Thursday, January 29, 2009

trust on, and think to-morrow will repay

From the Journals of Lord Byron:
January 29, 1821.

Yesterday, the woman of ninety-five years of age was with me. She said her eldest son (if now alive) would have been seventy. She is thin — short, but active — hears, and sees, and talks incessantly. Several teeth left — all in the lower jaw, and single front teeth. She is very deeply wrinkled, and has a sort of scattered grey beard over her chin, at least as long as my mustachios. Her head, in fact, resembles the drawing in crayons of Pope the poet's mother, which is in some editions of his works.

I forgot to ask her if she remembered Alberoni (legate here), but will ask her next time. Gave her a louis — ordered her a new suit of clothes, and put her upon a weekly pension. Till now, she had worked at gathering wood and pine-nuts in the forest — pretty work at ninety-five years old! She had a dozen children, of whom some are alive. Her name is Maria Montanari.

Met a company of the sect (a kind of Liberal Club) called the Americani in the forest, all armed, and singing, with all their might, in Romagnuole — "Sem tutti soldat' per la liberta" ("we are all soldiers for liberty"). They cheered me as I passed — I returned their salute, and rode on. This may show the spirit of Italy at present.

My to-day's journal consists of what I omitted yesterday. To-day was much as usual. Have rather a better opinion of the writings of the Schlegels than I had four-and-twenty hours ago; and will amend it still further, if possible.

They say that the Piedmontese have at length arisen — ça ira!

Read Schlegel. Of Dante he says, "that at no time has the greatest and most national of all Italian poets ever been much the favourite of his countrymen." Tis false! There have been more editors and commentators (and imitators, ultimately) of Dante than of all their poets put together. Not a favourite! Why, they talk Dante — write Dante — and think and dream Dante at this moment (1821) to an excess, which would be ridiculous, but that he deserves it.

In the same style this German talks of gondolas on the Arno — a precious fellow to dare to speak of Italy!

He says also that Dante's chief defect is a want, in a word, of gentle feelings. Of gentle feelings! — and Francesca of Rimini — and the father's feelings in Ugolino — and Beatrice — and "La Pia!" Why, there is gentleness in Dante beyond all gentleness, when he is tender. It is true that, treating of the Christian Hades, or Hell, there is not much scope or site for gentleness — but who but Dante could have introduced any "gentleness" at all into Hell? Is there any in Milton's? No — and Dante's Heaven is all love, and glory and majesty.

One o'clock.

I have found out, however, where the German is right — it is about the Vicar of Wakefield. "Of all romances in miniature (and, perhaps, this is the best shape in which Romance can appear) the Vicar of Wakefield is, I think, the most exquisite." He thinks! — he might be sure. But it is very well for a Schlegel. I feel sleepy, and may as well get me to bed. To-morrow there will be fine weather.

"Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay."

Notes on the text:

woman of ninety-five years of age - This is the trecoci woman of a couple days back.

mother of Alexander Pope - The National Portrait Gallery (UK) has what is probably this drawing: Edith Pope.

Alberoni - Described in the notes on the same journal entry.

Americani - This seems to have been a secret society like the Carbonari -- Cacciatori Americani Vendita -- of which Byron was to become an officer (Master). Cacciatori Americani Vendita translates as American Hunters Lodge.

Romagnuole - Dialect of the region.

what Schlegel says of Dante - This from the editor of the Journals:
In lecture ix. (Lectures on the History of Literature, ed. 1841, p. 237) Schlegel says of Dante, "The truth is, that at no time has the greatest and most national of all Italian poets ever been much the favourite of his countrymen." Again (ibid., p. 238), he says, "His chief defect is, in a word, a want of gentle feelings." "I don't wonder," said Byron, "at the enthusiasm of the Italians about Dante. He is the poet of liberty. Persecution, exile, the 'dread of a foreign grave, could not shake his principles. There is no Italian gentleman, scarcely any well-educated girl, that has not all the finer passages of Dante at the fingers' ends; particularly the Ravennese. The Guiccioli, for instance, could almost repeat any part of the Divine Comedy; and, I dare say, is well read in the Vita Nuova, that prayer-book of love." — Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron, p. 242.
gondolas on the Arno - This from the editor of the Journals:
In lecture xi. (Lectures on the History of Literature, p. 297), speaking of Tasso, Schlegel says, "Individual parts and episodes of his poem are frequently sung in the gondolas of the Aro and the Po."
Vicar of Wakefield - Explained in the notes on a previous journal entry.

Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay - From Dryden:
When I consider life, 't is all a cheat.
Yet, fooled by hope, men favour the deceit;
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay:
To-morrow's falser than the former day;
Lies worse, and while it says we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.

Some sources:

The Works of Alexander Pope

George Gordon 6th Baron, Byron of Rochdale

{Byron with his mustache in Albanian costume. Source:}

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