Modern Italian Poets
W. D. Howells
Part 3 out of 6
kinswoman he had married, he was suspected of treason. He was invited
to Venice, and received with great honor, and conducted with every
flattering ceremony to the hall of the Grand Council. After a brief
delay, sufficient to exclude Carmagnola's followers, the Doge ordered
him to be seized, and upon a summary trial he was put to death. From
this tragedy I give first a translation of that famous chorus of which
I have already spoken; I have kept the measure and the movement of the
original at some loss of literality. The poem is introduced into the
scene immediately succeeding the battle of Maclodio, where the two
bands of those Italian _condottieri_ had met to butcher each other
in the interests severally of the Duke of Milan and the Signory of
On the right hand a trumpet is sounding,
On the left hand a trumpet replying,
The field upon all sides resounding
With the trampling of foot and of horse.
Yonder flashes a flag; yonder flying
Through the still air a bannerol glances;
Here a squadron embattled advances,
There another that threatens its course.
The space 'twixt the foes now beneath them
Is hid, and on swords the sword ringeth;
In the hearts of each other they sheathe them;
Blood runs, they redouble their blows.
Who are these? To our fair fields what bringeth
To make war upon us, this stranger?
Which is he that hath sworn to avenge her,
The land of his birth, on her foes?
They are all of one land and one nation,
One speech; and the foreigner names them
All brothers, of one generation;
In each visage their kindred is seen;
This land is the mother that claims them,
This land that their life blood is steeping,
That God, from all other lands keeping,
Set the seas and the mountains between.
Ah, which drew the first blade among them
To strike at the heart of his brother?
What wrong, or what insult hath stung them
To wipe out what stain, or to die?
They know not; to slay one another
They come in a cause none hath told them;
A chief that was purchased hath sold them;
They combat for him, nor ask why.
Ah, woe for the mothers that bare them,
For the wives of these warriors maddened!
Why come not their loved ones to tear them
Away from the infamous field?
Their sires, whom long years have saddened,
And thoughts of the sepulcher chastened,
In warning why have they not hastened
To bid them to hold and to yield?
As under the vine that embowers
His own happy threshold, the smiling
Clown watches the tempest that lowers
On the furrows his plow has not turned,
So each waits in safety, beguiling
The time with his count of those falling
Afar in the fight, and the appalling
Flames of towns and of villages burned.
There, intent on the lips of their mothers,
Thou shalt hear little children with scorning
Learn to follow and flout at the brothers
Whose blood they shall go forth to shed;
Thou shalt see wives and maidens adorning
Their bosoms and hair with the splendor
Of gems but now torn from the tender,
Hapless daughters and wives of the dead.
Oh, disaster, disaster, disaster!
With the slain the earth's hidden already;
With blood reeks the whole plain, and vaster
And fiercer the strife than before!
But along the ranks, rent and unsteady,
Many waver--they yield, they are flying!
With the last hope of victory dying
The love of life rises again.
As out of the fan, when it tosses
The grain in its breath, the grain flashes,
So over the field of their losses
Fly the vanquished. But now in their course
Starts a squadron that suddenly dashes
Athwart their wild flight and that stays them,
While hard on the hindmost dismays them
The pursuit of the enemy's horse.
At the feet of the foe they fall trembling,
And yield life and sword to his keeping;
In the shouts of the victors assembling,
The moans of the dying are drowned.
To the saddle a courier leaping,
Takes a missive, and through all resistance,
Spurs, lashes, devours the distance;
Every hamlet awakes at the sound.
Ah, why from their rest and their labor
To the hoof-beaten road do they gather?
Why turns every one to his neighbor
The jubilant tidings to hear?
Thou know'st whence he comes, wretched father?
And thou long'st for his news, hapless mother?
In fight brother fell upon brother!
These terrible tidings _I_ bring.
All around I hear cries of rejoicing;
The temples are decked; the song swelleth
From the hearts of the fratricides, voicing
Praise and thanks that are hateful to God.
Meantime from the Alps where he dwelleth
The Stranger turns hither his vision,
And numbers with cruel derision
The brave that have bitten the sod.
Leave your games, leave your songs and exulting;
Fill again your battalions and rally
Again to your banners! Insulting
The stranger descends, he is come!
Are ye feeble and few in your sally,
Ye victors? For this he descendeth!
'Tis for this that his challenge he sendeth
From the fields where your brothers lie dumb!
Thou that strait to thy children appearedst,
Thou that knew'st not in peace how to tend them,
Fatal land! now the stranger thou fearedst
Receive, with the judgment he brings!
A foe unprovoked to offend them
At thy board sitteth down, and derideth,
The spoil of thy foolish divideth,
Strips the sword from the hand of thy kings.
Foolish he, too! What people was ever
For bloodshedding blest, or oppression?
To the vanquished alone comes harm never;
To tears turns the wrong-doer's joy!
Though he 'scape through the years' long progression,
Yet the vengeance eternal o'ertaketh
Him surely; it waiteth and waketh;
It seizes him at the last sigh!
We are all made in one Likeness holy,
Ransomed all by one only redemption;
Near or far, rich or poor, high or lowly,
Wherever we breathe in life's air,
We are brothers, by one great preemption
Bound all; and accursed be its wronger,
Who would ruin by right of the stronger,
Wring the hearts of the weak with despair.
Here is the whole political history of Italy. In this poem the
picture of the confronted hosts, the vivid scenes of the combat, the
lamentations over the ferocity of the embattled brothers, and the
indifference of those that behold their kinsmen's carnage, the strokes
by which the victory, the rout, and the captivity are given, and then
the apostrophe to Italy, and finally the appeal to conscience--are all
masterly effects. I do not know just how to express my sense of near
approach through that last stanza to the heart of a very great and
good man, but I am certain that I have such a feeling.
The noble, sonorous music, the solemn movement of the poem are in
great part lost by its version into English; yet, I hope that enough
are left to suggest the original. I think it quite unsurpassed in its
combination of great artistic and moral qualities, which I am sure my
version has not wholly obscured, bad as it is.
The scene following first upon this chorus also strikes me with the
grand spirit in which it is wrought; and in its revelations of the
motives and ideas of the old professional soldier-life, it reminds me
of Schiller's Wallenstein's Camp. Manzoni's canvas has not the breadth
of that of the other master, but he paints with as free and bold a
hand, and his figures have an equal heroism of attitude and motive.
The generous soldierly pride of Carmagnola, and the strange _esprit du
corps_ of the mercenaries, who now stood side by side, and now front
to front in battle; who sold themselves to any buyer that wanted
killing done, and whose noblest usage was in violation of the letter
of their bargains, are the qualities on which the poet touches, in
order to waken our pity for what has already raised our horror. It is
humanity in either case that inspires him--a humanity characteristic
of many Italians of this century, who have studied so long in the
school of suffering that they know how to abhor a system of wrong, and
yet excuse its agents.
The scene I am to give is in the tent of the great _condottiere_.
Carmagnola is speaking with one of the Commissioners of the Venetian
Republic, when the other suddenly enters:
_Commissioner._ My lord, if instantly
You haste not to prevent it, treachery
Shameless and bold will be accomplished, making
Our victory vain, as't partly hath already.
_Count._ How now?
_Com._ The prisoners leave the camp in troops!
The leaders and the soldiers vie together
To set them free; and nothing can restrain them
Saving command of yours.
_Count._ Command of mine?
_Com._ You hesitate to give it?
_Count._ 'T is a use,
This, of the war, you know. It is so sweet
To pardon when we conquer; and their hate
Is quickly turned to friendship in the hearts
That throb beneath the steel. Ah, do not seek
To take this noble privilege from those
Who risked their lives for your sake, and to-day
Are generous because valiant yesterday.
_Com._ Let him be generous who fights for himself,
My lord! But these--and it rests upon their honor--
Have fought at our expense, and unto us
Belong the prisoners.
_Count._ You may well think so,
Doubtless, but those who met them front to front,
Who felt their blows, and fought so hard to lay
Their bleeding hands upon them, they will not
So easily believe it.
_Com._ And is this
A joust for pleasure then? And doth not Venice
Conquer to keep? And shall her victory
Be all in vain?
_Count._ Already I have heard it,
And I must hear that word again? 'Tis bitter;
Importunate it comes upon me, like an insect
That, driven once away, returns to buzz
About my face.... The victory is in vain!
The field is heaped with corpses; scattered wide,
And broken, are the rest--a most flourishing
Army, with which, if it were still united,
And it were mine, mine truly, I'd engage
To overrun all Italy! Every design
Of the enemy baffled; even the hope of harm
Taken away from him; and from my hand
Hardly escaped, and glad of their escape,
Four captains against whom but yesterday
It were a boast to show resistance; vanished
Half of the dread of those great names; in us
Doubled the daring that the foe has lost;
The whole choice of the war now in our hands;
And ours the lands they've left--is't nothing?
Think you that they will go back to the Duke,
Those prisoners; and that they love him, or
Care more for _him_ than _you_? that they have fought
In _his_ behalf? Nay, they have combatted
Because a sovereign voice within the heart
Of men that follow any banner cries,
"Combat and conquer!" they have lost and so
Are set at liberty; they'll sell themselves--
O, such is now the soldier!--to the first
That seeks to buy them--Buy them; they are yours!
_1st Com._ When we paid those that were to fight with
We then believed ourselves to have purchased them.
_2d Com._ My lord, Venice confides in you; in you
She sees a son; and all that to her good
And to her glory can redound, expects
Shall be done by you.
