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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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Now, by Mercury, I shall die with laughing. O Speusippus.
Speusippus! Go back to your old father. Dig vineyards, and
judge causes, and be a respectable citizen. But never, while you
live; again dream of being a philosopher.

Nay, I was only--

A pupil of Gorgias and Melesigenes afraid of Tartarus! In what
region of the infernal world do you expect your domicile to be
fixed? Shall you roll a stone like Sisyphus? Hard exercise,

In the name of all the gods--

Or shall you sit starved and thirsty in the midst of fruit and
wine like Tantalus? Poor fellow? I think I see your face as you
are springing up to the branches and missing your aim. Oh
Bacchus! Oh Mercury!


Or perhaps you will be food for a vulture, like the huge fellow
who was rude to Latona.


Never fear. Minos will not be so cruel. Your eloquence will
triumph over all accusations. The Furies will skulk away like
disappointed sycophants. Only address the judges of hell in the
speech which you were prevented from speaking last assembly.
"When I consider"--is not that the beginning of it? Come, man,
do not be angry. Why do you pace up and down with such long
steps? You are not in Tartarus yet. You seem to think that you
are already stalking like poor Achilles,

"With stride
Majestic through the plain of Asphodel." (See Homer's Odyssey,
xi. 538.)

How can you talk so, when you know that I believe all that
foolery as little as you do?

Then march. You shall be the crier. Callicles, you shall carry
the torch. Why do you stare? (The crier and torchbearer were
important functionaries at the celebration of the Eleusinian

I do not much like the frolic.

Nay, surely you are not taken with a fit of piety. If all be
true that is told of you, you have as little reason to think the
gods vindictive as any man breathing. If you be not belied, a
certain golden goblet which I have seen at your house was once in
the temple of Juno at Corcyra. And men say that there was a
priestess at Tarentum--

A fig for the gods! I was thinking about the Archons. You will
have an accusation laid against you to-morrow. It is not very
pleasant to be tried before the king. (The name of king was
given in the Athenian democracy to the magistrate who exercised
those spiritual functions which in the monarchical times had
belonged to the sovereign. His court took cognisance of offences
against the religion of the state.)

Never fear: there is not a sycophant in Attica who would dare to
breathe a word against me, for the golden plane-tree of the great
king. (See Herodotus, viii. 28.)

That plane-tree--

Never mind the plane-tree. Come, Callicles, you were not so
timid when you plundered the merchantman off Cape Malea. Take up
the torch and move. Hippomachus, tell one of the slaves to bring
a sow. (A sow was sacrificed to Ceres at the admission to the
greater mysteries.)

And what part are you to play?

I shall be hierophant. Herald, to your office. Torchbearer,
advance with the lights. Come forward, fair novice. We will
celebrate the rite within.





(January 1824.)

"Fairest of stars, last in the train of night,
If better thou belong not to the dawn,
Sure pledge of day, that crown'st the smiling morn
With thy bright circlet." Milton.

In a review of Italian literature, Dante has a double claim to
precedency. He was the earliest and the greatest writer of his
country. He was the first man who fully descried and exhibited
the powers of his native dialect. The Latin tongue, which, under
the most favourable circumstances, and in the hands of the
greatest masters, had still been poor, feeble, and singularly
unpoetical, and which had, in the age of Dante, been debased by
the admixture of innumerable barbarous words and idioms, was
still cultivated with superstitious veneration, and received, in
the last stage of corruption, more honours than it had deserved
in the period of its life and vigour. It was the language of the
cabinet, of the university, of the church. It was employed by
all who aspired to distinction in the higher walks of poetry. In
compassion to the ignorance of his mistress, a cavalier might now
and then proclaim his passion in Tuscan or Provenal rhymes. The
vulgar might occasionally be edified by a pious allegory in the
popular jargon. But no writer had conceived it possible that the
dialect of peasants and market-women should possess sufficient
energy and precision for a majestic and durable work. Dante
adventured first. He detected the rich treasures of thought and
diction which still lay latent in their ore. He refined them
into purity. He burnished them into splendour. He fitted them
for every purpose of use and magnificence. And he has thus
acquired the glory, not only of producing the finest narrative
poem of modern times but also of creating a language,
distinguished by unrivalled melody, and peculiarly capable of
furnishing to lofty and passionate thoughts their appropriate
garb of severe and concise expression.

To many this may appear a singular panegyric on the Italian
tongue. Indeed the great majority of the young gentlemen and
young ladies, who, when they are asked whether they read Italian,
answer "yes," never go beyond the stories at the end of their
grammar,--The Pastor Fido,--or an act of Artaserse. They could
as soon read a Babylonian brick as a canto of Dante. Hence it is
a general opinion, among those who know little or nothing of the
subject, that this admirable language is adapted only to the
effeminate cant of sonnetteers, musicians, and connoisseurs.

The fact is that Dante and Petrarch have been the Oromasdes and
Arimanes of Italian literature. I wish not to detract from the
merits of Petrarch. No one can doubt that his poems exhibit,
amidst some imbecility and more affectation, much elegance,
ingenuity, and tenderness. They present us with a mixture which
can only be compared to the whimsical concert described by the
humorous poet of Modena:

"S'udian gli usignuoli, al primo albore,
Egli asini cantar versi d'amore."
(Tassoni; Secchia Rapita, canto i. stanza 6.)

I am not, however, at present speaking of the intrinsic
excellencies of his writings, which I shall take another
opportunity to examine, but of the effect which they produced on
the literature of Italy. The florid and luxurious charms of his
style enticed the poets and the public from the contemplation of
nobler and sterner models. In truth, though a rude state of
society is that in which great original works are most frequently
produced, it is also that in which they are worst appreciated.
This may appear paradoxical; but it is proved by experience, and
is consistent with reason. To be without any received canons of
taste is good for the few who can create, but bad for the many
who can only imitate and judge. Great and active minds cannot
remain at rest. In a cultivated age they are too often contented
to move on in the beaten path. But where no path exists they
will make one. Thus the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy,
appeared in dark and half barbarous times: and thus of the few
original works which have been produced in more polished ages we
owe a large proportion to men in low stations and of uninformed
minds. I will instance, in our own language, the Pilgrim's
Progress and Robinson Crusoe. Of all the prose works of fiction
which we possess, these are, I will not say the best, but the
most peculiar, the most unprecedented, the most inimitable. Had
Bunyan and Defoe been educated gentlemen, they would probably
have published translations and imitations of French romances "by
a person of quality." I am not sure that we should have had Lear
if Shakspeare had been able to read Sophocles.

But these circumstances, while they foster genius, are
unfavourable to the science of criticism. Men judge by
comparison. They are unable to estimate the grandeur of an
object when there is no standard by which they can measure it.
One of the French philosophers (I beg Gerard's pardon), who
accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, tells us that, when he first
visited the great Pyramid, he was surprised to see it so
diminutive. It stood alone in a boundless plain. There was
nothing near it from which he could calculate its magnitude. But
when the camp was pitched beside it, and the tents appeared like
diminutive specks around its base, he then perceived the
immensity of this mightiest work of man. In the same manner, it
is not till a crowd of petty writers has sprung up that the merit
of the great masterspirits of literature is understood.

We have indeed ample proof that Dante was highly admired in his
own and the following age. I wish that we had equal proof that
he was admired for his excellencies. But it is a remarkable
corroboration of what has been said, that this great man seems to
have been utterly unable to appreciate himself. In his treatise
"De Vulgari Eloquentia" he talks with satisfaction of what he has
done for Italian literature, of the purity and correctness of his
style. "Cependant," says a favourite writer of mine,(Sismondi,
Literature du Midi de l'Europe.) "il n'est ni pur, ni correct,
mais il est createur." Considering the difficulties with which
Dante had to struggle, we may perhaps be more inclined than the
French critic to allow him this praise. Still it is by no means
his highest or most peculiar title to applause. It is scarcely
necessary to say that those qualities which escaped the notice of
the poet himself were not likely to attract the attention of the
commentators. The fact is, that, while the public homage was
paid to some absurdities with which his works may be justly
charged, and to many more which were falsely imputed to them,--
while lecturers were paid to expound and eulogise his physics,
his metaphysics, his theology, all bad of their kind--while
annotators laboured to detect allegorical meanings of which the
author never dreamed, the great powers of his imagination, and
the incomparable force of his style, were neither admired nor
imitated. Arimanes had prevailed. The Divine Comedy was to that
age what St. Paul's Cathedral was to Omai. The poor Otaheitean
stared listlessly for a moment at the huge cupola, and ran into a
toyshop to play with beads. Italy, too, was charmed with
literary trinkets, and played with them for four centuries.

From the time of Petrarch to the appearance of Alfieri's
tragedies, we may trace in almost every page of Italian
literature the influence of those celebrated sonnets which, from
the nature both of their beauties and their faults, were
peculiarly unfit to be models for general imitation. Almost all
the poets of that period, however different in the degree and
quality of their talents, are characterised by great
exaggeration, and as a necessary consequence, great coldness of
sentiment; by a passion for frivolous and tawdry ornament; and,
above all, by an extreme feebleness and diffuseness of style.
Tasso, Marino, Guarini, Metastasio, and a crowd of writers of
inferior merit and celebrity, were spell-bound in the enchanted
gardens of a gaudy and meretricious Alcina, who concealed
debility and deformity beneath the deceitful semblance of
loveliness and health. Ariosto, the great Ariosto himself, like
his own Ruggiero, stooped for a time to linger amidst the magic
flowers and fountains, and to caress the gay and painted
sorceress. But to him, as to his own Ruggiero, had been given
the omnipotent ring and the winged courser, which bore him from
the paradise of deception to the regions of light and nature.

The evil of which I speak was not confined to the graver poets.
It infected satire, comedy, burlesque. No person can admire more
than I do the great masterpieces of wit and humour which Italy
has produced. Still I cannot but discern and lament a great
deficiency, which is common to them all. I find in them
abundance of ingenuity, of droll naivete, of profound and just
reflection, of happy expression. Manners, characters, opinions,
are treated with "a most learned spirit of human dealing." But
something is still wanting. We read, and we admire, and we yawn.
We look in vain for the bacchanalian fury which inspired the
comedy of Athens, for the fierce and withering scorn which
animates the invectives of Juvenal and Dryden, or even for the
compact and pointed diction which adds zest to the verses of Pope
and Boileau. There is no enthusiasm, no energy, no condensation,
nothing which springs from strong feeling, nothing which tends to
excite it. Many fine thoughts and fine expressions reward the
toil of reading. Still it is a toil. The Secchia Rapita, in
some points the best poem of its kind, is painfully diffuse and
languid. The Animali Parlanti of Casti is perfectly intolerable.
I admire the dexterity of the plot, and the liberality of the
opinions. I admit that it is impossible to turn to a page which
does not contain something that deserves to be remembered; but it
is at least six times as long as it ought to be. And the
garrulous feebleness of the style is a still greater fault than
the length of the work.

