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FIRST VISIT TO ROME.
not unreasonably styled the chiefest in the world. I had here an opportunity of seeing the bodies of the Magian kings, who came from the East to the West to adore the King of Heaven in Bethlehem, and I surveyed their relics with a respectful piety. You will think, O most worthy father, that I am somewhat over-diffuse in these details which I have collected; but to my mind letter-writing is less intended to confer distinction on the penman, than to give instruction to the reader. I left Cologne on the 2d of July, and I suffered so much from the sun and dust, that I could not help wishing for a little of that Rhenal snow and frost which Virgil tells of. I crossed the forest of Ardennes, which I had read of, but which, bleak and dreadful as it is, I ventured through alone, and that in time of war; but, as they say, there is a Providence for the hardy. At length, after a long journey, I reached Lyons, which is also a Roman colony, and somewhat more ancient than that of Agrippina. The Rhone will now serve me for the rest of my journey; but I have writ this much that you may know where I am, and still cherish me in your remembrance."-Epist. Fam., i. 4.
In the spring of 1337 Petrarch first visited Rome. He embarked at Marseilles, touched on the Tuscan coast, and landed at Civita Vecchia, whence he made his way to Capranica, in the Sabine hills, the castle of Count Anguillara, who had married a daughter of the house of Colonna-for the country was in arms, and Rome itself could scarcely be approached.
"The armed shepherd," he says, "is watching his flock, not so much afraid of wolves as of men. bucklered ploughman strikes his ox with an inverted javelin. The fowler hides his nets behind his shieldnay, those who draw water from the well seek it in a rusty helmet by a wretched rope. All is in arms.' Here he again met his friends Giacomo and Stephen Col
onna, and with their escort he reached the city. Thence he wrote the following lines to the Cardinal :
"What shall he expect of Rome who has been so moved by the Sabine hills? You may have supposed I should write something great on reaching Rome. Perhaps I may have the matter of some future writing, but at present I dare say nothing, crushed by the miracle of its greatness and the weight of my amazement. You were wont, I remember, to dissuade me from coming here; lest my enthusiasm should be quenched by the aspect of this ruined city, answering neither to its fame nor to the conception I had formed of it from books. I, too, was not unwilling to defer my journey, though burning with desire, from the fear that sight would lower the impression of the mind, and the presence of these objects mar the greatness of their fame. But, on the contrary, it has diminished nothing-it has magnified it all. Truly Rome was greater, and its remains are greater than I had thought them. I now wonder, not that the world was conquered by this city, but that it was conquered so late."(Rome. The Ides of March. From the Capitol.)
From that moment the glory and greatness of Rome kindled in the heart of Petrarch an undying enthusiasm. He saw her indeed reduced to the lowest extremity of anarchy and destitution by the dissensions of her nobles, by the abandonment of the Papal Court, and by the misery of the people. To raise her once more from this lamentable condition by the return of the Popes, by the protection of the Emperor, by the ascendancy of the Colonnas, and even, as we shall see, by a great popular movement, was the mainspring of Petrarch's political action through life. No matter by what means the end was attained: for he saw in the restored ascendancy of Rome the future union and independence of Italy.
ALTHOUGH interrupted by not infrequent journeys, this was the period of Petrarch's life at which he resided most continuously at Vaucluse, and in which he conceived or executed his most important literary works. He first undertook a full and complete history of Rome itself from the age of Romulus to the reign of Vespasian --a work of immense time and labour, of which no traces remain. Of all the heroes of ancient Rome, Scipio was in his eyes the greatest; and when he desisted from his historical labours, it was because Scipio fired his imagination as the type of epic heroism, Hence the great Latin poem of " Africa," to which he now devoted all his powers. The poem of Silius Italicus, on the same subject, was then unknown, and Petrarch conceived himself to be engaged on an original work. Ten years afterwards it was still incomplete; fifteen years afterwards he still spoke of it as "unripe fruit ;" and in his lifetime it was not published at all. It therefore contributed nothing to his reputation while alive, and it has rather detracted from his fame in after-ages.
Walter Savage Landor, who was no mean judge of
Latin poetry, whether classical or medieval, affirmed that no living man had ever had the patience to master above 500 lines of Petrarch's' Africa,' and that he himself stopped at that limit. I am content with the experience and confession of so great an authority; and it would add nothing to the interest of this volume to attempt a sketch of so unattractive a work. The versification is harsh and often incorrect: and wherever it rises into elegance it may be accused of plagiarism. Singularly enough, Petrarch's sense of rhythm and melody, which is so exquisitely refined in his sonnets and canzonets, deserts him under the influence of the Latin muse, which proved to him so stern and sterile a mistress. There is, however, one passage in the 6th Book which has been rescued from oblivion by the hand of a still greater poet; and the reader will not regret to read the death of Mago, the Carthaginian hero of Petrarch's poem, in the language of Lord Byron.
THE DEATH OF MAGO.
"The Carthaginian rose-and when he found
THE DEATH OF MAGO.
With false, fictitious blandishments! Oh, life
With death! And thou! worse than this night of woe
From that low earth, where all his hopes descend.
Or thee, my Italy, this arm of power?
The rights of man? confounding wrong and right,
Why did I raise of marble to the skies
A gorgeous palace? Vain and empty prize!
My dearest brother, ah! remember me,
He said, and now, its mortal bondage riven,
Of space looked down where Rome and Carthage lay,
Whose wing of havoc swept his race away,