Stories from the Italian Poets: With Lives of the Writers, Volume 1
by Leigh Hunt
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Luigi Pulci, son of Jacopo Pulci and Brigida de' Bardi, was of a noble family, so ancient as to be supposed to have come from France into Tuscany with his hero Charlemagne. He was born in Florence on the 3d of December, 1431, and was the youngest of three brothers, all possessed of a poetical vein, though it did not flow with equal felicity. Bernardo, the eldest, was the earliest translator of the Eclogues of Virgil; and Lucca wrote a romance called the Ciriffo Calvaneo, and is commended for his Heroic Epistles. Little else is known of these brothers; and not much more of Luigi himself, except that he married a lady of the name of Lucrezia degli Albizzi; journeyed in Lombardy and elsewhere; was one of the most intimate friends of Lorenzo de Medici and his literary circle; and apparently led a life the most delightful to a poet, always meditating some composition, and buried in his woods and gardens. Nothing is known of his latter days. An unpublished work of little credit (Zilioli On the Italian Poets), and an earlier printed book, which, according to Tiraboschi, is of not much greater (Scardeone De Antiquitatibus Orbis Patavinae), say that he died miserably in Padua, and was refused Christian burial on account of his impieties. It is not improbable that, during the eclipse of the fortunes of the Medici family, after the death of Lorenzo, Pulci may have partaken of its troubles; and there is certainly no knowing how badly his or their enemies may have treated him; but miserable ends are a favourite allegation with theological opponents. The Calvinists affirm of their master, the burner of Servetus, that he died like a saint; but I have seen a biography in Italian, which attributed the most horrible death-bed, not only to the atrocious Genevese, but to the genial Luther, calling them both the greatest villains (sceleratissimi); and adding, that one of them (I forget which) was found dashed on the floor of his bedroom, and torn limb from limb.

Pulci appears to have been slender in person, with small eyes and a ruddy face. I gather this from the caricature of him in the poetical paper-war carried on between him and his friend Matteo Franco, a Florentine canon, which is understood to have been all in good humour—sport to amuse their friends—a perilous speculation. Besides his share in these verses, he is supposed to have had a hand in his brother's romance, and was certainly the author of some devout poems, and of a burlesque panegyric on a country damsel, La Beca, in emulation of the charming poem La Nencia, the first of its kind, written by that extraordinary person, his illustrious friend Lorenzo, who, in the midst of his cares and glories as the balancer of the power of Italy, was one of the liveliest of the native wits, and wrote songs for the people to dance to in Carnival time.

The intercourse between Lorenzo and Pulci was of the most familiar kind. Pulci was sixteen years older, but of a nature which makes no such differences felt between associates. He had known Lorenzo from the latter's youth, probably from his birth—is spoken of in a tone of domestic intimacy by his wife—and is enumerated by him among his companions in a very special and characteristic manner in his poem on Hawking (La Caccia col Falcone), when, calling his fellow-sportsmen about him, and missing Luigi, one of them says that he has strolled into a neighbouring wood, to put something which has struck his fancy into a sonnet:

"'Luigi Pulci ov' e, che non si sente?' 'Egli se n' ando dianzi in quel boschetto, Che qualche fantasia ha per la mente; Vorr a fantasticar forse un sonetto.'"

"And where's Luigi Pulci? I saw him." "Oh, in the wood there. Gone, depend upon it, To vent some fancy in his brain—some whim, That will not let him rest till it's a sonnet."

In a letter written to Lorenzo, when the future statesman, then in his seventeenth year, was making himself personally acquainted with the courts of Italy, Pulci speaks of himself as struggling hard to keep down the poetic propensity in his friend's absence. "If you were with me," he says, "I should produce heaps of sonnets as big as the clubs they make of the cherry-blossoms for May-day. I am always muttering some verse or other betwixt my teeth; but I say to myself, 'My Lorenzo is not here—he who is my only hope and refuge;' and so I suppress it." Such is the first, and of a like nature are the latest accounts we possess of the sequestered though companionable poet. He preferred one congenial listener who understood him, to twenty critics that were puzzled with the vivacity of his impulses. Most of the learned men patronised by Lorenzo probably quarrelled with him on account of it, plaguing him in somewhat the same spirit, though in more friendly guise, as the Della Cruscans and others afterwards plagued Tasso; so he banters them in turn, and takes refuge from their critical rules and common-places in the larger indulgence of his friend Politian and the laughing wisdom of Lorenzo.

"So che andar diritto mi bisogna, Ch' io non ci mescolassi una bugia, Che questa non e storia da menzogna; Che come in esco un passo de la via,

Chi gracchia, chi riprende, e chi rampogna: Ognun poi mi riesce la pazzia;

Tanto ch' eletto ho solitaria vita, Che la turba di questi e infinita.

La mia Accademia un tempo, o mia Ginnasia, E stata volentier ne' miei boschetti; E puossi ben veder l' Affrica e l' Asia: Vengon le Ninfe con lor canestretti, E portanmi o narciso o colocasia; E cosi fuggo mille urban dispetti: Si ch' io non torno a' vostri Areopaghi, Gente pur sempre di mal dicer vaghi.

I know I ought to make no dereliction From the straight path to this side or to that; I know the story I relate's no fiction, And that the moment that I quit some flat, Folks are all puff, and blame, and contradiction, And swear I never know what I'd be at; In short, such crowds, I find, can mend one's poem, I live retired, on purpose not to know 'em.

Yes, gentlemen, my only 'Academe,' My sole 'Gymnasium,' are my woods and bowers; Of Afric and of Asia there I dream; And the Nymphs bring me baskets full of flowers, Arums, and sweet narcissus from the stream; And thus my Muse escapeth your town-hours And town-disdains; and I eschew your bites, Judges of books, grim Areopagites."

He is here jesting, as Foscolo has observed, on the academy instituted by Lorenzo for encouraging the Greek language, doubtless with the laughing approbation of the founder, who was sometimes not a little troubled himself with the squabbles of his literati.

Our author probably had good reason to call his illustrious friend his "refuge." The Morgante Maggiore, the work which has rendered the name of Pulci renowned, was an attempt to elevate the popular and homely narrative poetry chanted in the streets into the dignity of a production that should last. The age was in a state of transition on all points. The dogmatic authority of the schoolmen in matters of religion, which prevailed in the time of Dante, had come to nought before the advance of knowledge in general, and the indifference of the court of Rome. The Council of Trent, as Crescimbeni advised the critics, had not then settled what Christendom was to believe; and men, provided they complied with forms, and admitted certain main articles, were allowed to think, and even in great measure talk, as they pleased. The lovers of the Platonic philosophy took the opportunity of exalting some of its dreams to an influence, which at one time was supposed to threaten Christianity itself, and which in fact had already succeeded in affecting Christian theology to an extent which the scorners of Paganism little suspect. Most of these Hellenists pushed their admiration of Greek literature to an excess. They were opposed by the Virgilian predilections of Pulci's friend, Politian, who had nevertheless universality enough to sympathise with the delight the other took in their native Tuscan, and its liveliest and most idiomatic effusions. From all these circumstances in combination arose, first, Pulci's determination to write a poem of a mixed order, which should retain for him the ear of the many, and at the same time give rise to a poetry of romance worthy of higher auditors; second, his banter of what he considered unessential and injurious dogmas of belief, in favour of those principles of the religion of charity which inflict no contradiction on the heart and understanding; third, the trouble which seems to have been given him by critics, "sacred and profane," in consequence of these originalities; and lastly, a doubt which has strangely existed with some, as to whether he intended to write a serious or a comic poem, or on any one point was in earnest at all. One writer thinks he cannot have been in earnest, because he opens every canto with some pious invocation; another asserts that the piety itself is a banter; a similar critic is of opinion, that to mix levities with gravities proves the gravities to have been nought, and the levities all in all; a fourth allows him to have been serious in his description of the battle of Roncesvalles, but says he was laughing in all the rest of his poem; while a fifth candidly gives up the question, as one of those puzzles occasioned by the caprices of the human mind, which it is impossible for reasonable people to solve. Even Sismondi, who was well acquainted with the age in which Pulci wrote, and who, if not a profound, is generally an acute and liberal critic, confesses himself to be thus confounded. "Pulci," he says, "commences all his cantos by a sacred invocation; and the interests of religion are constantly intermingled with the adventures of his story, in a manner capricious and little instructive. We know not how to reconcile this monkish spirit with the semi-pagan character of society under Lorenzo di Medici, nor whether we ought to accuse Pulci of gross bigotry or of profane derision." [1] Sismondi did not consider that the lively and impassioned people of the south take what may be called household-liberties with the objects of their worship greater than northerns can easily conceive; that levity of manner, therefore, does not always imply the absence of the gravest belief; that, be this as it may, the belief may be as grave on some points as light on others, perhaps the more so for that reason; and that, although some poems, like some people, are altogether grave, or the reverse, there really is such a thing as tragi-comedy both in the world itself and in the representations of it. A jesting writer may be quite as much in earnest when he professes to be so, as a pleasant companion who feels for his own or for other people's misfortunes, and who is perhaps obliged to affect or resort to his very pleasantry sometimes, because he feels more acutely than the gravest. The sources of tears and smiles lie close to, ay and help to refine one another. If Dante had been capable of more levity, he would have been guilty of less melancholy absurdities. If Rabelais had been able to weep as well as to laugh, and to love as well as to be licentious, he would have had faith and therefore support in something earnest, and not have been obliged to place the consummation of all things in a wine-bottle. People's every-day experiences might explain to them the greatest apparent inconsistencies of Pulci's muse, if habit itself did not blind them to the illustration. Was nobody ever present in a well-ordered family, when a lively conversation having been interrupted by the announcement of dinner, the company, after listening with the greatest seriousness to a grace delivered with equal seriousness, perhaps by a clergyman, resumed it the instant afterwards in all its gaiety, with the first spoonful of soup? Well, the sacred invocations at the beginning of Pulci's cantos were compliances of the like sort with a custom. They were recited and listened to just as gravely at Lorenzo di Medici's table; and yet neither compromised the reciters, nor were at all associated with the enjoyment of the fare that ensued. So with regard to the intermixture of grave and gay throughout the poem. How many campaigning adventures have been written by gallant officers, whose animal spirits saw food for gaiety in half the circumstances that occurred, and who could crack a jest and a helmet perhaps with almost equal vivacity, and yet be as serious as the gravest at a moment's notice, mourn heartily over the deaths of their friends, and shudder with indignation and horror at the outrages committed in a captured city? It is thus that Pulci writes, full no less of feeling than of whim and mirth. And the whole honest round of humanity not only warrants his plan, but in the twofold sense of the word embraces it.

