Abbildungen der Seite

comparatively shall peruse, because everyone cannot understand, having obtained the suffrages of those distinguished above the common class of readers, acquires for the author an established name, which the people themselves are soon taught to repeat with respect, although entirely ignorant or insensible of the specific merit which has obtained their applause, Such esteem may be compared to the blind honours conferred upon a successful general by the mass of the people, who wish no other signal or reason for their shouts than the gazette, but it is not less devoted and sincere.

If we endeavour to account for this characteristic in the literature of Italy, a partial, or perhaps a sufficing, reason may be found in the difference between countries like England and France, and one in which, as there is no single capital, there are, comparatively speaking, none of those court intrigues, none of those party passions, none of those fashionable cabals and tribunals, which are called into play and employed in Paris and London in deciding the fate of authors. It is not that there are no reviews composed by the personal enemies or friends of the respective writers ; it is not that fashion has no voice; but the injustice of criticism or the folly of a coterie, which may sway the public opinion for awhile in one of the great cities, is inevitably corrected before it has run through the mass of disinterested readers, and travelled the wide circle of Venice, Bologna, Parma, Verona, Milan, Turin, Florence, Naples, and Rome. The same instances of undeserved neglect and elevation may be found in each of those towns as are the constant complaint throughout the vast extent of our own country. But even in any single capital the error is more speedily. corrected by the justice of many rival, or, what is better, impartial neighbours ; and, speaking of the whole of Italy, there cannot be an instance of that rapid rise, and as sudden precipitation, of which we have seen so many examples in our times, and which are to be attributed solely to what we call the fashion of the day. “ You do not even hear the


expressions usual with us applied to their national writers. The favourite of the town would be an absurd solecism in a country where there are twenty towns with distinct literary interests and pretensions, and where the attachment of one city secures the opposition of another; nor, as it has been before mentioned, can some of the most established authors be said to be most in vogue, for they are certainly not the most read.

A reviewer may irritate the public curiosity, a lady of high rank may give a letter of recommendation, but neither the one nor the other can raise those phantoms of fashion, who, although they come and depart like shadows, walk the whole round of our united kingdoms with all the honours and attributes of substantial existence.

If, then, we find any living author enjoying very nearly the same character in all the provinces of Italy, we can safely prognosticate that he has received his final estimation—that the just appreciation of his merits alone having raised him, will prevent him from ever sinking into total neglect; that he has become one of the national writers, subject, indeed, to the fluctuations which, as it has been before remarked, affect more especially the literature of Italy, but always to be ranked amongst the classics of his country.

The above circumstance furnishes the foreigner with a criterion not found in other countries : his survey is facilitated by being contracted to a narrower space; and when he has collected the judgment pronounced upon a very few, he need not embarrass himself with the multitude of writers, but be assured that he has seized the traits that are at present, and will always be esteemed, characteristic of the literature of the age. Of the writers, then, whose influence may be more or less discerned in the formation of the present taste and style, it may be sufficient to enumerate six: Melchior Cesarotti, Joseph Parini, Victor Alfieri, Hippolitus Pindemonte, Vincent Monti, and Hugo Foscolo. The three first are, it is true, no longer

There is survey thamay, and are

at it is that these are

alive,* but they clearly belong to the present day, and are no less to be taken into an actual survey than their surviving contemporaries. There is nothing bold in pronouncing that these are decidedly the authors of the day; but it is an endeavour of great difficulty and no little danger to attempt to show the specific reputation which each of them enjoys, and to describe their respective performances so as to give, on the whole, the acknowledged result of their effects upon the opinions of their countrymen. Such an effort has, however, been made in the following sketches of these distinguished Italians, and so much of their biography has been added as appeared serviceable in illustrating the motives that inspired, and the occasions that called forth, their various compositions.

CESAROTTI. Melchior Cesarotti was a Paduan, and died, in extreme old age, in the year 1808. Bold, fruitful, eloquent, and deeply versed in ancient and modern literature, this writer impressed his readers with the conviction of his genius; and yet, although he resembled no one of his predecessors or contemporaries, there was something more of novelty than originality in all his compositions.

He was brought up in the ecclesiastical seminary of Padua, which prides itself, and with some justice, on the constancy and success with which it has preserved the latinity of the purer ages. Indeed, the Latin verses of Cesarotti are a proof no less of his talents than of the merit of this celebrated institution, which, had he continued to pursue the same studies, would have produced a new rival of Vida or Fracastorius. But he no sooner entered into holy orders and quitted the seminary than he declared war against the poets of antiquity, and more especially of

elebrated studies, v But he 19 than be

* All of them now have been long dead.—1858.

Greece. An Englishman passing through Venice made him acquainted with Ossian, at that time the delight, or at least the wonder, of the transalpine critics, and Cesarotti lost no time in translating it into blank verse, accompanying his version with notes, for the most part, against Homer. Ossian delighted the Italians, who did not, generally speaking, embarrass themselves with the examination of the authenticity of the pretended epic. Palmieri of Placentia, and a few others, ventured to contest the antiquity of the poet, but the mass of readers, seduced by the authority of Blair, or by their inclination to be pleased with their Italian Ossian, were resolved to discover the genuine son of Fingal in the spurious offspring of Macpherson. Some there were who still defended the heroes of the old school, and exclaimed against a precedent fatal to the reputation of the ancient models and to the purity of the modern language. But they read the work and they admired the translator. His verses, in truth, are harmonious, are soft, are imbued with a colouring, and breathe an ardent spirit altogether new; and, with the same materials, he has created a poetry that appears written in a metre and a language entirely different from all former specimens. His superiority was evinced by the want of success in those who endeavoured to imitate him, and whose exaggerations and caricatures were received with a ridicule that, by little and little, was attached to their model and partially diminished his fame. The translation of Ossian will, however, be always considered as an incontrovertible proof of the genius of Cesarotti and of the flexibility of the Italian tongue.

The reputation into which he thus leapt, as it were, at once, encouraged him to still bolder innovations; and being raised to the Greek professorship in his own university of Padua, he translated Demosthenes and others of the Greek orators, subjoining criticisms full of learning and ingenuity, the chief aim of which was to convince the world that the veneration with which they read those orators was

derived more from their antiquity than their intrinsic excellence.

· His next work was a translation of the Iliad.. But the magic of his Ossian was not transfused into his Italian Homer.

This work is in ten large octavo volumes : each book is translated literally into Italian prose, and almost every passage is illustrated by the compared opinions of the critics of every nation, from Aristarchus to those of our own days. He invariably cites the adversaries of Homer, and often opposes them with the partisans of the poet. When he subjoins his own decision, it very rarely inclines to the favour of his original.

To every book thus, translated and commented upon he adds his own poetical version, which, as it was intended to correct the errors discovered in the original, changes, omits, and transfers from one book to another whole passages of the text. These alterations were so many and so material that, in the end, he resolved to change the title of the poem, and his Iliad reappeared as the “Death of Hector.'

The bold style and the harmonious numbers of this version procured for it many readers, and the work was applauded by a public accustomed to admire the author. The journalists, who in Italy are frequently without learning, and almost always without genius, exalted the translation as an extraordinary and successful effort, and the harmony of the blank verse of the · Death of Hector' became in a short time proverbial. But some few literary men of real merit and discernment, whose voice it is much more difficult totally to suppress in Italy than in any other country, prognosticated that the work, at some future day, would be more frequently cited than read. Their prophecy is now fully verified.

In his treatise on the Italian language, Cesarotti stepped forward to defend the privilege assumed by certain authors of enriching, by new words and combinations, their native language. His positions are undeniable, his observations

« ZurückWeiter »