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antique models and an adoption of new lines of
thought and new forces of expression, according to
feelings and principles which had been germinating



226 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

all through the eighteenth century, and broke out
towards its close.

Foscolo changed his residence more than once from
Tuscany to Milan and elsewhere, and at last, when
Napoleon was finally off the stage, and liberal opin-
ions were hopelessly out of favor on the Continent,
took up his abode in England. Here he was well re-
ceived in the most cultivated society, and wrote much
in the reviews of the literary history of Italy. He was
not, however, altogether suited to English life : he was
improvident in his poverty and was imprisoned for
debt ; the ways of an Italian radical were not the ways
of most English literary men, and it may be doubted
if he did not wear out his welcome before his death,
which happened in 1827. Many years after, his re-
mains were laid in Santa Croce. His most striking
poems are his *'Carme dei Sepoleri"— reflections
somewhat in the style of Gray's "Elegy," but with a
deeper feeling, and expressing, in a very striking way,
the yearnings of an Italian in the days when the hope
of seeing his country's deliverance had been so lively
and so tenderly frustrated.

To glorious deeds, O friend, the gallant soul
The urns of heroes fire, and beautiful
And holy to the pilgrim make the land
That holds them. When I view the monument
Where lies the body of that mighty man
Who, as the ruler's sceptre he controlled,



MANZONI 227

Stripped it of laurels, and laid bare to men

What tears are dropping from it, and what blood, —

And his funereal chest, who reared in Rome

To God a new Olympus; his who saw

Under the heavenly cope new worlds revolve

And motionless the sun enlighten them,

And first unlocked the firmamental road

Where England's eagle spread its bolder flight, —

Fortunate land, I cried, for those blest airs

That breed new life, and for the streams of joy

That Apennine pours to thee from its heights!

Glad of thine air the moon her mantle throws

Of purest lustre over all thy hills

Feasting in time of vintage, and thy vales.

Peopled with cottages and olive-groves.

Send incense from a thousand flowers to heaven;

Thou, Florence, first didst hear the song that soothed

The anger of the exiled Ghibelline;

And thou didst give the parents and the tongue

To those sweet lips, the very Muse 's own.

That o'er the naked Love of Greece and Rome

Casting in modesty a snow-white veil

Back to the arms of heavenly Venus gave.

But happier yet that gathered in one shrine

Italia 's peerless glories thou dost keep.

A more attractive, if not more interesting, charac-
ter is Alessandro Manzoni, for long years the patri-
arch of Italian literature, and one who, in life and in
death, achieved about as enviable a reputation as ever
falls to the lot of man. He was born in 1784, in the
neighborhood of Milan, the descendant of a family
whose disposition led to their being compared in a
proverb of the neighborhood to a mountain torrent.



228 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

His mother was a daughter of Beecaria, the illustrious
economist and, to use a horrible modern word, neither
Greek nor Latin, penologist. Manzoni is said to have
been a dunce at school, but as this is often asserted,
without the faintest basis, about Sir Walter Scott,
whom Manzoni in many ways resembled, I am tempted
to deny it of him also. After the death of his father,
his mother went to live in France, and he followed
her to Auteuil, near Paris, where he saw much of a set
of young thinkers who called themselves idealogues
— men who had shaken off the conventions of the cen-
turies and were aiming to reconstruct the world on
theory. Their views, however, did not seem to have
held Manzoni in any strong grasp.

In 1808 he married the daughter of a Genevese
banker named Blondel, with whom he obtained con-
siderable property, and in particular a country seat,
where he passed most of his later life. At this time
he wrote much in the form of hymns. A devout
Catholic he always was, in the days when many promi-
nent men were shaking off their allegiance to the
Church. In 1819 he wrote a tragedy on the career of
Carmagnola, a condottiere of the Middle Ages; and
later another called "Adelchi," on the war of the
Lombards with Charlemagne. These very remarkable
plays struck directly at the theory of the unities, which



