Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

wooded eminence echoes no more to the advancing shouts of De Chartres, Palcheux, Brasseuse, and the other heroic companions of Le bon Henri.

Rising above the trees which envelope the village on the right, the ruins of the castle catch the eye, and the vividness with which the scene of upwards of two centuries gone was brought before us, is checked by the sudden view of these crumbling fragments of the once powerful fortress—that strong-hold from whose embrasures the Hugonot cannon did, that day, such execution on the forces of the League. The illusion lasts no longer. The hand of Time is felt to be more powerful than the touch of Fancy, and we sink into the contemplation of the sober reality around us.

I wound my way up the eminence on which the old towers totter to decay; and, passing under the broken archway which received the triumphant Henry after his victory, and then tracing the rugged path which marks the grand approach, I got on the summit of the mound that forms the basement of the vast expanse of building. The immense extent of these ruins gives a fine feeling of human grandeur and mortal littleness; and the course of reflection is hurried on as the eye wanders over the scenery around. This may be described in one sentence, as the resting-place on which a guilty mind might prepare for its flight to virtue.

While I stood musing " in the open air, where the scent comes and goes, like the warbling of music,”+ and neither wished nor wanted other melody, the soft sounds of a flute came faintly towards me, breathing a tone of such peculiar and melting expression as I thought I had never before heard. Having for some time listened in great delight, a sudden pause ensued; the strain then changed from sad to gay, not abruptly, but ushered by a running cadence that gently lifted the soul from its languor, and thrilled through every fibre of feeling. It recalled to me at the instant the fables of Pan, and every other rustic serenader; and I thought of the passage in Smith's “ Nympholept," where Amarynthus, in his enthusiasm, fancies he hears the pipe of that sylvan deity.

I descended the hill towards the village in a pace lively and free as the measure of the music which impelled me. When I reached the level ground, and came into the straggling street, the warblings ceased. It seemed as though enchantment had lured me to its favourite haunt. The Gothic church on my right assorted well with the architecture of the scattered houses around. On every hand a portico, a frieze, ornaments carved in stone, coats of arms and fretwork, stamped the place with an air of antiquity and nobleness, while groups of tall trees formed a decoration of verdant yet solemn beauty.

A few peasant women were sitting at the doors of their respective habitations, as misplaced, I thought, as beggars in the porch of a palace; while half a dozen children gamboled on the grass-plat in the middle of the open place. I sought in vain among these objects to discover the musician, and not willing to disturb my pleased sensations by commonplace questionings, I wandered about, looking in a sort of semi-romantic mood at every antiquated casement. Fronting the church, and al

+ Lord Bacon's Essays.

most close to its western side, an arched entrance caught my particular attention, from its old yet perfect workmanship, and I stopped to examine it, throwing occasional glances through the trellis-work in the middle of the gate, which gave a view of a court-yard and house within. Part of the space in front was arranged in squares of garden ; and a venerable old man was busily employed in watering some flowers. A nice young woman stood beside him, with a child in her arms : two others were playing near her; and close at hand was a man, about thirty years of age, who seemed to contemplate the group with a complacent smile. His figure was in part concealed from me; but he observed me, and immediately left the others and walked down the gravel path to accost me. I read his intention in his looks, and stood still. As he advanced from his concealed position, I saw that his left leg was a wooden one-his right was the perfect model of Apollonic grace. His right arm was courteously waved towards me—his left was wanting. He was bare-headed, and his curled brown hair shewed a forehead that Spurzheim would have almost worshipped. His features were all of manly beauty. His mustachios, military jacket, and tight pantaloon with red edging, told that he was not curtailed of man's fair proportion" by any vulgar accident of life; and the cross of honour suspended to his button-hole, finished the brief abstract of his history.

A short interlocution, consisting of apology on my part and invitation on his, ended in my accompanying him towards the house; and, as I shifted from his left side to his right, to offer one of my arms to his only one, I saw a smile on the countenance of his pretty wife, and another on that of his old father, and my good footing with the family was secured. We entered the hall—a large bleak anti-room, with three or four old portraits mouldering on the walls, joined to each other by a cobweb tapestry and unaccompanied by other ornament.

