IT is many years since I first entertained a vague idea of translating the Orlando Furioso, and circumstances of little importance to the reader, led me more recently to undertake it in earnest. This work was again laid down; and afterwards resumed at the instance of a distinguished friend; and by an odd coincidence, I am indebted also to the suggestion of another eminent person for the idea of the present translation of the Orlando Innamorato, which, I should observe, is intended to be auxiliary to that, my first and greater undertaking, though I need scarcely say, that the story of Boiardo is a necessary prologue to the poem of Ariosto.
It was my intention to have translated the first mentioned work, exactly upon the model adopted by Tressan in his version of the French romances, a scheme afterwards executed with so much better success, by my late excellent friend, Mr. George Ellis, in his English work of the same description. A further consideration of the subject, however, induced me to imitate them only in their general plan of illustrating a compendious prose translation by extracts, without seeking to add poignancy to this, by what might give a false idea of the tone of my original. I recollected that I stood in a very different predicament from that of either of these authors; that, to compare my work with the one, which is most likely to be familiar to my readers, the ‘Specimens of early English Romances,’ the originals are composed in a spirit of gravity which can hardly be confused with the gay style of the translator, and therefore nobody can be misled by the vein of pleasantry which runs through Mr. Ellis’s work, and which is sure to be exclusively ascribed to the author of the Rifacimento. This, however, would possibly not be the case with me, as the Innamorato is in a great measure a humourous work, of which I might give a false impression, by infusing into it a different species of wit, from that which distinguishes it; a consideration which induced me to adopt the scheme I have pursued in the following sheets. This project is to give a mere ground-plan of the Gothic edifice of Boiardo, upon a small scale, accompanied with some elevations and sections of the chambers; which I have sought to colour after jny original: or, (to speak more plainly,) the reader is to look for the mere story in my prose abridgement, while he may form some notion of its tone and style, from the stanzas with which it is interspersed.
The story indeed, which seems most likely to interest the English reader, is that which took a strong possession of the imagination of Milton, who refers with more apparent enthusiasm to the Innamorato, than to the Furioso, and whose apparent preference is justifiable, if a richer stream of invention, and more consummate art in its distribution, are legitimate titles to admiration.
In this latter qualification more especially, Boiardo, however inferior as a poet, must be considered as a superior artist to Ariosto; and weaving as complicated a web as his successor, it is curious to observe how much he excels him as a story-teller. The tales, indeed, of Ariosto, (and the want of connexion among these is, in my eyes, his most essential defect) are so many loose episodes, which may be compared to parallel streams, flowing towards one reservoir, but through separate and independent channels. Those of Boiardo, on the contrary, are like waters, that, however they may diverge, preserve their relation to the parent river, to which their accession always seems necessary, and with which they reunite, previous to its discharging its contents into their common resting-place. A short example may serve to illustrate what I have laid down. A damsel in the Innamorato relates to Rinaldo the adventures of two worthies named Iroldo and Prasildo, a narration which is interrupted, and which, though good in itself, at first appears to be an insulated episode. Rinaldo, however, afterwards falls in with Iroldo and his friend; and this history, thus resumed, unites itself naturally with that of the paladin. It is thus that all the stories are dove-tailed one into the other, and form a mosaic, as striking from the nice union of its parts, as from the brilliancy of its colours.
Boiardo’s art, though here indeed he cannot be said to excel Ariosto, is as conspicuous also in the direction of the strange under-current of allegory which pervades his poem, as it is in the distribution of his stream of story; while the sort of esoteric doctrines conveyed by it, gives a mysterious interest even to what we imperfectly comprehend.
Such indeed is the case with many of the fables of the Odyssey, and even of the Iliad; where the allegory, moreover, is always subservient to poetry, and poetry is never made subservient to allegory. This remarkable piece of judgment in the Greek poet has, I think, been well imitated both by Boiardo and Ariosto, and it is the neglect of this principle which has made allegory so often offensive in the Faery Queene of Spenser. The obtrusive nature of this has been well compared by Mr. George Ellis, in his Specimens of the early English poets, to a ghost in day-light. It is, moreover, destructive to all character; for Spenser’s heroes being mere abstract personifications of some virtue or vice, we almost always know what they are to do, though their actions are often unnatural, if considered as the actions of human beings. Hence it is that we are never entertained with pictures of manners in the Faery Queen, while these form one of the great charms of the poems with which I am contrasting it.