It may be thought that I have gone too far in attributing these
evils to the influence of the works and the fame of Petrarch. It
cannot, however, be doubted that they have arisen, in a great
measure, from a neglect of the style of Dante. This is not more
proved by the decline of Italian poetry than by its
resuscitation. After the lapse of four hundred and fifty years,
there appeared a man capable of appreciating and imitating the
father of Tuscan literature--Vittorio Alfieri. Like the prince
in the nursery tale, he sought and found the sleeping beauty
within the recesses which had so long concealed her from mankind.
The portal was indeed rusted by time;--the dust of ages had
accumulated on the hangings;--the furniture was of antique
fashion;--and the gorgeous colour of the embroidery had faded.
But the living charms which were well worth all the rest remained
in the bloom of eternal youth, and well rewarded the bold
adventurer who roused them from their long slumber. In every
line of the Philip and the Saul, the greatest poems, I think, of
the eighteenth century, we may trace the influence of that mighty
genius which has immortalised the ill-starred love of Francesca,
and the paternal agonies of Ugolino. Alfieri bequeathed the
sovereignty of Italian literature to the author of the
Aristodemus--a man of genius scarcely inferior to his own, and a
still more devoted disciple of the great Florentine. It must be
acknowledged that this eminent writer has sometimes pushed too
far his idolatry of Dante. To borrow a sprightly illustration
from Sir John Denham, he has not only imitated his garb, but
borrowed his clothes. He often quotes his phrases; and he has,
not very judiciously as it appears to me, imitated his
versification. Nevertheless, he has displayed many of the higher
excellencies of his master; and his works may justly inspire us
with a hope that the Italian language will long flourish under a
new literary dynasty, or rather under the legitimate line, which
has at length been restored to a throne long occupied by specious

The man to whom the literature of his country owes its origin and
its revival was born in times singularly adapted to call forth
his extraordinary powers. Religious zeal, chivalrous love and
honour, democratic liberty, are the three most powerful
principles that have ever influenced the character of large
masses of men. Each of them singly has often excited the
greatest enthusiasm, and produced the most important changes. In
the time of Dante all the three, often in amalgamation, generally
in conflict, agitated the public mind. The preceding generation
had witnessed the wrongs and the revenge of the brave, the
accomplished, the unfortunate Emperor Frederic the Second,--a
poet in an age of schoolmen,--a philosopher in an age of monks,--
a statesman in an age of crusaders. During the whole life of the
poet, Italy was experiencing the consequences of the memorable
struggle which he had maintained against the Church. The finest
works of imagination have always been produced in times of
political convulsion, as the richest vineyards and the sweetest
flowers always grow on the soil which has been fertilised by the
fiery deluge of a volcano. To look no further than the literary
history of our own country, can we doubt that Shakspeare was in a
great measure produced by the Reformation, and Wordsworth by the
French Revolution? Poets often avoid political transactions;
they often affect to despise them. But, whether they perceive it
or not, they must be influenced by them. As long as their minds
have any point of contact with those of their fellow-men, the
electric impulse, at whatever distance it may originate, will be
circuitously communicated to them.

This will be the case even in large societies, where the division
of labour enables many speculative men to observe the face of
nature, or to analyse their own minds, at a distance from the
seat of political transactions. In the little republic of which
Dante was a member the state of things was very different. These
small communities are most unmercifully abused by most of our
modern professors of the science of government. In such states,
they tell us, factions are always most violent: where both
parties are cooped up within a narrow space, political difference
necessarily produces personal malignity. Every man must be a
soldier; every moment may produce a war. No citizen can lie down
secure that he shall not be roused by the alarum-bell, to repel
or avenge an injury. In such petty quarrels Greece squandered
the blood which might have purchased for her the permanent empire
of the world, and Italy wasted the energy and the abilities which
would have enabled her to defend her independence against the
Pontiffs and the Caesars.

All this is true: yet there is still a compensation. Mankind has
not derived so much benefit from the empire of Rome as from the
city of Athens, nor from the kingdom of France as from the city
of Florence. The violence of party feeling may be an evil; but
it calls forth that activity of mind which in some states of
society it is desirable to produce at any expense. Universal
soldiership may be an evil; but where every man is a soldier
there will be no standing army. And is it no evil that one man
in every fifty should be bred to the trade of slaughter; should
live only by destroying and by exposing himself to be destroyed;
should fight without enthusiasm and conquer without glory; be
sent to a hospital when wounded, and rot on a dunghill when old?
Such, over more than two-thirds of Europe, is the fate of
soldiers. It was something that the citizen of Milan or Florence
fought, not merely in the vague and rhetorical sense in which the
words are often used, but in sober truth, for his parents, his
children, his lands, his house, his altars. It was something
that he marched forth to battle beneath the Carroccio, which had
been the object of his childish veneration: that his aged father
looked down from the battlements on his exploits; that his
friends and his rivals were the witnesses of his glory. If he
fell, he was consigned to no venal or heedless guardians. The
same day saw him conveyed within the walls which he had defended.
His wounds were dressed by his mother; his confession was
whispered to the friendly priest who had heard and absolved the
follies of his youth; his last sigh was breathed upon the lips of
the lady of his love. Surely there is no sword like that which
is beaten out of a ploughshare. Surely this state of things was
not unmixedly bad; its evils were alleviated by enthusiasm and by
tenderness; and it will at least be acknowledged that it was well
fitted to nurse poetical genius in an imaginative and observant

Nor did the religious spirit of the age tend less to this result
than its political circumstances. Fanaticism is an evil, but it
is not the greatest of evils. It is good that a people should be
roused by any means from a state of utter torpor;--that their
minds should be diverted from objects merely sensual, to
meditations, however erroneous, on the mysteries of the
moral and intellectual world; and from interests which are
immediately selfish to those which relate to the past, the
future, and the remote. These effects have sometimes been
produced by the worst superstitions that ever existed; but the
Catholic religion, even in the time of its utmost extravagance
and atrocity, never wholly lost the spirit of the Great Teacher,
whose precepts form the noblest code, as His conduct furnished
the purest example, of moral excellence. It is of all religions
the most poetical. The ancient superstitions furnished the fancy
with beautiful images, but took no hold on the heart. The
doctrines of the Reformed Churches have most powerfully
influenced the feelings and the conduct of men, but have not
presented them with visions of sensible beauty and grandeur. The
Roman Catholic Church has united to the awful doctrines
of the one that Mr Coleridge calls the "fair humanities" of the
other. It has enriched sculpture and painting with the loveliest
and most majestic forms. To the Phidian Jupiter it can oppose
the Moses of Michael Angelo; and to the voluptuous beauty of the
Queen of Cyprus, the serene and pensive loveliness of the Virgin
Mother. The legends of its martyrs and its saints may vie in
ingenuity and interest with the mythological fables of Greece;
its ceremonies and processions were the delight of the vulgar;
the huge fabric of secular power with which it was connected
attracted the admiration of the statesman. At the same time, it
never lost sight of the most solemn and tremendous doctrines of
Christianity,--the incarnate God,--the judgment,--the
retribution,--the eternity of happiness or torment. Thus, while,
like the ancient religions, it received incalculable support from
policy and ceremony, it never wholly became, like those
religions, a merely political and ceremonial institution.

The beginning of the thirteenth century was, as Machiavelli has
remarked, the era of a great revival of this extraordinary
system. The policy of Innocent,--the growth of the Inquisition
and the mendicant orders,--the wars against the Albigenses, the
Pagans of the East, and the unfortunate princes of the house of
Swabia, agitated Italy during the two following generations. In
this point Dante was completely under the influence of his age.
He was a man of a turbid and melancholy spirit. In early youth
he had entertained a strong and unfortunate passion, which, long
after the death of her whom he loved, continued to haunt him.
Dissipation, ambition, misfortunes had not effaced it. He was
not only a sincere, but a passionate, believer. The crimes and
abuses of the Church of Rome were indeed loathsome to him; but to
all its doctrines and all its rites he adhered with enthusiastic
fondness and veneration; and, at length, driven from his native
country, reduced to a situation the most painful to a man of his
disposition, condemned to learn by experience that no food is so
bitter as the bread of dependence
("Tu proverai si come sa di sale
Lo pane altrui, e come e duro calle
Lo scendere e'l sa'ir per l'altrui scale."
Paradiso, canto xvii.),

and no ascent so painful as the staircase of a patron,--his
wounded spirit took refuge in visionary devotion. Beatrice, the
unforgotten object of his early tenderness, was invested by his
imagination with glorious and mysterious attributes; she was
enthroned among the highest of the celestial hierarchy: Almighty
Wisdom had assigned to her the care of the sinful and unhappy
wanderer who had loved her with such a perfect love. ("L'amico
mio, e non della ventura." Inferno, canto ii.) By a confusion,
like that which often takes place in dreams, he has sometimes
lost sight of her human nature, and even of her personal
existence, and seems to consider her as one of the attributes of
the Deity.

But those religious hopes which had released the mind of the
sublime enthusiast from the terrors of death had not rendered his
speculations on human life more cheerful. This is an
inconsistency which may often be observed in men of a similar
temperament. He hoped for happiness beyond the grave: but he
felt none on earth. It is from this cause, more than from any
other, that his description of Heaven is so far inferior to the
Hell or the Purgatory. With the passions and miseries of the
suffering spirits he feels a strong sympathy. But among the
beatified he appears as one who has nothing in common with them,-
-as one who is incapable of comprehending, not only the degree,
but the nature of their enjoyment. We think that we see him
standing amidst those smiling and radiant spirits with that scowl
of unutterable misery on his brow, and that curl of bitter
disdain on his lips, which all his portraits have preserved, and
which might furnish Chantrey with hints for the head of his
projected Satan.

