Page images

In spite of more than three centuries of foreign oppression, this controlling sentiment of national unity, resting not so much upon purity of race or community of stock, as upon a similarity of intellectual culture, has never failed the Italian heart. Owing, perhaps, to the varying strength of the Teutonic and the Latin element, the Lombard and the Tuscan are as different as people speaking the same language can well be. The difference, indeed, between them may be traced in every branch of literature and art: for Titian and Correggio and Tasso were certainly of a different stamp of genius from Macchiavelli and Michael Angelo and Dante; yet, amidst the crowd that pressed forward to meet him in his hour of triumph, Ariosto beheld Tuscan and Lombard and Roman mingling together.

The very causes, moreover, which divided and made them a prey alternately to French and Spanish and German invasion, helped to keep alive, in the hatred of city to city and of province to province, that ineffaceable individuality of the Italians, in language and manners and arts, which never even yielded to the pressure of foreign elements, but, as with the Greeks in their long struggle with the Turks, preserved the intellectual supremacy of the conquered race. Thus, in the eyes of the Italians,— from the days of Robert Guiscard, with bis Norman bands, to those of Charles of Anjou, with his merciless cruelty,– the French were always a barbarous race, alien to the arts of civilization, with no other genius than that of force: for Italy had already entered upon the brilliant triumphs of the renaissance, before the French were fairly born into the world; while, in revenge for the superiority which they could not but feel, the French affected a contempt for the Italians, and they took no pains to conceal it. In their old romances, Virgil figures always as a magician; the bankers, who disputed with Jews the monopoly of usury, were called Lombards. It was from Italy that every species of corruption found its way into the world; its commercial activity was a system of frauds; its political wisdom, nothing but the science of treachery.

Yet, while it rendered this homage to Italy by calumniating

it, France was not slow in yielding to its gracious charm. With the rest of Europe, it felt the breath of the new life. The gilded palaces of Genoa and Milan and Venice, resplendent with the works of Titian and Leonardo da Vinci, did not fail to exert a softening influence upon the haughty cavaliers, accustomed to the sterner architecture of the North, to the more sombre manners of the Hôtel St. Pol and the Rue Barbette. An anecdote, however, that is told of the poet Monti, well illustrates the groundlessness of all such envy then, and the worthlessness of all such comparison now, in this complex development of modern life, in which each nation has manifestly a function of its own, and no one, at peril of its own identity, may venture to absorb another. With the uncontrollable pride of an Italian, excusable perhaps in the face of the tremendous misfortunes of his country, Monti was boasting, in a mixed company, of the pre-eminence of Italian poetry, affirming that the French had only bad tragedies, and no epic at all. “Yet you must confess, monsieur,” said a Frenchman who was present, “that, if we have no epic, it is not for the want of heroes; for we have furnished your best poets with several. Ariosto sang of Roland and Charlemagne. Tasso celebrated Godfrey and Renard and Tancred; et vous même, - vous avez chanté Napoléon."

It was in Italy that the modern civilization, receiving there its first impulse, first becoming conscious, as it were, of itself, leaped forward to announce its infinite promise, through those achievements in art which have been for centuries the illumination of Europe. But a long collapse followed that exuberant activity. During several centuries, the intellectual forces of Italy were wasted upon domestic feuds, and slavish pursuits under foreign masters. Yet, as Lamartine said, let us not insult the genius of Italy because it slumbered: for, within the present century, its national spirit has been awakened; its old resentment at the presence of an alien foot upon its soil has revived; the undercurrent of the national life has been setting steadily towards union.

of this modern movement, which resulted, in 1859, in the acquisition, by the aid of France, of Milan and a large part

of Lombardy, and in 1860, through the magic of Garibaldi's name, of Naples and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and which has already been crowned by the possession of Venice,

- of this movement there have been several leaders; but none of them, perhaps, have so well illustrated as Massimo D'Azeglio that singular Italian genius, so polished and versatile and fervent, which made the glory of Italy in the days when Michael Angelo wrote sonnets to Vittoria Colonna, and devised the fortifications of Florence, and painted the “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. We do not mean, of course, that D' Azeglio was the equal of Michael Angelo: he was but a clever artist and a brave soldier; a statesman of ability, commanded by events rather than commanding them; a writer, more correct than original; in all respects a man of talent, not, in the highest sense, a man of genius. But the union of so many diverse characters — artist, statesman, novelist, publicist, soldier - makes him in that respect unique in the modern history of Italy and of Europe ; and while his political career, as a leader in the great work of Italian reform, furnishes a good commentary upon the state of parties, his historical novels, which, translated into English, have become familiar to so many readers, may be taken as a fair representation of the character and tendency of modern Italian literature.

