Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

ment, found its free vent in a holy war | ed, yet still present thoughts, to their inagainst the infidels: while the exquisite most sanctuary: Self-convicted, he offertenderness of Tasso's own disposition, ed himself in his agony to their scrutiny ; his amorous sensibilities, which-how- he subjected himself to their inquiries, and ever we dismiss the tale of his passion- their solemn acquittal could alone give rest ate and fatal attachment to the royal to his perturbed spirit. “First,' as M. Leonora *-breathe throughout his youth- Ranke truly states the distressing case, ful sonnets and madrigals, constantly re- he appeared voluntarily before the inlieved the ferocity of barbarous war, and quisitor at Bologna, who dismissed him the terrors of diabolic enchantment, by with good advice. Soon after he presentgentle and pathetic touches. The Sophro- ed himself before the inquisitor at Ferrania, the Erminia, the Gildippe, and even ra ; he too gave him absolution. Yet Clorinda in her last hours, are the crea- even this did not content him. It appeartions of a mind sensitively awake to all ed to him that the investigation had not that is pure, gentle, and exquisite in wo- been sufficiently searching, and that the man; even over Armida herself, before absolution was not sufficiently full and he parts with her, the tender spirit of authoritative: he wrote letters to the triTasso cannot help throwing some pathe. bunal of the Inquisition at Rome, to the tic interest. It is this earnest religious great inquisitor himself, to obtain a more sentiment that appears to harmonise the ample absolution. All this with the de. wild incongruous materials, assembled by grading sense of his servile and dependent Tasso in his poem. No great poet, per- state at the court of Ferrara, the conhaps scarcely Virgil himself, has imitated sciousness of great powers and great so copiously as Tasso : M. Ranke has poetic achievements, which seemed unreindicated the original of Armida in a con- quited or unhonoured; the envy of his tinuation of the romance of Amadis. enemies, which appeared to justify his The classical reader is perpetually awak- mistrust of all mankind ; his ill-judged, ened to reminiscences of the whole cycle if not ill-intentioned treatment by his of the Latin poets; but it is all blended royal patrons, who, while they were proud and fused together; it is become com- of the fame which he reflected on their pletely his own ; his sustained style, of court, at one moment seem to have pam. which almost the sole variation is from pered him with misdirected kindness, the stately dignity to, sometimes perhaps, next irritated him by contemptuous harshluscious, sweetness-in which the gran- ness-all this, embittering and exasperat. deur not seldom soars into pomp, the ing the religious doubts which he would softness melts into conceit-nevertheless shake off, but which clung to him-overappropriate, as it were, and incorporates threw at length the beautiful harmony of all these foreign thoughts, images, and his soul; and seemed to call for that resentiments.

straint which, if he was not already mad, That which was the inspiration of his must inevitably make him so. poem, this high-wrought religious feeling, Mr. Hallam declines the personal histowas fatal to his peace. It is clear that it ry of Tasso as not belonging to his plan; was no hopeless passion, but a morbid we shall pursue it no farther than as thus dread of religious error, which is the key inseparably connected with his great to his domestic tragedy. He was haunted work. His poetic mind never recovered with the consciousness that his mind this fearful trial. In his more sober mood, was constantly dallying with unlawful he laid his desperate hands on his own thoughts and proscribed opinions. His immortal poem, which was happily alterror, as was the natural consequence, ready too deeply stamped on the hearts deepened his doubts-his doubts aggravat- of the people ; the music of its highed his terror. The Jesuit vigilance, he wrought stanzas was already on the lips was aware, was prying into the secrets of of the peasant or the gondolier, where it all hearts; the Inquisition was tracing the is still heard ; the poem had been far too very thoughts. the unuttered, the reject- widely disseminated to submit to the chill* There is a Saggio sugli Amori di Torquato

ing process of reformation, to which he Tasso, e sulle cause della sua Prigionia, by G. dedicated some unprofitable years. It is Rossini, in the recent Pisa edition of his works. It well for us that Tasso's youthful poetical revives the theory of the passion for the Princess sin (as he esteemed it) was irretrievable. Eleanora : we have read it, we confess, without It is curious to examine the cold and peconviction, and with serious doubts of the authen. ticity of certain poems, which have recently ap

