« ElőzőTovább »
from this general distinction, it will be found, perhaps, that the chief difference between the modern and the ancient view of nature lies in the perception of the effect of light and its modifications through the medium of the air, to which we give so much prominence: for no mention is found in ancient writers of the peculiar character which the landscape receives from illumination, nor of the varying effects of distance and nearness; not a word touching the gradations which exist between the coldness of moonlight and the glow of sunset, nor of the colors which, morning and evening, tinge the horizon and the distant mountain-tops, in southern skies. In all the ancient literature you may seek in vain for such a phrase as “blue mountains." The description of nature, as Forster and Humboldt have described it, is known only to our modern literature; for it is impossible without that greater scientific knowledge which characterizes our age.
ART. III. — TROLLOPE'S HISTORY OF FLORENCE.
A History of the Commonwealth of Florence, from the Earliest Inde
pendence of the Commune to the Fall of the Republic in 1831. By T. ADOLPHUS TROLLOPE, in four volumes (vols. 1 & 2). London : Chapman & Hall, 193, Piccadilly. 1865.
The continental traveller of twenty years since, who revisits Florence to-day, finds himself bewildered by the change in the natural language of the city. Its grand architectural monuments remain as before: the vast dome of the cathedral, the graceful shaft of the Campanile, the peerless basreliefs of the Baptistery, the dark heavy walls of the palazzi, the gay and populous river-side, the irregular broad piazza, the arcades of the loggias, the quaint tower of the Pallazzo Vecchio, the green alleys of the Boboli gardens, the convents on the adjacent eminences, the stone bridges, the surrounding mountains, - all look as of old. But the more superficial and economical phases give to all these a new meaning. Little dark shops have been superseded by large and light warehouses; narrow streets are widened into spacious thoroughfares; deserted palaces, where an artist's studio could be hired cheap, are brightened up, refurnished, and let for fabulous prices; restaurants and caffés have multiplied, so have equipages; the character of the floating population is modified ; an indescribable air of cosmopolitan life vivifies the old city; and her walls, whose successive enlargement marked the growth of the ancient republic, are remorselessly demolished to increase the crowded area of the capital of Italy. The contrast provokes reminiscence. The original and characteristic in Florence become more endeared ; and the visitor resorts with fresh zest and curiosity to the mediæval relics and annals.
Such an instructive retrospect, the work before us seasonably inspires. The historical value and significance of the initial volumes of this record consist in the accurate exposition of primary municipal civilization. We perceive how the early conflicts of the imperial and ecclesiastical power — the two dominant political influences of the Middle Ages — gave opportunity for the organization of local self-government, whereby free citizenship was established, and industrial resources were auspiciously developed.
English readers were already familiar with the later and more brilliant, but less substantial, welfare of this favorite Italian city, through the tasteful but despotic rule of a ducal family. Roscoe's histories are interesting and valuable as descriptive of the æsthetic progress of the Etrurian Athens ; Trollope's gives the political facts, traits, and triumphs of the Commonwealth in its original and independent career. We trace the “decrease of military and the increase of commercial aptitudes," and learn how Florence “contributed most towards bringing Italy and its people to such a point of advancement as to make freedom and self-government feasible,” — a strong traditional argument for its preference as the capital of the united Kingdom. In the performance of what is evidently a labor of love, the author has wisely avoided
such details as the prolix native annalists furnish for the gratification of their fellow-citizens, and aimed to write "such an account as should not fail to leave the reader informed of the full significance of all the names of persons and places which have become household words in every European language, and should place in a clear light the amount and the nature of that which Florence has contributed to the civilization and progress of mankind.” The wisdom and utility of this method of treating a very extensive and complicated theme entirely vindicate the author's claim to undertake the task. His peculiar fitness for it is still further emphasized by several previous works devoted to special branches of the subject, in which his complete grasp of materials and felicity of illustration have been fully recognized by the ablest critics. His style is singularly appropriate to the object in view,- not stilted or rhetorical, but familiar enough to be attractive; and alternating between concise statement of facts, chiefly derived from Ammirato and Villani, and philosophical episodes of discussion, with such references to the experience of other communities and periods as make the narration more suggestive and intelligible. His work is, indeed, a most desirable and appropriate companion to those of Sismondi and Roscoe.
