Dionysius Lardner.

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natioiial sway of the French, and hoped that a better
state of things would result from any change. His ex-
perience of popular rule in Italy had disgusted him
with it. He had not that zeal and ardour of feeling re-
sulting from a conviction that, however perilous the
passage from slavery to liberty^ it must be attempted
and persevered in, with all its attendant evils, if men
are to be brought back from that cowardice, indolence,
and selfishness which mark the slave, to the heroism,
patience, and intellectual activity which characterise
the freeman. Besides this, the armies of Austria ad-
mitted of no reply from the unwarlike Italians. The
remnants of their army which had returned, wasted and
broken, from the Russian campaign had been forced,
after some show of resistance, to capitulate : submission
was their only resource, and submission was in accord-


ance with Monti's disposition. Nor did lie afterwards
ever give umbrage to the jealous and revengeful govern-
ment whose pay he received, when hopes of better times
and of redemption w r armed the hearts of all the nobler
Italians to attempt the destruction of their tyrants.
He was acquainted with many of the Austrian victims;
and when we find in his letters complaints of sorrows
and misfortunes, we must attribute these to the real
sympathy he felt for these unhappy martyrs : but,
though he sympathised with the men, it is probable
that he disapproved of their attempts. He was hope-
less, and a hopeless struggle presented to him only the
too real picture of aggravated oppression in general, and
frightful individual suffering ; he did not feel that
boiling of the heart, that fire of the spirit, which makes
the great and good risk all, rather than live subject to a
power which exerted all its leaden strength to press
down genius, crush every exertion of mind, and to re-
duce men as nearly as possible to the condition of the
herds who graze in the fields, without a thought beyond
the food and rest which the fertility of the soil and the
beauty of the climate afford. Monti was not one of
these : his mind was active, and, in his way, he wished
to benefit his country. So when a thousand hearts were
convulsed by the throes arising from all the hopes and
fears of a just rebellion, he turned his attention to the
study of the Italian language, to the task of freeing
it from the shackles which critics had thrown over it,
and of gifting it with the new spirit and animation
which must arise from the introduction of living forms
of speech, instead of the classic and restricted limit-
ations imposed by the Delia Crusca society.

He composed few poems after the fall of Napoleon.
When the emperor of Austria sent the archduke John
to receive the oath of fealty from the provinces of
Lombardy, he wrote, by command, a cantata, entitled
" Mistico Omaggio," or the Mystic Homage, which
was brought out at the principal theatre at Milan.
When the emperor himself visited Italy he celebrated

MONTI. 335

the event by a poem, called Cf The Return of Astrea,"
and another, named cf The Invitation to Pallas." His
style in these later compositions joins harmony to dig-
nity^ and forms that mixture of strength and sweetness
which is so delightful in Metastasio. His last poetic
compositions were written at Pesaro, where he was de-
barred from his usual occupations, and dispirited by a
disease that attacked one of his eyes; and he solaced
himself by dictating various poems full of grace and
beauty, which he afterwards published under the title
of " Sollievo nella Malinconia," or <( Relief of Melan-

One of the most fortunate incidents of his life was 1812.
the marriage of his daughter to a man of singular
merit. Costanza Monti was (is, we should rather say)
remarkable for her beauty and her talents ; her poetry,
though there is little of it, is of a very high grade, and
one poem, "On a Rose," has sufficed to establish her fame
in Italy. Count Giulio Perticari sprung from a noble
family of Romagna. His residence was at Pesaro, and
he there filled successively the offices of podesta and
judge. He devoted himself to literature, and had pub-
lished works both in prose and verse, by which he
acquired considerable reputation. It must be in the
memory of all Italians, and all those strangers who visited
Italy during his lifetime, how he was beloved by every
one who knew him. No man was ever more popular,
more universally pronounced the best of men ; and this
praise resulted from the goodness and singleness of his
heart, the sweetness of his disposition, and his unpre-
tending but attractive manners. Writing concerning
this marriage to his friends, Monti speaks of it with
pride and pleasure. He says, " Count Giulio Perticari,
of Pesaro, is a young man well cultivated in literature.
I say nothing of his moral qualities, which render him
dear to all. It is the most delightful match that paternal
love can desire."