Descended from an ancient Piedmontese family, the Tapparelli of Azeglio, in the province of Turea, in which the service of the state, in military or civil life, was almost an hered. itary career, Massimo D'Azeglio, born in 1801, was destined by his father, himself a distinguished officer, for the army. But his love for poetry and art soon withdrew him from a sphere of activity so little congenial; and, at the age of twenty, he entered upon the life of an artist, at Rome, devoting himself with success to what may be called historical landscape, not after the manner of Annibale Caracci or Poussin or Joseph Anton Koch; but, on the one hand, with a tendency to greater naturalism, and, on the other, with a more vivid conception of historical events. The knighthood of the Middle Age, and the condottieri of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, fur

nished the stuffage to most of his landscapes; while later events in the history of Piedmont, even up to the last century, suggested to him frequent subjects for illustration. Many of his works, of which the galleries of the Louvre and of Turin contain specimens, have been engraved; and they all exhibit much talent, even a certain wealth of invention; and, when the low stage of landscape-painting in Italy is considered, may justly be classed among the best things produced there, in that department, in modern times. His chef d'ouvre is, perhaps, his representation of the origin of the family of Sforza. Yet, in spite of his careful studies and his long preparation, he did not succeed in avoiding the faults so common in historical painting: his mistakes in costume, as is too often the case in Italy, were numerous; while his understanding of nature was too superficial to enable him to unfold its deeper meaning, or to suggest the profounder charm which underlies it. He fell back, therefore, upon a certain conventional treatment, which, with so fruitful an artist, could lead only to weariness.

In 1829 he returned to Turin, and the next year went to Milan, where he married the daughter of Manzoni, the famous author of the “Promessi Sposi ;” and, for a long time, his residence was in the latter city, when not seeking subjects for his pencil on the Lago Maggiore, or themes for his pen in Genoa and Tuscany: for the influence of Manzoni had speedily exerted its attraction upon a nature so versatile and an imagination so lively as D'Azeglio's. Nature and fortune had nothing for him but smiles, says a French writer; for nature made him an artist, and fortune made him the son-in-law of Manzoni. It was indeed a happy event; for, though his wife lived but for a short time, he was thus brought into relations which had the best effect upon his future career.

Since the close of the sixteenth century, romance had become almost extinct in the land of Boccaccio. Manzoni may therefore be called the father of historical romance in Italy; and D'Azeglio became at once his ardent disciple, — not through defect of talent, but because the rising spirit of Italian nationality, so gently announced by Manzoni, had pos

sessed him as with the fire of a great passion. Resigned, through his religious convictions, to the will of God, as it expressed itself in existing historical conditions, Manzoni had indeed done more, by the simple recital of the evils which foreign occupation had brought upon Italy, to brand it as a crime, and to rouse a spirit of silent but deadly hatred to the aggressor, than could ever have been effected by the startling imprecations of Guerrazzi. His moderation and his irony were more eloquent than passion. Yet it was, after all, a negative sort of warfare he waged, if one may say so.

With others of less genius, his tone would have degenerated into slavish submission. In the midst of the conflicts of passion, and the discord of opinions, and the bitter struggle between rich and poor, Manzoni could utter only the holy words, Siete voi fratelli.D'Azeglio did not yield himself to that seductive quietism. From the beginning, he struck another key, but struck it with a force tempered by the gentler influences which, within the charmed circle of Manzoni, had been bis first inspiration as they were his last consolation. His active' habits did not permit him to be idle; but, with his aristocratic culture, he shrank from being a conspirator. He took, there. fore, a middle course; and, laboring to awaken in the people a sense of their power and a feeling of contrition for their misfortunes, due in so great part to themselves, he was content to wait for opportunities of action, — not to force them into that frantic, suicidal radicalism which would have made all progress impossible, through the ignorance of the lower classes and the corruption of the higher, both of which it overlooked or denied.

The subject, therefore, which D'Azeglio chose for his first novel was perhaps the happiest that he could have hit upon. Considering the time, indeed, when it appeared, there was really genius in the selection; for, after the events of 1820 and 1831, the faintheartedness of the Italians had become almost a byword in Europe. The national spirit was sinking; and, to revive it, D’Azeglio recited the story of the Challenge of Barletta, an event long forgotten, a page long unread in the works of Guicciardini and Giovio. New to all but the

« PreviousContinue »