It may however be said with justice, that we are to ascribe this more picturesque effect of allegory, rather to the spirit of the age than to that of the fabulist. For it is perhaps true that all early fable is purely allegorical; that this is by degrees mixed up with other circumstances, and it is in this mixed character that it is most conducive to poetical effect. But in a later age and later process of refinement, when there is a greater tendency to abstract, allegory is stript of her adventitious ornaments, and is at last forced upon us in poetry, painting, and sculpture, unveiled, or unencompassed by that sort of pleasing halo which is necessary to give her effect.
But whether we are to ascribe Boiardo’s success in this particular to the character of his age, or to his own superior judgment, there is, I think, no doubt about the fact, and there is, I think, as little difficulty in conceding to my author, upon other grounds, the praise of skill in executing the singular work of which he was the architect.
This extraordinary man was Matteo Maria Boiardo, count of Scandiano, and a native of Reggio in the Modenese, who flourished in the beginning of the sixteenth century. These are circumstances the more worthy of mention, as some of them tend to explain what may seem most strange in the composition of the Innamorato; such as the provincial character of the diction, and more especially that careless and almost contemptuous tone between jest and earnest, which distinguishes his poem. It is doubtless on this account that Ugo Foscolo observes, in an ingenious critique on the Italian romantic poets, in the Quarterly Review,2 that he tells his story in the tone of a feudal baron; thus applying to him more justly what M. de Balzac has objected to another; of whom he says, “qu’il s’est comporte dans son poe’me comme un prince dans ses etats. C’est en vertu de cette souverainte qu’il ne reconnoit point les lois, et qu’il se met au dessus du droit commun.”
2 In an article purporting to be a review of Whistlecraft’s poem, (now entitled The Monks and Giants,) and The Court and Parliament of Beasts.
After speaking of the mode in which he arranged his work, it is a natural transition to the substance with which Boiardo built. This shews strong internal evidence3 of having been taken, in the main, from the old French romances of Charlemagne, or rather from Italian works, raised upon their foundation. Hoole mentions one of these, called Aspramonte, &c., of uncertain date, and we have the titles of two others, which were anterior to the Innamorato, one called Li fat ft di Carlo Magno c del Paladini di Francia, printed in 1481; the other printed in 1491, and entitled La Historia real di Francici) die tratta deifatti dei Paladini e di Carlo Magno in sei libri. Some indeed would seem to deny that Boiardo had dug in these mines, and would wish us to believe, that he not only compounded but manufactured the materials with which he wrought. Such at least would appear to have been the drift of one, who observes that Agramant, Sacripant and Gradassso were names of certain of the vassals of Scandiano. But if he means to insinuate by this, that Boiardo was not also indebted to the other source for his fictions and characters, as well might a critic of to-day, contend that the author of the Monks and Giants., who writes under the name of Whistlecraft, had not borrowed the idea of their cause of quarrel from Pulci, because he has given ridiculous modern names to some of his giants; or that he had not taken the leaders amongst his dramatis persona from the romances of the Round Table, because he has conferred “ two leopards’ faces,” that is, his own arms, on the single knight, who perishes in Sir Tristram’s successful expedition.
3 A single circumstance, which I cite, because it can be appreciated by every body, would convince me that such stories as are to be found in the Innamorato, were not the growth of Boiardo’s century. No author of that age could have imagined the friendly ties of alliance and consanguinity between Christians and paynims, though such fictions are justified by facts: thus we learn from Gibbon that like relations existed between Greeks and Turks, and (as we are informed by Mr. Lockhart, in the preface to his Spanish Ballads, a work which presents as striking pictures of manners as of passion) between Spaniards and Moors. Nor need such things surprise us, though the barriers which now separate Christian and Mahomedan, render them impossible. Nations are like individuals, and when they are brought into close and constant intercourse, of whatever kind, their passions, good or bad, must be kindled by the contact.
But if Boiardo has apparently taken his principal fictions from the romances of Charlemagne, he has also resorted to other known quarries, and ransacked classical as well as romantic fable for materials.
This edifice, so constructed, which Boiardo did not live to finish, soon underwent alteration and repairs. The first were made by Niccolo degli Agostini, and later in the same century a second and more celebrated rifacimento of it, from which this translation is composed, was produced by Francesco Berni; whose name has given a distinctive epithet to the style of poetry, in which he excelled, and of which he is vulgarly supposed to have been the inventor.