There is no poet whose intellectual and moral character are so
closely connected. The great source, as it appears to me, of the
power of the Divine Comedy is the strong belief with which the
story seems to be told. In this respect, the only books which
approach to its excellence are Gulliver's Travels and Robinson
Crusoe. The solemnity of his asseverations, the consistency and
minuteness of his details, the earnestness with which he labours
to make the reader understand the exact shape and size of
everything that he describes, give an air of reality to his
wildest fictions. I should only weaken this statement by quoting
instances of a feeling which pervades the whole work, and to
which it owes much of its fascination. This is the real
justification of the many passages in his poem which bad critics
have condemned as grotesque. I am concerned to see that Mr Cary,
to whom Dante owes more than ever poet owed to translator, has
sanctioned an accusation utterly unworthy of his abilities. "His
solicitude," says that gentleman, "to define all his images in
such a manner as to bring them within the circle of our vision,
and to subject them to the power of the pencil, renders him
little better than grotesque, where Milton has since taught us to
expect sublimity." It is true that Dante has never shrunk from
embodying his conceptions in determinate words, that he has even
given measures and numbers, where Milton would have left his
images to float undefined in a gorgeous haze of language. Both
were right. Milton did not profess to have been in heaven or
hell. He might therefore reasonably confine himself to
magnificent generalities. Far different was the office of the
lonely traveller, who had wandered through the nations of the
dead. Had he described the abode of the rejected spirits in
language resembling the splendid lines of the English Poet,--had
he told us of--

"An universe of death, which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good,
Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds
Perverse all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, unutterable, and worse
Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
Gorgons, and hydras, and chimaeras dire"--

this would doubtless have been noble writing. But where would
have been that strong impression of reality, which, in accordance
with his plan, it should have been his great object to produce?
It was absolutely necessary for him to delineate accurately "all
monstrous, all prodigious things,"--to utter what might to others
appear "unutterable,"--to relate with the air of truth what
fables had never feigned,--to embody what fear had never
conceived. And I will frankly confess that the vague sublimity of
Milton affects me less than these reviled details of Dante. We
read Milton; and we know that we are reading a great poet. When
we read Dante, the poet vanishes. We are listening to the man
who has returned from "the valley of the dolorous abyss;"
("Lavalle d'abisso doloroso."--Inferno, cantoiv.)--we seem to see
the dilated eye of horror, to hear the shuddering accents with
which he tells his fearful tale. Considered in this light, the
narratives are exactly what they should be,--definite in
themselves, but suggesting to the mind ideas of awful and
indefinite wonder. They are made up of the images of the earth:-
-they are told in the language of the earth.--Yet the whole
effect is, beyond expression, wild and unearthly. The fact is,
that supernatural beings, as long as they are considered merely
with reference to their own nature, excite our feelings very
feebly. It is when the great gulf which separates them from us
is passed, when we suspect some strange and undefinable relation
between the laws of the visible and the invisible world, that
they rouse, perhaps, the strongest emotions of which our nature
is capable. How many children, and how many men, are afraid of
ghosts, who are not afraid of God! And this, because, though
they entertain a much stronger conviction of the existence of a
Deity than of the reality of apparitions, they have no
apprehension that he will manifest himself to them in any
sensible manner. While this is the case, to describe superhuman
beings in the language, and to attribute to them the actions, of
humanity may be grotesque, unphilosophical, inconsistent; but it
will be the only mode of working upon the feelings of men, and,
therefore, the only mode suited for poetry. Shakspeare
understood this well, as he understood everything that belonged
to his art. Who does not sympathise with the rapture of Ariel,
flying after sunset on the wings of the bat, or sucking in the
cups of flowers with the bee? Who does not shudder at the
caldron of Macbeth? Where is the philosopher who is not moved
when he thinks of the strange connection between the infernal
spirits and "the sow's blood that hath eaten her nine farrow?"
But this difficult task of representing supernatural beings to
our minds, in a manner which shall be neither unintelligible to
our intellects nor wholly inconsistent with our ideas of their
nature, has never been so well performed as by Dante. I will
refer to three instances, which are, perhaps, the most striking:-
-the description of the transformations of the serpents and the
robbers, in the twenty-fifth canto of the Inferno,--the passage
concerning Nimrod, in the thirty-first canto of the same part,--
and the magnificent procession in the twenty-ninth canto of the

The metaphors and comparisons of Dante harmonise admirably with
that air of strong reality of which I have spoken. They have a
very peculiar character. He is perhaps the only poet whose
writings would become much less intelligible if all illustrations
of this sort were expunged. His similes are frequently rather
those of a traveller than of a poet. He employs them not to
display his ingenuity by fanciful analogies,--not to delight the
reader by affording him a distant and passing glimpse of
beautiful images remote from the path in which he is proceeding,
but to give an exact idea of the objects which he is describing,
by comparing them with others generally known. The boiling pitch
in Malebolge was like that in the Venetian arsenal:--the mound on
which he travelled along the banks of Phlegethon was like that
between Ghent and Bruges, but not so large:--the cavities where
the Simoniacal prelates are confined resemble the Fonts in the
Church of John at Florence. Every reader of Dante will recall
many other illustrations of this description, which add to the
appearance of sincerity and earnestness from which the narrative
derives so much of its interest.

Many of his comparisons, again, are intended to give an exact
idea of his feelings under particular circumstances. The
delicate shades of grief, of fear, of anger, are rarely
discriminated with sufficient accuracy in the language of the
most refined nations. A rude dialect never abounds in nice
distinctions of this kind. Dante therefore employs the most
accurate and infinitely the most poetical mode of marking the
precise state of his mind. Every person who has experienced the
bewildering effect of sudden bad tidings,--the stupefaction,--the
vague doubt of the truth of our own perceptions which they
produce,--will understand the following simile:--"I was as he is
who dreameth his own harm,--who, dreaming, wishes that it may be
all a dream, so that he desires that which is as though it were
not." This is only one out of a hundred equally striking and
expressive similitudes. The comparisons of Homer and Milton are
magnificent digressions. It scarcely injures their effect to
detach them from the work. Those of Dante are very different.
They derive their beauty from the context, and reflect beauty
upon it. His embroidery cannot be taken out without spoiling the
whole web. I cannot dismiss this part of the subject without
advising every person who can muster sufficient Italian to read
the simile of the sheep, in the third canto of the Purgatorio. I
think it the most perfect passage of the kind in the world, the
most imaginative, the most picturesque, and the most sweetly

No person can have attended to the Divine Comedy without
observing how little impression the forms of the external world
appear to have made on the mind of Dante. His temper and his
situation had led him to fix his observation almost exclusively
on human nature. The exquisite opening of the eighth* canto of
the Purgatorio affords a strong instance of this. (I cannot help
observing that Gray's imitation of that noble line

"Che paia 'lgiorna pianger che si muore,"--

is one of the most striking instances of injudicious plagiarism
with which I am acquainted. Dante did not put this strong
personification at the beginning of his description. The
imagination of the reader is so well prepared for it by the
previous lines, that it appears perfectly natural and pathetic.
Placed as Gray has placed it, neither preceded nor followed by
anything that harmonises with it, it becomes a frigid conceit.
Woe to the unskilful rider who ventures on the horses of

He leaves to others the earth, the ocean, and the sky. His
business is with man. To other writers, evening may be the
season of dews and stars and radiant clouds. To Dante it is the
hour of fond recollection and passionate devotion,--the hour
which melts the heart of the mariner and kindles the love of the
pilgrim,--the hour when the toll of the bell seems to mourn for
another day which is gone and will return no more.

The feeling of the present age has taken a direction
diametrically opposite. The magnificence of the physical world,
and its influence upon the human mind, have been the favourite
themes of our most eminent poets. The herd of bluestocking
ladies and sonneteering gentlemen seem to consider a strong
sensibility to the "splendour of the grass, the glory of the
flower," as an ingredient absolutely indispensable in the
formation of a poetical mind. They treat with contempt all
writers who are unfortunately

nec ponere lucum
Artifices, nec rus saturum laudare.

The orthodox poetical creed is more Catholic. The noblest
earthly object of the contemplation of man is man himself. The
universe, and all its fair and glorious forms, are indeed
included in the wide empire of the imagination; but she has
placed her home and her sanctuary amidst the inexhaustible
varieties and the impenetrable mysteries of the mind.

In tutte parti impera, e quivi regge;
Quivi e la sua cittade, e l'alto seggio.
(Inferno, canto i.)

Othello is perhaps the greatest work in the world. From what
does it derive its power? From the clouds? From the ocean?
From the mountains? Or from love strong as death, and jealousy
cruel as the grave? What is it that we go forth to see in
Hamlet? Is it a reed shaken with the wind? A small celandine?
A bed of daffodils? Or is it to contemplate a mighty and wayward
mind laid bare before us to the inmost recesses? It may perhaps
be doubted whether the lakes and the hills are better fitted for
the education of a poet than the dusky streets of a huge capital.
Indeed who is not tired to death with pure description of
scenery? Is it not the fact, that external objects never
strongly excite our feelings but when they are contemplated in
reference to man, as illustrating his destiny, or as influencing
his character? The most beautiful object in the world, it will
be allowed, is a beautiful woman. But who that can analyse his
feelings is not sensible that she owes her fascination less to
grace of outline and delicacy of colour, than to a thousand
associations which, often unperceived by ourselves, connect those
qualities with the source of our existence, with the nourishment
of our infancy, with the passions of our youth, with the hopes of
our age--with elegance, with vivacity, with tenderness, with the
strongest of natural instincts, with the dearest of social ties?

To those who think thus, the insensibility of the Florentine poet
to the beauties of nature will not appear an unpardonable
deficiency. On mankind no writer, with the exception of
Shakspeare, has looked with a more penetrating eye. I have said
that his poetical character had derived a tinge from his peculiar
temper. It is on the sterner and darker passions that he
delights to dwell. All love excepting the half-mystic passion
which he still felt for his buried Beatrice, had palled on the
fierce and restless exile. The sad story of Rimini is almost a
single exception. I know not whether it has been remarked, that,
in one point, misanthropy seems to have affected his mind, as it
did that of Swift. Nauseous and revolting images seem to have
had a fascination for his mind; and he repeatedly places before
his readers, with all the energy of his incomparable style, the
most loathsome objects of the sewer and the dissecting-room.

There is another peculiarity in the poem of Dante, which, I
think, deserves notice. Ancient mythology has hardly ever been
successfully interwoven with modern poetry. One class of writers
have introduced the fabulous deities merely as allegorical
representatives of love, wine, or wisdom. This necessarily
renders their works tame and cold. We may sometimes admire their
ingenuity; but with what interest can we read of beings of whose
personal existence the writer does not suffer us to entertain,
for a moment, even a conventional belief? Even Spenser's
allegory is scarcely tolerable, till we contrive to forget that
Una signifies innocence, and consider her merely as an oppressed
lady under the protection of a generous knight.

Those writers who have, more judiciously, attempted to preserve
the personality of the classical divinities have failed from a
different cause. They have been imitators, and imitators at a
disadvantage. Euripides and Catullus believed in Bacchus and
Cybele as little as we do. But they lived among men who did.
Their imaginations, if not their opinions, took the colour of the
age. Hence the glorious inspiration of the Bacchae and the Atys.
Our minds are formed by circumstances: and I do not believe that
it would be in the power of the greatest modern poet to lash
himself up to a degree of enthusiasm adequate to the production
of such works.

Dante, alone among the poets of later times, has been, in this
respect, neither an allegorist nor an imitator; and,
consequently, he alone has introduced the ancient fictions with
effect. His Minos, his Charon, his Pluto, are absolutely
terrific. Nothing can be more beautiful or original
than the use which he has made of the River of Lethe. He has
never assigned to his mythological characters any functions
inconsistent with the creed of the Catholic Church. He has
related nothing concerning them which a good Christian of that
age might not believe possible. On this account there is nothing
in these passages that appears puerile or pedantic. On the
contrary, this singular use of classical names suggests
to the mind a vague and awful idea of some mysterious revelation,
anterior to all recorded history, of which the dispersed
fragments might have been retained amidst the impostures and
superstitions of later religions. Indeed the mythology of the
Divine Comedy is of the elder and more colossal mould. It
breathes the spirit of Homer and Aeschylus, not of Ovid and

This is the more extraordinary, since Dante seems to have been
utterly ignorant of the Greek language; and his favourite Latin
models could only have served to mislead him. Indeed, it is
impossible not to remark his admiration of writers far inferior
to himself; and, in particular, his idolatry of Virgil, who,
elegant and splendid as he is, has no pretensions to the depth
and originality of mind which characterise his Tuscan worshipper,
In truth it may be laid down as an almost universal rule that
good poets are bad critics. Their minds are under the tyranny of
ten thousand associations imperceptible to others. The worst
writer may easily happen to touch a spring which is connected in
their minds with a long succession of beautiful images. They are
like the gigantic slaves of Aladdin, gifted with matchless power,
but bound by spells so mighty that when a child whom they could
have crushed touched a talisman, of whose secret he was ignorant,
they immediately became his vassals. It has more than once
happened to me to see minds, graceful and majestic as the Titania
of Shakspeare, bewitched by the charms of an ass's head,
bestowing on it the fondest caresses, and crowning it with the
sweetest flowers. I need only mention the poems attributed to
Ossian. They are utterly worthless, except as an edifying
instance of the success of a story without evidence, and of a
book without merit. They are a chaos of words which present no
image, of images which have no archetype:--they are without form
and void; and darkness is upon the face of them. Yet how many
men of genius have panegyrised and imitated them!

