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ANCIENT AND MODERN ITALY COMPARED :
BEING THE FIRST PART OF
The Contents of Part I.
The following poem is thrown into the form of a poetical vision. Its scene the ruins of ancient Rome. The goddess of Liberty, who is supposed to speak through the whole, appears, characterized as British Liberty. Gives a view of ancient Italy, and particularly of republican Rome, in all her magnificence and glory. This contrasted by modern Italy; its valleys, mountains, culture, cities, people: the difference appearing strongest in the capital city, Rome. The ruins of the great works of Liberty more magnificent than the borrowed pomp of Oppression; and from them revived Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture. The old Romans apostrophized, with regard to the several melancholy changes in Italy: Horace, Tully, and Virgil, with regard to their Tibur, Tusculum, and Naples. That once finest and most ornamented part of Italy, all along the coast of Baïæ, how changed. This desolation of Italy applied to Britain. Address to the goddess of Liberty, that she would deduce from the first ages, her chief establishments, the description of which constitutes the subject of the following parts of this poem. She assents, and commands what she says to be sung in Britain; whose happiness, arising from freedom, and a limited monarchy, she marks. An immediate vision attends, and paints her words. Invocation.
O MY lamented Talbot! while with thee
The Muse gay rov'd the glad Hesperian round,
And drew th' inspiring breath of ancient arts;
Ah! little thought she her returning verse
Should sing our darling subject to thy shade.
And does the mystic veil, from mortal beam,
Involve those eyes where every virtue smil’d,
And all thy father's candid spirit shone?
The light of reason, pure, without a cloud;
Full of the generous heart, the mild regard;
Honor disdaining blemish, cordial faith,
And limpid truth, that looks the very soul.
But to the death of mighty nations turn,
My strain; be there absorpt the private tear.
Musing, I lay; warm from the sacred walks,
Where at each step imagination burns:
While scatter'd wide around, awful, and hoar,
Lies, a vast monument, once glorious Rome,
The tomb of empire! ruins! that efface
Whate'er, of finish'd, modern pomp can boast.
Snatch'd by these wonders to that world where thought Unfetter'd ranges, Fancy's magic hand Led me anew o'er all the solemn scene, Still in the mind's pure eye more solemn drest. When straight, methought, the fair majestic power Of Liberty appear'd. Not, as of old, Extended in her hand the cap, and rod, Whose slave-enlarging touch gave double life
But her bright temples bound with British oak,
And naval honors nodded on her brow.
Sublime of port: loose o'er her shoulder flow'd
Her sea-green robe, with constellations gay.
An island-goddess now; and her high care
The queen of isles, the mistress of the main.
My heart beat filial transport at the sight;
And, as she mov'd to speak, th' awaken'd Muse
Listen'd intense. Awhile she look'd around,
With mournful eye the well-known ruins mark'd,
And then, her sighs repressing, thus began.
Mine are these wonders, all thou see'st is
But, ah, how chang'd! the falling poor remains
Of what exalted once th' Ausonian shore.
Look back through time; and, rising from the gloom,
Mark the dread scene, that paints whate'er I say.
"The great republic see! that glow'd, sublime, With the mixt freedom of a thousand states: Rais'd on the thrones of kings her curule chair, And by her fasces aw'd the subject world. See busy millions quickening all the land, With cities throng'd, and teeming culture high: For Nature then smil'd on her free-born sons, And pour'd the plenty that belongs to men. Behold, the country cheering, villas rise, In lively prospect;-by the secret lapse Of brooks now lost and streams renown'd in song: In Umbria's closing vales, or on the brow Of her brown hills that breathe the scented gale On Baïa's viny coast; where peaceful seas, Fann'd by kind zephyrs, ever kiss the shore; And suns unclouded shine, through purest air : Or in the spacious neighborhood of Rome; Far-shining upward to the Sabine hills, 'To Anio's roar, and Tibur's olive shade; To where Præneste lifts her airy brow; Or downward spreading to the sunny shore, Where Alba breathes the freshness of the main.
