« AnteriorContinuar »
exceed a moderate sized octavo. Reviews and newspapers have done their work upon him, nor can his fame rise and fall like the
mercury weather-glass. Manzoni has outlived his own destinies, and, properly speaking, belongs to the past; so that in our views of his genius, and of the influence of his writings, we may
him as one whose career has reached its close, and treat him even as posterity deals with the dead.
The Restoration of 1815 found Manzoni in the prime of life.* A mild meek, contemplative spirit, he looked with horror on the scene of desolation around him. We know no particulars respecting Manzoni's private
We have heard him described, we hardly could state on what authority, as a gentle, almost feminine being, affected by constitutional timidity, afraid to remain alone in the dark. It is also whispered that he was in earliest youth tormented by doubt ; by an inquisitive solicitude, which had well nigh undermined all belief in revealed truth, when, travelling once in the south of France, he chanced to hear, we do not remember whether at Nismes or Toulouse, a French preacher, by whose eloquence he was so mightily struck, that, suing for his acquaintance, and taking a nearer view of the subject, in which he had hitherto seen nothing but chaos and darkness, he was completely won back to the faith of his fathers, and vowed to exert such powers of intellect as Heaven had granted him to the rescue of others.
It was, then, with such feelings uppermost in his mind, that Manzoni looked on the havoc wrought upon Europe by the French Revolution. He beheld the great edifice that eighteen centuries had reared, now miserably trodden in the dust. Not a relic, not a vestige of religious belief; not a word of controversy did he hear, no spirit of party or sectarianism. The government of the Restoration, intent upon removing the traces of revolutionary ravages, had re-raised and propped up a clumsy fabric, which they called the Church: of the spirit of Christianity not a word was said. It was no longer Protestant latitudinarianism, it was not jacobinic philosophy Catholicism had now to contend with. It had met a far greater enemy-a dreary spectre, weaponless, passionless, mute, -bidding no defiance, declining close engagement-overcome by no disaster, elated by no success-gorgon-like, chilling, petrifying-Christianity was perishing in Italy from sheer spiritual inertia. To the age of cavil and sarcasm, of outrage and blasphemy, had succeeded that of utter irreclaimable scepticism.
Manzoni saw it. He determined to grapple with the monster. By the warm breath of poetic inspiration he would thaw the chill of despair that hardened the hearts of his countrymen against God.
The cause seemed a hopeless one, and he stood quite alone in his cham
* Manzoni was born in 1784, at Milan, where he passed the greatest part of his life. He belongs to a noble Lombard family. His mother was Giulia Beccaria, daughter of the famous author, “ Dei Delitti e delle Pene.” The Inni Sacri,”
published in 1810; Carmagnola," 1820; Adelchi,” 1823; “Il Cinque Maggio,” 1823; “I Promessi Sposi,” 1827; “Sulla Morale Cattolica," 1834; “Storia della Colonna Infame,” 1840. This last was written in illustration of some passage in the novel of “The Betrothed,” and belongs to the same epoch. Except as a work of erudition it has little to interest the reader. It was published with an illustrated edition of the novel, in which Manzoni took the minutest pains to alter the words nearly in every line of the original text. A work of pedantry undertaken to little purpose, and for which the world owes him no great thanks.
pionship. Foscolo, Alfieri, were, at the utmost, Deists. Monti, sometimes a Papist, sometimes a Jacobin, was but a miserable shuffler ; Pindemonte, an amiable Pagan epicure. Perticari a rusty pedant; the whole mass of Italian scholars only alive to worthless philological squabbles. Manzoni stood, for a long time, alone. Pellico and the romantic brotherhood of the conciliatore, followed several years later in his footsteps. They were the first Italian hearts in which Manzoni's words found an echo.
Nothing, also, could equal the supineness of the Church of Rome at the time. She seemed to have nothing to fear, nothing to hope. Nothing she dreaded as much as controversy. No church-reviews were published, no organs of polemic divinity. Silence was the order of the day. The propaganda was busy in Paraguay, or Otaheite. At home the gospel was left to take care of itself, and the generous enthusiast who aspired to raise his voice for Christianity, was looked upon as an indiscreet and unreasonable, even if not as a dangerous advocate.
On the other hand, among the Italian patriots, the pious device of Manzoni gave rise to different interpretations. The vindicator of religion was thought to harbour political views : to aim at a reconciliation of parties, at a fusion of moral and political principles. He was supposed to strive to win back to the cause of Italian emancipation the sound part of the clergy, and the moderate minds that still obeyed their impulse ; and to make the mitre and crozier the rallying standard for an Italian coufederacy; the banner of ancient Guelphism.
No one seemed willing to give him credit for honesty and straightforwardness of purpose. Yet the undertaking was in itself sufficiently geneTous to acquit him of all worldly motives. Consistency and uprightness ended by disarming suspicion.' Manzoni has proved himself a sincere man. Priests and Austrians dare not touch him ; nor liberals defame him. Amidst all that rancour of parties, the more intense from being smothered in silence, the man of God stands alone and secure ; revered by all, dreaded, or suspected, by none; inactive not unfeeling, inoffensive not servile. An Italian at heart, he beholds the evils of his country; he seeks for, hopes for no redress in this world ; but he points to Heaven ; he suffers, he exhorts others to suffer, in Heaven's name.
