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THE BETROTHED

From the Italian of

ALESSANDRO MANZONI


[Illustration: _The street was deserted before him; but,
behind him, the terrible cry still resounded.
"Seize him! stop him! a poisoner!"_]







London:
Richard Bentley,
(_Successor to H. Colburn_)
Cumming, Dublin. Bell and Bradfute, Edinburgh.
Galignani, Paris.
1834


[Illustration: THE BETROTHED.

_So saying, he passed his arm around the neck
of the Unknown, who after resisting a moment,
yielded, quite vanquished by this impulse of
kindness, and fell on the neck of the Cardinal
in an agony of repentance._]




STANDARD NOVELS.

NÂș XLIII.

"No kind of literature is so generally attractive as Fiction. Pictures
of life and manners, and Stories of adventure, are more eagerly received
by the many than graver productions, however important these latter may
be. APULEIUS is better remembered by his fable of Cupid and Psyche than
by his abstruser Platonic writings; and the Decameron of BOCCACCIO has
outlived the Latin Treatises, and other learned works of that author."


THE BETROTHED.

Complete in One Volume.


London:
Richard Bentley, 8. New Burlington Street
(Successor to Henry Colburn):
Bell, and Bradfute, Edinburgh;
and Cumming, Dublin.

1834.

London:
Printed by A. Spottiswoode,
New-Street-Square.




CRITICAL REMARKS on MANZONI'S BETROTHED:

BY THE COUNT O'MAHONY. [Translated from the Italian.]


To publish a novel, to analyse, to eulogise it, and recommend its
perusal to the good and pious, will appear no doubt very extraordinary,
and offend the prejudices of many who have agreed among themselves to
consider a novel, whoever may be its author, and whatever may be its
subject, form, and design, as a pestilent production. If you ask them
why? "Because," they will reply - "because it is a novel!" The answer is
as wise as it is peremptory and decisive, and we will spare ourselves
the useless trouble of replying to arguments so profound and powerful.
We will, however, submit a few serious reflections to minds of a less
elevated order, were it only to prove that we can talk reasonably, even
on the subject of novels.

Certainly, if we are understood to designate by the appellation of
_Novel_, the written dreams and extravagant imaginations of a corrupt
mind and depraved heart, where illusions are substituted for realities,
vice transformed into virtue, crime justified by the passions that lead
to its perpetration, and fallacious pictures presented of an ideal
world, or criminal apologies for a world too real; if, we say, such are
the novels to be condemned and proscribed, none more than ourselves will
be disposed to confirm the sentence. The unhappy influence which
productions like these have exerted over the minds of youth, and above
all, the ravages which their multiplication has within a few years
produced, is a fact acknowledged by all, by those who have escaped the
contagion of their perusal, as well as by those whom that perusal has
injured. With respect to this, the wise and the good are unanimous in
their testimony and their anathemas; it is one of those self-evident
truths, about which an Englishman or a German might still elaborate many
a learned dissertation, but of which we shall take no further notice,
certain that we should only repeat much less forcibly and eloquently,
that which a thousand writers or orators have said before us.

But there is another point of view under which we must consider novels,
or rather the works so called, but which bear, to those which morals and
good taste reprobate, no other resemblance than the name. These are, it
is true, unhappily few in number, and therefore have not been classed by
themselves, but have been comprehended in the common appellation, and
included in the general proscription; like an honest man, who, bearing
the same name as a rogue, partakes with him the odium of his reputation.
But this is an injustice for which we are disposed to claim reparation.

Every work of imagination, in which the author causes ideal personages
to speak, think, and act, according to his pleasure, has been
stigmatised as a _Novel_. But, if we allow this rigorous definition, the
apologue, so dear to the moralist, is a _Novel_, and deserving of
proscription. We will go further; the parable, which also creates its
characters and invents their words and actions, is a _novel_! But who
would dare to call them so? Who would dare profane by this name, those
profound allegories, those holy fables, so excellent in truth, and so
replete with instruction, which God himself has related to man? Finally,
if we peruse the works of the most austere philosophers, and the most
severe moralists, without excepting ecclesiastical writers, we shall
find among them all, pictures of fancy or ideal histories of imaginary
persons, fiction serving as a veil, or rather (we must acknowledge it)
as an apology for truth.

