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In another fragment he portrays the decline of life, as a period in which How dull and lingering comes the ancient tale,
How sorrowful the song of nightingale !*
-dispirited age (when, as we read in Ecclesiastes, even "the grasshopper is a burden"), imparting its own gloom to the strain it once counted blythe and buoyant. So again in one of the five scenes Mr. Landor wrote, on the subject appropriated by Shelley for his one tragedy, Mar garita says of the Count, to Beatrice her young mistress,
Flowers and music he abhors.
And how he hated those dull nightingales!
I have not always thought them melancholy;
In the Correspondence of Francis Horner, there is a passage it is pleasant to meet with, in the "thick" of political economics, statistics, bullion, budgets, paper currency, and the balance of parties. "I was amused," he writes to Mrs. Spencer, "by your interrogatory to me about the Nightingale's note. You meant to put me in a dilemma with my pet-it is on one side and my gallantry on the other. Of course you consider it as a plaintive note, and you were in hopes that the idolator of Charles Fox would venture to agree with that opinion. In this difficulty I must make the best escape I can by saying, that it seems to me neither cheerful nor melancholy, but always according to the circumstances in which you hear it, the scenery, your own temper of mind, and so on. I settled it so with myself early this month, when I heard them every night and all day long at Wells. In daylight, when all the other birds are in active concert, the Nightingale only strikes you as the most active, emulous, and successful of the whole band. At night, especially if it is a calm one, with light enough to give you a wide distinct view, the solitary music of this bird takes quite another character, from all the associations of the scene, from the languor one feels at the close of the day, and from the stillness of spirits and elevation of mind which comes upon one when walking out at that time."-But it is not always so, the financial expositor and nightingale-notary proceeds to say,-as different circumstances will vary in every possible way the effect. Will the Nightingale's note, he asks, sound alike to the man who is going on an adventure to meet his mistress (supposing he heeds it at all), and when he loiters along upon his return? And Mr. Horner then adds another phase of his own experimental evidence. "The last time I heard the Nightingale it was an experiment of another sort. It was after a thunderstorm in a mild night, while there was silent lightning opening every few minutes, first on one side of the heavens, then on the other. The careless little fellow was piping away in the midst of all this terror. To me, there was no melancholy in his note, but a sort of sublimity; yet it was the same note which I had heard in the morning, and which then seemed nothing but bustle."+
If poets, however, must choose a characteristic epithet for the night† Ibid. Five Scenes, ii.
*The Last Fruit off an Old Tree, 220.
ingale, one of two, mirthful or melancholy,-it is, since Coleridge wrote, rather the former than the latter that seems their choice. Not that Coleridge was by any means the first to dispute the traditional gloom-we might cite, as one note-worthy instance to the contrary, the "Contemplations" of Anna Bradstreet, who, as long ago as 1612, in the colony of Massachusetts-of which her father was one Governor, and her husband another-began one of her stanzas to "sweet-tongued Philomel perch'd o'er her head," with the exclamation,
O Merry Bird! said I, that fears no snares,
But Coleridge so philosophised his poetry, and made so direct an attack on the subjective fallacy that tainted nightingale literature, that a palpable reaction has set in, ever since he pronounced for mirth versus melancholy, and our leading names in minstrelsy now deal with Philomel as anything but the wailing plaintiff our old poets made of her. With one or two "modern instances" that contravene the time-honoured opinion of her doleful temperament, we may bring these nightingale notes to an end.
