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Alessandro Manzoni - Italian Poet

Written by: William Dean Howells

It was not till the turbulent days of the Napoleonic age were past, that the theories and thoughts of Romance were introduced into Italy. When these days came to an end, the whole political character of the peninsula reverted, as nearly as possible, to that of the times preceding the revolutions. The Bourbons were restored to Naples, the Pope to Rome, the Dukes and Grand Dukes to their several states, the House of Savoy to Piedmont, and the Austrians to Venice and Lombardy; and it was agreed among all these despotic governments that there was to be no Italy save, as Metternich suggested, in a geographical sense. They encouraged a relapse, among their subjects, into the follies and vices of the past, and they largely succeeded. But, after all, the age was against them; and people who have once desired and done great things are slow to forget them, though the censor may forbid them to be named, and the prison and the scaffold may enforce his behest.

With the restoration of the Austrians, there came a tranquillity to Milan which was not the apathy it seemed. It was now impossible for literary patriotism to be openly militant, as it had been in Alfieri and Foscolo, but it took on the retrospective phase of Romance, and devoted itself to the celebration of the past glories of Italy. In this way it still fulfilled its educative and regenerative mission. It dwelt on the victories which Italians had won in other days over their oppressors, and it tacitly reminded them that they were still oppressed by foreign governments; it portrayed their own former corruption and crimes, and so taught them the virtues which alone could cure the ills their vices had brought upon them. Only secondarily political, and primarily moral, it forbade the Italians to hope to be good citizens without being good men. This was Romance in its highest office, as Manzoni, Grossi, and D'Azeglio conceived it. Aesthetically, the new school struggled to overthrow the classic traditions; to liberate tragedy from the bondage of the unities, and let it concern itself with any tragical incident of life; to give comedy the generous scope of English and Spanish comedy; to seek poetry in the common experiences of men and to find beauty in any theme; to be utterly free, untrammeled, and abundant; to be in literature what the Gothic is in architecture. It perished because it came to look for Beauty only, and all that was good in it became merged in Realism which looks for Truth.

These were the purposes of Romance, and the masters in whom the Italian Romanticists had studied them were the great German and English poets. The tragedies of Shakespeare were translated and admired, and the dramas of Schiller were reproduced in Italian verse; the poems of Byron and of Scott were made known, and the ballads of such lyrical Germans as Bürger. But, of course, so quick and curious a people as the Italians had been sensitive to all preceding influences in the literary world, and before what we call Romance came in from Germany, a breath of nature had already swept over the languid elegance of Arcady from the northern lands of storms and mists; and the effects of this are visible in the poetry of Foscolo's period.

The enthusiasm with which Ossian was received in France remained, or perhaps only began, after the hoax was exploded in England. In Italy, the misty essence of the Caledonian bard was hailed as a substantial presence. The king took his spear, and struck his deeply sounding shield, as it hung on the willows over the neatly kept garden-walks, and the Shepherds and Shepherdesses promenading there in perpetual villeggiatura were alarmed and perplexed out of a composure which many noble voices had not been able to move. Emiliani-Giudici declares that Melchiorre Cesarotti, a professor in the University of Padua, dealt the first blow against the power of Arcadia. This professor of Greek made the acquaintance of George Sackville, who inflamed him with a desire to read Ossian's poems, then just published in England; and Cesarotti studied the English language in order to acquaint himself with a poet whom he believed greater than Homer. He translated Macpherson into Italian verse, retaining, however, in extraordinary degree, the genius of the language in which he found the poetry. He is said (for I have not read his version) to have twisted the Italian into our curt idioms, and indulged himself in excesses of compound words, to express the manner of his original. He believed that the Italian language had become "sterile, timid, and superstitious", through the fault of the grammarians; and in adopting the blank verse for his translation, he ventured upon new forms, and achieved complete popularity, if not complete success. "In fact," says Giudici, "the poems of Ossian were no sooner published than Italy was filled with uproar by the new methods of poetry, clothed in all the magic of magnificent forms till then unknown. The Arcadian flocks were thrown into tumult, and proclaimed a crusade against Cesarotti as a subverter of ancient order and a mover of anarchy in the peaceful republic—it was a tyranny, and they called it a republic—of letters. Cesarotti was called corrupter, sacrilegious, profane, and assailed with titles of obscene contumely; but the poems of Ossian were read by all, and the name of the translator, till then little known, became famous in and out of Italy." In fine, Cesarotti founded a school; but, blinded by his marvelous success, he attempted to translate Homer into the same fearless Italian which had received his Ossian. He failed, and was laughed at. Ossian, however, remained a power in Italian letters, though Cesarotti fell; and his influence was felt for romance before the time of the Romantic School. Monti imitated him as he found him in Italian; yet, though Monti's verse abounds, like Ossian, in phantoms and apparitions, they are not northern specters, but respectable shades, classic, well-mannered, orderly, and have no kinship with anything but the personifications, Vice, Virtue, Fear, Pleasure, and the rest of their genteel allegorical company. Unconsciously, however, Monti had helped to prepare the way for romantic realism by his choice of living themes. Louis XVI, though decked in epic dignity, was something that touched and interested the age; and Bonaparte, even in pagan apotheosis, was so positive a subject that the improvvisatore acquired a sort of truth and sincerity in celebrating him. Bonaparte might not be the Sun he was hailed to be, but even in Monti's verse he was a soldier, ambitious, unscrupulous, irresistible, recognizable in every guise.

In Germany, where the great revival of romantic letters took place,—where the poets and scholars, studying their own Minnesingers and the ballads of England and Scotland, reproduced the simplicity and directness of thought characteristic of young literatures,—the life as well as the song of the people had once been romantic. But in Italy there had never been such a period. The people were municipal, mercantile; the poets burlesqued the tales of chivalry, and the traders made money out of the Crusades. In Italy, moreover, the patriotic instincts of the people, as well as their habits and associations, were opposed to those which fostered romance in Germany; and the poets and novelists, who sought to naturalize the new element of literature, were naturally accused of political friendship with the hated Germans. The obstacles in the way of the Romantic School at Milan were very great, and it may be questioned if, after all, its disciples succeeded in endearing to the Italians any form of romantic literature except the historical novel, which came from England, and the untrammeled drama, which was studied from English models. They produced great results for good in Italian letters; but, as usual, these results were indirect, and not just those at which the Romanticists aimed.

In Italy the Romantic School was not so sharply divided into a first and second period as in Germany, where it was superseded for a time by the classicism following the study of Winckelmann. Yet it kept, in its own way, the general tendency of German literature. For the "Sorrows of Werther", the Italians had the "Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis"; for the brood of poets who arose in the fatherland to defy the Revolution, incarnate in Napoleon, with hymn and ballad, a retrospective national feeling in Italy found the same channels of expression through the Lombard group of lyrists and dramatists, while the historical romance flourished as richly as in England, and for a much longer season.

