Page images

In the sacred legends, St. Peter, whom we are accustomed to think of as an imposing and stately personage with a long white beard and a bunch of keys, generally plays the part of pantaloon. He steals hams, he shirks hard work, he cuts off heads and puts the wrong ones on the decapitated bodies before resuscitating them, he is beaten by a market-gardener, stung by bees, and laughed at by everybody. The legends relating to the Madonna are poetical, and have the charm of perfect simplicity. Herod's emissaries had already caused great alarm to the Holy Family.

'And though St. Joseph walked as fast as he could, he was always dropping behind, because the Virgin hurried on so fast in the hope of reaching some place of safety. They saw more Pharisees, but this time they were on horseback, which made the danger greater.


Run, Joseph, run!" cried our Lady; and the saint, leaning on his staff all garlanded with flowers, caught her up. They were in a copse of junipers, and the Madonna said to a bush, "For the love of God hide this Child." And the branches of the juniper swayed open and enclosed the Infant. Seeing only a maiden and an old man without even a bundle, the Pharisees passed on their way without suspicion.

Soon after another body appeared. Our Lady was on a rocky mountain side, and she crouched down under a holly-tree, hoping that the horses would be unable to stand on the sharp rocks. But they were like demons and swept up the steep mountain at a gallop. The Madonna saw no hope save in the courtesy of the holly, and turning to it she said, "Kind holly, hide us in thy branches." So the tree spread wide its boughs and enveloped St. Joseph, the Madonna, and the Child. The Pharisees searched and searched, but saw nothing, save rocks and a solitary holly-tree growing out of a cleft.

'When all danger was over the holly unbent its branches, and our Lady could not thank the tree enough for its courtesy. Before going on her way she said, "Thou shalt be ever green."

Signor Luigi Capuana, a Sicilian, has also written fairy tales; one of the volumes,' 'C' era una volta,' with delicate and humorous illustrations by E. Mazzanti, is a worthy descendant of the much-loved' Pentamerone' of our youth. His studies of contemporary literature, and of the Italian theatre of the present day, show wide reading and considerable acumen, and one regrets that so clever a writer should in his novels be content to imitate the French school. There are some charming sketches of modern life in Homo' and 'Le Appassionate,' but Giacinta' has nothing to redeem the atmosphere of immorality and coarseness which pervades the book.

[ocr errors]

Signor Salvatore Di Giacomo, a Neapolitan, is a well,

[ocr errors]

known journalist, and takes the first place among the poets who write in the dialect of his native city. His collections of sketches and tales, Mattinate Napoletane,'' Menuetto 'Settecento,' 'Rosa Bellavita,' have a peculiar grace and charm, somewhat recalling Hans Andersen's 'Bilderbuch ohne Bilder.' The poor, patient, little sick child in Notte della Befana 'left all alone while her mother runs morning and night to the theatre, where the eldest daughter is a ballet-dancer, her hope that the 'Befana' will not forget to put a plaything into the holey stocking she, with infinite pain and trouble, has managed to hang up at the foot of her bed on Twelfth Night, and her grief at finding it empty, are very touching. So is the story of the canary-bird in Gli Amici.' The wandering mountebanks in Nella Notte Serena,' the tired mother walking behind the laden cart through the cold night, carrying her dead child, is a tragedy in a few pages. Signor Di Giacomo never rants or exaggerates, and has a remarkable talent for saying in a few lines what most writers would expand into as many pages; much of his power lies in his perfect simplicity.

[ocr errors]

A long list of novels stands under the name of that genial writer, Signor Salvatore Farina, who has been called the Dickens of Italy, and is well known in Germany. Most of his books have gone through several editions, and some have been translated into various languages. He has a strong dash of quiet fun and gaiety, under which lies a vein of sentiment, and to turn from the naturalistic school of novelists to Signor Farina is like escaping from a hot, stuffy room redolent with patchouli and musk on to a breezy common. 'Amore ha Cent' Occhi' rings with the rippling laughter of Countess Beatrice, who is adored, even by her mother-inlaw. The opening chapters are sad enough. Countess

Veronica Rodriquez de Nardi is dying, in happy ignorance of the ruin of the family, concealed from her by her son with the aid of a faithful old servant. Then the scene changes to Sardinia, Signor Farina's birthplace, where even the banditti succumb to the charm and grace of Beatrice, and compose verses in praise of her beauty and her goodness. The descriptions of Sardinia make one long to see the great oak forests and the magnificent arbutus trees. Il Signor Io,' of which the fourth edition has been published with clever illustrations taken from a Spanish translation, begins with pages out of a journal kept by a professor of philosophy, a widower with an only daughter. She refuses a colleague of her father's, and the day she is twenty-one marries a singer,

'not even a tenor-a comic basso,' and goes with him to Bucharest. The professor declares he no longer has a child, returns her letters unanswered, and at length determines to marry again.

"A widower," he reflects, "is bound to consider the question of the happiness of his intended bride, and to solve it according to the strictest mathematical rules. I am acquainted with several marriageable young ladies, but I know that all have romantic ideas, and I do not feel myself capable of acting the part of a hero. I also know several widows, sighing for a second husband, but they are old and uglynow age and ugliness are quite unnecessary elements in conjugal felicity. I shall not betray my identity, and my bride shall be young and pretty."'

So Marcantonio Abate decides to advertise in the Secolo' under the initials Signor I. O. After some days of anxious waiting three answers come, but he cannot make up his mind to respond to them. The next day brings another, and to his horror he recognises the handwriting of his daughter. How right he had been when he opposed her marriage! That rascally buffo had died, leaving Serafina in . misery. The professor hesitates for a moment whether he is to give up his cherished matrimonial projects or to sacrifice himself to the child who abandoned him. He ends by writing to her to come back to his house, where she will 'find the keys hanging in the same place.'