The style of Dante is, if not his highest, perhaps his most
peculiar excellence. I know nothing with which it can be
compared. The noblest models of Greek composition must yield to
it. His words are the fewest and the best which it is possible
to use. The first expression in which he clothes his thoughts is
always so energetic and comprehensive that amplification would
only injure the effect. There is probably no writer in any
language who has presented so many strong pictures to the mind.
Yet there is probably no writer equally concise. This perfection
of style is the principal merit of the Paradiso, which, as I have
already remarked, is by no means equal in other respects to the
two preceding parts of the poem. The force and felicity of the
diction, however, irresistibly attract the reader through the
theological lectures and the sketches of ecclesiastical
biography, with which this division of the work too much abounds.
It may seem almost absurd to quote particular specimens of an
excellence which is diffused over all his hundred cantos. I
will, however, instance the third canto of the Inferno, and the
sixth of the Purgatorio, as passages incomparable in their kind.
The merit of the latter is, perhaps, rather oratorical than
poetical; nor can I recollect anything in the great Athenian
speeches which equals it in force of invective and bitterness of
sarcasm. I have heard the most eloquent statesman of the age
remark that, next to Demosthenes, Dante is the writer who ought
to be most attentively studied by every man who desires to attain
oratorical eminence.

But it is time to close this feeble and rambling critique. I
cannot refrain, however, from saying a few words upon the
translations of the Divine Comedy. Boyd's is as tedious and
languid as the original is rapid and forcible. The strange
measure which he has chosen, and, for aught I know, invented, is
most unfit for such a work. Translations ought never to be
written in a verse which requires much command of rhyme. The
stanza becomes a bed of Procrustes; and the thoughts of the
unfortunate author are alternately racked and curtailed to fit
their new receptacle. The abrupt and yet consecutive style of
Dante suffers more than that of any other poet by a version
diffuse in style, and divided into paragraphs, for they deserve
no other name, of equal length.

Nothing can be said in favour of Hayley's attempt, but that it is
better than Boyd's. His mind was a tolerable specimen of
filigree work,--rather elegant, and very feeble. All that can be
said for his best works is that they are neat. All that can be
said against his worst is that they are stupid. He might have
translated Metastasio tolerably. But he was utterly unable to do
justice to the

"rime e aspre e chiocce,
"Come si converrebbe al tristo buco."
(Inferno, canto xxxii.)

I turn with pleasure from these wretched performances to Mr
Cary's translation. It is a work which well deserves a separate
discussion, and on which, if this article were not already too
long, I could dwell with great pleasure. At present I will only
say that there is no other version in the world, as far as I
know, so faithful, yet that there is no other version which so
fully proves that the translator is himself a man of poetical
genius. Those who are ignorant of the Italian language should
read it to become acquainted with the Divine Comedy. Those who
are most intimate with Italian literature should read it for its
original merits: and I believe that they will find it difficult
to determine whether the author deserves most praise for his
intimacy with the language of Dante, or for his extraordinary
mastery over his own.




(April 1824.)

Et vos, o lauri, carpam, et te, proxima myrte,
Sic positae quoniam suaves miscetis odores. Virgil.

It would not be easy to name a writer whose celebrity, when both
its extent and its duration are taken into the account, can be
considered as equal to that of Petrarch. Four centuries and a
half have elapsed since his death. Yet still the inhabitants of
every nation throughout the western world are as familiar with
his character and his adventures as with the most illustrious
names, and the most recent anecdotes, of their own literary
history. This is indeed a rare distinction. His detractors must
acknowledge that it could not have been acquired by a poet
destitute of merit. His admirers will scarcely maintain that the
unassisted merit of Petrarch could have raised him to that
eminence which has not yet been attained by Shakspeare, Milton,
or Dante,--that eminence, of which perhaps no modern writer,
excepting himself and Cervantes, has long retained possession,--
an European reputation.

It is not difficult to discover some of the causes to which this
great man has owed a celebrity, which I cannot but think
disproportioned to his real claims on the admiration of mankind.
In the first place, he is an egotist. Egotism in conversation is
universally abhorred. Lovers, and, I believe, lovers alone,
pardon it in each other. No services, no talents, no powers of
pleasing, render it endurable. Gratitude, admiration, interest,
fear, scarcely prevent those who are condemned to listen to it
from indicating their disgust and fatigue. The childless uncle,
the powerful patron can scarcely extort this compliance. We
leave the inside of the mail in a storm, and mount the box,
rather than hear the history of our companion. The chaplain
bites his lips in the presence of the archbishop. The midshipman
yawns at the table of the First Lord. Yet, from whatever cause,
this practice, the pest of conversation, gives to writing a zest
which nothing else can impart. Rousseau made the boldest
experiment of this kind; and it fully succeeded. In our own time
Lord Byron, by a series of attempts of the same nature, made
himself the object of general interest and admiration.
Wordsworth wrote with egotism more intense, but less obvious; and
he has been rewarded with a sect of worshippers, comparatively
small in number, but far more enthusiastic in their devotion. It
is needless to multiply instances. Even now all the walks of
literature are infested with mendicants for fame, who attempt to
excite our interest by exhibiting all the distortions of their
intellects, and stripping the covering from all the putrid sores
of their feelings. Nor are there wanting many who push their
imitation of the beggars whom they resemble a step further, and
who find it easier to extort a pittance from the spectator, by
simulating deformity and debility from which they are exempt,
than by such honest labour as their health and strength enable
them to perform. In the meantime the credulous public pities and
pampers a nuisance which requires only the treadmill and the
whip. This art, often successful when employed by dunces, gives
irresistible fascination to works which possess intrinsic merit.
We are always desirous to know something of the character and
situation of those whose writings we have perused with pleasure.
The passages in which Milton has alluded to his own circumstances
are perhaps read more frequently, and with more interest, than
any other lines in his poems. It is amusing to observe with what
labour critics have attempted to glean from the poems of Homer,
some hints as to his situation and feelings. According to one
hypothesis, he intended to describe himself under the name of
Demodocus. Others maintain that he was the identical Phemius
whose life Ulysses spared. This propensity of the human mind
explains, I think, in a great degree, the extensive popularity of
a poet whose works are little else than the expression of his
personal feelings.

In the second place, Petrarch was not only an egotist, but an
amatory egotist. The hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows,
which he described, were derived from the passion which of all
passions exerts the widest influence, and which of all passions
borrows most from the imagination. He had also another immense
advantage. He was the first eminent amatory poet who appeared
after the great convulsion which had changed, not only the
political, but the moral, state of the world. The Greeks, who,
in their public institutions and their literary tastes, were
diametrically opposed to the oriental nations, bore a
considerable resemblance to those nations in their domestic
habits. Like them, they despised the intellects and immured the
persons of their women; and it was among the least of the
frightful evils to which this pernicious system gave birth, that
all the accomplishments of mind, and all the fascinations of
manner, which, in a highly cultivated age, will generally be
necessary to attach men to their female associates, were
monopolised by the Phrynes and the Lamais. The indispensable
ingredients of honourable and chivalrous love were nowhere to be
found united. The matrons and their daughters confined in the
harem,--insipid, uneducated, ignorant of all but the mechanical
arts, scarcely seen till they were married,--could rarely excite
interest; afterwards their brilliant rivals, half Graces, half
Harpies, elegant and informed, but fickle and rapacious, could
never inspire respect.

The state of society in Rome was, in this point, far happier; and
the Latin literature partook of the superiority. The Roman poets
have decidedly surpassed those of Greece in the delineation of
the passion of love. There is no subject which they have treated
with so much success. Ovid, Catullus, Tibullus, Horace, and
Propertius, in spite of all their faults, must be allowed to rank
high in this department of the art. To these I would add my
favourite Plautus; who, though he took his plots from Greece,
found, I suspect, the originals of his enchanting female
characters at Rome.

Still many evils remained: and, in the decline of the great
empire, all that was pernicious in its domestic institutions
appeared more strongly. Under the influence of governments at
once dependent and tyrannical, which purchased, by cringing to
their enemies, the power of trampling on their subjects, the
Romans sunk into the lowest state of effeminacy and debasement.
Falsehood, cowardice, sloth, conscious and unrepining
degradation, formed the national character. Such a character is
totally incompatible with the stronger passions. Love, in
particular, which, in the modern sense of the word, implies
protection and devotion on the one side, confidence on the other,
respect and fidelity on both, could not exist among the sluggish
and heartless slaves who cringed around the thrones of Honorius
and Augustulus. At this period the great renovation commenced.
The warriors of the north, destitute as they were of knowledge
and humanity, brought with them, from their forests and marshes,
those qualities without which humanity is a weakness and
knowledge a curse,--energy--independence--the dread of shame--the
contempt of danger. It would be most interesting to examine the
manner in which the admixture of the savage conquerors and the
effeminate slaves, after many generations of darkness and
agitation, produced the modern European character;--to trace
back, from the first conflict to the final amalgamation, the
operation of that mysterious alchemy which, from hostile and
worthless elements, has extracted the pure gold of human nature--
to analyse the mass, and to determine the proportion in which the
ingredients are mingled. But I will confine myself to the
subject to which I have more particularly referred. The nature
of the passion of love had undergone a complete change. It still
retained, indeed, the fanciful and voluptuous character which it
had possessed among the southern nations of antiquity. But it
was tinged with the superstitious veneration with which the
northern warriors had been accustomed to regard women. Devotion
and war had imparted to it their most solemn and animating
feelings. It was sanctified by the blessings of the Church, and
decorated with the wreaths of the tournament. Venus, as in the
ancient fable, was again rising above the dark and tempestuous
waves which had so long covered her beauty. But she rose not
now, as of old, in exposed and luxurious loveliness. She still
wore the cestus of her ancient witchcraft; but the diadem of Juno
was on her brow, and the aegis of Pallas in her hand. Love
might, in fact, be called a new passion; and it is not
astonishing that the first poet of eminence who wholly devoted
his genius to this theme should have excited an extraordinary
sensation. He may be compared to an adventurer who accidentally
lands in a rich and unknown island; and who, though he may only
set up an ill-shaped cross upon the shore, acquires possession of
its treasures, and gives it his name. The claim of Petrarch was
indeed somewhat like that of Amerigo Vespucci to the continent
which should have derived its appellation from Columbus. The
Provencal poets were unquestionably the masters of the
Florentine. But they wrote in an age which could not appreciate
their merits; and their imitator lived at the very period when
composition in the vernacular language began to attract general
attention. Petrarch was in literature what a Valentine is in
love. The public preferred him, not because his merits were of a
transcendent order, but because he was the first person whom they
saw after they awoke from their long sleep.

