« AnteriorContinuar »
Art. II.' Historical Illustrations of the Fourth Canto of Childe Harold ;
containing Dissertations on the Ruins of Rome, and an Essay on Italian Literature. By John Hobhouse, Esq. of Trin. Coll. Camb. M. A. and F. R. S. 8vo. pp. 576. Price 14s. London, 1818. W VHEN we opened the present volume, we naturally expected
to find its contents corresponding in some degree to its popular title, but to our surprise, we found that Childe Harold has less to do with it, than the ponderous folios of Muratori, or Montfaucon. Some of the longer notices of this volume, Mr. Hobhouse is ingenuous enough to confess, ' are dissertations not at all requisite for the intelligibility of Childe Harold,
although they may illustrate the positions or the objects • therein contained.' It is soinetimes very remotely that they serve even is obscure
of illustration. The 'contents of this work may be divided into three parts; an account of the Ruins of Rome-a few pages on the Roman Catholic religion--and an Essay on Italian Literature. In addition to these, there are some letters of Cola di Rienzi, and a few notes from Tasso to some of his friends, one of which contains a message respecting“ five shirts,' and another is occupied with a correction of four lines in one of bis MSS. And these notes, which, on account of their insignificancy, have been left in the hands of the keeper of St. Anne's, to be exhibited to strangers, and which, for the same reason, have been neglected by Serassi and others, are here presented to us under the article, · Letters of Torquato Tasso, never before published, with trans• lations. They extend to twenty pages.
In the notes upon Childe Harold, Mr. Hobhouse, with great shew of exultation over Serassi, Muratori, and others, boasts of having discovered the cause of Tasso's imprisonment, which was unknown to all his predecessors. For further and, it is hoped, • decisive proof that Tasso was neither more nor less than a
prisoner of state, the reader is referred to “ Historical Illus• trations of Childe Harold,” page 5, and following.' sertation will, however, be found to contain nothing more than a criticism upon an inscription by Miollis, a revolutionary general, on the door of Tasso's prison at St. Anne's; the mention of the famed kiss which Brusoni pretends threw Torquato into prison; and, as the real cause of his imprisonment, the statement of Serassi, that he was confined for insolent words, and kept there because the Duke feared he would upon bis liberation retract the praise of the Este family, contained in his Jerusalem, and satirize them as they deserved. Mr. Hobhouse, at the same time that he pretends no one else has before exposed _this cause, quotes Serassi's words, which mention this very mo tive for his detention, and which are as plain and explicit as his
own. Having previously stated his arrest upon having abused the court, he says, (we translate literally,) 'But (Alfonso) reflectiog • that the poets are naturally a genus irritabile, and fearing,
therefore, that Tasso on finding himself free, would, with the ' formidable arms his pen afforded, revenge bimself for his long
imprisonment and the bad treatment received at that court, he • knew not how to resolve to let him go out of his states, with
out being first assured that he would attempt nothing against • the honour and reverence due to so great a prince as he was.'
What can be more clear or explicit ? How the Author of these Illustrations can, therefore, take any merit to himself for understanding these simple words, we are at a loss to comprehend. Yet, a few lines before, there is this passage:
• The abate Serassi was acknowledged to be a perfect master of the “ cinque cento," and he has perhaps spoken as freely as could be ex. pected from a priest, an Italian, and a frequenter of the tables of the great.—He shews that he is labouring with a secret, or at least a persuasion, which he is at a loss in what manner to conceal; and which, in spite of an habitual respect for the best of princes and most illustrious of cardinals, is sufficiently apparent to confirm our suspicions of Alfonso’s tyranny.' p. 12.
But in order to expose more fully the Author's abuse of quotations, we shall examine part of his treatise upon the causes of the ruin of the ancient city of Rome. It will be easy to shew, by merely subjoining the literal interpretation to bis own quotations, that his statements are for the most part erroneous, and his superficial erudition perverted to purposes it cannot accomplish.
