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ideas, images, and rimes overwhelm It may also be remarked, that those and subdue him; words to clothe in the company of the least feeling them in no longer present themselves; and sensibility, break silence first, and he feels himself confused and anxious. heap the usual compliments upon the Verses press and drive each other; poet; while those, on the contrary, wave rolls over wave boisterous and who have felt the most intensely, are noisy; the musician who accompa- the longest before they move and nies the song can scarcely follow him; awake from the state of ravishment be is often impelled to rapid and wild in which they are. fetches; and often driven from the proper time. But unexpectedly he stops, and sometimes in the very midst of his enthusiasm, either because the curtain of his internal vision drops, or because the fibres languish beneath the powerful exertion. At other times the Improvisatore continues for hours, without difficulty, in the same key.
"All these symptoms do not indeed always display themselves in such scenes, but only when the Improvi satore finds himself in a happy dispo sition for becoming powerfully inspired, and for communicating the same tone of feeling to his hearers. A choice circle of auditors contributes much towards this effect; and particularly when it consists of the friends "In these moments the poet ut- of the poet, or of persons much ters, often without being himself con- esteemed by him. The applause scious, the most beautiful and un- which they bestow upon the finest common things; the rimes fall natu- passages of his poetry heightens the rally in their places; the most choice, confidence and feelings of the poet; the most elevated and eloquent ex- it is a spur which goads him on and pressions adapt themselves freely to stimulates him to reap new praise. the thoughts; the most perfect har- The beauties redouble at every momony prevails in the syllabic propor- ment, and with them the incitement tions. The poet's soul seems to enter to bring all points into action; and the lists with the most perfect unani- this mutual emulation is for the poet mity of power, it shews itself in sove- the finest accompaniment to his song, reign independence, speaks its own and the best fire at which to kindle supernal language, and rises into su- his enthusiasm." periority.
At the same time a sort of pleasure, a delight spreads through the hearers which, from time to time, breaks forth in loud cries of joy. The audience feel themselves elevated too, and follow the flight of the poet. Like a ball struck to and fro flies the inspiration from the poet to the hearers, and from these back again, and increases, (in the mutual flight contiLually expanding) in both parties rapture, joy, and inebriation,
After this description (which is extremely accurate as a general picture) of the effects which these extemporaneous effusions produce, it will perhaps be acceptable to the English reader, as a completion of the above account, to know a little more minutely the details of this scene. When the company is assembled, the Improvisatore demands a theme for the first song. This is commonly left to some lady or to some learned person, or else to a person whom we wish "Also the conclusion of such a to honour by the preference. scene gives room for some remark- company is then entertained for some able observations, both upon the poet time with a symphony, by the music and his audience. Striking is in the which is to accompany the poetry, former, the exanimation after such la- during which the Improvisatore preborious execution which seems to ex- pares himself, without however withceed the natural powers of the organs; drawing from the conversation. From in the latter, silence and a solemn the constant exercise of his art, he stiliness as if their souls lost in hardly allows it to be perceptible that astonishment, yet listened to the echoes his mind is occupied with any thing of the song; as if they required a pause else. The company meanwhile into recover themselves, to return to crease and regulate themselves on their earth, from which they had followed seats. Now the symphony ends; the the poot into a lofty, unknown sphere. poet repairs to his place opposite to
the audience. A glass of water or many species which belong to Italian lemonade placed upon a little table poetry. Formerly they used only the near him is the Hippocrene with Ottare Rime, until the beginning of which he wets his mouth. The mu- the last century, when was introduced sic preludes the melody; the poet in- by Perfetti of Sienna the most celeforms the company of the proposed brated Improvisatore of his time, the theme, and begins a few minutes af- anacreontic measure, so called; and terwards his song, to which com- as it is much easier to compose in monly an invocation to some god or this, the Ottave Rime are almost supMuse serves as a proem; but he often planted; but a master even yet consirushes upon bis subject at once with- ders it as more conformable to the out any introduction. Every one lis- dignity of his art to use this last metre, tens now full of silent expectation; in which only a very skilful and powevery look is fixed upon the poet; erful genius can display itself with fahardly is any one heard to breathe. cility, and they employ the anacreBut the first happy flight elevates the ontic measure merely on playful and mind; the enthusiasm of the poet trifling subjects. The sonnet is used communicates itself to the hearers, only for impromptus, and an Improand by degrees follow, stronger or visatore rarely uses this sort of rime weaker, all those consequences de- for treating a profound subject, bescribed above. No one remains long cause it has too small a circle for without the most lively participation. the admission of more than a single As soon as the thought of a stanza thought. appears, and the corresponding rime is prepared to the one that precedes it, immediately the fancy of the hearers begins to work with that of the poet, and as often as his thoughts coincide with those of the former, or they are surprised by some turn contrary to their expectation, the feel
