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The Pentameron ; Citation and examination of William Shakespeare ; Minor prose pieces ; Criticisms online

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Third Series. LITERARY MEN.



5 volumes. i2mo, cloth, $10.00; i6mo, Oxford style, $5.00.

THE PENTAMERON. Citation and Examination of William Shake-
speare, Minor Prose Pieces, and Criticisms. I2mo, cloth


PERICLES AND ASPASIA. I2ir.o, cloth, $1.50.












Copyright, 1888,






Editor's Preface 141

Examination 151


I. Opinions on Caesar, Cromwell, Milton, and Bona-
parte 249

II. Inscription for a Statue at St. I ves 258

III. Sir Robert Peel, and Monuments to Public Men . 259

IV. To Cornelius at Munich 264

V. The Quarterly Review 267

VI. A Story of Santander 272

VII. The Death of Hofer 283

VIII. A Vision 286

IX. The Dream of Petrarca 289

X. Parable of Asabel 292

XI. Jeribohaniah 295


The Idyls of Theocritus 301

The Poems of Catullus 3 2 5

Francesco Petrarca 372


NOTE. This volume, "Imaginary Conversations" (five volumes),
and " Pericles and Aspasia " (one volume) comprise LANDOR'S COMPLETE


THEY are unique. Having possessed them, we should
miss them. Their place would be supplied by no others.
There is hardly a conceivable subject in life or literature
which they do not illustrate by striking aphorisms, by
concise and profound observations, by wisdom ever ap-
plicable to the needs of men, and by wit as available for
their enjoyment. Nor, above all, will there anywhere
be found a more pervading passion for liberty, a fiercer
hatred of the base, a wider sympathy with the wronged
and the oppressed, or help more ready at all times for
those who fight at odds and disadvantage against the
powerful and the fortunate, than in the writings of












WANTING a bell for my church at San Vivaldo, and hearing that
our holy religion is rapidly gaining ground in England, to the un-
speakable comfort and refreshment of the faithful, I bethought my-
self that I might perad venture obtain such effectual aid from the
piety and liberality of the converts as wellnigh to accomplish the
purchase of one. Desirous, moreover, of visiting that famous nation
of whose spiritual prosperity we all entertain such animated hopes
now that the clouds of ignorance begin to break and vanish, I re-
solved that nothing on my part should be wanting to so blessed a
consummation. Therefore, while I am executing my mission in re-
gard to the bell, I omit no opportunity of demonstrating how much
happier and peacefuller are we who live in unity than those who,
abandoning the household of Faith, clothe themselves with shreds
and warm themselves with shavings.

Subsidiary to the aid I solicit, I brought with me, and here lay
before the public, translated by the best hand I could afford to
engage, " Certain Interviews of Messer Francesco Petrarca and
Messer Giovanni Boccaccio, etc.," which, the booksellers tell me,
should be entitled " The Pentameron," unless I would return with
nothing in my pocket. I am ignorant what gave them this idea of
my intent, unless it be my deficiency in the language, for cer-
tainly I had come to no such resolution. Assurances are made to
me by the intelligent and experienced in such merchandise, that
the manuscript is honestly worth from twenty-five to thirty fran-
cesconi, or dollars. To such a pitch hath England risen up again,
within these few years, after all the expenditure of her protracted

Is there any true Italian, above all is there any worthy native of
Certaldo or San Vivaldo, who revolveth not in his mind what a sur-
prise and delight it will be to Giovanni in paradise the first time
he hears, instead of that cracked and jarring tumbril ( which must


have grated in his ear most grievously ever since its accident, and
have often tried his patience), just such another as he was wont to
hear when he rode over to join our townspeople at their festa?
It will do his heart good, and make him think of old times ; and
perhaps he may drop a couple of prayers to the x Madonna for whoso
had a hand in it.