dantic Giudizio, in which he establishes peared as from the pen of Tasso,

the principles on which he chilled down

the bright and youthful Gerusalemme faithful to Protestantism under some of Liberta to the lifeless Gerusalemme Con- its forms; while all the nations whose lanquistata. All the romance has withered guages sprung from the Latin, reverted at away ; the variety, the grandeur, the ten- the end to the supremacy of the Pope. derness, now find no responsive chord in Germany, however, was doomed to a long his heart; the balance is destroyed; it period of anarchy and desolation, to be suc. drags down its heavy weight all on one ceeded, it should seem, by the lassitude of side ; the classical regularity and the his- exhaustion. First, the wars of the peasants, toric truth of the fable, or the religious and then the armies of Tilly and Wallenorthodoxy of the sentiments, are the ex-stein on one side, and Gustavus Adolphus clusive points on which he dwells. He on the other, laid waste her suffering proboasts that every one of the characters in vinces; her few brief intervals of repose the Iliad finds a parallel in his poem, and were almost as unfavourable, from many that almost all the incidents are counter-circumstances, for literary activity, at least parts of his great model. In all that re- for the formation of a native literature, as lates to the Deity or the preterhuman those of war and confusion. There was no world, it is his sole study to prove his ri- central point, no capital to encourage, no gid orthodoxy; he quotes the authority concentration of men of letters, or of those of St. Jerome, St. Thomas, and that political employments which lead to the strange work which exercised such un- development of letters. There was no bounded influence on the imagination of one dialect completely dominant; and the dark ages, and, attributed to St. Diony- either as cause or consequence, no Gersius the Areopagite, became the indispu- man writers in the proper sense. All her table authority with regard to the mon. great men, her Leibnitzes, even down to archy of heaven, the names, nature, and Mosheim, wrote in Latin. Since the bioffices of all the hosts of the angels. If ble of Luther, there was no vigorous imit could be read by any one familiar with pulse to her copious, pliant, and, as it has the exquisite original, the Conquistata' since proved, both imaginative and philowould be the most melancholy book in sophical vernacular language, till

very any language. We must pass away, modern days. however, from this inexhaustible subject England, on the other hand, appeared of interest.

under circumstances singularly favourable One thing was now indispensable to the for this great intellectual movement. originality and independence of European From the accession of Elizabeth to the letters. The classical taste which had civil wars, England enjoyed a period of reasserted its dominion had an insupera- unbroken internal peace; but this peace ble tendency to degenerate into servile had nothing of the languor of exhaustion imitation of classical form, without re or the dreary repose of a tyrannic rule. gard to the primary principles of the noble The spent wave of the Reformation had and the beautiful, out of which those left a strong and tumultuous swell. The forms had arisen. The ecclesiastical spirit land had burst her bonds, and rejoiced in which was now embodied in the Jesuit the fresh and conscious strength of her system of education, while it seemed to emancipation. There was a splendid enlarge, drew a more stern and impassa- court under a female sovereign, which ble circle around the intellect of man. could not but retain something of a chiThat which was wanting was the creation valrous and romantic tone.

There was of a poetic and intellectually vigorous a nobility, enriched with the spoils of the Teutonic literature. It has not been gen- monasteries, with its adventurous spirit erally observed how completely the Re- kept sufficiently alive by the still menaced formation was a Teutonic movement; all feuds of foreign war and of Spanish inthe nations of Roman descent, or of which vasion ; yet with much idle time, some of the Latin was the dominant element in which, among those of high attainments, the language, settled down under the Pa- could not but betake itself to the cultivapal yoke. But though the renewed ac- tion and patronage of letters. There was tivity of the religious orders, especially a Church, which still retained some magthe Jesuits, uniting with the unprincipled nificence, and, though triumphant, was and sanguinary despotism of the govern- yet in too unsafe and unsettled a state to ment, won back southern Germany, the sink into the torpor of an ancient estabAustrian and Bavarian dominions, into lishment; it was rather in constant agiallegiance to the see of Rome, almost all tation, on one side, from the restless spithe rest of the Teutonic race remained rit of the Roman Catholics, with all their

busy array of missionary priests and je-scrimination, of which we deny not the suits; on the other, against the brooding justice, on Spenser; in the first paragraph, spirit of ecclesiastical democracy, among which we extract, he has shown how the Mar-prelates, the first religious an- strongly, even in the fanciful Spenser, the cestors of the puritans. There were the religious impressions of the age maintain earliest efforts of our commerce; the their predominance. wild and adventurous exploits of our i The first book of the Faery Queen is a complete Drakes and Frobishers in the Spanish poem, and, far from requiring any continuation, is Main; the El Dorado fictions of Raleigh. rather injured by the useless re-appearance of its Throughout the whole moral, social, in- hero in the second. It is generally admitted to be

