Imágenes de páginas

significantly reminded of the passage from Hobbes, which is prefixed as a motto to this work : No arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. This moral is the more impressive from being unobtrusive. It is not by set speeches against private irregularities or public crimes that the poets can best assert that moral law, of which, so long as the eternal harmony between the beautiful and the good subsists, they must ever remain the chief secular assertors; but, by making man acquainted with his own nature, by pointing out, as with a magic wand, the hidden fountain-heads of our actions, and revealing to us through an atmosphere of supernatural clearness their remotest consequences; by abolishing, for a moment, the chains of conventional littleness; by so working on pity and sympathy, as to cleanse our mortal affections in the flames of their own ardours, and by maintaining a fairer ideal, and raising a higher standard than finds acceptance in actual life. In the last particular only do we note any deficiency in the moral spirit of the work before us.

It has been frequently remarked how few great poems have been produced in an age so rich in poetry as our own. In all ages great poems have been the rarest of all things; but it is observable how large a number of our recent poets have written as if they only expected their works to live in books of extracts, and cared not how slender was the cord on which they strung their grave thoughts or brilliant fancies. No one will deny that Childe Harold abounds in splendid passages, but to what class of poetry can it be referred as a whole; what is its subjectmatter or its principle of unity? Is it a didactic poem, or a descriptive; a biography, or a satire; or a poetical guide-book for the European traveller in this age of locomotion ? Mr. Shelley's longest poem, The Revolt of Islam,' is as decidedly lyrical in its spirit as it is narrative in its structure; it is, indeed, more like the legendary digression of some gigantic Pindaric Ode than a tale of historic interest. Mr. Southey's Thalaba' and Kehama,' and his majestic Roderick,' are exceptions to this general rule ; but we really know not where to find in the range of modern poetry, another work, which at once equals Philip van Artevelde in compass of interest, and is as strongly stamped with a genial individuality and moral unity.

Art. VI.—Marco Visconti. From the Italian of Tomaso Grossi.

2 Vols. London : Burns. 1845.

They still write novels in Italy. After a long interval of stiffness and pedantry, and an affectation of classical taste more barren and hollow even than that of France and England-after the reign of Metastasio and Alfieri-story-telling is begun againthe old Italian fashion of story-telling, rich, hearty, full of humour and character. Italy was the land of novels. Every one knows where the English dramatists went for their materials; not merely for their plots, but for their stuff. The men and women of their plays are Italians all but in language. And now that the ice of coteries and coxcombry of academies has been disturbed by revolutions, the old genius is stirring—the genius of Boccaccio, and the numberless and nameless writers of tales, merry and doleful, who amused our ancestors—the genuine Italian vein, and in the hands of men who dare not profane the gift, as of old it was profaned.

The Italian novel is a thing of its own kind. It does not like to confine itself to one class of society; it likes to have an assemblage of all sorts, big people and little ; it is not easy without its princes, its priests, and its contadini ; it wants them all ; it takes society vertically, from top to bottom,—not by cross slices, which give only individual differences. The exalted and grand in station and bearing are essential elements; but they inust also have along with them the freedom and genuineness of the lower ranks, and the two must work together. They must be on easy terms with one another, and neither must appropriate the interest of the story. The one gives it state, and magnificence, and pomp, indispensable matters to an Italian mind; but just as much attention is paid to the whims, and ways, and sayings of the inferior actors; their pictures are as prominent, as carefully and richly painted. The novelists learned their profession in old republican Italy ; its history and circumstances formed their school. In other countries, greatness is confined to one spot; all that is high and magnificent is collected round one centre; a few favoured places see the pomp of a court; but to the rest of the people, it is known only by report. The country people gaze at a distance at an occasional nobleman,-a stray star from the grand court constellation. To the town population, a mayor, or a judge, or a sheriff, are the sole specimens of dignity and power. But republican Italy blazed with courts : every small city was filled with princes and nobles of its own; not mere attendants on a supreme distant invisible court, but members of ruling houses and aristocracies, who were absolute where they lived. Everywhere the people had their lords and potentates—the fastigia of human greatness within their view; for the Emperor and the Pope were of a greatness something more than human. And these princes were grand people in their way; a few square miles of earth was all that they had to play their part in, but they made those few square miles illustrious. They were real princes,real nobles, -not a whit inferior in temper and mould, in energy, keenness, loftiness of mind, daring, to their less crowded cotemporaries in the north. They were as high-spirited and courageous, as ambitious, as magnificent to look at,-in their narrow bounds, and under their burning sky, wrought up to a strange pitch of intensity,—to subtlety of the keenest edge. Before the eyes of the common people, the most strange histories went on-revolutions of all kinds, of the most strange complication; royal tragedies, comedies, in a never-ceasing whirl, were to be seen and commented upon in every Italian town, by a population as intelligent, as full of passion and imagination, as the greater actors themselves.