_Count._ Everything I can.
_2d Com._ And what can you not do upon this field?
_Count._ The thing you ask. An ancient use, a use
Dear to the soldier, I can not violate.
_2d Com._ You, whom no one resists, on whom so
Every will follows, so that none can say,
Whether for love or fear it yield itself;
You, in this camp, you are not able, you,
To make a law, and to enforce it?
_Count._ I said
I could not; now I rather say, I _will_ not!
No further words; with friends this hath been ever
My ancient custom; satisfy at once
And gladly all just prayers, and for all other
Refuse them openly and promptly. Soldier!
_Com._ Nay--what is your purpose?
_Count._ You will see anon.
[_To a soldier who enters_
How many prisoners still remain?
_Soldier._ I think,
My lord, four hundred.
_Count._ Call them hither--call
The bravest of them--those you meet the first;
Send them here quickly. [Exit soldier.
Surely, I might do it--
If I gave such a sign, there were not heard
A murmur in the camp. But these, my children,
My comrades amid peril, and in joy,
Those who confide in me, believe they follow
A leader ever ready to defend
The honor and advantage of the soldier;
_I_ play them false, and make more slavish yet,
More vile and base their calling, than 'tis now?
Lords, I am trustful, as the soldier is,
But if you now insist on that from me
Which shall deprive me of my comrades' love,
If you desire to separate me from them,
And so reduce me that I have no stay
Saving yourselves--in spite of me I say it,
You force me, you, to doubt--
_Com._ What do you say?
[_The prisoners, among them young Pergola, enter._
_Count (To the prisoners)._ O brave in vain! Unfortunate!
Fortune is cruelest, then? And you alone
Are to a sad captivity reserved?
_A prisoner._ Such, mighty lord, was never our belief.
When we were called into your presence, we
Did seem to hear a messenger that gave
Our freedom to us. Already, all of those
That yielded them to captains less than you
Have been released, and only we--
_Count._ Who was it,
That made you prisoners?
_Prisoner._ We were the last
To give our arms up. All the rest were taken
Or put to flight, and for a few brief moments
The evil fortune of the battle weighed
On us alone. At last you made a sign
That we should draw nigh to your banner,--we
Alone not conquered, relics of the lost.
_Count._ You are those? I am very glad, my friends,
To see you again, and I can testify
That you fought bravely; and if so much valor
Were not betrayed, and if a captain equal
Unto yourselves had led you, it had been
No pleasant thing to stand before you.
_Prisoner._ And now
Shall it be our misfortune to have yielded
Only to you, my lord? And they that found
A conqueror less glorious, shall they find
More courtesy in him? In vain, we asked
Our freedom of your soldiers--no one durst
Dispose of us without your own assent,
But all did promise it. "O, if you can,
Show yourselves to the Count," they said. "Be sure,
He'll not embitter fortune to the vanquished;
An ancient courtesy of war will never
Be ta'en away by him; he would have been
Rather the first to have invented it."
_Count._ (_To the Coms._) You hear them, lords? Well,
then, what do you say?
What would you do, you? _(To the prisoners)_
Heaven forbid that any
Should think more highly than myself of me!
You are all free, my friends; farewell! Go, follow
Your fortune, and if e'er again it lead you
Under a banner that's adverse to mine,
Why, we shall see each other. _(The Count observes
young Pergola and stops him.)_
Ho, young man,
Thou art not of the vulgar! Dress, and face
More clearly still, proclaims it; yet with the others
Thou minglest and art silent?
_Pergola._ Vanquished men
Have nought to say, O captain.
_Count._ This ill-fortune
Thou bearest so, that thou dost show thyself
Worthy a better. What's thy name?
_Pergola._ A name
Whose fame 't were hard to greaten, and that lays
On him who bears it a great obligation.
Pergola is my name.
_Count._ What! thou 'rt the son
Of that brave man?
_Pergola._ I am he.
_Count._ Come, embrace
Thy father's ancient friend! Such as thou art
That I was when I knew him first. Thou bringest
Happy days back to me! the happy days Of hope.
And take thou heart! Fortune did give
A happier beginning unto me;
But fortune's promises are for the brave.
And soon or late she keeps them. Greet for me
Thy father, boy, and say to him that I
Asked it not of thee, but that I was sure
This battle was not of his choosing.
He chose it not; but his words were as wind.
_Count._ Let it not grieve thee; 't is the leader's shame
Who is defeated; he begins well ever
Who like a brave man fights where he is placed.
Come with me, _(takes his hand)_
I would show thee to my comrades.
I'd give thee back thy sword. Adieu, my lords;
(_To the Coms._)
I never will be merciful to your foes
Till I have conquered them.
A notable thing in this tragedy of Carmagnola is that the interest of
love is entirely wanting to it, and herein it differs very widely
from the play of Schiller. The soldiers are simply soldiers; and this
singleness of motive is in harmony with the Italian conception of art.
Yet the Carmagnola of Manzoni is by no means like the heroes of the
Alfierian tragedy. He is a man, not merely an embodied passion
or mood; his character is rounded, and has all the checks and
counterpoises, the inconsistencies, in a word, without which nothing
actually lives in literature, or usefully lives in the world. In his
generous and magnificent illogicality, he comes the nearest being
a woman of all the characters in the tragedy. There is no other
personage in it equaling him in interest; but he also is subordinated
to the author's purpose of teaching his countrymen an enlightened
patriotism. I am loath to blame this didactic aim, which, I suppose,
mars the aesthetic excellence ofthe piece.
Carmagnola's liberation of the prisoners was not forgiven him by
Venice, who, indeed, never forgave anything; he was in due time
entrapped in the hall of the Grand Council, and condemned to die. The
tragedy ends with a scene in his prison, where he awaits his wife and
daughter, who are coming with one of his old comrades, Gonzaga, to bid
him a last farewell. These passages present the poet in his sweeter
and tenderer moods, and they have had a great charm for me.
_Count_ (_speaking of his wife and daughter_). By this time
they must know my fate. Ah! why
Might I not die far from them? Dread, indeed,
Would be the news that reached them, but, at least,
The darkest hour of agony would be past,
And now it stands before us. We must needs
Drink the draft drop by drop. O open fields,
O liberal sunshine, O uproar of arms,
O joy of peril, O trumpets, and the cries
Of combatants, O my true steed! 'midst you
'T were fair to die; but now I go rebellious
To meet my destiny, driven to my doom
Like some vile criminal, uttering on the way
Impotent vows, and pitiful complaints.
* * * * *
But I shall see my dear ones once again
And, alas! hear their moans; the last adieu
Hear from their lips--shall find myself once more
Within their arms--then part from them forever.
They come! O God, bend down from heaven on them
One look of pity.
[_Enter_ ANTONIETTA, MATILDE, _and_ GONZAGA.
_Antonietta._ My husband!
_Matilde._ O my father!
_Antonietta._ Ah, thus thou comest back! Is this the moment
So long desired?
_Count._ O poor souls! Heaven knows
That only for your sake is it dreadful to me.
I who so long am used to look on death,
And to expect it, only for your sakes
Do I need courage. And you, you will not surely
Take it away from me? God, when he makes
Disaster fall on the innocent, he gives, too,
The heart to bear it. Ah! let _yours_ be equal
To your affliction now! Let us enjoy
This last embrace--it likewise is Heaven's gift.
Daughter, thou weepest; and thou, wife! Oh, when
I chose thee mine, serenely did they days
Glide on in peace; but made I thee companion
Of a sad destiny. And it is this thought
Embitters death to me. Would that I could not
See how unhappy I have made thee!
_Antonietta._ O husband
Of my glad days, thou mad'st them glad! My heart,--
Yes, thou may'st read it!--I die of sorrow! Yet
I could not wish that I had not been thine.
_Count._ O love, I know how much I lose in thee:
Make me not feel it now too much.
_Matilde._ The murderers!
_Count._ No, no, my sweet Matilde; let not those
Fierce cries of hatred and of vengeance rise
From out thine innocent soul. Nay, do not mar
These moments; they are holy; the wrong's great,
But pardon it, and thou shalt see in midst of ills
A lofty joy remaining still. My death,
The cruelest enemy could do no more
Than hasten it. Oh surely men did never
Discover death, for they had made it fierce
And insupportable! It is from Heaven
That it doth come, and Heaven accompanies it,
Still with such comfort as men cannot give
Nor take away. O daughter and dear wife,
Hear my last words! All bitterly, I see,
They fall upon your hearts. But you one day will have
Some solace in remembering them together.
Dear wife, live thou; conquer thy sorrow, live;
Let not this poor girl utterly be orphaned.
Fly from this land, and quickly; to thy kindred
Take her with thee. She is their blood; to them
Thou once wast dear, and when thou didst become
Wife of their foe, only less dear; the cruel
Reasons of state have long time made adverse
The names of Carmagnola and Visconti;
But thou go'st back unhappy; the sad cause
Of hate is gone. Death's a great peacemaker!
And thou, my tender flower, that to my arms
Wast wont to come and make my spirit light,
Thou bow'st thy head? Aye, aye, the tempest roars
Above thee! Thou dost tremble, and thy breast
Is shaken with thy sobs. Upon my face
I feel thy burning tears fall down on me,
And cannot wipe them from thy tender eyes.
... Thou seem'st to ask
Pity of me, Matilde. Ah! thy father
Can do naught for thee. But there is in heaven,
There is a Father thou know'st for the forsaken;
Trust him and live on tranquil if not glad.