MANZONI 229

had tied down all the Italian tragedians from Tasso
and earlier to Monti and Alfieri. Manzoni follows the
lead of the Elizabethan dramatists, and also of Schiller,
extending his scenes over such distances and spaces
as he thinks the full development of the plot demands.
He added to his plays an excellent essay on dramatic
poetry, demonstrating the fantastic scheme of the
unities for all sensible people. The death of Napoleon
Bonaparte in 1821 stirred Europe profoundly, and
Manzoni celebrated it in an ode entitled ' ' The Fifth of
May," which* became, as it deserved, extremely pop-
ular. It is remarkable for dignity of thought and
feeling, and the impartial and philosophic view of
Napoleon's character, though crediting him at the last
with more religious sentiment than he really felt. In
1827, after long preparation, Manzoni issued, in succes-
sive volumes, his great work, "I Promessi Sposi." This
was an attempt to create in Italian the historical ro-
mance of the type of the Waverley Novels with which
Scott was then charming the world. As far as Man-
zoni 's own work went, it was most successful ; the novel
is one of the noblest works ever written. The scene is
laid in and near Milan at the time of one of the great
pestilences ; and the descriptions of the country, the
variety and play of the characters, the unbroken in-
terest of the plot, have rarely been equalled; but no



230 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

successor of equal force has appeared in the language.
After this achievement Manzoni lived nearly fifty
years, chiefly occupied with religious duties and writ-
ing little. He lost successively his first wife, her
successor, and all his children, but invariably showed
himself cheerful and courteous to the many pilgrims
who came to see the veteran of literature. At length
his death, at the age of eighty-eight, in 1873, was a
cause of general mourning throughout Italy, and
Manzoni received a magnificent funeral, for which
Verdi composed the requiem, honors most due to one
who had enriched his native literature with works of
the highest value, and never disgraced his genius or
his fame with a base act or thought.

I give a paraphrase of a part of his ode by the late
Hon. Alexander H. Everett. It is modelled on Byron's
ode to Napoleon. You see we are approaching our
own time — Manzoni died about thirty years ago. But
his poetical work had been done more than fifty years
earlier yet, and he belongs, as a writer, to the genera-
tion of our elders,— Scott and Shelley and Byron.

He too reposes from his toil:

The giant mind has fled;
And motionless the mortal coil

Upon the earth is laid.
Methinks that, at a blow so rude,
Earth 's self a moment must have stood,

As motionless and mute,



MANZONI 231



Eeflecting on the fatal hour

Of him who swayed so vast a power,

And doubting if the foot
Of one so great would ever place
Its track again upon her face.

I saw him, thron'd in glory, reign

In his refulgent hall:
I saw him sink, — ascend again, —

And then forever fall.
I flatter 'd not his hour of state,
Nor meanly mock'd his adverse fate:

But 'er his funeral urn
I come to chant a mournful song,
On which, perhaps, the curious throng

A passing glance may turn.
When future centuries shall cast
Their eyes on the recorded Past.

From Egypt 's iiood to St. Bernard,

From Madrid to the Don,
His crashing thunderbolts were heard,

His lightning terrors shone.
From North to South, from sea to sea,
His very name was victory.

Was this the true renown?
Let other times the question scan!
We humbly bow before the plan

Of that Most Holy One,
Who deign 'd so copiously to shower
Upon his head the gift of power.

The joy of wild Ambition's dream.

Its inly-gnawing care,
Were his; and his the last extreme

Of good and ill to share;
Success, by danger made more sweet.
Dominion, glory, base defeat,



232 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

The palace and the jail;
Twice master of the subject world,
And twice in fury headlong hurl'd

From that proud pinnacle
By fortune 's whelming thundergust,
To grovel in the common dust.

Two worlds — the men of Yesterday

And of To-morrow— stood,
Engag'd for years in furious fray.

Drench 'd in each other's blood.
He wav'd his hand, and all was peace;
He bade the stern contention cease,

And then he passed away:
But still in ruin always great.
The mark of boundless love and hate

And reverence and dismay
And pity; — on his distant rock
Mankind's perpetual gazing-stock.

There are reasons for not carrying our review into
the poetry of our own contemporaries, and one is my
wish to close these lectures with the name of one of the
very most striking geniuses in all the long line I
traverse. I said at the outset that Petrarch had fixed
the form and tone of Italian poetiy, and that almost
every one of his successors had been content to keep
within his lines, except a few who looked back to the
still older inspiration of Dante. As we take up one
Italian poet after another, we find, even in such
vigorous writers as Filicaja, as Alfieri, echoes of the
same conventionalities. It was not till the eighteenth
century was hard upon its close that Italy gave birth