After this period Monti's labours were chiefly confined
to prose, and he is considered in this manner to have


greatly benefited the literature of his country. The
chief among these are the considerations on the diffi-
culty of well translating the poetry of the Iliad, and
several dialogues on the Italian language, full of acute
criticism and wit. A circumstance turned his attention
still more entirely to the subject of language. The
government of Lombardy, wishing to show some en-
couragement to literature, had ordered the Royal In-
stitute of Milan to occupy itself in the reform of the
national dictionary ; and Monti was requested by his
colleagues to publish his observations on the subject.
He obeyed with alacrity. His son-in-law, count Per_
ticari, had devoted much attention to this subject, and
he became Monti's associate in the task.

The great question in Italy is, whether the pure and
classical language, the only one not wholly barbarous
and vulgar, is Italian or Tuscan ; a mixture drawn
from the various dialects of the peninsula, or solely
founded on Petrarch, Dante, and Boccaccio, and other
early Tuscan authors. The academy Delia Crusca es-
poused the latter side of the question, and, forming a
dictionary, expunged every word not to be found in the
authors named the Trecentisti. Monti, on the contrary,
attacked the ipse-dixits of this academy, and, pointing
out innumerable errors in their dictionary, undertook,
as he called it, a crusade against the Delia Crusca.

This is a question that has divided all the talents of
Italy, and in which it appears presumptuous in a foreigner
to express any decision. Still we may reason from ge-
neral grounds, and from analogy. Every portion of
Italy has a distinct dialect. Immediately on leaving the
precincts of any town, an acute ear will detect in the
person who lives outside the gate a difference in the
form of speech and pronunciation. Many of the towns
use a mere patois, which has never been written. The
Neapolitan, Romagnole, Genoese, and Milanese, each
have a dialect, devoid of grace, cacophonous, truncated
of vowels, and unintelligible to any but themselves; the
Venetian being the only oiie distinguished for its own

MONTI. 337

peculiar charms. To a stranger the language of the
Romans has a great charm : the bocca Romana, or Ro-
man pronunciation, is clear, soft, and yet emphatic.
Their language is unidiomatic, and therefore easily com-
prehended. You enter Tuscany, and come upon those
terse and idiomatic forms of speech which enraptured
Alfieri, and which give so much energy and animation
to the expression of sentiment, so much clearness and
precision to narration or reasoning. But even these are
not admitted by the Delia Crusca. The Florentine is
still a dialect the Pisan and the Siennese fall under
the same denomination : the principal difference is that
the grammar of all the Tuscans is pure, and that you
may form your speech on that of the peasantry and ser-
vants, without running any risk of falling into errors
and vulgarisms. Alfieri used to mingle in the crowds
assembled in the market-place of Sienna, there to imbibe
from unlearned lips the purest modes of the Italian
language. The dictionary Delia Crusca was founded
therefore on Tuscan, omitting its peculiarities, and
carefully registering any innovations that had crept in
since the era of the Trecentisti. It is obvious, under
this tutelage, that the Italian became, when written, vir-
tually a dead language. No author could adopt the
forms of speech he made use of in the common conver-
sation. The language that they heard and spoke when
moved by joy, by grief, by love., or anger, was to be
modified, corrected, and, so to speak, translated, before it
could be put in a book. The living impress of the soul
was to be taken from it, and, instead of putting down
the word that rose spontaneously to the lips, and ought
to have flowed as easily from the pen, the author hunted
in the Delia Crusca dictionary for authorities, which
shackled the free spirit of inspired genius with chains
and bolts forged from the works of the old writers, who
themselves wrote as they spoke, and created a language,
simply by putting down the forcible and graceful ex-
pressions then in colloquial use.

