Page images
[ocr errors]

earth; and in contemplating the boldness; rapidity and glory of the enterprize our mind darts into the heavens.

• E misurò la terra, immensa mole,

Vittorioso ed emulo del sole.'* When the spirit of Laura soars to heaven, angels and blessed souls descend to meet her, and she looks back upon earth to see if Petrarch follows her, and seems to pause in her aërial way.

Si volge a tergo

Mirando s' io la seguo; e par ch' aspetti.' These few words contain a sublime and impassioned picture, requiring only the colouring of Titian. Petrarch never states disa tinctly that Laura loved him; and if he occasionally seems to hint that she returned his passion, he still speaks in doubt and hesitation. But he could not give us a greater proof of the force and purity of her love, than by making her delay her flight to heaven in waiting for her lover. It is true that these inferences are left to the reader, and that they are obvious only to the few: but after all, it is by this chosen few that posterity is taught to value poetic genius.

In the delineation of his personages, Ariosto was more fancifully romantic than his predecessors : but his exaggerations of human nature are limited to such heroic dignity and to such vigour and consistency of character, that he persuades us to believe in their existerice. His characters are infinitely varied, and when they bear a general resemblance to each other, for instance in the cases of Rodomonte and Mandricando, they are distinguished by characteristics so well marked, that we can almost anticipate how each will act when he reappears on the scene. The dramatic portion of the Orlando Furioso (if we exclude the tedious love soliloquies) appears to us to be frequently superior to any other poem, ancient or modern, not even excepting the Iliad. Orlando having converted Brandimarte to Christianity, dispatches him to Agramante, who, though he had lost his army, was yet desirous of renewing the battle, with proposals of peace; one condition upon which Orlando insisted was, that the infidel monarch should also renounce his errors. Brandimarte states his instructions with great candour, feeling and dignity. Agramante answers

Temerità per certo, e pazzia vera
E la tua, e di qualunque che sì pose
A consigliar mai cosa o buona o ria,
Ove chiamato a consigliar non sia.

Ch' io vinca o perda, o debba nel mio regno
Tornare antiquo, o sempre starne in bando,

* Eucompassing this ample globe, to run A courso on earth co-rival with the sun,

In mente sua n'ha Dio fatto disegno,
Il qual nè tu, nè io, nè vede Orlando.
Sia qual che vuol ; non potrà ad atto indegno
Di ve, inchinarmi mai timor nefando :
S'io fossi certo di morir, vo' morto
Prima restar, che al sangue mio far torto.

Or ti puoi ritornar: chè se migliore
Non sei dimani in questo campo armato
Che tu mi sia paruto oggi oratore

Mal troverassi Orlando accompagnato. In the Orlando, Charlemagne retains the simplicity of character which is attributed to him in other romantic poems : but still be conducts himself like the sovereign of a nation of heroes. And when he is unfortunate, he becomes interesting by his resignation and the sacrifices which he is ready to make for the good of his people. M. Ginguené has well understood the character of Orlando, and he has traced it with a masterly hand. We quote the French passage with greater pleasure, because it gives us an opportunity of praising this critic, who often compels us to contradict him.

Dans toutes les descriptions de la folie d'Orlando, il n'y a pas une seule plaisanterie. Ariosto se garde bien de le rendre plaisant. C'est partout un fou que l'on fuit, mais dont on ne rit pas. Non seulement sa démence est l'effet d'une passion profonde, elle est encore une punition divine. Un seul rire du lecteur détruiroit ce caractère; mais ce rire, qu'un trait d'extravagance pourroit quelquefois appeler, est toujours repoussé par un acte de violence qui frappe de terreur. La terreur et la pitié sont les seuls sentimens que le poëte excite dans ce tableau sublime et entièrement nouveau en poésie!

When Orlando is in bis senses, he never speaks of his own exploits, and even glory is disdained by bim. Ruggiero, the fictitious ancestor of the dukes of Ferrara, is the most amiable of Ariosto’s heroes, yet we care the less about him because the poet has las boured to render bim interesting. Bradamante, his favourite heroine, the bride of Ruggiero, is in the same predicament. When Ariosto wishes to make us sympathize with her, we regret that he severs us from other less hardy heroines who never speak without moving us even to tears. Isabella, accompanying the corpse of her lover Zerbivo, falls into the hands of Rodomonte, who becomes enamoured with her. In order to elude bis violence she persuades him that she possessed the secret of distilling a liquor from plants and herbs which rendered the human frame invulnerable. When he is intoxicated, she washes her neck with the magic potion, and persuades him that he cannot wound her.

Quell' uom bestial le prestò fede, e scorse
Sì con la mano, e sì col ferro crudo,


Che del bel capo, già d'amore albergo,
Fe' tronco rimanere il petto e il tergo :

Quel fe' tre balzi, e funne udita chiara
Voce che uscendo nominò Zerbino,
Per cui seguire ella trovò si rara
Via di fuggir di man del Saracino.
Alma che avesti più la fede cara
E il nome quasi ignoto e peregrino
Al tempo nostro, della Castitade,
Che la tua vita, e la tua verde etade,

Vattene in pace, alma beata e bella!
Vattene in pace


superna sede, E lascia all'altre esempio di tua fede. When Brandimarte was about to meet his enemy in single combat, the fears of his wife Fiordiligi are strengthened by this dream

La notte che precesse a questo giorno,
Fiordiligi sognò che quella vesta
Che per mandarne Brandimarte adorno
Avea trapunta e di sua man contesta,
Vedea per mezzo sparsa d'ogn'intorno
Di goccie rosse a guisa di tempesta,
Parea che di sua man cosi l'avesse
Ricamata ella, e poi se ne dolesse ;

E parea dir: Pur hammi il signor mio
Commesso ch'io la faccia'tutta nera;
Or perchè dunque ricamata holl'io

Contra sua voglia in si strana maniera ?'* She raises a mausoleum to her husband, in which, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Charlemagne, she secludes herself, and prays day and night beside the tonıb.