Lest it should be bruited in England or elsewhere, that being in
my seventieth year I have unadvisedly quitted my parish, " fond
of change," to use the blessed words of Saint Paul, I am ready to
show the certificate of Monsignore, my diocesan, approving of my
voyage. Monsignore was pleased to think me capable of under-
taking it, telling me that I looked hale, spoke without quavering,
and, by the blessing of our Lady, had nigh upon half my teeth in
their sockets, while, pointing to his own and shaking his head, he
repeated the celebrated lines of Horatius Flaccus, who lived in the
reign of Augustus, a short time before the Incarnation,

" Non ebur, sed horridum
Bucca dehiscit in mea lacuna ! "

Then, turning the discourse from so melancholy a topic, he was
pleased to relate from the inexhaustible stores of his archaeolo-
gical acquirements, that no new bell whatever had been consecrated
in his diocese of Samminiato since the year of our Lord 1611 ; in
which year, on the first Sunday of August, a thunderbolt fell into
the belfry of the Duomo, by the negligence of Canonico Malatesta,
who, according to history, in his hurry to dine with Conte Geronimo
Bardi, at our San Vivaldo, omitted a word in the Mass. While he
was playing at bowls after dinner on that Sunday, or, as some will
have it, while he was beating Ser Matteo Filicaia at backgammon,
and the younger men and ladies of those two noble families were
bird-catching with the civetta, it began to thunder; and, within the
evening, intelligence of the thunderbolt was brought to the Can-
onico. On his return the day following it was remarked, says the
chronicler, that the people took off their caps at the distance of only
two or three paces instead of fifteen or twenty, and few stopped
who met him ; for the rumor had already gone abroad of his omis-
sion. He often rode as usual to Conte Geronimo's, gammoned Ser
Matteo, hooded the civetta, limed a twig or two, stood behind the
spinette, hummed the next note, turned over the pages of the
music-book of the contessine, beating time on the chair-back, and
showing them what he could do now and then on the viola di
gamba. Only eight years had elapsed, when, in the flower of his
age (for he had scarcely seen sixty), he was found dead in his bed,
after as hearty and convivial a supper as ever Canonico ate ! No
warning, no olio santo, no viaticum, poor man ! Candles he had ;
and it was as much as he had, poor sinner! And this also hap-


pened in the month of August! Monsignore, in his great liberality,
laid no heavy stress on the coincidence; but merely said, "Well,
Pievano! a Mass or two can do him no harm, let us hope he
stands in need of few more; but when you happen to have leisure,
and nobody else to think about, prythee clap a wet clout on the fire
there below in behalf of Canonico Malatesta."

I have done it gratis, and I trust he finds the benefit of it. In
the same spirit and by the same authority I gird myself for this
greater enterprise. Unable to form a satisfactory opinion on the
manuscript, I must again refer to my superior. It is the opinion,
then, of Monsignore that our five dialogues were written down by
neither of the interlocutors, but rather by some intimate, who loved
them equally. "For," said Monsignore, "it was the practice of
Boccaccio to stand up among his personages, and to take part him-
self in their discourses. Petrarca, who was fonder of sheer dia-
logue and had much practice in it, never acquired any dexterity in
this species of composition, it being all question and answer,
short, snappish, quibbling, and uncomfortable. I speak only of his
" Remedies of Adversity and Prosperity," which indeed leave his
wisdom all its wholesomeness, but render it somewhat apt to cleave
to the roof of the mouth. The better parts of Homer are in dia-
logue ; and downward from him to Galileo the noblest works of
human genius have assumed this form : among the rest I am sorry
to find no few heretics and scoffers. At the present day the fashion
is over; every man pushes every other man behind him, and will
let none speak out but himself."

The "Interviews" took place not within the walls of Certaldo,
although within the parish, at Boccaccio's villa. It should be noti-
fied to the curious, that about this ancient town, small, deserted,
dilapidated as it is, there are several towers and turrets yet standing,
one of which belongs to the mansion inhabited in its day by Ser
Giovanni. His tomb and effigy are in the church. Nobody has
opened the grave to throw light upon his relics ; nobody has painted
the marble; nobody has broken off a foot or a finger to do him
honor; not even an English name is engraven on the face, al-
though the English hold confessedly the highest rank in this de-
partment of literature. In Italy, and particularly in Tuscany, the
remains of the illustrious are inviolable; and among the illustri-
ous, men of genius hold the highest rank. The arts are more po-
tent than curiosity, more authoritative than churchwardens : what
Englishman will believe it? Well, let it pass, courteous strangers !
ye shall find me in future less addicted to the marvellous. At
present I have only to lay before you an ancient and (doubt it not)
an authentic account of what passed between my countrymen,
Giovanni and Francesco, before they parted forever. It seemed
probable at this meeting that Giovanni would have been called away
first, for heavy and of long continuance had been his infirmity;


but he outlived it three whole years. He could not outlive his
friend so many months, but followed him to the tomb before he had
worn the glossiness off the cloak Francesco in his will bequeathed
to him.