De Sanctis studies the literary situation in the concluding pages of his history; they are almost the most brilliant pages, and they embody a conception of it so luminous that it would be idle to pretend to offer the reader anything better than a résumé of his work. The revolution had passed away under the horror of its excesses; more temperate ideas prevailed; the need of a religious and moral restoration was felt. "Foscolo died in 1827, and Pellico, Manzoni, Grossi, Berchet, had risen above the horizon. The Romantic School,'the audacious boreal school,' had appeared. 1815 is a memorable date.... It marks the official manifestation of a reaction, not only political, but philosophical and literary.... The reaction was as rapid and violent as the revolution.... The white terror succeeded to the red."

Our critic says that there were at this time two enemies, materialism and skepticism, and that there rose against them a spirituality carried to idealism, to mysticism. "To the right of nature was opposed the divine right, to popular sovereignty legitimacy, to individual rights the State, to liberty authority or order. The middle ages returned in triumph.... Christianity, hitherto the target of all offense, became the center of every philosophical investigation, the banner of all social and religious progress.... The criterions of art were changed. There was a pagan art and a Christian art, whose highest expression was sought in the Gothic, in the glooms, the mysteries, the vague, the indefinite, in a beyond which was called the ideal, in an aspiration towards the infinite, incapable of fruition and therefore melancholy.... To Voltaire and Rousseau succeeded Chateaubriand, De Staël, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Lamennais. And in 1815 appeared the Sacred Hymns of the young Manzoni."

The Romantic movement was as universal then as the Realistic movement is now, and as irresistible. It was the literary expression of monarchy and aristocracy, as Realism is the literary expression of republicanism and democracy. What De Sanctis shows is that out of the political tempest absolutism issued stronger than ever, that the clergy and the nobles, once its rivals, became its creatures; the prevailing bureaucracy interested the citizen class in the perpetuity of the state, but turned them into office-seekers; the police became the main-spring of power; the office-holder, the priest and the soldier became spies. "There resulted an organized corruption called government, absolute in form, or under a mask of constitutionalism. ... Such a reaction, in violent contradiction of modern ideas, could not last." There were outbreaks in Spain, Naples, Piedmont, the Romagna; Greece and Belgium rose; legitimacy fell; citizen-kings came in; and a long quiet followed, in which the sciences and letters nourished. Even in Austria-ridden Italy, where constitutionalism was impossible, the middle class was allowed a part in the administration. "Little by little the new and the old learned to live together: the divine right and the popular will were associated in laws and writs. ... The movement was the same revolution as before, mastered by experience and self-disciplined.... Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Lamennais, Manzoni, Grossi, Pellico, were liberal no less than Voltaire and Rousseau, Alfieri and Foscolo.... The religious sentiment, too deeply offended, vindicated itself; yet it could not escape from the lines of the revolution ... it was a reaction transmuted into a reconciliation."

The literary movement was called Romantic as against the old Classicism; medieval and Christian, it made the papacy the hero of its poetry; it abandoned Greek and Roman antiquity for national antiquity, but the modern spirit finally informed Romanticism as it had informed Classicism; Parini and Manzoni were equally modern men. Religion is restored, but, "it is no longer a creed, it is an artistic motive.... It is not enough that there are saints, they must be beautiful; the Christian idea returns as art.... Providence comes back to the world, the miracle re-appears in story, hope and prayer revive, the heart softens, it opens itself to gentle influences.... Manzoni reconstructs the ideal of the Christian Paradise and reconciles it with the modern spirit. Mythology goes, the classic remains; the eighteenth century is denied, its ideas prevail."

The pantheistic idealism which resulted pleased the citizen-fancy; the notion of "evolution succeeded to that of revolution"; one said civilization, progress, culture, instead of liberty. "Louis Philippe realized the citizen ideal.... The problem was solved, the skein untangled. God might rest.... The supernatural was not believed, but it was explained and respected. One did not accept Christ as divine, but a human Christ was exalted to the stars; religion was spoken of with earnestness, and the ministers of God with reverence."

A new criticism arose, and bade literature draw from life, while a vivid idealism accompanied anxiety for historical truth. In Italy, where the liberals could not attack the governments, they attacked Aristotle, and a tremendous war arose between the Romanticists and the Classicists. The former grouped themselves at Milan chiefly, and battled through the Conciliatore, a literary journal famous in Italian annals. They vaunted the English and Germans; they could not endure mythology; they laughed the three unities to scorn. At Paris Manzoni had imbibed the new principles, and made friends with the new masters; for Goethe and Schiller he abandoned Alfieri and Monti. "Yet if the Romantic School, by its name, its ties, its studies, its impressions, was allied to German traditions and French fashions, it was at bottom Italian in accent, aspiration, form, and motive.... Every one felt our hopes palpitating under the medieval robe; the least allusion, the remotest meanings, were caught by the public, which was in the closest accord with the writers. The middle ages were no longer treated with historical and positive intention; they became the garments of our ideals, the transparent expression of our hopes."

It is this fact which is especially palpable in Manzoni's work, and Manzoni was the chief poet of the Romantic School in that land where it found the most realistic development, and set itself seriously to interpret the emotions and desires of the nation. When these were fulfilled, even the form of Romanticism ceased to be.

III

ALESSANDRO MANZONI was born at Milan in 1784, and inherited from his father the title of Count, which he always refused to wear; from his mother, who was the daughter of Beccaria, the famous and humane writer on Crimes and Punishments, he may have received the nobility which his whole life has shown.

{Illustration: Alessandro Manzoni.}

In his youth he was a liberal thinker in matters of religion; the stricter sort of Catholics used to class him with the Voltaireans, and there seems to have been some ground for their distrust of his orthodoxy. But in 1808 he married Mlle. Louisa Henriette Blondel, the daughter of a banker of Geneva, who, having herself been converted from Protestantism to the Catholic faith on coming to Milan, converted her husband in turn, and thereafter there was no question concerning his religion. She was long remembered in her second country "for her fresh blond head, and her blue eyes, her lovely eyes", and she made her husband very happy while she lived. The young poet signalized his devotion to his young bride, and the faith to which she restored him, in his Sacred Hymns, published in this devout and joyous time. But Manzoni was never a Catholic of those Catholics who believed in the temporal power of the Pope. He said to Madam Colet, the author of "L'Italie des Italiens", a silly and gossiping but entertaining book, "I bow humbly to the Pope, and the Church has no more respectful son; but why confound the interests of earth and those of heaven? The Roman people are right in asking their freedom—there are hours for nations, as for governments, in which they must occupy themselves, not with what is convenient, but with what is just. Let us lay hands boldly upon the temporal power, but let us not touch the doctrine of the Church. The one is as distinct from the other as the immortal soul from the frail and mortal body. To believe that the Church is attacked in taking away its earthly possessions is a real heresy to every true Christian."

The Sacred Hymns were published in 1815, and in 1820 Manzoni gave the world his first tragedy, Il Conte di Carmagnola, a romantic drama written in the boldest defiance of the unities of time and place. He dispensed with these hitherto indispensable conditions of dramatic composition among the Italians eight years before Victor Hugo braved their tyranny in his Cromwell; and in an introduction to his tragedy he gave his reasons for this audacious innovation. Following the Carmagnola, in 1822, came his second and last tragedy, Adelchi. In the mean time he had written his magnificent ode on the Death of Napoleon, "Il Cinque Maggio", which was at once translated by Goethe, and recognized by the French themselves as the last word on the subject. It placed him at the head of the whole continental Romantic School.

In 1825 he published his romance, "I Promessi Sposi", known to every one knowing anything of Italian, and translated into all modern languages. Besides these works, and some earlier poems, Manzoni wrote only a few essays upon historical and literary subjects, and he always led a very quiet and uneventful life. He was very fond of the country; early every spring he left the city for his farm, whose labors he directed and shared. His life was so quiet, indeed, and his fate so happy, in contrast with that of Pellico and other literary contemporaries at Milan, that he was accused of indifference in political matters by those who could not see the subtler tendency of his whole life and works. Marc Monnier says, "There are countries where it is a shame not to be persecuted," and this is the only disgrace which has ever fallen upon Manzoni.

When the Austrians took possession of Milan, after the retirement of the French, they invited the patricians to inscribe themselves in a book of nobility, under pain of losing their titles, and Manzoni preferred to lose his. He constantly refused honors offered him by the Government, and he sent back the ribbon of a knightly order with the answer that he had made a vow never to wear any decoration. When Victor Emanuel in turn wished to do him a like honor, he held himself bound by his excuse to the Austrians, but accepted the honorary presidency of the Lombard Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts. In 1860 he was elected a Senator of the realm; he appeared in order to take the oath and then he retired to a privacy never afterwards broken.

IV

"Goethe's praise," says a sneer turned proverb, "is a brevet of mediocrity." Manzoni must rest under this damaging applause, which was not too freely bestowed upon other Italian poets of his time, or upon Italy at all, for that matter.

Goethe could not laud Manzoni's tragedies too highly; he did not find one word too much or too little in them; the style was free, noble, full and rich. As to the religious lyrics, the manner of their treatment was fresh and individual although the matter and the significance were not new; and the poet was "a Christian without fanaticism, a Roman Catholic without bigotry, a zealot without hardness."

The tragedies had no success upon the stage. The Carmagnola was given in Florence in 1828, but in spite of the favor of the court, and the open rancor of the friends of the Classic School, it failed; at Turin, where the Adelchi was tried, Pellico regretted that the attempt to play it had been made, and deplored the "vile irreverence of the public."

Both tragedies deal with patriotic themes, but they are both concerned with occurrences of remote epochs. The time of the Carmagnola is the fifteenth century; that of the Adelchi the eighth century; and however strongly marked are the characters,—and they are very strongly marked, and differ widely from most persons of Italian classic tragedy in this respect,—one still feels that they are subordinate to the great contests of elements and principles for which the tragedy furnishes a scene. In the Carmagnola the pathos is chiefly in the feeling embodied by the magnificent chorus lamenting the slaughter of Italians by Italians at the battle of Maclodio; in the Adelchi we are conscious of no emotion so strong as that we experience when we hear the wail of the Italian people, to whom the overthrow of their Longobard oppressors by the Franks is but the signal of a new enslavement. This chorus is almost as fine as the more famous one in the Carmagnola; both are incomparably finer than anything else in the tragedies and are much more dramatic than the dialogue. It is in the emotion of a spectator belonging to our own time rather than in that of an actor of those past times that the poet shows his dramatic strength; and whenever he speaks abstractly for country and humanity he moves us in a way that permits no doubt of his greatness.

After all, there is but one Shakespeare, and in the drama below him Manzoni holds a high place. The faults of his tragedies are those of most plays which are not acting plays, and their merits are much greater than the great number of such plays can boast. I have not meant to imply that you want sympathy with the persons of the drama, but only less sympathy than with the ideas embodied in them. There are many affecting scenes, and the whole of each tragedy is conceived in the highest and best ideal.

V

In the Carmagnola, the action extends from the moment when the Venetian Senate, at war with the Duke of Milan, places its armies under the command of the count, who is a soldier of fortune and has formerly been in the service of the Duke. The Senate sends two commissioners into his camp to represent the state there, and to be spies upon his conduct. This was a somewhat clumsy contrivance of the Republic to give a patriotic character to its armies, which were often recruited from mercenaries and generaled by them; and, of course, the hireling leaders must always have chafed under the surveillance. After the battle of Maclodio, in which the Venetian mercenaries defeated the Milanese, the victors, according to the custom of their trade, began to free their comrades of the other side whom they had taken prisoners. The commissioners protested against this waste of results, but Carmagnola answered that it was the usage of his soldiers, and he could not forbid it; he went further, and himself liberated some remaining prisoners. His action was duly reported to the Senate, and as he had formerly been in the service of the Duke of Milan, whose kinswoman he had married, he was suspected of treason. He was invited to Venice, and received with great honor, and conducted with every flattering ceremony to the hall of the Grand Council. After a brief delay, sufficient to exclude Carmagnola's followers, the Doge ordered him to be seized, and upon a summary trial he was put to death. From this tragedy I give first a translation of that famous chorus of which I have already spoken; I have kept the measure and the movement of the original at some loss of literality. The poem is introduced into the scene immediately succeeding the battle of Maclodio, where the two bands of those Italian condottieri had met to butcher each other in the interests severally of the Duke of Milan and the Signory of Venice.