"See distant mountains leave their valleys dry, And o'er the proud arcade their tribute pour, To lave imperial Rome. For ages laid, Deep, massy, firm, diverging every way, With tombs of heroes sacred, see her roads: By various nations trod, and suppliant kings; With legions flaming, or with triumph gay.
"Full in the centre of these wondrous works, The pride of Earth! Rome in her glory see! Behold her demigods, in senate met; All head to counsel, and all heart to act: The common-weal inspiring every tongue With fervent eloquence, unbrib'd, and bold; Ere tame corruption taught the servile herd To rank obedient to a master's voice.
Her circus, ardent with contending youth;
Her streets, her temples, palaces, and baths,
Full of fair forms, of beauty's eldest-born,
And of a people cast in virtue's mould.
While sculpture lives around, and Asian hills
Lend their best stores to heave the pillar'd dome :
All that to Roman strength the softer touch
Of Grecian art can join. But language fails
To paint this sun, this centre of mankind;
Where every virtue, glory, treasure, art,
Attracted strong, in heighten'd lustre met.
"Need I the contrast mark? unjoyous view! A land in all, in government, in arts,
In virtue, genius, earth and heaven, revers'a,
Who but, these far-fam'd ruins to behold,
Proofs of a people, whose heroic aims
Soar'd far above the little selfish sphere
Of doubting modern life; who but, inflam'd
With classic zeal, these consecrated scenes
Of men and deeds to trace,-unhappy land,
Would trust thy wilds, and cities loose of sway?
"Are these the vales, that, once, exulting states
In their warm bosom fed? the mountains these,
On whose high-blooming sides my sons, of old,
I bred to glory? the dejected towns,
Where, mean, and sordid, life can scarce subsist,
The scenes of ancient opulence, and pomp?
"Come! by whatever sacred name disguis'd, Oppression, come' and in thy works rejoice! See Nature's richest plains to putrid fens Turn'd by thy fury. From their cheerful bounds, She raz'd th' enlivening village, farm, and seat. First, rural toil, by thy rapacious hand Robb'd of his poor reward, resign'd the plow; And now he dares not turn the noxious glebe. 'Tis thine entire. The lonely swain himself, Who loves at large along the grassy downs His flocks to pasture, thy drear champain flies. Far as the sickening eye can sweep around, "Tis all one desert, desolate, and grey, Graz'd by the sullen buffalo alone; And where the rank uncultivated growth Of rotting ages taints the passing gale, Beneath the baleful blast the city pines, Or sinks enfeebled, or infected burns. Beneath it mourns the solitary road, Roll'd in rude mazes o'er th' abandon'd waste; While ancient ways, ingulf'd, are seen no more. Such thy dire plains, thou self-destroyer! foe To human-kind! Thy mountains too, profuse, Where savage nature blooms, seem their sad plain To raise against thy desolating rod. There on the breezy brow, where thriving states, And famous cities, once, to the pleas'd Sun, Far other scenes of rising culture spread, Pale shine thy ragged towns. Neglected round, Each harvest pines; the livid, lean produce Of heartless labor: while thy hated joys, Not proper pleasure, lift the lazy hand. Better to sink in sloth the woes of life, Than wake their rage with unavailing toil. Hence drooping Art almost to Nature leaves The rude unguided year. Thin wave the gifts Of yellow Ceres, thin the radiant blush Of orchard reddens in the warmest ray. To weedy wildness run, no rural wealth (Such as dictators fed) the garden pours. Crude the wild olive flows, and foul the vine; Nor juice Cocubian, nor Falernian, more, Streams life and joy, save in the Muse's bowl.
Unseconded by art, the spinning race
Draw the bright thread in vain, and idly toil.
In vain, forlorn in wilds, the citron blows;
And flowering plants perfume the desert gale.
Through the vile thorn the tender myrtle twines.
Inglorious droops the laurel, dead to song,
And long a stranger to the hero's brow.
Beyond the weak repair of modern toil;
These fractur'd arches, that the chiding stream
No more delighted hear; these rich remains
Of marbles now unknown, where shines imbib'd
Each parent ray; these massy columns, hew'd
From Afric's farthest shore: one granite all,
These obelisks high-towering to the sky,
These endless wonders that this sacred way*
Illumine still, and consecrate to fame;
These fountains, vases, urns, and statues, charg'd
With the fine stores of art-completing Greece.
