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And such we believe to have been the feeling of those writers who have given the contemporary literature of Italy its coloring. It was certainly that of Niccolini, * in those admirable tragedies in which the sentiments of an elevated philosophy are combined with the inspirations of the purest patriotism, and no less so in his chaste and vigorous prose. In Manzoni there is less of it than we could wish, for how precious would not a few national lyrics have been from the same pure source which inspired the Inni sacri! But how sound and just is it in Cantù ; how vivid in D'Azeglio ; how eloquent in the profound and glowing pages of Gioberti !
There is an error, too, of their predecessors, a very natural one it is true, which these writers have corrected ; the error, we mean, of dwelling too closely upon the memory of past glories, and making them serve as a palliation, if not a compensation, for present debasement. It was a common thing among writers of ordinary minds, and some also who should have known better, to reverse the healthy order of things, and give a practical contradiction to Dante's beautiful sentence,
“ Nessun maggior dolore Che ricordorsi del tempo felice
Nella miseria.” For in their country's misery they seemed to think only of her glorious past, when their minds should have been bent
* Niccolini is less known among us than he deserves to be. What can be more touchingly beautiful, in the mouth of an Italian, than these lines from his Giovanni da Procida :
“ Io vorrei che stendesser le nubi
Sulla terra del vile dolor"?
“La natura si desta repente ;
Sempre nuove d'un piè vincitor"? We do not accuse Manzoni of being a bad patriot, but we believe it to be the duty of a man so rarely endowed to do more than he has done. D'Azeglio is chiefly known in this country oy his Ettore Fieramosca, the first and far from the best of his works. He is a great painter, as well as an eloquent writer. Of Gioberti we shall have occasion to speak more fully hereafter.
firmly upon her possible future.
A little volume was once given us by a patriot of this class, containing a list of all the inventions and discoveries which could by any way, however circuitous, be traced to an Italian origin. It was a curious book, displaying a great deal of patient research and laborious erudition ; but we could not help saying to our friend, " What, after all, is this worth at this moment? It merely shows what you have been, not how you can become so again.' “ I, too,” said, one day, a writer of
different class, “have fallen into this error in my earlier works ; but, thank God, I found it out in time, and never will do so again.”
It may be doubted, however, whether the Italians did more to form this false mode of thought, than foreigners to confirm them in it. Travellers in Italy were necessarily struck with the contrast between what they saw and the traces of what had been. Those half-tenanted palaces, those solitary streets, those crumbling villas, with their entangled walks, and statues green with moss and half-buried amid the untrained shrubbery, and their fountains choked up with leaves and fragments of the marble borders, within whose chiselled rim they once leaped up with their glad voices to sparkle in the sunlight, were all so many monuments on which the praises of the dead were mingled with bitter reproaches against the living. Very few remained long enough to see what the real character of the modern Italians was, or how far they had preserved the spirit of their ancestors. * Fewer still
. sought deep enough in the general laws of history for the causes of a decay which seemed so deep-rooted, and withal so natural. And thus the result was accepted as undeniable, and the Italians were told, what so many of them were ready to believe, that all the little honor they could still hope to reap was in recounting the glories of the past.
Still, this error was not unmingled with good. This close study of the days of their prosperity produced some of the
* And yet Guidi told them long ago, –
“Ma pur non han le neghittose cure
advantages which republics, according to Machiavelli,* may derive from being recalled from time to time towards the principles of their origin. Common minds were satisfied with the fact, but those of a more earnest and thoughtful cast could not accept it without inquiring how it had been brought about, and why a nation which had been at the head of civilization during its darkest trials should have been left so far behind in some of its most precious results, now that the day of trial had passed. And from this inquiry have resulted those profound convictions which are preparing the way for a triumph purer and nobler than those of her brightest days.
In illustration of the earnest character of the contemporary literature of Italy, we would cite Cantù's Universal History, in which the whole history of mankind, from the creation to our own days, is recorded in a clear and animated narrative, while their manners and customs are painted with rare accuracy and intelligence, and the progress of each race, and the concurrent progress of all, towards the fulfilment of the great end of their being are traced with a firm and comprehensive philosophy worthy of a friend of Romagnosi and a countryman of Vico ; and Troya's Italy of the Middle Ages, which, although it has not come fully up to what had been expected of it, has thrown so much light upon some of those vital questions which lie at the very source of Italian history ; and Gioberti in all his writings, but more especially in his admirable Primato, and those Prolegomena which recall the brightest ages of firm and masculine eloquence; and that beautiful volume of Balbo, which we have taken as a textbook for the present paper ; and many others, too, might we name, if our plan admitted of any thing more than a general allusion.
