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The language of Italy had, as we position he raised the Italian language have seen, reached its perfection as to a pitch of perfection before unthe language of poetry, beneath the known. “ He not only invented," plastic hands of Dante and of Petrarch. says a high authority, "a new style, As the vehicle of prose, its purity was but founded, or certainly fixed, a new established by Malaspina and the elder language. Every Italian scholar is Villani. There yet wanted one who acquainted with the plot of the “Deshould give to the prose of Italy the camerone.” At the time of the great graces of sprightliness and familiar plague in Florence, in 1348, seven freedom, which suit not the muse of young ladies, and three young gentlehistory. In a word, the novelist was men retired to a beautiful villa in the yet wanting; and with the exigency neighbourhood of the city, where they of the hour came the man. In the spent ten days; a lady was elected alTuscan territorities at Certaldo, some ternately queen of the day, and each twenty miles from Florence, was born, member related daily a story. These nine years later than Petrarch, Gio. stories are varied with infinite art. vanni Boccaccio, the last of the noble By, turns gay, tender, passionate ; triumvirate of the “tercento," the with every varying colour the style is “ father of Tuscan prose,” he “who varied with exhaustless power
and formed the Tuscan's syren tongue.” charm of language; while the deThe son of a rich merchant, his father scription of the plague, which serves as destined him for the occupation by an introduction to the tales, may, says which he had himself attained wealth; M. Sismondi, “be ranked with the most but the young man's tastes led him to celebrated historical descriptions which far different pursuits, and a visit to have descended to us. De Foe afterNaples decided his destiny. “Visit- wards gave a description as true and ing one day the tomb of Virgil, the as terribly life-like as Boccaccio's, and genius loci worked upon him—the spirit one scarcely less powerful has since apof poetry rose within his breast. The peared in the « Promessi Sposi ” of enthusiastic youth knelt at the tomb Manzoni. That the “ Decamerone" of the Mantuan, and took a vow to bas faults, and grave ones too, cannot bid an eternal farewell to the beaten be denied; that they are full of licentrack of commerce, and to follow the tious incidents, and are often indeli. wandering steps of the Muses.” At cate in language and imagery, is to be this time Robert King of Naples was regretted ; and we must admit, that one of the greatest patrons of litera- morality and religion are often treated ture, and his court the most brilliant with levity. Yet in judging of the and learned in Europe. Its attrac- "Decamerone,” or its author, we must tions naturally drew young Boccaccio not apply the same standard of criti. within its sphere, and his love for the cism which we would to a work or a Muses was still further developed, and writer of our own time. We must refinally fixed, by his ardent attachment member that the morals of the age to the king's natural daughter, whom and the country in which he lived he has made celebrated under the were far from strict; that the court name of Fiammetta. Boccaccio as- of Naples was the most dissolute in pired to be a poet; he imitated Dante, Italy; and that the lady at whose reand wrote in terza rima ; he com- quest the “ Cento Novelle” were writposed epics in ottava rima; he wrote ten was not herself unaffected by the ballads and sonnets, yet none of these depraved and light tastes of the court. were calculated to raise him to a posi- Let it, too, be remembered that the tion approaching that of the two great work was written when he was yet a poets whom we have already noticed. very young man, and that in after His distance from Dante was immea. years he not only regretted its appearsurable, and he was far below Pe- ance, but endeavoured to suppress it. trarch; indeed so truly was he sensi- But above all, let it not be forgotten ble of this, that he is said to have com- that he devoted himself with indefa. mitted his minor poems to the flames tigable assiduity and zeal to the proon reading Petrarch's. It was as the motion of literature, and especially to author of the “ Cento Novelle " that the introduction of the Greek lanBoccaccio established his great repu
guage; and, in the words of an elotation in his own times, and has re- quent apologist, “he exhausted his tained it to the present. In this com. little patrimony in the acquirement of learning, and was amongst the first, if numerous precious manuscripts of annot the first, to allure the sciences and
tiquity. The study of their lives and the poetry of Greece to Italy." Upon their labours will edify the man of the whole, had the priests and monks, taste and scholarly pursuits, and af. whose immorality and not the religion ford the historian much light with they professed he assailed, succeeded which to investigate the political in suppressing the “ Decamerone,” as events of the times, in which they took they sought to do, posterity would have so large a share. suffered more from its loss than they It has been somewhat ingeniously can ever do from its errors; and we observed that Nature, in the fourteenth feel confident that, despite of its faults, century, by an effort, produced in the brilliancy of its style, its wit, Italy three great men; and that effort naïveté, and picturesque power, will was still more felicitous in that the insure it admiring readers as long as genius of each of these men was essenthe Italian tongue endures.
