1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas James Mathias

Charles MacFarlane, in "Mathias's Italian Translation of Spenser" London Magazine NS 5 (July 1826) 344-50.



Mr. Mathias has now resided about eight years in Italy, almost the whole of which time he has been at Naples, or, to use his own poetical mode of expression, "assiso in ozio no disonesto sulle ponde di Partenope." He was perfectly acquainted with the language and literature of Italy, and well known as an Italian poet many years before he visited this beautiful country. Here his admiration has been kept alive, and his exertions excited by the consciousness of living in the same spots where once breathed the "spirti immortali," the pride of song, and by musing daily on the same lovely scenes that poured beauty on their eyes and hearts. "Besides," says he, in his present preface, "it seems to me a shame for any man who does not entertain sentiments unworthy of any nation, to drawl his life away in unoccupied idleness, amidst such numerous Italic memorials — ancient, illustrious, and of every kind; amidst the most celebrated monuments of happy ages, and of the fortunes and fates of painters, orators, and poets; and while he is also near to the hallowed tombs of Virgil and Sannazzaro, not to feel himself moved and filled with fervor to promote and follow

Studj piu grati
Che suoni, odori, bagni, danze, e cibi,
E come i pensier suoi meglio formati
Poggin piu in alto che per l'aria i nibi."

With these sentiments active within him, he has published poetical translations of the Sappho and Caractacus, of Mason, Akenside's Hymn to the Naiades, Armstrong's Health, Beattie's Minstrel, and the subject of the present article; and in these compositions there is a visible progressive improvement, each being superior in style and elegance of language to its predecessor. It is rare, indeed, that improvement and four-score years go together; and Mr. Mathias is rapidly approaching that lengthened period of human life! It is scarcely less curious, that though there are few living Italian authors that write their language with his strength and purity, he does not speak it even tolerably, but stammers, hunts for words, falls into solecisms, and commits false idioms continually. His having learned Italian in books, and his having come into Italy in his old age, are scarcely sufficient to account for this extreme unaptness. When at Rome, and when the Academy of the Arcadia elected him one of its members, he was necessitated to make a speech in reply to the sonnets, Canzoni, and Odes, which were recited in his honour, and he delivered himself in such a way, as almost led the Shepherds to doubt his identity with the Anglo-Italic bard, whose effusions had been compared with those of Petrarca and other classics.