* * * * *
Gonzaga, I offer thee this hand, which often
Thou hast pressed upon the morn of battle, when
We knew not if we e'er should meet again:
Wilt press it now once more, and give to me
Thy faith that thou wilt be defense and guard
Of these poor women, till they are returned
Unto their kinsmen?
_Gonzaga._ I do promise thee.
_Count._ When thou go'st back to camp,
Salute my brothers for me; and say to them
That I die innocent; witness thou hast been
Of all my deeds and thoughts--thou knowest it.
Tell them that I did never stain my sword
With treason--I did never stain it--and
I am betrayed.--And when the trumpets blow,
And when the banners beat against the wind,
Give thou a thought to thine old comrade then!
And on some mighty day of battle, when
Upon the field of slaughter the priest lifts
His hands amid the doleful noises, offering up
The sacrifice to heaven for the dead,
Bethink thyself of me, for I too thought
To die in battle.
_Antonietta._ O God, have pity on us!
_Count._ O wife! Matilde! now the hour is near
We needs must part. Farewell!
_Matilde._ No, father--
Once more, come to my heart! Once more, and now,
In mercy, go!
_Antonietta._ Ah, no! they shall unclasp us
[_A sound of armed men is heard without._
_Matilde._ What sound is that?
_Antonietta._ Almighty God!
[_The door opens in the middle; armed men
are seen. Their leader advances toward
the Count; the women swoon._
_Count._ Merciful God! Thou hast removed from them
This cruel moment, and I thank Thee! Friend,
Succor them, and from this unhappy place
Bear them! And when they see the light again,
Tell them that nothing more is left to fear.
In the Carmagnola having dealt with the internal wars which desolated
medieval Italy, Manzoni in the Adelchi takes a step further back in
time, and evolves his tragedy from the downfall of the Longobard
kingdom and the invasion of the Franks. These enter Italy at the
bidding of the priests, to sustain the Church against the disobedience
and contumacy of the Longobards.
Desiderio and his son Adelchi are kings of the Longobards, and the
tragedy opens with the return to their city Pavia of Ermenegarda,
Adelchi's sister, who was espoused to Carlo, king of the Franks,
and has been repudiated by him. The Longobards have seized certain
territories belonging to the Church, and as they refuse to restore
them, the ecclesiastics send a messenger, who crosses the Alps on
foot, to the camp of the Franks, and invites their king into Italy to
help the cause of the Church. The Franks descend into the valley of
Susa, and soon after defeat the Longobards. It is in this scene that
the chorus of the Italian peasants, who suffer, no matter which
side conquers, is introduced. The Longobards retire to Verona, and
Ermenegarda, whose character is painted with great tenderness and
delicacy, and whom we may take for a type of what little goodness and
gentleness, sorely puzzled, there was in the world at that time (which
was really one of the worst of all the bad times in the world), dies
in a convent near Brescia, while the war rages all round her retreat.
A defection takes place among the Longobards; Desiderio is captured; a
last stand is made by Adelchi at Verona, where he is mortally wounded,
and is brought prisoner to his father in the tent of Carlo. The
tragedy ends with his death; and I give the whole of the last scene:
[_Enter_ CARLO _and_ DESIDERIO.
_Desiderio._ Oh, how heavily
Hast thou descended upon my gray head,
Thou hand of God! How comes my son to me!
My son, my only glory, here I languish,
And tremble to behold thee! Shall I see
Thy deadly wounded body, I that should
Be wept by thee? I, miserable, alone,
Dragged thee to this; blind dotard I, that fain
Had made earth fair to thee, I digged thy grave.
If only thou amidst thy warriors' songs
Hadst fallen on some day of victory,
Or had I closed upon thy royal bed
Thine eyes amidst the sobs and reverent grief
Of thy true liegemen, ah; it still had been
Anguish ineffable! And now thou diest,
No king, deserted, in thy foeman's land,
With no lament, saving thy father's, uttered
Before the man that doth exult to hear it.
_Carlo._ Old man, thy grief deceives thee. Sorrowful,
And not exultant do I see the fate
Of a brave man and king. Adelchi's foe
Was I, and he was mine, nor such that I
Might rest upon this new throne, if he lived
And were not in my hands. But now he is
In God's own hands, whither no enmity
Of man can follow him.
_Des._ 'T is a fatal gift
Thy pity, if it never is bestowed
Save upon those fallen beyond all hope--
If thou dost never stay thine arm until
Thou canst find no place to inflict a wound!
(_Adelchi is brought in, mortally wounded._)
_Des._ My son!
_Adelchi._ And do I see thee once more, father?
Oh come, and touch my hand!
_Des._ 'T is terrible
For me to see thee so!
_Ad._ Many in battle
Did fall so by my sword.
_Des._ Ah, then, this wound
Thou hast, it is incurable?
_Des._ Alas, atrocious war!
And cruel I that made it. 'T is I kill thee.
_Ad._ Not thou nor he _(pointing to Carlo)_, but the
Lord God of all.
_Des._ Oh, dear unto those eyes! how far away
From thee I suffered! and it was one thought
Among so many woes upheld me. 'T was the hope
To tell thee all one day in some safe hour
_Ad._ That hour of peace has come to me.
Believe it, father, save that I leave thee
Crushed with thy sorrow here below.
_Des._ O front
Serene and bold! O fearless hand! O eyes
That once struck terror!
_Ad._ Cease thy lamentations,
Cease, father, in God's name! For was not this
The time to die? But thou that shalt live captive,
And hast lived all thy days a king, oh listen:
Life's a great secret that is not revealed
Save in the latest hour. Thou'st lost a kingdom;
Nay, do not weep! Trust me, when to this hour
Thou also shalt draw nigh, most jubilant
And fair shall pass before thy thought the years
In which thou wast not king--the years in which
No tears shall be recorded in the skies
Against thee, and thy name shall not ascend
Mixed with the curses of the unhappy. Oh,
Rejoice that thou art king no longer! that
All ways are closed against thee! There is none
For innocent action, and there but remains
To do wrong or to suffer wrong. A power
Fierce, pitiless, grasps the world, and calls itself
The right. The ruthless hands of our forefathers
Did sow injustice, and our fathers then
Did water it with blood; and now the earth
No other harvest bears. It is not meet
To uphold crime, thou'st proved it, and if 't were,
Must it not end thus? Nay, this happy man
Whose throne my dying renders more secure,
Whom all men smile on and applaud, and serve,
He is a man and he shall die.
_Des._ But I
That lose my son, what shall console me?
Who comforts us for all things. And oh, thou
Proud foe of mine! _(Turning to Carlo.)_
_Carlo._ Nay, by this name, Adelchi,
Call me no more; I was so, but toward death
Hatred is impious and villainous. Nor such,
Believe me, knows the heart of Carlo.
My speech shall be, then, very meek and free
Of every bitter memory to both.
For this I pray thee, and my dying hand
I lay in thine! I do not ask that thou
Should'st let go free so great a captive--no,
For I well see that my prayer were in vain
And vain the prayer of any mortal. Firm
Thy heart is--must be--nor so far extends
Thy pity. That which thou can'st not deny
Without being cruel, that I ask thee! Mild
As it can be, and free of insult, be
This old man's bondage, even such as thou
Would'st have implored for thy father, if the heavens
Had destined thee the sorrow of leaving him
In others' power. His venerable head
Keep thou from every outrage; for against
The fallen many are brave; and let him not
Endure the cruel sight of any of those
His vassals that betrayed him.
_Carlo._ Take in death
This glad assurance, Adelchi! and be Heaven
My testimony, that thy prayer is as
The word of Carlo!
_Ad._ And thy enemy,
In dying, prays for thee!
_Armno._ (_Impatiently_) O mighty king, thy warriors and chiefs
_Ad._ (_Appealingly_.) Carlo!
_Carlo._ Let not any dare
To draw anigh this tent; for here Adelchi
Is sovereign; and no one but Adelchi's father
And the meek minister of divine forgiveness
Have access here.
_Des._ O my beloved son!
_Ad._ O my father,
The light forsakes these eyes.
Thou shalt not leave me!
_Ad._ O King of kings! betrayed
By one of Thine, by all the rest abandoned:
I come to seek Thy peace, and do Thou take
My weary soul!
_Des._ He heareth thee, my son,
And thou art gone, and I in servitude
Remain to weep.
I wish to give another passage from this tragedy: the speech which the
emissary of the Church makes to Carlo when he reaches his presence
after his arduous passage of the Alps. I suppose that all will note
the beauty and reality of the description in the story this messenger
tells of his adventures; and I feel, for my part, a profound effect
of wildness and loneliness in the verse, which has almost the solemn
light and balsamy perfume of those mountain solitudes:
From the camp,
Unseen, I issued, and retraced the steps
But lately taken. Thence upon the right
I turned toward Aquilone. Abandoning
The beaten paths, I found myself within
A dark and narrow valley; but it grew
Wider before my eyes as further on
I kept my way. Here, now and then, I saw
The wandering flocks, and huts of shepherds. 'T was
The furthermost abode of men. I entered
One of the huts, craved shelter, and upon
The woolly fleece I slept the night away.
Rising at dawn, of my good shepherd host
I asked my way to France. "Beyond those heights
Are other heights," he said, "and others yet;
And France is far and far away; but path
There's none, and thousands are those mountains--
Steep, naked, dreadful, uninhabited
Unless by ghosts, and never mortal man
Passed over them." "The ways of God are many,
Far more than those of mortals," I replied,
"And God sends me." "And God guide you!" he said.