    CHORUS.      On the right hand a trumpet is sounding,       On the left hand a trumpet replying,     The field upon all sides resounding         With the trampling of foot and of horse.       Yonder flashes a flag; yonder flying     Through the still air a bannerol glances;     Here a squadron embattled advances,         There another that threatens its course.      The space 'twixt the foes now beneath them       Is hid, and on swords the sword ringeth;     In the hearts of each other they sheathe them;         Blood runs, they redouble their blows.       Who are these? To our fair fields what bringeth     To make war upon us, this stranger?     Which is he that hath sworn to avenge her,         The land of his birth, on her foes?      They are all of one land and one nation,       One speech; and the foreigner names them     All brothers, of one generation;         In each visage their kindred is seen;       This land is the mother that claims them,     This land that their life blood is steeping,     That God, from all other lands keeping,         Set the seas and the mountains between.      Ah, which drew the first blade among them       To strike at the heart of his brother?     What wrong, or what insult hath stung them         To wipe out what stain, or to die?       They know not; to slay one another     They come in a cause none hath told them;     A chief that was purchased hath sold them;         They combat for him, nor ask why.      Ah, woe for the mothers that bare them,       For the wives of these warriors maddened!     Why come not their loved ones to tear them         Away from the infamous field?       Their sires, whom long years have saddened,     And thoughts of the sepulcher chastened,     In warning why have they not hastened         To bid them to hold and to yield?      As under the vine that embowers       His own happy threshold, the smiling     Clown watches the tempest that lowers         On the furrows his plow has not turned,       So each waits in safety, beguiling     The time with his count of those falling     Afar in the fight, and the appalling         Flames of towns and of villages burned.      There, intent on the lips of their mothers,       Thou shalt hear little children with scorning     Learn to follow and flout at the brothers         Whose blood they shall go forth to shed;     Thou shalt see wives and maidens adorning     Their bosoms and hair with the splendor     Of gems but now torn from the tender,         Hapless daughters and wives of the dead.      Oh, disaster, disaster, disaster!       With the slain the earth's hidden already;     With blood reeks the whole plain, and vaster         And fiercer the strife than before!       But along the ranks, rent and unsteady,     Many waver—they yield, they are flying!     With the last hope of victory dying         The love of life rises again.      As out of the fan, when it tosses       The grain in its breath, the grain flashes,     So over the field of their losses         Fly the vanquished. But now in their course       Starts a squadron that suddenly dashes     Athwart their wild flight and that stays them,     While hard on the hindmost dismays them         The pursuit of the enemy's horse.      At the feet of the foe they fall trembling,       And yield life and sword to his keeping;     In the shouts of the victors assembling,         The moans of the dying are drowned.       To the saddle a courier leaping,     Takes a missive, and through all resistance,     Spurs, lashes, devours the distance;         Every hamlet awakes at the sound.      Ah, why from their rest and their labor       To the hoof-beaten road do they gather?     Why turns every one to his neighbor         The jubilant tidings to hear?       Thou know'st whence he comes, wretched father?     And thou long'st for his news, hapless mother?     In fight brother fell upon brother!       These terrible tidings I bring.      All around I hear cries of rejoicing;       The temples are decked; the song swelleth     From the hearts of the fratricides, voicing        Praise and thanks that are hateful to God.       Meantime from the Alps where he dwelleth     The Stranger turns hither his vision,     And numbers with cruel derision         The brave that have bitten the sod.      Leave your games, leave your songs and exulting;       Fill again your battalions and rally     Again to your banners! Insulting         The stranger descends, he is come!       Are ye feeble and few in your sally,     Ye victors? For this he descendeth!     'Tis for this that his challenge he sendeth         From the fields where your brothers lie dumb!      Thou that strait to thy children appearedst,       Thou that knew'st not in peace how to tend them,     Fatal land! now the stranger thou fearedst         Receive, with the judgment he brings!       A foe unprovoked to offend them     At thy board sitteth down, and derideth,     The spoil of thy foolish divideth,         Strips the sword from the hand of thy kings.      Foolish he, too! What people was ever       For bloodshedding blest, or oppression?     To the vanquished alone comes harm never;         To tears turns the wrong-doer's joy!       Though he 'scape through the years' long progression,     Yet the vengeance eternal o'ertaketh     Him surely; it waiteth and waketh;         It seizes him at the last sigh!      We are all made in one Likeness holy,       Ransomed all by one only redemption;     Near or far, rich or poor, high or lowly,         Wherever we breathe in life's air,       We are brothers, by one great preëmption     Bound all; and accursed be its wronger,     Who would ruin by right of the stronger,         Wring the hearts of the weak with despair. 

Here is the whole political history of Italy. In this poem the picture of the confronted hosts, the vivid scenes of the combat, the lamentations over the ferocity of the embattled brothers, and the indifference of those that behold their kinsmen's carnage, the strokes by which the victory, the rout, and the captivity are given, and then the apostrophe to Italy, and finally the appeal to conscience—are all masterly effects. I do not know just how to express my sense of near approach through that last stanza to the heart of a very great and good man, but I am certain that I have such a feeling.

The noble, sonorous music, the solemn movement of the poem are in great part lost by its version into English; yet, I hope that enough are left to suggest the original. I think it quite unsurpassed in its combination of great artistic and moral qualities, which I am sure my version has not wholly obscured, bad as it is.

VI

The scene following first upon this chorus also strikes me with the grand spirit in which it is wrought; and in its revelations of the motives and ideas of the old professional soldier-life, it reminds me of Schiller's Wallenstein's Camp. Manzoni's canvas has not the breadth of that of the other master, but he paints with as free and bold a hand, and his figures have an equal heroism of attitude and motive. The generous soldierly pride of Carmagnola, and the strange esprit du corps of the mercenaries, who now stood side by side, and now front to front in battle; who sold themselves to any buyer that wanted killing done, and whose noblest usage was in violation of the letter of their bargains, are the qualities on which the poet touches, in order to waken our pity for what has already raised our horror. It is humanity in either case that inspires him—a humanity characteristic of many Italians of this century, who have studied so long in the school of suffering that they know how to abhor a system of wrong, and yet excuse its agents.

The scene I am to give is in the tent of the great condottiere. Carmagnola is speaking with one of the Commissioners of the Venetian Republic, when the other suddenly enters:

