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excited, chilled, terror-struck, - moved, in short, by turns, with all the feelings that such a scene is calculated to awaken.
His narrations, if compared with those of the great historians of antiquity, will be found to possess two of the highest qualities of which this kind of writing is susceptible ; clearness, and animation. He never wrote until he had completed his study of the event; and then, by the assistance of a most exact and retentive memory, he wrote it out just in the order in which it arranged itself in his head. He was thus enabled to give his narrative that appearance of unity of conception, which it is impossible to communicate, unless where the mind has, from the very first, embraced the subject in its full extent. The glow of composition, moreover, was never interrupted, and he was free to enter with the full force of his feelings into the spirit of the scenes he was describing. Hence many who deny him others of the higher qualities of an historian, allow him to be one of the most fascinating of narrators.
His descriptions have more of the warmth of poetry in them, than those of any other modern historian with whose works we are acquainted. Here, indeed, he seems to be upon his own ground; and, whether he describe a battle-field, a midnight assault, a sack, the siege or the storming of a city or of a fortress, - the convulsions, in short, of man or of nature hersell, – he is everywhere equally master of his subject. His eye seems to take in the whole at a glance, and seize instinctively upon those points which are best calculated to characterize the scene.
if he leaves less to the imagination than Tacitus or Sallust, the incidents that he introduces are so well chosen, that they seize forcibly upon the imagination, and never fail to produce their full effect. His description of the fight of the French exiles from Savoy, of the passages of the Alps by Bonaparte and by Macdonald, of the sack of Pavia, of the siege of Famagosta, and of the earthquake in Calabria, may be cited as equal to any thing that ever was written. Read the taking of Siena by Cosimo the First. You are moved as if you were on the spot, and were witnessing with your own eyes that scene of horror. You can see the band of exiles worn down, emaciated, by watching and by want. The whole story of the past is graved upon their deathlike countenances. As the melancholy train moves slowly onward, sighs, tears, ill suppressed groans, force their way. They touch even the hearts of the victors. Every hand is stretched out to succour and to console. But grief and hardship have done their work. Their files were thin, when they passed for the last time the gate of their beloved home; but, ere they reach the banks of the Arbia, many a form has sunk exhausted and death-struck by the way. And, to complete the picture, he adds one little touch, which we give in the original, for the force of the transposition would be lost in English. “ Sapevano bene di aver perduto una patria, ma se un'altra ne avrebbero trovato, nol sapevano.'
The portraits of Botta are not equal to the other parts of his writings. No writer ever described character by action better than he ; but, in the uniting of those separate traits which constitute individual character, and those slight and delicate shades which diversify it, he ofien fails. The same may be said of his views of the general progress of civilization. He never, indeed, loses sight of this capital point ; and some of his sketches, such for example as the whole first book of his “ History of Italy from 1789," are admirable ; but the developement of the individual and of society, and their mutual and reciprocal action, are not kept so constantly in view, and made to march on with the body of the narrative, with all that distinctness and precision, which we have a right to expect from so great a writer.
The moral bearing of every event, and of every character, , is, on the contrary, always placed in full relief. Here his judgment is never at fault; and the high and the low, the distant and the near, are alike brought with stern impartiality to answer for their deeds at the tribunal of historical morality. “O si,” he cries, addressing himself, after the relation of one of the most horrid acts ever perpetrated, to those who flatter themselves with the hope, that their greatness will always prove a sufficient screen from the infamy that they deserve, co infamativi pure
co’fatti, che la storia vi infamerà co’ detti.” And nowhere is the goodness of his own heart more apparent, than in the delight with which he dwells upon those few happy days, which sometimes break in like an unexpected gleam of sunshine upon the monotonous gloom of history ; entering into all the minuter details, and setting off the event and its hero, by some well-chosen anecdote or apposite reflection.
Of his style we have, perhaps, already said enough. Purity of diction, richness, variety, and an almost intuitive adaptation of construction and of language to the changes of the subject, are its leading characteristics. The variety of his terms is wonderful ; and no one, who has not read him with attention, can form a correct idea of the power and inexhaustible resources of the Italian. A simple narrator, an exciting orator, soft, winning, stern, satirical at will, consummate master of all the secrets of art, he seems to us to have carried many parts of historical composition to a very high pitch of persection ; and, if in some be appear less satisfactory, it is because he falls below the standard that we have formed from his own writings, rather than any that we have derived from those of others.
