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Niccolini's 'Arnaldo da Brescia.'
of your readers, Mr. Editor, not for the sake of their intrinsic value, for in truth I do not think that our admired Niccolini has at all seen to the bottom of this matter, and your readers will probably agree with me in thinking, that the causes of some of the prevailing tastes and forms of literature, are not to be so easily, simply, and briefly accounted for and condemned by attributing to their authors and admirers an ignorance of the eternal laws of nature, and a contempt for art and for the ideal. I have no intention here either to defend or condemn that literature, which has so vehemently excited the indignation of the veteran poet; but assuredly there is very much to be said on both sides of the subject, and larger social questions are involved in the debate than he, looking at the matter merely with the eye of a poet educated in the study of the ancient classical models, and formed by the contemplation of their regular and lofty beauties, dreams of. But his opinions on the subject are highly curious,—indeed important,-as specimens of the opinions of an Italian liberal, radical reformer, regenerator, and innovator. Political liberalism then in Italy, it should seem, by no means necessarily involves a participation in the whole system of opinions and tastes which usually accompany it in France and England. Here is a reformer with literary tastes and creeds the most rococo.' Here is a favourer of la jeune Italie,' professing a system of critical ethics the most decidedly perruque?'
The explanation of this phenomenon-the causes why Italian liberalism is different in many respects from the liberalism of England or of France—' 'twere long to tell;' at least too long for me to attempt to do so in this letter, which ought to be already drawing to its close. Suffice it for the present that it very clearly is considerably different. And at the same time that many wellwishers to Italy may be dissatisfied with manifestations which they may conceive to show, that even her foremost minds in the march of intellectual progress are lamentably behind the rest of Europe, let her at least reap the advantage which may arise to her cause, from proving to that party in England and France, who are prejudiced against liberal political opinions, because they deem them to be indissolubly connected with décousues' principles in literature and morals, that in her case, at all events, aspirations after political regeneration are not necessarily connected with innovating doctrines in literature, morals, or religion.
Niccolini, though an ardent patriot, and determined enemy of that union between a corrupt church and a corrupt state, which has for so many centuries strengthened in their tyrannical oppression the hands of both these contracting parties, nevertheless holds many opinions that would be deemed by English and French liberals to savour of obsolete prejudice and bigotry. Thus he is led to speak with but scant praise of Shelley in the above-cited discourse. He speaks of him as a poet, of whom it would be difficult to say whether his country ought most to be proud or to be ashamed.'
'Shelley,' he goes on to say, was undoubtedly endowed with a powerful genius. And having bestowed much study on the Greek tragedy, and especially on the chorus, he became so enamoured of Eschylus, that he attempted a' Prometheus liberated' in his absurd manner. This was in fact an impious farrago of splendid imagery and metaphysical abstractions, setting forth man freed from the ties of all religious belief, by the means of Demogorgon's victory over Jove-the victory, that is of Pantheism, which triumphs over Faith. The horrible doctrine of Spinosa (which but too abundantly lies hidden in the works of certain metaphysicians, who from hypocrisy and not from honest zeal, have rebuked the philosophy of the last century-a philosophy far less dangerous tharr own)-deservedly drew down on Shelley the hatred of his fellow-citizens.
It is painful to be obliged to cite such opinions as these from the author of
• Arnaldo da Brescia.' What! Can Signor Niccolini really think that a man deserves the hatred of his fellow-citizens for holding opinions, however 'horrible' they may appear to any among them? In the magnificent tragedy just mentioned, the following grand passage is put by Niccolini into the mouth of Arnald, addressing Pope Adrian :
"Adrian, thy hope deceives thee. Through the earth
And the man who wrote and thought thus is of opinion that another man deserves the hatred of his fellow-citizens' for his honest opinions! Let human intellect arise and walk!' 'tis God's decree! But then it must walk precisely in that path which I and my authorities have marked out for it! Is this Signor Niccolini's meaning? Are these his sentiments? Alas! how difficult a lesson even to those who most loudly profess its holy doctrines, is real practical toleration!
