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Title: A history of Italian literature
Author: Garnett, Richard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LITERATURE ***


                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES


In the text version Italic text is denoted by _underscores_. Bold text
is denoted like =this=.

The book cover was modified by the Transcriber and has been added to
the public domain.

A number of words in this book have both hyphenated and non-hyphenated
variants. For the words with both variants present the one more used
has been kept.

Obvious punctuation and other printing errors have been corrected.


                   *       *       *       *       *

                                  Short Histories of
                                  the Literatures of
                                    the World: IV.

                                Edited by Edmund Gosse


                   Short Histories of the
                  Literatures of the World

                  EDITED BY EDMUND GOSSE
          Large Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s. each Volume


  ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE
     By Prof. GILBERT MURRAY, M.A.

  FRENCH LITERATURE
     By Prof. EDWARD DOWDEN, D.C.L., LL.D.

  MODERN ENGLISH LITERATURE
     By the EDITOR

  ITALIAN LITERATURE
     By RICHARD GARNETT, C.B., LL.D.

  SPANISH LITERATURE
     By J. FITZMAURICE-KELLY
                                     [_Shortly_


  JAPANESE LITERATURE
     By WILLIAM GEORGE ASTON, C.M.G.
                                    [_Shortly_

  MODERN SCANDINAVIAN LITERATURE
     By GEORGE BRANDES

  SANSKRIT LITERATURE
     By Prof. A. A. MACDONELL

  HUNGARIAN LITERATURE
     By Dr. ZOLTÁN BRÖTHY

  AMERICAN LITERATURE
     By Professor MOSES COIT TYLER

  GERMAN LITERATURE
     By Dr. C. H. HERFORD

  LATIN LITERATURE
    By Dr. A. W. VERRALL

        _Other volumes will follow_
         LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN

                                          [_All rights reserved_]



                             A History of
                          ITALIAN LITERATURE

                                  BY
                     RICHARD GARNETT, C.B., LL.D.

                            [Illustration]

                                London
                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                              MDCCCXCVIII


                  Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
                        At the Ballantyne Press



                                PREFACE

“I think,” says Jowett, writing to John Addington Symonds (August
4, 1890), “that you are happy in having unlocked so much of Italian
literature, certainly the greatest in the world after Greek, Latin,
English. To have interpreted one such literature and made it accessible
to English-speaking people seems to me a sufficient result of a life.”

It seems, however, peculiarly appropriate that a history of Italian
literature should follow and should precede other and parallel
histories. Symonds himself had long before pointed out that no man,
at least in a single work of moderate compass, can fully deserve
the credit of having unlocked Italian literature. The study of
Italian letters, he had reminded us, cannot be profitably pursued by
itself. The literature of Italy requires to be constantly considered
in connection with other literatures, both those from which it is
itself derived, and those which it has deeply influenced. It is more
intimately affiliated to antiquity than any other European literature,
and may indeed be regarded as a continuation or revival of the Latin.
Its advent was long and unaccountably delayed--it is the youngest of
all the chief European literatures; but when at length it did appear,
its form, already classical, dispensed it from an infancy of rudeness
and barbarism. It may be compared to Hermes, the youngest but most
precocious of the Gods; not, like Pallas, born adult, but equal to any
achievement from the cradle:


      _The babe was born at the first peep of day;
        He began playing on the lyre at noon;
      And the same evening did he steal away
        Apollo’s herds._

Entering at once upon a heritage of classical tradition, Italians
began to teach foreign nations long before they found anything to
learn from them; and this influence is so large a part of the glory of
Italy that her literature cannot be fully unlocked to the foreigner
unless he is shown, not only what she has herself effected in letters,
but how greatly she has modified the intellectual development of
other countries. She owes nothing to Chaucer, Spenser, or Milton;
but Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton are infinitely indebted to her.
The position she so long retained as the instructor and exemplar of
civilised nations invests her literature with an importance more
considerable than that attaching to the merits of her individual
authors, illustrious as these are. Yet it is impossible to elucidate
this momentous department of the subject in a manual of four hundred
pages. All that can be done is to indicate by continual reference and
allusion that the need exists, and must be satisfied elsewhere. The
influence upon Italy herself of foreign writers, and of movements
common to Europe in general, has required and received fuller treatment.

Other circumstances, and these not attributable to the restricted
scale of his undertaking, conspire to afflict the historian of Italian
literature with a feeling of insufficiency. From causes which will
appear in the course of this history, many of the most gifted Italians
wrote in Latin. From Petrarch down to Nicius Erythræus a succession of
books which would have adorned the vernacular literature if they had
belonged to it, appeared in the common idiom of scholars. Petrarch’s
_Canzoniere_, as respects mere dimension, is as nothing to the mass of
his Latin works. Politian writes just enough Italian to prove that he
might have revived Boccaccio or anticipated Ariosto. Pontano, one of
the brightest intellects of Italy, writes entirely in Latin. To exclude
the Latin books of such men entirely from consideration is impossible;
but they cannot be adequately treated in a professed history of
vernacular literature; and much else of deep significance must be
passed over without a hint of its existence.

Another circumstance places the Italian mind at a disadvantage when
contemplated solely through a literary medium. Literature in Italy
is a less exhaustive manifestation than elsewhere of the intellect
of the nation. The intellectual glory of England, France, and
Germany depends mainly upon their authors and men of science; their
illustrious artists, the succession of great German composers since
Handel excepted, are for the most part isolated phenomena. In the ages
of Italian development, whether of the imitative arts or of music,
artists far outnumber authors, and the best energies of the country are
employed in artistic production. Of this super-abundant vitality mere
literary history affords no trace. Michael Angelo, one of the greatest
men the world has seen, can here claim no more than a paragraph on the
strength of a handful of sonnets. It is indeed remarkable that out of
the nine Italians most brilliantly conspicuous in the very first rank
of genius and achievement--Aquinas, Dante, Columbus, Leonardo, Michael
Angelo, Raphael, Titian, Galileo, Napoleon--only one should have been
a man of letters. The reader, therefore, who may deem the field of
Italian literature infertile in comparison with the opulence of England
or France, must remember that it expresses a smaller proportion of the
country’s benefaction to humanity. Yet Jowett is perfectly justified
in claiming for the Italian a front place among the literatures of the
world, but only on condition that its great representatives shall be
weighed rather than counted.

The comparative--though only comparative--paucity of authors in Italy
is so far favourable to the historian working on a small scale, that it
allows a more expansive treatment of the greatest men, and at the same
time the inclusion of minor writers not always of high distinction, but
indispensable to the continuity of the narrative. This is essential
in a book which does not profess to be a string of biographies, but a
biography of Italian Literature herself regarded as a single entity
revealed through a succession of personages, the less gifted among
whom may be true embodiments of her spirit for the time being. Many
remarkable manifestations of the national intellect are, nevertheless,
necessarily excluded. Writers in dialect are omitted, unless when
acknowledged classics like Meli or Belli. Academies and universities
are but slightly mentioned. Theologians, jurists, and men of science
have been passed over, except in so far as they may also have been men
of letters. There is, in fact, no figure among them like Luther, who,
though not inspired by the love of letters as such, so embodied the
national spirit and exerted so mighty an influence upon the language,
that he could no more than Goethe be omitted from a history of German
literature.

Some want of proportion may be charged against the comparatively
restricted space here allotted to Dante. It is indeed true that if
genius prescribed the scale of treatment, at least a third of the book
ought to have been devoted to him; but this very fact refutes the
censure it seems to support, since, the limits assigned admitting of no
extension, all other authors must have suffered for the sake of one. In
a history, moreover, rather dealing with Italian literature as a whole
than with writers as individuals, the test is not so much greatness as
influence upon letters, and in this respect Dante is less significant
than Petrarch and Boccaccio. Preceding the Renaissance, he could not
profoundly affect its leading representatives, or the succeeding
generations whose taste was moulded by it; and although at all times
admired and venerated, it was only at the appearance of the romantic
school and the Revolution that he became a potent literary force.
Another reason for a more compendious treatment of Dante is that while
in the cases of other Italian writers it is difficult to remedy defects
by reference to any special monograph, English literature possesses
several excellent handbooks to the Divine Comedy, resort to which would
be expedient in any case.

The books to which the writer has been chiefly indebted are enumerated
in a special bibliography. He is obliged to Mr. W. M. Rossetti and
to Messrs. Ellis and Elvey for permission to use the exquisite
translations from the _Dante and his Circle_ of Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
cited in the early chapters of the book. The graceful versions from
Boiardo and other poets contributed by Miss Ellen Clerke have not, with
one exception, been previously printed. Where no acknowledgment of
indebtedness is made, translations are by the author of the volume.

                                                RICHARD GARNETT.
_December 1897._



                               CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                                        PAGE

        I. THE BEGINNINGS OF ITALIAN LITERATURE                      1

       II. THE EARLY ITALIAN LYRIC                                  12

      III. DANTE’S LIFE AND MINOR WRITINGS                          24

       IV. THE DIVINE COMEDY                                        40

        V. PETRARCH AS MAN OF LETTERS                               53

       VI. PETRARCH AND LAURA                                       66

      VII. BOCCACCIO                                                82

     VIII. THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY                                    97

       IX. THE POETICAL RENAISSANCE OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY       110

        X. CHIVALRIC POETRY                                        126

       XI. ARIOSTO AND HIS IMITATORS                               140

      XII. MACHIAVELLI AND GUICCIARDINI                            156

     XIII. OTHER PROSE-WRITERS OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY            170

      XIV. THE PETRARCHISTS                                        185

       XV. HUMOROUS POETRY--THE MOCK-HEROIC                        201

      XVI. THE NOVEL                                               212

     XVII. THE DRAMA                                               223

    XVIII. TASSO                                                   237

      XIX. THE PROSE OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY                    256

       XX. THE POETRY OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY                   272

      XXI. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY                                  288

     XXII. THE COMEDY OF MASKS--THE OPERA--DRAMA OF THE
           EIGHTEENTH CENTURY                                      305

    XXIII. THE REVIVAL                                             327

     XXIV. THE REGENERATION                                        352

      XXV. THE NINETEENTH CENTURY--MIDDLE PERIOD                   375

     XXVI. CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN LITERATURE                         394

           BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE                                    419

           INDEX                                                   425



                             A HISTORY OF
                          ITALIAN LITERATURE


                               CHAPTER I
                 THE BEGINNINGS OF ITALIAN LITERATURE


Great literatures, like great rivers, seldom derive their origin from
a single fountain, but rather ooze from the soil in a multitude of
almost imperceptible springs. The literature of Greece may appear an
exception, but we know that the broad stream of Homeric song in which
we first behold it must have been fed by a number of rills which it has
absorbed into itself, and whose original sources lie beyond the range
of scrutiny. In no literature is this general maxim better exemplified
than the Italian, if, at least, as the economy of this little history
demands, we restrict this appellation to its modern period. It might
be plausibly contended that the Latin and Italian literatures, like
the Roman and Byzantine empires, are, in truth, a single entity, but
the convenience of the student precludes a view in support of which
much might be adduced by the critic and philologist. Defining Italian
literature, therefore, so as to comprise whatsoever is written in any
dialect of that “soft bastard Latin” which bears the Italian name, and
to exclude all compositions in a language which a Roman would have
called Latin, we find none among great literatures whose beginnings
are more humble and obscure, or, which at first seems surprising,
more recent. The perfection of form which the literature of Italy had
attained while all others, save the Provençal, were yet devoid of
symmetry and polish, the comparative intelligibility of the diction
of “Dante and his circle” at the present day, while the contemporary
writers in other tongues require copious glossaries, lead to the tacit
and involuntary assumption of a long antecedent period of development
and refinement which did not in fact exist. In truth, the earliest
literary compositions definable as Italian are scarcely older than the
thirteenth century.

There is, perhaps, no other such example in history of the
obliteration of literary taste and method as that which in Italy befell
one of the most gifted peoples of the world for nearly six hundred
years. After Boethius (about 530 A.D.) the little that is left of
literature becomes entirely utilitarian, and is, with rare exceptions,
restricted to theology, jurisprudence, and monkish chronicles. There
is still much evidence that the Latin classical writers had not passed
out of the knowledge of men; but--except when like Virgil they became
heroes of popular legend--little that they exercised any appreciable
influence upon men’s ideas and imaginations. One unfortunate precursor
of the Renaissance, indeed, Vilgardus of Ravenna (about A.D. 1000),
was led by his admiration for the classics to disparage Christianity,
and suffered death in consequence. As a rule, however, the Latin poets
merely served as a magazine of commonplace quotations and an arsenal
of metrical rules, which some of the least degenerate writers of the
period apply with considerable skill. The explanation of this paralysis
of Latin literature in Italy, while Greek was still an efficient organ
of thought in the Eastern Empire, is no doubt to be found in the fact
that it had never been a robust national growth. The property of the
learned and cultivated, it had taken no deep hold upon the mass of the
people; and when culture and learning perished amid the vicissitudes
of barbarian conquest, it was only preserved, apart from the services
of the Church, by the absolute necessity of maintaining some vestiges
of law, physic, and divinity, and the impossibility of conveying
instruction in the debased dialects into which the old Latin language
was resolving itself.

It might have been expected, nevertheless, that these dialects would
have become the vehicles of popular legend and poetry, and that, as
anciently in Greece, a literature would at length have been evolved
from the tales of the story-tellers and the songs of the minstrels. The
very existence of vernacular minstrels and story-tellers is but matter
of inference, the little which we possess in any sense referable to
this department being in Latin. The instances laboriously accumulated
by Rubieri to prove the existence of popular poetry throughout the Dark
Ages seem to be all in this language; and centuries pass without any
indication that the ancestors of Dante thought it possible to write in
any other, and scarcely any that they cared for written composition at
all, except as a medium for instruction in such knowledge as the age
possessed, and the transaction of the ordinary business of life. The
symptoms of vitality became more evident after the Christian world had
turned the corner of its first millennium. The eleventh century was in
Italy an age of eminent theologians; it also beheld the musical reforms
of Guido of Arezzo; and towards its conclusion poets of some note arose
to chant in Latin hexameters the triumphs of Genoa and Pisa over the
Saracens. Still, although, as has been well remarked, the enthusiasm
for the Crusades excited by itinerant preachers goes far to prove that
public addresses were delivered in the popular dialects, there is not a
trace of any written Italian language, or a hint of any such vernacular
literature as existed, if it hardly flourished, among the Germans, the
French, and the Anglo-Saxons. When at length in the twelfth century
Poetry unmistakably presents herself in the songs of the wandering
students (_Goliardi_), her attire is still Latin. But it was much
that any class of society should now be making its own songs, and the
transition to a vernacular lyric was not long or difficult, although,
instead of taking birth among the people, it was fostered into life by
the patronage of Courts.

The first of the Latin nations to acquire a cultivated vernacular
literature was the Provençal. Many reasons, singly insufficient, but
cumulatively of great force, may be adduced for this unquestionable
priority. The language, which may be roughly but accurately described
as a connecting link between French and Italian, as its Catalan and
Valencian congeners form one between French and Spanish, is better
adapted for poetical composition than French; while, the Latin
influence being less oppressively overwhelming than in the land of the
Romans, it escaped the ban of provinciality which so long prohibited
serious literary composition in the vernacular speech of Italy. Before
the demon of religious persecution was unchained by the Popes, the
country enjoyed remarkable prosperity and tranquillity; the harsher
features of the feudal system were mitigated by industry and commerce,
while the aristocratical organisation of society ensured literature
that patronage without which it could hardly have flourished in the
absence of a reading class.

The early poets of Provence were almost without exception the
favourites of princes and noblemen, whose exploits they celebrated,
whose enemies they satirised, whose own political course they
sometimes inspired, and for whose gratification they vied with each
other in improvised poetical contests (_tenzons_). Their strains,
though occasionally lighted up by some bright thought which Petrarch
subsequently did not disdain to appropriate, appear to us in general
artificial and constrained. This is partly owing to the exaggeration
of a virtue, that attention to “strictest laws of rhyme and rule,” in
which, as an English poet truly declares, the bard finds “not bonds,
but wings.” But the cultivation of form is carried too far when it
becomes the end instead of the means, and the Provençal poets allowed
themselves to be seduced by their language’s unequalled facilities
for rhyming into an idolatry of the elaborate, which offered great
impediments to the simple expression of feeling. Some of their strophes
contain no fewer than twenty-eight verses, the same set of rhymes
being carried through the whole stanza, and very frequently through
the entire poem. Out of four hundred pieces in a single manuscript
collection Ginguené found only two in the simple quatrain. It was
fortunate for the Italians that their language, fluent and supple as it
is, is incapable of such feats, and that, while adopting their lyrical
measures from the Provençals, they could not, had they wished, cramp
themselves by the reproduction of the latter’s _tours de force_.

It is in the last quarter of the twelfth century that we find
Provençal troubadours established at the Courts of the North Italian
princes, writing exactly such poems as they would have written at
home, and apparently just as well understood and equally popular,
a proof that neither in Provence nor in Italy had the culture of
_belles lettres_ progressed beyond the highest circles. One or two
of them occasionally mingled an Italian strophe with their Provençal
substance, and at a somewhat later date Bonvesin da Riva and others
wrote in a curiously mixed dialect of French and Italian. There is,
however, no proper Italian literature until, about 1220, we suddenly
find a school of vernacular poetry flourishing at Palermo under the
patronage of Frederick II., Emperor of Germany, an Italian on his
mother’s side, and by his tastes and sympathies more of an Italian than
of a German prince. The character of its productions is in general
wholly Provençal, but the language is Italian of the Tuscan type, and
it is a highly interesting question whether this was the case from the
first, or whether the pieces as we possess them are adaptations from
the Sicilian dialect, which appears from contemporary prose monuments
to have existed at the time nearly in its present form. We cannot
attempt to decide the controversy, which does not affect the position
of the pieces as the earliest undoubted examples of vernacular Italian
literature. Their poetical merit cannot in general be rated very
highly, and they contain hardly anything which might not have been
written in Provence as well as in Sicily. Frederick himself was one of
the principal writers, and his canzone on his Lady in Bondage might
appear to the English reader to possess considerable merit, but for the
suspicion that the great poet who translated it infused more poetical
inspiration than he found. It would gain considerably in significance
if Rossetti could be proved right in conjecturing that the immured lady
is a symbol of Frederick’s empire in captivity to the Pope:

      _Each morn I hear his voice bid them
        That watch me, to be faithful spies
        Lest I go forth and see the skies;
      Each night to each he saith the same;--
        And in my soul and in mine eyes
      There is a burning heat like flame._

      _Thus grieves she now; but she shall wear
        This love of mine whereof I spoke
        About her body for a cloak,
      And for a garland in her hair,
        Even yet; because I mean to prove,
        Not to speak only, this my love._
                                              --ROSSETTI.

Of the few really Sicilian poets whose verses remain, the most
remarkable is Cielo dal Carno, more commonly known from the misreading
of an ill-written text as _Ciullo d’Alcarno_. The mention of Saladin
has till recently caused his _Dialogue between Lover and Lady_ to be
ascribed to the close of the twelfth century, but more unequivocal
indications prove that it cannot have been written before 1231. It is
a piece of rare merit in its way, exempt from the insipid gallantry
of the typical troubadour or minnesinger, and full of humour at once
robust and sly at the expense of slippery suitors and complacent
damsels. Nothing can be more delightfully naïve, for instance, than the
knight’s unsolicited confession that he has stolen his Bible:

      _Then, on Christ’s book, borne with me still
        To read from and to pray
      (I took it, fairest, in a church,
        The priest being gone away)._
                                               --ROSSETTI.

Some of the nearly contemporary Tuscan poets may have belonged to
Frederick’s circle, but it will be convenient to treat of them in
the next chapter among the precursors of Dante. Of the undoubted
Sicilian poets the most remarkable is Jacopo, the notary of Lentino,
depreciated by Dante on account of the rusticity of his style, a defect
which disappears when he is rendered into another language. Rossetti,
speaking from Lentino’s mask, frequently thrills with strokes of true
magic, as when he names

                                  _the song,
      Sweet, sweet and long, the song the sirens know._

In some of Lentino’s sonnets also the germs and groundwork of Dante’s
lyrical poetry are manifestly to be discovered.

Something should be said here of the lyrical forms used by the
Italian poets of the best ages. The principal are the _canzone_, the
_sonnet_, and the _ballata_. The canzone admits of several varieties of
structure, but usually commences with three unrhymed lines of eleven
syllables each, followed by three similar lines rhyming to their
predecessors, a seventh of a discretionary number of syllables rhyming
to the third and sixth, and five or six lines on a different rhyming
system, short or long at the poet’s discretion, yet generally having
the last rhyme of the preceding system once repeated. The following
stanza from Guido Cavalcanti may serve as an example:

      _But when I looked on death made visible,
        From my heart’s sojourn brought before mine eyes,
        And holding in her[1] hand my grievous sin,
      I seemed to see my countenance, that fell,
        Shake like a shadow: my heart uttered cries,
        And my soul wept the curse that lay therein.
        Then Death: 'Thus much thine urgent prayer shall win:--
      I grant thee the brief interval of youth
        At natural pity’s strong soliciting.’
      And I (because I knew that moment’s ruth
      But left my life to groan for a frail space)
      Fell in the dust upon my weeping face._
                                              --ROSSETTI.

By this highly intelligent system the vagrant overgrowth of the
Provençal stanza was pruned, and a lyrical form constituted, which
was unsurpassed for the combination of dignity with melodious grace.
The sonnet, unmatched as the most appropriate form for the harmonious
development of a single thought, is one of Italy’s most precious
gifts to the world of letters. It is too thoroughly naturalised in
this country to need detailed description; but the caution is not
superfluous that a Shakespearian sonnet, a sonnet on the French model,
or a very irregular sonnet, are strictly speaking not sonnets, but
quatorzains; and that, although it would be pedantic to insist upon
unvarying conformity to one of the four legitimate Italian structures
of the sestet, they will seldom be widely departed from without injury
to the music and architecture of the poem. The name _sonnetto_--a
little sound--(cf. _sonnette_) admirably expresses the pealing effect
of a well-manipulated sestet. The ballata is less confined by strict
rules. “It is properly a lyric of two or more stanzas, in the first
of which is set out the theme to be amplified in the following”
(Boswell). It often terminates with an _envoy_ or quasi summing-up, as
is frequently the case with the canzone also. The octave, familiar to
English readers as the metre of _Don Juan_, was generally reserved for
narrative poetry, but was also converted by the Sicilian poets into a
lyrical form by merging the final couplet in the preceding sestet, as
described and exemplified by an English imitator:

      _To thee, fair Isle, Italia’s satellite,
        Italian harps their native measures lend;
      Yet, wooing sweet diversity, not quite
        Thy octaves with Italia’s octave blend.
      Six streaming lines amass the arrowy might
        In hers, one cataract couplet doth expend.
      Thine lakewise widens, level in the light,
        And like to its beginning is its end._

The _sestine_, a favourite form with the Provençals, and frequently
used by Dante and Petrarch, is too complicated to be well understood
without an example.