Still a great difficulty arises from any deviation from
VOL. n. z


these rules. AVus then the Florentine dialect, or the
Siennese, or the Fisan, to be the written language of the
country ? Each city would have rejected its neighbour's,
and still more would Lombardisms be regarded with
disdain by the inhabitants of the south. Language,
pronunciation, idiom, all form a habit to the eye and
ear, which, beginning with our very birth, cannot be
afterwards discarded. No Tuscan ever would or even
could tolerate the introduction of any of the words
or phrases belonging to other dialects ; and they en-
dure the mistakes of foreigners with less disgust than
the uncouth pronunciation of their countrymen of
the north and east of the peninsula. Nor will they
allow that even the well educated among these use
classic modes of speech. This is the point of con-
tention ; for their antagonists insist, that they are in as
full possession as the Tuscans of pure Italian, drawing
it from the same sources namely, the best writers of
the country ; and assert that they are as w r ell able to
originate new modes of expression, and to turn with as
much elegance arid force those already in use.

Monti and Perticari both entered heart and soul into
this dispute, which speedily roused every literary person
in Italy to take one side or the other. The Tuscans,
headed by the Delia Crusca, w r ere furious that their
long-acknowdedged supremacy should be questioned ;
while Monti, resting the merits of his opinion on the
great authority of Dante, did not hesitate in his attack.
Several letters to his friend Mustoxidi display his earnest-
ness and sincerity in the cause. We extract passages
from them, as explanatory of his ideas and characteristic
of the man.

(f The necessity of relaxing a little the intensity of
the labour I have in hand, led me for a few days
among these mountains, where yours of the 2d found
me. To fulfil my duty towards government, I have
been obliged to publish my remarks on the Delia
Crusca vocabulary_, and the great distinction of which-
it is necessary to remind the Italians ; the distinction I

MONTI. 339

mean between the plebeian dialects, and that dignified
language spoken by all the well educated in the country,
from the summit of the Alps to the Lilybaeum promon-
tory. Founding my opinion on the authority of Dante,
in which both Petrarch and Boccaccio concur in a sur-
prising manner, I have undertaken to advocate that dig-
nified Italian which is not spoken but written ; and to
vindicate the rights of fourteen provinces of Italy against
the pretensions of a single one, which, contrary to the
principles of the great father of Italian literature, has
endeavoured to substitute the language in use in a
single city, in short a peculiar dialect, which, however
beautiful, is only a dialect, and can never fill the place
of that universal language of which the country has
need. I do not know whether I shall treat this great
cause worthily : but I am convinced that whoever im-
pugns the principles which I establish, must begin by
proving that Dante and the other two were mad. I
dare not believe that I have obtained a complete victory ;
but I have laid the foundation-stones on which others
of greater talent may one day erect and finish the

To another friend he writes : ( ' The treatise of Per-
ticari on the language of the Trecentisti, which will
soon be published, is a chef-d'oeuvre, displaying great
philosophy and acute criticism. I promise you that it
will make a great sensation, and that the Crusca with
drooping head, caudamque remulcens, will not know
what to answer."

" Grassihas written an excellent parallel of the Delia
Crusca dictionary with that of Johnson and the Spanish
academy, which are similar in their plan ; and you will
perceive the Gothic condition of our vocabulary in com-
parison with others. Assistance and support reach me
from all parts of Italy, even from Tuscany so that I
may say that the whole nation sides with me."

With more moderation he writes afterwards, " We
do not wish to rule ; but neither reason nor honour per-
mit us to continue slaves. We only desire the right

z 2


to have a voice in the defence of national rights against
municipal pretensions : for the rest., we will take the law
from them."

In fact,, Monti must have felt the extreme difficulty
of the question. In England and France it is just to
say, that the language of the well educated all over the
country may serve for authority as to language. But
the nobility and higher classes in Lomhardy and Ro-
magna all speak their unintelligible dialects among
themselves ; it is only with strangers, and when they
write, that they have recourse to Italian. It is im-
possible, therefore, that what they compose by rule, after
study and practice, can be the living language of a
people in opposition to a dialect, if you will, which, with
few omissions and some change of pronunciation, is the
admiration of all who can appreciate the true beauties
of style ; which is remarkable for passion and fervour
combined with concision and sweetness ; for idiomatic
phrases that realise and stamp as it were the thought,
instead of a periphrastic expression which speaks of an
idea or notion rather than giving expression to these
themselves. Monti was right in throwing aside the
classical shackles of the Delia Crusca ; but there is
token in his letters that, in his heart, he at last ac-
knowledged that there was more of the living spirit of
true Italian abroad in the colloquial idiom of Tuscany,
than in all the well-turned sentences and set phrases of
the well educated of the rest of Italy.

