Page images
PDF
EPUB

ent forlorn state from the happiness I enjoyed prompted him to compose several odes on the during my late residence in Rome :- there the Villa subject of American independence, and seveStrozzi near to the warm baths of Dioclesian, af. ral ‘miscellaneous productions of a similar forded me a delightful retreat, where passed my character :-at last, in 1786, he is permitted mornings in study, only riding for an hour or two through the vast solitudes which, in the neighbour. to take up his permanent abode with his mishood of Rome, invite to melancholy, meditation, tress, whom he rejoins at Alsace, and never and poetry. In the evening, I proceeded to the afterwards abandons. In the course of the city, and found a relaxation from study in the so following year, they make a journey to Paris, istence; and, contented and happy, I returned io with which he is nearly as much dissatisfied my solitude, never at a later hour than eleven as on his former visit: --and makes arrangeo'clock. It was impossible to find, in the circuit ments with Didot for printing his tragedies in of a great city, an abode more cheerful, more re- a superb form. In 1788, however, he resolves tired,

- --or better suited to my taste, my character, upon making a complete edition of his whole and my pursuits. Delightful spot lihe remem: works at Kehl; and submits, for the accombrance of which I shall ever cherish, and which modation of his fair friend, to take up his through life I shall long 10 revisit.”—Vol. ii. pp. residence at Paris. There they receive in121, 122.

telligence of the death of her husband, Previously to this time, his extreme love of which seems, however, to make no change in independence, and his desire to be constantly their way of life;-and there he continues with the mistress of his affections, had in- busily employed in correcting his various duced him to take the very romantic step of works for publication, till the year 1790, when resigning his whole property to his sister; the first part of these memoirs closes with reserving to himself merely an annuity of anticipations of misery from the progress of 14,000 livres, or little more than 5001. As the revolution, and professions of devoted atthis transference was made with the sanction tachment to the companion whom time had of the King, who was very well pleased, on only rendered more dear and respected. the whole, to get rid of so republican a sub- The supplementary part bears date in May ject, it was understood, upon both sides, as a 1803—but a few months prior to the death of tacit compact of expatriation; so that, upon the author,-and brings down his history, his removal from Rome, he had no house or though in a more summary manner, to that fixed residence to repair to. In this desolate period. He seems to have lived in much unand unsettled state, his passion for horses re- easiness and fear in Paris, after the comvived with additional fury; and he undertook mencement of the revolution ; from all approa voyage to England, for the sole purpose of bation, or even toleration of which tragic purchasing a number of those noble animals; farce, as he terms it, he exculpates himself and devoted eight months “to the study of with much earnestness and solemnity; but, noble heads, fine necks, and well-turned but having vested the greater part of his fortune tocks, without once opening a book or pursuing in that country, he could not conveniently any literary avocation.” In London, he pur- abandon it. In 1791, he and his companion chased fourteen horses,-in relation to the made a short visit to England, with which he number of his tragedies !--and this whimsical was less pleased than on any former occasion, relation frequently presenting itself to his —the damp giving him a disposition to gout, imagination, he would say to himself with a and the late hours interfering with his habits smile—“Thou hast gained a horse by each of study. The most remarkable incident in tragedy !"— Truly the noble author must have this journey, occurred at its termination. As been far gone in love, when he gave way to he was passing along the quay at Dover, on such innocent deliratíon.—He conducted his his way to the packet-boat,' he caught a fourteen friends, however, with much judg- glimpse of the bewitching woman on whose ment across the Alps; and gained great glory account he had suffered so much, in his forand notoriety at Sienna, from their daily pro- mer visit to this country nearly twenty years cession through the streets, and the feats of before! She still looked beautiful, he says, dexterity he exhibited in riding and driving and bestowed on him one of those enchanting them.

smiles which convinced him that he was reIn the mean time, he had printed twelve cognised. Unable to control his emotion, he of his tragedies; and imbibed a sovereign rushed instantly aboard-hid himself below contempt for such of his countrymen as pre--and did not venture to look up till he was tended to find them harsh, obscure, or affect- landed on the opposite shore. From Calais edly sententious. In 1784, after an absence he addressed a letter to her of kind inquiry, of more than two years, he rejoined his mis- and offers of service; and received an answer, tress at Baden in Alsace; and, during a stay which, on account of the singular tone of canof two months with her, sketched out three dour and magnanimity which it exhibits, he new tragedies. On his return to Italy, he has subjoined in the appendix. It is untook

up his abode for a short time at Pisa, — doubtedly a very remarkable production, and where, in a fit of indignation at the faults of shows both a strength of mind and a kindness Pliny's Panegyric on Trajan, he composed in of disposition which seem worthy of a happier five days that animated and eloquent piece fortune. of the same name, which alone, of all his In the end of 1792, the increasing fury of works have fallen into our hands, has left on the revolution rendered Paris no longer a place our minds the impression of ardent and flow- of safety for foreigners of high birth; and ing eloquence. His rage for liberty likewise Alfieri and his countess with some difficulty effected their escape from it, and established it appears, that he was carried off by an inthemselves, with a diminished income, at his fiammatory or gouty attack in his bowels, beloved Florence. Here, with his usual im- which put a period to his existence after a petuosity, he gave vent to his anti-revolution- few days' illness, in the month of October ary feelings, by composing an apology for 1803. We have since learned, that the pubLouis XVI., and a short satirical view of the lication of his posthumous works, which had French excesses, which he entitled “The been begun by the Countess of Albany at Antigallican.” He then took to acting his Milan, has been stopped by the French govown plays; and, for two or three years, this emment; and that several of the manuscripts new passion seduced him in a good degree have, by the same authority, been committed from literature. In 1795, however, he tried to the flames. his hand in some satirical productions; and We have not a great deal to add to this began, with much zeal, to reperuse and trans- copious and extraordinary narrative. Many late various passages from the Latin classics. of the peculiarities of Alfieri may be safely Latin naturally led to Greek; and, in the referred to the accident of his birth, and the forty-ninth year of his age, he set seriously to errors of his education. His ennui, arrogance, the study of this language. Two whole years and dissipation, are not very unlike those of did this ardent genius dedicate to solitary many spoiled youths of condition; nor is there drudgery, without being able to master the any thing very extraordinary in his subsesubject he had undertaken. At last, by dint quent application to study, or the turn of his of perseverance and incredible labour, he be first political opinions. The peculiar nature of gan to understand a little of the easier authors; his pursuits, and the character of his literary and, by the time he had completed his fiftieth productions, afford more curious matter for year, succeeded in interpreting a considerable speculation. part of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Homer. In reflecting on the peculiar misery which The perosal of Sophocles, in the following Alfieri and some other eminent persons are year, impelled him to compose his last trage- recorded to have endured, while iheir minds dy of Alceste in 1798. In the end of this were withheld from any worthy occupation, year, the progress of the French armies threat- we have sometimes been tempted to conened to violate the tranquillity of his Tuscan clude, that to suffer deeply from ennui is an retreat! and, in the spring following, upon indication of superior intellect; and that it is the occupation of Florence, he and his friend only to minds destined for higher attainments retired to a small habitation in the country. that the want of an object is a source of real From this asylum, however, they returned so affliction. Upon a little reflection, however, precipitately on the retreat of the enemy, we are disposed to doubt of the soundness of that they were surprised by them on their this opinion; and really cannot permit all the second invasion of Tuscany in 1800; but had shallow coxcombs who languish under the more to suffer, it appears, from the importu- burden of existence, to take themselves, on nate civility, than from the outrages of the our authority, for spell-bound geniuses. The conquerors. The French general, it seems, most powerful stream, indeed, will stagnate was a man of letters, and made several at- the most deeply, and will burst out to more tempts to be introduced to Alfieri. When wild devastation when obstructed in its peaceevasion became impossible, the latter made ful course; but the weakly current is, upon the following haughty but guarded reply to the whole, most liable to obstruction; and will his warlike admirer :