The same phenomenon is observed in Italian literature as in
English--the decay, after the language had begun to receive a high
scholastic cultivation, of the simple spontaneous melody which had
originally characterised it. Italian prose probably never possessed the
majestic rhythm and sonorous cadences which came unsought to English
poets of the time of Elizabeth and James; but Italian verse had its
Campions, and these, like ours, left no successors. Without disparaging
the tunefulness of late writers like Chiabrera, it must still be owned
that this is in a measure artificial, and that the cause is the divorce
of poetry and music. “It seems,” says Panizzi, “that the art of writing
lines in which so much simplicity, smoothness, and strength were united
to so delicate a proportion of sounds, is lost; and the reason is
that in our days canzoni and sonnets have nothing but the name of a
song.” The most melodious modern poetry, accordingly, is the portion of
Metastasio’s plays which was actually written to be sung.

It is too early to speak as yet of Italian prose, of which no
important example will be found until we reach Dante’s _Vita Nuova_,
near the end of the thirteenth century. It need only be remarked that
the grace of diction and the intricacy of metrical form which Italian
poets had attained by the middle of the thirteenth century, show that
the language was already capable of fine prose, and that it was only
needful to dispel the superstition that serious subjects must be
treated in a learned tongue. Poetry prospered in the vernacular for the
obvious reasons that the bards were in general ignorant of Latin, and
that if they had been acquainted with it their accomplishment would
have been wasted upon the lords and ladies for whom they principally
wrote. The historical or philosophical writer, however, best reached
the classes he addressed through the medium of Latin. Hence, though
for different reasons, we observe in early Italian literature the
same phenomenon as in early Greek--a brilliant poetical activity
in the almost total absence of prose composition. Yet, when Tuscan
prose fairly begins, its productions are the purest examples of
diction--_testi di lingua_. This elegance testifies at once to the
innate refinement of the people and to the continuous operation of
intellectual influences latent in the obscurest deeps of the Dark Ages.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[1] Death (_La Morte_) being feminine in Italian.



                              CHAPTER II
                        THE EARLY ITALIAN LYRIC


It was inevitable that the light thus kindled at the Sicilian Court
should spread to other parts of Italy, those especially where the
vernacular tongue had already obtained the greatest degree of
refinement, and had developed most aptitude for the purposes of
literature.

Dante, examining the dialects of Italy about the beginning of
the fourteenth century, affirms, indeed, that none of them can be
identified as the ideal or pattern language, which is the common
property of educated Italians everywhere. But he evidently regards
Tuscany and Bologna as greatly in advance of other parts of Italy;
and speaks of the impediments offered by the local speech of Ferrara,
Modena, and Reggio to the acquisition of pure Italian, in consequence
of which, he says, these cities have produced no poets. Evidently,
therefore, some districts of Italy were more congenial than others to
the Court poetry transplanted from Sicily; and we find it flourishing
exactly where, on Dante’s principles, this might have been expected,
that is, in Tuscany and the Romagna. About the same time, Antonio da
Tempo, a Paduan, writing on vernacular poetry, admits that “Lingua
Tusca magis apta est ad literam sive literaturam quam aliæ linguæ, et
ideo magis est communis et intelligibilis.” Almost the same words are
employed by an anonymous contemporary translator of the excerpts from
the gospels read as lessons for the day, with the addition that the
Tuscan speech is also the most agreeable. It is no wonder, therefore,
that many of the so-called Sicilian poets should have been Tuscans, or
that Tuscans at home should have been the first and chief cultivators
of Italian poetry, so soon as this began to be written elsewhere than
in Sicily, where the destruction of the Hohenstaufen dynasty put an end
to it shortly after the middle of the thirteenth century. The transfer
of literary composition from a Court circle to a republican community
was of high importance as a substitution of freer influences for those
by which it had hitherto been moulded, and we speedily see the new
literature ceasing to be a mere amusement, and becoming in some measure
an organ of thought and opinion. Political poems, satires, didactic
pieces, moral exhortations in verse become frequent. The literary worth
of these, indeed, is not in general comparable to that of the amorous
strains which had formerly monopolised the field of poetry, but they
show that literature was beginning to lay hold of the national life,
and bear within them the germs of better things.

The most remarkable representative of the new tendency, who had
previously been a leading representative of the old, the most
influential and the most conspicuous figure, indeed, among Dante’s
forerunners, though far from the best poet, was GUITTONE DI AREZZO,
born probably about 1235. In his youth Guittone had been a love
poet, after the manner of the troubadours, and obtained sufficient
distinction in the sonnet--to which, indeed, he seems to have first
given what was to prove its durable form--to be afterwards regarded as
the precursor of Petrarch; but towards middle age, under the influence
of religious emotion, he renounced the world, including his wife and
family, and entered the military, not monastic, order of the Cavalieri
di Santa Maria, known, from the free-and-easy deportment of some of the
brethren, as the Jolly Friars, _Frati Gaudenti_. Guittone, however,
seems to have been perfectly serious in the step he took. He condemned
his former course of life, renounced poetical pursuits, and dispensed
prescriptions against secular lore and poetry in all their branches. He
continued, nevertheless, to write in verse, and employed the Provençal
metrical forms as of old; but the themes of his muse are now morality,
religion, and, occasionally, politics. His sentiments entitle him to
respect, but his verse is dreary: Rossetti has been able to find only
one piece of his to repay translation, and this, even in Rossetti’s
hands, does _not_ repay it. He was, nevertheless, much admired in his
own day, and many contemporary poets were much influenced by him,
especially by his Latinisms; for Guittone was acquainted with such
of the classical writers as were then accessible, and imitated their
constructions with servility and without judgment. He has a claim to
priority as one of the first writers of Italian prose, on the strength
of his epistles. They are otherwise only remarkable for the Latinised
affectation of their style.[2]


A much more important writer, in a purely literary point of view, and
the first Italian who can be esteemed a poet of high merit, is GUIDO
GUINICELLI of Bologna (1220-1276), of whom little is known, except
that, like most men of light and leading in those unquiet times, he was
banished from his native city. His rank in Italian poetry is prominent,
he gave it a more serious and philosophical character than the
troubadours had been capable of imparting, and his amorous sentiment
is more spirited and impressive. The masterpiece among Dante’s
sonnets--_Tanto gentil e tanto onesta pare_--is undoubtedly adumbrated
in one of Guinicelli’s. Dante calls him “the Sage,” and the canzone
of the _Gentle Heart_, to which the great Florentine is alluding,
justifies his admiration. The following is the first of six beautiful
stanzas:

      _Within the gentle heart Love shelters him,
        As birds within the green shade of the grove.
      Before the gentle heart, in Nature’s scheme,
        Love was not, or the gentle heart ere Love.
          For with the sun, at once,
      So sprang the light immediately, nor was
          Its birth before the sun’s.
      And Love hath his effect in gentleness
          Of very self; even as
      Within the middle fire the heat’s excess._
                                                     --ROSSETTI.

Much might be said of many other precursors of Dante, but space
admonishes us to restrict ourselves to two--Guido delle Colonne, a
Sicilian, chiefly known for his Latin romance on the Fall of Troy, but
also a vernacular lyrist of considerable merit; and Rustico di Filippo
(1200-1274), eulogised by Brunetto Latini as a man of great worth, but
whose place among poets is mainly that of a satirist. Very biting are
his lines on a certain Messer Ugolino, a member by anticipation of what
Carlyle called “the Heaven and Hell Amalgamation Society,” “who has
good thoughts, no doubt, if they would stay,” and

      _Would love his party with a dear accord
      If only he could once quite care for it._

One other writer among Dante’s predecessors may be mentioned, not for
his claims as a poet, but as a man so illustrious that he honoured
poetry even by attempting what he was unqualified to perform. He is no
less a man than St. Francis of Assisi, whose _Song of the Creatures_ is
pronounced by Renan “the most perfect expression given by the modern
world of its feeling for religion.”

Some way past the middle of the century (1265) the greatest poet
of Italy was born, and ere his eyes were closed Italian literature,
in virtue of his works alone, had taken place among the great
literatures of the world. The distance between Dante and his immediate
contemporaries is much wider than usual in the case of similar groups
of intellectual and gifted men, even if, leaving Dante’s great poem
and his prose works out of sight, we consider him simply as a lyrist.
Yet they do constitute a group around him, and evince a general
development both in thought and command of language, testifying to the
upheaval which made a Dante possible. Many might be noticed did space
permit, but it will be necessary to restrict ourselves to two typical
instances, with an additional section on the cultivators of humorous
and satirical poetry, whose writings perhaps afford surer testimony
than those of more ambitious bards that poetry had actually entered
into the life of the people. The two men who, but for the existence of
Dante, would have stood forth as the poetical representatives of their
age, are Guido Cavalcanti and Cino da Pistoia. By the time of their
appearance, about 1290, Italian literature had become for the time
entirely concentrated in Tuscany, and the phenomena which had attended
the similar isolation of Greek literary talent in Attica were destined
to reproduce themselves.

GUIDO CAVALCANTI would be memorable if only for his youthful friendship
with Dante, celebrated in many poems of both, and more especially in
the sonnet, so well known in England from Shelley’s more poetical than
accurate version, in which Dante wishes for his company, along with
Lapo Gianni and their respective ladies, on a voyage with him and his
Beatrice. Vanna, Cavalcanti’s lady-love in those days, is mentioned in
another sonnet as the chosen companion of Beatrice:

                                _Each
      Beside the other seemed a thing divine._

Cavalcanti had the reputation of a free-thinker, and the charge seems
hardly refuted by his having made a pilgrimage to Compostella, even
if he ever arrived there, which may be questioned. It is supposed to
have been on this journey that he made the acquaintance of the pretty
Mandetta of Toulouse, the theme of much of his verse. He was a leading
personage in the Florentine republic, and his strifes with inimical
factions eventually led to his exile to Sarzana, where he contracted a
disease which carried him off after his return to his native city.

Guido’s merits as a poet were highly estimated by his contemporaries.
Dante mentions him in his treatise _De Vulgari Eloquio_ among the
masters of Italian literature, and declares that he has eclipsed
Guido Guinicelli, whom also he greatly admired. Benevento da Imola,
the commentator on the _Divine Comedy_, names him along with Dante as
one of the two great lights of the age. That these praises were not
undeserved will appear from a comparison of his lyrics with Dante’s,
remembering that he was the older man and that the obligation was
entirely on the side of the younger. Dante, especially in his sonnets,
is continually borrowing thoughts which, whether original with
Cavalcanti or not, had been previously expressed by him. The expression
is indeed greatly improved, but even Cavalcanti’s comparatively rude
form is full of charm. In his _ballate_ he has the great merit of
having exalted a popular carol to the dignity of literature with
little injury to its simplicity. Of the canzoni ascribed to him only
two are recognised as undoubtedly genuine. Both are instinct with the
philosophical spirit which he imported into poetry. The objections to
the genuineness of the others derived from external evidence do not
always appear very conclusive; but it must be admitted that there is
an almost entire lack of external testimony in their favour. Four of
them, from one of which we have already borrowed a quotation, have
been translated by Rossetti. The most celebrated of Guido’s genuine
compositions, the canzone beginning “_Donna mi prega; perch’ io voglio
dire_,” was considered by his contemporaries the _ne plus ultra_ of
poetry, but rather for its erudition than its strictly poetical merits:
it had eight separate commentaries, which indeed were by no means
superfluous.

Guittoncino de’ Sinibuldi, commonly called CINO DA PISTOIA, a poet
of somewhat later date (1270-1336), possessed less originality than
Guido Cavalcanti, but having a better standard of taste, is perhaps
more generally pleasing. Like Cavalcanti, he was a man of varied
accomplishments, and it is his special renown to have been among the
first jurists of his time. Like Dante, he was exiled from his native
city, and went to Paris; he subsequently professed law in several of
the chief cities of Italy, and was eventually restored to his own. His
verse, like Cavalcanti’s, bears a strong affinity to Dante’s lyrical
poetry, and, in the opinion of so accomplished a judge as Lorenzo de’
Medici, is even more completely divested of primitive rudeness. His
most celebrated composition is the canzone consoling Dante for the loss
of Beatrice, from which we quote a stanza in Rossetti’s version:

      _Why now do pangs of torment clutch thy heart,
        Which with thy love should make thee overjoyed,
        As him whose intellect has passed the skies?
      Behold, the spirits of thy life depart
        Daily to Heaven with her, they so are buoyed
        With thy desire, and Love so bids them rise.
        O God! and thou, a man whom God made wise,
      To nurse a charge of care, and love the same!
          I tell thee in His name
      From sin of sighing grief to hold thy breath,
          Nor let thy heart to death,
      Nor harbour death’s resemblance in thine eyes.
        God hath her with Himself eternally,
        Yet she inhabits every hour with thee._

Here, and in the remainder of the poem, there is a clear prefiguration
of Petrarch, who admired Cino, and wrote a sonnet on his death. The
following is a favourable example of Cino’s own sonnets:

      _Descend, fair Pity, veiled in mortal weed;
        And in thy guise my messengers be dight.
        Partakers to appear of virtuous might
      That Heaven hath for thy attribute decreed.
      Yet thou, ere on their errand these proceed,
        If Love consent, I pray, recall and cite
        My spirits all astray dispersed in flight,
      That so my songs be bold to sue and plead.
      Then, hast thou sight of ladies’ loveliness,
        Thither accede, for I would have thee there,
        And audience with humility entreat;
      And charge my envoys, kneeling at their feet,
        Their Lord and his desirings to declare:
        Hear them, sweet Ladies, for their humbleness._

Several other good poets, such as Lapo Gianni, Dino Frescobaldi, and
Gianni Alfani, would deserve notice in a more elaborate history.
They all wrought in the spirit of Cavalcanti and Dante himself,
spiritualising the earthly passion of the troubadours, and endowing the
ladies of their songs with such superhuman perfections as to incur the
risk of appearing mere types of ideal virtue. We must, however, pass
to a different order of poetry, the gay and satirical. Here Folgore
di San Geminiano is the leading figure. His political sonnets are
very forcible; but he is better known for two sets of sonnets on the
pleasures of the months and the days of the week, celebrating, not
without an undercurrent of satire, the luxurious extravagance of a
set of wild young men at Siena, who, another poet informs us, reduced
themselves to beggary thereby. Another humorous poet, justly defined by
Rossetti as the scamp of the Dante circle, is Cecco Angioleri, who is
irreverent enough to call Dante himself a pinchbeck florin, and whose
favourite theme is his quarrels with his parents:

      _My mother don’t do much because she can’t,
        But I may count it just as good as done,
      Knowing the way and not the will’s her want.
        To-day I tried a kiss with her--just one--
      To see if I could make her sulks avaunt;
        She said, 'The devil rip you up, my son!'_
                                              --ROSSETTI.[3]

Another class of poetry, forming a connecting link with prose, should
be briefly mentioned, the didactic. The _Tesoretto_ of BRUNETTO LATINI
(1210-1294), celebrated as an encyclopædist of the knowledge of his
time, and still more so as the preceptor or rather Mentor of Dante,
describes a vision in which the poet supposes the secrets of nature to
be revealed to him, and is interesting as in some measure prefiguring
the machinery of the _Divina Commedia_. Francesco Barberino, a notary,
wrote both in prose and verse on the bringing-up of girls, and although
he is an indifferent writer his work is valuable as a picture of
manners. He seriously discusses the question whether girls should be
taught to read, and decides it in the negative. An anonymous poem
entitled _La Intelligenzia_, treating philosophically of the emanation
of Divine Wisdom, a conception resembling that of the Logos, attains
a higher grade of poetical merit, but the best passages appear to
be translated from the French and Provençal. The religious lyric of
St. Francis of Assisi and of the Umbrian school, more interesting in
a psychological than in a literary point of view, culminated about
the end of the thirteenth century in the lays of Jacopino di Todi,
remarkable examples of impassioned mysticism, and sometimes of satiric
force. He is particularly interesting as a popular poet who owes
nothing to culture, but derives all his inspiration from the ecstatic
devotion which in his day animated a large portion of the Italian
common people. The same spirit inspired the _Rappresentazioni_ of a
rather later period, which will be more appropriately considered along
with the Italian drama.

Dante’s prose works demand separate treatment; of earlier examples
of prose there is very little to be said. Historians and theologians
continued to compose in Latin, and the few writings in the vernacular
were chiefly translations from that language. The principal
contemporary book in Italian, the _Tesoro_ or great encyclopædia of
Brunetto Latini, is an important monument of culture, but not of
literature. It was, moreover, originally composed in French.

Italian literature had sprung up from nothingness and made enormous
progress during three-quarters of a century without having produced
a pout of the first or even of the second rank. There was no want of
singers; rather there seemed reason for apprehension lest, as Tansillo
declared with truth in the Cinque Cento,

      _The Muses’ troop an army had become,
      And every hillock a Parnassus grown_--

a complaint anticipated by the anonymous writer of a clever _ballata_
in the thirteenth century:

      _A little wild bird sometimes at my ear
        Sings his own verses very clear:
      Others sing louder what I do not hear.
      For singing loudly is not singing well;
        But ever by the song that’s soft and low
      The master-singer’s voice is plain to tell.
        Few have it, and yet all are masters now,
      And each of them can trill out what he calls
      His ballads, canzonets, and madrigals.
      The world with masters is so covered o’er,
      There is no room for pupils any more._
                                              --ROSSETTI.

But the great poet was about to arise who may almost be said to have
created two literatures--his country’s and that specially devoted to
himself--and whose own works are such, that if every other production
of Italian literature were to perish, it would, on their account alone,
continue to deserve a place among the great literatures of the world.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[2] The other prose Italian writings of approximate date are for the
most part either translations from the Latin, which do not enter into
the plan of this work, or novelettes, which will be more advantageously
considered along with other works of their class. The origin of Italian
prose would have to be carried considerably farther back if the _Carte
di Arborea_ in the public library of Cagliari were genuine, but they
are unquestionably forgeries.

[3] _Gin my seven sons were seven rats, Rinning over the castle wa’,
And I mysel’ were the auld grey cat, Full soon would I worry them a’!_

                                                        --OLD BALLAD.



                              CHAPTER III
                    DANTE’S LIFE AND MINOR WRITINGS


Creditable as were their essays in the new literary instrument of
thought, Dante’s predecessors can be regarded as his forerunners only
in so far as they had helped to create an intellectual atmosphere
congenial to the special bent of his genius. The general character of
this may be defined as an alliance of the chivalrous and impassioned
sentiment which had come down from the troubadours with the science
of Aristotle and the thought of Aquinas. Guido Cavalcanti had shown
how these might be combined, and Dante followed in his steps without,
perhaps, any clear consciousness of his own infinite superiority; of
which, however, a well-known passage in the _Inferno_ seems to intimate
that he eventually came to entertain a sufficient notion.

DANTE (DURANTE) ALIGHIERI was born at Florence in 1265, in the later
part of May. The origin of his family is variously attributed to
Rome, Ferrara, Parma, and Verona. The first of his ancestors whom he
mentions, Cacciaguida degli Elisei, a crusader in 1147, had bestowed
his wife’s surname of Alighieri upon his son, and it had continued in
the family. Dante’s relatives belonged to the Guelf party, and had had
their share in the turmoils which for half a century had distracted
Florence no less than most other Italian cities. Of his boyhood we
know nothing, except that he lost his mother at an early age, and
that he profited by the instructions of the most learned of the
Florentines, Brunetto Latini. He appears to have taken part in several
military expeditions in his youth, and the glimpses of his personal
circumstances which he allows us in the _Vita Nuova_ exhibit him as a
man of means, mingling on equal terms with the wealthy and polished
society of prosperous Florence.

If our knowledge of Dante’s outer life at this period of his history
is imperfect, it is otherwise with his spiritual life, which he has
revealed as no other could, in the above-mentioned _Vita Nuova_,
written probably about 1292. This alone would have immortalised him
as the author of the earliest modern book of its class--though it had
a prototype in the _Confessions of Saint Augustine_--and of the first
book of genius, or indeed of any real importance, written in Italian
prose. Nothing can more forcibly proclaim the superiority of Dante’s
mind than the uniqueness of his first production, unless it be the fact
that, high as is its place in literature, its chief interest for us is
its concern with the man. It is simply the record of his attachment
to a young lady whom he calls Beatrice, and whom Boccaccio enables us
to identify with one whom we know from other sources to have actually
existed, Beatrice de’ Portinari. The notion that Beatrice is but an
abstraction is utterly refuted, to adduce no other testimony, by Cino’s
consolatory poem on her death, quoted in the preceding chapter, and can
only be entertained by those who know little of love, or are entirely
possessed by the passion for allegorising. If ever intense affection
was conveyed in intense language it is here, while at the same time the
passion is purely Platonic, and there is no proof that it was in any
degree shared by its object, who appears to have been already married.

Dante’s biographers, except the late and untrustworthy Filelfo, cast
no doubt on the real existence of Beatrice, and it would require very
strong evidence to overthrow the testimony of the chief among them,
Boccaccio, who lived near Dante’s age, whose veneration for him was
boundless, and who was personally acquainted with his daughter. We
can perceive no adequate reason for the scepticism of Scartazzini
and others respecting Boccaccio’s trustworthiness. It is true that
the use which he made of his opportunities falls sadly below the
modern standard. Not only is he careless in collecting and verifying
authorities, but he makes no attempt to think himself back into the
period of his hero. “Between him and the enthusiasms of the Middle
Ages,” says Symonds, “a ninefold Styx already rolled its waves.” Yet
his faults are offences of defect, not of excess in statement, though
he sins by introducing many useless disquisitions. His work exists in
two shapes, a longer and a shorter recension. The latter is undoubtedly
an unauthorised abridgment of the former, and the novel statements
which it occasionally introduces can claim no authority from Boccaccio.
It seems to have been made by some Florentine who was offended by the
severity of Boccaccio’s strictures upon his city for her ingratitude to
Dante.