Nor did Petrarch gain less by comparison with his immediate
successors than with those who had preceded him. Till more than
a century after his death Italy produced no poet who could be
compared to him. This decay of genius is doubtless to be
ascribed, in a great measure, to the influence which his own
works had exercised upon the literature of his country. Yet it
has conduced much to his fame. Nothing is more favourable to the
reputation of a writer than to be succeeded by a race inferior to
himself; and it is an advantage, from obvious causes, much more
frequently enjoyed by those who corrupt the national taste than
by those who improve it.

Another cause has co-operated with those which I have mentioned
to spread the renown of Petrarch. I mean the interest which is
inspired by the events of his life--an interest which must have
been strongly felt by his contemporaries, since, after an
interval of five hundred years, no critic can be wholly exempt
from its influence. Among the great men to whom we owe the
resuscitation of science he deserves the foremost place; and his
enthusiastic attachment to this great cause constitutes his most
just and splendid title to the gratitude of posterity. He was
the votary of literature. He loved it with a perfect love. He
worshipped it with an almost fanatical devotion. He was the
missionary, who proclaimed its discoveries to distant countries--
the pilgrim, who travelled far and wide to collect its reliques--
the hermit, who retired to seclusion to meditate on its beauties-
-the champion, who fought its battles--the conqueror, who, in
more than a metaphorical sense, led barbarism and ignorance in
triumph, and received in the Capitol the laurel which his
magnificent victory had earned.

Nothing can be conceived more noble or affecting than that
ceremony. The superb palaces and porticoes, by which had rolled
the ivory chariots of Marius and Caesar, had long mouldered into
dust. The laurelled fasces--the golden eagles--the shouting
legions--the captives and the pictured cities--were indeed
wanting to his victorious procession. The sceptre had passed
away from Rome. But she still retained the mightier influence of
an intellectual empire, and was now to confer the prouder reward
of an intellectual triumph. To the man who had extended the
dominion of her ancient language--who had erected the trophies of
philosophy and imagination in the haunts of ignorance and
ferocity--whose captives were the hearts of admiring nations
enchained by the influence of his song--whose spoils were the
treasures of ancient genius rescued from obscurity and decay--the
Eternal City offered the just and glorious tribute of her
gratitude. Amidst the ruined monuments of ancient and the infant
erections of modern art, he who had restored the broken link
between the two ages of human civilisation was crowned with the
wreath which he had deserved from the moderns who owed to him
their refinement--from the ancients who owed to him their fame.
Never was a coronation so august witnessed by Westminster or by

When we turn from this glorious spectacle to the private chamber
of the poet,--when we contemplate the struggle of passion and
virtue,--the eye dimmed, the cheek furrowed, by the tears of
sinful and hopeless desire,--when we reflect on the whole history
of his attachment, from the gay fantasy of his youth to the
lingering despair of his age, pity and affection mingle with our
admiration. Even after death had placed the last seal on his
misery, we see him devoting to the cause of the human mind all
the strength and energy which love and sorrow had spared. He
lived the apostle of literature;--he fell its martyr:--he was
found dead with his head reclined on a book.

Those who have studied the life and writings of Petrarch with
attention, will perhaps be inclined to make some deductions from
this panegyric. It cannot be denied that his merits were
disfigured by a most unpleasant affectation. His zeal for
literature communicated a tinge of pedantry to all his feelings
and opinions. His love was the love of a sonnetteer:--his
patriotism was the patriotism of an antiquarian. The interest
with which we contemplate the works, and study the history, of
those who, in former ages, have occupied our country, arises from
the associations which connect them with the community in which
are comprised all the objects of our affection and our hope. In
the mind of Petrarch these feelings were reversed. He loved
Italy, because it abounded with the monuments of the ancient
masters of the world. His native city--the fair and glorious
Florence--the modern Athens, then in all the bloom and strength
of its youth, could not obtain, from the most distinguished of
its citizens, any portion of that passionate homage which he paid
to the decrepitude of Rome. These and many other blemishes,
though they must in candour be acknowledged, can but in a very
slight degree diminish the glory of his career. For my own part,
I look upon it with so much fondness and pleasure that I feel
reluctant to turn from it to the consideration of his works,
which I by no means contemplate with equal admiration.

Nevertheless, I think highly of the poetical powers of Petrarch.
He did not possess, indeed, the art of strongly presenting
sensible objects to the imagination;--and this is the more
remarkable, because the talent of which I speak is that which
peculiarly distinguishes the Italian poets. In the Divine Comedy
it is displayed in its highest perfection. It characterises
almost every celebrated poem in the language. Perhaps this is to
be attributed to the circumstance, that painting and sculpture
had attained a high degree of excellence in Italy before poetry
had been extensively cultivated. Men were debarred from books,
but accustomed from childhood to contemplate the admirable works
of art, which, even in the thirteenth century, Italy began to
produce. Hence their imaginations received so strong a bias
that, even in their writings, a taste for graphic delineation is
discernible. The progress of things in England has been in all
respects different. The consequence is, that English historical
pictures are poems on canvas; while Italian poems are pictures
painted to the mind by means of words. Of this national
characteristic the writings of Petrarch are almost totally
destitute. His sonnets indeed, from their subject and nature,
and his Latin Poems, from the restraints which always shackle one
who writes in a dead language, cannot fairly be received in
evidence. But his Triumphs absolutely required the exercise of
this talent, and exhibit no indications of it.

Genius, however, he certainly possessed, and genius of a high
order. His ardent, tender, and magnificent turn of thought, his
brilliant fancy, his command of expression, at once forcible and
elegant, must be acknowledged. Nature meant him for the prince
of lyric writers. But by one fatal present she deprived her
other gifts of half their value. He would have been a much
greater poet had he been a less clever man. His ingenuity was
the bane of his mind. He abandoned the noble and natural style,
in which he might have excelled, for the conceits which he
produced with a facility at once admirable and disgusting. His
muse, like the Roman lady in Livy, was tempted by gaudy ornaments
to betray the fastnesses of her strength, and, like her, was
crushed beneath the glittering bribes which had seduced her.

The paucity of his thoughts is very remarkable. It is impossible
to look without amazement on a mind so fertile in combinations,
yet so barren of images. His amatory poetry is wholly made up of
a very few topics, disposed in so many orders, and exhibited in
so many lights, that it reminds us of those arithmetical problems
about permutations, which so much astonish the unlearned. The
French cook, who boasted that he could make fifteen different
dishes out of a nettle-top, was not a greater master of his art.
The mind of Petrarch was a kaleidoscope. At every turn it
presents us with new forms, always fantastic, occasionally
beautiful; and we can scarcely believe that all these varieties
have been produced by the same worthless fragments of glass. The
sameness of his images is, indeed, in some degree, to be
attributed to the sameness of his subject. It would be
unreasonable to expect perpetual variety from so many hundred
compositions, all of the same length, all in the same measure,
and all addressed to the same insipid and heartless coquette. I
cannot but suspect also that the perverted taste, which is the
blemish of his amatory verses, was to be attributed to the
influence of Laura, who, probably, like most critics of her sex,
preferred a gaudy to a majestic style. Be this as it may, he no
sooner changes his subject than he changes his manner. When he
speaks of the wrongs and degradation of Italy, devastated by
foreign invaders, and but feebly defended by her pusillanimous
children, the effeminate lisp of the sonnetteer is exchanged for
a cry, wild, and solemn, and piercing as that which proclaimed
"Sleep no more" to the bloody house of Cawdor. "Italy seems not
to feel her sufferings," exclaims her impassioned poet;
"decrepit, sluggish, and languid, will she sleep forever? Will
there be none to awake her? Oh that I had my hands twisted in
her hair!"

("Che suoi guai non par che senta;
Vecchia, oziosa, e lenta.
Dormira sempre, e non fia chi la svegli?
Le man l' avess' io avvolte entro e capegli."
Canzone xi.)

Nor is it with less energy that he denounces against the
Mahometan Babylon the vengeance of Europe and of Christ. His
magnificent enumeration of the ancient exploits of the Greeks
must always excite admiration, and cannot be perused without the
deepest interest, at a time when the wise and good, bitterly
disappointed in so many other countries, are looking with
breathless anxiety towards the natal land of liberty,--the field
of Marathon,--and the deadly pass where the Lion of Lacedaemon
turned to bay.
("Maratona, e le mortali strette
Che difese il LEON con poca gente."
Canzone v.)

His poems on religious subjects also deserve the highest
commendation. At the head of these must be placed the Ode to the
Virgin. It is, perhaps, the finest hymn in the world. His
devout veneration receives an exquisitely poetical character from
the delicate perception of the sex and the loveliness of his
idol, which we may easily trace throughout the whole composition.

I could dwell with pleasure on these and similar parts of the
writings of Petrarch; but I must return to his amatory poetry:
to that he entrusted his fame; and to that he has principally
owed it.

The prevailing defect of his best compositions on this subject is
the universal brilliancy with which they are lighted up. The
natural language of the passions is, indeed, often figurative and
fantastic; and with none is this more the case than with that of
love. Still there is a limit. The feelings should, indeed, have
their ornamental garb; but, like an elegant woman, they should be
neither muffled nor exposed. The drapery should be so arranged,
as at once to answer the purposes of modest concealment and
judicious display. The decorations should sometimes be employed
to hide a defect, and sometimes to heighten a beauty; but never
to conceal, much less to distort, the charms to which they are
subsidiary. The love of Petrarch, on the contrary, arrays itself
like a foppish savage, whose nose is bored with a golden ring,
whose skin is painted with grotesque forms and dazzling colours,
and whose ears are drawn down his shoulders by the weight of
jewels. It is a rule, without any exception, in all kinds of
composition, that the principal idea, the predominant feeling,
should never be confounded with the accompanying decorations. It
should generally be distinguished from them by greater simplicity
of expression; as we recognise Napoleon in the pictures of his
battles, amidst a crowd of embroidered coats and plumes, by his
grey cloak and his hat without a feather. In the verses of
Petrarch it is generally impossible to say what thought is meant
to be prominent. All is equally elaborate. The chief wears the
same gorgeous and degrading livery with his retinue, and obtains
only his share of the indifferent stare which we bestow upon them
in common. The poems have no strong lights and shades, no
background, no foreground;--they are like the illuminated figures
in an oriental manuscript,--plenty of rich tints and no
perspective. Such are the faults of the most celebrated of these
compositions. Of those which are universally acknowledged to be
bad it is scarcely possible to speak with patience. Yet they
have much in common with their splendid companions. They differ
from them, as a Mayday procession of chimneysweepers differs from
the Field of Cloth of Gold. They have the gaudiness but not the
wealth. His muse belongs to that numerous class of females who
have no objection to be dirty, while they can be tawdry. When
his brilliant conceits are exhausted, he supplies their place
with metaphysical quibbles, forced antitheses, bad puns, and
execrable charades. In his fifth sonnet he may, I think, be said
to have sounded the lowest chasm of the Bathos. Upon the whole,
that piece may be safely pronounced to be the worst attempt at
poetry, and the worst attempt at wit, in the world.

