“ I AM indebted to you for a knowledge of life in the old cathedral towns of England,—of the ecclesiastical side of society, so minute and authentic that it is like a personal experience.” Thus I replied to Anthony Trollope’s declaration that he lacked an essential quality of the novelist,— imagination. “ Ah,” he replied, “when you speak of careful observation and the honest and thorough report thereof, I am conscious of fidelity to the facts of life and character ; but,” he added, with that bluff heartiness so characteristic of the man, “my brother is more than an accurate observer : he is a scholar, a philosopher as well, with historical tastes and cosmopolitan sympathies, — a patient student. You should read his books ” ; — and he snatched a pencil, and wrote out the list for me.1 Only two of Thomas Adolphus Trollope’s volumes have been republished in this country,— one a novel of English life, in tenor and traits very like his brother’s, the other a brief memoir of a famous and fair Italian.2 This curious neglect on the part of American publishers induces us to briefly record this industrious and interesting author’s claims to grateful recognition, especially on the part of those who cherish fond recollections of Italian travel, and enjoy the sympathetic and intelligent illustration of Italian life and history.
In a literary point of view “ An Englishman in Italy,” in the last century, would be suggestive of a classical tour like that of Addison and Eustace, — a field of study and speculation quite apart from the people of the country, who, except for purposes of deprecatory contrast, would probably be ignored ; and, in our own times, the idea is rather identified with caricature than sympathy,— we associate these insular travellers with exclusiveness and prejudice. As a general rule, they know little and care less for the fellow-creatures among whom they sojourn, holding themselves aloof, incapable of genial relations, and owning no guide to foreign knowledge but Murray and the Times. Farce and romance have long made capital out of this obtuse and impervious nationality ; and it is the more refreshing, because of the general rule, to note a noble exception, — to see an Englishman, highly educated, studious, domestic, and patriotic, yet dwelling in Italy, not to despise and ignore, but to interpret and endear the country and people, — making his hospitable dwelling, with all its Italian trophies and traits, the favorite rendezvous for the best of his countrymen and the native society, — there discussing the principles and prospects of civic reform, doing honor to men of genius and aspiration, irrespective of race, — blending in his salon the scholarly talk of Landor with the fervid pleas of “Young Italy,” giving equal welcome to English radical, Piedmontese patriot, American humanitarian, and Tuscan dilettante, — and thus, as it were, recognizing the free and faithful spirit of modern progress and brotherhood amid the old armor, bridal chests, parchment tomes, quaintly carved chairs, and other mediaeval relics of a Florentine palazzo.
But this cosmopolitan candor, so rare as a social phenomenon among the English in Italy, is no less characteristic of Adolphus Trollope as a writer. As he entertained, in his pleasant, antique reception-room or garden-terrace, disciples of Cavour, of Mazzini, and of Gioberti, with men and women of varied genius and opposite convictions from England and the United States, extending kindly tolerance or catholic sympathy to all, so he sought, in the history of the past and the facts of the present in the land of his love and adoption, evidences of her vital worth and auspicious destiny. Long residence abroad liberalized, and long study enriched, a mind singularly just in its appreciation, and a heart naturally kind and expansive. All his friends recognize in Adolphus Trollope that rare union of rectitude and reflection which constitutes the genuine philosopher. Mrs. Browning aptly called him Aristides. Thus living in the atmosphere of broad social instincts, and sharing the literary faculty and facility of his family, this Englishman in Italy set himself deliberately to study the country of his sojourn, in her records, local memorials, and social life, and, having so studied, to reproduce and illustrate the knowledge thus gleaned, with the fidelity of an annalist and the tact of a raconteur. It was a noble and pleasant task, and has been nobly and pleasantly fulfilled. Let us note its chief results, and honor the industry, truth, and humane wisdom manifest therein.
