« AnteriorContinuar »
The antipathy to serious reflection entertained by the generality of mankind is such, that nothing but the occurrence of calamity, or the anniversary of some period marked by sorrow which we cannot forget, or by joy which we cannot recall, is capable of turning the mind to sober and useful meditation. The giddy round of life goes on: we engage in new projects, indulge in new hopes, undismayed by the failure of old ones, and are incessantly occupied with the effort to banish the retrospection of the past, by indulging in the visions of the future.
As has been observed, however, there are times when these efforts fail; and one of these is the recurrence of a birth-day—that subject of joy in childhood, and of seriousness, if not gloom, in maturer age. In the former it is hurrying us on to the wished-for period, when we expect to act with independence, and to enjoy without restraint: in the latter, it is sweeping us headlong to the close of a life, embittered to many by disappointment, and drawing to an end, for which all feel they are unprepared.
Reader, do not be alarmed; I am not going to write a sermon, nor am I one whose mind is soured by disappointment, or racked by remorse. On the contrary, I have attained the nil admirari sort of tranquillity, inspired by experience, and becoming my age, and have learned to live on the philosophic principle, that “ All that is truly delightful in life, is what all, if they please, may enjoy.” My present train of reflection was awakened by finding among my papers the other day some verses which I wrote on the twentieth anniversary of my birth-day, twenty years ago, and which I subjoin at the end of this article.
Oh the pleasures of that day in my childhood! I still think with delight on the happiness it brought with it, the festivity it occasioned, and the privileges it conferred. On that day I was always allowed a holiday, and suffered to play with my brothers and sisters, who enjoyed the same exemption. On that evening, instead of being sent early to bed, we were all permitted to join in the family supper; for in those days there were no late dinners to preclude supper. I have still before my eyes the small blue parlour in which my mother used to explain to me, in the morning, the importance of the day, and the added duties which its recurrence entailed on me, while i bore the lecture with patience and complacency, in consideration of the joys by which it was to be succeeded. Many a time in after-life, when I had entered on the bustle, the hopes, and fears of the world, have I retired on that day, to turn my thoughts from the cares of business, or the regrets of disappointment, to these remembrances of infant happiness. The retrospection of our actions and adventures, which Pythagoras recommended nightly, I have always entered on annually, and my birth-day has been the day I have fixed on for it. I am not an unhappy man, but, alas! since the date of the following lines, that retrospection has seldom been such a source of comfort to me, as it might have been perpetually if I had kept with firmness the resolutions they express.Vol. III. No. 16.-1822.
On my Twentieth Birth-Day, September 17th.
Why sitt'st thou, Muse, in silence sighing,
Unpaid thy verse, thy plaint unheard,
To time resigns what storms have spared :
And all our care defies;
He triumphs while he flies.
Age—thou hast felt and mourn'd his rigour,
By slow degrees removed from life;
Sunk in disease or crush'd in strife;
To think upon the day,
Shall all have pass'd away.
To pause awhile in serious thought,
A heart that seldom grieves for aught.
Nor reckless of its joys,
Transforms my smiles to sighs ?
And fixes thought on Passion's throne :
How much the future has † atone;
That tells how dear they cost,
The treasures I have lost.
The laughing hours of careless riot,
The dreams of love, the flights of joy,
The gold of life without th' alloy,-
Her summons to prefer,
And given to Sense and her.
For Justice sanctifies her claim,
O’erwhelm my serious soul with shame
Childhood's years in pastime flew;
In follies pass'd away,
Which manhood must repay.
Forgive thy wrongs and stretch thine aid ;
Thy injunctions all obey'd ;
Thy triumphs to display,
“ Thou hast not lost a day."
Farewell, ye sweets of sluggard rest-
Be banished from my thoughtful breast :
The start of useful fear,
My twentieth smiling year.