The Improvisatore has a peculiar melody for every sort of metre, in which he half sings his verses, half recites them, and which is always pleasing and simple, and unites the more easily with any subject, because the music, as among the ancients, is entirely subservient to the poetry, and
ings of joy and admiration break forth serves merely as an ornament and for the filling up the pauses which arise between the stanzas or single verses. The most of the melodies of this sort extant have been invented
However difficult this art may be
in loud applause, which becomes the more and more tumultuous, and frequently the more the poet and his audience are opposed to each other, till at last it bursts forth in one universal by celebrated improvisatori. cry of delight. One act of the piece is now finished; the singer recovers in itself, yet one thing is to be guarded himself, dries the perspiration from against, not to associate with it addihis glowing brow, and unbends him- tional impediments, which contribute self a few minutes in discourse nothing to its improvement or beauty, with the company that press round but only make it more difficult and him. After a pause the music begins more surprising; and not willingly to a new symphony; the Improvisatore suffer chains to be laid upon a genius asks a new theme; the company ar- striving after honour and applause and range themselves again; and the same certain of success, or rather to fasten scene takes place a second, sometimes them ourselves voluntarily from prea third, a fourth, and even a fifth sumption, and because our victory untime. Before, however, the conclu- der all these difficulties will be the sion of the piece, the Improvisatore more dazzling. Difficulties of this sort endeavours to weave a garland for his are a prescribed measure; a prescribed talents by repeating in a few stanzas, or rime; a certain number of stanzas to in a sonnet, the whole of the senti- which the proposed theme must be ments which he had delivered during extended or compressed, &c. When, the evening, and which he is able as is often the case, two Improvisatori skilfully to compress in so short a com- sing alternately in Ottave Rime, it is
a rule that the rime with which the one closes his stanza shall be taken by the other for the first line of his
The Improvisatori sing now in every kind of verse, notwithstanding the
verse without, however, using the He, perhaps, generates new error, or same words. All these difficulties, confirms old. He awakens new ideas, with which this art is encumbered, but poisons them in their very birth. could indeed be overcome in no lan- He excites sensations probably iniguage but in one like the Italian. mical to virtue, and opens innumera. This art, which is as old as poetry ble sources of credulity and ignorance, itself, and among uncultivated people. It is also doubtful if he be not made the first appearance of the dawning to espouse principles diametrically opspirit of poesy, has preserved itself in posite to his own; if he be not repreItaly alone, after the revival of arts sented (as contrary passions shall sug and knowledge; and has constituted, gest) at one time the champion of since that time, a peculiar branch of right, and at another the base depoetry, to which niany devote them- fender of wrong. But these are only selves exclusively, and the exercise of a part of the evils arising from such which demands particular talents and indolence of expression; many more a particular sort of study. He, who might yet be enumerated, were it not does not unite to the talent of poetry foreign to the purpose of the present that extraordinary celerity of fancy, essay, the design of which is to ascer that elevated enthusiasm and warmth tain, if possible, how far books may of feeling, by which the mind be- be considered as the corruptors of comes easily transformed to that state, mankind; and, if they be so, what the description of which we have just degree of blame ought reasonably to read, may perhaps produce very ex- be attached to their authors? cellent and very perfect verses at his It is supposed that every man who desk; but, as an Improvisatore, he sits down to read, acts from voluntary will never succeed. And, in fact, impulse; it is neither the effect of there are and have been many delight- imperious command nor servile con ful poets in Italy destitute of that ca- descension. The author he adopts pacity which constitutes the peculiar for perusal is probably chosen from property of an Improvisatore; and like- a multitude of others, and he proposes wise others with this talent have been to himself to investigate his reasonbut indifferent poets, because they have ings, to penetrate his obscurities, to neglected the culture of their minds. detect his errors, and to admit only April 27, 1807W. M. such arguments as are at least plausi ble. But, in forming this resolution, he forgets the difficulties he has to encounter. He forgets that vigilance may be sometimes laid asleep by a shew of purity, and that perseverance may be intimidated by intricate re
[To be continued.]
