Page images
[ocr errors][merged small]

It is much easier to draw up an opinion of what we but half know, than of that which we are perfectly acquainted with. The whole truth concerning any subject is a most perplexing possession, an unarrangeable mass of contraries and shades of difference, dove-tailed into one another beyond the power of criticism to distinguish. It presents so many faces and outlines, that we can seize but one or two, and in these merging the rest, endeavour to generalize, with these awkward exceptions sticking out in spite of us. For examples of this, we need but look at the criticisms on Shakespeare and the great epic poets, where the writers are tossed up and down the contraries of antithesis, like a ship on what mariners call a chopping sea. The first sentence the launch is bold, and sent forth with confidence, after which it is all fret, but, and although, to the end of the chapter. Continually in dread of coming in contact with this fact, and that received opinion, they are compelled every moment to return upon their steps, explain away and contradict, till the sum of their opinions, annihilating each other, is nothing.

Far different is the happy course of those, who have to do with what they scarce know any thing about; young black-letter men of research and shortsight, recurring every second to their alphabets and glossaries; critics, and translators of foreign poets, with their grammars and dictionaries under their arms; and reviewers of political economy, deep in the first book of Adam Smith and Madame Marcet's "Conversations." These have the happy knack of assuring themselves, that what is new to them, must be new to all. And they deal out their crude opinions in the glow of unrepressed admiration, and in the confidence and singleness of first impression, while those who have long studied the works in question, and long digested their truths or beauties, hesitate and find it impossible to hazard one simple question concerning them.

The convenience of superficial knowledge, is nowhere more manifest than in criticisms on the literature of foreign languages. We are rarely troubled with too clear and extensive a view VOL. X.

of the subject, and confining our ob servations to generalities, seldom become very absurd. But when people. enter into exquisite dissertations on the beauties of foreign poets, as some wights in these countries have done, and in type too, we must confess, they weave terrible nonsense. Unable to define or mark out singly the character of the muse they contemplate, recourse must be had to comparison, which enables them to tell what it is not. Thus, for the most part, all the estimates and opinions of genius, which we gather from books, have no foundation but upon one another. We have no idea of Dante, but that he is more stern and sublime than Petrarch, and none of Petrarch, but that he is more tender than Dante. Their relative proportions and distances are carefully marked out, but of the real excellence of any one of them, we are informed nothing. We see them twinkle, like the stars, above us, some bright, some dim; but of their substances, their outlines, or their laws, we are left totally ignorant. The superficial method, however, has its advantages,it is light, airy, and unburdensome, and affords elegant matter for periodicals and conversation,-it makes literature popular, and refines and intellectualizes life; while the contrary method of theory and rational investigation would confine it to the closet, and make it altogether a scholastic pursuit. Nor would this be likely to produce much effect, since Alison himself has scarce left a vestige of influence on the criticism of the age.

But when unable to define the peculiar excellencies of our own literature, how can we be expected to ap-, preciate justly those of others? For, in fact, a man can know but one language that in which he thinks. Those subtle links between words and ideas, which it requires such a length of years at first to establish, cannot be applied, when we will, to tongue. Dictionaries are cold and. unnatural preceptors; we may gather by their help, historical knowledge from plain narratives of fact; but to catch the spirit of poetry with such auxiliaries, is impossible. Words, in our own classic verse, come to our ears, conveyed in a tone, and accompanied

3 U


by associations, which it would be in vain endeavouring to explain to a foreigner. And this is much more the case with them;-read Petrarch's "Zefiro torna," and it is as common-place a piece of verse as ever was written: hear Foscolo repeat it, and the memory of its tone and feeling shall never fade from your ear. In the "Giorno" that lies, before us, and which gave birth to this article, we dwell with delight on such lines as these:

"Quella rosa gentil che fu già un tempo
Onor de belle donne, all' Amor cara,
E cara all' Onestade: ora ne' campi
Cresce solinga, e tra i selvaggi scherzi
Alle rozze villane il viso adorna."

But translate them, and they are nothing.

