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at least exclude Russian influence from the continent, and oppose to the encroaching spirit of that ambitious cabinet the strong barrier of a compact, well-united German empire.
The Pentameron and Pentalogia. London, 1837.
We have so recently brought Mr. Landor's writings and literary character before our readers, that the making them the subject of a second notice, however brief, requires some explanation. Whether this remarkable man abuses his strength in violent and capricious enmities, or wastes it upon paradoxes, whatever comes from his pen betrays, with lesser or greater degrees of obscuration, the artist, and brings with it or suggests, either in the way of assent or opposition, instructive and frequently profound truths in politics, morals and criticism. In the volume before us, there is something of each of these; but what has especially moved us to give a short account of the Pentameron is, that it illustrates, as it were empirically, a leading quality or defect of the author's mind, and confirms us in the opinions we formerly expressed of his peculiar strength and weakness.
It must be evident to those who have read the Imaginary Conversations, not merely as an amusing book, but as the production of a powerful though irregular intellect, that Mr. Landor's entire sympathies are with the ancient rather than with the modern world, in philosophy, politics and literature : for although he fully and frequently does homage to the surpassing majesty of his own countrymen in invention and imagination, and in his last work avows his conviction that England “ has produced four men so pre-eminently great, that no name, modern or ancient, can stand very near the lowest; these are, Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton, and Newton;”-still, notwithstanding, it is easy to gather from his prejudices and from his deliberate judgements, from the bent of his imagination and
more an an
the direction of his understanding and taste, that his temperament is ethnic, and that he imperfectly apprehends and goes along with the current feelings and the moral constitution of the Christian world. Let us not be misunderstood, -we are as far from thinking as from saying that Mr. Landor is not a Christian; or that he has ever directly and intentionally supported or insinuated the doctrines and the sentiments of a sceptical philosophy; but we infer from the general tenor of his writings, and from the natural track and orbit of his
speculations in art, ethics and politics, that he is “ tique Roman” than a poet or philosopher of the nineteenth century; that Homer and Aristotle, Ovid and Cicero, are his divines, in spite of the commendations he bestows upon Hooker and Barrow; and that the native impulse and bias of his intellect is, in argumentation, towards the palpable, the practical, the orderly, rather than to questions of higher intellectual “ pith and moment;" and in poetry, towards the exact proportions and clearness of form, the characteristics of ethnic art, more than to the pathos and personal reflectiveness of modern. Perhaps this is most apparent in his political sentiments. Mr. Landor believes himself to be, and is frequently represented as, an uncompromising democrat; whereas he is an aristocratic republican of the antique cast, not more impatient of kings and pontifical supremacy than of popular rule and predominance in its present sense. His comments on history show little predilection for the many, and less faith in their perfectibility ; while they point out, and in a manner underline, the individual greatness of the few in action and intellect. If anywhere Mr. Landor is a leveller, it is in his projects or his dreams for a primitive constitution of the church. We are not sure whether on this subject he is in earnest or ironical ; but if he is serious, “ venturum expectat."
In some of his former publications, Plato was the cynosure of Mr. Landor's dislikes ; and the philosopher who has exhausted the admiration and taxed the powers of the most subtle thinkers in every age is represented in the Imaginary Conversations as an inexact reasoner, inconsistent in his doctrines, and luxuriant and rank in his diction. In the Pentameron, Dante, though upon the whole less an object of distaste, being saved from rough treatment, not, as in the Inferno, by getting upon Virgil's back, but by the transcendent beauty of particular passages of his Vision,-is equally misapprehended in the connexion, the transitions, and the scope of his immortal work. And the origin of misconception and the grounds of dislike we believe to be in both cases the same;namely, that acute and comprehensive as Mr. Landor's intellect unquestionably is, and nurtured and instructed with
soul-sustaining songs of ancient lore, And philosophic wisdom, clear and mild,"
it is nevertheless potent within a certain circle only; it flags and falls whenever the idea of the infinite, whether as a postulate in philosophy or as a fact in theology, is presented to it, or it has come within the circuit and attraction of such minds as the Florentine’s and the Athenian philosopher's.
Before we bring forward any proofs of this somewhat perverse tendency of Mr. Landor's mind to materialise and mete out, according to an insufficient standard, studies and speculations that necessarily at either extremity touch upon infinity, we will present our readers with a brief outline of the scheme and contents of the Pentameron, and show them how it comes to pass that the merits of " il gran padre Alighieri” are made the subject of discourse, and in what manner the record of it came to be rendered into English.