The biography by Filippo Villani, one of his _Lives of Illustrious
Florentines_, written about 1400, is mainly taken from Boccaccio,
but is important for its vindication of Dante from the charge of
profligacy, and for its particular details of his last illness. The
valuable life by Leonardo Bruni (1369-1414) is avowedly designed as a
supplement to Boccaccio, who in Bruni’s opinion had neglected weighty
matters for love stories and such-like frivolities. He therefore,
while omitting all mention of Beatrice and the _Vita Nuova_, gives a
much fuller account than Boccaccio of Dante’s share in the affairs of
Florence, and even cites an autograph letter of his, now lost like all
others. He is entitled to much respect as a sensible and impartial
writer, who took pains to obtain information; while the later mediæval
biographers, Manetti and Filelfo, have some literary merit, but no
historical value. Of the other three it may be said that a statement
in which any two of them agree may usually be received, and that the
assertion of any one is entitled to a fair amount of credit when it
is not contradicted by another’s. The absolute trustworthiness of the
chronicle long attributed to Dinoi Campagni must now be given up;
it is, nevertheless, most probably of sufficient antiquity to have
preserved some authentic notices.

No biographer of Dante, however, could possibly have compared
with Dante himself, and it is much to be lamented that the entire
disappearance of what must have been for his time an extensive body
of correspondence has deprived us of all autobiographic record except
the _Vita Nuova_, which, almost devoid of incident, paints the inner
man with lively force. Except Shelley’s _Epipsychidion_, the world has
nothing to set beside this dithyrambic of purely Platonic passion.
We must recur to it, and need only here fix the death of Beatrice,
one of the great landmarks of Dante’s life, at June 9, 1290. Somewhat
more than a year afterwards we find Dante moved, as a noble soul might
well be, not by the attractions but by the spiritual sympathy of a
compassionate lady. It is impossible to entertain the least doubt of
the reality of an episode described by himself with such tenderness of
self-excuse and poignancy of self-reproach, but to admit it is to admit
the actuality of all the rest of the _Vita Nuova_:

      _The salt stream that did sorrowfully flow,
        Speeded, ye Eyes, from your deep springs apace,
        Gave marvel unto all who such long space
      Beheld you weeping, as yourselves do know.
      Now fear I that all such ye would forgo,
        If I upon my own part would be base,
        And not all shift and subterfuge displace,
      Reminding you of her who made your woe.
      Your levity lays load of heavy thought
        Upon me, sore disquieted with dread
        Of her who looks on you in wistful wise.
      By nothing less than Death should you be wrought
        E’er to forget your Lady who is dead;
        Thus saith my heart, and afterward it sighs._

Dante appears to say that he entirely overcame this rather regrettable
than reprehensible lapse from his ideal, and we believe him. If so, the
pitiful lady cannot be identified with Gemma Donati, whom, at latest in
1293, if she had really borne him seven children by 1300, he married by
the persuasion of his friends. The _Vita Nuova_ was in all probability
written by this time, and from its conclusion we learn that Dante was
even then preparing to celebrate Beatrice in the _Divina Commedia_. It
is therefore exceedingly improbable that he would have wedded one at
all likely to impair or efface the freshness of her image in his soul;
and though his union with Gemma was apparently untroubled by discord,
it probably lacked all consecration but the ceremonial. It was brought
to a close by Dante’s exile from his native city in 1301. Gemma and the
children did not accompany him, and he never saw them more. The reason
is not difficult to discover: it prefigured the case of Milton. Gemma’s
family, the Donati, had come to belong to a party opposed to Dante.
The interests of her numerous children, mostly of very tender age,
undoubtedly counselled Gemma to cleave to the winning side, and she
can scarcely be blamed if she declined to forsake her blood relations
for a husband whom she had probably found unsympathetic. Whether Dante
approved her course, or rejoiced in his liberty (Short-sighted Devil,
not to take his spouse!), or was simply choked by indignation, he never
honours or dishonours her by a single word. Gemma Donati’s portrait
hangs in the gallery of poets’ wives, like Marshal Marmont’s in the
gallery of French marshals, covered by a veil of crape.

Few of the more distinguished Italian men of letters have been able to
keep themselves clear of public employment. Dante’s wealth and social
eminence in the days of his prosperity did not allow him to decline the
invidious office of Prior, to which he was raised in 1300. It was only
tenable for two months, but this was long enough for his ruin. Florence
was then rent by dissensions between two factions, the Whites and
Blacks. The Government, by Dante’s courageous and probably wise advice,
resolved to banish the leaders of both. As the chiefs of the Guelfic
Blacks were Dante’s own connections, the Donati, while the Ghibelline
Whites included Guido Cavalcanti, his most intimate friend, his counsel
must have been patriotic and disinterested. Unfortunately, it was not
unflinchingly carried out, some of the Whites being shortly afterwards
allowed to return. Pope Boniface VIII., fearing that the Ghibelline or
Imperialist party would thus obtain the upper hand in the city, incited
Charles de Valois, brother of the French King, Philip the Fair, whom he
had allured into Italy to attack the King of Naples, to make himself
master of Florence. This he accomplished, and the consequent return of
Dante’s adversaries led to the sacking of his house, the ruin of his
fortune, and his life-long exile from his native city. He was at the
time absent on an embassy at the Papal Court, from which he retired to
Arezzo, where the other exiles had assembled, and must henceforth be
reckoned among the Ghibellines.

For some years Dante participated in their endeavours to reinstate
themselves by force; but eventually, well-nigh as disgusted with his
friends as with his enemies, scorning the ignominious terms on which
alone return would have been permitted, and especially discouraged by
the failure of the Emperor Henry VII., whose advent to Italy he had
welcomed with enthusiasm, he became a wanderer among the courts of
the princes and nobles of Northern Italy, generally finding honour
and protection, which he frequently repaid by diplomatic services.
There seems no doubt of his having visited Paris and studied in
the University. The alleged extension of his journey to Oxford
is unsupported by convincing evidence, but is not impossible or
improbable. A writer near his own day seems to assert that he had
been in England. During all this time, like his ancient prototype
Thucydides, he was devoting himself to his immortal work, which,
published as the respective parts were completed, brought him celebrity
and wondering reverence even in his lifetime. His most distinguished
patron in his later years was Cane della Scala, surnamed the Great,
Lord of Verona, from whose court he retired in 1320 to that of Guido
Novello da Polenta, at Ravenna. In the following year he undertook a
mission to Venice, and there contracted a fever, which, aggravated it
is said by the inhospitality of the Venetians in compelling him to
return by land, carried him off on September 14, 1321, shortly after
he had completed his great epic. His funeral obsequies were celebrated
with magnificence; but political troubles delayed for a hundred and
sixty years the erection of the monument ultimately raised by the piety
of Cardinal Bembo’s father, then governing Ravenna for the Venetians,
and inscribed with six rhyming Latin verses attributed without adequate
evidence to Dante’s own pen, but sufficiently ancient to have been
expanded by Boccaccio into a noble sonnet:

      _Dante am I, of deepest lore in song
        Hierophant, elected to combine
        Inheritance in Art with Nature’s sign,
      Accounted miracle all men among.
      Wings of Imagination sure and strong
        Bore me through worlds infernal and divine,
        And gave to verse immortal to consign
      What doth to Earth or doth to Heaven belong.
      Bright Florence brought me forth, but her fond son
        To bitter exile drove, step-mother made
        By guile of tongues malevolent and base.
      Ravenna sheltered me; in her is laid
        My dust; my spirit thitherward has gone
        Where Wisdom reigns, and Envy hath not place._

It is usual to commence a review of an author’s productions by his
most important work; but the _Divina Commedia_ requires a chapter to
itself, and precedence must consequently be given to Dante’s minor
writings. Of these the _Vita Nuova_ stands first both in time and in
importance. It is epoch-making in many ways, as the first great example
of Italian prose, the first revelation of the genius of the greatest
mediæval poet, and the incarnation of that romantic conception of ideal
love by which the Middle Age might fairly claim to have augmented the
heritage bequeathed by antiquity. The main note of Dante’s genius here
is its exquisite and unearthly spirituality, which, indeed, is visible
in much of the poetry and art of the time, but attains its most intense
expression in him. Something like it has occasionally been seen since,
as in John Henry Newman; but it is in our day too much out of keeping
with the legitimate demands of a busy and complicated society to occur
except as a temporary and individual phenomenon.

Nothing is more remarkable in a composition apparently so fanciful than
the entire sincerity and straightforwardness of the _Vita Nuova_: grant
that Beatrice was a real person, and it is impossible to doubt the
literal truth of the entire narrative. This is the more extraordinary
in consideration of the impersonality alike of the enamoured poet and
of the object of his passion. Dante, indeed, speaking throughout in
his own character, cannot help portraying himself in some measure,
though our conception of him is probably largely made up of involuntary
associations with the more palpable Dante of the _Divina Commedia_. But
Beatrice remains what he meant her to be, a spiritual presence, visible
but intangible. No heroine of fiction conveys a stronger impression of
perfection; but we see her as Andromeda saw Medusa, merely reflected in
the mind of her lover.

More extraordinary works than the _Vita Nuova_ have been composed
at even an earlier age, but there is perhaps no other book in the
world in which a young man appears as asserting by his first attempt
so unchallenged a superiority over predecessors and contemporaries,
with whom he has nevertheless much in common. The evolution of Italian
poetry has up to this point proceeded gradually and systematically;
all of a sudden it makes a bound, and seems as it were to have
sprung across a chasm. The prose is of more equable desert than the
interspersed poetry, some of which is inferior; while, on the other
hand, the best poetry far transcends the prose. The finest among the
sonnets and canzoni, if sometimes rivalled, have not hitherto been
surpassed in Italian literature, while the most famous of the former
still stands at the head of its own class:

      _So goodly and so seemly doth appear
        My Lady, when she doth a greeting bring,
        That tongue is stayed, silent and quivering,
      And eye adventures not to look on her.
      She thence departeth, of her laud aware,
        Meek in humility’s apparelling;
        And men esteem her as a heavenly thing
      Sent down to earth a marvel to declare.
      Whoso regardeth, so delightedly
        Beholds, his eyes into his heart instil
        Sweet only to be known by tasting it;
      And from her face invisibly doth flit
        A gentle spirit Love doth wholly fill,
        That to the soul is ever saying, Sigh._

The length of Italian canzoni renders it extremely difficult to do
them justice in a work of necessarily contracted limits. Two stanzas,
however, of Dante’s canzone on the death of his lady are, as it were,
a little poem complete in themselves, and may be cited in Rossetti’s
matchless version:

      _I was a-thinking how life fails with us
      Suddenly after such a little while;
      When Love sobbed in my heart, which is his home.
      Whereby my spirit waxed so dolorous
      That in myself I said, with sick recoil:
      'Yea, to my Lady too this Death must come.’
      And therewithal such a bewilderment
      Possessed me, that I shut mine eyes for peace;
      And in my brain did cease
      Order of thought, and every healthful thing.
      Afterwards, wandering
      Amid a swarm of doubts that came and went,
      Some certain women’s faces hurried by,
      And shrieked to me, 'Thou too shalt die, shalt die!'_

      _Then saw I many broken, hinted sights
      In the uncertain state I stepped into.
      Meseemed to be I know not in what place,
      Where ladies through the streets, like mournful lights,
      Ran with loose hair, and eyes that frightened you
      By their own terror, and a pale amaze:
      The while, little by little, as I thought,
      The sun ceased, and the stars began to gather,
      And each wept at the other;
      And birds dropped in mid flight out of the sky,
      And earth shook suddenly,
      And I was 'ware of one, hoarse and tired out,
      Who asked of me, 'Hast thou not heard it said?
      Thy lady, she that was so fair, is dead’._

Although the _Vita Nuova_ is essentially true history, the same
cannot be said of a later work preferred to it by the author himself,
albeit posterity has reversed his judgment. This is the _Convito_,
or _Banquet_, in which Beatrice appears as an allegory of divine
philosophy. The process of this mutation is not difficult to discover.
Not long after her death, Dante, as he tells us at the end of the _Vita
Nuova_, had resolved, under the influence of a wondrous vision, “_di
dire di lei quello che mai non fu detto d’alcuna_.” The mortal maiden
thus necessarily becomes a type of supernatural glory and perfection,
as we see her in the _Divina Commedia_, and the metamorphosis
inevitably extends to the lyrics in which Dante celebrates her. She is
no longer Beatrice de’ Portinari, but Philosophy, and unfortunately
in too many instances Dante’s poetry has become philosophy also.
The nobility of the form still assures it pre-eminence over all
contemporary verse but the author’s own; but the substance is often
mere reasoning in rhyme. Two canzoni, however, are of distinguished
beauty, “_Voi ch’ intendendo il terzo ciel movete_” (translated by
Shelley), and “_Tre donne intorno al cor mi son venute_,” which
Coleridge says, in 1819, he is at length beginning to understand after
reading it over twelve times annually for the last fourteen years.
“Such a fascination had it in spite of its obscurity!”

The former of these pieces is shown by internal evidence to have been
written as early as 1295, and the latter was composed after Dante’s
banishment, to which period most of the other canzoni and the prose
commentary probably belong. This commentary constitutes the substance
of the work. It was intended to have expounded fourteen canzoni,
but treats only of three, apart from a general introduction. More
remarkable, perhaps, than the philosophical subtleties of which it
consists, is Dante’s appeal to a new public. He writes no longer for
literary circles, but for the world of persons of worth wherever found,
especially persons of rank. Hence the treatise is necessarily composed
in Italian, which has the good effect of drawing from Dante a spirited
vindication of his native tongue. It was probably completed up to the
point where the author left it by 1308 or 1309. The exceedingly corrupt
text has been revised by the last editor, Dr. Moore, upon the authority
of two manuscripts in England.

The literary merits of the Italian language are more fully expounded
in another work of Dante’s, which, however, he composed in Latin,
that his arguments might reach those who would not have condescended
to read the vernacular. The _De Vulgari Eloquio_, originally entitled
_De Eloquentia Vulgari_, or _Of the Vulgar Tongue_, is shown by
historical allusions to have been composed by 1304. Like the _Convito_
it is unfinished, only two books of the four of which it was to have
consisted having been written. Dante’s conception of the capabilities
of his native tongue does him honour, even though he restricts the
number of subjects adapted to it, and would deny its use to all but
gifted writers. It is a still higher honour to have recommended it
more effectually by his example than by his reasonings, which, as was
inevitable in his age, frequently rest upon entirely fanciful and
visionary data. His account, nevertheless, of the Italian dialects as
they existed in his day, and his precepts on the metrical structure of
Italian poetry, which he seems not to have then contemplated as capable
of existing apart from music, retain a substantial value for all time.

The hopes founded upon the appearance of the Emperor in Italy in 1311
probably induced Dante to publish a work written some years previously,
his treatise _De Monarchia_, embodying the best mediæval conception
of the spheres of temporal and spiritual government upon earth. So
powerfully had the universality of Roman sway impressed men’s minds,
that the Roman people were believed to have obtained the empire of
the earth by the donation of Heaven, and the Emperor of Germany was
regarded as their lawful representative. This belief, so strange to us,
was, nevertheless, salutary in its time, by repressing the champions of
universal despotism who made the Pope the fountain of secular as well
as spiritual authority. By numerous arguments satisfactory to himself,
but which would now be considered entirely irrelevant, Dante proves
that universal monarchy is a portion of the Providential scheme, that
the Romans possessed by divine appointment jurisdiction over the entire
earth. The inheritance of this prerogative by the Emperor of Germany is
taken for granted, and it is next demonstrated that the Emperor does
not derive his authority from the Church, any more than the Church
hers from the Emperor. Yet Cæsar is to be reverent to Peter, as the
first-born son to his father. There is no trace of religious heterodoxy
in the treatise, though nothing can be more uncompromising than its
limitation of the Papal authority to its legitimate sphere.

The amount of fugitive poetry ascribed to Dante is inconsiderable.
Bruni, in his biography, remarks that there are two classes of
poets--those who sing by inspiration and those who compose by art--and
that Dante belongs to the second. It cannot be admitted that Dante
was devoid of inspiration, but it is certainly true that he was one
of those who possess a special power of regulating this divine gift.
A Shelley or a Coleridge must write when the impulse seizes him; but
a Milton, with the conception of _Paradise Lost_ in his mind, can
defer putting pen to paper for seventeen years, and, with consummate
lyric power, is but unfrequently visited by the lyric impulse. Dante,
so marvellously similar to Milton in many respects, also, if we may
trust his account of the genesis of the pieces in the _Vita Nuova_,
but seldom found himself under an irresistible impulse to lyrical
composition. Something suggests to him that a sonnet or a canzone would
be expedient or decorous; he plots it out, and fills up the outline
with unerring fidelity to his first conception. The gigantic plan of
the _Divine Comedy_ is similarly carried out without interruption or
misgiving; and but for the death of Beatrice, it is by no means certain
that it would have existed, any more than that Milton would have
written _Comus_ if the noble children had never been lost in the wood.

A poet of this stamp was not likely to enrich literature with much
fugitive verse. A few occasional poems glitter here and there, to
employ Wordsworth’s simile, like myrtle leaves in his chaplet of bay.
The most remarkable among them is a sestine, the finest example of its
artificial and elaborate class, and superbly translated by Rossetti;
this and other pieces are supposed to refer to a certain Pietra,
otherwise unknown. These poems seem to breathe the language of genuine
passion, but are too few and of too uncertain date to contribute
much to the solution of the question whether Dante was, as Boccaccio
asserts, remarkable for susceptibility to female charms, or a paragon
of continence, as Villani will have him. It is at least certain that,
after Beatrice, no woman exercised any noteworthy influence upon his
writings. He moves through life a great, lonely figure, estranged from
human fellowship at every point: a citizen of eternity, misplaced
and ill-starred in time; too great to mingle with his age, or, by
consequence, to be of much practical service to it; too embittered and
austere to manifest in action the ineffable tenderness which may be
clearly read in his writings; one whose friends and whose thoughts are
in the other world, while he is yet more keenly alive than any other
man to the realities of this; one whose greatness impressed the world
from the first, and whom it does not yet fully know, after the study of
six hundred years.



                              CHAPTER IV
                           THE DIVINE COMEDY


To have assumed a position so far in advance of, and so decisively
discriminated from, that of any of his contemporaries, as in the _Vita
Nuova_, would alone have ensured Dante immortality as a poet. But his
lyrical works are to his epic as Shakespeare’s sonnets to Shakespeare’s
dramas.

Any narrative in verse not familiar or humorous, nor of extreme
brevity, may be entitled an epic; although we might do well to
naturalise, as we have done in the case of _idyll_, the pretty Greek
word _epyll_ to denote a narrative composition of such compass as
Keats’s _Eve of St. Agnes_ or Wordsworth’s _Laodamia_. But there are at
least three classes of epics, excluding the merely romantic like the
_Orlando_, and the mock-heroic, from consideration. The most important
in every point of view is the national, originally not the work of
a man but of a people; sometimes, as in the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_,
indebted for its final form to the shaping hand of the most consummate
genius; sometimes, as in the Finnish _Kalevala_, an agglomeration of
legends, united by community of spirit, but not fashioned into an
artistic whole. At the remotest point from these stands the artificial
epic, like the _Teseide_ of Boccaccio or the _Jason_ of William Morris,
where the poet has selected for its mere picturesqueness a subject
which stands in no vital relation to himself and his times; and such
epics are necessarily the most numerous.

Yet there is an intermediate class of epic, partly national, partly
artificial, where the poet, conscious of a high patriotic purpose,
has, like Virgil and Camoens, sung the glories of his country at their
zenith; or, like Lucan, actually related contemporary history; or, like
Shelley in the _Revolt of Islam_, bodied this forth under the veil of
allegory; or, like Tasso, embalmed ere too late the feeling of an age
passing away. Two great epic poets of the intermediate class have done
more than this: they have preserved and expressed the sentiment of
their age, its replies to the deepest questions which man can propound;
have clothed these abstractions with form, colour, and music, and have
lent fleeting opinion an adamantine immortality. These are Dante and
Milton.

“Dante,” says Shelley, “was the second epic poet, that is, the second
poet the series of whose creations bore a defined and intelligible
relation to the knowledge and sentiment and religion of the age in
which he lived. Milton was the third.” Hence Shelley in another place
calls Milton “the third among the sons of light.” Both these great men,
in truth, versed in all the learning of their ages, and entertaining a
conviction of the indefeasible truth of what they believed themselves
to know which no successor will be able to share, applied themselves
to embody these beliefs in works of genius. Even as great empires have
vanished from the earth, and left nothing but the works of art which
were not the greatness itself but merely its testimonies and symbols,
so here the opinions have gone while the works remain. It almost seems
a law that every great poem which thus resumes the thought of an age
shall be a song, not of Carlyle’s phœnix “soaring aloft, hovering with
outstretched wings, filling earth with her music,” but rather of the
same phœnix “with spheral swan-song immolating herself in flame, that
she may soar the higher and sing the clearer.” Homer’s theology, we may
be sure, was already obsolete for the higher Greek mind when, or not
long after,

                _The Iliad and the Odyssee
      Rose to the swelling of the voiceful sea._

Our own national epic, Shakespeare’s series of historical plays, could
not be written until the state of society it depicted was ceasing to
exist.

