« ForrigeFortsett »
Vettor Pisani, having been defeated in 1354 at Portolongo, and many years afterwards in the more decisive action of Pola, by the Genoese, was recalled by the Venetian government, and thrown into chains. The Avvogadori proposed to behead him, but the supreme tribunal was content with the sentence of imprisonment. Whilst Pisani was suffering this unmerited disgrace, Chioza, in the vicinity of the capital,* was, by the assistance of the Signor of Padua, delivered into the hands of Pietro Doria. At the intelligence of that disaster, the great bell of St. Mark's tower tolled to arms, and the people and the soldiery of the galleys were summoned to the repulse of the approaching enemy; but they protested they would not move a step, unless Pisani were liberated and placed at their head. The great council was instantly assembled : the prisoner was called before them, and the Doge, Andrea Contarini, informed him of the demands of the people, and the necessities of the state, whose only hope of safety was reposed on his efforts, and who implored him to forget the indignities he had endured in her service. “I have submitted,” replied the magnanimous republican, “I have submitted to your deliberations without complaint ; I have supported patiently the pains of imprisonment, for they were inflicted at your command: this is no time to inquire whether I deserve thiem-the good of the republic may have seemed to require it, and that which the republic re. solves is always resolved wisely. Behold me ready to lay down my life for the preservation of my country.” Pisani was appointed generalissimo, and by his exertions, in conjunction with those of Carlo Zeno, the Venetians soon recovered the ascendancy over their maritime rivals.
The Italian communities were no less unjust to their citizens than the Greek republics. Liberty, both with the one and with the other, seems to have been a national, not an individual object: and, notwithstanding the boasted equality before the laws, which an ancient Greek writert considered the great distinctive mark between his countrymen and the barbarians, the mutual rights of fellow-citizens seem never to have been the principal seope of the old democracies. The world may have not yet seen an essay by the au:hor of the Italian Republics, in which the distinction between the liberty of former states, and the signification attached to that word by the happier constitution of England, is ingeniously developed. The Italians, however, when they had ceased to be free, still looked back with a sigh upon those times of turbulence, when every citizen might rise to a share of sovereign power, and have never been taught fully to appreciate the repose of a monarchy. Sperone Speroni, when Francis Maria H. Duke of Rovere proposed the question," which was preferable, the republic or the principality-the perfect and not durable, or the less perfect and not so liable to change, replied, “that our happiness is to be measured by its quality, not by its duration; and that he preferred to live for one day like a man, than for a hundred years like a brute, a stock, or a stone." This was thought,
S. e note to Stanza XIII, page 250. + The Greek boasted that he was igoróuos. See the last chapter of the first book of Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
and called, a magnificent answer, down to the last days of Italian servitude.*
-and the crown Which Petrarch's laureate brow supremely wore
Upon a far and foreign soil had grown, The Florentines did not take the opportunity of Petrarch's short visit to their city in 1350 to revoke the decree which confiscated the property of his father, who had been banished shortly after the exile of Dante. His crown did not dazzle them; but when in the next year they were in want of his assistance in the formation of their university, they repented of their injustice, and Boccaccio was sent to Padua to entreat the laureate to conclude his wanderings in the bosom of his native country, where he might finish his immortal Africa, and enjoy, with his recovered possessions, the esteem of all elasses of his fellow-citizens. They gave him the option of the book and the science he might condescend to expound: they called him the glory of his country, who was dear, and would be dearer to them; and they added, that if there was anything unpleasing in their letter, he ought to return amongst them, were it only to correct their style.f Petrarch seemed at first to listen to the flattery and to the entreaties of his friend, but he did not return to Florence, and preferred a pilgrimage to the tomb of Laura and the shades of Vaucluse.
His dust, Boccaccio was buried in the church of St. Michael and St. James, at Cer. taldo, a small town in the Valdelsa, which was by some supposed the place of his birth. There he passed the latter part of his life in a course of laborious study, which shortened his existence; and there might his ashes have been secure,
if not of honour, at least of repose. But the “hyena bigots” of Certaldo tore up the tombstone of Boccaccio, and ejected it from the holy precincts of St. Michael and St. James. The occasion, and, it may be hoped, the excuse, of this ejectment was the making of a new floor for the church; but the fact is, that the tombstone was taken up and thrown aside at the bottom of the building. Ignorance may share the sin with bigotry. It would be painful to relate such an exception to the devotion of the Italianis for their great names, could it not be accompanied by a trait more honourably conformable to the general character of the nation. The principal person of the district, the last branch of the house of Medicis, afforded that protection to the memory of the insulted dead which her best ancestors had
"E intorno alla magnifica risposta," &c. Serassi, Vita del Tasso, lib, iii. pag. 149, tom. ii, edit. 2. Bergamo.
