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serted, and would gradually disappear, had not the government, alarmed by the demolition of seventy-two, during the last two years, expressly forbidden this sad resource of poverty. Many remnants of the Venetian nobility are now scattered and confounded with the wealthier Jews upon the banks of the Brenta, whose palladian palaces have sunk, or are sinking, in the general decay. Of the "gentiluomo Veneto," the name is still known, and that is all. He is but the shadow of his former self, but he is polite and kind. It surely may be pardoned to him if he is querulous. Whatever may have been the vices of the republic, and although the natural term of its existence may be thought by foreigners to have arrived in the due course of mortality, only one sentiment can be expected from the Venetians themselves. At no time were the subjects of the republic so unanimous in their resolution to rally round the standard of St, Mark, as when it was for the last time unfurled; and the cowardice and the treachery of the few patricians who recommended the fatal neutrality were confined to the persons of the traitors themselves. The present race cannot be thought to regret the loss of their aristocratical forms, and too despotic government; they think only on their vanished independence. They pine away at the remembrance, and on this subject suspend for a moment their gay good humour. Venice may be said, in the words of the scripture," to die daily;" and so general and so apparent is the decline, as to become painful to a stranger, not reconciled to the sight of a whole nation expiring as it were before his eyes. So artificial a creation, having lost that principle which called it into life and supported its existence, must fall to pieces at once, and sink more rapidly than it rose. The abhorrence of slavery which drove the Venetians to the sea, has, since their disaster, forced them to the land, where they may be at least overlooked amongst the crowd of dependents, and not present the humiliating spectacle of a whole nation loaded with recent chains. Their liveliness, their affability, and that happy indifference which constitution alone can give, for philosophy aspires to it in vain, have not sunk under circumstances; but many peculiarities of costume and manner have by degrees been lost, and the nobles, with a pride common to all Italians
who have been masters, have not been persuaded to parade their insignificance. That splendour which was a proof and a portion of their power, they would not degrade into the trappings of their subjection. They retired from the space which they had occupied in the eyes of their fellow-citizens; their continuance in which would have been a symptom of acquiescence, and an insult to those who suffered by the common misfortune. Those who remained in the degraded capital might be said rather to haunt the scenes of their departed power, than to live in them. The reflection, "who and what enthrals," will hardly bear a comment from one who is, nationally, the friend and the ally of the conqueror. It may, however, be allowed to say thus much, that to those who wish to recover their independence, any masters must be an object of detestation; and it may be safely foretold that this unprofitable aversion will not have been corrected before Venice shall have sunk into the slime of her choked canals.
Redemption rose up in the Attic Muse.
The story is told in Plutarch's life of Nicias.
And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakspeare's art.
Venice Preserved; Mysteries of Udolpho; the Ghost-seer, or Armenian; the Merchant of Venice; Othello.
But from their nature will the tannen grow
Tannen is the plural of tanne, a species of fir peculiar to the Alps, which only thrives in very rocky parts, where scarcely soil sufficient for its nourishment can be found. On these spots it grows to a greater height than any other mountain tree.
A single star is at her side, and reigns
The above description may seem fantastical or exaggerated to those who have never seen an Oriental or an Italian sky, yet it is but a literal and hardly sufficient delineation of an August evening (the eighteenth) as contemplated in one of many rides along the banks of the Brenta near La Mira.
Watering the tree which bears his lady's name
Stanza xxx. lines 8 and 9.
Thanks to the critical acumen of a Scotchman, we now know as little of Laura as ever*. The discoveries of the Abbé de Sade, his triumphs, his sneers, can no longer instruct or amuse t. We must not, however, think that these memoirs are as much a romance as Belisarius or the Incas, although we are told so by Dr. Beattie, a great name, but a little authority. His "labour" has not been in vain, notwithstanding his "love" has, like most other passions, made him ridiculous §. The hypothesis which overpowered the struggling Italians, and carried along less interested critics in its current, is run out. We have another proof that we can be never sure that the paradox, the most singular, and therefore having the most agreeable and authentic air, will not give place to the re-established ancient prejudice.
*See An Historical and Critical Essay on the Life and Character of Petrarch; and a Dissertation on an Historical Hypothesis of the Abbé de Sade: the first appeared about the year 1784; the other is inserted in the fourth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and both have been incorporated into a work, published, under the first title, by Ballantyne in 1810.
† Mémoires pour la Vie de Pétrarque.
Life of Beattie, by Sir W. Forbes, t. ii. p. 106.
