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And the crown Which Petrarch's laureate brow supremely wore Upon a far and foreign soil had grown.
Stanza lvii. lines 6, 7, and 8. The Florentines did not take the opportunity of Petrarch's short visit to their city in 1350 to revoke the decree which confiscated the property of his father, who had been banished shortly after the exile of Dante. His crowa did not dazzle them; but when in the next year they were in want of his assistance in the formation of their university, they repented of their injustice, and Boccaccio was sent to Padua to entreat the laureate to conclude his wanderings in the bosom of his native country, where he might finish his immortal Africa, and enjoy, with his recovered possessions, the esteem of all classes of his fellowcitizens. They gave him the option of the book and the science he might condescend to expound: they called him the glory of his country, who was dear, and would be dearer to them; and they added, that if there was any thing unpleasing in their letter, he ought to return amongst them, were it only to correct their style ?). Petrarch seemed at first to listen to the flattery and to the entreaties of his friend, but he did not return to Florence, and preferred a pilgrimage to the tomb of Laura and the shades of Vaucluse.
Stanza Iviii. lines 1 and 2. Boccaccio was buried in the church of St. Mi. chael and St James, at Certaldo, a small town
1) * Accingiti innoltre, se ci è lecito ancor l'esortarti, a com
pire l'immortal tua Africa ... Se ti avviene d'incontrare nel nostro stile cosa che ti dispiaccia, cio debb' essere un altro Botivo ad esaudire i desideri della tua patria. » Storia della Lett. Ital. tom. v. par. i. lib. i. p. 76.
in the Valdelsa, which was by some supposed the place of his birth. There he passed the latter part of his life in a course of laborious study, which shortened his existence; and there might his ashes have been secure, if not of honour, at least of repose. But the “hyaena bigo:s » of Certaldo tore up the tombstone of Boccaccio, and ejected it from the holy precincts of St. Michael and St. James. The occasion, and, it may be hoped, the excuse, of this ejectment was the making of a new floor for the church; but the fact is, that the tonib. stone was taken up and thrown aside at the bottom of the building. Ignorance may share the sin with bigotry. It would be painful to relate such an exception to the devotion of the Italians for their great names, could it not be accompanied by a trait more honourably conformable to the general character of the nation. The principal person of the district, the last branch of the house of Medicis, afforded that protection to the memory of the insulted dead which her best ancestors had dispensed upon all cotemporary merit. The Mar. chioness Lenzoni rescued the tombstone of Boccaccio from the neglect in which it had sometime lain, and found for it an houourable elevation in her own mansion. She has done more: the honse in which the poet lived has been as little respected as his tomb, and is falling to ruin over the head of one indifferent to the name of its former tenant. It consists of two or three little chambers, and a low tower, on which Cosmo II. affixed an inscription. This house she has taken measures to pur. chase, and proposes to devote to it that care and consideration which are attached to the cradle and to the roof of genius.
This is not the place to undertake the defence of Boccaccio; but the man who exhausted his little patrimony in the acquirement of learning, who was amongst the first, if not the first, to allure the science and the poetry of Greece to the bosom of Italy; - who not only invented a new style, but founded, or certainly fixed, a new language; who, besides the esteem of every polite court of Europa, was thought worthy of employment by
the predominant republic of his own country, and, what is more, of the friendship of Petrarch, who lived the life of a philosopher and a freeman, and who died in the pursuit of knowledge, - such a man might have found more consideration than he has met with from the priest of Certaldo, and from a late English traveller, who strikes off his portrait as an odious, contemptible, licentious writer, whose impure remains should be suffered to rot without a record ?). That English traveller, unfortunately for those who have to deplore the loss of a very amiable person, is beyond all cri. ticism; but the mortality which did not protect Boccaccio from Mr. Eustace, must not defend Mr. Eustace from the impartial judgment of his suc
Death may canonize his virtues, not his errors; and it may be modestly pronounced that he transgressed, not only as an author, but as a man, when he evoked the shade of Boccaccio in company with that of Aretine, amidst the sepulchres of Santa croce, merely to dismiss it with indignity. As far as respects
« Il flagello de Principi,
Il divin Pietro Aretino , » it is of little import what censure is passed upon a coxcomb who owes his present existence to the
1) Classical Tour, cap. ix. vol. ii. p. 355. edit. 3d. “Of Boc
caccio, the modern Petronius, we say nothing; the abuse of genius is mord odious and more contemptible than its absence; and it imports little where the impure remains of a li. centious author are cousigned to their kindred dust. For the same reason the traveller may pass unnoticed the tomb of the malignant Aretino. »
This dubious phrase is hardly enough to save the tourist from the suspicion of another blunder respecting the burialplace of Aretine, whose tomb was in the church of St. Luke at Venice, and gave rise to the famous controversy of which some notice is taken in Bayle. Now the words of Mr. Evstace would lead us to think the tomb was at Florence, or at least was to be somewhere recognised. Whether the inscription so much disputed was ever written on the tomb cannot now be decided, for all memorial of this author has disappeared from the church of St. Luke.
