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QUID SIT PULCHRUM, QUID TURPE, QUID UTILE, QUID NON.
Illustrations, Historical and Critical, of the Life of Lorenzo de Medici.
By Wm. Roscoe. 1 vol. 8vo. London, 1822. THE work before us is rather intend- ditions have been made to the political ed to defend than to illustrate Mr. Ros and literary history of Italy, many oricoe's Life of Lorenzo de Medici, pub- ginal and valuable documents have been lished about twenty-five years ago. The produced, and the labours of several revolutions which have taken place in distinguished writers, as well here as the political creed and literature of the abroad, have given a greater interest to Italians within that period, if they have the subject. Under these circumstances not established new canons of political the history of the Life of Lorenzo has orthodoxy and literary excellence, have, occasionally been the object of referat least, so far modified the old, that ence, and of criticism; and whilst the opinions, held sacred at the commence merits and the talents of that distinment of the nineteenth century, have guished individual have, on the one not only been since called into question hand, been more fully illustrated, atby writers of considerable eminence, but tempts have been made on the other, to absolutely discarded as vestiges of the depreciate his character; and doubts old school, which received all their opi- have been thrown out as to his being nions, encumbered with the trammels entitled to the high rank, which he has and imposing dogmas of consecrated so long held in the general estimation." authority. Mr. Roscoe's Life of Lo Mr. Roscoe then admits that the mes renzo de Medici has not escaped these rits and talents of Lorenzo have been writers with impunity; and not only more fully illustrated by the additions, the fidelity of his statements, as a bió- which have been made to the political grapher, but the correctness of his opi- and literary history of Italy, by the nions, as a scholar and a critic, have been many original and valuable documents controverted and denied. Mr. Roscoe which have been produced, and by the is a professed admirer of the celebrated labours of several distinguished wricharacter whose life he has written; ters. If so, the just inference is, that and as the spirit of admiration seems his merits and talents can be more fairly to form no very prominent feature in appreciated after the discovery of such the writers of the present day, he has documents, and the exercise of such taaccordingly been told, that he has not lents, than before the former facilitated confined his praise of Lorenzo within the researches of the biographer, or the " the modesty of nature,” or, in other latter were called forth into life and apwords, that neither his public nor lite- plication. What avail the discovery of rary character entitled him to that high original documents,' and the labours rank which his biographer assigns him. of " distinguished writers," if they do Appearances, we must confess, would not enable us to form a clearer and seem to be against Mr. Roscoe, were we more correct judgment of the subject to to form our judgment from the manner which they are applied? If they do not, in which he opens his own defence ; for we are obliged to conclude that the he tells us, that since the publication of more the materials of information are his Life of Lorenzo, “ considerable ad- multiplied, and the more talent is exer
cised in communicating to the world the mit of some doubt; but it appears to substance of these materials, the more us that he has vindicated his moral chaapt we are to be deceived. With this racter in the most triumphant manner. conclusion we cannot agree, and there. When we say his moral character, we fore we confess we are setting out with necessarily include his conduct as a a degree of prejudice against Mr. Ros- statesman and a citizen, and the meacoe's
defence. We shall, however, dis sures which resulted from his political charge ourselves of the duty imposed opinions. If Mr. Roscoe has succeeded upon us, as critics, to the utmost of our in rescuing the character of Lorenzo ability: if the subject appear to us in a from the slightest stain, we think he proper light, we shall do Mr. Roscoe has done all that his duty, as a biograjustice ; but justice to him by no means pher, required ; and that the illustraimplies an attack upon those to whom tions before us should have aimed at he stands opposed. We respect the ta- nothing more.
Mr. Roscoe indeed was lents which have been employed upon at liberty to illustrate the poetic characboth sides; and if we permitted our ter of Lorenzo, incidentally: he might judgment to yield for a moment to the assist his readers, in the best manner he influence of our feelings, we fear our could, to form a correct judgment in partiality for Mr. Roscoe, not only as determining the rank which he should a countryman, but as an amiable, unaf- hold among the Italian poets, but we fected writer, would incline us to es doubt whether he was justified in sitting pouse his cause; if not so warmly as down to determine the matter himself, some of our contemporaries, at least to prove that his opinions of Lorenzo's more so than the laws of distributive merits are right, and that those who justice would either sanction or endure. have questioned them, have done him Amiability of manner, however, is not an injustice; because the world will neiat variance with truth : on the contrary, ther take his opinion nor theirs in dethey are generally found to accompany ciding on the poetical excellence of Loeach other, and it would be doing Mr.