If any thing more were necessary to shew the gravity with which our author addressed himself to his subject, it is the fact, related by himself, of its having been recommended to him by Lorenzo's mother, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a good and earnest woman, herself a poetess, who wrote a number of sacred narratives, and whose virtues he more than once records with the greatest respect and tenderness. The Morgante concludes with an address respecting this lady to the Virgin, and with a hope that her "devout and sincere" spirit may obtain peace for him in Paradise. These are the last words in the book. Is it credible that expressions of this kind, and employed on such an occasion, could have had no serious meaning? or that Lorenzo listened to such praises of his mother as to a jest?

I have no doubt that, making allowance for the age in which he lived, Pulci was an excellent Christian. His orthodoxy, it is true, was not the orthodoxy of the times of Dante or St. Dominic, nor yet of that of the Council of Trent. His opinions respecting the mystery of the Trinity appear to have been more like those of Sir Isaac Newton than of Archdeacon Travis. And assuredly he agreed with Origen respecting eternal punishment, rather than with Calvin and Mr. Toplady. But a man may accord with Newton, and yet be thought not unworthy of the "starry spheres." He may think, with Origen, that God intends all his creatures to be ultimately happy,[2] and yet be considered as loving a follower of Christ as a "dealer of damnation round the land," or the burner of a fellow-creature.

Pulci was in advance of his time on more subjects than one. He pronounced the existence of a new and inhabited world, before the appearance of Columbus.[3] He made the conclusion, doubtless, as Columbus did, from the speculations of more scientific men, and the rumours of seamen; but how rare are the minds that are foremost to throw aside even the most innocent prejudices, and anticipate the enlargements of the public mind! How many also are calumniated and persecuted for so doing, whose memories, for the same identical reason, are loved, perhaps adored, by the descendants of the calumniators! In a public library, in Pulci's native place, is preserved a little withered relic, to which the attention of the visitor is drawn with reverential complacency. It stands, pointing upwards, under a glass-case, looking like a mysterious bit of parchment; and is the finger of Galileo;—of that Galileo, whose hand, possessing that finger, is supposed to have been tortured by the Inquisition for writing what every one now believes. He was certainly persecuted and imprisoned by the Inquisition. Milton saw and visited him under the restraint of that scientific body in his own house. Yet Galileo did more by his disclosures of the stars towards elevating our ideas of the Creator, than all the so-called saints and polemics that screamed at one another in the pulpits of East and West.

Like the Commedia of Dante, Pulci's "Commedia" (for such also in regard to its general cheerfulness,[4] and probably to its mediocrity of style, he calls it) is a representative in great measure of the feeling and knowledge of his time; and though not entirely such in a learned and eclectic sense, and not to be compared to that sublime monstrosity in point of genius and power, is as superior to it in liberal opinion and in a certain pervading lovingness, as the author's affectionate disposition, and his country's advance in civilisation, combined to render it. The editor of the Parnaso Italiano had reason to notice this engaging personal character in our author's work. He says, speaking of the principal romantic poets of Italy, that the reader will "admire Tasso, will adore Ariosto, but will love Pulci."[5] And all minds, in which lovingness produces love, will agree with him.

The Morgante Maggiore is a history of the fabulous exploits and death of Orlando, the great hero of Italian romance, and of the wars and calamities brought on his fellow Paladins and their sovereign Charlemagne by the envy, ambition, and treachery of the misguided monarch's favourite, Gail of Magauza (Mayence), Count of Poictiers. It is founded on the pseudo-history of Archbishop Turpin, which, though it received the formal sanction of the Church, is a manifest forgery, and became such a jest with the wits, that they took a delight in palming upon it their most incredible fictions. The title (Morgante the Great) seems to have been either a whim to draw attention to an old subject, or the result of an intention to do more with the giant so called than took place; for though he is a conspicuous actor in the earlier part of the poem, he dies when it is not much more than half completed. Orlando, the champion of the faith, is the real hero of it, and Gan the anti-hero or vice. Charlemagne, the reader hardly need be told, is represented, for the most part, as a very different person from what he appears in history. In truth, as Ellis and Panizzi have shewn, he is either an exaggeration (still misrepresented) of Charles Martel, the Armorican chieftain, who conquered the Saracens at Poictiers, or a concretion of all the Charleses of the Carlovingian race, wise and simple, potent and weak.[6]

The story may be thus briefly told. Orlando quits the court of Charlemagne in disgust, but is always ready to return to it when the emperor needs his help. The best Paladins follow, to seek him. He meets with and converts the giant Morgante, whose aid he receives in many adventures, among which is the taking of Babylon. The other Paladins, his cousin Rinaldo especially, have their separate adventures, all more or less mixed up with the treacheries and thanklessness of Gan (for they assist even him), and the provoking trust reposed in him by Charlemagne; and at length the villain crowns his infamy by luring Orlando with most of the Paladins into the pass of Roncesvalles, where the hero himself and almost all his companions are slain by the armies of Gan's fellow-traitor, Marsilius, king of Spain. They die, however, victorious; and the two royal and noble scoundrels, by a piece of prosaical justice better than poetical, are despatched like common malefactors, with a halter.

There is, perhaps, no pure invention in the whole of this enlargement of old ballads and chronicles, except the characters of another giant, and of a rebel angel; for even Morgante's history, though told in a very different manner, has its prototype in the fictions of the pretended archbishop.[7] The Paladins are well distinguished from one another; Orlando as foremost alike in prowess and magnanimity, Rinaldo by his vehemence, Ricciardetto by his amours, Astolfo by an ostentatious rashness and self-committal; but in all these respects they appear to have been made to the author's hand. Neither does the poem exhibit any prevailing force of imagery, or of expression, apart from popular idiomatic phraseology; still less, though it has plenty of infernal magic, does it present us with any magical enchantments of the alluring order, as in Ariosto; or with love-stories as good as Boiardo's, or even with any of the luxuries of landscape and description that are to be found in both of those poets; albeit, in the fourteenth canto, there is a long catalogue raisonne of the whole animal creation, which a lady has worked for Rinaldo on a pavilion of silk and gold.

To these negative faults must be added the positive ones of too many trifling, unconnected, and uninteresting incidents (at least to readers who cannot taste the flavour of the racy Tuscan idiom); great occasional prolixity, even in the best as well as worst passages, not excepting Orlando's dying speeches; harshness in spite of his fluency (according to Foscolo), and even bad grammar; too many low or over-familiar forms of speech (so the graver critics allege, though, perhaps, from want of animal spirits or a more comprehensive discernment); and lastly (to say nothing of the question as to the gravity or levity of the theology), the strange exhibition of whole successive stanzas, containing as many questions or affirmations as lines, and commencing each line with the same words. They meet the eye like palisadoes, or a file of soldiers, and turn truth and pathos itself into a jest. They were most likely imitated from the popular ballads. The following is the order of words in which a young lady thinks fit to complain of a desert, into which she has been carried away by a giant. After seven initiatory O's addressed to her friends and to life in general, she changes the key into E:

"E' questa, la mia patria dov' io nacqui? E' questo il mio palagio e 'l mio castello? E' questo il nido ov' alcun tempo giacqui? E' questo il padre e 'l mio dolce fratello? E' questo il popol dov' io tanto piacqui? E' questo il regno giusto antico e bello? E' questo il porto de la mia salute? E' questo il premio d' ogni mia virtute?

Ove son or le mie purpuree veste? Ove son or le gemme e le ricchezze? Ove son or gia le notturne feste? Ove son or le mie delicatezze? Ove son or le mie compagne oneste? Ove son or le fuggite dolcezze? Ove son or le damigelle mie? Ove son, dice? ome, non son gia quie."[8]

Is this the country, then, where I was born? Is this my palace, and my castle this? Is this the nest I woke in, every morn? Is this my father's and my brother's kiss? Is this the land they bred me to adorn? Is this the good old bower of all my bliss? Is this the haven of my youth and beauty? Is this the sure reward of all my duty?