mantle and rot at least as dismally as its bet“If the general, in his official capacity, com. ters. The innumerable blockheads, in short, mands his presence, Victor Alfieri, who never re- who betake themselves to suicide, dramsists constituted authority of any kind, will imme. drinking, or dozing in dirty nightcaps, will not diately hasten to obey the order; but if, on the allow us to suppose that there is any real contrary, he requests an interview only as a private connection between ennui and talent; or that ing of a very retired iurn of mind, he wishes not to fellows who are fit for nothing but mending form any new acquaintance; and therefore entreats shoes, may not be very miserable if they are the French general to hold him excused."-Vol. ii. unfortunately raised above their proper occupp. 286, 287.

pation. Under these disastrous circumstances, he If it does frequently happen that extraorwas suddenly seized with the desire of sig- dinary and vigorous exertions are found to nalizing himself in a new field of exertion ; follow this heavy slumber of the faculties, and sketched out no fewer than six comedies the phenomenon, we think, may be explained at once, which were nearly finished before without giving any countenance to the supthe end of 1802. His health, during this year, position, ihat vigorous faculties are most liable was considerably weakened by repeated at- to such an obscuration. In the first place, the tacks of irregular gout and inflammatory af- relief and delight of exertion must act with fections; and the memoir concludes with the more than usual force upon a mind which has description of a collar and medal which he suffered from the want of it; and will be apt had invented, as the badge of "the order of to be pushed further than in cases where the Homer," which, in his late sprung ardour for exertion has been more regular. The chief Greek literature, he had founded and en- cause, however, of the signal success which dowed. Annexed to this record is a sort of has sometimes attended those who have been postscript, addressed, by his friend the Abbé rescued from ennui, we really believe to be Caluso, to the Countess of Albany; from which their ignorance of the difficulties they have

cessors.

to encounter, and that inexperience which impression of his general character; nor have makes them venture on undertakings which we been able to find, in the whole of these more prudent calculators would decline. We confessions, a single trait of kindness of heart, have already noticed, more than once, the or generous philanthropy, to place in the baleffect of early study and familiarity with the ance against so many indications of selfishbest models in repressing emulation by de- ness and violence. There are proofs enough, spair; and have endeavoured, upon this prin- indeed, of a firm, elevated, and manly spirit; ciple, to explain why so many original authors but small appearance of any thing gentle, or have been in a great degree without educa- even, in a moral sense, of any thing very retion. Now, a youth spent in lassitude and spectable. In his admiration, in short, of the dissipation leads necessarily to a manhood of worthies of antiquity, he appears to have ignorance and inexperience; and has all the copied their harshness and indelicacy at least advantages, as well as the inconveniences, of as faithfully as their loftiness of character; such a situation. If any inward feeling of and, at the same time, to have combined with strength, ambition, or other extraordinary im- it all the licentiousness and presumption of a pulse, therefore, prompt such a person to at- modern Italian noble. tempt any thing arduous, it is likely that he We have been somewhat perplexed with will go

about it with all that rash and vehe- his politics. After speaking as we have seen, ment courage which results from unconscious of the mild government of the kings of Sarness of the obstacles that are to be overcome; dinia, -after adding that, “when he had read and it is needless to say how often success is Plutarch and visited England, he felt the most ensured by this confident and fortunate auda- unsurmountable repugnance at marrying, or city. Thus Alfieri, in the outset of his literary having his children born at Turin," -after recareer, ran his head against dramatic poetry, cording that a monarch is a master, and a almost before he knew what was meant either subject a slave,—and that he shed tears of by poetry or the drama; and dashed out a mingled grief and rage at having been bom tragedy while but imperfectly acquainted in such a state as Piedmont;'-after all this with the language in which he was writing, -after giving up his estates to escape from and utterly ignorant either of the rules that this bondage, and after writing his books on had been delivered, or the models which had the Tiranide, and his odes on American libbeen created by the genius of his great prede- erty,—we really were prepared to find him