The Evil resulting from Reading not
T Much depends
mind in which a book is read; nuch forgets that error seeks clouds and obupon the intellectual vigour of him scurity to eject her reasonings from, who reads; and much upon the pre- that false ideas easily spring up in the cision and perspicuity of the author's mind, and that in proportion to the arrangement. Opinions delivered increase of difficulty will be found with negligence or obscurity will ge- our willingness to admit. nerally be perverted, and rendered Much has been advanced concernsubservient, as occasion shall require, ing the effects of books. While some either to the interests of virtue or vice. consider them as certain and invariaAn author who uses vague expres- ble, others regard them as depending sions voluntarily subjects himself to upon accidental causes, and upon the the misrepresentations of ignorance state of mind in which they are read. and artifice and malevolence, and his Of this latter opinion is a celebrated labours, whatever they were, are often modern writer, and of this opinion I rendered abortive and ridiculous. But must confess myself to be. I do not this is not all. The man who is thus absolutely declare, that no book connegligent in adopting appropriate epi- sidered in itself is either virtuous or thets to convey his meaning, is justly vicious, and that these attributes arise chargeable with a more serious evil. from the particular constitution and
fabric of human sentiment and affec- therefore be previously contaminated, tion; but I certainly think that less which can extract poison from the is fairly chargeable to the author than book which it reads. It must be tois generally believed. tally exposed to every contingent evil, In our choice of books we act from and unassisted by any antecedent prinno constraint. Our minds follow ciples of virtue; and its ratiocinative their own bias, and feed upon what is powers strangely obscured. The reamost grateful to them. The amorist son is obvious; for, though error may seizes with avidity the lascivious Ovid, sometimes envelop herself in clouds reads him by day and by night, fami- and mystery, yet it rarely happens liarizes himself with the precepts in- they are so impenetrable as to defy all culcated, and perhaps makes them the attempt to pierce their obscurity; and, standard of his conduct. The same though accumulated difficulties may author, in the hands of the rigid mo- intimidate enterprise, yet perseverance ralist, pleases only from its fiction; will generally reap the harvest of its la and, while he admires the art dis- bours. The foundations on which played in describing, he rejects with error builds her reasonings are ever disgust the obscenity of the ideas. hollow and unstable, endangered by He feels their beauties considered in the minutest investigation of truth, themselves, but suffers no contamina- and fades into air before the full beams tion from their immorality. Here of her celestial mirror. It is greatly then are two different effects produced owing to our own indolence, credu by one cause. Can they be accounted lity, or previous contamination, if we for rationally, unless by the complec- rise from the perusal of any book intional difference of the persons who fected with vicious principles. We read him? That grauted, Ovid must read and we may reflect; we may certainly stand acquitted of all oppro- proceed with caution and precision', brium on his part. In fact, it appears we are hurried on by no impulse, as to me highly unjust to censure in discourse; we may contemplate, an author alone for the ill conse- in every point of view, the positions quences which his book may produce. laid down by our author; it they be They are most assuredly attributable false, we have leisure to detect their more to his reader than himself. The fallacy, and in that case to reject former, in buying, retaining, and pe- them. Here are large discretionary rusing his work, incurs the only blame, powers, and adequate perhaps to any it being optional in him, and enforced task proposed them, if vigorously in no manner whatever. It is well observed by the poet, that
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
employed. Let us not then blaine those authors for evils not proceeding immediately from them. Let us not stigmatize unjustly their works. Let Pope, Ess.on Man. Ep. 11, r. 217. us not decry them as the pests of soThis is strictly just; for displayed ciety. Let us be candid, and, before in her own true light, we cannot but we rashly consign to eternal obloquy detest. Yet, by frequently beholding the elaborate result perhaps of painful her, she grows less repulsive, and, in and philanthropic study, consider time, we learn to endure her from a whether our decisions be just, whenatural propensity of the human kind ther we have not in them been swayed to depravity. To be virtuous is an by prejudice, or the overweening arduous task, and requires perpetual power of popular opinion. Such an eximmolations to friendship, love, and amination vigorously pursued might every social tie; but still her empire, tend to establish in our bosoms a more when once firmly established, is pro- equitable principle; if widely disseductive of so many intellectual gratifi- minated, would infallibly prove of the eations, is so consentaneous with the highest importance to mankind and ideas of faturity, is so expressive of morality.