+ " Accingiti innoltre, se ci e lecito ancor l'esortati, a compire l'immortal tua Africa .... Se ti avviene d'incontrare nel nostro stile cosa che ti dispiaccia, cio debb' essere un altro motivo ad esaudire i desiderj della tua patria.” Storia della Lett. Ital. tom. v. par. i. lib. i. pag. 7€.
dispensed apon all contemporary merit. The Marchioness Lenzoni resched the tombstone of Boccaccio from the neglect in which it had some time lain, and found for it an honourable elevation in her own mansion. She has done more: the house in which the poet lived has been as litile respected as his tomb, and is falling to ruin over the head of one indifferent to the name of its former tenant. It consists of two or three little chambers, and a low tower, on which Cosmo II. affixed an inscription. This house she has taken measures to purchase, and proposes to devote to it that eare and consideration which are attached to the cradle and to the roof of genius.
This is not the place to undertake the defence of Boccaccio; but the man who exhausted his little patrimony in the acquirement of learning, who was amongst the first, if not the first, to allure the science and the poetry of Greece to the bosom of Italy ;-who not only invented a new style, but founded, or certainly fixed, a new language; who, besides the esteem of every polite court of Europe, was thought worthy of employment by the predominant republic of his own country, and, what is more, of the friendship of Petrarch, who lived the life of a philosopher and a freeman, and who died in the pursuit of knowledge,--such a man might have found more consideration than he has met with from the priest of Certaldo, and from a late English traveller, who strikes off his portrait as an odious, contemptible, licentious writer, whose impure remains should be suffered to rot without a record.* That English traveller, unfortunately for those who have to deplore the loss of a very amiable person, is beyond all criticism; but the mortality which did not protect Boccaccio from Mr. Eustace, must not defend Mr. Eustace from the impartial judgment of his successors.-Death may canonise his virtues, not his errors; and it may be modestly pronounced that he transgressed, not only as an author, but as a man, when he eroked the shade of Boccaccio in company with that of Aretine, amidst the sepulchres of Santa Croce, merely to dismiss it with indignity. As far as respects
“ Il flagello de Principi,
I divin Pietro Aretino," it is of little import what censure is passed upon a coxcomb who owes his present existence to the above burlesque character given to him by the poet, whose amber has preserved many other grubs and worms: but to classify Boccaccio with such a person, and to excommunicate his very ashes, must of itself make us doubt of the qualification of the classical tourist for writing upor. Italian, or, indeed, upon any other literature; for ignorance on one
• Classical Tour, chap. ix, vol. ii. p 355, edit. 31. “Of Boccaccio, the modern Petronius, we say nothing; the abuse of genius is more odious and more contemptible than its absence; and it imports little where the impure remains of a licentious author are consigned to their kindred dust. For the same reason the traveller may pass unnoticed the tomb of the malignant Aretino."
This dubious phrase is hardly enough to save the tourist from the suspicion of another blunder it specting the burial-ptaee of Aretine, whose tomb was in the ehurch of St. Luke at Venice, and gave rise to the famous controversy of which some notice is taken in Bayle. Now the words of Mr, Eustace would lead us to think the tomb was at Florence, or at least was to be somewhere recognised. Whether the inscription so much disputed was ever written on the tomb cannot now be decided, for all memorial of this author has disappeared from the church of St. Luke.
point may incapacitate an author merely for that particular topic, but subjection to a professional prejudice must render him an unsafe director on all occasions. Any perversion and injustice may be made what is vulgarly called " a case of conscience," and this poor excuse is all that can be offered for the priest of Certaldo, or the author of the Classical Tour. It would have answered the purpose to confine the censure to the novels of Boccaccio; and gratitude to that source which supplied the muse of Dryden with her last and most harmonious numbers might, perhaps, have restricted that censure to the objectionable qualities of the hundred tales. At any rate the repentance of Boccacio might have arrested his exhumation, and it should have been recollected and told, that in his old age he wrote a letter entreating his friend to discourage the reading of the Decameron, for the sake of modesty, and for the sake of the author, who would not have an apologist always at hand to state in his excuse that he wrote it when young, and at the command of his superiors.* It is neither the licentiousness of the writer, nor the evil propensities of the reader, which have given to the Decameron alone, of all the works of Boccaccio, a perpetual popularity. The establishment of a new and delightful dialect conferred an immortality on the works in which it was first fixed. The sonnets of Petrarch were, for the same reason, fated to survive his self-admired Africa, the “ favourite of kings." The invariable traits of nature and feeling with which the novels, as well as the verses, abound, have doubtless been the chief source of the foreign celebrity of both authors; but Boccaccio, as a man, is no more to be estimated by that work, than Petrarch is to be regarded in no other light than as the lover of Laura. Even, however, had the father of the Tuscan prose been known only as the author of the Decameron, a considerate writer would have been cautious to pronounce a sentence irreconcilable with the unerring voice of many ages and nations. An irrevocable value has never been stamped upon any work solely recommended by impurity.