tially different. They struck out for It has been observed by Denina* themselves three routes by which to that the “ Decamerone ” of Boccaccio, ascend the heights of Parnassus, so far although less grave than the “Divina asunder that they each reached the Commedia ” of Dante, and less po- summit without encountering or ob. lished than the poetry of Petrarch, structing the others; and mankind has nevertheless done much more than can now enjoy the productions of all either of them in fixing the Italian without feeling that those of any one language. The writers of the six- give an idea of the others, or being teenth century never speak of the able to prefer any to the rest, or to “Decamerone" but with an enthusiasm compare them together. He who almost religious. But setting aside came first seems to have attained the whatever of exaggeration there may greatest elevation; he who came last be in their praises, one cannot avoid the lowest ; but the truth is, that it is acknowledging that in addition to the the nature of the work in which each skill in the conduct of the whole com- achieved excellence, that has a differposition, which is indeed marvellous, ent elevation. The manner in which and has never been equalled by any each used his gift of genius and treated other writer of tales or novels, either his own subject is equally perfect, and in Italian or in any other tongue, each holds the highest rank in his own there is to be seen also most faithfully department, because he has never represented, as in some vast gallery, been surpassed in it. the manners and usages of his time, “ The literature of Italy,” says Mr. not only in the characters and person. Simpson, to whom, as well as to others, ages which are purely his invention, we acknowledge ourselves largely in. but also in a great number of histo- debted, "may be compared to a noble rical sketches which are touched with river. It may be traced from its very the hand of a master.
source, and followed in all its turns Such were the triumvirate of the and windings. Its rich and limpid Tercento - Dante, Petrarch, and waters reflect now the passions, the Boccaccio stars that shone out loves, the joys; now the sorrows, the above the horizon of literature with a wrongs of Italy All her eminent splendour, differing in intensity and writers have been more or less political brightness, yet all far removed from characters. From Dante to Machiaevery other light that glimmered with velli, from Machiavelli to Massimo an obscured radiance about them. Azeglio, their writings have been mirTo them Italy owes the formation of rors of the times in which they lived. her language-the glory of her litera. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, form ture-the celebrity of her name.
To the clasp in a chain consisting of many them mankind is largely indebted for links, great and small, of higher or the revival of the Greek and Latin lesser value, which constitutes the li. classics, and the rescuing from oblivion terature of Italy."
* " Vicende della Letteratura," lib. ii., cap. 13.
THE FALL OF DAY.
The tall trees
Through yonder forest ope,
Dance on the glittering rill,
His showery madrigals:
Creeps a thrill
And, lately wandering,
Yon pale cloud
And now a solemn hush
The white moon
Will lighten radiantly.
The tall trees
Is dead with every sound
The brown tint
On the stream's heaving breast.
In daylight's golden hours.
THERE is no country in the world the poet, perished miserably of famine; where the action of despotism upon Poutchin was killed in a duel; Venitznational literature is more remarkable tinoff died at Teheran by poison. In than in Russia. The pursuit of au- short, no sooner does a man of letters thorship is at all times proverbially a attain any eminence than he is struck precarious one; but in that country down by a fate as mysterious as it is the path to literary fame leads only too inevitable. To this list may be added surely to the grave. For the purposes
the name of that very remarkable of state policy, the vigorous censorship man, a specimen of whose writings which exists over all the products of we would now present to the reader. intelligence is not considered sufficient; Nicholas Gogol perished two years no sooner has a writer displayed any since, in the prime of life, but not boldness or freedom of thought, than before he had succeeded in estabhe is pursued by a destiny which fol- lishing a reputation which is beyond lows him in every phase of his career, the reach of tyranny to destroy. As and strikes him down generally before a painter of the manners of his time he has reached his prime. The his. he stands unrivalled. His writings, tory of Russian literature adds a new which have a grave, social meaning, and an instructive chapter to the ca- are distinguished by great originality, lamities of authors, and at this time it and a vein of humour as genuine as affords a subject which cannot fail to that of Swift or Sterne. His portraits prove interesting. When we come to of the different phases of Russian life examine it, we can scarcely help feeling which have fallen within the sphere of surprised that such a thing as litera. his observation are very striking, and ture exists there at all. A brief glance place him in the foremost rank of his at the list of its victims is almost contemporaries. Gogol was a native enough — one of the most remarkable of Little Russia. He commenced his men of his day, Koltzoff, was con- career as a writer of fiction, and his demned at the age of twenty-two to reputation was first established by a perpetual exile in Siberia ; Belowky, comedy called The Comptroller. This tray it.
