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I Promessi Sposi. The Betrothed. By ALESSANDRO MANZONI.
A new Translation. 2 vols. London: Burns. 1844. It is too late in the day for a formal critique upon a novel which has been so long before the world as I Promessi Sposi; and we do not want a few rough thoughts which we string together, to be regarded as such. A new translation, however, is a sort of fresh introduction of Manzoni's work amongst us, and naturally recalls some notice to it.
The present translation is spirited, pliant, and nervous, and reflects the original transparently. It reads like a translation in parts; but perhaps that could not well be helped. The difficulty of the choice between a genuine and characteristic style of translation, and a smooth one, is well known. One who prefers the former-and we think it is decidedly to be preferred-must make up his mind to a few roughnesses occasionally. They only come in occasionally in the present translation, and are of very little consequence; while the spirit, force, and liveliness of Manzoni is perpetually seen in it. Easy flowing English and literal characteristic translation in the main combine, and make the want of knowledge of Italian as supportable a regret, as a translation can be expected to do.
We are struck, as soon as we open Manzoni, with the difference of the ground, air, and scenery, and costume of mind and body, from what we have in our own romances. We feel we are in Italy, and not in England or Scotland. There is a peculiar instinct by which the domestic eye sees foreign marks and symptoms; and any thing characteristic of another nationality is detected immediately. The Englishman sees something especially French in the first cart and horse that meets his eye after landing at Calais. Some very broad Italian features come across one in the first pages of i Promessi Sposi. The race of bravoes is especially Italian. In their ease and swagger, flourish and cavalier attire, the single lock of hair—the emblem of the order, their facetious but indomitable rascality, and the air with which they follow at their master's tail, like a set of gay spotted pointer dogs, --these smiling, remorseless, walking stilettoes, display genuine Italian breeding. They answer to the moss troopers and armed feudal retainers of Scott's novels: Christie of the Clinthill, in the Monastery, is an approach to the bravo. But the moss troopers are a very rustic, rough hewn form of the character, and come under the shade and cover of the wild justice of the day, as accredited agents in a way of feudal law. The bravo dispenses with
any such shelter, and takes more of the position of the civilized pickpocket and cut-throat. There is no doubt in the reader's mind as to the propriety of his being hung at any moment of his career, that it may please the author to inflict justice upon him. In their very best exhibitions, and when the bravo's tricks are most sportive, good humoured, and attractive, the gallows never for an instant deserts the judicial corner of the reader's eye. As Mr. Carlyle describes Robespierre generally as a sort of compound of murder and tallow grease, the bravo mixes the playfulness of the feather and the lightness of the cascade with the same formidable substratum of character. He is a pleasure-ground statue, and ornaments as well as strengthens his master's service. He appears on the staircase and in the anteroom; he ushers the guest politely into the drawing-room, and is ready, with equal politeness, to stick his poniard into him on his exit. He watches his master's eye, and has the real gratification of a faithful animal in pleasing him. We must add, that even his faithfulness is of a humorous and capricious kind, and can never fairly be said to be appropriated. There are, however, large general reasons why the bravo and the master should be friends; and so long as these are in operation, he may be depended on. He is much more of a gentleman, and much more of a scoundrel, than a very insolent debauched London footman. He is a town-bred more than a country ruffian, is familiar with parades and lounges, arcades and squares; and follows his master from the country chateau to the town house at Milan, or Rome, or Naples, with something of the latter's fashionable love of town life, and change of air. The general impression in the public at large about him, and the looks and shrugs of passers by, do not affect him in the smallest degree. His master's livery protects him; he is strong in the inner circle and imperium in imperio which the count or the marquis commands, and walks past the street crowd with an inward serene sense of security, analogous to the peace of mind produced by a calm conscience, and the memory of good and beneficent actions. The world thinks he ought to be hanged; but he does not think so; and his opinion is supported by the fact that he is not. On the contrary, he considers himself the very cream of the subordinate and lower region of chivalry, and second only in point of magnanimity and consideration to the crested count, baron, and cavalier. The proclamations of governors pass over his head with the innocence of soft zephyrs, and he is sentenced by a hundred exterminating clauses of which he hardly condescends to acknowledge the existence. In 1583, the most * illustrious and excellent Signor Don Carlo d'Aragon, Prince of Castelvetrano, Duke of Terranuova, Marquis of Avola, Count of Burgeto, grand Admiral, and grand Constable of Sicily,
• Governor of Milan, and Captain-General of His Catholic Majesty in Italy, being fully informed,' &c. &c.; and after him, in 1593, the most Illustrious and most Excellent Signor Juan Fernandez de Velasco, Constable of Castile, Grand Chamberlain of his Majesty, Duke of the city of Frias, Count of Haro and Castelnovo, Lord of the House of Velasco, and that of the Seven * Infantas of Lara, Governor of the State of Milan, &c., being fully 'informed,' &c. &c.; and after him, in 1600, the most Illustrious • and most Excellent Signor, Il Signor Don Pietro Enriquez de • Acevedo, Count of Fuentes, Captain and Governor of the · State of Milan, being fully informed of how much loss and de
struction bravoes and vagabonds are the cause, of the mischief • such sort of people effect against the public weal; and that the • number of these people is on the increase, and day and night
nothing is heard of them but murder, homicide, robbery, and • crimes of every kind,—warns them to evacuate the country, on pain of being sent to the galleys three years. Even if no crime can be proved against the individual,
the sole reputation and name of a bravo' is enough: and his Excellency is resolved to . be obeyed by every one. Time after time, once in about every half dozen years, every Governor is seized with a desire to put an end to the bravoes: being fully informed,' &c. &c. he is, once and for all, ‘resolved to extirpate a plant so pernicious.' "The * most Illustrious Signor Don Giovanni de Mendosa, Marquis of • Hynojosa, gentleman,' &c. goes so far as to make a new corrected and" enlarged edition of all the proclamations of preceding governors, which is sent to Pandolfo and Marco Tullio Molastesti, associated printers to his Majesty, to be printed for the destruction of the bravoes. Yet they survived even this formidable blow; and very soon after, the most Excellent Signor, the Signor, &c., and then the most Excellent Signor, the Signor, &c. respectively, recorrect and republish these corrected documents, with new admonitions, and severe penalties, &c. with a firm * purpose that, with all rigour and without any hope of remission, • they shall be fully carried out.' Alas for the farce of proclamations, corrected and enlarged, and admonitions and new penalties added, the race of bravoes still continued to flourish, and the next proclamation laments that the greatest outrages are still aused by those denominated bravoes.