Where now are all my wardrobes and their treasures? Where now are all my riches and my rights? Where now are all the midnight feasts and measures? Where now are all the delicate delights? Where now are all the partners of my pleasures? Where now are all the sweets of sounds and sights? Where now are all my maidens ever near? Where, do I say? Alas, alas, not here!

There are seven more "where nows," including lovers, and "proffered husbands," and "romances," and ending with the startling question and answer,—the counterpoint of the former close,—

"Ove son l' aspre selve e i lupi adesso, E gli orsi, e i draghi, e i tigri? Son qui presso."

Where now are all the woods and forests drear, Wolves, tigers, bears, and dragons? Alas, here!

These are all very natural thoughts, and such, no doubt, as would actually pass through the mind of the young lady, in the candour of desolation; but the mechanical iteration of her mode of putting them renders them irresistibly ludicrous. It reminds us of the wager laid by the poor queen in the play of Richard the Second, when she overhears the discourse of the gardener:

"My wretchedness unto a roar of pins, They'll talk of state."

Did Pulci expect his friend Lorenzo to keep a grave face during the recital of these passages? Or did he flatter himself, that the comprehensive mind of his hearer could at one and the same time be amused with the banter of some old song and the pathos of the new one?[9]

The want both of good love-episodes and of descriptions of external nature, in the Morgante, is remarkable; for Pulci's tenderness of heart is constantly manifest, and he describes himself as being almost absorbed in his woods. That he understood love well in all its force and delicacy is apparent from a passage connected with this pavilion. The fair embroiderer, in presenting it to her idol Rinaldo, undervalues it as a gift which his great heart, nevertheless, will not disdain to accept; adding, with the true lavishment of the passion, that "she wishes she could give him the sun;" and that if she were to say, after all, that it was her own hands which had worked the pavilion, she should be wrong, for Love himself did it. Rinaldo wishes to thank her, but is so struck with her magnificence and affection, that the words die on his lips. The way also in which another of these loving admirers of Paladins conceives her affection for one of them, and persuades a vehemently hostile suitor quietly to withdraw his claims by presenting him with a ring and a graceful speech, is in a taste as high as any thing in Boiardo, and superior to the more animal passion of the love in their great successor.[10] Yet the tenderness of Pulci rather shews itself in the friendship of the Paladins for one another, and in perpetual little escapes of generous and affectionate impulse. This is one of the great charms of the Morgante. The first adventure in the book is Orlando's encounter with three giants in behalf of a good abbot, in whom he discovers a kinsman; and this goodness and relationship combined move the Achilles of Christendom to tears. Morgante, one of these giants, who is converted, becomes a sort of squire to his conqueror, and takes such a liking to him, that, seeing him one day deliver himself not without peril out of the clutches of a devil, he longs to go and set free the whole of the other world from devils. Indeed there is no end to his affection for him. Rinaldo and other Paladins, meantime, cannot rest till they have set out in search of Orlando. They never meet or part with him without manifesting a tenderness proportionate to their valour,—the old Homeric candour of emotion. The devil Ashtaroth himself, who is a great and proud devil, assures Rinaldo, for whom he has conceived a regard, that there is good feeling (gentilezza) even in hell; and Rinaldo, not to hurt the feeling, answers that he has no doubt of it, or of the capability of "friendship" in that quarter; and he says he is as "sorry to part with him as with a brother." The passage will be found in our abstract. There are no such devils as these in Dante; though Milton has something like them:

"Devil with devil damn'd Firm concord holds: men only disagree."

It is supposed that the character of Ashtaroth, which is a very new and extraordinary one, and does great honour to the daring goodness of Pulci's imagination, was not lost upon Milton, who was not only acquainted with the poem, but expressly intimates the pleasure he took in it.[11] Rinaldo advises this devil, as Burns did Lucifer, to "take a thought and mend." Ashtaroth, who had been a seraph, takes no notice of the advice, except with a waving of the recollection of happier times. He bids the hero farewell, and says he has only to summon him in order to receive his aid. This retention of a sense of his former angelical dignity has been noticed by Foscolo and Panizzi, the two best writers on these Italian poems.[12] A Calvinist would call the expression of the sympathy "hardened." A humanist knows it to be the result of a spirit exquisitely softened. An unbounded tenderness is the secret of all that is beautiful in the serious portion of our author's genius. Orlando's good-natured giant weeps even for the death of the scoundrel Margutte; and the awful hero himself, at whose death nature is convulsed and the heavens open, begs his dying horse to forgive him if ever he has wronged it.

A charm of another sort in Pulci, and yet in most instances, perhaps, owing the best part of its charmingness to its being connected with the same feeling, is his wit. Foscolo, it is true, says it is, in general, more severe than refined; and it is perilous to differ with such a critic on such a point; for much of it, unfortunately, is lost to a foreign reader, in consequence of its dependance on the piquant old Tuscan idiom, and on popular sayings and allusions. Yet I should think it impossible for Pulci in general to be severe at the expense of some more agreeable quality; and I am sure that the portion of his wit most obvious to a foreigner may claim, if not to have originated, at least to have been very like the style of one who was among its declared admirers,—and who was a very polished writer,—Voltaire. It consists in treating an absurdity with an air as if it were none; or as if it had been a pure matter of course, erroneously mistaken for an absurdity. Thus the good abbot, whose monastery is blockaded by the giants (for the virtue and simplicity of his character must be borne in mind), after observing that the ancient fathers in the desert had not only locusts to eat, but manna, which he has no doubt was rained down on purpose from heaven, laments that the "relishes" provided for himself and his brethren should have consisted of "showers of stones." The stones, while the abbot is speaking, come thundering down, and he exclaims, "For God's sake, knight, come in, for the manna is falling!" This is exactly in the style of the Dictionnaire Philosophique. So when Margutte is asked what he believes in, and says he believes in "neither black nor blue," but in a good capon, "whether roast or boiled," the reader is forcibly reminded of Voltaire's Traveller, Scarmentado, who, when he is desired by the Tartars to declare which of their two parties he is for, the party of the black-mutton or the white-mutton, answers, that the dish is "equally indifferent to him, provided it is tender." Voltaire, however, does injustice to Pulci, when he pretends that in matters of belief he is like himself,—a mere scoffer. The friend of Lucrezia Tornabuoni has evidently the tenderest veneration for all that is good and lovely in the Catholic faith; and whatever liberties he might have allowed himself in professed extravaganzas, when an age without Church-authority encouraged them, and a reverend canon could take part in those (it must be acknowledged) unseemly "high jinks," he never, in the Morgante, when speaking in his own person, and not in that of the worst characters, intimates disrespect towards any opinion which he did not hold to be irrelevant to a right faith. It is observable that his freest expressions are put in the mouth of the giant Margutte, the lowest of these characters, who is an invention of the author's, and a most extraordinary personage. He is the first unmitigated blackguard in fiction, and is the greatest as well as first. Pulci is conjectured, with great probability, to have designed him as a caricature of some real person; for Margutte is a Greek who, in point of morals, has been horribly brought up, and some of the Greek refugees in Italy were greatly disliked for the cynicism of their manners and the grossness of their lives. Margutte is a glutton, a drunkard, a liar, a thief, and a blasphemer. He boasts of having every vice, and no virtue except fidelity; which is meant to reconcile Morgante to his company; but though the latter endures and even likes it for his amusement, he gives him to understand that he looks on his fidelity as only securable by the bastinado, and makes him the subject of his practical jokes. The respectable giant Morgante dies of the bite of a crab, as if to spew on what trivial chances depends the life of the strongest. Margutte laughs himself to death at sight of a monkey putting his boots on and off; as though the good-natured poet meant at once to express his contempt of a merely and grossly anti-serious mode of existence, and his consideration, nevertheless, towards the poor selfish wretch who had had no better training.

To this wit and this pathos let the reader add a style of singular ease and fluency,—rhymes often the most unexpected, but never at a loss,—a purity of Tuscan acknowledged by every body, and ranking him among the authorities of the language,—and a modesty in speaking of his own pretensions equalled only by his enthusiastic extolments of genius in others; and the reader has before him the lively and affecting, hopeful, charitable, large-hearted Luigi Pulci, the precursor, and in some respects exemplar, of Ariosto, and, in Milton's opinion, a poet worth reading for the "good use" that may be made of him. It has been strangely supposed that his friend Politian, and Ficino the Platonist, not merely helped him with their books (as he takes a pride in telling us), but wrote a good deal of the latter part of the Morgante, particularly the speculations in matters of opinion. As if (to say nothing of the difference of style) a man of genius, however lively, did not go through the gravest reflections in the course of his life, or could not enter into any theological or metaphysical question, to which he chose to direct his attention. Animal spirits themselves are too often but a counterbalance to the most thoughtful melancholy; and one fit of jaundice or hypochondria might have enabled the poet to see more visions of the unknown and the inscrutable in a single day, than perhaps ever entered the imagination of the elegant Latin scholar, or even the disciple of Plato.

[Footnote 1: Literature of the South of Europe, Thomas Roscoe's Translation, vol. ii. p.54. For the opinions of other writers, here and elsewhere alluded to, see Tiraboschi (who is quite frightened at him), Storia della Poesia Italiana, cap. v. sect. 25; Gravina, who is more so, Della Ragion Poetica (quoted in Ginguene, as below); Crescimbeni, Commentari Intorno all' Istoria della Poesia, &c. lib. vi. cap. 3 (Mathias's edition), and the biographical additions to the same work, 4to, Rome, 1710, vol. ii. part ii. p. 151, where he says that Pulci was perhaps the "modestest sad most temperate writer" of his age ("il pin modesto e moderato"); Ginguene, Histoire Litteraire d'Italie, tom. iv. p. 214; Foscolo, in the Quarterly Review, as further on; Panizzi on the Romantic Poetry of the Italians, ditto; Stebbing, Lives of the Italian Poets, second edition, vol, i.; and the first volume of Lives of Literary and Scientific Men, in Lardner's Cyclopaedia.]

