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THE

Retrospective Review.

Vol. IV, Part I.

ART. I. Vita de Benvenuto Cellini, Orefice e Scultore Fiorentino,

da lui medesimo scritta, nella quale molte curiose particularità, si toccano appartenenti alle Arti, ed all' Istoria del suo tempo, tratto da un ottimo manoscritto e dedicata all' eccellenza Di my Lord Ricardo Boyle, Conte di Burlington e Corke, &c. In Colonia, per Pietro Martello. The Life of Benvenuto Cellini, a Florentine Artist, containing a

variety of curious and interesting particulars, relative to painting, sculpture, and architecture ; and the history of his own time : written by himself, in the Tuscan language; and translated from the original, by Thomas Nugent, LL.D. F.S.A. 2 vols. London, 1771.

This is, perhaps, the most perfect piece of autobiography that ever was written, whether considered with reference to the candour and veracity of the author, the spirit of the incidents, or the breathing vitality of the narrative. It has also the recommendation of having been written at a very interesting period of literary history, and of recording some curious particulars relative to the private character of the great men of the time. That a work, which used such freedom with the names of many persons of high rank and connection, should not be published for some time after the author's death, is not surprising; but, being once laid aside, it remained unpublished until 1730, nearly two centuries after it was written. We never, in the whole course of our life, read a book of a more engaging description, and think that a brief abstract of it, with an occasional extract of more peculiar interest, will prove no unacceptable

VOL. IV. PART I.

present to those who have not had the good fortune to meet with it. Indeed, we believe, that, although Dr. Nugent's translation is but of comparatively recent date, it is not to be very easily procured.

In the opinion of Benvenuto Cellini, no man ought to enter upon so arduous an undertaking, as that of writing the history of his own life, until his fortieth year

When all the fiercer passions cease,

The glory and disgrace of youth;
When the deluded soul, in peace,

Can listen to the voice of truth.

He did not, however, commence this work until, as an old writer expresses it, the clock of his age had struck fifty-eight, when he was peaceably settled in his native city of Florence, enjoying more content, and better health, than at any former period of his life. The correctness of our author's opinion, as to the time of commencing such a work, may reasonably be doubted, both with respect to the interest of the narrative, and its utility. What an autobiographer thus gains in the maturity of his judgment, he will probably lose in the interest, minuteness, and truth, of the delineation; for age is apt to look back upon the visions of his youth, as those of folly, and pass them by, with a disdain which they do not, in reality, deserve; or, if he thinks them worth recording, he has either forgotten or cannot recal them, in the plenitude and energy of their spring-tide brightness. Autobiography will lose in interest; for the imaginings of new life, though visionary, are golden visions, full of the purest joys, and most glorious virtues, “ images and precious thoughts, which should not die, and cannot be destroyed;" they are the May which blossoms on the black thorns of life, fair, and beautiful, and fragrant, when every thing else is bare and desolate. Its thoughts, or rather dreams, are good, of what may be, or should be, and not of what is. But if the morning of reason no sooner dawns, than it discloses an ideal world—if beings, of no earthly mould, Alit across the fancy, and dazzle the mind, man, in the pride of his maturity, is a dreamer too. . If the object be utility, to decompose the human character, to resolve it into its original elements, and shew how they have been combined, neutralized, or directed; retrospection, from the pinnacle of forty, will not effect it. In order to arrive at any practical results, as to the gradations by which it has been formed, one should minute down, as they occur, the changes of thought, the effect of impressions, and the vicissitudes of feeling, which, in youth, give a bent to the character, and, in age, are forgotten. Without this process, we cannot trace opinions to their source, indicate from what small springs they arise, branching out into sundry little streams, until they become united into a changeless current. A trivial occurrence, a slight association of ideas, may communicate to the mind a direction which will materially affect, or perhaps eventually form, the character. There are times and seasons, which, when a person, in a certain mood, or under the influence of peculiar feelings, is thrown into a particular situation, will decide his destiny, although, under different circumstances, they would not have stimulated enquiry or exertion. The youth, who wanders at eventide in autumn, when nature reposes in mysterious stillness, save the rustling of the wind through the trees, and when the sun pours his mitigated radiance over a living and rejoicing world, may dream himself into a poet. The genius of the painter may be awakened, by intense admiration, when he first catches a view of the finest productions of the pencil, or formed by continually gazing upon them; as the boy who carried the materials for Raphael's fresco work in the Vatican, “ became an artist before he produced a specimen of his talents, and at eighteen years of age seized the pencil, and astonished his employers;" or it may be called into action by the delight, caused by a striking assemblage of natural objects. The perusal of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, may, either on the spot or at a distant period, entice to the study of Arabic or Persic, or the Adventures of Don Quixote, to the acquisition of the language in which its immortal author wrote. The heart clings with pertinacious affection to that which has excited emotions of . pleasure, or which is nearly connected with them. Even the ancient tree, at whose grassy root any exquisite sensations have been experienced, becomes a green spot in the memory, to which, in the progress of life, man looks with oft reverted eye; and the scene of his early years is often so associated with happiness, as finally to call the wanderer home. It is true, there are mighty events, there are hurricanes of feeling, which may suddenly deracinate, and sweep away the germs of character, not yet become rigid, and in whose place a totally new set of ideas may spring up; but these irruptions are rare. .... As then the character is, in a great measure, formed, or, at least, influenced by the situation, habits, and associations of youth, which is subject to a thousand gradations of thought and feeling, a person should, in order to compile a complete and philosophical memoir of his own life, begin early, and finish late. Its value would, by this means, be enhanced, both with respect to its practical utility, and the scientific view it would exhibit of the operations of mind. The lives of most men offer little that is worthy of preservation, except these mental changes. It is the lot of few to be cast into situations, or involved in ad

