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Nella squallida Roma, e vi contristi
“ Forest of Arden,
My eyes on mud praising its yellow Tiber." It must have been with bitterness of spirit that this speech was composed by the Italian poet ; the more so, from his having sufficient clear-sighted impartiality and self-knowledge—if we may so call knowledge of his own country and people to feel himself obliged to admit, in a note upon Frederick's speech, that
many of the things said by him are true; and a people, who have for a long space of time fallen under a foreign yoke, although they of necessity hate their masters, yet are constrained, in the secrecy of their own conscience, to despise themselves.” Alas! every injury inflicted on a human being, ever renders the object of it less capable of being dealt with by his fellow-men otherwise than injuriously
Giordano replies with dignity and courage ; and the envoys take their departure with a declaration that the emperor may expect the open resistance of the Romans,—reminding him also that the hostile Normans of Puglia are before him.
As they retire, Adrian again enters the imperial tent; and, to prove to Frederick the sincerity of his friendship, shows him the bull of excommunication he had just fulminated against the Normans. It is arranged between them that the German army shall penetrate into the Leonine city, of the gates of which the pope has the command ; and the Act closes with the
of the German soldiers—"A Roma ! a Roma !”
The Fifth Act opens with a soliloquy by Adrian in the private apartments of the Vatican. He is interrupted by the entrance of an attendant, who announces a lady who is desirous of an interview with the pope. This proves to be Adelasia, the wife of Count Ostasio.. While her husband had become a zealous convert to the doctrines of Arnold, she had always remained a staunch partisan of the papal church ; and although passionately attached to her husband, she regarded with horror what she deemed his apostacy and impiety. The sentence of excommunication which had been fulminated against those who had rescued Arnold, and all who should take any part in concealing and protecting him, had terrified and excited her mind, till the struggle between superstitious fear and woman's love had well-nigh turned her brain. She comes in to the pope in a state of agitation bordering on insanity; and the dialogue which ensues between the wily and cruel pontiff and the agonized woman contains some very fine poetry. Her hope was to have bargained for her husband's safety and pardon, as the price of her information as to the place of Arnold's retreat. Adrian finds little difficulty in extracting from her her secret. Frederick then comes in, and learns from Adrian what has passed. He no sooner hears the name of Ostasio, than he
recognizes it as one of the chief leaders of the republican party, and as such, more obnoxious to him than Arnold himself. He instantly decrees his death. And the passionate supplications of the wretched wife, whose eyes are now too late opened to the fearful consequences of the step she has taken, fail to arrest the sentence. She quits the presence of the inexorable pair-pontiff and emperor-in an agony of despair.
Then, after two short scenes, in one of which the senators are assembled on the Capitoline Hill; and in the other a dialogue takes place in the castle of St. Angelo between Arnold and his jailor, and the prefect of Rome, in which the martyr is informed of the fate that awaits him; there follows a splendid soliloquy by Arnold. It is of considerable length, and
as we cannot extract it entire, we prefer leaving it unmutilated. We will only say that it is a speech worthy of being put into the mouth of such a man, as he stood on the brink of eternity.
This is the last we see of Arnold. His execution is supposed to follow immediately in the secrecy of the dungeons of St. Angelo; as was, in fact, the case.
We think it a matter of doubt whether it might not have been better to have dropped the curtain here. The remaining scenes, though they were important enough to Rome in their real action, are not so to the main subject of the tragedy. With Arnold's death the high-wrought sympathy and interest of the reader drops, and what remains to be told appears superfluous to him.
A struggle between the republican Romans and the Imperial troops follows--with a chorus of the soldiers of both parties. The Germans are of course victorious, and the mutual congratulations and self-felicitations of “Peter" and "Cæsar" close the tragedy.
Such is a brief outline, faint and meagre enough, of this poem, which is now actively doing the work, that it was intended by its author to do, on every thinking mind in Italy. We have thought it principally interesting to our readers, as a signal feat of arms in that great battle which is being fought in Italy, and as an indication of the condition of social and political feeling among her sons. And it is in this point of view, that the publication of the work is deemed an event of high importance and deep signification by all classes in Italy. But it is undoubtedly a remarkable production in a purely literary point of view also. The few extracts we have been able to find space for, have been chosen chiefly for their manifestation of the political views and aspirations of the author. Yet it will be admitted that these short and detached passages convey an impression of no mean poetical power. But if any readers shall be induced by what we have said to peruse the entire poem, they will find, apart from its political interest, many passages of pure and high poetical beauty.
Some of the more critical among Signor Niccolini's compatriots have imputed certain faults of style and diction to this latest production of his pen, which, without presuming to offer an ultramontane opinion on the subject ourselves, we may as well mention. It is asserted that the desire of obtaining a chaste and severe simplicity of style, and scrupulous classicality of diction, have been pushed so far as to have produced a certain rigidity and appearance of stiltified affectation; while the purity of the language has been marred, rather than secured, by the admission of Latinisms. We are inclined to think, however, that these critics would deem it an unpardonable presumption in "a barbarian,” were he to affect to pronounce a judgment on the use of “La dolce lingua" even in accordance with their own.