Had he been trained up from his taking the popular side, at the outset at least early youth in fearful veneration for these of the French Revolution, and exulting in the rules and these models, it is certain that he downfal of one of those hateful despotisms, would have resisted the impulse which led against the whole system of which he had him to place himself, with so little prepara- previously inveighed with no extraordinary tion, within their danger; and most probable moderation. Instead of this, however, we that he would never have thought himself find him abusing the revolutionists, and exqualified to answer the test they required of tolling their opponents with all the zeal of a him. In giving way, however, to this pro- professed antijacobin,-writing an eulogium pensity, with all the thoughtless freedom and on the dethroned monarch like Mr. Pybus, vehemence which had characterised his other and an Antigallican like Peter Porcupine. indulgences, he found himself suddenly em- Now, we are certainly very far from saying, barked in an unexpected undertaking, and in that a true friend of liberty might not exesight of unexpected distinction. The success crate the proceedings of the French revoluhe had obtained with so little knowledge of tionists; but a professed hater of royalty the subject, tempted him to acquire what was might have felt more indulgence for the new wanting to deserve it; and justified hopes and republic; such a crazy zealot for liberty, as stimulated exertions which earlier reflection Alfieri showed himself in Italy, both by his would, in all probability, have for ever pre- writings and his conduct, might well have vented.

been carried away by that promise of emanThe morality of Alfieri seems to have been cipation to France, which deluded sounder at least as relaxed as that of the degenerate heads than his in all the countries of Europe. nobles, whom in all other things he professed There are two keys, we think, in the work to reprobate and despise. He confesses, with before us to this apparent inconsistency. out the slightest appearance of contrition, that Alfieri, with all his abhorrence of tyrants, his general intercourse with women was pro-was, in his heart, a great lover of aristocracy; fligate in the extreme; and has detailed ihe and, he had a great spite and antipathy at particulars of three several intrigues with the French nation, collectively and individ. married women, without once appearing to ually. imagine that they could require any apology Though professedly a republican, it is easy or expiation. On the contrary, while record- to see, that the republic he wanted was one ing the deplorable consequences of one of on the Roman model, —where there were them, he observes, with great composure, Patricians as well as Plebeians, and where a that it was distressing to him to contemplate man of great talents had even a good chance a degradation, of which he had," though in- of being one day appointed Dictator. He did nocently,” been the occasion. The general not admire kings indeed, -because he did not arrogance of his manners, too, and the occa- happen to be born one, and because they sional brutality of his conduct towards his were the only beings to whom he was born inferiors, are far from giving us an amiable inferior : but he had the utmost veneration

for nobles,-because fortune had placed him shall, in the mean time, confine ourselves to in that order, and because the power and dis- a very few observations suggested by the tinction which belonged to it were agreeable style and character of the tragedies with to him, and, he thought, would be exercised which we have been for some time acfor the good of his inferiors. When he heard quainted. ihat Voltaire had written a tragedy on the These pieces approach much nearer to the story of Brutus, he fell into a great passion, ancient Grecian model, than any other modand exclaimed, that the subject was too lofty ern production with which we are acquaintfor a French plebeian, who, during twenty ed; in the simplicity of the plot, the fewness years, had subscribed himself gentleman in of the persons, the directness of the action, ordinary to the King !”