Mine is, besides, thy every later boast:
Thy Buonarotis, thy Palladios mine; †
And mine the fair designs, which Raphael's soul
O'er the live canvas, emanating, breath'd.
"Nor half thy triumph this: cast, from brute fields, Mysterious mark'd with dark Egyptian lore;
Into the haunts of men thy ruthless eye.
There buxom Plenty never turns her horn;
The grace and virtue of exterior life,
No clean convenience reigns; ev'n Sleep itself,
Least delicate of powers, reluctant, there,
Lays on the bed impure his heavy head.
Thy horrid walk! dead, empty, unadorn'd,
See streets whose echoes never know the voice
Of cheerful Hurry, Commerce many-tongu'd,
And Art mechanic at his various task,
Fervent, employ'd. Mark the desponding race,
Of occupation void, as void of hope;
Hope, the glad ray, glanc'd from Eternal Good,
That life enlivens, and exalts its powers,
With views of fortune-madness all to them!
By thee relentless seiz'd their better joys,
To the soft aid of cordial airs they fly,
Breathing a kind oblivion o'er their woes,
And love and music melt their souls away.
From feeble Justice see how rash Revenge,
Trembling, the balance snatches; and the sword,
Fearful himself, to venal ruffians gives.
See where God's altar, nursing murder, stands,
With the red touch of dark assassins stain'd.
But chief let Rome, the mighty city! speak
The full-exerted genius of thy reign.
Behold her rise amid the lifeless waste,
Expiring Nature all corrupted round;
While the lone Tyber, through the desert plain,
Winds his waste stores, and sullen sweeps along.
Patch'd from my fragments, in unsolid pomp,
Mark how the temple glares; and artful drest,
Amusive, draws the superstitious train.
Mark how the palace lifts a lying front,
Concealing often, in magnific jail,
Proud Want; a deep unanimated gloom!
And oft adjoining to the drear abode
Of Misery, whose melancholy walls
Seem its voracious grandeur to reproach,
Within the city bounds, the desert see.
See the rank vine o'er subterranean roofs,
Indecent, spread; beneath whose fretted gold
It once, exulting, flow'd. The people mark,
Matchless, while fir'd by me; to public good
Inexorably firm, just, generous, brave,
Afraid of nothing but unworthy life,
Elate with glory, an heroic soul
Known to the vulgar breast: behold them now
A thin despairing number, all-subdued,
The slaves of slaves, by superstition fool'd,
By vice unmann'd and a licentious rule,
In guile ingenious, and in murder brave.
Such in one land, beneath the same fair clime,
Thy sons, Oppression, are; and such were mine.
"Ev'n with thy labor'd pomp, for whose vain
Deluded thousands starve; all age begrim'd,
Torn, robb'd, and scatter'd in unnumber'd sacks,
And by the tempest of two thousand years
Continual shaken, let my ruins vie.
These roads, that yet the Roman hand assert,
"What would you say, ye conquerors of Earth!
Ye Romans! could you raise the laurel'd head;
Could you the country see, by seas of blood,
And the dread toil of ages, won so dear;
Your pride, your triumph, and supreme delight!
For whose defence oft, in the doubtful hour,
You rush'd with rapture down the gulf of fate,
Of death ambitious! till by awful deeds,
Virtues, and courage, that amaze mankind,
The queen of nations rose; possest of all
Which Nature, Art, and Glory could bestow :
What would you say, deep in the last abyss
Of slavery, vice, and unambitious want,
Thus to behold her sunk? Your crowded plains,
Void of their cities; unadorn'd your hills;
Ungrac'd your lakes; your ports to ships unknown,
Your lawless floods, and your abandon'd streams:
These could you know? these could you love
Thy Tibur, Horace, could it now inspire,
Content, poetic ease, and rural joy,
Soon bursting into song; while through the groves
Of headlong Anio, dashing to the vale,
In many a tortur'd stream, you mus'd along?
