Page images
PDF
EPUB

and at the same time founded on such deep principles, in the whole history of English poets.

Mazeppa is a very fine and spirited sketch of a very noble story, and is every way worthy of its author.'

9. The British Critic. • The cold reception of Mazeppa, must have given to lord Byron rather a broad intimation of his decline in the public favour. Monotonous and mouthing mediocrity is but ill adapted to sustain a character which owes its advancement to a brilliant, wild, but meretricious irregularity. In Mazeppa, the noble lord has travelled out of his usual latitude; his genius appears to have been chilled by the inclement air of the north, and even where it would rouse itself into exertion, it only the more betrays by a speedy relapse, the lethargy increasing upon it. If the poet be dull, the public will be indifferent; and lord Byron has at last discovered that the occasional brilliances of his former poems have not cast a protecting shield over the insignificance of his last.

* If Don Juan be not a satire-what is it? A more perplexing question could not be put to the critical squad. Of the four hundred and odd stanzas which the two cantos contain, not a tittle could, even in the utmost latitude of interpretation, be dignified by the name of poetry. It has not wit enough to be comic; it has not spirit enough to make it lyric; nor is it didactic of any thing but mischief. The versification and morality are about upon a par; as far, therefore, as we are enabled to give it any character at all, we should pronounce it a narrative of degrading debauchery in doggrel rhyme.'

ART. XII.- Madame Beauharnois.--Napoleon's Marriage. [From Les Souvenirs et Anecdotes Secretes pour servir a l'Histoire de la Re

volution.) WHEN the St. Helena Manuscript was published in London, I

received the two first copies that reached Paris. I kept one, and sent the other to general Barras. The next time I saw him, I observed that the memoire must certainly have been drawn up by Bonaparte himself; for I thought nobody else could possibly have written it; and many of my friends were of the same opinion. You mistake, replied the general; the work itself contains evident proof that it is not written by him. On two occasions, mention is made of my connection with Bonaparte with reference to facts indifferent in themselves, and which, consequently, he could have no interest in misrepresenting; and yet the most erroneous statements are made.

The first error, continued Barras, appears in page 10, where I am styled a seaman by Bonaparte, who knew very well that I was not a seaman, and that if I had been in India, it was as a military officer, commanding troops of the line, and not as an officer of the navy.

her so.

The second error, which is more detailed, and consequently more apparent, occurs in page 15, where the following lines are attributed to Napoleon:

• The affair of the sections (on the 13th Vendemiaire,) raised me to the rank of general of division, and I thus acquired a sort of celebrity. The successful party, being dissatisfied with the victory, I was detained in Paris against my inclination, for all my ambition was to appear in the field in my new rank.

• Thus I remained idle in Paris. I had no relations; I was totally ignorant of the forms of society, and I visited only at the house of Barras, where I was always kindly received. There, for the first time, I saw my wife, who had so great an influence over the events of my life, and whose memory will ever be dear to me.

I was not insensible to female charms, though I was naturally timid in the company of women. Madame de Beauharnois was the first who inspired me with confidence; one day when I chanced to be sitting near her, she paid me many flattering compliments on my military talent. I was delighted with her praises--İ followed her wherever she went; in short, I fell passionately in love with her, and our friends remarked it long before I had courage to tell

'At length Barras spoke to me on the subject. I had no reason to disguise my sentiments. Well, said he, since it is so, you must marry Madame de Beauharnois. You have military rank and talents that may be turned to advantage; but you are solitary, without fortune, without connection. You must marry, that will give weight to your character. Madame de Beauharnois is agreeable and intelligent, but she is a widow; and the state of widowhood is nothing now-a-days. Women no longer play a high part in public affairs, they must marry to acquire consequence. You have talent which will distinguish you in the world; Madame de Beauharnois likes you;—will you entrust me with the negociation?

'I awaited the answer with the utmost anxiety; it proved favourable. Madame de Beauharnois granted me her hand; and, if in the course of my life I ever enjoyed happiness, I owe it entirely to her.'

Thus, continued Barras, Bonaparte transforms me into the negociator of his marriage; but it is all a fabrication. He certainly saw Madame de Beauharnois, for the first time at my house, and as it is stated, there fell in love with her, and formed the plan of his marriage; the denouement, however, was nearly brought about before I had the least knowledge of the affair; and it was not until the eve of his marriage, that Bonaparte came to inform me of it, and to know whether I approved of the match. It was certainly somewhat late to ask such a question; but I had no reason to withhold my consent, and I offered him my congratulations. He is made to say, as you will observe, that if he ever enjoyed happiness in his life, he is indebted for it to his wife. It may be so; but a few days after his marriage, he spoke to me in a very differens tone. From these circumstances, added Barras, I conclude that the manuscript is not the production of Bonaparte.

M. Tabarié, under secretary of state for the war department, likewise observed to me, that the style bore not the least resem. blance to Napoleon's. On this subject, he related to me the following curious particulars: ‘I have seen,' said he, a vast number of letters and notes written by the emperor; his sentences were occasionally short, but for the most part interminably long. His style was fantastic, his expressions singular; but genius and depth of thinking were observable in every thing he wrote. He sometimes addressed five letters daily to the same minister, and yet his correspondence was always full of matter. This activity of mind lasted as long as fortune favoured him; when his prosperity began to decline, his letters became less frequent, and his ideas less clear; and, as we did not always understand what he wrote, we dreaded to receive a note from him. These notes ceased altogether, after the Russian campaign. It is customary to judge of the emperor only by his military glory; but if the letters transmitted by him to the different ministers and authorities, whilst in the plenitude of his power and faculties, should ever be collected together, posterity will regard him even as a greater politician than a captain.'

Bonaparte's Law Knowledge.—What particularly astonished Treilhard was the prodigious memory of the emperor:-it was a subject to which he was continually alluding.

The articles of the civil code, after being drawn up and taken into consideration in private conferences, were submitted to the discussion of the council of state, at which Napoleon frequently presided. Treilhard wondered at the readiness with which Bonaparte frequently illustrated the point in question, by quoting extempore, whole passages from the Roman civil law; a subject which, from its nature, seemed to be entirely foreign to him. One day the emperor requested his attendance, in order to acquaint him with some new ideas on criminal legislation; after conversing together for some time, they formed themselves into a little committee, and the counsellor of state took the liberty of asking the emperor how he had acquired so familiar a knowledge of law af. fairs, considering that his whole life had been spent in camps? Bonaparte replied:

When I was merely a lieutenant, I was put under arrest, unjustly it is true; but that is nothing to the point. The little room which was assigned for my prison, contained no furniture but an old chair, an old bed, and an old cupboard; in the cupboard was a ponderous folio volume, older and more worm-eaten than all the rest; it proved to be the Digest. As I had no paper, pens, ink, or pencils, you may easily imagine that this book was a valuable prize to me. It was so voluminous, and the leaves were so covered

with marginal notes in manuscript, that had I been confined a hundred years I could never have been idle. I was only ten days deprived of my liberty; but on recovering it, I was saturated with Justinian, and the decisions of the Roman legislators. Thus I picked up my knowledge of civil law, with which I so often trou

ble you.

ART. XIII.-Italian Literature. Histoire Literaire d'Italie, par

P. L. Ginguene, Tomes 7, 8, and 9.

[From the Journal des Savans.] A

COURSE of Italian literature begun at the Athenæum of Paris,

in 1802, gave rise to this work, the three first volumes of which, divided after the example of Tiraboschi, into the heads of Theology, Jurisprudence, Medicine, Sciences, and Belles Lettres, appeared in 1811, 1812, 1813. Literary history, since the time when Bacon marked its place, which was still vacant, in the table of human knowledge, has been the subject of a great number of books, which differ from each other in the distribution and choice of the materials, as much as in the form and the style.