We cannot help thinking that Monti must have been
very happy during the prosecution of these labours.
An active mind abhors repose, when it must ec cream and
mantle like a standing pool." The aid and sympathy
of his amiable and cultivated son-in-law must have
shed an infinite charm over his labours, the zeal of his
partisans have flattered, the attacks of his enemies have
animated him. He believed that he was delivering his
country from a superstition which clogged the springs
of her literature, and choked up its free course. To a
great degree he was in the right, and the proof is in the

MONTI. 341

original and beautiful use made of his theory by the
Italian authors of the present day.

Monti, loudly acknowledged to be the first Italian
poet of his day, continued to reside at Milan, devoted
to literary pursuits, surrounded by a circle of ad-
mirers, the chief not so much of a sect, as of Italian
literature. Yet he was often attacked, and was by no
means tolerant of criticism. His heart, however, was
f better grain than his temper, and his violent literary
disputes with distinguished contemporaries, with Mazza,
Cesarotti, and Bettinelli, terminated in mutual friend-
ship and esteem Angry when offended, and unmea-
sured in his expressions of offence, yet the desire of
reconciliation on the part of others was always met by
him with cordiality and ready forgiveness. He was
the more loved and admired the more he was known ;
one of the charms that attended his intercourse was the
beauty of his recitation. To hear him read Virgil or
Dante, was to find a deeper pathos in the laments of Dido^
new energy in the complaints of Ugolino. Fond of, devoted
to his art, there was no pedantry about him : he never
thrust it upon the ignorant or frivolous ; but with his
friends he loved to analyse the essence of poetry, and to
discuss the great question then in vogue in Italy of the
classic and romantic schools. There is a letter of his
to a friend on this subject, passages of which may be
quoted as showing his opinions on this subject, opi-
nions which bear the stamp of truth.

" A poet," he writes, <( ought to paint the nature
which he beholds. I applaud the poetry of the North,
which is in perfect accord with the gloomy atmosphere
from which it receives its inspiration. But Italian poetry,
born of a glad and happy sky, is mad when she would
robe herself in clouds, and study to paint a nature of
which she can form no idea except from imagination.
And besides, should poetry, whose chief use is to de-
light (and, in the miserable state of human beings, to
delight is to serve), ought she to appear rough and
frowning, ruled by pedantry and crabbed philosophy ?

z 3

1-2 LITI:!:AKV AND sr n:\TiFiC

Is it possible that no one knows how to distinguish the
office of poet from that of philosopher? It is one
thing to speak to the senses, another to speak to the in-
tellect. Xakrd and dry truth is the death of poetry;
for poetry and fiction are the same, and fable being
only truth disguised, this truth must be ornamented by
flowers to be gladly received. You scattered fresh and
beautiful roses over your poetic meditations when you
speak of Greece and Rome ; but, when you leave these
fields of perennial poetic beauty, and say that the
thoughts of the Greeks ran around in a narrow circle of
images, and after uttering this falsehood, you throw
yourself with loosened reins into the praise of the ro-
mantic school, then, my noble friend (pardon me if I
frankly declare my opinion), you are no longer the
same. Had I been at your side when you wrote your
tender adieu to the gods of Greece, I should have per-
suaded you not to continue it nor to irritate the
shade of Schiller of that Schiller whom, next to
Shakspeare, I admire. Do you not know that his best
and favourite ode is entitled the ' Gods of Greece ? ' in
which he manifests his indignation against those who
have expelled them from the kingdom of the muses, and
prays that they may be recalled to adorn life and poetry.
I conversed much with lord Byron during the fifteen
days' stay which he made at Milan. Do you know that
he trembled with rage when any one chanced, fancying
that they paid him a compliment, to praise the romantic
school. Yet, in the sense in which we understand it,
no one was more romantic than he. But he disdained
the name, hating to find himself mixed up with the
crowd of fools who dishonour that noble school. I do
not wish to play the preceptor with you, but allow the
true friendship that binds me to you to conclude with
a counsel which for many years I have myself followed,
inter utrumque vola ; and, leaving the squabbles of party,
let us use our best endeavours to write good verses."