Stava ella nel sepolcro; e quivi attrita
Da penitenzia, orando giorno e notte,

Non duro lunga età. Ariosto has increased Boiardo's original stock of humorous characters in a greater proportion than any others. They belong entirely to his pencil, to his experience of the passions and propensities of human nature, and to his knowledge of man as he

* As Flordelis at night in slumber lay

The night preceding that unhappy day,
She dreami the mantle which her pious care
Had fashioned for her Brandimart to wear,
His ornament in fight, now, strange to view,
Was sprinkled o’er with drops of sanguine hue :
She thought her erring hand the vest had stain'd,
And thus in slumber to herself complaiu’d:
Did not my lord command these hands to make
His vest, his mantle, all of mournful black ?
Why have I then, against his bidding, spread
The sable ground with fearful spots of red ?

H н LE.




every class of society. His abhorrence of vice is unaffected; and his humour is free from bitterness. He speaks of crimes, and he laughs at follies, not like a stern censor who is out of humour with mankind, but as a playful and charitable observer of human nature. Such indeed was Ariosto's character. He was a philosopher, but his wisdom was cheerful and practical; and in his writings, no less than in all the actions of his life, he practised the doctrines which he professed, without effort or labour.

Ariosto brought the main action of the Orlando Furioso to a close by the death of Agramante, and the defeat of the pagans. Yet Rodomonte is not dismissed from the scene; he remains concealed in France in a kind of hermitage: and in the concluding cantos, Messer Ludovico detains us by recounting the further exploits of Ruggiero, and the obstacles which prevent his obtaining the hand of his beloved Bradamante. At the very moment when the nuptials are about to be solemnized, Rodomonte reappears before the gates of Paris, and the glory of delivering Christendom from this dangerous enemy is allotted to the hero of Ferrara. Ariosto begins his poem by borrowing two lines from Dante ; he ends it with a paraphrase of the last lines of the Æneid, and Rodomonte dies like Turnus.

Ariosto's powers of composition did not keep pace with the exuberance of his imagination. The first edition of the Orlando appeared in 1516. Another was published in 1532. During this interval, he employed himself in the correction of his poem, almost to the total exclusion of all other pursuits. If the two editions of the Orlando are collated—and a most instructive lesson to all young poets results from the comparison-it appears inconceivable that a writer who began by sinning so grossly against the laws of good taste and of poetical diction, should have been able to weed out his faults and to replace them by so many transcendant beauties. During a few months Ariosto resided at Florence, and in this short period he acquired the native graces of the Tuscan dialect, and in adapting its peculiarities to his style, he dignified the most familiar words and household phrases of the Florentines. It might be said that amongst his other intellectual organs he possessed one which acted as a crucible for melting and refining the terms which he required. In addition to the modes of diction sanctioned by the example of the Italian classics, he employed all the expressions which he could find in obscure and vulgar poetry, all the Latinisms, all the Lombardisms, which best expressed his ideas. Yet his lively genius gives an uniform tint to these heterogeneous elements; he places them where they become most effective and harmonious, and he has amalgamated them into a new language, at once copious and diggnified, energetic and correct. The language of Ariosto is equally

[ocr errors]

satisfactory to the reader who merely seeks to amuse himself with the story, and to him who can appreciate the most delicate beauties of poetical diction. It is only after the third or fourth perusal of the Orlando we discover that these higher excellences of Ariosto's poetry do not lie on the surface. Voltaire, in his youthful days, expressed his contempt for the Orlando. At a more advanced age, he exclaimed. I used to consider Ariosto as the first of grotesque poets. Now I find him at once entertaining and sublime, and I humbly apologize for my error. He is so rich, so diversified, so abounding in beauties of every description, that after having read the poem completely through, I have often had no other wish except that of perusing it again.'-( Dictionnaire Philosophique, Article Epopée.) Sir Joshua Reynolds has given a happy explanation of this intellectual process, and the inferences which he draws

may be as useful to the poet as to the artist. He confesses that at the commencement of his studies the paintings of Raphael made no impression upon him, and he adds— Having frequently revolved this subject in my mind, I am clearly of opinion that a relish for the higher excellencies of art is an acquired taste, which no man ever possessed without long cultivation and great labour and attention. Nor does painting in that respect differ from other arts. A just poetical taste and the acquisition of a nice discriminative musical ear are equally the work of time. Metastasio always complained of the great difficulty he found in attaining correctness in consequence of his having been in his youth an improvvisatore. An incontestable proof of this observation is found in the painful correction which Ariosto bestowed upon his poem. His cares ceased only with his life; and his incessant labour in the edition of 1532 caused a malady which brought him to the grave ju the fifty-eighth year of his age.

Whilst Ariosto, unwearied in the correction of his poem, was preparing an inexhaustible fund of poetical diction, which future poets were to emulate and envy, the Italian language was receiving new accessions of excellence from the playful pen of Berni. By him, the rugged stanzas of Bojardo were translated into a style of versification possessing graces till then utterly unknown; and still utterly inimitable. Berni was a Florentine by birth: he excelled Ariosto in erudition; but he purposely discarded the refinements of the Tuscan idiom, which he termed'le lascivie del parlar Toscano: and not a classical allusion, not a symptom of classical taste, can be found in the new Orlando Innamorato. Berni deliberately avoids all the conventional elements of poetry. His beauties seem to flow from inspiration, to result from a momentary impulse, not from the premeditated combinations of the poetic art; yet his manuscripts have as many erasures and corrections as those of


« PreviousContinue »