Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The Critic, The London Literary Journal, Volume 12
Author: John Crockford (publisher)
Date of publication: 1853
Publisher: John Crockford
Printer: John Crockford

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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Note: All pages containing “Poems by Francesco and Gaetano Polidori” are formatted in three columns.
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Il Losario: Poema Eroico Romanesco , di Ser

Francesco Polidori. Messo in luce, coll'

aggiunta di Tre Canti, da Gaetano Polidori,

suo nipote. Firenze e Londra. [ Losario: a

Poetic Romance.
By Ser Francesco Polidori.

Now first published, with the addition of Three

Cantos, by his nephew, Gaetano Polidori.

Florence and London.]
It is so rarely that the reviewer now-a-days has

to cope with anything even remotely resembling

an epic, that when such a work does happen

to fall in his way, he is apt to consider the

perusal of it as an achievement almost worthy to

form the subject of a poem of equal pretensions.

Nor is it in all moods that he would so much as

attempt the task; for indeed we fear it might

almost be said of Homer himself, that only when

that great man is found nodding could he count

safely upon the “used-up” energies of a modern

critic as being in perfectly sympathetic relation

with him.
The poem whose title and genealogy heads our

present article is not, however, a direct descen–

dant from the great epic stock, but rather belong–

ing to that illegitimate line which claims Ariosto

for its ancestor—a bastard, for the matter of that,

with a dash of the Falconbridge humour in him,

and not at all disposed to yield the hereditary

lion's skin to any that has not strength to keep

it. Or perhaps, on some accounts, the author of

Losario would have preferred to trace the pedi–

gree of his work through Tasso's branch of the

heroic family, which, if more legitimate, has yet

always seemed to us to be less akin to the parent

stock in vigour than is the misbegotten fire of

Ariosto; and, indeed, almost liable now and then

to that irreverent imputation of being “got be–

twixt sleep and wake.” Au reste, we can assure

the reader that whatever may have been the

balance of our author's predilections, his poem of

Losario is a perfect cornucopia of marvellous ad–

venture; where king's sons are dethroned and

reinstated; where usurpers, in the hour of

triumph, find themselves cloven to the chine;

where the unjustifiable lives of dragons are held

on the most perilous tenure; where the gods

themselves are the “medium” of prophecy; and

where the valour of the hero is unsurpassed, ex-

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cept, perhaps, by that of his lady—the love here

being not only platonic, but generally having

Mars for a Cupid.
Before proceeding to give a translated extract

from the poem, we need merely premise regard–

ing its author, Ser Francesco Polidori (the

Ser being a legal title), that he was born in the

year 1720, at Pontedera, in Tuscany; that he

followed the profession of the law, in which, how–

ever, his natural goodness of heart appears to

have interfered with his success; and that he

died in 1773. Losario , which seems to have been

his only considerable work, after remaining in

the limbo of manuscript for about a century, now

at length sees the light under the auspices of a

nonagenarian descendant; for such, as may be

gathered from the preface, is now the venerable

age of its editor, of whom we shall have more to

say anon.
The following extract is taken from a passage

of the poem where Prince Losario and his friend

Antasete are informed by a river-nymph of the

means whereby they may succeed in destroying a

dragon which troubles her dominion:—
  • Silent, she lifted softly through the wave
  • All her divine white bosom; seeming there
  • As when Aurora, freed from night's dull cave,
  • Fills full of roses the sweet morning air;
  • Then, with a hand more white than snows which pave
  • The Alps, upon their brows that water clear
  • She shook; and, to the immediate summons sent,
  • The monster's presence stirr'd the element.
  • And the banks shudder'd, and the sky grew dark,
  • 10 As the dark river heaved with that obscene
  • Infamous bulk: the while each knight, to mark
  • His 'vantage, hover'd, stout in heart and mien,
  • Around it. Watchful were their eyes, and stark
  • Losario's onset; and yet weak, I ween,
  • Against the constant spray of fire and smoke,
  • Which from the dragon's lips and nostrils broke.
  • Blinded and baffled by the hideous rain,
  • And stunn'd with gnashing fangs and scourged with claws,
  • Still brave Losario toils, but spends in vain
  • 20 His strength against the dragon without pause;
  • Till at the last, one mighty stroke amain
  • Within the nether rack of those foul jaws
  • He dealt. Then fume and flame together ceased
  • At once; and on the palpitating beast
  • The champion fell with his strong naked hands;
  • And right and left such iron blows struck he
  • On that hard front, that far across the sands
  • The deep woods utter'd echoes heavily;
  • A noise like that when some broad roof withstands
  • 30 The hail-clouds under which the cattle flee.
  • But when at length those open jaws emit
  • A flickering tongue, the prince lays hold on it.
  • Then Antasete, who by the creature's flank
  • Still watch'd, obedient to the nymph, did rouse
  • His strength, and up the rugged loins that stank
  • Clomb on its neck, and bit it in the brows.
  • Straight as his teeth within the forehead sank,
  • Those execrable limbs fell ponderous;
  • And from the wound such spilth of gore was shed,
  • 40 That lips, and chin, and fingers, were all red.
(Canto 3, st. 28, et seq.)
There is movement in the above description,

and the bloody work is done with an appro–

priately savage relish. Nor is this, perhaps, the

best passage which we could have taken from the

poem; but its episodical character recommended

it to extract.
Having said thus much of Losario and its

author, we shall add, before we conclude, some

little regarding its editor, whose own poetical

works (and he has written much) we have been

looking over at the same time with this his last

publication; which, moreover, as its title-page

indicates, owes its concluding cantos to his hand.
We have said above that Mr. Polidori is now

in his ninetieth year; and we find, by the preface

to his collected poems, that sixty of these years

have been spent in England. Nor has his sojourn

here been without results: having led apparently

to an extensive acquaintance with our literature,

and induced him probably to undertake his ex–

cellent translation of Milton's works, whose value

has been acknowledged both here and in his own

country. Among his other labours as a trans–

lator, the version of Lucan's Pharsalia deserves

high praise, and has obtained it in many quarters.

To him, also, the student of Milton is indebted

for the modern republication of that very rare

work the Angeleida of Valvasoni; accompanied

by a valuable dissertation regarding its claims to

have suggested in any degree the structure of the

great Paradise Lost. We may add that Mr.

Polidori was the father of the late Dr. Polidori,

who wrote the Vampyre, erroneously attributed

to Lord Byron; and that he is the father-in-law

of Professor Rossetti, celebrated among the

patriotic poets of his country, and in the selva

of Dantesque criticism.
We gather from the preface to Mr. Polidori's

original poems that, during four years of his

youth, he was secretary to that Byron of the

classic school, or Racine of romanticism, “rejected

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by both,”—the great Alfieri; a strange kind of

prodigal-ascetic, suggesting fantastic combina–

tions; of whom one might say that he seemed bent

on carrying on simultaneously the two phases of

Timon's career, and “throwing in” Shakspere

par étrenne. In this preface are many most

curious anecdotes, exhibiting the stoical preten–

sions and childish self-will, the republicanism and

brutal arrogance, the euphuistic woman-worship

and private unmanliness (for none of these terms

are too harsh), which were among the contradic–

tions that “made up” this unchivalrous trouba–

dour. Some of these scraps from the unacted

biography of one who was seldom behind the

scenes, we would willingly extract for our readers;

but, indeed, they should rightly be read together.

We, therefore, prefer translating a couple of

specimens from the poems in Mr. Polidori's

The following passage occurs in the second of

two poems, entitled La Fantasia and Il

Disinganno; which may be translated Fan–

tasy and Disenchantment, or, perhaps, more

properly, Illusion and Experience. The

joint theme seems to us admirably chosen, and

its execution highly successful.
  • In this dead winter season now,
  • Whose rigid sky is like a corpse,
  • Awhile beneath some naked bough
  • Here let me stand, beholding how
  • The frost all earthly life absorbs.
  • Yet fair the sky with clouds o'erspread,
  • As in grey mantle garmented;
  • While hastily or placidly
  • The snow's white flakes descend to clothe
  • 10 The pleasant world and all its growth.
  • And passing fair it is to see
  • How hills and multitudinous woods,
  • And trees alone in solitudes,
  • Accept the white shroud silently;
  • And I have watch'd and deem'd it fair,
  • While myrtle, laurel, juniper,
  • Slowly were hidden; while each spring,
  • Each river, crept, an unknown thing,
  • Beneath its crystal covering.
  • 20 Then shalt thou see, beside the wan
  • Changed surface of his watery home,
  • Stand lean and cold the famish'd swan,—
  • One foot within his ruffled plumes
  • Upgather'd, while his eyes will roam
  • Around, till from the wintry glooms
  • Beneath the wing they hopelessly
  • Take shelter, that they may not see.
  • And though sad thoughts within her rise
  • At the drear sight, yet it shall soothe
  • 30 Thy soul to look in any guise
  • Upon the teaching face of truth.
  • Or shall no beauty fill the mind,
  • No lesson—when the flocks stand fast,
  • Their backs all set against the blast,
  • Labouring immovable, combined,
  • Till they with their weak feet have burst
  • The frost-bound treasure of the stream,
  • And now at length may quench their thirst?
  • And O! how beautiful doth seem
  • 40 That evening journey when the herd
  • Troop homeward by accustom'd ways,
  • All night in paddock there to graze,
  • And know the joy of rest deferr'd.
  • Or if the crow, the sullen bird,
  • Upon some leafless branch in view,
  • Thrusts forth his neck, and flaps the bleak
  • Dry wind, and grates his ravenous beak,
  • That sight may feed thy musings too.
  • And grand it is, 'mid forest boughs,
  • 50 In darkness, awfully forlorn,
  • At night to hear the wind carouse,
  • Within whose breath the strong trees quake
  • Or stand with naked limbs all torn;
  • While such unwonted clamours wake
  • Around, that over all the plain
  • Fear walks abroad, and tremble then
  • The flocks, the herds, the husbandmen.
  • But most sublime of all, most holy,
  • The unfathomable melancholy,
  • 60 When winds are silent in their cells;
  • When underneath the moon's calm light,
  • And in the unalter'd snow which veils
  • All height and depth—to look thereon,
  • It seems throughout the solemn night
  • As if the earth and sky were one.
We doubt not that many of our readers will

enjoy with us, in the above beautiful passage,

both the close observation of nature, and the un–

der-current of suggestive thought. In our second

extract, which closes this notice, it seems to us

that the beauty of Mr. Polidori's images is suf–

ficient to disprove their modest application to his

own poetic powers.
  • Approaching thee, thou growth of mystic spell,
  • That wast of old a virgin fair and wise,
  • I fix upon thee my devoted eyes
  • And stand a little while immovable.
  • Then if in the low breeze thy branches quail—
  • “What, so afraid?” I say; “not I, poor tree,
  • Apollo; though my heart hath cherish'd thee
  • Because thou crown'st his children's foreheads well.”
  • Then half-incensed, abasing mine own brow—
  • 10 “These leaves,” I muse, “how many crave—with these
  • How few at length the flattering gods endow!
  • I hoped—ah! shall I hope again? Nay, cease
  • Too much, alas! the world's rude clamoursn
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  • Bewilder mine accorded cadences.”
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