His works have been collected Roscoe an injustice, even to insinuate and published ; and Mr. Roscoe himself that he has ever attempted to conceal has given numerous extracts. With what he knew to be true, or mislead his these documents before our eyes, we readers by what he knew to be errone cannot dispute the right of any critic ous. There are few writers, however, to comment as he pleases on the poetry, who can completely triumph over their because he cannot mislead the public feelings; and consequently there are mind, even if his commentaries be errofew who are not subject to prejudices of
While the originals are forthwhich they are not aware.
coming, they will always speak for There are two points at issue between themselves; and in general it is the colMr. Roscoe and his opponents: the one lision of opinion that exists among criregards the literary, the other the moral tics, that ultimately enables us to form a and political character of Lorenzo de correct judgment of the real merits of Medici. Both appear to Mr. Roscoe, an Author. Mr. Roscoe, therefore, apand neither to his competitors, of the pears in our opinion, to have blended first order. The object of the work be the question regarding Lorenzo's pofore us is, as may easily be perceived, etical talents, more than he ought to to defend the character of Lorenzo, as have done, with that of his moral painted by Mr. Roscoe, or to use his and political character. The sources own words, “ to demonstrate that he and documents, through which we are has a just claim to the elevated station
made acquainted with the mere chawhich he has so long maintained ; and racter of an individual, are not alto defend the fidelity and accuracy of ways placed within the reach of the his English biographer against the cen. public; and even if they were, the pubsures of some foreign writers, the ef- lic cannot always compare them with fects of which have extended to this each other, in order to discover from the country.”
comparison the real character of the One of these points we think Mr. person in question. If it happen, thereRoscoe has satisfactorily proved in his fore, that an individual, who had access own favor. Whether he has succeeded to these sources and documents, should in demonstrating the literary and poe be accused of concealing or perverting tical pre-eminence of Lorenzo, may ad- the information contained in them, he
is undoubtedly bound to disprove the de Medici in a direct comparison with accusation or submit to the charge. The the modern poets of Italy, as to state moment we prove that a historian or that there were some particular departbiographer has perverted a fact, we ments of poetry, in which he had not prove a culpability which could not been excelled by any of his countryarise from an error of judgment, and men, from his own times to the pretherefore we degrade the author from sent." That this might have been Mr. the high rank which he has arrogated Roscoe's intention, we will not deny ; to himself, namely, that of being an but that it was his intention, we have honest man; but if we merely prove no authority for believing: In the pasthat he is mistaken in his opinion of li- sage hefore us, we are tofd, indeed, that terary or poetical talents, we continue he led the way in some particular speto respect the man as much as ever, be cies of poetry, but we are not told, that
we always distinguish between it was in these particular species he fallibility of judgment and culpability stands unrivalled. On the contrary, we of intention, Mr. Roscoe, however, are obliged to conclude, that it was seems more anxious to defend the
not; for after telling us that he led the etical than the moral or political cha way in some species of poetry, Mr. Rosracter of Lorenzo; and to think, that coe immediately adds, " and some of unless he succeed in defending the for- his productions stand unrivalled," &c. mer, he cannot escape censure with The productions following the conjuncregard to the opinions which he has tion are therefore distinguished from advanced regarding the latter. With the species going before, instead of beall due deference to Mr. Roscoe's talents, ing identified with them; and this diswe cannot agree with him in this opi- tinction is so clearly expressed, that nion. We admire, in common with all every reader understands the passage elegant judges of taste and literature, in this sense. If the species in which his life of Lorenzo de Medici : we be he led the way were those in which he lieve that the selections which he has stands unrivalled, instead of “his promade from his poetry, many of which ductions,” he ought to have writen he has himself elegantly translated, en these productions or species. Mr. Rostitle their celebrated author to a high coe's defence, therefore, appears to us place in our esteem ; but when we are very defective, not only because he told, that he “possessed a genius more wishes us to understand the passage beoriginal and versatile, perhaps than any fore us in a sense different from what it of his countrymen," and that “some of will bear, but because he charges the of his productions stand unrivalled Italian translator with not having "examongst those of his countrymen to the pressed the meaning with his usual acpresent day,” we pause in our judg- curary;" for it is certain that every ment, and begin to apprehend that Mr. English