« AnteriorContinuar »
tal at the expense of the provinces. The citi- a hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants. zens of Madrid have more than once besieged In the various schools about ten thousand their sovereign in his own palace, and extorted children were taught to read; twelve hundred from him the most humiliating concessions. studied arithmetic; six hundred received a The sultans have often been compelled to pro- learned education. The progress of elegant pitiate the furious rabble of Constantinople literature and of the fine arts was proportioned with the head of an unpopular vizier. From to that of the public prosperity. Under the the same cause there was a certain tinge of despotic successors of Augustus, all the fields democracy in the monarchies and aristocracies of the intellect had been turned into arid of Northern Italy. wastes, still marked out by formal boundaries, Thus liberty, partially, indeed, and transient- still retaining the traces of old cultivation, but ly, revisited Italy; and with liberty came com- yielding neither flowers nor fruit. The deluge merce and empire, science and taste, all the of barbarism came. It swept away all the comforts and all the ornaments of life. The landmarks. It obliterated all the signs of forcrusades, from which the inhabitants of other mer tillage. But it fertilized while it devas countries gained nothing but relics and tated. When it receded, the wilderness was wounds, brought the rising commonwealths as the garden of God, rejoicing on every side, of the Adriatic and Tyrrhene seas a large in- laughing, clapping its hands, pouring forth in crease of wealth, dominion, and knowledge. spontaneous abundance every thing brilliant, Their moral and their geographical position or fragrant, or nourishing. A new language, enabled them to profit alike by the barbarism characterized by simple sweetness and simple of the West and the civilization of the East. energy, had attained its perfection. No tongue Their ships covered every sea. Their fac- ever furnished more gorgeous and vivid tints tories rose on every shore. Their money- to poetry; nor was it long before a poet apchangers set their tables in every city. Manu- peared who knew how to employ them. Early factures flourished. Banks were established. in the fourteenth century came forth the DiThe operations of the commercial machine vine Comedy, beyond comparison the greatest were facilitated by many useful and beautiful work of imagination which had appeared since inventions. We doubt whether any country the poems of Homer. The following genera of Europe, our own perhaps excepted, have at tion produced, indeed, no second Dante; but the present time reached so high a point of it was eminently distinguished by general in wealth and civilization as some parts of Italy tellectual activity. The study of the Latin had attained four hundred years ago. Histo-writers had never been wholly neglected in rians rarely descend to those details from Italy. But Petrarch introduced a more pro which alone the real state of a community found, liberal, and elegant scholarship; and can be collected. Hence posterity is too often communicated to his countrymen that enthu deceived by the vague hyperboles of poets and siasm for the literature, the history, and the rhetoricians, who mistake the splendour of a antiquities of Rome, which divided his own court for the happiness of a people. Fortu- heart with a frigid mistress and a more frigid nately John Villani has given us an ample and muse. Boccaccio turned their attention to the precise account of the state of Florence in the more sublime and graceful models of Greece. earlier part of the fourteenth century. The revenue of the republic amounted to three hundred thousand florins, a sum which, allowing for the depreciation of the precious metals, dinals and doges, vied with each other in howas at least equivalent to six hundred thou-nouring and flattering Petrarch. Embassies sand pounds sterling; a larger sum than Eng- from rival states solicited the honour of his in jand and Ireland, two centuries ago, yielded an-structions. His coronation agitated the court nually to Elizabeth-a larger sum than, accord- of Naples and the people of Rome as much as ing to any computation which we have seen, the the most important political transactions could Grand-duke of Tuscany now derives from a have done. To collect books and antiques, to territory of much greater extent. The manu- found professorships, to patronise men of facture of wool alone employed two hundred learning, became almost universal fashions factories and thirty thousand workmen. The among the great. The spirit of literary recloth annually produced sold, at an average, search allied itself to that of commercial enfor twelve hundred thousand florins; a sum terprise. Every place to which the merchantfairly equal, in exchangeable value, to two princes of Florence extended their gigantic millions and a