ITALIAN POETS.-MICHEL ANGELO. We intend devoting a few pages of our present and future numbers to the less known poets of Italy, for such of our readers (and their number is not small) as are already fully acquainted with Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. Men of the highest abilities in the other departments of human art and knowledge, have not disdained to profess themselves the followers of one or the other of these four eminent writers. But though some of the disciples of these great names have raised themselves nearly to the level of their masters, still the admiration exacted by the models, has left us little to bestow upon the excellence of their imitators. The most illustrious orators and historians, philosophers and artists, who have cultivated poetry with a success which ought to have obtained for them a fair share of renown, are, nevertheless, scarcely known as poets, except to their biographers and to very diligent inquirers after the rare and curious in literature. Perhaps, also, the splendour of their glory, in those pursuits to which their genius was more peculiarly devoted, has eclipsed the fainter brilliancy of their poetical fame
“Urit enim fulgore suo." This is, above all, the case with the two contemporaries Machiavelli and Michel Angelo, one of whom was considered as the most profound statesman, the other as the most sublime artist of his time; a decree confirmed by each successive generation in the three centuries which have since elapsed. We would say that Machiavelli was born to penetrate with quickness, perceive with clearness, and describe with useful though distressing exactness, the most secret folds and windings of human nature: and Michel Angelo to seize with precision, to idealize and represent with a felicitous
energy, its outward and visible forms. Each of these illustrious men was gifted with a powerful and peculiar, but different kind of intuition,-one of which, separately, would form a poet; and both combined, would constitute the very highest order of poetic genius. Nor was it in their intellectual faculties alone, that these two celebrated men had a poetical cast of character. Their moral qualities, their predominant passions, their daily and domestic habits, and even their caprices and peculiarities, were of that stamp which commonly procures for poets the kind commiseration of less imaginative persons. Yet Machiavelli is scarcely heard of except as a politician; but even in that light he is very imperfectly known, and has been harshly and unjustly estimated. Íhat to the strongest feelings, he united the most generous qualities, we shall be able to prove satisfactorily, when we come to consider him as a poet and a man. With regard to Michel Angelo, whose verses are the subject of our remarks, the universality and extraordinary character of his powers, may be described in the language applied by his English biographer to Leonardo da Vinci. "The powers of this great man so far surpassed the ordinary standard of human genius, that he cannot be judged of by the common data by which it is usual to estimate the capacity of the human mind. He was a phenomenon that overstepped the bounds in every department of knowledge which limited the researches of his predecessors; and whether he is to be regarded for his accomplishments or his vast attainments, whether as the philosopher or the painter who made a new era in the arts of design, he equally surprises our judgment and enlarges our sphere of comprehension."*
In adopting these formal expressions, we are very far from hazarding any comparison between Michel Angelo and Leonardo, and pronouncing in whose favour the scale ought to preponderate. Born in the same epoch and city, they cultivated the same arts; and although both arrived to an advanced age, they were never opposed to each other as rivals, except when in their youth they painted, as eompetitors, the victory of the Florentines, their fellow citizens, over the Pisans. Neither of them painted more than cartoons of the subject, and even these cartoons, which were highly praised by all who beheld them, are for ever lost to posterity. Finally, they resided and exerted their talents in different countries, with an equal reputation, but a different fortune; Leonardo having been least subject to the caprices of the princes who employed him, and least a mark for the vengeance and
annoyance of inferior artists. He left behind him very few works, and in these he employed his vast powers to assemble all the excellences of art, and occupied a great part of his life in clearing them from the slightest shade of imperfection. Michel Angelo laboured much and in every manner, not only without striving to avoid, but even in courting defects, that he might not lose those daring beauties, which, when any excess of art is used to avoid every thing like a fault, seem to part with much of their originality and inspiration. Leonardo carried the art of design to a degree of perfection which no one even hoped to approach. Michel Angelo raised it to such a height
* Dappa, Life of Michel Angelo, page 66.
of sublimity, that many were induced to attempt it, but every one of his imitators showed that he had undertaken a task beyond his powers. Leonardo, in applying to mechanics the mathematical sciences, penetrated into the most abstruse theories; while Michel Angelo, equally successful in the practical part, never suspected the necessity of scientific demonstration. In literature, the great work of Leonardo da Vinci on painting certainly surpasses the tracts of Michel Angelo on the fine arts, excellent as they are; but it occupied all his meditations, while Michel Angelo's essays were little else than a relaxation and a pastime. We do not know that Leonardo ever attempted poetry; and with regard to that of Michel Angelo it has been talked of more than it has been read.
The Italians, though constantly repeating, as a popular tradition, that Michel Angelo was a distinguished poet, seem to have never entered into the real character of his verses. In their innumerable metrical collections, of every kind and age, and from authors good, bad, and indifferent, we never hit upon a single extract from Michel Angelo. Even Tiraboschi, the voluminous historian of Italian literature, in his unceasing endeavours to enliven his frozen style, and his painful toil to elevate, if not his eloquence, at least his rhetoric, to the level of the merits of his eminent countryınan, passes very carelessly over his verses, and merely observes “that Nature had also endowed him with a happy turn for poetry.” Even during his life the literary applauses which he obtained from the illustrious scholars of the age of Leo X. are at the same time both exaggerated and rare, and seem to have been lavished sometimes by friendship, and sometimes as that “flattering unction” which contemporaries so often force upon each other.
When an elaborate dissertation of an alarming length was read in the Academy of Florence, as a sort of refined commentary and overstrained panegyric on one of his sonnets, Michel Angelo expressed his gratification at the applause, hinting at the same time to his friends, that their excessive adulation would end in making him ridiculous. • The sonnet,” he says, " is certainly mine, but the commentary is, indeed, a God-send ; and the learned critic has a just claim upon me for another sonnet at least, in gratitude for his eulogies; but, as he has placed me so very high, I tremble lest in attempting another poetic flight I shall fall too low, and, therefore, to retain unimpaired the renown he has awarded to me, I must make up my mind to enjoy it, without hazarding a rhyme.”
Peter Aretine, that famous dealer in scurrility, slander, and flattery, in the true spirit and character of his class of writers, who exaggerate blame into calumny the most incredible, and praise into hyperbole the most ridiculous, anxious to have his bust from the hand of such an artist, wrote to him in his inflated style, “ that whatever fell from the pen of Michel Angelo ought to be preserved in an emerald urn-conservato in un urna di smeraldo:" yet not a single bookseller would take upon himself the care and risk of publishing Michel Angelo's verses ; and it was not, in fact, until sixty years after his death that they were edited for the first time (1623), from the autograph preserved in the library of the Vatican, by his grand nephew, Michel Angelo Buonarotti, senator of Florence, himself
an original poet, unique in his kind, of whom, perhaps, we shall have occasion to speak. Of that book, although