Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the yoke

in this love for her monuments; the past has thrown its gigantie shadows over the present; and the vast and the obscure have turned away our thoughts from the tangible and the familiar. Travellers have gone to Italy, not to estimate the character of her inhabitants

to examine her forms of government-or to learn the influence of her climate, her history, and her literature, upon the popular mind-but to describe the remains of her ancient splendour, and the less perishable trophies of her modern taste. It is delightful, with Eustace, to wander over the magic scenes which Virgil and Horace have described ; or, with Forsyth, to understand all the proportions and details of those master-pieces of architectural grandeur, which the Rome of Augustus and the Rome of Leo have equally presented to an admiring world. But there was still wanting a traveller who would lead us through Italy, with a view, not indeed of passing by her monuments with indifference, but of making them subordinate to a faithful description of the people who still dwell in this region of beauty. The want of such a description has rendered Italy the subject of ceaseless errors and exaggerations ;—and her natives have constantly been the objects of inflated hopes and extravagant censure. They have at one and the same moment been called

upon to

snap of their complicated despotisms, and execrated as a servile and enervate race, incapable of freedom; they have been conjured to femember the inheritance of their ancient glory, and pronounced incapable of any lofty and ennobling principles of action. The political condition of Italy has thus, in this country, been too generally misunderstood; and the very charm of that common name which the inhabitants of her states bear, has blinded us to the difficulties and absurdities of expecting a consistent identification of interests, which a thousand prejudices and habits and accidents have tended to disunite.

The author before us is an Italian-We believe a Florentine;= and he is thus better prepared to speak of the internal condition of his country, than those who have travelled through Italy for the gratification of particular pursuits of taste and learning, or for the establishment of particular prejudices in politics and religion, He has thus been enabled to observe and describe the peculiarities of the Italian character, with more accuracy than any of his predecessors, His book is neither a hastily and prettily-got-up volume of travels-nor is it a formal treatise upon the civil institutions and the popular temper of the Italian states. It is a very happy union of the description of particular scenes, and of general reflections growing out of those scenes-reflections which have evidently their origin in a mild and tolerant, but yet an acute and discriminating, mind. One of the most remarkable features of the book is, that being the composition of an Italian evidently writing

and thinking in English, the style is excessively pure and spirited now and then tinctured with a foreign idiom which is the evis dence of its genuineness; but occasionally rising almost into poetry, and generally spirited and flowing. It is sometimes rather abrupt, and sometimes wanting in elearness; but this we believe proceeds from the difference in the genius of his native language and that in which he writes.

The more important parts of the work before us are unquestion, ably those which relate to the religion and politics of the countries which he describes. In a country where catholicism has still a deep root, and where its civil institutions are partially opposed to the altered character of its people, religion and politics must form very important features in any estimate of national character. Upon politics it may be well to hear our author's own professions :

I have noticed the subject of Italian politics in a general sense, abstaining as much as possible from party questions, and endeavouring to be as impartial as a human being can, who courts no smiles and fears no frowns. A friend of rational liberty, I have been taught by experience to mistrust and fear that mąnia for violent changes, and those schemes of perfectibility, which have in our times deluged Europe with blood, and filled it with misery. A revolution is, at best, but an exchange of the certain for the uncertain ; and nothing but a state of intolerable oppression, which fortunately is very rare in modern times, should reconcile an honest man tu so doubtful a chance,

Upon both these important subjects we think the writer of “ Italy and the Italians differs essentially from those who have preceded him.

Eustace spoke of religion as a conscientious Catholic; and although enlightened in his belief, yet his very natural prepossession in favour of his own faith renders his judgment somewhat questionable to us Protestants. He speaks, it is true, of the former inordinate pretensions of the Churehof Rome, of the authority of the Councils as above that of the Pope, and of other points which have often been subjects of contention between Italians and ultramontane controversialists; but still, of the unity of the Roman Church, of the inherited supremacy of the Popes, and of the other essential dogmạs of Catholicism, it is evident that Eustace entertained not the smallest doubt.

