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Thyrsis, Strephon, Chloe, and Daphne continued to
haunt the literary shades for a century and a half.
Some of Spenser's poetry was written in this tune,
but the most successful pastoral production is John
Fletcher's "Faithful Shepherdess." No piece of the
time contains a greater flow of exquisite melody, and
there is all Fletcher's dramatic spirit; but the play is
disfigured by several offensive lines, and the female
villain is as repulsive as her prototype, Guarini's
Corisca. It was best that the pastoral drama should
be done once for all so well that no one should dare
to do it again — and it was done. It was handled by
one who had a tenderer sense of melody than Fletcher,
and a richer imagination than Ariosto ; whose orna-
ments sink Guarini's to the stage jewels that they are,
and might make Petrarch wish his gems had a finer
setting; one who in delicacy was equal to Tasso, and
in austere grandeur to Dante ; who could rise to phi-
losophy loftier than Lucretius, and thrill the heart
with harmony like Virgil ; whose compliments Shake-
speare might raise his head from golden slumber to
hear, and whom Homer would claim for the long line
of his offspring ; who had climbed a holier mount than
Parnassus, and drunk of a more sacred spring than
Castaly; who had soared to heaven on the wheels of
Ezekiel and felt his lips touched by the coal of Isaiah ;


and of whom the amazing glory is that his pastoral
—his *'Comus"— is not the finest work of John Milton.

The plain fact is that Italian poetry had begun, in
the time of Guarini, a process of degeneration which
soon became decay. Independence of thought and
feeling was practically lost in Italy. The various
sovereigns of the different provinces, native or for-
eign, while giving patronage to poets who flattered
them, had no place in their courts for men with the
freedom of Berni or the elevation of Tasso. The lit-
erature was overwhelmed by its own past greatness.
In whatever line a poet chose to write, the verse of
some illustrious bard, Latin or Italian, rose like a
statue in his way to offer him models he could not
attempt to surpass, and which he was only too ready
to imitate. The Academy delta Crwsca— that is to
say, of the Sieve— which had set itself the task of bolt-
ing the flour of literature, and parting the pure grain
from the bran, had woven its sieves finer and finer,
till even Tasso was too coarse for them, and the result
was to be expected— the wheat of the Italian poets
lost all its nourishing power, and was as unfit for food
as if it had been pure chaff or a breakfast cereal. The
extreme sinner developed by this process was one
whose name appears on his title-pages as Marino, but
he is generally called IMarini.

Giovanni Baptista Marino was born in Naples in


1569. In him was repeated the old tale of a son who
persisted in writing verse, while his father was bound
he should be a lawyer. But the latter, unlike Ber-
nardo Tasso, banished his prodigal from his presence ;
but he found a protector in the Duke de Bovino, who
obtained him official employment. He became compro-
mised, however, in a love intrigue, and retreated to
Rome. Here his talents soon attracted the favor of
Cardinal Aldrovandi, who, besides other favors and
employments, took him on an embassy to Turin. He
lived here for some time, high in favor with the Duke
of Savoy, who conferred knighthood on him. But he
came into collision with Martola, the duke's secretary,
a rival poet. They, satirized each other in verse, and
Martola, driven to fury, fired at Marino while walking
with one of the duke's intimates, whom the shot
wounded seriously. Martola was punished at the time,
but he succeeded by new intrigues in throwing Marino
into disfavor, so that he left Turin and went to Paris,
Here he set himself to court the queen mother, Marie
de' Medicis, who gave him a handsome pension, which
he requited by dedicating his poem to her son, the
youthful King Lewis XIII. He left Paris after ten
years' stay, in 1622, and passed the rest of his life in
Rome and Naples, in high favor with the great and
learned, dying in 1625.

His poem called **Adone," on the loves of Venus


and Adonis, is in twenty cantos. It became, on publi-
cation in 1622, a prodigious favorite and a perfect
text-book for certain writers called the Seicentisti, or
"men of the sixteen hundreds." This reputation it
sustained for over a century, and continued to be re-
printed at least as late as 1789. Yet in another thirty
years it had gone out of favor ; and it speaks wonders
for the restoration of correct taste in Italy that later
generations should have rejected what the earlier ad-
mired and imitated.

