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whether in any other than that of Eden we could consent to pass
Pleasant and sweet it no doubt is to listen to the splash of fountains, the songs of birds, to the breath of Spring among groves and thickets, and above all, to the murmur of sweet voices modulated by affection. But from this Sybarite's Paradise the heart would soon yearn to break away to enjoy the pleasure of conflict, and to be stirred by those powerful emotions which can be experienced nowhere but in the world. Solitude is a fine thing to retire to, but not to live in ; and few, very few minds indeed can bear long to consort with it. Mr. Landor himself has not been an anchorite, though he has relinquished all the prospects of public life, and made immense sacrifices, in order to devote his time to the working of the quarry of his own mind. This conduct, sometimes wise and praiseworthy in an individual, would be pernicious in a widely-spread sect, because it would betray into inactivity men only calculated to be useful in the ordinary bustle of life. There should, in fact, be no sects in philosophy, which is properly an art based on the idiosyncracies of an individual. That which can be transmitted is of little value, it being an ore which invariably takes the figure of the mould into which it happens to fall. The followers, therefore, of Epicurus were no more Epicureans than we are, since though they agreed with their acknowledged master on some points, they departed from him most widely in others, and made an application of his doctrine, against which, had he lived, he would have most earnestly protested. There are many
others among this class of Dialogues to which we could have wished to refer, but we forbear, and confine ourselves to the one, or we should rather say, perhaps, two—between Æsop and Rhodope. We know of few things more subtle or refined. It developes a peculiar phasis of the passion of love, when penetrating through the outward integuments which may be naturally uncouth, or battered by time it attaches itself to that inward essence called the soul, and values the husk and the shell for the precious kernel which they contain, Rhodope is a magnificent creation, nor is. Æsop at all less remarkable. Had some Italian painter, equal to such conceptions, pourtrayed both on canvass, they would, by their truth and beauty, have excited admiration in thousands who at present know little or nothing of them. The painter works for the public, and leaves it nothing but the task of indolent enjoyment. The author invites it to
intellectual exertion, and compels it, if it would relish his creations, to assist in giving them colour and consistency. Our imagination must go out along with his imagination, and stand by while it breathes upon the dry bones and bids them live. But this, to a certain extent, is toil, and the idle refuse to undertake it. Hence, “ Æsop and Rhodope” have not yet found the place they deserve in the popular mind, though, being very pleasant persons, we think they will by degrees make their way to it.
When the works of a voluminous writer are collected and placed before us in a very condensed form, we are somewhat reminded of the dwarfing of the giant spirits in Pandemonium. That which filled whole shelves and showed as many gilded backs as the year does months, now comes to us modestly in a leash of volumes, challenging to themselves little space. But when we examine the characters, we perceive that the whole thing is there. Thus we find the substance of that charming volume, “The Pentameron,” compressed into comparatively few pages of the present edition. But literature and typography are two different things. What in the vocabulary of the latter would be called, and of course with much propriety, a very little work, the former would perhaps boast of as a great work, which ought consequently to fill a corresponding space in the world's estimation. And, with regard to the Pentameron, we adopt the creed of this latter personage, not by any means disputing with typography the truth of its proposition in its own sense: the Pentameron, as to bulk, is really a waistcoat pocket affair, and it would do some waistcoat pockets great service if found there. It is a remarkably good companion to take into the fields, to sit down with under an oak, or to turn over leisurely as, with one leg across the other, we support ourselves, half leaning half sitting, on a sunny rock, shelving down into the sea. mention, because it is really a solecism to read the Pentameron by a sea-coal fire. It is not a winter book at all. Its characters and its descriptions, its criticisms and its poetical flights, each and all of them, carry us to Italy, with its balmy atmosphere, and scenery of unrivalled richness and variety. But the great fascination, after all, is in the light and sunshine which go glancing and playing over rocks, and waves, and forests, and human faces, till they seem almost transparent, and impart to nature and man an appearance.
of candour which neither of them always possesses in Italy. But the semblance is there, and we enjoy it as a picture, and they who have not actually seen it themselves may get some
notion of it from the Pentameron. Does any one of our readers doubt this ? Let him take his stick in his hand, and accompany the Canonico Petrarca from Boccacio's table, all the way to the Church of Certaldo, and observe the merry groups that frisk and twine about it during the half hour immediately before mass. We confess to have always nourished a sort of partiality for Petrarca, with his frank democratic notions, and exalted rhapsodies about love. And it is much to be feared that he is the type of his class. An enthusiastic nature is the root of all sorts of passions, some of which betake themselves to the worship of Liberty, while their brethren, perhaps, are equally assiduous at the shrine of Beauty. Thus Petrarca devoted himself to the Roman republic and to Laura, idealising both, and casting around them a halo of loveliness, which was by no means imaginary, though no eyes but those of affection could discover it.
