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confine ourselves to a short view of Alfieri's literary and personal character.
The character of Alfieri has been already sufficiently displayed; and the same expression may be applied to it which has been used to distinguish the style of his writings, namely, that it has not the appearance of a coloured surface, but of a substance that has been cut with a sharp and fearless graver. We cannot, unfortunately, trace any signs of religious feeling in his Confessions; and there are, it is to be regretted, too many incidents in his life which admit of no justification, and which even bring into doubt the very qualities for which we are most inclined to admire him. Frankness, generosity, freedom of thought, and a love of truth, must have but a weak hold of the heart that can easily practise all the opposite vices to gain some object of licentious desire. Something, however, must be allowed to Alfieri in palliation of his errors. As a man of the world merely, he would not have had this apology; but, as an Italian noble, bred up with little knowledge of rational religion, and left free, at an early age, to form his own principles, he must be judged with far less severity than should have been the case had he grown up to manhood in a country where morality has a more healthful nourishment than in Italy. There are, moreover, many points in Alfieri's character which engage our affections on his side. There was a degree of grandeur in his love of independence, which we cannot contemplate without a glow of admiration ; while the deep melancholy with which he was habitually affected, and which sent him to muse so often "in lone cathedral aisles," or exposed him to an afflicting violence of passion, tempers our admiration of his free spirit, of the generosity of his nature, and of the strength of mind he displayed in his studies, with a feeling of pity, which presents the sublime and retiring poet to our imagination as one of the men, whom, of all others, we should choose to point out as a type or embodied image of his own tragedies.
As an author, Alfieri is justly placed among the greatest of his countrymen, with whom, in point of sentiment and elevation of feeling, he may stand the most severe comparison. It was, indeed, to his power of delineating the passions which most strongly affect the human heart, that he owed his excellence; and knowing this, he intuitively placed his trust, not in a complication of incidents, or variety of personages, but in the energy with which he could inspire the few characters he introduced, and concentrate in a simple plot, and by his skill in the exhibition of passion, the most commanding and elevating sentiments.
Besides his tragedies, Alfieri wrote a variety of minor poems, several satires, a melo-tragedy, entitled "The Death of Abel," the prose treatises "Della Tirannide," and " Il Principe e le Lettere," both directed against arbitrary power; a volume to which he gave the name of “ Misogallo," from the heterogeneous matter of its contents; the comedies above mentioned, and several translations from the classics. These various works exhibit very different degrees of merit. His comedies and most of his miscellanea are considered wholly unworthy of his name. Only a few of his satires are exempted from the same censure; but his prose works are celebrated for the strong and unaffected language in which they are written. Of the translations, that which he made of Sallust is esteemed one of the
best versions that exist of any author, or in any language: while that which he executed of Virgil, though three times attempted, is equally poor and spiritless. When it is considered at what a comparatively late period Alfieri commenced these labours, how highly must we estimate the natural power and moral strength of his intellect, thus original and thus resolute and laborious!'-vol. iii. pp. 358–361.
The medallion portraits which are prefixed to the biographical sketches in these volumes, are not to our taste; much below the present state of the arts in this country, they appear to us more a blemish than an ornament. For these unnecessary appendages, Mr. Stebbing is, however, we suppose, not responsible. He has executed his part of the work with a degree of success which must give him a name, and a station in our literature. It is particularly creditable to his character, as an author, that he has omitted no opportunity, of throwing into relief every amiable trait in the subjects of his labour; that he has never shrunk from denouncing what was immoral in their lives, or from applauding what was
ART. XIV. The Romance of History-France. By Leitch Ritchie. In three volumes. 8vo. London: Edward Bull. 1831.
We should have thought Mr. Ritchie one of the last persons practiced in English literature, who ought to have been selected to write either a romance or a history, much less a combination of both. His imagination is so limited and so unpoetical, that wherever the use of that faculty is required, he must necessarily fail. His taste is so little under the control of judgment, that he never hesitates to place before the eyes of his readers objects of the most revolting-nature, in the minute description of which he seems to enjoy peculiar satisfaction. His prejudices are so violent, upon subjects of religion and government, that he reads history through a distorted medium, and disfigures what he has read by the grossest misrepresentations. He speaks of the religion of Christ as he would of that of Mahomet or of Juggernaut; he undertakes
denounce institutions, of which he is evidently ignorant, and to deal his conceited censures upon whole classes of men, whom, in no very courtly phrase, he calls "thieves" and "vagabonds." We do not know to what extent he believes or disbelieves in the existence of a God; but in the present work, as well as in some of his other writings, he betrays a malignant feeling with respect to Christianity, which, to our minds is, we confess it, even as a mere matter of taste, exceedingly disgusting.