Dante himself has told us the origin of his poem. In the last sonnet of
his _Vita Nuova_ he represents himself as having in thought followed
Beatrice from earth to heaven:

      _Beyond the sphere that doth all spheres enfold
        Passes the sigh that from my heart takes flight,
        By weeping Love with new perception dight
      Sure way to the ethereal vault to hold;
      Then having won unto that height untold,
        Of Lady throned in honour hath he sight,
        Resplendent so, that by the vesturing light
      The spirit peregrine doth her behold.
      So seen, that when he doth report the same,
        I miss his sense, so subtle doth it seem
        Unto the grieving heart that makes demand;
      Vet know I that my Lady is his theme,
        For oft he nameth Beatrice’s name,
        And then, dear Ladies, well I understand._

Here is the germ of the _Paradiso_, at all events; but, to preclude
all misapprehension, Dante adds: “After this sonnet there appeared to
me a wondrous vision, wherein I beheld things which made me resolve to
say no more concerning my Blessed One until I could treat of her more
worthily. And that I may attain unto this I study with all my might, as
she truly knoweth. Wherefore if it shall be the pleasure of Him by whom
all things live that my life shall yet endure for some years, I hope
to say concerning her that which has never been said concerning any
woman.” The _Vita Nuova_ is believed to have been written about 1294.
At this time, therefore, Dante was meditating a poetical apotheosis of
Beatrice on a scale surpassing anything attempted before, although the
natural inference from his words would seem to be that he had not yet
begun to write.

He would probably at first contemplate nothing more than the expansion
of the thought of his sonnet into a vision somewhat resembling that of
Laura in Petrarch’s _Trionfi_; but ere long he might say to himself,
inverting the question which Ellwood the Quaker addressed to Milton:
“Thou hast told us of Paradise _gained_, what hast thou to tell us
of Paradise _lost_?” and, granted the existence of the intermediate
realm of Purgatory, the entire scheme of the _Divina Commedia_ would
be present to his mind. As poets but rarely “imitate the example of
those two prudent insects the bee and the spider,” he would begin with
the _Inferno_, where, notwithstanding the inscription, offensive to an
age as far in advance of its sentiment as Dante himself was in advance
of Homer’s polytheism and anthropomorphism, which he has thought fit
to place upon the portal, Beatrice could have neither part nor lot. It
must be long indeed before he could rejoin her.

It can hardly be said, then, that Beatrice is the heroine of his poem,
unless Helen of Troy is the heroine of the _Iliad_. Neither poem could
have existed without the woman; the action of each turns entirely upon
her; but the appearance of each is infrequent until, in Beatrice’s
case, she appears as the pervading spirit of the _Paradiso_. Yet, had
we merely known her from the _Divina Commedia_, their opinion who
regard her as a mere symbol would not have appeared so groundless as it
must in the light of the transparent autobiography of the _Vita Nuova_.
If the great epic has given her her world-wide fame, she is indebted
for her personality to the brief lyrics and snatches of impassioned
prose. The old love, though not extinct, had been transformed into
something far more expansive, as alchemists are said to revive a
glowing rose from the ashes of a faded one. When Dante himself essays
to give Can Grande some insight into the purpose of his poem, he does
not mention Beatrice, but says: “The object of the whole work is to
make those who live in this life leave their state of misery, and to
lead them to a state of happiness.” By this, as Symonds points out, is
not to be understood that the purpose of the poem was the admonition of
individuals. “It was both moral and political. The _status miseriæ_ was
the discord of divided Christendom as well as of the unregenerate will;
the _status felicitatis_ was the pacification of the world under the
coequal sway of Emperor and Pope in Rome, as well as the restoration of
the human soul to faith.”

The conception, therefore, was essentially mediæval. It expressed the
beliefs and aspirations of the Middle Age. It was in poetry what the
work of another of the greatest of the Italians, St. Thomas Aquinas,
had been in theology and philosophy--an endeavour to stereotype the
dominant convictions of the age. And therefore, although not among
the only genuine epics in the highest sense--those which the nations
have written for themselves--the _Divina Commedia_ approaches these
more nearly than any other epic of the second class; for, although the
utterance of a single voice, it says what the average mediæval man
would have said had he known how. The nearest parallel is Milton’s
epic, which sets forth the view of divine things which had commended
itself to a large portion of the Christian world, but still only to
a portion, and therefore a less memorable deliverance than Dante’s.
One needs only to consider how much lower the Middle Ages would stand
in our estimation if their great interpreter had never written, to
appreciate the enormous importance of Dante’s work for history and
culture.

Dante’s great position, nevertheless, in this point of view, somewhat
detracts from his originality in other respects. He is the man of
his age, not a man in advance of his age. He does not, like Goethe,
point the path of progress along an illimitable future. He has no
prevision of Bacon and Galileo; nor is he fertile in germs, hints, or
prefigurements of greater things to come. His philosophy is that of
Aquinas, and his science that of Aristotle. This in no way impairs
his poetical power, and it still remains the greatest of marvels that
the transcendent poet and the most representative thinker of the age
should have met in the same person. Much that appears original in him
is really not peculiar to him, as, for instance, his generous treatment
of the heathen world. There was nothing in this that could surprise
any contemporary. The beatification of the Emperor Trajan was already
an approved legend, and similar promotions in the instances of Ripheus
and Statius only carry the principle somewhat further. His astonishing
treatment of Ulysses might be regarded as a strong counterpoise, but it
must be remembered that he was unacquainted with Homer, and probably
took his view of the character of Ulysses from the _Æneid_. On the
whole, his attitude towards the classical world is highly to his
credit; but it merely expresses the dim perception of his age, that
greater men and greater civilisations had flourished before them, and
that inspiration from these was wanting to transform the semi-barbarism
around them into a well-ordered society. Hence Dante’s loving devotion
to Virgil, the only portrait in his epic that evinces any considerable
power of character painting; and his tenderness to all things
classical. Had he flourished along with Petrarch and Boccaccio, Dante
would have been a great humanist, his scholarship and statesmanship
would have found wider and more profitable fields of action than his
own age vouchsafed to them; but we should not have had the _Divine
Comedy_, towering above every other work of the age much higher even
than Shakespeare towers above contemporary dramatists; and all his own,
even to its metrical structure, since _terza rima_ appears to have been
Dante’s invention.

The thought at the foundation of the _Divina Commedia_, nevertheless,
is more ancient than Dante, although the details evince marvellous
fertility of invention. The idea of a descent to the underworld is
the groundwork of a primitive Assyrian epic in comparison with whose
antiquity the similar narratives in the Buddhistic and other scriptures
are but of yesterday. It is found in Plato’s _Republic_ and the
_Odyssey_, both unknown to Dante, who had, however, the sixth book of
the _Æneid_ by heart, and implies his obligation by making Virgil his
guide. This is a much more likely source for his poem than the vision
of Tundal and other similar mediæval legends, which are nevertheless
important as showing how strong was the hold of the conception upon
the popular mind. The vast difference between Virgil’s treatment and
Dante’s needs no elucidation. Virgil writes like a philosopher, and
Dante like a prophet. There is, no doubt, abundance of allegory in
the _Divina Commedia_, but, generally speaking, the poet’s vision is
direct and immediate. Symonds puts the essence of the poem into a word
by calling it apocalyptic, and perhaps there is no other great work to
which on the whole it presents so close an analogy as the Revelation
of St. John; but neither this nor any forerunner affords any precedent
for Dante’s astonishing innovation of peopling the unseen worlds mainly
with his own and his readers’ contemporaries, men whose hands he had
clasped or repelled, with whom he had sat at the council-board or
whom he had encountered in conflict, or who, personally unknown, had
thrilled him with the report of their fortunes or misfortunes, their
good deeds or their crimes.

Let any one try to imagine a modern poet treating the nineteenth
century in the same manner, and he will be penetrated by a sense of the
gigantic nature of the attempt, success in which could only be possible
to an intense realist capable of making his phantoms as substantial
as when they walked the earth. Yet this is only one side of Dante’s
mighty task, which was not only to render the unseen world visible and
almost palpable, but to embody what he fondly believed to be a system
of infallible dogmatic truth. It need hardly be said that it is to
the consummate execution of the former part of his mission that he is
chiefly indebted for his fame with the world at large. The _Inferno_,
where description and portraiture predominate, has impressed the
imagination of mankind far more powerfully than the more mystical and
doctrinal _Purgatorio_ and _Paradiso_.

This is not the judgment of the most refined readers. “The acutest
critics,” says Shelley, “have justly reversed the judgment of the
vulgar, and the order of the great acts of the _Divina Commedia_ is the
measure of the admiration which they accord to Hell, Purgatory, and
Paradise.” “The whole _Purgatorio_,” says Symonds, “is a monument to
the beauty and tranquillity of Dante’s soul. The whole _Paradiso_ is a
proof of its purity and radiance and celestial love.” This is true, and
yet it is indisputable that in thinking of Dante the _Inferno_ always
comes first to the mind, and that this portion of his poem, had one
part only been published, would have done far more to preserve his name
than either of the others in the like case, and this although it is
far more tainted than they are with his most characteristic and least
pardonable faults. The chief causes, no doubt, are that the material
sublime is always more impressive to the mass of men than the moral;
that there is an element of risk and adventure in the poet’s journey
among the shades absent from the other two parts; and that Virgil is
a more tangible and human personage than Beatrice. Yet it must also
be admitted that the diviner beauty of the two latter parts suffers
from an admixture of theological and philosophical disquisition, not
the less tedious because it was impossible for the poet to avoid it.
Milton tells us that the fallen spirits reasoned “of fate, freewill,
fore-knowledge absolute,” but judiciously avoids reporting their
observations.

Dante’s place in comparison with the other chief poets of the world is
difficult to determine, for none but he has written an apocalypse. He
is emphatically the Seer among them, the “Soothsayer” in the original
sense of the term, the most independent of poetical fiction and
convention. He is also by far the most individual and autobiographic,
and the only one who is the hero of his own poem. Milton, who is most
naturally paralleled with him, does not deliver a revelation, but
records a history. This at once places Dante in a higher category than
Milton as an elementary force, and when we consider the circumstances
of their respective ages it seems impossible to deny that Dante was
by far the more wonderful man. This does not necessarily establish
the superiority of the _Divina Commedia_ to _Paradise Lost_. Isaiah
presents himself in a more august and venerable character than Homer,
but his prophecy is not as majestic as the _Iliad_. It is also
difficult, when assigning the relative ranks of poets, to discriminate
strictly between the claims that arise from mere poetical endowment and
the significance of their position in history. One may stand upon the
higher pedestal, and the other may have the sweeter voice.

In one point of view, Dante’s figure is the most imposing of any
poet’s; for, intensely local as he is, he yet interprets all mediæval
Europe. When, however, he is compared with his closest analogue,
Milton, simply as a poet, it is not so clear that the comparison is to
his advantage. The great characteristics which chiefly discriminate
him from all other poets are an ineffable purity, such as we see in
the early Italian painters, and an intensity of minute description
which surpasses the similar performances of others, except England may
say with pride, Robert Browning’s, as the work of the etching tool
surpasses the work of the pen. These gifts are best displayed upon a
small scale, and hence Dante’s cabinet pieces are more successful than
his vast pictures. They depend, too, in the last resort upon the poet’s
own fidelity of observation, and hence his best delineations retrace
what he has actually seen. His general description of the _Inferno_ is
more impressive from its unflinching realism than from its imaginative
sublimity. There is no grandeur in his picture of Lucifer, though much
quaint ingenuity, Milton’s “not less than archangel ruined” tells
us more and affects us more profoundly than all Dante’s elaborate
word-painting. If Milton has nothing so beautiful as the exquisite
comparison of Beatrice to a bird awaiting the dawn that she may gather
food for her young, neither has Dante anything so sublime as Milton’s
comparison of the flying fiend to a fleet discerned afar off as hanging
in the clouds, or of Satan equipped for battle to the comet “that fires
the length of Ophiuchus huge.” The magnificent lines in which Tennyson
has celebrated the might and music of Milton would seem inappropriate
to Dante. In an age when minute description is in fashion, Dante’s
virtuoso-like skill in graphic delineation has been favourable to his
renown; but a reaction must ensue when a bolder and ampler style of
handling is again appreciated at its worth.

If, however, Dante is on the whole inferior to Milton in poetry pure
and simple, he is more important as a representative of a great era
of mankind. In him the Middle Age lives as it does in its cathedrals;
and when the cathedrals have crumbled, the _Divine Comedy_ will be
as fresh as it is now. Nor is this significance merely historical or
antiquarian. From the very first it was appreciated by contemporaries.
Repentant Florence endowed lectures upon the _Divine Comedy_, and
Boccaccio was the first lecturer. In the next century Frezzi tries
to transpose it into another key; and Attavanti cites from the
pulpit _Dantes ille noster_ as copiously and reverentially as any of
the Fathers. Even in the age of the Renaissance, Pius the Fourth’s
cardinals cap quotations from Dante as the last notes of Palestrina’s
Mass of Pope Marcellus die down the aisles of St Peter’s. If he
afterwards fell into comparative abeyance for a time, it must be
remembered that Italy lay prostrate in the seventeenth century, and
that his genius did not sort well with the especial mission assigned to
her in the eighteenth.

There can be no surer proof of Dante’s eternal vitality than that
the revival of his fame coincided with the manifestation of ideas
apparently the reverse of his own. The French Revolution brought the
mediæval poet into fashion; and although his best expositors, whom it
is upon the whole most profitable to study, have been those so nearly
at his own intellectual standpoint as Dean Church and Maria Rossetti,
his most eloquent champions have been those who, on a superficial
view, might seem to have least in common with him--Lamennais, Shelley,
Carlyle, Symonds, Mazzini, Leopardi. The feelings of the man of the
nineteenth century, attracted by the divine and eternal elements in
Dante with a vehemence proportioned to his repulsion by the transient
and accidental, are thus powerfully expressed by the greatest of living
Italian poets:

      _Dante, how is it that my vows I bear,
        Submitted at thy shrine to bend and pray,
        To Night alone relinquishing thy lay,
      And with returning sun returning there?
      Never for me hath Lucy breathed a prayer,
        Matilde with lustral fount washed sin away,
        Or Beatrice on celestial way
      Led up her mortal love by starry stair.
      Thy Holy Empire I abhor, the head
        Of thy great Frederick in Olona’s vale
        Most joyfully had cloven, crown and brains.
      Empire and Church in crumbling ruin fail:
        Above, thy ringing song from heaven is sped:
        The Gods depart, the poet’s hymn remains._
                                              --CARDUCCI.



                               CHAPTER V
                      PETRARCH AS MAN OF LETTERS


Although, hardly less than Shakespeare, born not for an age but
for all time, Dante was nevertheless in an especial sense the poet
of the mediæval period. The vast advance which he effected in the
poetic art had no counterpart in a corresponding progress in the world
of intellect. Powerful as his mind was, it seemed as an organ of
thought rather architectural than creative; more intent on combining
the materials it found into the most august edifice which their
constitution admitted, than on gaining new channels for feeling and
intelligence. This was to be the work of a mind far less original than
Dante’s, but happily placed at the confluence of mediæval ideas with an
element by which they were destined to be submerged and transformed.
In the year 1304, on the very day when Dante and his exiled companions
were making their desperate attempt to fight their way back into
Florence, FRANCESCO PETRARCA, the child of one of their number, was
born a humanist by the grace of God in the Tuscan town of Arezzo. Six
years after Dante’s death a casual encounter with a lady who awoke
the faculty of song within him made the scholar the first poet of his
age. But neither the innate love of letters nor the awakened faculty
of poetry would have exalted Petrarch to the literary supremacy he
attained if he had not lived at the very juncture when literature,
hitherto cultivated in some of its branches for mere utility, in
others as an ornament of courtly life, was beginning to revive as a
profession. Dante, a statesman, a philosopher, a prophet, was not
in a true sense a man of letters, and neither his ideals nor his
contemporary influence extended beyond the limits of Italy. Petrarch
was the first modern literary dictator, the first author to receive the
unanimous homage of a world of culture. Such a world had not existed
since the decay of antique civilisation, and he may be said to have
been in a manner both its cause and its effect. As the Erasmus, the
Voltaire, the Goethe of his age, he claims a more distinguished place
in literary history than even his exquisite poetry, much less his but
relatively ample erudition, could have secured for him.

Seven months after Petrarch’s birth his mother was allowed to return to
her patrimonial estate near Florence, where she was sometimes secretly
visited by her husband. The elder Petrarca (or, as the name was then
spelt, Petracco) might have returned to his native city on the same
dishonourable terms as those offered to Dante, but, like Dante, spurned
them. Despairing of repatriation, he betook himself to Avignon, then
the seat of the Papal Court, where he followed the profession of the
law.

Petrarch was successively educated at Carpentras, at Montpellier, and
at the University of Bologna, where his father’s commands compelled him
to the study of jurisprudence. The death of his parent in 1326 recalled
him to Avignon, and restored him to letters. To qualify himself for
ecclesiastical preferment he received the tonsure without taking
orders, a step not unusual in those days, and devoted himself entirely
to literature. The “Babylonish captivity” of the Church at Avignon,
violently as he denounces it in his writings, was highly favourable to
his interests, for it helped him to the patronage of Cardinal Colonna,
whose brother, afterwards Bishop of Lombès, he had known intimately at
the University of Bologna. It was probably from this source that he
derived means to mingle with gay society and indulge in the fashionable
follies of eccentric costume, which he ridicules in his later writings;
for letters as yet afforded him no sure subsistence, and his scanty
patrimony had been embezzled or wasted by his guardians. On April 6,
1327[4], occurred the most momentous event of his life, his vision of
Laura in church “at the hour of prime,” which made him a poet. But
for this, he might never have written in the vernacular. Cicero and
Virgil, his literary idols, enjoined Latin composition, to which in all
probability he would have exclusively addicted himself but for the need
of celebrating Laura in a language which she understood.


The question of Laura’s identity will be best considered along with
the poems devoted to her praise and her adorer’s passion. Neither love
nor society, meanwhile, kept Petrarch from letters, and his reputation
waxed daily. He displayed a happy faculty for maintaining relations
with the great, equally honourable to both parties, exempt alike from
presumption and servility. In 1330 he spent a considerable time with
Bishop Colonna at his Pyrenean diocese of Lombès, and on his return
was formally enrolled as a member of the Cardinal’s household. His
residence at Avignon made him known to the learned English prelate,
Richard de Bury, and other distinguished visitors at the Papal Court,
and he began to enjoy the favour of Robert, King of Naples. His
vernacular poetry, though far inferior to that which he was destined to
produce, was nevertheless making him and Laura famous, for he exclaims
in an early sonnet:

      _Blest all songs and music that have spread
      Her laud afar._

In 1333 he made a journey to Paris, Belgium, and the Rhine, of which he
has given us a lively account in his correspondence, and which produced
at least one sonnet which showed that by this time he wanted but little
of perfection:

      _Through wild inhospitable woods I rove
        Where fear attends even on the soldier’s way,
        Dreadless of ill; for nought can me affray
      Saving that Sun which shines by light of Love:
      And chant, as idly carolling I move,
        Her, whom not Heaven itself can keep away,
        Borne in my eyes; and ladies I survey
      Encircling her, who oaks and beeches prove.
      Her voice in sighing breeze and rustling bough
        And leaf I seem to hear, and birds, and rills
        Murmuring the while they slip through grassy green.
      Rarely have silences and lonely thrills
        Of overshadowing forests pleased as now,
        Except for my own Sun too little seen._

In the same year Petrarch graduated as a patriotic poet by composing
his fine Latin metrical epistle on the woes of Italy. In 1335 he
received from the Pope a canonry in the cathedral of his patron the
Bishop of Lombès. In 1336 he achieved his celebrated ascent of Mount
Ventoux, which marks an era as the inauguration of mountain-climbing
for pleasure’s sake. In 1336 and 1337 he undertook his first journey
to Rome, which he found in a most lamentable condition from rapine and
civil war. Attributing this to the absence of the Popes in France, he
began his long series of exhortations to them to return, to which,
being throughout his lifetime Frenchmen, they naturally turned deaf
ears. Hence in a measure the disgust with Avignon which led him
to seclude himself more and more in Vaucluse (_shut valley_), the
picturesque retreat on the Sorga whither he betook himself in 1337, a
beautiful description of which by Ugo Foscolo may be read in Reeve’s
biography. His adoration of Laura had not prevented his contracting
less spiritual ties, for two children were born to him about this time.

Petrarch’s rural leisure was largely employed in the composition
of a Latin history of Rome, which can have had no critical value,
but would have been deeply interesting as exhibiting the classical
feeling of the representative of the early Renaissance. He ultimately
destroyed it, and turned to the composition of his Latin epic on the
Punic war, _Africa_, for and from which he long expected immortality.
His detestation of the Papal Court breaks out about this time in some
powerful sonnets. His Italian poems, meanwhile, had made their way with
the world to a degree surprising in an age unacquainted with printing.
In 1340 he received on the same day the offer of the poetic laurel from
the cities of Paris and Rome. Deciding for the latter, he embarked at
Marseilles in February 1341, voyaged to Naples, received signal marks
of favour from the King, and, repairing to Rome, was invested with the
laurel by the Senator of the city, April 8, 1341. From this day the
history of modern literature as a recognised power may be said to date.
Ere his return at the beginning of 1342, he had finished his _Africa_,
and bought a house at Parma to give himself a footing in his native
land.

In 1343 Petrarch was again in Italy, discharging an important
diplomatic mission with which he had been entrusted by the new Pope
Clement VI. to the Court of Naples; the state of which he describes in
dark colours, not too dark, as the history of the hapless Queen Joanna,
Robert’s successor, sufficiently proves. He nevertheless rendered
himself acceptable to her, and, his mission honourably discharged,
repaired to Parma, where (1344) he wrote the first of his great
political odes, _Italia mia benche il parlar sia indarno_, and whence
he was chased by civil discord. He did not, however, return to Avignon
until towards the end of this year. The next few years were chiefly
spent in literary occupations, the most remarkable of which was the
composition (1347) of his ode to the Tribune Cola di Rienzi, in whom
he saw the deliverer of his country. Petrarch’s course was not free
from the imputation of ingratitude to his old friends and patrons,
the Colonna family; yet it would have been worse to have been silent
at the prospect, however brief and delusive, of the resurrection of
Rome. Other poets before him had written on Italian politics, but none,
not even Dante, had so exalted their theme by eloquence and ennobling
largeness of view:

        _Her ancient-walls, which still with fear and love
        The world admires, whene’er it calls to mind
        The days of Eld, and turns to look behind;
        Her hoar and caverned monuments above
        The dust of men whose fame, until the world
        In dissolution sink, can never fail;
        Her all, that in one ruin now lies hurled,
        Hopes to have healed by thee its every ail.
        O faithful Brutus! noble Scipios dead!
        To you what triumph, where ye now are blest,
        If of our worthy choice the fame have spread!
        And how his laurelled crest
        Will old Fabricius rear, with joy elate
      That his own Rome again shall beauteous be and great!_
                                                      --MACGREGOR.