A strong proof of the truth of these criticisms is, that almost
all the sonnets produce exactly the same effect on the mind of
the reader. They relate to all the various moods of a lover,
from joy to despair:--yet they are perused, as far as my
experience and observation have gone, with exactly the same
feeling. The fact is, that in none of them are the passion and
the ingenuity mixed in just proportions. There is not enough
sentiment to dilute the condiments which are employed to season
it. The repast which he sets before us resembles the Spanish
entertainment in Dryden's "Mock Astrologer", at which the relish
of all the dishes and sauces was overpowered by the common
flavour of spice. Fish,--flesh,--fowl,--everything at table
tasted of nothing but red pepper.

The writings of Petrarch may indeed suffer undeservedly from one
cause to which I must allude. His imitators have so much
familiarised the ear of Italy and of Europe to the favourite
topics of amorous flattery and lamentation, that we can scarcely
think them original when we find them in the first author; and,
even when our understandings have convinced us that they were new
to him, they are still old to us. This has been the fate of many
of the finest passages of the most eminent writers. It is
melancholy to trace a noble thought from stage to stage of its
profanation; to see it transferred from the first illustrious
wearer to his lacqueys, turned, and turned again, and at last
hung on a scarecrow. Petrarch has really suffered much from this
cause. Yet that he should have so suffered is a sufficient proof
that his excellences were not of the highest order. A line may
be stolen; but the pervading spirit of a great poet is not to be
surreptitiously obtained by a plagiarist. The continued
imitation of twenty-five centuries has left Homer as it found
him. If every simile and every turn of Dante had been copied ten
thousand times, the Divine Comedy would have retained all its
freshness. It was easy for the porter in Farquhar to pass for
Beau Clincher, by borrowing his lace and his pulvilio. It would
have been more difficult to enact Sir Harry Wildair.

Before I quit this subject I must defend Petrarch from one
accusation which is in the present day frequently brought against
him. His sonnets are pronounced by a large sect of critics not
to possess certain qualities which they maintain to be
indispensable to sonnets, with as much confidence, and as much
reason, as their prototypes of old insisted on the unities of the
drama. I am an exoteric--utterly unable to explain the mysteries
of this new poetical faith. I only know that it is a faith,
which except a man do keep pure and undefiled, without doubt he
shall be called a blockhead. I cannot, however, refrain from
asking what is the particular virtue which belongs to fourteen as
distinguished from all other numbers. Does it arise from its
being a multiple of seven? Has this principle any reference to
the sabbatical ordinance? Or is it to the order of rhymes that
these singular properties are attached? Unhappily the sonnets of
Shakspeare differ as much in this respect from those of Petrarch,
as from a Spenserian or an octave stanza. Away with this
unmeaning jargon! We have pulled down the old regime of
criticism. I trust that we shall never tolerate the equally
pedantic and irrational despotism, which some of the
revolutionary leaders would erect upon its ruins. We have not
dethroned Aristotle and Bossu for this.

These sonnet-fanciers would do well to reflect that, though the
style of Petrarch may not suit the standard of perfection which
they have chosen, they lie under great obligations to these very
poems,--that, but for Petrarch the measure, concerning which they
legislate so judiciously, would probably never have attracted
notice; and that to him they owe the pleasure of admiring, and
the glory of composing, pieces, which seem to have been produced
by Master Slender, with the assistance of his man Simple.

I cannot conclude these remarks without making a few observations
on the Latin writings of Petrarch. It appears that, both by
himself and by his contemporaries, these were far more highly
valued than his compositions in the vernacular language.
Posterity, the supreme court of literary appeal, has not only
reversed the judgment, but, according to its general practice,
reversed it with costs, and condemned the unfortunate works to
pay, not only for their own inferiority, but also for the
injustice of those who had given them an unmerited preference.
And it must be owned that, without making large allowances for
the circumstances under which they were produced, we cannot
pronounce a very favourable judgment. They must be considered as
exotics, transplanted to a foreign climate, and reared in an
unfavourable situation; and it would be unreasonable to expect
from them the health and the vigour which we find in the
indigenous plants around them, or which they might themselves
have possessed in their native soil. He has but very imperfectly
imitated the style of the Latin authors, and has not compensated
for the deficiency by enriching the ancient language with the
graces of modern poetry. The splendour and ingenuity, which we
admire, even when we condemn it, in his Italian works, is almost
totally wanting, and only illuminates with rare and occasional
glimpses the dreary obscurity of the African. The eclogues have
more animation; but they can only be called poems by courtesy.
They have nothing in common with his writings in his native
language, except the eternal pun about Laura and Daphne. None of
these works would have placed him on a level with Vida or
Buchanan. Yet, when we compare him with those who preceded him,
when we consider that he went on the forlorn hope of literature,
that he was the first who perceived, and the first who attempted
to revive, the finer elegancies of the ancient language of the
world, we shall perhaps think more highly of him than of those
who could never have surpassed his beauties if they had not
inherited them.

He has aspired to emulate the philosophical eloquence of Cicero,
as well as the poetical majesty of Virgil. His essay on the
Remedies of Good and Evil Fortune is a singular work in a
colloquial form, and a most scholastic style. It seems to be
framed upon the model of the Tusculan Questions,--with what
success those who have read it may easily determine. It consists
of a series of dialogues: in each of these a person is
introduced who has experienced some happy or some adverse event:
he gravely states his case; and a reasoner, or rather Reason
personified, confutes him; a task not very difficult, since the
disciple defends his position only by pertinaciously repeating
it, in almost the same words at the end of every argument of his
antagonist. In this manner Petrarch solves an immense variety of
cases. Indeed, I doubt whether it would be possible to name any
pleasure or any calamity which does not find a place in this
dissertation. He gives excellent advice to a man who is in
expectation of discovering the philosopher's stone;--to another,
who has formed a fine aviary;--to a third, who is delighted with
the tricks of a favourite monkey. His lectures to the
unfortunate are equally singular. He seems to imagine that a
precedent in point is a sufficient consolation for every form of
suffering. "Our town is taken," says one complainant; "So was
Troy," replies his comforter. "My wife has eloped," says
another; "If it has happened to you once, it happened to Menelaus
twice." One poor fellow is in great distress at having
discovered that his wife's son is none of his. "It is hard,"
says he, "that I should have had the expense of bringing up one
who is indifferent to me." "You are a man," returns his monitor,
quoting the famous line of Terence; "and nothing that belongs to
any other man ought to be indifferent to you." The physical
calamities of life are not omitted; and there is in particular a
disquisition on the advantages of having the itch, which, if not
convincing, is certainly very amusing.

The invectives on an unfortunate physician, or rather upon the
medical science, have more spirit. Petrarch was thoroughly in
earnest on this subject. And the bitterness of his feelings
occasionally produces, in the midst of his classical and
scholastic pedantry, a sentence worthy of the second Philippic.
Swift himself might have envied the chapter on the causes of the
paleness of physicians.

Of his Latin works the Epistles are the most generally known and
admired. As compositions they are certainly superior to his
essays. But their excellence is only comparative. From so large
a collection of letters, written by so eminent a man, during so
varied and eventful a life, we should have expected a complete
and spirited view of the literature, the manners, and the
politics of the age. A traveller--a poet--a scholar--a lover--a
courtier--a recluse--he might have perpetuated, in an
imperishable record, the form and pressure of the age and body of
the time. Those who read his correspondence, in the hope of
finding such information as this, will be utterly disappointed.
It contains nothing characteristic of the period or of the
individual. It is a series, not of letters, but of themes; and,
as it is not generally known, might be very safely employed at
public schools as a magazine of commonplaces. Whether he write
on politics to the Emperor and the Doge, or send advice and
consolation to a private friend, every line is crowded with
examples and quotations, and sounds big with Anaxagoras and
Scipio. Such was the interest excited by the character of
Petrarch, and such the admiration which was felt for his
epistolary style, that it was with difficulty that his letters
reached the place of their destination. The poet describes, with
pretended regret and real complacency, the importunity of the
curious, who often opened, and sometimes stole, these favourite
compositions. It is a remarkable fact that, of all his epistles,
the least affected are those which are addressed to the dead and
the unborn. Nothing can be more absurd than his whim of
composing grave letters of expostulation and commendation to
Cicero and Seneca; yet these strange performances are written in
a far more natural manner than his communications to his living
correspondents. But of all his Latin works the preference must
be given to the Epistle to Posterity; a simple, noble, and
pathetic composition, most honourable both to his taste and his
heart. If we can make allowance for some of the affected
humility of an author, we shall perhaps think that no literary
man has left a more pleasing memorial of himself.

In conclusion, we may pronounce that the works of Petrarch were
below both his genius and his celebrity; and that the
circumstances under which he wrote were as adverse to the
development of his powers as they were favourable to the
extension of his fame.



(April 1824.)


The parish of St Dennis is one of the most pleasant parts of the
county in which it is situated. It is fertile, well wooded, well
watered, and of an excellent air. For many generations the manor
had been holden in tail-male by a worshipful family, who have
always taken precedence of their neighbours at the races and the

In ancient times the affairs of this parish were administered by
a Court-Baron, in which the freeholders were judges; and the
rates were levied by select vestries of the inhabitant
householders. But at length these good customs fell into disuse.
The Lords of the Manor, indeed, still held courts for form's
sake; but they or their stewards had the whole management of
affairs. They demanded services, duties, and customs to which
they had no just title. Nay, they would often bring actions
against their neighbours for their own private advantage, and
then send in the bill to the parish. No objection was made,
during many years, to these proceedings, so that the rates became
heavier and heavier: nor was any person exempted from these
demands, except the footmen and gamekeepers of the squire and the
rector of the parish. They indeed were never checked in any
excess. They would come to an honest labourer's cottage, eat his
pancakes, tuck his fowls into their pockets, and cane the poor
man himself. If he went up to the great house to complain, it
was hard to get the speech of Sir Lewis; and, indeed, his only
chance of being righted was to coax the squire's pretty
housekeeper, who could do what she pleased with her master. If
he ventured to intrude upon the Lord of the Manor without this
precaution, he gained nothing by his pains. Sir Lewis, indeed,
would at first receive him with a civil face; for, to give him
his due, he could be a fine gentleman when he pleased. "Good
day, my friend," he would say, "what situation have you in my
family?" "Bless your honour!" says the poor fellow, "I am not
one of your honour's servants; I rent a small piece of ground,
your honour." "Then, you dog," quoth the squire, "what do you
mean by coming here? Has a gentleman nothing to do but to hear
the complaints of clowns? Here! Philip, James, Dick, toss this
fellow in a blanket; or duck him, and set him in the stocks to

One of these precious Lords of the Manor enclosed a deer-park;
and, in order to stock it, he seized all the pretty pet fawns
that his tenants had brought up, without paying them a farthing,
or asking their leave. It was a sad day for the parish of St
Dennis. Indeed, I do not believe that all his oppressive
exactions and long bills enraged the poor tenants so much as this
cruel measure.

