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pronounced inimitable. The dark veil of melancholy which we see hovering all about us, over all created things, has something in it that appeals to our innermost sympathies : for sorrow comes willingly home to our heart, it glides into it as to its natural abode ; we cherish it, we hug it even to ebriety. Manzoni's strain is one continued lay of the broken-hearted. Even his evil-doers are rather the object of our pity than our hatred. They know not what they are doing. They are the blind instruments in the hand of an unfathomable, but, doubtless, just and benevolent fatality. In sorrow more than in anger
do we look upon them.
The Italians of the fifteenth century are slaying each other in “ Carmagnola.” They know not, they inquire not into the causes of their mad animosities. Hirelings in the pay of a hireling leader, they shout, they charge, they trample each other into the dust. **
• Down from the fastnesses of the Alpine barrier, meantime, the foreign invader casts an exulting glance. He beholds the brave that lie low in the carnage field: he numbers them with a fiendish joy."
“ Fatal land,” exclaims the poet, in the agony of true feeling, “ fatal land, where thy children struggled, as if for want of elbow-room-make way now for the victorious stranger. It is only the beginning of God's judgment.
“ An enemy never provoked by thee, sits insultingly at thy festive board, snatches the sceptre from thy ruler's hands, shares the spoils of victory--a victory for which thy insane feuds paved the way. “ Yet no less insane is the joy of his triumph. Can
any prosper through outrage and bloodshed ? The joy of the violent soon turns to mourning; the vanquished alone is exempt from woe.
“'Tis not always, indeed, that Heaven's vengeance stops him in his headlong race, but it marks him, it follows, it watches him ; it reaches him on his last breath.
“ All made in the semblance of one Being, all children of the same redemption, in whatever age, on whatever land we may breathe this
“ We are brethren, all bound to one covenant. God's curse on him who violates it, who rises on the ruin of the afflicted, who tortures and crushes an immortal soul !"'
Blessed are they who mourn ! Every line of Manzoni is an illustration of the same consoling text.
* Non la sanno ; a dar morte, a morire
Stolto anch'esso ! Beata fu mai,
Ben talor nel superbo viaggio
Tutti fatti a sembianza d'un solo,
Siam fratelli ; siam stretti ad un patto.
Tu che angusta a' tuoi figli parevi,
In the same manner, Carmagnola, fallen into the toils of the wily Venetian patricians, who resolve upon breaking their instrument, the moment his services bode danger to the state, Carmagnola breathes words of forgiveness and resignation to his distracted daughter.
“No, my own Matilda, let not a word of rancour or vengeance darken the serenity of thy innocent soul, or disturb the solemnity of these supreme moments.
“Oh! Death is not the work of human contrivance ; it would then be rabid, unendurable: our worst enemy can do no more than hasten it. It comes from God's hand ; and bears with it God's own peace, which men can neither give nor take away:
Adelchi dies with words on his lips conveying the same lesson of submission to the overpowering evil that sways this nether world.
“ A deep secret is life, unfathomable, but to the last hour.
“ There is no room in the world for righteous deeds : nothing is left but to inflict wrong or endure it. An overbearing Might rules the earth, and it calls itself Right. Our forefather's hand, blood-stained, hath sown injustice : with blood have our fathers fostered it : the earth yields now no other harvest.”+
This is, indeed, disheartening doctrine ; and all the worse for coming, as it does, at the close of a long tale of woe. This Adelchi, this last of the Lombard dynasty, the only righteous individual of a guilty and doomed
race, has been all his lifetime striving after all that was noble and beautiful.
“Oh! it seemed to me-truly it did seem to me, that I was born for something higher than to be the chief of a robber's band ; that Heaven allotted a nobler part to me in this distressed land than to lay it waste, without danger, without honour.
“My heart is vexed, Anfrido. It bids me aspire to lofty and generous deeds, and fortune drives me to deeds of iniquity. I move on, dragged by a fatal necessity on a path, not of my choice, a dark, aimless path ; and my
heart withers even as a seed fallen on barren soil, tossed about by the wind." I
No, mia dolce Matilde, il tristo grido Che accelerarla.-Oh! gli uomini non
Rabbiosa, insopportabile :-Dal cielo
Ella ne viene, e l' accompagna il cielo La inorte,
Con tal conforto che nè dar nè torre Il più crudel nemico altro non puote.