Then, from among the loaves he kept in store,
He gathered up as many as a pilgrim
May carry, and in a coarse sack wrapping them,
He laid them on my shoulders. Recompense
I prayed from Heaven for him, and took my way.
Beaching the valley's top, a peak arose,
And, putting faith in God, I climbed it. Here
No trace of man appeared, only the forests
Of untouched pines, rivers unknown, and vales
Without a path. All hushed, and nothing else
But my own steps I heard, and now and then
The rushing of the torrents, and the sudden
Scream of the hawk, or else the eagle, launched
From his high nest, and hurtling through the dawn,
Passed close above my head; or then at noon,
Struck by the sun, the crackling of the cones
Of the wild pines. And so three days I walked,
And under the great trees, and in the clefts,
Three nights I rested. The sun was my guide;
I rose with him, and him upon his journey
I followed till he set. Uncertain still,
Of my own way I went; from vale to vale
Crossing forever; or, if it chanced at times
I saw the accessible slope of some great height
Rising before me, and attained its crest,
Yet loftier summits still, before, around,
Towered over me; and other heights with snow
From foot to summit whitening, that did seem
Like steep, sharp tents fixed in the soil; and others
Appeared like iron, and arose in guise
Of walls insuperable. The third day fell
What time I had a mighty mountain seen
That raised its top above the others; 't was
All one green slope, and all its top was crowned
With trees. And thither eagerly I turned
My weary steps. It was the eastern side,
Sire, of this very mountain on which lies
Thy camp that faces toward the setting sun.
While I yet lingered on its spurs the darkness
Did overtake me; and upon the dry
And slippery needles of the pine that covered
The ground, I made my bed, and pillowed me
Against their ancient trunks. A smiling hope
Awakened me at daybreak; and all full
Of a strange vigor, up the steep I climbed.
Scarce had I reached the summit when my ear
Was smitten with a murmur that from far
Appeared to come, deep, ceaseless; and I stood
And listened motionless. 'T was not the waters
Broken upon the rocks below; 'twas not the wind
That blew athwart the woods and whistling ran
From one tree to another, but verily
A sound of living men, an indistinct
Rumor of words, of arms, of trampling feet,
Swarming from far away; an agitation
Immense, of men! My heart leaped, and my steps
I hastened. On that peak, O king, that seems
To us like some sharp blade to pierce the heaven,
There lies an ample plain that's covered thick
With grass ne'er trod before. And this I crossed
The quickest way; and now at every instant
The murmur nearer grew, and I devoured
The space between; I reached the brink, I launched
My glance into the valley and I saw,
I saw the tents of Israel, the desired
Pavilion of Jacob; on the ground
I fell, thanked God, adored him, and descended.
I could easily multiply beautiful and effective passages from the
poetry of Manzoni; but I will give only one more version, "The Fifth
of May", that ode on the death of Napoleon, which, if not the most
perfect lyric of modern times as the Italians vaunt it to be, is
certainly very grand. I have followed the movement and kept the
meter of the Italian, and have at the same time reproduced it quite
literally; yet I feel that any translation of such a poem is only a
little better than none. I think I have caught the shadow of this
splendid lyric; but there is yet no photography that transfers the
splendor itself, the life, the light, the color; I can give you the
meaning, but not the feeling, that pervades every syllable as the
blood warms every fiber of a man, not the words that flashed upon the
poet as he wrote, nor the yet more precious and inspired words that
came afterward to his patient waiting and pondering, and touched the
whole with fresh delight and grace. If you will take any familiar
passage from one of our poets in which every motion of the music is
endeared by long association and remembrance, and every tone is sweet
upon the tongue, and substitute a few strange words for the original,
you will have some notion of the wrong done by translation.
THE FIFTH OF MAY.
He passed; and as immovable
As, with the last sigh given,
Lay his own clay, oblivious,
From that great spirit riven,
So the world stricken and wondering
Stands at the tidings dread:
Mutely pondering the ultimate
Hour of that fateful being,
And in the vast futurity
No peer of his foreseeing
Among the countless myriads
Her blood-stained dust that tread.
Him on his throne and glorious
Silent saw I, that never--
When with awful vicissitude
He sank, rose, fell forever--
Mixed my voice with the numberless
Voices that pealed on high;
Guiltless of servile flattery
And of the scorn of coward,
Come I when darkness suddenly
On so great light hath lowered,
And offer a song at his sepulcher
That haply shall not die.
From the Alps unto the Pyramids,
From Rhine to Manzanares
Unfailingly the thunderstroke
His lightning purpose carries;
Bursts from Scylla to Tanais,--
From one to the other sea.
Was it true glory?--Posterity,
Thine be the hard decision;
Bow we before the mightiest,
Who willed in him the vision
Of his creative majesty
Most grandly traced should be.
The eager and tempestuous
Joy of the great plan's hour,
The throe of the heart that controllessly
Burns with a dream of power,
And wins it, and seizes victory
It had seemed folly to hope--
All he hath known: the infinite
Rapture after the danger,
The flight, the throne of sovereignty,
The salt bread of the stranger;
Twice 'neath the feet of the worshipers,
Twice 'neath the altar's cope.
He spoke his name; two centuries,
Armed and threatening either,
Turned unto him submissively,
As waiting fate together;
He made a silence, and arbiter
He sat between the two.
He vanished; his days in the idleness
Of his island-prison spending,
Mark of immense malignity,
And of a pity unending,
Of hatred inappeasable,
Of deathless love and true.
As on the head of the mariner,
Its weight some billow heaping,
Falls even while the castaway,
With strained sight far sweeping,
Scanneth the empty distances
For some dim sail in vain;
So over his soul the memories
Billowed and gathered ever!
How oft to tell posterity
Himself he did endeavor,
And on the pages helplessly
Fell his weary hand again.
How many times, when listlessly
In the long, dull day's declining--
Downcast those glances fulminant,
His arms on his breast entwining--
He stood assailed by the memories
Of days that were passed away;
He thought of the camps, the arduous
Assaults, the shock of forces,
The lightning-flash of the infantry,
The billowy rush of horses,
The thrill in his supremacy,
The eagerness to obey.
Ah, haply in so great agony
His panting soul had ended
Despairing, but that potently
A hand, from heaven extended,
Into a clearer atmosphere
In mercy lifted him.
And led him on by blossoming
Pathways of hope ascending
To deathless fields, to happiness
All earthly dreams transcending,
Where in the glory celestial
Earth's fame is dumb and dim.
Beautiful, deathless, beneficent
Faith! used to triumphs, even
This also write exultantly:
No loftier pride 'neath heaven
Unto the shame of Calvary
Stooped ever yet its crest.
Thou from his weary mortality
Disperse all bitter passions:
The God that humbleth and hearteneth,
That comforts and that chastens,
Upon the pillow else desolate
To his pale lips lay pressed!
Giuseppe Arnaud says that in his sacred poetry Manzoni gave the
Catholic dogmas the most moral explanation, in the most attractive
poetical language; and he suggests that Manzoni had a patriotic
purpose in them, or at least a sympathy with the effort of the
Romantic writers to give priests and princes assurance that patriotism
was religious, and thus win them to favor the Italian cause. It must
be confessed that such a temporal design as this would fatally affect
the devotional quality of the hymns, even if the poet's consciousness
did not; but I am not able to see any evidence of such sympathy in
the poems themselves. I detect there a perfectly sincere religious
feeling, and nothing of devotional rapture. The poet had, no doubt, a
satisfaction in bringing out the beauty and sublimity of his faith;
and, as a literary artist, he had a right to be proud of his work, for
its spirit is one of which the tuneful piety of Italy had long been
void. In truth, since David, king of Israel, left making psalms,
religious songs have been poorer than any other sort of songs; and
it is high praise of Manzoni's "Inni Sacri" to say that they are in
irreproachable taste, and unite in unaffected poetic appreciation
of the grandeur of Christianity as much reason as may coexist with
The poetry of Manzoni is so small in quantity, that we must refer
chiefly to excellence of quality the influence and the fame it has won
him, though I do not deny that his success may have been partly owing
at first to the errors of the school which preceded him. It could
be easily shown, from literary history, that every great poet has
appeared at a moment fortunate for his renown, just as we might prove,
from natural science, that it is felicitous for the sun to get up
about day-break. Manzoni's art was very great, and he never gave
his thought defective expression, while the expression was always
secondary to the thought. For the self-respect, then, of an honest
man, which would not permit him to poetize insincerity and shape
the void, and for the great purpose he always cherished of making
literature an agent of civilization and Christianity, the Italians
are right to honor Manzoni. Arnaud thinks that the school he founded
lingered too long on the educative and religious ground he chose; and
Marc Monnier declares Manzoni to be the poet of resignation, thus
distinguishing him from the poets of revolution. The former critic is
the nearer right of the two, though neither is quite just, as it seems
to me; for I do not understand how any one can read the romance and
the dramas of Manzoni without finding him full of sympathy for all
Italy has suffered, and a patriot very far from resigned; and I think
political conditions--or the Austrians in Milan, to put it more
concretely--scarcely left to the choice of the Lombard school that
attitude of aggression which others assumed under a weaker, if not a
milder, despotism at Florence. The utmost allowed the Milanese poets
was the expression of a retrospective patriotism, which celebrated
the glories of Italy's past, which deplored her errors, and which
denounced her crimes, and thus contributed to keep the sense of
nationality alive. Under such governments as endured in Piedmont until
1848, in Lombardy until 1859, in Venetia until 1866, literature must
remain educative, or must cease to be. In the works, therefore, of
Manzoni and of nearly all his immediate followers, there is nothing
directly revolutionary except in Giovanni Berchet. The line between
them and the directly revolutionary poets is by no means to be traced
with exactness, however, in their literature, and in their lives they
were all alike patriotic.
