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Michele, and through the Adimari, which was his accustomed route, unto San Giovanni, where were many great arches of marble (such as are now in Santa Reparata), he stayed to muse between the columns of porphyry and these arches, the gate of San Giovanni being shut. Now Messer Betto with his company journeying on horseback through the piazza of Santa Reparata, discovered Guido among the sepulchres, whereupon he said to his companions, “Let us break a jest with im,' and giving spurs to their horses they came upon him unawares, crying out, ‘Ho, there, Master Guido, since thou dost refuse to be one of our company, what wilt thou do when thou hast assured thyself there is no God? Whereto Guido, seeing that he was enclosed by them, answered readily,—Signors, in your own houses ye may speak as ye list,' and placing his hand on one of the great arches he vaulted nimbly to the other side and went on his way.
Then stood they staring one on the other, and began to say, 'Of a surety he is distracted, for his speech lacketh meaning, inasmuch as we have no more concern with these sepulchres than the other citizens and Guido among
them.' To the which replied Messer Betto, Ye are the distracted, that ye have not comprehended his words, which, though very civil, are indeed very pithy, and the greatest reproach in the world. See ye not that these arches are the houses of the dead, because they are put here to dwell for ever? whereby he would indicate that we and the other simple and unlearned men are but as the dead in comparison with him and great scholars, and therefore, being here, that we are in our own houses.' Then comprehended each man the sense of Guido's speech, and took shame upon himself; nor did they in after-time break any jest with Guido, and they looked upon Messer Betto as a cavalier of a very subtle and excellent wit.”
The character of Guido Cavalcanti was so strongly marked, that his fellow-citizens and the historians of his times all agreed in their manner of pourtraying it. “He was,” says Villani, " for a philosopher, skilful in many pursuits ; but somewhat too irritable and harsh." Dino, another eye-witness, speaks of him as "courteous and ardent, though scornful, solitary, and immersed in study;" and Dante himself, who possessed, in an uncommon degree, the same good and bad qualities, called him “his first friend," — yielded with deference to his literary opinions, and stood in awe of his remonstrances. During an access of idle melancholy, to which in his youth he was often liable from his too strong feelings, he was severely reproached by Guido in these lines :
Io vengo il giorno a te infinite volte
E trovoti pensar troppo vilmente:
E d'assai tue vertù, che ti son tolte.
Tuttor fuggivi la noiosa gente :
Che tutte le tue rime avea accolte.
Whene'er I visit thee day after day,
Thy thoughts, thy wishes, all debased I find :
And all thy various virtues, fade away.
Fell blasting on the mean and idle crew :
Not own how once I loved thee with a pride
Will be thy loathed presence to avoid. We are indebted to Mr. Hayley for a spirited version of the following playful sonnet, addressed by Dante to Guido.
Guido vorrei, che tu, e Lappo, ed io
Fossimo presi per incantamento,
Per mare andasse a voler vostro, e mio;
Non ci potesse dare impedimento:
Di stare insieme crescesse 'l desio.
Con quella ch'è 'n sul numer delle trenta,
Con noi ponesse il buono incantatore :
E ciascuna di lor fosse contenta,
Siccome i' credo, che saremo noi.
By some sweet spell within a bark were placed,
Swifi at our will with every wind to fly;
No stormy terrors of the watery waste,
With those soft nymphs, on whom your souls are bent,
And that each fair might be as well content,
As I in truth believe our hearts would be. Philip Villani, the son and nephew of the two Florentine historians, in giving the earliest example of literary history and criticism, confirmed the decision of the learned in his age, who pronounced the lyric pieces of Guido equal to those of Dante. Indeed the energy and originality which form the two characteristics of Dante's genius appear still more strongly in the lyrics of Guido, but always deformed by a primitive rudeness, which Dante, who was born twenty years later, more successfully avoided. Guido found the art in its infancy, and in raising it to adolescence, displayed greater force than skill; but in the productions of Dante strength and address marched with an equal step, and in tempering the harshness incident to all early poetry, he had the sagacity to choose the style of Virgil as his model. Besides, Dante made poetry his study and his chief glory : Guido, aspiring to a higher reputation, considered the single merit of fine poetry as insufficient to entitle any man, even Virgil himself, to rank with a philosopber.
Those who know that the enterprise of subjecting a language even in the height of its perfection to a system of rules, demands a profound insight into the operations of the intellect, will agree that Guido evinced a philosophic mind in composing a grammar, and laying down the rules of correct writing, before the Italian language could boast of authors of commanding example and authority. The ancient Italians, content with eulogizing this treatise, neglected to preserve it for posterity; and we are therefore unable to judge of its execution. Of his prose writings there are no remains; but the praise cannot be withheld from him, of having, at least, commenced a project of vast utility, and at the same time of such difficulty that it could not be brought to any maturity before the golden age of Leo the Xth. Still, that which he has not effected by his theories he has in a great measure accomplished in his practice. He was the first to ennoble the language with a poetical phraseology and versification, and except his too great love for metaphysical ideas and terms, he might serve as a model for any age. The following sonnet exhibits in a striking degree the excellences and the defects of his style.
