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trarch; and we also find them scrupulously proud of all the other real beauties of their national literature ; for, in spite of the opposition of the governments to the progress of knowledge, there is, undoubtedly, a hundred times more thinking and reading going on in Italy, at this time, than at any former period—thanks to the aid of foreign publications, which in some measure compensate for the involuntary silence of the native authors; and, in point of literary criticism, every Englishman who has visited Italy can testify to the daily progress which is made in that country, in spite of the monopoly of literature by the governments, which strenuously endeavour, by means of their journals and professors, to crush every rising tendency to ratiocination of any kind, in the Italians; and to keep them strangers to every species of intellectual culture. .
Without supposing the last age to have been quite devoid of understanding, or considering the present as fastidious, we need only cast a transitory glance at the moral and literary history of Italy, to discover the causes of the vicissitudes we have noticed in the poetical reputation of Filicaja. Indeed, this examination is but an act of justice; as it will prevent our degrading him below his proper rank, or denying him that portion of our esteem to which he is fairly entitled
When Filicaja produced his verses, the literature of Italy, like her political situation, was at the lowest ebb of degradation. Not only was freedom lost, but the restless turbulence of the republics and the energies of the civil wars were almost forgotten. The Italian states had languished for many years under feeble princes, who, to purchase the safety of their despicable thrones, were obliged to propitiate the favour of Spain and of the pope, the two powers which then preponderated, in Italy; and the readiest way of securing this protection was to debase the genius of their subjects, lulling them in the lap of ignorance, and debarring them, with the most jealous vigilance, from all moral, political, and philosophical improvement. Literature could not fail to be affected by this systematic debasement; and two races of poets, different, indeed, but equally senseless, had, for a century and a half, engrossed the public attention in Italy. The first consisted of those vile sonnetteers, imitators of the inimitable Petrarch ; priests, friars, cardinals,— who, totally unacquainted with the passion of love, without having ever felt one of those palpitations which agitated the true lover of Laura, without a single spark of the inspiration which comes from the heart, abandoned themselves to the rage of rhyming in whining sonnets, on the imaginary charms of the imaginary eyes, hair, &c., of imaginary ladies, whose fancied indifference and rigours they affected to lament. Such was the sacrilege committed by these impostors against
"the most tender, the most ardent of human sentiments, which they distorted in their ignorance and bad taste, and degraded by associating it with their grovelling thoughts and listless imaginations. In the second class were ranged all those insane inventors of timid conceits, strange metaphors, smart antitheses, and outrageous hyperboles, who, 'headed by Marini and Achillini, and known by the name of the Secentisti, rendered the seventeenth century famous in the annals of poetry, by their absurd vagaries.
- At length, Italy grew tired of the monstrous languor of the Petrarchisti ; 'they had now hashed up the cold ideas of other writers as far as their stock would go ; and their dull, perpetual affectation of amorous sentiments had now so completely exhausted all common-place thoughts, that they could no longer present their verses to the public, without the risk of exciting general indignation. On the other hand, the ravings of the Secentisti no longer satisfied that corrupt taste into which the Italians had suffered themselves to be hurried headlong, Their daring flights had lost the novelty which' at first tickled the fancies of the readers ; and 'as it generally happens in cases of exaggeration, the ridiculous began to succeed to the marvellous.
• The human intellect is subject, like the moral conscience, to fits of remorse; pature has endowed it with a secret tendency to truth, which, in all its operations, actuates it more or less. With respect to poetry, Italy was, at the period of which we are speaking, in that mental state of indefinite dissatisfaction which is the first step of those who have erred towards reflection and amendment. It was, therefore,' very natural, that a man like Filicaja, suddenly arising, in that sphere of general ennui and increasing longing after truth, with a stock of more correct ideas, and more natural and generous sentiments, derived partly from the political vicissitudes of his own times, and partly from the real internal phenomena of his own mind, should acquire not only the approbation of the learned, but the lively and spontaneous admiration of the multitude. And it must be confessed, that as far as regards his phraseology and the general complexion of his style, although far enough removed from the dignified and elegant simplicity of the ancient Italian poets, and falling short of that type of perfection which exists in the minds of the learned critics of the present age, Filicaja is more vigorous and splendid than the Petrarchisti, more natural and consistent with rational propriety than the Secentisti.
Filicaja, therefore, is to be considered as one of the first who rescued Italian poetry from the turgid bombast of the seicento; as one of the first who raised it from the abject ser
vice of mere amorous imbecility, to the noble office of proclaiming the more virtuous and masculine sentiments of the mind; as one of the first, who, by the charms of his writings, allured his contemporaries back to the path of good taste: and thus we have a standard which ascertains the degree of esteem which modern criticism ought to allow this poet.
Were we, however, to compare his verses with those of the Italian poets, whose names occur at a subsequent period, when an improved taste bad been generally established, we certainly could not conscientiously recommend him to the perusal of those who delight in the beautiful. Nor can we censure the modern Italians for being much better entertained with the works of some of their living poets, than with those of our author, and neglecting him accordingly. But when his poetry is considered with reference to those verses which, previously to his appearance, stunned the ears of the Italians, wherever they went, in every part of the Peninsula, we must acknowledge our obligations to him, and feel, at least, a sort of historical respect for his attempts to deliver the Italian muse from her disgraceful bondage to a set of triflers. As a regard for the history of the arts induces us to preserve in our cabinets, by the side of the masterpieces of Raffaello and Guido, the first essays of painting attempted by the hands of Cimabue and Giotto ; so if we place in our libraries the two volumes of Filicaja's poems, it is only because they serve to mark a certain period of literary history.
The applause which Filicaja obtained from his contemporaries, was proportioned to the pleasure they derived from the comparison of his thoughts, with those of the insipid writers who preceded him; it was elicited from the improvement of a taste which was still far short of perfection, and not yet entirely free from an inclination to rhetorical amplification, to forced antitheses, startling metaphors, and hyperbolical conceits ; in short, to all those fantastical subtleties which were long distinguished in Italy by the name of the aura poetica—the breath of inspiration which wafted poetic thoughts over the sensitive constitution of the bard.
One of the Canzoni which have been most admired by the pedants of the present day, is that which Filicaja addressed to the Emperor Leopold I., on the defeat of the Turks by the Austrians, under the walls of Vienna. Let us examine the first two strophes :
Del Cristian Mondo fortunato Atlante,
Porti, e non cedi al peso: O fulminante
L'Austriaca planta renverdir più bella
“ Augustus, glorious, great, and wise,
Majestic Atlas of the Christian state,
For triumphs passing all victorious deeds ;
*• 'Twas he, the Austrian tree restor'd
From leafless blight to fresh reviving bloom ;
It is needless to point out the incongruous imagery in these verses; such as calling the emperor the Atlas of the Christian World; or the puerile conceit of his bearing the sacred empire on his shoulders—without sinking under so great a weight; or the hyperbolical extension of the Austrian sway from the Bear to burning Sirius, and from the Baltic to the pillars of Hercules; or, finally, the verbiage which pervades the whole. Every judicious reader must instantly perceive that this, if not mere bombast, is, at least, a compound of rhodomontade and littleness. We will, therefore, endeavour to relieve our readers, after the fatigue they must have endured in toiling through these lines; and pass, at once, to the 8th strophe, in which the poet invokes for Leopold a complete triumph over the infidels, and seems to have been a little more favoured by his muse: