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ence that is nominally in the hands of the masses, but is practically lodged in the hands of a few demagogues, who exercise it over the unthinking people? Will you support a Government which will preserve inviolate the prerogatives of the Crown, as well as the rights of your lordships' house, and the rights of the freely-elected House of Commons ? These are the questions which, when I go to the country, I will make the appeal on. I will appeal on behalf of myself and the country, and in the words of the meanest felon in the dock, which are not unworthy of being uttered by the First Minister of the first Sovereign in the world—I elect to be tried by my God and my country."
We cannot, by accumulating observations, add force to these words, which, delivered in Lord Derby's impressive manner, must have stirred the hearts of the listening peers like a trumpet, and amply justify the prolonged cheers which resounded through that usually sedate and rigidly decorous assembly. Would that they may find a corresponding echo in the hearts of our countrymen throughout the length and breadth of the land ! The crisis is of no ordinary character. The struggle is not, as in common cases, between two great leaders who shall obtain the parliamentary pre-eminence; but the issue is whether England shall have an efficient Ministry coinposed of men able and willing to conduct public affairs, or an incongruous hodge-podge of Whigs, Radicals, and Chartists under the nominal headship of a Whig duke's son, who, with the hereditary obstinacy of his party, regards the rule of England the prescriptive property of the descendants of the manoeuvring men who introduced William of Nassau to the throne of Great Britain ; and is blinded to the modern fact, patent to every other eye, that the Whig “ John Russell, Esq., commonly called Lord John Russell," of the present day, is but a puppet whose strings are pulled by a Stockport calico-printer.
The floor of the House of Commons has, by a mischievous prestige established in parliamentary minds by Whig manouvring, been too long allowed to be used merely as an arena, wherein young or elderly Whigs might display their qualifications for political championship. For the last fortnight Lord John Russell has been, with well-affected horror, pronouncing all its proceedings "unconstitutional ;” but to our unsophisticated minds it has, during the period above-named, displayed more of the genuine aspect of a deliberative assembly, convened to consult for the common weal, than at any noticeable epoch under the Whigs, who narrowed it to the dimensions of a particular club, wherein their party or family interests might be discussed without reference to the broad questions involving the national welfare.
Notices of Books.
The Literature of Italy, from the Origin of the Italian Language to
the Death of Boccaccio. A Historical Sketch. By LEONARD
Francis Simpson. London: Bentley. 1851. A very elegant narrative of the rise and early progress of Italian literature. We in England are not, perhaps, sufficiently mindful of our obligations to those old Italians, whose sungs, first heard in the doubtful dawn of civilization, almost at once gathered a strength and a glory never afterwards attained in their fair and bapless land. Italian literature is not studied among us so much now as formerly. We take one great reason of this to be the wonderful stride made by German literature during the last one hundred years. Few persons, beyond the pale of professed scholars, have leisure or inclination to become familiar with more than one modern language in addition to the inevitable French; and, when we consider how much more our rugged northern nature sympathises with the original thinking and free utterance of our Teutonic cousins than with the timid conventionality and sweet feebleness which (had it not been for one Dante) we might have thought inseparable from “la bella lingua,” we can scarcely wonder that our liking for the one should have led to an unjust neglect of the other. In the drama especially we are struck by the contrast between the two languages. Shakespeare is scarcely more superior to Goethe and Schiller, than Goethe, with his world-wide knowledge and frequent touches of passion and pathos, and Schiller with his pure feelings and exalted thought, are superior to Metastasio and Alfieri. Metastasio, whose operas are sickly to say as sweet to sing, * and Alfieri, in whose dramas it would be almost as difficult to find faults as beauties, were not the want of all beauty in itself a fault the most grievous. Again : how much more readily do our hearts throb to the apparently unpremeditated love-ditties of Lapland—that sweet minnesinger of modern time-than to the measured and artificial sentimentalities addressed by Petrarch, a Churchman and a father, to the virtuous wife of De Sade? Yet, where among the Germans shall we look for any poem that, in sustained interest and beauty of conception, comes even near the “Gerusalemme ?"
* That this should be the case might seem no great fault, as the dramas of Metastasio were intended to be sung and not spoken ; but, being invariably included among the Italian classics, we must judge of them as such.
and where, not in Germany only, but in all the world, shall we find a second “Divina Commedia ?” That this poem, in spite of its perpetual references to the confused history of the time -of a certain repellent dreariness--and of much that is now distasteful in the way of allegory and classical allusion, should still hold its high place in the estimation of all noble minds, is, indeed, proof sufficient of its sublime power and earnestness. When, moreover, we remember how much inspiration Chaucer derived from Boccaccio, Spenser from Tasso, and even Milton from Dante, we cannot but feel that it were, indeed, ingratitude to forget the poets of the warm south.”
The literature and history of Italy are so closely interwoven that Mr. Simpson judiciously devotes his first chapter to a rapid sketch of events from the partition of the Roman empire to the reign of Frederick II. of Sicily, at whose court "the Italian language was first raised from obscurity to distinction, and became the favourite medium of celebrating the triumph of arms, and recounting the deeds of gallantry and of love."