Mr. Keble, depicting a low-spirited pilgrim, whom nature invites to a happier frame of mind, when sweet is the lengthening April day, introduces this, among other incitements to better feelings :
By the dusty wayside drear,
In that Poet's Song, of which Mr. Tennyson tells us, a song of melody loud and sweet, that "made the wild-swan pause in her cloud, and the lark drop down at his feet," and the swallow stop as he hunted the bee, and other creatures of earth and air listen in rapt delight, the final stanza
And the nightingale thought "I have sung many songs,
But never a one so gay,
For he sings of what the world will be
When the years have died away."‡
Mr. Alexander Smith has a simile of a maiden singing in the woods alone,
Hartley Coleridge, in some of his Notes on Shakspeare,|| calls "Romeo and Juliet" a sweet poem, that, like the song of the nightingale, oscillates betwixt mirth and sadness, sorrow dallying with its own tender fancies. Hartley did not quite go along with his father in the merry-making argument. There is a song of his, which begins,
"Tis sweet to hear the merry lark
That bids a blithe good-morrow;
But sweeter to hark, in the twinkling dark,
*Specimens of American Poetry. (1830.)
†The Christian Year.
§ A Life-Drama, Scene 3.
Oh nightingale! what doth she ail?
For ne'er on earth was sound of mirth
In his appendix of Notes, Hartley observes, with reference to the tenor of this particular song, that, among the controversies of the day, not the least important is that respecting the song of the Nightingale. "It is debated whether the notes of this bird are of a joyous or a melancholy expression. He [meaning the paternal S. T. C.] who has spoken so decisively of the merry Nightingale,' must forgive my somewhat unfilial inclination toward the elder and more common opinion." Hartley admits as beyond doubt that the sensations of the bird while singing are pleasurable, but the question is, he argues, What is the feeling which its song, considered as a succession of sounds produced by an instrument, is calculated to carry to a human listener. When we speak of a pathetic strain of music, we do not mean that either the fiddler or his fiddle are unhappy, but that the tones or intervals of the air are such as the mind associates with tearful sympathies. "At the same time, I utterly deny that the voice of Philomel expresses present pain. I could never have imagined that the pretty creature sets her breast against a thorn,' and could not have perpetrated the diabolical story of Tereus." In fact, he adds, by the way, nature is very little obliged to the heathen mythology. The constant anthropomorphism of the Greek religion sorely perplexed the ancient conceptions of natural beauty: a river is turned into a god, who is still too much of a river to be quite a god; it is a statue of ice in a continual state of liquefaction.—Some half-dozen years after the elder Coleridge had departed this life, his son indited the following sonnet on the subject he called himself" somewhat unfilial" about, while the old man eloquent was yet alive :
A mighty bard there was, in joy of youth,
That wont to rove the vernal groves among,
He listen'd oft, whene'er he sought to soothe
A fancied sorrow with a fancied song,
For Philomela's ancient tale of ruth,
One other passage-it is from his longest poem, "Leonard and Susan” -will more than suffice to show Hartley's prevailing conviction of Philomela's disposition:
-The gladsome nightingale,
That finds the day too short for half her bliss,
*Poems by Hartley Coleridge, vol. i. p. 57 (2nd edit.).
Ibid. vol. ii. p. 86.
† Ibid. p. 162.
§ Ibid. vol. i. p. 84.
An author cannot often be placed in a more enviable position than to be living in Italy while writing upon Italian subjects. Roscoe had not the enjoyment of such a privilege when preparing the materials for his "Lorenzo," and so serious a disadvantage was in his case only lessened by the assistance of a travelled friend devoted to the same pursuits as himself, and with whom, as he tells us in his preface, he had been united for many years "in studies and affection." Since that time archives have been freely published which were formerly almost inaccessible; but as happens with many other books of reference, we may find, on consulting them, that they give ample information except on the very point of our inquiry. They can never supersede the better aid of investigation on the spot.
Both in Italian literature and Italian art everything has its peculiar locality. Though we see the works, for instance, of the great painters in the galleries of other lands, it is only on the very scene of their principal labours that their talent can be fully felt and appreciated: nor-if we turn to letters-can we conceive that such a poem as the Lament of Tasso could have been written in its existing truthfulness, had its author never been at Ferrara and at Rome.