The Pentameron, taken altogether, is a strange book, exhibiting the utmost self-devotion in the author, since it is clear that he cared not in writing it to how small a circle he addressed himself. He knew well that it would prove caviare to the general ; first, because they can't understand it ; and second, because they wouldn't take the trouble if they could. A large portion of it is Dutch to them. What do they know about the “ Inferno ?” What about Dante's Ghibelline leanings? How little even about Petrarca's connection with Rienzi? Nay, Boccacio's own works, so popular once, so widely read, so many times translated, have slipped at length out of public notice, and are piled up with the grand things to be brought forward, like heir-loom plate, on highdays and holidays only. Virgil, Ovid, and Catullus, to be sure, have got their readers, and therefore the criticisms on them may be read with interest. But by how many ? It was formerly, and still we believe is, somewhat uncommon to do justice to Ovid, because there is a prescriptive way of judging of genius which, in truth, is no judgment at all, but only servile repetition of what others have said. This, however, as might be expected, is not the principle upon which criticism is based in the Pentameron. Ovid is there placed, where he ought to be, at the head of the Latin poets, for imagination, fancy, and inexhaustible interest: his great work, a sort of mythological Arabian Nights, only lacks expansion to be the most charming series of tales in the world; as it is, nothing of the kind can match it, either in ancient or modern literature. In his appreciation of Catullus and Lucretius
also, Mr. Landor differs from most critics, though if they heard him, with his sonorous, rich, and flexible voice, repeat their choice verses, they would, perhaps, find his recitation more convincing than a learned commentary.
But the ancients are only discussed by the way in the Pentameron ; the principal object is to place the characters of three men, those of Dante, Petrarca, and Boccacio, in their proper light before the public. That, we say, is what is aimed at, though, in regard to Dante, Mr. Landor is sometimes, we think, more severe than just. Not that we, by any means, accept the current estimate of that poet, or desire to see him placed on the same level with Milton, or even higher-as he is by some critics ; but we claim for him the credit of having written considerably more good poetry than Petrarca and Boccacio are willing in the Pentameron to allow. The plan of the work is exceedingly ingenious. The poet comes to visit his friend when he was lying ill in his house near Certaldo. Both were growing old, and had written most of those works by. which they are known to posterity. The circumstances of their meeting, the small delicate touches by which their friendship for each other is indicated, the situation of Boccacio, his house, his garden, his stable, the honest affectionate country wench who serves him, her humble rustic lover, the bold Friar Fra Biagio, who plays the part of physician to our author and confessor to his maid ;--all these things we say, and much more, come out admirably in the course of the work, which, had the poets whose merits are discussed, been anything but what they were, foreigners, must surely have become popular. But they who take alarm at the few Lati and Italian verses, are frightened by a shadow, since nearly all that is good in the book may be relished whether they understand them or not. We allude to those thoughts, images, comparisons, reflections, maxims, which the author piles up amid his criticisms to give them weight and splendour. Few Englishmen have ever understood Italy-its history, political relations, literature and art, as well as Mr. Landor. None, we should say, since the days in which Sir Henry Wotton was ambassador at Venice ; and in the Pentameron, more than elsewhere, we feel the result. It would be impossible for any other writer with whom we are acquainted to revivify Petrarca and Boccacio in the way in which they are here brought to life again and placed bodily on the stage. To render the difference between them less perceptible, and his own task, consequently, more difficult, Mr. Landor has introduced
them when age had mellowed them both, and produced a certain likeness ; the influence of which, however, he had studiously to guard against. The fear was, lest he should present the reader with a man and his echo; but he has not done this. Petrarca has his peculiar qualities, and Boccacio his ; and, therefore, though they agree often, and, when they disagree, are too affectionate and friendly to draw their differences with a sharp edge, we are conscious all along that we are in company with two distinct individuals, who have a different system of thoughts within, expressed externally by a different physiognomy, manners, habits, and vocabulary. To use a phrase somewhat hacknyed in our day, the Pentameron is a work of art; that is, has been constructed on a plan skilfully conceived and most ably developed. The predominant feeling is joyousness, though here and there, there be a sprinkling of sadness, thus by contrast to render the joy more apparent. The story of Maria, told with much feeling, and unusual reserve of language, may be regarded as a sort of tragedy of innocence of but too frequent occurrence where priests live in celibacy. Nor are individuals so much to blame as the Church, which, by audaciously making war upon Nature, exposes herself to necessary defeat. In one way or another Nature triumphs over everything—our institutions, laws, and superstitions break down before her.
In taste and temperament Mr. Landor belongs to the practical school of philosophy, and bears the same relation to the highly imaginative and spiritual class of writers that a Greek temple bears to a Gothic cathedral. His proportions are regular, and his expressions pre-eminently clear. You can seldom misunderstand him ; never, perhaps, if you will be at the necessary pains ; because he confines his speculations to “ this bank and shoal of time,” and takes no notice of those faculties and aspirations which find no resting-place upon all the vast sphere of material things, but project upwards towards the unknown, to which they have the strongest affinity. A work made up of discussion on such subjects would be insufferable ; but we love to see secular speculations overhung by a metaphysical atmosphere, which serves them in lieu of an aerial perspective, and beautifully covers their point of contact with the infinite. There is, as we have said, little or nothing of this in Mr. Landor, and this lack of spirituality is his chief defect. His elevation, when he is elevated, springs from the force of eloquence. He is nervous, bold in argument, unsparing of sarcasm. He enlivens his pages with wit, with anecdote, with jests; he passes adroitly from