the finest of the six. In no other is the allegory so tellectual, and religious being of man, clearly conceived by the poet, or so steadily pre. there was a strong excitement, an intense served, yet with a disguise so delicate, that no one agitation, but nothing of the confusion of is offended by that servile setting forth of a moral disorder, the desolation of internal war, meaning we frequently meet with in allegorical the furious and absorbing collision of hos- good writing in works of fiction always produces,

and the reader has the gratification that tile factions. It was, if we may use the that of exercising his own ingenuity without per: expression, the motion of a creative spirit plexing it. That the red cross knight designates on stirring chaos; there was quiet enough the militant Christian, whom Una, the true church, to allow that which sprung to life to de- who is reduced

almost to despair, but rescued by the velope itself to its full maturity; and intervention of Una, and the assistance of Faith, throughout this whole period, England, Hope, and Charity, is what no one feels any diffi. as it gradually advanced to that height of culty in acknowledging, but what every one may internal prosperity described by Claren- easily read the poem without perceiving or remem

bering. In an allegory conducted with such prodon in the first splendid pages of his his- priety, and concealed or revealed with so much art, tory, developed with still more rapid and there can surely be nothing to repel our taste ; and unchecked growth her intellectual energy without pleasure, must seek (what others perhaps

those who read the first book of the Faery Queen and riches. It was natural that where so will be at no loss to discover for them) a different many poetic elements mingled themselves

cause for their indifference, than the tediousness or with human life, the first impulse should insipidity of allegorical poetry. Every canto of throw itself off, as it were, in poetic cre- this book teems with the choicest beauties of ima. ation. The classical movement, the ad- gination; he came to it in the freshness of his ge. miration of the writers of Greece and it does not always afterwards maintain, unsullied by

nius, which shines throughout with an uniformity Rome, was not unfelt in England, but it Aattery, unobstructed by pedantry, and unquenched was kept in subordination to the native, by languor.'—vol ii. p. 323, 324. the Teutonic, according to the language of the most ardent and enthusiastic genius, whose

• It has been justly observed by a living writer of modern criticism, the romantic charac- cloquence is as the rush of mighty waters, and has ter of the new poetry. The poets, either left it for others almost as invidious to praise in in their happy ignorance, or in their dis- terms of less rapture, as to censure what he has dainful freedom, paid no attention to the borne along in the stream of unhesitating eulogy, forms and rules of antiquity. They acted of the beautiful than Spenser."*

that “no poet has ever had a more exquisite sense

In Virgil and on their own intuitive perception of the Tasso this was not less powerful; but even they, forms which were adapted to their own even the latter himself, do not hang with such a unshackled inventions. Their own sense

tenderness of delight, with such a forgetful delay, of the noble, the moving, the beautiful, not averse to images that jar on the mind by excit

over the fair creations of their fancy. Spenser is was their law : where they borrowed and ing horror or disgust, and sometimes his touches are naturalized, they were the fair shapes and rather too strong; but it is on love and beauty, on lofty impersonations, the mythologic fa- holiness and virtue, that he reposes with all the bles of paganism, which they mingled up of his stanza, "' with many a bout of linked sweet.

sympathy of his soul. The slowly sliding motion with the Christian imagery of the middle ness long drawn out," beautifully corresponds to ages, so that the Grecian polytheism as- the dreamy enchantment

of his description, when sumed with them a romantic character, Una, or Belphæbe, or Florimel, or Amoret, are and even the ancient history of Greece present to his mind. In this varied delincation of

female perfectness, no earlier poet had equabea and Rome retained something of the le- him; nor, excepting Shakspeare, has he had, per. gendary tone with which it had been in- haps, any later rival. vested during the dark ages.

Spenser is naturally compared with Ariosto.

" Fierce wars and faithful loves did moralise the Spenser, allowing all proper honour to the author of part of the Mirror for Ma- their minds, in the character of their poetry, they

song” of both poets. But in the constitution of gistrates, was the first creative spirit of were almost the reverse of each other. The Italian this new Teutonic poetry. Mr. Hallam

* Mr. Hallam alludes to a series of papers on has dwelt with a profound feeling for his Spenser in Blackwood's Magazine,' evidently beauty, yet with something of rigid dis- from the pen of Professor Wilson.