[Footnote 2: Canto xxv. The passage will be found in the present volume.]

[Footnote 3: Id. And this also.]

[Footnote 4: Canto xxvii. stanza 2.

"S' altro ajuto qui non si dimostra, Sara pur tragedia la istoria nostra.

Ed io pur commedia pensato avea Iscriver del mio Carlo finalmente, Ed Alcuin cosi mi promettea," &c. ]

[Footnote 5:

"In fine to adorerai l'Ariosto, tu ammirerei il Tasso, ma tu amerai il Pulci."—Parn. Ital. vol. ix. p. 344.]

[Footnote 6: Ellis's Specimens of Early English Poetical Romances, vol. ii. p. 287; and Panizzi's Essay on the Romantic Narrative Poetry of the Italians; in his edition of Boiardo and Ariosto, vol. i. p. 113.]

[Footnote 7: De Vita Caroli Magni et Rolandi Historia, &c. cap. xviii. p. 39 (Ciampi's edition). The giant in Turpin is named Ferracutus, or Fergus. He was of the race of Goliath, had the strength of forty men, and was twenty cubits high. During the suspension of a mortal combat with Orlando, they discuss the mysteries of the Christian faith, which its champion explains by a variety of similes and the most beautiful beggings of the question; after which the giant stakes the credit of their respective beliefs on the event of their encounter.]

[Footnote 8: Canto xix. st. 21.]

[Footnote 9: When a proper name happens to be a part of the tautology, the look is still more extraordinary. Orlando is remonstrating with Rinaldo on his being unseasonably in love:

"Ov' e, Rinaldo, la tua gagliardia? Ov' e, Rinaldo, il tuo sommo potere? Ov' e, Rinaldo, il tuo senno di pria? Ov' e, Rinaldo, il tuo antivedere? Ov' e, Rinaldo, la tua fantasia? Ov' e, Rinaldo, l' arme e 'l tuo destriere? Ov' e, Rinaldo, la tua gloria e fama? Ov' e, Rinaldo, il tuo core? a la dama."

Canto xvi. st. 50.

Oh where, Rinaldo, is thy gagliardize? Oh where, Rinaldo, is thy might indeed? Oh where, Rinaldo, thy repute for wise? Oh where, Rinaldo, thy sagacious heed? Oh where, Rinaldo, thy free-thoughted eyes? Oh where, Rinaldo, thy good arms and steed? Oh where, Rinaldo, thy renown and glory? Oh where, Rinaldo, thou?—In a love-story.

The incessant repetition of the names in the burdens of modern songs is hardly so bad as this. The single line questions and answers in the Greek drama were nothing to it. Yet there is a still more extraordinary play upon words in canto xxiii. st. 49, consisting of the description of a hermitage. It is the only one of the kind which I remember in the poem, and would have driven some of our old hunters after alliteration mad with envy:—

"La casa cosa parea bretta e brutta, Vinta dal vento; e la notta e la notte Stilla le stelle, ch' a tetto era tutto: Del pane appena ne dette ta' dotte. Pere avea pure, e qualche fratta frutta; E svina e svena di botto una botte Poscia per pesci lasche prese a l'esca; Ma il letto allotta a la frasca fu fresca."

This holy hole was a vile thin-built thing, Blown by the blast; the night nought else o'erhead But staring stars the rude roof entering; Their sup of supper was no splendid spread; Poor pears their fare, and such-like libelling Of quantum suff;—their butt all but;—bad bread;— A flash of fish instead of flush of flesh; Their bed a frisk al-fresco, freezing fresh.

Really, if Sir Philip Sidney and other serious and exquisite gentlemen had not sometimes taken a positively grave interest in the like pastimes of paronomasia, one should hardly conceive it possible to meet with them even in tragi-comedy. Did Pulci find these also in his ballad-authorities? If his Greek-loving critics made objections here, they had the advantage of him: unless indeed they too, in their Alexandrian predilections, had a sneaking regard for certain shapings of verse into altars and hatchets, such as have been charged upon Theocritus himself, and which might be supposed to warrant any other conceit on occasion.]

[Footnote 10: See, in the original, the story of Meridiana, canto vii. King Manfredonio has come in loving hostility against her to endeavour to win her affection by his prowess. He finds her assisted by the Paladins, and engaged by her own heart to Uliviero; and in he despair of his discomfiture, expresses a wish to die by her hand. Meridiana, with graceful pity, begs his acceptance of a jewel, and recommends him to go home with his army; to which he grievingly consents. This indeed is beautiful; and perhaps I ought to have given an abstract of it, as a specimen of what Pulci could have done in this way, had he chosen.]

[Footnote 11: "Perhaps it was from that same politic drift that the devil whipt St. Jerome in a lenten dream for reading Cicero; or else it was a fantasm bred by the fever which had then seized him. For had an angel been his discipliner, unless it were for dwelling too much upon Ciceronianisms, and had chastised the reading and not the vanity, it had been plainly partial; first to correct him for grave Cicero, and not for scurrile Plautus, whom he confesses to have been reading not long before; next, to correct him only, and let so many more ancient fathers wax old in those pleasant and florid studies without the lash of such a tutoring apparition; insomuch that Basil teaches how some good use may be made of Margites, a sportful poem, not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not then of Morgante, an Italian romance much to the same purpose?"—Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, Prose Works, folio, 1697, p. 378. I quote the passage as extracted by Mr. Merivale in the preface to his "Orlando in Roncesvalles,"—Poems, vol. ii. p. 41.]

[Footnote 12: Ut sup. p. 222. Foscolo's remark is to be found in his admirable article on the Narrative and Romantic Poems of the Italians, in the Quarterly Review, vol. xxi. p. 525.]

* * * * *


Twelve Paladins had the Emperor Charlemagne in his court; and the most wise and famous of them was Orlando. It is of him I am about to speak, and of his friend Morgante, and of Gan the traitor, who beguiled him to his death in Roncesvalles, where he sounded his horn so mightily after the dolorous rout.

It was Easter, and Charles had all his court with him in Paris, making high feast and triumph. There was Orlando, the first among them, and Ogier the Dane, and Astolfo the Englishman, and Ansuigi; and there came Angiolin of Bayonne, and Uliviero, and the gentle Berlinghieri; and there was also Avolio and Avino, and Otho of Normandy, and Richard, and the wise Namo, and the aged Salamon, and Walter of Monlione, and Baldwin who was the son of the wretched Gan. The good emperor was too happy, and oftentimes fairly groaned for joy at seeing all his Paladins together. Now Morgante, the only surviving brother, had a palace made, after giant's fashion, of earth, and boughs, and shingles, in which he shut himself up at night. Orlando knocked, and disturbed him from his sleep, so that he came staring to the door like a madman, for he had had a bewildering dream.

"Who knocks there?" quoth he.

"You will know too soon," answered Orlando; "I am come to make you do penance for your sins, like your brothers. Divine Providence has sent me to avenge the wrongs of the monks upon the whole set of you. Doubt it not; for Passamonte and Alabastro are already as cold as a couple of pilasters.".

"Noble knight," said Morgante, "do me no ill; but if you are a Christian, tell me in courtesy who you are."

"I will satisfy you of my faith," replied Orlando; "I adore Christ; and if you please, you may adore him also."

"I have had a strange vision," replied Morgante, with a low voice was assailed by a dreadful serpent, and called upon Mahomet in vain; then I called upon your God who was crucified, and he succoured me, and I was delivered from the serpent; so I am disposed to become a Christian."

"If you keep in this mind," returned Orlando, "you shall worship the true God, and come with me and be my companion, and I will love you with perfect love. Your idols are false and vain; the true God is the God of the Christians. Deny the unjust and villanous worship of your Mahomet, and be baptised in the name of my God, who alone is worthy."

"I am content," said Morgante.

Then Orlando embraced him, and said, "I will lead you to the abbey."

"Let us go quickly," replied Morgante, for he was impatient to make his peace with the monks.

Orlando rejoiced, saying, "My good brother, and devout withal, you must ask pardon of the abbot; for God has enlightened you, and accepted you, and he would have you practise humility."

"Yes," said Morgante, "thanks to you, your God shall henceforth be my God. Tell me your name, and afterwards dispose of me as you will." And he told him that he was Orlando.

But Fortune stands watching in secret to baffle our designs. While Charles was thus hugging himself with delight, Orlando governed every thing at court, and this made Gan burst with envy; so that he began one day talking with Charles after the following manner—"Are we always to have Orlando for our master? I have thought of speaking to you about it a thousand times. Orlando has a great deal too much presumption. Here are we, counts, dukes, and kings, at your service, but not at his; and we have resolved not to be governed any longer by one so much younger than ourselves. You began in Aspramont to give him to understand how valiant he was, and that he did great things at that fountain; whereas, if it had not been for the good Gerard, I know very well where the victory would have been. The truth is, he has an eye upon the crown. This, Charles, is the worthy who has deserved so much! All your generals are afflicted at it. As for me, I shall repass those mountains over which I came to you with seventy-two counts. Do you take him for a Mars?"

