Rienzi: The Last of the Roman Tribunes

By Edward Bulwer Lytton; L. W. Zeigler | Go to book overview
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The principal authority from which historians have taken their account of the life and times of Rienzi is a very curious biography, by some unknown contemporary; and this, which is in the Roman patois of the time, has been rendered not quite unfamiliar to the French and English reader by the work of Pére du Cerceau, called "Conjuration de Nicholas Gabini, dit de Rienzi," * which has at once pillaged and deformed the Roman biographer. The biography I refer to was published (and the errors of the former editions revised) by Muratori in his great collection; and has lately been reprinted separately in an improved text, accompanied by notes of much discrimination and scholastic taste, and a comment upon that celebrated poem of Petrarch, Spirto Gentil, which the majority of Italian critics have concurred in considering addressed to Rienzi, in spite of the ingenious arguments to the contrary by the Abbé de Sade.

This biography has been generally lauded for its rare impartiality. And the author does, indeed, praise and blame alike with a most singular appearance of stolid candour. The work, in truth, is one of those not uncommon proofs, of which Boswell Johnson is the most striking, that a very valuable book may be written by a very silly man. The biographer of Rienzi appears more like the historian of Rienzi's clothes, so minute is he on all details of their colour and quality -- so silent is he upon everything that could throw light upon the motives of their wearer. In fact, granting the writer every desire to be impartial, he is too foolish to be so. It requires some cleverness to judge accurately of a very clever man in very difficult circumstances; and the

See for a specimen of the singular blunders of the Frenchman's work, Appendix II.


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Rienzi: The Last of the Roman Tribunes
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