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cite the first paragraph of some preliminary advertisements, in proof of this, and after shewing its errors, attempt to supply the deficiencies in the account of the author.
'Jacopo Ortis, ossia Ugo Foscolo, nobile Veneziano, oriundo Dalmato, è l'autore delle presenti lettere. Attaccato alla repubblica Veneta, esercitò la professione militare, in qualità di Capitano, nell' armata della repubblica Italiana, &c. &c.
From this information we should deduce that Ugo Foscolo was an alias of Jacopo Ortis, by birth a Dalmatian. The fact however is, that they are distinct persons. Of the birth-place of the latter we are ignorant, the first is a Zantiot. Jacopo Ortis is the hero, Ugo Foscolo his historian. The catastrophe of the piece is at least founded in fact, for Ortis did certainly commit suicide on a disappointment in love; and it is said that some of his original letters, or at least parts of them, contributed to the formation of this romance.
It remains to give some information respecting Ugo Foscolo, the author, or editor, of the letter before us. He commenced his studies in Padua. His first work, composed at the age of nineteen, was Il Tiesie, a tragedy, with a very small number of dramatis personæ, formed on the plan of Alfieri, which he produced on the Venetian stage. This play was shown to the author on whose principles it was modelled, who is said to have admired it greatly as the work of so young a man, aud to have observed, 'If this boy be really only nineteen he will surpass me.' The ancient government of Venice being overthrown by French arms and French intrigue, Foscolo established himself in that capital, preaching liberty and equality, and became one of the most zealous partizaus of the new republicanism. The hopes of the democrats, however, being blasted by the transfer of the Venetian states to Austria, this young man, who, though fanatical, was here at least faithful to the principles which he professed, abandoned Venice in disgust. It was, we believe, on this occasion, that landing on terra firma, he travelled on foot to Bologna, where, without reposing himself, he raved and danced round the tree of liberty, till he sunk spiritless and exhausted on the ground: he was without money or friends, and owed his life to the casual charity of some monks, who conveyed him to their convent, and administered to his wants. He next became a soldier, and served as captain in the first Italian legion. He was, about this period, for a considerable time in Bologna, where he distinguished himself in the lyceums by the violence of his political doctrines. Here he, for the first time, it is said, published the letters of Jacopo Orus, though another turn is given to this transaction in the Italian advertisements to which we
have alluded. After some time he grew weary of the profession of arms, and retired from the service.
His next transformation was to a professor of eloquence in Pavia. With the same instability of character he abandoned also this post, and gave himself up to study and retirement; but he found a patron in Melzi, the head of the government, who bestowed upon him, unsolicited, a pension, represented as adequate to his condition in life. In the year 1802 he composed an oration to Buonaparte, at the instance of the municipality of Milan. The success of the first editions of the letters of Ortis (under whatever circumstances they were published) did not at all correspond with that of the last, which he himself characterizes as alone authentic, and from which the present has been reprinted. This was submitted to the revisal of Cesarotti, one of the last lights of Italy, and known in this country by his admirable translation of Ossian. Though Ugo Foscolo might be considered to have in some degree gilded over his sins against Buonaparte by the Milanese propitiatory oration, his whole conduct and the whole spirit of his writings were too hostile to tyranny for his offences to be so easily cancelled. Accordingly the hand of power is upon him, and he lives depressed, though he has not been crushed by its weight.
From the author we pass to the work. The first letters describe the supposed feelings of Ortis, who, after the transfer of Venice to the Austrian dominion had, at the instance of his mother, withdrawn himself from that city, in order to avoid the persecution of the new government. In this retirement he is received as a welcome visitor by a neighbouring family, the bead of which had also political reasons for quitting Venice. Principally with the view of reconciling himself with his enemies, through the channel of his son-in-law, this person had promised his eldest daughter, Teresa, to a gentlemen of the opposite faction called Odoardo. His daughter was averse from the match, which was also so offensive to her mo❤ ther, as to have occasioned a separation from her husband. Under these dangerous circumstances Ortis becomes nearly domesticated in the family, and finds a relief for his irritable feelings in the society of Teresa. He indulges himself in this gratification long after he is aware of having made a strong impression on the heart of the lady, and received one equally fatal to himself. Urged by feelings of honour, and stimulated by the remonstrances of his friends, he at length tears himself from the dangerous spot, and seeks a cure for his malady in change of place, and the distraction of travel. It is too late. An accidental homicide which he commits gives a deeper tone to his melancholy; he returns to the scenes where he had nourished his hopeless passion, and ends his sufferings by a voluntary death.
