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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
BUONAPARTE, HIS BARDS, AND ALFIERI'S
Nothing is more curious in the history of mind than to observe how variously mankind have been affected in different ages by the same phenomena. As the child trembles before the storm, which the man learns to brave, so, in the early ages, the conqueror and the tyrant excited universal terror and veneration, where he now only awakens opposition and hatred; and thus, while each hero of antiquity had his Homer, and each prince and paladin of the middle ages his troubadour, the miracle of our own times—he whose every campaign would have provided sufficient materials for an Iliad—has inspired neither chronicler nor bard with the splendour of his glory alone. Poetry, especially, appears in his case to have assumed the scales of justice, and to have rigidly exposed how much he was found wanting. The magnificent subjects which present themselves at every turn in Buonaparte's career, from its earliest to its latest hour, have been compressed into a few powerful sketches--but they are merely sketches—from the masterspirits of the time.
Four odes have been written to Napoleon Buonaparte by the greatest poets of their age and country, by Byron, Goethe, De la Martine, and Manzoni * ; but all on different points of his history. The first, on his abdication; the second, (which is kept scrupulously out of sight by the author's admirers,) upon his entrance into Weimar; the third, on his tomb; the fourth, on the day of his death, the fifth of May. They may be thus truly but generally characterized :-Byron's as the most power
ful, the most concentrated, and the most classical; Goethe's as un• worthy of himself; De la Martine's as the most true in its delineation of character; Manzoni's as the most full of feeling and poetry.
Between the minds of Buonaparte and Lord Byron there existed points of resemblance, which, exclusive of the exciting events of his course, made the one a constant object of speculation to the other. Lord Byron was himself, as he says of Napoleon, “ too much in extremes," nor will the following passage from Sir Walter Scott apply less forcibly to the poet than to him for whom it was intended :-" The great error of Napoleon, if we have writ our annals true,' was a continued obtrusion on mankind of his want of all community of feeling for or with them.” The noble poet, too, appears to have been completely divided between his republican principles and his aristocratic feelings : the first were gratified by Napoleon when General and Consul ; and as Emperor, he displayed enough of classical splendour to conciliate the second. But Lord Byron, at least in his earlier works, could only generalize; he rarely descended to detail; and accordingly the rapid and ex. citing train of achievements which marked Napoleon's rise did no more
Second only to Monti, and even his pre-eminence would be disputed by some. Nov.-Vol. XLII. NO. CLXVII.
than stimulate the interest and watchfulness of the poet, how intensely we find from the following passage in his diary alluding to the abdication, and proving at the same time the almost unconscious comparison instituted in his own mind between himself and his hero, "I don't know but I think I-even 14(an insect compared to this creature)—have set my life on casts not a millionth part of this man's; but, after all, a crown may not be worth dying for-yet to outlive Lodi for this !"
But the moment for inspiration arrived-Napoleon fell! and when that false step was committed which created so terrible a contrast, and gave to Lord Byron one of his most potent means of effect; when the poet could contemplate bis exploits and his reverses in the aggregate, and 'behold him as he had been, and as he was, his genius was kindled, and he produced his “ Ode”-an union of classic imagery, powerful simile, , and biting, nay, maddening sarcasm, sufficient to have stung the mind of its object (had he seen it) perhaps as acutely as his defeat. In Byron's other pieces on Napoleon there is but little to admire: they implicate their author's literary consistency more than one could wish even in a poet, and they contain nothing worthy to succeed the ode, except those stanzas on Waterloo, which occur in the third canto of “ Childe Harold." Than these, history can hardly be more faithful, or poetry more sublime.
De la Martine's production is more diversified; but neither so concentrated, nor so powerful as Lord Byron’s. It reviews the whole of Napoleon's career, and thus gives the poet an opportunity of delineation of which he has availed himself in a masterly way, and has drawn perhaps the best description of Napoleon's character that has appeared-of that indomitable spirit of command, that thirst of empire, which withered all better feelings in its indulgence.
The French poet is of course not free from bias upon such a topic; and it is clear that bias did not incline him towards Napoleon. He does not write so much like a poet as like a royalist, who, though he could not be blind to the materials such a character furnished to his art, acknowledged its supremacy with reluctance, and therefore took refuge in the expedient of raising him above humanity, gilding this bad eminence, however, with the radiance of a splendid simile.
“ Calm didst thou rise—without a murmur sink
Nought human beat 'neath thy war panoply;
And talons stretched to grasp it for thy prey.' The philosophical error into which De la Martine has here been betrayed, in raising Napoleon above the human feelings which ultimately hastened his fall, is evident. Had he cared less for the world—had he been less under the influence of that exhaustless love of universal fame which led him to take his most erroneous steps, he would not probably have ended life a captive. The poet has also been guilty of bad taste in his three last stanzas, by referring to Buonaparte's religious feelings. Of these nothing is known—nothing ought to be conjectured. It leads
* In an essay like the present, translation is considered to be less an interruption to the reader than quotation from the original. The versions we offer, although of course not absolutely literal, are, we trust, close enough to present a faithful idea of the poetry.
him into the pedantry that so often disfigures French poetry, and to end with an evasion in place of a right or satisfactory conclusion, alike prejudicial to his judgment and his poetry.
