Page images
PDF
EPUB

desolation, and all that train of woes which wasted for centuries the fairest portions of the peninsula. This it was that gave rise to the war of the investitures, that struggle between brute force and intellectual supremacy, which must sooner or later have occurred, under some form or other, but which it would have been far better for poor Italy to have passed through under any other form than that. The league of Lombardy, too, sprang from the same cause, a glorious event in itself, and a glorious period of civil virtue, but terminating sadly in the imperfect peace of Constance, which shows more than any thing else how impossible it was for the Italians, with that phantom of the Roman empire before them, to form any definite idea of true national independence. * Still the struggle was continued, simplified in form, but envenomed in spirit, by the introduction of the rallying words of Guelph and Ghibelline. In both of these parties there was doubtless enough that was bad; but of the two, the Guelph, if not the most virtuous, was decidedly the most national, for the triumph of the pope would necessarily have led to the subversion of all foreign rule and prepared the way for freedom by independence. But freedom was won before independence had been secured, and was therefore incomplete in its development and unequal in its results, and early lost amid faction and usurpation and crinte.

At length, towards the close of the fifteenth century, the period in which this long-cherished hope was to be realized seemed to be drawing nigh. The throne of Naples was filled by an independent sovereign; at Rome, the pope enjoyed the uncontrolled exercise of his temporal as well as his spiritual supremacy ; Milan was governed by a duke of her own; and most of the smaller states by native princes or rulers of their own choice; and all were bound together by that wellcontrived balance of power, which constitutes the only true political glory of Lorenzo the Magnificent. But the views of this selfish man, like those of a king of our own days, who also was called to a glorious destiny which he refused to fulfill, were bounded by personal interest and family ambition ; and dearly did his country pay for his crime, and bitterly did his family atone for his shameless abuse of the most sacred of

And shows, too, how incompetent a good pope is to make a political leader.

trusts.

At his death, the balance, for want of a proper foundation, was lost. Italy became the battle-field of Europe ; and when the contest ended, Naples, from an independent kingdom, had sunk down to a viceroyalty ; Lombardy, under the baneful pretext of imperial supremacy, had been converted into a foreign province; Tuscany into a duchy; and the whole peninsula, with the exception of her four republics, parcelled out in the manner most accordant with the principle of absolute government.

But there were some glorious moments for Italy during this protracted struggle, in which she had been more than once upon the point of grasping her long-contested prize. The idea of independence became clearer and more complete, and assumed a more definite form in the minds of her statesmen. It was this that inspired the league of Cambrai * and the Holy League, and formed the last wish which, in the delirium of the death-struggle, burst from the lips of that most Italian of pontiffs, Julius II.f How deeply rooted it was in the hearts of her public men may be seen in the closing chapter of Machiavelli's much-calumniated Prince ; # and its vivifying and exalting influence is shown in Michael Angelo, and Raphael, and Ariosto, and that wonderful revival of art and literature and every form of intellectual exertion in the sixteenth century, which was owing far more to this reopening of the field of noble action than to the protection of petty dukes and voluptuous pontiffs.

A long period of debasement and corruption followed, as well it might, when, to all but those who know how to hope and believe firmly, the chances of independence seemed lost for ever; a period stigmatized in Italian annals, and held up to abhorrence, as the degraded “Secento." Meanwhile, the house of Savoy, which had won back its inheritance at the battle of St. Quentin, was firmly consolidating its power, and preparing for a more decisive part in the first general struggle. The war of the Spanish succession supplied the pretext and the occasion, and the aggrandizement of the house of Savoy seemed to keep pace with the progress of Italy towards independence. For when Naples became once more an Italian kingdom, and Tuscany received the confirmation of her independence, Sardinia was politically reunited to the peninsula, and gave her name to the new kingdom which was henceforth to govern Piedmont and a portion of the Milanese, and to become the natural guardian of the interests of Italy. SO

* Directed against Venice in order to force her to league with the other Italian powers for the liberation of Italy from “the barbarians.” What a subject for the historian that reign of Julius offers !

" Fuori barbari.” # Esortazione a liberare Italia da' barbari; - one of the noblest specimens of patriotic eloquence in any language, an nt or modern.