The range of Mr. Trollope’s investigations may be appreciated by the fact that, while he is the author of “A History of Florence from the Earliest Independence of the Commune to the Fall of the Republic in 1531,” he has also given to the press the most clear and reliable account of the revolution of our own day, under the title of “Tuscany in 1849”; thus supplying the two chronicles of the past and the present which together reveal the origin, development, and character of the state and its people. In the Preface to the former work he suggests this vital connection between the ancient republic and the modern city. “ It contains,” he observes, “ such an exposition of the old Guelph community as sufficiently demonstrates the fitness of this culmination of the grand old city’s fortunes.” It is this liberal and comprehensive tone, this “looking before and after,” which, united to careful research and patient narration, renders the author so well equipped and inspired for his task. He has brought together the essential social and political facts of the past, and, associating them with local traits and transitions, enabled us to realize the rise, progress, and alternations of the Italian state, as it is next to impossible for the Anglo-Saxon reader to do while exploring the partial, prejudiced, and complicated annals of the native historians. This is a needful, a timely, and a gracious service, for which every intelligent and sympathetic traveller who has learned to love the Tuscan capital, and grown bewildered over the complex story of her civil strifes, will feel grateful, while his obligations are renewed by the moderate but candid statement of those later movements, which, culminating in a childlike triumph, were followed by a reaction whose hopelessness was more apparent than real, and has subsequently proved an auspicious trial and training for the discipline and privileges of constitutional liberty.
The “History of Florence” is remarkable for the skilful method whereby the author has arranged, in luminous sequence, a long and confused series of political events. He has confined his narrative to the essential points of an intricate subject, omitting what is of mere casual or local interest, and aiming to elucidate the civic growth of the little city on the banks of the Arno. It is an admirable illustration of the conservative principles of free municipal institutions in the Middle Ages, notwithstanding their limited sway and frequent perversion. There is no attempt at rhetorical display, but great precision and authenticity of statement, and a conscientious citation of authorities ; the style often lapses into colloquial freedom, not inappropriate to the familiar discussion of some of the curious details involved in the theme ; and there are episodes of judicious and philosophical comment, with apt historical parallels, not a few ot which come home to our recent national experience. The author’s previous studies in Italian history, and intimate familiarity with the scene of his chronicle, give him a grasp and an insight which render his treatment at once thorough, sensible, and facile. But it is upon the more special subjects of Italian history that Mr. Trollope has expended his time and talents to the best advantage, — subjects chosen with singular judgment and imbued with fresh local and personal interest.
The scope and method of these historical studies are such as at once to embody and illustrate what is normally characteristic in time, place, and individual, while completeness of treatment is secured, and a person and period made suggestive of a comprehensive historical subject. Thus in “The Girlhood of Catharine de’ Medici ” we have the key to her mature and relentless bigotry, the logical origin of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, while, at the same time, the discipline of a convent and the intrigues of a ruling family in the Middle Ages are elaborately unfolded. Grouped around and associated with so remarkable an historical woman, they have a definite significance to the modern reader, otherwise unattainable; the Palazzo Medici, the Convents of St. Mark, Santa Lucia, and Murate, become scenes of personal interest; the Cardinal Clement and Alessandro, in their relation to the young Catharine, grow more real in their subtlety, family ambitions, and unscrupulous tyranny ; and the surroundings, superstition, fanaticism, and domestic despotism which attended the forlorn girl until she became the wife of Henry of France, explain her subsequent career and execrated memory. Incidentally the life of mediaeval Tuscany is also revealed with authentic emphasis. In “Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar,” all the singular circumstances whereby a priest of Rome became the instrument of striking the first effectual blow at her absolute spiritual dominion are narrated with precision and tact. The prolonged quarrel between the Vatican and the Republic of Venice, the ecclesiastical and civic power, then opened the way to human freedom, and Sarpi is truly exhibited as the pioneer reformer. His liberal studies, foreign friends, and independent and intrepid mind rendered him admirably fitted for the task he undertook, and the Papal government only added infamy to despotism by the baffled attempt to assassinate him. It is difficult to imagine a better introduction to the subsequent history of free thought and spiritual emancipation, which culminated in the Reformation, than this biographical sketch, where a great historical development is made clear and dramatic by the carefully told story of the lives of the two chief actors and agents therein.