If ever that sublime piece of extra


"Oh! that I were

[ocr errors]

The viewless spirit of a lovely sound, A living voice, a breathless harmony, A bodiless enjoyment, born and dying With the blest note that made me;" if ever this was realized, it has been in the Italian Muse, of which Petrarch is the true father;-in philosophy contemptible, in feeling frigid, and in ornament pedantic, still his verse speaks-it has the tone of "a broken spirit," if it has not the language, and it excites poetical ideas, even where it presents none. If Dante had not been first, he had never been-at least not under his existing character. A language may become refined and enervated, but it never ebbs towards strength and rudeness, once emasculated, its virility is not to be recovered. The followers of Petrarch are often happier than their great prototype, while the revivers of the school of Dante have utterly failed. For my part (in such hazardous assertions it is but fair to drop the plural,) I could never discover poetry in the dry compositions of Alfieri, whatever I might in his life-like a contemporary of ours, he was a great poet in every thing but making verses.

It was with the anticipation of doing mighty things, that we pitched upon the Giorno of Parini. It is a Day spent by an Italian nobleman, to whom the bard acts as ironical preceptor, and describes the routine of toilette, visits, and gallantry, in all the minuteness and mock grandeur of the burlesque. It is interspersed with some sweet

passages, and allegories, and at times exceedingly humorous, in spite of the dulness which necessarily attends a train of irony continued through five or six thousand lines. The poem is rather tedious and pedantic, its author being fond of displaying classical knowledge. Serious irony, verging upon bitterness, is not exactly the tone suitable to the ridicule of dandyism and effeminacy. On the whole, it would make but a very sorry figure, in comparison with Pope's Rape of the Lock," or Luttrel's "Advice to Julia."

[ocr errors]

Our intentions of extract and translation were at first huge; but when we considered that all young Ladies blank verse requires to be very poigcan translate Italian, and that wit in nant, we have without much reluctance confined ourselves to the following:

"Already do the gentle valets hear Thy tingling summons, and with zealous speed

Haste to unclose the barriers that exclude

The garish day, yet soft and warily, Lest the rude sun perchance offend thy sight. Now raise thee gently, and recline upon Th' obsequious pillow that doth woo thy weight;

Thine hand's forefinger lightly, lightly

[blocks in formation]


Stentorian-like commands, what shame would seize

On the ear-rending boist'rous son of Mars? Such as of old pipe-playing Pallas felt, When her swoll'n cheek and lip the fount betray'd.

But now behold, thy natty page appears, Anxious to learn what beverage thou would'st sip.

If that thy stomach need the sweet ferment,
Restorative of heat, and to the powers
Digestive so propitious-choose, I pray,
The tawny chocolate on thee bestow'd
By the black Caribb of the plumed crown.
Or round his tapering limbs the encroach-
Or should the hypochondria vex my lord,
Unwelcome gather, let his lip prefer
ing flesh
The roasted berry's juice, that Moca


Moca, that of a thousand ships is proud.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

'Twas fate decreed, that from the ancient


Adventurers should sail, and o'er the main, 'Gainst storm and doubt, and famine and despair,

Should have achieved discovery and conquest:

'Twas fate ordain'd, that Cortez should despise

The blood of sable man; and through it wade,

O'erturning kingdoms and their generous kings,

That worlds, till then unkown, their fruits and flowers

Should cater to thy palate, gem of heroes! But Heaven forfend, that at this very hour To coffee and to breakfast dedicate, Some menial indiscreet should chance admit

The tailor, who, alas! is not contented To have with thee divided his rich stuffs, -And now with infinite politness comes, Handing his bill. Ahimé! unlucky, The wholesome liquor turns to gall and spleen,

And doth at home, abroad, at play or park,

Disorganize thy bowels for the day.

But let no portal e'er be closed on him, Who sways thy toes, professor of the dance.

He at his entrance stands, firm on the threshold;

[ocr errors]

Up mount his shoulders, and down sinks his neck,

Like to a tortoise, while with graceful bow
His lip salutes his hat's extremity.
Nor less be thy divine access denied
To the sweet modulator of thy voice,
Or him for whom th' harmonious string

Waked into music by his skilful bow.
But above all let him not fail to join
The chosen synod of my lord's levee,
Professor of the idiom exquisite :—
He, who from Seine, the mother of the

Comes generous, laden with celestial sounds,
To grace the lips of nauseous Italy.
Lo! at his bidding our Italian words
Dismember'd yield the place unto their

And at his harmony ineffable,

Lo! in thy patriot bosom rises strong Hate and disgust of that ignoble tongue, Which in Valclunsa to the echoes told, The lament and the praise of hopeless love.

