Page images
PDF
EPUB

by religion, is little to be depended upon. His piety too was exemplary. The faith in which he and his ancestors had been educated, he followed with sincerity and warmth, but without any mixture of ill directed and uncharitable zeal. On the mercy and goodness of the Deity he relied with an unfeigned confidence. That reliance afforded him consolation in the latter stormy period of his reign, and fortitude in the hour of death. It enabled him to triumph over slander, captivity, and the grave.

But, numerous as his virtues certainly were, there was one master fault which ran through and vitiated the whole of his conduct. He wanted that firmness and decision, without which the greatest virtues are sometimes worse than useless. A monarch should know as well how to make himself feared as loved. In vulgar minds mere affection soon degenerates into something bordering upon contempt. His lawful orders can never be disobeyed or slighted without prejudice to himself. Louis yielded at those very moments when he should most rigorously have enforced obedience; when he should fully have asserted his authority, or have abandoned life and authority together. Passive courage he possessed; but not active.

Yet even this had its rise in a fault; but it was a fault of so amiable a nature that it can hardly be censured without pain. It arose from the extreme horror which he always felt of shedding human blood. Looking, however, to the high situation in which they are placed, and the high purposes for which they hold that situation, sovereigns ought to consult not their feelings, but their duties. Blind and indiscriminate mercy is, in its effects, the worst of cruelties. Humanity itself imperiously commands the punishment of those who wantonly and wickedly violate the laws on which social order is founded; and by giving a loose to the most violent passions of man, reduce him to a state of worse than savage nature; since it has all the bad qualities of savage existence, without any of its virtues. The monarch is the guardian of the state; and the safety of the state is put to hazard, when traitors are allowed to conspire with impunity. Nor will the king who tolerates treason long remain a king.

The unfortunate Louis fell a victim to his ignorance of this truth. In his fall he drew down the greatest evils not only upon his country, but also upon a considerable part of Europe. That clemency, which he so injudiciously showed to rebellious subjects, cost the lives of the bravest, the wisest, and noblest characters of the time in which they lived; covered France with scaffolds and blood; shook, to their foundations, some of the oldest established governments; and involved others in total destruction. His fate will operate as a lesson to all sovereigns, to extinguish, with a decided hand, the first embers of sedition; and happy will it be for mankind, if the caution thus inspired does not, sooner or later, degenerate into a gloomy and suspicious tyranny, which, under the pretence of resisting innovation, may discourage all reform, and strike the safest and most deadly blows at the very existence of freedom itself. History, while it ranks Louis with those who were worthy of being enrolled among saints and martyrs, must lament that he lived in an age, and among a people, when all the vigorous talents of a Henry IV. would not have been more than sufficient to preserve unimpaired the dignity of the sovereign, and, by that dignity, the peace and welfare of his subjects.

R. A. DAvENPORT.

NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE.

Of Napoleon Buonaparte the historian, in a succeeding generation, will record, that, with extraordinary intellect to discern and to combine, he possessed a mind, strong, ardent, comprehensive, and sublime, which could soar and stoop, at once capacious of immensity and submitting to vulgar limitation: that his virtues were many and illustrious; his vices few, but fatally pernicious; that he betrayed the trust which was reposed in him, and crushed the cause by which he had been elevated: that he bartered the solid greatness, within his grasp, for a specious bauble which escaped from it; and, when he might have been a Washington at the head of Europe, preferred to be a Cromwell for the puerilities of royalty: that he was the friend of toleration, the patron of the arts and sciences, a usurper, with whose prosperity his country flourished, and by whose ruin alone she was oppressed: that he lived to demonstrate the vanity of regal alliances; to be proscribed by monarchs who were indebted

vOL. II. 3 B

to his generosity for their thrones: to inflict a deeper wound on the fair fame of Britain, by his vain appeal to her magnanimity in his distress, than he had been able as a conqueror to inflict on it with his sword: that he lived, in short, to give an awful lesson to mankind on the inadequate compensation of power for violated principle; and on the instability of greatness not rising from the base of justice, how loftily soever the column may tower, and though it may be upheld by the force of armies, embraced by the majesty of kings, and crowned by the holiness of popes. DR. SYMMONS.

PETRARCH.

In the apprehension of modern times, Petrarch is the Italian songster of Laura and love. In the harmony of his Tuscan rhymes, Italy applauds, or rather adores the father of her lyric poetry; and his verse, or at least his name, is repeated by the enthusiasm or affectation of amorous sensibility. Whatever may be the private taste of a stranger, his slight and superficial knowledge should humbly acquiesce in the taste of a learned nation: yet I may hope or presume, that the Italians do not compare the tedious uniformity of sonnets and elegies with the sublime compositions of their epic muse, the original wildness of Dante, the regular beauties of Tasso, and the boundless variety of the incomparable Ariosto. The merits of the lover I am still less qualified to appreciate; nor am I deeply inter

ested in a metaphysical passion for a nymph so shadowy, that her existence has been questioned; for a matron so prolific, that she was delivered of eleven legitimate children, while her amorous swain sighed and sung at the fountain of Vaucluse. But in the eyes of Petrarch, and those of his graver contemporaries, his love was a sin, and Italian verse a frivolous amusement. His Latin works of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, established his serious reputation, which was soon diffused from Avignon over France and Italy: his friends and disciples were multiplied in every city; and if the ponderous volume of his writings be now abandoned to a long repose, our gratitude must applaud the man, who, by precept and example, revived the spirit and study of the Augustan age. From his earliest youth, Petrarch aspired to the poetic crown. The academical honours of the three faculties had introduced a royal degree of doctor or master in the art of poetry; and the title of poet laureat, which custom, rather than vanity, perpetuates in the English court, was first invented by the Caesars of Germany. In the musical games of antiquity, a prize was bestowed on the victor: the belief that Virgil and Horace had been crowned in the Capitol inflamed the emulation of a Latin bard; and the laurel was endeared to the lover by a verbal resemblance with the name of his mistress. The value of either object was enhanced by the difficulties of the pursuit; and if the virtue or prudence of Laura was inexorable, he enjoyed, and might boast of enjoying, the nymph of poetry. His vanity was not of the most delicate kind,

« PreviousContinue »