Forsyth, on the other hand, was a sturdy Protestant, and, as such, imbibed with no small share of dislike, bordering upon contempt, for all the essentials as well as the appendages of Catholicism. There is a sneer at times hovering upon his sentences : he is, perhaps, more severe than equitable. This is certainly not a qualification for describing Italy to advantage; nay, not even truly; for there is much that is poetical essentially connected with Italy, with its customs and with its religion ; and a man who does not feel this seems to us to lose one half of what is to be felt in that country. There poetry becomes' reality, although to us, in our more sober latitude, it may appear inconsistent with truth and strict judgment.

A third writer upon Italy, Lady Morgan, has displayed upon this interesting subject a most philosophical impartiality, which, however, may not suit those of her readers who are still conscientiously attached to their respective creeds. Her ladyship seems to make little distinction between Catholic and Protestant: she even indulges in what she thinks comparisons between Catholic and Episcopal forms, apparently to the advantage of neither church. We are far from wishing to define what her sentiments are on the subject.

The author before us seems to have kept a sort of medium, which is as desirable as it is rare. He is evidently, as he himself says in his preface, intimately acquainted with the religion of Italy ; his early impressions are connected with the gorgeous rites and truly solemn grandeur of that worship; there is also a tinge of pensiveness spread here and there over his book, which we suspect is derived from the same source. Yet by some coincidence, to us unknown, and in which we are far from wishing to pry; he seems to have been early aware of the hollowness of some of the dogmas of the Roman church, and above all, of the overgrown abuses in its discipline. These he does not conceal ; he does not even wish to conceal : he only, however, reminds us that they are the natural offspring of man's imperfection; that they are to be found in other communions, although, perhaps, in a lesser degree. But what he contends for, and we confess we think with some fairness, although with no small degree of energy, is, that the Catholic religion, with all its faults, has very many redeeming qualities. We cannot deny this, either in the spirit of philosophy, or what is better, of our common Christianity.

The distinctions we have endeavoured to draw between these writers on Italy, on the subject of religion, hold good, in many respects, with regard to political prepossessions. Between these two important matters of human thought and action there is a well-known affinity. Eustace was a quiet and benignant man, naturally attached to monarchical forms, as more consonant to the hierarchical order of his faith. Yet he was an English subject, and, as such, his dislike of despotism very strongly shews itself, especially where that despotism is combined with a contempt of religious principles. Forsyth hates despotism too; and he had felt the despotism of the French. The third writer we have already mentioned, Lady Morgan, differs in this from the other two, by taking an extreme view of things. In all established

governments she sees nothing but abuses, and hardly any thing to praise ; nay, even of the government of Napoleon, who is a

favourite with most of those who areopposed to existing monarchies, she speaks in a manner that has called forth the severe censure of an Italian*, who reproaches her with having blamed without foundation the conduct of the late emperor and of his Viceroy Eugene, in those points of their administration in which they rendered real service to Italy. In short, nothing past or present seems to accord with her dreams of social improvement; and we are still in the dark as to what is the form of society to which Lady Morgan would please to give the preference, were she called to the office of legislating for an empire-an office for the due discharge of which she never entertains the smallest doubt of her own infallible discretion.

The author before us, on the contrary, blames what is really blameless in the old government, and he praises what is really to be praised in the administration of Napoleon ; of whom he, 'differently from most of his cotemporaries, speaks temperately, and without either rancour or partiality. He even admires him as First Consul, in which perhaps he goes further than we are inclined to do; he then proceeds through the stormy and desolating career of the Empire, stating merely facts, and hardly hazarding his own remarks. The facts however are of such magnitude, and of such a dark hue, that comments are perfectly unnecessary. It is easy to see that he execrates the rule of the French in Italy, and we do not blame him for this hatred. But his feelings are always guided by a strict adherence to truth. His admirable “ Historical Sketch of the North of Italy under the French," to which we can only allude, is written with a truly philosophical moderation.

We must proceed, however, to give our readers some notion of the character of this work, by a few extracts.