Ah! wretched bard, who knew not yet to mix

The Gallic graces with thy rude discourse; That so to delicate spirits thou might'st be Not grating as thou art, and barbarous.

"Fast with this pleasant choir flits on the


Unvex'd by tedium or vacuity,

While 'twixt the light lips of the fragrant cup,

Is pleasantly discussed, what name shall bear,


Next season, the theatric palm away
And is it true that Frine has returned ?—
She that has sent a thousand dull Milords,
Naked and gulled, unto the banks of

Or comes the dancer, gay Narcissus, back, (Terror of gentle husbands,) to bestow Fresh trouble to their hearts, and honours to their heads ?"

Our poet has all the Anti-Gallican humour of Alfieri; who carried it so far, as not to see any beauty in the Eloise, though of a nature, as he tells us," appassionatissimo."

The ironic preceptor continues.

"Remove yon glossy volume from the shelf,

And yawning ope at random; or where left,

The index ribbon marks the favourite page.
And thou, Voltaire, the Proteus wit of

Who knew so well to cater to the taste
Of simple palates; and to make mankind,
Like to thyself; o'er wise, do thou rehearse
The tale of her, the virgin, that in life
Did England's valiant Henry overcome,
And still more wonderful, untamed in death,
Thine own heroic Henry vanquisheth.*
And thou! Ninon, the new Aspasia,
Thais of Gallic Athens, to my lord
Proffer thy noble precepts ;-feed his mind.
With all that purity that made thee spurn
The license of Certaldo's bard,

And the wild poet of the furious Count.
Be these thy favourite authors; Gallic e'er
Should be the studies of the Italian lord-
The sapient histories of crafty slaves,
Of turban'd Sultans, and of Persian Kings;
Of all forlorn and wandering Arab maids
And these, that with a liberal pen bestow
Reason to dogs and couches; feasts to


And turkeys, learned in the art of love."


* The Pucelle, infamous as it is, is generally considered much superior to the Henriade, or to any other work of Voltaire's: such, indeed, was the opinion of the poet himself.


No. I.

On the Storia Pittorica of the Abate Lanzi, and the Works of Andrea del Sarto, and his Followers.

ALTHOUGH Italy was well provided with historical treatises on the lives and productions of individual painters, there was still wanting a general history of the art, disencumbered from the useless and idle trifles with which modern writers had loaded their biography, and which the ancients scarcely deemed admissible in writing the lives of their mightiest heroes; a history which, throwing the chief light upon the great professors of the art, and placing those of minor excellence in less prominent positions, would admit nothing more than a mere sketch of the inferior classes. Such history tracing at the same time the causes of the advancement or decline of painting in certain periods, would contribute to preserve the lustre of the fine arts, to which example is so much more useful than precept; and would greatly facilitate the study of the various manners, of which some are very similar, though by different hands, and others widely different, though painted by the same master. No other work held out such flattering prospects to the selflove of Italy, because, however equal led or eclipsed she might have been in the progress of ultramontane science, she was still, and for ever, to be regarded as unrivalled in the arts of genius. The difficulties of such an undertaking were, however, to be sufficiently estimated only by those who had devoted the greater part of their lives to the study of painting; for it must have included a period of more than six hundred years, and the history of fourteen distinct schools, regarding several of which scarcely any notices of real value, were to be found in the works of the earlier authors.

Our own Richardson had long ago desired to see united the various sources of information on painting which lay scattered here and there, and its progress and declension in every age, described and illustrated. This was slightly done by Mengs, in the letter in which he marks out the

different periods of the art, and had its partial fulfilment in so far as regards the Venetian school in the work of Antonio Zanetti, Sulla Pittura Veneziana. But its final and complete accomplishment was reserved for the Abate Lanzi, in his celebrated Storia Pittorica della Italia.* This excellent work may be regarded as a luminous com pendium of whatever was valuable in the guide-books, catalogues, descrip tions of churches and palaces, and in the lives of the different painters throughout the whole of Italy. He divides his subject into the following schools, viz.: Florence, Sienna, Rome, Naples, Venice, Mantua, Modena, Cremona, Milan, Parma, Bologna, Ferrara, Genoa, and Piedmont, to the number, as already said, of fourteen, many of which are again subdivided into several periods, in which the various transitions from one degree of excellence to another, are carefully and clearly described.