MANZONI 233

to a poet of whom every line and thought savors of
underived genius,— as entirely and purely himself as
Dante or Petrarch, more so than Ariosto or Tasso,
perhaps even than Alfieri, and who spoke out his
wondrous mind under a load of sorrow and gloom
that neither Dante nor Tasso ever knew— Giacomo
Leopardi,

Leopardi was born at Recanati, a trifling town in
the Bolognese district, on the 29th of June, 1798.
His family was noble, but reduced in fortunes. The
task of restoring these fell entirely upon his mother, a
woman of Spartan energy, with but little sympathy
or tenderness. His father was a mere bookworm,
living in his library and withdrawn from the world
that he did not understand. The boy's brother and
sisters were kind to him, but he found little pleasure
in their society, and none at all in his dull native
town. He lived, like his father, among books, studying
all the time, and making unheard-of progress. He
taught himself Latin with scarcely any help, and
Greek with none,— not superficially, but profoundly,—
and before attaining full manhood could have had no
superior in classical scholarship in Italy. Always
sickly and nervous, his confinement to his study, which
there seems to have been no one to watch, resulted in
absolute and incurable deformity, causing a blight
over his whole life. At eighteen he wrote a remark-



234 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

able poem on the Approach of Death, a theme like
one of Petrarch's, but with no sign of imitation. In
1819 he wrote and published two odes, expressing
the deep distress of all his countrymen at the sad posi-
tion in which Italy found herself with the despots re-
stored and all her hopes of freedom blasted. No
lyrics so powerful had been written since Filicaja, one
should rather say since Petrarch. Writing in strictly
classical Tuscan, Leopardi had struck out an abso-
lutely new style, to which no poet of the time, save
Shelley, offers any parallel. But his father, wedded
to old ideas, had small sympathy for his gifted and
suffering son. He, however, made the acquaintance
of Giordani, a distinguished scholar and writer, and
derived great comfort from it. His father at last
gave his reluctant consent to his visiting Rome, though
he made a difficvilty about giving him the most modest
allowance. Indeed, more was beyond his own means.
I At Rome Leopardi became acquainted with the
-^ great scholars Niebuhr and Bunsen, the former of
whom offered him a German professorship ; but it
is doubtful if he would have done well to accept it.
The feeble stuff called scholarship at Rome repelled
him, and he returned to Recanati, having no money to
live elsewhere, and passed at home some unhappy
years. At length a publisher in Milan gave him work
as an editor, and he made Bologna his headquarters,



LEOPARDI 235

where he published certain philosophical works. In
1829 he returned to his uncongenial home, and soon
after made the acquaintance of a Swiss scholar named
Sinner, who proved his right to the name, for, having
engaged to secure a wider diffusion of Leopardi's
writings, he was inexcusably dilatory. Soon afterwards
he published more poems, which, like all he wrote,
received the warmest applause. An unhappy attach-
ment, of which little is known, drove him to Rome, and
he afterwards drifted to Florence, where he formed
a new and considerate friend in Ranieri, with whom
he passed the last few years of his life in Naples.
During these he wrote a tremendous satire on his
country's foreign tyrants, purporting to be a con-
tinuation of the Homeric "Frogs and Mice," some-
what in the style of Casti, but far bolder and more
direct. But the feeble frame was worn out, and he
died on the 15th of June, 1837.

The poems of Leopardi make but a small volume,
which, before the recent discovery of his first poem
entire, was smaller still. Of his literary style it
is much easier to speak in general terms of interest
and praise than to describe it clearly to one who has
not read him. After going through that long line from
Petrarch to Manzoni, going back, if you will, to Dante,
the very first juvenile poem in the collection, a mere
fragment of a recently discovered whole, strikes one



236 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

—at least it struck me— with a new sensation. It is
very far from what we call sensational ; it is entirely-
classical in form ; it has none of Coleridge 's deliberate
eccentricity or Wordsworth's baldness; it is clearly
written by a student as well as a countryman of Dante
and Petrarch. But it sounds, so to speak, a string in
their lyre that they had overlooked; an Italian will
understand me if I say it is as if one of the unredeemed
provinces had been reclaimed to the Italian nation;
and although only the first of Leopardi's poems that
one happens to read will produce the same electric
quiver, none of them will weaken the feeling. He is
all original, like a man who walks into an ancient
forest where all sorts of trees have been cut for cen-
turies, and who, with apparently no effort, lays his
hand on a stock and brings up from the ground a scion
of a new species of oak or elm never known in that
woodland before, and obviously, in strength, beauty,
and value, at least equal to the best of the old.

To know the native strength of Italian— its stores
of reserved power never wholly revealed even to Dante
or Alfieri, and scarcely imagined by Petrarch, Ari-
osto, or Tasso— one must go to Leopardi. To say that
he is modern, that he belongs to the nineteenth cen-
tury, is true enough; but it might suggest false com-
parisons. ''Locksley Hall" and "Maud" are avow-
edly modern; the ''Idylls of the King" give modern



LEOPARDI 237

thoughts in a legendary disguise : but Leopardi writes
in his century as Dante and Petrarch wrote in theirs ;
he is, like them, a pilgrim of eternity, who touched
earth between 1798 and 1837. Many readers would
notice his close descriptions of natural scenery and his
discussion of his own feelings, in complete contrast
to a poet like Ariosto, who is all absorbed in his
Paladins and their imaginary world. Yet Leopardi 's
descriptions have nothing in common with the land-
scapes of "The Lady of the Lake," and but little with
those of the "Excursion"; he neither forgets himself
in his scenery nor seeks to make himself a part of it.
But they bear a strong resemblance to the few power-
ful pictures of nature in the "Prometheus," and still
more to "Manfred," which affected men so power-
fully in Leopardi 's early manhood.

There are, indeed, many curious points of resem-
blance between him and Byron: their noble birth,
their poverty, their want of appreciation at home,
their deformity, their restless change of abode, their
unfortunate attachments, their sympathy with the
cause of liberty and loathing of Austrian oppres-
sion,— it is particularly to be noticed that Byron's
cooperation with the Italian Carbonari was given
not far from Leopardi 's home,— their comparatively
early deaths, and their philosophy of life, so promi-
nent in all their works. This is not the place to dis-



238 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

cuss either the poetry or the opinions of Byron. My
own view is that he was a better poet and a worse
man than it is now the fashion to esteem him. But
Leoparcli 's philosophy is entwined with all his poetry,
and is, indeed, a grim spectacle. He looks upon the
outside world and himself as all part of one system,
where, slightly to change Heber's words, "every pros-
pect pleases and only man is wretched"; all other
created beings, birds or animals, work out a destiny
acceptable to them, and as long as it runs they enjoy
it. Our race alone longs for pleasure, sympathy, and
happiness, and cannot find them. In Burns 's words,
''Man was made to mourn"; but it is worse: he must
see all around him content, and he alone systematically
deprived of the pleasure which his nature naturally
craves.

This awful pessimism was no doubt largely the
product of Leopardi's wretched constitution and the
worse than misunderstanding of those nearest him,
Avhom yet he declares he loved, in the most elaborate
phrases of Italian conventionality, though he resented
any such explanation. But it seems to me equally
certain that the state of Italy helped to produce it.
4 Leopardi felt himself in the universe what his country
was among the nations. They had nearly all either
greatness, or wealth, or happiness, or contentment —
at least existence ; Italy, with every right to all these,



LEOPARDI 239

had not one. Could Leopardi have lived for twenty-
years longer— and he would not, in 1862, have been a
very old man— and seen Italy freed from her chains,
risen high in fact, rising higher in hope, the sight
might have brought blood even into his cheeks, fire
to his eye, and cheer to his heart ; and he might have
felt Manzoni's faith to be no falsehood.

From Sir Theodore Martin's translation of II Sa-
bato del Villaggio : *

The sun is sinking in the west,

And from the fields the village lass

Comes, with across her shoulder thrown

Her sheaf of grass.

And in her hand a posy rare

Of violets and roses.

Wherewith to-morrow she— such is her wont— proposes

To deck withal her bosom and her hair.

The old crone, with her gossips round,
Sits spinning on her steps before her door,
And prattles in the waning light
Of the good times of yore,—
How she on gala days was drest
As smartly as the best.
And how, when she was strong and slight
And lissome, she would dance all night,
And young and handsome fellows had
For partners by the score.

The sky turns azure blue ;
Up comes the moon, and in her light
The shadows hills and houses threw
Are turned to silvery white.
And now the vesper-bell proclaims
The day of rest is near,

* "Blackwood's Magazine," December, 1903.



240 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

And to men's hearts, you 'd say, it brings

A message of good cheer.

Children to the village square

With shouts come trooping in,

And bounding, leaping, here and there,

They make a merry din;

And, whistling as he goes.