Yon wild retreat, where Superstition dreams,
Could, Tully, you your Tusculum‡ believe?
And could you deem yon naked hills, that form,
Fam'd in old song, the ship-forsaken bay,§
Your Formian shore? Once the delight of Earth,
Where Art and Nature, ever smiling, join'd
On the gay land to lavish all their stores.
How chang'd, how vacant, Virgil, wide around,
Would now your Naples seem! Disaster'd less
By black Vesuvius thundering o'er the coast
His midnight earthquakes, and his mining fires,
Than by despotic rage, that inward gnaws,
A native foe: a foreign, tears without.
First from your flatter'd Cæsars this began:
Till, doom'd to tyrants an eternal prey,
Thin-peopled spreads, at last, the syren plain,T
That the dire soul of Hannibal disarm'd;
* Via Sacra.
†M. Angelo Buonaroti, Palladio, and Raphael d'Urbino! the three great modern masters in sculpture, architecture, and painting.
Tusculum is reckoned to have stood at a place now called Grotto Ferrata, a convent of monks.
The bay of Mola (anciently Formiæ,) into which Homer brings Ulysses and his companions. Near Formic Cicero had a villa.
Naples then under the Austrian government. ¶ Campagna Felice, adjoining to Capua.
And wrapt in weeds the shore of Venus lies.*
There Baiæ sees no more the joyous throng;
Her bank all-beaming with the pride of Rome :
No generous vines now bask along the hills,
Where sport the breezes of the Tyrrhene main:
With baths and temples mix'd, no villas rise;
Nor, art-sustain'd amid reluctant waves,
Draw the cool murmurs of the breathing deep:
No spreading ports their sacred arms extend:
No mighty moles the big intrusive storm,
From the calm station, roll resounding back.
An almost total desolation sits,
A dreary stillness, saddening o'er the coast;
Where, when soft suns and tepid winters rose,t
Rejoicing crowds inhal'd the balm of peace;
Where citied hill to hill reflected blaze;
And where with Ceres, Bacchus wont to hold
A genial strife. Her youthful form, robust,
Ev'n Nature yields; by fire and earthquake rent:
Whose stately cities in the dark abrupt
Swallow'd at once, or vile in rubbish laid,
A nest for serpents; from the red abyss
New hills, explosive, thrown; the Lucrine lake
A reedy pool; and all to Cuma's point,
The sea recovering his usurp'd domain,
And pour'd triumphant o'er the buried dome.
'Hence, Britain, learn; my best-establish'd, last,
And more than Greece, or Rome, my steady reign;
The land where, king and people equal bound
By guardian laws, my fullest blessings flow;
And where my jealous unsubmitting soul,
The dread of tyrants! burns in every breast:
Learn hence, if such the miserable fate
Of an heroic race, the masters once
Of human-kind; what, when depriv'd of me,
How grievous must be thine! In spite of climes,
Whose sun-enliven'd ether wakes the soul
To higher powers; in spite of happy soils,
That, but by labor's slightest aid impell'd,
With treasures teem to thy cold clime unknown;
If there desponding fail the common arts,
And sustenance of life: could life itself,
Far less a thoughtless tyrant's hollow pomp,
Subsist with thee? Against depressing skies,
Join'd to full-spread Oppression's cloudy brow,
How could thy spirits hold? where vigor find,
Forc'd fruits to tear from their unnative soil?
Or, storing every harvest in thy ports,
To plow the dreadful all-producing wave?"
Here paus'd the goddess. By the pause assur'd,
In trembling accents thus I mov'd my prayer:
"Oh, first, and most benevolent of powers!
Come from eternal splendors, here on Earth,
Against despotic pride, and rage, and lust,
To shield mankind; to raise them to assert
The native rights and honor of their race:
Teach me, thy lowest subject, but in zeal
Yielding to none, the progress of thy reign,
And with a strain from thee enrich the Muse.
As thee alone she serves, her patron, thou,
And great inspirer be! then will she joy,
The coast of Baïe, which was formerly adorned with the works mentioned in the following lines; and where, amidst many magnificent ruins, those of a temple erected to Venus are still to be seen.