We struggle with death while we have friends around to cheer
us : the moment we miss them we lose all heart for the contest.
Pardon my reflection ! I ought to have remembered I am not in
my stone pulpit, nor at home.


Pievano of San Vivaldo.

LONDON, October i, 1836.


Boccaccio. Who is he that entered, and now steps so silently
and softly, yet with a foot so heavy it shakes my curtains?

Frate Biagio ! can it possibly be you ?

No more physic for me, nor masses neither, at present.

Assunta ! Assuntina ! who is it ?

Assunta. I cannot say, Signor Padrone ! he puts his fin
ger in the dimple of his chin, and smiles to make me hold
my tongue.

Boccaccio. Fra Biagio, are you come from Samminiato for
this? You need not put your finger there. We want no se-
crets. The girl knows her duty and does her business. I have
slept well, and wake better. [Raising himself up a little.

Why ! who are you ? It makes my eyes ache to look aslant
over the sheets ; and I cannot get to sit quite upright so con-
veniently ; and I must not have the window-shutters opener,
they tell me.

Petrarca. Dear Giovanni, have you then been very unwell ?

Boccaccio. Oh, that sweet voice ! and this fat friendly hand
of thine, Francesco !

Thou hast distilled all the pleasantest flowers and all the
wholesomest herbs of spring into my breast already.

What showers we have had this April, ay ! How could you
come along such roads ? If the Devil were my laborer, I would
make him work upon these of Certaldo. He would have little
time and little itch for mischief ere he had finished them, but
would gladly fan himself with an Agnus- castus, and go to sleep
all through the carnival.

Petrarca. Let us cease to talk both of the labor and the
laborer. You have then been dangerously ill?


Boccaccio. I do not know ; they told me I was ; and truly
a man might be unwell enough who has twenty masses said for
him, and fain sigh when he thinks what he has paid for them.
As I hope to be saved, they cost me a lira each. Assunta is a
good market-girl in eggs and mutton and cow-heel ; but I
would not allow her to argue and haggle about the masses.
Indeed, she knows best whether they were not fairly worth all
that was asked for them, although I could have bought a winter
cloak for less money. However, we do not want both at the
same time. I did not want the cloak : I wanted them, it
seems. And yet I begin to think God would have had mercy
on me if I had begged it of him myself in my own house.
What think you?

Petrarca. I think he might.

Boccaccio. Particularly if I offered him the sacrifice on
which I wrote to you.

Petrarca. That letter has brought me hither.

Boccaccio. You do then insist on my fulfilling my promise,
the moment I can leave my bed ? I am ready and willing.

Petrarca. Promise ! none was made. You only told me
that if it pleased God to restore you to your health again, you
are ready to acknowledge his mercy by the holocaust of your
" Decameron." What proof have you that God would exact it?
If you could destroy the " Inferno" of Dante, would you?

Boccaccio. Not I, upon my life ! I would not promise to
burn a copy of it on the condition of a recovery for twenty

Petrarca. You are the only author who would not rather
demolish another's work than his own, especially if he thought
it better : a thought which seldom goes beyond suspicion.

Boccaccio. I am not jealous of any one : I think admiration
pleasanter. Moreover, Dante and I did not come forward at
the same time, nor take the same walks. His flames are too
fierce for you and me : we had trouble enough with milder.
I never felt any high gratification in hearing of people being
damned ; and much less would I toss them into the fire myself.
I might indeed have put a nettle under the nose of the learned
judge in Florence when he banished you and your family ; but
I hardly think I could have voted for more than a scourging to
the foulest and fiercest of the party.


Petrarca. Be as compassionate, be as amiably irresolute,
toward your own " Novelle," which have injured no friend of
yours, and deserve more affection.

