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Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo - Italian Poets

by William Dean Howells

The period of Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo is that covered in political history by the events of the French revolution, the French invasion of Italy and the Napoleonic wars there against the Austrians, the establishment of the Cisalpine Republic and of the kingdom of Italy, the final overthrow of the French dominion, and the restoration of the Austrians. During all these events, the city of Milan remained the literary as well as the political center of Italy, and whatever were the moral reforms wrought by the disasters of which it was also the center, there is no doubt that intellectually a vast change had taken place since the days when Parini's satire was true concerning the life of the Milanese nobles. The transformation of national character by war is never, perhaps, so immediate or entire as we are apt to expect. When our own war broke out, those who believed that we were to be purged and ennobled in all our purposes by calamity looked for a sort of total and instant conversion. This, indeed, seemed to take place, but there was afterward the inevitable reaction, and it appears that there are still some small blemishes upon our political and social state. Yet, for all this, each of us is conscious of some vast and inestimable difference in the nation.

It is instructive, if it is not ennobling, to be moved by great and noble impulses, to feel one's self part of a people, and to recognize country for once as the supreme interest; and these were the privileges the French revolution gave the Italians. It shed their blood, and wasted their treasure, and stole their statues and pictures, but it bade them believe themselves men; it forced them to think of Italy as a nation, and the very tyranny in which it ended was a realization of unity, and more to be desired a thousand times than the shameless tranquillity in which it had found them. It is imaginable that when the revolution advanced upon Milan it did not seem the greatest and finest thing in life to serve a lady; when the battles of Marengo and Lodi were fought, and Mantua was lost and won, to court one's neighbor's wife must have appeared to some gentlemen rather a waste of time; when the youth of the Italian legion in Napoleon's campaign perished amidst the snows of Russia, their brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, must have found intrigues and operas and fashions but a poor sort of distraction. By these terrible means the old forces of society were destroyed, not quickly, but irreparably. The cavaliere servente was extinct early in this century; and men and women opened their eyes upon an era of work, the most industrious age that the world has ever seen.

The change took place slowly; much of the material was old and hopelessly rotten; but in the new generation the growth towards better and greater things was more rapid.

Yet it would not be well to conjure up too heroic an image of Italian revolutionary society: we know what vices fester and passions rage in war-time, and Italy was then almost constantly involved in war. Intellectually, men are active, but the great poems are not written in war-time, nor the highest effects of civilization produced. There is a taint of insanity and of instability in everything, a mark of feverishness and haste and transition. The revolution gave Italy a chance for new life, but this was the most the revolution could do. It was a great gift, not a perfect one; and as it remained for the Italians to improve the opportunity, they did it partially, fitfully, as men do everything.


The poets who belong to this time are numerous enough, but those best known are Vincenzo Monti and Ugo Foscolo. These men were long the most conspicuous literati in the capital of Lombardy, but neither was Lombard. Monti was educated in the folds of Arcadia at Rome; Foscolo was a native of one of the Greek islands dependent on Venice, and passed his youth and earlier manhood in the lagoons. The accident of residence at Milan brought the two men together, and made friends of those who had naturally very little in common. They can only be considered together as part of the literary history of the time in which they both happened to be born, and as one of its most striking contrasts.

In 1802, Napoleon bestowed a republican constitution on Lombardy and the other provinces of Italy which had been united under the name of the Cisalpine Republic, and Milan became the capital of the new state. Thither at once turned all that was patriotic, hopeful, and ambitious in Italian life; and though one must not judge this phase of Italian civilization from Vincenzo Monti, it is an interesting comment on its effervescent, unstable, fictitious, and partial nature that he was its most conspicuous poet. Few men appear so base as Monti; but it is not certain that he was of more fickle and truthless soul than many other contemplative and cultivated men of the poetic temperament who are never confronted with exigent events, and who therefore never betray the vast difference that lies between the ideal heroism of the poet's vision and the actual heroism of occasion. We all have excellent principles until we are tempted, and it was Monti's misfortune to be born in an age which put his principles to the test, with a prospect of more than the usual prosperity in reward for servility and compliance, and more than the usual want, suffering, and danger in punishment of candor and constancy.