Now, we ask, by what unjust caprice would we condemn in the novelist
that which we admire and applaud in the moralist and philosopher; or
rather, by what title do we interdict to the former the right of being
equally philosophical and moral with the latter? If man were without
weaknesses and society without imperfections, truth would prevail of
itself, and in order to be loved and obeyed, it would need only to be
shown in its unadorned purity and undisguised nakedness. But, from the
beginning of the world, pride has precipitated man into darkness.
Corrupt and blind, a jealous susceptibility is developed in his
character, which continually increases in proportion to his blindness
and corruptions, - that is to say, the deeper he is plunged in darkness,
the more he dreads the light, and it is but by degrees, and under
various disguises, that we can hope ultimately to make him endure its
full blaze.

Besides, fiction, under divers forms, such as fables, apologues, novels,
allegories, and tales, constitutes a large portion of the literature of
every nation; to this we may add the utility, nay, even the necessity of
disguising truth, in order to make it acceptable to our imperfection;
and more than all, the good frequently resulting from these modest
productions ought to stimulate those on whom Heaven has bestowed the
same kind of talent, to employ it in exposing vice and reforming the
corruptions of society.

But if the imperfection and weakness of our hearts render fiction
necessary to us, a similar necessity results from the languor and
inaction of our minds: for in proportion to the extent of public
corruption, individual application of the mind to severe and serious
study diminishes. Insensibly all continued exercise of the powers of his
understanding becomes irksome to man, and he finally considers thought
and _ennui_ to be synonymous terms. This is, without doubt, a deplorable
and alarming symptom of the decline of society; but we are obliged to
confess its existence, and, not possessing the power of changing, we
must submit to its caprices and satisfy its necessities.

Now, whether from instinct or observation, writers appear for some years
past to have generally understood the demands of the age; and throughout
Europe, men of distinguished talents have employed themselves in
answering them. It might be said that Germany, England, Switzerland, and
Italy, have formed as it were a literary alliance, which will probably
endure longer than their _political alliance_. As to France, her
attention has for fifteen years been attracted to literature as well as
to politics; but she has thought it sufficient for her glory to
translate foreign books, and for her prosperity to translate foreign
constitutions.[1]

[1] In this assertion we do not agree with the critic.
France, in common with other European nations, has
unquestionably manifested much curiosity regarding
foreign literature, and has availed herself of its
treasures; but, by the original works of her own
writers, the advantage has been reciprocated,
particularly in the novels lately produced in Paris by
such men as M. de Vigny and M. Victor Hugo. The "Notre
Dame de Paris" of the latter has attained an European
celebrity, and has accordingly been incorporated in
the present series of "Standard Novels." - _English
Ed._

However this may be, the new taste for foreign literature is remarkable.
Numerous works of imagination have appeared simultaneously of an
elevated style and uncommon erudition. The choice, and we may add the
gravity, of the subjects, the importance of the action, the extent of
the developements, and the fidelity of the descriptions, stamp them with
a peculiar character, and oblige us to assign to their authors a
distinct rank among novel writers. Although unequal in merit, they may
be arranged into two classes. The one, beholding how history was
neglected, has endeavoured to restore its influence by reviving our
ancient chronicles, and presenting to us in an elegant undress, the same
characters from whom we avert our eyes, in the magnificent and stiff
accompaniments of their historical costume. The other, less numerous,
but, in our opinion, much more happily inspired, afflicted by the cold
indifference with which the most excellent works on morals and politics
are received, or by the insulting contempt which discards them
altogether, has undertaken to allure and amuse the prejudices of the
age, in order to correct them. In an imaginary picture, they have
specially devoted themselves to describe the great springs of human
action, and to bring prominently forward those traits of character,
those inflexible criticisms on society, which under such a form will
attract attention, when every direct and serious admonition would be
rejected. Now, it is to this class of novel writers that Alessandro
Manzoni essentially belongs.

