Copyright
William Everett.

The Italian poets since Dante online

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


northern Reggio. Of him scarcely more is known
than of Pulci, except that his patrician birth associ-
ated him with the high-born of all nations, beginning
with the Emperor Frederic III, whose imperial lineage
was his only remarkable quality, and gave him the
position of governor of his native town. He was
buried in the Cathedral of Ferrara, and his life ex-
tended from 1430 to 1494. His additions to Italian
literature were various, and replete with the learning
of the time. But the chief is a voluminous romance
entitled "Orlando Innamorato." It tells how, when
Charles had all his peers round him, there suddenly
appeared at his court Angelica, the daughter of Gal-
laphrone, from the country of Cataia, the most beau-
tiful of her sex, accompanied by a champion, who was
prepared to fight with any of the paladins in order to
win the sword Durindana and the horse Brigliadoro,
now in possession of Orlando. Forthwith Angeli-
ca's beauty excites such a flame in the heart of many
knights, but chiefly of Orlando, that a countless series
of adventures arise, extending from China to Morocco,
and in lands unknown to geography, where knights
and ladies and fairies and demons are entangled in
complications fully equal to any in the "Arabian



52 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

Nights. ' ' The story is more carefully constructed than
Pulci 's ; the fancy is very lively, the different threads
are fairly well kept in hand, and the author never loses
sight of his multifarious characters in all their wan-
derings. The language is purer and more classical
than Pulci 's, and most certainly the good count never
could be accused of irreverence or flippancy. He is
most profoundly solemn, and appears to have no more
doubt of the marvels he describes than Hamlet has of
the reality of his father's ghost; though he does warn
us, in lines taken bodily from Dante, to mind the hid-
den meaning conveyed under this fairy guise. But
this very faith makes him heavy; he has but little
wit or play, except when he approaches the character
of Astolfo, the British knight, who is always treated as
somewhat of a buffoon ; his various people are hardly
individual enough to make the reader keep the com-
plex throng in view, and his verse seems rough and
uncouth from a countryman of Petrarch 's. The result
was that, though Boiardo's contemporaries recognized
his real force, the form was felt to be so unworthy of
the matter that two poets of the succeeding generation
determined to recast the ' ' Orlando Innamorato. ' ' The
work of one of these proved of little account, but the
other, Francesco Berni, threw such stores of varied
genius into the labor of reconstruction that his poem
wholly superseded the original, leaving Boiardo almost



BOIARDO 53

a bare name, and making his poem hard to procure till
a new edition, the first for centuries, was given to the
public by the well-known librarian of the British
Museum, Antonio Panizzi. From this I take a short
and characteristic combat, almost at random :

Now on the bridge the champion stands revealed
"With plate and mail full-armed and covered well;

And Balisardo grasps his mighty shield,
Like one who tried in battle doth excel;

Both one and other 'gan the mace to wield,
So that a lively game one might foretell;

Each dealing blows with such a mighty clang

The very river to its bottom rang.

Dudon a stroke delivered at the head,

And broke the circle of his polished helm;

The mighty blow with such a sweep had sped
That Balisardo prone it did o 'erwhelm.

Both hands did Dudon ply, nor ever stayed,
Bold youth, upon the flower of pagan realm,

He struck the shield that was of silver bright.

And laid it open, did this gallant knight.

But like as it had waked him from his sleep.
That second blow, the haughty Saracen

Up from the earth unterrified did leap
And the fierce attack returned again.

Aiming at Dudon 's flank he levelled deep

Blows vsdth his club, which was not light or thin.

More than a hundred pounds that club would weigh.

And on the earth the youth extended lay.

But he got up again, and went on fighting through
some stanzas more as fresh as ever.

Francesco Berni was born towards the end of the



54 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

fifteenth century, of a noble but poor family in Flor-
ence, and early went to Rome to seek his fortune
under the protection of a kinsman high in the Church,
from whom he says he got neither good nor ill. He
received a position at the court of Leo X, whence he
derived little profit, and an attempt to better his
fortunes by taking holy orders failed of success even
in that easy time. He belonged to a society of the
young wits of the true Bohemian type, who consoled
themselves in their narrow means by leading such a
life as would not encourage any friend to try and
better their fortunes. Berni did not gather much of
this world 's goods, and what he did was all swept away
in the terrific sack of Rome by Bourbon in 1527. He
then returned to Florence, where he received a sort of
patronage from the Medici, a race degenerating rap-
idly from the time of the great Lorenzo. Their house-
hold was stained by intrigues of the blackest character,
in which it should appear that they tried in vain to
entangle the poet, and when Alexander de' Medici had
died by poison, Berni followed in a few months, a
victim, it has been supposed, of family jealousy.