This man was born of poor but noble parents, in a small town of Tuscany. He entered the church, to which he had evidently no disposition, as a means of livelihood, and, though as unqualified for servitude as for the discharge of his clerical duties, spent the better part of his life in dependence. He appears, however, to have been blessed with a vein of cheerfulness, which, seconded by a lively imagination, enabled him to beguile the wearisome nature of occupations, which were uncongenial to him; and of this he has left many monuments in sonnets and pieces in terza rima, (styled in Italian capitoli,) consisting of satires and various species of ludicrous composition. The titles of many of these sufficiently attest their whimsicality, such as his Capitoli sugli Orinali, sidle Anguille, his Eulogy of the Plague, &c. &c. But the mode in which he has handled this last subject, will give the best insight into the character of his humour. Having premised that different persons gave a preference to different seasons — as the poet to the spring, and the reveller to the autumn, he observes, that one may well like the season of flowers, or the other that of fruits; but that, for his part, he preferred the time of plague. He then backs his predilection by a rehearsal of the advantages attending this visitation; observing that a man is in such times free from solicitations of borrowers or creditors, and safe from disagreeable companions; that he has elbow-room at church and market, and can then only be said to be in the full possession of his natural liberty. He has rung all sorts of changes on this theme, and nothing can be more humorous than his details.
These are worked up with singular powers of diction, set off by great apparent facility of style, and are no less remarkable for music of rythm, richness of rhyme, and a happy boldness of expression. In this respect there is some analogy, though no likeness, between Berni and Dryden; and the real merits of both are therefore imperfectly estimated by foreigners, and even by the generality of their own countrymen. Many Italians, indeed, consider Berni as a mere buffoon, which the English reader will think less extraordinary, when he hears (as Lord Glenbervie4 observes, I think, in his notes to Ricciardetto,) that such an opinion has been entertained in Italy, even with regard to Ariosto.
4 I state this on Lord Glenbervie’s sole authority, which is, however, a weighty one. Such an opinion was probably current when he first knew Italy; but I should imagine it could hardly be entertained at present.
Better reasons may seem to palliate such a mistake of the real poetical character of Berni, than of that of Ariosto. Some of these are of a general description, and others of a nature more peculiarly applicable to his case. We may observe, as to the first, that whoever indulges his wit, in whatever species of composition, is usually misjudged; for wit, in the sight of the world, overlays all the other qualities of an author, in whatever act or pursuit he may be engaged. Thus a great English painter, single in his walk, and distinguished by his various powers, is looked upon by the multitude as a mere caricaturist, even where caricature is intended by him only as a foil to beauty; and orators have for the same reason sunk into jesters in the opinion of the mob, though they may have been equally distinguished for argumentative discussion or pathetic effect.
But other and more particular circumstances have tended to fix this character upon Berni. Few men have a delicate perception of familiar expression, and still fewer yet have a nice feeling of the delicacies of prosody,
Untwisting all the links that tie
The secret chain of harmony.
Now it is for the bold, however dexterous, use of language, and rythm, that Berni is principally distinguished; and hence, as the means through which he works are imperfectly understood by the majority of his readers, his object has been frequently mistaken. I should cite, in illustration of this, his description of a storm at sea, which has been often deemed burlesque, but in which the poet would be more justly considered as working a fine effect by unwonted means.
Let us try this question by the rules of analogy. Men in all countries resemble one another in the main, and where they are not guided by a natural taste and judgment, lean upon some rule, which is to direct them as an infallible guide. Depending upon this, they seldom consider that it may be narrow, or of insufficient support. Thus an Englishman who has learned to think about verse, by the help of a few simple precepts5, which he believes to be absolute, is taught to look upon the double rhyme as suited only to burlesque poetry. Yet Drummond’s
“Methought desponding nightingales did borrow,
Plaint of my plaint, and sorrow of my sorrow;”
and the description of him, who
“Saw with wonder,
Vast magazines of ice and piles of thunder,”6
might be cited to prove what widely different effects are produced by the same weapon, as it s differently wielded. But, impressed with the notions of the laws of verse which I have specified, that is, not knowing that almost all such metrical rules as have been alluded to, are merely conditional, some Italians7, and certainly, almost all English readers of Italian poetry, suppose the triple rhyme, (la rima sdrucciola] or dactyl, as it is called by us, to be as exclusively applied to ludicrous composition in Italian, as the double rhyme is imagined to be in English; and this is perhaps one cause why some of Berni’s stanzas, which abound in triple rhymes, have been so utterly misconceived in England. Yet Berni and Ariosto have frequently employed the versi sdruccioli where they have aimed at a bold or pathetic effect, though they have also undoubtedly been used by them to heighten that of comic or satirical composition. Caro the cotemporary of Berni is even profuse of triple rhymes in his translation of the AEneid; lyric poets, after the example of Chiabrera, often insert them in the sublimest of their odes; and one, who lately died full of years, managed the rime sdrucciole so easily, as to compose whole poems with them, and with such dignity, both of versification and expression, as (in the opinion of a distinguished Italian friend already cited) to vie with Tasso and Petrarch.