   Commissioner.     My lord, if instantly    You haste not to prevent it, treachery    Shameless and bold will be accomplished, making    Our victory vain, as't partly hath already.     Count. How now?     Com. The prisoners leave the camp in troops!    The leaders and the soldiers vie together    To set them free; and nothing can restrain them    Saving command of yours.     Count.              Command of mine?     Com. You hesitate to give it?     Count.                   'T is a use,    This, of the war, you know. It is so sweet    To pardon when we conquer; and their hate    Is quickly turned to friendship in the hearts    That throb beneath the steel. Ah, do not seek    To take this noble privilege from those    Who risked their lives for your sake, and to-day    Are generous because valiant yesterday.     Com. Let him be generous who fights for himself,    My lord! But these—and it rests upon their honor—    Have fought at our expense, and unto us    Belong the prisoners.     Count.              You may well think so,    Doubtless, but those who met them front to front,    Who felt their blows, and fought so hard to lay    Their bleeding hands upon them, they will not    So easily believe it.     Com.                And is this    A joust for pleasure then? And doth not Venice    Conquer to keep? And shall her victory    Be all in vain?     Count.         Already I have heard it,    And I must hear that word again? 'Tis bitter;    Importunate it comes upon me, like an insect    That, driven once away, returns to buzz    About my face.... The victory is in vain!    The field is heaped with corpses; scattered wide,    And broken, are the rest—a most flourishing    Army, with which, if it were still united,    And it were mine, mine truly, I'd engage    To overrun all Italy! Every design    Of the enemy baffled; even the hope of harm    Taken away from him; and from my hand    Hardly escaped, and glad of their escape,    Four captains against whom but yesterday    It were a boast to show resistance; vanished    Half of the dread of those great names; in us    Doubled the daring that the foe has lost;    The whole choice of the war now in our hands;    And ours the lands they've left—is't nothing?    Think you that they will go back to the Duke,    Those prisoners; and that they love him, or    Care more for him than you? that they have fought    In his behalf? Nay, they have combatted    Because a sovereign voice within the heart    Of men that follow any banner cries,    "Combat and conquer!" they have lost and so    Are set at liberty; they'll sell themselves—    O, such is now the soldier!—to the first    That seeks to buy them—Buy them; they are yours!     1st Com. When we paid those that were to fight with    them,    We then believed ourselves to have purchased them.     2d Com. My lord, Venice confides in you; in you    She sees a son; and all that to her good    And to her glory can redound, expects    Shall be done by you.     Count.                 Everything I can.     2d Com. And what can you not do upon this field?     Count. The thing you ask. An ancient use, a use    Dear to the soldier, I can not violate.     2d Com. You, whom no one resists, on whom so    promptly    Every will follows, so that none can say,    Whether for love or fear it yield itself;    You, in this camp, you are not able, you,    To make a law, and to enforce it?     Count.                              I said    I could not; now I rather say, I will not!    No further words; with friends this hath been ever    My ancient custom; satisfy at once    And gladly all just prayers, and for all other    Refuse them openly and promptly. Soldier!     Com.   Nay—what is your purpose?     Count.             You will see anon.                     {To a soldier who enters    How many prisoners still remain?     Soldier.                           I think,    My lord, four hundred.     Count.              Call them hither—call    The bravest of them—those you meet the first;    Send them here quickly.            {Exit soldier.                               Surely, I might do it—    If I gave such a sign, there were not heard    A murmur in the camp. But these, my children,    My comrades amid peril, and in joy,    Those who confide in me, believe they follow    A leader ever ready to defend    The honor and advantage of the soldier;    I play them false, and make more slavish yet,    More vile and base their calling, than 'tis now?    Lords, I am trustful, as the soldier is,    But if you now insist on that from me    Which shall deprive me of my comrades' love,    If you desire to separate me from them,    And so reduce me that I have no stay    Saving yourselves—in spite of me I say it,    You force me, you, to doubt—     Com.                          What do you say?     {The prisoners, among them young Pergola, enter.     Count (To the prisoners). O brave in vain! Unfortunate!    To you,    Fortune is cruelest, then? And you alone    Are to a sad captivity reserved?     A prisoner. Such, mighty lord, was never our belief.    When we were called into your presence, we    Did seem to hear a messenger that gave    Our freedom to us. Already, all of those    That yielded them to captains less than you    Have been released, and only we—     Count.                                Who was it,    That made you prisoners?     Prisoner.                        We were the last    To give our arms up. All the rest were taken    Or put to flight, and for a few brief moments    The evil fortune of the battle weighed    On us alone. At last you made a sign    That we should draw nigh to your banner,—we    Alone not conquered, relics of the lost.     Count. You are those? I am very glad, my friends,    To see you again, and I can testify    That you fought bravely; and if so much valor    Were not betrayed, and if a captain equal    Unto yourselves had led you, it had been    No pleasant thing to stand before you.     Prisoner.                                And now    Shall it be our misfortune to have yielded    Only to you, my lord? And they that found    A conqueror less glorious, shall they find    More courtesy in him? In vain, we asked    Our freedom of your soldiers—no one durst    Dispose of us without your own assent,    But all did promise it. "O, if you can,    Show yourselves to the Count," they said. "Be sure,    He'll not embitter fortune to the vanquished;    An ancient courtesy of war will never    Be ta'en away by him; he would have been    Rather the first to have invented it."     Count. (To the Coms.) You hear them, lords? Well,          then, what do you say?    What would you do, you? (To the prisoners)                                  Heaven forbid that any    Should think more highly than myself of me!    You are all free, my friends; farewell! Go, follow    Your fortune, and if e'er again it lead you    Under a banner that's adverse to mine,    Why, we shall see each other. (The Count observes          young Pergola and stops him.)                                  Ho, young man,    Thou art not of the vulgar! Dress, and face    More clearly still, proclaims it; yet with the others    Thou minglest and art silent?     Pergola.               Vanquished men    Have nought to say, O captain.     Count.                 This ill-fortune    Thou bearest so, that thou dost show thyself    Worthy a better. What's thy name?     Pergola.                        A name    Whose fame 't were hard to greaten, and that lays    On him who bears it a great obligation.    Pergola is my name.     Count.          What! thou 'rt the son    Of that brave man?    Pergola.        I am he.     Count.                   Come, embrace    Thy father's ancient friend! Such as thou art    That I was when I knew him first. Thou bringest    Happy days back to me! the happy days Of hope.    And take thou heart! Fortune did give    A happier beginning unto me;    But fortune's promises are for the brave.    And soon or late she keeps them. Greet for me    Thy father, boy, and say to him that I    Asked it not of thee, but that I was sure    This battle was not of his choosing.     Pergola.                      Surely,    He chose it not; but his words were as wind.     Count. Let it not grieve thee; 't is the leader's shame    Who is defeated; he begins well ever    Who like a brave man fights where he is placed.    Come with me, (takes his hand)        I would show thee to my comrades.    I'd give thee back thy sword. Adieu, my lords;                                       (To the Coms.)    I never will be merciful to your foes    Till I have conquered them. 

A notable thing in this tragedy of Carmagnola is that the interest of love is entirely wanting to it, and herein it differs very widely from the play of Schiller. The soldiers are simply soldiers; and this singleness of motive is in harmony with the Italian conception of art. Yet the Carmagnola of Manzoni is by no means like the heroes of the Alfierian tragedy. He is a man, not merely an embodied passion or mood; his character is rounded, and has all the checks and counterpoises, the inconsistencies, in a word, without which nothing actually lives in literature, or usefully lives in the world. In his generous and magnificent illogicality, he comes the nearest being a woman of all the characters in the tragedy. There is no other personage in it equaling him in interest; but he also is subordinated to the author's purpose of teaching his countrymen an enlightened patriotism. I am loath to blame this didactic aim, which, I suppose, mars the aesthetic excellence ofthe piece.

Carmagnola's liberation of the prisoners was not forgiven him by Venice, who, indeed, never forgave anything; he was in due time entrapped in the hall of the Grand Council, and condemned to die. The tragedy ends with a scene in his prison, where he awaits his wife and daughter, who are coming with one of his old comrades, Gonzaga, to bid him a last farewell. These passages present the poet in his sweeter and tenderer moods, and they have had a great charm for me.

SCENE—THE PRISON.

   Count (speaking of his wife and daughter). By this time        they must know my fate. Ah! why    Might I not die far from them? Dread, indeed,    Would be the news that reached them, but, at least,    The darkest hour of agony would be past,    And now it stands before us. We must needs    Drink the draft drop by drop. O open fields,    O liberal sunshine, O uproar of arms,    O joy of peril, O trumpets, and the cries    Of combatants, O my true steed! 'midst you    'T were fair to die; but now I go rebellious    To meet my destiny, driven to my doom    Like some vile criminal, uttering on the way    Impotent vows, and pitiful complaints.  

