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SELECTIONS FROM ANCIENT SPANISU POETRY.* The ballads, and early compositions of every country, are interesting, as the most open and unstudied expression of natural feeling. They are the first accents of the infant muse, and they breathe the winning simplicity and artlessness of childhood. Like the language of infancy, they reveal to us the character of a nation, before its peculiarities become disguised by the influence of external intercourse and the cautious reserve of riper years. There can be no more lamentable proof of poetical insensibility in any nation, than the neglect of its early productions; that nervous delicacy of goût, which seeks to consign every thing to oblivion until the arrival of some favoured era, which is considered as the advent of good taste, and to hold out to other nations the opinion, that with it Poetry sprang forth at once, armed at all points, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter. It is as if man, in the pride of his reason and judgment, should wish to blot from the tablet of memory all the bright visions of youth, and to persuade himself and others that he had never been a child. But could he even succeed in thus deluding himself, others will recollect that there was a time when nature and simplicity prevailed instead of the present cold and laborious precision—when a certain audacity of genius supplied the place of a faultless mediocrity; and will question whether the loss of the freshness and originality of nature has been compensated by the improvement of judgment, and the refinement of taste. Thus it is, that while the French critics of the Academy scarcely deigned to recognise the existence of any poet antecedent to the age of Louis the Fourteenth, and confidently decreed universal admiration and immortality to the writers of that happy period, foreigners bestow but a cold and passing glance on most of these immortal productions, and turn with enthusiasm to the simplicity and pathos of Clement Marot, and his more celebrated imitator, La Fontaine. We will venture to say there is no piece in the whole range of French poetry so exquisitely pathetic, as the old ballad of Alexis and Alix, by Moncrif. The very flow of the verse almost calls tears into the eyes. Moliere was well aware of the merit of these old compositions. The readers of the “Misantrope" will recollect the fine stanzas quoted by Alcestis, in his critique on the sonnet of Orentes :
“ Je prise bien moins tout ce que l'on admire
Paris sa grande ville,
L'amour de ma mie; Floresta de Rimas Antiguas Castellanas, ordenada por Don Juan Nicolas Böhl de Faber, de la Real Academia Espanola, Hamburgo 1821. † These stanzas are happily rendered in the English translation
“ If King Henry would give to me
His Paris large and fair,
The love of my true dear:
Your Paris great and fair ;
Much more I love my dear.”
Je dirois au Roi Henri,
J'aime mieux ma mie.
No nation can boast of so rich and interesting a collection of these relics as Spain. From the rude simplicity of the romance of the Cid, to the polished trifles of Gongora and the Prince of Esquilache, we ean trace the gradual changes of the ballad through the hands of the most distinguished Spanish poets. The Italian taste, which had been introduced by Boscan and Garcilaso, and which had for a time obscured the reputation of the early writers, although it undoubtedly communicated a permanent impression to Spanish poetry, could not long prevent the general feeling from recurring with enthusiasm to the old national ballads. In fact they possessed every feature likely to captivate a whole nation, and to unite the suffrages of the learned and the ignorant. They were, as Quintana' observes, the only real lyric poetry of Spain. . " It was on these that Music employed her accents: they were sung in the streets and lanes to the sound of the harp and the guitar; they served as the vehicle and incentive of love, the shafts of satire and revenge; they painted in lively colours Moorish customs and pastoral manners, and preserved in the memory of the people the prowess of the Cid and other heroes. More flexible than any other poetry, they adapted themselves to every subject, availed themseves of a rich and natural language, a mellow and harmonius colouring, and presented in every part that ease and that freshness, which belong only to an original character, unconstrained and unstudied.” (Quintana, Introduccion a las Poesias Castellanas.) The defects of these compositions spring from the same source as their beauties. Their extreme ease frequently degenerates into carelessness, their simplicity into coarseness, their ingenuity into affectation ;, and conceits and quibbles were too likely to be regarded as excusable in compositions which had all the air of extempore effusions.
We have been led into these remarks by the late work of Don Juan Nicolas Böhl de Faber, who, after devoting the leisure of twenty years to the study of Spanish poetry, has now communicated to the world the first part of the result of his labours. The present volume contains a rich collection from the works of the ancient poets, and we cannot but anticipate, with the highest pleasure, the completion of the interesting plan which he announces in his preface, and the possession of a body of Spanish poetry, less voluminous perhaps, but more interesting, than any of its predecessors. As yet the small work of Quintana is the best we possess. The collectiou of Fernandez is by far too indiscriminate, and the arrangement of the Parnaso Espanol is, candidly speaking, the very worst we have ever met with. “Tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral,” are blended together in the most inextricable confusion: "a mighty maze," and all “without a plan;" for we have not even the assistance of an index to guide us through the labyrinth.
M. de Faber has classed his present selections under the heads of Religious, Didactic, Amorous, and Convivial Poems. Without entering on the merits of his general principle of classification, we must say we are very much at a loss to perceive why the Moorish ballads, which to us appear the most interesting relics of early Spanish poetry, should be thus summarily excluded from his collection. They are distinguished by possessing, in a peculiar degree, the vigour and beauty of style, the fertility of invention, and the happy brevity of expression, which are common to the whole class of Spanish romances.