The “ History of the Kingdom of Naples,” by Pietro Colletta, was published at Capolago, in 1834, in two volumes, octavo. This work comprises the space of nearly one hundred years, from 1734 to 1825. Colletta, like Botta, was an eyewitness and an actor in many of the scenes that he describes. His youth, also, was passed in the turbulence of revolution, was equally checkered with the vicissitude of prosperous and of adverse fortune, and his days closed in poverty and in exile. Happier in one thing than Botta, that the spot of bis exile was less distant from that of his nativity, and his last years were passed under the sky of Italy ; but still bis home was Naples,
e chi vi nacque
The life of Colletta has been written by his friend and editor, and with so much eloquence, both of philosophy and of feeling, that none would venture to abridge, few to translate it. Referring our readers to that exquisite sketch, we shall confine our remarks to his literary character.
The “ History of Naples " by Giannone, one of the most remarkable productions ever published, since it accomplished fully the purpose for which it was composed, terminates with the death of Charles the Second, in 1700. Colletta, after a rapid sketch of the events of the first thirty-three years of the eighteenth century, enters upon a full narration, with the conquest of the kingdom of Naples and Sicily by Charles Bourbon. This period in the history of Naples was full of momentous changes. The passage from the government of a viceroy to that of a resident sovereign ; reforms in the laws, in the usages, in the whole civil state, of the nation, and hence a new and more enlarged system of foreign intercourse ; a remarkable developement of individual genius; a constant struggle, in short, between two adverse forms of civilization ; together with the convulsions, the public and private desolation, of five revolutions ; such is the theme which he has treated in the two volumes of his “ History of Naples.” To say that he has done it well, that he has studied it profoundly and in detail, that he has entered deeply into the spirit of the events and of the men, would be but meagre praise. He brought to his undertaking the highest qualifications that an historian can possess; a mind formed in the school of experience and of adversity ; an indomitable will; a clear perception of causes and of general principles; patience and assiduity in the search of truth, and a heart to kindle and to glow in the narration of it.
His narrative is distinct and animated, but not flowing nor always easy. His descriptions, on the contrary, are always animated and natural. His military descriptions, in particular, are written with the feeling of a soldier and the science of a profound tactician. He paints to the life, and, in all bis delineations of individual character, you see the quick eye of a man long skilled in reading the secret workings of the heart. But the strongest portions of his work are the admirable passages which he has devoted to a minute description of the wants and reforms of the state. No historian ever felt more deeply the importance of interweaving the history of civilization with the whole course of his narration, and thus giving at one view the results as well as the march of history. In the writings of Colletta, you not only see what men were, but why they were so ; not the naked act, but its cause and its consequences. Thus, every science connected with bistory (and which of the moral and political sciences has not its sources there?) will find both principles and illustrations in this wonderful work. His style is pure, and remarkable for its terseness and its energy. Peculiarly his own, formed upon no model, nor formed, indeed, until the necessity of writing compelled him to turn his attention to the study of language, it bears the impress of his mind, and reveals in every sentence the stern, prompt energy and commanding dignity of his character.
We are compelled to pass over many other historical works belonging to the same period; — the ic Commentaries of Papi on the French Revolution, in which the great events of modern story are narrated with impartiality, and with no ordinary share of feeling and of philosophy ; the “ History of Liguria,” by Serra ; the same subject treated by Varese ; and an infinity of other civil and military histories, to say nothing of the histories of literature and of the arts, of sculpture by Cicognara, of Italian painting by Lanzi, of Italian literature by Corniani and Ugoni, and numerous other productions of different degrees of merit, but of which the catalogue alone shows to what extent the study of history has flourished in Italy during the epoch of which we have undertaken to speak.
The state of philosophical studies in Italy is another branch of our subject, which, whether it be considered as a token of the present, or as an earnest of the future, is deserving of profound attention. Much misrepresentation prevails in foreign countries with regard to the state of letters in Italy; but upon no department of study have grosser errors been promulgated than upon this. Some writers of the modern French school claim for themselves the merit of having introduced into the Peninsula the doctrines which prevail there; and, by a gross anachronism, attribute to the works of Cousin the honor of having given rise to a school, some of whose best productions had been published five years before that eloquent professor made the first exposition of his doctrines from his chair in the University of Paris ; and Cousin himself, with a haste, excusable, perhaps, in so successful a teacher, represents the future philosophy of Italy as wholly dependent upon the direction it may receive from France. The circulation of such opinions, bearing with them the sanction of a name of so much pretension in the philosophical world, will be a sufficient excuse for the minuteness of some portions of the following remarks.
The study of philosophy in Italy, during the first fifteen years of the present century, was for the most part limited to the school of Condillac. The ideology of De Tracy, so remarkable for its distinctness and simplicity, and so attractive from the apparent facility with which it solves the most important questions, was considered as the best exposition of the principles of the school to which he belonged, and very generally studied. In the schools, Soave continued to hold No. 107.