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In private matters, or such as belong to the range of ethics rather than of politics, the instinct of Milton seems to me as much truer and finer than the instinct of Dante as his judgment and his conscience were juster, sounder, purer than the conscience or the judgment of Cromwell. Only those disciples in whom congenital idolatry has passed into the stage of acute monomania can maintain that the quality of Dante's great work is never in any considerable degree impaired by the incessant invasion of merely personal polemics; that the reader is never or but rarely, fatigued and nauseated by the obtrusion and obsession of “verminous fellows,” whom the higher muses at least should be content to leave in the native and natural shelter of that obscene obscurity which alone is proper to such animalcules as make the filth they feed on. There are others beside the brothel lackeys” of a bastard empire who, as Victor Hugo said once, would desire us to shut our eyes, but compel us to stop our noses.
No matter what manner of offense may naturally be given by creatures whose very nature is offensive, a man who is duly and soberly conscious of any reason for self-respect will ultimately, as Milton did and Dante did not, determine that personal insolence, whether masked as Caliban or manifestas Thersites, shall draw down no further notice from his hand or foot. There are things unmentionable save by a too faithful pupil or too literal imitator of Swift, which, only for our cwn sake, we are careful not to spurn as we step over them. Upon such Milton did not hesitate to set his heel, when duly guarded by the thick-soled boot of prose; but, unlike Dante, he never permitted the too fetid contact of their feculence to befoul the sandal of his muse. The reddening knots of his controversial scourge fell only in cadences of prose, or at least but very rarely in brief reverberation of rhythmic numbers, on the noisome nudity exposed as in provocation of its lash by Saumaise or Du Moulin, the literary lackey of a princeling or the cryptonymous railer for his bread.
This high-souled and haughty respect for the dignity of his natural art should be duly borne in mind whenever we tempted to dwell somewhat disapprovingly on Milton's indefati. gable and fierce delight in “double-thonging ” such equivocal sons of a dubious kennel; though it will not be denied that he spent more strength of arm than he need have wasted on the reso.
nant reiteration of stripes from a deserved but superfluous dog whip, too constantly sent curling about their currish flanks.
It is certainly no very dignified amusement, no very profitable expenditure of energy or time, to indulge in the easy diversion of making such curs yelp, and watching them writhe under the chastisement which an insulted superior may condescend to inflict, till their foul mouths foam over in futile and furious response, reeking and rabid with virulent froth and exhalations of raging ribaldry. Yet when, like those that swarmed at the heels of Milton, the vermin venture on all possible extremes of personal insult and imputation to which dullness may give ear or malice may give tongue, a man cannot reasonably be held to derogate from the duty and the dignity of self-respect if he spurns or scourges them out of his way. To give these rascals rope is a needless waste of hemp; a spider's thread, spun from the inner impurity of his own venomous vitals, will suffice for such a creature to hang himself.
A ground more plausible may seem to exist for a graver charge against Milton than that of a ferocious condescension to take unmerciful notice of such leprous little malignants as these; for the charge of relentless and unmitigable savagery toward the dead, whose misdoings might seem — or to us may seem at this distance — to have been amply expiated by discomfiture and death. Cheap and not over-nice chivalry — the false Florimel who assumes and degrades the appearance of true knightliness of mind and sound nobility of spirit — is ever ready, when ty
rants are fallen or when traitors are degraded, to remind us in the shrillest note of reproachful impertinence that it is ill boasting over dead men.” Ill indeed, and worse than ill, it is when those who could see nothing to blame in Nero, nothing to loathe in Judas, till the moment of ruin which reduced them to suicide, begin to cast stones at the carrion which had been found worthy of their adoration when a pontiff, of their adulation when an emperor. But ill it would also be, abominable and absurd, if the "piteous and unpitied end” of either were to be held as expiation sufficient to reverse the branding judgment or silence the damning voice of history or of poetry; to bid those now be silent out of pitiable pity and hypocritical high-mindedness who did not hesitate, while some among the posthumous revilers, as well as the posthumous champions of these wretches, were prone before the vilest of all idols on their knees like the courtier or on their bellies like the serpent, to call Judas by his name of Iscariot and Nero by his name of Bonaparte.
