« PreviousContinue »
His filthy fright upon Philippi's day.
This practice was approv'd in times of yore,
Not meek and mean, as Gray misunderstood.' One allusion, indeed, is clear. The ancient bard concludes his lay: At ego ipse bardus Aneurim sanguine rubens ; aliter ad hanc cantilenam faciendam vivus non fuissem. Gray has given a kind of sentimental modesty to his bard, which is quite out of place.
• And I the meanest of them all
Who live to sing and wish their fall.' The allusions, however, are sometimes so delicate, that it is not easy to seize them. We shall indicate a few lines which we think we bave guessed. The absurd employment of Latinisms and Gallicisms• Dear people! if you
think my verses clever, Preserve with care your nobler parts of speech, And don't confound the language of the nation
With long-tailed words in asity and ation.'
. Meanwhile the solemn mountains were surrounded;
Yet) Cader-Gibbrish from his cloudy throne
Their only conversation was “ding-dong.' We fear that general readers are not sufficiently informed to be able to relish the poignant wit of these and similar passages.
Indeed, it is not very easy to understand the nature of the part which the poet is acting; nor do we always know how to, take nim. Sometimes he is really Mr. Whistlecraft, the harness and collar-maker; and in this character bis digression upon Pericles and the Elgin marbles is a chef-d'æuvre of amenity. It is an exquisite transcript of the sensations and ideas of a working man, who, being well read in Plutarch done into English, and the Sunday newspapers, talks learnedly about Athens and the fine arts. But then this workman quotes Eschylus in the right place, corrects the false translation of Gray, and explains the fable of Orpheus by means of the fragments of a Greek elegy, scarcely known even to profound scholars. It is true, that
Squire Humphry Bamberham of Boozley Hall
And to suggest improvements, and correct. But the facility with which the poet masters every variety of style, and the classical air which breathes in every live, disclose the traces of learning and superior reading. His readers lose sight of the collar-man; and the more they perceive that he is a person of high intellect, and a finished scholar, the less are they willing to believe that he wrote without an object.
About an hundred years ago, a poem, bearing a certain degree of affinity to the 'Specimen,' was produced by Monsignor Forteguerri, a writer who in genius and means was far inferior to the English poet, though his Ricciardetto is happily executed. Sometimes, like Master Whistlecraft, he puzzles his readers by his ambiguous tone; but generally his intent is marked. The Prelate is not merely playful—be is farcical, and, in fact, he wrote to entertain his friends. He began the Ricciardetto in order to prove that romantic poetry might be written with great facility, and he finished the first canto in the course of a night. But as he perceived that instead of composing romantic poetry he had only produced a parody, he resolved to continue in the same tone. He denies that Orlando recovered his senses by the good offices of Astolfo, and that the wits of the hero were brought again from the moon; but maintains that he became sane in consequence, of the judicious treatment adopted by the kind Paladins his friends, by spare diet, plenty of water, and the cudgel.
Cinquante bastonate a ciascun ora
Molt' acqua, poco pane, e bastonate.' The heroes of romance are the poorest devils imaginable in the poem of Forteguerri. True it is that they are all industrious, and
follow some honest calling or other to get their living. Orlando becomes a maître d'hotel, Rinaldo a cook, Ricciardetto a barber, and Astolfo an innkeeper. Astolfo understands trade il a l'esprit de commerce en bon Anglais :' and he makes a great deal of money, which he spends as freely, by treating his friends with good liquor, which he does not put down in the bill. The Astolfo of Forteguerri is a caricature of the ancient British knight whom Berni has taken from Boiardo. Astolfo, Paladin of England, can never bring himself to stay at home: he traverses one kingdom after another, not on the business of knight-errantry, but merely for the sake of travelling; and he wishes to make the tour of the world with such rapidity, that at the risk of breaking his neck he mounts the hippogriff. He carries on the wars of Charlemagne at his own expense, and out of pure generosity. He is handsome, well made, very rich, and very liberal. He courts all the ladies who come within his reach, without much refinement, and without being too fastidious respecting their attractions. He pays great atten
pays great attention to his toilette, and he never comes out of his room till he has completely settled his dress before the looking-glass, and until, after having bestowed a long coup d'æil' upon his gloves, he convinces bimself that they are in right order.
Such is the Astolfo of the romantic poets, and he did not deserve to be degraded by Forteguerri. The diction of Forteguerri, who was a native of Pistoia, is pure, but without elegance; his jokes are vulgar. The giants in Ricciardetto extinguish a fire which broke out in the royal palace, by the same expedient which Captain Gulliver devised when he saved the palace at Lilliput from destruction. It is a whimsical coincidence that two contemporary dignitaries of the church, one in Ireland and the other in İtaly, should have invented the same scurrilities. Compensation is made for the faults of his style, and his want of urbanity, by the astonishing facility of his vein and the activity of his fancy. He never copies any one, and if he presents us with common-place remarks, he presents them so spiritedly that they come upon the reader as new.
