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Catilina, he plays the fool with Cicero and Cato. This opera has never been published; but we venture to prophesy that it will soon be given to the world. There are a great many pretended apostles of truth, who maintain that our happiness is promoted by dispelling all illusions, even those which incline us to believe that human nature has been ennobled by its virtues: some of these will print the Catilina of Casti.
After amusing himself with kings in comedy and heroes in tragedy, he renewed his satires upon royalty in the person of Catherine the Second; with whom he made free in a very long poem entitled Tartaro. Casti succeeded the Abbate Metastasio as Poeta Cesareo, and lived at Vienna in high favour with Joseph the Second, who used to set him on against the monks and friars. When the ' Poema Tartaro' appeared the Emperor Joseph was on very ill terms with the Empress Catherine; but when each had got a slice of the kingdom of Poland, they made up their differences. The Czarina insisted that the Poeta Cesareo should be turned away; and Casti was banished from Vienna: but the emperor directed that the poet's pension should continue payable during the remainder of bis life. Casti, with a spirit which would have honoured a better man, refused the gift, and when Joseph remitted the money to him, he would not touch it. The pecuniary losses consequent upon the publication of the Tartaro were not made up in fame. Foreigners did not relish it, and the Italians did not understand it; for they knew nothing of the court of St. Petersburgh beyond what they read in the newspapers. Neither did it add much to Italian literature. The style is unimpassioned, and the diction without grace or purity. But the poem abounds with point, and it succeeded amongst certain readers, in the same way that small wits take in society. They amuse for a moment because they flatter the bad passions of the human heart, and they end by becoming tedious.
Casti employed the last years of his life in the composition of the Animali Parlanti. He had been an acute observer both of the follies of the multitude and of the absurdities of their rulers; and he brings his knowledge in full play against mobs and courtiers, against the sottishness of the demagogue and the ravings of the tyrant. Professing to be a lover of liberty, he mocks at popular freedom as a thing which cannot exist in reality: he attacks monarchy and religion with less ambiguous irony, but always by insinuating that it is impossible to change the nature of the human species; and that man is created to be ever bullied by the strong, and cheated by the crafty. Yet what is the result of such principles f They cause the multitude to lose themselves in Pyrrhonism, or to sink in the 'slough of despair'; and no situation can be more productive of wretchedness to the individual, and of
mischief mischief to society at large- Ridicule is not so powerfula weapon against tyranny as it is usually supposed to be. A nation accustomed to laugh at every thing is exactly that which a government may insult with the greatest impunity. At the time when Didot printed the Animali Parlanti, and when the military court of King Lion amused the Parisians, Buonaparte proclaimed himself consul for life. In the name of Liberty and Equality he surrounded himself with all the glare of monarchy, and he summoned round him those prastorian bands which were soon to be transformed into the imperial guard.
Casti's poem is an JEsopian fable spun out into three volumes. In a short apologue, the fiction which gives speech and reason to animals is accompanied by a sort of propriety and probability; they are made to express themselves conformably to their nature and their habits. The contrast between the practical wisdom of animals and human folly is impressive; we feel that the example may be applied to us: our curiosity is roused by the allegory, and our reason is satisfied when we discover the truth which it veils. The charms of the apologue appear to arise from these causes, but if they do not act simultaneously, rapidly and gracefully, the pleasure is lost.
Friend Bee, exclaimed a Fly, pray tell
Whatever moral may be appended to our little fable, it has the characteristics which are indispensable in this species of composition. In the poem of Casti the character of the fable is exactly the contrary. The animals do not occupy themselves according to their real habits; they are introduced as actors in political scenes, and placed in situations for which nature never intended them. They debate about laws with which they have nothing to do, and they prate about the pope and the mufti, although they do not want any one to take care of their souls. The fiction is destitute of probability. King Lion is a despot; Queen Lioness is no better than she should be, and betrays her husband into the bargain. Cub-Lion is a stupid 'crown prince;' the Dog preaches democracy, and sells himself to the ministry; Jack Ass becomes prime minister, and so on. After we have made out this fine-drawn allegory the spirit of the poem flags. It could only have been sustained by inducing us to take an interest in the actions of the personages; but their actions can excite none: they are mere abstract ideas, merely the generalizations of the characters of despots, and ministers, and courtiers. The events of the time gave a literary importance to the poem, which it lost when those events lost their novelty. Every body endeavoured to recognize a leading personage of the day in the disguise of some one brute or another. Occasionally right guesses were made. But the allusions of Casti begin even now to become enigmatical. In the course of half a century no creature will be able to expound them without the help of a commentary; and the commentators, as usual, will work to no purpose, because many of the characters are persons whom history will forget; and those whose actions deserve the notice of posterity will certainly not be judged according to the malignant caricatures of the satirist.