The next year, 1348, was one of havoc and desolation for Europe,
through the ravages of the Black Death, which swept away a larger
proportion of her inhabitants than any similar visitation recorded in
history. Laura was among the victims, dying on April 6, the anniversary
of her meeting with Petrarch. Cardinal Colonna, his chief patron since
the death of the Bishop of Lombès, was also carried off on July 3.
Nothing can be added to his own words:

      _The lofty Column and the Laurel green,
        Whose shade was shelter for my weary thought,
        Are broken; mine no longer that which sought
      North, south and east and west shall not be seen.
      Ravished by Death the treasures twain have been
        Whereby I wended with glad courage fraught,
        By land or lordship ne’er to be rebought,
      Or golden heap or gem of Orient sheen.
      If this the high arbitrament of Fate,
        What else remains for me than visage bent,
        And eye embathed and spirit desolate?
      O life of man, in prospect excellent!
        What scarce stow striving years accumulate
        So lightly in a morning to be spent!_

Petrarch’s demeanour after the death of his Laura presents a strong
contrast to Dante’s after the like bereavement, nor does he suffer by
the comparison. Nothing can surpass the poignancy of Dante’s first
grief as depicted in the _Vita Nuova_; but he soon forms another
tie, and though the memory of Beatrice is ever with him, the human
affection sublimates more and more into an abstract spiritual type.
Petrarch’s utterances, on the other hand, wear at first something
of a conventional semblance, but constantly increase in depth and
tenderness, and while he remains the humanist in his studies and
the diplomatist in active life, his poetry, as of old, is all but
monopolised by his one passion. As his attachment to Laura in her life
had been compatible with frequent and long absences, so her death did
not prevent him from discharging the public functions fitly entrusted
to the most eminent scholar of his age.

Although he often expresses in his verse his delight in revisiting
the banks of the Sorga, his life from this time was chiefly spent in
Upper Italy, much occupied by the discharge of diplomatic commissions
from the Pope, the Venetian Republic, and the Lords of Milan and Padua;
constantly appealing to the Avignon Popes to terminate the “Babylonish
captivity” of the Church; vexed by the undutifulness of his natural
son, but finding comfort in his daughter; indefatigable in collecting
and transcribing manuscripts; giving, though himself ignorant of
Greek, a powerful impulse to Hellenic studies by commissioning a
Latin translation of Homer; producing many of his most pleasing minor
Latin writings; and throwing his last energies into the apotheosis of
Laura in his _Trionfi_. He went to Paris to congratulate John, King
of France, on his release from captivity in England; and was present
at the marriage of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, at Milan, where or soon
afterwards he may possibly have encountered Chaucer. Boccaccio followed
him with respectful homage, and almost his last literary labour was
the Latin translation of the Florentine’s tale of _Patient Griselda_.
The last four years of his life, though with many intervals of public
business, were chiefly spent in his retirement at Arquá, a village in
the Euganean Hills, where death overtook him as he bent over a book,
July 20, 1374. He had virtually finished the _Trionfi_ about three
months previously.

We have devoted more space to the biography of Petrarch than to that
of Dante, because, although Dante towers above him as a poet, Petrarch
is the more important figure in Italian literary history. Dante
stands alone: venerated as he was by his countrymen, and not wholly
destitute of imitators, he yet founded no school, and his influence
on the development of the Italian intellect is slight in comparison
with Petrarch’s. Together with the great schoolman who quitted the
world as he entered it, he sums up the Middle Age, which in him and
Aquinas attains its highest development. Petrarch, on the other hand,
is the representative Italian. He does not, like Dante, deliver, but
is himself a prophecy: the future of Italian culture is prefigured in
him. He was also the first to bestow on Italy an unquestioned supremacy
in the world of literature, and was the earliest restorer of the
republic of letters, a conception extinct in the ages of barbarism.
In this restoration, transcending the limits of his own country, his
Latin writings were necessarily more influential than his Italian[5],
and although they do not properly belong to our subject, their great
importance in the history of culture entitles them to a few words.

The chief causes of Petrarch’s failure as a Latin poet are evident. In
the infancy of vernacular literature it was not sufficiently understood
that compositions in a dead language, however exquisite, must fail
to bestow immortality. Nor could Petrarch himself be fully aware
how impossible it was to write like a Roman poet in the new dawn of
reviving classical studies. It took two centuries of culture to produce
a Vida and a Sannazaro, and if their names are undying, the same can
hardly be said of their Latin works. But there was a deeper reason.
Petrarch attempted epic composition without epic inspiration. His
genius was entirely lyric, and his poetry has little value except where
it palpitates with lyrical feeling. When he writes on the misfortunes
of his country, he is a poet even when writing in Latin; and his great
Latin epic, the _Africa_, too often tame, notwithstanding its true
natural feeling, sometimes, especially when near the end of the poem
he speaks of himself, kindles into poetry. The Latin verses placed by
Coleridge on the half-title of his own love-poems in _Sibylline Leaves_
are almost as exquisite as the tenderest passages of the _Canzoniere_
itself[6]:


      _Quas humilis tenero stylus olim effudit in ævo,
      Perlegis hic lacrymas, et quod pharetratus acuta
      Ille puer puero fecit mihi cuspide vulnus.
      Omnia paulatim consumit longior ætas,
      Vivendoque simul morimur, rapimurque manendo.
      Ipse mihi collatus enim non ille videbor:
      Frons alia est, moresque alii, nova mentis imago,
      Voxque aliud sonat.
      Pectore nunc gelido calidos miseremur amantes,
      Jamque arsisse pudet. Veteres tranquilla tumultus
      Mens horret, relegensque alium putat ista locutum._

Although Petrarch preferred Latin to Italian in the abstract, and
even affected to undervalue Dante because his chief works were
composed in the vulgar tongue, he acknowledged that he had missed
the perfection in Latin which he was conscious of having attained in
Italian. His only prose-writings with any significance for us now are
the autobiographic. Some of his ethical disquisitions, however, if they
had come down from classic times, would have been regarded as precious
monuments of antiquity. The most important of these is the _De Remediis
utriusque Fortunæ_ (1356), in two books, the first treating of the
snares of prosperity, the second arming the soul against adversity.
The reflections are forcibly expressed, but in themselves somewhat
trite. His tract _De sua et aliorum Ignorantia_ (1361), on the other
hand, abounds with energy, and gives a lively picture of the strife in
his bosom between the humanistic scholar and the orthodox Christian.
More vital still, at least after some pedantic digressions have been
discarded, is his _Secretum, sive de Contemptu Mundi_ (1342), where
the conflict in his mind between the sense of moral obligation and
his passion for Laura is so depicted as to render him the prototype
of Rousseau, and entitle us to derive one of the most characteristic
departments of modern literature from him. He is no less the father
of modern autobiography by the slight but charming sketch he has left
of himself in his _Epistola ad Posteros_, prefixed to the general
collection of his letters. It was a great discovery that the external
circumstances of a remarkable life are not the only ones worth relating.

The most important of all Petrarch’s Latin works is his collection
of Epistles, partly formed by himself in his lifetime, and greatly
enriched by the diligence of recent editors, especially Fracassetti.
These are not only of high interest from the portrait they convey of
the man himself, equally as an individual and as the ideal type of the
man of letters, but form a perpetual commentary on the manners and
customs of his age. Many, though composed by Petrarch, are written in
the names of sovereigns or public bodies; others are letters of warm
encouragement or warmer remonstrance to popes, emperors, and others who
then seemed, but only seemed, to have the world’s destinies in their
hands. In all his correspondence with the great, Petrarch, like Dante,
appears as the idealist, inspired by the remembrance of antiquity, and
urging upon the rulers of the day a more exalted course of action than
suited their dispositions, or, it must be admitted, was compatible
with the circumstances of the time. They on their parts seem to have
appreciated the honour of being lectured by such a man, and to have
permitted him to say what he pleased, satisfied that he could exert
no practical influence upon the course of politics. Printing and the
liberty of the press have now made the humblest newspaper scribe more
potent than the first man of letters of the fourteenth century. Some
of Petrarch’s epistles are of unique interest, such as the description
of his ascent of Mount Ventoux, of the great tempest at Naples, and
of the apparition of the ghost of the Bishop of Lombès, the first
circumstantial narrative of the kind, and perhaps to this day the best
authenticated.

Petrarch’s encouragement of classical study is not the least among
his titles to fame. He was the Erasmus of his age in so far as the
rudimentary condition of criticism allowed, and, in so far as his means
permitted, its Mæcenas. He discovered Cicero’s epistles to Atticus,
and, by his own statement, which there seems no sufficient reason
for rejecting, had at one time the lost treatise _De Gloria_ in his
hands. He yearned towards Homer and Plato, whom he could not read in
the original, but perused in translations. The fullest information
respecting his literary tastes, the extent of his library and his
knowledge of the classics, his borrowings and loans of manuscripts, his
copyists and his bindings, will be found in the excellent monograph
of Pierre de Nolhac, _Pétrarque et l’Humanisme_ (Paris, 1892). Many
manuscripts known to have belonged to him still exist, chiefly in
French public libraries. The story of the destruction of his books by
the neglect of the Venetians is groundless; they ought to have been
made over to the Republic after his death, but they never reached
Venice. The Aldine Italic type is said to have been modelled after
Petrarch’s handwriting, and the first book in which it was used was an
edition of the author whom he principally annotated, Virgil.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[4] Petrarch says on a Good Friday, but Good Friday did not fall on
April 6 in 1327, and the statement of the encounter having taken place
in church at all is inconsistent with other passages in his writings.

[5] “It is pleasing,” says Coleridge, in a note to his little-known
_Maximian_, “to contemplate in this illustrious man at once the
benefactor of his own times and the delight of the succeeding, and
working on his contemporaries by that portion of his works which is
least in account with posterity.”

[6] From the epistle to Barbatus, Coleridge says of the entire
composition: “Had Petrarch lived a century later, and, retaining all
his _substantiality_ of head and heart, added to it the elegancies and
manly politure of Fracastorius, Flaminius, Vida, and their co-rivals,
this letter would have been a classical gem” (_Anima Poetæ_, p. 263).



                              CHAPTER VI
                          PETRARCH AND LAURA


Petrarch’s activity as a scholar claimed so much larger a portion
of his time and thoughts than his _Canzoniere_, and the bulk of the
latter, considerable as it is, is so small in comparison with that
of the mass of his writings, that Symonds seems almost justified in
depreciating his work as an Italian lyrist in comparison with his
influence as a humanist. Yet Petrarch’s Latin works were like the
falling rain, which passes away as a distinct existence, though long
invisibly operative as a fertilising agent; while his poetry, confined
to a definite channel by the restraints of consummate diction and
style, flows in a crystal stream for ever. Here and there in other
men’s books, no doubt, an isolated love-strain of higher quality may
be found, but nothing approaching the _Canzoniere_ as an epitomised
encyclopædia of passion. The best is transcendently excellent; and if
many of the pieces, especially near the beginning, might well have been
dispensed with as far as their individual desert is concerned, they
still have their value as notes in a great harmony. As his translator
Cayley well remarks, “No poet has so fully represented the whole
world of love in every tone and variety of play and earnest, delight
and pain, enthusiasm and self-reproach, expostulation, rebellion,
submission, adoration, and friendship, or regret and religious
consolations leading gradually to another sphere of hope and devotion.”
One thing only is wanting to this encyclopædia of emotion, the rapture
of possession. This was not for Petrarch: throughout the first part he
is the yearning suitor, throughout the second the dejected mourner.
Hardly another man ever sighed or wept with so much constancy or so
little recompense.

Who was the object of this unique passion and perpetual grief? So
obscure are the circumstances that some have deemed Laura, like the
candlemaker’s widow at Père la Chaise, “une métaphore, un symbole.”
Petrarch’s friend, the Bishop of Lombès, suspected as much, but
Petrarch indignantly protested, and after a while refuted the surmise
by a manuscript note in his Virgil, to be treated more fully hereafter.
Apart from this, it seems strange that scepticism should have survived
his avowal, on a serious occasion, the composition of his address to
posterity; where he speaks of his affection for Laura as his sole
incitement to worthy fame, and of her own reputation as something
entirely independent of his praises. “What little I am, such as it
is, I am through her; and if I have attained to any fame or glory, I
had never possessed it if the few grains of virtue which Nature had
deposited in my soul had not been cultivated by her with such noble
affection. What else did I desire in my youth than to please her,
and her alone, who alone had pleased me?” The strongest testimony,
however, is that of the poems themselves, which are full of traits and
descriptions evidently derived from real life, and which would lose all
their charm if they could be deemed imaginary. Take this for example:

      _As Love pursued me in the wonted glade,
        Wary as he, who weening foe to find,
        Guards every pass, and looks before, behind,
      I stood in mail of ancient thought arrayed:
      When, sideways turned, I saw by sudden shade
        The sun impeded, and, on earth outlined
        Her shape, who, if aright conceives my mind,
      Meetest for immortality was made.
      I said unto my heart, 'Why dost thou fear?’
        But ere my heart could open to my thought,
        The beams whereby I melt shone all around;
      And, as when flash by thunder-peal is caught,
        My eyes encounter of those eyes most dear
        And smiling welcome simultaneous found._

How natural and pleasing if the incident be real! and how marvellous
the poetical power which can raise such an edifice out of such a
trifle! On the other hand, how insipid if the little event, instead of
a ripple on the surface of life arrested by the poet’s art ere it has
had time to pass into nothingness, be but a fiction to enable him to
say a pretty thing! The author of so frigid a contrivance could never
have been the author of the _Canzoniere_.

But though Laura’s actual existence is certain, her identity is
a subject of everlasting controversy. The popular belief near to
Petrarch’s own day is expressed by an anonymous biographer, who,
writing, as is thought, near the end of the fourteenth century,
calls her Loretta, and, by adding that the Pope offered Petrarch a
dispensation from his ecclesiastical vows in order to marry her,
clearly indicates that she was believed to be a single woman. The Abbé
de Sade, however, in his life of Petrarch, published in 1767, adduces
much documentary and other evidence to identify her with Laura, born De
Noves, wife of Hugo de Sade, and an ancestress of the Abbé’s own. With
one important exception, to be mentioned shortly, the Abbé’s proofs are
of little weight; they establish the existence of a Laura de Sade, but
by no means that she was Petrarch’s Laura. An account of the discovery
of Laura de Sade’s tomb in 1533, authenticated by some very bad verses
attributed to Petrarch found within it, although itself genuine,
evidently records a clumsy fabrication.

One advantage the Abbé’s theory certainly has, the production of an
unanswerable reason why Petrarch did not marry Laura; but, on the other
hand, his ecclesiastical orders might be a sufficient impediment.
The Papal dispensation which might have relieved him of them must
surely have relieved him of his preferments also; and if the story is
authentic, the offer came in all probability from Clement VI., the
Pope by whom he was chiefly favoured, who did not attain the tiara
until 1342, fifteen years after his first acquaintance with Laura,
when Laura’s health seems to have been much impaired, and he may well
have thought the time gone by. The objections to his suit having been
addressed to a married woman seem almost insurmountable. If his flame
was Laura de Sade, she was the mother of a very numerous family, and
it appears all but incredible that he should have inscribed so much
verse to her both in her lifetime and after her death, and discussed
his passion so freely in his Dialogae without the slightest allusion
to husband or children; or that the identity of a lady holding so high
a position, and celebrated in verses read all over Italy, should so
long have remained obscure; or that he should have enjoyed such freedom
of access to her as he evidently did. The idea, moreover, seems quite
inconsistent with the tenor of the celebrated sonnet, _Tranquillo porto
avea mostrato Amore_:

      _Love had at length a tranquil port displayed
        To travailed soul, long vexed by toil and teen,
        In calm maturity, where naked seen
      Is Vice, and Virtue in fair garb arrayed.
      Bare to her eyes my heart should now be laid,
        Disquieted no more their peace serene--
        O Death! what harvest of long years hath been
      Ruin by thee in one brief moment made!
      The hour when unreproved I might invoke
        Her chaste ear’s favour, and disburden there
        My breast of fond and ancient thought, drew nigh:
      And she, perchance, considering as I spoke
        Each bloomless face and either’s silvered hair,
        Some blessed word had uttered with a sigh._

The thought manifestly is, that if Laura had lived a short time longer
their intimacy would have given no occasion for scandal. This might
be true of an unmarried lady or a widow, hardly of a wife. The sonnet
also proves that Petrarch and Laura were nearly of an age, refuting
Vellutello’s opinion on this point. Salvatore Betti, moreover, has
found another Laura, fulfilling, in his estimation, all requisites as
well as the Abbé de Sade’s.

It must, notwithstanding, be acknowledged that there is one piece
of documentary evidence almost sufficient to prove the Abbé’s theory
in the teeth of all objections, could we but be certain of its
genuineness. This is the will of Laura de Sade, made in a condition of
extreme sickness on April 3, 1348. We know on Petrarch’s own authority
that his Laura died on April 6, for the genuineness of the note in his
Virgil where he records this fact is now regarded as incontestable.
That two ladies of the name of Laura were dying at or near Avignon at
the same time is clearly improbable. But is the will itself authentic?
or may it not have been altered or interpolated? The Abbé cites it as a
document in his family archives; its existence is attested by several
persons in the eighteenth century; but it does not appear to have been
submitted to the scrutiny of any expert, nor can we learn whether such
an examination has ever been made since, or whether the testament is
now producible[7]. Should its authenticity ever be demonstrated, but
hardly otherwise, we shall be almost compelled to embrace a belief
liable in every other point of view to formidable objections.


Although Laura, as depicted by Petrarch, is the most ethereal feminine
ideal ever conceived, his passion was certainly not of the Platonic
kind. The contrary has been asserted, but is contradicted by every
page of the _Canzoniere_, which is full of reproaches to Laura for her
cruelty, incomprehensible if she was not withholding very substantial
favours. He certainly did not want for encouragements of a more
spiritual nature:

      _The mist of pallor in such beauteous wise
        The sweetness of her smile did overscreen,
        That my thrilled heart, upon my visage seen,
      Sprang to encounter it in swift surprise.
      How soul by soul is scanned in Paradise
        Then knew I, unto whom disclosed had been
        That thought pathetic by all gaze unseen
      Save mine, who solely for such sight have eyes.
      All look angelical, all tender gest
        That e’er on man by grace of woman beamed
        At side of this had shown discourtesy.
      The gentle visage, modestly depressed
        Earthward, inquired with silence, as meseemed,
        'Who draws my faithful friend away from me?'_

Long after this, which surely should have satisfied a Platonic lover,
he is looking forward to a more perfect consummation of his wishes:

      _Love sends me messengers of gentle thought,
        Since days of yore our trusty go-between,
        And comforts me, who ne’er, he saith, have been
      So near as now to hopes fruition brought._

What hope’s fruition was we learn from numerous sonnets composed after
the death of Laura, in which the poet expresses his thankfulness that
his mistress did not yield to his too ardent entreaties, but kept him
in order by her frowns, a function attributed to her even in the first
book of sonnets:

      _O happy arts of excellent effect!
        I labouring with the tongue, she with the glance,
        Have glory there, and virtue here bestowed._

Laura’s attitude towards Petrarch seems not ill expressed in the sonnet
composed in the eighteenth century by Ippolito Pindemonte:

      _To thee, immortal lady lowly laid
        Where Sorga glassed thy loveliness divine.
        I bow in worship; not because was thine
      The beauty solely for the coffin made;
      But for the soul that animating swayed,
        And, cold and colder growing, did incline
        Brighter and brighter yet to soar and shine
      Thy lover’s flame of passion unallayed.
      For certes his lament had seemed misplaced,
        And much the pathos of his music marred,
        Had not his lady been so very chaste:
      Come, grateful Italy, with fond regard,
        To kiss the tomb by such a tenant graced,
        And bless the dust that gave thee such a bard._

This peculiar relation of Laura to Petrarch as a monitress, no less
than an object of adoration, goes far to establish the reality of his
passion, which is exactly that which men frequently entertain for women
a little older than themselves, and whom they deem in some measure or
some respect their superiors. He feels himself ennobled by his love, a
sentiment expressed with great force in the tenth sonnet, one of the
earliest, and in many others, especially the beautiful Sonnet clii.:

      _Soul, that such various things with various art
        Dost hearken, read, discourse, conceive and write;
        Fond eyes, and thou, keen sense framed exquisite
      To bear her holy message to the heart:
      Rejoice ye that it hath not been your part
        To gain the road so hard to keep aright
        Too late or soon for beacon of her light,
      Or guidance her imprinted steps impart.
      Now with such beam and such direction blest
        ’Twere shameful in brief way to miss the sign
       Pointing the passage to eternal rest.
      Upward, faint soul, thy heavenward path incline;
        Through clouds of her sweet wrath pursue thy quest,
        Following the seemly step and ray divine._

We do not know whether Petrarch had written any poetry before he
tuned his lyre to hymn Laura. His beginnings (the exquisite initial
sonnet being in fact the last written of any) are at first feeble and
uncertain. It is not until arriving at Sonnet xxii. that he strikes a
note worthy of his mature power, and he continues unequal up to about
Sonnet lx., when masterpieces begin to occur with frequency; from this
point onwards the proportion of absolutely insignificant poems is
comparatively small. The interspersed sestines and ballate add little
to his reputation; not so the canzoni, which are among his noblest
productions. Traces of a chronological arrangement are evident; thus
his secession to the Sorga gives birth to a group of sonnets with which
those denouncing the Papal Court at Avignon are intimately connected;
and in general the poems show a continuous development of style, but
there are some signal exceptions. Towards the end of the first book
his Muse would seem in danger of flagging, were she not stimulated
by forebodings of the death of Laura. The pieces expressing this
apprehension form a well-marked group, which may be associated with the
doubts and fears which, after Laura’s decease, he tells us beset him on
his last parting with her (1347):

      _The lovely eyes, now in supernal sphere
        Bright with the light whence life and safety rain,
      Leaving mine mendicant and mourning here,
        Flashed with new mood they seemed to entertain,
      Saying to these: Take comfort, friends most dear,
        Not here but elsewhere shall we meet again._

Mestica, the most critical of Petrarch’s editors, seems to think that
he wrote no more on Laura in her lifetime after the great spiritual
change which he supposes him to have undergone in 1343, when he wrote
his dialogue with St. Augustine. We see but slight evidence of any such
metamorphosis.