reader will understand it as Roscoe's attachment to the Mecenas of the translator did, and consequently the 16th century has led him into an Pozetti was led into no mistake with opinion, which his better judgment regard to its import by the Italian transwould have easily corrected. We can lation. Indeed, if any doubt could renot therefore help acknowledging, that main of the sense of this passage, the the comment, which Professor Pozetti two first lines would remove it, as we makes upon this passage, appears to us are there told, that he“ possessed a well founded and just. “Either I genius more original and versatile pergreatly deceive myself," he says, or haps, than any of his countrymen. If the verses of Lorenzo, although in then we should even have suspected, themselves estimable, are not adorned and it is impossible to see how we could, with such exquisite beauties, as to allow that the productions in which he stood us to assent with our author, that some unrivalled were some particular speof them may bear a comparison with the cies, untouched by his predecessors, most celebrated productions of the pre- and invented by himself, our suspicions sent day.” Mr. Roscoe in defending would be removed the moment we rethis passage, has obviously given up flected that he ranked before all his the poetical pre-eminence of Lorenzo countrymen in the “ originality” and without justifying himself. He tells “ versatility" of his genius, because it is us, “ that it was not so much his inten to these two qualities of intellect we tion to place the productions of Lorenzo ascribe whatever is most excellent in
the creations of the mind. If then we are allowed him by the critics, whose should ever grant that Mr. Roscoe has judgment Mr. Roscoe disputes, he could succeeded in proving that he merely in not possess higher merits, unless he tended to compare some particular spe absolutely ranked with Petrarch and cies of Lorenzo's poems with those of Dante. It is therefore difficult to dishis predecessors, and that he did not cover what Mr. Roscoe aims at in his consider him equal to them in the other long disquisitions on Lorenzo's powalks of poetry, how are we to recon etical talents. He admits he is not cile this admission with that originality qualified to rank with these poets, and and versatility of genius in which he yet he is not satisfied with the praises thinks him superior to all his country conferred upon him by Pozetti
, Pigmen? Must it not have been from the notti, and Sismondi : he disputes their general pre-eminence of his works that opinion, though they have placed Lohe concluded him possessed of these renzo as near Dante, Petrarch, and bigh attributes of genius, for he could Boccaccio as it was possible to place not be justified in concluding it from him, unless they elevated him to an abhis excellence in one or two particular solute equality. Mr. Roscoe then seems species of poetry, especially when they not to be sincere in admitting that it were not of the highest order. It ap was not his intention to rank Lorenzo pears, therefore. to us, that Mr. Ros with these poets. From the whole spicoe's present opinion of Lorenzo's poe- rit of his defence, and the numerous tical merits, is somewhat different from authorities which he has quoted, we are that which he entertained twenty-five always impressed with an idea that if years ago, when he published his life he be not the first, at least he ranks in of Lorenzo. And it appears also to us, the first class of Italian poets, and when that he changed his first opinion with he is obliged to come directly to the considerable reluctance; for if he be point, and say yes or no, when he is sincere in admitting the superiority of obliged to acknowledge the superiority the modern Italian poets, the Alficri, the of Petrarch, &c. over his favourite poet, Bondi, the Cesarotti. &c, over his fa- he does it in such a manner that he vourite Lorenzo, why has he devoted would seem thankful to us for not beso considerable a portion of his “illus- lieving him, because it is an avowal un. trations," to prove what Pozetti, Pig mercifully forced from him. He would notti, Sismondi,' and all his opponents seem, when he sat down to write this admit, namely, that Lorenzo De Medici, defence of his former opinions, to have though not a poet of the first order, argued with himself thus :-If I posipossessed, notwithstanding, a fine ima- tively maintain that Lorenzo was not gination, that his thoughts were bold, inferior to Petrarch and Dante, not only natural, and occasionally sublime; that the Italian critics, but public feeling he had attempted all kinds of poetry, will be against me. The fame of these and shewed in every one the flexibility poets is established by the sanction of of his talents, and the riches of his universal suffrage. They are admired imagination; and that, in a word, he in every country in Europe, and their excelled the entire swarm of cold versi names are always associated with poetic fiers, who poured out their productions recollections, whereas Lorenzo's name in the succeeding century, and who is frequently mentioned without revirin so many volumes have collected ing these associations. I must thereonly
fore abandon this position, but then I
will bring forward such a mass of auFior, frondi, erbe, ombre, antri, onde, aure, thority, I will quote so many writers soavi.