This gentleman, it appears, has been for some time a resident of France, where he, very probably, found much to admire in its revived schools of philosophy-schools, which we regret, for the sake even of liberty, to say, are daily inaking progress in the old paths that
led the nation at one time to enthrone Reason upon the altars of Faith,-schools, which are already attracting within their destructive vortex, the youth of the country, and threaten to renew the horrors and anarchy of the Revolution. If Mr. Ritchie thinks that he is likely to succeed in propagating in England the doctrines of his French associates, he will find himself wretchedly mistaken. We warn him, in time, against the course he is pursuing. Literature is his trade, to its resources he looks for a competency; but if he once make a decided impression upon the public mind, of a character incompatible with the respect which we all feel for the great truths of Christianity, he will see himself eventually aban-` doned to the fate of the Taylors and the Carliles. He may write on; but no man of respectablity will be his publisher.
Mr. Ritchie does not want talent. There is a certain appearance of cleverness in whatever he does. He has no wit, no humour of any kind, nor, as we conceive, any fancy. His style is rudely formed, like that of a self-educated writer. Yet it is marked by ability, and strength, and great clearness; and, though it is seldom pleasing in itself, and never idiomatic, it is generally within the jurisdiction of grammatical authority. It is a style that we may tolerate, but not admire: it wants the sterling impress of our language.
The tales which these three volumes contain, are intended by the author to "present a succession of romantic pictures, illustrative of the historical manners of the French nation." They are preceded, or followed, by historical summaries; and setting out from the age of Charlemagne, terminate with that of Louis XIV. As pictures of the manners of a nation, which, almost through the whole of that period, was composed of provinces widely differing from each other in many essential respects, these compositions can deserve but little credit. As tales, calculated to amuse, they may while away an idle hour. The reader shall judge for himself, from the few extracts to which we are necessarily limited.
The story of Eriland's adventures, is by no means the worst in the collection. It is founded upon one of the invasions, to which Paris was so liable, from the Danish or Norman pirates, in the ninth century. On one of these occasions, when the city was actually besieged by the workmen, Eriland, a German by descent, and a cordial hater of the French, is supposed to have tendered his assistance to the governor, the Count Odon, which was gladly accepted. The influence exercised by the Count's sister, the fair Adele, upon the young defenders of Paris, roused them to deeds of more than common daring. Upon every soldier, save Eriland, her eyes wrought an enchanting effect. He alone resisted the spell, for a while; but even he found that he must yield to it, when he was marked out, by Adele herself, as her favourite. She was, however, to be propitiated by no common means.
'Listen, Sirs," said she to the gallant band of adventurers, who were
preparing for a sally on the following morning-"there is one thing I had forgotten a very trifle, it is true, and hardly worth the asking, but there may be some one here who will condescend to the task for the sake of Adele." Name it!-name it!" cried the chiefs, and the circle narrowed round her as they spoke.
"There is a tent," she continued, "at the eastern angle of the Norman camp, distinguished from the rest by the splendour of its appearance, and the wide open area that encircles it, guarded by a double wall of huts. Except on particular nights, when the idolatrous fires are blazing, and the heathens gather into this enclosure for the performance of their unholy rites, the sole inhabitants of the tent are an aged woman of lofty stature, and a young child. The former appears to be even as a priestess among this unbelieving people, and either the mother of the infant or a nurse appointed to tend and care for him." Adele paused, and glanced carelessly round among the crowd of admiring hearers.
Speak!" cried they with one voice; command, we are ready!" "I would that some one," said the spoiled beauty, “ would bring me that Pagan boy for a foot-page!" The chiefs were silent, some from surprise, and some in the belief that she had spoken in jest, so madly desperate did the enterprise appear; but the next moment Eriland stepped into the circle.