   But I shall see my dear ones once again    And, alas! hear their moans; the last adieu    Hear from their lips—shall find myself once more    Within their arms—then part from them forever.    They come! O God, bend down from heaven on them    One look of pity.           {Enter ANTONIETTA, MATILDE, and GONZAGA.    Antonietta.         My husband!     Matilde.                         O my father!     Antonietta. Ah, thus thou comest back! Is this the moment    So long desired?     Count.           O poor souls! Heaven knows    That only for your sake is it dreadful to me.    I who so long am used to look on death,    And to expect it, only for your sakes    Do I need courage. And you, you will not surely    Take it away from me? God, when he makes    Disaster fall on the innocent, he gives, too,    The heart to bear it. Ah! let yours be equal    To your affliction now! Let us enjoy    This last embrace—it likewise is Heaven's gift.    Daughter, thou weepest; and thou, wife! Oh, when    I chose thee mine, serenely did they days    Glide on in peace; but made I thee companion    Of a sad destiny. And it is this thought    Embitters death to me. Would that I could not    See how unhappy I have made thee!     Antonietta.                       O husband    Of my glad days, thou mad'st them glad! My heart,—    Yes, thou may'st read it!—I die of sorrow! Yet    I could not wish that I had not been thine.     Count. O love, I know how much I lose in thee:    Make me not feel it now too much.     Matilde.                          The murderers!     Count. No, no, my sweet Matilde; let not those    Fierce cries of hatred and of vengeance rise    From out thine innocent soul. Nay, do not mar    These moments; they are holy; the wrong's great,    But pardon it, and thou shalt see in midst of ills    A lofty joy remaining still. My death,    The cruelest enemy could do no more    Than hasten it. Oh surely men did never    Discover death, for they had made it fierce    And insupportable! It is from Heaven    That it doth come, and Heaven accompanies it,    Still with such comfort as men cannot give    Nor take away. O daughter and dear wife,    Hear my last words! All bitterly, I see,    They fall upon your hearts. But you one day will have    Some solace in remembering them together.    Dear wife, live thou; conquer thy sorrow, live;    Let not this poor girl utterly be orphaned.    Fly from this land, and quickly; to thy kindred    Take her with thee. She is their blood; to them    Thou once wast dear, and when thou didst become    Wife of their foe, only less dear; the cruel    Reasons of state have long time made adverse    The names of Carmagnola and Visconti;    But thou go'st back unhappy; the sad cause    Of hate is gone. Death's a great peacemaker!    And thou, my tender flower, that to my arms    Wast wont to come and make my spirit light,    Thou bow'st thy head? Aye, aye, the tempest roars    Above thee! Thou dost tremble, and thy breast    Is shaken with thy sobs. Upon my face    I feel thy burning tears fall down on me,    And cannot wipe them from thy tender eyes.                                ... Thou seem'st to ask    Pity of me, Matilde. Ah! thy father    Can do naught for thee. But there is in heaven,    There is a Father thou know'st for the forsaken;    Trust him and live on tranquil if not glad.  

   Gonzaga, I offer thee this hand, which often    Thou hast pressed upon the morn of battle, when    We knew not if we e'er should meet again:    Wilt press it now once more, and give to me    Thy faith that thou wilt be defense and guard    Of these poor women, till they are returned    Unto their kinsmen?     Gonzaga.              I do promise thee.     Count. When thou go'st back to camp,    Salute my brothers for me; and say to them    That I die innocent; witness thou hast been    Of all my deeds and thoughts—thou knowest it.    Tell them that I did never stain my sword    With treason—I did never stain it—and    I am betrayed.—And when the trumpets blow,    And when the banners beat against the wind,    Give thou a thought to thine old comrade then!    And on some mighty day of battle, when    Upon the field of slaughter the priest lifts    His hands amid the doleful noises, offering up    The sacrifice to heaven for the dead,    Bethink thyself of me, for I too thought    To die in battle.     Antonietta.       O God, have pity on us!     Count. O wife! Matilde! now the hour is near    We needs must part. Farewell!     Matilde.             No, father—     Count.                           Yet    Once more, come to my heart! Once more, and now,    In mercy, go!     Antonietta. Ah, no! they shall unclasp us    By force!                 {A sound of armed men is heard without.     Matilde. What sound is that?     Antonietta.                    Almighty God!              {The door opens in the middle; armed men                  are seen. Their leader advances toward                  the Count; the women swoon.     Count. Merciful God! Thou hast removed from them    This cruel moment, and I thank Thee! Friend,    Succor them, and from this unhappy place    Bear them! And when they see the light again,    Tell them that nothing more is left to fear. 

VII

In the Carmagnola having dealt with the internal wars which desolated medieval Italy, Manzoni in the Adelchi takes a step further back in time, and evolves his tragedy from the downfall of the Longobard kingdom and the invasion of the Franks. These enter Italy at the bidding of the priests, to sustain the Church against the disobedience and contumacy of the Longobards.

Desiderio and his son Adelchi are kings of the Longobards, and the tragedy opens with the return to their city Pavia of Ermenegarda, Adelchi's sister, who was espoused to Carlo, king of the Franks, and has been repudiated by him. The Longobards have seized certain territories belonging to the Church, and as they refuse to restore them, the ecclesiastics send a messenger, who crosses the Alps on foot, to the camp of the Franks, and invites their king into Italy to help the cause of the Church. The Franks descend into the valley of Susa, and soon after defeat the Longobards. It is in this scene that the chorus of the Italian peasants, who suffer, no matter which side conquers, is introduced. The Longobards retire to Verona, and Ermenegarda, whose character is painted with great tenderness and delicacy, and whom we may take for a type of what little goodness and gentleness, sorely puzzled, there was in the world at that time (which was really one of the worst of all the bad times in the world), dies in a convent near Brescia, while the war rages all round her retreat. A defection takes place among the Longobards; Desiderio is captured; a last stand is made by Adelchi at Verona, where he is mortally wounded, and is brought prisoner to his father in the tent of Carlo. The tragedy ends with his death; and I give the whole of the last scene:

