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Romance was almost utterly extinct ever since the close of the sixteenth century. To that poetical rage which crowded the shelves of Italian libraries with several thousand volumes of chivalro-epic poems in ottava rima-(readers familiar with Italian literature know that we do not exaggerate)—weariness succeeded, and surfeit. Chivalrous epopée was superseded by amorous lyrics. Petrarch re-asserted his ascendancy over Ariosto and T'asso. The Arcadians of the seventeenth century published thousands of volumes of sonnets, which, if they had no greater merit than the stanzas of their predecessors, were, at least, more shortly written, and sooner read and forgotten.
In the following century, the English novelists of the age of Fielding and Richardson, notwithstanding Italian translations of their works being published, exercised little or no influence on the Italian mind; neither did the pseudo-philosophical school, which flourished in France shortly before the Revolution, find many followers on the southern side of the Alps. With the exception of the “ Novelle dell'Abate Chiari,” and other vapid and prosy productions in that style, which attained a certain degree of popularity, Italy, in the eighteenth century, hardly possessed a work of fiction worth notice.
But during the French invasion, a man was bom on board a Venetian man-of-war, destined to feel in a high degree, and forcibly to depict, those passions by which the bosoms of his countrymen were kindled during the appalling events of that memo
Jacopo Ortis” is an eminently Italian romance. It is in fact the only work in the language intended as a delineation of national character. It is true that Ugo Foscolo only gave his own features for a portraiture of his hero. Like Alfieri, Byron, and other egotists of modern times, he was so full of himself, that every object around seemed imbued with his own thoughts and feelings. But fortunately Foscolo's character was no bad specimen of an Italian mind and heart during the momentous crisis, of which he was by no means an idle spectator. A patriot, conspiring against a decrepit oligarchy at Venice; a factious republican, after the classic models of Timoleon and Brutus, diving into all the extravagances by which Italians were made to wink at the shameless spoliation of their country; a volunteer in the Cisalpine ranks, fighting with headlong impetuosity, or in leisure moments haranguing the people on the square, and inditing admonitory epistles to the ambitious despot, who was making the hot heads of French and Italian republicans a footstool to the throne; a sullen frondeur, at war with all manner of government, dreaded by all parties, but loved by the multitude; withdrawing from the turmoil of active life, to indulge
for a season in the abstruse lucubrations of unwieldy scholarship, or to pine in wanton indolence at the feet of a tyrant beauty ;such was Foscolo; and such, bating the gloss and refinementthe paint and tinsel by which a hero must be set off for stage effect—such is also “ Jacopo Ortis.”
Written in a manly, rich, imaginative style, such as is seldom found among Italian prose writers-conceived with a unity of purpose, plan, and action worthy of the best age of ancient classicism-redundant with genuine high-wrought feeling, such as might well shame the maudlin sentimentality of modern romanticism,-“Jacopo Ortis" is, we think, far superior to the kindred German production, “ The Sorrows of Werter," with which it had long to contend for the palm of priority. With little or no action, with just as few episodes as can cast some light on the gloomy character of the protagonist, the romance proceeds towards its unavoidable catastrophe,-a mere outline of a wayward and gloomy, but still at times lofty and noble soul,—the dissection of a proud and stubborn, but also manly and generous, heart.
“Jacopo Ortis” has been considered as an immoral book, being truly little better than a vindication of suicide. Every letter he writes, every word he utters, is evidently made to bear on that long-premeditated crime. The dagger hovers before him amidst the flowers and verdure of his Euganean hills-among the joys of the ruddy peasantry, whose festivals he consents to grace with his presence : the thought of death mingles itself with the warmest expansions of his beneficent nature, with the very ecstasy of a first kiss of love. And yet we do not think Ortis had in Italy the same pernicious effect that Werter is said to have produced in Germany. Life has, in the South, too many charms for any book to render suicide a fashionable monomania ; and, independent of its tragical conclusion, we rather incline to believe that Foscolo's romance exercised a most beneficial influence, in as far as it roused his countrymen from that effeminacy into which, after the restoration of the peace, they were but too prone to relapse. It taught them to cherish virtue, even though inseparably wedded to sorrow and evil—even though apparently abandoned by Heaven and Earth.
Notwithstanding the popularity enjoyed by that work in Italy and abroad,* it never boasted a numerous school of imitators. The earliest productions of Defendente Sacchi and the short tragic tales of Davide Bertolotti, are, indeed, rather written after
* “ Jacopo Ortis” has been very lately re-translated into French by a no less po. pular writer than Alexandre Dumas.
VOL. III.-NO, I.
the models of Arnaut, the French sentimentalist, than in the stern and nervous style of Ortis. Their “Pianta dei Sospiri' and “Cimitero dei Cipressi,” and other pretty romances with lugubrious titles, after lingering for one or two seasons on the toilet-table of the Milanese beauties, were at last thrown aside amidst the yawns of unconquerable ennui.
