in the Discourse of Benedetto Varchi upon one sonnet of Michael Angelo, contained in the volume of his poems published by Biagioli, from which, in substance, the views of Radici are taken.

Towards his end, there seems to have grown in him an invincible appetite of dying, for he knew that his spirit could only enjoy contentment after death. So vehement was this desire that, he says, “ his soul can no longer be appeased by the wonted seductions of painting and sculpture.” A fine melancholy, not unrelieved by his habitual heroism, pervades his thoughts on this subject. At the age of eighty years, he wrote to Vasari, sending him various spiritual sonnets he had been composing, and tells him “he is at the end of his life, that he is careful where he bends his thoughts, that he sees it is already 24 o'clock, and no fancy arose in his mind but DEATH was sculptured on it.” In conversing upon this subject with one of his friends, that person remarked, that Michael might well grieve that one who was incessant in his creative labors should have no restoration. “ No," replied Michael, “it is nothing; for, if life pleases us, death, being a work of the same master, ought not to displease us.” But a nobler sentiment, uttered by him, is contained in his reply to a letter of Vasari, who had informed him of the rejoicings made at the house of his nephew Lionardo, at Florence, over the birth of another Buonaroti. Michael admonishes him, that “a man ought not to smile, when all those around him weep; and that we ought not to show that joy when a child is born, which should be reserved for the death of one who has lived well.”

Amidst all these witnesses to his independence, his generosity, his purity, and his devotion, are we not authorized to say, that this man was penetrated with the love of the highest beauty, that is, goodness; that

his was a soul so enamoured of grace, that it could not stoop to meanness or depravity; that art was to him no means of livelihood or road to fame, but the end of living, as it was the organ through which he sought to suggest lessons of an unutterable wisdom; that here was a man who lived to demonstrate, that to the human faculties, on every hand, worlds of grandeur and grace are opened, which no profane eye, and no indolent eye, can behold, but which to see and to enjoy, demands the severest discipline of all the physical, intellectual, and moral faculties of the individual?

The city of Florence, on the river Arno, still treasures the fame of this man. There, his picture hangs in every window; there, the tradition of his opinions meets the traveller in every spot. “Do you see that statue of St. George? Michael Angelo asked it, why it did not speak.

- “Do you see this fine church of Santa Maria Novella? It is that which Michael Angelo called his bride.'Look at these bronze gates of the Baptistery, with their high reliefs, cast by Ghiberti five hundred years ago. Michael Angelo said, they were fit to be the gates of Paradise.” Here is the church, the palace, the Laurentian library, he built. Here is his own house. In the church of Santa Croce are his mortal remains. Whilst he was yet alive, he asked that he might be buried in that church, in such a spot that the dome of the cathedral might be visible from his tomb, when the doors of the church stood open. And there, and so, is he laid. The innumerable pilgrims, whom the genius of Italy draws to the city, duly visit this church, which is to Florence what Westminster Abbey is to England. There, near the tomb of Nicholas Machiavelli, the historian and philosopher; of Galileus Galileo, the great-hearted astronomer; of Boccaccio, and of Alfieri, stands the monument of Michael Angelo Buo

naroti. Three significant garlands are sculptured on the tomb; they should be four, but that his countrymen feared their own partiality. The forehead of the bust, esteemed a faithful likeness, is furrowed with eight leep wrinkles one above another. The traveller from a distant continent, who gazes on that marble brow, feels that he is not a stranger in the foreign church; for the great name of Michael Angelo sounds hospitably in his ear. He was not a citizen of any country; he belonged to the human race; he was a brother and a friend to all, who acknowledge the beauty that beams in universal nature, and who seek by labor and self-denial to approach its source in perfect goodness.

[ocr errors]


THE discovery of the lost work of Milton, the treatise “Of the Christian Doctrine,” in 1823, drew a sudden attention to his name. For a short time the literary journals were filled with disquisitions on his genius; new editions of his works, and new compilations of his life, were published. But the newfound book having, in itself, less attraction than any other work of Milton, the curiosity of the public as quickly subsided, and left the poet to the enjoyment of his permanent fame, or to such increase or abatement of it only as is incidental to a sublime genius, quite independent of the momentary challenge of universal attention to his claims.

But if the new and temporary renown of the poet is silent again, it is nevertheless true, that he has gained, in this age, some increase of permanent praise. The fame of a great man is not rigid and stony like his bust. It changes with time. It needs time to give it due perspective. It was very easy to remark an altered tone in the criticism when Milton re-appeared as an author, fifteen years ago, from any that had been bestowed on the same subject before. It implied merit indisputable and illustrious; yet so near to the modern mind as to be still alive and life-giving. The aspect of Milton, to this generation, will be part of the history of the nineteenth century. There is no name in literature between his age and ours that rises into any approach to his own. And as a man's fame, of course, characterizes those who give it, as much

as him who receives it, the new criticism indicated a change in the public taste, and a change which the poet himself might claim to have wrought.

The reputation of Milton had already undergone one or two revolutions long anterior to its recent aspects. In his lifetime, he was little, or not at all, known as a poet, but obtained great respect from his contemporaries as an accomplished scholar and a formidable controvertist. His poem fell unregarded among his countrymen. His prose writings, especially the “Defence of the English People," seem to have been read with avidity. These tracts are remarkable compositions. They are earnest, spiritual, rich with allusion, sparkling with innumerable ornaments; but, as writings designed to gain a practical point, they fail. They are not effective, like similar productions of Swift and Burke; or, like what became, also, controversial tracts, several masterly speeches in the history of the American Congress. Milton seldom deigns a glance at the obstacles, that are to be overcome before that which he proposes can be done. There is no attempt to conciliate, — no mediate, no preparatory course suggested, emptory and impassioned, he demands, on the instant, an ideal justice. Therein they are discriminated from modern writings, in which a regard to the actual is all but universal.

Their rhetorical excellence must also suffer some deduction. They have no perfectness. These writings are wonderful for the truth, the learning, the subtilty and pomp of the language; but the whole is sacrificed to the particular. Eager to do fit justice to each thought, he does not subordinate it so as to project the main argument. He writes whilst he is heated; the piece shows all the rambles and resources of indignation; but he has never integrated the parts

but, per

« ElőzőTovább »