M. Ginguene in his first three volumes, brought down the literary history of Italy to the end of the 15th century. On beginning the fourth volume, he divided into three parts, the picture of the age of Leo X. 1. Poetry. 2. Study of the sciences, and ancient languages. 3. Italian prose, philosophy, history, novels, &c. Two branches of poetry, the epic and the dramatic alone, sufficed to fill the fourth, fifth, and sixth volumes. It might be expected to find in the seventh, the history of the other kinds of poetry; but the author announces at the beginning of this volume, that he has changed his plan, and thought fit to place several articles of the second and third parts before those of the first, of which he still had to treat. We disapprove of his reasons for this change, and shall, therefore, follow the order which we should have preferred, and begin with the ninth volume, which treats of didactic poetry, satire, and lyric poetry, in which sonnets are included.

This volume, exclusive of the general table of contents of the whole work, with which it is terminated, contains but 430 pages, of which, only the first 264 are by M. Ginguene. The poem of the Bees, by Ruccelai, and that of Alamanni on Agriculture, (La Coltivazione) are the first two with which he makes us acquainted. The second appears to be far too little known, even in France, where the author composed it in banishment, and dedicated two hundred fine verses to Francis I.

Among the Italian Satires of the serious class, M. G. distinguishes those of Ariosto, Alamanni, and Ercole Bentivoglio; he neglects nothing that can show their originality; but it appears to us, that excepting some pieces of Ariosto, there is not to be found in any of these Satires (says M. Daunou, the Reviewer) either the energy of Juvenal, the ingenius raillery of Horace, or the happy mixture of both these, such as we find in Boileau, and some more modern French satirists. The pre-eminence which the Italians might claim here is not very glorious; they invented the burlesque satire, and have preserved in it a superiority which is neither to be disputed nor envied. Those who have attempted to imitate them in this way of writing, have for ever disgraced it among us, by adding grossness of expression to meanness of ideas; whereas, in Italy, as M. G. has not failed to remark, buffoonery in the thoughts is compatible with harmony of versification, purity of language, and

grace of style. This kind of composition, created by Burchiello, in the fifteenth century, was cultivated by many poets of the sixteenth; but M. G. has been obliged to employ much art and care, not to extract from all these Satires, any thing unworthy of the gravity of a literary history, and yet to give a just and complete idea of this species of composition. Here, as in the other chapters, there are excellent biographical notices.

The text of M. G. finishes with the first article of the following chapter: this article treats of cardinal Bembo, considered as a lyric poet, and as the head of the school of the Petrarchists. All the rest of the volume is by M. Salfi, a learned Italian.

The title of lyric poetry is extended in Italy, to many fugitive pieces, which we are not accustomed to include under that desig. nation; for we, indeed, almost exclusively reserve it for the Ode: they apply it, not only to their Canzoni, but also to sonnets and various pieces, which we should call either amatory or elegiac. Under this head, therefore, we here find a very great number of authors, a multitude of productions, and especially of sonnets: in a word, all such poems as are not comprehended under the title of the epic, dramatic, didactic, or satirical.

In distinguishing the different sects of lyric poets, and the characteristics of their poetry, M. Salfi has not neglected the peculiar forms of their versification. He relates, for instance, how Brocardo and Tolomei, reviving a project conceived by Leo Alberti in the fifteenth century, endeavoured to subject Italian poetry to the laws of Latin versification. Brocardo published rules and examples of this kind of verse, promising to support them on principles of philosophy and music. It was in vain, however, that Italian hexameters, pentameters, &c. were composed, the theory never gained credit, and M. Salfi is persuaded that there is no reason to regret its failure.

The rather long list of these lyric poets is terminated at least by a celebrated name; Tasso, if he had not a title to immortal glory, would merit a brilliant reputation by his Canzoni, and even by his Sonnets. His Lyric Poems, in the extracts and translations given of them, are highly interesting, and decidedly superior to all those of his contemporaries.

M. Salfi has collected in a particular section, information relative to the Italian poetesses of the sixteenth century. Here the

« PreviousContinue »