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FOR THE PORTFOLIO.
DA PONTE'S ITALIAN POETRY.
Letter from the Author of the " Pursuits of Literature,” to a
Friend, upon an ode of Lorenzo Da Ponte.
The following letter has been some time in our possession. It was with held because we entertained some scepticism on the score of its authenticity. Our doubts have been removed, and we cheerfully publish so honourable a tes. timonial of the talents of one of our adopted citizens. We get vice and disorder in abundance from Enrope, but in this emigration we have something to cherish:--a rich plant, and not a baleful weed.
There are at present in Italy, or there were in latter times, as you well know, my dear friend, many persons of distinguished and brilliant talents, the successors of Dante, Petrarch and Chiabrera; of whom perhaps, at some future time, I shall makc honourable mention. Among these are Monti, Casti, Mazza, Savioli, Bondi, Parini, Cesarotti, and many others, whose reputation may be considered unalterably established. But at present I would draw your attention to a small volume, which accidentally fell into my hands not long since, of a poet, residing amongst ourselves, entitled “ Poetical Essays of Lorenzo Da Ponte,” in various style and measure, all very pleasing and beautiful, and on subjects, amusing, serious, and sublime. The poet, although confined to a narrow sphere, has merited much true glory; but for his ode, entitled “ Death of the Emperor Joseph II., and AcCession to the Throne of Leopold II.” I would boldly place him between the Savonese and the Tuscan. It is not my intention, in this place, to mention his other delightful poetry; but I will cite this ode alone before the tribunals of the learned; for, as is well said by Muratori, “ a single composition, though it be brief, is sufficient to discover the ability of its author; and men of science will thence perceive the brilliancy of his genius, and the depth of his judgment.” As far as relates to myself, I would not hesitate to place this ode in competition with any production of the most worthy disciples of Dante and Petrarch, either with regard to the subject-matter, the lyrical arrangement, the tenderness and
sublimity of the thoughts, the vivacity of the ideas, the splendour of the colouring, or the measure--whether majestic, grave, tender or animated.
Indeed, after having perused, re-perused and pondered this wonderful ode, I believe, that if Petrarch had heard it, he would have assigned the author a place very near to himself, without requiring any other proof of his sublime, fertile and cultivated genius.
Your most devoted,
FOR THE PORT FOLIO.-AN AUTHOR'S EVENINGS.
Thus in delight my winter evenings roll, MSS. Pascal is the author of the following advice to authors:-If you wish to have your works printed without errors, never write the manuscript well; for if you do it is given to the apprentices, who make a thousand blunders; whereas, if it is difficult to read, the best workmen are put upon it.
This advice may do where the manuscript is to be put immediately in the hands of a printer; but if it is to be submitted previously to an editor; the chances are ten to one that it will be thrown in the fire, if it is not well written.
Wine. Kotzebue makes one of his characters, who is expatiating in praise of wine, assign as a reason why fishes do not talk, the fact that they drink nothing but water. Deniosthenes was likewise a water-drinker, and Cicero was remarkably temperate; but Gay, when writing on wine, elevated, probably, by his subject, says,
Thou- wilb eloquence profound,
Fam'd Tully, and Demosthenes renown'd.
cal form, it is not popular. The diction is polished with exquisite art, and the fair author never loses an opportunity, though constantly in the regions of fairy land, of inculcating useful lessons on the realities of life. To every Beatrice of my acquaintance, who has wisely resolved to live no longer on disdain, I recommend the following stanzas, which convey salutary advice, with not less feeling than truth.
The tears capricious beauty loves to shed,
The pouting lip, the sullen silent tongue,
And touch the string that clasps his soul so strong:
Will not endure the frown of angry strife;
Who blast the joys of calm domestic strife,
OL! he will tell you, that these quarrels bring
The ruin, not renewal of his flame;
He flies to hide his fair but tender frame;
Irrevocably flies. Lament in rain!
Asserts for ever her repulsive reign,
If there be any in this predicament, among those who may honour my lucubrations with a perusal, I would advise them, with more than a bachelor's fervour, to seize the first reconciling mo
hard indeed to bear with all the cross hu. mours of a capricious husband: but cross humours, if properly managed, may be dissipated, and the close of the day be gilded by those cheerful rays, that succeed an April shower.
