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And ery, O wretch in a shroud,
It strains me to the last;
deathi is a sleep, a word?
To those who think they may repent them late. Certainly, all this is very powerful. The picture of the once beautiful, proud, and unthinking creature, caught, and fixed down in a wasting trap,—the calling upon her to come forth, and see if any one will now be won into her open arms,-the taunts about the immortal balm which she thought she had in her veins,--the whole, in short, of the terrible disadvantage under which she is made to listen with unearthly cars to the poet's lecture, affects the imagination to shuddering.
No wonder that such an address made a sensation, even upon the gaiety of a southern city. One may conceive, how it fixed the superstitious more closely over their meditations and skulis; how it sent the young, and pious, and humble, upon their knees; how it baulked the vivacity of the serenaders; brought tears into the eyes of affectionate lovers; and shot doubt and confusion even into the cheeks of the merely wanton. Andrea de Basso, armed with the lightnings of his church, tore the covering from the grase, and smote up the heart of Ferrara as with an earthquake.
For a lasting impression however, or for such a one as he would have desired, the author, with all his powers, overshot his mark. Men build again over earthquakes, as nature resumes her serenity. The Ferrarese returned to their loves and guitars, when absolution had set them to rights. It was impossible indeed that Andrea de Basso should have succeeded in fixing such impressions upon the mind; and it would have been an error in logic as well as every thing else, if he had. He committed himself both as a theologian and a philosopher. The allusion, towards the end of his ode, is to the Catholic notion, that the death of a saintly person is accompanied by what they call “ the odour of sanctity;"--a literalized metaphor, which they must often have been perplexed to maintain. But the assents of superstition, and the instinct of common sense, always keep a certain separation at bottom; and the poet drew such a piciure of mortality, as would infallibly be applied to every one, ricious or virtuous. It was too close and more tifying, even for the egotism of religious fancy to overcome. All would have an insterest contradicting it somehow or other.
On the other hand, if they could not well contradict or bear to think of it, his mark was overshot there,
It has been observed, in times of shipwrecks, plagues, and other circumstances of a common despair, that upon the usual principle of extremes meeting, mankind turn about upon death their pursuer, and defy him to the teeth. The superstious in vain exhort them to think; and threaten them with the consequences of their refusal. They have threats enough. If they could think to any purpose of refreshment, they would. But time presses; the exhortation is too like the evil it would remedy; and they endeavour to crowd into a few moments all the enjoyments, to which nature has given them a tendency, and to which, with a natural piety beyond that of their threateness, they feel that they have both a tendency and a right. If many such odes as Basso's could have been written, --if the court of Ferrara had turned superstitious and patrosized such productions, the next age would not merely have beci lively; it would have been debauched.
Again, the reasoning of snch appeals to the general sense is absurd in itself. They call upon us to join life and death together ;to think of what we are not, with the feelings of what we are ; to be very different, and yet to be the same. Ilypochondria may do this; #melancholy imagination, or a strong imagination of any sort, may do it for a time; but it will never be done generally, and nature never intruded it should. A decaying dead body is no more the real human bring, than a watch, stopped and mutilated, is a time-piece, or cold water warm, or a numb finger in the same state of sensation as the one next it, or any one modification of being the same as another. pitch ourselves by imagination into this state of being; but it is ourselves, modified by our present totalities and sensation, that we do pitch there. What we may be otherwise, is another thing. The melancholy imagination may give it melancholy fancies; the livelier one may if it pleases, suppose it a state of exquisite dissolution. The phiJosopher sees in it nothing but a contradiction to the life by which we judge of it, and a dissolution of the compounds which held us together. There is one thing alone in such gloomy beggings of a question, which throws them back upon the prescriptions of wisdom, and prevents them from becoming general. They are always accompanied by ill-health. We do not mean a breaking up of the frame, or that very road to death, which may be a kindly and chearful one, illumined by the sunset, as youth was by the dawn : but a polluted and artificial state of blood, or an insufficient vigour of existence, that state in short, which is an exception to the general condition of humanity, and acts like the proof of a rule to the intentions of Nature. For these are so kind, that no mistake in the world, not even vice itself, is so sure to confuse a man's sensations and render thein melancholy. Nature seems to say to US, 6 Be, above all things, as natural as you can contrive, ---as much as possible in the best fashion of the would in which I cast you, and you shall be happy.” Nor is this un.
lacky for virtue, but most lucky: for it takes away its pride, and leaves it all its cheerfulness. Real vice will soon be found to be real unhealthiness: nor could society have a better guide to the reformation of its moral system, than by making them as compatible as possible with every healthy impulse. But why, it may be asked, are we not all healthy. It is impossible to say: but this is certain, that the 'oftener a man asks himself that question, the more intimations he has that he is to try and get out of the tendency to ask them. may live elsewhere: we may be compounded over again, and receive a new consciousness here ;-a guess, which if it seems dreary at first, might lead us to make a heaven of the earth we live in, even for our own sakes hereafter. But at all events, put, as Jupiter says in the fable, your shoulder to the wheel; and put it as chearfully as you
The way that Andrea de Basso should have set about reforming the grosser Ferrarese beauties, would ha been to shew them at their enjoyments were hurtful in proportion as they were extravagant; and less than they might be, in proportion as they were in bad taste. But to ask the healthy to be hypochondriacal; the beautiful to think gratuitously of ugliness; and the giddy, much less tlie wise, to desire to be angels in heaven by representing God as a cruel and eternal punisher,---is what never could, and never ought to have, a lasting effect on hunanity.
It has been well observed, that life is a series of present sensationis. It might be added, that the consciousness of the present moment is one of the strongest of those present sensations. Still this consciousness is a series, not a line; a variety with intervals, not a continuity and a haunting. If it were, it would be unhealthy : if it were unhealthy, it would be melancholy; if it were melancholy, the evident system upon which nature acts would be different. Thus it is impossible, that men should be finally led by gloomy, and not by pleasant doctrines.
When the Ferrarese beauties read the poem of Andrea de Basso, it occupied the series of their sensations for a little while, more or less according to their thoughtfulness, and more or less even then according to their unhealthiness. The power of voluntary thought is profortioned to the state of the health. In a little time, the Ferrarese, being like other general multitudes, and even gayer, would turn to their usual reflections and enjoyments, as they accordingly did. About that period Ariosto was born. Ile rose to vindicate the charity and good-will of nature; and put forth more real wisdom, trutli, and even piety, in his willing enjoyment of the creation, than all the niouks in Ferrara could have mustered together for centuries.
To conclude, Andrea de Basso mistook his own self, as well as the means of instructing his callous beauty. We can imagine her disagreeable enough. There are few things more oppressive to the heart, than the want of feeling in those whose appearance leads others to feel intensely ;--the sight of beauty sacrificing its own real comfort as well as ours, by a heartless and indiscriminate love of admiration from young and old, the gross and the refined, the wise and the foolishi, the goodnatured and the ill-natured, the happy-making and the vicious. If Andrea de Basso's heroine was one of this stamp, we can imagine her
to have irritated his best feelings, as well as his more suspicious opes. We hope she was not merely a giddy creature, who had not quite pa. tience enough with her confessor. We hope also, --many other things. Confessors are not persons to be provoked, either by ladies or gentle
Alfred the Great, when a youth, was accustomed to turn a deaf ear to the didactics of his holy kinsman St. Neot; for which, says the worthy Bishop Asser, who was nevertheless a great admirer of the King, and wrote his life, all those 'troubles were afterwards brought upon him and his kingdom. Be this as it may, and supposing the Ferrarese beauty to have been a cruel one, in the sense which the religious poet implies, he was not aware, while triumphing over her poor folly, and endeavouring to enjoy the thought of her torments, that he was confounding the very sentiment of the thing with its reverse, and doing his best to make himself a worse and more hard-hearted person than she.
His efforts to make us think lightly of the most beautiful things in the external world, by shewing us that they will not always be what they are,--that a smooth and graceful limb will not for ever be the same smooth and graceful limb, nor an eye an eg
eye, nor an apple an apple, are not as wise as they are poetical. To have said that the limb, unless admired with sentiment as well as ordinary admiration, is a very common-place thing to what it might be, and that there is more beauty in it than the lady supposed, would have been good. To make nothing of it, because she did not make as much as she could, is unwise. But above all, to consign her to eternal punishment, in the next world, because she gave rise to a series of
wrong cation, was the cause of them,
-is one of those idle worryings of himself and others, which only perplex further what they cannot explain, and have at last fairly sickened the world into a sense of their unhealthiness.
What then remains of the poetical denouncements of Andrea de Basso? Why the only thing which ought to remain, and which when left to itself retains nothing but its pleasure,—their poetry. When Dante and Milton shall cease to have any effect as religious dogma. tizers, they will still be the mythological poets of one system of faith, as Homer is of another. So immortal is pleasure, and so surely does it escape out of the throng of its contradictions.
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