                {Enter CARLO and DESIDERIO.     Desiderio. Oh, how heavily    Hast thou descended upon my gray head,    Thou hand of God! How comes my son to me!    My son, my only glory, here I languish,    And tremble to behold thee! Shall I see    Thy deadly wounded body, I that should    Be wept by thee? I, miserable, alone,    Dragged thee to this; blind dotard I, that fain    Had made earth fair to thee, I digged thy grave.    If only thou amidst thy warriors' songs    Hadst fallen on some day of victory,    Or had I closed upon thy royal bed    Thine eyes amidst the sobs and reverent grief    Of thy true liegemen, ah; it still had been    Anguish ineffable! And now thou diest,    No king, deserted, in thy foeman's land,    With no lament, saving thy father's, uttered    Before the man that doth exult to hear it.     Carlo. Old man, thy grief deceives thee. Sorrowful,    And not exultant do I see the fate    Of a brave man and king. Adelchi's foe    Was I, and he was mine, nor such that I    Might rest upon this new throne, if he lived    And were not in my hands. But now he is    In God's own hands, whither no enmity    Of man can follow him.     Des.               'T is a fatal gift    Thy pity, if it never is bestowed    Save upon those fallen beyond all hope—    If thou dost never stay thine arm until    Thou canst find no place to inflict a wound!            (Adelchi is brought in, mortally wounded.)     Des. My son!     Adelchi.    And do I see thee once more, father?    Oh come, and touch my hand!     Des. 'T is terrible    For me to see thee so!     Ad.         Many in battle    Did fall so by my sword.     Des.           Ah, then, this wound    Thou hast, it is incurable?     Ad.          Incurable.     Des.                  Alas, atrocious war!    And cruel I that made it. 'T is I kill thee.     Ad. Not thou nor he (pointing to Carlo), but the          Lord God of all.     Des. Oh, dear unto those eyes! how far away    From thee I suffered! and it was one thought    Among so many woes upheld me. 'T was the hope    To tell thee all one day in some safe hour    Of peace—     Ad. That hour of peace has come to me.    Believe it, father, save that I leave thee    Crushed with thy sorrow here below.     Des.                             O front    Serene and bold! O fearless hand! O eyes    That once struck terror!     Ad.                 Cease thy lamentations,    Cease, father, in God's name! For was not this    The time to die? But thou that shalt live captive,    And hast lived all thy days a king, oh listen:    Life's a great secret that is not revealed    Save in the latest hour. Thou'st lost a kingdom;    Nay, do not weep! Trust me, when to this hour    Thou also shalt draw nigh, most jubilant    And fair shall pass before thy thought the years    In which thou wast not king—the years in which    No tears shall be recorded in the skies    Against thee, and thy name shall not ascend    Mixed with the curses of the unhappy. Oh,    Rejoice that thou art king no longer! that    All ways are closed against thee! There is none    For innocent action, and there but remains    To do wrong or to suffer wrong. A power    Fierce, pitiless, grasps the world, and calls itself    The right. The ruthless hands of our forefathers    Did sow injustice, and our fathers then    Did water it with blood; and now the earth    No other harvest bears. It is not meet    To uphold crime, thou'st proved it, and if 't were,    Must it not end thus? Nay, this happy man    Whose throne my dying renders more secure,    Whom all men smile on and applaud, and serve,    He is a man and he shall die.     Des.                          But I    That lose my son, what shall console me?     Ad.                                      God!    Who comforts us for all things. And oh, thou    Proud foe of mine!        (Turning to Carlo.)     Carlo.            Nay, by this name, Adelchi,    Call me no more; I was so, but toward death    Hatred is impious and villainous. Nor such,    Believe me, knows the heart of Carlo.     Ad.                                 Friendly    My speech shall be, then, very meek and free    Of every bitter memory to both.    For this I pray thee, and my dying hand    I lay in thine! I do not ask that thou    Should'st let go free so great a captive—no,    For I well see that my prayer were in vain    And vain the prayer of any mortal. Firm    Thy heart is—must be—nor so far extends    Thy pity. That which thou can'st not deny    Without being cruel, that I ask thee! Mild    As it can be, and free of insult, be    This old man's bondage, even such as thou    Would'st have implored for thy father, if the heavens    Had destined thee the sorrow of leaving him    In others' power. His venerable head    Keep thou from every outrage; for against    The fallen many are brave; and let him not    Endure the cruel sight of any of those    His vassals that betrayed him.     Carlo.                         Take in death    This glad assurance, Adelchi! and be Heaven    My testimony, that thy prayer is as    The word of Carlo!     Ad.                And thy enemy,    In dying, prays for thee!     Enter ARVINO.     Armno. (Impatiently) O mighty king, thy warriors and chiefs    Ask entrance.     Ad. (Appealingly.) Carlo!     Carlo.                    Let not any dare    To draw anigh this tent; for here Adelchi    Is sovereign; and no one but Adelchi's father    And the meek minister of divine forgiveness    Have access here.     Des.              O my beloved son!     Ad.                                 O my father,    The light forsakes these eyes.     Des.                           Adelchi,—No!    Thou shalt not leave me!     Ad.                     O King of kings! betrayed    By one of Thine, by all the rest abandoned:    I come to seek Thy peace, and do Thou take    My weary soul!     Des.           He heareth thee, my son,    And thou art gone, and I in servitude    Remain to weep. 

I wish to give another passage from this tragedy: the speech which the emissary of the Church makes to Carlo when he reaches his presence after his arduous passage of the Alps. I suppose that all will note the beauty and reality of the description in the story this messenger tells of his adventures; and I feel, for my part, a profound effect of wildness and loneliness in the verse, which has almost the solemn light and balsamy perfume of those mountain solitudes:

                                      From the camp,    Unseen, I issued, and retraced the steps    But lately taken. Thence upon the right    I turned toward Aquilone. Abandoning    The beaten paths, I found myself within    A dark and narrow valley; but it grew    Wider before my eyes as further on    I kept my way. Here, now and then, I saw    The wandering flocks, and huts of shepherds. 'T was    The furthermost abode of men. I entered    One of the huts, craved shelter, and upon    The woolly fleece I slept the night away.    Rising at dawn, of my good shepherd host    I asked my way to France. "Beyond those heights    Are other heights," he said, "and others yet;    And France is far and far away; but path    There's none, and thousands are those mountains—    Steep, naked, dreadful, uninhabited    Unless by ghosts, and never mortal man    Passed over them." "The ways of God are many,    Far more than those of mortals," I replied,    "And God sends me." "And God guide you!" he said.    Then, from among the loaves he kept in store,    He gathered up as many as a pilgrim    May carry, and in a coarse sack wrapping them,    He laid them on my shoulders. Recompense    I prayed from Heaven for him, and took my way.    Beaching the valley's top, a peak arose,    And, putting faith in God, I climbed it. Here    No trace of man appeared, only the forests    Of untouched pines, rivers unknown, and vales    Without a path. All hushed, and nothing else    But my own steps I heard, and now and then    The rushing of the torrents, and the sudden    Scream of the hawk, or else the eagle, launched    From his high nest, and hurtling through the dawn,    Passed close above my head; or then at noon,    Struck by the sun, the crackling of the cones    Of the wild pines. And so three days I walked,    And under the great trees, and in the clefts,    Three nights I rested. The sun was my guide;    I rose with him, and him upon his journey    I followed till he set. Uncertain still,    Of my own way I went; from vale to vale    Crossing forever; or, if it chanced at times    I saw the accessible slope of some great height    Rising before me, and attained its crest,    Yet loftier summits still, before, around,    Towered over me; and other heights with snow    From foot to summit whitening, that did seem    Like steep, sharp tents fixed in the soil; and others    Appeared like iron, and arose in guise    Of walls insuperable. The third day fell    What time I had a mighty mountain seen    That raised its top above the others; 't was    All one green slope, and all its top was crowned    With trees. And thither eagerly I turned    My weary steps. It was the eastern side,    Sire, of this very mountain on which lies    Thy camp that faces toward the setting sun.    While I yet lingered on its spurs the darkness    Did overtake me; and upon the dry    And slippery needles of the pine that covered    The ground, I made my bed, and pillowed me    Against their ancient trunks. A smiling hope    Awakened me at daybreak; and all full    Of a strange vigor, up the steep I climbed.    Scarce had I reached the summit when my ear    Was smitten with a murmur that from far    Appeared to come, deep, ceaseless; and I stood    And listened motionless. 'T was not the waters    Broken upon the rocks below; 'twas not the wind    That blew athwart the woods and whistling ran    From one tree to another, but verily    A sound of living men, an indistinct    Rumor of words, of arms, of trampling feet,    Swarming from far away; an agitation    Immense, of men! My heart leaped, and my steps    I hastened. On that peak, O king, that seems    To us like some sharp blade to pierce the heaven,    There lies an ample plain that's covered thick    With grass ne'er trod before.  And this I crossed    The quickest way; and now at every instant    The murmur nearer grew, and I devoured    The space between; I reached the brink, I launched    My glance into the valley and I saw,    I saw the tents of Israel, the desired    Pavilion of Jacob; on the ground    I fell, thanked God, adored him, and descended. 