Manzoni lived to see all his hopes fulfilled, and died two years after
the fall of the temporal power, in 1873. "Toward mid-day," says a
Milanese journal at the time of his death, "he turned suddenly to
the household friends about him, and said: 'This man is
failing--sinking--call my confessor!'
"The confessor came, and he communed with him half an hour, speaking,
as usual, from a mind calm and clear. After the confessor left the
room, Manzoni called his friends and said to them: 'When I am dead,
do what I did every day: pray for Italy--pray for the king and his
family--so good to me!' His country was the last thought of this great
man dying as in his whole long life it had been his most vivid and
SILVIO PELLICO, TOMASSO GROSSI, LUIGI CAREER, AND GIOVANNI BERCHET
As I have noted, nearly all the poets of the Romantic School were
Lombards, and they had nearly all lived at Milan under the censorship
and espionage of the Austrian government. What sort of life this must
have been, we, born and reared in a free country, can hardly imagine.
We have no experience by which we can judge it, and we never can do
full justice to the intellectual courage and devotion of a people who,
amid inconceivable obstacles and oppressions, expressed themselves in
a new and vigorous literature. It was not, I have explained, openly
revolutionary; but whatever tended to make men think and feel was a
sort of indirect rebellion against Austria. When a society of learned
Milanese gentlemen once presented an address to the Emperor, he
replied, with brutal insolence, that he wanted obedient subjects
in Italy, nothing more; and it is certain that the activity of the
Romantic School was regarded with jealousy and dislike by the
government from the first. The authorities awaited only a pretext for
striking a deadly blow at the poets and novelists, who ought to have
been satisfied with being good subjects, but who, instead, must needs
even found a newspaper, and discuss in it projects for giving the
Italians a literary life, since they could not have a political
existence. The perils of contributing to the _Conciliatore_ were such
as would attend house-breaking and horse-stealing in happier countries
and later times. The government forbade any of its employees to write
for it, under pain of losing their places; the police, through whose
hands every article intended for publication had to pass, not only
struck out all possibly offensive expressions, but informed one of
the authors that if his articles continued to come to them so full of
objectionable things, he should be banished, even though those things
never reached the public. At last the time came for suppressing this
journal and punishing its managers. The chief editor was a young
Piedmontese poet, who politically was one of the most harmless and
inoffensive of men; his literary creed obliged him to choose Italian
subjects for his poems, and he thus erred by mentioning Italy; yet
Arnaud, in his "Poeti Patriottici", tells us he could find but two
lines from which this poet could be suspected of patriotism, and he
altogether refuses to class him with the poets who have promoted
revolution. Nevertheless, it is probable that this poet wished Freedom
well. He was indefinitely hopeful for Italy; he was young, generous,
and credulous of goodness and justice. His youth, his generosity, his
truth, made him odious to Austria. One day he returned from a visit
to Turin, and was arrested. He could have escaped when danger first
threatened, but his faith in his own innocence ruined him. After a
tedious imprisonment, and repeated examinations in Milan, he was taken
to Venice, and lodged in the famous _piombi_, or cells in the roof of
the Ducal Palace. There, after long delays, he had his trial, and was
sentenced to twenty years in the prison of Spielberg. By a sort of
poetical license which the imperial clemency sometimes used, the
nights were counted as days, and the term was thus reduced to ten
years. Many other young and gifted Italians suffered at the same time;
most of them came to this country at the end of their long durance;
this Piedmontese poet returned to his own city of Turin, an old and
broken-spirited man, doubting of the political future, and half a
Jesuit in religion. He was devastated, and for once a cruel injustice
seemed to have accomplished its purpose.
Such is the grim outline of the story of Silvio Pellico. He was
arrested for no offense, save that he was an Italian and an
intellectual man; for no other offense he was condemned and suffered.
His famous book, "My Prisons", is the touching and forgiving record of
one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated.
Few have borne wrong with such Christlike meekness and charity as
Pellico. One cannot read his _Prigioni_ without doing homage to his
purity and goodness, and cannot turn to his other works without the
misgiving that the sole poem he has left the world is the story of
his most fatal and unmerited suffering. I have not the hardihood to
pretend that I have read all his works. I must confess that I found it
impossible to do so, though I came to their perusal inured to drought
by travel through Saharas of Italian verse. I can boast only of having
read the _Francesca da Rimini_, among the tragedies, and two or three
of the canticles,--or romantic stories of the Middle Ages, in blank
verse,--which now refuse to be identified. I know, from a despairing
reference to his volume, that his remaining poems are chiefly of a
A much better poet of the Romantic School was Tommaso Grossi, who,
like Manzoni and Pellico, is now best known by a prose work--a novel
which enjoys a popularity as great as that of "Le Mie Prigioni", and
which has been nearly as much read in Italy as "I Promessi Sposi". The
"Marco Visconti" of Grossi is a romance of the thirteenth century; and
though not, as Cantu says, an historic "episode, but a succession of
episodes, which do not leave a general and unique impression," it yet
contrives to bring you so pleasantly acquainted with the splendid,
squalid, poetic, miserable Italian life in Milan, and on its
neighboring hills and lakes, during the Middle Ages, that you cannot
help reading it to the end. I suppose that this is the highest praise
which can be bestowed upon an historical romance, and that it implies
great charm of narrative and beauty of style. I can add, that the
feeling of Grossi's "Marco Visconti" is genuine and exalted, and that
its morality is blameless. It has scarcely the right to be analyzed
here, however, and should not have been more than mentioned, but for
the fact that it chances to be the setting of the author's best thing
in verse. I hope that, even in my crude English version, the artless
pathos and sweet natural grace of one of the tenderest little songs in
any tongue have not wholly perished.
[Illustration: TOMMASO GROSSI.]
THE FAIR PRISONER TO THE SWALLOW.
Pilgrim swallow! pilgrim swallow!
On my grated window's sill,
Singing, as the mornings follow,
Quaint and pensive ditties still,
What would'st tell me in thy lay?
Prithee, pilgrim swallow, say!
All forgotten, com'st thou hither
Of thy tender spouse forlorn,
That we two may grieve together,
Little widow, sorrow worn?
Grieve then, weep then, in thy lay!
Pilgrim swallow, grieve alway!
Yet a lighter woe thou weepest:
Thou at least art free of wing,
And while land and lake thou sweepest,
May'st make heaven with sorrow ring,
Calling his dear name alway,
Pilgrim swallow, in thy lay.
Could I too! that am forbidden
By this low and narrow cell,
Whence the sun's fair light is hidden,
Whence thou scarce can'st hear me tell
Sorrows that I breathe alway,
While thou pip'st thy plaintive lay.
Ah! September quickly coming,
Thou shalt take farewell of me,
And, to other summers roaming,
Other hills and waters see,--
Greeting them with songs more gay,
Pilgrim swallow, far away.
Still, with every hopeless morrow,
While I ope mine eyes in tears,
Sweetly through my brooding sorrow
Thy dear song shall reach mine ears,--
Pitying me, though far away,
Pilgrim swallow, in thy lay.
Thou, when thou and spring together
Here return, a cross shalt see,--
In the pleasant evening weather,
Wheel and pipe, here, over me!
Peace and peace! the coming May,
Sing me in thy roundelay!
It is a great good fortune for a man to have written a thing so
beautiful as this, and not a singular fortune that he should have
written nothing else comparable to it. The like happens in all
literatures; and no one need be surprised to learn that I found the
other poems of Grossi often difficult, and sometimes almost impossible
Grossi was born in 1791, at Bollano, by lovely Como, whose hills and
waters he remembers in all his works with constant affection. He
studied law at the University of Pavia, but went early to Milan, where
he cultivated literature rather than the austerer science to which he
had been bred, and soon became the fashion, writing tales in Milanese
and Italian verse, and making the women cry by his pathetic art of
story-telling. "Ildegonda", published in 1820, was the most popular of
all these tales, and won Grossi an immense number of admirers, every
one (says his biographer Cantu) of the fair sex, who began to wear
Ildegonda dresses and Ildegonda bonnets. The poem was printed and
reprinted; it is the heart-breaking story of a poor little maiden in
the middle ages, whom her father and brother shut up in a convent
because she is in love with the right person and will not marry the
wrong one--a common thing in all ages. The cruel abbess and wicked
nuns, by the order of Ildegonda's family, try to force her to take the
veil; but she, supported by her own repugnance to the cloister, and,
by the secret counsels of one of the sisters, with whom force
had succeeded, resists persuasion, reproach, starvation, cold,
imprisonment, and chains. Her lover attempts to rescue her by means of
a subterranean vault under the convent; but the plot is discovered,
and the unhappy pair are assailed by armed men at the very moment
of escape. Ildegonda is dragged back to her dungeon; and Rizzardo,
already under accusation of heresy, is quickly convicted and burnt at
the stake. They bring the poor girl word of this, and her sick brain
turns. In her delirium she sees her lover in torment for his heresy,
and, flying from the hideous apparition, she falls and strikes her
head against a stone. She wakes in the arms of the beloved sister who
had always befriended her. The cruel efforts against her cease now,
and she writes to her father imploring his pardon, which he gives,
with a prayer for hers. At last she dies peacefully. The story is
pathetic; and it is told with art, though its lapses of taste are
woful, and its faults those of the whole class of Italian poetry to
which it belongs. The agony is tedious, as Italian agony is apt to
be, the passion is outrageously violent or excessively tender, the
description too often prosaic; the effects are sometimes produced
by very "rough magic". The more than occasional infelicity and
awkwardness of diction which offend in Byron's poetic tales are not
felt so much in those of Grossi; but in "Ildegonda" there is horror
more material even than in "Parisina". Here is a picture of Rizzardo's
apparition, for which my faint English has no stomach:
Che dalla bocca fuori gli pendea
La coda smisurata d' un serpente,
E il flagellava per la faccia, mentre
Il capo e il tronco gli scendean nel ventre.