It was mainly with these views that Manzoni laboured at the reconstruction of his country's creed. The rude disenchantment of his patriotic expectations at the fall of Napoleon, had killed hope in his bosom. No chance was left, he apprehended, for an immediate emancipation of Italy.
Deeper and deeper he saw her sinking under the Austrian yoke. No firmness or unanimity could be looked for on the part of her degenerate sons, no justice or sympathy from the thankless nations of Europe. In the abyss she had fallen into, she would lie for a much longer period than human foresight could wade through. Against evils past cure nothing but resignation remains; even such resignation as religion affords.
Manzoni pointed to Heaven ; the only true country, the only home of mankind. The earth was for him a den of wild beasts; a wide field for the demons of evil to run riot in. A religious fatalist, he acknowledged in the tyrant the instrument of inscrutable providence. His was the unresisting, pusillanimous faith, which by an exaggerated application of the gospel's doctrines would teach the slave to “ turn the other cheek,” and kiss the scourge that smites him. Justice and peace, he teaches, are not of this world. Blessed be the tribulation that chastens and hallows, blessed the storm-blast that hurries, even if it wrecks us, ashore !
For the promulgation of these meek doctrines nothing was better cal. culated than that complicate system of self-denial and humility, of mortification and abjectness, which the craft of priesthood had so long forced on human superstition. Manzoni aspired to revive Catholicism in all its integrity. He was persuaded, that in the actual state of things all must stand or perish together; that any concession to the innovating spirit of the age was fraught with general subversion; that the removal of a single stone would bring the whole fabric to the ground. Confession and indulgences, monachism, all the worst practices of Romanism, no less than the most consoling principles of Christ's own teaching, were equally advocated with sober but unshaken zeal.
It is possible that Manzoni saw in this uniformity of creed the pledge for unanimity of Italian nationality in ages to come. He certainly is never more eloquent than when he exults at the moderation and consistency of his countrymen on theological subjects, and their constant abhorrence of religious strife and bloodshed. “Oh! among the horrible rancours,” he says,
" that divided Italians from Italians, this, at least, is not known. The passions that have made enemies of us did not, at least, abide behind the veil of the sanctuary. . It is but too true, we find, in every page of our annals, enmities sent down from generation to generation for wretched interests, and vengeance preferred to our own safety. We find in them, at every step, two parts of a nation fiercely disputing for supremacy, and for advantages which, at the end, for a great lesson, remained to neither. We find our ancestors wasting their forces in obstinate attempts to make slaves of such as might have been ardent and faithful friends; we read in them a frightful series of deplorable combats, but none, at least, like those of Cappel, Jarnac, and Prague. True, from this unfortunate land much blood will rise in judgment; but very little that has been spilt for the sake of religion. Little, I say, when compared with what stained the other parts of Europe. The furies and calamities of other nations give us the sad advantage of calling that blood but little ; but the blood of a single man, shed by the hand of his brother, is too much for all ages and countries.”
But whatever may be thought of his motives, no man was ever more true to his aim, none ever followed more closely one train of thought. His sacred hymns, his tragedies, his Ode on Napoleon, almost every chapter of his novel, are eminently Catholic; and not only was Catholicism incidentally introduced when the subject naturally led to it, but the works themselves were obviously undertaken for the sake of illustrating the sublimity of its sacred dogmas, and glorifying the importance of its consoling tendencies. At last, the ground being prepared by preliminary publications, the author gave form and system to his ideas by his essay on the “ Morals of the Catholic Religion.” The flame of charity he had clothed in all the glow of lyrical poetry, the profound meditations he had veiled under the pathos of tragedy, the salutary lessons resulting from the development of romantic catastrophes, were now condensed and more immediately brought to bear on the subject. The apostle had cast off his mantle, and girded himself for his mission.
Everywhere the same pious melancholy, the same morbid sense of the unworthiness of earthly interests, the same more than monkish abstraction from human feelings; everywhere the same consciousness of impotence, the same profession of unwillingness, to resist evil, the same readiness to refer all worldly differences to the arbitration of a heavenly Judge, to see
the hand of God in every enormity of human injustice ; the same disposition to give way to it, to acknowledge, as it were, and encourage it by too blind and passive a reliance on a future retribution-everywhere the same abnegation of all manly dignity, the same disregard of that Divine precept : “ Aid thyself, and Heaven will aid thee.”
God forgive him for errors committed in the pursuance of an honest intent. For, certainly man was not created in His own divine image, to submit to spurning and trampling, which instinct teaches the meanest reptile to resent. God suffered evil to prevail upon earth to test our energies of reaction, no less than our powers of endurance. We are eager to know His own will, that we may never bow to another's. It is only by resisting à l'outrance that we may discern the stroke direct from His hand, from the mere infliction of human malignity.