The second book of the _Canzoniere_, comprising the pieces composed
after the death of Laura, resembles the first in their comparative
inferiority at the beginning, after a fine introductory sonnet. Either
Petrarch’s grief had paralysed his powers, or he had not fully realised
his loss, or he had not yet hit upon the fitting tone. In a short time,
however, he regains his true self, and the second part is generally
deemed to excel the first, as pathos excels passion. It is not that the
artist is more consummate, but the capabilities of his instrument are
greater. The poems generally fall into two groups--laments for Laura’s
loss, or consolation derived from the realisation of her presence on
earth or in heaven. An example of each must be given:

      _The eyes whose praise I penned with glowing thought,
        And countenance and limbs and all fair worth
        That sundered me from men of mortal birth,
      From them dissevered, in myself distraught;
      The clustering locks with golden glory fraught;
        The sudden-shining smile, as angels’ mirth,
        Wonted to make a paradise on earth;
      Are now a little dust, that feels not aught.
      Still have I life, who rail and rage at it,
        Lorn of Love’s light that solely life endears;
        Mastless before the hurricane I flit.
      Be this my last of lays to mortal ears;
        Dried is the ancient fountain of my wit,
        And all my music melted into tears._

      _Exalted by my thought to regions where
        I found whom earthly quest hath never shown,
        Where Love hath rule ’twixt fourth and second zone;
      More beautiful I found her, less austere.
      Clasping my hand, she said, 'Behold the sphere
        Where we shall dwell, if Wish hath truly known.
        I am, who wrung from thee such bitter moan;
      Whose sun went down ere evening did appear.
      My bliss, too high for man to understand,
        Yet needs thee, and the veil that so did please.
        Now unto dust for briefest season given.’
      Why ceased she speaking? why withdrew her hand?
        For, rapt to ecstasy by words like these,
        Little I wanted to have stayed in Heaven._

This latter mood is in general the more characteristic of Petrarch.
Towards the end it prevails more and more, but the same falling-off
is observable as in the former book. Petrarch’s religious sonnets are
exquisite when they involve a direct vision of Laura, but otherwise
they are apt to become tame and conventional. It is almost a pity that
the most notable exception should ever have been written, though it
ranks among his masterpieces:

      _Ever do I lament the days gone by,
        When adoration of a mortal thing
        Bound me to earth, though gifted with a wing
      That haply had upraised me to the sky.
      Thou, unto whom unveiled my errors lie,
        Celestial, unbeheld, eternal King,
        Help to the frail and straying spirit bring,
      And lack of grace with grace of Thine supply.
      So shall the life in storm and warfare spent
        In peaceful haven close; if here in vain
        Her tarrying, seemly her departure be.
      Aid me to live the little life yet lent;
        Expiring strength with Thy strong arm sustain:
        Thou knowest I have hope in none but Thee._

Were this more than a passing mood, it would be painful indeed that
Petrarch should have lived to deem his devotion to Laura misspent,
and nothing short of ludicrous that he should have accused himself
of missing by his _Canzoniere_ the renown which epics or tragedies
might have ensured him. Such a passing mood it must have been, for it
is contradicted by the succeeding pieces. The book concludes with an
impassioned hymn to the Virgin, which may have suggested to Goethe the
analogous conclusion of _Faust_.

The _Canzoniere_ is completed by the _Trionfi_, allegorical shows
entirely in the taste of the Middle Ages, which we shall find repeated
in Francesco Colonna’s _Polifilo_. Petrarch successively sings the
might of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity, set forth
in the long processions of their captives or votaries. A certain
circumscription is essential to the full display of Petrarch’s genius,
and _terza rima_, a metre favourable to diffuseness, does not exhibit
his powers to such advantage as the severe restriction of his sonnets
and canzoni. The poem, nevertheless, if a little garrulous, charms
by deep feeling and a succession of delightful if not transcendent
beauties. The finest portion is the Triumph of Death, when Laura
appears, and addresses the poet to much the same effect as in his
sonnets written after her decease. “L’on est vraiment touché de voir
que dans un âge avancé Pétrarque ne se consolait encore de l’avoir
perdue qu’en se rappelant et se retraçant dans ses vers tout ce qui
lui faisait croire que Laura en effet l’avait aimé” (Ginguené). It was
begun in 1357, and is not entirely complete, though Petrarch continued
to add and retouch until within a very short time of his death. The
last lines relate to Laura, who, present or absent, is always the
inspiration of the poem. Petrarch evidently wrote greatly under the
influence of his reminiscences of Dante, and this may account for his
unwillingness, frequently attributed to unworthy jealousy, to concern
himself with his predecessor in his latter years. He knew that Dante’s
spirit was more potent than his, and feared to be subjugated by it, as
has happened to many. He has himself been imitated by Shelley in the
_Triumph of Life_.

The odes with which the _Canzoniere_ is interspersed are no less
beautiful than the sonnets, but are less adapted for quotation, since
it is impossible to give any one in its entirety, and they must greatly
suffer by abridgement. There is, however, a certain completeness in the
first three stanzas of _Chiare, fresche, e dolci acque_, excellently
translated by Leigh Hunt:

      _Clear, fresh, and dulcet streams,
      Which the fair shape who seems
      To me sole woman, haunted at noon-tide;
      Fair bough, so gently fit
      (I sigh to think of it),
      Which lent a pillow to her lovely side;
      And turf, and flowers bright-eyed,
      O’er which her folded gown
      Flowed like an angel’s down;
      And you, oh holy air and hushed,
      Where first my heart at her sweet glances gushed;
      Give ear, give ear with one consenting,
      To my last words, my last, and my lamenting._

      _If’tis my fate below,
      And Heaven will have it so,
      That love must close these dying eyes in tears,
      May my poor dust be laid
      In middle of your shade,
      While my soul naked mounts to its own spheres.
      The thought would calm my fears,
      When taking, out of breath,
      The doubtful step of death;
      For never could my spirit find
      A stiller port after the stormy wind,
      Nor in more calm, abstracted bourne
      Slip from my travailed flesh, and from my bones outworn
      Perhaps, some future hour,
      To her accustomed bower
      Might come the untamed, and yet the gentle she;
      And where she saw me first,
      Might turn with eyes athirst
      And kinder joy to look again for me;
      Then, oh, the charity!
      Seeing amid the stones
      The earth that held my bones,
      A sigh for very love at last
      Might ask of Heaven to pardon me the past;
      And Heaven itself could not say nay,
      As with her gentle veil she wiped the tears away._

Not much need be said of Petrarch’s character, whether as poet,
scholar, or man. As a poet he deserves to be numbered among the few
who have attained absolute perfection within a certain sphere; to whom
within these limits nothing can be added, though much may be taken
away. The subtraction of the trivial or fantastic from Petrarch’s verse
leaves, nevertheless, a mass of love-poetry transcending in amount
no less than in loveliness all poetry of the same class from the pen
of any other man. If immortality is deservedly awarded to a single
masterpiece like the _Burial of Sir John Moore_ or the _Pervigilium
Veneris_, it should not be difficult to estimate his claims whose
similar masterpieces are counted by scores. Perhaps the greatest of his
beauties is the complete naturalness of his ceaseless succession of
thoughts transcendently exquisite. If Petrarch has not the thrilling
note or transparent spirituality of Dante, his perfect form represents
a higher stage of artistic development--too high, indeed, to be
maintained by his successors. A just parallel might be drawn between
the three great sonnet-writers of the Latin peoples, Dante, Petrarch,
Camoens; the three orders of architecture, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian;
and the three great ancient dramatists.

It is noteworthy that Petrarch does not appear as the representative
poet of the mediæval or of any other period. Horace and Ovid would
have admired him as much as his contemporaries did, and he is as fresh
and bright in the nineteenth as in the fourteenth century. Many have
pursued him, none have overtaken him. His prose works, on the contrary,
bear the stamp of their age, and exist for ours mainly as curiosities
and documentary illustrations of bygone manners and ways of thinking.
This was inevitable; he could not have been the literary sovereign of
his age had he been very greatly in advance of it. He looked down upon
it sufficiently to dislike it, as he tells us, and prepare a better. As
a man he had shining virtues and few faults, except such as are almost
inseparable from the characters of poets, orators, and lovers, and
which men like Dante only avoid at the cost of less amiable failings.
His nearest parallel is perhaps with Cicero, and would appear closer
if Petrarch had, or Cicero had not, been called upon to take a highly
responsible part in public affairs.

Of Petrarch’s vast influence upon English poetry since the time of
Wyatt and Surrey, who may be justly called his disciples, it is
needless to say anything, except that it is even more to be traced in
the general refinement of diction than by the imitation of particular
passages.

The best critical edition is Mestica’s, founded mainly upon
scrupulous examination of a manuscript partly written by Petrarch
himself, partly by an amanuensis under his direction. It may almost
be wished that Mestica had not such good authority for some of his
disturbances of time-hallowed readings. By much the best exegetical
commentary is Leopardi’s, a model of pregnant conciseness, and
invaluable for clearing up difficulties, although frequently proffering
explanation where explanation seems needless. The late Henry
Reeve’s English biography, though condensed, is fully adequate. The
appreciation of the Petrarchan sonnet-forms, never to be tampered with
without detriment, has been mainly promoted in England by the late
Charles Tomlinson.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[7] Koerting distinctly affirms that it is not. The history of Carlyle
and the Squire Papers evinces the extreme danger of touching, tasting,
or handling in similar cases.



                              CHAPTER VII
                               BOCCACCIO


If the works of the third great Italian writer cannot be compared to
Dante’s for sublimity, or to Petrarch’s for perfection of style, the
most important of them is of even greater significance in the history
of culture. By his _Decameron_ GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO[8] endowed his
country with a classic prose, and won for himself a unique place as the
first modern novelist.

Boccaccio always speaks of himself as “of Certaldo,” a small Tuscan
town under Florentine dominion, where he possessed some properly. It
would seem, however, from his own expressions, not to have been his
birthplace. This was most probably Florence. The early legend of his
birth at Paris rests upon a too absolute identification of himself
with a character in his _Ameto_. His birth probably took place in
1313; and, if not early orphaned of his mother, he must have been an
illegitimate child. His father, a Florentine merchant of the prudent
and thrifty type, had him taught grammar and arithmetic, sent him into
a counting-house at thirteen, and four years afterwards placed him
with a mercantile firm at Naples. When, after two years, the youth’s
distaste to trade proved insuperable, the father made him study law at
the Neapolitan University. It is not likely that he gave much attention
to so dry a subject amid the distractions of the lively city, where
he was insensibly receiving the inspiration of his future poetry and
fiction.


Notwithstanding the accusation of stinginess brought against his
father, Boccaccio must apparently have possessed considerable means,
mixing in the best society of Naples. He probably owed much to the
Florentine extraction of Nicola Acciajuoli, a leading personage, and
subsequently Grand Seneschal of the kingdom. By 1338 he had progressed
so far as to fall in love with the lady he has celebrated as Fiammetta,
but whose real name was Maria, putative daughter of the Count of
Aquino, but generally believed to be the offspring of King Robert
himself. Fiammetta was married. The degree in which she returned his
passion is uncertain, but she appears to have exerted considerable
influence upon his career as an author. He composed the _Filocopo_
for her entertainment about 1339, and the close of his activity as
an imaginative writer about twelve years afterwards coincides with
the probable period of her death. _Ameto_ and _Fiammetta_, in both
of which she is celebrated were written after Boccaccio’s return to
Florence whither he was recalled by his unsympathising father about
1340; here the wild oats sown at Naples came up in a plentiful crop of
fiction and poetry. Literary productions must have occupied most of
Boccaccio’s time until 1345, when, probably on account of his father’s
remarriage, he returned to Naples, where he is said to have begun the
_Decameron_ under the patronage of Queen Joanna. In 1348 the pestilence
which devastated Florence carried off his father. Boccaccio returned
in 1349 to arrange family affairs, and thenceforth appears in quite
a new light, as a trusty diplomatist, the author of various manuals
(_Genealogiæ deorum gentilium_, _De casibus virorum illustrium_, &c.)
of the information most sought for in the age, and, under Petrarch’s
direction, a chief agent in the promotion of humanistic studies. Copies
of Terence and Apuleius are extant in his handwriting.

One of Boccaccio’s first duties after he had settled himself in his
native city was to entertain Petrarch upon his visit in 1350, and one
of his first public missions, performed in the following year, was to
solicit him to fix his residence at Florence and enter the service of
the Republic. Petrarch declined to entrust his repose to so unstable
a community, but his acquaintance with Boccaccio ripened into an
intimacy which might have been compared to that of Goethe and Schiller
if Boccaccio had not gracefully and judiciously assumed a tone of
deference to the acknowledged sovereign of contemporary literature. He
is indefatigable in literary suit and service. His piety towards Dante
as well as Petrarch leads him to transcribe for the latter the _Divine
Comedy_. His equal affection for Petrarch and classical studies made
him at Petrarch’s instigation entertain an erudite but uncomfortable
Greek, Leontius Pilatus, who rendered Homer for him into very lame
Latin; but still it was Homer that he read; while the mediæval epicist
of the Trojan war, Josephus Iscanus, had known his theme only in Dares
Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis.

Landor has delightfully depicted a supposed visit of Petrarch to
Boccaccio at Certaldo; one only regrets that the conversation of the
poets should turn so exclusively on Dante. Petrarch rendered his
friend one inestimable service in dissuading him from the renunciation
of the world, into which he had been almost scared by the prophecies
and denunciations of an expiring monk. Boccaccio nevertheless so
far profited by these admonitions as to write nothing more to which
morality could take exception. Shortly before his end he received one
of the most honourable and appropriate commissions with which he could
have been entrusted, that of delivering public lectures on Dante, which
he had carried down to the seventeenth canto of the _Inferno_, when
death overtook him on December 21, 1375.

The _Filocopo_, Boccaccio’s first and longest work of fiction, would
be thought intolerably tedious at the present day, when one must be
indeed [Greek: philokopos] to get through it. It forms nevertheless
a most important landmark in the history of literature, for it
signalises the transition from the metrical romance to the pure novel.
Something similar had been attempted two centuries earlier in the
delightful miniature romance of mingled prose and verse, _Aucassin and
Nicolette_, but the example had not been followed. About the middle
of the thirteenth century the _Novellino_ had been compiled with a
distinct moral purpose, but its hundred tales are rather anecdotes
than novelettes. The _Filocopo_ is founded upon the ancient lay of
Floris and Blanchefleur, which Boccaccio has converted into prose, with
a copious admixture of new incidents, characters, and descriptions.
There is little semblance of probability in the incidents, or accurate
delineation in the characters, while the diction, though polished,
is full of what would now be justly considered affectation and bad
taste. In the fourteenth century it was neither, but the faithful
image of the mental ferment inevitably produced by the irruption of
the classical spirit into the contracted world of the Middle Age.
Everything, indeed, was confused and bewildered; as the blind man
suddenly restored to sight saw men as trees, so the classical forms
appeared most strangely distorted in the mediæval atmosphere. This
ignorance, which might have excited the reprehension of critics in
Boccaccio’s age, had such then existed, is the salvation of his book
in ours: his mistaken erudition has become charming naïveté, and the
eloquence which no longer impresses at least amuses. For its own day
the _Filocopo_ was an epoch-making work, and traces of its style may be
met with until the displacement of the ideal romance by the novel of
manners, a development of which the fourteenth century had no notion;
although Petronius, as yet unknown, had given an example as early as
the age of Nero. Boccaccio’s affinities are rather with Apuleius, whom
he frequently follows in the _Decameron_.

The _Ameto_ of Boccaccio also possesses considerable importance
in literary history, being the first well-defined modern instance
of an important _genre_, the pastoral romance, afterwards carried
to perfection by Sannazaro and Montemayor; and also of a literary
artifice, the interweaving of several stories to compose a whole. The
stories are not very attractive, and the combination is not very well
managed, but the idea was an important contribution to literature, and,
though Longus is more likely to find emulators than Boccaccio, the
pastoral romance still has a future before it. The tales are supposed
to record the experiences of shepherdesses who personify the virtues,
and that placed in the mouth of Fiammetta is certainly in some measure
autobiographical.

More autobiographical still, and consequently nearer to the truth
of nature, is the romance called after Fiammetta, the precursor of
the modern psychological novel, although a germ that long remained
unproductive in unkindly soil. Written, probably, about 1346, it is
half-way in style between the _Filocopo_ and the _Decameron_, and the
plot is simplicity itself in comparison with the bewildering intricacy
of the former. It is merely Fiammetta’s own detail of her unfortunate
passion for a young Tuscan, and her lamentation for his inconstancy
after his recall to his home by a stern father. The auto-biographical
element is unquestionable, but it is extremely unlikely that Boccaccio
would have accused himself of infidelity in the person of Pamfilo. It
has been conjectured to be the work of some anonymous writer who took
him as a hero; but had this been so, the fact would assuredly have
come to light. It is more probable that it represents, not Fiammetta’s
feelings, but his own, and that, to avoid gossip, or for artistic
reasons, he inverted the situation and the characters. Fiammetta
undoubtedly excites more interest than Pamfilo could have done, and her
sufferings appear in a more tragic light as the penalty of her breach
of conjugal fidelity.

It may also well be the case that Boccaccio, finding his affection for
Fiammetta on the wane, anticipated Goethe by hastening to cleanse his
bosom of the perilous stuff while it yet retained sufficient vitality
for the purposes of art. However this may be, Fiammetta has the merits
and defects of Werther, real pathos and truth to nature associated
with the tedium hardly separable from a long monologue, however well
composed; and Boccaccio’s style here, although a great advance on
that of the _Filocopo_, still suffers from ambitious rhetoric and
a superfluity of adjectives. Great part of the book, nevertheless,
attains the level of true eloquence; and Boccaccio did much for prose
when he proved it to be an apt medium for the expression of passions
heretofore chiefly restricted to verse.

His fame, nevertheless, rests on his _Decameron_, for here he attained
the perfection which elsewhere he only indicated. Among many lights in
which this epoch-making book may be regarded is that of an alliance
between the elegant but superfine literature of courts and the vigorous
but homely literature of the people. Nobles and ladies, accustomed
to far-fetched and ornate compositions like the _Filocopo_, heard
the same stories which amused the common people, told in a style
which the uneducated too could apprehend and enjoy, but purged of all
roughness and vulgarity, and, in truth, such masterpieces of clear,
forcible prose as the greatest scholars had till then been unable to
produce. All that we know of Boccaccio leads to the conclusion that
his true mission was to have been a poet of the people, such an one
as the unknown balladists who in simple ages have given immortal form
to popular traditions, or as the Burnses and Heines who in artificial
periods have gone back to the fountains of popular song. Neither of
these was a possible part in the fourteenth century; but if Boccaccio
is in no respect archaic, the sap of his best work is drawn from the
soil of popular interest and sympathy.

Few of the stories are of Boccaccio’s invention; the originals of
some may be discovered in traditionary folk-lore, of others in French
fabliaux or classical or Oriental writers; very many are probably true
histories in every respect but for the alteration of the names. This
is Boccaccio’s best defence against the charge of licentiousness--he
did not, like so many others, write with the express purpose of
stimulating the passions, but reproduced the ordinary talk of hours
of relaxation, giving it the attraction of a pure and classic style.
The share of the ladies as narrators of or listeners to these loose
stories, so repugnant to ideal conceptions of the female character,
is not only explained by the manners of the time, but has greatly
contributed to the charm of his work by tempering its licence with a
refinement best appreciated by comparison with such similar collections
as the _Facetiæ_ of Poggio. After all, the sensuous element, though
conspicuous, is not predominant in the _Decameron_, and few books
contain more or finer traits of courtesy, humanity, and generosity.

Prose fiction had existed before Boccaccio, and his manner had been in
some measure anticipated by some of the tales which have found their
way into the _Cento Novelle Antiche_, but he was probably the first to
employ in Europe the Oriental device of setting his stories in a frame.
The structure of the _Decameron_ is too generally known to render it
necessary to more than barely mention its scheme as a succession of
stories told by ten persons in ten successive days, on the feigned
occasion of the retirement of a _lieta brigata_ to a delightful
retreat from the plague which devastated Florence in 1348. Many among
us will think that they ought to have remained to aid their perishing
fellow-countrymen, and, what is more, would themselves have done so.
But it would be absurd to blame the fourteenth century for a conception
of public duty and a completeness of organisation in public calamity
which did not and could not exist in it. Mediæval Italy produced but
one Florence Nightingale, and she was a saint. The step once taken, the
exclusion of all unpleasant tidings was its indispensable corollary;
and hence the scene of the story-telling, with its groves and orchards,
gardens and fountains, charming company and frank converse, has ever
remained one of the green spots on which imagination loves to rest.

Such an ideal of cultivated society afforded no room for the vivacity
of delineation so admirable in Chaucer’s portraits derived from all
classes; yet the prologue and the little introductory passages to each
day are, with their feeling for landscape and poetic truth, even more
delightful than the stories themselves. If, as seems probable, some
of these were composed at Naples before the pestilence, this lovely
framework must have been an afterthought. Of Boccaccio’s greatness
as a master of narrative, nothing need here be said, unless that his
progressiveness is even more surprising than his talent. Ten years
(1339-49) had sufficed to raise him from the eloquent but confused
and hyperbolical style of the _Filocopo_ to the perfection of Italian
narrative. He was now the unapproached model of later story-tellers,
who can, indeed, produce stronger effects by the employment of stronger
means, but have never been able to rival him on his own ground of easy,
unaffected simplicity.

Two minor works of Boccaccio, written subsequently to the _Decameron_,
deserve a word of notice--the _Corbaccio_, a lampoon upon a widow
who had jilted him, which does him no credit morally, but evinces
much satiric force; and the _Urbano_, a pretty little romance of the
identification of an emperor’s abandoned son--the genuineness of which,
however, has sometimes been doubted.