Orlando happened to hear these words as he sat apart, and it displeased him with the lord of Pontiers that he should speak so, but much more that Charles should believe him. He would have killed Gan, if Uliviero had not prevented him and taken his sword out of his hand; nay, he would have killed Charlemagne; but at last he went from Paris by himself, raging with scorn and grief. He borrowed, as he went, of Ermillina the wife of Ogier, the Dane's sword Cortana and his horse Rondel, and proceeded on his way to Brava. His wife, Alda the Fair, hastened to embrace him; but while she was saying, "Welcome, my Orlando," he was going to strike her with his sword, for his head was bewildered, and he took her for the traitor. The fair Alda marvelled greatly, but Orlando recollected himself, and she took hold of the bridle, and he leaped from his horse, and told her all that had passed, and rested himself with her for some days.

He then took his leave, being still carried away by his disdain, and resolved to pass over into Heathendom; and as he rode, he thought, every step of the way, of the traitor Gan; and so, riding on wherever the road took him, he reached the confines between the Christian countries and the Pagan, and came upon an abbey, situate in a dark place in a desert.

Now above the abbey was a great mountain, inhabited by three fierce giants, one of whom was named Passamonte, another Alabastro, and the third Morgante; and these giants used to disturb the abbey by throwing things down upon it from the mountain with slings, so that the poor little monks could not go out to fetch wood or water. Orlando knocked, but nobody would open till the abbot was spoken to. At last the abbot came himself, and opening the door bade him welcome. The good man told him the reason of the delay, and said that since the arrival of the giants they had been so perplexed that they did not know what to do. "Our ancient fathers in the desert," quoth he, "were rewarded according to their holiness. It is not to be supposed that they lived only upon locusts; doubtless, it also rained manna upon them from heaven; but here one is regaled with stones, which the giants pour on us from the mountain. These are our nice bits and relishes. The fiercest of the three, Morgante, plucks up pines and other great trees by the roots, and casts them on us." While they were talking thus in the cemetery, there came a stone which seemed as if it would break Rondel's back.

"For God's sake, cavalier," said the abbot, "come in, for the manna is falling."

"My dear abbot," answered Orlando, "this fellow, methinks, does not wish to let my horse feed; he wants to cure him of being restive; the stone seems as if it came from a good arm." "Yes," replied the holy father, "I did not deceive you. I think, some day or other, they will cast the mountain itself on us."

Orlando quieted his horse, and then sat down to a meal; after which he said, "Abbot, I must go and return the present that has been made to my horse." The abbot with great tenderness endeavoured to dissuade him, but in vain; upon which he crossed him on the forehead, and said, "Go, then; and the blessing of God be with you."

Orlando scaled the mountain, and came where Passamonte was, who, seeing him alone, measured him with his eyes, and asked him if he would stay with him for a page, promising to make him comfortable. "Stupid Saracen," said Orlando, "I come to you, according to the will of God, to be your death, and not your foot-boy. You have displeased his servants here, and are no longer to be endured, dog that you are!"

The giant, finding himself thus insulted, ran in a fury to his weapons; and returning to Orlando, slung at him a large stone, which struck him on the head with such force, as not only made his helmet ring again, but felled him to the earth. Passamonte thought he was dead. "What could have brought that paltry fellow here?" said he, as he turned away. But Christ never forsakes his followers. While Passamonte was going away, Orlando recovered, and cried aloud, "How now, giant? do you fancy you have killed me? Turn back, for unless you have wings, your escape is out of the question, dog of a renegade!" The giant, greatly marvelling, turned back; and stooping to pick up a stone, Orlando, who had Cortana naked in his hand, cleft his skull; upon which, cursing Mahomet, the monster tumbled, dying and blaspheming, to the ground. Blaspheming fell the sour-hearted and cruel wretch; but Orlando, in the mean while, thanked the Father and the Word.

The Paladin went on, seeking for Alabastro, the second giant; who, when he saw him, endeavoured to pluck up a great piece of stony earth by the roots. "Ho, ho!" cried Orlando, "you too are for throwing stones, are you?" Then Alabastro took his sling, and flung at him so large a fragment as forced Orlando to defend himself, for if it had struck him, he would no more have needed a surgeon;[1] but collecting his strength, he thrust his sword into the giant's breast, and the loggerhead fell dead.

"Blessed Jesus be thanked," said the giant, "for I have always heard you called a perfect knight; and as I said, I will follow you all my life long."

And so conversing, they went together towards the abbey; and by the way Orlando talked with Morgante of the dead giants, and sought to comfort him, saying they had done the monks a thousand injuries, and "our Scripture says the good shall be rewarded and the evil punished, and we must submit to the will of God. The doctors of our Church," continued he, "are all agreed, that if those who are glorified in heaven were to feel pity for their miserable kindred who lie in such horrible confusion in hell, their beatitude would come to nothing; and this, you see, would plainly be unjust on the part of God. But such is the firmness of their faith, that what appears good to him appears good to them. Do what he may, they hold it to be done well, and that it is impossible for him to err; so that if their very fathers and mothers are suffering everlasting punishment, it does not disturb them an atom. This is the custom, I assure you, in the choirs above."[2]

"A word to the wise," said Morgante; "you shall see if I grieve for my brethren, and whether or no I submit to the will of God, and behave myself like an angel. So dust to dust; and now let us enjoy ourselves. I will cut off their hands, all four of them, and take them to these holy monks, that they may be sure they are dead, and not fear to go out alone into the desert. They will then be certain also that the Lord has purified me, and taken me out of darkness, and assured to me the kingdom of heaven." So saying, the giant cut off the hands of his brethren, and left their bodies to the beasts and birds.

They went to the abbey, where the abbot was expecting Orlando in great anxiety; but the monks not knowing what had happened, ran to the abbot in great haste and alarm, saying, "Will you suffer this giant to come in?" And when the abbot saw the giant, he changed countenance. Orlando, perceiving him thus disturbed, made haste and said, "Abbot, peace be with you! The giant is a Christian; he believes in Christ, and has renounced his false prophet, Mahomet." And Morgante shewing the hands in proof of his faith, the abbot thanked Heaven with great contentment of mind.

The abbot did much honour to Morgante, comparing him with St. Paul; and they rested there many days. One day, wandering over the house, they entered a room where the abbot kept a quantity of armour; and Morgante saw a bow which pleased him, and he fastened it on. Now there was in the place a great scarcity of water; and Orlando said, like his good brother, "Morgante, I wish you would fetch us some water." "Command me as you please," said he; and placing a great tub on his shoulders, he went towards a spring at which he had been accustomed to drink, at the foot of the mountain. Having reached the spring, he suddenly heard a great noise in the forest. He took an arrow from the quiver, placed it in the bow, and raising his head, saw a great herd of swine rushing towards the spring where he stood. Morgante shot one of them clean through the head, and laid him sprawling. Another, as if in revenge, ran towards the giant, without giving him time to use a second arrow; so he lent him a cuff on the head which broke the bone, and killed him also; which stroke the rest seeing fled in haste through the valley. Morgante then placed the tub full of water upon one of his shoulders, and the two porkers on the other, and returned to the abbey which was at some distance, without spilling a drop.

The monks were delighted to see the fresh water, but still more the pork; for there is no animal to whom food comes amiss. They let their breviaries therefore go to sleep a while, and fell heartily to work, so that the cats and dogs had reason to lament the polish of the bones.

"But why do we stay here doing nothing?" said Orlando one day to Morgante; and he shook hands with the abbot, and told him he must take his leave. "I must go," said he, "and make up for lost time. I ought to have gone long ago, my good father; but I cannot tell you what I feel within me, at the content I have enjoyed here in your company. I shall bear in mind and in heart with me for ever the abbot, the abbey, and this desert, so great is the love they have raised in me in so short a time. The great God, who reigns above, must thank you for me, in his own abode. Bestow on us your benediction, and do not forget us in your prayers."

When the abbot heard the County Orlando talk thus, his heart melted within him for tenderness, and he said, "Knight, if we have failed in any courtesy due to your prowess and great gentleness (and indeed what we have done has been but little), pray put it to the account of our ignorance, and of the place which we inhabit. We are but poor men of the cloister, better able to regale you with masses and orisons and paternosters, than with dinners and suppers. You have so taken this heart of mine by the many noble qualities I have seen in you, that I shall be with you still wherever you go; and, on the other hand, you will always be present here with me. This seems a contradiction; but you are wise, and will take my meaning discreetly. You have saved the very life and spirit within us; for so much perplexity had those giants cast about our place, that the way to the Lord among us was blocked up. May He who sent you into these woods reward the justice and piety by which we are delivered from our trouble. Thanks be to him and to you. We shall all be disconsolate at your departure. We shall grieve that we cannot detain you among us for months and years; but you do not wear these weeds; you bear arms and armour; and you may possibly merit as well in carrying those, as in wearing this cap. You read your Bible, and your virtue has been the means of shewing the giant the way to heaven. Go in peace then, and prosper, whoever you may be. I do not seek your name; but if ever I am asked who it was that came among us, I shall say that it was an angel from God. If there is any armour or other thing that you would have, go into the room where it is, and take it."

"If you have any armour that would suit my companion," replied Orlando, "that I will accept with pleasure."