He was born near Ferrara in 1754; and having early distinguished himself in poetry, he was conducted to Rome by the Cardinal-Legate Borghesi. At Rome he entered the Arcadian fold of course, and piped by rule there with extraordinary acceptance, and might have died a Shepherd but for the French Revolution, which broke out and gave him a chance to be a Man. The secretary of the French Legation at Naples, appearing in Rome with the tri-color of the Republic, was attacked by the foolish populace, and killed; and Monti, the petted and caressed of priests, the elegant and tuneful young poet in the train of Cardinal Borghesi, seized the event of Ugo Bassville's death, and turned it to epic account. In the moment of dissolution, Bassville, repenting his republicanism, receives pardon; but, as a condition of his acceptance into final bliss, he is shown, through several cantos of terza rima, the woes which the Revolution has brought upon France and the world. The bad people of the poem are naturally the French Revolutionists; the good people, those who hate them. The most admired episode is that descriptive of poor Louis XVI.'s ascent into heaven from the scaffold.

{Illustration: VINCENZO MONTI.}

There is some reason to suppose that Monti was sincerer in this poem than in any other of political bearing which he wrote; and the Dantesque plan of the work gave it, with the occasional help of Dante's own phraseology and many fine turns of expression picked up in the course of a multifarious reading, a dignity from which the absurdity of the apotheosis of priests and princes detracted nothing among its readers. At any rate, it was received by Arcadia with rapturous acclaim, though its theme was not the Golden Age; and on the Bassvilliana the little that is solid in Monti's fame rests at this day. His lyric poetry is seldom quoted; his tragedies are no longer played, not even his Galeoto Manfredi, in which he has stolen almost enough from Shakespeare to vitalize one of the characters. After a while the Romans wearied of their idol, and began to attack him in politics and literature; and in 1797 Monti, after a sojourn of twenty years in the Papal capital, fled from Rome to Milan. Here he was assailed in one of the journals by a fanatical Neapolitan, who had also written a Bassvilliana, but with celestial powers, heroes and martyrs of French politics, and who now accused Monti of enmity to the rights of man. Monti responded by a letter to this poet, in which he declared that his Bassvilliana was no expression of his own feelings, but that he had merely written it to escape the fury of Bassville's murderers, who were incensed against him as Bassville's friend! But for all this the Bassvilliana was publicly burnt before the cathedral in Milan, and Monti was turned out of a government place he had got, because "he had published books calculated to inspire hatred of democracy, or predilection for the government of kings, of theocrats and aristocrats." The poet was equal to this exigency; and he now reprinted his works, and made them praise the French and the revolutionists wherever they had blamed them before; all the bad systems and characters were depicted as monarchies and kings and popes, instead of anarchies and demagogues. Bonaparte was exalted, and poor Louis XVI., sent to heaven with so much ceremony in the Bassvilliana, was abased in a later ode on Superstition.

Monti was amazed that all this did not suffice "to overcome that fatal combination of circumstances which had caused him to be judged as the courtier of despotism." "How gladly," he writes, "would I have accepted the destiny which envy could not reach! But this scourge of honest men clings to my flesh, and I cannot hope to escape it, except I turn scoundrel to become fortunate!" When the Austrians returned to Milan, the only honest man unhanged in Italy fled with other democrats to Paris, whither the fatal combination of circumstances followed him, and caused him to be looked on with coldness and suspicion by the republicans. After Bonaparte was made First Consul, Monti invoked his might against the Germans in Italy, and carried his own injured virtue back to Milan in the train of the conqueror. When Bonaparte was crowned emperor, this democrat and patriot was the first to hail and glorify him; and the emperor rewarded the poet's devotion with a chair in the University of Pavia, and a pension attached to the place of Historiographer. Monti accepted the honors and emoluments due to long-suffering integrity and inalterable virtue, and continued in the enjoyment of them till the Austrians came back to Milan a second time, in 1815, when his chaste muse was stirred to a new passion by the charms of German despotism, and celebrated as "the wise, the just, the best of kings, Francis Augustus", who, if one were to believe Monti, "in war was a whirlwind and in peace a zephyr." But the heavy Austrian, who knew he was nothing of the kind, thrust out his surly under lip at these blandishments, said that this muse's favors were mercenary, and cut off Monti's pension. Stung by such ingratitude, the victim of his own honesty retired forever from courts, and thenceforward sang only the merits of rich persons in private station, who could afford to pay for spontaneous and incorruptible adulation. He died in 1826, having probably endured more pain and rungreater peril in his desire to avoid danger and suffering than the bravest and truest man in a time when courage and truth seldom went in company. It is not probable that he thought himself despicable or other than unjustly wretched.

