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No. 13. JANUARY 1st, 1808.
To the Editor of the Athenæum.
YOU have with much propriety declared, that the.complaints of offended authors against their critics cannot be inserted in the Athenæum; it is not the place for them. Every critical journal ought to be open to such replies, under obvious restrictions; and if admittance were refused to a fair defence in one, it should be granted in another. Such a regulation would be some check upon the licentiousness of reviewers; as it is now, their gross ignorance and their wilful misrepresentations pass current, and do their work of malice, because there is no place in which they can be exposed. It will not be supposed that this censure of reviewers is meant to be general and indiscriminating; but it cannot be denied, that every existing journal furnishes some proofs of its truth.
Notwithstanding your prohibition, I presume that you will permit. an error in literary history to be set right, wherefrom-ever it may occur. It is said in a late number of the Critical Review, that Mr. Hole's Arthur "failed of success, because published at the same time with the Joans of Arc, Alfreds, and Coeur de Lions, which disgusted the world with the very name of Epic." Arthur, or the Northern Enchantment, was published in 1790, Joan of Arc in 1796, The failure of Mr. Hole's the Alfreds and Coeur de Lion in 1800. poem, therefore, is not attributed to the true cause; and it cannot b necessary to point out why this false one has been invented.
Mr. Hole's Arthur failed of success because it did not deserve it. The poem had fair play; it appeared before reviews were converted into tools of party, and before the butchers' phrase, "cutting up," was supposed to be synonymous with criticising. The journals gave it at least as much praise as it deserved, and it failed in spite of them, as the Epigoniad had done before it. The subject was not ill chosen. VOL. III.
chosen (for that we have the authority of Dryden) but it was ill handled, so ill handled, indeed, that all the advantage which it really possessed were made of no use. There is no name with which a chivalrous or a poetical mind associates more delightful recollections than with the name of Arthur, but it is with the Arthur of the Round Table and of Spenser; for there are enough indications in the Faery Queen, that if that wonderful poem had been completed, the hero would have been sufficiently identified with the Arthur of Romance. Mr. Hole's bears no more resemblance to him than to Arthur O'Bradley; and the reader, when he discovers this, feels as if he had met an old friend with a new face.
The world has, perhaps, been "disgusted with the very name of epic." Mr. Hole's could not have suffered from that disgust, because it was published ten years before the swarm of epics appeared; and I believe it will be thought probable that this swarm was occasioned by the success of Joan of Arc, notwithstanding the great and numerous defects of that poems, defects which have been weeded out in each successive edition, but which never can be totally removed.
For the Athenæum.
SICILY was the cradle of poetry. It was there that Moschus and Theocritus first gave rise to pastoral compositions; and in the revival of letters, when the Italian language burst from the inert remains of the Latin, the Sicilians were among the first who adapted it to the expression of poetical sentiment.
"Ecco i duo Guidi, che già furo in prezzo,
Che fur già primi, e quivi eran da sezzo."
If their subsequent progress has not been equal to the expectations that might have been formed from their commencement; or if, in the language of Petrarch, they are last in point of merit, though first in point of time, this is not, perhaps, to be attributed so much to the decline of the poetical character among them, as to the disadvantages of their insular situation, which has confined them chiefly to the use of a provincial idiom, and prevented their attaining that purity of language which seems indispensibly necessary to give an extensive currency to works of taste. Hence for some centuries the beauties of Sicilian poetry have been confined to Sicily itself, except in a few instances, where some of its inhabitants have discarded their native idiom, and adopted in their writings the more cultivated language of the neighbouring continent.
Among those authors who have in their poetical compositions chiefly
adhered to the peculiarities of their provincial dialect, one of the most celebrated is Antoni Valloni, or, as he denominated himself from the birth-place of his father, Antoni Venezianu. This author, who was as conspicuous for his talents as for his unmerited misfortunes, was born in the year 1543, and made an early and extraordinary proficiency, not only in polite letters, but in the most abstract branches of science. Such was his reputation as a philosopher and a scholar, that it became fashionable to visit the island of Sicily to enjoy the pleasure of his society, or to derive information from his instructions; and the celebrated Torquato Tasso is said to have been one of those who engaged in this literary expedition. The misfortunes of men of genius are proverbial; but those of the Sicilian poet far ex-ceeded the common portion of misery. Having undertaken a voyage to Rome, he fell into the hands of barbarian corsairs, and a consider able portion of his life was consumed in the most deplorable captivity. This disaster has been commemorated in a beautiful and pathetic Latin elegy by his friend and admirer Filippo Paruti. After his return to his native country, he unfortunately incurred the displeasure of the viceroy of Sicily, and was committed a prisoner to the castle of PaJermo, under the ruins of which he miserably perished, by the explosion of a magazine of gunpowder, on the nineteenth day of August, 1593. From Palermo his remains were brought to Montreale, the place of his nativity, where the affection of his fellow-citizens found a melancholy gratification in lamenting over the remains of their favourite poet, whose skull was exhibited for several days, as an object of public curiosity and regret.