After notices of Pier delle Vigne, Brunetto, the Master, and Guido Cavalcanti the friend of Dante, and of some others, we are introduced to the world-worn Dante” himself, as Tennyson calls him with his usual happiness of epithet. The lucid narrative that now follows of the perplexed politics of the period will greatly assist the understanding of many parts of the “ Divina Commedia ;" and the story of Dante's love for Beatrice is told with so much feeling that, we think, every reader will agree with the author in the following passage :
“Some of Dante's commentators have endeavoured to question the existence of the fair Beatrice as a creature of flesh and blood, beholding only religion or theology under the symbolical figure of a beautiful woman. But they have forgotten in their wisdom that the heart of man ever fondly dwells upon; and returns with longing, to the affections of his youth, and clings with passionate perseverance to the name of a beloved object. The hidden springs of the actions of man must be sought in his passions and affectioris.'
Mr. Simpson then leads us regularly through the “Inferno,” “ Purgatorio,” and “Paradiso," from beginning to end, giving us as he proceeds sketches of all the wondrous scenes that rise in succession before the poet's eyes, and interspersing the narrative with translations of the more striking passages. This will be found a very interesting portion of the volume.
Having finished the history both of the life and writings of Dante, we have brief notices of two or three writers of little celebrity, with the exception of Cino da Pistoia, whose loveverses have immortalised both himself and their subject, the fair Seloaggia; but who is, perhaps, best known as the friend lamented by Petrarch in the sonnet beginning
“Piangeta, donne, e con voi piangu Amore." Mr. Simpson gives a translation - (we suspect from his own pen) —so graceful that we cannot resist the pleasure of quoting it:
“Weep, damsels, and let love your sorrow share,
Lovers in countries far and near lament;
For he is gone who, whilst to mortals lont,
My streaming tears and sighs that will have vent
To ease my heart, alas ! how nearly rent,
For our love-breathing Meser Cino's death;
From you; and, citizens of fickle breath,
Let heaven rejoice, whereto his soul is fled." We now come to the original author of this beautiful lament; and, in spite of some former depreciatory remarks, we shall find him worthy of all praise for his patriotism and for the benefits he conferred on literature, both by his own exquisitely polished style, and by his labours to promote the study of the ancient writers. We have not time to follow the author through the whole of Petrarch's life, in which an important part is played by the Popes, the Colonnas, and, above all, by Cola Rienzi.
Of Giovanni Andrea, under whom Petrarch studied at Bologna, we are told in a note that “ his daughter, Novella, was so well instructed by her father that at times she used to lecture in his stead. On these occasions she sat behind a small curtain, that the attention of the students might not be attracted by her great beauty.”
We cannot help wondering whether all this mystery, and the vividness with which the imagination of each student would picture to itself the form of the hidden speaker, did not distract attention from this very unusual and charming style of “ curtain lecture," quite as much as the full revelation of the lovely reality would have done.
We insert the following anecdote for those who love a metaphysical mystery :
“Five-and-twenty days before he received the intelligence (of the death of his friend the Bishop of Sombès), Petrarch dreamt that he saw the bishop enter his garden ; that he spoke to him and asked him why he came thus alone; and that suddenly the shadow of death passed over the bishop's countenance, which so startled him that he screamed aloud and awoke. This dream made such an im pression upon him that lie noted down the hour and the day upon which it occurred, and mentioned the fact to many of his friends at Parma. On that very day, and at that self-same hour, the bishop had breathed his last."
But this was not Petrarch's only visitation of the kind :
“ Petrarch informs us that Laura appeared to him in a vision upon the very day and at the hour at which she expired. In this vision the spirit of Laura announced her death. After what had occurred to him on the decease of his friend, the Bishop of Sombès, this dream evidently had a powerful effect upon him."
Here we have a noble historical picture. It is at the marriage of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, second son of our third Edward, to Violante, daughter of Galeazzo Visconti, tyrant of Milan :
“On this occasion Galeazzo gave a sumptuous banquet in the courtyard of his palace. As a mark of the esteem in which he held Petrarch, the poet's seat was placed at the table of honour reserved for princes of the blood royal-a noble example of distinction publicly awarded to genius. Froissart was in the suite of the Duke of Clarence. He was then a young man unknown to fame.”
The death of Petrarch was a fitting conclusion to the life of a scholar. We must relate it in Mr. Simpson's beautiful words:
“On the 18th of July, 1374, Petrarch was found dead in his library, his head resting upon a book he had been reading. His death was like
a serene Italian night after a quiet summer's evening : his sun had set amidst purple and golden tints: the veil of darkness had imperceptibly stolen over his horizon, and the star of fame now rose in celestial brightness to shed its light over his tomb."
Boccaccio naturally follows; and, in spite of the licentiousness of his early life and writings, we cannot help loving the man who wrote that most beautiful and touching letter to Petrarch (quoted at p. 291). Boccaccio's allusion to his little lost darling goes more to the heart than all Petrarch's lamentations for the death of his mistress.
After noticing a few writers contemporary with Boccaccio, Mr. Simpson concludes his history, which will be welcomed, not only by the Italian student, but also by the lover of poetry, who, though ignorant of the language in which they wrote, is nevertheless desirous of becoming acquainted with the sufferings, the sorrows, and the triumphs of the bards of old,