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. Fama di loro il mondo esser non lassa,
Non ragioniam di lor ; ma guarda, e passa.'* These feelings, we are ready to confess, however, whether right or wrong, belong to us rather as scholars and lovers of the ancient days, than as sober judges of merit.
On looking more critically at the present character of the Italians, and recalling the circumstances perhaps unavoidable, which have made them what they are, we could not wish, as we might not be able to pass them with quite so little ceremony, as was practised by the poet, and his Roman guide. Though we should sometimes inevitably forget them, when walking on the banks of the Tiber, or in the vale of Arno, we are aware, that much may be said for them by way of apology, and something in their praise. Their endless divisions, and local jealousies, transmitted from the middle ages, have long since discouraged the wiser part from attempting to cope with the power of their northern oppressors. They have consequently ceased to be ambitious of political or military glory.' We suspect the true explanation of the late events, disgraceful as they seemed to us, must be sought in the belief, that the whole movement was, in fact, no more than a partial convulsion of the baser multitude, and that those, best capable of combining and wielding the real resources of the peninsula, found too little encouragement of success to engage them in the work. They have been told, and are apparently convinced, that they must gain a name and a place among the nations, not by their arms, but their arts. These are consequently the objects of their ambition and their pride. They are more vain, and talk more, and write more of their ancient artists, than of their ancient heroes.
It is with a very liberal observation of these facts, one too which, as Americans, we have special need to make, that we must judge, if we would estimate correctly, not only the character of the Italian people, but the merits and defects of their productions. We do not say, that such a state of things is an advantage either to the one or the other. On the contrary, we would attribute to this cause many of the faults of both. The fine arts are not fitted, of themselves and alone, to give a manly firmness and dignity to character. When they become, as they seem to have done in this case,
* Dante's Inferno, Can. 3. Ri. 17
the great business of a people, instead of building that people up to firmness of purpose, and greatness of soul, they in fact divest life of its importance, and its seriousness. Such has unquestionably been the case here, and notwithstanding the partial change, which a few individuals have wrought in their literature, we suspect, and might confirm the suspicion from the representations of the work before us, that the character and taste of those, who read and hear, have a more natural sympathy with the operas of Metastasio, than with the sterner and more impassioned style of his successors.
It need scarcely be said, that the arts themselves no less necessarily lose their dignity and power, when life ceases to be agitated, and the soul aroused by concerns and events of greater seriousness and importance. It is when contemplation is prompted by scenes of bold and adventurous action, that the mind ascends to its highest heaven of invention, and acquires the power of giving_back its images in the most living and enduring forms. The arts accordingly, and especially poetry, have reached their highest elevation in periods, when religion, and the great business of securing national independence and freedom have awakened men to serious feeling and to bold and vigorous action, when they were the dignified and worthy resort for solace and amusement of minds, which more powerful causes had developed, and made susceptible of their highest pleasures. When they are not sustained by such circumstances, they too naturally become the idle and effeminate employment of effeminate men. Truth, and with it, all serious and ennobling aims are forgotten, and literature becomes a business of mechanism, a childish amusement.
Such to a great extent has been much of the literature of the Italians, as described by their own writers.
• The essential thought contained in those works,' says signor de Breme, “and all the ideas, which go to form the body of them, neither are, nor can be in fact, the prime object of their mechanism. On the contrary, the ideas make but a hypocritical show, and act a part entirely subordinate to the language. They are called in merely because necessary to sustain the pomp of external form, and are like the occupants of a house which belongs
chance inhabitant.' Of such poetry, where thought is nothing, and the form and expression every thing, and with the harmony of the
New Series, No. 11. 13
alike to every
Italian language to aid them, all can easily become authors. Little strength of mind is necessary either to write, or to enjoy it. With only a few positive and common-place ideas, every one can chant extempore harmony, and the Italians are as much given to poetry, as the Parisian multitude to dancing
•E s' udian gli usignuoli al primo albore,
E gli ásini cantár versi d'amore.' We by no means intend to represent this, as the general character of the present literature of Italy. The work of de Breme, if we had no other evidence, furnishes proof of the existence of another class of men, who both think, and write in a different manner.
Indeed we have no where seen the characteristic faults of Italian literature more feelingly and more clearly set forth, than in the remarks of this author, and in the extracts, which he has given from Baretti, Gravina, and others. We only mention the faults as growing naturally out of the state of society, and the devotion of the people to pursuits too exclusively belonging to the fine arts.
