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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. — 1. Proposta di alcune Correzioni ed Aggiunti al
Vocabolario della Crusca [di VINCENZO MONTI). In
3 Volumi. Milano : 1817 - 1824. Svo. 2. Storia d'Italia, di Carlo Botta. In 14 Volumi. Svo. 3. Elementi di Filosofia, di PASQUALE GALUPPI. In
5 Volumi. 12mo. 4. Collezione degli Scritti sulla Dottrina della Ragione, di
GRANDOMENICO ROMAGNOSI. In 2 Volumi. 8vo.
The forms of national developement are as various as the features of national character. Essentially the same in their origin and in their progress, they both should be judged by the same laws and studied upon the same principles. The first step is the collection of facts; and, after this preparation, we are at liberty to follow out our conclusions to the utmost extent, that the rules of sober induction will warrant. The action of similar causes upon material objects is necessarily followed by similar results. And if this principle, the source of such sublime discoveries in physical science, has not as yet been applied with equal success to the investigation of intellectual phenomena, the failure must be attributed not to the law itself, but to the peculiar nature of the subject to which our observations are directed. An object seen at a distance, and through the mist and haze of evening, may - NO. 107.
assume a form different from its own, and give rise to deceptions, which nothing but a nearer approach can remove. But, to dissipate the mists and delusions of the mind ; to bring the eye of intellect close to its own operations ; and then direct it, purified and strengthened by this internal study, to the examination of men and of nations, acting upon a broad field and swayed by every variety of motives, some peculiar to the individual and some to the epoch, is a task, which philosophy, although she has labored for ages, has thus far but imperfectly accomplished.
In part, however, her labors have not been fruitless, and some laws have been discovered of sufficiently sure and general application to warrant the use of them as of fixed and undeniable truths. Among these the first, both in order and in importance, is that far-reaching principle, which, in judging of nations, refers to the state of their intellectual culture as the test and token of their destiny. Other forms of developement are more immediately dependent upon external
Agriculture may prosper or languish, according as it is favored or discouraged by the division of the soil and the views of the government. Manufactures and commerce are the products of situation and of circumstances; and all of these, although they furnish important data for the study of nations, should be considered as effects, rather than as causes. But poetry, philosophy, art, proceed directly and solely from the mind, and afford, if rightly studied, unerring testimonials of the nature of their source. Circumstances may savor their growth, but cannot create them. Their source lies deep below the surface; and, whether it pour forth a broad and sweeping stream, or glide in silence through the retired vale and unfrequented recesses of life, the springing flower and verdant bank reveal the secrets of its course.
If the application of this principle be as extensive as we have supposed, it necessarily follows, that in those countries, which are politically dependent, the state and tendency of intellectual pursuits is almost the only standard by which their character and their hopes can be estimated. Of all that they possess, their literature is the only treasure that they can truly call their own. Here alone the mind is free to follow its own impulses. Here the poet may utter laments which all others must suppress, and the philosopher nearly forget the miseries of the present as he weaves with his own hand a brighter wreath into the inevitable destinies of his country.
It is with a firm conviction of the soundness of the principle which we have advanced, that we venture to invite the attention of our readers, to a general view of the state and direction of studies in Italy, during the first thirty-eight years of the present century. And, if we should succeed in placing this subject in a clearer light, and one more honorable to the Italians, than it is generally represented in, we shall feel better entitled to call upon our countrymen to pause and weigh their judgment of a country which receives them with marked partiality ; which breathes its reviving air into the very hearts of their sick and their wearied ; which stores their memories with ennobling recollections; and which only asks of them in return, that they should not judge her in haste or in prejudice, or that at least they should draw a veil over her errors, and drop a tear at the tale of her misfortunes.