is gay, rapid, ardent ; his pictures shift like the power ; but to unlock the hidden cells of hues of heaven ; even while diffuse, he seems to its harmony, to show its infinite variety, by the number, not the duration of his images. picturesqueness, and flexibility, remained Spenser is habitually serious ; his slow stanza seems for the poet of the Faery Queen. In to suit the temper of his genius; he loves to dwell all his fantastic prodigality of invention, on the sweetness and beauty which his fancy por: Spenser is never restrained by the want its didactic theory, than from the precedents of of adequate language. His endless train romance, is always before him; his morality is pure of images array themselves instantane. and even stern, with nothing of the libertine tone ously in varied and harmonious words ; of Ariosto. He worked with far worse tools than if his eye is sensitive to every form of formed, and into which he rather injudiciously beauty, so is his ear to every sound of poured an unnecessary archaism, while the style music: the very difficulty and complexity of his contemporaries was undergoing a rapid of his stanza shows at once his unlimited change in the opposite direction. His stanza of command of poetic language, and that nine lines is particularly inconvenient and languid in narration, where the Italian octave is sprightly language falls at once, with rare instances and vigorous; though even this becomes ultimately of effort or artificial skill, into flowing monotonous by its regularity, a fault from which and easy verse. His only the ancient hexameter and our blank verse are rise out of the wanton redundance of

very

faults seem to exempt.

Spenser may be justly said to excel Ariosto in power, rather than from the constraint of originality of invention, in force and variety of insufficient or inflexible diction. Whatcharacter, in strength and vividness of conception, ever English poetic language may have in depth of reflection, in fertility of imagination, and gained in vigour, in perspicuity, or in above all, in that exclusively poetical cast of feeling, which discerns in every thing what common precision, almost its earliest poet seems minds do not perceive. In the construction and to have discovered and exhausted its fer. arrangement of their sable neither deserved much tility, its pliancy, and its melody. praise ; but the siege of Paris gives the Orlando

Yet there might be some danger, lest, Furioso, spite of its perpetual shiftings of the scene, rather more unity in the reader's apprehension than from the impulse of Spenser's exquisite belungs to the Faery Queen. Spenser is, no doubt, fancy and music of diction, a peculiar decidedly inferior in ease and liveliness of narration, and exclusive poetic dialect and tone of as well as clearness and felicity of language. But, versification should be formed, as in Italy, upon thus comparing the two poets, we have little reason to blush for our countrymnan. Yet the fame

which might refuse to approximate to of Ariosto is spread through Éurope, while Spenser real life, and to the common and familiar is almost unknown out of England; and even in vocabulary of man. Lest this should be this age, when much of our literature is so widely the case, lest poetry should cease to be diffused, I have not observed proofs of much ac. quaintance with him on the continent.'-vol. ii. pp.

popular, idiomatic, and vernacular, arose 325–328.

the Elizabethan drama. There appeared

at once another form of this various art But that part of Spenser's poetic mis- of poetry, which, however it might deal sion to which we would chiefly direct the in bold and copious metaphor, and soar reader's attention is his development of occasionally to the utmost height of inthe capacities of the English language. vention, yet, as addressed to the general Conceding to Mr. Hallam all the faults of ear, must speak a language generally inhis diction, his affectation of archaisms, telligible to the many. While Spenser, his feeble expletives, and his alliterations; on the shores of Mulla, environed by a admitting that the peculiar form and com- population which spoke another, and to plicated construction of his stanza is not his ears most barbarous and inharmoni. well adapted for poetic narrative, yet to ous language, far removed not merely Spenser we are indebted for the first dis- from the capital, but from the shores of play of the latent riches and harmony of England, was, nevertheless, in this roour native tongue. Though there is mantic seclusion, carrying the language something singularly, if we may so say, to its height of perfection-Shakspeare prematurely English in Chaucer's paint- and his brother dramatists, living with ing of manners; though in this respect men of all ranks and degrees, from the no later poet, not even Crabbe, has been Southamptoms and Pembrokes, and the more true, native, or vernacular, yet his jovial crew at the Mitre, to the Clowns language, it cannot be denied, was rude and the Dogberrys (too faithfully describand imperfect, hovering between a Saxon ed not to have been drawn directly from and a Norman pronunciation. The other real life,) set our poetic language free native poets, the authors of 'Piers again, and made it the living and variable Ploughman,' and Skelton, might show expression of human life. The diction something of its nervous and homely of Shakspeare's juvenile poems was ima.