Through narrow life her lot, and private shade;
And when her venal voice she barters vile,
Or to thy open or thy secret foes,
May ne'er those sacred raptures touch her more,
By slavish hearts unfelt! and may her song
Sink in oblivion with the nameless crew!
Vermin of state! to thy o'erflowing light
That owe their being, yet betray thy cause."
† All along this coast the ancient Romans had their winter retreats; and several populous cities stood.
Then, condescending kind, the heavenly power Return'd: What here, suggested by the scene, I slight unfold, record and sing at home, In that best isle, where (so we spirits move) With one quick effort of my will I am. There Truth, unlicens'd, walks; and dares accost Ev'n kings themselves, the monarchs of the free! Fix'd on my rock, there, an indulgent race O'er Britons wield the sceptre of their choice; And there, to finish what his sires began, A prince behold! for me who burns sincere, Ev'n with a subject's zeal. He my great work Will parent-like sustain; and added give The touch, the Graces and the Muses owe. For Britain's glory swells his panting breast; And ancient arts he emulous revolves: His pride to let the smiling heart abroad, Through clouds of pomp, that but conceal the man; To please, his pleasure; bounty, his delight; And all the soul of Titus dwells in him."
Hail, glorious theme! But how, alas! shall verse From the crude stores of mortal language drawn, How faint and tedious, sing, what, piercing deep, The goddess flash'd at once upon my soul. For, clear precision all, the tongue of gods Is harmony itself; to every ear Familiar known, like light to every eye. Meantime disclosing ages, as she spoke, In long succession pour'd their empires forth; Scene after scene, the human drama spread; And still th' embodied picture rose to sight.
Oh thou, to whom the Muses owe their flame: Who bidd'st, beneath the Pole, Parnassus rise, And Hippocrenè flow; with thy bold ease, The striking force, the lightning of thy thought, And thy strong phrase, that rolls profound, and clear;
Oh, gracious goddess! re-inspire my song; While I, to nobler than poetic fame Aspiring, thy commands to Britons bear.
The Contents of Part II.
Liberty traced from the pastoral ages, and the first uniting of neighboring families into civil government. The several establishments of Liberty, in Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia, Palestine, slightly touched upon, down to her great establishment in Greece. Geographical description of Greece. Sparta and Athens, the two principal States of Greece, described. Influence of Liberty over all the Grecian states; with regard to their government, their politeness, their virtues, their arts and sciences. The vast superiority it gave
them, in point of force and bravery, over the Per- But when mysterious Superstition came, sians, exemplified by the action of Thermopyla, And, with her civil sister leagu'd, involv'd the battle of Marathon, and the retreat of the ten In studied darkness the desponding mind; thousand. Its full exertion, and most beautiful Then tyrant Power the righteous scourge unloos'd: effects, in Athens. Liberty the source of free For yielded reason speaks the soul a slave. philosophy. The various schools which took their Instead of useful works, like Nature's, great, rise from Socrates. Enumeration of fine arts: Enormous, cruel wonders crush'd the land; eloquence, poetry, music, sculpture, painting, and And round a tyrant's tomb,† who none deserv'd, architecture; the effects of Liberty in Greece, For one vile carcass perish'd countless lives. and brought to their utmost perfection there. Then the great Dragon, couch'd amid his floods,t Transition to the modern state of Greece. Why Swell'd his fierce heart, and cried- This flood is Liberty declined, and was at last entirely lost mine; among the Greeks. Concluding reflection. "Tis I that bid it flow.-But, undeceiv'd, His frenzy soon the proud blasphemer felt; Felt that, without my fertilizing power, Suns lost their force, and Niles o'erflow'd in vain. Nought could retard me: nor the frugal state Of rising Persia, sober in extreme,
THUS spoke the goddess of the fearless eye;
And at her voice, renew'd, the vision rose.
"First in the dawn of time, with eastern swains,
In woods, and tents, and cottages, I liv'd;
While on from plain to plain they led their flocks,
In search of clearer spring, and fresher field.
These, as increasing families disclos'd
The tender state, I taught an equal sway.
