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Next in order, and on the same side of the church, is the tomb of Alfieri, the great dramatic poet, and one of the master spirits of modern Italy; though the eccentricities of his character detract somewhat from the veneration which the traveller is ready to pay to his talents. He was the personal friend of Canova, who has done not less credit to his feelings than to his taste in the design of this monument. The same marble will indissolubly connect two illustrious names; and they who were so intimate in life, will not be wholly separated even in death. A work with which the artist evidently took great pains has not been considered as one of his happiest efforts; for what reason I know not to me it appeared both appropriate and beautiful. The sarcophagus is extremely rich. A draped figure of Italy, crowned like Cybele with triple towers, is in the attitude of pointing to a medallion of the poet in bas-relief, and weeping for the loss of a favourite son. Is it possible for a design to express more simplicity or greater pathos? There is however one defect so glaring as to strike every spectator, but which was not the fault of Canova. The name of the Countess of Albany, widow of the last of the Stuarts, at whose expense the monument was erected, is even more conspicuous than that of Alfieri himself. It is emblazoned in large letters in front, and a special record is made of an act of munificenceperhaps a tribute of genuine affection. This titled personage was in plain terms the mistress of the poet, and whatever was the strength of her attachment, taste and refinement surely might have dictated a less ostentatious and a more delicate mode of expressing her sorrow.
A few feet farther on in the same aisle, the visitant finds the sepulchral urn of Machiavelli, with a figure of History holding his medallion. In the minds of most of my readers, a prejudice is probably associated with his name, which has become a generic term in our language, to express a sort of jesuitical, refined, wily, and cunning policy. Such a stigma, it is believed, has arisen rather from the calumnies of his enemies, than from a fair construction of his writings. In the course of my collegiate studies, I recollect to have read a translation of his works, from the mere curiosity of arriving at the origin of a word in common use in our country, and to have laid down the book without finding any thing to justify the etymology and import of the epithet. The doctrines broached in his Prince, the only objectionable portion of his voluminous works, are not principles upon which he himself acted, but merely abstract views of policy, drawn from a profound knowledge of the human passions and of the corruptions of courts. If others have availed themselves of his insight into character, and have reduced his hypothetical cases into practice, the fault is not chargeable
upon him. At all events, the Florentines consider Machiavelli as one of the most illustrious men of his age, distinguished alike for his talents and his devoted attachment to republican principles.
In the character of old Galilco-he that was denounced as a heretic for inventing the telescope, and for broaching the dangerous doctrine, that the earth moves round the sun, instead of the sun round the earth-there can be no mistake. His tomb is in the other aisle of this church, nearly opposite that of Michael Angelo. Notwithstanding the opinion of critics, the design appeared to me peculiarly appropriate. The monument is surmounted by two figures, one representing Geometry, and the other, Astronomy, emblematic of the departments of science, in which the philosopher particularly excelled. He owes his pile of sculptured marble to the munificence of a private family; for like all the great men of Florence, he died an exile from his native city, persecuted, blind, and pennyless. The events of his life are too well known to need a recapitulation. He is said to have been born on the day of Michael Angelo's death, and on the day of his death, Sir Isaac Newton was born. If this remarkable coincidence be a fact, such an unbroken chain of intellect would almost lead one to believe in the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls.
On one side of Santa Croce is an extensive convent, enclosing spacious, open aroas, tastefully shaded with evergreens. We could not learn that it contains many inmates; and the whole precincts were silent as the grave. The cloisters are still used as a cemetery, and numerous white monuments, elegantly wrought, have recently been erected along the walls. But the principal burying-ground of Florence is two or three miles from the town, and the practice of interring the dead in churches has here, as in all the other large cities of Italy, been in a great measure discontinued,
The church of St. Lorenzo ranks next to that of St. Croce in point of interest. It was founded by one of the untitled ancestors of the Medicean family, in the same age with the Cathedral, and was built by the same architect. The plain, substantial, republican merchant by whom it was endowed, sought only to erect a temple which should be expressive of his piety, and not of his wealth, accumulated by honest industry. His intentions were fulfilled, and the edifice is indicative of his character--simple, dignified, and unostentatious. Every one is acquainted with the history of the Medici. As with all other aristocracies, the links in the chain of cause and effect are few. Wealth and talents begat power; power, luxury; and luxury, oppression. An epitome of the story of the family is read in the orna
ments of St. Lorenzo. John de Medici, the founder, though a secular man, thought only of a church, regardless of a tomb, content that his dust should mingle with common earth: his descendants, on the contrary, though invested with the highest ecclesiastical dignities, forgot the church, so far at least as it respects any practical purposes of picty, and dreamed only of splendid mausolea.
John, the pious and worthy ancestor, has received no sepulchral honours. His son Cosimo, sometimes styled pater patriæ, sleeps in front of the High Altar, under a porphyry slab in the pavement, elegantly inlaid with gems. But even this degree of magnificence did not satisfy his posterity, Pope Leo X. and Clement VII. The former planned, and the latter employed Michael Angelo to execute the sacristy in St. Lorenzo, as a family cemetery of the Medici. By the time the place of interment was prepared, the stock had so far degenerated, that their deeds were not worth commemorating. Both of the Popes died at Rome, and their tombs must of course give additional eclat to St. Peter's. Thus was the great artist left to waste his skill in immortalizing dunces. His works have been much praised and ranked among the chef d'œuvres of his chisel. The execution no doubt is very perfect; but are the designs so?-One of the tombs is ornamented with figures of Night and Day, and another with Dawn and Twilight. Now who, without the aid of a cicerone at his elbow, would be able to recognize these allegorical personages? I was more pleased with a rough hewn and unfinished block of his marble, than with the more elaborate specimens of his skill; because the former presented a vivid image of the man at his work, exhibiting the rude marks of the chisel, just as they were impressed and left three centuries ago.