Manzoni's ode combines all the best characteristics of its author. The fresh simplicity of his prose-the poetical power and truth of his tragedies—the exquisite sensibility of his own nature, which displays itself in every page he has written. If Lord Byron stand alone, between the other two there are many points of comparison, and indeed it is singular at how many they actually touch. In the two following stanzas the same idea is expressed, but the palm belongs to Manzoni.
DE LA MARTINE.
I come to outrage thy mute majesty ;
The grave is glory's honoured sanctuary;
Through time perhaps to sound.” With a celerity in thought almost equalling Napoleon's in action, Manzoni goes on to place him before us on the Alps-on the ocean-in the desert—as uncertain in his direction, as certain in his blow, as the lightning---obeying the dictates of a heart burning for empire—now in the palace - now in the prison. Then follows the terrible reverse, and nere French and Italian poets, pursuing the same train of ideas, again give room for comparison.
DE LA MARTINE.
Usher'd the dull hours into night,
His eagle-eye downcast,
Of glorious days long past;
The flower of Infantry-
And thousands to obey.” Manzoni has also concluded his Ode by a religious allusion; but it is not open to censure like that of the French poet. De la Martine ends in doubt; Manzoni, in hope-beautifully contrasting this feeling with the deserted deathbed of the fallen hero. It is a nice sense of both moral and poetical justice, as well as a truly Christian spirit, that creates this superiority on the part of Manzoni.
DE LA MARTINE.
His crimes, his exploits, tremble in the scale !
To fathom mercy that can never fail.
O! write these words alone!
Can never be brought down!
Who grief or joy can shed,
By his deserted bed.'” Great in their kind as these poems unquestionably are, they are not great enough to be the sole tributes offered by the genius of three nations to so lofty a subject for poetry as Buonaparte. Detail, and partial though powerful sketching, is one of the characteristics of our present literature; but even was there a mind strong enough to view, in a poetical light, the whole of his varied being, to feel the force of its contrasts, and to fathom the depth of that character whose natural element was convulsion, it is at present too much connected with what is passing around us, to allow of its realities being either disguised or heightened. There exists, however, a most singular coincidence, which in England is very little known, and which yet furnished Italy with a complete anticipation, as it were, of Napoleon's rise and character, together with allusions that might seem almost direct to parts of his domestic history, before he was known to the world. We allude to the tragedy of Timoleone, which was written and published by Alfieri in 1788. The argument of this drama will be remembered by the classical reader. Timophanes and Timoleon are brothers of Corinth; the former has, very much through the instrumentality of the latter, been made
General of the Army of the Republic, and his intrepid valour exposes him to many dangers. Upon one occasion, his brother saves his life at the imminent risk of his own. Timophanes soon, however, forgets the established government of his country, and, for the gratification of his own ambitious views, tramples on her laws, and by degrees raises himself to the supreme power. Timoleon watches his progress-warns him-quits him, and, in spite of all his entreaties and tempting offers to share his power, remains true to his republican principles, and finally forms a conspiracy against the tyrant. This plot is discovered by Timophanes, who saves Timoleon from the rest of the conspirators, only to be assured that he should mount the throne, if he mounted it at all, over his (Timoleon's) corpse; and in the end to connive, and be present at the murder of Timophanes, by a partizan whose life was also spared.
The scanty materials from which this tragedy is formed—the single incident on which it apparently turns—the single source whence its interest is drawn—and yet the manner in which that interest is kept up throughout-render it one of Alfieri's most masterly works. His only means of effect was contrast-contrast between the firm rectitude of the one brother, and the determined ambition of the other; for the only subordinate characters introduced are the friend of Timoleon and murderer of his brother, and the mother of the two disputants, who is constantly vacillating between her maternal love for the one and her sympathy in the glory of the other. The scrupulous tameness of the Italian stage allows us only to hear of the terrible events which form and unravel the plot of the tragedy, and the attention is therefore kept exclusively fixed on the development of character, and the exposition of feelings by the dialogue, in which the sentiments are so nobly suited to each brother, and clothed in such nervous and expressive poetry (for metaphor is sparingly used by Alfieri), that the mind is not for a moment fatigued. There can be little doubt that he chose this difficult, and, in the main, ungrateful subject, in accordance with the then dawning spirit of the age, and as a vehicle for his own strong republican feelings. His object appears to have been to portray in Timophanes the temptations and consequences of power given to one, and in Demarista the baleful effects of “ the pestilential air of palaces;” but it was most singular that the rise of Buonaparte should so soon after give to this tragedy almost the character of prophecy, for the following anecdote, not perhaps very generally known, will show that it applied closely even to a portion of his family history :
Lucien Buonaparte was below his brother only in genius and ambition; he was his equal in strength of mind, his superior in clearness of intellect and rectitude of principle. In the earlier part of Napoleon's career, Lucien was his assistant, his companion; and on the 18th Brumaire saved his life from the rage of the Council of Five Hundred. But at a later period, when Napoleon's power became absolute, he received none of the honours, accepted none of the kingdoms which were bestowed upon the rest of his family. His principles were originally republican, and they remained so to the last, Napoleon is known to have made him many offers of power, which were all steadily rejected; but the latest of these proposals gave rise to a scene thus described to us by an Officer of the Imperial Army, as currently believed in Italy. In November, 1807*, Napoleon sent for Lucien to meet him at Mantua,
* This journey of Napoleon into Italy at a time when his presence there wa