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ITALIAN POETS. NO. 111.–GUIDO CAVALCANTI.
Thus hath one Guido from the other snatch'd
Dante. Purg. c. ix.
Is like the herb, whose hue doth come and go.
many of the elder time cried up Guittone, till, truth by strength of numbers vanquished, they gave him the prize."
The eldest of the three Guidos was born at Bologna, of the noble
family of Guinicelli, and died in 1276. It is of him that Dante says - He was father to me, and to those my betters, who have ever used the sweet and pleasant rhymes of love
His dulcet lays, as long
Shall make us love the very ink that traced them.” Dante was not a critic to lavish his praises ; he never flattered the living, and why should he flatter the dead? Still we doubt whether his praises would be justified by any of the known pieces of Guido Guinicelli. The following stanza is part of a canzone on the loss of his mistress.
Conforto già conforto l'amor chiama,
“ Comfort thee, comfort thee,” exclaimeth Love;
Nor Reason's plea should ineffectual prove,
Be this in mortal mourning some relief,
Remembering thy God;
Hope then ; nor of this comfort quit thy hold.—Carey. Allowing for the imperfect state of the language, the versification and style convey with sufficient clearness the ideas; and these are at once elevated without being far-fetched, and natural without being common. Pathos, however, belongs to all time, and may be expressed in every language; yet we find nothing but coldness in the verses of Guinicelli. In this perhaps we are wrong, since Mr. Carey has thought them worthy, precisely for their pathos, to be inserted among those extracts of early poetry with which he has enriched bis translation of Dante. It is probable, however, that the best pieces of Guinicelli have not come down to our times. Another Guido, of the family of Ghisilieri, and his fellow citizen, appears to have been his formidable rival in poetry; but the Guido who “ snatched from him the lettered prize” was a Florentine, the son of a philosopher and statesman, and a character still interesting to poets, critics, historians, and philosophers, and one who seemed born to exercise a vast influence over his contemporaries, and to be remembered by posterity not so much for any great achievement, or any distinguished production of his genius, as for an union of accidents, a rare assemblage of various talents, and above all, for that inexplicable ascendancy of character which always cominands admiration. True or false, it was believed at that time, and the documents are still referred to, that his ancestors came into Italy with Charlemagne, who endowed them with titles and estates.
This last Guido was born in what Mr. Sismondi justly calls the heroic age of Tuscany. The Ghibelline party, composed of the feudal aristocracy, having been expelled from Florence by the Guelphs, who upheld the popular government, the nobles of the Tuscan cities united their forces, and, led on by Farinata, a Florentine nobleman of exalted soul and great military genius, defeated the Guelphs with great slaughter. After the victory they assembled a council, where it was agreed by all, that to maintain the power of their party, it was necessary to destroy Florence. Farinata alone dared to oppose the general decree, and saved his native city. To re-establish peace among his fellow-citizens, he gave his daughter in marriage to Guido, son of Cavalcante Cavalcanti, the leader of the popular party.
This, however, did not restrain Guido from attacking several of the opposite faction, whom he accidentally encountered on horseback; and though wounded in the affray, yet such were the apprehensions his character inspired, that during his pilgrimage to St. Jago in Spain, his adversaries attempted to assassinate him. This pilgrimage, however, was with Guido, (and, perhaps, with others of that age,) a name which meant nothing more than a tour: indeed, he returned from his devotional expedition enamoured of a young woman of Tolosa, whom he calls Mandetta, and celebrates in strains that do not always seem inspired by a platonic sentiment.
In un boschetto trovai pastorella
Più che la stella bella al mio parere.
E gli occhi pien d'amor, cera rosata :
Era adornata di tutto piacere.
E domandai, s'avesse compagnia :
lo bosco gia :
Allor disia lo mio cor drudo avere.
E per lo bosco augelli udio cantare,
E disse, che donato m’avea 'l core:
In the depth of a thicket a maiden I found,
More fair than the stars of the sky to my sight;
And her cheek was all freshness, her eyes all delight.
Her dear little feet were all gemm’d with the dew;
That caught even Pleasure, as round her he few.
“I roam through the thickets alone-all alone !
“ Of birds as they Аutter from bushlet to tree,
“ But no one,” she whisper'd, “ comes singing to me.”
The elder Cavalcanti bore the reputation of having pushed the study of philosophy to heresy, and even to disbelief in the immortality of the soul; and it would seem that the son carried his scepticism still farther. Those who are interested in the history of religious opinions, we would refer to the Dictionary of Bayle, art. Cavalcanti; for ourselves, we are more willingly gratified with literature and manners, and believe that our object will be better attained by introducing here an anecdote concerning Guido, detailed by Boccaccio :
“ Now you must know, that in times past there were many very pleasant and praiseworthy usages in this fair city, of which none remain in our days, thanks to the avarice which has grown up with our wealth and has destroyed them all. There was one of this kind : In different places about Florence the gentry were used to assemble in companies of a certain number, being careful to include such only as could afford the necessary expense. It was their wont, each in his turn, to provide a feast for the whole company, whereunto they invited such strangers of note as might chance to sojourn in the city, and sometimes cven did they honour the citizens. Moreover, once, if not oftener, in the year, they clothed themselves in fresh and like apparel ; and on some festival, or other notable day, as when the joyful tidings of any victory had arrived, did they ride gallantly armed through the city. Of these companies one there was of Messer Betto Brunelleschi, who with his comrades were much desirous to have among them Guido, son of Messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti ; and with good reason, for besides that he was one of the best logicians that the world had, and very famous in philosophy, (of which things, to speak advisedly, the companies took small account) so was he very agreeable in his speech and well-mannered in his actions, and knew better than any other, what rightly pertained to a cavalier ; he was very rich withal, and gracious in his address to such as he wished to please. But Messer Betto could never succeed to get him amongst them ; whereupon he thought that, because Guido was often given to speculations, therefore he liked not to commune with men. It was whispered too, among the commonalty, that he held to the opinions of Epicurus, and that his speculations aimed to prove that there existed no God. It came to pass upon a day, that Guido having gone out from his dwelling in San