We have spoken sufficiently at the beginning of this article of the political bearings of Signor Niccolini's tragedy. We will conclude it with a very few words on its social significance. It is true, that one of the most lamentable results of national oppression is to render the oppressed incapable of returning with advantage to their former free condition. The tree which has been bent, even when its sturdy trunk has been riven in the bending, soon grows into the attitude into which it has been forced, and can assume no other. The deterioration of oppressor and oppressed is one of the proofs of design" in the creation and government of the moral universe, which meet the observer's eye not less frequently than the adaptations and correspondences so remarkable in the constitution of the physical world. The tyrant's ever ready answer to the remonstrance of his slave, is—« You are not fit for freedom.” So to answer, is to avow the worst evil consequence of his own bad work; but alas ! that answer is frequently too true. It is an answer that has been again and again thrown to the Italians in reply to their aspirations after political freedom. And are the Italians at this day fit to receive such a portion of political freedom and liberty of self-government as full-grown nations may exercise with advantage? If a conscientious Englishman should find it difficult to answer this inquiry unconditionally in the affirmative, it must be remembered, that a negative reply by no means condemns the Italians to a permanence of their actual condition. It is absolutely necessary for a man to go into the water before he can swim. It must be remembered, also, that an Englishman, with his heir-loom of training in freedom's school for centuries, is apt to erect a very high standard of requirements for the capacity of self-government. France deemed herself perfectly fit to manage her own affairs some half century since. And we think that few who know Italy, will doubt, that she is to the full as fit for freedom as France was then, or has been since. It is true that fair France has, since that day,
“ Play'd such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who with our spleens
Would all themselves laugh mortal." But they are improving gradually and perceptibly; and though that improvement is in a great measure due to their good fortune in having a nurse strong enough to guide them, and subtle enough to make them think they are going alone, still they are feeling their legs, and are making a real progress which would have been impossible had they remained ever swathed in the bandages of infancy.
We hold Signor Niccolini's book, and the reception it has met with from his countrymen, to be a strong proof that Italy has still that in her, which should make a nation great and free. And we must confess that the same principles and sympathies, which attach us to the good cause of English conservatism, in its true and enlightened sense, compel us to join our aspirations to those of the thousands, in whose breasts the generous sentiments of the work we have been examining have found a ready echo. We are addressing ourselves, we trust, to English conservatives of that best class, in whom, under Providence, is now England's surest hope for the future,—who know that true conservatism and wholesome progression are not only compatible, but, in truth, indissolubly linked together; and to such readers we say—Make yourselves acquainted with the views, opinions, and hopes of the Italians, as represented by such men as our author and his admirers; make yourselves also acquainted with Italy—especially Middle and Southern Italy—and her governments,—with her social, intellectual, moral, and religious condition ;—and then.... we should wish nothing better for Italy, than that it were possible for her future destinies to depend on your judgment of her cause.
ART. VII.-1. Poems. By Alfred Tennyson. 2 vols. Moxon. 2. The Return of the Druses ; a Tragedy. By Robert Browning.
Moxon. 3. Gerald ; a Dramatic Poem. By J. W. Marston. Mitchell. Our friends in the Colonies must have been very much puzzled by the aspect of our literature during the last few years,
and more especially must they be so at the present period, when it would seem that the only works extensively patronized by the vast majority of general readers are those which deal in half-historical balderdash, drilled and paraded into fictions, and made yet more grossly intelligible to the vulgar apprehension, by loudly trumpeted illustrations on wood, or steel, or stone. It would, moreover, seem that the taste of the time (except in the very gravest departments of science and letters) was thoroughly devoted to broad farce and burlesque. Though genius can elevate and redeem the lowest or the most depraved subjects, the suite of those which follow in such a perilous walk becomes as detestable to all highly educated and refined intellects, as injurious and vitiating to the public feeling and taste. From such premises our friends over the seas will naturally have inferred that this degradation of literature, and this farcical laugh-making, these unredeemed real-life vices, are not so much the consequence of the popular craving, as of the over-feeding; and that the feeders who purvey this mass of coarseness and absurdity, are the only authors of the time capable of dealing successfully with fiction ;-in short, that we have no fine imaginative intellects, with creative faculties of the higher order, among us, either in poetry or prose. We intend to disabuse our Colonial friends of this erroneous impression ; and the notice we shall give from time to time of the productions of living English authors, while it will only be doing justice to the genius of the mother country, will supersede the necessity of our further reply to many respected remonstrances and suggestive communications from foreign correspondents on this very subject. Our subscribers in the Colonies may, therefore, depend henceforth on receiving the information they require as to the condition and movements of the home department of literature.
But not upon the authors and the public only does the prevailing depravity of taste rest for its present extensive influence, supply, and support. Many newspapers, and some of the Reviews, adopt the same tone, and work to the same end by the same means. They herald forth a new work of this class by applause,