BIOGRAPHY. In the present rage for biography, the legitimate end of this species of writing seems to be neglected. Many of the writers deliver themselves, as if they were in a court of justice, and under an obligation to declare the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth. But even on such occasions, the rule of evidence does not require the disclosure of any fact which is ir. relevant to the subject of discussion. So, in relating the life of a deceased person, the biographer should not be indulged in the detail of idle, indecent or impertinent anecdotes. He should feel for the frailty of human nature, and respect the actual condition of society. If the publication of particular incidents can be shown, positively, to be conducive to some proper purpose, moral or intellectual, they may be said to be the property of the public; and he who undertakes the office of instructing his fellow men, would betray his duty if he should shrink from the task, however unpleasant it might be to his feelings. The subject is treated with much force and perspicuity, in a passage which I shall transcribe from a pamphlet recently published.
“ Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been pushed to an extreme, that proves how deeply humanity is interested in maintaining them. And it was wise to announce the precept thus absolutely; both because there exist in that same nature, by which it has been dictated, so many temptations to disregard it,- and because there are powers and influences, within and without us, that will prevent its being literally fulfilled--to the suppression of profitable truth. Penalties of law, conventions of manncrs, and personal fear, protect the reputation of the living; and sumething of this protection is extended to the recently deal,--who survive, to a certain degree, in their kindred and friends. Few are so insensible as not to feel this, and not to be actuated by the feeling. But only to philosophy, enlightened by the affections, does it belong justly to estimate the claims of the deceased, on the one band, and of the present age and future generations on the other; and to strike a balance between them. Such a philosophy runs a risk of becoming extinct anong us, if the coarse intrusions into the recesses, the gross breaches upon the sanctities, of domestic life, to which we have lately been more and more accus. tomed, are to be regarded as indications of a vigorous state of public feeling-favourable to the maintenance of the liberties of our country. Intelligent lovers of freedom are from necessity bold and hardy lovers of trath; but, according to the measure in which their love is intelligent, is it attended with a finer discrimination, and a more sensitive delicacy. The wise and good (and all others being lovers of license rather than of liberty, are in fact slaves) respect, as one of the noblest characteristics of Englishmen, that jealousy of familiar approach,
which, while it contributes to the maintenance of private dignity, is one of the most efficacious guardians of rational public freedom.”
In another part of this work, which does so much honour both to the head and the heart of the author, he eloquently urges the immunity of genius from the visits of those eaves-droppers before alluded to:—those “hackney scribblers," as Burns, with prophetic fears, very justly stigmatizes them, whose savage stupidity, gropes in the mud after the appetites of the body, when they should be gazing with delight upon the bright surface of the ethereal mould.
“ But you will perhaps accuse me of refining too much; and it is, I own, comparatively of little importanee, while we are engaged in reading the Iliad, the Eneid, the tragedies of Othello and King Lear, whether the authors of these poems were good or bad med; whether they lived happily or miserably. Should a thought of the kind cross our minds, there would be no doubt, if irresistible external evideuce did not decide the question unfavourably, that men of such transcendent genius were both good and happy: and if, unfortunately, it had been on record that they were otherwise, sympathy with the fate of their fictitious personages would banish the unwelcome truth, whenever it obtruded itself, so that it would but slightly disturb our pleasure. Far otherwise is it with that class of poets, the principal charm of whose writings depends upon the familiar knowledge which they convey of the personal feelings of their authors. This is eminently the case with the effusions of Burns. In the small quantity of nar. rative that he has given, he himself bears no inconsiderable part; and he has produced no drama. Neither the subjects of his poems, nor his manner of handling them, allow us long to forget their author. On the basis of his human character he has reared a poetic one, which, with more or less distinctness, presents itself to view in almost every part of his earlier, and, in my estimation, his most valuable verses. This poetic fabric, dug out of the quarry of genuine humanity, is airy and spiritual; and though the materials, in some parts, are coarse, and the disposition is often fantastic and irregular, yet the whole is agreeable and strikingly attractive. Plague, then, upon your remorseless hunters after matter of fact (who, after all, rank among the blindest of human beings), when they would convince you that the foundations of this admirable edifice are hollow, and that its frame is unsound! Granting that all which has been raked up to the prejudice of Burns were literally true, and that it added, which it does pot, to our better understanding of human nature and human life (for that ge. nius is not incompatible with vice, and that vice leads to misery--the more acute from the sensibilities which are the elements of genius--we needed not those communications to inform us), how poor would been the compensation for the deduction made, by this extrinsic knowledge, from the intrinsic efficacy of his poetry--to please and to instruct!