Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

OiHr.i r.

couple, whom peculiar circumstances exposed lo the most trying temptations .

R. Lxxnr.

Before proceeding further, it will be well to present the reader with the historical facts on which the poetic description he is about to peruse is founded; because without being perfectly aware of them it will be impossible to appreciate the poetry justly. Should my recital appear prolix, or should the quotations transcribed to support it be judged superfluously numerous, I alledge as an excuse that it is an oltremontano who undertakes to investigate a question of Italian antiquities, which is not accurately treated in the Italian editions of Dante, and who not only affirms that on this head all those editions ( even not excepting the most voluminous ones ) are strangely deficient, but that of the little they state a portion is to be invalidated; and that palpable errors are disseminated in France and England in the most, modern publications that profess information on this

subject the Histoire Litteraire d'ltalie, and the

'Story of Rimini'. Mr. Hunt indeed can quote Italian in his favour; and even were it otherwise, he could put in the triumphant plea of the beauty of his little poem: but the French critic has no such defence, and when he sets out by telling us that 0\XTO T.

Paul and Francesca were cousins ('\ he commits a blunder not discoverable in the most negligent copy ever printed of the Divina Com media, and nearly disheartens one with his book.

Polenta and Malatesta were two feudal Lords, the former of Ravenna and Cervia, and the latter of Rimini; States which, according to the style of the time, were continually at bloody variauce . It was on the cessation of one of their longest and most ruinous conflicts, that a union between their two most potent families was projected as the only expedient to insure a peace; which to Ravenna, as having fared the worst in the campaign, was supposed to be very desirable, if not absolutely necessary. But Polenta had another as powerful, though less patriotic reason. His family, though rich, were not ancient, and he was ambitious. His father had come from a small village at the foot of the Appennines; and although he himself had now risen, first to the dignity of Procurator to the Archbishop, and at last to that of Count, he aspired to greater honours. He therefore sought by every means to captivate his fellow-citizens by courteous manners, and to strengthen his reputation abroad by alliances in which he succeeded so well, that

finally, by the aid of his son-in-law, Malatesta, he expelled the only people who could compete with him, the princely-descended Traversarii, and made

(t) Ellcetait tendremeut almee de Paul s«*n jeuue couiin Hist. Litt. d' llalie, Vol. it. p. 45.

r.\WTo r.

himself the absolute master of the city. This he did in 1275 (0. It was I know not exactly how long previously, that the marriage F am about to speak of took place; but it could not be lougf*). Polenta long after both the death of his daughter anrl his own ascent to supreme power in Ravenna, was elected Podesta, or mayor, in Florence, in i29i (3). Those who are aware of the strange usances then in Italy, will not be astonished to find one, who was already a little sovereign, come to bean occasional chief Magistrate in that illustrious Republic. In Polenta's case it was doubly convenient; for, while his authority was secured by his adherents at home, his visit to Florence both soothed his townsmen by that appearance of equality W and gave him

(i) Per idem tempiis ( H75 ) Guido Polentanus ( qui per aliquud lempus privatas vixeiat civis ) subsidio equitum qui sibi mitti a Ljucellotto Genero Arimino fuerant, adversaria civihns, Traversariis prosertim pulsis, Ravenna potitOs est. Hier. Rubtei Hist. Raven, p. 3oS.

(a) Clemcutini ( Race. 1st. di Rimini, Lib. T. p. 53o) dates both tbe peace between Ravenna and Rimini, the usurpation of Polenta , and Francesca'a marriage all in the same year. He deduces this latter from the gratitude which Polenta owed Scanatus for his aid in usurping the cuprrme power H Ravenna; the literal sense of the Ravannese aimaw list's words is, that the majriage was to cement the peace and that Scanatus waa already Polenta's sou-io-law when he assisted him in expelling the Traversarii. But it is easy to reconcile both accounts, by considering the three events as nearly simultaneous and that while making the peace, the marriage and usurpation were concerted and quickly put in execution. Hier. Ruhcei Hist. Ravennatum, Lib. 6. p. *o8.

(3) Nel i39i in Calen. di I.uglio fu fatto Podesta di Fireme Messer Guido da Polenta di Raveuua. Chron. di P. di Picro, ap. supp.ad Rer. Ital. Scrip. T. a. p. 45.

(4) He was an assiduous courtier of popularity — facile inter cives primus comitate humanitateque conciliare animos sibi omnorum student ... Hier. Rubni, Hist. Raven. Lib. vi. p. Joy.

mtn v. ,

an opportunity of conciliating a powerful ally. That Dante then formed an acquaintance with Polenta, which ripened into friendship, is the natural cause for the poet's selecting his roof to expire under; which we know he did. In that last stage of life he retired to the bosom of his friend, like an overhunted hare to her form; and, if was not given to him to receive the last sad offices cf mortality from his own countrymen, he was not unhappy in having them conferred in an affectionate and noble manner by a long respected friend; and, if he died in exile, it was still in a city not less worthy of him than his native one; for, in antiquity and rank, the habitation of the Ex-archs was only inferior to Rome itself. That Dante heard Francescas story from Polenta's own mouth as early as their meeting in i29i, and that the Canto was written while the impressions it awakened in the poet were quite fresh, is the probable conjecture; and it corresponds exactly with what I have said of this poem being partly begun as early as the publication of the Vita Nuova (0. It is likely then this Canto was composed in Florence: but, if in FranCesca's own room, in Polenta's house, in Ravenna, ( as some have advanced, on I know not what ground) it could only be during a transient visit which Dante might have made there as Ambassador or otherwise : but by no means during his rambles

(i) Hell, Comment, Canto n p. n(.

as an exile; for Boccaccio's testimony is absolute, that this Canto was written previous to his exile. Polenta had two sons and one daughter, Franceses; on whose beauty, wit, and accomplishments the i chronicles of that age descant. Malatesta also had two sons(0 as dissimilar as it is possible to be in their character: Paul, the younger, is represented as being as remarkable for gentleness and personal advantages, as Francesca herself; and they who paint her as uniting the charms of Venus with the virtue, good sense, and education of Minerva, extol him as a rival of Park in form, and far superior to him in mind; his resemblance to the Trojan Prince however was not circumscribed entirely to exterior qualities, for he also partook something of the same softness of disposition and preference of ease and tranquil occupations to the bustle of ambition (a): but Launcelot Malatesta was one of the most violent ruffians of that violent period, and not only signalized by his ferocity and ignorance, but by his contempt of culture and his bodily deformity; for he was disgustingly negligent in his dress (3) and so lame of one leg, that , if Knights did not combat on horseback, his hobbling gait must have precluded him from indulging in

(i) He had four sons iu all— Malatestino, Lancelot, Paul, and another whose name I forget, and who was a man of no note.

(») Paulus pulcher el [inlltns, et magis otio d edit us qnam labori. Beoveuuti Im. Cum. ap. Mur. Antiq. Ital. T. i. p. i0a9.

(3) . , . era suzzo della persona e sciaucato. Boccaccio, Cotuento, Vol, i. p. ixJ.

« AnteriorContinuar »