above burlesque character given to him by the poet whose amber has preserved many other grubs and worms: but to classify Boccaccio with such a person, and to excommunicate his very ashes, must of itself make us doubt of the qualificatios of the classical tourist for writing upon Italian, or, indeed, upon any other literature; for igua rance on one point may incapacitate an author inerely for that particular topic, but snbjection to a professional prejudice muist render him an unsafe director on all occasions. Any perversion and injustice may be made what is vulgarly called "a case of conscience, » and this poor excuse is all that can be offered for the priest of Certaldo, or the author of the Classical Tour. It would have answered the purpose to confie the censure to the novels of Boccaccio, and gratitude to that source which supplied the muse of Dryden with her last and most harmonious numbers might perhaps hare restricted that censure to the objectionable quali ties of the hundred tales. At any rate the repentance of Boccaccio might have arrested his exhu. mation, and it should have been recollected and told, that in his old age he wrote a letter entreating his friend to discourage the read ng of the Decameron, for the sake of modesty, and for the sake of the author, who would not have an apologist always at hand to state in his excuse that he wrote it when young, and at the command of his superiors ). It is neither the licen. tiousness of the writer, nor the evil propensities of the reader, which have given to the Decame. ron alone, of all the works of Boccaccio, a perpetual popularity. The establishment of a new and delightful dialect conferred an immortality op the works in which it was first fixed. The sonnets of Petrarch were, for the same reason, fated to survive his self-admired Africa, the favourite 1) «Non enim ubique est, qui in excusationem meam consur
gens dicai, juvenis scripti , et majoris coactus imperio. » The letter was addressed to Magbinard of Cavalcanti, nar. shal of the kingdom of Sicily. See Tiraboschi, Storia, etc. tom. v. par. ii. lib. iii. pag. 525. ed. Ven. 1795.
of kings.» The invariable traits of nature and feeling with which the novels, as well as the verses, abound, have doubtless been the chief source of the foreign celebrity of both authors; but Boccaccio, as a man, is no more to be estimated by that work, than Petrarch is to be re. garded in no other light than as the lover of Lau. ra. Even, however, had the father of the Tuscan prose been known only as the author of the De. cameron, a considerate writer would have been cautious to pronounce a sentence irreconcilable with the unerring voice of many ages and na. tions. An irrevocable value has never been stamped upon any work solely recommended by impurity.
The true source of the outcry against Boccaccio, which began at a very early period, was the choice of his scandalous personnages in the cloi. sters as well as the courts; but the princes only laughed at the gallant adventures so unjustly charged upon queen Theodelinda, whilst the priesthood cried shame upon the debauches drawn from the convent and the hermitage; and most probably for the opposite reason, namely, that the picture was faithful to the life. Two of the novels are allowed to be facts usefully turned into tales, to deride the canonization of rogues and laymen. Ser Ciappelletto and Marcellinus are eited with applanse even by the decent Muratori). The great Arnaud, as he is quoted in Bayle, states, that a new edition of the novels was proposed, of which the expurgation consisted in omitting the words “monk» and “nun,» and tacking the immoralities to other names. The literary history of Italy particularises no such edition; but it was not long before the whole of Europe had but one opinion of the Decameron; and the absolution of the author seems to have been a point settled at least a hundred years ago: "On se feroit siffler si l'on pretendoit convaincre Boccace de n'avoir pas été honnête homme, puis qu'il a fait le Decameron. So said one of the best men,
sopra le antichità Italiane. Diss. lviii. p. 253. tom. iii. edit. Milan. 1751.