Perhaps, after all, he was not so greatly to blame. As De Sanctis subtly observes: "He was always a liberal. How not be liberal in those days when even the reactionaries shouted for liberty—of course, true liberty, as they called it? And in that name he glorified all governments.... And it was not with hypocrisy.... He was a man who would have liked to reconcile the old and the new ideas, all opinions, yet, being forced to choose, he clung to the majority, with no desire to play the martyr. So he became the secretary of the dominant feeling, the poet of success. Kindly, tolerant, sincere, a good friend, a courtier more from necessity and weakness than perversity or wickedness; if he could have retired into his own heart, he might have come out a poet." Monti, in fact, was always an improvvisatore, and the subjects which events cast in his way were like the themes which the improvvisatore receives from his audience. He applied his poetic faculty to their celebration with marvelous facility, and, doubtless, regarded the results as rhetorical feats. His poetry was an art, not a principle; and perhaps he was really surprised when people thought him in earnest, and held him personally to account for what he wrote. "A man of sensation, rather than sentiment," says Arnaud, "Monti cared only for the objective side of life. He poured out melodies, colors, and chaff in the service of all causes; he was the poet-advocate, the Siren of the Italian Parnassus." Of course such a man instinctively hated the ideas of the Romantic school, and he contested their progress in literature with great bitterness. He believed that poetry meant feigning, not making; and he declared that "the hard truth was the grave of the beautiful." The latter years of his life were spent in futile battle with the "audacious boreal school" and in noxious revival of the foolish old disputes of the Italian grammarians; and Emiliani-Giudici condemns him for having done more than any enemy of his country to turn Italian thought from questions of patriotic interest to questions of philology, from the unity of Italy to the unity of the language, from the usurpations and tyranny of Austria to the assumptions of Della Crusca. But Monti could scarcely help any cause which he espoused; and it seems to me that he was as well employed in disputing the claims of the Tuscan dialect to be considered the Italian language as he would have been in any other way. The wonderful facility, no less than the unreality, of the man appears in many things, but in none more remarkably than his translation of Homer, which is the translation universally accepted and approved in Italy. He knew little more than the Greek alphabet, and produced his translation from the preceding versions in Latin and Italian, submitting the work to the correction of eminent scholars before he printed it. His poems fill many volumes; and all display the ease, perspicuity, and obvious beauty of the improvvisatore. From a fathomless memory, he drew felicities which had clung to it in his vast reading, and gave them a new excellence by the art with which he presented them as new. The commonplace Italians long continued to speak awfully of Monti as a great poet, because the commonplace mind regards everything established as great. He is a classic of those classics common to all languages—dead corpses which retain their forms perfectly in the coffin, but crumble to dust as soon as exposed to the air.


From the Bassvilliana I have translated the passage descriptive of Louis XVI.'s ascent to heaven; and I offer this, perhaps not quite justly, in illustration of what I have been saying of Monti as a poet. There is something of his curious verbal beauty in it, and his singular good luck of phrase, with his fortunate reminiscences of other poets; the collocation of the different parts is very comical, and the application of it all to Louis XVI. is one of the most preposterous things in literature. But one must remember that the poor king was merely a subject, a theme, with the poet.

    As when the sun uprears himself among     The lesser dazzling substances, and drives     His eager steeds along the fervid curve,—      When in one only hue is painted all     The heavenly vault, and every other star     Is touched with pallor and doth veil its front,      So with sidereal splendor all aflame     Amid a thousand glad souls following,     High into heaven arose that beauteous soul.      Smiled, as he passed them, the majestical,     Tremulous daughters of the light, and shook     Their glowing and dewy tresses as they moved,      He among all with longing and with love     Beaming, ascended until he was come     Before the triune uncreated life;      There his flight ceases, there the heart, become     Aim of the threefold gaze divine, is stilled,     And all the urgence of desire is lost;      There on his temples he receives the crown     Of living amaranth immortal, on     His cheek the kiss of everlasting peace.      And then were heard consonances and notes     Of an ineffable sweetness, and the orbs     Began again to move their starry wheels.      More swiftly yet the steeds that bore the day     Exulting flew, and with their mighty tread,     Did beat the circuit of their airy way. 

In this there are three really beautiful lines; namely, those which describe the arrival of the spirit in the presence of God:

    There his flight ceases, there the heart, become     Aim of the threefold gaze divine, is stilled,     And all the urgence of desire is lost; 

Or, as it stands in the Italian:

    Ivi queta il suo voi, ivi s'appunta     In tre sguardi beata, ivi il cor tace,     E tutta perde del desio la punta. 

It was the fortune of Monti, as I have said, to sing all round and upon every side of every subject, and he was governed only by knowledge of which side was for the moment uppermost. If a poem attacked the French when their triumph seemed doubtful, the offending verses were erased as soon as the French conquered, and the same poem unblushingly exalted them in a new edition;—now religion and the Church were celebrated in Monti's song, now the goddess of Reason and the reign of liberty; the Pope was lauded in Rome, and the Inquisition was attacked in Milan; England was praised whilst Monti was in the anti-French interest, and as soon as the poet could turn his coat of many colors, the sun was urged to withdraw from England the small amount of light and heat which it vouchsafed the foggy island; and the Rev. Henry Boyd, who translated the Bassvilliana into our tongue, must have been very much dismayed to find this eloquent foe of revolutions assailing the hereditary enemy of France in his next poem, and uttering the hope that she might be surrounded with waves of blood and with darkness, and shaken with earthquakes. But all this was nothing to Monti's treatment of the shade of poor King Louis XVI. We have seen with how much ceremony the poet ushered that unhappy prince into eternal bliss, and in Mr. Boyd's translation of the Bassvilliana, we can read the portents with which Monti makes the heavens recognize the crime of his execution in Paris.

    Then from their houses, like a billowy tide,     Men rush enfrenzied, and, from every breast     Banished shrinks Pity, weeping, terrified.     Now the earth quivers, trampled and oppressed     By wheels, by feet of horses and of men;     The air in hollow moans speaks its unrest;     Like distant thunder's roar, scarce within ken,     Like the hoarse murmurs of the midnight surge,     Like the north wind rushing from its far-off den.  

    Through the dark crowds that round the scaffold flock     The monarch see with look and gait appear     That might to soft compassion melt a rock;     Melt rocks, from hardest flint draw pity's tear,—     But not from Gallic tigers; to what fate,     Monsters, have ye brought him who loved you dear? 

It seems scarcely possible that a personage so flatteringly attended from the scaffold to the very presence of the Trinity, could afterward have been used with disrespect by the same master of ceremonies; yet in his Ode on Superstition, Monti has later occasion to refer to the French monarch in these terms:

                     The tyrant has fallen. Ye peoples                      Oppressèd, rise! Nature breathes freely.                      Proud kings, bow before them and tremble;                      Yonder crumbles the greatest of thrones!     (Repeat.) There was stricken the vile perjurer Capet, 

(He will only give Louis his family name!)

                     Who had worn out the patience of God!                      In that pitiless blood dip thy fingers,                      France, delivered from fetters unworthy!                      'T is blood sucked from the veins of thy children                      Whom the despot has cruelly wronged!                      O freemen to arms that are flying,                      Bathe, bathe in that blood your bright weapons,                      Triumph rests 'mid the terror of battle                      Upon swords that have smitten a king! 