Berni ranks high in the class of satirists of which
the next generation produced two such illustrious ex-
amples as Rabelais and Montaigne. He had an eye
to observe and a tongue to note the humors and follies
of his day not surpassed by either; and he added to



BERNI 55

his satirical a poetic gift to which neither of them
ever laid claim, aud which ranks him with Horace,
Juvenal, and Dryden. To the first of these he bears
much resemblance ; for, although he can be as bitter
as any one, his prevailing tone is genial, and instinct
with a good nature, of which Juvenal had little, and
which would have been at variance Avith Dryden 's ob-
ject. He is recognized in Italy as the perfector of the
ottava rima for satiric purposes, and from him that
style which Byron used so wonderfully in "Beppo"
and "Don Juan" is called Bernesque. His satires are
so full of allusion to his own time that, like Aristo-
phanes and Juvenal, they can hardly be read without
encyclopaedic notes. But Berni's "Orlando Innamo-
rato" is a wonderful poem. It seems amazing that a
man of original genius should have the patience to go
through another man's poem of over sixty cantos,
supplying to all exactly what was needed in the way
of addition, correction, omission, and, in fact, inspira-
tion. Dr. Johnson's definition of poetic genius, how-
ever stilted, exactly defines Berni's: "Genius, that
power which constitutes a poet ; that quality without
which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert ; that
energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and ani-
mates." The worthy Count Matteo would probably
have been scandalized by the way the canon has
adapted his "Orlando" to the popular taste, but



5G THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

after all Boiardo is chiefly known as the man who
wrote the "Orlando Innamorato" for Berni to revise,
I read a couple of extracts from the version of
W. S. Rose, the friend of Sir Walter Scott. One is a
description of the two fountains, one which imparted,
and the other which killed, love by a draught; the
second is where Berni has introduced himself as a
character :

Mount Alban 's lord, whose strength and spirits sink,
For yet the sun was high and passing hot,
Stood gazing on the pearly fountain 's brink,
Eapt with the sight of that delicious spot.
At length he can no more; but stoops to drink,
And thirst and love are in the draught forgot:
For such the virtue those cold streams impart,
Changed in an instant is the warrior 's heart.

Him, with that forest 's wonders unacquainted,
Some paces to a second water bring,
Of crystal wave with rain or soil untainted.
With all the flowers that wreathe the brows of spring
Kind nature had the verdant margin painted:
And there a pine and beech and olive fling
Their boughs above the stream, and form a bower,
A grateful shelter from the noontide hour.

This was the stream of love, upon whose shore

He chanced, Avhere Merlin no enchantment shed;
But nature here, unchanged by magic lore.
The fountain with such sovereign virtue fed,
That all who tasted loved: whence many, sore
Lamenting their mistake, were ill-bested.
Rinaldo wandered to this water 's brink.
But, sated, had no further wish to drink.



BEENI 57

Yet the delicious trees and banks produce

Desire to try the grateful shade ; and needing
Eepose, he 'lights, and turns his courser loose,
"Who roamed the forest, at his pleasure feeding;
And there Kinaldo cast him down, at truce
"With care ; and slumber to repose succeeding,
Thus slept supine: when spiteful fortune brought
Her to the spot whom least the warrior sought.

She thirsts, and lightly leaping from her steed,
Ties the gay palfrey to the lofty pine;
Then plucking from the stream a little reed.
Sips, as a man might savour muscat wine;
And feels while yet she drinks (such marvel breed
The waters fraught with properties divine)
She is no longer what she was before;
And next beholds the sleeper on the shore.



His mood was choleric, and his tongue was vicious.
But he was praised for singleness of heart;
Not taxed as avaricious or ambitious.
Affectionate, and frank, and void of art;
A lover of his friends, and unsuspicious;
But where he hated, knew no middle part;
And men his malice by his love might rate:
But then he was more prone to love than hate.