Of the above mentioned schools, those of Lombardy are, perhaps, the most indebted to Lanzi, because, prior to his time, their history was the least known. That northern part of Italy, during the first times of painting, was divided into many states, each of which had its own capital, where flourished a different school of art; from whence it happens that the characteristic style of one place is often very different from that of its neighbours. Now, one great merit of Lanzi consists in his having detected the falseness of the principle by which these various styles had previously been considered and classed as the same, under the sweep ing denomination of the Lombard school. He distinguishes each under its own proper head, or chief representative, and writes for it a separate history. Of these, he may be said to have extricated almost from utter darkness the school of Ferrara, of which, before his time, little or nothing was satisfactorily known. With the exception of the kingdom of Na

* Storia Pittorica della Italia dal risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fine del xviii secolo. Dell' Ab. Luigi Lanzi Antiquario I. E. R. in Firenze.

ples, Lanzi visited each and all of the Italian schools; and thus, besides the vast resources of his book-learning, he was enabled to judge from, personal observation.

He gives the general character of every school, distinguishing the various epochs of each, according to the changes in taste and style, which he = perceives it to have undergone. Certain illustrious painters, who in their own time exercised almost a new species of legislation, stand at the head of every period, and of these prime spirits the characters are usually drawn at greater length. To the history of the higher artists he annexes notices of their pupils and followers, referring at the same time to the nature and extent of the changes introduced by these into the style of their respective chiefs. For the sake of greater clearness, he usually holds separate from the painters of history, those of the less dignified classes, such as portrait and landscape-painters, and the painters of animals, flowers, and fruit, and he presents us with occasional notices of those artful labours so nearly allied to painting, viz. engraving, inlaid work, mosaic, and embroidery. It was a matter of doubt with Lanzi whether he ought to introduce such inferior painters as may be said to have attained a place neither in the senatorial, nor the equestrian, nor the popular order, in the republic of painting; but he decided upon introducing them along with their superiors in brief outlines, with a view to maintain a greater continuity in his history-thus imitating the examples of Homer and of Cicero, who mention alike the "general camp," and the kings of the Greek confederacy-the orators of the Roman radicals, and the "lords of the lofty tongue."

Nor did Lanzi deem it just that such inferior artists should be excluded by the rigid maxim of Bellori, that in the fine arts, as in poetry, mediocrity is intollerable. Horace, I presume, was the first who gave currency to the expression, and he intended it for poetry alone, which perishes, if it does not delight. But it is far otherwise with the fine arts, which to pleasure join utility and convenience. Sculpture and painting exhibiting to us illustrious men, and glorious actions, and useful inventions, and architecture providing us with so many of the pleasant agré

mens of life, will flourish for ever in a higher or less dignified state, according to the nature of the times, and the taste of the people; and their professors will accordingly, though in different degrees, deserve sufficiently well of society, as to have a place assigned them in the histories of their respective departments.

The plan adopted by Lanzi in compiling his History of Italian Painting seems to have been as follows: He places in the first rank of preference such few opinions as have been handed down to us by the great professors of the art-by Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Raffael, Titian, Poussin, and others, because he concludes wisely, that he who performs in the highest style, will probably judge in the wisest manner. He relies, in the second place, on the judgments of Vasari, Lomazzo, Ridolfi, Boschini, Zanotti, and Crespi, regarding them as competent judges of their art, but having an eye, at the same time, when necessary, on their national partialities and the spirit of party. He estimates, in the third place, the authority of Bellori, Malvasia, Tassi, and others of the same class, who, although themselves dilletanti, united, as it were, the judgment of professors with that of the public. He has also collected the opinions of the intelligent, as related by the general historian, when such appeared to be authentic and impartial, and has not seldom availed himself of criticisms by authors of acknowledged judgment and abilitysuch as Borghini, Fresnoy, Richardson, Bottari, Algarotti, Lazzarini, Mengs, and others. Moreover, he requested the opinions of various living artists of Italy; subjecting his unpublished work to their inspection, and consulting them on the more difficult points of painting, concerning which a proper knowledge can exist only with those who are practically accomplished in the art. Finally, he conversed much with the most learned dilletanti, who, in some respects, from their better education and more general knowledge, see more clearly than the artists themselves.

It is remarked by Boni, in his Elogio, as a felicitous circumstance, that a history planned so skilfully, and conducted with such diligence and fatigue, should have been followed out to its completion by a man so tempered

« PreviousContinue »