divinity, and so elevates and purifies To these remarks suffer me, Mr. the soul, that few, if any, can be per- Editor, to add a few more upon a subsuaded to abandon her decisions and ject not altogether foreign to the preenlist themselves under the banners sent topic. Criticism, while it apof her antagonist. A mind must peared as the muse's handmaid',
was certainly a generous and noble readers." And he afterwards adds, employment. While she dressed "The ignorance of the age alone her charms and made her more be- could have given admission to the loved, there was certainly nothing Prince of Tyre; but it is to that we in my opinion in which an exalted owe the Moor: had Every man in his mind could more delight. But these Humour been rejected, we had never ends are now defeated by the long seen Volpone." It is certain, that noestablished mode of petty cavillings thing so effectually nurtures genius as and mean aspersions. There is no praise well administered: it excites mind, perhaps, wholly free from this emulation, invigorates despondency, infection: and its obstinate conti- and stimulates to attempts which un nuance may, I think, in a great mea- qualified censure would have desure, be attributed to the security stroved.
which the critic enjoys. He is ex- Another ill consequence arises, I empt from reply, for he is unknown, apprehend, from the critic's obscurity. and his formidable objections are No man is, perhaps, so at variance loaded with merciless fury upon the with the world as to be altogether unhappy delinquent, whom publica- reckless of its opinion and esteem. tion has exposed to his censure. Ar- We would all be acknowledged as rogant and assuming, he reprobates possessing some peculiar virtue, or with severity the minutest deviation, perhaps every one; and, it must be and views, with the microscopic eye confessed, there are none which more of criticism, the turn of a phrase or endear a man than candour and gethe arrangement of a sentence. If nerosity. These establish a principle he be himself an author, and conse- of mutual obligation between men, quently no stranger to critical despot- and form perhaps one of the strongism, the result is the same; if he be est links of social union. But these not, the evil is aggravated. For, in are virtues which the critic, from his that case, his ignorance, which is per- secrecy, is in no manner compelled haps equal to his pride, suffers no to exert, and it very rarely happens check, but persuaded that what is that he does exert them. This will above his narrow comprehension must appear when we consider the manner be stupid, incoherent, heterogeneous, in which he examines an author and absurd, &c.; he consigns it to that reports him to the public. A faultoblivion which his meretricious repu- less piece is neither to be expected, tation empowers him to effect. In ei- nor can be performed. A work will ther case the situation of an author ex- inevitably have either some redundanposed to such investigations is truly cies of expression, some jingle of lamentable, for it is no uncommon words, sonie fallacies in argument, or thing to observe in their decisions some asperities of diction. These, keen caustic contempt joined with however, in an extensive work cannot sarcastic ridicule. Surely this is a justly be deemed faults, if estimated disgraceful perversion of the true ends by the sufficiency of human power, of criticism, and can afford but little and still less so if they be but thinly exultation to a mind embued with the disseminated through a work of real smallest tincture of generosity or can worth or genius. But these, wheredour. It has besides in it something ever they are to be found, the critic of brutality, which can delight in thus industriously collects, affixes to them crushing the modest pretensions of their appropriate reproof or ridicule, youth and genius, which would per- and exhibits them as the constituent haps attain the highest perfection, if parts of the production he criticises. judiciously stimulated by praise. It These generally produce an uniform is observed by Hume, (Essays, Vol. I. effect, the public (who pay too much p. 123), that "a writer is animated deference to these ill-conducted tribuwith new force when he hears the nals) are unanimous in their opinions applauses of the world for his former thus adopted, and the poor wretch productions; and, being roused by beholds perhaps the work of years, such a motive, he often reaches a the elaborate result of painful and lapitch of perfection which is equally borious study, swept away at once. surprising to himself and to his