Petr. who have bestowed unqualified praise
on Lorenzo's poetry, and defend the deThese are admissions highly honour- fects which have been ascribed to him able to the genius of Lorenzo, and if by such force of argument, that my Mr. Roscoe be satisfied with them, why, readers will believe of themselves, what we repeat it, has he devoted so consider. I wish, but fear to assert, namely, that able à portion of his illustrations to Lorenzo ranks as high, if not higher prove what is admitted by those to than any of the ancient or modern Itawhom he stands opposed? What is lian poets. We do not say that Mr. admitted requires no proof, and if Lo Roscoe argued thus with himself; but renzo possessed the high merits which we say that if he had thus argued, he
could not have adopted a different mode aptitude and propriety of the language of conducting his defence than that to express such thought in the most imwhich he has pursued. Though Low pressive and effectual manner. Such renzo Pignotti, one of the most cele- at least are the precepts we have been brated writers which Italy has lately taught by one of our countrymen. produced, whether we consider him as a prose writer or a poet, speaks in the Expressive is the dress of thought, and warmest strain of Lorenzo's poetical still merits, Mr. Roscoe cannot endure that Appears more decept as more suitable. he should point out his defects. Ac- A vile conceit, in pompous words express'd, cordingly he endeavours to prove that Is like a clown in regal purple drest. they were not defects, and in doing so,
Essay on Criticism, he evidently eludes the force of Pignotti's observations by understanding them Our limits do not permit us to enter inin a wrong sense. After describing the to this controversy at any length, but it charms and beauty of Lorenzo's poetry, does not require many words to shew Pignotti adds :
that Mr. Roscoe has the worst of it. ** But to these poems of Lorenzo, He does not admit, he says, with Pigsome important accompaniments are notti, that “ the essence of poetry conwanting; there are facility of style, sists in varnishing over weak, insipid, and that poetic colouring which, united and trivial thoughts." Indeed we bewith facility, produces that harmony lieve the simplest judge of poetry would which delights the ear, and at the same dissent along with him, and we should time expresses the sentiment clearly feel greatly surprised if any writer without becoming vulgar. Great poets should place“ the essence of poetry" in have shewn that the commonest things such a varnish. Pignotti by no means may be covered by a poetical varnish, asserts any thing of the kind. He does and this is of such importance, that for not attempt to describe in what the the sake of it, we frequently bear with “essence" of poetry consists; but merely low and trifling sentiments, as rude and says that " poetical colouring” is an Plebeian persons obtain admission into important“ accompaniment" of poetry: good company by a fine dress. It is And this, we think, Mr. Roscoe will not that Lorenzo is altogether deprived have some difficulty in disproving. So of this style, but it is not frequent with far from making poetry consist in him. There is often a harshness, often “ varnishing insipid thoughts,” he a want of harmony, of clearness, and merely says that the commonest things” generally of felicity of expression. He may be covered by a poetical varnish. is a painter whose figures are not cor To this he attaches considerable imporrectly drawn. The outlines are too tance, but when he comes to speak of sharp, and the colouring not sufficiently trifling thoughts, he merely says, that natural.”
such å varnish enables us to endure With these opinions of Pignotti, Mr. them. Mr. Roscoe then has not done Roscoe cannot agree. He admits in- him justice, in saying that he makes deed, that Lorenzo wants that delicacy the essence of poetry consist in varnish and polish of style of which Pignotti ing over weak, insipid, and trivial speaks, but he does not admit that de- thoughts, for to this he attaches little licacy and polish of style are necessary importance: it is to common things, accompaniments of poetry.
and not to common thoughts, that he “I can by no means assent,” he says, thinks this poetic colouring can be ap“ to the rules set up by Pignotti for de- plied to advantage.
If Mr. Roscoe eiding on the merits of poetical compo- think there is no difference between sition or admit that the essence of poetry common things and common thoughts, consists, as he conceives, in varnishing he will find himself undeceived by exover weak, insipid, and trivial thoughts, perienre, the test of truth. The comwith elevated language and graceful monest things in nature may become expression.” This description, it may the subject, not only of highly poetic be observed, falls greatly short of what but of sublime description, because it is might be expected as a description of not the thing described, but the manner genuine and elevated poetry, the essence of describing it, that constitutes its of which must consist in the strength poetry. “A great artist," says Lord and novelty of the thought, and in the Byron, “ will make a block of stone as