Boccaccio. Francesco ! no character I ever knew, ever
heard of, or ever feigned, deserves the same affection as you
do ; the tenderest lover, the truest friend, the firmest patriot,
and, rarest of glories ! the poet who cherishes another's fame
as dearly as his own.

Petrarca. If aught of this is true, let it be recorded of me
that my exhortations and entreaties have been successful in pre-
serving the works of the most imaginative and creative genius
that our Italy, or indeed our world, hath in any age beheld.

Boccaccio. I would not destroy his poems, as I told you,
or think I told you. Even the worst of the Florentines, who
in general keep only one of God's commandments, keep it
rigidly in regard to Dante,

" Love them who curse you.'

He called them all scoundrels, with somewhat less courtesy
than cordiality, and less afraid of censure for veracity than ad-
ulation ; he sent their fathers to hell, with no inclination to
separate the child and parent, and now they are hugging him
for it in his shroud ! Would you ever have suspected them
of being such lovers of justice?

You must have mistaken my meaning; the thought never
entered my head : the idea of destroying a single copy of
Dante ! And what effect would that produce ? There must
be fifty, or near it, in various parts of Italy.

Petrarca. I spoke of you.

Boccaccio. Of me ! My poetry is vile ; I have already
thrown into the fire all of it within my reach.

Petrarca. Poetry was not the question. We neither of us
are such poets as we thought ourselves when we were younger,
and as younger men think us still. I meant your " Decameron,"
in which there is more character, more nature, more invention,
than either modern or ancient Italy, or than Greece, from
whom she derived her whole inheritance, ever claimed or ever
knew. Would you consume a beautiful meadow because there
are reptiles in it; or because a few grubs hereafter may be
generated by the succulence of the grass?


Boccaccio. You amaze me : you utterly confound me.

Petrarca. If you would eradicate twelve or thirteen of the
" Novelle," and insert the same number of better, which you
could easily do within as many weeks, I should be heartily glad to
see it done. Little more than a tenth of the " Decameron " is
bad ; less than a twentieth of the " Divina Commedia " is good.

Boccaccio. So little?

Petrarca. Let me never seem irreverent to our master.

Boccaccio. Speak plainly and fearlessly, Francesco ! Malice
and detraction are strangers to you.

Petrarca. Well, then, at least sixteen parts in twenty of the
" Inferno " and " Purgatorio " are detestable, both in poetry and
principle : the higher parts are excellent indeed.

Boccaccio. I have been reading the " Paradiso " more re-
cently. Here it is, under the pillow. It brings me happier
dreams than the others, and takes no more time in bringing
them. Preparation for my lectures made me remember a
great deal of the poem. I did not request my auditors to ad-
mire the beauty of the metrical version,

" Osanna sanctus deus Sabbaoth,
Super-illustrans charitate tua
Felices ignes horum Malahoth ; "

nor these, with a slip of Italian between two pales of Latin :

" Modicum, 1 et non videbitis me,
Et iterum, sorelle mie dilette,
Modicum, et vos videbitis me."

I dare not repeat all I recollect of

" Pepe Setan, Pepe Setan, aleppe,"

as there is no holy-water sprinkler in the room : and you are
aware that other dangers awaited me, had I been so imprudent
as to show the Florentines the allusion of our poet. His gergo
is perpetually in play, and sometimes plays very roughly.

Petrarca. We will talk again of him presently. I must
now rejoice with you over the recovery and safety of your
prodigal son, the " Decameron."

1 It may puzzle an Englishman to read the lines beginning with Modi-
cum, so as to give the metre. The secret is, to draw out et into a dissyl-
lable, et-te, as the Italians do, who pronounce Latin verse, if possible,
worse than we, adding a syllable to such as end with a consonant.


Boccaccio. So, then, you would preserve at any rate my fa-
vorite volume from the threatened conflagration.

Petrarca. Had I lived at the time of Dante, I would have
given him the same advice in the same circumstances. Yet
how different is the tendency of the two productions ! Yours is
somewhat too licentious ; and young men, in whose nature, or
rather in whose education and habits, there is usually this fail-
ing, will read you with more pleasure than is commendable or
innocent. Yet the very time they occupy with you would per-
haps be spent in the midst of those excesses or irregularities
to which the moralist, in his utmost severity, will argue that
your pen directs them. Now, there are many who are fond of
standing on the brink of precipices, and who nevertheless are
as cautious as any of falling in. And there are minds desirous
of being warmed by description, which, without this warmth,
might seek excitement among the things described.