5 For example, there is no rule deemed more absolute, and yet there is none which admits more exceptions than the maxim forbidding a line of ten monosyllables. For monosyllables, in French and English, are often such only to the eye, such words being frequently, in both languages, melted into each other. Hence many good English verses consist of ten words, as that of Dryden, which will be in the recollection of every body,
“Arms and the man I sing, &c.”
and the French cite as beautiful a line of Racine, which is composed of twelve,
“Lej ur n’est pas plus pur rjue k fond de moil civiir.”
6 I quote from memory.
7 Thus Goldoni in one of his comedies introduces a man improvising in triple rhymes for the sake of producing a ludicrous effect. Goldoui, however, it must be confessed, is no authority in questions of language or of versification.
Now let a man keep such doctrines in mind; let him come to the consideration of Berni’s storm with a memory imbued with the sights and sounds seen and heard in one; let him consider all circumstances of metre, not absolutely, but conditionally; that is, in their relation to each other and the thing described, and he will then, I believe, enter into the real spirit in which the poet executed this description, and contemplate him with very different eyes from those with which he viewed him before.
Another cause of misconception, to which I have already alluded, has probably more misled the mob of readers of Italian poetry, natives as well as foreigners. I mean the language of Berni; and as to this, certainly few very few, are capable of appreciating his skill, or even of making out his track. There is indeed, I believe, no poet of any country, who has attempted so difficult a flight; a flight of unwearied wing, struck out with courage, and maintained only by the most incessant exertion and care.
Traces of these are seen in what may be called the charts on which he has pricked out his course, and which, I understand, witness as much to his diligence, as Ariosto’s attest the care with which he accomplished his most extraordinary voyage. The documents to which I allude, are the original MSS. of the Innamorato, preserved at Brescia. As I was ignorant of the existence of these, during two residences which I made in Italy, I can only speak of them on the testimony of others; but an Italian critic, whom I have often quoted, and from whose authority upon such points I would almost say there was no appeal, once assured me these are as much blotted as those of Ariosto at Ferrara; and that Berni seems to have usually clothed his thoughts in ornate language at first, which he rejected on after-consideration, simplifying, but at the same time improving, his diction, as he proceeded, till he arrived at that exquisite happiness of expression, that curiosa felicitas, which makes his principal charm. It is hence that he is the most untranslatable of authors; since in copying him, it is not only a question of imitating colours, but the fine and more elaborate touches of a peculiar pencil.
While, however, it is clear that the versification and diction make the great charms of the Innamorato) these beauties should not throw his other excellencies into shade; and the openings of the different cantos, which he has engrafted on the original work of Boiardo, sometimes original, and sometimes imitated from the older poets, are not greatly inferior to those which Ariosto has prefixed to the several cantos of the Furioso, in imitation of him; no, not even in the higher claims of poetical merit.
These sometimes consist of moral reflections, arising out of the narrative; and the following may remind the reader of one of those little gems scattered through the plays of Shakspeare:
Who steals a bugle-horn, a ring, a steed,
Or such like worthless thing, has some discretion.
’Tis petty larceny. Not such his deed
Who robs us of our fame, our best possession;
And he who takes our labour’s worthiest meed,
May well be deemed a felon by profession;
Who so much more our hate and scourge de — serves,
As from the rule of right he wider swerves.
Sometimes indulging in a declamation against vices or follies, he makes his satire more poignant by allusions to some prevalent practice of the day: thus, in a sally against avarice, he attacks those who masqued it under the disguise of hypocrisy in the following stanza:
This other, under show of an adviser
And practiser of what is strict and right;
But being in effect a rogue and miser,
Cloisters a dozen daughters out of sight:
And fain would have the pretty creatures wiser
Than their frail sisters; but mistakes them quite;
For they are like the rest, and set the group
Of monks, and priests, and abbots, cock-a-hoop.
The following extract, illustrating a philosophical dogma of his age, taken from the opening of the forty-sixth canto, is of another description, and may serve as a specimen of the variety of his vein, and the odd ingenuity with which he winds in and out of his argument; sometimes bearing up for his harbour when in the middle of a digression; and then, when he seems to feel himself sure of a retreat, indulging in a new sally, in which he however never entirely loses sight of his port.
He who the name of little world applied
To man, in this approved his subtle wit:
Since, save it is not round, all things beside
Exactly with this happy symbol fit;
And I may say that long and deep, and wide
And middling, good and bad, are found in it.
Here too, the various elements combined
Are dominant; snow, rain, and mist and wind.
Now clear, now overcast. ’Tis there its land
Will yield no fruit; here bears a rich supply:
As the mixt soil is marie, or barren sand;
And haply here too moist, or there too dry.