• Quando si giunge ad una certa età
E chi la vide non può dir: Qui fù.
terpart is to be found in Beppo, where the same ideas are presented with fresh graces.
‘She was not old, nor young, nor at the years
Which surely is exceedingly absurd.' Forteguerri acquired great popularity by his burlesques of the Eremitic character. * In the old erromantic poems, Ferrau, the Ferrargus of the English romances, is a Spanish warrior, without pity and without faith. Forteguerri exhibits bim in Ricciardetto as a pious hermit, repenting of his past sins, and ever ready to open a new account of iniquity. He is a bigot, a hypocrite, and a satyr, all at once. He fights like a hero in the wars, but he never can withstand temptation. At each new vagary the Paladins drub bim, and he returns the favour with liberality; but as he is terribly afraid of Satan, he allows himself to be reconverted by their exhortations. Scarcely is Ferrau reclaimed when he again relapses; and on his death-bed, whilst he regrets that he has sinned, he regrets still more that he cannot sin again. Forteguerri frequently becomes farcical; but bis humour is lively, and intelligent. The originals of his caricatures are always before the Italians, and, without scandalizing any individual, he amuses all the world. Yet in this poem the satire is only accessary, it neither bears upon politics, nor society, nor manners. In the poetical nomenclature of the Italians, therefore, the Ricciardetto ranks as a mere burlesque. The author only wants to make you laugh. He saw that the fictions of romantic poetry could be easily adapted to his views, for the slightest degree of exaggeration renders them absurd. Yet in treating these fictions they became poetical. He contracted a species of kindness for romantic poetry—he continued his work with greater care; and the tone of his poem is not in unison with his first intent. Somewhat similar is the turn which the author of the Specimen' has given to his lay of King Arthur; but as he is placed far above Forteguerri by his knowledge of the art, no less than by his talents, he will easily correct this error. We are persuaded, by the perusal of the four cantos now before us, that in the sequel of the poem, the adventures, the action and the style, and, above all, the characters of his personages, will command the attention of
* A sort of Begging Friars; the Tartuffes of the Italian villages.
bis readers, and they will not require that their interest should be excited by setting themselves at work in tracing out his allusions. Throughout his Speciinen,' the author has mastered the greatest of his difficulties; he has united the playfulness of wit to good poetry without degenerating, like Forteguerri
, into vulgarity. It is very difficult to form an alliance between comic humour and the dignity of epic poetry. Tassoni succeeded in effecting this combination: he was almost the only Italian poet of the era in which he flourished, who withstood the general corruption of taste introduced by Marino and his followers, and by the
imitated imitators' of Lope de Vega ; and he opened a new path, in which a crowd of pretenders have vainly endeavoured to follow him. Tassoni distinguished himself in all his pursuits by the strength of his character and the accuracy of his judgment. In spite of all the terrors of the Inquisition, he was a bold and original thinker: he was a courtier, but without servility, and a patriot who did not worship the faults of his native country ;-a subtle writer and an accurate grammarian, yet not a pedant;—a laborious historian, and at the same time a wit, and a humourist. The reader, who wishes to be informed respecting the life of this extraordinary character, will be fully satisfied by consulting Mr. Walker's accurate work; but his account of the Secchia Rapita is less satisfactory than his biography of the author. We could, indeed, only expect the information which he collected, from Italian writers; and they, unfortunately for themselves, can never speak out. In Italy, when a work of imagination has a political bearing, the history of its origin seldom reaches posterity. Mr. Walker relates that a similar cause gave rise both to the Dunciad and to the Secchia Rapita. While Tassoni's mind was in a state of irritation from the repeated attacks of the critics, he conceived the idea of writing a mock-heroic poem; in which, while he permitted his vein of wit and humour to flow freely, he might indulge in the virulence of invective against the open and secret enemies of his literary reputation.'
This gratuitous conjecture, for it is really nothing more, had already misled the critics and commentators of Pope and Boileau. They can scarcely be called imitators of Tassoni. The Secchia Rapita merely gave the hint to the authors of the Rape of the Lock and Lutrin. If Tassoni ridicules the habits and manners and opinions of private life and private individuals, this was only accessary to his main plan; he had higher objects in view. Tassoni detested the foreign rulers of Italy. He wished to give a vivid picture of the miseries consequent upon the civil wars and domestic quarrels of the Italians. He therefore took the leading facts of his poem from authentic history. The Modenese