And here, a great difficulty presents itself; a work of which the action
is so simple, that an analysis of it might be given in half a page, and
yet so rich in beauties, that a volume might be written in its praise;
between these two extremes, the middle path is not easy to find. For, if
we should content ourselves with stating that two villagers, who were
betrothed, and about to be united, had been separated by the menaces of
a rich and titled robber, calumniated, betrayed by a seeming friend, and
aided by the unlooked-for benevolence of an enemy; again persecuted by
the tyranny of the great, and then almost immolated by the tyranny of
the people, and finally delivered by the pestilence itself; if, we
repeat, we confine ourselves to this exposition, we shall have presented
to our readers the abstract of the work; but shall we have given them a
single idea of its beauties?

If, on the contrary, we would enter on an examination of the characters,
and follow them in their developement, what a task we impose on
ourselves! For here, what beauty! what truth! what originality! The
character of Don Abbondio alone would furnish matter for extensive
remark, as it is assuredly one of the most profoundly comic creations of
the genius of romance. A coward by nature, and selfish from habit,
entering the ecclesiastical order only to find in it powerful protection
against future enemies, and a refuge against present terrors, during his
whole life he pursues, without a single deviation, the tyrannical
vocation of _fear_. Ever disturbed by the apprehension of being
disturbed, and giving himself prodigious trouble in order to secure his
tranquillity, the care of his repose takes from him all repose. "_A
friend to all_," is his device, and "_Be quiet_," his habitual reply.
For him, the evil committed in secret is preferable to the good which
might excite dangerous remark. However, at the bottom of his heart, he
still esteems the good and virtuous; as to the wicked, he caresses, and
where there is necessity, flatters them; in every controversy, he deems
the strongest party to be in the right, but his fear of mistake often
prevents him from deciding which _is_ the strongest. In discussions
where he is personally involved, he acts not less prudently; he does not
grant concessions, he does more, he freely offers them, as by so doing
he saves the honour of his authority. Indeed, he does not drop a word
nor risk a gesture, of which he has not previously weighed the
consequences. So that by calculation and foresight, he is prepared for
all, except the performance of duty under circumstances of peril and
difficulty; to this he closes his ears and his eyes, and thus
compromises with the world and his conscience.

And here, let us add, that if any of our readers discover, in this
character, the intention, or even the possibility, of an application
injurious to religion, they understand but little the mind of the
author, which is constantly animated by the most ardent faith, and
imbued, we may say, with its highest inspirations. The curate Abbondio
appears before us chiefly to give greater relief to the sublime figures
of the friar Christopher, and the holy archbishop of Milan, and to
furnish materials for scenes between these three characters, where the
weakness, the cowardice, and the selfishness of the one serves to
brighten, by contrast, the courage, devotion, and heroism of the others.
It is an eminently philosophical conception to portray three men
entering the priesthood from such different motives, in the course of
their long lives, disclosing faithfully in their actions, the sources of
their primitive choice. A lesson indeed! from which we may learn what
religion can do with men, when they obey its laws and devote themselves
to its service, and what men can do with religion, when they subject it
to their caprices, or prostitute it to their interests.

But it is in the conversion of the formidable Unknown, that religion
appears in all its power, and its pontiff in all the majesty of his
benevolence. The interview between these two persons, the one the
terror, the other the beloved of his country; the proud criminal
humbling himself before the most humble of the just; the former
preserving in his profound humiliation the traces of his habitual
wickedness and pride, and the latter, with humility equally profound,
the majestic authority of unsullied virtue. This scene, conceived and
executed with equal genius, combines within itself the deepest interest,
and the highest beauty.