There is a power in the state, unofficial, but essential, and therefore more intimately blended with its welfare and identified with its fortunes than pope, emperor, or prince, — and that is the Banker. Even in modern times the life of such a financier as Lafitte is part of the social and political history of France ; but in mediaeval times, when “the sinews of war” and the wages of corruption so often turned the scale of ambition and success, the rich bankers of the Italian cities were among the most efficient of their social forces and fame. In writing the memoirs of Filippo Strozzi, Mr. Trollope struck the key-note of local associations in the Tuscan capital. The least observant or retrospective stranger is impressed with the sight of the massive walls and grated windows of the Strozzi Palace, and is attracted by such a monument of the past to the story of its founder. A standard drama and novel were long since made to illustrate those annals,3 but it was reserved for an Englishman in Italy to record, in a well - digested and authentic narrative, the career of Filippo, whose immense wealth, marriage to a Medici, family ambition, scholarship, political and social distinction, enterprise, and luxury, and especially his financial relations with both rulers and ruled, make him one of those central figures of an historic group that serve as expositors of the time. He was indeed, by his accomplishments and his profligacy, his intrigues and associations, his alliances and enmities, his domestic and his political life, a representative man, whose character and career aptly embody and illustrate a most stirring era of European and Italian history. He escorted Catharine de’ Medici on her bridal journey from Florence, talked philosophy at Medicean banquets, was closeted with popes and kings, was the boon companion of reigning dukes, a courtier to princes and people, a magnificent entertainer, a fugitive, exile, prisoner, sceptic, scholar, and suicide, — typifying in his life the luxury and lawlessness, the culture and the crime, the splendor and the degradation, the manners and morals, of his country and his age,— and hence a most instructive biographical study, which Mr. Trollope has treated with equal fulness, insight, and authenticity.
But the most felicitous of the series is the “ Decade of Italian Women.” The idea of this work is worthy of a philosopher, and its execution, of a humane scholar. It has long been an accepted theory, that, to understand the talent and pervasive spirit of an age or country, we must look to the influence and character of the women. A subtile social atmosphere exhales from their presence and power in the state and the family; and the dominant elements of faith, as well as the tone of manners and the tendencies of character, find in the best endowed and most auspiciously situated of the sex, an embodiment and inspiration which are the most authentic, because the most instinctive, test and trait of the life of the time. Shakespeare has, with exquisite insight and memorable skill, illustrated this representative function of woman by creating types of female character which, while they modify and mould persons and events, preserve intact their essential quality' of sex, and yet represent none the less the spirit and manners of their respective epochs. Scott has done the same thing in an historical direction, that Shakespeare realized in a psychological way. We regard it, therefore, as a most judicious experiment to indicate the characteristics of mediaeval Italy by delineating her representative women. They inevitably lead us to the heart of things, — to the palace, the convent, the court, the vigil of battle, and the triumph of art. — to the loves of warrior, statesman, and priest, — to the inmost domestic shrine, — to the festival and the funeral; and all this we behold, not objectively, but through our vivid interest in a noble, persecuted, saintly, impassioned, or gifted woman, and thus partake, as it were, of the life of the age, realize its inspiration, recognize its meaning, in a manner and to a degree impossible to be derived from the formal narrative of events, without a central figure or a consecutive life which serves as a nucleus and a link, giving vital unity and personal significance to the whole.