Yet for a long time, in spite of all these inconveniences, St
Dennis's was a very pleasant place. The people could not refrain
from capering if they heard the sound of a fiddle. And, if they
were inclined to be riotous, Sir Lewis had only to send for
Punch, or the dancing dogs, and all was quiet again. But this
could not last forever; they began to think more and more of
their condition; and, at last, a club of foul-mouthed, good-for-
nothing rascals was held at the sign of the Devil, for the
purpose of abusing the squire and the parson. The doctor, to own
the truth, was old and indolent, extremely fat and greedy. He
had not preached a tolerable sermon for a long time. The squire
was still worse; so that, partly by truth and partly by
falsehood, the club set the whole parish against their superiors.
The boys scrawled caricatures of the clergyman upon the church-
door, and shot at the landlord with pop-guns as he rode a-
hunting. It was even whispered about that the Lord of the Manor
had no right to his estate, and that, if he were compelled to
produce the original title-deeds, it would be found that he only
held the estate in trust for the inhabitants of the parish.

In the meantime the squire was pressed more and more for money.
The parish could pay no more. The rector refused to lend a
farthing. The Jews were clamorous for their money; and the
landlord had no other resource than to call together the
inhabitants of the parish, and to request their assistance. They
now attacked him furiously about their grievances, and insisted
that he should relinquish his oppressive powers. They insisted
that his footmen should be kept in order, that the parson should
pay his share of the rates, that the children of the parish
should be allowed to fish in the trout-stream, and to gather
blackberries in the hedges. They at last went so far as to
demand that he should acknowledge that he held his estate only in
trust for them. His distress compelled him to submit. They, in
return, agreed to set him free from his pecuniary difficulties,
and to suffer him to inhabit the manor-house; and only annoyed
him from time to time by singing impudent ballads under his

The neighbouring gentlefolks did not look on these proceedings
with much complacency. It is true that Sir Lewis and his
ancestors had plagued them with law-suits, and affronted them at
county meetings. Still they preferred the insolence of a
gentleman to that of the rabble, and felt some uneasiness lest
the example should infect their own tenants.

A large party of them met at the house of Lord Caesar Germain.
Lord Caesar was the proudest man in the county. His family was
very ancient and illustrious, though not particularly opulent.
He had invited most of his wealthy neighbours. There was Mrs
Kitty North, the relict of poor Squire Peter, respecting whom the
coroner's jury had found a verdict of accidental death, but whose
fate had nevertheless excited strange whispers in the
neighbourhood. There was Squire Don, the owner of the great West
Indian property, who was not so rich as he had formerly been, but
still retained his pride, and kept up his customary pomp; so that
he had plenty of plate but no breeches. There was Squire Von
Blunderbussen, who had succeeded to the estates of his uncle, old
Colonel Frederic Von Blunderbussen, of the hussars. The colonel
was a very singular old fellow; he used to learn a page of
Chambaud's grammar, and to translate Telemaque, every morning,
and he kept six French masters to teach him to parleyvoo.
Nevertheless he was a shrewd clever man, and improved his estate
with so much care, sometimes by honest and sometimes by dishonest
means, that he left a very pretty property to his nephew.

Lord Caesar poured out a glass of Tokay for Mrs Kitty. "Your
health, my dear madam, I never saw you look more charming. Pray,
what think you of these doings at St Dennis's?"

"Fine doings, indeed!" interrupted Von Blunderbussen; "I wish
that we had my old uncle alive, he would have had some of them up
to the halberts. He knew how to usa cat-o'-nine-tails. If
things go on in this way, a gentleman will not be able to
horsewhip an impudent farmer, or to say a civil word to a milk-

"Indeed, it's very true, Sir," said Mrs Kitty; "their insolence
is intolerable. Look at me, for instance:--a poor lone woman!--
My dear Peter dead! I loved him:--so I did; and, when he died, I
was so hysterical you cannot think. And now I cannot lean on the
arm of a decent footman, or take a walk with a tall grenadier
behind me, just to protect me from audacious vagabonds, but they
must have their nauseous suspicions;--odious creatures!"

"This must be stopped," replied Lord Caesar. "We ought to
contribute to support my poor brother-in-law against these
rascals. I will write to Squire Guelf on this subject by this
night's post. His name is always at the head of our county

If the people of St Dennis's had been angry before, they were
well-nigh mad when they heard of this conversation. The whole
parish ran to the manor-house. Sir Lewis's Swiss porter shut the
door against them; but they broke in and knocked him on the head
for his impudence. They then seized the Squire, hooted at him,
pelted him, ducked him, and carried him to the watch-house. They
turned the rector into the street, burnt his wig and band, and
sold the church-plate by auction. They put up a painted Jezebel
in the pulpit to preach. They scratched out the texts which were
written round the church, and scribbled profane scraps of songs
and plays in their place. They set the organ playing to pot-
house tunes. Instead of being decently asked in church, they
were married over a broomstick. But, of all their whims, the use
of the new patent steel-traps was the most remarkable.

This trap was constructed on a completely new principle. It
consisted of a cleaver hung in a frame like a window; when any
poor wretch got in, down it came with a tremendous din, and took
off his head in a twinkling. They got the squire into one of
these machines. In order to prevent any of his partisans from
getting footing in the parish, they placed traps at every corner.
It was impossible to walk through the highway at broad noon
without tumbling into one or other of them. No man could go
about his business in security. Yet so great was the hatred
which the inhabitants entertained for the old family, that a few
decent, honest people, who begged them to take down the steel-
traps, and to put up humane man-traps in their room, were very
roughly handled for their good nature.

In the meantime the neighbouring gentry undertook a suit against
the parish on the behalf of Sir Lewis's heir, and applied to
Squire Guelf for his assistance.

Everybody knows that Squire Guelf is more closely tied up than
any gentleman in the shire. He could, therefore, lend them no
help; but he referred them to the Vestry of the Parish of St
George in the Water. These good people had long borne a grudge
against their neighbours on the other side of the stream; and
some mutual trespasses had lately occurred which increased their

There was an honest Irishman, a great favourite among them, who
used to entertain them with raree-shows, and to exhibit a magic
lantern to the children on winter evenings. He had gone quite
mad upon this subject. Sometimes he would call out in the middle
of the street--"Take care of that corner, neighbours; for the
love of Heaven, keep clear of that post, there is a patent steel-
trap concealed thereabouts." Sometimes he would be disturbed by
frightful dreams; then he would get up at dead of night, open his
window and cry "fire," till the parish was roused, and the
engines sent for. The pulpit of the Parish of St George seemed
likely to fall; I believe that the only reason was that the
parson had grown too fat and heavy; but nothing would persuade
this honest man but that it was a scheme of the people at St
Dennis's, and that they had sawed through the pillars in order to
break the rector's neck. Once he went about with a knife in his
pocket, and told all the persons whom he met that it had been
sharpened by the knife-grinder of the next parish to cut their
throats. These extravagancies had a great effect on the people;
and the more so because they were espoused by Squire Guelf's
steward, who was the most influential person in the parish. He
was a very fair-spoken man, very attentive to the main chance,
and the idol of the old women, because he never played at
skittles or danced with the girls; and, indeed, never took any
recreation but that of drinking on Saturday nights with his
friend Harry, the Scotch pedlar. His supporters called him Sweet
William; his enemies the Bottomless Pit.

The people of St Dennis's, however, had their advocates. There
was Frank, the richest farmer in the parish, whose great
grandfather had been knocked on the head many years before, in a
squabble between the parish and a former landlord. There was
Dick, the merry-andrew, rather light-fingered and riotous, but a
clever droll fellow. Above all, there was Charley, the publican,
a jolly, fat, honest lad, a great favourite with the women, who,
if he had not been rather too fond of ale and chuck-farthing,
would have been the best fellow in the neighbourhood.

"My boys," said Charley, "this is exceedingly well for Madam
North;--not that I would speak uncivilly of her; she put up my
picture in her best room, bless her for it! But, I say, this is
very well for her, and for Lord Caesar, and Squire Don, and
Colonel Von;--but what affair is it of yours or mine? It is not
to be wondered at, that gentlemen should wish to keep poor people
out of their own. But it is strange indeed that they should
expect the poor themselves to combine against their own
interests. If the folks at St Dennis's should attack us we have
the law and our cudgels to protect us. But why, in the name of
wonder, are we to attack them? When old Sir Charles, who was
Lord of the Manor formerly, and the parson, who was presented by
him to the living, tried to bully the vestry, did not we knock
their heads together, and go to meeting to hear Jeremiah
Ringletub preach? And did the Squire Don, or the great Sir
Lewis, that lived at that time, or the Germains, say a word
against us for it? Mind your own business, my lads: law is not
to be had for nothing; and we, you may be sure, shall have to pay
the whole bill."

Nevertheless the people of St George's were resolved on law.
They cried out most lustily, "Squire Guelf for ever! Sweet
William for ever! No steel traps!" Squire Guelf took all the
rascally footmen who had worn old Sir Lewis's livery into his
service. They were fed in the kitchen on the very best of
everything, though they had no settlement. Many people, and the
paupers in particular, grumbled at these proceedings. The
steward, however, devised a way to keep them quiet.

There had lived in this parish for many years an old gentleman,
named Sir Habeas Corpus. He was said by some to be of Saxon, by
some of Norman, extraction. Some maintain that he was not born
till after the time of Sir Charles, to whom we have before
alluded. Others are of opinion that he was a legitimate son of
old Lady Magna Charta, although he was long concealed and kept
out of his birthright. Certain it is that he was a very
benevolent person. Whenever any poor fellow was taken up on
grounds which he thought insufficient, he used to attend on his
behalf and bail him; and thus he had become so popular, that to
take direct measures against him was out of the question.

The steward, accordingly, brought a dozen physicians to examine
Sir Habeas. After consultation, they reported that he was in a
very bad way, and ought not, on any account, to be allowed to
stir out for several months. Fortified with this authority, the
parish officers put him to bed, closed his windows, and barred
his doors. They paid him every attention, and from time to time
issued bulletins of his health. The steward never spoke of him
without declaring that he was the best gentleman in the world;
but excellent care was taken that he should never stir out of

When this obstacle was removed, the Squire and the steward kept
the parish in excellent order; flogged this man, sent that man to
the stocks, and pushed forward the law-suit with a noble
disregard of expense. They were, however, wanting either in
skill or in fortune. And everything went against them after
their antagonists had begun to employ Solicitor Nap.

Who does not know the name of Solicitor Nap? At what alehouse is
not his behaviour discussed? In what print-shop is not his
picture seen? Yet how little truth has been said about him!
Some people hold that he used to give laudanum by pints to his
six clerks for his amusement. Others, whose number has very much
increased since he was killed by the gaol distemper, conceive
that he was the very model of honour and good-nature. I shall
try to tell the truth about him.