"Come and see," said the abbot; and they went to a room that was full of armour. Morgante looked all about, but could find nothing large enough, except a rusty breast-plate, which fitted him marvellously. It had belonged to an enormous giant, who was killed there of old by Orlando's father, Milo of Angrante. There was a painting on the wall which told the whole story: how the giant had laid cruel and long siege to the abbey; and how he had been overthrown at last by the great Milo. Orlando seeing this, said within himself: "O God, unto whom all things are known, how came Milo here, who destroyed this giant?" And reading certain inscriptions which were there, he could no longer keep a firm countenance, but the tears ran down his cheeks.

When the abbot saw Orlando weep, and his brow redden, and the light of his eyes become child-like for sweetness, he asked him the reason; but, finding him still dumb with emotion, he said, "I do not know whether you are overpowered by admiration of what is painted in this chamber. You must know that I am of high descent, though not through lawful wedlock. I believe I may say I am nephew or sister's son to no less a man than that Rinaldo, who was so great a Paladin in the world, though my own father was not of a lawful mother. Ansuigi was his name; my own, out in the world, was Chiaramonte; and this Milo was my father's brother. Ah, gentle baron, for blessed Jesus' sake, tell me what name is yours!"

Orlando, all glowing with affection, and bathed in tears, replied, "My dear abbot and cousin, he before you is your Orlando." Upon this, they ran for tenderness into each other's arms, weeping on both sides with a sovereign affection, too high to be expressed. The abbot was so over-joyed, that he seemed as if he would never have done embracing Orlando. "By what fortune," said the knight, "do I find you in this obscure place? Tell me, my dear abbot, how was it you became a monk, and did not follow arms, like myself and the rest of us?"

"It is the will of God," replied the abbot, hastening to give his feelings utterance. "Many and divers are the paths he points out for us by which to arrive at his city; some walk it with the sword—some with pastoral staff. Nature makes the inclination different, and therefore there are different ways for us to take: enough if we all arrive safely at one and the same place, the last as well as the first. We are all pilgrims through many kingdoms. We all wish to go to Rome, Orlando; but we go picking out our journey through different roads. Such is the trouble in body and soul brought upon us by that sin of the old apple. Day and night am I here with my book in hand—day and night do you ride about, holding your sword, and sweating oft both in sun and shadow; and all to get round at last to the home from which we departed—I say, all out of anxiety and hope to get back to our home of old." And the giant hearing them talk of these things, shed tears also.

The Paladin and the giant quitted the abbey, the one on horseback and the other on foot, and journeyed through the desert till they came to a magnificent castle, the door of which stood open. They entered, and found rooms furnished in the most splendid manner—beds covered with cloth of gold, and floors rejoicing in variegated marbles. There was even a feast prepared in the saloon, but nobody to eat it, or to speak to them.

Orlando suspected some trap, and did not quite like it; but Morgante thought nothing worth considering but the feast. "Who cares for the host," said he, "when there's such a dinner? Let us eat as much as we can, and bear off the rest. I always do that when I have the picking of castles."

They accordingly sat down, and being very hungry with their day's journey, devoured heaps of the good things before them, eating with all the vigour of health, and drinking to a pitch of weakness.[3] They sat late in this manner enjoying themselves, and then retired for the night into rich beds.

But what was their astonishment in the morning at finding that they could not get out of the place! There was no door. All the entrances had vanished, even to any feasible window.

"We must be dreaming," said Orlando.

"My dinner was no dream, I'll swear," said the giant. "As for the rest, let it be a dream if it pleases."

Continuing to search up and down, they at length found a vault with a tomb in it; and out of the tomb came a voice, saying, "You must encounter with me, or stay here for ever. Lift, therefore, the stone that covers me."

"Do you hear that?" said Morgante; "I'll have him out, if it's the devil himself. Perhaps it's two devils, Filthy-dog and Foul-mouth, or Itching and Evil-tail."[4]

"Have him out," said Orlando, "whoever he is, even were it as many devils as were rained out of heaven into the centre."

Morgante lifted up the stone, and out leaped, surely enough, a devil in the likeness of a dried-up dead body, black as a coal. Orlando seized him, and the devil grappled with Orlando. Morgante was for joining him, but the Paladin bade him keep back. It was a hard struggle, and the devil grinned and laughed, till the giant, who was a master of wrestling, could bear it no longer: so he doubled him up, and, in spite of all his efforts, thrust him back into the tomb.

"You'll never get out," said the devil, "if you leave me shut up."

"Why not?" inquired the Paladin.

"Because your giant's baptism and my deliverance must go together," answered the devil. "If he is not baptised, you can have no deliverance; and if I am not delivered, I can prevent it still, take my word for it."

Orlando baptised the giant. The two companions then issued forth, and hearing a mighty noise in the house, looked back, and saw it all vanished.

"I could find it in my heart," said Morgante, "to go down to those same regions below, and make all the devils disappear in like manner. Why shouldn't we do it? We'd set free all the poor souls there. Egad, I'd cut off Minos's tail—I'd pull out Charon's beard by the roots—make a sop of Phlegyas, and a sup of Phlegethon—unseat Pluto,—kill Cerberus and the Furies with a punch of the face a-piece—and set Beelzebub scampering like a dromedary."

"You might find more trouble than you wot of," quoth Orlando, "and get worsted besides. Better keep the straight path, than thrust your head into out-of-the-way places."

Morgante took his lord's advice, and went straightforward with him through many great adventures, helping him with loving good-will as often as he was permitted, sometimes as his pioneer, and sometimes as his finisher of troublesome work, such as a slaughter of some thousands of infidels. Now he chucked a spy into a river—now felled a rude ambassador to the earth (for he didn't stand upon ceremony)—now cleared a space round him in battle with the clapper of an old bell which he had found at the monastery—now doubled up a king in his tent, and bore him away, tent and all, and a Paladin with him, because he would not let the Paladin go.

In the course of these services, the giant was left to take care of a lady, and lost his master for a time; but the office being at an end, he set out to rejoin him, and, arriving at a cross-road, met with a very extraordinary personage.

This was a giant huger than himself, swarthy-faced, horrible, brutish. He came out of a wood, and appeared to be journeying somewhere. Morgante, who had the great bell-clapper in his hand above-mentioned, struck it on the ground with astonishment, as much as to say, "Who the devil is this?" and then set himself on a stone by the way-side to observe the creature.

"What's your name, traveller?" said Morgante, as it came up.

"My name's Margutte," said the phenomenon. "I intended to be a giant myself, but altered my mind, you see, and stopped half-way; so that I am only twenty feet or so."

"I'm glad to see you," quoth his brother-giant. "But tell me, are you Christian or Saracen? Do you believe in Christ or in Apollo?"

"To tell you the truth," said the other, "I believe neither in black nor blue, but in a good capon, whether it be roast or boiled. I believe sometimes also in butter, and, when I can get it, in new wine, particularly the rough sort; but, above all, I believe in wine that's good and old. Mahomet's prohibition of it is all moonshine. I am the son, you must know, of a Greek nun and a Turkish bishop; and the first thing I learned was to play the fiddle. I used to sing Homer to it. I was then concerned in a brawl in a mosque, in which the old bishop somehow happened to be killed; so I tied a sword to my side, and went to seek my fortune, accompanied by all the possible sins of Turk and Greek. People talk of the seven deadly sins; but I have seventy-seven that never quit me, summer or winter; by which you may judge of the amount of my venial ones. I am a gambler, a cheat, a ruffian, a highwayman, a pick-pocket, a glutton (at beef or blows); have no shame whatever; love to let every body know what I can do; lie, besides, about what I can't do; have a particular attachment to sacrilege; swallow perjuries like figs; never give a farthing to any body, but beg of every body, and abuse them into the bargain; look upon not spilling a drop of liquor as the chief of all the cardinal virtues; but must own I am not much given to assassination, murder being inconvenient; and one thing I am bound to acknowledge, which is, that I never betrayed a messmate."

"That's as well," observed Morgante; "because you see, as you don't believe in any thing else, I'd have you believe in this bell-clapper of mine. So now, as you have been candid with me, and I am well instructed in your ways, we'll pursue our journey together."

The best of giants, in those days, were not scrupulous in their modes of living; so that one of the best and one of the worst got on pretty well together, emptying the larders on the road, and paying nothing but douses on the chops. When they could find no inn, they hunted elephants and crocodiles. Morgante, who was the braver of the two, delighted to banter, and sometimes to cheat, Margutte; and he ate up all the fare; which made the other, notwithstanding the credit he gave himself for readiness of wit and tongue, cut a very sorry figure, and seriously remonstrate: "I reverence you," said Margutte, "in other matters; but in eating, you really don't behave well. He who deprives me of my share at meals is no friend; at every mouthful of which he robs me, I seem to lose an eye. I'm for sharing every thing to a nicety, even if it be no better than a fig."

"You are a fine fellow," said Morgante; "you gain upon me very much. You are 'the master of those who know.'"[6]

So saying, he made him put some wood on the fire, and perform a hundred other offices to render every thing snug; and then he slept: and next day he cheated his great scoundrelly companion at drink, as he had done the day before at meat; and the poor shabby devil complained; and Morgante laughed till he was ready to burst, and again and again always cheated him.