In the plot there is certainly not much pretence to novelty; nor is the resemblance which it bears to that of Werter confined to the mere outline of the story. The general tone of the two works corresponds in a manner which cannot allow us to believe it the result of an accidental coincidence. Much of the peculiar cast of thinking, which characterizes Werter, is to be recognised in Ortis, and the cold and calculating disposition of the husband of Charlotte, and her own more impassioned temperament, are revived in Odoardo and Teresa, who, it will be recollected, stand in the same relation to him, which the two former bear to the hero of the German romance. Yet though without great pretence to novelty either in its story or even its principal characters, the reproach of want of originality cannot be applied to many parts of this singular production, where the sentiments spring out of political circumstances wholly foreign to those which existed in the time of Goethe, and derive also a peculiar cast from the national genius of the author. No where is the southern character sketched with greater energy and truth. The effect of a deep-seated grief on the mind, rendering it morbidly susceptible to every little painful impression, putting, as one of our old writers says, a sting in every fly which buzzes about us,' is admirably kept up. There is also much beautiful picturesque description, and Ugo Foscolo has the art, like Madame de Staël, of rendering this happily subservient to the suggestion and developement of sentiment. Add to this, that the muse of the Itahan soars many a pitch above that of the German novelist. In point of extravagance they are pretty fairly matched; yet it must be confessed that there is a greater air of truth in the story of Werter; and their respective merits on this point might perhaps be ba lanced by the judgment of Sir Andrew Aguecheek where he observes,
that Sir Toby indeed fools it with a better grace, but that he does it more natural. We may also grant to the romance of Werter the questionable merit of being more pathetic than that of Ortis ; we cannot, however, allow that the depth of distress exhibited in any work is necessarily a criterion of merit, but, of all works, it is least so, because least difficult, in a novel. In a play the author has a very limited power over his characters; he is limited in point of situation; he is limited in point of time; while the novelist is absolute: he can either exhibit his actors in all the trappings of tragic distress, or strip them of the dignity of grief, and follow them into the silence and solitude of the closet. He is at liberty, as it were, to anatomize their feelings, and to lay open every nerve and muscle, fresh and palpitating, to our inspection. But though circumstance produces an effect which general description can never reach, the management of it requires much delicacy and discretion; nor can an author who, like the German,
works up all details with the laboriousness of a Flemish painter, pretend to higher merit than the artist of that pains-taking school. Again, if the pleasure we receive from similar works depend upon a nice and modified excitement of the passions, the author, if this be overwrought, fails as much in overstepping his due limits, as if he fell short of the end which he had proposed to himself. In fact, if this point be pressed too far, it matters not as to the principle of the thing, whether it be on the side of horror or of pity, and Baron Goethe bas sinned as much against this in his novel of Werter, as Lillo in his tragedy of the Fatal Discovery; less offensively it is true, in as much as pity is a less painful passion than horror. We think that in having stopt at the proper medium in this point, the letters of Ortis have the advantage of that romance; they moreover exhibit another more striking superiority, they are free from that grossness and perversity of sentiment, so remarkable in Werter, a sort of sour krout, which rises on our stomach at almost every page of almost every German tragedy, comedy, and romance. A very brilliant vein of eloquence also runs throughout the whole, while the language is graced with all the charms of the purest Tuscan phraseology. To those who recollect with what difficulty Alfieri attained to that excellence, this will be a sufficient subject of surprize. It will be a yet greater wonderment to those who have heard the Italian jargon spoken by the best educated Greeks, and which is but one step removed from the lingua littorale of the Levant.
The religion and morality of Ortis are of the German school; but the specimen which we select, so far from being objectionable on that head, is not more remarkable for eloquence than justness of thinking. It relates a supposed interview between the author and Parini, of whom mention has been made in a preceding part of this subject.
Il Parini è il personaggio più dignitoso e più eloquente che io m'abbia mai conosciuto; e d'altronde, un profondo, meditato e generoso dolore a chi non dà somma eloquenza? Mi parlò a lungo della sua patria: fremeva e per le antiche tirannidi e per la nuova licenza; le lettere prostituite, tutte le passioni languenti e degenerate in una indolente, vilissima corruzione, non più la sacra ospitalità, non la benevolenza, non più l'amor figliale.