Fischia la biscia nell' orribil lutta
Entro il ventre profondo del dannato,
Che dalla bocca lacerata erutta
Un torrente di sangue aggruppato;
E bava gialla, venenosa e brutta,
Dalle narici fuor manda col fiato,
La qual pel mento giu gli cola, e lassa
Insolcata la carne, ovunque passa.
It seems to have been the fate of Grossi as a poet to achieve fashion,
and not fame; and his great poem in fifteen cantos, called "I Lombardi
alla Prima Crociata", which made so great a noise in its day, was
eclipsed in reputation by his subsequent novel of "Marco Visconti".
Since the "Gerusalemma" of Tasso, it is said that no poem has made so
great a sensation in Italy as "I Lombardi", in which the theme treated
by the elder poet is celebrated according to the aesthetics of the
Romantic School. Such parts of the poem as I have read have not
tempted me to undertake the whole; but many people must have at least
bought it, for it gave the author thirty thousand francs in solid
proof of popularity.
After the "Marco Visconti", Grossi seems to have produced no work of
importance. He married late, but happily; and he now devoted himself
almost exclusively to the profession of the law, in Milan, where he
died in 1853, leaving the memory of a good man, and the fame of a poet
unspotted by reproach. As long as he lived, he was the beloved friend
of Manzoni. He dwelt many years under the influence of the stronger
mind, but not servile to it; adopting its literary principles, but
giving them his own expression.
Luigi Carrer of Venice was the first of that large number of minor
poets and dramatists to which the states of the old Republic have
given birth during the present century. His life began with our
century, and he died in 1850. During this time he witnessed great
political events--the retirement of the French after the fall of
Napoleon; the failure of all the schemes and hopes of the Carbonarito
shake off the yoke of the stranger; and that revolution in 1848 which
drove out the Austrians, only that, a year later, they should return
in such force as to make the hope of Venetian independence through
the valor of Venetian arms a vain dream forever. There is not wanting
evidence of a tender love of country in the poems of Carrer, and
probably the effectiveness of the Austrian system of repression,
rather than his own indifference, is witnessed by the fact that he has
scarcely a line to betray a hope for the future, or a consciousness of
political anomaly in the present.
Carrer was poor, but the rich were glad to be his friends, without
putting him to shame; and as long as the once famous _conversazioni_
were held in the great Venetian houses, he was the star of whatever
place assembled genius and beauty. He had a professorship in a private
school, and while he was young he printed his verses in the journals.
As he grew older, he wrote graceful books of prose, and drew his
slender support from their sale and from the minute pay of some
offices in the gift of his native city.
Carrer's ballads are esteemed the best of his poems; and I may offer
an idea of the quality and manner of some of his ballads by the
following translation, but I cannot render his peculiar elegance, nor
give the whole range of his fancy:
From the horrible profound
Of the voiceless sepulcher
Comes, or seems to come, a sound;
Is't his Grace, the Duke, astir?
In his trance he hath been laid
As one dead among the dead!
The relentless stone he tries
With his utmost strength to move;
Fails, and in his fury cries,
Smiting his hands, that those above,
If any shall be passing there,
Hear his blasphemy, or his prayer.
And at last he seems to hear
Light feet overhead go by;
"O, whoever passes near
Where I am, the Duke am I!
All my states and all I have
To him that takes me from this grave."
There is no one that replies;
Surely, some one seemed to come!
On his brow the cold sweat lies,
As he waits an instant dumb;
Then he cries with broken breath,
"Save me, take me back from death!"
"Where thou liest, lie thou must,
Prayers and curses alike are vain:
Over thee dead Gismond's dust--
Whom thy pitiless hand hath slain--
On this stone so heavily
Rests, we cannot set thee free."
From the sepulcher's thick walls
Comes a low wail of dismay,
And, as when a body falls,
A dull sound;--and the next day
In a convent the Duke's wife
Hideth her remorseful life.
Of course, Carrer wrote much poetry besides his ballads. There are
idyls, and romances in verse, and hymns; sonnets of feeling and of
occasion; odes, sometimes of considerable beauty; apologues, of such
exceeding fineness of point, that it often escapes one; satires and
essays, or _sermoni_, some of which I have read with no great
relish. The same spirit dominates nearly all--the spirit of pensive
disappointment which life brings to delicate and sensitive natures,
and which they love to affect even more than they feel. Among Carrer's
many sonnets, I think I like best the following, of which the
sentiment seems to me simple and sweet, and the expression very
I am a pilgrim swallow, and I roam
Beyond strange seas, of other lands in quest,
Leaving the well-known lakes and hills of home,
And that dear roof where late I hung my nest;
All things beloved and love's eternal woes
I fly, an exile from my native shore:
I cross the cliffs and woods, but with me goes
The care I thought to abandon evermore.
Along the banks of streams unknown to me,
I pipe the elms and willows pensive lays,
And call on her whom I despair to see,
And pass in banishment and tears my days.
Breathe, air of spring, for which I pine and yearn,
That to his nest the swallow may return!
The prose writings of Carrer are essays on Aesthetics and morals, and
sentimentalized history. His chief work is of the latter nature.
"I Sette Gemme di Venezia" are sketches of the lives of the seven
Venetian women who have done most to distinguish the name of their
countrywomen by their talents, or misfortunes, or sins. You feel,
in looking through the book, that its interest is in great part
factitious. The stories are all expanded, and filled up with facile
but not very relevant discourse, which a pleasant fancy easily
supplies, and which is always best left to the reader's own thought.
The style is somewhat florid; but the author contrives to retain in
his fantastic strain much of the grace of simplicity. It is the work
of a cunning artist; but it has a certain insipidity, and it wearies.
Carrer did well in the limit which he assigned himself, but his range
was circumscribed. At the time of his death, he had written sixteen
cantos of an epic poem called "La Fata Vergine", which a Venetian
critic has extravagantly praised, and which I have not seen. He
exercised upon the poetry of his day an influence favorable to lyric
naturalness, and his ballads were long popular.
GIOVANNI BERCHET was a poet who alone ought to be enough to take from
the Lombard romanticists the unjust reproach of "resignation". "Where
our poetry," says De Sanctis, "throws off every disguise, romantic
or classic, is in the verse of Berchet.... If Giovanni Berchet had
remained in Italy, probably his genius would have remained enveloped
in the allusions and shadows of romanticism. But in his exile at
London he uttered the sorrow and the wrath of his betrayed and
vanquished country. It was the accent of the national indignation
which, leaving the generalities of the sonnets and the ballads,
dramatized itself and portrayed our life in its most touching phases."
Berchet's family was of French origin, but he was the most Italian of
Italians, and nearly all his poems are of an ardent political tint and
temperature. Naturally, he spent a great part of his life in exile
after the Austrians were reestablished in Milan; he was some time in
England, and I believe he died in Switzerland.
I have most of his patriotic poems in a little book which is curiously
historical of a situation forever past. I picked it up, I do not
remember where or when, in Venice; and as it is a collection of pieces
all meant to embitter the spirit against Austria, it had doubtless not
been brought into the city with the connivance of the police. There is
no telling where it was printed, the mysterious date of publication
being "Italy, 1861", and nothing more, with the English motto: "Adieu,
my native land, adieu!"
The principal poem here is called "Le Fantasie", and consists of a
series of lyrics in which an Italian exile contrasts the Lombards,
who drove out Frederick Barbarossa in the twelfth century, with the
Lombards of 1829, who crouched under the power defied of old. It is
full of burning reproaches, sarcasms, and appeals; and it probably
had some influence in renewing the political agitation which in Italy
followed the French revolution of 1830. Other poems of Berchet
represent social aspects of the Austrian rule, like one entitled
"Remorse", which paints the isolation and wretchedness of an Italian
woman married to an Austrian; and another, "Giulia", which gives a
picture of the frantic misery of an Austrian conscription in Italy.
A very impressive poem is that called "The Hermit of Mt. Cenis". A
traveler reaches the summit of the pass, and, looking over upon the
beauty and magnificence of the Italian plains, and seeing only their
loveliness and peace, his face is lighted up with an involuntary
smile, when suddenly the hermit who knows all the invisible disaster
and despair of the scene suddenly accosts him with, "Accursed be he
who approaches without tears this home of sorrow!"
At the time the Romantic School rose in Italian literature, say from
1815 till 1820, society was brilliant, if not contented or happy.