half of our money. Four hun- traffic, from the bazaars of the Tigris to the dred thousand florins were annually coined. monasteries of the Clyde, was ransacked for Eighty banks conducted the commercial ope- medals and manuscripts. Architecture, paintrations, not of Florence only, but of all Europe. ing, and sculpture were munificently encou The transactions of these establishments were raged. Indeed it would be difficult to name an sometimes of a magnitude which may surprise Italian of eminence during the period of which even the contemporaries of the Barings and we speak, who, whatever may have been his the Rothschilds. Two houses advanced to general character, did not at least affect a love Edward the Third of England upwards of of letters and of the arts. three hundred thousand marks, at a time when the mark contained more silver than fifty shillings of the present day, and when the value of silver was more than quadruple of what it now is. The city and its environs contained
From this time the admiration of learning and genius became almost an idolatry among the people of Italy. Kings and republics, car
Knowledge and public prosperity continued to advance together. Both attained their meri. dian in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. We cannot refrain from quoting the splendid passage, in which the Tuscan Thucydides de
scribes the state of Italy at that period:-Ri- of society which facilitated the gigantic condotta tutta in somma pace e tranquillità, colti- quests of Attila and Timour. vata non meno ne' luoghi più montuosi e più sterili che nelle pianure e regioni più fertili, nè sottoposta ad altro imperio che de 'suoi medesimi, non solo era abbondantissima d'abitatori e di ricchezze; ma illustrata sommamente dalla magnificenza di molti principi, dallo splendore di molte nobilissime e bellissime città, dalla sedia e maestà delle religione, fioriva d'uomini prestantissimi nell' amministrazione delle cose pubbliche, e d'ingegni molto nobili in tutte le scienze, ed in qualunque arte preclara ed industriosa." When we peruse this just and splendid description, we can scarcely persuade ourselves that we are reading of times, in which the annals of England and France present us only with a frightful spectacle of poverty, barbarity, and ignorance. From the oppressions of illiterate masters, and the sufferings of a brutalized peasantry, it is delightful to turn to the opulent and enlightened States of Italy-to the vast and magnificent cities, the ports, the arsenals, the villas, the museums, the libraries, the marts filled with every article of comfort and luxury, the manufactories swarming with artisans, the Apennines covered with rich cultivation up to their very summits, the Po wafting the harvests of Lombardy to the granaries of Venice, and carrying back the silks of Bengal and the firs of Siberia to the palaces of Milan. With peculiar pleasure, every cultivated mind must repose on the fair, the happy, the glorious Florence on the halls which rung with the mirth of Pulci-the cell where twinkled the midnight lamp of Politian-the statues on which the young eye of Michel Angelo glared with the frenzy of a kindred inspiration-the gardens in which Lorenzo meditated some sparkling song for the May-day dance of the Etrurian virgins. Alas, for the beautiful city! Alas, for the wit and the learning, the genius and the love!
"Le donne, e cavalier, gli affanni, gli agi,
But a people which subsists by the cultiva. tion of the earth is in a very different situation. The husbandman is bound to the soil on which he labours. A long campaign would be ruin ous to him. Still his pursuits are such as give to his frame both the active and the passive strength necessary to a soldier. Nor do they, at least in the infancy of agricultural science, demand his uninterrupted attention. At particular times of the year he is almost wholly unemployed and can, without injury to him self, afford the time necessary for a short expe dition. Thus, the legions of Rome were sup plied during its earlier wars. The season, during which the farms did not require the presence of the cultivators, sufficed for a short inroad and a battle. These operations, too frequently interrupted to produce decisive results, yet served to keep up among the people a degree of discipline and courage which rendered them, not only secure, but formidable. The archers and billmen of the middle ages, who, with provisions for forty days at their backs, left the fields for the camp, were troops of the same description.
In a community of hunters or of shepherds, every man easily and necessarily becomes a soldier. His ordinary avocations are perfectly compatible with all the duties of military service. However remote may be the expedition on which he is bound, he finds it easy to transport with him the stock from which he derives his subsistence. The whole people is an army; the whole year a march. Such was the state + Dante Purgatorio, xiv.