E poi mi tesseva gli annali recenti e i delitti di tanti uomicciattoli ch' io degnerei di nominare se le loro scelleraggini mostrassero il vigore d'animo, non dirò di Silla e di Catilina, ma di quegli animosi masnadieri che affrontano il misfatto quantunque gli vedano presso il patibolo-ma ladroncelli, tremanti saccenti-più onesto in somma è tacerne.
A quelle parole io m' infiammava di un sovrumano furore, e sorgeva, gridondo," che non si tenta? Morremo, ma frutterà dal nostro sangue il vendicatore Ah! se gli uomini si conducessero
sempre al fianco la morte, servirebbero così vilmente?" II Parini non apria bocca, ma stringendomi il braccio mi guardava ogni ora più fisso. Poi mi trasse, come accennandomi perchè io tornassi a sedermi, "E pensi tu," proruppe," che se io discernessi un barlume di libertà, mi perderei ad onta della mia inferma vecchiaja in questi vani lamenti ? forse questo tuo furore di gloria potrebbe trarti a difficili imprese; ma-credimi-la fama degli eroi spetta un quarto alla loro audacia, due quarti alla sorte, e l'altro quarto ai loro delitti; ma se ti reputi bastevolmente fortunato e crudele per aspirare a questa gloria, pensi tu che i tempi te ne porgano i mezzi? I gemiti di tutte le età e questo giogo della nostra patria non ti hanno per anco insegnato che non si dee aspettare libertà dallo straniero? Chiunque s'intrica nelle faccende di un paese conquistato, non ritrae che il pubblico danno e la propria infamia. Quando e doveri e diritti stanno sulla punta della spada, il forte scrive le leggi col sangue, e pretende il sacrificio della virtù. E allora-avrai tu la fama e il valore di Annibale, che profugo cercava nell' universo un nemico al popolo Romano?-Nè ti sarà dato di essere giusto impunemente. Un giovine dritto e bollente di cuore, ma povero di richezze ed incauto d'ingegno come sei tu, sarà sempre l'ordigno del fazioso o la vittima del potente; e dove tu nelle pubbliche cose possa preservarti incontaminato dalla comune bruttura? oh! tu sarai altamente laudato; ma spento poi dal pugnale notturno della calunnia, la tua prigione sarà abbandonata da' tuoi amici e il tuo sepolcro degnato appena di un secreto sospiro. Ma Doniamo che tu superando e la prepotenza degli stranieri e la malignità de' tuoi concittadini e la corruzione de' tempi, potessi aspirare al tuo intento-di-spargerai tutto il sangue col quale conviene nutrire una nascente repubblica ? arderai le tue case con le faci della guerra civile unirai col terrore i partiti? spegnerai con la morte le opinioni ? adeguerai con le stragi le fortune?-Ma se tu cadi per via, crediti esecrato dagli uni come demagogo, dagli altri come tiranno. Gli amori della moltitudine sono brevi ed infausti; giudica più che dall' intento dalla fortuna, chiama virtù il delitto utile, e scelleraggine l'onestà che le pare dannosa, e per avere i suoi plausi, conviene o atterrirla o ingrassarla, e ingannarla sempre. E ciò sia. Potrai tu allora inorgoglito dalla sterminata fortuna reprimere in te la passione del supremo potere, che ti sarà fomentata e dal sentimento della tua superiorità e dalla conoscenza del comune avvilimento? I mortali sono naturalmente schiavi, naturalmente tiranni, naturalmente ciechi. Intento tu allora a puntellare il tuo trono, di filosofo saresti fatto tiranno, e per pochi anni di possanza e di tremore avresti perduto la tua pace e confuso il tuo nome fra la immensa turba de' despoti. Ti avanza ancora un seggio fra i capitani, il quale si afferra per mezzo di un ardire feroce, di un' avidità che rapisce per profondere, e spesso di una viltà per cui si lambe la mano che t'aita a salire. Ma, o figliuolo, l'umanità geme al nascere di un conquistatore e non ha per conforto se non la speranza di sorridere su la sua bara." Tacque; ed io, dopo un lunghissimo silenzio, esclamai; "OCocceo Nerva! tu almeno sapevi morire incontaminato!"-Il vecchio mi guardò
Ferebant guari cogitationum ejus, quantò propiùs mala reipublicæ viseret, irâ et metu, dum integer dum intentatus honestum finem voluisse. Tacitus Ann. lib.vi.