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The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction / Volume 17, No. 469, January 1, 1831

Petrarch and Arquà; Ariosto, Tasso, and Ferrara;—how delightfully are these names and sites linked in the fervour of Italian poetry. Lord Byron halted at these consecrated spots, in his "Pilgrimage" through the land of song:—

 
There is a tomb in Arquà;—rear'd in air,
Pillar'd in their sarcophagus, repose
The bones of Laura's lover: here repair
Many familiar with his well-sung woes,
The pilgrims of his genius. He arose
To raise a language, and his land reclaim
From the dull yoke of her barbaric foes:
Watering the tree which bears his lady's name
With his melodious tears, he gave himself to fame.
 
 
They keep his dust in Arquà, where he died;
The mountain-village where his latter days
Went down the vale of years; and 'tis their pride—
An honest pride—and let it be their praise,
To offer to the passing stranger's gaze
His mansion and his sepulchre; both plain
And venerably simple; such as raise
A feeling more accordant with his strain
Than if a pyramid form'd his monumental fane.
 
 
And the soft quiet hamlet where he dwelt
Is one of that complexion which seems made
For those who their mortality have felt,
And sought a refuge from their hopes decay'd
In the deep umbrage of a green hill's shade,
Which shows a distant prospect far away
Of busy cities, now in vain display'd,
For they can lure no further; and the ray
Of a bright sun can make sufficient holiday,
 
 
Developing the mountains, leaves, and flowers,
And shining in the brawling brook, where-by,
Clear as a current, glide the sauntering hours
With a calm languor, which, though to the eye
Idlesse it seem, hath its morality.
If from society we learn to live,
'Tis solitude should teach us how to die;
It hath no flatterers, vanity can give
No hollow aid; alone—man with his God must strive;
 
 
Or, it may be, with demons, who impair
The strength of better thoughts, and seek their prey
In melancholy bosoms, such as were
Of moody texture from their earliest day,
And loved to dwell in darkness and dismay,
Deeming themselves predestin'd to a doom
Which is not of the pangs that pass away;
Making the sun like blood, the earth a tomb,
 

The tomb a hell, and hell itself a murkier gloom.1

The noble bard, not content with perpetuating Arquà in these soul-breathing stanzas, has appended to them the following note:—

Petrarch retired to Arquà immediately on his return from the unsuccessful attempt to visit Urban V. at Rome, in the year 1370, and, with the exception of his celebrated visit to Venice in company with Francesco Novello da Carrara, he appears to have passed the four last years of his life between that charming solitude and Padua. For four months previous to his death he was in a state of continual languor, and in the morning of July the 19th, in the year 1374, was found dead in his library chair with his head resting upon a book. The chair is still shown amongst the precious relics of Arquà, which, from the uninterrupted veneration that has been attached to every thing relative to this great man from the moment of his death to the present hour, have, it may be hoped, a better chance of authenticity than the Shaksperian memorials of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Arquà (for the last syllable is accented in pronunciation, although the analogy of the English language has been observed in the verse) is twelve miles from Padua, and about three miles on the right of the high road to Rovigo, in the bosom of the Euganean Hills. After a walk of twenty minutes across a flat, well-wooded meadow, you come to a little blue lake, clear, but fathomless, and to the foot of a succession of acclivities and hills, clothed with vineyards and orchards, rich with fir and pomegranate trees, and every sunny fruit shrub. From the banks of the lake the road winds into the hills, and the church of Arquà is soon seen between a cleft where two ridges slope towards each other, and nearly inclose the village. The houses are scattered at intervals on the steep sides of these summits; and that of the poet is on the edge of a little knoll overlooking two descents, and commanding a view not only of the glowing gardens in the dales immediately beneath, but of the wide plains, above whose low woods of mulberry and willow thickened into a dark mass by festoons of vines, tall single cypresses, and the spires of towns are seen in the distance, which stretches to the mouths of the Po and the shores of the Adriatic. The climate of these volcanic hills is warmer, and the vintage begins a week sooner than in the plains of Padua. Petrarch is laid, for he cannot be said to be buried, in a sarcophagus of red marble, raised on four pilasters on an elevated base, and preserved from an association with meaner tombs. It stands conspicuously alone, but will be soon overshadowed by four lately planted laurels. Petrarch's fountain, for here every thing is Petrarch's, springs and expands itself beneath an artificial arch, a little below the church, and abounds plentifully, in the driest season, with that soft water which was the ancient wealth of the Euganean Hills. It would be more attractive, were it not, in some seasons, beset with hornets and wasps. No other coincidence could assimilate the tombs of Petrarch and Archilochus. The revolutions of centuries have spared these sequestered valleys, and the only violence which has been offered to the ashes of Petrarch was prompted, not by hate, but veneration. An attempt was made to rob the sarcophagus of its treasure, and one of the arms was stolen by a Florentine through a rent which is still visible. The injury is not forgotten, but has served to identify the poet with the country, where he was born, but where he would not live. A peasant boy of Arquà being asked who Petrarch was, replied, "that the people of the parsonage knew all about him, but that he only knew that he was a Florentine."

Every footstep of Laura's lover has been anxiously traced and recorded. The house in which he lodged is shown in Venice. The inhabitants of Arezzo, in order to decide the ancient controversy between their city and the neighbouring Ancisa, where Petrarch was carried when seven months old, and remained until his seventh year, have designated by a long inscription the spot where their great fellow citizen was born. A tablet has been raised to him at Parma, in the chapel of St. Agatha, at the cathedral, because he was archdeacon of that society, and was only snatched from his intended sepulture in their church by a foreign death. Another tablet with a bust has been erected to him at Pavia, on account of his having passed the autumn of 1368 in that city, with his son-in-law Brossano. The political condition which has for ages precluded the Italians from the criticism of the living, has concentrated their attention to the illustration of the dead.

Byron's visit was in 1818. Of this we may quote more on the appearance of Mr. Moore's second volume of the Poet's Life. Meanwhile, let us add the following graceful paper from the Athenæum, June 12, 1830: the subject harmonizes most happily with the classic title of that journal. It will be perceived that the tourist is familiar with Mr. Prout's drawing, or the original of our Engraving.

At Monselice we took another carriage, and dashed off to the Euganean Hills, to visit Arquà, the last dwelling and the burial-place of Petrarch. The road, in the feeling of M'Adam, is antediluvian, or rather post-diluvian, for it is little better than a water-course; but it passes through a country where I first saw olive-trees in abundance, vines in the luxuriance of nature, and pomegranates growing in hedges. The situation of the little village is perfectly delightful—of Petrarch's villa, beautiful. The apartments he occupied command the finest view, and are so detached from the noise and annoyances of the farm dwelling, though connected under one roof, that I think it not impossible he made the addition. There are four or five rooms altogether, if two little closets of not more than six feet by three may be called rooms; yet one of these is believed to have been his study; and in his study, and at his literary enjoyments, he died. Every thing is preserved with a reverential care that does honour to the people; and his chair, like less holy and less credible relics, is inclosed in a wire-frame, to prevent the dilapidations of the curious. I believe these things to be genuine. I believe in the local traditions that point

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The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. Volume 17, No. 469, January 1, 1831

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