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and bloody period of history, when the Republic, encompassed all round by its continental territories, and closely pressed by the grasping and perfidious policy of Spain, found itself obliged to provide for its security by that deplorable system of suspicion and espionage, which branded the name of Venice with eternal infany, and which has been rather undiscerningly applied to the remotest ages of her unsullied glories, and even to those last times of dotage and torpor which preceded her final downfal.
“ Foscarini” is indeed a tragedy of terrors. The timid and care-worn tenderness of Teresa Contarini, the lofty and daring devotion of her ill-fated lover, can hardly be said to form a diversion from the gloomy impression operated on our minds by the appalling though evidently exaggerated portraiture of those tremendous inquisitors. Loredano, to whom Niccolini knew how to give a horrid beauty, new even after the Philip and Cosmo of Alfieri, seems with his gigantic figure to occupy the whole of the stage ; his voice rises like a death-knell above the murmur of the trembling multitude -he stands alone, secure on the long habit of undisputed power, a type of fearless, unrelenting, sublime despotism!
“Giovanni da Procida” was perhaps intended as a counterpart. to the preceding tragedy. The just hatred and formidable vengeance cherished for seventeen years with all the fondness of a first love, and treasured up in the heart of the promoter of the Sicilian Vespers, could hardly be felt with sufficient depth and intensity by any dramatist born out of Italy. The extent to which personal resentment, in less enlightened ages, was carried by the glowing hearts of that southern people,-and of which the traces are still to be found in the wildest districts of Sicily, Calabria and Corsica,-directed, as it was in this instance, to the vindication of national rights, and sanctified by feelings of patriotism and loyalty, was an eminently Italian subject, and could not fail to find an echo in several millions of hearts, which only want sufficient courage or unanimity to emulate the bloody execution of their Sicilian ancestors, or perhaps only “ bide their time.” The Austrian ambassador seemed at least to think so, when, after the first recital of Niccolini's tragedy, and its astonishing success before a Florentine audience, he obtained, by his warmest remonstrances, from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the suppression of that dangerous piece, and replied to those who affected to be surprised at his dislike for a drama, whose ostensible aim was to cure the Italians of their Gallomania, that " however the direction seemed meant for France, the letter was evidently intended for Austria." (La soprascritta è pei Francesi, ma la lettera viene a noi.)
The delineation of Procida's character, by which the Italian tragedy appears to us vastly superior to all that has been done on the same subject in France or England, not excluding even the two contemporary dramas lately exhibited on our metropolitan stages, is however the principal-perhaps the only merit of Niccolini's work. The love romance which, as in duty bound, he has deemed it expedient to attach to the main catastrophe, is both complicated and uninteresting. Niccolini is, like Mavzoni, rather a poet than a dramatist. His plots, with the exception of Foscarini, are invariably bad; even in his juvenile Greek imitations, when he was yet a votary of classical superstitions, Niccolini departed from that chaste and severe simplicity with which Alfieri had characterized the modern Italian theatre. When, in progress of time, he partly entered into the romantic views, and, choosing his themes from Venice or Sicily, allowed himself more ease and latitude in the arrangement of his five acts, he felt as a prisoner who, in the first trance of his unexpected release, seems hardly to know what to do with himself. There are scenes in his plays, and even whole acts, which seem introduced merely with a view to lead the poet to a display of fine sentiments in some favourite speech, or to cover a blank which his ingenuity was otherwise at a loss how to fill up. All such imperfections however are happily mantled in a rich, flowing drapery of eminently lyrical, rather more than dramatic style, and by frequent flashes of that theatrical sublimity which the French consider as the characteristic gift of Corneille's genius. It must be confessed that many of those dazzling passages have power to fascinate the imagination ere reason is consulted as to their appropriateness and opportunity. When Teresa in her fatal intercourse with her lover, apologising for her involuntary breach of faith, dwells with a heart-rending picture on the long mental torture by which she was led to her abhorred nuptials, Antonio Foscarini interrupts her with this rather convenient than orthodox doctrine.*
- No more! drive not my aching brain to madness!
No vows are binding which the heart disowns :
* “ Taci, divien furore La sofferenza mia; Ma che ? doveri La vittima non ha ; l'angel di Dio Quella parola che non vien dal core Nel suo libro non scrive o scritta appena La cancella col pianto."
This is evidently somewhat in the spirit of Miss Martineau, who considers her sex absolved from all obedience to laws made simply by ourselves.
Loredano, disturbed in the administration of his inquisitorial justice by the loud cries of a popular tumult, seeing his less firm colleague start up with an involuntary fit of sudden panic, strikes his hand on the table, proudly exclaiming*
" I shall not Rise from my seat; not I :-e'en thus my fate l'll meet! eternal shame on him who dares not
Die seated as I am.” Again, when Foscarini, having heard his sentence, in those last moments in which “ the sunset of life gives him mystical lore,” is made to prophesy the last day of Venice, alluding to the inglorious fate it was to meet in our days at the hands of Napoleon, Loredano interrupts him with a bitter smile, turning to his colleaguest
" Near his end, bis mind is clouded By the shadows of death.-Here man may die,Venice is everlasting.
God alone Is everlasting.” These sudden sallies of genius, which suffer severely from translation, and still more from being abstracted from their respective place, are evidently of the school of Alfieri; but could without any great effort be translated into a less heroic and more human style. But it is precisely this constant aiming at an artificial sublimity, this fondness for lofty, pithy laconisms, this pompous rhetorical display, which gives the Italian classical style a stiffness, a turgidness, a bombast, repugnant to our reason and most fatal to all stage effect as inconsistent with the language of nature.
This style into which the Italians have been led by their worship of the Greek stage, and by their long dealing in heroic subjects from Greece and Rome—where, on account of our imperfect knowledge, we must be satisfied with an ideal represen
* " Io no, non sorgo Dal tribunal, lo premo :-Infamia eterna A chi non muor seduto !"
“ Ei presso a morte Delira già --qui l'uomo sol perisce La repubblica è eterna.”
“ Eterno Iddio !"
tation, or with a reproduction of what the ancients themselves left us in their writings or in their works of art--becomes utterly intolerable when adopted as the every-day language of personages whose life can be nearly identified with ours. Thus, however a queue or a three-cornered hat may be thought unbecoming in a work of sculpture, we would rather never set our eyes on a statue of Washington again, than see the American patriot seated, in a Jove-like attitude, on a curule chair and dressed in the costume of Cæsar or Brutus.
These habitual, and as it were legalized anachronisms of language, bring with them, as a necessary consequence, a corresponding violation of local usages, manners and feelings, and an unavoidable breach of all illusion. As in the ancient Italian extemporary comedies the actors were always Pantalone, Florindo, Rosaura, etc, and the scene always “ in una città d'Italia," so in a classical tragedy the personages ought to have no name, but should be uniformly called “ Il tiranno, l’amoroso, la prima donna, etc.," and the scene lay in any age or country, any where, in space. These remarks especially apply to the most recent of Niccolini's tragedies, “La Rosmonda," of which we must say, as of Pellico's last performance, that we like it less than any other of the set.
“ Fair Rosamond”-one of the sweetest, one of the bloodiest episodes in the romance of our national history-has more than once appeared on the stage in this country. An Italian poet is quite welcome to our English subjects, by the same reason that our own poets and novelists make free (and a very sad work they generally make of it) with subjects taken from the inexhaustible sources of Italian history. But the difficulty of describing times essentially belonging to, yet divided by an interval of centuries from our era, must be considerably increased by those slight and vague, but not less indelible features by which, owing to ancient traditions, to the influence of language, climate, and political institutions, every one of the European families is individually characterized.
It is indeed the gift of supereminent genius so to copy from nature as to give us portraits that will equally hold true in all ages and countries, and thus Shakspeare's Juliet is perhaps equally English and Italian. But it more generally happens that the author's soul is transfused in the character of his hero, and in that case the portrait may be perfectly true to nature, notwithstanding a manifest violation of local vraisemblance. Thus it has been justly remarked that Schiller's Marquis of Posa is rather a German than Spanish hero: but Niccolini’s “Rosmonda” is neither Italian nor English-is neither modern nor ancient : it is a mere abstraction, a something chimerical, conventional,
alter and recourtesy ont Tebaldo
unnatural. There is not a phrase, not a word, that we could for a moment imagine to have been spoken at the court of Henry II., or in the solitude of Woodstock. Eleanor of Guienne is much more like Medea than the accomplished, though rather gallantly inclined princess, that we know her to have been. Tebaldo, an Anglo-Norman knight, has no more courtesy of manner than the vilest cut-throat. Walter and Edmund de Clifford, who repair to Oxford to pay their homage to their liege sovereign, speak to him in a language that would not ill suit a Virginius or an Icilius. Now it is an assured fact that a princess of Aquitaine may be as profligate, as jealous and vindictive as a queen of Colchis; but could a Christian princess, on her first acquaintance with an English noble, her husband's favourite, make use of such plain expressions as these ?
* “ Pity or fear
My Henry's heart, one instant shall not live.” The noble queen does not fail to make her word good at the end of the fifth act by stabbing her fair rival with her own hand, with a fiend-like refinement of cruelty !
In the like manner there is no doubt that our English peers were wont to stand up for their rights and privileges with daring independence, and speak their mind very freely before the throne; but they were at least so polite as to head their speeches by a “ May it please your majesty,” or by some other similar forms of conventional etiquette. What then shall we say of the tribunelike invectives by which Henry II. is attacked by his vassal, Walter de Clifford, before the assembly of his barons ?
or + HENRY II.
* "Pietà, paura!