Here foaming hoarse, and there with murmur bland,
Streams glide, or torrents tumble from on high.
Such of man’s appetites convey the notion:
Since these are infinite, and still in motion.
Two solid dikes the invading streams repel,
The one is Reason, and the other Shame.
The torrents, if above their banks they swell,
Wit and discretion are too weak to tame.
The crystal waters, which so smoothly well,
Are appetites of things, devoid of blame.
Those winds, and rains, and snows, and night, and day,
Ye learned clerks, divine them as ye may.
Among these elements, misfortune wills
Our nature should have most of earth: for she,
Moved by what influence heaven or sun instils,
Is subject to their power; nor less are we.
In her, this star or that, in barren hills
Produces mines in rich variety:
And those who human nature wisely scan
May this discern peculiarly in man.
Who would believe that various minerals grew,
And many metals, in our rugged mind;
From gold to nitre? Yet the thing is true;
But, out, alas! the rub is how to find
This ore. Some letters and some wealth pursue,
Some fancy steeds, some dream, at ease reclined;
These song delights, and those the cittern’s sound,
Such are the mines which in our world abound.
As these are worthier, more or less, so they
Abound with lead or gold; and practised wight,
The various soil accustomed to survey,
Is fitted best to find the substance bright.
And such in our Apulia is the way
They heal those suffering from the spider’s bite;
Who strange vagaries play, like men possessed;
Tarantulated8, as ’tis there express’d.
For this, ’tis needful, touching sharp or flat,
To seek a sound which may the patients please;
Who, when they find the merry music pat,
Dance till they sweat away the foul disease.
And thus who should allure this man or that,
And still with various offer tempt and tease,
I wot, in little time, would ascertain
And sound each different mortal’s mine and vein.
8 The Tarantula is now known to be harmless. The cause of its supposed mischievous effects, and the efficacy of the mode of curing them are perhaps easily explained. People are in all countries (though they are imagined to be peculiarly so in England) exposed to attacks of melancholy, which arise out of some physical cause, whether indigestion, or other bodily complaint. The doctors of Calabria attributed this to the sting of the tarantula, which is assuredly not more extravagant than a popular English medical author’s ascribing jaundice to the bite of a mad dog. The patient, delighted to find a cause for his complaint, was easily, by leading questions, brought to recollect that he had, at some time or other, felt a prick, which probably proceeded from the sting of a tarantula. Dancing was the remedy prescribed; and this, as exciting the animal spirits, fee. may very well have operated a cure of the real disease. The patients were to be played to, as Berni states, till a tune was struck which pleased their fancy, and animated them to exertion. The Tarantella, an air supposed to be particularly stimulating in such a case, is still a popular dance in the south of Italy. Modern philosophers have found out that the tarantula has no venom.
‘Twos so Brunello with Rogero wrought,
Who offered him the armour and the steed.
Thus by the cunning Greek his aid was bought,
Who laid fair Ilion smoking on the mead.
Which was of yore in clearer numbers taught;
Nor shall I now repeat upon my reed,
Who from the furrow let my plough-share stray,
Unheeding how the moments glide away.
As the first pilot by the shore did creep,
Who launched his boat upon the billows dark,
And where the liquid ocean was least deep,
And without sails impelled his humble barque;
But seaward next, where foaming waters leap,
By little and by little steered his ark,
With nothing but the wind and stars to guide,
And round about him glorious wonders spied.
Thus I, who still have sung a humble strain,
And kept my little barque within its bounds,
Now find it fit to launch into the main,
And sing the fearful warfare, which resounds
Where Africa pours out her swarthy train,
And the wide world with mustered troops abounds;
And, fanning fire and forge, each land and nation
Sends forth the dreadful note of preparation.
THE next extract I shall give, though it commences with his favourite figure of the barque, will serve as a specimen of a different style. It forms the opening of the second book. The two first lines the reader will trace to Dante, and will find in the remainder a translation of the AEneadum Genetrix of Lucretius.
Launched on a deeper sea, my pinnace, rear
Thy sail, prepared to plough the billows dark;
And you, ye lucid stars, by whom I steer
My feeble vessel to its destined mark,
Shine forth upon her course benign and clear,
And beam propitious on the daring barque
About to stem an ocean so profound:
While I your praises and your works resound.
O, holy mother of AEneas! O,
Daughter of Jove! thou bliss of gods above
And men beneath; VENUS, who makest grow
Green herb and plant, and fillest all with love;
Thou creatures that would else be cold and slow,
Dost with thy sovereign instinct warm and move,
Thou dost all jarring things in peace unite
The world’s eternal spirit, life and light.