Mr. Gibbon called his Memoirs, "a labour of love," (see Decline and Fall, cap. lxx. note 1.), and followed him with confidence and delight. The compiler of a very voluminous work must take much criticism upon trust; Mr. Gibbon has done so, though not as readily as some other authors.
It seems, then, first, that Laura was born, lived, died, and was buried, not in Avignon, but in the country. The fountains of the Sorga, the thickets of Cabrieres, may resume their pretensions, and the exploded de la Bastie again be heard with complacency. The hypothesis of the Abbé had no stronger props than the parchment sonnet and medal found on the skeleton of the wife of Hugo de Sade, and the manuscript note to the Virgil of Petrarch, now in the Ambrosian library. If these proofs were both incontestable, the poetry was written, the medal composed, cast, and deposited within the space of twelve hours: and these deliberate duties were performed round the carcass of one who died of the plague, and was hurried to the grave on the day of her death. These documents, therefore, are too decisive: they prove not the fact, but the forgery. Either the sonnet or the Virgilian note must be a falsification. The Abbé cites both as incontestably true; the consequent deduction is inevitable- they are both evidently false *.
Secondly, Laura was never married, and was a haughty virgin rather than that tender and prudent wife who honoured Avignon by making that town the theatre of an honest French passion, and played off for one and twenty years her little machinery of alternate favours and refusals † upon the first poet of the age. It was, indeed, rather too unfair that a female should be made responsible for eleven children upon the faith of a misinterpreted abbreviation, and the decision of a librariant. It is, however, satisfactory to think that the love of
*The sonnet had before awakened the suspicions of Mr. Horace Walpole. See his letter to Wharton in 1763.
+"Par ce petit manège, cette alternative de faveurs et de rigueurs bien ménagée, une femme tendre et sage amuse, pendant vingt et un ans, le plus grand poëte de son siècle, sans faire la moindre brèche à son honneur." Mém. pour la Vie de Pétrarque, Préface aux François. The Italian editor of the London edition of Petrarch, who has translated Lord Woodhouselee, renders the "femme tendre et sage," "raffinata civetta." Riflessioni intorno a madonna Laura, p. 234, vol. iii. ed. 1811.
In a dialogue with St. Augustin, Petrarch has described Laura as having a body exhausted with repeated ptubs. The old editors read and printed perturbationibus; but Mr. Capperonier, librarian to the French king in 1762, who saw the
Petrarch was not platonic. The happiness which he prayed to possess but once and for a moment was surely not of the mind, and something so very real as a marriage project, with one who has been idly called a shadowy nymph, may be, perhaps, detected in at least six places of his own sonnets t. The love of Petrarch was neither platonic nor poetical; and if in one passage of his works he calls it "amore veementeissimo ma unico ed onesto," he confesses, in a letter to a friend, that it was guilty and perverse, that it absorbed him quite and mastered his heart +.
In this case, however, he was perhaps alarmed for the culpability of his wishes; for the Abbé de Sade himself, who certainly would not have been scrupulously delicate if he could have proved his descent from Petrarch as well as Laura, is forced into a stout defence of his virtuous grandmother. As far as relates to the poet, we have no security for the innocence, except perhaps in the constancy of his pursuit. He assures us in his epistle to posterity, that, when arrived at his fortieth year, he not only had in horror, but had lost all recollection and image of any "irregularity §.” But the birth of his natural daughter cannot be assigned earlier than his thirty-ninth year; and either the memory or the morality of the poet must have failed him, when he forgot or was guilty of this slip ||. The weakest argument for the purity
MS. in the Paris library, made an attestation that " on lit et qu'on doit lire, partubus exhaustum." De Sade joined the names of Messrs. Boudot and Bejot with Mr. Capperonier, and in the whole discussion on this ptubs, showed himself a downright literary rogue. See Riflessioni, &c. p. 267. Thomas Aquinas is called in to settle whether Petrarch's mistress was a chaste maid or a continent wife.
"Pigmalion, quanto lodar ti dei
Dell' imagine tua, se mille volte
Sonetto 58, quando giunse a Simon l'alto concetto.
+ See Riflessioni, &c. p. 291.
"Quella rea e perversa passione che solo tutto mi occupava e mi regnava nel cuore."
Azion dishonesta are his words.
"A questa confessione cosi sincera diede forse occasione una nuova caduta ch' ei fece." Tiraboschi, Storia, &c. tom. v. lib. iv. par. ii. pag. 492.