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Yet not rightly can I deem- .
Spirits. Vainly to kiss thy infants' cheek,
Acripanda. And are ye then departed?
And, oh, what glory higher
For us would'st thou desire-
Can injure us no more.
But in the briefest point of time
Our rapid foot can tread from east to west;
Then do not thus deplore,
And with thy tears disturb our holy rest;
But wait thee gladly here,
And in thy mortal sphere
Live all thy days, and ours, beloved mother.
Acripanda. Alas! and whither do ye fly,
Spirits. We go your heavenly mansion to prepare.
I see the heavens above them, where they rose ;
A chamberlain now enters, and describes with great pathos the fate of the children. The King of Arabia had sacrificed them, and made a libation of their blood, to the spirit of his murdered mother, Orsilia. The description begins well, and is continued admirably for some time; but as the poet advances, he falls into such horrible details, that the reader closes the book in disgusthappy indeed if he do not proceed to the most dreadful violation of all common feeling of which we know an example in tragedy. The remains of the children are introduced, and the mother deliberately apostrophizes the various limbs, and concludes by endeavouring to put them together again. After this, Titus Andronicus is a jest. In the fifth act Ussimano is dragged from the dead body of Acripanda to the sepulchre of Orsilia, and there apparently left to the punishment of his own feelings. The King of Arabia also has some thoughts of slaying himself over the body of his mother, but the Chorus remonstrates with great naîveté.
'Se t'ancidi, ove il sepolcro avrai?
Our reader will by this time be satisfied that tragedies, of which the one now analyzed is perhaps the best specimen, have not been unfairly condemned. The beauties which they possess of an occasional scene strongly conceived, fine descriptive, passages, and here and there an irresistible appeal to the feelings, are fully counterbalanced by their general defects: by plots ill contrived and awkwardly unfolded; situations of interest impeded by pages of heavy declamation; supernatural appearances which excite little solemnity or awe; trite morality pompously and sententiously enforced, and finally, a chorus which we perpetually feel to be intrusive and out of place.
The Merope of Maffei closed, and at the same time excelled, the elder school of Italian tragedy. The traditionary celebrity of the story, the praise of Voltaire, the character of the writer, and the freedom of the drama itself from the glaring faults of its
VOL. XXIV. NO. XLVII.
predecessors, conspired to raise this poem to perhaps a higher degree of fame, than it could justly claim. It is rather without striking defects, than rich in peculiar beauties; more the work of a tasteful scholar than of an inspired poet. At all events, as its excellence consists rather in the general effect than in any detached passages, it will not allow us to illustrate our opinions by any specimen.
At length Alfieri arose, and at a fortunate period; for the peculiar talents of Metastasio, the exquisite purity of his language, the occasional felicity of his plots, the elegant faultlessness of his manner, and the music of his verse, were rapidly confirming the prejudice, that effeminacy was the distinguishing character of Italian literature; and that the language of Dante and Machiavelli could not aspire to a higher flight than an amorous madrigal or a pastoral dialogue. Tragedy itself gave way to, or was travestied into opera instead of sweeping by in her gorgeous pall,' she began to move with false pomp and bravura energy;—she had cast aside her indignant harp, to which every lofty emotion of the heart once replied,
To caper nimbly in a lady's chamber
From this disgrace she was rescued by the stern and haughty Piedmontese; whose merits it is extremely difficult to appreciate with correctness; as the contrast between the character of the writer and that of his works, forms the most singular problem in literary history, with which we are acquainted. We should have expected from the vehement and impetuous Alfieri, passion violating every rule, and lawless energy trampling upon the established canons of his art; we find him cool, and enslaved to artificial laws. We should have expected at one moment a passage of careless vigour, at another, of deep and soul-felt tenderness; we find the whole laboured into a calm and uniform dignity. We should have expected to shudder and weep; but Alfieri excites neither terror nor tears. We should have guarded against errors of excess and exaggeration, but his love has not much fire, nor his ambition much turbulence: even the furious hater of kings declaims against tyranny in his Timoleon and his Brutus, with something of measured solemnity and elaborate pomp. He aspired, in short, as Mr. Schlegel happily observes, to be the Cato of the theatre, forgetful that the dramatic poet must be of any philosophy rather than the stoic. His tragedy, therefore, has neither the simplicity of the Greek, nor the rich variety of the Shakspearian drama: his characters have neither the high ideal grandeur of the former, nor the distinct identity and perfect