At the time of the publication of the Animali Parlanti, Buonaparte had put an end to the revolutionary struggles between parties and factions, but he had not silenced them. They busied themselves in disputing whether Buonaparte was bound to maintain the republic, or whether he had the right of re-establishing the monarchy. Casti kept clear of all subtle reasoning. In politics the war of words has three stages which succeed each other at short intervals. At the outset of a revolution, disputes increase its fury, and they are too serious to admit of pleasantry: but when one faction has gained the victory, the conquered continue skirmishing in print, and the conquerors laugh at their arguments and lamentations. Thus Butler ridiculed the presbyterians and the independents when the civil wars had ceased; and Casti, whether by chance or by design, profited, in like manner, by the interval of peace. Lastly, the generation which has beheld a revolution, drops off; the political disputes and arguments which agitated the combatants are buried in their graves; and the fame of political or party poetry will then depend upon its intrinsic worth.
Casti bantered all parties alike; and this boldness contributed greatly to the success of the poem. When Buonaparte became an emperor he suppressed the French translation, and prohibited the reprinting of the original in Italy; this ' coup de police' reminded the people of the existence of a satire which they had almost forgotten.
The poetry of Casti is poor and spiritless; he never paints, he describes. We shall hereafter explain the meaning which we affix to these words. He treats upon his subject, and it seldom happens that a sentence of his rhymed dissertations remains fixed in the memory of the reader. His jokes are destitute of urbanity, his expressions of propriety, and there is no variety of harmony in his verse. He employed the sesta rima, a system of versification which, not being as short, or linked as closely as the teria rima of Dante, conveys the ideas of the poet with less energy. The ottava rima, the stanza of Ariosto, seems less monotonous because its cadences recur at longer intervals; and its length assists the development of poetical imagery. No one but Casti ever adopted the sesta rima in a long poem. It is an easy measure, agreeing with the garrulity of old age, and well adapted to one who wishes to gossip in verse, and whose enfeebled faculties cannot sustain much mental labour. Casti drawls, and he attempts to gain the semblance of vigour by the help of points and epigrams: but he resembles a withered beauty who flirts in the dance, exciting sensations which are at once ludicrous and mournful.
Mr. Rose speaks too modestly, we might almost say that he misleads his readers, in producing his ' Court of Beasts' as a translation from the Animali Parlanti. In his introduction he apologizes for the liberties which he has taken.—' I have let go,' he says,
'my author's skirt
Whenever he has plunged through filth and dirt.'
And he has condensed the twenty thousand lines of his original in seven hundred English verses. Mr. Rose is too well acquainted with the classical authors of Italy not to despise the coarseness with which Casti burlesqued iEsop: but we regret that Mr. Rose has followed the measure of Casti instead of employing the stanza of the older poets. However, he has purified his satire. He has omitted whatever might offend delicacy, 'in rejecting the gallantries of the Lion court, and whatever is or might be considered as a satire on a subject on which the public has a right to be jealous.' We do not know whether he has introduced any political anecdotes; but he never adopts the principles of any party in politics, though he often amuses himself at the expense of party-men. The eloquence of the Mob of Beasts is copied from real life.
'The Tyger first was put in nomination:
A mountain democrat propos'd the Bear:
To him the Bear: " Who better plays his part
The previous sarcasm on the Bear's unfitness
The Bull was next expos'd to nomination,
My Ass, console thyself; the time is coming,
His allusions to the foibles of individuals are poignant without being ill-tempered. In complaining of the frivolousness of society, and the ennui of a town life, he makes us smile at the vacant indolence of a lounging man of letters. If the cap fits any one of our friends in particular, they must take their share of the verse without being angry at the Poet, for we may be quite sure that he has not spared himself.
'Or if foul fiends and phantoms will intrude
With reason, or upon perverse pretences,
And I must pass a melancholy mood,
Through all its vast varieties of tenses,
It is some consolation, when they work ill,
To pin my devils in their own small circle.
To thee, gay Gundimore, thy flowers and fountain.
Statue, relief, or cinerary urn.
It seems as if thy genius took a mountain
From off my breast, I feel repriev'd from death,
I move more lightly, breathe with other breath.
That Mr. 's, with lady a sinner:
Nor what Sir What d'ye call him? has a year.
I never sit ten minutes after dinner.
Nor when digestion has her hands full, piece
A half concocted meal with tea and grease. VOL. XXI. No. Lxii. i i No