To paint his person, — this was thin and dry;

"Well sorting it, his legs were spare and lean;
Broad was his visage, and his nose was high,
"VSTiile narrow was the space that was between
His eyebrows sharp; and blue his hollow eye,
"Which for his bvishy beard had not been seen.
But that the master kept this thicket clear 'd.
At mortal war with moustache and with beard.

No one did ever servitude detest

Like him; though servitude was still his dole:
Since fortune or the devil did their best



58 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

To keep him evermore beneath eontroul.
While, whatsoever was his patron's hest,
To execute it went against his soul;
His service would he freely yield, unasked,
But lost all heart and hope, if he were tasked.

Nor musick, hunting-match, nor mirthful measure,
Nor play, nor other pastime moved him aught :
And if 't was true that horses gave him pleasure,
The simple sight of them was all he sought,
Too poor to purchase; and his only treasure
His naked bed: his pastime to do nought
But tumble there, and stretch his weary length,
And so recruit his spirits and his strength.

Worn with the trade he long was used to slave in,
So heartless and so broken down was he;
He deemed he could not find a readier haven,
Or safer port from that tempestuous sea;
Nor better cordial to recruit his craven
And jaded spirit, when he once was free.
Than to betake himself to bed, and do
Nothing, and mind and matter so renew.

On this, as on art, he would dilate

In good set terms, and styled his bed a vest.

Which, as the wearer pleased, was small or great,

And of whatever fashion liked him best;

A simple mantle, or a robe of state;

With that a gown of comfort and of rest:

Since whosoever slipt his daily clothes

For this, put off with these all worldly woes.

Berni no doubt deserves abundant praise for his
work ; and one would be tempted to say he did for the
romantic epic all that the wit of a poet and a satirist
combined could do, if it had not, even in his own time,
fallen into the hands of a greater genius still. A



\



BERNI 59

lecturer on Italian poetry must deal with Pulci,
Boiardo, and Berni, and bless his stars that he may
be excused from reading, or even naming, a score of
other romances; but the general reader of Italian
poetry may rest satisfied if he gives some attentive
hours— and if he gives hours he will give days— to
the greatest of all, the divine Ariosto, who will appear
in my next chapter.



CHAPTER III

ARIOSTO

No student of Italian poetry can fail to recognize
how truly national a literature it is — national in its
days of growth and roughness, national in the richness
and force of its prime, national in its languid and lus-
cious decay. The ancient Italy— the Italy of Scipio and
Cgesar, of Lucretius and Cicero— had drawn recruits
from many foreign nations, till her own writers in-
veighed vehemently against the corruptions which
had flowed in from Greece and Syria and Egypt, and
declared the beautiful mother had become only a step-
mother to her inhabitants. And almost before she had
time to assimilate all this heterogeneous matter, floods
of invaders, first Goths and Lombards from the
North, then Saracens from the South, poured over the
plains of the Po and the cities of Lucania, and threat-
ened to bury under new drift from the Danube or the
Desert what the slime of the Nile and the Orontes had
left unharmed. Yet the marvellous country, great

60



ARIOSTO 61

parent of crops and of men, received all the invaders
to her generous bosom, subdued them by her charms,
fed them on her ancient story, and taught them to feel
that the glory of conquest which their hands had won
was nothing to the glory of Italian citizenship, the
gift of her sacred soil alone. Every tradition, every
rite, every law which came down from the dim days
of Romulus and Numa, of Tarquin and Porsena, of
Camillus and Fabius, or the surer legacies of the
Scipios and Gracchi, was just as living in the hearts
of those who marched with Tancred to the Sepulchre,
or ruled with Can Grande at Verona, as when Virgil
and Horace told it to the new Romans from Gaul and
Spain. Guido and Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio,
Pulci and Berni, are pure Italians, as distinct from
Germans or Spaniards, from French or English, as
these are from Bohemians or Russians,— and so were
their successors for many centuries.

But of all the great authors at this period of Italian
brilliancy, it seems to me the most widely national, if
not more truly so than his brothers, is Ludovico Ari-
osto. It seems to me every other great Italian poet,
from Dante to Carducci, represents some one phase
of that strangely composite and diversified character,
the offspring of so many nations. I can easily im-
agine Italians who would find Dante cruel and mys-
tical, Petrarch academically cold, and Pulci weari-



62 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

some. Others might think Tasso superstitious, Alfieri
savage, and Leopardi pessimistic. But Ariosto has
something for every son of the beautiful country
which the sea encircles and the Alps, which may speak
alike to his heart and his head, to his common sense
and his devotion, to his passion and his humor. The
dreamy enthusiasm of the Celt, the artistic devotion
of the Etruscan, the sturdy sense of the Roman, the
versatile speculation of the Greek, the fatalism of the
Saracen, the chivalry of the Goth, the enterprise
of the Norman, have all contributed something to
make up the poet of the Raging Roland.