We perhaps cannot easily find a more favourable opinion of our author's sustained style, than the following passage distinguishing between Northern and Southern Italy:

It is in the Southern division that we find the true classical ground of Italy,--the land of antiquities, and of mighty recollections,--the land of the fine arts. It is chiefly to the South that belong the romantic scenes described by poets and travellers ;--the beautiful moonlight nights, the glowing azure of the sky,—the dark blue sea, -the purple tinged mountains, the forests of orange, lemon, and olive trees. There you find men lawless and impassioned; and female beauty,

Soft as her clime and sunny as her skies. There the landscapes of Salvator Rosa, and the Madonnas of Raphael, had originals in nature. There Pergolesi, Cimarosa, and Paisiello were inspired. The wonders of Michel Angelo, the temple of St. Peter, as well as the Coliseum and the Pantheon, are there to be found. It is the country of Dante, of Macchiavelli, and of Tasso; it was the birth-place of Scipio, of Cæsar, and of Cicero.

* Lettere à Miledi Morgan. Edinburgh, Tait, 1824.

The North of Italy is the country of plenty,---less poetical, but better cultivated. It has also its recollections of glorious deeds and great men, although of a more recent date and less imposing aspect. It has produced Doria, Titian; Corregio, Ariosto, Alfieri, and Canova. The North has given the best soldiers ; the South the keenest politicians. The southern painters excel in the genius of composition and in the boldness of design; the northern ones, in the delicacy and warmth of tints, and in the softness of outlines. The ärchitecture of the South is colossal and imposing ; that of the North is more finished and convenient.

The scenery of the two countries is not less varied. The North is, for the greater part, a fertile plain, watered by abundant rivers, divided into well cultivated fields and gardens ; full of towns and villages, inhabited by a numerous and industrious race.

The landscape is luxuriant but inonotonous ;-roads wide, level, and straight; never-ending avenues of trees; the misty glimpse of the distant Alps and Apennines is the only thing that relieves the sleepy dulness of the scene. In the South, on the contrary, the landscape varies every twenty miles. There are to be seen delightful valleys, surrounded by stapendous crags ;-torrents fearfully swelled at one time of the year, and rolling their foaming waters with the noise of thunder, and at other scenes reduced to scanty rivulets, bubbling over the pebbles of their rocky beds ;-- wide, ürcultivated plains, strewed with ruins of former greatness, inhabited by wild buffaloes, and wilder, men ;-and in the midst of these, the proudest city in the world lifting its melancholy head. Farther inland are seen ruinous castles and towers perched upon almost inaccessible peaks, among beautiful forests of chestnut-trees and wild solitary glens. More to the South, the rich plains of Campania and of Apulia; the lovely shores of Parthenope, encircled by the frowning Apennines, which riše bolder and higher and wilder as they extend further South, until, at last, being narrowly confined between the two seas; they invade the whole breadth of the Peninsula, and heap their dark summits in the province of Calabria. There, at the extremity of Italy, exists à race of men little known to the rest of Europe, and as saväge as the inhabitants of the opposite coast of Albania ; living in an almost primitive staté: full of uncultivated genius; ignorant, but intelligent ; individually courageous, but unruly, ferocious, and impatient of discipline; faithful to their friends, but revengeful to the last against their enemies; capable of the darkest, as well as of the most heroic, deeds.

The Italians of the North have less of those peculiar features which mark the fallen descendants of ancient Rome. They reseinble more their neighbours, the French, Swiss, and Germans, with whom they have been long in contact, and from whom they have imbibed habits of greater comfort, of artificial luxury, of social discipline. They are of tamer manners; their ideas are more on a level with those of the rest of Europe, they have more the features of a modern nation, and are more likely to form one; they have, in short, the good and the bad qualities of modern civilized Europe.

The Italians of the South (with the exception of Tuscany, in some respects) are yet much behind in modern improvements, or modern refinement. They have more characteristic traits of their own to distinguish them from other nations ; they have more of the personal independence of half civilized people, although living under absolute governments; they have stronger passions, but they have also greater enthusiasm for the beautiful, especially in the works of art and music. South Italy is essentially the country of painting and of song.

In the midst of this magic land rise three great cities, the resorts of the traveller,--all three beautiful and famed, although each of them totally different from the other two. Florence, the city of Italian society, Italian

« AnteriorContinuar »