Gli uomini ponno. † Gran segreto è la vita, e no 'l comprende Forza il mondo possiede e fa nomarsi Che l' ora estrema:
Dritto: la man degli avi insanguinata Loco a gentile
Seminò l'inguistizia: i padri l'hanno Ad innocente opra non v'è: non resta Coltivata col sangue; e omai la terra Che far torto o patirlo. Una feroce Altra messe non dà. Oh mi parea
Alte e nobili cose, e la fortuna Pur mi parea che ad altro io fossi nato Mi condanna ad inique; e strascinato Che ad esser capo di ladron; che il cielo Vo per la via ch' io non mi scelsi : Su questa terra altro da far mi desse Che senza rischio e senza onor guastarla Senza scopo: e il mio cor s' inaridisce
Come il germe caduto in rio terreno Il mio cor mange, Anfrido ; ei mi E balzato dal vento.
Every one of Manzoni's heroes sinks to his grave with Brutus's dark despair in his heart. Each of them has staked his existence on the cause of righteousness and virtue, each of them finds out on his last breath that life has been wasted in the pursuit of a dream. True, Manzoni's are Christian heroes. Light immortal is dawning even as the darkness of death closes in upon them. In the bosom of God, within sight of his eternal retribution, they cast one last glance of repining and disappointment upon the things of the earth. Human misery reaches them no longer ; yet they fret and murmur at the fatality which frustrated all their attempts to alleviate or redress it.
But between the sublimest theories of divine doctrine and the blackest blasphemy there is only one step. Prostrate on the ground with incurable wounds, with life ebbing fast away, or taking leave of wife and child on the eve of execution, a stage hero may, in sooth, be allowed the indulgence of vague, incoherent ravings. But if the poet himself speaks through their lips, if every scene in the drama is only to lead to these heart-rending conclusions, we must mistrust the holiness of a professedly religious production, in which God is made too closely after the writer's own image.
What? we must ask of the sainted Manzoni, does the earth allow no scope
and virtuous deeds ? Must each of us either do or endure injury? And is it so hopeless and needless for man to battle with fortune? And are not fortune and fatality synonymous expressions with providence ?
The sublime Christian doctrine of the forgiveness of injuries is equally misapplied in many instances. God's hand strikes us, it is true, through the hand of our enemy.
In the last extremity, when our duty to ourselves and our fellow-beings is thoroughly accomplished, when we are eonscious of utter impotence to struggle on, then, and then only, is it time for us to acknowledge and bow to God's will. It is blasphemous, we think, to yield to every stroke of adversity, nay, more, to every infliction of human malignity, with a conviction that we are conforming to Heaven's decrees. It was, undoubtedly God's pleasure that evil should play a prominent part in the matters of this sublunar world: that the noblest faculties of our soul should be proved, tempered by it. He armed the elements, the beasts of the field, the monsters of the deep against man ; he encompassed him with danger and death ; he sowed the seeds of evil propensities in our very heart, so that man should be as a wolf against man: but he also gave us the sense of right and wrong ; an upright tendency to aspire to the former ; a stubborn strength to oppose the latter. A brave heart struggling with adversity is said to be the most pleasing object in his sight. Even as we strive against the rage of the storm, even as we dare the savage fury of the brute, so must we bear up against the ill-will of our brother. Till a spark of life remains, it is our most sacred duty to resist ; time enough to forgive-if forgiveness is to be interpreted as submission-time enough to forgive when we writhe in death on the ground.
This mean and grovelling pietism could do but little harm in England, a country so far removed from hostile aggression, sailing so steadily before the wind of prosperity, and only occasionally afflicted with such calamities as the most stubborn must readily acknowledge as the immediate visitation of God. But Italy is struggling for existence. Public
opinion is rising fast in that country, waiting only for time and opportunity to ripen it into action. No great good can come to the Italians from informing them that “the conquered alone are free from sorrow," or that “the joy of the violent will be turned to wailing." The Austrians are there at any rate, crushing, trampling them down. However they may feel on their death-bed, they hold the country, fearless, remorseless, as they think, by the holy right of conquest and the grace of God. “At it again, sons of Italy !" should be the cry of every honest man in the country. “Let no sophism of a false fear of God stay your hand ; degrading thraldom is undeniable evil; God intended it for none of the children of men. Appeal once more to his justice. Try one more chance,--and those who are slain for their country's sake may,
if they please, kiss the German bayonet that gores them and call it the sword of God's justice.” It is but too true, " Might has long been Right upon earth ;" it is so still to an awful extent. But let us be in no hurry to admit of its sovereignty. “Make yourselves sheep," as the Italian proverb has it, "and the wolves will eat you. Had such men as William Tell or Gustavus Vasa, Hampden, or Wilberforce cherished Manzoni's sentiments, the earth would now hardly harbour one nation unenslaved the mass of mankind would walk on all-fours like beasts of burden.