There are many facts in general as well as in individual history, which derive much of their importance from the circumstances under which they occur. Even trifles become interesting when they serve as indications of character. What can seem more ridiculous than a Demosthenes in his vault, his head half shorn, and wasting day and night in the servile copying of the writings of another? or on the seashore, straining bis voice until it became audible amidst the dash and roar of the waves ? But what more sublime than the same Demosthenes in the presence of the multitude, guiding at will the impetuous torrent of human passion, and calling into life, by the force of his eloquence, feelings long lost in sloth and in corruption ? And, to bring the comparison more directly to the subject before us, what can appear more trivial, than that grave men should have passed the most precious years of life in the study of words and phrases, carefully sifung idiom from idiom, and apparently with no higher aim than correctness of diction ? But if it be true, that the loss of national idiom is the lowest point of degradation to which a people can sink ; that, when every other tie has been dissolved, language forms a bond of union even for the coldest and most insensible ; and that there is something so peculiar in the character of every tongue as to preserve a cast of nationality even amid all the diversities of individual style ; this study of words becomes the most powerful expression of the love of country.
It is difficult to fix with precision, the epoch, in which the Italian language had reached the lowest state of corruption to which it has ever fallen, or to name, indeed, any period, in which the study of it in its purity has not been pursued with a certain share of success. Even during the last century we find writers, who, for force, grace, and purity of expression, are deservedly ranked with the first names of her literature ; and, what is of still more importance for the light in which we are viewing the subject, men not less distinguished for the intrinsic value than for the elegance of their productions.
But the example of a few individuals, however eminent, was not sufficient to put a full stop to the progress
of corruption. The multitude continued to speak and to write as if a mere change of words were a change of language. A society of lively and ingenious philosophers, the celebrated authors of the Caffè, undertook to defend their principles with the weapons of wit, of satire, and of philosophy. Even they who tried hardest and wrote with most care, could not always avoid those foreign infusions of thought and manner which tinctured the productions of their contemporaries; and, that nothing might be wanting to make the triumph complete, the art of corruption was reduced to general laws, and the student taught how far, and according to what rules, he might take the formation of his language into his own hands. The defence of their antagonists was often feeble, always dry ; and what, indeed, could they reply to the odious appellation of purist and pedant ; that logic of general terms, which so happily comprises in one sweeping appellation whatever you choose to attribute to your adversary of ludicrous or of vile. This controversy was continued with unabated bitterness through the first twenty years of the present century; nor, during any portion of that period, would it have been possible to say, on which side the balance would eventually turn. A fortunate union of rare and diversified talent has at length brought it to a point, which, if it does not amount to a positive decision, has at least placed it in its true light, and leaves but little to apprehend for the future.
It is not so much with a view to the order of merit, as to that of time, that we place first in our catalogue the name of Antonio Cesari. This indefatigable philologist was born in Verona, on the 18th of January, 1760. An early propensity to retirement called him to the cloister, and at the age of eighteen he assumed the robe of the congregation of the Oratorio. If the life of a man of letters be proverbially monotonous, what can be expected of one who, to the quiet of the study, added the still deeper seclusion of the convent? The shocks and turmoil of an age of revolutions produced but a transient change in the pursuits of Cesari. He was absorbed in the study of his beloved trecentisti. To renew that golden period of the Italian language, he labored night and day through the whole of a protracted life. He composed, he compiled, he translated, he edited. And when, at the close of his career, he looked around upon what he had proposed and upon what he had accomplished, we would venture to say, that he died contented; for his task was done, and his harvest was white for the
He died on the 1st of October, 1828.
Contemporary with Cesari, at times his friend and at others his foe, but still concurring with him, although upon different principles, in the same undertaking, was the celebrated Vincenzo Monti. Poet, critic, philologist, impetuous in his feelings, and no less so in the expression of them ; with an imagination which seemed to glow by its own spontaneous action, and a richness of language and of imagery which, notwithstanding the severity of his taste, sometimes degenerated into exuberance ; nothing was wanting to the success of Monti, but that he should have been born in an epoch less rigid in its requirements, and more disposed to pardon the sins of the imagination. He began his studies with what he always considered as the fountain head of Italian eloquence, the study of Latin ; and it was thus that he laid the foundation of that pure taste, which, in an age of almost universal corruption, led him back to the classics of his native tongue. Some juvenile compositions, already distinguished by their departure from the prevailing style of the period, won him the favor and protection of Cardinal Borghese, by whose invitation and under whose auspices he removed to Rome. It was at this period, and before he had completed his nineteenth year, that his poetical career may be said to have had its beginning ; and his reputation, supported by various productions, one, at least,