The self-confident and self-conscious majesty of Milton's devotion and dedication to their natural work of all the faculties assigned to him by nature has foolishly enough been objected against him as evidence of his poetic inferiority to Shakespeare. With that unapproachable name no rational man will assert the equality of Milton's; but if Shakespeare's claim to superiority rested only on the evidence of his intellectual self-effacement, his modest un. consciousness and humble-minded abnegation or ignorance of his right to put forward any claim whatever, it would be but too easy a task to convict him out of his own mouth, and prove by the avowal of his own pretensions that he can pretend to the credit of no such imbecility. No sandier foundation was ever discovered for a fallacy more futile than this. No man lived who had less title than Shakespeare to whatever blessing may be reserved for the poor in spirit. Not even Milton, not even Dante, had less right to say in appeal to God or man, "I am not high-minded.” No man's writings bear witness more unquestionable that he worked and waited with the haughty patience of self-assured expectation for the inevitable homage of mankind in centuries to come.
From the Fortnightly Review. IX-230
JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS
ROHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS, an English writer, specially noted
an essayist and classical scholar, was born at Bristol,
October 5th, 1840. He graduated at Oxford and won the Newdigate prize in 1860. In 1872 his “Introduction to the Study of Dante” laid the foundations of a reputation which he increased by his «Studies of the Greek Poets.” He has made many admirable translations from Greek, Latin, and Italian verse. Italian By-Ways," “Sketches of Study in Italy,” and a «Life of Michael Angelo » are among his more noted works. He died at Rome, April 19th, 1893.
MORNING RAMBLES IN VENICE
STORY is told of Poussin, the French painter, that when he was asked why he would not stay in Venice, he replied,
“If I stay here, I shall become a colorist!) A somewhat similar tale is reported of a fashionable English decorator. While on a visit to friends in Venice he avoided every building which contains a Tintoretto, averring that the sight of Tintoretto's pictures would injure his carefully trained taste. It is probable that neither anecdote is strictly true. Yet there is a certain epigrammatic point in both; and I have often speculated whether even Venice could have so warped the genius of Poussin as to shed one ray of splendor on his canvasses, or whether even Tintoretto could have so sublimed the prophet of Queen Anne as to make him add dramatic passion to a London drawing-room. Anyhow it is exceedingly difficult to escape from color in the air of Venice, or from Tintoretto in her buildings. Long, delightful mornings may be spent in the enjoyment of the one and the pursuit of the other by folk who have no classical or pseudomediæval theories to oppress them.
Tintoretto's house, though changed, can still be visited. It formed part of the Fondamenta dei Mori, so called from having been the quarter assigned to Moorish traders in Venice. A spirited carving of a turbaned Moor leading a camel charged with merchandise remains above the water line of a neighboring build. ing, and all about the crumbling walls sprout flowering weeds samphire and snapdragon and the spiked campanula, which shoots a spire of sea-blue stars from chinks of Istrian stone.
The house stands opposite the Church of Santa Maria dell' Orto, where Tintoretto was buried, and where four of his chief masterpieces are to be seen. This church, swept and garnished, is a triumph of modern Italian restoration. They have contrived to make it as commonplace as human ingenuity could manage. Yet no malice of ignorant industry can obscure the treasures it contains — the pictures of Cimabue, Giovanni Bellini, Palma, and the four Tintorettos, which form its crowning glory. Here the master may be studied in four of his chief moods: as the painter of tragic passion and movement, in the huge Last Judgmentas the painter of impossibilities, in the “Vision of Moses upon Sinai”; as the painter of purity and tranquil pathos, in the “Miracle of St. Agnes ”; as the painter of biblical history brought home to daily life, in the “Presentation of the Virgin.” Without leaving the “Madonna dell’ Orto," a student can explore his genius in all its depth and breadth; comprehend the enthusiasm he excites in those who seek, as the essentials of art, imaginative boldness and sincerity; understand what is meant by adversaries who maintain that, aftet all, Tintoretto was but an inspired Gustave Doré. Between that quiet canvas of the Presentation,” so modest in its cool grays and subdued gold, and the tumult of flying, running, ascending figures in the "Judgment,” what an interval there is! How strangely the white lamb-like maiden, kneeling beside her lamb in the picture of “St. Agnes, contrasts with the dusky gorgeousness of the Hebrew women despoiling themselves of jewels for the golden calf! Comparing these several manifestations of creative power, we feel ourselves in the grasp of a painter who was essentially a poet, one for whom his art was the medium for expressing before all things thought and passion. Each picture is executed in the manner suited to its tone of feeling, the key of its conception.
Elsewhere than in the “Madonna dell'Orto" there are more distinguished single examples of Tintoretto's realizing faculty. The « Last Supper ” in San Giorgio, for instance, and the “Adoration of the Shepherds,” in the Scuola di San Rocco, illustrate his unique power of presenting sacred history in a novel, romantic framework of familiar things. The most commonplace circumstances of ordinary life have been employed to portray in the one