The period of time embraced in these female biographies extends from the birth of St. Catherine of Siena, in 1347, to the death of the celebrated improvvisatrice Corilla, in 1800. With the career of each is identified a salient phase of Italian history, manners, or character; incident to the experience of all are special localities, political and social conditions, relations of art, of faith, of culture, of rule, and of morals, whereby we obtain the most desirable glimpses of the actual life and latent tendencies of Italy, considered as the focus of European civilization. We gaze upon a woman’s portrait, but beyond, beside, and around her are the warriors, statesmen, prelates, poets, and people of her time. Through her triumphs and trials, her renown or degradation, her love, ambition, sorrows, virtues, or sins, we feel, as well as see. the vital facts of her age and country. Nor is this all : each character is not only full of interest in itself, but is essentially typical and representative. Thus we have the fair saint of the Middle Ages, the energetic and sagacious ruler, the gracious reformer, the artist, the near kinswoman of prince or ecclesiastic, the poetess, the châtelaine, the nun, the profligate, the powerful, the beautiful, and the base, —all the forms and forces of womanly influence as modified by the life of the time and country. They move before us a grand procession, now awakening admiration and now pity, here ravishing in beauty or genius and there forlorn in disaster or disgrace, yet always bearing with them the strong individuality and attractive expression which, to the imagination, so easily transforms the heroines of history into the ideals of the drama, or the characters of romance. And yet in these delineations the author has indulged in no rhetorical embellishments : he has arrived simply, and sometimes sternly, at the clear statement of facts, and left them to convey their legitimate impression to the reader’s mind. The lives of many of these women have been written before, some of them elaborately ; but they are here grouped and contrasted as illustrative of national life, and hence gain a fresh charm and suggestiveness, especially as the fruits of research and the method of a disciplined raconteur are blent with the light and life of personal observation as to scenes and memorials, —the land where they once dwelt, its natural aspect and ancient trophies, being fondly familiar to the biographer. Eloquent memoirs of female sovereigns have become popular through the genial labors of Agnes Strickland and Mrs. Jameson, while Shakespeare’s women furnish a perpetual challenge to psychological critics ; but the “ Decade of Italian Women ” has a certain unity of aim and relative interest which makes it, as a literary record, analogous to a complete, though limited, gallery of family portraits, inasmuch as, however diverse the characters, they own a common bond of race and nationality, and are memorable exemplars thereof. First in the list is Catherine of Siena, the Saint, — an accurate mediaeval religious delineation which all who have visited the old city where her relics are preserved and her name reverenced will value. Then we have Catherine Sforza,—the fair representative of one of those powerful and princely families whose history is that of the state they rule. Next comes the noblest and most gifted woman of the Middle Ages, the friend of Michel Angelo, the ideal of a wife, and a lady of culture, genius, and patriotism,—Vittoria Colonna. The Bishop of Palermo’s illegitimate daughter — a famous poetess, Tullia d’ Arragona — precedes the learned, pure, intrepid Protestant, Olimpia Morata, who takes us to the court of Ferrara in its palmy days, to show how like a star that dwells apart” is a woman of rectitude and wisdom and faith amid the shallow, the sensual, and the bigoted. The renowned Paduan actress, Isabella Adrieni, gives us a striking illustration of the influence, traits, and triumphs of histrionic genius in Italy of old; while among the prone towers and gloomy arcades of Bologna we become intimate with the chaste and charming aspirations and skill of Elisabetta Sirani, whose pencil was the pride of the city, and whose character hallows her genius. Of La Corilla it is enough to say, that she was the original of Madame de Staël’s “ Corinne ” ; and no woman could have been more wisely selected to represent the fascination, subtlety, force of purpose, ambition, resources, passion, and external success of an unprincipled patrician Italian beauty of the Middle Ages than Bianca Capello.
With such a basis of research it is easy to infer how authentic, as a picture of life, would be the superstructure of romantic fiction by an author adequately equipped. Accordingly, the Italian novels of Thomas Adolphus Trollope are most accurate and detailed reflections of local characteristics ; they are full of special information ; and, while they enlighten the novice as to the domestic economy, habits, ways of thinking, costume, and social traditions of the people, they revive, with singular freshness, to the mind of one who has sojourned in Italy, every particular of his experience, — not only the corso, the opera, and the carnival, but the meals, the phraseology, the household arrangements, — all that is most individual in a district, with all that is most general as nationally representative. Indeed, not a fact or trait of modern Tuscan life seems to have escaped the author’s vigilant observation and patient record ; the life of the effete noble, the frugal citizen, the shrewd broker, the pampered ecclesiastic, the peasant, and the artist is revealed with the most precise and graphic detail. We are taken to the promenade and the caffè, to the piazza and the church, to the farm-house and the palazzo; and there we see and hear the actual everyday intercourse of the people. The Tuscan character is drawn to the life, without exaggeration, and even in its more evanescent, as well as normal traits ; its urbanity, gossip, thrift, geniality, sell-indulgence, and latent courage are admirably delineated ; its superior refinement, sobriety, love of show, and class peculiarities are truly given ; the old feudal manners that linger in modern civilization are accounted for and illustrated, especially in the relation of dependants “occupying every shade of gradation between a common servant and a bosom friend.” The author’s ecclesiastic portraits are as exact, according to our observation, as his brother’s. Each class of Italian priests is portrayed with discrimination, and no writer has better exemplified the paralyzing and perverting influence of Romanism upon the integrity of domestic life, and the purity and power of political aspirations. The women, too, are typical,— remarkably free from fanciful embellishment, eloquent of race, instinct with nature. Their limited culture, social prejudices, artless charms, frugal lives, naive or reticent characters, as modified by town and country, patrician or popular influences, we recognize at once as identical with what we have known in the households or social circles of Florence. Mr. Trollope, in all this, is a Flemish artist, and, as much of the interest of his pictures depends on their truthfulness, perhaps they are really appreciated only by those who have enjoyed adequate opportunities of becoming intimate with the original scenes, situations, and personages depicted. In the fidelity of his art he abstains from all attempts at brilliancy, and ignores the intense and highly dramatic, finding enough of wholesome interest in the real life around him, and well satisfied to reproduce it with candor and sympathy; now and then indulging in a philosophical suggestion or a judicious comment, and thus gradually, but securely, winning the grateful recognition of his reader.