“ Those manners which displayed so fine a union of bravery and love—those Moors so gallant and so tender-that country so beautiful and so delightful --those names so sonorous and so melodious,” might surely have claimed an honourable situation in a work like the present, professing to embody the beauties and peculiarities of national poetry.
It is not our intention to enter into a regular review of M. de Faber's work, which our narrow limits would render impracticable, but merely to lay before our readers a few specimens from these " Selections." There is no part of the work more strongly impressed with the image and superscription of the national character, than the religious poems with which it opens. They are written in such a style of mingled devotion and gallantry, that many of them might, without any impropriety of arrangement, have been transferred to the department of " Rimas Amorosas.” It seems to be the very spirit of Spanish Catholicism to blend mere physical excitement with moral enthusiasm; and, by this insidious and dangerous union, to transfer the glowing ideas and language of passion to the pure and holy services of religion; to substitute familiarity for fervency; and to connect ideas of the most awful importance with base and degrading conceptions. In reading the Spanish poets, while the most sacredi names are
“ Familiar in our mouths as household words," we find them in perpetual juxta position with expressions of the most inconsistent nature. Such of our readers as are familiar with the canzoni of Petrarca, where it is frequently impossible to say whether the Virgin or Laura be the object of the poet's' idolatry, will have an idea of the very equivocal style in which the Virgin is generally addressed in these singular compositions. In one of them Adam is described as hearing the news of the birth of Christ in limbo, and running up and down among the patriarchs, communicating the intelligence, and requesting their congratulations. We remember a strange sonnet of Onofrio Menzoni, in which a similar idea is carried still farther. Adam, awakened by the earthquake at the crucifixion, looks up, and inquires who it was that was thus expiring on the cross; and, being informed, he turns furiously to Eve and exclaims,
“lo per te diedi al mio Signor la morte.” Some sonnets of the pious Luis de Leon on Trans-substantiation would with us, have assuredly subjected the worthy friar to an ex-officio information on the score of blasphemy. We are far from meaning to insinuate that the authors of such compositions were influenced by any spirit but that of the sincerest piety; but we are at the same time convinced that it would be impossible to present them in translation, without exciting ideas of a very different nature, and we therefore have not attempted the task. We were a good deal surprised to find only one VOL. III. No. 17.-1822.
dull and common-place ode selected from Luis de Leon, the facile princeps of Spanish lyric poets. It seems to possess no recommendation but its rarity (being taken from an unpublished manuscript), and is in every respect inferior to those selected by Bouterwek and Sismondi, and the fine odes in Quintana's collection. We cannot resist the temptation of attempting to supply this defect by some extracts from the ode entitled “ Noche Serena," which appears to us the finest of all.
“ Quando contemplo el cielo."
The countless stars that gem the sky;
Wheeling its course-how silently!
Earth and its cares and troubles lie.
And throne of grandeur, can it be
Nature hath framed to rise to thee,
This prison of mortality?
Forever leads our steps astray,,
We turn from this divine array,
A good that. vanisheth away?
Awake, ye mortals! raise your eyes
To these eternal starry spheres;
And see how poor this world appears,
With all its hopes and all its fears.
Of heavenly lamps, so brightly shining,
A hand unseen their course assigning,
Yet in harmonious concord joining.
Of the bright Moon; and, gliding slow,
Sheds knowledge on the world below ;
All bright and beautifully glow:-
Rolls fiercely on his bloody way,
That o'er the Gods of old held sway;
And calms the heavens beneath his ray.
God of the golden days of yore ;
Thick as the sand upon the shore,
From their eternal seats a stream
Of glory and of radiance pour.
And gazed on this majestic scene,
Spurning its pleasures poor and mean,
And pass the gulf that yawn'd between?
Our readers will, perhaps, remark the striking coincidence between the last of these stanzas and some lines of the brilliant moonlight scene in the “Siege of Corinth.”
• Who ever gazed upon them shining,
eternal ray The didactic poems, which form the second division of Faber's work, are the least interesting part of the collection. And if, as the author informs us in his preface, they contain the quintessence of human wis. dom, we cannot help thinking that it is here alloyed by an uncommonly liberal allowance of tediousness and common-place. We shall hardly think of extracting poems upon death, where the reader is consoled for that inevitable consummation by the assurance that Samson, Hercules, Gideon, Judas Maccabæus, Cassandra, Helen and the Virgin Mary, for such is the orthodox arrangement of Fernan Perez de Guzman, have preceded him. We are not a little tempted, however, to enlighten them by a very luminous production of Cartagena, in which the great question of man's freewill is discussed in four stanzas, the combat between our good and evil inclinations being likened to a game at rackets, and God's prescience, by a very conclusive analogy, compared to the knowledge of a spectator, who infers from the superior dexterity of one of the parties that he will be the conqueror, but whose knowledge does not in any way influence the issue of the game. This, we certainly think, sets the question at rest. One of the most poetical pieces in this department is the old poem of Don Jorge Manrique on the death of his father Don Rodrigo, which breathes a fine spirit of pathos and morality, and wears an air of venerable simplicity. We have attempted to translate the opening stanzas, following the peculiarities of the rhyme; but we fear our readers will perceive more good sense than good poetry in our translation.
“ Recuerde et alma dormida."
To see how soon
Comes stealing on.
But grief at last :
Than what is past.