Those wbo gaze upon fallen Rome, and not only behold the massy piles of the Cæsars fallen into ruins, although, like the pyramids, they seemed built to be objects to future generations of wonder and astonishment, long after the voice of fame concerning their founders should be lost in the distant echo of ages, but find, that the very soil trodden by the heroes and sages of republican and imperial Rome, bas been covered by the care of time, as if to save it from the pollution of the footsteps of these unworthy ages,--that the hill on which the capitol stood, that the rock from which Manlius was thrown, are now almost brought to a level with the plain ;-these gazers, startled at the effects of a few ages, lose themselves in conjectures concerning the probable causes of the change. The vicissitudes of Rome have been more numerous than her victories, and her fall was even more rapid than her rise. From the moment that Constantine carried the seat of empire to Byzantium, Rome gave up her marbles and her riches to adorn the new metropolis. The wars against the Goths and Vandals, the still lower degradation of becoming inferior in rank to Ravenna and Naples, despoiled her of her or
naments, which came to be used as weapons by her generals, or as part of their rapine, by her subaltern governors. The bigot's rage had some share in it; but more than all, her own citizens must bear the blame of destroying what, when they had degraded it, could still bave adorned their native city. Their civil broils did not spare what the Goth, in bis rage, had left untouched; what the bigot, in his momentary madness, had passed unmarked by his hammer. And worse than all, their avarice has stamped with its large and too evident footsteps, every quarter of the city.
Mr. Hobhouse bas devoted to the examination of this subject, several pages of his work. So far, however, from having eluci. dated it, he has succeeded in embarrassing it, by throwing the rubbish of erudition upon a point from wbich it had been cleared by several able critics. It had been almost generally acknowledged, from the time of Angelo Pietro da Barga down to the present day, that the Goths had been much calumniated in regard to the rain they are said to have caused in Rome. They have been represented as wantonly defacing the beautiful, and using their utmost strength in destroying the massy structures of the Queen of Cities, each time she came under their power. But, from the accounts, wbich have been handed down to us by those who lived nearest the time in which this destruction is said to have taken place, it would not appear that they committed any other depredations than what generally ensued when a town was given to sack. They seized upon the gold and silver, and when these failed, tbe baser metals were not despised. Fire was set to several parts of the city, apparently more by accident than purposely ; but how small the effect of fire bas been upon the public buildings, may be ascertained by the examination of the structures which remain. Little wood was employed; stone, bricks, a few beams, some of which were even of brass, constitute the materials. The houses of the poor and the palaces of the rich, might certainly supply such materials to a fire, as would free St. Jerome from the imputation of too great an exaggeration in his lamentation over Rome : « Once the head of the world, now the . sepulchre of its people. The authorities quoted by Mr. Hobhouse, only prove the existence of a fire when the Goths entered Rome; they do not even prove that they set the city on fire, nor do they prove the fact of any wanton destruction. To establish this we need but follow him in his several authorites.
In order to weaken the authority of Orosius, who does not assert sufficient to warrant the Author's indignation, Mr. Hobhouse says, “It should be remembered, that the supposed piety ' redeemed the actual violence of the Goths, and that respect for the vessels of St. Peter's shrine, made Orosius almost the • apologist of Alaric.'— Yet Alaric was an Arian! Mr. H. however proceeds :
• It is certain tbat Alaric did burn a part of Rome. Orosius, by making the comparison between the former great fires, and that of the Goths, shews that such a comparison might be suggested by the mag. nitude of the latter calamity. He adds also, that after the people were returned, the conflagration had left its traces, and in relating the partial destruction of the Forum by lightning, makes it appear that the brazen beams, and the mighty structures which were then consumed, would have fallen by the hands and fames of the barbarians, had they not been too massive for human force to overthrow.' pp. 60, 61,
Now, let us examine the very passages of Orosius at the bottom of these pages, that we may form some opinion of this gentleman's skill in bringing forward quotations to substantiate his text. The whole of note ? shall be extracted for this purpose.