“La Beata” as completely takes those familiar with its scene into the life and moral atmosphere of Florence, as does “ The Vicar of Wakefield ” into the rural life of England before the days of railways and cheap journalism. The streets, the dwellings, the people and incidents are so truly described, the perspective is so correct, and the foreground so elaborate, that, with the faithful local coloring and naive truth of the characters, we seem, as we read, to be lost in a retrospective dream, — the more so as there is an utter absence of the sensational and rhetorical in the style, which is that of direct and unpretending narrative. The heroine is a saintly model, though at the same time a thoroughly human girl, — such a one as the artistic, superstitious, frugal, and simple experience of her class and of the place could alone have fostered; the artist-hero is no less characteristic,— a selfish, clever, amiable, ambitious, and superficial Italian; while the old wax-candle manufacturer, with his domicile, daughter, and church relations, is a genuine Florentine of his kind. The life of the studio, then and there, is drawn from reality. The peculiar and traditional customs, social experience, church ceremonials, popular fêtes, home and heart life, have a minute fidelity which renders the picture vivid and winsome to one who well knows and wisely loves the Tuscan capital. An English family delineated without the least exaggeration, and with the striking contrasts such visitors always present to the native scene and people of Italy, adds to and emphasizes the salient traits of the story. Among the subjects described and illustrated with remarkable tact and truth is that most interesting charitable fraternity, the Misericordia, of which every stranger in Florence has caught impressive glimpses, but of whose social influence and real significance few are aware. Add to this the description of Camaldoli, with its famous pines, its Dantesque associations, and its remorseful convent, and we have a scope and detail in the scene and spirit of this little local romance which concentrate the points of interest in Florentine life and bring into view all that is most familiar and characteristic in the place and people. We see the gay boats on St. John’s eve from the bridges of the Arno, the procession of the black Madonna, the interior of the studios, the ceremonies, the saintly traffic and social subterfuge and naive manners, — the tradesman, painter, devotee, priest, — pride, piety, and passion,—whereof even the casual observation of a traveller’s sojourn had given us so curious or attractive an idea, that, thus expanded and defined, they seem like a personal experience. There is singular pathos in the character and career of La Beata, as there is in the expression of Santa Filomena for which she was the recognized and inspired model. The integrity of her sentiment is as Southern - European as is her lover’s falsehood and voluntary expiation. That absolute ignorance of the world and childlike trust, which we rarely meet except in Shakespeare’s women, is a moral fact of which the stranger in Italy, who has grown intimate with families of the middle class, is cognizant, and which he is apt to recall as one of those elemental and primitive phases of human nature which justify the most pure and plaintive creations of the poet. Herein the author has shown an insight as honest and suggestive as his keen and patient observation and candid record thereof.