We then passed to the right, into a spacious chamber which was once, no doubt, the gorgeously decorated withdrawing-room of some proudlytitled occupier. The nobility of its present tenant is of a different kind, and its furniture confined to two or three tables, twice as many chairs, a corner cupboard, and a secretaire. A Spanish guitar was suspended to a hook over the Gothic marble mantel-piece: a fiddle lay on one table; and fixed to the edge of the other was a sort of wooden vice, into which was screwed a flute, of concert size, with three fingerholes and eleven brass keys ; but of a construction sufficient to puzzle Monzani, and the very opposite of those early instruments described by Horace,

“ tenuis, simplexque foramine pauco, Aspirare et adesse choris erat utilis, atque

Nondum spissa nimis complere sedilia Hatu.” It is useless to make a mystery of what the reader has already divined :--my one-legged, one-armed host was the owner of this complicated machine, and the performer on it, whose wonderful tone and execution had caused me so much pleasure. But what will be said when I tell the astonished, but perhaps incredulous public, that his "good right hand” was the sole and simple one that bored and polished the wood, turned the keys and the ivory which united the joints, and ac

complished the entire arrangement of an instrument, unrivalled, I must believe, in ingenuity and perfection.

Being but an indifferent musician, and worse mechanic, I shall not attempt minutely to describe the peculiarities of the music or the management of the flute, as the maker and performer ran over, with his four miraculous fingers, some of the most difficult solos in Verne's and Berbiguer's compositions, which lay on the table before him. Nothing could be more true, more tasteful, or more surprising, than was his execution-nothing more picturesque or interesting than his figure, as he bent down to the instrument as if in devotion to his art. I listened for more than an hour, as his mellow and silvery tones were echoed from the lofty walls of his chamber, and returned by vibrations from the guitar, which seemed as much delighted as myself, for it “discoursed most eloquent music.”

This extraordinary man is a half-pay colonel in the French service, though a German by birth. His limbs received their summary amputation by two quick-sent cann shots at the battle of Dresden (I believe). Since he was disabled, he has lived in his present retirement,

“passing rich on fifty pounds a year;" and happy is it for him that Nature endowed him with a tasteful and mechanical mind (rare combinations), while Art furnished him with that knowledge of music without which his life would have been a burden. I do not consider myself at liberty to enter into the minutiæ of his eventful story, which he told with a naireté and candour enough to have charmed a second Desdemona. But with regard to his fluteplaying, he actually brought the moisture into my eyes by the touching manner in which he recounted his despair on discovering that he had lost his arm—the leg was in comparison a worthless and unregretted member. It needs not to be told that he was an enthusiast in music; and when he believed himself thus deprived of the best enjoyment of his life, he was almost distracted. In the feverish sleep, snatched at intervals from suffering, he used constantly to dream that he was listening to delicious concerts in which he was, as he had been wont, a principal performer. Strains of more than earthly harmony seemed sometimes Hoating round him, and his own flute was ever the leading instrument. Frequently, at moments of the greatest delight, some of the inexplicable machinery of dreams went wrong. One of those sylphs, perhaps, the lovely imaginings of Baxter's fanciful theory, had snapt the cord that strung his visioned joys. He awoke in ecstacy: the tones vibrated for a while upon his brain; but, recalled to sensation by a union of bodily pain and mental agony, his inefficient stump gave the lie direct to all his dreamy paradise, and the gallant and mutilated soldier wept like an infant for whole hours together! He might make a fortune, I think, if he would visit England and appear as a public performer ; but his pride forbids this, and he remains at Arques, to shew to any visitor unusual proofs of talent, ingenuity, and philosophy.

G.

THE LYRIC POETRY OF TASSO.

IT frequently happens among the different works of a man of genius all equally excellent, that some descend to posterity amid the applauses of mankind, while others from their births remain in obscurity. This phenomenon in literature, seldom noticed and never satisfactorily explained, seems in the case of Tasso to be almost unaccountable; his lyrics being undeservedly neglected even in Italy, while his epic poetry has been uniformly the admiration of Europe. The Jerusalem Delivered ever was, and will be, the mark at which critics, ambitious of displaying their skill, level their shafts,—those shafts which without endangering the glory of the poet wounded even to death the heart of the man

“ But he is blessed, and for them recks not;

