Michael Angelo, considered as a Philosophic Poet, with Translations.
By JOHN EDWARD TAYLOR. London: Saunders & Otley, Conduit Street. 1840.
WE welcome this little book with joy, and a hope that it may be republished in Boston. It would find, probably, but a small circle of readers, but that circle would be more ready to receive and prize it than the English public for whom it was intended, if we may judge by the way in which Mr. Taylor, all through his prefatory essay, has considered it necessary to apologize for, or, at least, explain views very commonly received among ourselves.
The essay is interesting from the degree of acquaintance it exhibits with some of those great ones, who have held up the highest aims to the soul, and from the degree of insight which reverence and delicacy of mind have given to the author. From every line comes the soft breath of green pastures where “walk the good shepherds.”
Of the sonnets, we doubt the possibility of making good translations into English. No gift of the Muse is more injured by change of form than the Italian sonnet. As those of Petrarch will not bear it, from their infinite grace, those of Dante from their mystic and subtle majesty; so these of Angelo, from the rugged naiveté with which they are struck off from the mind, as huge splinters of stone might be from some vast block, can never be “done into English,” as the old translators, with an intelligent modesty, were wont to write of their work. The grand thought is not quite evaporated in the process, but the image of the stern and stately writer is lost. We do not know again such words as “concetto,” “superna” in their English representatives.
But since a knowledge of the Italian language is not so common an attainment as could be wished, we ought to be grateful for this attempt to extend the benefit of these noble expressions of the faith which inspired one of the most full and noble lives that has ever redeemed and encouraged man.
Fidelity must be the highest merit of these translations; for not even an Angelo could translate his peer. This, so far as we have looked at them, they seem to possess. And even in the English dress, we think none, to whom they are new, can read the sonnets, —
“S’un casto amor, s’una pietá superna.”
“La vita del mio amor non é cuor mio.”
and others of the same pure religion, without a delight which shall
A light which will not go away,
A sweet forewarning.”
We hope they may have the opportunity. It is a very little book with a great deal in it, and five hundred copies will sell in two ears.
We add Mr. Taylor’s little preface, which happily expresses his design.
“The remarks on the poetry and philosophy of Michael Angelo, which are prefixed to these translations have been collected and are now published in the hope that they may invite the student of literature to trace the relation which unites the efforts of the pure intelligence and the desires of the heart to their highest earthly accomplishment under the complete forms of Art. For the example of so eminent a mind, watched and judged not only by its finished works, but, as it were, in its growth and from its inner source of Love and Knowledge cannot but enlarge the range of our sympathy for the best powers and productions of man. And if these pages should meet with any readers inclined, like their writer, to seek and to admire the veiled truth and solemn beauty of the elder time, they will add their humble testimony to the fact, that whatever be the purpose and tendencies of the time we live in, we are not all unmindful of the better part of our inheritance in this world.”
A Voice from the Prison, being Articles addressed to the Editor of the New Bedford Mercury; and a Letter to G. B. Weston, Esq., and other Directors of the Duxbury Bank. To which are added Leaves from a Journal. By B. Rodman. New Bedford: Benjamin Lindsey. 1840. pp. 64. 8vo.
Here is a new chapter in the literature of prisons. Since the secrets of St. Pelagie and Clichy have been brought to light, by the powerful pen of M. Barthelmy Maurice, we need not ask of what materials this literature must consist. It is a record of human nature, under strange and fearful circumstances, a lucid commentary on the depravation of man and the boasted wisdom of society; and should be faithfully studied by every friend of the happiness and improvement of his race. The present work has the advantage of being autobiographical. It is a record of personal experience. It unveils the interior of the debtor’s prison in Massachusetts, as it appears to one who has enjoyed a seat in her councils, and been a prince among her merchants. The author is a gentleman of liberal education and refined habits; once the possessor of an ample fortune, and distinguished for the extent as well as the rectitude of his transactions in business; a shrewd observer of men and things; and with a quick perception of facts, and with as quick a sympathy with suffering, well qualified to become the tenant of a prison for the benefit of the public. Those who have known him in what might be deemed better days, will regard him with still more honor as they read his almost picturesque descriptions of life in prison; and the testimony, he has here left on record against some of the most crying evils of the day, cannot fail to produce a deep impression, both on account of the facts with which it is sustained, and the source from which it proceeds.
Grandfather’s Chair: A History for Youth. By Nathaniel Hawthorne, Author of Twice Told Tales. Boston: E. P. Peabody. New York: Wiley and Putnam. 1840.
We are glad to see this gifted author employing his pen to raise the tone of children’s literature; for if children read at all, it is desirable that it should be the production of minds able to raise themselves to the height of childhood’s innocence, and to the airy home of their free fancy. No one of all our imaginative writers has indicated a genius at once so fine and rich, and especially with a power so peculiar in making present the past scenes in our own history. There is nothing in this volume quite equal to the sketch of “Endicott and his Men,” in one of the Tokens. But the ease with which he changes his tone from the delicate satire that characterizes his writings for the old, to the simpler and more venerable tone appropriate to his earnest little auditors, is an earnest of the perfect success which will attend this new direction of his powers. We are glad to learn that he is engaged in other writings for the little friends, whom he has made in such multitudes by Grandfather’s Chair. Yet we must demand from him to write again to the older and sadder, and steep them in the deep well of his sweet, humorsome musings.
Source: The Dial (January 1841) pp.401-405