It was the constant destiny of Boccaccio to make epochs--producing
something absolutely or virtually new, and tracing out the ways in
which his successors, far as they might outstrip him, were bound to
walk. We have seen that the heroic, the pastoral, the familiar romance
owed, if not their actual birth, at least their first considerable
beginnings to him; and his activity was no less important in the domain
of narrative poetry. He may not have been the inventor of the octave
stanza, but undoubtedly he was the first to show its supreme fitness
for narrative, and thus mark out the channel in which the epic genius
of Italy has flowed ever since. The peculiar grace of her language,
and its affluence of rhymes, adapt it especially to this singularly
elegant, if not massive or sublime, form of versification, superior for
narrative purposes to the sinuous and digressive _terza rima_, or to
Italian counterfeits of the majestic blank verse of England. It could
not be expected that Boccaccio’s attempts should at first display all
the perfection his metre is capable of receiving, he is undoubtedly
lax and diffuse. Yet all the main recommendations of the octave are
discoverable in his _Teseide_ and _Filostrato_, poems especially
interesting to English readers from the imitation--frequently
translation--of them in Chaucer’s _Knight’s Tale_ and _Troilus_.
The _Teseide_ is the earlier, having been composed shortly after
Boccaccio’s return to Florence in 1340 for the gratification of his
Neapolitan mistress; while the _Filostrato_, apparently composed upon
his second visit to Naples about 1347, is a disguised satire upon her
inconstancy.

Both from the acuteness of feeling thus engendered, and from the
rapid progress Boccaccio had in the interim made in the poetic art,
the _Filostrato_ is the more powerful and poetical composition; the
prosperity of Troilus’s love while returned, for example, is described
in the liveliest colours and with the truest feeling. The _Teseide_,
on the other hand, has the advantage of a more dignified and heroic
story, known to the English reader, not only from Chaucer, but from
Dryden’s imitation of the latter in his _Palamon and Arcite_. It also
gave the plot to Fletcher’s _Two Noble Kinsmen_. Boccaccio’s source
is uncertain, but is believed to have been some Greek romance written
under the later Roman Empire. If so, he can only have been acquainted
with it in a Latin translation, now lost as well as the original. His
own poem was translated back into Greek in a miserable Romaic version
printed in 1529. For the tale of _Troilus and Cressida_ he had Guido de
Colonna’s history of the Trojan war, itself indebted for this episode
to an ancient metrical romance.

The little idyllic narrative _Ninfale Fiesolano_ is one of the most
attractive of Boccaccio’s minor writings. It relates the breach of
“Diana’s law” by one of her nymphs, and its tragical consequences--the
suicide of the lover, and the metamorphosis, or rather the assumption
of the nymph into the waters of a river; although the fruit of their
union survives to become a hero and found the city of Fiesole. If, as
is probable, somewhat later than the _Filostrato_, this pleasing little
story evinces Boccaccio’s increasing mastery of the octave couplet,
ease of narrative, and power of natural description. Had he continued
to compose in verse, he would probably have ranked higher among Italian
poets than he does now.

The _Amorosa Visione_ is an earlier and very different work. It is
written in _terza rima_, and betrays an evident ambition to imitate
Dante, while in its turn it has not been without influence on
Petrarch’s _Trionfi_. Like the latter, it testifies to the mediæval
love of allegories and stately shows, and may well have aided to
inspire the _Polifilo_ of Francesco Colonna. The poet is conducted
through a number of visions illustrative of the pomps and vanities of
the world, and the poem leaves off just as, by command of his mistress,
he is about to attempt the narrow way which he should have taken at
first. Written apparently for the entertainment of a courtly circle,
and encumbered with fantastic acrostics, it reveals little of the deep
feeling of its predecessor or its successor; but if regarded simply as
the description of a series of pageants, must be allowed the merits
of fertile invention and glowing colour. Boccaccio’s enthusiastic
praise of Dante, whom he calls the lord of all science, and the source
of everything, if there be anything, excellent in himself, is highly
honourable to him.

A good example of Boccaccio’s epic vein is afforded by the prayer of
Emilia to Diana in the _Teseide_, uttered when Palamon and Arcite are
about to fight for her sake. For this, as for several other versions,
the writer is indebted to Miss Ellen Clerke:

      _She thus in broken vows 'mid sighs began:
        “Chaste Goddess, who dost purify the glades,
      And of a maiden train dost lead the van,
        And him chastises who thy law evades,
      As lost Actæon learned in briefest span,
        Who, young and hapless, smit 'mid sylvan shades,
      Not by scourge whip, but by thy wrath celestial,
      Fled as a stag in transformation bestial._

      _“Hear, then, my voice, if worthy of thy care,
        While I implore by thy divinity,
      In triple form, accept my lowly prayer,
        And if it be an easy task to thee
      To perfect it--I prithee strive, if e’er
        Soft pity filled thy heart so cold and free
      For maiden client who in prayer addrest thee,
      And who for grace or favour did request thee._

      _“For I, a maiden of thy maiden train,
        Am fitter far, with quiver and with bow,
      To roam the forest, than 'neath love’s soft reign
        To do a husband’s will; and if thou go
      In memory back, thou must in mind retain
        How harder face than granite did we show
      ’Gainst headlong Venus’ law, based not on reason,
      But headlong passion, to its promptings treason._

      _“And if it be my better fate to stay
        A little maid amid thy vestal throng,
      The fierce and burning fumes do thou allay
        Sprung from desires so passionate and strong
      Of both the enamoured youths my love who pray,
        And both for joy of love from me do long,
      Let peace supplant between them war’s contention,
      Since grief to me, thou know’st, is their dissension._

      _“And if it be reserved for me by fate
        To Juno’s law subjected now to be,
      Ah, pardon thou my lapse from maiden state,
        Nor therefore be my prayer refused by thee;
      On others’ will, thou seest, condemned to wait,
        My actions must conform to their decree:
      Then help me, Goddess, hear my prayer thus lowly,
      Who still deserve thy favour high and holy.”_

Boccaccio thought little of his own poetry, would have destroyed his
sonnets but for the remonstrances of Petrarch, and laments that even
the incitement of Fiammetta is unavailing to spur him on to the Temple
of Fame. Yet in another place he says that he has spared no pains to
excel:

      _Study I have not spared, or scanted time:
      Now rest unto my labour I permit,
      Lamenting this so tittle could avail
      To raise me to that eminence sublime._

This judgment was unreasonably severe. It is true, nevertheless, that
Boccaccio would have gained more renown as a poet if the taste of his
time had permitted him to seek inspiration among the people for his
verses, as he did for his stories. How exquisite he could sometimes be
is shown by two of the sonnets translated by Rossetti--versions, it
must be owned, which surpass the originals:

      _Love steered my course, while yet the sun rode high,
        On Scylla’s waters to a myrtle-grove:
        The heaven was still and the sea did not move;
      Yet now and then a little breeze went by,
      Stirring the tops of trees against the sky:
        And then I heard a song as glad as love,
        So sweet that never yet the like thereof
      Was heard in any mortal company.
      “A nymph, a goddess, or an angel sings
        Unto herself, within this chosen place
        Of ancient loves,” so said I at that sound.
      And there my lady, 'mid the shadowings
        Of myrtle-trees, 'mid flowers and grassy space,
        Singing I saw, with others who sat round._

      _By a clear well, within a little field
        Full of green grass and flowers of every hue,
        Sat three young girls, relating (as I knew)
      Their loves; and each had twined a bough to shield
      Her lovely face; and the green leaves did yield
        The golden hair their shadow; while the two
        Sweet colours mingled, both blown lightly through
      With a soft wind for ever stirred and stilled.
      After a little while one of them said
        (I heard her), “Think! if ere the next hour struck,
        Each of our lovers should come here to-day,
      Think you that we should fly or feel afraid?”
        To whom the others answered, “From such luck
        A girl would be a fool to run away.”_

Apart from the merits of his writings, Boccaccio might rest a claim to
no ordinary renown as the creator of classic Italian prose; and even if
he had found this instrument ready to his hand, his work with it might
alone have assured him immortality. Perhaps he has a still higher title
to fame in his quality as a great originator, achieving, indeed, no
consummate work except the _Decameron_, but reconnoitring the unknown
world through which the human spirit travels, and opening out new paths
on every side as he steers “bound upon beating wing to golden bough.”
As the first effective exemplar of the heroic and pastoral romance and
of the epic in octave stanza, as the principal populariser of classical
lore, his influence will be felt to the end of time. The books which
gave him this power are, indeed, comparatively forgotten. On the other
hand, the great marvel of his _Decameron_ is its undying freshness.
The language is as terse and bright, the tale as readable as ever:
the commentator may exercise his research in detecting the sources of
the stories, but has little to do in explaining obsolete diction or
obsolete manners.

In morals and conduct, until his latter days, Boccaccio seems to have
been a perfect type of the gay and easy class of Florentine citizens,
and as remote as possible from the wary and penurious burghers depicted
in his tale of the Pot of Basil. Apart from the fair and courteous
presence revealed in the _Decameron_, his principal titles to moral
esteem are his disinterested love of culture, his enthusiasm for
his master Dante, and his obsequious yet graceful demeanour towards
Petrarch, embodying sentiments which could have found no entrance into
an ungenerous breast.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[8] When preceded by the Christian name, “Boccaccio” ought, in
strictness, to lose the final vowel, but this would seem pedantic in
English.



                             CHAPTER VIII
                         THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY


A just remark of Coventry Patmore’s on the contrast between Dante and
Shakespeare in their relation to their respective literatures might
be extended to the Italian literature of the fourteenth century in
general: it has lofty peaks, but little elevated table-land. Dante,
Petrarch, and Boccaccio tower above their contemporaries, who, viewed
from such eminences, are almost indiscernible. It might have been
expected, nevertheless, that the example of surpassing excellence,
which could complain of no want of popularity or recognition, would
have powerfully stimulated contemporaries and successors, and that, as
Homer gave birth to the Cyclic poets, and Alcæus followed in the wake
of Alcman, the great Italians would have appeared as the immediate
progenitors of epicists, lyrists, and novelists of kindred if inferior
power. On the contrary, the century from the death of Boccaccio to
the appearance of Lorenzo de’ Medici as a poet is the most barren in
Italian literary history. It produces no vernacular writer of genius,
and but few of eminent talent. It is indeed no reproach to it to have
brought forth no second Dante, or to have failed, like all other ages,
to reproduce the inimitable perfection of Petrarch. But it might have
been anticipated that the new ways opened out by Boccaccio alike in
metrical epic and in prose narrative would have been followed up, and
that history and allied branches of literature would have assumed a
classic form.

Little of the kind occurred, and classical study itself ceased to
produce a vivifying effect upon letters. This may have been partly
owing to excessive admiration for the ancient writers, degenerating
into pedantic imitation; partly from the great demand for Latin
translations from the Greek, and Latin official correspondence,
encouraging Latin composition at the expense of the vernacular; but
cannot be wholly explained by any cause peculiar to Italy, for the same
phenomenon manifested itself over Europe. Chaucer, who had carried the
poetry of England so high, had no successors; and it would be difficult
to point to a work of genius anywhere, except the _Imitatio Christi_,
which might have been produced in any Christian age, and the _Amadis of
Gaul_, the parent of the romances of chivalry, composed in Portugal or
Spain about the beginning of the fifteenth century. How far this is to
be ascribed to the Black Death, which, in sweeping away so much of the
existing generation, blighted so much of the hope of the future; how
far to calamities like the Great Schism and the Jacquerie; how far to
causes unfathomable by the human intellect, will always be a question.

Certain it is that, while material civilisation continued to develop,
and Leonardo Bruni, thinking only of the cultivation of Greek, is
able to say, “Letters at this time grew mightily in Italy,” creative
genius received a check; and the standard of public virtue in most
countries fell lower than it had ever been, or has been again. We can
only note the few who in Italy, otherwise than as classical scholars,
did anything to vindicate their age from the imputation of intellectual
barrenness. Two didactic poems with epic affinities, produced, one
shortly before, the other shortly after the death of Boccaccio, attest
more than pages of panegyric the power with which Dante controlled
the imaginations of his countrymen. FAZIO DEGLI UBERTI, a Florentine
of whose life little is known, except that he spent most of it in
exile, and died about 1367, seems to have thought that if Dante had
appropriated heaven, hell, and purgatory, the earth at least remained
for himself. He undertook to describe, in a number of cantos in _terza
rima_, his perlustration of it under the escort of a singular guide,
the Latin topographer Solinus. What Solinus is to Virgil, Uberti is
to Dante; yet, though an uninspired, he is not a contemptible writer.
His geographical epic the _Dittamondo_ (Discourse of the World) may
be unduly prejudiced in the eyes of English readers from Rossetti’s
rendering of a canto in blank verse. It would indeed have been a waste
of time to have striven to reproduce the original metre, yet Uberti’s
tercets glide with an ease and fluency of which the blank verse gives
no notion. The poem is not altogether destitute of poetical spirit;
one conception, that of the forlorn Genius of Rome herself guiding
the poet to her ruins, is truly fine, but force was wanting to work
it out. Otherwise it is chiefly interesting as a repertory of the
geographical knowledge and fancies of the age. The canto on England
has been translated by Rossetti, and is entertaining from its naïveté.
Uberti must have been an accomplished man, for he intersperses French
and Provençal verses with his Italian. He is more truly a poet in his
lyrical than in his epic performances, if, at least, the sonnets and
canzoni which pass under his name are really his. One, translated
by Rossetti, has so much poetical merit as to have been frequently
ascribed to Dante:

      _I look at the crisp golden-threaded hair
        Whereof, to thrall my heart, Love twists a net;
      Using at times a string of pearls for bait,
        And sometimes with a single rose therein.
      I look into her eyes, which unaware,
        Though mine own eyes to her heart penetrate;
        Their splendour, that is excellently great,
        To the sun’s radiance seeming near akin,
        Vet from herself a sweeter light to win.
      So that I, gazing on that lovely one,
        Discourse in this wise with my secret thought:
        “Woe’s me! why am I not,
      Even as my wish, alone with her alone,--
        That hair of hers, so heavily uplaid,
        To shed down braid by braid,
      And make myself two mirrors of her eyes
      Within whose light all other glory dies?_”

Another writer of mark, nearer than Fazio to Dante both in style and
subject, is FREDERICO FREZZI, citizen and bishop of Foligno, who died
at the Council of Constance in 1416. His _Quatriregio_, a moral poem
describing the author’s progress through the realms of Love, Pluto,
the Vices and Virtue, so close an imitation of Dante as to border upon
servility, is, notwithstanding, not a mean performance. Frezzi has
considerable rhetorical, if not much poetical power, and many passages
are really impressive. The diction also is good; but the book’s chief
repute at this day is among artists, on account of the remarkable
designs adorning the edition of 1506, which present an affinity to
Botticelli’s illustrations of Dante, and have been attributed, although
on insufficient authority, to Luca Signorelli. The poem was republished
at Foligno in 1725, with a learned commentary, of which it was in
great need. MATTEO PALMIERI’S poem, _Città di Vita_, probably much in
Frezzi’s style, arouses interest from its having been suppressed as
heretical, but its poetical merit has never yet sufficed to allure a
publisher. “The object,” says Symonds, who read it in MS., “is to show
how free-will is innate in men.” It is founded upon an actual vision,
according lo the assertion of the author.

Many other poets might be mentioned, but they are now mere names,
except SENUCCIO DEL BENE, chiefly renowned as Petrarch’s friend, but
himself a graceful writer, and two of considerably later date, of
one of whom it may be truly if paradoxically said that he is chiefly
remembered for being forgotten. This is DOMENICO BURCHIELLO, a standing
example of the fickleness of popular taste. He was a Florentine, who
lived from about 1400 to 1448, and composed numerous burlesque sonnets
_alla coda_ (with a tag of three lines), which retained sufficient
vitality to go through thirty editions soon after the invention of
printing, but are now inevitably neglected, inasmuch as the Florentine
slang in which they are mainly composed has ceased to be amusing, or
even intelligible. The other poet of the period, GIUSTO DE’ CONTI,
a jurist, who lived at the court of Sigismondo Malatesta, Prince
of Rimini, and died there about 1452, is remarkable as the chief
contemporary imitator of Petrarch, whom he followed with such servility
as greatly to impair the credit otherwise due to him for the sweetness
of his verse and the occasional dignity of his style. His collection
of sonnets, entitled _La Bella Mano_, from its perpetual reference to
the beauties of his lady’s hand, stands out at all events, as even
an inferior work might have done, from the almost total poetical
barrenness of the middle of the fifteenth century, otherwise only
relieved by the elegant sonnets of another Petrarchist, Bonaccorso da
Montemagno, and the popular carols which gained Leonardo Giustiniani
deserved reputation.

More genuine poetry is to be found in the occasional lyrics of two
writers near the end of the fourteenth century, chiefly eminent in
a different species of composition, the novelette. FRANCO SACCHETTI
and GIOVANNI FIORENTINO are artists in words, and men of true poetic
feeling. A canzonet of Sacchetti’s (the earliest Italian poet, says
Rossetti, with whom playfulness was a characteristic), _O vaghe
montanine pastorelle_, was so popular as to have been transmitted
for some generations by oral recitation, while his novelettes, until
printed in the eighteenth century, existed only in a single mutilated
manuscript. This is the conclusion of Rossetti’s translation of this
charming lyric:

      _I think your beauties might make great complaint
        Of being thus shown ever mount and dell;
      Because no city is so excellent
        But that your stay therein were honourable.
        In very truth now does it like you well
      To live so poorly on the hillside here?_

      _Better it liketh one of us, pardie,
        Behind her flock to seek the pasture-stance,
      Far better than it liketh one of ye
        To ride unto your curtained rooms and dance.
        We seek no riches, neither golden chance,
      Save wealth of flowers to weave into our hair._

      _Ballad, if I were now as once I was,
        I’d make myself a shepherd on some hill,
      And, without telling any one, would pass
        Where these girls went, and follow at their will,
        And “Mary,” and “Martin,” we would murmur still,
      And I would be for ever where they were._

This exquisite poem, however, rather belongs to the late fourteenth
than to the early fifteenth century, as do other songs of equal beauty
by Sacchetti and his contemporaries, which contrast favourably with
earlier Italian lyrics by their brevity and simplicity. This is partly
attributable to their having been in general written for music. Some
of the most charming examples have been collected in Carducci’s _Studi
Letterari_.

Sacchetti and Giovanni mark the termination of the _Trecentisti_
period. Many writings of their contemporaries have been printed as
models of pure diction, but are otherwise too unimportant to deserve
independent notice in a literary history[9]. After the beginning of
the fifteenth century Italian prose for a while declined, mainly from
the false standard of excellence produced by exaggerated enthusiasm
for the newly recovered classics. Neglecting the spirit, though only
too attentive to the letter, of these models, writers corrupted their
diction with Latinisms. The best books were histories, and the best
of these were written in Latin. It might have been said that to find
a really good vernacular historian we must go back to the fourteenth
century, were it not for the doubts which beset the alleged chronicle
of DINO COMPAGNI, which professedly details events at Florence
from 1286 to 1318. The question of its genuineness has aroused the
sharpest controversy, which cannot be regarded as even yet absolutely
determined: the prevailing opinion, however, seems to be that it is
a fabrication dating from about 1450. It is so entertaining that one
would wish it trustworthy.


GINO CAPPONI, a leading Florentine citizen of the latter fourteenth
and earlier fifteenth century, has left valuable memoirs of some of the
transactions in which he was engaged. The great Florentine historian
of the age, however, is GIOVANNI VILLANI, a characteristic embodiment
of all the better qualities of his city, who, inspired by ardent
patriotism, wrote its history, including a review of the contemporary
transactions of the world, from the Tower of Babel to 1346, on the
verge of the Black Death of 1348, by which he was himself carried off.
His work was continued by his brother Matteo and his nephew Filippo to
1368. Villani possessed every qualification which experience of public
business could afford, having filled several important offices, among
them those of Prior and Master of the Mint. His language is exceedingly
pure, his fidelity and impartiality are beyond suspicion, and he is
peculiarly valuable from his preservation of financial and economical
details, and other matters affecting ordinary life. He would have been
a model historian if he had lived when the spirit of critical inquiry
was awake, and historians had learned the delineation of character
and the artistic construction of narrative; he must, however, in this
case have forfeited the golden simplicity which renders his narrative
so delightful. His nephew Filippo, who lived far into the fifteenth
century, wrote in Latin the _Lives of Illustrious Florentines_, already
cited as an authority on Dante. His memoir of Boccaccio has been
frequently reprinted.

No place having hitherto occurred suitable for mention of the _Travels
of Marco Polo_, they, although belonging to the thirteenth century, may
find mention here. From the purely literary point of view they are of
no great importance, but as the first book that opened the knowledge of
the East to Europeans, their significance cannot be overrated. Mention
should also be made of another traveller, CIRIACO DI ANCONA, the first
archæologist, who, in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, set
the example of collecting inscriptions and works of antiquity.

The next prose author whom it is necessary to mention, ENEA SILVIO
PICCOLOMINI, afterwards Pope Pius the Second (1405-64), writing solely
in Latin, has no place in the literary history of the Italian language,
but is perhaps the most typical example of the fifteenth-century man
of letters, accomplished, versatile, adroit, imperfectly restrained by
principle, but inspired by a genuine zeal for culture and humanity. No
literary personage since Petrarch had displayed such various activity,
or, by his controversial, no less than by his diplomatic ability, had
exerted an equal influence in the affairs of Church and State. Apart
from the substantial merits of his writings, Æneas is a typical figure
as indicating that the pen was beginning to govern the world, and that
literary dexterity could make a Pope of a struggling adventurer. As
an author he has come down to our day by his Commentaries of his own
times, one of that valuable class of histories whose authors can say,
“Pars magna fui”; and by his _Euryalus and Lucretia_, a romance founded
on an actual occurrence, and noteworthy as a precursor of the modern
novel.