The "Adone" is a deliberate attempt to make a
living poem exclusively out of mythological people,
Venus and Cupid and Vulcan and Juno and Adonis.
Venus has whipped Cupid with the bough of a rose-
bush for disturbing the domestic bliss of Olympus.
He is advised in return to make his mother the victim
of his arrows. He contrives that the beautiful youth,
Adonis, shall be carried in a boat to Venus 's own island
of Cyprus, and that she shall there fall hopelessly in
love with him, a passion which he returns, thereby
wholly differing from the Adonis of Shakespeare
written twenty years before. The after narrative of
their love and its fate is padded out to the length I
named by telling over again, with copious detail, a
great number of the legends contained in every an-
cient poet in the twelve centuries from Homer to
Claudian, to say nothing of imitators and dictionary-


writers in the day when every spark of original Greek
and Roman genius was dead. The poem is, in fact, a
mythological dictionary in verse. It is very good
verse; there is infinite ingenuity in the cadences and
rhymes, and it runs on without an effort. The imagi-
nation is pretty lively; Marino will take an idea and
work it out in a score of fanciful details, with any
number of conceits and antitheses, such as abound in
Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis," and in his other
early works, like "Love's Labor 's Lost" and the
"Rape of Lucrece"; and equally with his contempo-
raries, Chapman and Donne and Herbert. But there is
this essential difference, that the conceits of Shake-
speare and Chapman were those of a comparatively
crude literature, those of Marino of an over-ripe one.
Petrarch had as many quaint analogies two centuries
and a half before; Pulci as many fantastic details
at about half the same interval. But Petrarch's fan-
cies were connected with a living Laura and a living
Colonna, whose names he might use for puns, but
whose hearts were beating like his own. Pulci talked
about men and women who, it was supposed, once had
lived on earth, and whom he tried to picture as real
men and women, even with grotesque outlines and
flaming colors. But if the Greeks ever supposed
Venus and Adonis to have existence, it was not such
as they bear in Marino, whose gods and goddesses re-


mind me of what was once said to a private tutor at
Harvard College. He was preparing a youth for
admission, and reading to him a goodly portion of
Ovid's "Metamorphoses." The youth listened in
gentle bewilderment to the tales of Jupiter and Phae-
ton and Apollo and Daphne for some five hundred
lines, and then remarked: "But these gods and god-
desses died a long time ago, did not they"? Marino's
gods had died a thousand years before he was born,
and all the life they ever had, however much it might
glow and beat in Homer and Pindar, in Ovid and
Statins, was utterly beyond his power to revive in
ottava rima in the generation that saw the Pilgrims
land at Plymouth. I take a bit from Cupid's visit to
Vulcan's workshop, where he gets his father to forge
him a specially fatal dart :

When to the dart the matchless workman 's craft
Had perfect polish, fullest lustre given.

The child applied to it a slender shaft,

But one whereby the hardest breast is riven ;

He feather 'd with two little wings the haft,

And stained the tip with sweetest venom 's leaven.

And then the cavern and its workmen eyed,

All swelling with his impudence and pride.

The child audacious and of daring full

Of the fair Goddess from the billows sprung,

"Went spying round, and every steel-wrought tool
His wanton sport in wild disorder flung;

Now at the huge uncouth Cyclopian school,

Their shapeless eye with shaggy brow o 'erhung,


Now at his father 's heel and awkward limp
He cast his scoff, and laughed, malicious imp!

He saw the scorched and swarthy monsters smite
With mauls responsive pounding steel on steel;
' ' Aha ! ' ' said he, ' ' too weak your nerves, too light
The fitting balance*of such strokes to feel;

My hand can teach and show with greater might
And greater fury when the blows you deal;

All from my hand may learn, which rends apart

The roughness of an adamantine heart. ' '

Then turned to him who had his weapon made;

These words he spoke : ' ' Within that forge of thine
Colder than ice itself is flame displayed.

A torch of far more melting heat is mine. ' '
Then in his hand the thunderbolt he swayed

And let his insolence unbridled shine
That while his fingers made its terrors move
He gathered force to launch his jests at Jove.