At thine appearance storm and rain have ceased,
And zephyr has unlocked the genial ground;
Leap the wild herds; ’tis wanton nature’s feast,
And the green woods with singing birds resound;
While by strange pleasure stung, the savage beast
Lives but for love; what time their greenwood round
All creatures rove, or couch upon the sward,
Discord and hate forgot, in sweet accord.
Thee, kind and gentle star! thy suppliant prays;
To thee I sue by every bolt which flies
Thro’ the fifth planet9, melting with thy rays,
When panting on thy lap the godhead lies,
And lock’d within thine arms, with upward gaze,
Feeds on thy visage his desiring eyes:
That thou wilt gain for me his grace, and grown
Propitious, with his grace accord thine own.
Since ’tis of thee I sing, as I have said,
And only of thy praise and pleasures dream;
Well pleased I to this fruitful field was led,
And sure I could not choose a sweeter theme.
Thou too, that down thy clear and ample bed
Dost run with grateful murmur, RAPID STREAM,
Awhile from thine impetuous course refrain,
While on thy banks I tune my mingled strain.
In the concluding address to the river, he apostrophizes the Adige, on whose banks he might be said to be writing, as he was then living hi the town of Verona, which is watered by it, in the service of the Cardinal di Bibbiena.
One more specimen of his poetical prefaces, and I have done. It is the introduction to his third book; and in this too the reader, who will recognize a passage of the ars poetica of Horace, may observe how well Berni translates and applies his classical recollections.
As they, who their unhappy task fulfil
In mines of England, Hungary, and Spain,
The deeper that they dig the mountain, still
Find richer treasure and securer gain;
And as wayfaring man who climbs a hill,
Surveys, as he ascends, a wider plain,
And shores and oceans open on his eye,
Exalted nearer to the starry sky:
So in this book, indited for your pleasure,
If you believe and listen to my lore,
You, in advancing, shall discern new treasure,
And catch new lights and landscapes evermore.
Then by no former scale my promise measure,
Nor judge this strain by that which went before:
Since still my caves and rugged rocks unfold
A richer vein of jewels, pearls, and gold.
And he who winds about my mountain’s side,
Still spies new lands and seas, a glorious sight,
If patient industry and courage guide
Him from the valley to the frowning height.
Like prospect was the poet’s who supplied
Flame out of smoke, instead of smoke from light;
With wise Ulysses’ acts to fill our ears,
To the more wonderment of him who hears.
So much for the poetry of Berni. His life was not such as reflected any lustre on his works. This, if we reject some foul imputations cast upon him, was, to say the least of it, disreputable. It is, however, certain, that being at last established in a canonry at Florence, he lived there in high and accomplished society. This fact, however, in a profligate age, like that in which he flourished, proves nothing in his favour; and, if we listened to the stories of his biographers, we might suppose him even to have been courted for some of his vicious propensities: for one of these writers tells us he was excited by the cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici to poison the duke Alexander, against whom he had a private pique; another, would have us believe that he was tempted by the duke to poison the cardinal; and (to complicate the matter yet more) that the cardinal or the duke, or both, had poison administered to Berni himself, upon his refusal. The dates, however, of their respective deaths, are at variance with these strange assertions; and if such certain means of contradiction were wanting, the internal evidence of Berni’s character, however vicious, might be almost sufficient to refute such improbable calumnies. It may be said, indeed, that perhaps no one was ever selected as a probable agent of guilt, who seems to have been so little capable of engaging in the sort of crimes which were expected of him.
As a proof of this we might almost refer to the picture which he has given of himself, and which carries with it every warrant of resemblance. In one of the cantos of the last book of the Innamorato, he describes a number of persons as having become the victims of a tairy, of whom they afterwards remain the voluntary prisoners. Among these he has, in imitation of certain painters, introduced himself with another known character of the day: a circumstance which, together with the nature of the episode, might lead one to suspect that Thomson was indebted to this fiction for his Castle of Indolence. He has, however, given the tenants of his “ bowers of ease,” a character so much more intellectual than that of Berni’s actors, that he may very fairly pretend to the praise of original composition, even if his work be an imitation instead of a mere accidental coincidence; which I am more tempted to believe.10 But I draw the curtain of Berni’s picture.
10 I do not recollect any authority for Thomson’s having been conversant with Italian poetry; and I think that a view of his works would lead to a contrary supposition. Thus I should say that though no man could copy what he actually saw with a nicer hand or eye, no man had more need of study in the Italian school of ideal picture than this English poet. Jn his drawings from nature his colouring is as inimitable as his design; and his bird, who
“Shivers every feather with desire,”
is painted with the precision as well as the force of the Flemish pencil. Yet he has personified Autumn as
“Crowned with the sickle and the wheaten sheaf,”
thus putting on his head what should have been in his hand, and presenting us a ludicrous figure surmounted by a “ crumpled horn.” No Italian poet would have painted from nature with Thomson’s marvellous precision; and no Italian poet would have committed such gross offences against propriety as he has, in his imaginary pictures.
