« ElőzőTovább »
abundance. And yet the authorized vocabulary of Shakespeare's time probably embraced twice or thrice the number of words which he found necessary for his purposes; for though there were at that time no dictionaries which exhibited a great stock of words, yet in perusing Hooker, the old translators, and the early voyagers and travellers, we find a verbal wealth, a copiousness of diction, which forms a singular contrast with the philological economy of the great dramatist.” — p. 570.
Mr. Marsh says that no great English writer is free from traces of the native humor. It would be unfair not to give a sample of his own, one in which we have taken great personal comfort and satisfaction:
“ The student of language who ends with the linguistics of Bopp and Grimm had better never have begun; for grammar has but a value, not a worth; it is a means, not an end; it teaches but half-truths, and, except as an introduction to literature and that which literature embodies, it is a melancholy heap of leached ashes, marrowless bones, and empty oyster-shells. You may feed the human intellect upon roots, stems, and endings, as you may keep a borse upon saw-dust; but you must add a little literature in the one case, a little meal in the other, and the more the better in both. Many years ago, Brown, an American grammarian, invented what he called a parsing-machine, for teaching grammar. It was a mahogany box, some two feet square, provided with a crank, filled with cog and crown-wheels, pulleys, bands, shafts, gudgeons, couplings, springs, cams, and eccentrics; and with several trap-sticks projecting through slots in the top of it When played upon by an expert operator, it functioned, as the French say, very well, and ran through the syntactical categories as glibly as the footman in Scriblerus did through the predicates. But it had one capital defect, namely, that the pupil must have learned grammar by some simpler method before he could understand the working of the contrivance, and its lessons, therefore, came rather late. There are many sad
compounds of printer's ink and brain dribble' styled · English Grammars,' which, as a means of instruction, are, upon the whole, inferior to Brown's gimcrack."- p. 40.
HISTORY AND POLITICS. The larger philosophy and the deeper insight of our later age may lead us to a juster estimate of the errors of Savonarola as a reformer, to a clearer perception of his delusion as a prophet; but no criticism will ever lessen the eloquence of the preacher, no scepticism dare to impeach the sincerity of the man or the testimony of the martyr. What Luther said of him in his time that he still lived, and that his memory was blessed — is true also in our time, and will be true till the age he sought to redeem from its vices and adorned with his virtues has faded from the memory of men forever. The remarkable character and the tumultuous career, the wisdom and the weakness, the absorbing patriotism and the abiding love, the struggles and the heroism, the many sufferings and the last agony of Savonarola, have at all times been the favorite subject of Italian historians and the grateful inspiration of Italian poets.
The last, and on the whole the most important, work upon the character and career of Savonarola is that by Villari,* — a Neapolitan by
* La Storia di Girolamo Savonarola e de' suoi tempi, narrata da PASQUALE VILLARI, con l'aiuto di nuovi documenti. 2 vols. Firenze: Felice le Monnier. 1861.
birth and a Catholic, and lately appointed — shortly before completing his book — a Professor of History in the University at Pisa. * Long settled, however, in Florence, he has devoted many years to the study of the events of Savonarola's life upon the very spot where they befell, and to the understanding of the constitution and the spirit of that republic with which Savonarola's name is to be ever identified, among the descendants of the very people who established it,- much the same in their follies and their vehemence, in their love of license and their abuse of liberty, in these days as in those.
So thoroughly, indeed, has Villari ransacked the archives of Florence and explored the history of the period, that it is to be doubted whether there is wanting a single fact touching the events of Savonarola's life which will ever be brought to light. The material for our judgment of the great reformer is now all before us, - ample enough for him who knows how to use it without prejudice, justly, in the spirit of the philosopher, yet not without something of the reverence of the disciple. Sometimes too minute, but seldom dull, Villari has written a book to be read, and not merely consulted. An English translation of it is lately published in London, so that all may judge of the work for themselves. Having read it in the original, we have only to say of it now, that the style is perspicuous and eloquent, and the interest well sustained, that it is at once an honor to the freer inquiry and the humaner spirit of the rising Italy, and a proof that her latest scholars in learning to investigate have not forgotten how to write. There is, indeed, a certain element of partisanship in it which was hardly to be avoided, and with which, for our part, we wholly sympathize. The exact character of Savonarola was to be vindicated and established, erroneous opinions to be reformed, his relations to the age of which he was at once the product and the guide to be more clearly explained; in short, Savonarola the man and the preacher, his influence and his objects, were to be understood and honored without attempting to make him a prophet, and in spite of the efforts to degrade him into a fanatic.
