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Preso e tratto in trionfo, e le cattivi
Ber l'Eufrate e l'Oronte i tuoi cavalli,
Pascolando vagar l'Ungara greggia :
May proud Arabia yield to thee,
Tell of Abydos' chief the fate,
And of Odrysia's moon eclipsed sing,
Till, with the noise, the skies resounding ring.
This appears to us the best piece in the ode; and yet, to our taste, it discovers more of the rhetorician than of the poet. This observation may apply to the whole strophe; for it is scarcely worth while to enter into the detail of its imperfections such as the noise of (strido) the songs; the harp which, increasing the loudness of its notes, was to become a trumpet, &c. &c.
In taking the political events of his time for the arguments of his poems, Filicaja discovered a correct and sublime notion of the genius of true poetry. At a period when the whole poetical tribe in Italy was engaged in quibbling about Cupid and his darts, it is consoling to behold a youth, sprung from the wretched school of the Jesuits, discovering, by his own internal powers, that there exists a more noble scope for poetical ambition. A spark of that patriotic enthusiasm which had kindled the thoughts of Dante and Petrarch, appeared to revive in him, and through him, in his readers. Besides the sonnet already quoted, he wrote five others on the debasement and servitude of Italy, and one canzone on the same subject. Unfortunately, however, our poet, impoverished in circumstances, un
easy and apprehensive with regard to the future, fearful of offending either the princes of his own country or foreign governments, did not venture, in these patriotic poems, to give unlimited scope to all that patriotic ardour which he ought to have developed in so dear a cause. Instead of making vain lamentations over the subjection of Italy, why not point out the means of raising her once more from her debasement? Why not call on the Italians to take up arms against foreign usurpation? The sonnet above cited is become, in Italy, the refuge of the indolent, the apologetic text of the fearful. We do not believe that it was written by Filicaja with any such intention; but he has certainly in this instance brought forward a fatal axiom, " Italy is destined to perpetual servitude.” An axiom not very likely to rouse the energies of a nation; an axiom against which the majority of the Italians are now indignant; and which, amongst the existing agitations of Europe, and through her predominant tendency to re-organization on better principles, will eventually be wholly falsified. But since one of Filicaja's six sonnets, on Italy, was destined to escape the wreck, in which all the rest of his poetry has been overwhelmed, it is to be regretted, for his honor, and for the sake of the cause of Italian independence, that the lot of surviving did not fall to the following, which, is at least, more energetic.
“Dov'è Italia il tuo braccio? e a che ti servi
Così. dunque l'onor, così conservi
Gli avanzi tu del glorioso impero ?
Or va, repudia il valor prisco, e sposa
Dormi, adultera vil, fin che omicida
Spada ultrice ti svegli, e sonnachiosa
E nuda in braccio al tuo fedel t'uccida."
The style of this sonnet is, upon the whole, pretty equal to that of the former; indeed, it seems to us less disfigured by
poor antitheses and far-fetched conceits, than the other. Not only the cause of patriotism, but that of good taste, would have gained by the exchange, not, however, to any great amount; as the reader who suffers his thoughts to stray from Filicaja's Sonnet to Petrarch's Ode, addressed to Cola di Rienzo, (or, as some insist, to Cardinal Colonna,) will agree. On this same argument of the apathy and indolence of his country, with almost the very same ideas, how different were the verses that flowed from the harmonious lips of the first of Italian poets.
"Che s'aspetti non so, nè che s'agogni
Italia, che i suoi guaì non par che senta;
Dormirà sempre, e non fia chi la svegli?
Le man l'avess'io avvolte entro e'capegli !" &c. &c.
Canz. vi. Spirto gentil.
