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On my Twentieth Birth-Day, September 17th. Why sitt’st thou, Muse, in silence sighing,
Unpaid thy verse, thy plaint unheard, While Nature's verdure round thee dying
To time resigns what storms have spared : Come! let thy gravest chord be strung, Be that dread Power in sadness sung That sweeps the old and fells the
He triumphs while he flies.
By slow degrees removed from life;
Sunk in disease or crush'd in strife;
To think upon the day,
Shall all have pass’d away.
To pause awhile in serious thought,
A heart that seldom grieves for aught ?
Nor reckless of its joys,
Transforms my smiles to sighs ?
And fixes thought on Passion's throne :
That tells how dear they cost,
The treasures I have lost.
The dreams of love, the flights of joy,
The gold of life without th' alloy,
Her summons to prefer,
And given to Sense and her.
For Justice sanctifies her claim, And now four lustres pass'd in revel
O’erwhelm my serious soul with shame
Childhood's years in pastimes flew;
In follies pass’d away,
Which manhood must repay.
Forgive thy wrongs and stretch thine aid;
Thy injunctions all obey'd ;
Thy triumphs to display,
· Thou hast not lost a day.”
Farewell, ye sweets of sluggard rest-
Be banish'd from my thoughtful breast:
The start of useful fear,
My twentieth smiling year.
ITALIAN POETS.MICHELANGELO. We intend devoting a few pages of our present and future numbers to the less known poets of Italy, for such of our readers (and their number is not small) as are already fully acquainted with Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. Men of the highest abilities in the other departments of human art and knowledge, have not disdained to profess themselves the followers of one or the other of these four eminent writers. But though some of the disciples of these great names have raised themselves nearly to the level of their masters, still the admiration exacted by the models, has left us little to bestow upon the excellence of their imitators. The most illustrious orators and historians, philosophers and artists, who have cultivated poetry with a success which ought to have obtained for them a fair share of renown, are, nevertheless, scarcely known as poets, except to their biographers and to very diligent inquirers after the rare and curious in literature. Perhaps, also, the splendour of their glory, in those pursuits to which their genius was more peculiarly devoted, has eclipsed the fainter brilliancy of their poetical fame
“ Urit enim fulgore suo.” This is, above all, the case with the two contemporaries Machiavelli and Michel Angelo, one of whom was considered as the most profound statesman, the other as the most sublime artist of his time ; a decree confirmed by each successive generation in the three centuries which have since elapsed. We would say that Machiavelli was born to penetrate with quickness, perceive with clearness, and describe with useful though distressing exactness, the most secret folds and windings of human nature : and Michel Angelo to seize with precision, to idealize and represent with a felicitous energy, its outward and visible forms. Each of these illustrious men was gifted with a powerful and peculiar, but different kind of intuition,-one of which, separately, would form a poet; and both combined, would constitute the very highest order of poetic genius. Nor was it in their intellectual faculties alone, that these two celebrated men had a poetical cast of character. Their moral qualities, their predominant passions, their daily and domestic habits, and even their caprices and peculiarities, were of that stamp which commonly procures for poets the kind commiseration of less imaginative persons. Yet Machiavelli is scarcely heard of except as a politician; but even in that light he is very imperfectly known, and has been harshly and unjustly estimated. That to the strongest feelings, he united the most generous qualities, we shall be able to prove satisfactorily, when we come to consider him as a poet and a man. With regard to Michel Angelo, whose verses are the subject of our remarks, the universality and extraordinary character of his powers, may be described in the language applied by his English biographer to Leonardo da Vinci. “The powers of this great man so far surpassed the ordinary standard of human genius, that he cannot be judged of by the common data by which it is usual to estimate the capacity of the human mind. He was a phenomenon that overstepped the bounds in every department of knowledge which limited the researches of his predecessors ; and whether he is to be regarded for his accomplishments or his vast attainments, whether as the philosopher or the painter who made a new era in the arts of design, he equally surprises our judgement and enlarges our sphere of comprehension.”
In adopting these formal expressions, we are very far from hazarding any comparison between Michel Angelo and Leonardo, and pronouncing in whose favour the scale ought to preponderate. Born in the same epoch and city, they cultivated the same arts; and although both arrived to an advanced age, they were never opposed to each other as rivals, except when in their youth they painted, as competitors, the Victory of the Florentines, their fellow-citizens, over the Pisans. Neither of them painted more than cartoons of the subject, and even these cartoons, which were highly praised by all who beheld them, are for ever lost to posterity. Finally, they resided and exerted their talents in different countries, with an equal reputation, but a different fortune; Leonardo having been least subject to the caprices of the princes who employed him, and least a mark for the vengeance and annoyance of inferior artists. He left behind him very few works, and in these he employed his vast powers to assemble all the excellences of art, and occupied a great part of his life in clearing them from the slightest shade of imperfection. Michel Angelo laboured much and in every manner, not only without striving to avoid, but even in courting defects, that he might not lose those daring beauties, which, when any excess of art is used to avoid every thing like a fault, seem to part with much of their originality and inspiration. Leonardo carried the art of design to a degree of perfection which no one even hoped to approach. Michel Angelo raised it to such a height
Duppa, Life of Michel Angelo, page 66.