At the very time Marino was gurgling on in this
strain, a poet of a very different character was doing
his utmost to redeem the honor of the Italian muse
by a very different note. It is a striking fact in the
literary history of many countries that the decay of
literature has been averted for a time, or positively
arrested while fresh seed is germinating, by some
form of satirical writing. The decadence of Greek
literature was for a time deferred by Lucian. When
the bombast of Roman taste had all but stifled the
genius of Lucan and Statins, and its verse was drib-
bling out in the inanities of Silius Italicus, Juvenal


blew a note on his old trumpet that might have raised
Cato from the dead. The degrading corruption which
assailed English verse towards the end of Milton's
life was half redeemed by the satire of Butler and
Dryden. When English poetry had fallen to about its
lowest depth, a breath of free originality was given
it by Churchill. But in the days of Marino the old
Italian satire of Berni was recast according to an idea
wholly fresh in modern poetry, the mock-heroic or
comic epic, a memory of the ''Battle of the Frogs and
Mice, ' ' a delicious travesty of Homer that Homer him-
self would have loved. The author of this original
design was Alessandro Tassoni, in his "Secchia Ra-
pita," or "Rape of the Bucket." He was a native
of Modena in the year 1565, who, though of a noble
family, had to struggle in his childhood with orphan-
age and lawsuits; yet he persevered in study at Fer-
rara and Bologna. Going to Rome to seek his fortune,
his amiable manners soon attracted the notice of the
Cardinal Colonna of the time, who took him, as his
secretary, to Spain. Thence he was despatched on an
important errand to Pope Clement VIII, who, in an-
swering the cardinal's despatch, took occasion to
speak in high terms of his secretary. This led Tassoni
to take the tonsure, which involved, at the time, few
clerical duties; but he derived no profit from this
movement. Cardinal Colonna, however, kept him in


his service on comfortable terms for many years. At
about the age of fifty, the Duke of Savoy, the patron
of Marino, made him secretary of his embassy in
Rome, and attached him to the household of his son,
with a handsome salary, which he never paid. After
some unhappy experiences in the service of this and
other great men, such as his brother poets had ex-
perienced before him, he gave up the profitless calling,
bought a small estate near Rome, and settled down to
a country life. From this he was drawn, first by
Cardinal Ludovisi, and afterwards by his native
prince, the Duke of Modena, who gave him an honor-
able employment, a well-paid salary, and a home in the
palace, where he lived with great pleasure for three
years, but his health suddenly failing, he died in 1635.
He was a man of robust build, a free talker disposed
to be caustic, a profound student of philosophy and
history, and deeply read in his own tongue. He
published several valuable works in prose and verse;
but the "Rape of the Bucket" is that which gives him
rank among Italy's original geniuses.

This is founded on two incidents in the civil wars
of Italy in the thirteenth century. The neighbor cit-
ies of Modena and Bologna were constantly engaged
in squabbles, and in one of these a party of Modenese
had penetrated within the walls of Bologna and, stop-
ping to drink at a well, had been suddenly encoun-


tered and forced to depart, carrying off, however, the
bucket in triumph. This historical capture weighed
on the inhabitants of Bologna, and they tried to re-
cover their bucket, which the ]\Iodenese would never
give up in peace or war; and what claims to be the
identical bucket is still shown in Modena. With this
incident Tassoni combines that of the capture of
Henry, the son of the Emperor Frederic II, (whose
German pet name Heinz the Italians turned into
Enzio) by the Bolognese, who were of the Guelf or
church party, while Modena was of the imperial or
Ghibelline faction.

Tassoni tells us, in twelve short cantos, how the two
cities quarrelled: how the Modenese captured the
bucket; how the Bolognese sent a solemn embassy to
reclaim it, offering some compensation, but demanding
its formal replacement; how the Modenese utterly
refused and went to war; how the Emperor Frederic
sent a body of troops under his son to the aid of
Modena, and fourteen cities of Romagna joined Bo-
logna; the battle,— the ups and downs of fortune,—
the part taken by Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Apollo
on either side, the truce, relieved by a tournament,
the various attempts of the pope to mediate, at last
with success. And these incidents are told in the most
heroic strain. The usual pomposity of the epic, which
even Virgil and Tasso do not always shake off, and in