All ends happily. The buffo, an excellent fellow, having come into a small fortune, has left the stage and returned to Milan. Serafina begs her father to come and live with them, but he refuses-he is unworthy of so happy a homeuntil the jovial comic singer bears down all opposition by propounding a philosophical problem :

Among the various forms of human egotism, is there not—or at any rate might there not be-one which we may, for want of a better name, call the egotism of penitence? You, by giving up your occupations and coming to live with us, will make your daughter perfectly happy, please me-who, after all, whether you like it or not, am the father of your grandchildren-and spoil them to their heart's content. Now, if you persist in refusing to grant us this happiness, don't you think you would be an egotist?'

Mio Figlio,' in which a lawyer recounts the life of his son, is a bright, tender, and poetical picture of a happy marriage, beginning before the son is born and ending with the birth of his children.

Another Italian writer whose name is popular out of Italy is Signor Edmondo De Amicis, better known, perhaps, by

[ocr errors]

his books of travel and his military stories than by his novels. Cited for his absolutely faultless style, in 'Boz'zetti Militari,' he strikes the patriotic chord to which every Italian heart responds so quickly. Of his book for boys, Cuore,' it need only be said that it has gone through 146 editions. Alle Porte d'Italia' deals chiefly with Savoy, and among the tales La Marchesa di Spigno' is one of the most touching. Signor De Amicis has rewritten the history of that beautiful and unhappy woman whom Victor Amadeo II. seduced when only sixteen and then married to Count Sebastiano. The King again fell passionately in love with her when, thirty years later, she was left a widow, and married her secretly just before he abdicated. She shared his prison at Rivoli, and after his death was shut up in a convent at Pinerolo by order of Carlo Emanuele III. 'La 'Rocca di Cavour,' birthplace of the great Minister, must be very picturesque according to Signor De Amicis, always happy in his descriptions of scenery. Il Romanzo d' un Maestro' is an extraordinarily minute account of the life of a village schoolmaster, it might almost be a daily journal. Very realistic, very lifelike, written in the very purest Italian, yet it is a dull book. The very perfection of Signor De Amicis' language becomes at last rather monotonous. Lately an officer in the Italian army and a staunch Monarchist, rumour has it that latterly he, like so many others, has become a Socialist. Great curiosity prevails in the literary world about his new novel, 'Il Primo Maggio,' which will deal with the labour question, the burning topic of the day in Italy as elsewhere.

[ocr errors]

Signor Antonio Fogazzaro, a native of Vicenza, occupies a distinct place among modern Italian poets and novelists. 'Daniele Cortis,' which has been translated into English, is a highly dramatic story, strong and vigorous in style, though occasionally the author uses phrases and words which belong too exclusively to the Venetian provinces. Dreamy and poetical, on the contrary, is Il Mistero del Poeta,' recalling the manner of Auerbach or Heyse. Malombra,' fantastic, romantic, and stirring, with its high-strung audacious heroine, Marina, who must have been most uncomfortable to live with, and ends by shooting her lover through the heart, and the Venetian Countess Fosca, her son Nepo, and the old German secretary, Steinegger, is full of humour.

[ocr errors]

Humour is not a common quality in italy, but Signor Fogazzaro possesses it; there is a distant ring of Hoffmann in Fedele, a collection of short tales, a mixture of the real

and the fantastic, which is German rather than Italian. By this we do not mean that he has borrowed anything from German literature; he is essentially an original and a suggestive writer. The following extract from a letter to au editor, printed at the end of Fedele,' may, we suppose, be taken more or less as a profession of faith :—

'The world I see is different from that seen by my brothers of the pen-in a word, it is not the real one; I see a world in which dirt, ugliness, and baseness reign, even to a greater extent than is depicted in some of their writings. But I also find beauty and goodress, which are evidently chimerical, as they are never alluded to in those books. It seems incredible, but I cannot perceive the great men visible to all, while I do see noble women ignored by everybody. I decipher the fantasies of the Alpine crags, in spite of their lofty height, but am incapable of reading those written by some authors, although they are so low. In every mind I can divine a glimmer of some unknown light, of some great idea, yet am unable to see the light of the "experimental idea," even in the brain of Emile Zola. A drop of accursed poetry has, I am afraid, been incorporated in the crystals of my spectacles, though the artificer made them before the novel developed into a scientific book.'

Un' Idea di Ermes Torranza' in the same volume is eminently characteristic of Signor Fogazzaro's taste for fanciful and fantastic subjects. Bianca, though fond of her husband, found it impossible to live with his parents, and having no children returned to her father's house. The friend of her childhood, Ermes Torranza, a poet, dies, and on his deathbed writes to her enclosing his own portrait.

'Bianca, return to your husband. There is so little love in the world that you cannot afford to throw away a tender and honest affection-an affection of which you need not be ashamed.'

He recalls to her mind their conversations on the invisible world, and begs her between ten and half-past ten that evening to play the prelude to a song of his, and to leave the door into the garden open. Surely the shadows of 'night will be able to enter.' The pages describing her preparations for executing the last wishes of her friend are written with wonderful grace and almost tragic solemnity. We seem to see the dimly lit high-vaulted room all frescoed with mythological deities, and the beautiful woman seated at the piano with the music held open before her by the portrait of the dead poet, whose love we divine in his farewell letter. Softly she plays a few bars, but the tears come into her eyes; she rises and throws the door open. The night is perfectly clear, not a sound, not a breath of air;

« PreviousContinue »