The Italians have too long made a virtue of their pazienza per forza. No good can come of teaching them to regard the Austrians as ministers of God's displeasure. It is written so in no book of Holy Scripture. And were it even so, religion and manhood would be no longer compatible.
Full of this generous, even though mistaken, spirit, and glowing with the heat of true poetic inspiration, Manzoni looked round for the form through which his thoughts might, in the most impressive form, be conveyed to the reluctant hearts of his fellow-mortals. No style of writing was, in that epoch, more popular in Italy than Schiller's drama and Walter Scott's novel. Manzoni attempted both.
Italy had then, for the first time, abdicated her leadership in literature and art. She was gradually recovering from the narrow-mindedness of her classic conceit. She admitted of greater latitude in the apprehension and reproduction of the beautiful. She bowed to northern genius, acknowledged its vastness and fecundity, its earnestness, depth, and character, its uncompromising adherence to nature.
Schiller was, of course, the best understood and appreciated of all the ultramontanes. His pure and gentle thoughts, even under the disguise of the humble prose of Pompeo Ferrario, struck upon Italian hearts as a revelation of new and unexplored regions in the human soul. The novelty of form, the transcendency of sentiment, alarmed even less than it enraptured the more sober and correct taste of the southern people. Even their almighty Alfieri seemed dry and cold by comparison with the more plastic and sympathetic mind of the German. Schiller entwined himself round the heart, and no room was left for the free exercise of judgment.
But even greater was the enthusiasm which welcomed the Waverley Novels into Italian soil. Translations of these works, there, as in France, vied in expedition with the original Ballantine press. New versions and editions followed close upon each other, in almost every town of the peninsula ; and, for several years, the “ Ariosto of the North” had nearly weaned that southern people from their copious and brilliant national literature,
Henceforth, it was felt, Italy was to serve out her apprenticeship: the most aspiring of her poets was to sink into the mere imitator. Brought up amidst the recent affluence of foreign literature into Italy, Manzoni had studied with transport the best models in the German and English languages. His earliest poetical essays had already placed him at the head of that romantic school, which, vague in its aims and purposes, was, however, rising up, fresh and vigorous, in northern Italy. His two
tragedies, written, as it was supposed, in imitation of Schiller, and his historical romance after the manner of Scott, were the first models upon which Romanticism grounded its principles.
Manzoni, however, had neither the real attributes of a dramatic or narrative poet, nor the mediocrity which condescends to servile imitation. Consequently was he, in many points, both below and above the works he was supposed to have looked up to for the standard of his own productions; and his subordination to the master-intellects of Schiller and Scott amounted to nothing more than the most vague and nominal allegiance.
With that timid diffidence and laborious diligence peculiar to a country in which literature is never cultivated from interested motives, and where self-approval or fame must be the author's only reward, Manzoni employed years to give each of those works that high finish for which they are justly commended. Every word is there weighed with the minutest accuracy. The author appears constantly anxious to fetter and pinion his genius, as if in sheer terror that it might run away with him. In his endeavours to appear sober and natural, he chills the reader with the constant evidence of effort and restraint. Carmagnola” and “Adelchi” are, properly speaking, no dramas; nor can the “ Promessi Sposi” be called a romance.
There is nothing of the warmth of action and interest which ought to be inseparable from that style of composition. It is hardly possible to read with that climax of excitement, which writers even of the lowest ranks are almost invariably able to give their performance.
It is not under such self-imposed fetters of intellectual pusillanimity that a poet can venture to tread upon the stage, or lay the threads for a romantic narrative. Inimitable in thought and feeling, Manzoni knows nothing of plot or character. Satisfied with having selected bis subject amongst the leading events of national history, and in so far complying with the patriotic tendencies of the school he belonged to, he proceeds to give full development to the pious sentiments his own heart overflows with, with little regard to their appropriateness to times and persons. Eminently a lyrical poet, and nothing but a lyrical poet, he gave the world, in his two tragedies, only a texture of lyrical thoughts. All the interest, or we are greatly mistaken, is concentrated in the poet himself. The character of Adelchi, in the tragedy that bears his name, appears feeble and languid ; that of the soldier of fortune, Carmagnola, in the other piece, is equally deficient in energy. We look in vain for those salient points by which the masterly portraiture of a manly character works a lasting impression on our soul. Great skill is displayed, it is true, in the delineation of some of the subordinate personages ; but the poet, after being at the trouble of bringing them forth, seems embarrassed with them, and only eager to rid himself of their presence. The drama, no less than romance, was to be turned to the
of a moral and religious essay. Regardless of general effect, and directing all his efforts to mere details and episodes, with a conviction that these latter might more readily be made subservient to his views, Manzoni gave his performance just as much compactness and unity as might secure the vote of an indulgent critic of his own new romantic school, yet not enough, perhaps, to conciliate the attention, or rivet the interests of the general reader.
As lyrical poetry in action, however, Manzoni's drama may easily be