ventures, which excite the interest or sympathy of their fellow men. Thousands are born, and die, without performing an action, which would attract the attention, or dazzle the imagination; but there is scarcely an individual, a minute and faithful history of whose mind, from youth to grey hairs, might not be rendered useful: such a history would be more difficult, and less entertaining, than one of a life of peril and enterprize, and vicissitude. Both, however, are sufficiently arduous, and, considering the sacrifice of vanity, and the candour and impartiality required for such an undertaking, it is not surprising that so few have been found to strip off the covering with which self-love has invested them, and step, naked, into the arena.

Our author lived in a country, and at a period, well calculated for the developement and encouragement of the combustible elements of character; when the irregularities of human passions were only partially repressed by the law, and the angular projections of human character were not worn down by the influence of correct manners. The sanctuary afforded an asylum for the contemner of civil regulations; revenge might shelter himself under a Cardinal's mantle, and murder find a place of refuge behind the throne of the Roman Pontiff. The resurrection of the fine arts, at the same time, gave a strong impulse to genius, by the splendour of spectacles, the force of example, and the certainty of fame and reward. The chief inducement of our author, to write the memoirs of his life, was to render a service to the profession, of which he was so great an ornament. The business of a goldsmith and jeweller was not then what it now is, a mere mechanical employment; it required invention, taste, and correctness of drawing: all the powers of genius were called into exertion to design and ornament the clasp of a lady's girdle, the seal of a Cardinal, or the button of the pontifical cope. The attention and encouragement bestowed on such labours, by rank and affluence, may appear extraordinary at this day, but we must say, we regard, with peculiar pleasure, genius, stooping from its loftier station, to introduce its elegancies into daily life, and deck the insignia of office, and the ornaments of common use, with shapes of loveliness and beauty. In rendering grace and energy of form, and majesty of manner, more familiar to us, it sharpens our perception of the sublimities of art.-Forms of noble sacrifice, and tender devotion-of persevering enterprise, and determined fortitude, become palpable to, and are made indwellers of the soul, and are associated with all we think, and wish, and act.

Benvenuto Cellini was born on All-saints' Day, in the year 1500; and, notwithstanding the passionate desire which his father, an architect and engineer, and one of the court musicians, had, that his son should become the first flute-player in the

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