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The Novelist and the Historian.
there are large tracts forgotten, neglected, unexplored, unknown to the generality of the world, till some adventurous genius-some historical Columbus-pushes forward his discovering voyages into the unknown void, and lights up an entire new world of history by his genius. There have been heroes since, as well as before, the time of Agamemnon, who have perished, 'caruerunt quia vate sacro.' And in our days the 'vates sacer' who has rescued many from oblivion has been the novelist. That which Homer did for those who fought and fell around the walls of Troy, Virgil for his favourite pius Æneas, and Tasso for il gran Capitano,' Godfrey, and the other iron-cased worthies, who accompanied him to the Holy Land for the want of better amusement at home: Walter Scott has achieved for the Scottish covenanters-heroes of a far more genuine sort; sit obiter dictum;'-and Manzoni for the world of Milan during the first half of the seventeenth century. It is the novelist only who has attempted to popularise history hitherto; while its own professed teachers have, for the most part, so written their lifeless accounts of kings and courts, and battles and soldiers, as to render them distasteful and unprofitable reading to the multitude. A dawn, indeed, of better things in this respect is beginning to appear. Historians are beginning to discover that Mr. Brown, and Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones, and Mr. Tailor, may be much interested by being told of the mode of life, habits, and condition of the Browns, and Smiths, and Jones's and Tailors of past times. Nay, and the more sharp-sighted among them are even beginning to comprehend that it is far more important to us all-Howards, Tancarvilles, and Courteneys included-to know, could we but get at it, how these past Browns, Smiths, Jones's, and Tailors lived, moved, and thought, than to have it accurately ascertained how many blockhead barons knocked their hard numbskulls against each other on any given occasion.
We think, then, that history manifests a tendency to improvement, and, like many other things, is moving on the way towards being more like what it ought to be. In the meantime those portions of history only have become essentially popular, which some historical novelist has lighted up by his genius. As soon as an era, or a detached episode, has been thus brought before the public eye, and the world of readers are beginning to have something like a definite idea of the shape and nature of the period or the incident in question, then comes the historian with his detail of facts, and, taking advantage of the interest which has been excited, offers his work as illustrative' of the narrative of the novelist. This, as it may perhaps seem, somewhat inverted arrangement of parts, has been observable not unfrequently of late years.
And it is thus that we consider ourselves and our readers in some degree indebted to Manzoni for the curious work before us.
Not that we would be understood by any means to undervalue Signor Cusani's labours, or to detract from the importance of his contribution to the history of his country. Old Ripamonti's history might, for the generality of the world, have as well not been in existence as have remained in its original lumbering Latin in a few copies mouldering on the shelves of public libraries. But Signor Cusani has not confined his good work to the mere translation of the canon's volume. In the shape of preface, notes, and appendices, he has collected from various contemporary writers all that could contribute to the formation of a complete picture of the epoch in question. And a very curious and extraordinary picture he has produced. It may, perhaps, be doubted whether Signor Cusani might not have done better had he made all the materials in his possession the groundwork of a new fabric of his own. A more agreeable book might, doubtless, have been thus produced. The materials might have been presented to the reader's mind in a more orderly arrangement, and more artistically grouped, and a stronger effect would have been produced. But there is one reason-whether or no it may have occurred as such to Signor Cusani himself, we know not-that reconciles us to the course he has adopted. And this is, that not the least interesting matter in the volume is the character of the old Milanese historiographer himself. It would have been a pity to lose this; and it is hardly likely that a new history of the plague, by Signor Cusani, would have enabled us to estimate it as satisfactorily as the republication of his own work.
In a word, then, it should seem that old Ripamonti was 'a liberal.' Now a liberal canon, living and writing books at Milan in the seventeenth century, under the dominion of Spain, must be allowed to be in some sort a curiosity.
If there were no men intellectually in advance of the age in which they live, it is clear that there could be no social progression; that it would be a stand-still world, instead of a world which at a slower or faster rate does undoubtedly constantly progress. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that there should ever be such men; as necessary as that there should be a forlorn hope to mount first the breach over which the main body of the army are to follow. Society, in its onward march, must thus have its forlorn hope of bold spirits, who will advance in the van of the mighty host, unscared by the darkness and uncertainty of the future across which they must find the way. It is in both cases-in the besieging army, and in the advancing society-the post of honour,
Lombardy under the Spanish Yoke.
this forlorn hope. But it is equally in both cases the post of danger. It is ever a post of danger-at some periods of the world's march more than at others; but always dangerous. At the period, and in the country in which Ripamonti lived, it was especially so. And accordingly he paid the penalty of having outstripped his contemporaries sufficiently to have got rid of many of the prejudices and absurdities which still bound them. But Ripamonti was not made of the stuff from which martyrs are fashioned. Unlike the starry' Galileo, who persisted in his assertion, that the world goes round for all that,' the worthy canon would have renounced all heresies at the first sight of the rack, and have professed himself thoroughly convinced by that puissant argument of the justice of the opinions held by his good friends,' the inquisitors; while he contented himself with laughing in his sleeve at absurdities which it was imprudent to laugh at openly.
Signor Cusani has prefixed to his volume an account of the life and writings of Ripamonti, which gives the key to several sly expressions in the course of his book, of which the irony and covert satire might not otherwise be understood. For though he had tasted of the tender mercies of the Inquisition in the shape of a long imprisonment in early life, and though the general tenour of this work is carefully calculated to suit the temper of the people and the times for which it was intended, he cannot resist the temptation of suffering his real opinions of men and things to peep out here and there.
