« AnteriorContinuar »
FILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT was essentially a poet, and it is in his
poetry rather than his prose that he has attained his highest
excellence. But though we do not find in his prose the same exalted feeling and sublimity of language which make his «Thanatopsis” and ode «To a Waterfowl” masterpieces of their kind, we do find even in his newspaper prose even when most loosely written the disjecta membra poetæ -- the unmistakable evidences of the same genius which expresses itself in his noblest poems. The demands of the daily newspapers in the early days of the telegraph resulted in a style of essays which have almost ceased to exist — the letters » dealing not with news, but with the life, habits, and morals of the peoples of other cities and countries. Bryant's letters to the Evening Post of which for fifty years he was editor, are among the best of their class. In «A Day in Florence ” he shows the same sympathy for form, the same imaginative power of grasping, grouping, and developing incident which makes the poet.
He was born in Cummington, Massachusetts, November 3d, 1794. His genius was precocious, and its first adequate expression, « Thanatopsis," written when he was nineteen, is in the general judgment his masterpiece. After leaving Williams College where he spent two years, he studied law, but after becoming connected with the New York Evening Post in 1826, he remained with it until his death, June 12th, 1878. His life as a journalist was one of the highest usefulness. He devoted himself and his paper to every worthy cause which needed help. The standard of metropolitan journalism as he represented it was rectitude, and he demonstrated that there is nothing absurd, unbusiness-like or unprofessional in so conducting a newspaper as to make it represent editorial brains and conscience. His « Letters of a Traveler » (1852), “Letters from Spain and Other Countries » (1859), and “Letters from the East » (1869), were all originally contributed to the Evening Post.
A DAY IN FLORENCE
ET me give you the history of a fine day in October, passed L at the window of my lodgings on the Lung' Arno, close to
the bridge Alla Carraja. Waked by the jangling of all the bells in Florence and by the noise of carriages departing loaded with travelers for Rome and other places in the south of Italy, I rise, dress myself, and take my place at the window. I see crowds of men and women from the country, the former in brown velvet jackets, and the latter in broad-brimmed straw hats, driving donkeys loaded with panniers or trundling handcarts before them, heaped with grapes, figs, and all the fruits of the orchard, the garden, and the field. They have hardly passed, when large flocks of sheep and goats make their appearance, attended by shepherds and their families, driven by the approach of winter from the Apennines, and seeking the pastures of the Maremma, a rich, but, in the summer, an unhealthy tract on the coast. The men and boys are dressed in knee breeches, the women in bodices, and both sexes wear capotes with pointed hoods, and felt hats with conical crowns; they carry long staves in their hands, and their arms are loaded with kids and lambs too young to keep pace with their mothers. After the long procession of sheep and goats and dogs and men and women and children, come horses loaded with cloths and poles for tents, kitchen utensils, and the rest of the younglings of the flock. A little after sunrise I see well-fed donkeys, in coverings of red cloth, driven over the bridge to be milked for invalids. Maid. servants, bareheaded, with huge, high-carved combs in their hair, waiters of coffeehouses carrying the morning cup of coffee or chocolate to their customers, bakers' boys with a dozen loaves on a board balanced on their heads, milkmen with rush baskets filled with flasks of milk, are crossing the streets in all directions. A little later the bell of the small chapel opposite to my window rings furiously for a quarter of an hour, and then I hear mass chanted in a deep strong nasal tone. As the day advances, the English, in white hats and white pantaloons, come out of their lodgings, accompanied sometimes by their hale and square-built spouses, and saunter stiffly along the Arno, or take their way to the public galleries and museums. Their massive, clean, and brightly polished carriages also begin to rattle through the streets,
ins to det. Of wound
its, filled w
setting out on excursions to some part of the environs of Florence - to Fiesole, to the Pratolino, to the Bello Sguardo, to the Poggio Imperiale. Sights of a different kind now present themselves. Sometimes it is a troop of stout Franciscan friars, in sandals and brown robes, each carrying his staff and wearing a brown, broad-brimmed hat with a hemispherical crown. Sometimes it is a band of young theological students, in purple cassocks with red collars and cuffs, let out on a holiday, attended by their clerical instructors, to ramble in the Cascine. There is a priest coming over the bridge, a man of venerable age and great reputation for sanctity. The common people crowd around him to kiss his hand, and obtain a kind word from him as he passes. But what is that procession of men in black gowns, black gaiters, and black masks moving swiftly along, and bearing on their shoulders a litter covered with black cloth? These are the Brethren of Mercy, who have assembled at the sound of the cathedral bell, and are conveying some sick or wounded person to the hospital. As the day begins to decline, the numbers of carriages in the streets, filled with gaily dressed people attended by servants in livery, increases. The Grand Duke's equipage, an elegant carriage drawn by six horses, with coachmen, footmen, and outriders in drab-colored livery, comes from the Pitti Palace, and crosses the Arno, either by the bridge close to my lodgings, or by that called Alla Santa Trinita, which is in full sight from the windows. The Florentine nobility, with their families, and the English residents, now throng to the Cascine, to drive at a slow pace through its thickly planted walks of elms, oaks, and ilexes. As the sun is sinking I perceive the Quay on the other side of the Arno filled with a moving crowd of well-dressed people walking to and fro and enjoying the beauty of the evening. Travelers now arrive from all quarters, in cabriolets, in calashes, in the shabby vettura, and in the elegant private carriage drawn by post-horses, and driven by postilions in the tightest possible deer-skin breeches, the smallest red coats, and the hugest jackboots. The streets about the doors of the hotels resound with the crackling of whips and the stamping of horses, and are encumbered with carriages, heaps of baggage, porters, postilions, couriers, and travelers. Night at length arrives— the time of spectacles and funerals. The carriages rattle towards the opera houses. Trains of people, sometimes in white robes and sometimes in black, carrying blazing torches and a cross elevated on a high pole before a coffin, pass through the streets chanting the service for the dead. The Brethren of Mercy may also be seen engaged in their office. The rapidity of their pace, the flare of their torches, the gleam of their eyes through their masks, and their sable garb, give them a kind of supernatural appearance. I return to bed and fall asleep amidst the shouts of people returning from the opera, singing as they go snatches of the music with which they had been entertained during the evening.
From «Letters of a Traveler.» Put
nam's Sons, New York, 1850.
EUROPE UNDER THE BAYONET
W HOEVER should visit the principal countries of Europe at
the present moment might take them for conquered
provinces held in subjection by their victorious masters at the point of the sword. Such was the aspect which France presented when I came to Paris a few weeks since. The city was then in what is called, by a convenient fiction, a state of siege; soldiers filled the streets, were posted in every public square, and at every corner; were seen marching before the churches, the cornices of which bore the inscription of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,- keeping their brethren quiet by the bayonet. I have since made a journey to Bavaria and Switzerland, and on returning I find the siege raised, and these demon. strations of fraternity less formal, but the show and the menace of military force are scarcely less apparent. Those who maintain that France is not fit for liberty need not afflict themselves with the idea that there is at present more liberty in France than her people know how to enjoy.
On my journey, I found the cities along the Rhine crowded with soldiers; the sound of the drum was heard among the hills covered with vines; women were trundling loaded wheelbarrows and carrying panniers like asses, to earn the taxes which are extorted to support the men who stalk about in uniform. I entered Heidelberg with anticipations of pleasure; they were dashed in a moment; the city was in a state of siege, occupied by Prussian troops which had been sent to take the part of the Grand Duke