« PreviousContinue »
as speaking with the utmost diffidence)—in our common landscape painters. Their foregrounds and intermediate distances are comparatively unattractive: while the main interest of the land. scape is thrown into the back ground, where mountains and torrents and castles forbid the eye to proceed, and nothing tempts it to trace its way back again. But in the works of the great Italian and Flemish masters, the front and middle objects of the land. scape are the most obvious and determinate, the interest gradually dies away in the back ground, and the charm and peculiar worth of the picture consists, not so much in the specific objects which it conveys to the understanding in a visual language formed by the substitution of figures for words, as in the beauty and harmony of the colors, lines, and expression, with which the objects are represented. Hence novelty of subject was rather avoided than sought for. Superior excellence in the manner of treating the same subjects was the trial and test of the artist's merit.
Not otherwise is it with the more polished poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, especially those of Italy. The imagery is almost always general: sun, moon, flowers, breezes, murmuring streams, warbling songsters, delicious shades, lovely damsels cruel as fair, nymphs, naiads, and goddesses, are the materials which are common to all, and which each shaped and arranged according to his judgment or fancy, little solicitous to add or to particularize. If we make an honorable exception in favor of some English poets, the thoughts too are as little novel as the images; and the fable of their narrative poems, for the most part drawn from mythology, or sources of equal notoriety, derive their chief attractions from the manner of treating them; from impassioned flow, or picturesque arrangement. In opposition to the present age, and perhaps in as faulty an extreme, they placed the essence of poetry in the art. The excellence, at which they aimed, consisted in the exquisite polish of the diction, combined with perfect simplicity. This their prime object they attained by the avoidance of every word, which a gentleman would not use in dignified conversation, and of every word and phrase, which none but a learned man would use ; by the studied position of words and phrases, so that not only each part should be melodious in itself, but contribute to the harmony of the whole, each note re
ferring and conducting to the melody of all the foregoing and following words of the same period or stanza ; and lastly with equal ·labor, the greater because unbetrayed, by the variation and va. rious harmonies of their metrical movement. Their measures, however, were not indebted for their variety to the introduction of new metres, such as have been attempted of late in the Alonzo and Imogen,' and others borrowed from the German, having in their very mechanism a specific overpowering tune, to which the generous reader humors his voice and emphasis, with more indulgence to the author than attention to the meaning or quantity of the words ; but which, to an ear familiar with the numerous sounds of the Greek and Roman poets, had an effect not unlike that of galloping over a paved road in a Gernian stage-wagon without springs. On the contrary, the elder bards both of Italy and England produced a far greater as well as more charming variety by countless modifications, and subtle balances of sound in the common metres of their country. A lasting and enviable reputation awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and realize a union; who should recall the high finish, the appropriateness, the facility, the delicate proportion, and above all, the perfusive and omnipresent grace, which have preserved, as in a shrine of precious amber, the Sparrow of Catullus, the Swallow, the Grasshopper, and all the other little loves of Anacreon; and which, with bright, though diminished glories, revisited the youth and early manhood of Christian Europe, in the vales of Arno,
5 [Here is a stanza of this overpowering metre :
A warrior so bold and a virgin so bright
Conversed as they sat on the green;
The maid's was the fair Imogene.
Mr. Southey adopted this metre for his popular ballad-Mary the Maid of the Inn. Poet. Works, 1838, vol. vi., p. 3. S. C.]
