Sidor som bilder

his wanderings in the bosom of his native country, where he might finish his tnmortal Africa, and enjoy, with his recovered possessions, the esteem of all classes of his fellow-citizens. They gave him the option of the book and the science he might condescend to expound: they called him the glory of his country, who was dear, and would be dearer to them; and they added, that if there was any thing unpleasing in their letter, he ought to return amongst them, were it only to correct their style.* Petrarch seemed at first to listen to the flattery and to the entreaties of his friend, but he did not return to Florence, and preferred a pilgrimage to the tomb of Laura

[merged small][ocr errors]

“Boccaccio to his parent earth bequeath'd
His dust.”
Stanza lviii. lines 1. and 2.

Boccaccio was buried in the church of St. Michael and St. James, at Certaldo, a small town in the Valdelsa, which was by some supposed the place of his birth. There he passed the latter part of his life in a course of laborious study, which shortened his existence; and there might his ashes have been secure, if not of honour, at least of repose. But the “hyaena bigots” of Certaldo tore up the tombstone of Boccaccio, and ejected it from the holy precincts of St. Michael and St. James. The occasion, and, it may be hoped, the excuse, of this ejectment was the making of a new floor for the church; but the fact is, that the tombstone was taken up and thrown aside at the bottom of the building. Ignorance may share the sin with bigotry. It would be painful to relate such an exception to the devotion of the Italians for their great names, could it not be accompanied by a trait more honourably conformable to the general character of the nation. The principal person of the district, the last branch of the house of Medicis, afforded that protection to the memory of the insulted dead which her best ancestors had dispensed upon all contemporary merit. The Marchioness Lenzoni rescued the tombstone of Boccaccio from the neglect in which it had some time lain, and found for it an honourable elevation in her own mansion. She has done more: the house in which the poet lived has been as little respected as his tomb, and is falling to ruin over the head of one

*“Accingiti innoltre, seci elecito ancor l’esortarti, a compire l'immortal tua Africa . . . Seti avviene d'incontrare mel nostro stile cosa che ti dispiaccia, cio debb’ essere un altro motivo ad esaudire i desiderj della tua oatria.” Storia della Lett. Ital tom. v. par. i. lib. i. pag. 76.

indifferent to the name of its former tenant. It consists of two or three little chambers, and a low tower, on which Cosmo II. affixed an inscription. This house she has taken measures to purchase, and proposes to devote to 1t that care and consideration which are attached to the cradle and to the roof of genius.

This is not the place to undertake the defence of Boccaccio; but the man who exhausted his little patrimony in the acquirement of learning, who was amongst the first, if not the first, to allure the science and the poetry of Greece to the bosom of Italy; — who not only invented a new style, but founded, or certainly fixed, a new language; who, besides the esteem of every polite court of Europe, was thought worthy of employment by the predominant republic of his own country, and, what is more, of the friendship of Petrarch, who lived the life of a philosopher and a freeman, and who died in the pursuit of knowledge, – such a man might have found more consideration than he has met with from the priest of Certaldo, and from a late English traveller, who strikes off his portrait as an odious, contemptible, licentious writer, whose impure remains should be suffered to rot without a record.* That English traveller, unfortunately for those who have to deplore the loss of a very amiable person, is beyond all criticism; but the mortality which did not protect Boccaccio from Mr. Eustace, must not defend Mr. Eustace from the impartial judgment of his successors. — Death may canonise his virtues, not his errors; and it may be modestly pronounced that he transgressed, not only as an author, but as a man, when he evoked the shade of Boccaccio in company with that of Aretine, amidst the sepulchres of Santa Croce, merely to dismiss it with indignity. As far as respects

“Il flagello de' Principi,
Il divin Pietro Aretino,”

it is of little import what censure is passed upon a coxcomb who owes his present existence to the above burlesque character given to him by the poet, whose amber has preserved many other grubs and worms: but to classify Boccaccio with such a person, and to excomunicate his very ashes, must of itself make us doubt of the qualification of the classical tourist for

* Classical Tour, chap. ix. vol. ii. p. 355, edit. 3d. “Of Boccaccio, the modern Petronius, we say nothing; the abuse of genius is more odious and more contemptible than its absence; and it imports little where the impure remains of a licentious author are consigned to their kindred dust. For the same reason the traveller may pass unnoticed the tomb of the malignant Aretino.” This dubious phrase is hardly enough to save the tourist from the suspicion of another blunder respecting the burial-place of Aretine, whose tomb was in the church of St. Luke at Venice, and gave rise to the famous controversy of which some notice is taken in Bayle. Now the words of Mr. Eustace would lead us to think the tomb was at Florence, or at least was to be somewhere recognised. Whether the inscription so much disputed was ever written on the tomb cannot now be decided, for all memorial of this author has disappeared from the church of St. Luke.