It is from the same causes, and the great importance which they attach to every thing connected with their reputation in the arts, that literary controversies assume a tone, and acquire an interest among them, which among us good republicans belong only to the subject of the tariff, the government of the Floridas, or the next president. They seem, though wonderfully altered, not to have entirely forgotten, that they are descended from the Guelphs and Ghibbelins. Though they shed less blood, they shed more ink. Where Dante was sentenced to be burned, his too exclusive admirer, Mad. de Stael, was sentenced to be reviewed. They whose ancestors, five or six centuries ago, arranged themselves with shield and spear under the banners of the emperor and the pope, now gird up their loins, like Dominie Sampson, and engage in the classic and romantic war, for the rival claims of Homer and Ossian. In no country, perhaps, have questions of a purely literary character excited so much superficial passion, or been discussed with so much perseverance. Ever since the arrival of those spurious Greeks, to whom de Breme attributes so much of the literary intolerance, and dogmatical dictatorship of their followers, and the decided spirit of imitation introduced
through the same influence, there seems to have been at all times, in a greater or less degree, a natural hostility between the two schools of Italian literature.
• There was no need,' says de Breme, of those spurious Greeks from Constantinople, especially those of the second importation. Without their aid we should have recalled Homer, Anacreon, Xenophon, Aristotle, and the classic writers, whom every age should emulate.-Those foreigners set themselves with extravagant zeal to organize the business of transcribing, to reduce the whole system of literary labor to mere mechanism, and to restrain the efforts of genius with their poetic ritual.'
It was the inconsistency of the taste so formed with the native character of the earlier literature of Italy, that created, and perpetuated the contest respecting the comparative merits of Ariosto and Tasso. The same fundamental differences between the two systems of art seem then to have been felt, though the principles were not so fully developed, as they have been in the later controversies. They could not indeed be very well applied to those examples, since Tasso differs from Ariosto, rather in the structure, than in the spirit of his poetry. Yet this contest divided all Italy, and seems never to have ceased, till it was swallowed up in the more comprehensive one, that has succeeded it. Metastasio was requested to give his opinion of the comparative merits of the two poets, and in his answer gives the following account of the contest respecting them.
• You know with what violent tumults the Italian Parnassus was disordered, when Godfred began to contest with Orlando, the rank, which he had so deservedly held. You know with how little effect the work of either poet was illustrated by the Pellegrini, the Rossi, the Salviati, and hundreds of other champions; and that the pacific Horatio Ariosto, a descendant of Lodovico, exerted himself in vain to bring the combatants to terms. When I first entered upon my literary career,' he says afterwards, the whole world was divided respecting them.'*
The more general discussion above alluded to, and first brought forward, we believe, by Cesarotti in connexion with his translation of Homer and Ossian, has been conducted with more warmth, as might be expected, and on grounds more purely literary in Italy, than elsewhere. The principles, which it involves, concern as much the merits of other modern
* Lettera di Pietro Metastasio a Domenico Diodati.
literatures, as those of the Italian. Yet no where have the opposing systems of taste been so equally divided in the number of their adherents, or of the productions conformed to them.The Germans, who have entered most deeply into the subject, and applied their conclusions most extensively, would almost of course be decided by their national character, and Schlegel is more known than any other writer, as the expositor and defender of what are called the peculiarities of modern literature.--In England, though the distinctions, a good deal talked of, between the so called British classics, and the older writers, as well, as the late controversy between Bowles and Campbell, have some connexion with the subject, it seems not to have been much discussed upon its general principles. In France the discussion was unquestionably an affair rather of civil and national, than of mere literary concern.-Chateaubriand, it is true, has engaged in the contest with Mad. de Stael on more liberal and literary principles, but his argument is so entirely at variance with the general spirit of his own writings, that even Byron, in acting as the champion of Pope, can hardly appear more out of character. Among the Italians such subjects are the objects of contention more on their own account, and for this as well as the other reasons alluded to, the controversy has found there its most strenuous parti
The little work before us, of which it is time to say something more particular, stands intimately connected with this subject, though the immediate occasion of it was one of less general interest. It was called forth by the attacks of certain journalists on the opinions and conduct of Mad. de Stael. Their national pride, as well as literary prejudices, seem to have been wounded by the contrast, which she drew, when among them, between their ancient and modern writers. In defending her opinions Signor de Breme enters into the distinctions, of which we have spoken, and it is on this account chiefly, that his work has attracted our notice. In pursuing the subject farther, therefore, we shall only exhibit his views so far as they relate to the general controversy, without attempting to analyze the work. We only regret that we cannot draw more largely from him. The point, upon which he has expressed himself most fully, is the difference in form and structure between the ancient and the moderns, and the ques tion, whether the system of rules, to which the Grecian