Notwithstanding these prejudices against Shelley, Niccolini was induced, he says, by the criticism of the Edinburgh Review,' which he suns up accurately enough, and by the opinion which Byron held of him, to read his tragedy of the Cenci, and liaving read it,' he says, I conceived the idea of translating it into our tongue. But whoever is acquainted with the poetry
* I have translated these lines, Mr. Editor, for the benefit of your English readers, to the best of my ability. But the gods have not made me poetical; and I feel that to justify the epithet of magnificent, which I have applied to them, as well as in justice to Signor Niccolini, I ought to add the original :
"Tu t'inganni, Adrian. Langue il terrore
Perchè in nome del Ciel l' uomo calpesti
I have justified my qualification of these lines, have I not?
of modern English writers, especially of the Satanic School, to which Shelley belonged, must know how wide is the difference between their taste and ours, and how intolerable their style is to whosoever has been educated by a study of the Greek, Latin, and Italian classics, to a knowledge of the true, the decorous, and the beautiful.'
This is little too much like Trissolin's- Nul aura de l'esprit, hors nous et nos amis,'-to pass for very valuable criticism. But it is curious to see the veteran liberal showing the same idiosyncrasy in matters of taste that he manifests in his opinions on theology and philosophy. The Spinosist deserves hatred; and the Romanticist is insupportable to all who comprehend the true and the beautiful. He proceeds to say: Of this assertion I could collect here the proofs; but if these turpitudes, which have been made to disappear in my work, should seem to any one to be beauties, I prefer to confess that I have not translated the Beatrice' with the timid fidelity of an interpreter, but rather have imitated it,-(I must crave to be excused for the too little modesty of the phrase)—with the daring freedom of a poet. I should not have so far ventured had a Greek or Latin classic been in the case; but it is my opinion that a literal version of this dramatic work of Shelley would be as mean, prosaic, and monstrous, as the toad whose spots Cenci, drunk with opium and with crime, imprecates on his daughter.'
He alludes to these lines of Shelley's poem:
"Earth, in the name of God, let her food be
With lep'rous stains! Heaven, rain upon her head
The blistering drops of the Maremma's dew,
Till she be speckled like a toad; parch up
Those love-enkindled lips; warp those fine limbs
It might be worth while to examine a little how far the Italian poet has amended the work of the English one, by his scheme of purifying it of turpitudes, and bringing into conformity with the classical models of Greece and Rome. But time and space,' as inexorable to reviewers, as poor mad Nat Lee represented them to be to lovers, forbid it; and I must content myself with inviting your readers to compare the two tragedies for themselves ;presenting them meanwhile with the one following specimen, in which I must confess that I think our countryman has all the advantage. It is the very striking passage in which the fiend-like father, having sent to call his wretched daughter to his presence, thus speaks to his almost equally wretched wife:
"She shall become,-(for what she most abhors
Her loathing will)-to her own conscious self
Signor Niccolini's paraphrase runs thus:
"Ella sarà ciò che più aborre; e quando
Colla possanza delle sue parole:
Though I have said that Niccolini has shown intolerance in his judgment of Shelley, and though in the passage quoted I have given the preference to the Englishman, as I think your readers will also, yet I strongly recommend all lovers of Italian poetry to procure a sight of Signor Niccolini's volumes. He is decidedly the first Italian poet of his day, without any worthy rival ; and the reader will find noble passages in John of Procida,' Antonio Foscarini,''Ludovico Sforza,' and, above all, in Arnaldo da Brescia.'
While speaking of Niccolini, I must not forget to mention that his history of the house of Hohenstauffen is rapidly progressing towards completion. No public announcement of it has yet been made; but it is very generally known that he has for some time past been engaged on this subject, and his own report is that his labours are near their termination. He speaks with no great respect of Raumer; and it will be curious enough to compare the German historian's views of such a subject with those of an Italian.
But the book which has made the greatest stir lately among the active thinkers and patriots of Italy-ay! and among their rulers too-is Cesare Balbo's treatise Delle Speranze d'Italia.' THE HOPES OF ITALY! Why there is rank treason and sedition in the very title! What business has Italy to hope? And what can she hope, but the destruction of the powers that be? Accordingly, no book has for some time past been so rigorously prohibited in Italy. It was printed at Paris a few months since, and was instantly ordered to be most carefully excluded. So I sent at once to my bookseller's, and ordered it to be sent home to me directly! But this was at Florence, it must be remembered ;-at Rome, or Naples, it would have been otherwise.