Respecting the life of our poet, there is little to be said. His journey through this sublunary world was undistinguished by any of those strange accidents, or original eccentricities, which are the usual sources of interest in the biography of a son of the Muses. And if he had never excited notice as a poet, all remembrance of him, as a Florentine senator, would, perhaps, have died away with the sound of the bell which announced his funeral. He was born in Florence, of a noble but not very opulent family; and was sent to the public school, where, according to the quaint expression of Angelo Fabroni, who wrote Filicaja's life in Latin, "ab jesuitis didicit quæ disci tum poterant:"* and from his earliest years he evinced a great disposition to religious piety, which distinguished his character throughout his life. He was still very young when he fell violently in love with a young lady, who lived next door to his father's; and he has described this amour in a Latin Ode, which breathes genuine passion throughout. He says,
Pomo, et pulchra nimis virgo, nigerrimis,
*He learned, from the Jesuits, what was at that time to be learned. See Vita Italorum doctrina excellentium, qui seculis xvii. & xviii. floruerunt, Autore Angelo Fabronio, Academiæ Pisana Cu
Portabamus. Erant contiguæ domus :
Errabant; dubiumque alter, an altera
Three years after, this young lady married another admirer; and shortly after her nuptials died. We will not attempt to describe the profound affliction of Filicaja, at each of these disasters. His heart never more admitted the tender passion. Collecting all the amatory verses he had written, he committed them to the flames; and such was his ontrition for having devoted his genius to these compositions, that, as Fabroni states, he bound himself by oath never more to write any but sacred and heroic poetry; to which vow he strictly adhered.
Urged, however, by the solicitations of his father, Filicaja, at the age of thirty-one, married; though not prompted by romantic feelings. He proved a very good husband, and the best of fathers. He was made a senator by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and appointed governor of the city of Volterra. The gentleness of his manners, the benignity of his heart, the modesty of his conversation, and the invariable equity of his conduct, made him the idol of the people over whom he presided; and the peace-maker constantly applied to by every family of the district. Three or four times, the Grand Duke wished to promote him to another government; and the people of Volterra as often petitioned to be allowed to retain him with them, and obtained their request. A rare, but an infallible proof of the integrity of a magistrate. At length Filicaja left Volterra for the more important government of Pisa, where the same amiable manners equally endeared him to the inhabitants. Being afterwards recalled to the court of Florence, he filled other magisterial offices of difficulty and importance in that city; and continued to acquire additional claims to the title of best of citizens, until he died there, at the age of sixty-five. His manners were always of exemplary propriety-pure as his heart. His mind was divided between the thoughts of God, and of his earthly vocation-the care of his fellow citizens. On the whole, every part of Filicaja's character, as a man, is calculated to awaken our most agreeable sympathies; and we declare these sentiments with the more pleasure, as our regard for truth has constrained us to speak less favourably of him as a poet.
With the exception of some petty domestic afflictionsthe ordinary inheritance of humanity-the life of our author might be envied as truly happy. He was not oppressed by any
of those cruel vexations which often fall heavily on men of genius in Italy; and at the present period more than ever. He was neither persecuted by governments, nor harassed by spies. Once only, after he had slept peacefully in the tomb for upwards of a century, he was menaced with imprisonment. The anecdote is curious :-At the time of the second invasion of Italy by the French, some plaisant took the trouble to place on the table of Murat, the general-in-chief of the army, a manuscript copy of the sonnet, Italia, Italia, tu cui feo la sorte, &c., subscribed with the name of VINCENZO FILICAJA. Murat having read it, called one of his adjutants, and gave orders that Citizen Vincenzo Filicaja should immediately be arrested; nor was it without great difficulty that he could be persuaded that the man he was resolved to punish had died a century before. The Italian pedants, with whom the joke thus played off on Murat originated, raised a great outcry about his ignorance. To us their own conduct seems far more ridiculous, in expecting a foreigner, a Frenchman, and a soldier, to be acquainted with all the minutiae of Italian litarature. Chacun a son gibier, says Montaigne; and if Murat had retaliated, by talking to these arrogant gentry about Vauban and his military science, they would very probably have imagined Vauban to have been one of Murat's adjutants. "But we are literary men," they would, perhaps, have exclaimed. "And I," Murat might fairly have replied, "am a military man." We cannot, however, so easily pardon his indignation against Filijaca; the only way to palliate it, is to place it amongst the numerous unavoidable atrocities of conquerors-of whom we heartily detest the whole tribe.
Our author's poetry was much read and esteemed in England; particularly his Latin poems, which, as they successively appeared, were regularly sent over by Sir Henry Newton, then our ambassador at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosmo III. Amongst these latter are two Odes in praise of Lord Somers, which (as Fabroni, the keen satyrist already quoted, observes) could not fail to be particularly acceptable to the English people-a people so vain-glorious, and so much addicted to praising themselves.*
Non poterant non esse acceptissima populo, propriorum meritorum laudatore superbo.