writing upon Italian, or, indeed, upon any other literature; for ignorance on one point may incapacitate an author merely for that particular topic, but subjection to a professional prejudice must render him an unsafe director on all occasions. Any perversion and injustice may be made what is vulgarly called “a case of conscience,” and this poor excuse is all that can be offered for the priest of Certaldo, or the author of the Classical Tour. It would have answered the purpose to confine the censure to the novels of Boccaccio; and gratitude to that source which supplied the muse of Dryden with her last and most harmonious numbers might, perhaps, have restricted that censure to the objectionable qualities of the hundred tales. At any rate the repentance of Boccaccio might have arrested his exhumation, and it should have been recollected and told, that in his old age he wrote a letter entreating his friend to discourage the reading of the Decameron, for the sake of modesty, and for the sake of the author, who would not have an apologist always at hand to state in his excuse that he wrote it when young, and at the command of his superiors.” It is neither the licentiousness of the writer, nor the evil propensities of the reader, which have given to the Decameron alone, of all the works of Boccaccio, a perpetual popularity. The establishment of a new and delightful dialect conferred an immortality on the works in which it was first fixed. The sonnets of Petrarch were, for the same reason, fated to survive his self-admired Africa, the “favourite of kings.” The invariable traits of nature and feeling with which the novels, as well as the verses, abound, have doubtless been the chief source of the foreign celebrity of both authors; but Boccaccio, as a man, is no more to be estimated by that work, than Petrarch is to be regarded in no other light than as the lover of Laura. Even, however, had the father of the Tuscan prose been known only as the author of the Decameron, a considerate writer would have been cautious to pronounce a sentence irreconcilable with the unerring voice of many ages and nations. An irrevocable value has never been stamped upon any work solely recommended by impurity. The true source of the outcry against Boccaccio, which began at a very early period, was the choice of his scandalous personages in the cloisters as well as the courts; but the princes only laughed at the gallant adventures so unjustly charged upon queen Theodelinda, whilst the priesthood cried shame upon the debauches drawn from the convent and the hermitage; and most probably for the opposite reason, namely, that the picture was faithful to the life. Two of the novels are allowed to be facts usefully turned into tales, to deride the canonisation of rogues and laymen. Ser Ciappelletto and Marcellinus are cited with applause even by the decent Muratori. The great Arnaud, as he is quoted in Bayle, states, that a new

* “Non enim ubique est, qui in excusationem mean consurgens dicat, juvenis scripsit, et majoris coactus imperio.” The letter was addressed to Maghinard of Cavalcanti, marshal of the kingdom of Sicily. SeeTiraboschi, Storia, &c. tom. v. par. ii. lib. iii. pag. 525. ed. Ven. 1795.

t Dissertazioni soprale Antichità Italiane, Diss. lviii. p. 253, tom. iii, edit. Milan, 1751.


edition of the novels was proposed, of which the expurgation consisted in
omitting the words “monk” and “nun,” and tacking the immoralities to
other names. The literary history of Italy particularises no such edition;
but it was not long before the whole of Europe had but one opinion of the
Decameron; and the absolution of the author seems to have been a point
settled at least a hundred years ago: “On se feroit siffler sil’on prétendoit
convaincre Boccace de n'avoir pas Été honnète homme, puis qu’il a fait le
Décameron.” So said one of the best men, and perhaps the best critic, that
ever lived—the very martyr to impartiality.” But as this information,
that in the beginning of the last century one would have been hooted at
for pretending that Boccaccio was not a good man, may seem to come from:
one of those enemies who are to be suspected, even when they make us a
present of truth, a more acceptable contrast with the proscription of the
body, soul, and muse of Boccaccio may be found in a few words from the
virtuous, the patriotic contemporary, who thought one of the tales of this
impure writer worthy a Latin version from his own pen. “I have remarked
elsewhere,” says Petrarch, writing to Boccaccio, “that the book itself has
been worried by certain dogs, but stoutly defended by your staff and voice.
Nor was I astonished, for I have had proof of the vigour of your mind, and
I know you have fallen on that unaccommodating incapable race of mor-
tals, who, whatever they either like not, or know not, or cannot do, are sure
to reprehend in others; and on those occasions only put on a show of learn-
ing and eloquence, but otherwise are entirely dumb.”?
It is satisfactory to find that all the priesthood do not resemble those of
Certaldo, and that one of them who did not possess the bones of Boccaccio
would not lose the opportunity of raising a cenotaph to his memory. Bevius,
canon of Padua, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, erected at
Arqua, opposite to the tomb of the Laureate, a tablet, in which he associated
Boccaccio to the equal honours of Dante and of Petrarch