This, every one must allow, was a very unhandsome way of treating an ex-martyr, but at the time Monti wrote he was in Milan, in the midst of most revolutionary spirits, and he felt obliged to be rude to the memory of the unhappy king. After all, probably it did not hurt the king so much as the poet.


The troubled life of Ugo Foscolo is a career altogether wholesomer than Monti's to contemplate. There is much of violence, vanity, and adventure in it, to remind of Byron; but Foscolo had neither the badness of Byron's heart nor the greatness of his talent. He was, moreover, a better scholar and a man of truer feeling. Coming to Venice from Zante, in 1793, he witnessed the downfall of a system which Venetians do not yet know whether to lament or execrate; and he was young and generous enough to believe that Bonaparte really meant to build up a democratic republic on the ruins of the fallen oligarchy. Foscolo had been one of the popular innovators before the Republic perished, and he became the secretary of the provisional government, and was greatly beloved by the people. It is related that they were so used to his voice, and so fond of hearing it, that one day, when they heard another reading in his place, they became quite turbulent, till the president called out with that deliciously caressing Venetian familiarity, Popolo, ste cheto; Foscolo xe rochio! "People, be quiet; Foscolo is hoarse." While in this office, he brought out his first tragedy, which met with great success; and at the same time Napoleon played the cruel farce with which he had beguiled the Venetians, by selling them to Austria, at Campo-Formio. Foscolo then left Venice, and went to Milan, where he established a patriotic journal, in which a genuine love of country found expression, and in which he defended unworthy Monti against the attacks of the red republicans. He also defended the Latin language, when the legislature, which found time in a season of great public peril and anxiety to regulate philology, fulminated a decree against that classic tongue; and he soon afterward quitted Milan, in despair of the Republic's future. He had many such fits of disgust, and in one of them he wrote that the wickedness and shame of Italy were so great, that they could never be effaced till the two seas covered her. There was fighting in those days, for such as had stomach for it, in every part of Italy; and Foscolo, being enrolled in the Italian Legion, was present at the battle of Cento, and took part in the defense of Genoa, but found time, amid all his warlike occupations, for literature. He had written, in the flush of youthful faith and generosity, an ode to Bonaparte Liberator; and he employed the leisure of the besieged in republishing it at Genoa, affixing to the verses a reproach to Napoleon for the treaty of Campo-Formio, and menacing him with a Tacitus. He returned to Milan after the battle of Marengo, but his enemies procured his removal to Boulogne, whither the Italian Legion had been ordered, and where Foscolo cultivated his knowledge of English and his hatred of Napoleon. After travel in Holland and marriage with an Englishwoman there, he again came back to Milan, which he found full as ever of folly, intrigue, baseness, and envy. Leaving the capital, says Arnaud, "he took up his abode on the hills of Brescia, and for two weeks was seen wandering over the heights, declaiming and gesticulating. The mountaineers thought him mad. One morning he descended to the city with the manuscript of the Sepoleri. It was in 1807. Not Jena, not Friedland, could dull the sensation it imparted to the Italian republic of letters."


It is doubtful whether this poem, which Giudici calls the sublimest lyrical composition modern literature has produced, will stir the English reader to enthusiastic admiration. The poem is of its age—declamatory, ambitious, eloquent; but the ideas do not seem great or new, though that, perhaps, is because they have been so often repeated since. De Sanctis declares it the "earliest lyrical note of the new literature, the affirmation of the rehabilitated conscience of the new manhood. A law of the Republic—"the French Republic"— prescribed the equality of men before death. The splender of monuments seemed a privilege of the nobles and the rich, and the Republicans contested the privilege, the distinction of classes, even in this form ... This revolutionary logic driven to its ultimate corollaries clouded the poetry of life for him.... He lacked the religious idea, but the sense of humanity in its progress and its aims, bound together by the family, the state, liberty, glory—from this Foscolo drew his harmonies, a new religion of the tomb."....