As an illustration of the ingenuity and discernment of the author, we
will offer one remark further; he has placed before us two wicked men;
the one a subaltern robber, a libertine of the second rank, a swaggerer
in debauch, vainer of his vices than jealous of his pleasures. The other
a superior genius, who has measured how far man could descend in crime,
and himself reached its depths, where he governs human corruption as its
sovereign, committing no act of violence without leaving the impression
of his unlimited power and inexorable will. One of these is to be
converted; which will it be? The least guilty? No; coward in vice, where
would he find courage to repent? He will die hardened and impenitent. It
is the grand criminal who will be drawn from the abyss, for he has
descended into it with all his power, and it will need a repentance
proportioned to the measure of his iniquities to restore him to the
favour of his God. There is evinced in this developement, great
knowledge of the human heart, and a very striking revelation of the
mysterious dealings of a just and compassionate God.

We find the same sagacity of observation in other parts of the work; it
appears under an altogether original form in the episode of Gertrude;
irresistibly conducted to the cloister, notwithstanding her
insurmountable repugnance, when she could by a single word free herself
from such a condemnation, dooming her own self to a sacrifice she
detests; yielding without having been conquered; the slave of her very
liberty, and the victim to a voluntary fatality! It is not in a rapid
sketch that we can give an idea of this singular and altogether novel
character. To appreciate its excellence, we must give an attentive
perusal.

But Alessandro Manzoni is not only a skilful painter of individual
portraits, he excels also in grand historical representations. In that
of the plague at Milan, and the famine preceding it, his manner becomes
bolder, his touch more free and majestic, without, however, losing any
of its exquisite delicacy. When he represents an entire people rebelling
against hunger, or vanquished by disease and death, we deeply feel the
horror of the picture, at the same time that an occasional smile is
elicited by the comic genius of the artist, which exercises itself even
amidst the agonies of famine and pestilence, so that, through the grand
design of the exhibition, the delicate touches of the pencil are still
visible, and individual character perceptible through the very depths of
bold and general description; it is Van Dyck painting on the reverse of
one of Michael Angelo's pictures.

We will not take leave of this interesting production without indulging
ourselves in one more observation, which is, that in this succession of
adventures, where appear, by turns or simultaneously, two robber chiefs
and their followers, an unbridled soldiery, a people in rebellion,
famine, and pestilence, all the evil specially resulting to the
virtuous, is the consequence of the cowardice of a single man! What a
lesson may we derive from such a _Novel_!




THE BETROTHED.




CHAPTER I.