Whoever reads these works will find a soberness of thought in them, which nothing but profound meditation can give; a patience of inquiry, of which none but men of real learning are capable ; a depth of conviction, which the strongest minds alone can reach ; and in most of them, too, an enlightened philanthropy, and a purity and singleness of purpose, well suited to the high mission which their authors have accepted so nobly.
* Discorsi sulla prima Decade di Tito Livio.
We would not fall into the common error of claiming too much for literature ; but we wish also to avoid the not uncommon one of allowing too little for literary influences. Literature in its true sense is the most accurate expression of the highest point of development which the human mind has attained ; and in saying this, we employ the word in its widest
; and most comprehensive signification. * Wherever else we
* look for the criterion, there will still be something wanting. Science is but one of the many forms of intellectual exertion, and art is another; and society.itself is, from its very nature, so changeable, that it seldom leaves any durable monuments but such as literature preserves.
But in literature they all combine, science, and art, and social refinement. The observant mind records its experience in written language, and the overflowing heart seeks relief there ; the past is brought back to instruct us and to charm; truths to which the unas
: sisted mind would never have soared are made clear and definite to the intellectual eye ; and all that is beautiful around us and within, the heart's hidden treasures of truth and love, our mysterious sympathies with inanimate nature, and whatever there is noble in man and enduring in his works, have no adequate expression or lasting record but in some one of the various forms of literature.
But as the most abstruse principle is, if true, nothing more than a remote link in a continuous chain, so the world of thought is indissolubly connected with the world of fact, of which it is the legitimate and ultimate expression. The mind is not only modified by what it sees, but derives more or less of its efficiency from its power of harmonizing with it. And the man of letters, like the legislator and the politician, will find all his labors fruitless, unless he begin them by a just appreciation of men and events. Whichever way our course be directed, there must be a starting-point, and we can never shape it aright unless we know that point thoroughly. The most fanciful conceptions of poetry are but a combination of realities, and the views which are supposed to distinguish the theorist from the practical man are but an enlarged generalization of facts. Our minds are as much affected by the intel
* It is thus that it is employed by Tiraboschi in his gigantic Storia della Letteratura Italiana.
Sir Humphry Davy somewhere says, that not a step had been made in scientific investigation in modern Europe until after the revival of letters.
lectual atmosphere as our bodies are by the air that we breathe. And it would be just as absurd to demand vigor of mind and soundness of thought from a writer of an enervated age as to ask for vigor of body and the bloom of health from an inhabitant of the Pontine marshes. And thus mind becomes the standard by which nations should be judged, and literature is the criterion of mind. But in studying this criterion, we should carefully distinguish the spirit from the form, and not suffer ourselves to be persuaded that the one is sound, because the other is beautiful. The wild peaks
The wild peaks of the Apennines and the deep blue of the Mediterranean gird in the Pontine marshes, and nowhere does the grass wave more luxuriantly or the trees put forth a lovelier green than in the broad meadows which its polluted atmosphere has made houseless. But there stands the wretched sentinel, with his sallow cheeks, his feverish eye, and wasting form, to tell you what a poison he is imbibing with every respiration. If we would decide rightly, we must look him in the face, and, like Cambyses, judge the country by its inhabitants.*
There can be no greater misfortune for a country than for her men of letters to live secluded from the active scenes of life ; for no civilization can be complete, where those that think move not in concert with those that act. And thus when we discover some great defect in the literature of a particular age or country, it is in its political or social condition that we must seek for the cause; and wherever social or political progress is checked, we may look for a corresponding decay in literature. And well is it for society that all its classes must thus move together, and happy are mankind that the great law of progress, that deep-rooted and ever-active principle of their nature, unites them all in one common bond of brotherhood.
We believe, therefore, that one of the surest hopes of Italy may be drawn from the present state of her literature. At no time could works so truly national have circulated so widely, without awakening in many breasts feelings like those which inspired them ; but they now fall on the parched earth like heaven's own rain, and you may trace their course from
* Και γάρ λέγοντες ουδέν παύονται οι άνθρωποι περί τε των νοσηρών χωρίων και των υγιεινών· μάρτυρες δε σαφείς εκατέροις αυτών παρίστανται, τά τε σώματα και τα χρώματα. Cyropedia, I. 13.