* Guicciardini, lib. i.
But, when commerce and manufactures begin to flourish, a great change takes place. The sedentary habits of the desk and the loom render the exertions and hardships of war insupportable. The occupations of traders and artisans require their constant presence and attention. In such a community, there is little superfluous time; but there is generally much superfluous money. Some members of the society are, therefore, hired to relieve the rest from a task inconsistent with their habits and engagements.
The history of Greece is, in this, as in many other respects, the best commentary on the history of Italy. Five hundred years before the Christian era, the citizens of the republics round the Egean Sea formed perhaps the finest militia that ever existed. As wealth and refinement advanced, the system underwent a gradual alteration. The Ionian States were the first in which commerce and the arts were cultivated, and the first in which the ancient discipline decayed. Within eighty years after the battle of Platea, mercenary troops were everywhere plying for battles and sieges. In the time of Demosthenes, it was scarcely pos
A time was at hand, when all the seven vials of the Apocalypse were to be poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant countries-a time for slaughter, famine, beggary, infamy, slavery, despair.
In the Italian States, as in many natural bo-sible to persuade or compel the Athenians to dies, untimely decrepitude was the penalty of enlist for foreign service. The laws of Lycur precocious maturity. Their early greatness, gus prohibited trade and manufactures. The and their early decline, are principally to be at- Spartans, therefore, continued to form a national tributed to the same cause-the preponderance force, long after their neighbours had begun c which the towns acquired in the political sys- hire soldiers. But their military spirit declined with their singular institutions. In the second century, Greece contained only one nation of warriors, the savage highlanders of Ætolia, who were at least ten generations behind their countrymen in civilization and intelligence.
All the causes which produced these effects among the Greeks acted still more strongly on the modern Italians. Instead of a power like Sparta, in its nature warlike, they had amongst them an ecclesiastical state, in its nature pa cific. Where there are numerous slaves, every freeman is induced by the strongest motives to
familiarize himself with the use of arms. The commonwealths of Italy did not, like those of Greece, swarm with thousands of these household enemies. Lastly, the mode in which military operations were conducted, during the prosperous times of Italy, was peculiarly unfavourable to the formation of an efficient militia. Men covered with iron from head to foot, armed with ponderous lances, and mounted on horses of the largest breed, were considered as composing the strength of an army. The infantry was regarded as comparatively worthless, and was neglected till it became really so. These tactics maintained their ground for centuries in most parts of Europe. That foot soldiers could withstand the charge of heavy cavalry was thought utterly impossible, till, towards the close of the fifteenth century, the rude mountaineers of Switzerland dissolved the spell, and astounded the most experienced generals, by receiving the dreaded shock on an impenetrable forest of pikes.
the King of Naples or the Duke of Milan, the Pope or the Signory of Florence, struck the bargain, was to him a matter of perfect in lif ference. He was for the highest wages and the longest term. When the campaign for which he had contracted was finished, there was neither law nor punctilio to prevent him from instantly turning his arms against his late masters. The soldier was altogether disjoined from the citizen and from the subject
The natural consequences followed. Left to the conduct of men who neither loved those whom they defended, nor hated those whom they opposed-who were often bound by stronger ties to the army against which they fought than the state which they served-who lost by the termination of the conflict, and gained by its prolongation, war completely changed its character. Every man came into the field of battle impressed with the knowledge that, in a few days, he might be taking the pay of the power against which he was The use of the Grecian spear, the Roman then employed, and fighting by the side of his sword, or the modern bayonet, might be acquir- enemies against his associates. The strongest ed with comparative ease. But nothing short interest and the strongest feelings concurred to of the daily exercise of years could train the mitigate the hostility of those who had lately man at arms to support his ponderous panoply been brethren in arms, and who might soon be and manage his unwieldy weapon. Through-brethren in arms once more. Their common out Europe, this most important branch of war profession was a bond of union not to be for became a separate profession. Beyond the gotten, even when they were engaged in the Alps, indeed, though a profession, it was not service of contending parties. Hence it was generally a trade. It was the duty and the that operations, languid and indecisive beyond amusement of a large class of country gentle- any recorded in history, marches and countermen. It was the service by which they held marches, pillaging expeditions and blockades, their lands, and the diversion by which, in the bloodless capitulations and equally bloodless absence of mental resources, they beguiled combats, make up the military history of Italy their leisure. But, in the Northern States of during the course of nearly two centuries. Italy, as we have already remarked; the grow- Mighty armies fight from sunrise to sunset. A ing power of the cities, where it had not exter- great victory is won. Thousands of prisoners minated this order of men, had completely are taken; and hardly a life is lost! A pitched changed their habits. Here, therefore, the prac- battle seems to have been really less dangerous tice of employing mercenaries became univer- than an ordinary civil tumult. sal, at a time when it was almost unknown in other countries.