which Luean and Statius revel, is caricatured in the
neatest manner. Whole stanzas might seem not out of
place in the ''Orlando" or the "Gerusalemme," and
suddenly we are made to laugh by a hit at some
queerness of manners or dialect in the two cities or
their allies, some personal weakness of the combatants,
some playful introduction of Tassoni's own contempo-
raries. We never lose sight of the fact that it is all
a tempest in a tea-pot which has arrayed the free cities
of Romagna and the tyrant of Lombardy, the pope
and the emperor, as allies of two moderate-sized
towns. The Bolognese love of rich eating, familiar to
all by its immemorial sausages, is kept well but not
tediously forward. The poem undoubtedly gave the
first suggestion to Boileau of his "Lutrin," and to
Pope of his "Rape of the Lock." It is very witty and
very readable. It has two defects apt to occur in such
works. First, a mock-heroic poem whose date is set
two hundred and fifty years before the author's time
is sure to be packed full of jests of his own day. This
I spoke of as true in Pulci and Berni. After all, Tas-
soni could have little real knowledge of the absurdities
of pope and prince, Bologna and Modena, in the year
1240 ; he must supply his fun from what he saw him-
self in 1620. Pope laid his scene at Hampton Court
in Queen Anne's reign, and brought his mystical
sylphs to light up his own time, instead of the reverse ;
and he is easier to follow than Tassoni.


The second fault in Tassoni is occasional coarseness,
sometimes repulsive, though hardly so outrageous as
' ' Hudibras. " It is the direct result of making the he-
roic contemptible ; the impulse to put great people in a
really compromising situation, no matter by what
means, falls in too easily with the general tone of the
work. But the staple of Tassoni 's poem is as clean as
it is witty— he has the fundamental common sense of
his country, with a self-control in driving things too
hard or too far that is rare.

I come to offer you a thing unheard

Which will perchance cause you your brows to arch:
There lies an ancient land by heaven preferred

To share its favors when all others parch;
Distant but thirteen miles as flies the bird;

With your own territory doth it march;
There Pansa died of yore, and from the smart
His followers felt they named it Eiven-Heart.

Still after all these years have spent their tale
Its early name doth it preserve and keep.

Once there were pools, and many a marshy vale;

Now meadows ploughed and pasture sweet for sheep;

Nor yet can all the farmers ' toil prevail

To chain the native veins of moisture deep;

But there are depths of water yet undried

Wherein the songster fishes still abide.

The sirens of the ditches, who allure

From slvunber, decked with many a colored stripe,

Within the meadow and the wave secure

Make endless summer with their tuneful pipe;

Blest like Aurora 's realm with pleasure pure
It seems, where grow the race to manhood ripe

Who in their manners and their semblance bold

Present the likeness of the age of gold.


Now all this land, so full of wealthy store,
My country bids me offer you outright

If that same bucket which from one you tore
Of ours, with malice (which may God requite),

When yours two days ago such mischief bore,
Forcing the gate which yielded to your might,

(Shall publicly be placed by you again

Within the well from which by you 't was ta 'en.

O Muse, thou who hast sung the noble deeds
Of Kings of Rats and Frogs in ages gone.

So that with them still ring the flowery meads
Along the sunny slopes of Helicon,

Tell me the names, the forces, and the meeds
Of all the haughty nations that came on

And with their arms injurious did combine

To wreck the city of the sausage fine.

When once the preparations and the arms
Of great Bologna by report were spread.

Of such a high emprise the glittering charms
Fourteen fair cities to the contest led ;

The Church was cheered, the Empire all alarms;
Cold chill felt Italy throughout her spread;

And sure the Soldan of the Mamelukes

Sent information to the king of Cooks.

The Pope, who was the father and defence
Of holy Church and Guelfic partisans.

Had heard the rumor of this strife intense,
For rumors of it even spread to France;

So to supply his own with faith and sense.
He bade his Nuncio to the strife advance :

A household prelate who from Venice came,

And Monsighor Querenghi was his name.

This was in various tongues a man of learning,
In Tuscan and in Latin too a poet,


Great speaker and philosopher discerning,
No word of Augustin but he would know it;

But yet no cardinal, the Pope not yearning
To raise a Ghibelline, who dared not show it;

And so, when finished was his expedition,

He lost his trouble and gained no position.