“ Marietta ” is the genuine embodiment of that local attachment and ancestral pride so remarkable in the mediaeval Florentines, and still manifest in an exceptional class of their de-. scendants. The modern life of a decayed branch of the Tuscan nobility in the nineteenth century, the process and method of its decadence, the charm of “a local habitation and a name,” once identified with the vital power of the old republic, and the sad, effeminate, yet not unromantic sentiment incident to its passing away, through the prosperous encroachments of new men, with whom money is the power once only attached to birth, are most aptly described. The thrifty farmer of the Apennine, and his slow and handsome son, are capital types of the frugal and shrewd fattore and rustic proprietor of Tuscany; and his more astute and polished brother is equally typical of the old money-lender and goldsmith of the Ponte Vecchio. Simon Boccanera well represents the tasteful artificer of Florence, and the Gobbo the feudal devotee, whose political faith has been expanded by French ideas. In the bon vivant, the amateur musician, theamiable and easy Canonico Lunardi, what a true portrait of the priestly epicure, the self-indulgent but kindly churchman of the most urbane of Italian communities, and in the Canon of San Lorenzo, how faithful a picture of the elegant and unscrupulous aspirant and intriguer! The two girls of the story are veritable specimens, in looks, dress, talk, domestic aspect and aptitudes, not only of Italian maidenhood, but of that of the state and city of their birth, — such maidens as are only encountered on the banks of the Arno. This pleasant story takes us into one of those massive old Florentine palaces, with its lofty loggia overlooking mountain, river, olive orchard and vineyard, dome and tower,—its adjacent church with the family chapel and ancestral effigies, — its several floors let out as lodgings,— its heavy portal, storue staircase, faded frescos, barred windows, paved courtyard, moss-grown statues, and damp green garden. We recognize the familiar elements of the local life, — the frugal dinner, the wine flask, the coalbrazier, the antique lamp, the violin, the snuff-box, the ample coarse cloak, the frugality, bonhommie, shrewdness, proverbs, greetings, grace, cheerfulness, chat, rural and city traits, prejudices, pride, and pleasantness of Tuscan life and character. These all appear in suggestive contrast, and with accurate detail, woven into a tale which breathes the very atmosphere of the place.
“ Giulio Malatesta,” on the other hand, opens with distinctive glimpses of an old Italian university town ; initiates us into the prolonged and patient political conspiracies of Romagna and the ideal hopes of Gioberti’s disciples. Its hero is a student at Pisa, and one of the brave champions of Italy who led the Tuscan volunteers to patriotic martyrdom, in 1848, at Curtone. Nowhere have we read so graceful and graphic a picture of that noble episode in the history of Tuscany, which redeemed her character and proved the latent manliness of her children. There is a touching similarity between the description of the march of the Corpo Universitario from Pisa to the Mincio, — the fight at the mill, and the death of the generous and lovely boy, Enrico Palmieri, — and recent scenes in our own civil war, wherein appeared the same youthful enthusiasm and utter inexperience, the same hardships and fortitude, valor and faith. In striking contrast with these scenes of battle and self-sacrifice, including the tragic incidents attending the third anniversary of the Tuscan martyrs in the church of Santa Croce at Florence, three years later, are the episodes of fashionable and carnival life in that delightful capital. The Cascine and the Pergola are reproduced with all their gay life and license ; the Contessa Zenobia and her cavalier servente, so comical, yet true, are but slight exaggerations of what many of us have witnessed and wondered at. Provincial and conventual life in Italy is photographed in this story ; fresh forms and phases of the ecclesiastical element are incarnated from careful observation ; and the political feeling, faith, and transitions of the period are vividly illustrated. Carlo, the young noble, is a true portrait of the kindly, genial, but shallow and pleasure-seeking Florentine youth of the day, such as we have loitered with on the promenade and chatted beside at the Caffè Doney, — without convictions, playful, always half in love, with a little stock of philosophy and a lesser one of religion, yet alert to do a kindness,—full of tact, charming in manner, tasteful and tolerant, with no higher aim than being agreeable and ignoring care, — impatient of duty, fond of pastime, utterly incapable of giving pain or attempting hard work. His friend Giulio Malatesta, on the other hand, adequately personifies the earnest, thoughtful, and patriotic Italian, to whom Viva l’ Italia ! means something, — who is ready to suffer for his country, and who knows her poets by heart, believes in her unity, and has boundless faith in her future. Francesca Varini is described with an exactitude which defines her peculiar charms and traits to any reader who has fondly noted the modifications of female beauty and character incident to race and locality in Italy; and old Marta Varini is such a stoical, acute, and persistent woman as signalized the days of the Carbonari ; while Stella and Madalina are local heroines with characteristic national traits.