Savonarola stands upon the dividing line between the Middle Age and the modern time, — representing, it seems to us, the reaction against the vices and the failure of the Renaissance and the daring hopes of the newer life and the freer thought. Yet while proclaiming the emancipation of knowledge, he held fast to the necessity of faith; while striving for the reform of the Church, and demanding a Council to depose its head, he yielded entire obedience to its doctrines and died in its faith. “The first in the fifteenth century,” says Villari, “ to perceive that a new life was penetrating and rousing the human race, fitly therefore to be called the prophet of the new civilization," he dreamed that that life was not incompatible with the old reverence for the Church, or with the primitive dogmas of Christianity, which, thus transfused with a new spirit, would readily mould themselves to the new ideas, and shield and compass the new believers.
But though recognizing no new system in religion, Savonarola was neither vague in his opinions nor in doubt as to his objects. The ideal was with him unfortunately too real; the future he caught glimpses of
in the stillness of the convent and proclaimed to the throngs in the cathedral, was not to come in a day, as he fancied; it lay at the furthest end of time, — not to be attained by quelling these tumults in the streets of Florence, or staying the persecutions or exposing the enormities of the Catholic Church. It was an age of activity more than of thought; the craving was for new hemispheres and a new time, different from the old, — who knew in what or why? Upon Savonarola more than upon any other, priest or ruler, this brooding spirit of the age seems to us to have descended, — to find expression in his fervent utterance and to illustrate by his career its own incomplete development.
In the moral as in the physical world there is a certain balance of forces which is neither to be neglected nor denied ; and he only is the wise man or the true reformer who understands its character and observes its limits. Savonarola did neither; and the popular reaction which followed the excesses of his zeal was not less injurious than the feverish excitement which accompanied them. Forgetful of the great law, that moral progress must precede political reform, and that both are to be looked for only as the result of a slow enlightenment of the general mind and conscience, he fell into the common mistake of enthusiasts, of rushing on to a sudden consummation of his holy purpose by denouncing vice and predicting revolution.
Yet he was a less one-sided, a more charitable and a more practical man, than we commonly picture him. The praises of his friends have done him no less injustice than the falsehoods of his enemies. No man had more cause, perhaps, than he for hating the literature of his age, dangerous and corrupting as it had become by the revival of the pagan culture ; for it was a time, we remember, when the most serious thing discussed in the saloons of Florence was the canonization of Plato, when a cardinal could advise his friend not to read the Epistles of St. Paul, for fear that his taste should be injured by their barbarous style,
— when in the Vatican itself they scoffed at immortality and made a jest of the Deity. Yet he saved the great library of the Medici from dispersion, by buying it for the convent of San Marco; and though he may have burned a few bad books, it is not the testimony of his contemporaries, neither of Marsilio Ficino nor of Angelo Poliziano, but wholly a fiction of later authors, that he burned any important or good ones ; and certainly it is not recorded, as of Calvin more than a century later, that he ever burned a Servetus. Nor was he unjust to the claims of art, – that chief glory of Italy among the nations. The school of design which he founded in the convent of San Marco, whose novices were to earn their bread by drawing and painting instead of by beggary, testifies at once to his charity and his wisdom.
Above the strifes of parties and the conflicts of sects, and apart from the history of Florence or the condition of his age, there is something in Savonarola which has for all times a universal interest, if not a permanent charm. And it is this larger character of the man, if we may 80 say, irreconcilable with the foreordination of Luther or the predestination of Calvin, this absorbing faith, this grand catholic spirit having its foundation in the depths of the human heart and its consecration in the revelation of Christ, which Villari develops with not less learning than fervor, with a toleration unexpected in a Papist, with a breadth of view not always found in a Protestant.
The last scene, also, in the life of Savonarola, with its torture and fainting, with its prayer and faith and exaltation, appears perhaps for the first time in its true light, in all its terror and all its grandeur, in these pages of Villari ; for it stands proved by the clearest evidence, that the confessions which it is pretended he made in the last moments of lingering torment were interpolated and falsified by his judges; that he steadfastly refused to acknowledge his heresy or to recant his errors; that whatever was extorted from him by the agony of the torture inconsistent with his long avowed convictions was retracted in the first returning moments of consciousness. In this skilful explication, indeed, of the whole process against him, which resulted in his condemnation and death, lies one of the great merits of Villari's work. It is the retribution and the compensation of history and the after age. And thus again to appear in the purity of his aims, in the intensity of his faith, with all the thoughts which consumed him vital still among men, with the heart of the world throbbing at last with his, is a better reward for the believing monk of San Marco than the applause of a hierarchy or the canonization of Rome.