But I have not yet done with the historical description of this church. The descendants of Lorenzo de Medici, the other son of John who was the progenitor of the family, aspired to military nobility, as the other branch of the stock had to ecclesiastical preferment. Cosimo I. assumed the title of Grand Duke, under whose auspices was commenced an addition to the church of St. Lorenzo, which with all its immeasurable wealth may emphatically be styled the Folly of the Medici. It is in the form of an octagonal chapel or rather tower, about ninety feet in diameter and two hundred in height, standing behind the church, and communicating with it by a rude entrance. No pen can adequately describe the splendid waste of materials, which the interior exhibits. Its riches set oriental luxury at defiance, and the whole chapel filled with gold would scarcely amount to the sum, which has been expended, to the impoverishment of millions of Tuscan subjects.
The spectator stands amazed with the chaos of brilliancy, which flashes around him; and it is some time before he can bring his mind to an analysis of the architecture, or the confused splendour of the materials. Oriental granite, the most precious marbles from all countries, several varieties of jasper, lapis lazuli in profusion, porphyry, chalcedony, green, yellow, and red antique, topazes, rubies, pearl, and whatever else the east or the south produces, have here been thrown together without much order and with less taste.
The walls are entirely covered with these precious stones. Luxury has wantoned with wealth, and the only governing principle seems to have been, to be as prodigal as possible. The pavement is strewed with glittering rubbish, and the dome is yet in a rude state. As for the few dead whose ashes have been gleaned and deposited in this sumptuous mausoleum, they present nothing save proud sarcophagi and royal insignia to attract the eye of the traveller. Let them sleep on : their slumbers shall not be disturbed by the trampling of my footsteps over their tombs. The family of the Medici was extinct, before this chapel was in a state of forwardness to receive even the last of a degenerate race; and although it has now been in progress two hundred years, another line of Grand Dukes may descend to the tomb of the Capulets, ere the splendid gew-gaw is completed. A few men were lazily at work, the clinking of whose hammers like the tapping of so many woodpeckers, was reverberated from the vacant and gloomy dome.
Our visit to the Laurentian Library, in an old convent adjoining the church of St. Lorenzo, was extremely interesting. A fine shaded court spreads before the cloisters, and the building has an air of retirement as well as of venerable antiquity. Here indeed is a monument, worthy of the better days of the Medici, when liberty, learning, and the arts flourished under their protecting influence, till Florence became the Athens of Italy. The library was founded by the elder Cosimo, and enriched by his descendants with a munificence commensurate with their wealth, power, and love of letters. Even the Grand Dukes found patronage fashionable, and spared something from their luxuries to swell the contributions to its treasures.
The arrangements of the hall are entirely unique. On each side of the aisle, substantial oaken benches with backs to them like the seats in our old-fashioned churches extend to the walls. To these the rarer books are fastened with iron chains, and covered with canvass to protect them from the dust. Some of the ponderous folios, locked by massive clasps, scarcely require such precautions to keep them in their places, as one man would be unable to lift the volume,
if he were disposed to pilfer. A Florentine gentleman, of whose numerous attentions and kindnesses I shall hereafter have frequent occasion to speak, accompanied us to the library, and as he was intimately acquainted with all its officers, they cheerfully brought out its choicest treasures for our inspection. Among these were a copy of Virgil, made in the third century-the Pandects of Justinian--Missals of the Pope with splendid illuminations--a Syriac copy of the Gospels, done in the sixth century-and Dante's works containing likenesses, executed with a pen. To these were added the still choicer manuscripts of Petrarch's Letters, and some of his poetry, in his own handwriting; the original of the Decameron of Boccace; together with the autograph of Alfieri's Tragedies. The latter was in the habit of first writing out in full all his plays in prose, (copies of which are preserved,) and of then doing them into verse--a mode of composition, which would seem to be unfavourable to any thing like inspiration, and a species of drudgery to which one would hardly think an impetuous character like the poet could be brought to submit. He has prefixed to each of his productions his own opinions of its merits, by which it appears, that he was seldom satisfied with his writings.
Our credulity was somewhat severely put to the test by a philosophical relic, preserved under a glass case in this library. It is said to be the forefinger of Galileo. Nothing is more common than to embalm the different members of saints, such as ears, noses, teeth, and toes; but that such a mark of veneration should be shown to the profane dust of a heretic, is one of the greatest miracles in which the church of Rome abounds. However, as the old philosopher previous to his death retracted, on his bended knees, the damnable heresy that the earth moves round the sun, it is possible his persecutors relented and consecrated a portion of the learned penitent. At all events, having long since found that scepticism is one of the most uncomfortable commodities, which a traveller can possibly carry about with him, we renounced all doubts and gazed upon the withered relic, as the veritable index, which once pointed to the blue heavens of Italy, and traced the phenomena of the planetary world.
Of the several other churches at which calls were made, two only will be mentioned-those of Santa Maria Novella, and the Santa Annunziata. The former is a large fantastic Gothic edifice, built in the 14th century, fronting one of the most spacious squares in the city, and showing to best possible advantage. Its interior is rich, but gloomy, containing many paintings which are rather curious, as early specimens of the arts, than valuable for their intrinsic excellencies.