VIII

I could easily multiply beautiful and effective passages from the poetry of Manzoni; but I will give only one more version, "The Fifth of May", that ode on the death of Napoleon, which, if not the most perfect lyric of modern times as the Italians vaunt it to be, is certainly very grand. I have followed the movement and kept the meter of the Italian, and have at the same time reproduced it quite literally; yet I feel that any translation of such a poem is only a little better than none. I think I have caught the shadow of this splendid lyric; but there is yet no photography that transfers the splendor itself, the life, the light, the color; I can give you the meaning, but not the feeling, that pervades every syllable as the blood warms every fiber of a man, not the words that flashed upon the poet as he wrote, nor the yet more precious and inspired words that came afterward to his patient waiting and pondering, and touched the whole with fresh delight and grace. If you will take any familiar passage from one of our poets in which every motion of the music is endeared by long association and remembrance, and every tone is sweet upon the tongue, and substitute a few strange words for the original, you will have some notion of the wrong done by translation.

    THE FIFTH OF MAY.      He passed; and as immovable       As, with the last sigh given,     Lay his own clay, oblivious,       From that great spirit riven,     So the world stricken and wondering        Stands at the tidings dread:     Mutely pondering the ultimate       Hour of that fateful being,     And in the vast futurity       No peer of his foreseeing     Among the countless myriads        Her blood-stained dust that tread.      Him on his throne and glorious       Silent saw I, that never—     When with awful vicissitude       He sank, rose, fell forever—     Mixed my voice with the numberless        Voices that pealed on high;     Guiltless of servile flattery       And of the scorn of coward,     Come I when darkness suddenly       On so great light hath lowered,     And offer a song at his sepulcher        That haply shall not die.      From the Alps unto the Pyramids,       From Rhine to Manzanares     Unfailingly the thunderstroke       His lightning purpose carries;     Bursts from Scylla to Tanais,—        From one to the other sea.     Was it true glory?—Posterity,       Thine be the hard decision;     Bow we before the mightiest,       Who willed in him the vision     Of his creative majesty        Most grandly traced should be.      The eager and tempestuous       Joy of the great plan's hour,     The throe of the heart that controllessly       Burns with a dream of power,     And wins it, and seizes victory        It had seemed folly to hope—     All he hath known: the infinite       Rapture after the danger,     The flight, the throne of sovereignty,       The salt bread of the stranger;     Twice 'neath the feet of the worshipers,        Twice 'neath the altar's cope.      He spoke his name; two centuries,       Armed and threatening either,     Turned unto him submissively,       As waiting fate together;     He made a silence, and arbiter        He sat between the two.     He vanished; his days in the idleness       Of his island-prison spending,     Mark of immense malignity,       And of a pity unending,     Of hatred inappeasable,        Of deathless love and true.      As on the head of the mariner,       Its weight some billow heaping,     Falls even while the castaway,       With strained sight far sweeping,     Scanneth the empty distances        For some dim sail in vain;     So over his soul the memories       Billowed and gathered ever!     How oft to tell posterity       Himself he did endeavor,     And on the pages helplessly        Fell his weary hand again.      How many times, when listlessly       In the long, dull day's declining—     Downcast those glances fulminant,       His arms on his breast entwining—     He stood assailed by the memories        Of days that were passed away;     He thought of the camps, the arduous       Assaults, the shock of forces,     The lightning-flash of the infantry,       The billowy rush of horses,     The thrill in his supremacy,        The eagerness to obey.      Ah, haply in so great agony       His panting soul had ended     Despairing, but that potently       A hand, from heaven extended,     Into a clearer atmosphere        In mercy lifted him.     And led him on by blossoming       Pathways of hope ascending     To deathless fields, to happiness       All earthly dreams transcending,     Where in the glory celestial        Earth's fame is dumb and dim.      Beautiful, deathless, beneficent       Faith! used to triumphs, even     This also write exultantly:       No loftier pride 'neath heaven     Unto the shame of Calvary        Stooped ever yet its crest.     Thou from his weary mortality       Disperse all bitter passions:     The God that humbleth and hearteneth,       That comforts and that chastens,     Upon the pillow else desolate        To his pale lips lay pressed! 

IX

Giuseppe Arnaud says that in his sacred poetry Manzoni gave the Catholic dogmas the most moral explanation, in the most attractive poetical language; and he suggests that Manzoni had a patriotic purpose in them, or at least a sympathy with the effort of the Romantic writers to give priests and princes assurance that patriotism was religious, and thus win them to favor the Italian cause. It must be confessed that such a temporal design as this would fatally affect the devotional quality of the hymns, even if the poet's consciousness did not; but I am not able to see any evidence of such sympathy in the poems themselves. I detect there a perfectly sincere religious feeling, and nothing of devotional rapture. The poet had, no doubt, a satisfaction in bringing out the beauty and sublimity of his faith; and, as a literary artist, he had a right to be proud of his work, for its spirit is one of which the tuneful piety of Italy had long been void. In truth, since David, king of Israel, left making psalms, religious songs have been poorer than any other sort of songs; and it is high praise of Manzoni's "Inni Sacri" to say that they are in irreproachable taste, and unite in unaffected poetic appreciation of the grandeur of Christianity as much reason as may coexist with obedience.

The poetry of Manzoni is so small in quantity, that we must refer chiefly to excellence of quality the influence and the fame it has won him, though I do not deny that his success may have been partly owing at first to the errors of the school which preceded him. It could be easily shown, from literary history, that every great poet has appeared at a moment fortunate for his renown, just as we might prove, from natural science, that it is felicitous for the sun to get up about day-break. Manzoni's art was very great, and he never gave his thought defective expression, while the expression was always secondary to the thought. For the self-respect, then, of an honest man, which would not permit him to poetize insincerity and shape the void, and for the great purpose he always cherished of making literature an agent of civilization and Christianity, the Italians are right to honor Manzoni. Arnaud thinks that the school he founded lingered too long on the educative and religious ground he chose; and Marc Monnier declares Manzoni to be the poet of resignation, thus distinguishing him from the poets of revolution. The former critic is the nearer right of the two, though neither is quite just, as it seems to me; for I do not understand how any one can read the romance and the dramas of Manzoni without finding him full of sympathy for all Italy has suffered, and a patriot very far from resigned; and I think political conditions—or the Austrians in Milan, to put it more concretely—scarcely left to the choice of the Lombard school that attitude of aggression which others assumed under a weaker, if not a milder, despotism at Florence. The utmost allowed the Milanese poets was the expression of a retrospective patriotism, which celebrated the glories of Italy's past, which deplored her errors, and which denounced her crimes, and thus contributed to keep the sense of nationality alive. Under such governments as endured in Piedmont until 1848, in Lombardy until 1859, in Venetia until 1866, literature must remain educative, or must cease to be. In the works, therefore, of Manzoni and of nearly all his immediate followers, there is nothing directly revolutionary except in Giovanni Berchet. The line between them and the directly revolutionary poets is by no means to be traced with exactness, however, in their literature, and in their lives they were all alike patriotic.

Manzoni lived to see all his hopes fulfilled, and died two years after the fall of the temporal power, in 1873. "Toward mid-day," says a Milanese journal at the time of his death, "he turned suddenly to the household friends about him, and said: 'This man is failing—sinking—call my confessor!'

"The confessor came, and he communed with him half an hour, speaking, as usual, from a mind calm and clear. After the confessor left the room, Manzoni called his friends and said to them: 'When I am dead, do what I did every day: pray for Italy—pray for the king and his family—so good to me!' His country was the last thought of this great man dying as in his whole long life it had been his most vivid and constant affection."




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