There was a levity, nevertheless, in Margutte, which restored his spirits on the slightest glimpse of good fortune; and if he realised a hearty meal, he became the happiest, beastliest, and most confident of giants. The companions, in the course of their journey, delivered a damsel from the clutches of three other giants. She was the daughter of a great lord; and when she got home, she did honour to Morgante as to an equal, and put Margutte into the kitchen, where he was in a state of bliss. He did nothing but swill, stuff, surfeit, be sick, play at dice, cheat, filch, go to sleep, guzzle again, laugh, chatter, and tell a thousand lies.

Morgante took leave of the young lady, who made him rich presents. Margutte, seeing this, and being always drunk and impudent, daubed his face like a Christmas clown, and making up to her with a frying-pan in his hand, demanded "something for the cook." The fair hostess gave him a jewel; and the vagabond skewed such a brutal eagerness in seizing it with his filthy hands, and making not the least acknowledgment, that when they got out of the house, Morgante was ready to fell him to the earth. He called him scoundrel and poltroon, and said he had disgraced him for ever.

"Softly!" said the brute-beast. "Didn't you take me with you, knowing what sort of fellow I was? Didn't I tell you I had every sin and shame under heaven; and have I deceived you by the exhibition of a single virtue?"

Morgante could not help laughing at a candour of this excessive nature. So they went on their way till they came to a wood, where they rested themselves by a fountain, and Margutte fell fast asleep. He had a pair of boots on, which Morgante felt tempted to draw off, that he might see what he would do on waking. He accordingly did so, and threw them to a little distance among the bushes. The sleeper awoke in good time, and, looking and searching round about, suddenly burst into roars of laughter. A monkey had got the boots, and sat pulling them on and off, making the most ridiculous gestures. The monkey busied himself, and the light-minded drunkard laughed; and at every fresh gesticulation of the new boot-wearer, the laugh grew louder and more tremendous, till at length it was found impossible to be restrained. The glutton had a laughing-fit. In vain he tried to stop himself; in vain his fingers would have loosened the buttons of his doublet, to give his lungs room to play. They couldn't do it; so he laughed and roared till he burst. The snap was like the splitting of a cannon. Morgante ran up to him, but it was of no use. He was dead.

Alas! it was not the only death; it was not even the most trivial cause of a death. Giants are big fellows, but Death's a bigger, though he may come in a little shape. Morgante had succeeded in joining his master. He helped him to take Babylon; he killed a whale for him at sea that obstructed his passage; he played the part of a main-sail during a storm, holding out his arms and a great hide; but on coming to shore, a crab bit him in the heel; and behold the lot of the great giant—he died! He laughed, and thought it a very little thing, but it proved a mighty one.

"He made the East tremble," said Orlando; "and the bite of a crab has slain him!"

O life of ours, weak, and a fallacy![7]

Orlando embalmed his huge friend, and had him taken to Babylon, and honourably interred; and, after many an adventure, in which he regretted him, his own days were closed by a far baser, though not so petty a cause.

How shall I speak of it? exclaims the poet. How think of the horrible slaughter about to fall on the Christians and their greatest men, so that not a dry eye shall be left in France? How express my disgust at the traitor Gan, whose heart a thousand pardons from his sovereign, and the most undeserved rescues of him by the warrior he betrayed, could not shame or soften? How mourn the weakness of Charles, always deceived by him, and always trusting? How dare to present to my mind the good, the great, the ever-generous Orlando, brought by the traitor into the doleful pass of Roncesvalles and the hands of myriads of his enemies, so that even his superhuman strength availed not to deliver him out of the slaughterhouse, and he blew the blast with his dying breath, which was the mightiest, the farthest heard, and the most melancholy sound that ever came to the ears of the undeceived?

Gan was known well to every body but his confiding sovereign. The Paladins knew him well; and in their moments of indignant disgust often told him so, though they spared him the consequences of his misdeeds, and even incurred the most frightful perils to deliver him out of the hands of his enemies. But he was brave; he was in favour with the sovereign, who was also their kinsman; and they were loyal and loving men, and knew that the wretch envied them for the greatness of their achievements, and might do the state a mischief; so they allowed themselves to take a kind of scornful pleasure in putting up with him. Their cousin Malagigi, the enchanter, had himself assisted Gan, though he knew him best of all, and had prophesied that the innumerable endeavours of his envy to destroy his king and country would bring some terrible evil at last to all Chistendom. The evil, alas! is at hand. The doleful time has come. It will be followed, it is true, by a worse fate of the wretch himself; but not till the valleys of the Pyrenees have run rivers of blood, and all France is in mourning.

[Footnote 1: A common pleasantry in the old romances—"Galaor went in, and then the halberders attacked him on one side, and the knight on the other. He snatched an axe from one, and turned to the knight and smote him, so that he had no need of a surgeon."—Southey's Amadis of Gaul, vol. i. p. 146.]

[Footnote 2:

"Sonsi i nostri dottori accordati, Pigliando tutti una conclusione, Che que' che son nel ciel glorificati, S' avessin nel pensier compassione De' miseri parenti che dannati Son ne lo inferno in gran confusione, La lor felicita nulla sarebbe E vedi the qui ingiusto Iddio parebbe.

Ma egli anno posto in Gesu ferma spene; E tanto pare a lor, quanto a lui pare: Afferman cio ch' e' fu, che facci bene, E che non possi in nessun modo errare: Se padre o madre e ne l'eterne pene, Di questo non si posson conturbare: Che quel che piace a Dio, sol piace a loro Questo s'osserva ne l'eterno core.

Al savio suol bastar poche parole, Disse Morgante: tu il potrai vedere, De' miei fratelli, Orlando, se mi duole, E s'io m'accordero di Dio al volere, Come tu di che in ciel servar si suole: Morti co' morti; or pensiam di godere: Io vo' tagliar le mani a tutti quanti, E porterolle a que' monaci santi."

This doctrine, which is horrible blasphemy in the eyes of natural feeling, is good reasoning in Catholic and Calvinistic theology. They first make the Deity's actions a necessity from some barbarous assumption, then square them according to a dictum of the Councils, then compliment him by laying all that he has made good and kindly within us mangled and mad at his feet. Meantime they think themselves qualified to denounce Moloch and Jugghanaut!]

[Footnote 3:

"E furno al here infermi, al mangiar sani."

I am not sure that I am right in my construction of this passage. Perhaps Pulci means to say, that they had the appetites of men in health, and the thirst of a fever.]

[Footnote 5: Cagnazzo, Farfarello. Libicocco, and Malacoda; names of devils in Dante.]

[Footnote 6: "Il maestro di color che sanno." A jocose application of Dante's praise of Aristotle.]

[Footnote 7: "O vita nostra, debole e fallace!"]




This is the

"sad and fearful story Of the Roncesvalles fight;"

an event which national and religious exaggeration impressed deeply on the popular mind of Europe. Hence Italian romances and Spanish ballads: hence the famous passage in Milton,

"When Charlemain with all his peerage fell By Fontarabbia:"

hence Dante's record of the dolorosa rotta (dolorous rout) in the Inferno, where he compares the voice of Nimrod with the horn sounded by the dying Orlando: hence the peasant in Cervantes, who is met by Don Quixote singing the battle as he comes along the road in the morning: and hence the song of Roland actually thundered forth by the army of William the Conqueror as they advanced against the English.

But Charlemagne did not "fall," as Milton has stated. Nor does Pulci make him do so. In this respect, if in little else, the Italian poet adhered to the fact. The whole story is a remarkable instance of what can be done by poetry and popularity towards misrepresenting and aggrandising a petty though striking adventure. The simple fact was the cutting off the rear of Charlemagne's army by the revolted Gascons, as he returned from a successful expedition into Spain. Two or three only of his nobles perished, among whom was his nephew Roland, the obscure warden of his marches of Brittany. But Charlemagne was the temporal head of Christendom; the poets constituted his nephew its champion; and hence all the glories and superhuman exploits of the Orlando of Pulci and Ariosto. The whole assumption of the wickedness of the Saracens, particularly of the then Saracen king of Spain, whom Pulci's authority, the pseudo-Archbishop Turpin, strangely called Marsilius, was nothing but a pious fraud; the pretended Marsilius having been no less a person than the great and good Abdoulrahmaun the First, who wrested the dominion of that country out of the hands of the usurpers of his family-rights. Yet so potent and long-lived are the most extravagant fictions, when genius has put its heart into them, that to this day we read of the devoted Orlando and his friends not only with gravity, but with the liveliest emotion.



A miserable man am I, cries the poet; for Orlando, beyond a doubt, died in Roncesvalles; and die therefore he must in my verses. Altogether impossible is it to save him. I thought to make a pleasant ending of this my poem, so that it should be happier somehow, throughout, than melancholy; but though Gan will die at last, Orlando must die before him, and that makes a tragedy of all. I had a doubt whether, consistently with the truth, I could give the reader even that sorry satisfaction; for at the beginning of the dreadful battle, Orlando's cousin, Rinaldo, who is said to have joined it before it was over, and there, as well as afterwards, to have avenged his death, was far away from the seat of slaughter, in Egypt; and how was I to suppose that he could arrive soon enough in the valleys of the Pyrenees? But an angel upon earth shewed me the secret, even Angelo Poliziano, the glory of his age and country. He informed me how Arnauld, the Provencal poet, had written of this very matter, and brought the Paladin from Egypt to France by means of the wonderful skill in occult science possessed by his cousin Malagigi—a wonder to the ignorant, but not so marvellous to those who know that all the creation is full of wonders, and who have different modes of relating the same events. By and by, a great many things will be done in the world, of which we have no conception now, and people will be inclined to believe them works of the devil, when, in fact, they will be very good works, and contribute to angelical effects, whether the devil be forced to have a hand in them or not; for evil itself can work only in subordination to good. So listen when the astonishment comes, and reflect and think the best. Meantime, we must speak of another and more truly devilish astonishment, and of the pangs of mortal flesh and blood.