"Madam," said he, with a low obeisance, "if I return from to-morrow's sally a living man, I will lay that infant at your feet!" A flush of triumph rose into Adele's face, but was instantaneously succeeded by a deadly paleness. Her brother's eyes were observed to sparkle, and his cheek to glow, as he looked on at a little distance, and perhaps at that moment he beheld the first phantom-gleam of the kingly crown which was destined one day to alight upon the brow of the Count of Paris. Eriland retired when he had spoken, amidst the applause of the ladies and the concealed ridicule of the chiefs, and immediately after, warned by the usual evening blast from the ramparts, the assembly broke up.'-vol. i. pp. 138-140.
The sally was made the next morning, and conducted with great courage. Among the foremost in the field was Eriland; the French compelled the invaders to take refuge in their camp, and the victory was proclaimed, when Eriland, recollecting his pledge to Adele, penetrated the hostile camp alone, and directed his steps towards the tent, in which the child was to be found. He saw the babe sleeping, snatched it up in his arms, and was about to fly with his precious burthen, when the mother appeared. He resisted her lance and her fury, but, conquered by her tears, he restored her child, and effected his escape, by the assistance of a gigantic Norman, its father. But upon appearing before his mistress, without the child, he learned his condemnation at once from her frowns, and having no longer any motive for action, he became so listless, as to obtain the nickname of the Fainéant Cavalier. He lived under the hope, however, of encountering some adventure which should restore him to favour, and an opportunity soon presented itself. The Normans, finding all other means of reducing the city ineffectual, constructed an infernal machine, which they contrived
to send floating down the Seine. The French, at first, hardly noticed it, not dreading any mischief from such a cumbrous vessel. The results are related by Mr. Ritchie.
That night, when the city was buried in the profound sleep of fancied security, a fierce and sudden blast from the walls startled the inhabitants. Echoed almost instantaneously from tower to tower, the sound became more alarming, and in a few minutes the ramparts were crowded with gazers. The night was dark, and gusty; and if the stir on the walls did not drown the sounds without, all was silent in the enemy's camp. Nothing could at first be descried indicative of danger, till, following the finger of the sentinels with their eyes, the chiefs discovered a black and undefined object moving on the water towards the bridge. Cursing the imprudence which had interrupted the salutary custom of kindling alarm fires on the ramparts, they flung down some lighted torches, which exhibited for an instant, before hissing in the water, the mysterious bark moved along by men swimming at the sides.
A shower of arrows was immediately directed towards the strange visitor, but apparently without effect, for it continued its crawling motion, undisturbed; and at length, as the besieged succeeded in kindling a strong blaze on the wall near the bridge, the line of swimmers was observed to be unbroken.
By the assistance of the light, however, which was now flung steadily upon the river, the firing was renewed with greater success both from the walls and the wooden tower, and one by one this forlorn hope of the Normans was picked off from the vessel's side. The men, as they were struck, loosed their holds without a struggle, tumbled for a moment on the surge, and died in silence. Only a single swimmer remained of all the desperate crew, as the bark reached the bridge; the arrows sung round his head for some moments without effect; but at length when his vessel ran foul of the wooden work of the construction, which was raised from a stone foundation reaching to the water's edge, he too fell headlong into the river, and his body was washed ashore on the opposite side, where it lay motionless on the stones like a spectator of the event.
'A shout rose from the people on the bridge and the walls as they witnessed this event, and they watched a few moments, in joyful expectation of seeing the fateful boat drift harmless down the tide. It had already, however, been made fast, and with every rise of the surge some new part of the machinery became entangled with the bridge, from which the defenders fled in dismay, some taking refuge in the city, and some in the wooden tower.
The eyes of the besiegers were fixed by a kind of fascination upon the black and fearful object which thus held in its grim embrace the access to the city, and the connecting link between the latter and its hitherto impregnable tower of defence. The moment was awful, but although pregnant with alarm, was still not destitute of hope. The train which doubtless lurked in the vessel was apparently unfired. A second shout burst from the lips of the besieged, as the conviction seemed to dart simultaneously upon their minds, and the bridge was again manned, and the hasty blows of stakes and hatchets resounded on all sides.
Presently, however, some of the men engaged in this service were seen