and the uniformity and elaborate gravity of This love of aristocracy, however, will not the composition. Infinitely less declamatory explain the defence of monarchy and the abuse than the French tragedies, they have less of republics, which formed the substance of his brilliancy and variety, and a deeper tone of Antigallican. But the truth is, that he was dignity and nature. As they have not adoptantigallican from his youth up; and would ed the choral songs of the Greek stage, hownever have forgiven that nation, if they had ever, they are, on the whole, less poetical succeeded in establishing a free government, than those ancient compositions; although -especially while Italy was in bondage. they are worked throughout with a fine and The contempt which Voltaire had expressed careful hand, and diligently purified from for Italian literature, and the general degra- every thing ignoble or feeble in the expres. dation into which the national character had sion. The author's anxiety to keep clear of fallen, had sunk deep into his fierce and figures of mere ostentation, and to exclude all haughty spirit, and inspired him with an showpieces of fine writing in a dialogue of antipathy towards that people by whom his deep interest or impetuous passion, has be. own countrymen had been subdued, ridiculed, trayed him, on some occasions, into too senand outshone. This paltry and vindictive feel- tentious and strained a diction, and given an ing leads him, throughout this whole work, air of labour and heaviness to many parts of to speak of them in the most unjust and un- his composition. He has felt, perhaps a little candid terms. There may be some truth in too constantly, that the cardinal virtue of a his remarks on the mean and meagre articu- dramatic writer is to keep his personages to lation of their language, and on their “horri- the business and the concerns that lie before ble u, with their thin lips drawn in to pro- them; and by no means to let them turn to nounce it, as if they were blowing hot soup." moral philosophers, or rhetorical describers of Nay, we could even excuse the nationality their own emotions. But, in his zealous adwhich leads him to declare, that he would herence to this good maxim, he seems somerather be the author of ten good Italian verses, times to have forgotten, that certain passions than of volumes written in English or French, are declamatory in nature as well as on the or any such harsh and unharmonious jargon, --stage; and that, at any rate, they do not all though their cannon and their armies should vent themselves in concise and pithy sayings, continue to render these languages fashion- but run occasionally into hyperbole and amable.” But we cannot believe in the sinceri- plification. As it is the great excellence, so ty of an amorous Italian, who declares, that it is occasionally the chief fault of Alfieri's he never could get through the first volume dialogue, that every word is honestly emof Rousseau's Héloise; or of a modern author ployed to help forward the action of the play, of regular dramas, who professes to see nothing by 'serious argument, necessary narrative, or at all admirable in the tragedies of Racine or the direct expression of natural emotion. Voltaire. It is evident to us, that he grudged There are no excursions or digressions,-no those great writers the glory that was due to episodical conversations,—and none but the them, out of a vindictive feeling of national most brief moralizings. This gives a certain resentment; and that, for the same reason, air of solidity to the whole structure of the he grudged the French nation the freedom, in piece, that is apt to prove oppressive to an orwhich he would otherwise have been among dinary reader, and reduces the entire drama the first to believe and to exult.

to too great uniformity. It only remains to say a word or two of the We make these remarks chiefly with a refliterary productions of this extraordinary per- erence to French tragedy. For our son;-a theme, however interesting and at- part, we believe that those who are duly sentractive, upon which we can scarcely pretend sible of the merits of Shakespeare, will never to enter on the present occasion. We have be much struck with any other dramatical not yet been able to procure a complete copy compositions. There are no other plays, inof the works of Alfieri; and, even of those deed, that paint human nature,—that strike which have been lately transmitted to us, we off the characters of men with all the fresh. will confess that a considerable portion re- ness and sharpness of the original,—and mains to be perused. We have seen enough, speak the language of all the passions, not however, to satisfy us that they are deserving like a mimic, but an echo-neither softer nor of a careful analysis, and that a free and en- louder, nor differently modulated from the lightened estimate of their merit may be ren- spontaneous utterance of the heart. In these dered both interesting and instructive to the respects he disdains all comparison with Algreater part of our readers. We hope soon to fieri

