mediterranean, through a succession of beautiful valleys, which it unites by that strong tie which all large rivers form for the countries through which they pass and the cities which stand upon their banks. And twenty miles south of the sources of the Arno, and still among the same wild glens, the Tiber takes its rise, to flow, first, a mountain torrent along the base of the Apennines, and then, as it gathers strength, to wind its way through mountain passes and thread the narrow valleys, receiving, as it runs, the waters of the Chiascio, and Argento, and Nera, and countless streamlets and torrents from east and west and north and south, while the meadows which draw their freshness from its rising waters are followed
*"Re de' fiumi."
There is an exquisite allusion to the sources of the Po in Chiabura's ode to Francesco Sforza.
by the waving grain and tresselled vine, and towns and castles lie scattered along its banks, till at last, sweeping around the base of Soracte, it comes out upon the Campagna, where, with Etruria upon its right bank and Sabina and Latium upon its left, it gathers in its last tributary, the headlong Anio, rolls its impetuous waters through the midst of the Eternal City, and, dividing them at the fork of the Sacred Island, pours them out, at last, in a yellow current which discolors with its saffron dye the deep blue of the Mediterranean far off from the shore.*
And farther on, while the great chain of the Apennine still holds its course southward, it sends out its branches to the east and the west in such numbers,† that they fill up the whole breadth of the peninsula, and hang out their impending cliffs over the sea. And the valleys that lie between them are often so deep, and the passes so inaccessible, that their inhabitants frequently live in these little worlds of their own, in utter ignorance of every thing that occurs beyond the peaks that bound their horizon.
And then there is that long line of sea-coast from the Var to the Isonzo, with some cities built upon a mountain ledge, like Genoa and Amalfi, and some, like Pisa and Rome, a few miles inland, and some at the bottom of spacious bays, like Naples and Tarentum, and some in the midst of the waves, as Venice yet continues and Ravenna once was; some with an interior to fall back upon, and a river to keep open their communication with it, and others with nothing but mountains behind them, and the broad sea before.
Now, where shall we find the point of centralization for a country which nature has thus divided? Will you place it in Milan, and subject the hardy mountaineers of the Apen
Virgil's description, like all pictures from the life, when confined to the distinctive characteristics of the object, still holds true :
"Vorticibus rapidis, et multâ flavus arenâ,
† Bembo has a beautiful quatrain upon this, in his sonnet to the Apennine:
per mille contrade e piu comparti
Le spalle, il fianco e l'una e l'altra fronte."
The best of all descriptions of Italy is that given by Napoleon in those admirable memoirs of his Italian campaigns.
nines to these soft inhabitants of the plain? Or in Turin, beautiful as it is, and with a warlike population at its command, but lying far away in a corner of the peninsula? Or in Bologna, though nearer the centre, and commanding the great roads to the Marches, and the most frequented pass into Tuscany, yet too far from the Po to give laws to Lombardy, and too unlike the cities beyond the Apennines to assimilate with them either in manners or in feeling? Tuscany, with its mountain valleys, and its gentle stream, and its thriving seaport, looks as if nature had marked it out to stand by itself. And Rome in the midst of her solitary plain, and Naples surrounded by her volcanoes, seem all formed alike to rule over a part, and all too remote to govern the whole.
And yet, in the midst of her divisions, in olden times as well as in modern, Italy has kept up the struggle for independence with unwavering constancy. It would be difficult, perhaps, to find the key-word of Rome's success, unless we look upon her as heading a native confederacy against the devastation of a second Gaulish invasion.* And the anxieties which embittered the last years of Theodoric's glorious reign must have arisen from the animosities, if not from the hostile machinations, of his Italian subjects; for how else can we explain that sudden change in a character so noble and generous throughout, or account for the sudden decline and disastrous fall of a kingdom which still possessed such men as Totila and Teja? The Lombard invasion came next, and Northern Italy was easily overrun by these new barbarians, and its provinces portioned out among them. But the native race, and old, deep-rooted institutions of the peninsula took refuge in the Exarchate, and in the cities of the coast,
*Another fundamental question in the philosophy of Roman history, which neither Machiavelli, admirable as his Discorsi are, nor Montesquieu in his Considerations, has treated from its true point of view. "Ils vainquirent tous les peuples par leurs maximes," says Montesquieu. But thsee maxims, as Denina has well observed in his Rivoluzioni d'Italia, were Italian, not Roman. There are some very excellent hints upon this subject in Balbo's Appunti pu la Storia d' Italia.
The conspiracy is not proved, but is more than probable. Manso (Geschichte des Ost Gothischen Reiches in Italien) very justly calls Boethius's testimony in his own cause into question; and Sartorius in his Versuch aber die Regierung der Ost Gothen, seems to have seen clearer into the real cause than Manso. Grotius, too, said long ago, in his Prolegom. ad Histor. Gothorum,-"Actum ibi non de religione, quæ Boethio satis Platonica fuit, sed de imperii statu." But the question has never been fully developed.
and in Rome herself, with her restricted territories; and hence, under the name of the Greek emperors first, and finally in their own, with their bishops and the pope at their head, kept up that long war of alternate aggression and defence which terminated in the overthrow of the Lombards and the consecration of the temporal power of the Holy See.
And here we may be allowed to observe, even in this rapid sketch, that our appreciation of the true spirit of all the subsequent history of Italy will depend upon the patience and candor with which we study this event.* If the pontiffs of this period, already the leaders of the new Roman republic, were actuated by no higher motive than the ambition of enlarging their territories, they acted like bad Italians and worse ecclesiastics. But if the feeling which inspired them was a truly national abhorrence of foreign dominion, if in the aggressions of Astolfo and Desiderius they were chiefly struck with their country's perils, and those which, in their own persons, menaced not so much their temporal privileges as the exercise of their sublime functions as heads of the church, they have claims to the highest praise for their energy, their perseverance, and their longanimity.
But the Carlovingian invasion, whether we consider it as a crime or as a necessity, was still in many respects a misfortune for Italy, and chiefly so in that ill-advised restoration of the Western Empire,† which, by conferring upon a foreigner by birth and feeling the prestige of the Roman name and an indefinite supremacy, opened the way for unfounded pretensions, and never-ending discussions, and arrogant assertions of right, and remorseless persecutions, and wars of savage
*One view of this question is given by Manzoni, in his Discorso sopra alcuni Punti della Storia Longobarda. Sismondi did not study it with sufficient care, and hence the incompleteness of his first volume. Machiavelli has summed it up with his usual concision in his Storie Fiorentine; and Muratori and Giannone, and many moderns, agree with him. The moral of all, as far as the people are concerned, is given in that beautiful chorus of the Adelchi :
and particularly the closing stanzas.
See the eloquent words of Botta, speaking of Charles V.: "Quegli di governargli per non so quale appicco di Romano impero; l' umano sangue intanto rendeva tiepidi e fumanti le Italiche terre.' Storia d'Italia, L. I.,