It is in the thick of these vehement proclamations that we are introduced to the proscribed, injured race.
• The curate, having turned the corner, and looked forward, as was his custom, towards the chapel, beheld an unexpected *sight, and one he would not willingly have seen. one opposite the other, were stationed at the confluence, so to say, of the two ways: one of them was sitting across the low wall,
' with one leg dangling on the outer side, and the other supporting • him in the path:
his companion was standing up, leaning against *the wall, with his arms crossed on his breast. Their dress, their
carriage, and so much of their expression as could be distin'guished at the distance at which the curate stood, left no doubt about their condition. Each had a green net on his head, which fell upon the left shoulder, and ended in a large tassel. • Their long hair, appearing in one large lock upon the forehead:
on the upper lip two long mustachios, curled at the end : their • doublets, confined by bright leathern girdles, from which hung • a brace of pistols: a little
horn of powder, dangling round their necks, and falling on their breasts like a necklace : on the right • side of their large and loose pantaloons, a pocket, and from the pocket the handle of a dagger: a sword hanging on the left, with a large basket-bilt of brass, carved in cipher, polished and
gleaming :-all, at a glance, discovered them to be individuals • of the species braco. A scene follows, in which they inform him it is their master Don Rodrigo's pleasure he (the curate) should not marry Renzo Tramaglino and Lucia Mondella, the • hero and heroine.'
Their ordinary attendance on their master is characteristically given.
“ And Count Attilio ?” asked Don Rodrigo, still pacing the « “ He left with the gentlemen, illustrious Signor."
Very well; six followers to accompany me-quickly! my sword, cloak, and hat, immediately!”
• The servant replied by a bow, and withdrew, returning shortly with a rich sword, which his master buckled on, a cloak which he threw over his shoulders, and a hat, ornamented with lofty plumes, which he placed on his head, and fastened with a haughty air. He then moved forward, and found the six • bravoes at the door, completely armed, who, making way for
him, with a low bow, followed as his train. More surly, more • haughty, and more supercilious than usual, he left his palace, ' and took the way towards Lecco, amidst the salutations and
profound bows of the peasants he happened to meet; and the • ill-mannered wight who would have ventured to pass without • taking off his hat, might consider he had purchased the
exemption at a cheap rate, had the bravoes in the train been contented merely to enforce respect by a blow on the "head.'
Griso, the head of Don Rodrigo’s bravoes, was, the one, to whom the boldest and most dangerous enterprises were confided. Guilty of murder, he had sought the protection of Don Rodrigo to escape the pursuit of justice; and he, by taking him into his
service, had sheltered him from the reach of persecution. The important scheme of carrying off Lucia is committed to him.
«« Griso !” said Don Rodrigo, “in this emergency it will be seen what
you are worth. Before to-morrow, Lucia must be • in this palace.”
« « It shall never be said that Griso shrank from the command of his noble protector.” ?
Signor Griso, with his followers, are hovering that night about Lucia's cottage.
• Hastily putting on a slouched hat, with a * pilgrim's dress of sackcloth, scattered over with cockle-shells, • and, taking in his hand a pilgrim's staff, he said, “Now let us *act like good bravoes ;' quiet and attentive to orders." ' The plot fails. By a most extraordinary coincidence, the village bells begin to ring; and they fancy themselves discovered.
* “ If the cap fits, put it on,” says a Milanese proverb: each of the villains seemed to hear in these peals his name, surname, ' and nickname; they let go of Menico's arms, hastily dropped their own, gazed at each other's faces in mute astonishment, and then ran into the house where was the bulk of their com‘panions. Menico took to his legs, and fled, by way of the ' fields, towards the belfry, where he felt sure there would be
some people assembled. On the other ruffians, who were rum'maging the house from top to bottom, the terrible bell made
the same impression ; confused and alarmed, they ran against one another, in attempting, each one for himself, to find the • shortest way of reaching the street-door. Though men of approved courage, and accustomed never to turn their backs on known peril
, they could not stand against an indefinite danger, which had not been viewed at a little distance before coming upon them. It required all the authority of Griso to ' keep them together, so that it might be a retreat and not a
flight. Just as a dog urging a drove of pigs, runs here and • there after those that break the ranks, seizes one by the ears, and drags him into the herd, propels another with his nose, barks at a third that leaves the line at the same moment, so the pilgrim laid hold of one of his troop just passing the threshold, • and drew him back, detained with his staff others who had • almost reached it, called after some who were flying they knew
not whither, and finally succeeded in assembling them all in * the middle of the court-yard. “ Halt! halt! pistols in hand, daggers in readiness, all together, and then we'll begone. We must march in order. What care we for the bells ringing, if 'we are all together, you cowards ? But if we let them catch ' us one by one, even the villagers will give us it. For shame! • Fall behind, and keep together.” After this brief harangue,