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Cæsar, which is made the occasion of Cato's death. Before he kills himself, you see him withdrawn into his library, where, among his books, I observed the titles of Plutarch and Tasso. After a short soliloquy he strikes himself with the dagger that he holds in his hand, but being interrupted by one of his friends, he stabs him for his pains, and by the violence of the blow unluckily breaks the dagger on one of his ribs, so that he is forced to dispatch himself by tearing up his first wound. This last circumstance puts me in mind of a contrivance in the opera of St. Angelo, that was acted at the same time. The king of the play endeavours at a rape, but the poet being resolved to save his heroine's honour, has so ordered it, that the king always acts with a great case knife stuck in his girdle, which the lady snatches from him in the struggle, and so defends herself.
The Italian poets, besides the celebrated smoothness of their tonguc, have a particular advantage, above the writers of other nations, in the difference of their poetical and prose language. There are, indeed, sets of phrases that in all countries are peculiar to the poets, but among the Italians there are not only sentences, but a multitude of particular words that never enter into common discourse. They have such a different turn and polishing for poetical use, that they drop several of their letters, and appear in another form, when they come to be ranged in verse. For this reason the
seldom sinks into a poorness of language, but, amidst all the meanness and familiarity of the thoughts, has something beautiful and sonorous in the expression. Without this natural advantage of the tongue, their present poetry would appear wretchedly low and vulgar, notwithstanding the many strained allegories that are so much in use among the writers of this nation. The English and French, who always use the same words in verse as in ordinary conversation, are forced to raise their language with metaphors and figures, or, by the pompousness of the whole phrase, to wear off any littleness that appears in the particular parts
that compose it. This makes our blank verse, where there is no rhyme to support the expression, extremely difficult to such as are not masters in the tongue, especially when they write on low subjects; and 'tis probably for this reason that Milton has made use of such frequent transpositions, Latinisms, antiquated words and phrases, that he might the better deviate from vulgar and ordinary expressions. The comedies that I saw at Venice, or indeed in
any other part of Italy, are very indifferent, and more lewd than those of other countries. Their poets have no notion of genteel comedy, and fall into the most filthy double-meanings imaginable, when they have a mind to make their audience merry. There is no part generally so wretched as that of the fine gentleman, especially when he converses with his mistress ; for then the whole dialogue is an insipid mixture of pedantry and romance.
But 'tis no wonder that the poets of so jealous and reserved a nation fail in such conversations on the stage, as they have no patterns of in nature. There are four standing characters which enter into every piece that comes on the stage, the Doctor, Harlequin, Pantalone, and Coviello. The doctor's character comprehends the whole extent of a pedant, that with a deep voice, and a magisterial air, breaks in upon conversation, and drives down all before him: every thing he says is backed with quotations out of Galen, Hippocrates, Plato, Virgil, or any author that rises uppermost, and all answers from his companion are looked upon as impertinencies or interruptions. Harlequin's part is made up of blunders and absurdities; he is to mistake one name for another, to forget his errands, to stumble over queens, and to run his head against every post that stands in his way. This is all attended with something so comical in the voice and gestures, that a man, who is sensible of the folly of the part, can hardly forbear being pleased with it. Pantalone is generally an old cully, and Coviello a sharper.
I have seen a translation of the Cid, acted at Bolonia, which would never have taken, had they not found a place in it for these buffoons. All four of them appear in masks that are made like the old Roman persona, as I shall have occasion to observe in another place. The French and Italians have probably derived this custom of shewing some of their characters in masks, from the Greek and Roman theatre. The old Vatican Terence has at the head of every scene the figures of all the persons that are concerned in it, with the particular disguises in which they acted; and I remember to have seen in the Villa Mattheio an antick statue masked, which was perhaps designed for Gnatho in the eunuch, for it agrees exactly with the figure he makes in the Vatican manuscript. One would wonder, indeed, how so polite a people as the ancient Romans and Athenians should not look on these borrowed faces as unnatural. They might do very well for a Cyclops, or a satyr, that can have no resemblance in human features; but for a. flatterer, a miser, or the like characters, which abound in our own species, nothing is more ridiculous than to represent their looks by a painted vizard. In persons of this nature the turns and motions of the face are often as agreeable as any part of the action. Could we suppose that a mask represented never so naturally the general humour of a character, it can never suit with the variety of passions that are incident to every single person in the whole course of a play. The grimace may be proper on some occasions, but is too steady to agree with all. The rabble, indeed, are generally pleased at the first entry of a disguise, but the jest grows cold even with them too when it comes on the stage in a second scene.
Since I am on this subject, I cannot forbear mentioning a custom at Venice, which they tell me is particular to the common people of this country, of singing stanzas out of Tasso. They are set to a pretty solemn tune, and when one begins in any part of the poet, it is odds but he will be answered by somebody else that
· Romans and Athenians) They had, without doubt, their reasons for this practice, for they were sensible of it's inconvenience.
overhears him; so that sometimes you have ten or a dozen in the neighbourhood of one another, taking verse after verse, and running on with the poem as far as their memories will carry them.
On Holy Thursday, among the several shows that are yearly exhibited, I saw one that is odd enough, and particular to the Venetians. There is a set of artisans, who by the help of several poles, which they lay across each others shoulders, build themselves up into a kind of pyramid; so that you see a pile of men in the air of four or five rows rising one above another. The weight is so equally distributed, that every man is very well able to bear his part of it, the stories, if I may so call them, growing less and less as they advance higher and higher. A little boy represents the point of the pyramid, who, after a short space, leaps off, with a great deal of dexterity, into the arms of one that catches him at the bottom. In the same manner the whole building falls to pieces. I have been the more particular on this, because it explains the following verses of Claudian, which show that the Venetians are not the inventors of this trick.
Vel qui more adium sese jaculantur in auras,
Claud. de Pros. et Olyb. Cons.
Points the tall pyramid, and crowns the show. Though we meet with the Veneti in the old poets, the city of Venice is too modern to find a place among them. Sannazarius's epigram is too well known to be inserted. The same poet has celebrated this city in two other places of his poems. .
Quis Venetæ miracula proferat urbis,
Æmula, qua terris, quæ dominaris aquis!
Tu tibi vel Reges cives facis; 0 Decus, 0 Lux
Ansonia, per quam libera turba sumus,
Barbaries nobis non imperat, et Sol
Lib. 3. el. 1.
Ne tu, quæ mediis æmula surgis aquis. Lib. 2. el. 1.
FERRARA, RAVENNA, RIMINI.
At Venice I took a bark for Ferrara, and in my way thither saw several mouths of the Po, by which it empties itself into the Adriatic.
-Quo non alius per pinguia culta
In mare purpureum violentior influit amnis. Virg. Georg. 4. which is true, if understood only of the rivers of Italy.
Lucan's description of the Po would have been very beautiful, had he known when to have given over.
Quoque magis nullum tellus se solvit in amnem