« FöregåendeFortsätt »
the piece before us, has followed the antient school, and though he has necessarily gone something beyond the naked notices that would have suited the age of Chaucer, he has kept himself far more to the delineation of visible, physical realities, than any other modern poet on such a subject.
Though he has chosen, however, to write in this style, and has done so very successfully, we are not by any means of opinion, that he either writes or appears to write it as naturally as those by whom it was first adopted; on the contrary, we think there is a good deal of affectation in his homeliness, directness, and rambling descriptions. He visibly gives himself airs of familiarity, and mixes up flippant, and even cant phrases, ' with passages that bear, upon the whole, the marks of considerable Jabour and study. In general, however, he is very successful in his attempts at facility, and has unquestionably produced a little poem of great grace and spirit, and, in many passages and many particulars, of infinite beauty and delicacy.
In the subject he has selected, he has ventured indeed upon sacred ground; but he has not profaned it. The passage in Dante, on which the story of Rimini is founded, remains unimpaired by the English version, and has even received a new interest from it. The undertaking must be allowed to have been one of great nicety. An imitation of the manner of Dante was an impossibility. That extraordinary author collects all his force into a single blow: His sentiments derive an obscure grandeur from their being only half expressed ; and therefore, a detailed narrative of this kind, a description of particular circumstances
this ponderous principle, an enumeration of incidents leading to a catastrophe, with all the pith and conclusiveness of the catastrophe itself, would be intolerable. Mr Hunt has arrived at his end by varying his means; and the effect of his poem coincides with that of the original passage, mainly, because the spirit in which it is written is quite different. With the personages in Dante, all is over before the reader is introduced to them; their doom is fixed ;-and his style is as peremptory and irrevocable as their fate.
te. But the lovers, whose memory the muse of the Italian poet had consecrated in the o. ther world, are here restored to earth, with the graces and the sentiments that became them in their lifetime. Mr Hunt, in accompanying them to its fatal close, has mingled every tint of many-coloured life in the tissue of their story--blending tears with smiles, the dancing of the spirits with sad forebouings, the intoxication of hope with bitter disappointment, youth with age, life and death together. He has united something of the voluptuous pathos of Boccacio with Ariosto's laughing graces. His
court dresses, and gala processions he has borrowed from Watteau.
His sunshine and his flowers are his own ! He himself has explained the design of his poem in the Preface.
· The following story is founded on a passage in Dante, the substance of which is contained in the concluding paragraph of the sea cond canto. For the rest of the incidents, generally speaking, the praise or blame remains with myself. The passage in questionthe episode of Paulo and Francesca-has long been admired by the readers of Italian poetry, and is indeed the most cordial and refreshing one in the whole of that singular poem, the Inferno, which some call a satire, and some an epic, and which, I confess, has always appeared to me a kind of sublime night-mare. We even lose sight of the place, in which the saturnine poet, according to his summary way of disposing both of friends and enemies, has thought proper to put the sufferers; and see the whole melancholy absurdity of his theology, in spite of itself, falling to nothing before one genuine impulse of the affections,
• The interest of the passage is greatly increased by its being founded on acknowledged matter of fact. Even the particular circumstance which Dante describes as having hastened the fall of the lovers the perusal of Launcelot of the Lake-is most likely a true anecdote ; for he himself, not long after the event, was living at the court of Guido Novello da Polenta, the heroine's father; and indeed the very circumstance of his having related it at all, considering its pature, is a warrant of its authenticity.
• The commentators differ in their accounts of the rest of the story: but all agree that the lady was in some measure beguiled into the match with the elder Malatesta ;-Boccacio says, by being shown the younger brother once as he passed over a square, and told that that was her intended husband. I have accordingly turned this artifice to account, though in a different manner. I have also omitted the lameness attributed to the husband ; and of two different names, by which he is called, Giovanni and Launcelot, have chosen the former, as not interfering with the hero's appellation, whose story the lovers were reading.
• The Italians have been very fond of this little piece of private history, and I used to wonder that I could meet with it in none of the books of novels, for which they have been so famous ; till I reflected that it was, perhaps, owing to the nature of the books them. selves, which such a story might have been no means of recommende ing. The historians of Ravenna, however, have taken care to record it; and, besides Dante's episode, it is alluded to by Petrarch and by Tassoni. The former mentions the lovers among his examples of calamitous passion, 'in the Trionfo d'Amore, cap. 3.Tassoni, in his tragi-comic war, introduces Paulo Malatesta, as lead. ing the troops of Rimini, and paints him in a very lively manner, as contemplating, while he rides, a golden sword-chain which Fran cesca had given him, and which he addresses with melancholy eni thusiasm, as he goes.” See the Secchia Rapita, canto 5. st. 43, &c.; and canto 7. st. 29, &c.
The poem opens with the following passage of superb description.
• The sun is up, and 'tis á morh of May
And pilgrims, chanting in the morning sun. Such is the manner in which the business of the day is ushered in. The rest of the first canto is taken up in describing the preparations for receiving the bridegroom, the processions of knights that precede his expected arrival; the dresses, &c.There is something in all this part of the poem which gives back the sensation of the scene and the occasion ;--a glancing eye, a bnsy ear, great bustle and gaiety, and, where it is required, great grace of description. Perhaps the subject is too VOL XXVI. NO. 52.
long dwelt upon; and there is, occasionally, a repetition of nearly the same images and expressions. The reader may take the fol. lowing as fair specimens.
* And hark! the approaching trumpets, with a start,
On the smooth wind come dancing to the heart.
On pillars it o'erlooks the public square,? &c.
The sides, path-deep, are crowded round about,
It shakes its loosening silver in the sun.'
The shift, the tossing, and the fiery tramping.
er brother, Paulo, who comes as bis proxy to take the bride to Rimini ; and it is to the mistaken impression thus made on her mind that all the subsequent distress is owing. His person, his dress, the gallantry of Paulo's demeanour; are very vividly described, and the effect of his appearance on the surrounding multitude.
* And on a milk-white courser, like the air,
A glorious figure springs into the square ;
These catch the extrinsic and the common eye.' The Second Canto gives an account of the bride's journey to Rimini, in the company of her husband's brother, which abounds in picturesque descriptions. Mr Hunt has here taken occasion to enter somewhat learnedly into the geography of his subject; and describes the road between Ravenna and Rimini, with the accuracy of a topographer, and the liveliness of a poet. There is, however, no impertinent minuteness of detail; but only those circumstances are dwelt upon, which fall in with the general interest of the story, and would be likely to strike forcibly upon the imagination in such an interval of anxiety and suspense. We have only room for the concluding lines.
• Various the trees and passing foliage here
Wild pear, and oak, and dusky juniper,