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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
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.' 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 eonducting his plots; he is always eloquent, always able to keep the imagination alive i 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, 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
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 Aristodemo 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. Aristo-
Where shall I hide me?
Cesira. Open thine eyes-look on me once again-
Who ?-'tis gone!
And of whom dost speak?
Didst thou not see it?
Who art thou, that comest
Oh Gods! what dost thou,
Aristodemo. Who is Cesira?-
Ah me! he hath lost
Cesira. Yes, pour it all into my faithful bosom-
Aristodemo. The innocent that doth pursue the guilty!
Thou !-why dost wish
I did murder her-
Mine own daughter!
ye to be called,
It comes back!
Cesira. My Lord, thou wanderest-Nothing can I see But yonder tomb
Aristodemo. Look on't-'tis fixed there
Cesira. I too did feel chill creeping through my veins
From the open sepulchre :-thy words--the paleness
Aristodemo. Thou’rt innocent. The pupils of thine eyes
Cesira. Art thou in truth then guilty ?
I have said it;
Cesira. I-I abandon thee! ah no, whatever
Aristodemo. Ah, still 'tis written in heaven,
Cesira. And what, my Lord, the dead,
Aristodemo. No. Beyond the tomb
Ah! peace, peace !
And thinkest thou
Doth heaven grant
Against their fathers, and such barbarous vengeance ? We break off with reluctance, for the scene continues to the end wrought with the same skill and power, and if Monti had continued to write thus, the high expectations of Italy would not have been disappointed. But the tragediografo of the Cisalpine republic, (for to that office he was appointed,) after having in turn virulently libelled and basely flattered every predominant power, offers a striking instance of the deterioration of talent in proportion to the abandonment of high and generous principle. His Caio Gracco contained, indeed, eloquence, and the last scene would furnish a most splendid opportunity for the display of such female acting, as we have seen in Mrs. Siddons, but which we fear that we shall see no more : but the Galeotto Manfredi of the same