of sublimity, that many were induced to attempt it, but every one of bis imitators shewed that he had undertaken a task beyond his powers. Leonardo, in applying to mechanics the mathematical sciences, penetrated into the most abstruse theories ; while Michel Angelo, equally successful in the practical part, never suspected the necessity of scien.. tific demonstration. In literature, the great work of Leonardo da Vinci on painting certainly surpasses the tracts of Michel Angelo on the fine arts, excellent as they are; but it occupied all his meditations, while Michel Angelo's essays were little else than a relaxation and a pastime. We do not know that Leonardo ever attempted poetry; and with regard to that of Michel Angelo it has been talked of more than it has been read.
The Italians, though constantly repeating, as a popular tradition, that Michel Angelo was a distinguished poet, seem to have never entered into the real character of his verses. In their innumerable metrical collections, of every kind and age, and from authors good, bad, and indifferent, we never hit upon a single extract from Michel Angelo. Even Tiraboschi, the voluminous historian of Italian literature, in his unceasing endeavours to enliven his frozen style, and his painful toil to elevate, if not his eloquence, at least his rhetoric, to the level of the merits of his eminent countryman, passes very carelessly over his verses, and merely observes “ that Nature had also endowed him with a happy turn for poetry.” Even during his life the literary applauses which he obtained from the illustrious scholars of the age of Leo X. are at the same time both exaggerated and rare, and seem to have been lavished sometimes by friendship, and sometimes as that “flattering unction” which contemporaries so often force upon
When an elaborate dissertation of an alarming length was read in the Academy of Florence, as a sort of refined commentary and overstrained panegyric on one of his sonnets, Michel Angelo expressed his gratification at the applause, hinting at the same time to his friends, that their excessive adulation would end in making him ridiculous. “ The sonnet,” he says, " is certainly mine, but the commentary is, indeed, a God-send; and the learned critic has a just claim upon me for another sonnet at least, in gratitude for his eulogies; but, as he has placed me so very high, I tremble lest in attempting another poetic flight I shall fall too low, and, therefore, to retain unimpaired the renown he has awarded to me, I must make up my mind to enjoy it, without hazarding a rhyme.”
Peter Aretine, that famous dealer in scurrility, slander, and flattery, in the true spirit and character of his class of writers, who exaggerate blame into calumny the most incredible, and praise into hyperbole the most ridiculous, anxious to have his bust from the hand of such an artist, wrote to him in his inflated style, “ that whatever fell from the pen of Michel Angelo ought to be preserved in an emerald urn-conserrato in un urna di smeraldo:" yet not a single bookseller would take upon himself the care and risk of publishing Michel Angelo's verses ; and it was not, in fact, until sixty years after his death that they were edited for the first time (1623), from the autograph preserved in the library of the Vatican, by his grand nephew, Michel Angelo Buonarotti, senator of Florence, himself an original poet, unique in his kind, of whom, perhaps, we shall have occasion to speak. Of that book, although pronounced by the Academy of Della Crusca one of the classical text-books of the language, no critic of any note has spoken in terms either of praise or censure; nor was it republished until a century afterwards (1726), in the design of completing the collection of the works of celebrated Florentines. If we are to take literally the expressions of one of our author's most intimate friends, all that was published of Michel Angelo was but a very small part of the great quantity of pieces—infiniti sonetti-which he had composed.* Still not even their scanty number has been able to preserve them from forgetfulness ; nor was it until after another century (1806), and, as it were, in fulfilment of the duty of a biographer deeply attached to his author, that Mr. Duppa once more re-published them in the appendix to his life of Michel Angelo. Recently Mr. Biagioli, to whom we are obliged for the best Italian grammar which has been yet written, has published, at Paris, (1821) the same collection, with some additions, which render it more complete, and encumbered with a commentary, which, whether useful or not to the reader, has, at least, enlarged the size of the volume. Such is the brief history of the editions of Michel Angelo's poetry.
The criticisms of Mr. Duppa, without being profound, are judicious and candid--perfectly calculated to prove that some pieces of his author, very far from deserving to continue in that neglect to which the caprice of fortune had condemned them, deserved to be held forth as models of excellence in their kind. The justice of this opinion appears most clearly from the translations with which Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Southey have enriched his work; and even still more so from the prose translations of several extracts, by Mr. Duppa himself. The following is one of his devotional sonnets, which we have endeavoured to render in English.
Se virtù mi prestassi da pregarte:
Che la germoglian dove ne fai parte:
Che producano in me sì vivi effetti,
Signor, ch' io segua i tuoi vestigi santi.
Sciogli della tua gloria ardenti detti,
sempre io ti lodi, esalti, e canti.
To the Supreme Being.
If thou wouldst lend me grace to pray;
Virtue's fair fruit, thine aid away.
* Vasari, Vita di Michel Angelo.