The Introduction' to the volume before us, in which Signor Cusani gives us those facts of his author's life to which we have alluded, and also sets before us the condition and position of Milan at the period of the history, is, we are told, extracted from an inedited treatise on the principal Historians and Chroniclers of Milan,' by himself. From the year 1537 to 1705, Lombardy lay in a lethargic state under the leaden dominion of Spain. An epoch,' exclaims Signor Cusani, himself living under another foreign rule not less oppressive or detestable- an epoch fatal, and of bitter memory for Lombardy!' Unfortunate Italy! Thus much, at least, her change of rulers has availed her, that the tardy retribution of history, while the historian is compelled to bide his time respecting the present race of tyrants, may strike with its justice the dynasty which preceded them.
"Kings," continues Signor Cusani, "distant, and so much the more difficult of access, that to get to Madrid, it was necessary to pass through France, almost always at war with Spain, or to cross other Italian states to embark at some port of the Mediterranean. Governors, representatives of the sovereign, strangers to the laws, to the habits, and to the language of our people, eager to satiate their ambition and avarice, plundered
rather than governed the country delivered over to their power for three years. A senate composed in a great measure of Spaniards, which judged as irresponsibly as God himself; a privy council of state, a sanatory magistrate, sixty decurions, a captain of police, an ordinary and an extraordinary magistrate, all powers acting independently, each in its own sphere, frequently jostled and were in collision with each other in the exercise of their ill-defined powers. To the briskness and activity natural to the Lombards succeeded the sly gravity, the pride and indolence of the Spaniard. Hence the nobles abandoned commercial pursuits, considering them dishonourable to their family; manufactures declined, arts and studies were neglected, public works suffered to go to decay. In a word, our country languishing in a slow atrophy, from being flourishing and wealthy, became sterile and dead from the total cessation of agricultural and manufacturing industry, and the want of civil energy."
Thus writes Signor Cusani of the state of Milan under the Spanish rule. The picture is a striking one; and it represents accurately enough the condition of the country during that period. But having written thus far, the poor Italian author seems to have been struck with fear lest his lamentations over the misfortunes of
his country under the tyranny of strangers in a former age should prove distasteful to the conscience-stricken jealousy of her present oppressors. He hastens, therefore, to add in the next paragraph:
"To attribute, however, the decadence and ruin of Lombardy exclusively to the dominion of the Spaniard, as many writers have done, appears to me a fault of exaggeration. And, truth to tell, those disorders were in good part the consequence of the confusion of ideas and passions, general among the nations of Europe, who having recently emerged from the middle ages, began to establish their governments on new principles."
What wretched trash is this! And what chance has history in the hands of writers, whose haunting dread of the jealous watchfulness of their masters is such that they must needs endeavour to take the sting out of plain and self-proclaiming truth by subjoining such senseless balderdash. Where was it ever seen yet throughout the wide field of human history, that decadence and death followed as the consequence of progress? Did the 'confusion of ideas and passions' produce such results in the other European nations at the time of their emerging from the medieval period? We have not the least doubt that Signor Cusani knows all this quite as well as we do; and we have pointed to the passage only to indicate the miserably fettered condition of the Italian who would attempt to write history.
The two principal events, which break the dead monotony of this period of a hundred and seventy years, are the pestilence of 1576, and the pestilence of 1630. Amid the death-like stillness,
Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, the good Archbishop.
which resulted from the crushing weight of a foreign despotism, beneath whose chains neither industry, arts, nor letters could move, pestilence can still walk abroad; and the absence of all healthy social movement, furnishes the historian with the sole vicissitudes on which his melancholy narrative can dwell. There are also two leading characters, which stand out in relief during this same period. They are two priests:-the Cardinal Archbishops Charles and Frederick Borromeo. The first since canonised, and to the present day the favourite saint of Milanese popular devotion, held the see of Milan during the first of these calamities; and Frederick, his cousin and successor, occupied the same position during that of 1630. Of the two visitations of pestilence the last was incomparably the most severe, and its ravages the most extensive. But of the two men, whose names and memories are respectively connected with the two events, the elder was the greater.
The Cardinal Archbishop Charles Borromeo was in truth a Christian priest, such as have been, it may be hoped, many priests; but such as have been, most unquestionably, but few cardinals. To the most enlarged philanthropy he added a spirit of genuine charity enlightened beyond the light of his age. He was truly the father of the fatherless, and the friend of the friendless; and his large patrimonial as well as ecclesiastical revenues were ever appropriated to the wants of his fellow-citizens. When after his death, Rome placed the name of Charles Borromeo in the list of her saints, she did but confirm that which the popular voice had already declared. And it may be safely asserted that had her canonisations been always based on grounds as respectable, the honours of her calendar would not stand where they do now in the estimation of mankind.
The consequence of the large space which the memory of this good man occupied in the minds of the people of Milan has been, that the pestilence of which he was the hero, and whose calamities he alleviated, is the only one that has lived in popular tradition, and in the memory of the people. The plague of 1576 has in the popular traditions swallowed up and united to itself that of 1630. The incidents and circumstances of the latter are uniformly referred by the people to the preceding calamity; and the historians of the populace, who transmit from generation to generation the tale of such events as seem to them most worthy of preservation, speak but of one plague of Milan, that one which is inseparably connected with the deeds and memory of their beloved Saint Charles.
The greater calamity has been forgotten, that the greater man may be remembered. It is a striking instance of popular gra