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Tale of the Times,
Taxation. See Essays. See Frend.
Transl. of Ildegerte,
For MAY, 1799.
ART. I. Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy, from the earliest Period to the present Time: illustrated with Specimens and Analyses of the most celebrated Tragedies; and interspersed with occasional Observations on the Italian Theatres; and Biographical Notices of the principal Tragic Writers of Italy. By a Member of the Arcadian Academy of Rome. With Plates. 4to. pp. 400. 11. Is. Boards. Harding. 1799.
ROM the recent extensive convulsions of states, in which
Destroying Angel" has so pitilessly on the
whirlwind and directed the storm," we may expect a chasm in the details of many events which would be interesting to the historian and the scholar; and while the general interests of literature must in course suffer with the grand principles of humanity, during such tremendous contests for power and dominion, the traveller may soon perhaps in vain seek for the traces of antient magnificence, and the records of past exertions in the liberal arts. It was fortunate, therefore, for the purpose of the author of this work, that he made a voyage to Italy previously to the irruption of the French into that country; which has been followed by the plunder of its cities and the removal of their most valuable contents. During his residence there, he pointed his inquiries and researches, in a particular manner, to the rise and progress of the Italian Tragic Drama, written for declamation. This he has considered separately from the Melo-drama, or Opera; which for nearly two centuries has acquired a degree of favour that, it must be owned, has contributed more to the cultivation and refinement of music, in all its branches, than to nervous and robust poetry and declamation.
This Arcadian academician, we learn from the signature to his preface, is Mr. Joseph Cooper Walker, a gentleman of Ireland, and author of an historical account of the Irish Bards VOL. XXIX. B
published about twelve vears ago*; and he has here, with great diligence and good taste, procured a series of the best Italian Tragedies that have been written for public and private representation, in the dialogue of which Music had no concern. In tracing these dramas chronologically, Mr. Walker has given translations of some beautiful scenes, with a commentary on the several pieces, and biographical anecdotes concerning their authors; which are so curious and interesting, that they must render the book very entertaining to lovers of general literature, as well as to adepts in the Italian tongue.
Previously to the attempt at a regular tragedy in the Italian language, Mysteries and Moralities, performed either by the clergy (says our author) or under their direction, were the only dramatic amusements with which the people were indulged; and these rude exhibitions (he adds) were generally represented in dumb show, with figures of wood or quax.' In this last assertion, we believe, the author is deceived; as we know that great numbers of these mysteries and moralities, which we have seen collected, were written in dialogue and spoken dramatically in the Italian churches, at a much earlier period than the time of Lorenzo il Magnifico, to which Mr. W. refers the sacred pantomimes.
The Sofonisba of Galeotto del Caretto, Marquis of Savona, 1502, was the first attempt at an Italian drama on a secular subject; and La Panfila of Antonio da Pistoia, 1508, was the second-but, as the first was written in ottava rima, and the second in terza rima, in a wild irregular manner, "it seems, (according to Voltaire) as if the Sofonisba of Trissino, 1515, was the first regular Tragedy which Europe saw after so many ages of barbarism." This tragedy is written in versi sciolti, of blank verse; and the fable is conducted in a regular manner, on the model of the antient Greeks, with odes, and an attendant moralizing chorus. It abounds with pathos, and beautiful strokes of nature. Mr. W. has inserted two or three specimens, which will incline his readers to wish for more.
Trissino, the author of this tragedy, and of the epic poem. of Italia liberata, in blank verse, of which he was the inventor, produced likewise a treatise on Architecture, and acted as a statesman with considerable abilities under Leo X. He was born in 1478, and died in 1550.
An old Italian poet has said :
"El Trissino gentil, che col suo canto
* Scé Rev. vol. lxxvii. p. 425.
which Mr W, thus translates:
• Gentle Trissino too, whose potent strain,
We cannot think that the translation of the first line is either happy or accurate: gentil, in Italian, does not imply gentle, but polished, elegant, genteel; and there seems a clash of epithets between gentle and potent. Nor do we very clearly see why onde, a wave, or stream, is rendered shade.
The beautiful ode to Love, in this tragedy, which abounds with original and ingenious thoughts embroidered on a threadbare subject, is better translated; though we deem the amplifications too numerous, and are unable to reconcile with either sense or grammar
A resistless glance
The second regular Italian tragedy was Rosmunda, by Rucellai, nephew of Lorenzo de' Medici, about the year 1516. The subject, which has been often treated since, was taken from the history of Lombardy, and was first rendered dramatic by Rucellai. This tragedy has been praised by many eminent writers, of which number is Mr. Roscoe; and from the account which Mr. Walker gives of it, and from the fragments cited, it seems well entitled to celebrity. It is written on the Greek model, and has an attendant chorus.
The same author produced a still better tragedy, Oreste : but, though Maffei pronounced it to be the best drama which either the antients or the moderns ever brought on the stage, it was less esteemed by the Italians in general; as it was not an original production, like the Rosmunda, but an imitation, constructed on the fable and plan of the Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides. This drama has consequently an attendant chorus, à la Grec.
Three lines quoted by Mr. W. (p. 41) from this tragedy, seem sufficiently nervous, robust, energetic, and sonorous, to shield the Italian language from the common censure of too great softness and effeminacy. A distant noise being heard by the characters on the stage, resembling a peal of thunder, mingled with cries of distress; Thoas, astonished and alarmed, demands,
"Ma che stridore spuventoso, e strano
E col rimbombo i nostri orecchi intuona ?"