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his readers, and they will not require that their interest should be excited by setting themselves at work in tracing out his allusions. Throughout his ' Specimen,' the author has mastered the greatest of his difficulties; he has united the playfulness of wit to good poetry without degenerating, like Forteguerri, into vulgarity.
It is very difficult to form an alliance between comic humour and the dignity of epic poetry. Tassoni succeeded in effecting this combination: he was almost the only Italian poet of the era in which he flourished, who withstood the general corruption of taste introduced by Marino and his followers, and by the 'imitated imitators' of Lope de Vega; and he opened a new path, in which a crowd of pretenders have vainly endeavoured to follow him. Tassoni distinguished himself in all his pursuits by the strength of his character and the accuracy of his judgment. In spite of all the terrors of the Inquisition, he was a bold and original thinker: he was a courtier, but without servility, and a patriot who did not worship the faults of his native country;—a subtle writer and an accurate grammarian, yet not a pedant;—a laborious historian, and at the same time a wit, and a humourist. The reader, who wishes to be informed respecting the life of this extraordinary character, will be fully satisfied by consulting Mr. Walker's accurate work; but his account of the Secchia Rapita is less satisfactory than his biography of the author. We could, indeed, only expect the information which he collected, from Italian writers; and they, unfortunately for themselves, can never speak out. In Italy, when a work of imagination has a political bearing, the history of its origin seldom reaches posterity. Mr. Walker relates that 'a similar cause gave rise both to the Dunciad and to the Secchia Rapita. While Tassoni's mind was in a state of irritation from the repeated attacks of the critics, he conceived the idea of writing a mock-heroic poem; in which, while he permitted his vein of wit and humour to flow freely, he might indulge in the virulence of invective against the open and secret enemies of his literary reputation.'
This gratuitous conjecture, for it is really nothing more, had already misled the critics and commentators of Pope and Boileau. They can scarcely be called imitators of Tassoni. The Secchia Rapita merely gave the hint to the authors of the Rape of the Lock and Lutrin. If Tassoni ridicules the habits and manners and opinions of private life and private individuals, this was only accessary to his main plan; he had higher objects in view. Tassoni detested the foreign rulers of Italy. He wished to give a vivid picture of the miseries consequent upon the civil wars and domestic quarrels of the Italians. He therefore took the leading facts of his poem from authentic history. The Modenese
had waged a bloody war with the citizens of Bologna during half a century, each party had availed itself of the assistance of foreign armies, and a 'wooden bucket' was all they had to boast of, as the fruit of this victory. This took place in the days of the Guelfs and Ghibellins, but the heroes of Tassoni's poem are his contemporaries. He has introduced his friends as well as his enemies, and the latter are not treated with much delicacy. His portraits are copied from nature, and though some of the features are caricatured, he has taken care not to deprive each individual of his peculiar cast of countenance. Thus also he preserves the provincial character and identity of the inhabitants of the different states. He makes them speak in their native dialects, and act in conformity to their manners. The Iliad is an accurate illustration of the topography of Greece. Tassoni is equally precise in the ethnography of modern Italy. His language is pure and elegant, without the slightest trace of affectation. When he becomes animated, he borrows the dignified warmth of the historian, rather than the fire of poetical wit. And yet when he indulges in ornament, he vies with those who have bestowed most labour in polishing their verse.
Dormiva Endimion fra l'erbe e i fiori,
Stanco dal faticar del lungo giorno;
E mentre l'aura e il ciel gli estivi ardori
Gli gian temprando, e amoreggiando intorno;
Quivi discesi i pargoletli amori
Gli avean discinta la faretra e il corno:
Ch' a' chiusi lumi e a lo splendor del viso
Fu loro di veder Cupido avviso.*
Though he is sparing of his jests, they are severe and cutting, and he generally places them with propriety. It must have cost him great pains indeed to refrain from joking. He could scarcely think, or speak a word, or write a line, even of his last will and testament, without finding food for his humour, and with him the gravest subjects elicited an unexpected jeer.
Del celeste monton gia il Sole uscito
• Worn with the labour of a tedious day,
Stretch'd on the ground the young Endimion lay;
His shining quiver, and his horn imhound,
Sol zefiro ondeggiar facea sul lito
The last line of this stanza seems to allude to the poetasters, who tried to sigh like Petrarch. Tassoni's motives in passages of this nature must not be misunderstood. It was not hostility towards his critics, but zeal for the promotion of good taste which provoked his sarcasms both against the Delia Cruscan school and the Petrarchists.
Pope and Boileau have inlaid their little epics with happy imitations of the most celebrated passages of the ancient classics. Tassoni imitates them with less ostentation. His irony blends almost insensibly with the character and plan of the Iliad and the iEneid, and the Gerusalemme Liberata. His personages were of less importance to him than his subject. For the purposes of his satire, he has borrowed the general colouring of epic poetry, whilst parodies of particular passages were more useful to Pope and Boileau, to whom the fables of their poems only served as vehicles for their sarcasms upon peculiar classes of society.