A boon companion to increase this crew
By chance, a gentle Florentine, was led;
A Florentine, altho’ the father who
Begot him, in the Casentine was bred;
Who nigh become a burgher of his new
Domicile, there was well content to wed;
And so in Bibbiena wived, which ranks
Among the pleasant towns on Arno’s banks. ”
At Lamporecchio, he of whom I write
Was born, for dumb Masetto11 fam’d of yore,
Thence roam’d to Florence; and in piteous plight
There sojourned till nineteen, like pilgrim poor;
And shifted thence to Rome, with second flight
Hoping some succour from a kinsman’s store;
A cardinal allied to him by blood,
And one that neither did him harm nor good.
11 See Boccaccio.
He to the nephew passed, this patron dead,
Who the same measure as his uncle meted;
And then again in search of better bread,
With empty bowels from his house retreated;
And hearing, for his name and fame were spread,
The praise of one who serv’d the pope repeated,
And in the Roman court Datario hight,
He hired himself to him to read and write.
This trade the unhappy man believed he knew;
But this belief was, like the rest, a bubble,
Since he could never please the patron, who
Fed him, nor ever once was out of trouble.
The worse he did, the more he had to do,
And only made his pain and penance double:
And thus, with sleeves and bosom stuffed with papers,
Wasted his wits, and lived oppressed with vapours.
Add for his mischief (whether ’twas his little
Merit, misfortune, or his want of skill)
Some cures he farmed produced him not a tittle,
And only were a source of plague and ill.
Fire, water, storm, or devil, sacked vines and victual,
Whether the luckless wretch would tythe or till.
Some pensions too, which he possessed, were nought,
And, like the rest, produced him not a groat.
This notwithstanding, he his miseries slighted,
Like happy man, who not too deeply feels;
And all, but most the Roman lords, delighted,
Content in spite of tempests, writs, or seals,
And oftentimes, to make them mirth, recited
Strange chapters upon urinals and eels;12
And other mad vagaries would rehearse,
That he had hitched, Heaven help him! into verse.
12 See his Cajntoli sugli Orinali, Sulk dtiqitille, etc.
His mood was choleric, and his tongue was vicious,
But he was praised for singleness of heart;
Not taxed as avaricious or ambitious,
Affectionate, and frank, and void of art;
A lover of his friends, and unsuspicious;
But where he hated, knew no middle part;
And men his malice by his love might rate:
But then he was more prone to love than hate.
To paint his person, this was thin and dry;
Well sorting it, his legs were spare and lean;
Broad was his visage, and his nose was high,
While narrow was the space that was between
His eye-brows sharp; and blue his hollow eye,
Which for his bushy beard had not been seen,
But that the master kept this thicket clear’d,
At mortal war with moustache and with board.
No one did ever servitude detest
Like him; though servitude was still his dole:
Since fortune or the devil did their best
To keep him evermore beneath controul.
While, whatsoever was his patron’s hest,
To execute it went against his soul;
His service would he freely yield, unasked,
But lost all heart and hope, if he were tasked.
Nor musick, hunting-match, nor mirthful measure,
Nor play, nor other pastime moved him aught;
And if ’twas true that horses gave him pleasure,
The simple sight of them was all he sought,
Too poor to purchase; and his only treasure
His naked bed: his pastime to do nought
But tumble there, and stretch his weary length,
And so recruit his spirits and his strength,
Worn with the trade he long was used to slave in,
So heartless and so broken down was he;
He deemed he could not find a readier haven,
Or safer port from that tempestuous sea;
Nor better cordial to recruit his craven
And jaded spirit, when he once was free,
Than to betake himself to bed, and do
Nothing, and mind and matter so renew.
On this as on an art, he would dilate,
In good set terms, and styled his bed a vest,
Which, as the wearer pleased, was small or great,
And of whatever fashion liked him best;
A simple mantle, or a robe of state;
With that a gown of comfort and of rest:
Since whosoever slipt his daily clothes
For this, put off with these all worldly woes.
He by the noise and lights and music jaded
Of that long revel, and the tramp and tread,
(Since every guest in his desires was aided,
And knaves performed their will as soon as said,)
Found out a chamber which was uninvaded,
And bade those varlets there prepare a bed,
Garnished with bolsters and with pillows fair,
At its four borders, and exactly square.