piece, distinguished by singular bold- bringing with him a number of manuness of thought and a power of comic scripts, the fruits of his labours during humour, exhibits a picture of Russian his exile. It was not long, however, life the accuracy of which is incontes- before he died suddenly, under strange tible. He supposes a gentleman just and mysterious circumstances, at Mos. come from St. Petersburgh into one of cow, whither he had retired. His the provinces. The new arrival is writings were immediately prohibited; mistaken for the comptroller-general, and it was forbidden that his name who was expected about the same time. should be mentioned in any of the The opportunity is thus afforded of public journals. People spoke of him passing in review every class of provin- in whispers; and it was said that the cial administration, which he shows to greater portion of his unpublished be utterly corrupt, full of the grossest manuscripts were burned by his own profligacy, and not only servile, but band two days before he died. tyrannical. But the most famous pro- We have before us three short duction of this author was a work sketches written by him. That which called “ The Dead Souls "—a subject we have selected we present to our which, being peculiar to the country, readers, less as a specimen of the aurequires a word of explanation. The thor's peculiar style than as affording serfs of the country are called souls; an accurate picture of the domestic this term is, however, confined to the life of the great country with which males only, neither women nor chil- we are now in collision, and drawn by dren being taken into account. The the hand of an artist qualified to porwealth of a noble is estimated by the number of souls on his estate. These are bought or sold, given as a dowry, There was once a certain good old or mortgaged, as occasion may require. couple who resided in the Ukraine,
There exists in the country districts a sprung from one of the ancient families sort of provincial administration called of Little Russia, that exhibit a marked “s the Council of Guardians.” To the contrast to some of their countrymen, needy peasants loans are granted by who, risen from the lowest rank to be the imperial treasury on the security servants of the state, avail themselves of of their effects. This custom produces their privileges to oppress their poorer a strange result. Foreign speculators neighbours. Having realised a small go from village to village for the pur-capital, they endeavour to become pose of purchasing the souls of the genteel by adding to the letter “0," dead — that is to say, the serfs which with which their names usually terare really dead, but whose names still minate, the letter “w,” so as to reappeared on the registry, which under- semble a good Russian pame. goes revision only once in five years. Having had no children, the affecThey thus obtained from the Council tion of this old couple was completely of Guardians a security, which they centred in each other. Athanase bad can carry beyond the limits of the been a military man in his earlier life; empire and negotiate on foreign ex- be had married when he was about changes. Upon this curious custom thirty, and had succeeded in obtaining Gogol has founded his romance, the hand of Pulcheria, not without through the medium of which he com- considerable difficulty, for his circumpletely exposes not only the system of stances were not then in the most fiscal administration, but many strange flourishing condition. He contrived, phases of Russian life ; and he thus however, to manage the affair with so displays in a bolder outline than the much address that he gained his point. stage could give him, all the crimes Of this love passage in his life he would and vicious practices which the curse occasionally, but not often, converse of despotism can inflict upon a country. freely. Athanase was not one of those
The moment he became distinguish- old men who tire you by sounding the ed his doom was sealed. That career praises of the past, and deprecating the which opened with so much brilliancy time in which you live. He would was soon clouded by misfortune; hu- take the greatest interest in all the miliation and persecution followed him events of your life - in your success, at every step. At length he succeeded
He was fond of asking in making his way to Rome, where he questions, but his curiosity was never lived for several years. He returned, tiresome ; nor was he ever indifferent