The labourer to his scanty meal hies home.

And of the morrow thinks, that brings to him repose.

And now, when all is darkness everywhere.
And other sounds are still.

Hark to the hammer's stroke, the hand-saw's shrill,
As in his workshop, by the lamp 's dim flare,
The carpenter is working might and main to make
A finish of his work before daybreak!

This is the welcomest day of all the seven,
Brimful of hope and joy. To-morrow
The hours will bring unrest and sorrow,
And the accustomed toil and moil recall
The thoughts that weigh so heavily on all.

Oh! merry, laughing boy.
The time you now enjoy
For thee is like one long delightful day
Beneath a cloudless sky.
Forerunner of a season rife
With joys, to make a festival of life.
Sport on, my lad! Thy present is a stage
The cheeriest in life's pilgrimage.
I would not have it otherwise with thee.
But may life 's festival, come when it may,
Not on thy heart too great a burden lay!

II Passero Solitario:

Above the summit of yon ancient tower,
O solitary sparrow, to the plain
Singing thou goest till the day shall die,



LEOPARDI 241

And o'er the valley strays thy harmony,

While all around the spring

Burns in the air, and revels o'er the fields,

So that the heart grows tender at the view.

I hear the bleating flocks, the lowing herds,

And in their rival joy the other birds

Weave in free air a thousand circles' maze

In sheer rejoicing for their happiest hour.

Thou, thoughtful and apart, on all dost gaze; .

No comrades and no flights.

No joy concerns thee; shunning every play;

Singest, while goes away

Of time and of thy life the fairest flower.

Ah me! To thine how near
Is all my habit; smile and gayety
Of every new-born season of spring dear.
And thee, of youthfulness the brother. Love,
The bitter sigh of days long past and gone,
I reck not, know not why; rather from these
I take my flight afar
An anchorite, and strange
To my own native soil
I pass away the springtime of my life.

Upon this day, that yieldeth now to eve.
Our burghers wont to hold a holiday;
Through the calm air a sound of bells I hear;
I hear the iron barrel's thunder oft.
That sends its echoes far from farm to farm;
In festive garments clad
The youth of all the town

Their dwellings leave, and pour through all the streets:
See, and are seen, and in their hearts are gay.
I to this distant spot
Far from the village bend my steps alone.
Every delight and joy
Put off to other times; the while my eyes
Strike through the genial air



242 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

'Twixt the far hills the sun 's departing rays ;
As past the day serene
He lingers as he sets, and seems to say
The blissful time of youth is vanishing.

Thou lonely bird! When thou shalt reach the eve
Of whatsoever life thy stars allow
Surely wilt never grieve

For this life spent; for all thou hast desired
Of Nature's self was born.
For me, if of old age
The ever-hated floor
To tread I may not shun,

When to another's heart these eyes are dumb
And void the world without, each day to come
More foul and dreary than the present hour,
What will such wishes seem?

What of these years of mine? What of myself?
I shall repent and oft
But comfortless my looks shall backward turn.

From the Supplement to the Batrachomyomachia ;

So great a hatred fires the stranger heart
Of the Italian name, that from each blow,

Which to themselves no glory can impart.

Because 'twas ours, they feel a joyous glow;

Many the nations smit by fortune 's dart.
And sunk to baseness by protracted woe;

But never country has example shown

Of such infernal hatred as our own.

And this hath been, because although o 'ercome
Enslaved and torn she sits in misery

Perforce in Italy hath fixed its home

Whate 'er of noblest nature hath in fee ;

And still the glory of eternal Rome

Bids by its blaze all else in darkness be;



LEOPARDI 243

And still the Italian brand must Europe bear
Who mo(!ks at us with vain and haughty air.

Nor Rome alone; but Italy, of arms

Bereft, hath with her intellectual lore
Tamed the barbarian, and with radiant charms

Eeturned to reign the nation 's queen once more,
And at the stranger clown, who dreads no harms,

But jeers at her oppressed by fortune sore,
Long time she laughed, and every other land
Seemed dreary exile to her children's band.

The strangers feel that all renown is nought

To that whereof is Italy the heir;
They feel that children's work alone hath wrought

Each race that with our greatness would compare.
And see, unless each gift that heaven hath brought

Our mothers strangle when their babes they bear.
Were Italy a moment now untied,
In her third triumph o'er their necks she 'd ride.

The full sternness of Leopardi's pessimism must be


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