, or with any other morial: nor is it fair, be in a condition to attempt this task; and perhaps, to suggest a comparison, where no

own

rivalry can be imagined. Alfieri, like all the offer any opinion. They are considered, in continental dramatists, considers a tragedy as Italy, we believe, as the purest specimens of a poem. In England, we look upon it rather the favella Toscana that late ages have proas a representation of character and passion. duced. To us they certainly seem to want With them, of course, the style and diction, something of that flow and sweetness to which and the congruity and proportions of the we have been accustomed in Italian poetry, piece, are the main objects;-with us, the and to be formed rather upon the model of truth and the force of the imitation. It is suf- Dante than of Petrarca. At all events, it is ficient for them, if there be character and obvious that the style is highly elaborate and action enough to prevent the composition from artificial; and that the author is constantly languishing, and to give spirit and propriety striving to give it a sort of factitious force and to the polished dialogue of which it consists; ' energy, by the use of condensed and em. -we are satisfied, if there be management phatic expressions, interrogatories, antitheses, enough in the story not to shock credibility and shori and inverted sentences. In all entirely, and beauty and polish enough in the these respects, as well as in the chastised diction to exclude disgust or derision. In his gravity of the sentiments, and the temperance own way, Alfieri, we think, is excellent. His and propriety of all the delineations of pasfables are all admirably contrived and com- sion, these pieces are exactly the reverse of pletely developed; his dialogue is copious and what we should have expected from the fiery, progressive; and his characters all deliver fickle, and impatient character of the author. natural sentiments with great beauty, and From all that Alfieri has told us of himself, often with great force of expression. In our we should have expected to find in his plays eyes, however, it is a fault that the fable is too great vehemence and irregular eloquencesimple, and the incidents too scanty; and that sublime and extravagant sentiments-pasall the characters express themselves with sions rising to frenzy—and poetry swelling equal felicity, and urge their opposite views into bombast. Instead of this, we have a suband pretensions with equal skill and plausi- dued and concise representation of energetic bility. We see at once, that an ingenious discourses-passions, not loud but deep-and author has versified the sum of a dialogue; a style so severely correct and scrupulously and never, for a moment, imagine that we pure, as to indicate, even to unskilful eyes, hear the real persons contending. There may the great labour which must have been be. be more eloquence and dignity in this style stowed on its purification. No characters can of dramatising ;—there is infinitely more de- be more different than that which we should ception in ours.

infer from reading the tragedies of Alfieri, and With regard to the diction of these pieces, that which he has assigned to himself in these it is not for tramontane critics to presume tó authentic memoirs.

(April, 1803.) The Life and Posthumous Writings of William CowPER, Esq. With an Introductory Letter

to the Right Honourable Earl Cowper. By William Hayley, Esq. 2 vols. 4to. Chichester: 1803.

This book is too long; but it is composed features of the person it intends to commemoon a plan that makes prolixity unavoidable. rate. It is a plan, however, that requires so Instead of an account of the poet's life, and a much room for its execution, and consequently view of his character and performances, the so much money and so much leisure in those biographer has laid before the public a large who wish to be masters of it, that it ought to selection from his private correspondence, and be reserved, we conceive, for those great and merely inserted as much narrative between eminent characters that are likely to excite each series of letters, as was necessary to pre- an interest among all orders and generations serve their connection, and make the subject of mankind. While the biography of Shakeof them intelligible.

speare and Bacon shrinks into the corner of This scheme of biography, which was first an octavo, we can scarcely help wondering introduced, we believe, by Mason, in his life that the history of the sequestered life and of Gray, has many evident advantages in solitary studies of Cowper should have ex. point of liveliness of colouring, and fidelity tended into two quarto volumes. of representation. It is something intermediate The little Mr. Hayley writes in these vol. between the egotism of confessions, and the umes is by no means well written; though questionable narrative of a surviving friend, certainly distinguished by a very 'amiable who must be partial, and may be mistaken: gentleness of temper, and the strongest apIt enables the reader to judge for himself, pearance of sincere veneration and affection from materials that were not provided for the for the departed friend to whose memory it is purpose of determining his judgment; and consecrated. It will be very hard, too, if they holds up to him, instead of a flattering or un- do not become popular; as Mr. Hayley seems faithful portrait, the living lineaments and to have exerted himself to conciliate readers

« PreviousContinue »