Page images

from its labours and exertions, was soon generally diffused throughout the whole country; and innumerable associations of a similar kind, on both sides of the Alps, were speedily produced, holding a communion with the parent lodge, submit

ting to its authority, and readily receiving its laws. The life ; of Crescembini was devoted to a promotion of the prime object

of this philological establishment; and the learned Commentaries, of which the present work consists, were written, in conjunction with many other exercises of a like nature, with this express view. Crescembini composed also in verse, as well as in prose: but, notwithstanding the purity of taste, and excellence of fancy, which are displayed in all his productions, his poetic effusions have been uniformly regarded as inferior in merit to his prose compositions. His volume of Rhymes, however, which was published under the title of Arcadia, was considerably prised in its day, and even attained a third edition. About the middle of life, he entered into the church, and was elected canon of Santa Maria, by pope Clement XI, who, as well as his two successors, Innocent XIII and Benedict XIII, successively testified for him the highest esteem and friendship. Crescembini had the honour, moreover, of a very extensive foreign connexion and patronage; and among his correspondents were the king of Portugal, the queen of Poland, her son prince Alexander Sobieski, Cosmo grand-duke of Tuscany, the elector of Bavaria, several of the dukes of Parma, prince Eugene of Savoy, Zondodari grand-master of Malta, and many others of equally elevated rank. He died unexpectedly at Rome, March 8, 1723, universally lamented, after having been for thirty, eight years keeper of the Academy of Arcadia.

The work before us is divided into six books, and each book sub-divided into a great variety of chapters. Book I treats of the origin of the Italian or vulgar poetry, and examines, at full length, its orders of versification, of rhyme, and style. Book II investigates the different kinds of lyric compositions which passed from Provence into Italy. Book III examines the different kinds of lyric compositions invented by the Italians. Book .VI exhibits the origin and different kinds of Tuscan dramatic poetry. Book V, the origin and present state of vulgar epic poetry. Book VI treats of various other modes of vulgar poetry which bear an equal relation to all the species hitherto noticed; and also of a variety of other matters which relate to the same subject.

In the times, says our author, in which the court of the Neapolitan monarchs was held in Sicily, towards the close of the twelfth century, originated this vulgar poetry, which by some was called Italian, and by others Tuscan; and which, at first, as indeed happens to every thing else, was regarded as of little or no value, being merely introduced for the purpose of pleasing

E rivial merit. tions

he in no instanguage; the et Sicily, C., With Greek

ers like the art o poetise in posterity.

the fair-sex, who far more readily listened to the songs of their lovers, when addressed to them in their native tongue, than in Greek or Latin; which, although not diminished in value, were in these days allotted to graver and more important subjects. And hence it occurs, that we still meet with Greek and Latin compositions of the bards of Sicily, but not with productions in their own language; the latter, from their trivial merit, havo ing in no instance descended to posterity. From the Sicilians, the Italians learned to poetise in their own tongue; and this 'tongue, like the art of poetising itself, they derived from the former. The Sicilians, who introduced the art of modern or vulgar poetry into Italy, derived it, according to our author, from the Provençals or Troubadours. Of this, there is little doubt: for it is highly probable that the vernacular poetry of most modern European nations is attributable to the same source; and that, scattered over Gascony, France, Italy, Spain, Artagon, and England, these traveling minstrels, under the various names of Troubadours or Trouveres, Jongleurs, Cantadours, Violars, and Musars, first reduced to metre the different languages of the countries through wirich they wandered. We should add, that they seem to have made their earliest appearance in the province of Provence, towards the close of the tenth century, and that thcy were uniformly denominated Provencals, from this circumstance. It is nevertheless asserted by Castelvetro, that the Sicilian minstrels were the elder of the two, and taught the art of poetry to the bards of Provence-an assertion, however, which is altogether untenable, since we are still in possession of Provençal specimens, of high cultivation and polish, of as early a date as the twelfth century, while the ear. liest specimens of the Sicilian Muse which have descended to us, do not reach beyond the end of the fourteenth, and beginning of the fifteenth, centuries; and are, at the same time, rude and barbarous efforts, and afford evident testimony that the metrical art of the Sicilians was, even at this time, in its infancy. Among the most celebrated Provençals of the twelfth century, were Arnaud Danielle and Joseph Rudelle, the merits of the former of whom are thus established, by the immortal testimony of Petrarch, in his Triumph of Love.

"Fra tutti il primo Arnaldo Daniello,

Gran maestro d'amor, ch' alla sua terra

Anco fa unor col dir pulito e bello.' All early modern versifications were, in the opinion of our puthor, derived from good Latin poetry, as the Latin was fiom good Greek; and, although, in the decline and mutilation of the Latin tongue, its accuracy of quantity was altogether lost, it still retained a degree of harmony in the regularity of its measured feet, to which, at this period, was added the new grace of terminating rhymes, constituting a versification which was first introduced by the Provençals into their own tongue, and which from the Provençal passed into the Italian. The Latin hexameter verse, however, was soon broken into a variety of little verses, or versicles (versetti); and Crescembini contends (and supports his opinion by examples from Nostradamus, Dante, and others) that, even in the time of the Troubadours, this variety extended from trimeters, or versicles of only three syllables, to hendecameters, or verses of eleven. We have some Joubt, however, whether these latter verses did not in every instance consist of two metrical lines united into one, the former containing fite syllables, and the latter six, or vice ver; and we are supported in this hesitation, by the belief of Castelvetro, that such was their arrangement. Instances of this kind are not uncommon in our own language, and even in verses of less length. Thus, in the termination of Gray's Bard, in which the first and third of the verses quoted consist in reality of two lines each, though generally written and regarded as one:

• Enough for me, / with joy I see,

The different doom our fates assign: . Be thine despair, I and sceptred care,

To triumph and to die, are mine.' We have examples still in existence of the extension of Pro.. vençal poetry to verses of even more than eleven syllables: but it is probable that all these are of a date considerably below the twelfth century; and our author has in consequence omitted to notice them in the chapter to which we now refer.