Chi è questa, che vien, ch' ogni uom la mira,
E far di clarità l'aer tremare,
Dicalo Amor, ch'io non saprei contare :
Che ciascun'altra in ver di lei chiam' ira.
Ch'a lei s'inchina ogni gentil vertute,
E la beltate per sua Dea la mostra :
E non s'e posta in noi tanta salute ;
Che propriamente n'abbiam conoscenza.
And fills with tremulous light the charıned air,
His wonder other breath than deep-drawn sighs?
My rising hopes Love only may declare ;
That other dames full cold and haughty seem.
While gentlest virtues thronging round are seen,
And Beauty proudly boasts her for her queen.
Nor with such pure and passionate feelings glow,
As now, when gazing on her charms we know. From a letter of Lorenzo de' Medici, which we shall quote here in order to shew this renowned patron and arbiter of literature in his less known character of critic, we learn that two centuries after the
death of Guido, the most illustrious of his fellow-citizens continued to lament him as if he had but recently died. It is addressed to the son of the King of Naples. “ The most eminent, after Dante and Petrarch, is the delicate Guido Cavalcanti, a Florentine; a dextrous dialectician, and the most distinguished philosopher of his age. He was elegant and graceful in his person, noble in his descent; in his writings he united, beyond all others, beauty, ease, and originality; in his inventions he was sagacious, splendid, and admirable; in his expression deliberate, copious, and sublime; in his arrangement regular, wise, and skilful. All these happy endowments were adorned with a style at once sweet, enchanting, and novel; and if they had been displayed in an ampler field, would undoubtedly have commanded the highest honours. But, above all his other works, there is one canzone, in which this charming poet has described every quality, virtue, and property of love.” To this canzone some have applied the epithet divine, but though it has been studied for centuries by many acute scholars, we do not find any who have succeeded in understanding it. Its celebrity and obscurity have, however, given birth to seven long commentaries, some in Italian, others in Latin, and two of them still unedited; yet the more their authors have paraded their metaphysics, the more unintelligible has their text become. Although the canzone is always printed in the Appendix to every edition of Petrarch, who seems to have held it in much esteem, still, for the last two centuries, it has been more frequently spoken of than read. This, indeed, is the case with all of Guido's poetry.
Lorenzo de' Medici seems to have been his last panegyrist, and since that time his high reputation rests rather on the magni nominis umbrá, than on any of his remaining works.
Some of the compositions of Guido were published by fragments in different collections, and others remained unedited until 1813, when Signor Cicciaporci of Florence gathered them together and gave them to the world from a pious duty of consanguinity; a duty which would have been better performed, if instead of a long and useless preface, he had prefixed to his edition an accurate biography of his ancestor. Of the precise date of his birth we have no account: the year, place, and circumstances of his death are equally unknown. Having been exiled, under the magistracy of Dante, as one of the chiefs of the Guelph party, to a spot infected with the mal-aria, he was recalled, on the pretext of its unhealthiness, by his friend, which drew upon him the imputation of partiality, and was one of the causes of his own banishment. From this year—the last of the thirteenth century-we find no authentic mention of Guido, except that he was expelled a second time; and from a poem, composed during his exile, we learn that his illness left him few hopes of life. It is written in a tone of truth and passion, which gives it a value, in the absence of others, as an bistorical document. We shall cite from it some passages, and the more willingly as it appears to be one of the most poetical of his compositions. Perch'io non spero di tornar giammai, Since these eyes no inore shall see Ballatetta, in Toscana,
My native fields of Tuscany,
Gó, little Song, and softly bear
Thy homage to my lady fair.
Tu voce sbiggottita, e deboletta,
Ch'esci piangendo dello cor dolente,
And thou, voice, that timid art and
weak, This sad and languid bosom quit
Unto my mistress meek,
Gifted with a sense so bright
That 'twill be thy dear delight
Soul, thou hast with passion loved,
All her fondness thou hast proved, And shalt forget her never.
Tu senti, ballatetta, che la morte
Mi stringe sì, che vita m'abbandona;
preco, Quando uscirà del core.
Go, little Song, the hand of death
Tells me life is hourly fleeting:
And I cannot suffer more.
Take my soul, I now implore, When it quits this fragile sphere, And bear it to my lady dear.
The Auctioneer and the Lawyer.
Did greater execution with his hammer,
Assisted by his puffing clamour,
He ought, in reason, to have raised his own
Sounded along Cheapside its knell,