We may add to this profession of the poet's faith
with regard to the classic and romantic schools_, that

MONTI. 343

Monti considered Homer, Dante,, and Shakspeare as the
first poets of the world ; thus giving proof of the just-
ness of his taste, and demonstrating that originality and
truth were appreciated by him at their just value.
Next to these three kings of the art he placed Virgil,
whom he loved as the friend of his boyhood. He pre-
ferred Tacitus and Livy among the Latin prose writers,
and Machiavelli among the Italians. His opinions on
these subjects were delivered without arrogance, and
without presuming to institute an unappealable de-

The count and countess Perticari resided principally
at Pescara ; but they held frequent intercourse with
Monti at Milan. In the winter of 1821-22, Perticari
having made some stay at Milan, Monti accompanied
him on his return home. Several of his letters to his
wife written during this excursion are published ; and
we cannot resist the temptation of giving them to the
reader, affording as they do demonstrations of his af-
fectionate heart, and of the pleasure he took in the
society of his amiable relative. The first of these is
dated from Verona, 7th October, 3821.

" I never made a merrier journey. We were six in
company : a Brescian, a Veronese, a Paduan, Mer-
candante, and us two. Day had scarcely dawned, when
we began to examine each other, and snuff-boxes went
their amicable round. An instant confidence sprung
up among us, which led to much chat and pleasantry.
So gay were we, that we did nothing but laugh in
chorus till we arrived at the gates of Verona.- Perticari
and I ordered that our luggage should be carried to the
inn ; being determined to remain free. But the signore
Mosconi, and Persica, had already left word at the best
inns that there was no room for Perticari and Monti ;
and, at the moment when we arrived in the diligence,
the countess Clarina and her daughter, and the count,
got into their carriage to meet and run away with us,
as if we had been two beautifu birds. Poor Mariano,
who was accompanying the porter with our luggage to

z 4


the hotel, was pounced upon hy the son of the countess,,
ordered to turn right about and to follow him, lie knew
not whither; not daring to resist, and fearing that his
commander was a custom-house officer. In short, it
was not possible to resist the gentle violence put upon
us, and the cordial entreaties of my dear frii-nd the
countess; and here we are welcomed, feasted, and ho-
noured beyond measure.

" It was our intention only to remain three days at
Verona, but we have been obliged to promise not to go
till Sunday. The countess means to accompany us
half-way on the road to Vicenza, where we shall arrive
"by noon, and on Monday evening we shall be at Bassano,
three hours' journey only from Vincenza ; thence to
Passagno, and on to Padua, whence you shall hear

from us."

" Venice, November 20. 1821.

" Not to leave you any longer waiting for news of
us, I seize a moment when every one is asleep (it being
only five in the morning) to tell you that yesterday
we arrived safely at Venice. It would be a too long-
winded egotism to relate to you the kindness, the polite-
ness,, the friendly contests, with which we have been
every where welcomed. We had been expected here
for several days with impatience, and, at the moment of
our arrival, chance brought us into immediate contact
with the baron Tordero, who embraced us with in-
describable delight. It being known that we were
going to call on the countess Albrizzi, an assembly
gathered together there ; nor can I describe to you the
demonstrations of joy with which we were welcomed
by that celebrated lady, and all her agreeable friends.
We remained till eleven, and should have staid longer
had not hunger (for we had not dined) recalled us to
our inn ; that, and the circumstance that our friends,
who had accompanied us from Padua, were waiting for
us. The merriment at table was prolonged till one in
the morning ; so you see I have barely had three hours'
sleep,, and yet I never was so w r ell in my life."

MONTI. 345

" Pesaro, December 7. 1821.

ff At length, yesterday, at the stroke of the ave-
maria, we arrived, safe and sound, at Pesaro, to the
immense joy of our Constance ; a joy, nevertheless,
mingled with bitterness, because her mother had not
chosen to accompany us : a circumstance which grieves
me also, because I fear that the severity of the winter,
at Milan, which is here mild, may be injurious to you.
But, since you have been pleased to disappoint our
hopes, at least take particular care of your health, and
do not expose yourself to cold.

Cf Surrounded by visits and compliments, I have no
time at present for more. Let it suffice that my health

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 34)