In Lombardy and Venetia, immediately after the treaties of the Holy
Alliance had consigned these provinces to Austria, there flourished
famous _conversazioni_ at many noble houses. In those of Milan many
distinguished literary men of other nations met. Byron and Hobhouse
were frequenters of the same _salons_ as Pellico, Manzoni, and Grossi;
the Schlegels represented the German Romantic School, and Madame de
Stael the sympathizing movement in France. There was very much that
was vicious still, and very much that was ignoble in Italian society,
but this was by sufferance and not as of old by approval; and it
appears that the tone of the highest life was intellectual. It cannot
be claimed that this tone was at all so general as the badness of the
last century. It was not so easily imitated as that, and it could not
penetrate so subtly into all ranks and conditions. Still it was very
observable, and mingled with it in many leading minds was the strain
of religious resignation, audible in Manzoni's poetry. That was a time
when the Italians might, if ever, have adapted themselves to foreign
rule; but the Austrians, sofar from having learned political wisdom
during the period of their expulsion from Italy, had actually
retrograded; from being passive authorities whom long sojourn was
gradually Italianizing, they had, in their absence, become active and
relentless tyrants, and they now seemed to study how most effectually
to alienate themselves. They found out their error later, but when too
late to repair it, and from 1820 until 1859 in Milan, and until 1866
in Venice, the hatred, which they had themselves enkindled, burned
fiercer and fiercer against them. It is not extravagant to say that
if their rule had continued a hundred years longer the Italians would
never have been reconciled to it. Society took the form of habitual
and implacable defiance to them. The life of the whole people might be
said to have resolved itself into a protest against their presence.
This hatred was the heritage of children from their parents, the bond
between friends, the basis of social faith; it was a thread even in
the tie between lovers; it was so intense and so pervasive that it
cannot be spoken.
Berchet was the vividest, if not the earliest, expression of it in
literature, and the following poem, which I have already mentioned,
is, therefore, not only intensely true to Italian feeling, but
entirely realistic in its truth to a common fact.
Alone in the midst of the throng,
'Mid the lights and the splendor alone,
Her eyes, dropped for shame of her wrong,
She lifts not to eyes she has known:
Around her the whirl and the stir
Of the light-footing dancers she hears;
None seeks her; no whisper for her
Of the gracious words filling her ears.
The fair boy that runs to her knees,
With a shout for his mother, and kiss
For the tear-drop that welling he sees
To her eyes from her sorrow's abyss,--
Though he blooms like a rose, the fair boy,
No praise of his beauty is heard;
None with him stays to jest or to toy,
None to her gives a smile or a word.
If, unknowing, one ask who may be
This woman, that, as in disgrace,
O'er the curls of the boy at her knee
Bows her beautiful, joyless face,
A hundred tongues answer in scorn,
A hundred lips teach him to know--
"Wife of one of our tyrants, forsworn
To her friends in her truth to their foe."
At the play, in the streets, in the lanes,
At the fane of the merciful God,
'Midst a people in prison and chains,
Spy-haunted, at home and abroad--
Steals through all like the hiss of a snake
Hate, by terror itself unsuppressed:
"Cursed be the Italian could take
The Austrian foe to her breast!"
Alone--but the absence she mourned
As widowhood mourneth, is past:
Her heart leaps for her husband returned
From his garrison far-off at last?
Ah, no! For this woman forlorn
Love is dead, she has felt him depart:
With far other thoughts she is torn,
Far other the grief at her heart.
When the shame that has darkened her days
Fantasmal at night fills the gloom,
When her soul, lost in wildering ways,
Flies the past, and the terror to come--
When she leaps from her slumbers to hark,
As if for her little one's call,
It is then to the pitiless dark
That her woe-burdened soul utters all:
"Woe is me! It was God's righteous hand
My brain with its madness that smote:
At the alien's flattering command
The land of my birth I forgot!
I, the girl who was loved and adored,
Feasted, honored in every place,
Now what am I? The apostate abhorred,
Who was false to her home and her race!
"I turned from the common disaster;
My brothers oppressed I denied;
I smiled on their insolent master;
I came and sat down by his side.
Wretch! a mantle of shame thou hast wrought;
Thou hast wrought it--it clingeth to thee,
And for all that thou sufferest, naught
From its meshes thy spirit can free.
"Oh, the scorn I have tasted! They know not,
Who pour it on me, how it burns;
How it galls the meek spirit, whose woe not
Their hating with hating returns!
Fool! I merit it: I have not holden
My feet from their paths! Mine the blame:
I have sought in their eyes to embolden
This visage devoted to shame!
"Rejected and followed with scorn,
My child, like a child born of sin,
In the land where my darling was born,
He lives exiled! A refuge to win
From their hatred, he runs in dismay
To my arms. But the day may yet be
When my son shall the insult repay,
I have nurtured him in, unto me!
"If it chances that ever the slave
Snaps the shackles that bind him, and leaps
Into life in the heart of the brave
The sense of the might that now sleeps--
To which people, which side shall I cleave?
Which fate shall I curse with my own?
To which banner pray Heaven to give
The triumph? Which desire o'erthrown?
"Italian, and sister, and wife,
And mother, unfriended, alone,
Outcast, I wander through life,
Over shard and bramble and stone!
Wretch! a mantle of shame thou hast wrought;
Thou hast wrought it--it clingeth to thee,
And for all that thou sufferest, naught
From its meshes thy spirit shall free!"
The school of Romantic poets and novelists was practically dispersed
by the Austrian police after the Carbonari disturbances in 1821-22,
and the literary spirit of the nation took refuge under the mild and
careless despotism of the grand dukes at Florence.
In 1821 Austria was mistress of pretty near all Italy. She held in
her own grasp the vast provinces of Lombardy and Venetia; she had
garrisons in Naples, Piedmont, and the Romagna; and Rome was ruled
according to her will. But there is always something fatally defective
in the vigilance of a policeman; and in the very place which perhaps
Austria thought it quite needless to guard, the restless and
indomitable spirit of free thought entered. It was in Tuscany, a
fief of the Holy Roman Empire, reigned over by a family set on the
grand-ducal throne by Austria herself, and united to her Hapsburgs by
many ties of blood and affection--in Tuscany, right under both noses
of the double-headed eagle, as it were, that a new literary and
political life began for Italy. The Leopoldine code was famously mild
toward criminals, and the Lorrainese princes did not show themselves
crueler than they could help toward poets, essayists, historians,
philologists, and that class of malefactors. Indeed it was the
philosophy of their family to let matters alone; and the grand duke
restored after the fall of Napoleon was, as has been said, an absolute
monarch, but he was also an honest man. This _galantuomo_ had even a
minister who successfully combated the Austrian influences, and so,
though there were, of course, spies and a censorship in Florence,
there was also indulgence; and if it was not altogether a pleasant
place for literary men to live, it was at least tolerable, and there
they gathered from their exile and their silence throughout Italy.
Their point of union, and their means of affecting the popular mind,
was for twelve years the critical journal entitled the _Antologia_,
founded by that Vieusseux who also opened those delightful and
beneficent reading-rooms whither we all rush, as soon as we reach
Florence, to look at the newspapers and magazines of our native land.
The Antologia had at last the misfortune to offend the Emperor of
Russia, and to do that prince a pleasure the Tuscan government
suppressed it: such being the international amenities when sovereigns
really reigned in Europe. After the Antologia there came another
review, published at Leghorn, but it was not so successful, and in
fact the conditions of literature gradually grew more irksome in
Tuscany, until the violent liberation came in '48, and a little later
the violent reenslavement.
Giambattista Niccolini, like nearly all the poets of his time and
country, was of noble birth, his father being a _cavaliere_, and
holding a small government office at San Giuliano, near Pistoja. Here,
in 1782, Niccolini was born to very decided penury. His father had
only that little office, and his income died with him; the mother had
nothing--possibly because she was descended from a poet, the famous
Filicaja. From his mother, doubtless, Niccolini inherited his power,
and perhaps his patriotism. But little or nothing is known of his
early life. It is certain, merely, that after leaving school, he
continued his studies in the University of Pisa, and that he very
soon showed himself a poet. His first published effort was a sort of
lamentation over an epidemic that desolated Tuscany in 1804, and this
was followed by five or six pretty thoroughly forgotten tragedies in
the classic or Alfierian manner. Of these, only the _Medea_ is still
played, but they all made a stir in their time; and for another he was
crowned by the Accademia della Crusca, which I suppose does not mean a
great deal. The fact that Niccolini early caught the attention and won
the praises of Ugo Foscolo is more important. There grew up, indeed,
between the two poets such esteem that the elder at this time
dedicated one of his books to the younger, and their friendship
continued through life.
When Elisa Bonaparte was made queen of Etruria by Napoleon, Niccolini
became secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts, and professor of history
and mythology. It is said that in the latter capacity he instilled
into his hearers his own notions of liberty and civic virtue. He was,
in truth, a democrat, and he suffered with the other Jacobins, as they
were called in Italy, when the Napoleonic governments were overthrown.
The benefits which the French Revolution conferred upon the people of
their conquered provinces when not very doubtful were still such as
they were not prepared to receive; and after the withdrawal of the
French support, all the Italians through whom they had ruled fell a
prey to the popular hate and contumely. In those days when dynasties,
restored to their thrones after the lapse of a score of years, ignored
the intervening period and treated all its events as if they had no
bearing upon the future, it was thought the part of the true friends
of order to resume the old fashions which went out with the old
_regime_. The queue, or pigtail, had always been worn, when it was
safe to wear it, by the supporters of religion and good government
(from this fashion came the famous political nickname _codino_,
pigtail-wearer, or conservative, which used to occur so often in
Italian talk and literature), and now whoever appeared on the street
without this emblem of loyalty and piety was in danger of public
outrage. A great many Jacobins bowed their heads to the popular will,
and had pigtails sewed on them--a device which the idle boys and other
unemployed friends of legitimacy busied themselves in detecting. They
laid rude hands on this ornament singing,
If the queue remains in your hand,
A true republican is he;
Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
Give him a kick for liberty.