6 These thoughts were suggested to me during the perusal of the Mad. rigals of Giovambatista Strozzi published in Florence in May, 1593, by his sons Lorenzo and Filippo Strozzi, with a dedication to their paternal uncle,
Signor Leone Strozzi, Generale delle battaglie di Santa Chiesa. As I * do not remember to have seen either the poems or their author mentioned
and the groves of Isis and of Cam ;-and who with these should combine the keener interest, deeper pathos, manlier reflection,
in any English work, or to have found them in any of the common collections of Italian poetry;* and as the little work is of rare occurrence, I will transcribe a few specimens. I have seldom met with compositions that possessed, to my feelings, more of that satisfying entireness, that complete adequateness of the manner to the matter which so charms us in Anacreon, joined with the tenderness, and more than the delicacy of Catullus. Trifles as they are, they were probably elaborated with great care; yet in the perusal we refer them to a spontaneons energy rather than to voluntary effort. To a cultivated taste there is a delight in perfection for its own sake, independently of the material in which it is manifested, that none but a cultivated taste can understand or appreciate. * After what I have advanced, it would appear presumption to offer a translation; even if the attempt were not discouraged by the different genius of the English mind and language, which demands a denser body of thought as the condition of a high polish, than the Italian. I cannot but deem it likewise an advantage in the Italian tongue, in many other respects inferior to our own, that the language of poetry is more distinct from that of prose than with us. From the earlier appearance and established primacy of the Tuscan poets, concurring with the number of independent states, and the diversity of written dialects, the Italians have gained a poetic idiom, as the Greeks before them had obtained from the same causes, with greater and more various discriminations, for example, the Ionic for their heroic verses; the Attic for their iambic; and the two modes of the Doric for the lyric or sacerdotal, and the pastoral, the distinctions of which were doubtless more obvious to the Greeks themselves than they are to us.
I will venture to add one other observation before I proceed to the transcription. I am aware that the sentiments which I have avowed concerning the points of difference between the poetry of the present age, and that of the period between 1500 and 1650, are the reverse of the opinion commonly entertained. I was conversing on this subject with a friend, when the servant, a worthy and sensible woman, coming in, I placed before her two engravings, the one a pinky-colored plate of the day, the other a masterly etching by Salvator Rosa from one of his own pictures. On pressing her to tell us which she preferred, after a little blushing and flutter of feeling, she replied—“ Why, that, Sir, to be sure ! (pointing to the ware from the Fleet-street print shops)-it's so neat and elegant. T'other is such a scratchy slovenly thing” An artist, whose writings are scarcely less valuable than his pictures, and to whose authority more deference will be willingly paid, than I could even wish should be shown to mine, has told us, and from his own experience too, that good taste must be acquired, and
* (Gamba, p. 593, calls this edition rara edizione. Ed.]
and the fresher and more various imagery, which give a value
like all other good things, is the result of thought and the submissive study of the best models.* If it be asked, “ But what shall I deem such ?”—the answer is: presume those to be the best, the reputation of which has been matured into fame by the consent of ages. For wisdom always has a final majority, if not by conviction, yet by acquiescence. In addition to Sir J. Reynolds I may mention Harris of Salisbury; who in one of his philosophical disquisitions has written on the means of acquiring a just taste with the precision of Aristotle, and the elegance of Quinctilian.t
* ["On whom then can he rely, or who shall show him the path that leads to excellence? The answer is obvious. Those great masters who have travelled the same road with success are the most likely to conduct others. The works of those who have stood the test of ages have a claim to that respect and veneration to which no modern can pretend. The duration and stability of their fame is sufficient to evince that it has not been suspended upon the slender thread of fashion and caprice, b by every tie of sympathetic admiration.” Reynolds. Discourse ii. Ed.)
+ See Philological Inquiries : Part ii., chap. xii., especially the concluding paragraphs. This Treatise is contained in vol. ii. of the collective edition of the works of Harris-by his son the Earl of Malmesbury, in two vols., 4to. London, 1801.
James Harris, the author of those volumes, was born in the Close of Salisbury, July 29, 1709—died Dec. 22, 1780. He is best known as the author of Hermes, a work on Universal Grammar; which, according to Bishop Lowth, presents “the most beautiful example of analysis that has been exhibited since the days of Aristotle :” and three Treatises concerning Art--Music, Painting and Poetry, and Happiness—which imitate the method of Plato, and are written with admirable distinctness. Harris was not given up wholly to literary pursuits, and domestic and social amusements, though possessed of high qualifications for both the one and the other : he also took a part in public life, held the office first of a Lord of the Admiralty, then for about two years of a Lord of the Treasury. In 1774 he became Secretary and Comptroller to the Queen. He represented the Borough of Christ Church till the day of his death, was assiduous in the discharge of his parliamentary duty, and occasionally took a share in debates. See Memoirs of the Author by his Son, prefixed to his works. S. C.]
and a name that will not pass away to the poets who have done
Discacciatene omai, che l'onda chiara,
Pacifiche, ma spesso in amorosa
Hor come un scoglio stassi,
Piangendo mi baciaste,
Bel Fior, tu mi rimembri