But we have, perhaps, too long dwelt on what we consider the erroneous and, as far as Italy is concerned, fatal tendencies of Manzoni's morals. They were, in him, merely the consequence of that constitutional nervousness his friends attributed to him. Pellico adopted the same language when his spirit was broken at Spielberg. The same maudlin meekness and contriteness prevailed for many years among the writers of the romantic school, chiefly in the north of Italy. They all “left politics alone and spoke of something else.” But politics in Italy are not merely a subject for amateur discussion. It is matter of life and death. No man of honour and understanding is entitled to keep aloof, or to remain neutral in the struggle ; not any more, at least, than an Englishman should look on unconcerned whilst a horde of Cossacks sit in the council chambers of his sovereign, or garrison the Tower of London.
Nothing, indeed, more saddening, nothing more disgusting, in a country like Italy, where every civil and ecclesiastical institution has been for centuries conspiring to undermine the last bulwarks of native manliness in the people's bosom-nothing more revolting than to hear men of distinguished intellect and upright, generous character, with so honest a patriot as Manzoni at their head-preaching cowardice in God's name !
Manzoni's novel was undertaken with views even more consonant with the tenor of his mind. He chose a national subject out of the most calamitous times in the calamitous history of the country. The scene is at Milan, in the early part of the seventeenth century, during the worst period of the stupid and brutal Spanish dominion. The poet felt sure to meet with nothing likely to exalt or console him, between the blind ferocity of the ruler, and the abject degradation of the subject. Society was as unredeemable a den of wild beasts as heart could desire. Manzoni's heroes are a silk-weaver, and a village girl, both gifted with none but the most utterly negative virtues. Nor are Renzo and Lucia destitute of interest merely because they belong to the uneducated classes. Gow Chrom and the Fair Maid of Perth are equally picked out among a set of low-born artisans ; but the former is recommended to the reader by his headlong bravery; the latter is endeared to us by her exalted, enthusiastic piety. Manzoni was, above all things, afraid of the charge of mannerism. His peasants are most awfully, most inexorably true to nature. They possess not one trait of idealised beauty. In danger of her life and honour, Lucy can only pray and vow herself to the Virgin, and hasten to consult her father-confessor. Roused into a fit of impotent fury, by the most daring outrage, and goaded even into temptations of murder, Renzo, in good time, is reminded of his Madonna and saints, and seeks for redress at his lawyer's. Manzoni laughs at him with great glee, for repeatedly expressing a hope of meeting with fair-dealing upon earth. “There is justice in this world, after all,” quoth the bumpkin. “So true it is,” observes the moralising poet," so true is it, that a man under the influence of distracting passions, no longer knows what he is talking about.”
* Colui che si fa pecora
Il lupo se lo mangia.
All the other characters of the plot, though more repulsive, are equally uninteresting. The Italian feudal nobles, the willing slaves of the arrogant Spaniard, combine such a degree of baseness and cowardice, with their love of oppression, haughtiness, and rapacity, with so much ignorance, absurdity, obstinacy, as might with difficulty be found amongst the most unrefined serf-owners in the Russian dominions. Out of so large a number of lay potentates, exception is only made in favour of an old obdurate villain, the Trnominato, whose heart was about to be touched, whose conversion was to be made subservient to the author's favourite theories.
Fra Cristoforo and Cardinal Boromeo, are, properly speaking, the heroes—a monk and a prelate—the only elements of good amidst that all-pervading influence of evil. Even their interference is, as may well be imagined, too often inefficient and null. Don Rodrigo, his profligate cousin, backed by their imbecile relative of the privy-council
, succeed in parting the betrothed lovers asunder ; they obtain the removal of the meddling friar; Renzo is driven abroad; Lucy forced from the very shelter of the sanctuary—the archbishop's attention is too soon called away by other more important cares—and the current of true love might never run smooth for our two rustic swains, but for a blessed pestilence, sweeping away the young feudatory and all his evil abettors and counsellors with him, and allowing the earth a little breathing-time from the wonted prevalence of villany and oppression.
Villany and oppression, therefore, must have their own way uncontrolled, no matter what resistance we offer to them: priests and monks, their saints and virgins, can only console, not often help, us. It behoves us to bow our heads, as devout pilgrims under a heavy shower, without murmur or complaint: the finger of Providence will be manifest in the end : God holds the seven scourges of Egypt ready at hand : the oppressor never fails to be smitten at the very height of his insolent success: or, were he even suffered to go on, unrestrained, to the end of his career, what of it? Let us only have faith-God's mark is upon him, vengeance watches and follows him: it will overtake him, if no sooner, as the gloom of death encompasses him. Such are Manzoni's views of God's justice.