Ludovico Ariosto was born in 1474, of noble ances-
tors, in the city of Modena. Like many renowned
poets, notably Walter Scott, he was destined by his
father for the law, but his poetic genius forced itself
forward at an early age. He attended the University
of Ferrara, and distinguished himself in his studies,
but after five years given to the law the vanity of the
effort was plain, and he devoted himself to poetry.
Some lyrics of his attracted the notice of Cardinal
Hippolito d'Este, and by him and his brother, the
Duke Alfonso, after him, Ariosto was employed in
various posts, mostly more honorable than lucrative.
At their court he worked for years to perfect his epic
of the "Orlando Furioso," which he published in
1516, the year before Luther's revolt, and which was



ARIOSTO 63

received by his reverend and princely patron with the
words : * * Where the devil, Master Louis, did you pick
up such a mass of trash ? " He still, however, showed
the poet favor, if it may be called so, by requesting his
company on a trip to Hungary, where public affairs
called him. The poet entirely refused to leave his own
country for a strange land and an uncongenial cli-
mate, and the refusal was by no means purely selfish.
The eldest of a very large family, he had his brothers
and sisters to provide for, and he had little reason to
believe that an exile beyond the Danube would help
him to this end. But losing the favor of one prince
of Este, he passed into the service of the Duke Al-
fonso, and was by him attached to his household, and
employed, as before, in various services. One com-
mission in particular seems strangely alien to poetic
genius: he was sent to put down a band of brigands
which infested the milder parts of the duchy of Fer-
rara, and this singular service he appears to have
executed successfully; but it has been a tradition in
Italy for centuries that he was himself captured by
the bandits he was sent to quell, and released unran-
somed for the sake of his poetry.

He turned his talents in many directions to produce
poems serious and satirical, which might help him in
the somewhat arduous cares of life; but he never
wearied in the work of constantly correcting and im-



64 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

proving his great poem, of which the second edition
appeared sixteen years after the first, just a year be-
fore the poet's death, which happened as the result of
a painful internal disorder, when he was somewhat
less than fifty-eight years old. It is recorded that
throughout his life, with many anxieties, many dis-
appointments, and very moderate means, he was al-
ways liberal and always cheerful, and distinguished,
in his temper as in his poetry, for that geniality which
is such a striking point in the national character, and
greets us so charmingly in Plautus, in Horace, and in
Boccaccio.

An exhaustive study of Italian poetry would dwell
on Ariosto's minor poems, especially for the interest-
ing details they give of his life; but the "Orlando
Furioso," which he resolved to make and did make his
masterpiece, is what ranks him with the immortals.
It has endeared him to the hearts of all his country-
men, and has won no stinted praise from the greatest
critics of all ages. It is no doubt far less known in
America than the poems of Dante and of Petrarch,
probably than that of Tasso, and perhaps those of
later writers. It is not exactly in tune with the poet-
ical fashion of the hour, which thinks it high criticism
to say that Homer is not the perfection of poetry, and
''Marmion" is not a poem at all, but a metrical ro-
mance. The only answer to all such fantasticalities is



ARIOSTO 65

to ask any one to read the "Orlando Furioso," and
keep on reading it; it will take care of itself.

No poet ever came before the world in a more thrill-
ing and inspiring age than Ariosto. The sixty years
of his life, divided almost equally by the year 1500,
were teeming with great men, great events, great de-
signs, and great creations. It was the age when the
old feudal monarchies, overawed by great nobles, were
finally broken up, and the nations began to see them-
selves led by powerful individual monarchs. Men of
dark craft, like Alexander VI, Henry VII, and Ferdi-
nand of Spain, were giving place to the most brilliant
and venturous of men,— Julius II, Maximilian, Henry
VIII, and Francis I, The old Empire of the East had
been shattered by the Turks twenty years before
Ariosto was born; but from Constantinople had
poured the flood of Greek learning, buried for centu-
ries, and now going forth on the wings of the newly
created press to regenerate mankind. It was the age
of the real discoverer of America and Africa, Colum-
bus and Cabot and Vespucci and Da Gama, whose
colossal exploits we are now so absurdly undervaluing
in order to crown with laurels the mythical Leif and
Thorwald. It was the age of matchless splendor in
art,— of Perugino and Raphael and Da Vinci. It was
the age of resistless and aggressive thought,— of Lu-
ther and Savonarola. Moreover, as not all ages of