The writings of Antoni Venezianu consist chiefly of sonnets and lyric pieces, in the Sicilian dialect, which differs from the Italian as the Italian differs from the Latin, by possessing a greater share of softness and effeminacy. In the expression of his feelings the Sicilian. poet employs a higher degree of hyperbole than the Italians themselves, and in some instances approaches even to Asiatic temerity. Some of his compositions, in pure Italian, were published in a collection of poetry printed at Palermo in 1572; and a large collection of his Sicilian poems, beautifully written by Don Giovanni d'Amico, probably a contemporary and friend of the poet, is now in the possession of the writer of these remarks. As a specimen of the language and turn of thought, the following short pieces may not be wholly uninteresting.
Lu persica suavi e lu so' odduri
ON THE IMITATIVE PRINCIPLE AS AN INSTRUMENT IN EDUCATION.
EDUCATION is the process by which a creature is conducted from the weak and imperfect condition of new existence, to a state of maturity. It takes place, therefore, in some degree with respect to the whole animal creation, which, by the constitution of nature, has this progress to pass through. In the interior classes, however, it consists in mere corporeal change, effected by the sure operation of natural causes, without any adventitious aid. The young of many animals are dropt into the midst of all they want, furnished with faculties enabling them spontaneously to make a proper use of what is provided for their nutriment. These might be called the favourites of nature, were not the extent of their cnjoyments as limited The as their procurement is easy. young of the more perfect animals
are not qualified so soon to live independently. Strength and cunning are requisite to many, in order to secure their subsistence and protect them from their enemies. A task, therefore, devolves upon their parents, which consists of two parts; the providing of food and shelter for their bodies, and the instructing of them in those arts of life which they will hereafter have occasion to practise. With regard to the latter, however, nature seems chiefly to rely upon that principle of imitation which she has implanted in the young of all animals, and which prompts them to make attempts at doing all they see done, till by repeated trials they attain the power of doing the like. This principle alone probably suffices for the education of animals in general, though in some instances we discern efforts in the parent to point and direct it. Thus the parent bird is not content with flying in the sight of her young ones, but takes manifest pains in instructing and encouraging them to fly.
Among the less civilized tribes of mankind, the imitative principle, with a slight degree of attention in directing it, constitutes almost the whole of education. The young savage, as soon as he is able to use his limbs, accompanies his father to the chace or fishery, makes his little bow and arrows, sets his traps for small birds, in short, does in miniature all that he sees done by his elders, in copying whose actions he places his utmost ambition. If active and ingenious by nature, he acquires every thing almost of his own accord, and gives no trouble to an instructor. He learns the use of language by imitation, selects his food and chuses his pastimes by imitation, adopts ceremonial observances and superstitions by imitation, practises the arts of life by imitation; and, in fine, squares his whole conduct according to that principle. Some more curious points of knowledge or skill, some secrets which long experience has taught, may be communicated to him by his parents in the way of positive instruction; and constraint may be occasionally used to force him to apply to a difficult or laborious task. But in general, this is unnecessary. The arts requisite in savage life are simple, and skill in them is only to be obtained by repeated practice. Their obvious utility, and the honour gained by excelling in them, are motives sufficient to stimulate the emulation of the young; and what they imitate, they soon equal. With modes and habits of life, sentiments and opinions are acquired, and thus the new generation becomes an exact copy of the old. This is what may be called natural education. Its effects, as far as they go, are certain; and there is no more doubt that the young of the human species thus brought up will resemble their pa rents, than that the young of any other animal will do so. This education prevails in its utmost perfection among the savage Americans; and it is curious to remark how, through its means, with scarcely any artificial instruction, and with the least possible restraint on freedom of action, the same end has been attained of forming a warlike character, with all its love of glory, fear of shame, endurance of hardship, and contempt of pain and death, that was effected by the severe and unnatural rigours of the Spartan discipline.