The present instalment closes somewhat abruptly with the treaty of peace signed in 1428 by Filippo Maria Visconti, and remarks on the arbitrary system of Florentine taxation. Already, however, the names of certain families - destined at a subsequent epoch to be identified with the palmy artistic, but degraded political, life of the State and city - had come into prominence, especially the Capponi, Strozzi, and Medici; while Cimabue, Giotto, and Brunelleschi had initiated the triumphs of Tuscan art: Boccacio had written memorably of the pestilence, which serves as such a gloomy vestibule to his lightsome tales; and Dante's immortal poem had embodied, for all time, the cherished memory of Guido Calvancanti, the dereliction of Farinata, the terrible fate of Ugolino, the original fealty and subsequent corruption of civic life in his native city, and the divine love of Beatrice. While faithfully attesting the influence of the Tuscan bard, and recording the details of his embassy to the pope, and his letter to the emperor, the English historian demurs to the inference of those enthusiastic critics who discover in the “ Divina Commedia," and the political opinions and career of its author, such evidences of his foresight, and aspirations as a patriot, as justify the belief that his dominant and comprehensive object was the union into one harmonious nation of the discordant cities and provinces of the Italian peninsula.
The author's familiarity with Italian literature and manners, and with the city and its environs, whose early fortunes he so well rehearses, enables him to illustrate, by occasional personal episodes and local allusions, the scenes and facts described. This gives a peculiar interest to the narrative of the most remote transactions, by appealing to the associations of those familiar with Tuscany; while, by connecting the past and the present, a vital meaning is imparted to the story. No one who has seen the “Misericordia” pass on its errands of mercy can fail to read with gratified attention the account of its origin. No one who has observed the mania for lotteries among the people can wonder, when he is told that the ballotbox of old was converted into a “grab-bag." Few histories boast more local illustrations; but many of these seem destined to pass away before the cosmopolitan tendencies which have already changed the aspect and modified the individuality of Florence,- an inevitable result of her new rank, as the metropolis of the kingdom; so that the “culmination of the grand old city's fortunes," under the present régime, renders this fresh and faithful history thereof, “from the earliest independence of the Commune to the fall of the Republic in 1851," not less seasonable as a memorial of the past than instructive as a lesson for the present, serving as a needed literary landmark of “how many of the elements of modern civilization” were derived from the ancient Commonwealth.
The germinal process is easily traced. As the little community on the banks of the Arno increased in numbers, they protected themselves, according to the custom and needs of the time, by walls and fortresses; the former frequently expanding, the latter constantly renewed. Their first enterprises, as a civic power, were directed against the territorial lords, whose castles in the strongholds of the Apennines were formidable barriers to the growth, and perpetual threats to the safety, of the Commune. To rout these feudal barons, and assimilate them with the State, was the normal economy of the young republic, - a gradual but essential condition of her progress and security. Meanwhile, industrial resources within the walls were fostered by associations, law, and a thrift which seems an original, as it is a permanent, trait of the Tuscans. Early in their history, the primal and pervasive element of material prosperity, money, was dealt in to an extent and with a sagacity unparalleled by any other city of mediæval times. The florin became a vast motive power, the Florentines the bankers of Europe; and, with the increase of local pride and position, the merchants and financiers devoted their wealth and facilities to the common weal, with rare and steadfast patriotism. Special manufactures also soon reached a superior degree of excellence in Florence. Cloth-dyeing was long almost a monopoly there, and the weav. ers and silk-factors were a rich class. With such a basis, we are at no loss to recognize the economical means whereby influence abroad and industry at home were sustained. It is when we turn from the mart to the political arena that the story becomes intricate. It is when, parallel with narratives of disaster and dismay which seem fatal to civic existence, we read of magnificence in popular fêtes and the acquisition of private fortunes, that we grow bewildered with the incongruous elements of the national life; and it is when we find the deadliest expedients of tyranny, and the wildest phases of political fanaticism, at work in the midst of an ostensibly popular government, that we are perplexed to reconcile the historical facts of Florentine power and prestige with the domestic annals of dissension, invasion, anarchy, and a disbursement of funds which seems adequate to drain the treasury of an empire.