He touches in it on the funeral usages of different times and peoples, with here and there an episodic allusion to the fate of heroes and poets, and disquisitions on the aesthetic and spiritual significance of posthumous honors. The most-admired passage of the poem is that in which the poet turns to the monuments of Italy's noblest dead, in the church of Santa Croce, at Florence:

    The urnèd ashes of the mighty kindle     The great soul to great actions, Pindemonte,     And fair and holy to the pilgrim make     The earth that holds them. When I saw the tomb     Where rests the body of that great one,{1} who     Tempering the scepter of the potentate,     Strips off its laurels, and to the people shows     With what tears it doth reek, and with what blood;     When I beheld the place of him who raised     A new Olympus to the gods in Rome,{2}—     Of him{3} who saw the worlds wheel through the heights     Of heaven, illumined by the moveless sun,     And to the Anglian{4} oped the skyey ways     He swept with such a vast and tireless wing,—     O happy!{5} I cried, in thy life-giving air,     And in the fountains that the Apennine     Down from his summit pours for thee! The moon,     Glad in thy breath, laps in her clearest light     Thy hills with vintage laughing; and thy vales,     Filled with their clustering cots and olive-groves,     Send heavenward th' incense of a thousand flowers.     And thou wert first, Florence, to hear the song     With which the Ghibelline exile charmed his wrath,{6}     And thou his language and his ancestry     Gavest that sweet lip of Calliope,{7}     Who clothing on in whitest purity     Love in Greece nude and nude in Rome, again     Restored him unto the celestial Venus;—     But happiest I count thee that thou keep'st     Treasured beneath one temple-roof the glories     Of Italy,—now thy sole heritage,     Since the ill-guarded Alps and the inconstant     Omnipotence of human destinies     Have rent from thee thy substance and thy arms,     Thy altars, country,—save thy memories, all.     Ah! here, where yet a ray of glory lingers,     Let a light shine unto all generous souls,     And be Italia's hope! Unto these stones     Oft came Vittorio{8} for inspiration,     Wroth to his country's gods. Dumbly he roved     Where Arno is most lonely, anxiously     Brooding upon the heavens and the fields;     Then when no living aspect could console,     Here rested the Austere, upon his face     Death's pallor and the deathless light of hope.     Here with these great he dwells for evermore,     His dust yet quick with love of country. Yes,     A god speaks to us from this sacred peace,     That nursed for Persians upon Marathon,     Where Athens gave her heroes sepulture,     Greek ire and virtue. There the mariner     That sailed the sea under Euboea saw     Flashing amidst the wide obscurity     The steel of helmets and of clashing brands,     The smoke and lurid flame of funeral pyres,     And phantom warriors, clad in glittering mail,     Seeking the combat. Through the silences     And horror of the night, along the field,     The tumult of the phalanxes arose,     Mixing itself with sound of warlike tubes,     And clatter of the hoofs of steeds, that rushed     Trampling the helms of dying warriors,—     And sobs, and hymns, and the wild Parcae's songs!{9} 


{1} Question of Machiavelli. Whether "The Prince" was written in earnest, with a wish to serve the Devil, or in irony, with a wish to serve the people, is still in dispute.

{2} Michelangelo.

{3} Galileo.

{4} Newton.

{5} Florence.

{6} It is the opinion of many historians that the Divina Commedia was commenced before the exile of Dante.—Foscolo.

{7} Petrarch was born in exile of Florentine parents.—Ibid.

{8} Alfieri. So Foscolo saw him in his last years.

{9} The poet, quoting Pausanias, says: "The sepulture of the Athenians who fell in the battle took place on the plain of Marathon, and there every night is heard the neighing of the steeds, and the phantoms of the combatants appear."