That branch of the Lake of Como, which turns toward the south between
two unbroken chains of mountains, presenting to the eye a succession of
bays and gulfs, formed by their jutting and retiring ridges, suddenly
contracts itself between a headland to the right and an extended sloping
bank on the left, and assumes the flow and appearance of a river. The
bridge by which the two shores are here united, appears to render the
transformation more apparent, and marks the point at which the lake
ceases, and the Adda recommences, to resume, however, the name of _Lake_
where the again receding banks allow the water to expand itself anew
into bays and gulfs. The bank, formed by the deposit of three large
mountain streams, descends from the bases of two contiguous mountains,
the one called St. Martin, the other by a Lombard name, _Resegone_, from
its long line of summits, which in truth give it the appearance of a
saw; so that there is no one who would not at first sight, especially
viewing it in front, from the ramparts of Milan that face the north, at
once distinguish it in all that extensive range from other mountains of
less name and more ordinary form. The bank, for a considerable distance,
rises with a gentle and continual ascent, then breaks into hills and
hollows, rugged or level land, according to the formation of the
mountain rocks, and the action of the floods. Its extreme border,
intersected by the mountain torrents, is composed almost entirely of
sand and pebbles; the other parts of fields and vineyards, scattered
farms, country seats, and villages, with here and there a wood which
extends up the mountain side. Lecco, the largest of these villages, and
which gives its name to the district, is situated at no great distance
from the bridge, upon the margin of the lake; nay, often, at the rising
of the waters, is partly embosomed within the lake itself; a large town
at the present day, and likely soon to become a city. At the period of
our story, this village was also fortified, and consequently had the
honour to furnish quarters to a governor, and the advantage of
possessing a permanent garrison of Spanish soldiers, who gave lessons in
modesty to the wives and daughters of the neighbourhood, and toward the
close of summer never failed to scatter themselves through the
vineyards, in order to thin the grapes, and lighten for the rustics the
labours of the vintage. From village to village, from the heights down
to the margin of the lake, there are innumerable roads and paths: these
vary in their character; at times precipitous, at others level; now sunk
and buried between two ivy-clad walls, from whose depth you can behold
nothing but the sky, or some lofty mountain peak; then crossing high and
level tracts, around the edges of which they sometimes wind,
occasionally projecting beyond the face of the mountain, supported by
prominent masses resembling bastions, whence the eye wanders over the
most varied and delicious landscape. On the one side you behold the blue
lake, with its boundaries broken by various promontories and necks of
land, and reflecting the inverted images of the objects on its banks; on
the other, the Adda, which, flowing beneath the arches of the bridge,
expands into a small lake, then contracts again, and holds on its clear
serpentining course to the distant horizon: above, are the ponderous
masses of the shapeless rocks; beneath, the richly cultivated acclivity,
the fair landscape, the bridge; in front, the opposite shore of the
lake, and beyond this, the mountain, which bounds the view.

Towards evening, on the 7th day of November, 1628, Don Abbondio, curate
of one of the villages before alluded to (but of the name of which, nor
of the house and lineage of its curate, we are not informed), was
returning slowly towards his home, by one of these pathways. He was
repeating quietly his office; in the pauses of which he held his closed
breviary in his hand behind his back; and as he went, with his foot he
cast listlessly against the wall the stones that happened to impede his
path; at the same time giving admittance to the idle thoughts that
tempted the spirit, while the lips of the worthy man were mechanically
performing their function; then raising his head and gazing idly around
him, he fixed his eyes upon a mountain summit, where the rays of the
setting sun, breaking through the openings of an opposite ridge,
illumined its projecting masses, which appeared like large and variously
shaped spots of purple light. He then opened anew his breviary, and
recited another portion at an angle of the lane, after which angle the
road continued straight for perhaps seventy paces, and then branched
like the letter Y into two narrow paths; the right-hand one ascended
towards the mountain, and led to the parsonage (_Cura_); that on the
left descended the valley towards a torrent, and on this side the wall
rose out to the height of about two feet. The inner walls of the two
narrow paths, instead of meeting at the angle, ended in a little chapel,
upon which were depicted certain long, sinuous, pointed shapes, which,
in the intention of the artist, and to the eyes of the neighbouring
inhabitants, represented flames, and amidst these flames certain other
forms, not to be described, that were meant for souls in purgatory;
souls and flames of a brick colour, upon a ground of blackish grey, with
here and there a bare spot of plaster. The curate, having turned the
corner, directed, as was his wont, a look toward the little chapel, and
there beheld what he little expected, and would not have desired to see.
At the confluence, if we may so call it, of the two narrow lanes, there
were two men: one of them sitting astride the low wall; his companion
leaning against it, with his arms folded on his breast. The dress, the
bearing, and what the curate could distinguish of the countenance of
these men, left no doubt as to their profession. They wore upon their
heads a green network, which, falling on the left shoulder, ended in a
large tassel, from under which appeared upon the forehead an enormous
lock of hair. Their mustachios were long, and curled at the extremities;
the margin of their doublets confined by a belt of polished leather,
from which were suspended, by hooks, two pistols; a little powder-horn
hung like a locket on the breast; on the right-hand side of the wide and



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