«« Tertiá die Barbari, quam ingressi fuerint urbem, sponte discedunt, facto quidem aliquantarum ædium incendio, sed ne tanto quidem, quantum septingesimo conditionis ejus anno casus effecerat." He compares the Gallic and Neronic fires, and says they were greater than the Gothic. Hist. lib. vii. cap. xxxix. “ Cujus rei quamvis recens memoria sit, tum si quis ipsius populi Romani et multitudinem videat et vocem audiat, nihil factum, sicut ipsi etiam fatentur, arbitrabitur, nisi aliquantis adhuc existentibus ex incendio ruinis forte doceatur." Lib. vii. chap, xl.'
These quotations, literally translated, mean as follows: On the third day after their entry, the Barbarians of their own accord retire, a burning of some buildings indeed having been 'made, but not even so great as chance bad caused in the
Seven hundredth year of the building of the city.' **** Of "which, though the memory is recent, if any one should see the • multitude and hear the voice of the Roman people itself, he will 'think nothing had been done, as they themselves allow, unless
be may by chance be taught by the few ruins yet remaining from the fire. Now, what does the inagnitude suggested by the comparison between the Gothic, and the Gallic and Neronic fires, amount to, more than this, that a few buildings, certainly, were burned, but that the fire was not equal to the one in the seven hundredth year of Rome, which is one of the smaller fires hardly mentioned by authors; and that it was so small that the common people had almost forgotten it, and a stranger might not discover it, except he happened to meet with some of the few ruins yet remaining. Orosius, who speaks this in his own person, wrote about A.D. 416, not more than six years after Alaric took the city.
The other passage which is quoted in support of the asser
tion, that the buildings would have been destroyed by the flames kiodled by the barbarians, is as follows : Note , page 61.
Quippe cum supra humanas vires esset, incendere æneas trabes, et subruere magnarum moles structurarum, ictu fulminum Forum cum imaginibus variis, quæ superstitione miserabili vel deum vel hominem mentiuntur, abjectum est : horumque omnium abominamentorum quod immissa per hostem flamma non adiit, missus e cælo ignis evertit. Lib ii.
15.' As it was above human strength to burn the brazen beams, and to overturn the mass of the great structures, the Forum, ' with the various images, which represent man and god by a mi- . 'serable superstition, was thrown down by lightning; and what
of all these abominations, the flames lighted by the enemy ' could not approach, those sent by heaven overthrew. Does this warrant the expression, relative to the barbarians not having overturned these mighty structures merely from the want of power? Orosius states that it was above human power to, do it, and, as a good Christian, seems to think that Heaven interposed to destroy that sanctuary of superstition which it would have baffled human effort to overthrow.
The expression used by Gelasius, ninety years after the event, ' Urbem evertit,' even if translated as Mr. Hobhouse would have it, overturned the city,' would have little weight against the authority of Orosius and other historians. But we are not a little astonished that an author who is certainly a classical scholar, should venture to give these English words as the version of the Latin ; they imply much more than is conveyed by the original, the English words referring to the buildings, the Latin to the government. Alaric did overturn the government, for be set up a mock emperor one day, and on the next degraded him; but, according
to Orosius, he did little injury to the buildings. Cicero uses Evertere rempublicam,' merely for disturbing the government, not destroying the state.
• Procopius, (says Mr. H.) confines the fire to the quarter near the Salarian gate ; but adds, that the Goths ravaged the whole city. The despoiling edifices of ornaments, many of which must have been connected with their structure, could not fail to hasten their decay.'
Does the Author mean, by inserting this altogether in one separate paragraph, to convey the idea that Procopius says that these ornaments were taken away? We cannot find such a passage; nor do we know any historian who mentions their taking away the ornaments which were connected with the buildings. They remained in Rome only three days, and Rome had not before been sacked by any conquering army. Is it to be supposed that they wasted their time in taking away the bronze