The poem ends with the prophecy that poetry, after time destroys the sepulchers, shall preserve the memories of the great and the unhappy, and invokes the shades of Greece and Troy to give an illusion of sublimity to the close. The poet doubts if there be any comfort to the dead in monumental stones, but declares that they keep memories alive, and concludes that only those who leave no love behind should have little joy of their funeral urns. He blames the promiscuous burial of the good and bad, the great and base; he dwells on the beauty of the ancient cemeteries and the pathetic charm of English churchyards. The poem of I Sepolcri has peculiar beauties, yet it does not seem to me the grand work which the Italians have esteemed it; though it has the pensive charm which attaches to all elegiac verse. De Sanctis attaches a great political and moral value to it. "The revolution, in the horror of its excesses, was passing. More temperate ideas prevailed; the need of a moral and religious restoration was felt. Foscolo's poem touched these chords ... which vibrated in all hearts."

The tragedies of Foscolo are little read, and his unfinished but faithful translation of Homer did not have the success which met the facile paraphrase of Monti. His other works were chiefly critical, and are valued for their learning. The Italians claim that in his studies of Dante he was the first to reveal him to Europe in his political character, "as the inspired poet, who availed himself of art for the civil regeneration of the people speaking the language which he dedicated to supreme song"; and they count as among their best critical works, Foscolo's "exquisite essays on Petrarch and Boccaccio". His romance, "The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis", is a novel full of patriotism, suffering, and suicide, which found devoted readers among youth affected by "The Sorrows of Werther", and which was the first cry of Italian disillusion with the French. Yet it had no political effect, De Sanctis says, because it was not in accord with the popular hopefulness of the time. It was, of course, wildly romantic, of the romantic sort that came before the school had got its name, and it was supposed to celebrate one of Foscolo's first loves. He had a great many loves, first and last, and is reproached with a dissolute life by the German critic, Gervinius.

He was made Professor of Italian Eloquence at the University of Pavia in 1809; but, refusing to flatter Napoleon in his inaugural address, his professorship was abolished. When the Austrians returned to Milan, in 1815, they offered him the charge of their official newspaper; but he declined it, and left Milan for the last time. He wandered homeless through Switzerland for a while, and at last went to London, where he gained a livelihood by teaching the Italian language and lecturing on its literature; and where, tormented by homesickness and the fear of blindness, he died, in 1827. "Poverty would make even Homer abject in London," he said.

One of his biographers, however, tells us that he was hospitably welcomed at Holland House in London, and "entertained by the most illustrious islanders; but the indispensable etiquette of the country, grievous to all strangers, was intolerable to Foscolo, and he soon withdrew from these elegant circles, and gave himself up to his beloved books." Like Alfieri, on whom he largely modeled his literary ideal, and whom he fervently admired, Foscolo has left us his portrait drawn by himself, which the reader may be interested to see.

    A furrowed brow, with cavernous eyes aglow;       Hair tawny; hollow cheeks; looks resolute;     Lips pouting, but to smiles and pleasance slow;       Head bowed, neck beautiful, and breast hirsute;     Limbs shapely; simple, yet elect, in dress;       Rapid my steps, my thoughts, my acts, my tones;     Grave, humane, stubborn, prodigal to excess;       To the world adverse, fortune me disowns.     Shame makes me vile, and anger makes me brave,       Reason in me is cautious, but my heart     Doth, rich in vices and in virtues, rave;       Sad for the most, and oft alone, apart;     Incredulous alike of hope and fear,       Death shall bring rest and honor to my bier. 

{Illustration: UGO FOSCOLO.}

Cantù thinks that Foscolo succeeded, by imitating unusual models, in seeming original, and probably more with reference to the time in which he wrote than to the qualities of his mind, classes him with the school of Monti. Although his poetry is full of mythology and classic allusion, the use of the well-worn machinery is less mechanical than in Monti; and Foscolo, writing always with one high purpose, was essentially different in inspiration from the poet who merchandised his genius and sold his song to any party threatening hard or paying well. Foscolo was a brave man, and faithfully loved freedom, and he must be ranked with those poets who, in later times, have devoted themselves to the liberation of Italy. He is classic in his forms, but he is revolutionary, and he hoped for some ideal Athenian liberty for his country, rather than the English freedom she enjoys. But we cannot venture to pronounce dead or idle the Greek tradition, and we must confess that the romanticism which brought into literary worship the trumpery picturesqueness of the Middle Ages was a lapse from generous feeling.