Few were offences, properties, and laws.
Beneath the rural portal, palm o'erspread,
The father-senate met. There Justice dealt,
With reason then and equity the same,
Free as the common air, her prompt decree;
Nor yet had stain'd her sword with subject's blood.
The simpler arts were all their simple wants
Had urg'd to light. But instant, these supplied,
Another set of fonder wants arose,
And other arts with them of finer aim;
Till, from refining want to want impell'd,
The mind by thinking push'd her latent powers,
And life began to glow, and arts to shine.
Beyond the pitch of man, and thence revers'd
Into luxurious waste; nor yet the ports
Of old Phoenicia; first for letters fam'd,
That paint the voice, and silent speak to sight,
Of arts prime source, and guardian! by fair stars,
First tempted out into the lonely deep;
To whom I first disclos'd mechanic arts,
The winds to conquer, to subdue the waves,
With all the peaceful power of ruling trade;
Earnest of Britain. Nor by these retain'd;
Nor by the neighboring land, whose palmy shore
The silver Jordan laves. Before me lay
The promis'd land of arts, and urg'd my flight.
"Hail, Nature's utmost boast! unrival'd Greece!
My fairest reign! where every power benign
Conspir'd to blow the flower of human-kind,
And lavish'd all that genius can inspire.
Clear sunny climates, by the breezy main,
Iönian or Ægean, temper'd kind.
Light, airy soils. A country rich, and gay;
Broke into hills with balmy odors crown'd,
And, bright with purple harvest joyous vales.
Mountains and streams, where verse spontaneous
"At first, on brutes alone the rustic war
Lanch'd the rude spear; swift, as he glar'd along,
On the grim lion, or the robber-wolf.
For then young sportive life was void of toil,
Demanding little, and with little pleas'd:
But when to manhood grown, and endless joys,
Led on by equal toils, the bosom fir'd;
Lewd lazy Rapine broke primeval peace,
And, hid in caves and idle forests drear,
From the lone pilgrim and the wandering swain,
Seiz'd what he durst not earn. Then brother's blood
First, horrid, smok'd on the polluted skies.
Awful in justice, then the burning youth,
Led by their temper'd sires, on lawless men,
The last, worst monsters of the shaggy wood,
Turn'd the keen arrow, and the sharpen'd spear.
Then war grew glorious. Heroes then arose ;
Who, scorning coward self, for others liv'd,
Toil'd for their ease, and for their safety bled.
West with the living day to Greece I came :
Earth smil'd beneath my beam: the Muse before
Sonorous flew, that low till then in woods
Had tun'd the reed, and sigh'd the shepherd's pain; The patient Sparta one: the sober, hard,
But now, to sing heroic deeds, she swell'd
A nobler note, and bade the banquet burn.
Whence deem'd by wondering men the seat of gods,
And still the mountains and the streams of song.
All that boon Nature could luxuriant pour
Of high materials, and my restless arts
Frame into finish'd life. How many states,
And clustering towns, and monuments of fame,
And scenes of glorious deeds, in little bounds!
From the rough tract of bending mountains, beat
By Adria's here, there by Egean waves;
To where the deep-adorning Cyclade Isles
In shining prospect rise, and on the shore
Of farthest Crete resounds the Libyan main.
"O'er all two rival cities rear'd the brow,
And balanc'd all. Spread on Eurota's bank,
Amid a circle of soft-rising hills,
"For Greece, my sons of Egypt I forsook:
A boastful race, that in the vain abyss
Of fabling ages lov'd to lose their source,
And with their river trac'd it from the skies.
While there my laws alone despotic reign'd,
And king, as well as people, proud obey'd:
I taught them science, virtue, wisdom, arts;
By poets, sages, legislators sought:
The school of polish'd life, and human-kind.
And man-subduing city; which no shape
Of pain could conquer, nor of pleasure charm.
Lycurgus there built, on the solid base
Of equal life, so well a temper'd state;
Where mix'd each government, in such just poise ·
Each power so checking, and supporting, each;
That firm for ages, and unmov'd, it stood,
The tyrants of Egypt.