Page images

In the opening book of the “ Morgante Maggiore ” of Pulci, the father of modern banter and burlesque (though a genius at the same time, capable of great seriousness and pathos), there is a remarkable scene, in which Orlando comes upon a set of monks in a desert, who are pestered by three giants, their neighbors. The giants, who are of course infidels or Mahometans, are in the habit of throwing great stones at the abbey, so that the monks cannot go out for provisions. Orlando, in his errantry, comes to the abbey door, and knocks for some time in vain. At length he is let in, and the abbot apologizes, by stating the blockade in which they are kept. The holy father then proceeds to make some very singular comments, in a stanza that seems to contain the first germs of the style of Voltaire.

“Gli antichi padri nostri nel deserto,

Se le lor opre sante erano e giuste,
Del ben servir da Dio n'avean buon merto;
Ne creder sol viversin di locuste :
Piovea dal ciel la manna, questo e certo:
Ma qui convien, che spesso assagi e guste
Sassi, che piovon di sopra quel monte,
Che gettano Alabastro e Passamonte.

“ E'l terzo ch’e Morgante piò fiero,

Isveglie e pini, e faggi, e cerri, e gli oppi,
E gettagli insin qui: questo e pur vero:
Non posso far che d'ira non iscoppi.
Mentre che parlan cosi in cimitero,
Un sasso par che Rondel quasi sgroppi ;
Che da giganti giù venne da alto
Tanto, ch'e prese sotto il tetto un salto.

“ Tirati dentro, cavalier, per Dio,

Disse l'abate, che la manna casca.
Rispose Orlando: caro abate mio,
Costui non vuol che 'l mio caval piu pasca :
Veggo che lo guarebbe del restio:
Quel sasso par che di buon braccio nasca.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

“For God's sake, come in doors, Sir!” cried the priest ;
" The manna's falling." "'Tis indeed,” said t'other:

They seem to grudge his feed to the poor beast;
They'd cure his restiveness. Well, such another
Stunner as this proves no weak arm at least,
No son, dear abbot, of a feeble mother."
“ The Lord,” exclaimed the monk, “look down upon us !

Some day, I think, they'll cast the mountain on us.”
Orlando proposes to go and settle the giant; which the
monk, after in vain endeavoring to dissuade him, permits.

“ Disse l'abate col segnarlo in fronte,

Va, che da Dio e me sia benedetto.
Orlando, poi che salito ebbe il monte
Si dirizzò, come l'abate detto
Gli avea, dove sta quel Passamonte;
Il quale Orlando veggendo soletto
Molto lo squadra di drieto e davante;
Poi domandò, se star volea per fante.

“E' promettava di farlo godere.

Orlando disse ; pazzo Saracino,

Io vengo a te, com'è di Dio volere,
Per dar ti morte, e non per ragazzino.
A'monaci suoi fatto ha dispiacere:
Non puo piu comportarti, can mastino.
Questo gigante armar si corse a furia,
Quando senti ch'e'gli diceva ingiuria.”

He cross'd the forehead of the knight, and said,
“ Go then, of God, and of our prayers befriended.”

Orlando went, and keeping in his head
The monk's directions, hastily ascended
The height, and struck for Passamonte's shed,
Who seeing him thus coming unattended,
Perused him well, then cried, “I like his plan!
What, my new footboy? eh, my little man?”

And then he promised him his board and pallet.
“You stupid Saracen !” Orlando cried,
“I come to be your death, and not your valet;

Think of these saints here, whom you keep inside
Their abbey: 'tisn't to be bome, nor shall it,
You hound, you; so prepare your stupid hide."
The giant, hearing him pour forth such evil,
Ran in to arm him, like a very devil.

The hero kills Alabaster and Passamonte, and converts Morgante, who was prepared for him by a dream. The giant becomes a faithful servant, both of the knight and the church, and after many enormous achievements, dies of the bite of a crab ; an edifying moral. His conversation, in the course of his studies in divinity, is no less instructive ; but we are at a loss how to quote it, from the reverential feelings we have for certain names, whose misuse he helps to expose. We would fain see them kept sacred against better days. There is another giant, Margutte, who speaks still more plainly, and is the prototype of a worldly philosophy, the natural offspring of a profaner superstition. “Margutte,” says Ugo Foscolo, “is a very infidel giant, ready to confess his failings, and full of droll


ery. He sets all a-laughing, readers, giants, devils, and heroes, and he finishes his career by laughing till he bursts."

We do not choose, however, to leave off speaking of our old friends with a burlesque ; nd, therefore, we shall conclude the present chapter with a few right earnest giants out of the “History of Prince Arthur.”

A jest cracked by that hero upon one of them is no joke infidel. It is only, as the poet says, “the ornament of his gravity." Arthur, in a battle with the Emperor of Rome, smites off by the knees the legs of a giant of the name of Galapar. “Now," quoth he, “ art thou better of a size to deal with, than thou wert.” The Emperor of Rome had got together fifty giants, who were “born of fiends,” to break the front of the warriors' battle. But a chapter in that once popular compilation will present the reader with the complete giant of the old story-books. The style of the work is incorrect. The compiler pieces out the fine things of the old romances with a poverty of language that is a poor substitute for their simplicity; but the present extract is “a favorable specimen ;” and the repetitions, and other gossiping fervors, have the proper childlike effect. We ascend the giant's mountain by due degrees. The picture of him, “baking his broad limbs by the fire,” is in sturdy epic taste ; and “the weltering and wallowing” of the fighters does not mince the matter. There is a Cornish hug in the


* See a masterly criticism in the “Quarterly Review,” said to be translated from a contribution of this gentleman, and entitled “Narrative and Romantic Poems of the Italians.”

† Fuller, in the “Worthies,” gives this definition of a Cornish hug: “The Cornish are masters of the art of wrestling ; so that if the Olympian games were now in fashion, they would come away with victory. Their hug is a cunning close with their fellow-combatant; the fruit whereof is his fair fall, or foil at the least. It is figuratively applicable to the deceitful dealing of such, who secretly design their overthrow whom they openly embrace." - ED.


“ Then came to him a husbandman of the country, and told him how there was, in the country of Constantine, beside Britain, a great giant, which had slain, murthered, and devoured much people of the country, and had been sustained seven years with the children of the commons of that land, insomuch that all the children be all slain and destroyed. And now late he hath taken the Duchess of Brittany, as she rode with her men, and had led her to his lodging, which is in a mountain : and many people followed her, more than five hundred; but all they might not rescue her, but they left her shrieking and crying lamentably ; wherefore I suppose that he hath slain her in fulfilling his foul lust; she was wife unto your cousin, Sir Howel, the which was full nigh of your blood. Now, as ye are a rightful king, have pity on this lady, and revenge us all as ye are a valiant conqueror.

“6 Alas !' said King Arthur, “this is a great mischief; I had rather than the best realm that I have that I had been a furlong before him, for to have rescued that lady. Now, fellow,' said King Arthur, ócanst thou bring me there whereas this giant haunteth ?'

« « Yea, Sir,' said the good man; “lo, yonder whereas ye see the two great fires, there shall ye not fail to find him, and more treasure, as I suppose, than is in all the realm of France.

“When King Arthur had understood this piteous case,

« PreviousContinue »