ginative, if we may so say, Spenserian ;| the reality of nature. In preparing us for the most and in some of his earlier plays this intense sympathy with this old man, he first abases over-fanciful, luscious, and unfamiliar respected age the gods themselves have conspired; tone is struggling, at it were, with the it is not Orestes, noble minded and affectionate, more vigorous vernacular of the comic wliose crime has been virtue; it is a headstrong, and less poetic scenes: it is only in his feeble, and selfish being, whom, in the first act of later plays that he has those occasional in our eyes”; nothing but what follows intense woe

the tragedy, nothing seems capable of redeeming passages of over-wrought metaphysical unnatural wrong. Then comes on that splendid diction, which hardens into obscurity (on madness, not absurdly sudden, as in some tragedies, which Mr. Hallam animadverts with his but in which the strings that keep his reasoning usual fearless freedom, vol. iii. p. 577). power together give way one after the other in the

frenzy of rage and grief. Then it is that we find It might almost seem that Shakspeare, what in life may sometimes be seen, the intellectual astonished at his own wonderful success energies grow stronger in calamity, and especially in embodying his conceptions in that lan- under wrong. An awful eloquence belongs to un. guage which started up unbidden to his found than Lear in his prosperous hour could ever lips, began to mistrust his own inexplica- have conceived ; inconsequent, for such is the con. ble facility, and to suppose that with dition of madness, but in themselves fragments of strong effort he might attain even greater coherent truth, the reason of an unreasonable mind. things. Shakspeare is never not great

• Timon of Athens is cast, as it were, in the

same mould as Lear; it is the same essential chaand happy except when he strives to be racter, the same generosity, more from wanton ospeculiarly so. But in his ordinary, in tentation than love of others, the same fierce rage his happier vein, Shakspeare, independ- under the smart of ingratitude, the same rousing ent of all his other unspeakable claims up, in that tempest, of powers that had slumbered upon our admiration and gratitude, has had Timon or Lear known that philosophy of that of showing that our language is not human nature in their calmer moments which fury merely capable of supplying the retired brought forth, they would never have had such and unworldly fancy of the poet, who terrible occasion to display it. The thoughtless stands aloof from common life, with an in it far more touching than the self-beggary of

confidence of Lear in his children has something inexhaustible profusion of bright and Timon ; though both one and the other have proharmonious words, but likewise of bring-totypes enough in real life. And as we give the ing poetry, as it were, into the busy stir old king more of our pity, so a more intense abhor. of men,' into courts and cities, into the characters of that drama than we spare for the

rence accompanies his daughters and the worse agitated palaces of the great, and the miserable sycophants of the Athenian. Their humbler households of the poor ; and in thanklessness is anticipated, and springs from the this respect, and in this alone, he is wor. very nature of their calling; it verges on the beaten thily followed, and almost rivalled, by his road of comedy. In this play there is neither a

personage, except two courtezans, who prolific school, by Fletcher, Massinger, hardly speak, nor any prominent character (the and even some of the inferior dramatists. honest steward is not such), redeemed by virtue We should not do Mr. Hallam justice if enough to be estimable ; for the cynic Apemantus we did not direct our readers' attention

is but a cynic, and ill replaces the noble Kent of

the other drama. The sable, if fable it can be to some of his observations on Shaks- called, is so extraordinarily deficient in action, a peare, which appear to us both just and fault of which Shakspeare is not guilty in any other original. We must take for this purpose instance, that we may wonder a little how he à desperate leap over more than half his should have seen in the single delineation of third volume-an inconvenience, perhaps, tions to the subject. But there seems to have been

Timon a counterbalance for the manifold objecinseparable from his arrangement of lite- a period of Shakspeare's life when his heart was ill rary history into periods of half a century, at ease, and ill content with the world or his own but which interposes so long a space be conscience ; the memory of hours misspent, the tween the earlier and the latter plays of panig of affection misplaced or unrequited, the ex.

, Shakspeare:

with ill-chosen associates, by choice or circum.

stance, peculiarly teaches ;-these, as they sank If originality of invention did not so much down into the depths of his great mind, seem not stamp almost every play of Shakspeare that to only to have inspired into it the conception of Lear pame one as the most original seems a disparage and Timon, but that of one primary character, the ment to others, we might say that this great prero.censurer of mankind. This type is first seen in the gative of genius was exercised above all in Lear. philosophic melancholy of Jaques, gazing with an It diverges more from the model of regular tragedy undiminished serenity, and with a gaiety of fancy, than Macbeth or Othello, and even more than Ham though not of manners, on the follies of the world. let; but the fable is better constructed than in the It assumes a graver cast in the exiled Duke of the last of these, and it displays full as much of the al. same play, and next one rather more severe in the most super-human inspiration of the poet as the Duke of Measure for Measure. In allthese, however, other two. Lear himself is, perhaps, the most it is merely contemplative philosophy. In Hamlet wonderful of dramatic conceptions, ideal to satisfy this is mingled with the impulses of a perturbed heart the most romantic imagination, yet idealised fronil under the pressure of extraordinary circumstances ;

« ForrigeFortsett »