When for the first time we fix our eyes on this history, we are seized with a sort of giddiness, like that which is felt on looking down from a great height on a crowd which is moving about in the plain below. Every one is in a state of rapid and never-ceasing motion ; feelings, unknown to us, are influencing them; they are jostled together, crossing, passing, fighting with one another, and the eye cannot follow or distinguish them. But the local history, the history in detail of each Italian town, gives names to each of these figures ; it discloses the secret of each character, and the motive which influences it ; it unfolds generous feelings, deep thoughts, lofty plans in each of those groups which at first sight seemed so small. The more we study them, the more we feel convinced that political greatness is not relative, and that in all contests for freedom and power, whether in a village or in the empire of the world, the same interests are involved—interests the highest and noblest which the human heart can know there are the same talents at work, the study of men is equally complete. This universal agitation, these strong passions, this importance of individual men, have made the history of Italy an inexhaustible source of instruction. There is not a town which has not three or four historians, often many more; and the interest of each of these historians is the greater in proportion as he is more voluminous, and has written in greater detail. The collection alone of the middle-age Italian writers, anterior to the sixteenth century, contains the chronicles of sixty-eight towns or regions; several supplements have been added to this collection, but the still more voluminous writers of the three last centuries have not been included. The historical bibliography of the States of the Pope,

contains in one large quarto volume the names alone of separate historians of seventy-one towns, still in existence in the territories of the Church, and of sixteen which have been destroyed. Several centuries of assiduous work would not suffice to read them all.' 1

It is not wonderful that such a country and history should have produced novelists. They only wanted a hint to revive again. Manzoni has a school; the writer under our notice is one of his disciples, and not an unworthy one. On the novel of which an English translation is prefixed, we mean to offer a few remarks.

A novel of character and dialogue is always a difficult thing to translate. People of different countries, under the influence of the same feelings, express them differently ; the ideas and words which they call up are different, just as their tones and gestures vary. The quaint, racy naïveté of the Italian dialogue becomes unaccountably flat tameness in English; and the foreign attempts on the Scotch of the Antiquary, and the slang of Sam Weller, are very much like a young lady or a freshman talking about horse-flesh. The translator, however, of Marco Visconti, hits off, with very fair success, the character of his Italian original ; but often wants energy, and almost always ease. It is too bad, in the middle of the most highly-wrought scene in the book, to talk of Ermelinda and Bice as two unfortunate individuals.'

We really began reading Marco Visconti with most laudable impartiality, and a stern determination to forget that the author was a friend of Manzoni's; and we can most conscientiously confess to have been very much interested by it. Nevertheless, we can imagine the grumblings and impatience of an English reader being excited by it. Must we say it ?—we can conceive his

protesting that he could not get through it—that he found it a bore. We should abuse him most undoubtedly, and call in question his taste, and still more, his love of genuine nature ; still we can conceive it possible, that he might have something to say in the way of excuse.

The manner of telling a story, of bringing out an idea, has, as every one knows, a great effect on our temper, not so much on our bare judgment, as on our temper, and good or bad humour is of awful importance in the fate of novels and plays. And among the many things which bore Englishmen, is the fault of not coming clearly to the point, of beating about the bush, of not having things well turned out of hand, and in well-jointed order. It is the fault of the old, and the dreamy, and the puzzle-headed; gossipping, story-telling nurses, and sailors who spin yarns, are supposed to partake largely of it; it

· Sismondi; Rep. Ital. Vol. iv. p. 205.

is also the fault of ancient chroniclers. Nature, and pathos, and humour, and spirit, and many other excellent qualities, will hardly, or not at all, make amends for it in a story. Many admissions in its favour may be made, but they will be merely admissions; and the closing decisive but' will be against itwill precede a sentence of condemnation—It is very beautiful, and so on; but it is heavy.'

Marco Visconti has the poetical interest of a play; it reminds us, not of Scott's novels, but of Romeo and Juliet, and Othello. The characters are brought out with almost homely reality, and yet the high, impassioned, poetical tone of the whole is preserved. But the very qualities which do all this are capable, especially when combined with other defects, of producing indefinitely the sense of weariness in the English novel-reader.

The writer's manner of telling his story has a peculiar charm, but it is just one to tempt rude sayings; it suggests perpetually the notion of a gossipping, warm-hearted, shrewd, old family servant, narrating the rubs and sorrows of his master's house. There is no pompousness-no sentimentality; the narrator, with all his deep feeling, betrays no consciousness, no particular reflectiveness, when heis coming upon the interesting parts. The story flows along in the same uniform, simple-hearted way; the teller is laughing and crying at the same moment; noticing everything with a shrewdness that is never tired; dwelling upon every memorial, every small incident, every small trait of character, every person, however insignificant, who is associated with the story; launching forth, without mercy or reflection, into episodes and bydescriptions of things which have suddenly started up in his vivid and sensitive memory. It is obvious that the writer wishes to give his story the colour of the old chronicles, but it is also clear that this character is adopted because it so entirely suits his own mind. He has that appreciation of minute and true details, which is quite a point in the Italian mind; which is nowhere seen more remarkably than in their great poet ;-in his grotesque and homely similitudes, in his wonderful touches of nature,-the look of the sky and sea- the feelings which belong to different hours of the day. Nothing is let pass without notice, without being made to give up some little characteristic stroke. We are in company with a fellowtraveller whose eyes are everywhere, who likes to linger dreamily, yet not idly, about all objects, who is continually finding out some hidden feature which we should otherwise have passed over, who thinks nothing without interest among foreigners, even the shape of their shoes and carts, or the bark of their dogs. Such a fellow-traveller may be very useful, but he is always in danger of being a nuisance, and his niceties may

« AnteriorContinuar »