But not long after the close of revolutionary wars, together with a flood of various productions of ultramontane literature, the Waverley novels made their way into Italy. It would be difficult to conceive the enthusiasm with which these exotics were welcomed into the Italian soil. Translations of the works of Scott were published with as much expedition as they issued from the Ballantine press. Those by Gaetano Barbieri and Pompeo Ferrario of Milan, executed with rare skill, though, at first, with little or no knowledge of English, contributed in a high degree to hasten the acclimation of those Caledonian narratives. The first of Scott's translators was the amiable and talented Pietro Borsieri, who published the “ Antiquary” before 1820. His task was hardly completed, when he was involved in the fate of the Editors of the “Conciliatore," a literary work intended to reconcile men of all parties to unanimity and brotherly love; one of the most harmless publications that ever saw the light of day, but in which Austria apprehended treasonable designs. Borsieri, together with Confalonieri and Pellico, was sent to Spielberg, there to reconcile himself to hard bread and greasy broth, and to the knitting of woollen stockings; and the task of translating Scott devolved upon others of his less unfortunate townsmen. But new versions and editions of Scott's works, in
prose as in verse, were reproduced in almost every town of the Peninsula; and for several years the “ Ariosto of the North” had nearly weaned that southern people from the perusal of their brilliant and copious national literature. In the train of the Scottish bard, Cooper, Bulwer, and others of his imitators invaded Italy. James, unrivalled in his knowledge of the Chronicles of France, gave also an interest to that view of literature from his extraordinary verisimilitude to history, in which he excels most modern writers; and his novels possess closer affinities to the facts they describe, than almost any other romances, and also are clear from any moral wrong done to the memory of the illustrious dead. Nor could it be long, with these impulses in the public mind, before admiration yielded to imitation.
Manzoni was, perhaps, the first to conceive the idea of an Italian historical novel. Brought up among the recent affluence of foreign literature into Italy, he had studied with transport the best models in the German and English languages. His first
poetical essays easily placed him at the head of that Romantic school which was then rising in Italy. He had written two tragedies in a new style; as it was supposed, in imitation of Schiller. He was now busy, it was reported, with a romance after the manner of Scott. With that timi diffidence and laborious diligence peculiar to a country in which literature is never cultivated from interested motives, and where fame is the author's only reward, Manzoni employed several years to give his novel that high finish for which it has been justly commended. Every word in these three long volumes has been weighed with the minutest accuracy. As in his tragedies, so in the novel, Manzoni seemed anxious to fetter and pinion his genius, as if in sheer terror that it might run away with him. In his endeavours to be sober and natural, he appears cold and even dull. “I Promessi Sposi” can scarcely be called a romance. There is nothing of the action and interest which ought to be inseparable from a successful novel. It is hardly possible to read it with that climax of excitement which novelists even of the lowest rank are almost invariably able to give their narratives. The subject, to our judgment, could never be more unfortunately selected; the heroes could hardly be more insignificant; the plan scarcely more unwieldy or inanimate.
But whilst we are ready to confess that the novel could never have proved a more decided failure as a whole, we must not be blind to the transcendent beauties of its parts. Manzoni, in fact, never intended to write a romance. He entered the lists as a rival rather than as a follower of Scott. He wished his own work, whilst he suffered it to be classed among the imitations of those of his antagonist, to be, in fact, as different from them, and as essentially original, as the human mind could contrive. Manzoni's three volumes are a series of pictures of manners-a tame, and, if it must be said, clumsy rhapsody of comic or tragic scenes, developing no tendency but the promulgation of that unresisting, meek, pusillanimous Christianity, which by an exaggerated application of the doctrines of the Gospel, teaches the slave to “turn the other cheek” to the overbearing tyrant who wantonly smites him. A monk and a cardinal are his only heroes. Determined to advocate the cause of religion in its worst phasis of papal catholicity, he can find no virtue except under the cowl or the purple; unless it were among the abject peasantry of a trodden country, whose passive resignation under dire necessity-whose pazienza per forza—is accounted meritorious and holy. With only a few years interval, Manzoni seems at the antipodes with Foscolo. Å reader, wondering what has become of Alfieri's—
Italia c'è;" -a reader, we said, might be induced to suppose that less than a quarter of a century has been sufficient to convert the North of Italy into a vast convent of monks. What with Manzoni's “Fra Cristoforo," and with his “Morale Cattolica," and with Pellico's “ Doveri dell' Uomo," the poor Lombards are taught to care very little whether their fat and fair land be a prey to whitecoated Austrians or black-gowned Jesuits, so that by their heroic forbearance and submission to what they are to consider a dispensation of Providence, they may be booked, if not quite for Paradise, at least for Purgatory or Limbo. Monks and Cardinals, indeed! Count all the disasters that famine and pestilence ever inflicted—those fatal scourges which Manzoni knows how to describe so terrifically,—count all the invasions, slaughters, and arsons which Italy had to endure at the hand of ultramontane barbarians, -and you will hardly come up to the amount of radical, permanent, incurable evil wrought upon the benighted people of Italy by those cowled and purpled tyrants of thought. Alas, for Italy! French and German soldiery could only kill the body; a corrupted priesthood has power to kill the soul !
Fra Cristoforo, Cardinal Federigo, and his uncle San Carlo Borromeo, were good men and righteous. Such characters have been, and are. Who knows it not? But cardinals and monks without number turned the authority of a most holy religion into an instrument of degradation and enslavement; and, bound up in the complicated machinery of a false system, the pure-minded and righteous themselves, by their very virtues, unwittingly contributed to sanctify the insidious dogmas and hateful measures by which it prevailed over the earth.
How far the zeal of these well-meaning but deluded champions of priestcraft may be said to harmonize with the real tendency of the age, will appear from the stubborn resistance manifested at Parma and Pavia against the fraudulent or forcible re-instalment of Jesuits by government; as well as from the movement of the patriots of Bologna, Ravenna, and Rimini, driven by despair to