This was six yards across by mensuration,
With sheets and curtains bleached by wave and breeze,
With a silk quilt for farther consolation,
And all things fitting else: tho’ hard to please,
Six souls therein had found accommodation
But this man sighed for elbow-room and ease,
And here as in a sea was fain to swim,
Extending at his pleasure length and limb.
By chance with him, to join the fairy’s train,
A Frenchman and a cook was thither brought;
One that had served in court with little gain,
Though he with sovereign care and cunning wrought.
For him, prepared with sheet and counterpane,
Another bed was, like his fellow’s, sought:
And ‘twixt the two, sufficient space was seen
For a fair table to be placed between.
Upon this table, for the pair to dine,
Were savoury viands piled, prepared with art;
All ordered by this master-cook divine;
Boiled, roast, ragouts and jellies, paste and tart:
But soups and syrups pleased the Florentine,
Who loathed fatigue like death, and for his part,
Brought neither teeth nor fingers into play;
But made two varlets feed him as he lay.
Here couchant, nothing but his head was spied,
Sheeted and quilted to the very chin;
And needful food a serving man supplied
Thro’ pipe of silver, placed the mouth within.
Meantime the sluggard moved no part beside,
Holding all motion else were shame and sin;
And (so his spirits and his health were broke)
Not to fatigue this organ, seldom spoke.
The cook was master Peter hight, and he
Had tales at will to while away the day;
To him the Florentine: “ Those fools, pardie,
“Have little wit, who dance that endless Hay;”
And Peter in return, “ I think with thee.”
Then with some merry story backed the say;
Swallowed a mouthful and turned round in bed;
And so, by starts, talked, turned, and slept, and fed.
And so the time these careless comrades cheated,
And still, without a change, ate, drank, and slept
Nor by the calendar their seasons meeted,
Nor register of days or sennights kept:
No dial told the passing hours, which fleeted,
Nor bell was heard; nor servant overstept
The threshold (so the pair proclaimed their will)
To bring them tale or tidings, good or ill.
Above all other curses, pen and ink
Were by the Tuscan held in hate and scorn;
Who, worse than any loathsome sight or stink,
Detested pen and paper, ink and horn:
So deeply did a deadly venom sink,
So festered in his flesh a rankling thorn;
While, night and day, with heart and garments rent,
Seven weary years the wretch in writing spent.
Of all their ways to baffle time and tide,
This seems the strangest of their waking dreams:
Couched on their back, the two the rafters eyed,
And taxed their drowsy wits to count the beams;
“Tis thus they mark at leisure, which is wide,
Which short, or which of due proportion seems;
And which worm-eaten are, and which are sound,
And if the total sum is odd or round.13
13 I have already given a loose translation of this part of Berni’s acccount of himself in the Court of Beasts.
Having in the preceding part of this introduction, given some account of the mode in which I have executed my task as a translator, it may be expected that I should give some information respecting my labours as an editor. To speak frankly, I have none to give: having annexed no commentary, or, at least, nothingworthy of being called a commentary, to this work. Some readers may, perhaps, think I have in this neglected my duty, and reproach me with not having pointed out the sources from which many of the fictions in the Innamorato are borrowed, or at least the points of resemblance which may be found between many of these and other ancient stories. It appeared, however, to me, that my readers were as likely as myself to be conversant with incidents to be found in the Spectator, Persian Talcs, Arabian Nighfs, and Bibltotheque Orientate. Others who will, perhaps, thank me for sparing them such a display of common-place knowledge may, however, think I have erred in having done nothing to illustrate the allegory of the Innamorato. If I have not, the omission has arisen from a conviction of the inutility of such an attempt. I have read much that has been written upon the allegory of the Furioso, yet never met with any explanation of it, which I considered as satisfactory to myself, though I was persuaded that the commentators were right. Holding obscurity to be one source of the sublime in this branch of imagination, though I will not venture to extend the position further, it appears to me that the reader always best fills up an indistinct outline, according to his own fancy, and is more likely to derive pleasure from doing so, than from a solution which usually presents him with something very different from what he had preconceived. It is this consideration which has restrained me from doing more than throwing out a few ideas which suggested themselves on some parts of Boiardo’s allegory, and no wish to avoid any trouble which I might have thought satisfactorily bestowed on it. Still less have I been influenced by any fear of that ridicule which is so readily discharged upon Italian commentators, or those who report their lucubrations; for I can safely say, that I should have pursued the research to which I have alluded, if I had thought I could have done so with any satisfaction to myself, though I had met with no better recompence than that of being compared to the ass who carried off the dead body of the sphynx, after her enigma had been unriddled, and she herself slain by OEdipus.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48