And soon there was a general awakening throughout Italy, a filial return to the glories of her first revival, a renewal of hopes and aspirations long forgotten. And with it there was an earnestness of thought, a serious preparation, a severe inquiry into the cause of past errors and present corruption, which seemed to promise more than ordinary results for any new effort. Muratori had been collecting the documents of her mediæval history, and discussing all its complex questions with a sagacity and sound erudition which have never been surpassed. A little before, Vico * had laid the foundation of that sublime science which, reducing the whole course of history to general laws, explains its obscurest periods, and reconciles us to its greatest apparent contradictions. Already, too, some of the men were born, who were to apply these prolific truths to the science of history and government, and prepare the way for the discussion of their own interests by that of the interests of all mankind. And soon after came Parini, holding up the great social vice to unmitigated scorn in his keen and bitter satire, f and consecrating some of the holiest of social virtues in his chastened and heart-born odes; and Goldoni, laying bare the secrets of the heart, and painting life and manners as they were, and making vice so contemptible and virtue so lovely, that none could hesitate in their choice; and Alfieri, the inflexible foe of every species of effeminacy, who made poetry a mission, and breathed into his verses the severe elevation of his own nature. And everywhere there was reform, and life, and action, – the application of new principles, the confirmation

* It is somewhat remarkable that two such men as Muratori and Vico should have been contemporaries, and yet have exercised so little influence upon one another. For it should be remembered that Muratori was philosopher, poet, critic, and theologian, as well as historian, and had thus more points of contact with Vico than the Annali, the Antiquitates, or the Rerum Italicarum Scriptores could offer.

i Il Giorno.

[ocr errors]

and wider development of the old. There was the brilliant reign of Charles in Naples, and, later, that of Ferdinand, in which the good-natured indolence of the sovereign was turned to account by his ministers for the good of his people.* And in Tuscany, the wonderful reign of Peter Leopold, and the enlightened administration of Count Formian at Milan, and Dutillot at Parma, and the brilliant opening of Pius VI. at Rome. Then, too, there was that national conception of a confederacy, which has left so indistinct a trace in history, but which shows how far the great question of independence had advanced. Thus, when the French Revolution burst upon Italy, it found her well onward, with renewed energies and a firm will, in the path of reform, with native princes on all her thrones, and that foreign dominion, which ha long paralyzed her efforts, reduced to the narrow limits of the Duchy of Milan.

Still, one great thing was wanting, a national army ; and this, among many other benefits, the French revolution gave.f During the long wars of the Empire, Italian troops, mingled with those of France, fought upon every battle-field of Europe ; Italian officers worked their way upward at the sword's point, and won their decorations and titles by feats of gallant daring or a display of superior genius. The citizen and the peasant were trained to fight side by side, and endure together every species of privation and fatigue. Natives of remote districts were brought together under the same banner, and taught to look upon themselves as engaged in the same cause and united by a common interest ; and the whole nation was roused to the cultivation of those martial virtues without which independence is but an insecure and transient blessing.

Thus, while the treaty of Vienna left Austria more power in Italy than she had held before, it left the Italians far greater means of effectual resistance than they had possessed for centuries. Their territories were more compact, their communications better organized ; and five millions and a half among them had been trained, during upwards of fourteen years, to the exercise of the highest civil and political rights.

* See Colletta’s admirable first volume, and the beautiful chapter which Botta has consecrated to this subject in his Storia d' Italia dal '89, and the passages in the last volume of his continuation of Guicciardini"; for no foreigner has treated this subject well; we must go to the native writers.

+ See Sismondi's Histoire de la Renaissance de la Liberté en Italie, &c., closing paragraphs.

But the moment had passed, and again the opportunity seemed deferred to some indefinite period. For when the sovereigns returned from their long exile, it was not with that expansive joy which the sight of a home you had hardly dared to dream of seeing again awakens in sympathetic hearts, but with the bitterness of mortified pride, and theoresolve, that, cost what it might, they would never more expose themselves to such deep humiliation. Therefore they resumed with jealous tenacity their ancient privileges, revived all their obsolete pretensions, declaring from the beginning an implacable war against every thing which wore the semblance of reform, and placing themselves in open bostility to the more enlightened portion of their subjects. But the progress had been too great to be checked thus easily, and, unequal as the conditions seemed, the people were as ready to accept the defiance thus madly thrown out to them as their rulers had been to give it. Thus the contest began anew. The secret alliance of princes was met by a secret alliance of the people ; government fought with its trained band of spies and policemen, the people with secret associations and the dagger of the Carbonari. There was doubtless exaggeration on both sides, and a great deal of needless suffering ; there was constancy too, and resolute daring both in good and in evil. But in a struggle like this, the chances of success are always in favor of established government, which possesses a . thousand means of acting upon the timid and selfish feelings of mankind, while their opponents have but one.

Yet it was a glorious circumstance for Italy, that during this period of trial, so many of her brightest names in literature and in science were found in the list of the suspected. Of some of these the story is well known, the victims of the Piombi and the Spielberg ; the current of whose lives was checked in mid career, nor suffered to flow again, till age had benumbed its energies, and long-suffering consumed its vitality. But how many others are there, who suffered like them, but whose lessons of endurance and fortitude are lost to the world for want of some record like that matchless volume of Pellico, so eloquent in its simplicity, so powerful in its gentleness, so thrilling in its calm pictures of pain and VOL. LXVI. - No. 138.

2

« PreviousContinue »