What is her pyramid of precious stones f"
Stanza lx. line 1.

Our veneration for the Medici begins with Cosmo and expires with his grandson; that stream is pure only at the source; and it is in search of some

* Eclaircissement, &c. &c. p. 638. edit. Basle, 1741, in the Supplement to Bayle's Dictionary.

+ “ Animadverti alicubi librum ipsum canum dentibus lacessitum, tuo tamen baculo egregiè tuâque voce defensam. Nec miratus sum: nam et vires ingenii tui novi, et scio expertus esses hominum genus insolens et ignavum, qui quicquid ipsi vel molunt vel nesciunt, vel non possunt, in aliis reprehendunt; ad hoc unum docti et arguti, sed elingues ad reliqua.” Epist. Joan. Boccatio, Opp. tom. i. p. 540. edit. Basil.


memorial of the virtuous republicans of the family that we visit the church of St. Lorenzo at Florence. The tawdry, glaring, unfinished chapel in that church, designed for the mausoleum of the Dukes of Tuscany, set round with crowns and coffins, gives birth to no emotions but those of contempt for the lavish vanity of a race of despots, whilst the pavement slab, simply inscribed to the Father of his Country, reconciles us to the name of Medici.” It was very natural for Corinna + to suppose that the statue raised to the Duke of Urbino in the capella de' depositi was intended for his great namesake; but the magnificent Lorenzo is only the sharer of a coffin half hidden in a niche of the saclisty. The decay of Tuscany dates from the sovereignty of the Medici. Of the sepulchral peace which succeeded to the establishment of the reigning families in Italy, our own Sidney has given us a glowing, but a faithful picture. “Notwithstanding all the seditions of Florence, and other cities of Tuscany, the horrid factions of Guelphs and Ghibelins, Neri and Bianchi, nobles and commons, they continued populous, strong, and exceeding rich; but in the space of less than a hundred and fifty years, the peaceable reign of the Medices is thought to have destroyed nine parts in ten of the people of that province. Amongst other things, it is remarkable, that when Philip the Second of Spain gave Sienna to the Duke of Florence, his embassador then at Rome sent him word, that he had given away more than 650,000 subjects; and it is not believed there are now 20,000 souls inhabiting that city and territory. Pisa, Pistoia, Arezzo, Cortona, and other towns, that were then good and populous, are in the like proportion diminished, and Florence more than any. When that city had been long troubled with seditions, tumults, and wars, for the most part unprosperous, they still retained such strength, that when Charles VIII. of France, being admitted as a friend with his whole army, which soon after conquered the kingdom of Naples, thought to master them, the people, taking arms, struck such a terror into him, that he was glad to depart upon such conditions as they thought fit to impose. Ma. chiavel reports, that in that time Florence alone, with the Val d’Arno, a small territory belonging to that city, could, in a few hours, by the sound of a bell, bring together 135,000 well-armed men; whereas now that city, with all the others in that province, are brought to such despicable weakness, emptiness, poverty, and baseness, that they can neither resist the oppressions of their own prince, nor defend him or themselves if they were assaulted by a foreign enemy. The people are dispersed or destroyed, and the best families sent to seek habitations in Venice, Genoa, Rome, Naples, and Lucca. This is not the effect of war or pestilence: they enjoy a perfect peace, and suffer no other plague than the government they are under.” f From the usurper Cosmo down to the imbecile Gaston, we look in vain for any of those unmixed qualities which should raise a patriot to the

* Cosmus Medices, Decreto Publico, Pater Patriae. + Corinne, liv. xviii, chap. iii. vol. iii. page 248. t On Government, chap. ii. sect. xxvi, pag. 208. edit. 1751. Sidney is, together with Locke and Hoadley, one of Mr. Hume's “despicable' writers.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »