A Tale of Modern Rome. Boston : Ticknor & Fields. 1860. Author’s Edition. 16mo. pp. 526.
THIS is a reprint of a remarkable book. It is the book of a person familiar with Rome and with the Romans, who has thought seriously and felt deeply in regard to their character and fortunes, who has studied with keen and sympathetic imagination the hearts of the people, and observed closely the outward aspect and common shows of the city. The story is well constructed, and has the essential merit of interest. Not only are the characters distinctly presented, but there is in them, what it is rare to find in the personages of our modern novelists, a real and natural development, which is exhibited not so much by what is said about them as by their own apparently unconscious words and acts. So just a view is given in this novel of Italian habits of thought and tones of feeling, so true an appreciation is shown of the peculiarities of national disposition and temperament, and so intimate and exact an acquaintance with public events and the course of politics in Rome, as to lead to the conclusion that the author writes from the fulness of personal experience, and was no stranger to the interests of the stirring period in which the scenes of the story are laid.
The book, indeed, has a double character. It is not a mere novel; for it contains, in addition to its story, a sketch of the course of public affairs in Rome during the three memorable years from the accession of Pius IX. to the fall of the Republic and the entry of the French troops into the city, which they still hold in subjection to rulers who claim to govern it for the spiritual interests of the world. And while it may be warmly recommended to such readers as only desire to find an interesting story, it deserves not less hearty recommendation to such as may care to understand one of the most striking and dramatic episodes of modern history, and to gain an acquaintance with events which throw great illustration on the present condition and hopes of Italy. In this respect, as well as in the ability with which it is written, it may fairly be classed with the novels of Ruffini,— “ Lorenzo Benoni ” and “Doctor Antonio.” To those who have read those two books it need not be said that this is high praise.
History is not treated by the author of “ Mademoiselle Mori ” after the common fashion of novelists. Events are not misrepresented in it, nor are the characters of the prominent actors in public affairs distorted to suit any theory, or to advance the interest of the story. The chief value of the book, and that which ought to secure for it a permanent place, does not, however, consist in any formal narrative of events, or in its pictures of noted individuals, but in its representation of the states of mind and feeling of the Romans during the first years of the pontificate of the present Pope, of the objects and methods of action of the various parties that were then called into active existence, of the occasions of the rapid changes in the popular disposition from the time when Pius IX. was the idol of the crowd to that when he was a faithless fugitive to Gaeta, and of the causes which led to the bitter disappointment and utter failure of the efforts of the Roman patriots.
We do not know of any book in which so intelligent and so true an account of these things, which were the springs from which events issued, and which underlie all their currents, is to be found. The sympathies of the author are with the liberal party, with the party that labored for reform, but not for a republic, and whose hopes and plans were crushed by the horrible assassination of Rossi. It is one of the most calamitous results of a tyranny like that exercised at Rome, that it renders a gradual progress of reform at any time when it may be undertaken almost an impossibility, and sows the seed of inevitable violence and of revolution, which is apt to end, as in the Roman instance, in a return of despotism. The view given of the Roman revolution and republic of 1849 by the author of “ Mademoiselle Mori ” coincides in the main with that taken by Farini, and the other chief Italian statesmen of the present day ; and its accuracy and good sense are confirmed by the course of recent events, not merely in Rome, but in other parts of Italy as well. It is vain to predict the future of a state so anomalous as that of Rome; but it is safe to say that the Romans learned much from their last revolution, and are learning much from its results, so that, when another opportunity arrives for them to gain some share of that freedom which Northern Italy has been so happy in securing, they will not repeat their former mistakes, and will not be found less competent for liberty than the Tuscans or the people of the Romagna. Perhaps the failure of 1849 may then turn out to have been a dark blessing; and the blood of those who fell on the Roman walls, and the tears of those who have wept in Roman prisons, may not have been shed in vain.
The cause of Italy deserves the heartiest sympathy, and, if need be, a personal sacrifice on the part of every lover of liberty and of justice in the world. The question of Italian unity and independence is the most important that has been presented in Europe in our time. The issue involved in it is that of the advance or the degradation of a nation so noble that none can be called nobler,-—of the rights of the many, as against the power of the few,— of the rights of thought, as against those of the sword, — of the establishment of those principles which do most to make life precious, as against those by which it is made vile and wretched. The last year has seen a part of the great work of freeing Italy accomplished. If Sardinia can but have time allowed her in which to knit her forces, if she can for a time escape from foreign attacks and from internal divisions, Italy is secure. Venice, Rome, and Naples will not long languish under the tyranny of Austrian, of priest, and of Bourbon.
We return for a few words to “ Mademoiselle Mori.” The readers of Mr. Hawthorne's imaginative Italian romance will be pleased to find in this book further illustrations of the Rome he has so admirably pictured. The author has not the genius of Mr. Hawthorne, but the descriptions which the book contains of Roman scenes and places are full of truth, and render the common, every-day aspect of streets and squares, of gardens and churches, of popular customs and social habits, with equal spirit and fidelity. The interest of the story is sustained by the distinctness with which the localities in which it passes are depicted. The style of the book is so excellent that we the more regret a few careless and clumsy expressions, and some awkward sentences, which a little pains might have prevented. We regret also that the Italian words and phrases which appear in the volume are sometimes grievously disfigured by misprints. The distinguished name of Saffi is travestied by being misprinted Gaffi,—and there are other blunders of the same sort, in which the Riverside Press has but too faithfully followed the English edition.