I would not tell you in health what I tell you in convales-
cence, nor urge you to compose what I dissuade you from can-
celling. After this avowal, I do declare to you, Giovanni, that
in my opinion the very idlest of your tales will do the world
as much good as evil, not reckoning the pleasure of reading,
nor the exercise and recreation of the mind, which in them-
selves are good. What I reprove you for, is the indecorous
and uncleanly; and these, I trust, you will abolish. Even
these, however, may repel from vice the ingenuous and grace-
ful spirit, and can never lead any such toward them. Never
have you taken an inhuman pleasure in blunting and fusing the
affections at the furnace of the passions ; never, in hardening,
by sour sagacity and ungenial strictures, that delicacy which is
more productive of innocence and happiness, more estranged
from every track and tendency of their opposites, than what in
cold crude systems hath holden the place and dignity of the
highest virtue. May you live, O my friend, in the enjoyment
of health, to substitute the facetious for the licentious, the sim-
ple for the extravagant, the true and characteristic for the in-
definite and diffuse.

Boccaccio. I dare not defend myself under the bad exam-
ple of any : and the bad example of a great man is the worst
defence of all. Since however you have mentioned Messer
Dante Alighieri, to whose genius I never thought of approach-


ing, I may perhaps have been formerly the less cautious of
offending by my levity, after seeing him display as much or
more of it in hell itself.

Petrarca. The best apology for Dante, in his poetical char-
acter, is presented by the indulgence of criticism, in consider-
ing the " Inferno " and " Purgatorio " as a string of Satires, part
in narrative and part in action ; which renders the title of " Corn-
media " more applicable. The filthiness of some passages would
disgrace the drunkenest horse-dealer; and the names of such
criminals are recorded by the poet as would be forgotten by
the hangman in six months. I wish I could expatiate rather
On his injudiciousness than on his ferocity, in devising punish-
ments for various crimes ; or rather, than on his malignity in
composing catalogues of criminals to inflict them on. Among
the rest we find a gang of coiners. He calls by name all the
rogues and vagabonds of every city in Tuscany, and curses
every city for not sending him more of them. You would
fancy that Pisa might have contented him ; no such thing.
He hoots,

"Ah, Pisa ! scandal to the people in whose fine country si
means yes, why are thy neighbors slack to punish thee ? May
Capraia and Gorgona stop up the mouth of the Arno, and
drown every soul within thee ! "

Boccaccio. None but a prophet is privileged to swear and
curse at this rate, and several of those got broken heads for it.

Petrarca. It did not happen to Dante, though he once
was very near it, in the expedition of the exiles to recover the
city. Scarcely had he taken breath after this imprecation
against the Pisans, than he asks the Genoese why such a parcel
of knaves as themselves were not scattered over the face 01
the earth.

Boccaccio. Here he is equitable. I wonder he did not in-
cline to one or other of these rival republics.

Petrarca. In fact, the Genoese fare a trifle better under
him than his neighbors the Pisans do.

Boccaccio. Because they have no Gorgona and Capraia to
block them up. He cannot do all he wishes, but he does all
he can, considering the means at his disposal. In like manner
Messer Gregorio Peruzzi, when he was tormented by the quar-
rels and conflicts of Messer Gino Ubaldini's trufle-dog at the


next door, and Messer Guidone Fantecchi's e;hop-dog, whose
title and quality are in abeyance, swore bitterly, and called the
Virgin and Saint Catherine to witness, that he would cut off
their tails if ever he caught them. His cook, Niccolo Buonac-
corsi, hoping to gratify his master, set baits for them, and cap-
tured them both in the kitchen. But unwilling to cast hands
prematurely on the delinquents, he, after rating them for their
animosities and their ravages, bethought himself in what man-
ner he might best conduct his enterprise to a successful issue.
He was the rather inclined to due deliberation in these coun-
sels, as they, laying aside their private causes of contention in

Online LibraryWalter Savage LandorThe Pentameron ; Citation and examination of William Shakespeare ; Minor prose pieces ; Criticisms → online text (page 1 of 37)