He was assuredly an excellent solicitor. In his way he never was
surpassed. As soon as the parish began to employ him, their
cause took a turn. In a very little time they were successful;
and Nap became rich. He now set up for a gentleman; took
possession of the old manor-house; got into the commission of the
peace, and affected to be on a par with the best of the county.
He governed the vestries as absolutely as the old family had
done. Yet, to give him his due, he managed things with far more
discretion than either Sir Lewis or the rioters who had pulled
the Lords of the Manor down. He kept his servants in tolerable
order. He removed the steel traps from the highways and the
corners of the streets. He still left a few indeed in the more
exposed parts of his premises; and set up a board announcing that
traps and spring guns were set in his grounds. He brought the
poor parson back to the parish; and, though he did not enable him
to keep a fine house and a coach as formerly, he settled him in a
snug little cottage, and allowed him a pleasant pad-nag. He
whitewashed the church again; and put the stocks, which had been
much wanted of late, into good repair.

With the neighbouring gentry, however, he was no favourite. He
was crafty and litigious. He cared nothing for right, if he
could raise a point of law against them. He pounded their
cattle, broke their hedges, and seduced their tenants from them.
He almost ruined Lord Caesar with actions, in every one of which
he was successful. Von Blunderbussen went to law with him for an
alleged trespass, but was cast, and almost ruined by the costs of
suit. He next took a fancy to the seat of Squire Don, who was,
to say the truth, little better than an idiot. He asked the poor
dupe to dinner, and then threatened to have him tossed in a
blanket unless he would make over his estates to him. The poor
Squire signed and sealed a deed by which the property was
assigned to Joe, a brother of Nap's, in trust for and to the use
of Nap himself. The tenants, however, stood out. They
maintained that the estate was entailed, and refused to pay rents
to the new landlord; and in this refusal they were stoutly
supported by the people in St George's.

About the same time Nap took it into his head to match with
quality, and nothing would serve him but one of the Miss
Germains. Lord Caesar swore like a trooper; but there was no
help for it. Nap had twice put executions in his principal
residence, and had refused to discharge the latter of the two
till he had extorted a bond from his Lordship which compelled him
to comply.





(August 1824.)

"Referre sermones Deorum et
Magna modis tenuare parvis."--Horace.

I have thought it good to set down in writing a memorable debate,
wherein I was a listener, and two men of pregnant parts and great
reputation discoursers; hoping that my friends will not be
displeased to have a record both of the strange times through
which I have lived, and of the famous men with whom I have
conversed. It chanced in the warm and beautiful spring of the
year 1665, a little before the saddest summer that ever London
saw, that I went to the Bowling Green at Piccadilly, whither, at
that time, the best gentry made continual resorts. There I met
Mr Cowley, who had lately left Barnelms. There was then a house
preparing for him at Chertsey; and till it should be finished, he
had come up for a short time to London, that he might urge a suit
to his Grace of Buckingham touching certain lands of her
Majesty's, whereof he requested a lease. I had the honour to be
familiarly acquainted with that worthy gentleman and most
excellent poet, whose death hath been deplored with as general a
consent of all Powers that delight in the woods, or in verse, or
in love, as was of old that of Daphnis or of Callus.

After some talk, which it is not material to set down at large,
concerning his suit and his vexations at the court, where indeed
his honesty did him more harm than his parts could do him good, I
entreated him to dine with me at my lodging in the Temple, which
he most courteously promised. And, that so eminent a guest might
not lack a better entertainment than cooks or vintners can
provide, I sent to the house of Mr John Milton, in the Artillery
Walk, to beg that he would also be my guest. For, though he had
been secretary, first to the Council of State, and, after that,
to the Protector, and Mr Cowley had held the same post under the
Lord St Albans in his banishment, I hoped, notwithstanding that
they would think themselves rather united by their common art
than divided by their different factions. And so indeed it
proved. For, while we sat at table, they talked freely of many
men and things, as well ancient as modern, with much civility.
Nay, Mr Milton, who seldom tasted wine, both because of his
singular temperance and because of his gout, did more than once
pledge Mr Cowley, who was indeed no hermit in diet. At last,
being heated, Mr Milton begged that I would open the windows.
"Nay," said I, "if you desire fresh air and coolness, what should
hinder us, as the evening is fair, from sailing for an hour on
the river?" To this they both cheerfully consented; and forth we
walked, Mr Cowley and I leading Mr Milton between us, to the
Temple Stairs. There we took a boat; and thence we were rowed up
the river.

The wind was pleasant; the evening fine; the sky, the earth, and
the water beautiful to look upon. But Mr Cowley and I held our
peace, and said nothing of the gay sights around us, lest we
should too feelingly remind Mr Milton of his calamity; whereof,
however, he needed no monitor: for soon he said, sadly, "Ah, Mr
Cowley, you are a happy man. What would I now give but for one
more look at the sun, and the waters, and the gardens of this
fair city!"

"I know not," said Mr Cowley, "whether we ought not rather to
envy you for that which makes you to envy others: and that
specially in this place, where all eyes which are not closed in
blindness ought to become fountains of tears. What can we look
upon which is not a memorial of change and sorrow, of fair things
vanished, and evil things done? When I see the gate of
Whitehall, and the stately pillars of the Banqueting House, I
cannot choose but think of what I have there seen in former days,
masques, and pageants, and dances, and smiles, and the waving of
graceful heads, and the bounding of delicate feet. And then I
turn to thoughts of other things, which even to remember makes me
to blush and weep;--of the great black scaffold, and the axe and
block, which were placed before those very windows; and the voice
seems to sound in mine ears, the lawless and terrible voice,
which cried out that the head of a king was the head of a
traitor. There stands Westminster Hall, which who can look upon,
and not tremble to think how time, and change, and death confound
the councils of the wise, and beat down the weapons of the
mighty? How have I seen it surrounded with tens of thousands of
petitioners crying for justice and privilege! How have I heard
it shake with fierce and proud words, which made the hearts of
the people burn within them! Then it is blockaded by dragoons,
and cleared by pikemen. And they who have conquered their master
go forth trembling at the word of their servant. And yet a
little while, and the usurper comes forth from it, in his robe of
ermine, with the golden staff in one hand and the Bible in the
other, amidst the roaring of the guns and the shouting of the
people. And yet again a little while, and the doors are thronged
with multitudes in black, and the hearse and the plumes come
forth; and the tyrant is borne, in more than royal pomp, to a
royal sepulchre. A few days more, and his head is fixed to rot
on the pinnacles of that very hall where he sat on a throne in
his life, and lay in state after his death. When I think on all
these things, to look round me makes me sad at heart. True it is
that God hath restored to us our old laws, and the rightful line
of our kings. Yet, how I know not, but it seems to me that
something is wanting--that our court hath not the old gravity,
nor our people the old loyalty. These evil times, like the great
deluge, have overwhelmed and confused all earthly things. And,
even as those waters, though at last they abated, yet, as the
learned write, destroyed all trace of the garden of Eden, so that
its place hath never since been found, so hath this opening of
all the flood-gates of political evil effaced all marks of the
ancient political paradise."

"Sir, by your favour," said Mr Milton, "though, from many
circumstances both of body and of fortune, I might plead fairer
excuses for despondency than yourself, I yet look not so sadly
either on the past or on the future. That a deluge hath passed
over this our nation, I deny not. But I hold it not to be such a
deluge as that of which you speak; but rather a blessed flood,
like those of the Nile, which in its overflow doth indeed wash
away ancient landmarks, and confound boundaries, and sweep away
dwellings, yea, doth give birth to many foul and dangerous
reptiles. Yet hence is the fulness of the granary, the beauty of
the garden, the nurture of all living things.

"I remember well, Mr Cowley, what you have said concerning these
things in your Discourse of the Government of Oliver Cromwell,
which my friend Elwood read to me last year. Truly, for elegance
and rhetoric, that essay is to be compared with the finest
tractates of Isocrates and Cicero. But neither that nor any
other book, nor any events, which with most men have, more than
any book, weight and authority, have altered my opinion, that, of
all assemblies that ever were in this world, the best and the
most useful was our Long Parliament. I speak not this as wishing
to provoke debate; which neither yet do I decline."

Mr Cowley was, as I could see, a little nettled. Yet, as he was
a man of a kind disposition and a most refined courtesy, he put a
force upon himself, and answered with more vehemence and
quickness indeed than was his wont, yet not uncivilly. "Surely,
Mr Milton, you speak not as you think. I am indeed one of those
who believe that God hath reserved to himself the censure of
kings, and that their crimes and oppressions are not to be
resisted by the hands of their subjects. Yet can I easily find
excuse for the violence of such as are stung to madness by
grievous tyranny. But what shall we say for these men? Which of
their just demands was not granted? Which even of their cruel
and unreasonable requisitions, so as it were not inconsistent
with all law and order, was refused? Had they not sent Strafford
to the block and Laud to the Tower? Had they not destroyed the
Courts of the High Commission and the Star Chamber? Had they not
reversed the proceedings confirmed by the voices of the judges of
England, in the matter of ship-money? Had they not taken from
the king his ancient and most lawful power touching the order of
knighthood? Had they not provided that, after their dissolution,
triennial parliaments should be holden, and that their own power
should continue till of their great condescension they should be
pleased to resign it themselves? What more could they ask? Was
it not enough that they had taken from their king all his
oppressive powers, and many that were most salutary? Was it not
enough that they had filled his council-board with his enemies,
and his prisons with his adherents? Was it not enough that they
had raised a furious multitude, to shout and swagger daily under
the very windows of his royal palace? Was it not enough that
they had taken from him the most blessed prerogative of princely
mercy; that, complaining of intolerance themselves, they had
denied all toleration to others; that they had urged, against
forms, scruples childish as those of any formalist; that they had
persecuted the least remnant of the popish rites with the
fiercest bitterness of the popish spirit? Must they besides all
this have full power to command his armies, and to massacre his

"For military command, it was never known in any monarchy, nay,
in any well ordered republic, that it was committed to the
debates of a large and unsettled assembly. For their other
requisition, that he should give up to their vengeance all who
had defended the rights of his crown, his honour must have been
ruined if he had complied. Is it not therefore plain that they
desired these things only in order that, by refusing, his
Majesty might give them a pretence for war?

"Men have often risen up against fraud, against cruelty, against
rapine. But when before was it known that concessions were met
with importunities, graciousness with insults, the open palm of
bounty with the clenched fist of malice? Was it like trusty
delegates of the Commons of England, and faithful stewards of
their liberty and their wealth, to engage them for such causes in
civil war, which both to liberty and to wealth is of all things
the most hostile. Evil indeed must be the disease which is not
more tolerable than such a medicine. Those who, even to save a
nation from tyrants, excite it to civil war do in general but
minister to it the same miserable kind of relief wherewith the
wizards of Pharaoh mocked the Egyptian. We read that, when Moses
had turned their waters into blood, those impious magicians,
intending, not benefit to the thirsting people, but vain and
emulous ostentation of their own art, did themselves also change
into blood the water which the plague had spared. Such sad
comfort do those who stir up war minister to the oppressed. But
here where was the oppression? What was the favour which had not

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