The author of Filippo Strozzi appears to be still residing at Florence. He had already brought before us the subject of his present volume in the memoirs of Tullia d'Arragona, which formed part of his "Decade of Italian Women;" but of Strozzi's amours with that mediæval Aspasia very little is here repeated. His biographer has now connected the events of his life with "A History of the Last Days of the Old Italian Liberty". with the age of its decadence. The clouds that have obscured it for upwards of three hundred years were then fast gathering; but they had risen long before. The freedom which had been secured to the Italian cities by the peace of Constance at the close of the twelfth century was not preserved for many generations even by Florence. Little more than a hundred years had elapsed before the dissensions of the Guelphs and Ghibelines.commenced, and when Italy was torn asunder by the wars that followed, it was soon found that a government changed every two months, and appointed by lot, might be sufficient in times of prosperity, but was powerless against aggression. Then came the ascendancy, in various parts of Italy, of the men who, as statesmen or as chiefs, were destined to be the founders of short-lived dynasties or the despotic rulers of their fellowcitizens. Before she had submitted to the tyranny of her dukes, Florence had long been under a despotism "surrounded by republican institutions:" under the last of the Medici it was a despotism undisguised.
In the intervening events Filippo Strozzi played an important part. We noticed in a former article that the character with which Roscoe had invested him had been questioned by Pignotti; and Mr. Trollope takes the same unfavourable view. He had described him in the memoir of
Filippo Strozzi: a History of the Last Days of the Old Italian Liberty. By T. Adolphus Trollope. London: Chapman and Hall. † New Monthly, vol. cxvi. p. 70.
Tullia d'Arragona as "one of those marvellous men whose abounding vital energies enable them to unite, in their own persons, characters, pursuits, and occupations which might seem to belong to half a dozen most dissimilar individuals. His political speculations and intrigues did not interfere with his much-loved literary pursuits. His free-thinking philosophy did not prevent his close intimacy with the Pope. And his vast commercial and banking operations were somehow made compatible with the career of a very notorious man of pleasure."* It must be remembered, however, that this "man of pleasure," this "Don Juan" in the "a middle-age banker," had been a widower for three years at the time of his liaison with the Roman frail one, and we must not expect from him a greater measure of correctness than we should find in his contemporaries, or probably in our own. The charges against his public character are of a graver kind. "Loudly as Strozzi talked of his patriotic devotion, and liberally as he expended his immense wealth for political purposes, we are obliged (says Mr. Trollope) to come to the conclusion that no trace of real patriotism is to be found in his conduct from beginning to end." Yet we feel interested in him; apart from the interest that attaches to the times in which he lived. He had the noble qualities of energy and of intellect; and most of us will find it easier to descant on his vices than to imitate his relieving virtues.
He was born-a son of "the wealthiest man in his native city"-in 1489, while the Palazzo Strozzi, the pile of massive grandeur which so many of us have looked upon, was still in progress of construction, and three years before the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent. His boyhood was passed during the wild fanaticism of Savanarola. His manly life may be considered to have commenced in 1509; and its first important act was his marriage with Clarice de' Medici, a niece (though not in the papal sense) of Leo X. Seldom has such a connexion led to so much of danger and of difficulty. After the disgraceful compact entered into by Piero de' Medici, her father (when Charles VIII. advanced towards Florence), himself and his adherents had been in exile. The alliance, on the part of Filippo Strozzi, with one of a family who had been the bitter enemies of his own, and with a daughter of the betrayer of his country, was considered by the republican party as a dereliction of principle, and involved the politic bridegroom-for, though the lady was handsome, the marriage was more a matter of policy than affection-in most of the consequences which form the narrative of his chequered life. The stake he first played for was the return of the Medici to power, and he seemingly But it was a hazardous game, and ultimately a losing one. connexion he had formed brought him into disfavour, both with the existing government and with the people. One of its immediate results was his banishment to Naples. This, however, was not of long duration. Clarice, his bride, had been well received by the Florentines, who "thought it a shame to keep so charming a young woman's husband away from her;" the tide of opinion changed; and the exile was permitted, on sufferance," to return.
Soon after this his life of policy and intrigue began. The republican government had incurred the displeasure of Pope Julius II. Its gon
* Decade of Italian Women, vol. ii. p. 11.