It appears then, from the “ Editor's introduction,” that a bell being wanted for his church at San Vivaldo, the Prete Domenico Grigi, the Piévano, came not long since to England to solicit aid from the faithful towards the purchase of
He was moved thereto by a rumour that his holy religion was rapidly gaining ground in this country, partly owing, as he discovered—at least so we infer from certain expressions in the Piévano's postscript—to the rapacity of our bishops, in making over to their families the possessions of the episcopacy; and partly to certain Sabbatarians, with whom the bishops were in league, to proscribe country air and roast meat to the poor on Sundays. The importance of the Piévano's mission is increased by the circumstance “ that no new bell whatever had been consecrated in the diocese of Samminiato since the year of our Lord 1611; in which year, on the first Sunday of August, a thunder-bolt fell into the belfry of the
Duomo, owing to the negligence of Canonico Malatesta ; who, according to history, in his hurry to dine with Conte Geronimo Bardi, at San Vivaldo, omitted a word in the mass."
Subsidiary to his purpose of making collection for his bell, the Piévano brought with him, and caused to be translated by the best hand he could afford to engage,“ certain interviews of Messer Francesco Petrarca and Messer Giovanni Boccacio," which the booksellers told him should be entitled “ The Pentameron', unless he would return with nothing in his pocket. The discourse held at these interviews, which, as the name imports, lasted for five days, is a lengthened “ imaginary conversation” accompanied with divers pleasant digressions and descriptions. It was held “when said Messer Giovanni lay infirm at his Viletta hard by Certaldo”, and it shows how he and Messer Francesco “ discoursed upon that famous theologian Messer Dante Alighieri and sundry other matters.” After which meeting “ they saw not each other on our side of Paradise”.
It is well known that, several years before his death-much earlier than Mr. Landor, if indeed he cared about the matter, has placed it-Boccacio, in a sudden fit of remorse, resolved to abandon poetry and profane literature, and, if possible, to suppress his Decameron, and to commit whatever copies he could procure to the flames. Mr. Landor's supposition that he intended to make a holocaust of the Decameron is singular, since, as himself makes Boccacio say, in reference to the copies of the Inferno, “What effect could be produced by burning a book which had circulated rapidly throughout Italy, in manuscript and orally, immediately on its publication?” Fortunately, however, Petrarca was consulted; and his advice was, that Giovanni should read his books as usual, mend his morals, and by no means burn his Tales. This salutary counsel was really given in a long letter; but for the occasions of the Pentameron, Petrarca comes in person to “ his friend's Viletta hard by Certaldo,” having travelled thither over mountain-roads, flooded with rain, in haste and alarm, lest Boccacio shall have acted upon the resolution hc had announced. Such is the prelude to the Interviews.'
Very early in the first day's conversation Petrarca utters the somewhat startling opinion, that “ less than a twentieth
of the Divina Commedia is good,”—and immediately afterwards adds, that “ at least sixteen parts in twenty of the Inferno and Purgatorio are detestable, both in poetry and in principle;"—he admits, indeed, in the same sentence, “ the higher parts” to be “excellent indeed.” But a poet with so great an admixture of baser alloy with even the purest and most precious metal, must surely owe to prescription or to accident, rather than to his merits, his received station as the prince and patriarch of his national literature; and the question arises, how he came by it at all? We might attribute such an opinion to Petrarca's supposed jealousy of Dante; but this Mr. Landor denies to have ever existed; and indeed, historically, it does not rest on a good foundation. We suspect, however, that Petrarca, or rather his present mover and mouthpiece, the author of the Pentameron, has not considered with sufficient accuracy the Divina Commedia in reference to its position in the scale of imaginative and initiatory works, the time of its composition, the life and education of its anthor, and its different effects upon contemporaries and posterity: We shall therefore endeavour to point out as concisely as possible a prevailing error in judging the great work of Alighieri,-premising only that our remarks will apply to it as a whole, and not directly to any separate parts or passages, whether excellent or faulty, of his tripartite Vision.
Most of the prevailing misconceptions of the Divina Commedia arise from its being classed with an order of poems to which it does not belong. Dante is compared, for sublimity, to Æschylus and Milton, whereas, as Mr. Coleridge has observed, “ profoundness rather than sublimity” is the characteristic of Dante's genius; “ he does not so much elevate your thoughts as send them down deeper." For intensity of expression, and a certain passionate earnestness of sentiment, he is likened to Lucretius; and relatively to his initiatory station in literature, to Homer. With the latter he has the fewest points in common; the only ground of comparison between them being the simplicity and natural freshness of the similes, and the absence of idiosyncrasy and particular feelings whenever the poet suspends the action of his poem to introduce an image from nature or from social life. In all other respects the mythology and machinery of