Well! the first remarkable circumstance attending the publication of Signor Balbo's book, is that it is not prohibited in the dominions of the King of Sardinia. And truly this is significant enough. I should be curious to know what they think of this matter at Vienna. Signor Balbo is a Piedmontese; a subject, therefore, of Sardinia; and his book bears on its title-page this epigraph from the gospel of St. Luke, Porro unum est necessarium.' 'But one thing is needful. Now the one thing that Signor Balbo deems needful for Italy is the expulsion of the Austrians. This is the aim and object of his book, as it is that of all good Italians. But very different opinions are held as to the means by which such a devoutly wished consummation might be brought about. I cannot enter in this letter on the interesting, though painful subject of the difficulties which lie in the way of all the different schemes proposed for the liberation of Italy. It will readily be conceived that the most insuperable of them consist not in the power of the oppressor, but in the errors and follies of the oppressed. It is in despair of otherwise overcoming the obstacles so arising, it is to be presumed, that Signor Balbo proposes to Italy to make Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, the captain of her hopes. The Austrians are to be driven from Italian soil by the efforts of the Italians rallied under that prince, who is yet but too bitterly remembered to have betrayed once already the banded patriots whom he had persuaded to be weak enough to trust in his princely faith. When he was Prince de Carignano he was enrolled in the list of the Carbonari, who were then engaged in schemes for the independence of Italy. As one of the sworn con
Balbo's' Delle Speranze d'Italia.'
spirators, he was in possession of lists of the members, and these he took to the king, his father; thus causing a greater amount of death, proscription, imprisonment, and misery, than any other event has ever brought on the patriots of Italy. Is this man, thus a cold traitor in the spring-tide of his warm youth, to be trusted, now that he has grown gray in king-craft, and hardened in the heart-withering duplicities and necessities of despotic policy? Is any hope to be placed in such an one? Signor Balbo, it should seem, thinks there may, thinks at all events that there is none better visible in the political horizon. And, what is more notable, the scheme seems to please, at all events not to offend, the monarch in question; since he alone, among his fellows, the rulers of Italy, has not prohibited the book. Possibly he remembers that his kingly ends were once before not ill served by a little dabbling in revolutionary schemes. Possibly he may consider that no opportunity so favourable for the purpose of strangling the hopes of Young Italy is likely to offer, as that presented to him by grappling with her in a fraternal embrace. At all events, had I the power of making myself heard by the Italians from one end of the Peninsula to the other, my last word in this matter would bid them distrust this royal Sinon and his Grecian gifts.
Not that I think that Italy is likely to listen to the proposal. Out of Piedmont the work has been received with but small approbation by Young Italy. In Lombardy, where the galled jade most winces under the pitiless rider that wrings her withers, any and every proposal for the overthrow of the Austrian will meet in some degree with a favourable reception. But in central and southern Italy Signor Balbo's proposals have excited but little sympathy. The cancer that is there most deeply eating into their vitals is a different one. It is the Papacy. True it is that Austria once well out of Italy, the Papacy would not last a month. But then Signor Balbo professes the sentiments of a good Roman Catholic; and it is difficult for a Roman to believe that any good can of schemes proposed by those who hold such a faith. Romanism may find favour anywhere rather than at Rome.
I had intended to say a few words on two or three other matters of Italian interest, but it is really time to bring this long letter to a conclusion. I must just mention that the old ex-king, Joseph Bonaparte, who died here the other day, has left a considerable mass of MS. memoirs to Prince Musignano, the son of the Prince de Canino, with directions that they are not to be opened till he is twenty-five. He is now twenty. Assuredly if posterity does not sufficiently well know the doings of our times and those of our fathers, it will not be for want of care on our parts to tell them all about it.
Of course your readers have seen in the public papers accounts of the inundation of the Arno, which afflicted Florence on Sunday, November 3rd. It is centuries since such a visitation has been experienced here. The calamity has been a very serious one, and the destruction of property immense. The conduct of the grand duke, his munificence, thoughtfulness, personal activity, and benevolence, have been above all praise. The English have, as usual, come forward handsomely to assist in alleviating the distress of the poorer sufferers. The water stood about eight feet deep in the streets of the lower part of the