Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

appeared in Herr Scheffer-Boichorst, whose damaging researches threatened a speedy end to poor Dino's precarious fame. Then a most able and patient Italian scholar — Signor del Lungo — came to the rescue, and in a monumental work, Dino Compagni e la sua Cronica,1 succeeded in refuting some grave objections, but not perhaps in establishing the Cronica in an absolutely safe and impregnable position.

Is the Cronica an original composition, finished in

1312, or is it a forgery of later date, a compilation,

a sort of mosaic? Dino's implacable foe,

The problem. _.__., . 1

Scheffer-Boichorst, who as a matter of course espouses the latter theory, can give reasons for the faith, or non-faith, that is in him. He can, that is to say, put his finger on sundry passages which exhibit so close a resemblance to other writings —e.g., a commentary on Dante, and the Cronica of Giovanni Villani, produced later in the century—as to leave in most candid minds a moral certainty of something like plagiarism. Villani, it is important to note, is not above citing his authorities; but he does not cite Dino Compagni. This is a great difficulty, from which, however, there exists a way of escape by supposing an authentic nucleus of which Dino was the author, but in which, by the caprice of some copyist, or as the effect of accident, there have been intercalated foreign elements. The utter collapse of all linguistic, and of many historical, objections ought certainly to induce a spirit of caution — a disposition not to emphasise too strongly an 1 Florence, 1879-80.

argument which, on the face of it, appears decidedly formidable.

I have not attempted, in these paragraphs, to record at all fully the vicissitudes of the dispute, which has engaged some of the best intellects, but the reader will be at no loss to understand the occasion of so much stir. Here is a history purporting to be written by a contemporary of Dante—not only a contemporary but a fellow - citizen; not only a fellowcitizen but a member, and an active member, of the same political faction. Doubtless, if the work is a pretence, it must be rigorously proscribed, but it is easy to defend some amount of warmth on the part of those who, sincerely believing in its authenticity, are unwilling to surrender what they regard as a priceless relic of the Trecento, on, as they opine, wholly inadequate grounds.

Assuming that the Cronica is genuine, at any rate as respects its main elements, Dino Compagni expresses the sentiments of the well-to-do

Thetium. ... , .. . , . ,

popolani, since the disfranchisement of the nobles and great men the preponderant force in Florentine politics. He, like Dante, is of the Bianchi, and describes, from their point of view, the events of his time down to the year 1312, though he appears not to have died until the 26th of February 1324. Dino, whose existence can be proved from authentic documents, was a good, honest, peaceloving man, preaching patriotism and concord to a generation of vipers. His own sentence, "Niente vale 1' umilta contro alla gran malizia," might be chosen as the motto alike of his life and of his work. However, he is a devout believer in the providential government of the world, and although, in 1301, the wicked (the Neri) triumphed over the righteous (the Bianchi), he is assured that their victory is not for long. The coming of Henry, in 1312, is to him, as to Dante, the coming of a deliverer; and he opportunely lays down his pen in an hour when circumstances seem to promise well for his cause.

There was a tendency at one time to overestimate Dino, to credit him with having repeated, in another

Menu and sphere, the transcendent success of Dante.

de/ecu. And, indeed, he resembles him in one thing —he can paint. He seizes for artistic purposes the psychological moment, as, for instance, when he shows Corso Donati riding through the streets, and the people shouting after him, "Viva il barone!" But mere picturesqueness will not suffice. Other qualities go to the making of an historian, and in Dino Compagni these qualities are not present. Clearness and completeness are essential to the perfection of the art, but Dino is often confused, often desultory. Although his Cronica is devoted to the feuds of the Donati and the Cerchi, of which he recounts the origin, he, while mentioning the restoration of the Cerchi, says nothing about the return of their rivals, an omission for which it is hard to find any plausible excuse.

Such faults are enough to depose Dino from the elevation to which injudicious admirers have exalted him, but they are not enough to provoke or justify any general depreciation. Dino should be read rather as a Pepys than as a Robertson. We constantly meet with such expressions as "io feci," "io andai," "io dissi." In fact, he communicates just what has interested himself. Regard him in this light, and you will say, not that he is an insufficient historian, but that he is a diarist who has outgrown the form, without renouncing the spirit, of the diary. He is, and feels himself to be, a typical man of his age, and with what warmth of sentiment he contemplates the everunfolding drama! So far as intentions go, we are simply compelled to trust him. Speaking of the death of Corso Donati, of whose personal appearance, accomplishments, and character he has just given a striking portrait, he refers to a vulgar rumour that he had been slain by Messer Rosso della Tosa and Messer Pazzino de' Pazzi—a suitable assassin, we might think, this last—but Dino exonerates the knights. "And I, wishing to search out the truth, searched diligently and found it to be true as I said"—namely, that he was killed by a foreign soldier, "cosl vilmente!"

If I may not call Dino a great historian, the title can hardly be refused to Giovanni Villani. Doubtless Villain is, for some purposes, in the swaddling-clothes of the Middle Age; but he knows what is expected of an historian, and, in a large measure, responds to that expectation. Villani was a merchant, and interested in a banking concern, which, as having lent large sums of money to the Kings of England and Sicily, broke; and the chronicler, who was also a politician, was for some time in prison. Now these facts are important. It is comparatively easy to write a personal narrative; but history, in the proper sense of the word, implies education. Not the education simply which is gained from books—that was the great mistake of the Middle Age—but the education which results from wide experience of affairs, like that attained by practical statesmen in the present day. It may sound strange, but in the fourteenth century none occupied so nearly the position of a modern statesman as an Italian merchant in a democratic community like Florence. And this may be postulated, not only of his public life as alderman or mayor of a free town,1 but also of his professional life, which rendered him acquainted with the financial side of government, gave him insight into character, initiated him into the arts of diplomacy, and necessitated extensive travel in foreign countries. Such a training tended to produce a man of the kind described in the opening lines of the Odyssey, and that was the kind of man that alone could indite modern history in mediaeval times. But Villani, as I have intimated, is not wholly modern. He is a colossus of brass with feet of clay. His book is a compromise. The keen-sighted man writes part; his age, the rest.

Villani's Cronica was conceived at Rome at the nominal date of the Commedia, in the year of the Great Jubilee. The impression made on strangers, particularly on the countless pilgrims journeying to

1 In this context a remark of M. Baret may be worth quoting: "Pour (Scrire 1'histoire, il faut etre libre, comme Thucydide, ou avoir connu, comme Tacite, 1'usage de la liberty."

« AnteriorContinuar »