" It was his office," says Villari, happily, in closing his book, "to harmonize reason and faith, religion and liberty; and his work thus connects itself with the Council of Constance, with Dante Alighieri and Arnold of Brescia, in imitating that reform of the Catholic Church which was the lasting desire of the great Italians.
“And when this reform, a conviction of the need of which has already become universal, shall have penetrated also the kingdom of facts, Christianity will then receive its true and full development in the world, and Italy will be again at the head of a renewed civilization. At that time, perhaps, will be better comprehended the character and the life of him who for this cause sustained a glorious partyrdom.”
We are inclined, after some deliberation, to rate the “ Rebellion Record” * as the worst piece of editing that has fallen under our notice. When the series was begun, we were prompt to recognize its promise and its aim ; and with each number since, we have hoped to find our anticipations of it better realized. But, from a miscellany which, though hasty and unskilful, was at least varied and amusing, and in the first stages of the war a fair reflection of its incidents, it has degenerated into a rude and undigested mass of documents, bearing no ratio whatever with the importance of the events they bear upon, fringed with the most meagre seasoning of " miscellanies.” The last number, for example, begins with a continuation of the report of an unsuccessful attack made by General Breckenridge at Baton Rouge, last August, during which General Williams, the commanding officer, was
* The Rebellion Record : a Diary of American Events. Edited by FRANK MOORE. New York: G. P. Putnam.
killed, and the rebel ram “ Arkansas " was destroyed. A story soon told, one would think. This is followed by a second longer report by the same officer, six reports of his subordinates, two “ General Orders” by General Butler, two newspaper narratives, and three accounts, one very extended, from rebel sources, — the incessant restatement of the facts, from all these points of view, occupying thirty-two close octavo columns. Possibly as much as ten might have been judiciously allowed. This is an accidental and a very moderate example. The first battle of Bull Run was spread over a hundred and fifty pages. Meanwhile, we look in vain for any hint of that rich mass of material which might be made up, with a trifling amount of care and skill, from the brilliant editorials and correspondence of the city press, -- " Carleton," in the Boston Journal, for example, and the New Orleans correspondent of the New York Times, — that striking picture, renewed and fading from day to day, which it should seem the very business of such a series to copy and perpetuate, at least in its strong outline and its most vivid traits. Some essays of this sort were made in the earlier numbers ; but all seems to have been abandoned to the remorseless flood of a documents.” In the latter portion, we have little else than the official outside, which was sure to be found in the archives at any rate, — a prodigious “bluebook” getting alarmingly ponderous month by month, and fit only to be consulted at need by title and index. It is no doubt worth preserving in all large libraries of reference. Perhaps it continues to be read by some of its patient purchasers. But neither its title nor its bulk, we hope, will deter some competent editor from gathering that far more valuable " Record,” for which the opportunity is swiftly passing by. To such we would earnestly suggest, that scissors are a very useful appendage to the paste-box in the editorial workshop ; and that the materials for any sort of composition should be mixed (as Opie said of his colors) “ with brains."
Many of the publications of the day, relating to the present struggle, are pamphlets dealing with some single phase of our national affairs, and their value ceases with the occasion that gave them birth. So with the current comments on military movements, which mostly have a strong personal or party bias. We must except, however, the valuable notes which Mr. Hurlburt has appended to Prince Joinville's narrative of the Peninsular Campaign. Among the writings of more general interest, a “ Letter to the President of the United States, by a Refugee,” * dwells earnestly on the peril threatening from the secession heresy in the Western States, - a topic of singular importance, concerning which we hope soon to present full testimony. Some curious evidence is brought up, dating nearly thirty years back, to prove “the present attempt to dissolve the American Union a British aristocratic plot,” † — an hypothesis which would conveniently explain a good many things that have vehemently perplexed us. A brief essay by Professor Parsons, on “ Slavery, its Origin, Influence, and Destiny,” I
* New York : C. S. Westcott. † New York: J. F. Trow.
Boston: W. Carter.