Page images



JANUARY, 1848.

ART. I. Delle Speranze d' Italia. (CESARE BALBO.) Capolago. 1845. 12mo.

THEY know but little of an author's trials who suppose them to begin and end with the composition of a book. It is. hard work, it is true, to choose your subject, and when chosen, to divide it into its proper parts, to adjust them all nicely to one another, to make an accurate distribution of proof and development and illustration, to say just as much as you ought, and no more, and say it in a style and in language suited both to the subject and to the readers for whom it is designed. But when all this is accomplished, and you would fain launch your fragile bark upon the waters, how often are you at a loss to say under what name it shall go forth; to find that magic word, which, amid the contending crowd of courtiers and favorites, shall draw one inquiring glance to this unknown adventurer, and which, while it excites curiosity and awakens expectation, shall hold out no promise which you are not prepared to perform!

In this respect we may congratulate Count Balbo upon his success. We may call him happy in the choice of a title so justly expressive of his own generous feelings; singularly felicitous in the selection of a word clear and definite in its promises, and which falls upon the ear like one of those mysterious strains which you sometimes hear, amid the dewy stillness of evening, from the ivy-crowned ruins of his own beautiful land. Twenty years ago, who would have thought of such a title? What Italian would have dared to set his No. 138. 1


name to such a picture of his country's wants and wrongs and errors, and still live at home? Who could thus have braved passion and power, and have hoped to escape the Spielberg or a stiletto? This little volume is more than a promise, it is a performance; it is more than a hope, it is a reality, — a tangible proof, a living witness, that, however sad the past, however gloomy the present, there is still for Italy a future worthy of a patriot's hopes and a philanthropist's aspira


And it is this spirit of faith and trust which forms one of the great charms of this volume. We have no sympathy with perpetual skepticism. We do not understand how a man can pretend to believe in an overruling Providence, and yet despair of the progress of his race. It is such a bold as

sumption of superior wisdom, such a heartless denial of God's goodness, that we have no patience with it. That great law of progress is written in such broad characters on every page of history, that he who runs may read it there. The past, without it, is unintelligible; the present, so cheerless and dreary, that earnest hearts would sink under the burden, and man, reduced to the selfish bounds of his own individuality, would be absolved from all those endearing and ennobling ties which, connecting him with the past by gratitude and with the future by hope, prepare him with each progressive generation for higher aims, more expansive usefulness, and purer enjoyment.

And if this faith in the future be necessary everywhere, how vitally essential is it in speaking of Italy! Nowhere have the elements of discord and harmony been so singularly mingled as there; never such tenacity of purpose, with such imperfect results; a will so indomitable, with such irregularity of action; so much weakness and so much energy; such spotless purity and such black corruption; such heavenward aspirations, with such abject debasement; so close and enduring an alliance of hope and despair. No history is fraught with lessons of more universal application; in none have the great questions of social organization been more boldly or variously propounded. And yet, after nearly three thousand years of struggle and revolution and endurance, after having proved every vicissitude of favorable and of adverse fortune, ruling by religion long after she had ceased to rule by the sword, opening new paths in every science, while she left them

to be trodden by others, and, in the midst of her political degradation, asserting from time to time, with untiring energy, her intellectual supremacy, she still remains divided and dependent, restless in her inactivity, possessing all the virulence of party without its redeeming vitality, and seeking in change rather a respite from suffering than an assurance of happi

[blocks in formation]

But let us take a closer view of this subject, and see how far this external aspect, which strikes every superficial observer, will bear a more searching examination. The want of union among the different states of Italy is a fact as old as her history itself. In the olden time, when Rome was as yet in her infancy, Ligurians, and Etruscans, and Latins, and Samnites, and Sabines divided the peninsula between them, and governed their respective territories by that oldest of Italian forms, the confederacy. All the first centuries of Rome are filled with her contests with one or the other of these formidable rivals, and never, during her long career of conquest, was she compelled to put forth more energy or bring higher qualities into action than in these wars, which, when compared with many of those in which she was afterwards engaged, may be said to have been waged at her own gates. It was not till the reign of Augustus, when nearly all the rest of the known world had been reduced under her dominion, that the conquest of Italy was finally completed by the subjugation of the Salassi, and the whole of the peninsula, from the summit of the Alps to the straits of Messina, united in one body. But with the fall of the Empire, these deeprooted divisions broke forth anew. Odoacer held it together during his short reign of thirteen years, and Theodoric during his more extended one of thirty; and when his kingdom fell, amid the general devastation of the Grecian conquest, there were ten years more, during which the survivors continued to obey one master as members of a foreign empire. But then

*For we may well apply to the whole of Italy what Dante said so truthfully of Florence:

"Simigliante a quella 'nferma

Che non può trovar posa in su le piume,

Ma con dar volta suo dolore scherma."

Was Rome in the beginning any thing more than a member of the Latin confederacy? A fundamental question yet unanswered.

« PreviousContinue »