Courage was now no longer necessary even to the military character. Men grew old in When war becomes the trade of a separate camps, and acquired the highest renown by class, the least dangerous course left to a their warlike achievements, without being government is to form that class into a stand-once required to face serious danger. The ing army. It is scarcely possible, that men political consequences are too well known. can pass their lives in the service of a single The richest and most enlightened part of the state, without feeling some interest in its world was left undefended, to the assaults of greatness. Its victories are their victories. every barbarous invader-to the brutality of Its defeats are their defeats. The contract Switzerland, the insolence of France, and the loses something of its mercantile character. fierce rapacity of Arragon. The moral effects The services of the soldier are considered as which followed from this state of things were the effects of patriotic zeal, his pay as the tri-still more remarkable. bute of national gratitude. To betray the power which employs him, to be even remiss in its service, are in his eyes the most atrocious and degrading of crimes.
Among the rude nations which lay beyond the Alps, valour was absolutely indispensable Without it, none could be eminent; few could be secure. Cowardice was, therefore, naturally considered as the foulest reproach Among the polished Italians, enriched by commerce,
When the princes and commonwealths of Italy began to use hired troops, their wisest course would have been to form separate mili-governed by law, and passionately attached to tary establishments. Unhappily this was not literature, every thing was done by superiority done. The mercenary warriors of the Penin- of intelligence. Their very wars, more pacific sula, instead of being attached to the service than the peace of their neighbours, required of different powers, were regarded as the com- rather civil than military qualifications. Hence, mon property of all. The connection between while courage was the point of honour in the state and its defenders was reduced to the other countries, ingenuity became the point of most simple naked traffic. The adventurer honour in Italy. brought his horse, his weapons, his strength, and his experience into the market. Whether
From these principles were deduced, by processes strictly analogous, two opposite sys
tems of fashionable morality.-Through the greater part of Europe, the vices which peculiarly belong to timid dispositions, and which are the natural defence of weakness, fraud, and hypocrisy, have always been most disreputable. On the other hand, the excesses of haughty and daring spirits have been treated with indulgence, and even with respect. Italians regarded with corresponding lenity those crimes which require self-command, address, quick observation, fertile invention, and profound knowledge of human nature.
of his victim. Something of interest and re spect would have mingled with their disapprobation. The readiness of his wit, the clearness of his judgment, the skill with which he penetrates the dispositions of others and conceals his own, would have insured to him a certain portion of their esteem.