The true source of the outcry against Boccaccio, which began at a very early period, was the choice of his scandalous personages in the cloisters as well as the courts; but the princes only laughed at the gallant adventures so unjustly charged upon Queen Theodelinda, whilst the priesthood cried shame upon the debauches drawn from the convent and the hermitage; and most probably for the opposite reason, namely, that the picture was faithful to the life. Two of the novels are allowed to be facts usefully turned into tales, to deride the canonisation of rogues and laymen. Ser Ciappelletto and Marcellinus are cited with applause even by the decent Muratori.f The great Arnaud, as he is quoted in Bayle, states, that a new edition of the novels was proposed, of which the expurgation consisted in omitting the words " monk” and “nun," and tacking the immoralities to other names. The literary history of Italy particularises no such edition; but it was not
"Non enim ubique est, qui in excusationem meam consurgens dicat, juvenis scripsit, et majoris coactus imperio." The letter was addressed to Maghinard of Cavalcanti, marshal of the kingdom of Sicily, See Tiraboschi, Storia, &c. tom. v. par. ii. lib. iii. pag. 525, ed. Ven, 1795
Dissertazioni sopra le Antichita Italiane. Diss. lviii. p, 253, tom, iii. edit, Milan, 1751.
long before the whole of Europe had but one opinion of the Decameron; and the absolution of the author seems to have been a point settled at least a hundred years ago : "On se feroit siffler si l'on prétendoit convaincre Boccace de n'avoir pas été honnête homme, puis qu'il a fait le Décameron." So said one of the best men, and perhaps the best critic, that ever livedthe very martyr to impartiality.* But as this information, that in the beginning of the last century one would have been hooted at for pretending that Boccaccio was not a good man, may seem to come from one of those enemies who are to be suspected, even when they make us a present of truth, a more acceptable contrast with the proscription of the body, soul, and muse of Boccaccio may be found in a few words from the virtuous, the patriotic contemporary, who thought one of the tales of this impure writer worthy a Latin version from his own pen. “I have remarked elsewhere,” says Petrarch, writing to Boccaccio, " that the book itself has been worried by certain dogs, but stoutly defended by your staff and voice. Nor was I astonished, for I have had proof of the vigour of your mind, and I know you have fallen on that unaccommodating incapable race of mortals, who, whatever they either like not, or know not, or cannot do, are sure to reprehend in others; and on those occasions only put on a show of learning and eloquence, but otherwise are entirely dumb."
It is satisfactory to find that all the priesthood do not resemble those of Certaldo, and that one of them who did not possess the bones of Boccaccio would not lose the opportunity of raising a cenotaph to his memory. Bevius, canon of Padua, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, erected at Arquà, opposite to the tomb of the Laureate, a tablet, in which he associated Boccaccio to the equal honours of Dante and of Petrarch.
What is her pyramid of precious stones ? Our veneration for the Medici begins with Cosma and expires with his grandson; that stream is pure only at the source ; and it is in search of some memorial of the virtuous republicans of the family that we visit the church of St. Lorenzo at Florence. The tawdry, glaring, unfinished chapel in that church, designed for the mausoleum of the Dukes of Tuscany, set round with crowns and coffins, gives birth to no emotions but those of contempt for the layish vanity of a race of despots, whilst the pavement slab, simply inscribed to the Father of his Country, reconciles us to the name of Medici.I It was very natural for Corinnag to suppose that the statue raised to the
* Eclaircissement, &c. &c. p. 638, edit. Basle, 1741, in the Supplement to Bayle's Dictionary,
† Animadverti alicubi librum ipsum canum dentibus lacessitum, tuo tamen baculo egregie tuaque voce defensum, Nec miratus sum: nam et vires ingenii tui novi, et scio expertus esses hominum genus insolens et ignavum, qui quicquid ipsi vel nolunt vel nesciunt, vel non possunt, in aliis reprehendunt; ad hoc unum docti et argu i, sed elingues ad reliqua." .. Epist. Joan. Boccatio. Opp. tom. I. p. 540, edit. Basil, Cosmus Medices, Decreto Publico, Pater Patriæ.
Corinne, Liv. xviii. chap. iii, vol, iii. page 248.