Amidst the other primal beings glad,

Rolls on his sphere and in his bliss exults.” Should the vicissitudes of ages change the languages of the earth, and Italian no more be spoken, there will still be found those who will dwell with admiration on the pages of the Jerusalem Delivered. The lyrics of Tasso, springing from the same noble source, though they betray more of the imperfection inseparable from humanity, exhibit beauties of a cast not less extraordinary than the genius of the poet. They were the momentary outpourings of his soul; yet he devoted to them all the care of a great artist, who, in whatever he undertakes, always has perfection in view. Thus,

His wild song speaks the sorrows of his heart,

His lyre still breathes with all the rules of art : and in several letters to intimate friends, he anticipates for his short pieces almost as great an immortality as for his mightier epic. But they are nevertheless seldom mentioned, and scarcely ever read. They have indeed met with several editors, but we cannot say that we possess any correct edition of them, as they were collected during the long years of his imprisonment, and published, if not against his will, at least without his superintendence. The volume containing them was also wilfully swelled out with spurious pieces; much was omitted through haste or ignorance, and his poetry disgraced by inaccuracies of such a nature as to make it scarcely cognizable even by the author himself. He, therefore, thought it necessary to revise it; and in many

instances his alterations seem to have been so material, that, in a collection published some time after his death, we meet with less of the language and verses than the number and titles of the pieces formerly printed. Interpolations, omissions, and errors of every sort were also scattered throughout this new edition, professed to be the only genuine one; and as none possessed the means, if they had the intention, of collating the original manuscript, there is in consequence no text of the Lyric Poetry of Tasso that can be depended upon. To this cause, which contributed to make his pieces less popular, may be added others peculiar to Italy. When Despotism kept genius in chains, and hired literature to render it subservient to its own purposes, great authors disappeared, and their places were filled by an innumerable crowd of others below mediocrity. These latter undertook the office of writing their literary history, and founded codes of criticism. It was naturally their interest to establish the national glory upon the number rather than the merit of authors. Having acknowledged Tasso to be a great epic poet, they could not acknowledge him a lyric writer of the first class without diminishing the reputation of other makers of sonnets and odes. Lyric poetry was then divided into species, and these species into classes; and at the head of each division and subdivision a poet was placed, with the right of being considered perpetual dictator in his species and class, and to remain so without competitor in future ages. The Italians were not in these times a nation of readers, and they professed, respecting literary matters, the same implicit faith that they were accustomed to yield in matters of religion. As they had a saint for agues or intermittents, another for bilious fevers, a third for the toothach, and another for a pain in the head, so they had a patron poet for madrigals, epigrams, the sonnetto eroico, and the anacreontic, and even one for the sonnetessa, an old-maidish species of sonnet. These laws were the more respected, inasmuch as within the last thirty years the monks were at the head of literature, and the oracles of rhetoric issued from the mouths of the masters of colleges. Thus, criticism, as well as doctrines in theology, were established by constitutional and invariable tradition, to which nothing could be added or taken away; and because, at the end of the sixteenth century, the monks, who were masters of colleges, did not recommend the lyric poetry of Tasso as a model for study, it was never adopted as such in any of those seminaries of learning. To these and similar regulations no man of letters dared to oppose himself without becoming subject to satires, intrigues, and the imputation of heresy. This may seem to be an exaggerated statement; but it is strictly correct; and in the sequel we shall have occasion to give proofs of its being so, at once melancholy and ridiculous. In this way some booksellers speculated, with the quackery of the trade, on the national vanity, by professing to print by subscription the Italian Classics. To swell their edition they made them amount to half a thousand volumes; yet while they published the opera omnia of versifiers hardly worthy to be so called, such was the prejudice against Tasso's lyric poetry that they published nothing more of it than extracts, and even those ill chosen. It is not therefore astonishing that Mr. Mathias has given his countrymen the odes of Guidi and Filicaja as the most sublime models of poetry in the Italian language. It is said, too, that he has admirably imitated their Italian Pindaric Odes. We believe that Guidi and Filicaja, while they would exalt their strains to heaven, do not really mount so high; these aspiring gentlemen often find themselves enveloped among cold, dark, and humid clouds, where nevertheless they attract a blind admiration. It would be absurd to deny that Mr. Mathias has carried his imitation in this respect to the extreme of perfection-harmony rolls through his Italian verses and Guidian bombast like thunder among the clouds, while the few of his phrases which we are successful in comprehending may be compared to flashes of lightning that only serve to make the night thicker and more awful

Clarus ob obscuram linguam magis inter inaneis. a celebrity not to be scoffed at.

« AnteriorContinuar »