If the characteristic humour of the Secchia Rapita be compared with the satire of the Animali Parlanti, and the burlesque drollery of Ricciardetto, it will appear that Tassoni thought fit to designate his production as an heroic-comic poem, because he did not intend, like Casti, to make a mockery of things really important in themselves, but to ridicule the false importance which is given to trifling matters. He did not seek, like Forteguerri, to raise a laugh at all events, by introducing coarse drollery and indecency, and by giving a vulgar travestie of the characters and style of epic poetry; but he sported with the follies of individuals and of nations, and he chose the solemn march of heroic poetry, in order to obtain the contrasted effect which a painter would produce by arraying an Adonis in the mail of Achilles, and arming him with the club of Hercules.
We have willingly indulged in this digression, because we think that the author of the ' Specimen' has often succeeded, like Tassoni, in uniting great playfulness with poetical dignity; and we hope that he will be induced to continue this style in chastening and correcting the extravagant fancies of Pulci and the romantic poets. The acumen and acquirements of the man of letters, and the originality of the poet, will undoubtedly enable him to mellow and harmonize the materials which he derives from these writers, and perhaps to create a style which, retaining the blithesomeness and ease of his models, will become completely English, and be truly naturalized by English wit and English feeling. But he must do his best to gain the suffrages of the ladies, who, in every country, and particularly in England, are, after all, the supreme arbiters of the destiny and reputation of the new poetry. This he may easily effect by exciting the softer passions. Since the irrevocable decree of Sancho Panza, such warlike beauties as Bradamante and Mariisa are no longer in fashion; and a damsel, who hath once cut off the head of a giant, ceases thenceforward to be killing, nor do we sympathize with her, whatever misfortunes may afterwards befal her. But if the author will only condescetid to introduce a heroine, crowned with poetical laurels, driving out of the Campidoglio in her triumphal car, chanting an altisonant ode in prose, and making love by algebra, many fair readers will be dissolved in tears and rapt in ecstasy.
* Now had the sun the heav'nly ram forsook,
An important difference will, however, distinguish this poem from its Italian models. The author will always continue to act the part of a tradesman, who attunes his lofty lay of chivalry and love with an unconscious talent. But Pulci and Berni and Boiardo and Ariosto do not put off their real station, or disguise their genius: they are in earnest when they treat
Of dames, of knights, of arms, of love's delight. They availed themselves of the romantic fictions which were recited to the common people by the story-tellers of Italy, of the traditionary poems which celebrated the exploits performed by Christian heroes in their wars against the infidels: therefore their themes were equally dignified and popular. Critics and antiquaries have laboured hard to discover the birth-place of the muse of chivalrous romance. As soon as they became aware of her existence, they began to dispute about her descent. Some said she was an Arabian maid; and others maintained as stoutly that she was a Goth. Warton attempted to conciliate both classes of disputants by assuring them that they were both in the right: he maintained that the subjects of Mithridates fled from Asia to Scandinavia, and that the romantic muse accompanied them in their migration. From thence she travelled through Europe; she sojourned awhile in Britain and in Spain, and afterwards in France, and at length she arrived in Italy decked with the riches which she had acquired in the different nations through which she passed. As these learned men formed their theories partly upon their own conjectures, and partly upon works which we have never read, we think it prudent
not not to meddle with the controversy. We had rather confine ourselves to matters of fact, to which these disputants have not much attended. They will point out the sources whence the Italian poems of chivalry obtained their materials, and their characteristic and permanent forms.
We may distribute the materials of these poems under five heads. I. Historical traditions. II. The mythology of the middle ages. III. Fragments and reminiscences of classical literature. IV. Fictions derived from the Saracens and Normans, and arising from the feudal system. V. Fictions gradually added by the story-tellers.
I. With regard to historical traditions, Charlemagne was considered principally, nay, almost solely, as a religious conqueror; and the fame of all his other exploits merged in the warlike missions which he undertook for the purpose of converting the heathen to the Christian faith. In those days the defeat of his army at Roncesvalles created a greater sensation in the world than the destruction of the French army in Russia did in ours; because Charlemagne and his heroes were deemed invincible, and it was thought that angels led them on. The uninformed and illiterate nations of Europe could neither separate truth from falsehood, nor rouse themselves from their state of stupid wonder by learning to attribute human events to natural causes. A few judicious writers endeavoured, yet in vain, to dispel this mental darkness. They had not the power of dispersing their works amongst the multitude; even sovereigns could not read, and it is said that Charlemagne himself was unable to write his name. Great events became known to the public chiefly by oral communication; whilst the task of committing them to writing devolved wholly upon the clergy, and it was their interest to bring religion into action on every occasion. When Charlemagne fought for the propagation of the faith, his victories were attributed to the co-operation of the celestial hierarchy: and when he was defeated in the Spanish passes, the credit of his defeat was given to Belzebub and Satan. The preachers acted exactly the part of story-tellers, as it is now sustained by the Turkish dervises; and whenever they wrote on the subject they converted the life of Charlemagne into a tissue of legends and miracles. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the church began to recover its learning and dignity: at that period legendary lore became the property of the story-tellers by profession. The marvellous tales'which had once been repeated in the temples were retailed by the road side. They quoted, as their authority, a chronicle ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, but which he certainly never wrote. Pope Calixtus the Second declared this chronicle to be authentic. Perhaps he was influenced by the advantages which resulted to the Papal See by encouraging the growth of every species of credulity.