The short or broken versicles of the Provençals do not appear to have continued long in favour with the earliest writers of Italian poetry: they gradually sunk into dis-esteem; and were at length so utterly disliked, that all the compositions of Petrarch will not supply us with an instance of a verse below an heptameter, or one of seven syllables. In this respect, the Italian taste appears to have differed essentially from the English, which furnishes us, from the first introduction of vernacular poetry, down to the last century, with versifications of every length, from the trochaic trimeter, or versicle of three syllables, to the heroic of ten, twelve, and even fourteen; of which two last species the Polyolbion of Drayton, and the Homer of Chapman, will furnish us with undeviating examples.

It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that the Italians began to discover much taste for Pindaric, Anacreontic, and dithyrambic poetry; and the disused versicles of fewer than seven syllables were here occasionally employed with con. siderable felicity. The success, indeed, that attended their introduction into these classes of metre, induced many poets to try their effect once more in tragic and heroic verse: but the ato

tempt seems almost universally to have been disapproved ;
and the very excellent Canace of Sperone Speroni, which
abounds with versicies of this description, has never acquired
the fame to which it is entitled, from the use of this defective
metre alone.
· In the latter days of Provençal poetry, we have already no-
ticed that several writers discovered a taste for a verse longer
than the hendecameter, or common Italian heroic of eleven syl-
lables ; and this elongated metre was revived by the Italians
themselves, according to our author, about the latter end of the
fifteenth, or the beginning of the sixteenth, century: yet even
this attempt does not appear to have been attended with much
success. It commonly consisted of a twelfth, though some-
times of a thirteenth, fourteenth, or even sixteenth, syllable,
with the acute accent falling, in the first instance, on the ele-
venth, and in the last on the fourteenth, or antepenultima;
and constituted a hypermeter, or redundancy of measure, which
by the Italians was denominated sdrucciolo, or a slippery verse.
Alessandro de' Pazzi, who flourished about the middle of the
sixteenth century, composed whole tragedies and comedies with
the first of these hypermeters, or the verse of twelve syllables.
The following examples, of which the former is extracted from
Pantaffio, and the laiter from Luigi Olamanni, sufficiently ex-
plain our author's meaning.

• Pe' falli de' folli, che son troppo felli
Che fanno le fische con fisca favella.'

E' mi conviene ogni mesc, com'or, venire a rendere I miei conti in villa a Simone, il qual sempre dubita, Che tutti i fattor c'hanno le sue faccende in mano, il subino,' &c. In our own language, we have also verses of a similar des scription; and we shall better illustrate the above to the English reader, by an instance or two selected from our own poets, than by a literal version of these couplets themselves. Our dramatic pieces, even to the present day, abound with verses of a simple redundant syllable: thus Addison

'Tis the Divinity that stirs within us,

'Tis Heaven itself that points out an hereafter.' So, frequently, in our didactic poems, even when subject to the control of rhyme, as in the following coupiet of Pope:

• Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow:

The rest is all but leather and prunello. Here the redundancy consists of but one syllable, and consequently pairs with the former of the two Italian examples. In

the following, which is from the Mausoleum of Mr. Hayley, it extends to two, and of course matches with the latter.

• But I taught him to change the loose laugh of futility,

For the sweet melting tear of refined sensibility.' Occasionally, however, among the Italian poets of as late u date as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we meet with a

verse of this length, and even extending to not less than sixteen · or eighteen syllables, without any sdrucciolo, or redundancy whatever. Of these, many examples are to be found in Ludovico Zuccolo; and, among the rest, the following:

• Non da terrena musa, non da fallace imaginato nume,
Come già feci errante, chieggio, signor, la sospirata aita;
· Solo in te suo principio, fine avrà in te de le mie labra il suono.'

Crescembini, however, agrees with Zuccolo in regarding every verse of this unconscionable longitude, as a compound or combination of two or more versicles, and seems to coincide with him in the following observation:-. that, although he perceives rhythm, or number, in the members of each verse, he cannot ascertain any thing of the kind in the verse taken as a whole; whence' says he, “I manifestly conclude that we had much better denominate such lines congeries of verses, than verses alone :'-così evidentemente vengo a concludere, che abbiano piu tosto a nominarsi congerie di versi, che versi. The same has been often noticed respecting the verses of our owu ancient poets of a similar, or nearly similar, length. Thus the verse of fourteen syllables, which occurs in Warner's Albion's England, as follows

• Three people have as many times got and forgone this shore:

It resteth now yee conquer it, not to be conquered morewould, in a modern dress, be divided into two verses each, of eight and six syllables alternately, in the ensuing manner :

Three people have as many times

Got and forgone this shore :
It resteth now ye conquer it,

· Not to be conquered more.' And hence the reason why, in the general course of this kind of alternate metre, we only meet with thymes to the second and fourth versicles, and none to the first and third, which, under the old arrangement, terminate in the middle of their respective verses. In Arabic and Persian, this mode, of writing a couplet in a single line, is continued to the present day, without variation. Thus, as an example may be taken from any period, we select the following from the renowned elegy of Tarafa, one of the writers of the Moallakat.

« PreviousContinue »