nature of the latter. They are neither purely poetical, nor the personages of real life in poetical colours. They are a sort of abstract beings of his own creation, with a strong family resemblance; whether they are Romans or Spaniards or Italians, they are like each other in their manner of speaking and acting. His style also bears evident marks of the toilsome process with which he wrought his works. We want the ease, the sudden flow, the heat of inspiration. The very absence of ornament and figurative expression is evidently studied, and his speeches are too often cut up into brief apothegmatic sentences. Celare artem,' is doubtless the great excellence of a tragic writer, but Alfieri's art is obtrusive; even in his Myrrha, which is so much admired by the Italians, the effect has always appeared to us too evidently laboured. It is not the incestuous daughter burying her own guilty passion in her heart, and involuntarily betraying it; but the poet delaying the disclosure in order to sustain the interest of his play. Still the tragedies of Alfieri are noble poems. He displays consummate skill in unfolding and conducting his plots; he is always eloquent, always able to keep the imagination alive; and the uniform dignity of his manner is in the highest degree imposing: he reconciles us to his want of passionate flights, and the ardent and exalting raptures of poetry, by never deviating into the low or the ludicrous-and if Italy may still hope to possess a greater tragic poet, let her recollect that Alfieri was the first splendidly to vindicate her from the disgrace of entire barrenness; and that the poet who shall transcend him will bow his head to few of ancient or of modern times.
The Aristodemo of Vincenzo Monti justly excited great expectations. While Alfieri, in the words of Mr. Hobhouse, was regarded as a wild irregular genius, scarcely within the pale of literary civilization, Monti was the tragic writer of Italy, and was confidently hailed as the successful candidate for an eminence as yet never occupied.' The faults of Aristodemo are an insufficiency of plot for the length of five acts, and an apparent feebleness in the working up of the last scene. The fable is simply as follows. The gods, consulted by the Messenians as to the event of the war with Lacedæmon, had commanded a virgin to be sacrificed to Pluto. The maiden appointed by lot, was stolen away, and Aristodemo, ambitious of dazzling the people into his views upon the crown, voluntarily offered his own daughter Dirce. Her lover and mother conspired to declare her disqualified for the purity required in the victim. In his wrath Äristodemo slew her, and in a manner too offensively dwelt upon, discovered her to be innocent. His only remaining daughter, a child, had been surprised by the enemy, and, it
was supposed, had perished. Here the play opens. Aristodemo is the victim of remorse, and is perpetually haunted by the shade of his murdered daughter. The only tie which binds him to life is a sort of parental fondness for Cesira, a captive maiden, whom, at the peace which is agreed upon, he must restore to her home. The mysterious attachment is returned by the affectionate girl. The skill of the poet is employed, with some violation of probability, in delaying the departure of Cesira, who, just as Aristodemo has given himself his death blow in a paroxysm of horror, is discovered to be his lost daughter. A breathless interest pervades the whole piece; the vision, with the objection hinted at above, is in the highest style of poetry, and the language is remarkably pure, and at the same time rich. We shall select as a specimen the parting scene of Aristodemo and Cesira; she is come to offer a garland at the tomb of Dirce, feeling a tender interest for her, because she was the daughter of Aristodemo. Aristodemo breaks from among the tombs, as though flying from the spirit which pursues him
Didst thou not hear it?
Tremble to hear thee.
Didst thou not see it?
Whom? whom? all my limbs
Who art thou, that comest
In pity to mine aid? Be thou from heaven-
I'll cast me and adore