In “Beppo the Conscript ” we are transported to “ the narrow strip of territory shut in between the Apennines and the Adriatic, to the south of Bologna and the north of Ancona,” where European civilization once centred, Tasso sung and raved, and the Dukes of Urbino flourished. But not to revive their past glories are we beguiled to the decayed old city of Fano, and the umbrageous valleys that nestle amid the surrounding hills ; it is the normal, primitive, agricultural life and economy of the region, and the late political and social condition of the inhabitants, which this story illustrates. The means and methods of rural toil, — the “ wine, corn, and oil ” of Scriptural and Virgilian times ; the avarice, the pride, the love, the industry, and the superstition of the Contadini of the Romagna; a household of prosperous rustics, their ways and traits ; and the subtle and prevailing agency of priestcraft in its secret opposition to the new and liberal Italian government,— are all exhibited with a quiet zest and a graphic fidelity which take us into the heart of the people, and the arcana, as well as the spectacle, of daily life as there latent and manifest. The domestic, peasant, and provincial scenes and characters are drawn with fresh and natural colors and faithful outlines.
The scene of the last-published domestic novel4 of the series is laid at Siena ; and, although the story is based upon one of those impassioned tragedies of love and jealousy which can only be found in the family chronicles of Italy, the still-life, social phases, and local traits of the romance are delineated with the same quiet simplicity and graphic truth which constitute the authenticity of the author’s previous delineations of modern Italian life. The grave, conservative, and old-fashioned Tuscan city reappears, with its mediaeval aspect and traditional customs. Convent education, the homes of the patrician and the citizen, the little gig of the fattore, with the small, wiry ponies of the region, the local antiquarian and doctor, the letter-carrier, familyservant, lady-superior, pharmacist, the noble and plebeian, the costumes, phrases, and natural language characteristic of that non-commercial and isolated Tuscan city before the days of railroads and annexation, are drawn with emphasis and significant detail. Shades and causes of character are finely discriminated; the old mediæval festa peculiar to Siena, with all its original features and social phenomena, is vividly enacted in the elaborate description of the “ Palio ” on the 15th of August; while the insalubrious and picturesque Maremma is portrayed, from the Etruscan crypts of the ravines to the desolate streets of Savona, by an artistic and philosophic hand. Incidentally the solidarity of families and the antagonism of contrade, dating from the Middle Ages, are defined in explanation of modern traits. We pace the bastions of the fortress built by Cosmo de’ Medici for “ the subjection of his newly conquered subjects ” ; we haunt the cabinet of a numismatic enthusiast, and the forlorn palace-chamber of a baffled and beautiful scion of the old, fierce Orsini race ; we overhear the peasants talk, and watch the exquisite gradations of color at sunset on the adjacent mountains, across the lonely plains, or gaze down upon St. Catherine’s house in the dyers’ quarter, and muse in deserted church, urban garden, and precipitous street, consciously alive the while to the aspect and atmosphere, not only of the Siena we have visited or imagined, but of mediaeval Tuscany, and its language and life of to-day, as they are incidentally reflected in the experience of a few distinctly individualized and harmoniously developed characters,— true to race, period, and locality, and far more complete and authentic, as a record and revelation, than dry annals on the one hand, or superficial travel-sketches on the other.
The justice which these writings display, in revealing the latent goodness in things evil, the instinctive and spiritual graces as well as the social perversions of the Italian character, is quite as refreshing as the correct observation of external traits and the true record of historical causes. A generous and intelligent sympathy imparts “a precious seeing to the eye” of the agreeable story-teller, who has thus patiently and fondly explored the past, delineated the present, and hailed the future of Italy, in a spirit of liberal wisdom and true humanity.
- A History of Florence, in four volumes; Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar; Filippo Strozzi; The Girlhood of Catharine de’ Medici; A Decade of Italian Women ; Tuscany in 1849; La Beata; Marietta; Giulio Malatesta ; Beppo the Conscript. London : Chapman and Hall. 18561865.↩
- Lindisfarn Chase. Harper and Brothers, 1863, Life if Vittoria Colonna. Sheldon & Co., 1859.↩
- Filippo Strozzi, Tragedia par G. B. Niccolini. Luisa Strozzi, Romanzo par G. Rossini.↩
- Gemma. A Novel in three volumes. London : Chapman and Hall. 1866.↩