So wide was the difference between the Italians and their neighbours. A similar difference existed between the Greeks of the second century before Christ, and their masters the Romans. The conquerors, brave and resolute, faithful to their engagements, and strongly influenced by religious feelings, were, at the same time, ignorant, arbitrary, and cruel. With the vanquished people were deposited all the art, the science, and the litera
Such a prince as our Henry the Fifth would have been the idol of the North. The follies of his youth, the selfish and desolating ambition of his manhood, the Lollards roasted at slow fires, the prisoners massacred on the field of battle, the expiring lease of priestcraft re-ture of the Western world. In poetry, in newed for another century, the dreadful legacy philosophy, in painting, in architecture, in of a causeless and hopeless war, bequeathed to sculpture, they had no rivals. Their manners a people who had no interest in its event, were polished, their perceptions acute, their every thing is forgotten, but the victory of invention ready; they were tolerant, affable, Agincourt! Francis Sforza, on the other hand, humane. But of courage and sincerity they was the model of the Italian hero. He made were almost utterly destitute. The rude warhis employers and his rivals alike his tools. riors who had subdued them consoled themHe first overpowered his open enemies by the selves for their intellectual inferiority, by help of faithless allies; he then armed himself remarking that knowledge and taste seemed against his allies with the spoils taken from only to make men atheists, cowards, and his enemies. By his incomparable dexterity, slaves. The distinction long continued to be he raised himself from the precarious and de- strongly marked, and furnished an admirable pendent situation of a military adventurer to subject for the fierce sarcasm of Juvenal. the first throne of Italy. To such a man much was forgiven-hollow friendship, ungenerous enmity, violated faith. Such are the opposite errors which men commit, when their morality is not a science, but a taste; when they abandon eternal principles for accidental associations.
The citizen of an Italian commonwealth was the Greek of the time of Juvenal, and the Greek of the time of Pericles, joined in one. Like the former, he was timid and pliable, artful and unscrupulous. But, like the latter, he had a country. Its independence and prosperity were dear to him. If his character were de graded by some mean crimes, it was, on the other hand, ennobled by public spirit and by an honourable ambition.
A vice sanctioned by the general opinion is merely a vice. The evil terminates in itself.
We have illustrated our meaning by an instance taken from history. We will select another from fiction. Othello murders his wife; he gives orders for the murder of his hieutenant; he ends by murdering himself. Yet he never loses the esteem and affection of ■ Northern reader-his intrepid and ardent | A vice condemned by the general opinion produces a pernicious effect on the whole character. The former is a local malady, the latter a constitutional taint. When the reputation of the offender is lost, he too often flings the remains of his virtue after it in despair. The Highland gentleman, who, a century ago, lived by taking black mail from his neighbours, committed the same crime for which Wild was accompanied to Tyburn by the huzzas cf two hundred thousand people. But there can be no doubt that he was a much less depraved man than Wild. The deed for which Mrs. Brownrigg was hanged sinks into nothing, when compared with the conduct of the Roman who treated the public to a hundred pair of gladiators. Yet we should probably wrong such a Roman if we supposed that his disposition was so cruel as that of Mrs. Brownrigg. In our own country, a woman forfeits her place in society, by what, in a man, is too commonly considered as an honourable distinction, and, at worst, as a venial error. The consequence is notorious. The moral principle of a woman is frequently more impaired by a single lapse from virtue, than that of a man by twenty years of intrigue. Classical antiquity would furnish us with instances
spirit redeeming every thing. The unsuspecting confidence with which he listens to his adviser, the agony with which he shrinks from the thought of shame, the tempest of passion with which he commits his crimes, and the haughty fearlessness with .which he avows them, give an extraordinary interest to his character. Iago, on the contrary, is the object of universal loathing. Many are inclined to suspect that Shakspeare has been seduced into an exaggeration unusual with him, and has drawn a monster who has no archetype in human nature. Now we suspect, that an Italian audience, in the fifteenth century, would have felt very differently. Othello would have inspired nothing but detestation and contempt. The folly with which he trusts to the friendly professions of a man whose promotion he had obstructed the credulity with which he takes unsupported assertions, and trivial circumstances, for unanswerable proofs-the violence with which he silences the exculpation till the exculpation can only aggravate his misery, would have excited the abhorrence and disgust of the spectators. The conduct of Iago they would assuredly have condemned; but they would have condemned it as we condemn that
is insensible to shame, but because, in the so-