66 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

strong thought and strong action have been, it was an
age of magnificence : men who were imagining and
achieving high designs loved to exhibit their greatness
in outward show. Brilliance— that is the word which
most fitly describes the age when Ariosto was at the
height of manhood. But brilliance may come from
many causes. In some lands, the brilliance of 1500
was like the blaze of the sun ; in some, it was the clear
but artificial lustre of lamplight; in some, it was the
gentle glory of the stars ; in others, the weird corusca-
tions of the Aurora Boreal is— the sudden flash of the
lightning, quenched as soon as seen; or perhaps the
mystical splendor of the comet. But in Italy, with
all the wealth and beauty of art and letters which
lighted up the peninsula with a lustre not inferior to
the days of Augustus, there was mingled the lurid,
smoky glare of civil war. The genius of Italy has
never been more splendid than in the days of Raphael
and Ariosto,— her state rarely more contemptible than
when Rome fell a prey to the renegade Bourbon, the
hireling of Germany. Never had Italians put forth
greater powers, and never were those powers so little
exercised for the real good of Italy. The Grecian
culture which possessed the rulers of Rome and Flor-
ence and the other great cities did not inspire them
with a spark of Grecian patriotism or Grecian liberty.
The Italian cities of the two centuries before had



ARIOSTO 67

almost revived, in their fiery factions, Athens and
Thebes and Corinth, but the purple vision of Attic
beauty in verse, in sculpture, and in thought that
wrapped the Vatican breathed not one word of Aris-
tides or Pericles or Epaminondas or Timoleon. It
never once roused the Leos and Alfonsos to think
that Greece had left them living likenesses of he-
roes worthier of imitation than dead marbles,— as
their Cicero and their Tacitus might have taught
them.

It is notable, therefore, when we consider Ari-
osto and the other poets of the later renaissance, to
notice that, while they had all round them the full
lustre of their age, it did not come to them instinct
with the fire of enterprise which was felt by Germans,
by Englishmen, by Frenchmen, even by Spaniards.
They had before them the finest models of beauty and
strength ever known ; they were eager to rival, to out-
strip their classic models ; but the idea of creation, of
giving the world something never sus pecte_d . bef ore^
did not present itself to them. Even those who were
full of native genius turned it into familiar channels.
No one can read even a small part of the "Orlando
Furioso" without recognizing Ariosto's mighty ge-
nius,— inspiration which finds no parallel till we go
back to Petrarch, who died just a century before Ari-
osto's birth. Nay, we find none to surpass him till we



68 THE ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE

come to Dante fifty years earlier still. It seems, there-
fore, strange that he shows no desire to study out a
new view, but, taking the epic of romance as he found
it not only sketched but largely filled out by Pulci and
Boiardo, to have set before himself no higher ambition
than to do perfectly what they had done well.

The poem is on its face nothing but a sequel to
Boiardo 's ''Orlando in Love." The persons of that
poem are introduced as one 's old friends ; all its inci-
dents are assumed to be known to all readers. One
would suppose Ariosto meant no more than to com-
plete a deeply interesting but unfinished story, in the
spirit in which one of his contemporaries had added
a thirteenth book to Virgil's "^Eneid. " Angelica,
who has set all the world on fire with her beauty, is
in the hands of Charlemagne. He has offered her as
the prize to his two kinsmen— Orlando and Rinaldo —
for whichever shall render the greatest service in the
endless war against the Saracens. Angelica contrives
to escape from both, the fact Being that all the devo-
tion which they and other perfect knights have shown
her has flattered her vanity, but never touched her
heart, and she dreads the thought of being tied for
life to any man she has yet seen. She finds herself,
after many strange adventures, living in rustic re-
tirement outside the walls of Paris, which the Saracen
army is besieging with no small success. In a wood


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 4 of 15)