The traitor Gan, for the fiftieth time, had secretly brought the infidels from all quarters against his friend and master, the Emperor Charles; and Charles, by the help of Orlando, had conquered them all. The worst of them, Marsilius, king of Spain, had agreed to pay the court of France tribute; and Gan, in spite of all the suspicions he excited in this particular instance, and his known villany at all times, had succeeded in persuading his credulous sovereign to let him go ambassador into Spain, where he put a final seal to his enormities, by plotting the destruction of his employer, and the special overthrow of Orlando. Charles was now old and white-haired, and Gan was so too; but the one was only confirmed in his credulity, and the other in his crimes. The traitor embraced Orlando over and over again at taking leave, praying him to write if he had any thing to say before the arrangements with Marsilius, and taking such pains to seem loving and sincere, that his villany was manifest to every one but the old monarch. He fastened with equal tenderness on Uliviero, who smiled contemptuously in his face, and thought to himself, "You may make as many fair speeches as you choose, but you lie." All the other Paladins who were present thought the same and they said as much to the emperor; adding, that on no account should Gan be sent ambassador to Marsilius. But Charles was infatuated. His beard and his credulity had grown old together.

Gan was received with great honour in Spain by Marsilius. The king, attended by his lords, came fifteen miles out of Saragossa to meet him, and then conducted him into the city amid tumults of delight. There was nothing for several days but balls, and games, and exhibitions of chivalry, the ladies throwing flowers on the heads of the French knights, and the people shouting "France! France! Mountjoy and St. Denis!"

Gan made a speech, "like a Demosthenes," to King Marsilius in public; but he made him another in private, like nobody but himself. The king and he were sitting in a garden; they were traitors both, and began to understand, from one another's looks, that the real object of the ambassador was yet to be discussed. Marsilius accordingly assumed a more than usually cheerful and confidential aspect; and, taking his visitor by the hand, said, "You know the proverb, Mr. Ambassador—'At dawn, the mountain; afternoon, the fountain.' Different things at different hours. So here is a fountain to accommodate us."

It was a very beautiful fountain, so clear that you saw your face in it as in a mirror; and the spot was encircled with fruit-trees that quivered with the fresh air. Gan praised it very much, contriving to insinuate, on one subject, his satisfaction with the glimpses he got into another. Marsilius understood him; and as he resumed the conversation, and gradually encouraged a mutual disclosure of their thoughts, Gan, without appearing to look him in the face, was enabled to do so by contemplating the royal visage in the water, where he saw its expression become more and more what he desired. Marsilius, meantime, saw the like symptoms in the face of Gan. By degrees, he began to touch on that dissatisfaction with Charlemagne and his court, which he knew was in both their minds: he lamented, not as to the ambassador, but as to the friend, the injuries which he said he had received from Charles in the repeated attacks on his dominions, and the emperor's wish to crown Orlando king of them; till at length he plainly uttered his belief, that if that tremendous Paladin were but dead, good men would get their rights, and his visitor and himself have all things at their disposal.

Gan heaved a sigh, as if he was unwillingly compelled to allow the force of what the king said; but, unable to contain himself long, he lifted up his face, radiant with triumphant wickedness, and exclaimed, "Every word you utter is truth. Die he must; and die also must Uliviero, who struck me that foul blow at court. Is it treachery to punish affronts like those? I have planned every thing—I have settled every thing already with their besotted master. Orlando could not be expected to be brought hither, where he has been accustomed to look for a crown; but he will come to the Spanish borders—to Roncesvalles—for the purpose of receiving the tribute. Charles will await him, at no great distance, in St. John Pied de Port. Orlando will bring but a small band with him; you, when you meet him, will have secretly your whole army at your back. You surround him; and who receives tribute then?"

The new Judas had scarcely uttered these words, when the delight of him and his associate was interrupted by a change in the face of nature. The sky was suddenly overcast; it thundered and lightened; a laurel was split in two from head to foot; the fountain ran into burning blood; there was an earthquake, and the carob-tree under which Gan was sitting, and which was of the species on which Judas Iscariot hung himself, dropped some of its fruit on his head. The hair of the head rose in horror.

Marsilius, as well as Gan, was appalled at this omen; but on assembling his soothsayers, they came to the conclusion that the laurel-tree turned the omen against the emperor, the successor of the Caesars; though one of them renewed the consternation of Gan, by saying that he did not understand the meaning of the tree of Judas, and intimating that perhaps the ambassador could explain it. Gan relieved his consternation with anger; the habit of wickedness prevailed over all considerations; and the king prepared to march for Roncesvalles at the head of all his forces.

Gan wrote to Charlemagne, to say how humbly and properly Marsilius was coming to pay the tribute into the hands of Orlando, and how handsome it would be of the emperor to meet him halfway, as agreed upon, at St. John Pied de Port, and so be ready to receive him, after the payment, at his footstool. He added a brilliant account of the tribute and its accompanying presents. They included a crown in the shape of a garland which had a carbuncle in it that gave light in darkness; two lions of an "immeasurable length, and aspects that frightened every body;" some "lively buffalos," leopards, crocodiles, and giraffes; arms and armour of all sorts; and apes and monkeys seated among the rich merchandise that loaded the backs of the camels. This imaginary treasure contained, furthermore, two enchanted spirits, called "Floro and Faresse," who were confined in a mirror, and were to tell the emperor wonderful things, particularly Floro (for there is nothing so nice in its details as lying): and Orlando was to have heaps of caravans full of Eastern wealth, and a hundred white horses, all with saddles and bridles of gold. There was a beautiful vest, too, for Uliviero, all over jewels, worth ten thousand "seraffi," or more.

The good emperor wrote in turn to say how pleased he was with the ambassador's diligence, and that matters were arranged precisely as he wished. His court, however, had its suspicions still. Nobody could believe that Gan had not some new mischief in contemplation. Little, nevertheless, did they imagine, after the base endeavours he had but lately made against them, that he had immediately plotted a new and greater one, and that his object in bringing Charles into the neighbourhood of Roncesvalles was to deliver him more speedily into the hands of Marsilius, in the event of the latter's destruction of Orlando.

Orlando, however, did as his lord and sovereign desired. He went to Roncesvalles, accompanied by a moderate train of warriors, not dreaming of the atrocity that awaited him. Gan himself, meantime, had hastened on to France before Marsilius, in order to shew himself free and easy in the presence of Charles, and secure the success of his plot; while Marsilius, to make assurance doubly sure, brought into the passes of Roncesvalles no less than three armies, who were successively to fall on the Paladin, in case of the worst, and so extinguish him with numbers. He had also, by Gan's advice, brought heaps of wine and good cheer to be set before his victims in the first instance; "for that," said the traitor, "will render the onset the more effective, the feasters being unarmed; and, supposing prodigies of valour to await even the attack of your second army, you will have no trouble with your third. One thing, however, I must not forget," added he; "my son Baldwin is sure to be with Orlando; you must take care of his life for my sake." "I give him this vest off my own body," said the king; "let him wear it in the battle, and have no fear. My soldiers shall be directed not to touch him."

Gan went away rejoicing to France. He embraced the court and his sovereign all round, with the air of a man who had brought them nothing but blessings; and the old king wept for very tenderness and delight.

"Something is going on wrong, and looks very black," thought Malagigi, the good wizard; "and Rinaldo is not here, and it is indispensably necessary that he should be. I must find out where he is, and Ricciardetto too, and send for them with all speed, and at any price." Malagigi called up, by his art, a wise, terrible, and cruel spirit, named Ashtaroth;—no light personage to deal with—no little spirit, such as plays tricks with you like a fairy. A much blacker visitant was this.

"Tell me, and tell me truly of Rinaldo," said Malagigi to the spirit.

Hard looked the demon at the Paladin, and said nothing. His aspect was clouded and violent. He wished to see whether his summoner retained all the force of his art.

The enchanter, with an aspect still cloudier, bade Ashtaroth lay down that look. While giving this order, he also made signs indicative of a disposition to resort to angrier compulsion; and the devil, apprehending that he would confine him in some hateful place, loosened his tongue, and said, "You have not told me what you desire to know of Rinaldo."

"I desire to know what he has been doing, and where he is," returned the enchanter.

"He has been conquering and baptising the world, east and west," said the demon, "and is now in Egypt with Ricciardetto."

"And what has Gan been plotting with Marsilius," inquired Malagigi, "and what is to come of it?"

"On neither of those points can I enlighten you," said the devil. "I was not attending to Gan at the time, and we fallen spirits know not the future. Had we done so, we had not been so willing to incur the danger of falling. All I discern is, that, by the signs and comets in the heavens, something dreadful is about to happen—something very strange, treacherous, and bloody; and that Gan has a seat ready prepared for him in hell."

"Within three days," cried the enchanter, loudly, "fetch Rinaldo and Ricciardetto into the pass of Roncesvalles. Do it, and I hereby undertake never to summon thee more."

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