We must apply this principle to the case before us. Habits of dissimulation and falsehood, no doubt, mark a man of our age and country as utterly worthless and abandoned. But it by no means follows that a similar judgment would be just in the case of an Italian of the middle ages. On the contrary, we frequently find those faults, which we are accustomed to consider as certain indications of a mind altogether depraved, in company with great and Yet this man, black with the vices which we good qualities, with generosity, with benevolence, with disinterestedness. From such a consider as most loathsome-traitor, hypocrite, state of society, Palamedes, in the admirable coward, assassin-was by no means destitute dialogue of Hume, might have drawn illustra- even of those virtues which we generally contions of his theory as striking as any of those sider as indicating superior elevation of characwith which Fourli furnished him. These are ter. In civil courage, in perseverance, in prenot, we well know, the lessons which historians sence of mind, those barbarous warriors who are generally most careful to teach, or readers were foremost in the battle or the breach, were most willing to learn. But they are not there- far his inferiors. Even the dangers which he fore useless. How Philip disposed his troops avoided, with a caution almost pusillanimous, at Charonea, where Hannibal crossed the Alps, never confused his perceptions, never parawhether Mary blew up Darnley, or Siquier shot |lyzed his inventive faculties, never wrung out Charles the Twelfth, and ten thousand other one secret from his ready tongue and his inquestions of the same description, are in them-scrutable brow. Though a dangerous enemy, selves unimportant. The inquiry may amuse and a still more dangerous accomplice, he was us, but the decision leaves us no wiser. He a just and beneficent ruler. With so much unalone reads history aright, who, observing how fairness in his policy, there was an extraordipowerfully circumstances influence the feel-nary degree of fairness in his intellect. Indif ings and opinions of men, how often vices pass ferent to truth in the transactions of life, he into virtues, and paradoxes into axioms, learns was honestly devoted to the pursuit of truth in On the contrary, to distinguish what is accidental and transitory the researches of speculation. Wanton cruin human nature, from what is essential and elty was not in his nature. where no political object was at stake, his disimmutable. position was soft and humane. The suscepti bility of his nerves, and the activity of his imagination, inclined him to sympathize with the feelings of others, and to delight in the charities and courtesies of social life. Perpetually descending to actions which might seem to mark a mind diseased through all its faculties, he had nevertheless an exquisite sensibility both for the natural and the moral sublime, for every graceful and every lofty conception. Habits of petty intrigue and dissimulation might have rendered him incapable of great general views; but that the expanding effect of his philosophical studies counteracted the narrowing tendency. He had the keenest enjoyment of wit, eloquence, and poetry. The fine arts profited alike by the severity of his judgment, and the liberality of his patronage. The portraits of some of the remarkable Italians of those times are perfectly in harmony with this description. Ample and majestic foreheads; brows strong and dark, but not frowning; eyes of which the calm full gaze, while it expresses nothing, seems to discern every thing; cheeks pale with thought and se dentary habits; lips formed with feminine delicacy, but compressed with more than mascu line decision, mark out men at once enterpris
In this respect no history suggests more important reflections than that of the Tuscan and Lombard commonwealths. The character of the Italian statesman seems, at first sight, a collection of contradictions, a phantom, as monstrous as the portress of hell in Milton, half divinity, half snake, majestic and beautiful above, grovelling and poisonous below. We see a man, whose thoughts and words have no connection with each other; who never hesitates at an oath when he wishes to seduce, who never wants a pretext when he is inclined to betray. His cruelties spring, not from the heat of blood, or the insanity of uncontrolled power, but from deep and cool meditation. His passions, like well-trained troops, are impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget the discipline to which they have been accustomed. His whole soul is occupied with vast and complicated schemes of ambition. Yet his aspect and language exhibit nothing but philosophic moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into his heart: yet every look is a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar caress. He never excites the suspicion of his adversary by petty provocations. His purpose is disclosed only when it is accomplished. His face is unruffled, his speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid asieep, till a vital point is ex-ing and apprehensive; men equally skilled in posed, till a sure aim is taken; and then he detecting the purposes of others, and in constrikes-for the first and last time. Military cealing their own; men who must have been courage, the boast of the sottish German, the formidable enemies and unsafe allies; but men, frivolous and prating Frenchman, the roman- at the same time, whose tempers were mild and tic and arrogant Spaniard, he neither possesses equable, and who possessed an amplitude and nor values. He shuns danger, not because he subtlety of mind, which would have rendered
stronger, if possible, than those to which we have referred.