TowAEDS the close of the seventeenth century, Ital-
ian poetry was sinking in a slough of false taste as dull
and foul as the pool of Styx that surrounded Dante's
fiery city. At the time when Milton had just died
and Corneille was still living, when Racine was in his
prime and Dryden shaking himself free from his early
faults, the Italian poetry afforded nothing but exag-
gerated and stilted rhetoric cast into sickly-sweet
verse, without one manly thought, one free burst, one
bold cadence, one playful sally. Yet at this very time

"the hours
Were silently engendering of the day "

when a lyric song should break out from the very clois-
ters and academies, as daring as Pindar, as gorgeous
as Gray, as patriotic as Campbell. The bard, all ready
to soar into the upper day as soon as the call came,
w^as Vincenzo Filicaja.

Filicaja was born in Florence the 30th of De-
cember, 1642— just five days after Isaac Newton. His



family was of senatorial rank, and though he lost his
mother in infancy, his father watched his education
with devoted care. He studied law at the University
of Pisa, but pushed his studies also into philosophy
and theology, and he made personal and practical
religion, one might say, the chief business of his life,
retiring altogether from the favorite pursuits of the
men of his own age, which, to say the truth, were almost
wholly frivolous or worse, and allowing himself hardly
any relaxation from the severity of his life but music.
His early poetry took the form of love-songs to a young
lady who had attracted him, but on her death he de-
stroyed them all, and prayed for pardon for the waste
of his talents. He married young and became the
father of two sons ; he also became early a member of
the Academy della Crusca, and yielded somewhat
to the nonsense of such institutions, where the mem-
bers assumed Greek names, as if Polybius ^monius
indicated any more literary culture than Vincenzo
Filicaja. It is not easy to convey to those who have
not gone rather deep into Greek history the supreme
absurdity of such a title ; but let us try to suppose that
when Mr. Longfellow joined the American Academy
he had assumed the name of the Scandinavian Frois-
sart! But Filicaja also joined one of the religious
fraternities or companies so characteristic of noble
life in Florence, and made a pilgrimage to the shrine


of Loretto in undoubting faith. He gradually felt
more and more distaste for social life, and withdrew
to an estate in the country, giving himself to his fam-
ily, his books, and his devotions. From this seclusion
he was startled by events which aroused all Europe.
The Emperor Leopold was engaged in one of those
constant struggles with Hungary which have been
such a thorn in the side of Austria. The Hungarians
had at one time been aided by the Turks, with whom
Leopold effected a truce. But that had come to an
end, and the Grand Vizier suddenly flung two hun-
dred thousand men directly on Vienna. The emperor
was in despair ; he had been saved in his former war
by the troops of Lewis XIV, with whom he was now
on the verge of hostilities. He sent a most tearful
appeal to John Sobieski, king of Poland. That great
captain brought up his forces, and, seconded by the
Duke of Lorraine, attacked the camp of the Turks
and sent them flying in hopeless rout, thereby saving
the empire and all Christendom. All central and wes-
tern Europe was grateful ; but Pilicaja, the most
devout of men, who looked upon the war with the
Turks as a new crusade, not for the recovery of the
Holy Sepulchre, but for the existence of truth and
the Church, broke forth into six odes such as Petrarch
had never sung, and entirely beyond the genius, I
will not say of his contemporary Dryden, but of any


modern genius save Milton. The first is a passionate
prayer to heaven before the siege was raised ; the sec-
ond is the outburst of the poet's own feelings; the
sixth is a thanksgiving corresponding to the prayer;
two are addressed to the victorious generals ; and one
is dedicated to his sacred Cesarean majesty, who had
about as much to do with his own deliverance at
Vienna as had Filicaja in Florence. The poet himself
circulated these odes in private only ; but his friends
printed them, and they flew all over Europe, admired
by every one who could appreciate them, and espe-
cially by the greatest statesman and lawyer, and one
of the most accomplished men of his time, John
Somers, afterwards Chancellor of England. The King
of Poland sent to the poet a suitable response, and so
did another crowned head, less respectable even than
Leopold— Christina, the ex-queen of Sweden, who,
having left the Lutheran Church and established her-
self at Rome, was the object of an adulation from the
adherents of the pope which she little deserved. To
Filicaja, however, she was a generous friend. She
assured the fortunes of his elder son, a youth of great
promise, who on her death entered the service of the
Grand Duke of Tuscany, but died at an early age, to
his father's inexpressible grief. The duke most wisely
and kindly adopted the best form of consolation, by
making Filicaja a senator, and engaging him in the


most honorable and active service, as governor, first

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Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 9 of 15)