It is related that the superficial and occasional character of
Niccolini's conversion was discovered by this test, and that he
underwent the apposite penalty. He rebelled against the treatment he
received, and was arrested and imprisoned for his contumacy. When
Ferdinando III had returned and established his government on the
let-alone principle to which I have alluded, the dramatist was made
librarian of the Palatine Library at the Pitti Palace, but he could
not endure the necessary attendance at court, where his politics were
remembered against him by the courtiers, and he gave up the place.
The grand duke was sorry, and said so, adding that he was perfectly
contented. "Your Highness," answered the poet, "in this case it takes
two to be contented."
The first political tragedy of Niccolini was the _Nebuchadnezzar_,
which was printed in London in 1819, and figured, under that
Scriptural disguise, the career of Napoleon. After that came his
_Antonio Foscarini_, in which the poet, who had heretofore been a
classicist, tried to reconcile that school with the romantic by
violating the sacred unities in a moderate manner. In his subsequent
tragedies he seems not to have regarded them at all, and to have been
romantic as the most romantic Lombard of them all could have asked.
Of course, his defection gave exquisite pain to the lovers of Italian
good taste, as the classicists called themselves, but these were
finally silenced by the success of his tragedy. The reader of it
nowadays, we suspect, will think its success not very expensively
achieved, and it certainly has a main fault that makes it strangely
disagreeable. When the past was chiefly the affair of fable, the
storehouse of tradition, it was well enough for the poet to take
historical events and figures, and fashion them in any way that served
his purpose; but this will not do in our modern daylight, where a
freedom with the truth is an offense against common knowledge, and
does not charm the fancy, but painfully bewilders it at the best,
and at the second best is impudent and ludicrous. In his tragedy,
Niccolini takes two very familiar incidents of Venetian history: that
of the Foscari, which Byron has used; and that of Antonio Foscarini,
who was unjustly hanged more than a hundred years later for privity
to a conspiracy against the state, whereas the attributive crime of
Jacopo Foscari was the assassination of a fellow-patrician. The poet
is then forced to make the Doge Foscari do duty throughout as the
father of Foscarini, the only doge of whose name served out his term
very peaceably, and died the author of an extremely dull official
history of Venetian literature. Foscarini, who, up to the time of his
hanging, was an honored servant of the state, and had been ambassador
to France, is obliged, on his part, to undergo all of Jacopo Foscari's
troubles; and I have not been able to see why the poet should have
vexed himself to make all this confusion, and why the story of the
Foscari was not sufficient for his purpose. In the tragedy there is
much denunciation of the oligarchic oppression of the Ten in Venice,
and it may be regarded as the first of Niccolini's dramatic appeals to
the love of freedom and the manhood of the Italians.
It is much easier to understand the success of Niccolini's subsequent
drama, _Lodovico il Moro_, which is in many respects a touching and
effective tragedy, and the historical truth is better observed in
it; though, as none of our race can ever love his country with that
passionate and personal devotion which the Italians feel, we shall
never relish the high patriotic flavor of the piece. The story is
simply that of Giovan-Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, whose uncle,
Lodovico, on pretense of relieving him of the cares of government, has
usurped the sovereignty, and keeps Galeazzo and his wife in virtual
imprisonment, the young duke wasting away with a slow but fatal
malady. To further his ambitious schemes in Lombardy, Lodovico has
called in Charles VIII. of France, who claims the crown of Naples
against the Aragonese family, and pauses, on his way to Naples, at
Milan. Isabella, wife of Galeazzo, appeals to Charles to liberate
them, but reaches his presence in such an irregular way that she is
suspected of treason both to her husband and to Charles. Yet the king
is convinced of her innocence, and he places the sick duke under the
protection of a French garrison, and continues his march on Naples.
Lodovico has appeared to consent, but by seeming to favor the popular
leaders has procured the citizens to insist upon his remaining in
power; he has also secretly received the investiture from the Emperor
of Germany, to be published upon the death of Galeazzo. He now,
therefore, defies the French; Galeazzo, tormented by alternate hope
and despair, dies suddenly; and Lodovico, throwing off the mask of a
popular ruler, puts the republican leaders to death, and reigns the
feudatory of the Emperor. The interest of the play is almost entirely
political, and patriotism is the chief passion involved. The main
personal attraction of the tragedy is in the love of Galeazzo and
his wife, and in the character of the latter the dreamy languor of a
hopeless invalid is delicately painted.
The _Giovanni da Procida_ was a further advance in political
literature. In this tragedy, abandoning the indirectly liberal
teachings of the Foscarini, Niccolini set himself to the purpose
of awakening a Tuscan hatred of foreign rule. The subject is the
expulsion of the French from Sicily; and when the French ambassador
complained to the Austrian that such a play should be tolerated by
the Tuscan government, the Austrian answered, "The address is to the
French, but the letter is for the Germans." The Giovanni da Procida
was a further development of Niccolini's political purposes in
literature, and at the time of its first representation it raised the
Florentines to a frenzy of theater-going patriotism. The tragedy
ends with the terrible Sicilian Vespers, but its main affair is with
preceding events, largely imagined by the poet, and the persons are in
great part fictitious; yet they all bear a certain relation to fact,
and the historical persons are more or less historically painted.
Giovanni da Procida, a great Sicilian nobleman, believed dead by
the French, comes home to Palermo, after long exile, to stir up the
Sicilians to rebellion, and finds that his daughter is married to the
son of one of the French rulers, though neither this daughter Imelda
nor her husband Tancredi knew the origin of the latter at the time of
their marriage. Precida, in his all-absorbing hate of the oppressors,
cannot forgive them; yet he seizes Tancredi, and imprisons him in his
castle, in order to save his life from the impending massacre of the
French; and in a scene with Imelda, he tells her that, while she was a
babe, the father of Tancredi had abducted her mother and carried
her to France. Years after, she returned heart-broken to die in her
husband's arms, a secret which she tries to reveal perishing with her.
While Imelda remains horror-struck by this history, Procida receives
an intercepted letter from Eriberto, Tancredi's father, in which
he tells the young man that he and Imelda are children of the same
mother. Procida in pity of his daughter, the victim of this awful
fatality, prepares to send her away to a convent in Pisa; but a French
law forbids any ship to sail at that time, and Imelda is brought back
and confronted in a public place with Tancredi, who has been rescued
by the French.
He claims her as his wife, but she, filled with the horror of what she
knows, declares that he is not her husband. It is the moment of the
Vespers, and Tancredi falls among the first slain by the Sicilians. He
implores Imelda for a last kiss, but wildly answering that they are
brother and sister, she swoons away, while Tancredi dies in this
climax of self-loathing and despair. The management of a plot so
terrible is very simple. The feelings of the characters in the hideous
maze which involves them are given only such expression as should come
from those utterly broken by their calamity. Imelda swoons when she
hears the letter of Eriberto declaring the fatal tie of blood that
binds her to her husband, and forever separates her from him. When she
is restored, she finds her father weeping over her, and says:
Ah, thou dost look on me
And weep! At least this comfort I can feel
In the horror of my state: thou canst not hate
A woman so unhappy....
... Oh, from all
Be hid the atrocity! to some holy shelter
Let me be taken far from hence. I feel
Naught can be more than my calamity,
Saving God's pity. I have no father now,
Nor child, nor husband (heavens, what do I say?
He is my brother now! and well I know
I must not ask to see him more). I, living, lose
Everything death robs other women of.
By far the greater feeling and passion are shown in the passages
describing the wrongs which the Sicilians have suffered from the
French, and expressing the aspiration and hate of Procida and his
fellow-patriots. Niccolini does not often use pathos, and he is on
that account perhaps the more effective in the use of it. However this
may be, I find it very touching when, after coming back from his long
exile, Procida says to Imelda, who is trembling for the secret of her
marriage amidst her joy in his return:
Daughter, art thou still
So sad? I have not heard yet from thy lips
A word of the old love....
... Ah, thou knowest not
What sweetness hath the natal spot, how many
The longings exile hath; how heavy't is
To arrive at doors of homes where no one waits thee!
Imelda, thou may'st abandon thine own land,
But not forget her; I, a pilgrim, saw
Many a city; but none among them had
A memory that spoke unto my heart;
And fairer still than any other seemed
The country whither still my spirit turned.
In a vein as fierce and passionate as this is tender, Procida relates
how, returning to Sicily when he was believed dead by the French, he
passed in secret over the island and inflamed Italian hatred of the
I sought the pathless woods,
And drew the cowards thence and made them blush,
And then made fury follow on their shame.
I hailed the peasant in his fertile fields,
Where, 'neath the burden of the cruel tribute,
He dropped from famine 'midst the harvest sheaves,
With his starved brood: "Open thou with thy scythe
The breasts of Frenchmen; let the earth no more
Be fertile to our tyrants." I found my way
In palaces, in hovels; tranquil, I
Both great and lowly did make drunk with rage.
I knew the art to call forth cruel tears
In every eye, to wake in every heart
A love of slaughter, a ferocious need
Of blood. And in a thousand strong right hands
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