In LEONE BATTISTA ALBERTI (1404-72) we at length encounter a humanist
accomplished alike in the learned and the vulgar tongue; while, like
Leonardo da Vinci, to whom he offers a strong resemblance, less
remarkable for any particular work than for the universality of his
genius. An architect and mathematician, an engineer and the inventor
of the camera obscura, he was almost the first of the moderns to treat
these subjects scientifically, and extended his researches to painting
and sculpture. His literary celebrity, however, arises rather from his
treatise _Della Famiglia_, a model of practical wisdom, couched in the
clear and cheerful spirit of a Goethe, and affording a pleasing insight
into the Italian family life of the period, as yet unspoiled by luxury.
“What he says about the beauty of the body is worthy of a Greek, what
he says about exercise might have been written by an Englishman”
(Symonds). The third book, superior to the others in diction, has been
attributed to Agnolo Pandolfini, a distinguished Florentine statesman
of an earlier date, but Alberti’s claim to it seems satisfactorily
established. His _Iciarchia_, a treatise on the ideal prince, is
also a remarkable work; and his novelette, _Ippolito and Leonora_,
founded on a Florentine tradition, is distinguished by pathos and
simplicity. Alberti was the natural son of a Florentine exile, and
was born at Genoa. His early years were years of hardship. Restored
to his ancestral city, he there executed important architectural and
engineering works, and subsequently metamorphosed into a splendid
temple the old church at Rimini, which Sigismondo Malatesta dedicated
in its altered form to the memory of his mistress Isotta. He was
afterwards abbreviator of Papal briefs at Rome. Deprived of this
office, along with sixty-nine other eminent scholars, by the Philistine
but practical Pope Paul II., he devoted himself to architecture at
Florence and Mantua, and died at Rome in 1472.

The excellent VESPASIANO DA BISTICCI (1421-98), almost alone among
his literary contemporaries, followed a trade, being a bookseller at
Florence. He formed the great library of the first Duke of Urbino, and
has left particulars of his zeal in the preparation of illuminated
manuscripts, and a vigorous expression of his disesteem for printed
books in comparison with them. We are indebted to him for no fewer than
105 biographies of contemporaries, most of whom were personally known
to him. A few, of considerable length and elaboration, record the lives
of popes, kings, and cardinals; the great majority are brief and simple
notices of scholars and literary men, some of whom, but for Bisticci,
would be almost unknown. All are charming from their unaffected
simplicity and geniality, and the curious traits of the age which they
preserve.

Had GIOVANNI PONTANO (1426-1503) written in the vernacular, he
would have won a place equal to any contemporary’s as a poet, and
a place among prose-writers entirely his own. Though a statesman
and diplomatist, the confidant of the King of Naples, a philologist
beside, and the life and soul of the Neapolitan Academy, he is none
the less the Lucian and the Martial of his age; the lively satirist
and delineator of popular manners in his dialogues; in his verse a
genuine lyrist, careful of form as a Greek, animated and eager as if
he had been a born Neapolitan. His prose and verse palpitate with
feeling, and he gains life at the expense of Latinity. His historical
writings, though respectable, are of less mark; but as a popular poet
and satirist, Italian speech had an infinite loss in him. Even as it
is, he seems but one remove from a vernacular author. His dialogues had
probably much influence upon Erasmus. Another contemporary figure is
strange and enigmatical. We know but imperfectly who FRANCESCO COLONNA,
the author of the _Hypnerotomachia Poliphili_, was, and can only guess
why he composed his visionary romance in a macaronic jargon neither
Latin nor Italian. The book describes a vision in which Polifilo, after
viewing magnificent processions and going through various adventures,
ultimately obtains the hand of his lady, Polia, who has been identified
with Lucrezia Lello, daughter of a jurisconsult at Treviso. It is
barely readable, and yet its very inarticulateness gives it a charm
which it would not have possessed if the author had been another
Boccaccio. The soul of the Renaissance seems to have passed into it,
and to be dumbly yearning for a manifestation never found, “moving
apart in worlds not realised.” The impression is greatly assisted by
the unique illustrations to which it owes its preciousness in artistic
eyes, and whose origin is still an unsolved problem. Their lavish fancy
and skill in rendering every variety of expression by mere outline
are apparent to all; but behind these technical qualities lies the
suggestion of a romantic and far-away world, comparable to the Hades
adumbrated in the tender farewells on Greek sepulchral reliefs.

On the whole the literary harvest of the century following the death
of Petrarch was poor, and the seed dispersed by him and Boccaccio
seemed to have fallen upon barren ground. It was not, however, entirely
thus: some of the Latin poets, such as Baptista Mantuanus, Campanus,
Augurellus, whom we have been compelled to pass without special notice,
might have won durable renown if they had written in Italian; and
though there is little achievement in vernacular literature, several
branches of human activity are for the first time in modern Europe
brought under literary influence. The dearth of literary genius was
paralleled by an equal paucity of statesmen and warriors of real
greatness, though a Ziska or a Sforza appears here and there. Some
mysterious cause had depressed the intellectual vitality of the age,
which, nevertheless, continued to progress in social refinement and
in opulence. Its æsthetic sensitiveness was chiefly expressed in the
rapid development of pictorial and plastic art, and the renovation
of architecture; its literary ideal was mainly manifested by the
philological and critical apostles of the Renaissance, a remarkable
band, who must find place in another chapter. As was to be expected
under such circumstances, one of the features of the time was the
improvement of the old universities and the formation of private
societies of scholars, which expressed Italian intellectual needs as
clearly as the foundation of the Royal Society expressed English needs
at a later elate. Two achieved special celebrity--the Roman Academy,
persecuted by Pope Paul II. for its relapse into paganism, and the
Platonic Academy at Florence, cherished by the Medici. It fell to the
lot of the latter to solemnly decide, under the auspices of Lorenzo
de’ Medici, that the Italian language actually was on a par with the
Latin, and that a man of wit or learning need not fear to lose caste by
writing in it.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[9] Many will be found in a collection unfortunately published on too
limited a scale to be generally accessible, Daelli’s _Biblioteca Rara_.



                              CHAPTER IX
           THE POETICAL RENAISSANCE OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY


In characterising the original authors, apart from critics and
commentators, whom Italy produced during the first half of the
fifteenth century, we have omitted the men who really exerted the
most important influence upon literature. These form a group by
themselves--not one of Italian authors, for they rarely wrote in the
vernacular; scarcely one of authors at all, for they worked chiefly
as philologers. They are, however, much too important to be passed
over without notice, representing as they did the Renaissance in its
aspect as the rebirth of free thought and inquiry, a resurrection no
less momentous than the revival of art and letters, and preparing
the literary development which they were unable to effect. Few of
them were men of extraordinary mental power, but all were passionate
for the study of antiquity, and while, perhaps, intending to restore
Latin to its rank as the sole literary language, set forces at work
which deprived it of this primacy for ever. Even though Lorenzo de’
Medici might apologise for writing in a language condemned by men of
good judgment, and Varchi’s schoolmaster might punish him for reading
Petrarch, when men like Alberti took to cultivating the vernacular
speech in emulation of the Latin, it was clear that the latter had
already lost its monopoly.

The humanists had nevertheless in their own domain the great
advantage of being first in the field. They could hardly advance
in any direction without initiating some movement momentous in its
effect upon culture. Emanuel Chrysoloras brought the Greek language
to Florence; his son-in-law, Filelfo, voyaged to Constantinople, and
returned with a Greek library. Poggio Bracciolini, a most elegant
Latinist and epistolographer--unfortunately best remembered by his
virulent invectives, and by a book of facetiæ which does more credit
to his gaiety than to his morals--rendered the greatest service by his
assiduity in the collection of manuscripts. Leonardo Bruni accomplished
even more by the simple step of making accurate translations of Plato
and Aristotle, and thus delivering Western science from bondage to
the Arabians, through whose paraphrases these writings had hitherto
been chiefly known. Lorenzo Valla, an acute and intrepid critic and
original thinker, enthusiastic for truth in the abstract, but not
generally actuated by high principle, became the father of modern
negative criticism by his overthrow of the scandalous Papal imposture
of the Donation of Constantine. Gemistus Pletho, though a visionary,
introduced Plato to Italy, and powerfully stimulated thought through
the controversies aroused by his writings. Flavio Biondo was the
first scientific archæologist, describing the monuments of pagan and
Christian Rome, and investigating the topography of ancient Italy.
Vittorino da Feltre showed practically by his school at Mantua what
education ought to be, and Vespasiano da Bisticci wrote the lives of
his fellows. Even men like Filelfo, whose restless pens produced no
work of real importance, kept the intellectual life alert by their
incessant activity. For the time the age found what it needed in
such men, and scholars enjoyed the consideration awarded to poets
under Augustus, rhetoricians in the later Roman Empire, jurists under
Justinian, and the founders of religious orders in the days of St.
Dominic and St. Francis.

The deference shown to scholars is sufficiently attested by the
honourable offices conferred upon them, the competition of princes
and republics to obtain the most distinguished Latinists for their
secretaries, and the throngs that attended their lectures and other
public displays, vapid and empty as these frequently appear to us. The
prevailing current of taste proved highly advantageous in raising the
standard of university education. Bologna, in a former age the herald
of Italian academic culture, latterly in a condition of decay, revived
and asserted her supremacy, and her sister seats of learning competed
vigorously with her and each other. The triumph of humanism seemed
complete when in 1447 erudition made a Pope in the person of Nicholas
V., the founder of the Vatican Library, whose love of erudition was
such that it absolved in his eyes even Lorenzo Valla’s exposure of
pious frauds. Two great events favourable to culture succeeded--the
fall of Constantinople, which brought a fresh flight of learned Greeks
into Europe; and the invention of printing, of which, however, Italy
did not reap the benefit until 1464. The tardiness of so simple an
invention, upon the verge of which antiquity had continually been
hovering, is one of the most surprising facts in the history of the
human mind; the indifference with which it was at first received
is hardly less so; and the stimulus it imparted to literature long
fell below reasonable expectation. It is remarkable, however, that
two complete versions of the Bible appeared at Venice in 1471, and
significant that no vernacular Bible was allowed to be printed anywhere
else. The general character of the productions of the Italian press
is distinctly academical and utilitarian. Classics and classical
commentaries, theology, canon and civil law, medicine, form the staple;
imaginative vernacular literature, even of the past, is scanty;
contemporary literature might hardly have existed so far as the early
records of the press indicate. Apart from the studies which conduced
to a livelihood, the period all over Europe was one of intellectual
barrenness. But young men of lively genius were growing up, and one of
these was in a position to be as serviceable to modern belles-lettres
as Nicholas V. had been to the study of antiquity.

It rarely happens that Augustus is also Virgil; enough if he is also
Mæcenas. LORENZO DE’ MEDICI (1448-92) united all these characters.
A prince by position if not by descent, he was not only a patron
of literature, but a highly intelligent and discriminating patron;
nor only a favourer, but himself the producer of some of the best
literature of his day. In character, in circumstances, in the bent
of his policy and the general result of his activity, he might not
unfairly be termed a miniature Augustus; like him he confiscated the
liberties of his country as the sole alternative to anarchy, and repaid
her by prosperity and peace. All the great qualities of Augustus
were his, and few of the defects which history chiefly censures in
his prototype. Both were stronger in the self-regarding than in the
self-forgetting virtues, but Lorenzo once rose to heroism. History
records no action of Augustus comparable to Lorenzo’s placing himself
in the power of the treacherous and unscrupulous King of Naples for
the sake of his country. Nor had Lorenzo, like Augustus, ever occasion
to pass the sponge over an abortive tragedy. His compositions are of
different degrees of merit, but all are fluent and graceful.

We have entered a different period from that of the Uberti and Frezzi;
the tree of poetry, so long stiff and dry, now swells with sap, and
buds with the prophecy of a coming summer. Two distinct impulses are
observable in Lorenzo and his literary mate, Politian: in one point
of view the artistic, in the other the poetical spirit predominates.
As artists, they strove successfully to attain perfect elegance of
expression, and to improve the metrical forms which had descended
from the fourteenth century. As poets, they seized upon the songs and
catches current in the mouths of the people, and elevated them by
judicious treatment into the region of art. This could be possible only
to men of great poetic sensitiveness. Had Lorenzo and Politian been
less refined by culture, had the one been no scholar and the other no
prince, either might have been an Italian Burns; as it is, their work
as lyric poets is more nearly comparable to Goethe’s. They made the
popular Muse acceptable to men of breeding, while gratifying their own
tastes by work marked with the stamp of study and erudition, and yet
not beyond the intelligence of the average educated man.

Lorenzo’s part as the patron of art and letters is so considerable,
that his writings, important as they are, appear almost insignificant
in comparison. The most elaborate of his poems might be classed as
idylls. They comprise the _Ambra_, a graceful and fanciful Ovidian
allegory on the metamorphosis of the nymph Ambra into a rock to
escape the pursuit of a river-god; _La Caccia col Falcone_, a
lively description of this aristocratic sport; and _La Nencia di
Barberino_, no less vivid in its portraiture of the humours of plebeian
love-making. Lorenzo’s own love poetry consists chiefly of canzoni,
more remarkable for elegance than depth of feeling, but perfectly in
the character of a man of pleasure who is also a refined gentleman. The
spirituality of Dante and his contemporaries, the romantic passion of
Petrarch, no longer suited the age. The temple of Love, like the temple
of the Church, had been secularised; in everything men habitually lived
at a lower level. Yet this declension is compensated in a great degree
by the enhanced feeling of reality: there can be no such controversy
over Lorenzo’s innamorata as over Beatrice and Laura. The following is
a fair example of his erotic style:

      _Thy beauty, gentle Violet, was born
        Where for the look of Love I first was fain,
        And my bright stream of bitter tears was rain
      That beauty to accomplish and adorn.
      And such desire was from compassion born,
        That from the happy nook where thou wert lain
        The fair hand gathered thee, and not in vain,
      For by my own it willed thee to be borne.
      And, as to me appears, thou wouldst return
        Once more to that fair hand, whence thee upon
        My naked breast I have securely set:
      The naked breast that doth desire and burn,
        And holds thee in her heart’s place, that hath gone
        To dwell where thou wert late, my Violet._

If there is more gallantry than passion in compositions of this
nature, they show at least that the lute of Love had received a new
string since the time of the troubadours.

Love of a sensuous kind is a chief ingredient in Lorenzo’s _Canti
Carnascialeschi_, which are sometimes highly licentious. He is accused
of having composed them with a special view of diverting the minds of
the young Florentines from politics; but it seems unnecessary to go
beyond the temptation to licence afforded by the general relaxation
of the carnival. The gay and the serious Lorenzo were very different
people, as remarked by that acute observer Machiavelli. His epistle
to his own son Giovanni, afterwards Leo X., on his elevation to the
Cardinalate at fourteen, is a model of wisdom and right feeling. His
spiritual poems, _Laudi_, moreover, frequently speak the language of
true religious emotion.

Lorenzo’s court, as is universally known, was the chosen abode of
artists and men of letters. A twin star with Lorenzo himself, but
even brighter in his literary aspect was ANGELO AMBROGINI (1454-92),
known as POLIZIANO from his birth at Montepulciano. Politian, the most
brilliant classical scholar of his age, was perhaps the first professed
philologist whose scholarship was entirely divested of pedantry.
With him classical studies were a vivifying influence, pervading and
adorning his literary exercises in the vernacular, but implying no
disparagement of the latter. There is little to choose between his
Latin and his Italian poetry: the same poetic spirit inspires both,
and each is an exemplar of the charm of a choice, yet not too ornate
diction. He was accused of writing his Latin verses “with more heat
than art”; but this is only another way of saying that while composing
them he felt as an ancient, and might very well be taken for a poet of
the Silver Age. His lyric tragedy or opera, _Orfeo_, will be treated
along with the Italian drama, of which it was the first meritorious
example. His _Giostra_, a poem on the tournament exhibited by Lorenzo’s
brother Giuliano in 1475, and incidentally introducing its hero’s
passion for the lovely Simonetta, remained unfinished in consequence
of Giuliano’s untimely death. It is full of beauties, and is memorable
in Italian poetry as the first example of the thoroughly successful
employment of the octave stanza. Boccaccio had been too diffuse;
but Politian exemplified the perfect fitness of this form for the
combination of narrative poetry with an inexhaustible succession of
verbal felicities, many of which, indeed, are appropriated from earlier
poets, but all, old and new, seem fused into a glowing whole by the
passion for classic form and sensuous beauty. But Politian and his
successors did not emulate the classical poets’ accurate delineation of
Nature. The materials of their descriptions are drawn from storehouses
to which every scholar has a key. They bespeak reading and memory
rather than actual observation.

This, in Miss Ellen Clerke’s version, is Politian’s rendering of
the vision of perpetual Spring, first seen by Homer, after him by
Lucretius, and in our time by Tennyson. Like Ariosto and Tasso, he
places his enchanted garden on earth.

      _A fair hill doth the Cyprian breezes woo,
      And sevenfold stream of mighty Nilus see,
      When the horizon reddeneth anew;
      But mortal foot may not there planted be.
      A green knoll on its slope doth rise to view,
      A sunny meadow sheltering in its lee,
      Where, wantoning 'mid flowers, each gale that passes
      Sets lightly quivering the verdant grasses._

      _A wall of gold its furthest edge doth screen,
      Where lies a vale with shady trees set fair,
      Upon whose branches, 'mid leaves newly green,
      The quiring birds chant love songs on the air.
      The grateful sound of waters chimes between,
      By twin streams cool and lucid shed forth there,
      In the wave sweet and bitter of whose river
      Love whets the golden arrows of his quiver._

      _Nor the perennial garden’s foliage green
      Doth snow new-fallen blanch, or rime-frost hoar.
      No vernal blight dare come these walls between.
      No gale the grass and shrubs e’er ruffles o’er.
      Nor is the year in fourfold season seen;
      But joyous Spring here reigns for evermore,
      Shakes to the breeze her blonde and rippling tresses,
      And weaves her wreath of flowers as on she presses._

In Politian’s own eyes and those of his contemporaries his achievement
as a poet was less important than his labour as a classical scholar.
Nor, as respected the needs and interests of his contemporaries, was
this judgment wholly mistaken. “Knowledge in that age,” says Symonds,
“was the pearl of great price; not the knowledge of righteousness,
not the knowledge of Nature and her laws, but the knowledge of the
wonderful life which throbbed in ancient peoples, and which might
make this old world young again.” Politian’s chief merits as a
classical scholar were to have known how to excite a living interest
in antiquity, and to have been the first to attempt a scientific
classification of MSS. His translations from the Greek were admirable.
So long as Lorenzo presided over Florence, Politian’s lot, though
embittered by some violent literary controversies, had been brilliant
and prosperous: his patron’s death exposed him to the general
unpopularity of the supporters of Lorenzo’s incapable successor, the
French invader stood at the doors, Savonarola’s followers began to
assail culture in its representatives, and within little more than two
years Politian escaped the gathering storm either by a broken heart or
a voluntary death.

To appreciate Politian’s services in imparting literary form to popular
poetry, it will be necessary to bestow a glance on this poetry as it
existed in Tuscany in his day, and in a measure exists still. We have
previously remarked upon the absence of national ballad poetry at a
very early period; and when at length we find traces of popular song,
little resembling _Chevy Chase_ is to be discovered, the staple being
carols and love catches. Some of these may be as old as the thirteenth
century, and the mass continued augmenting as one anonymous singer
after another added something sufficiently attractive to be propagated
from hamlet to hamlet, and treasured in the memory.

Similar lyrical production went on over most parts of Italy; the
Sicilian songs, after the Tuscan, being the most numerous, or at least
the best preserved. These ditties fall generally into two divisions,
_rispetti_ and _stornelli_: the former consisting of four or six
verses rhyming alternately, followed by a couplet; the latter of three
lines only, the last rhyming with the first. These soon developed
into the _madrigal_, a form affected by persons of culture and
professional musicians, but the people continued to carol as of old.
Thus, spontaneous births of the instinct for love and song, undergoing
countless modifications in passing from mouth to mouth, until the right
form has been found at last, and sifted by the taste of generation
after generation, these little songs have formed a really beautiful
collection of verse, reflecting in their ardour, graceful fancy and
purity of sentiment, the best characteristics of the race from which
they sprung. How good they are may be seen from a few of the specimens
so admirably rendered by John Addington Symonds:[10]--

      _The moon has risen her plaint to lay
      Before the face of Love Divine;
      Saying in heaven she will not stay,
      Since you have stolen what made her shine.
      Aloud she wails with sorrow wan;--
      She told her stars, and two are gone:
      They are not there; ye have them now;
      They are the eyes in your bright brow._

      _Think it no grief that I am brown;
      For all brunettes are born to reign:
      White is the snow, yet trodden down;
      Black pepper, kings do not disdain:
      White snow lies mounded in the vales;
      Black pepper’s weighed in brazen scales._

      _O Swallow, Swallow, flying through the air,
      Turn, turn, I prithee, from thy flight above.
      Give me one feather from thy wing so fair,
      For I will write a letter to my love.
      When I have written it and made it clear,
      I’ll give thee back thy feather, Swallow dear;
      When I have written it on paper white,
      I’ll make, I swear, thy missing feather right;
      When once ’tis written on fair leaves of gold,
      I’ll give thee back thy wings and flight so bold._

Two other leading poetical figures of the fifteenth century, Matteo
Maria Boiardo and Luigi Pulci, authors of the _Orlando Innamorato_ and
the _Morgante Maggiore_, will be best treated along with the writers of
chivalrous romance in epic form. It is not quite clear how far Pulci
had a share in the poems ascribed to his elder brother Luca (1431-70);
but the latter’s verses on Giuliano de’ Medici, his crusading epic,
_Ciriffo Calvaneo_, and his pastoral, _Driadeo_, undoubtedly owe much
to Luigi. The heroic epistles in verse which pass under his name are
no doubt by him. Another poet, GIROLAMO BENIVIENI, shines amid the
Platonic circle of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. His verses
might have given him no inconsiderable distinction if he could have
attained to lucidity of diction; but his powers of expression are
inadequate to the abstruseness of his themes. He does best when his
idealism is embodied in an objective shape, as in the following sonnet,
clearly suggested by the first in the _Vita Nuova_:

      _In utmost height of Heaven I saw the choir
        Of happy stars in their infinity
        Attending on the Sun obediently,
      And he was pasturing them with his own fire.
      And, wealthy with my spoil, I saw Desire
        Unstring his bow and lay his arrows by,
        And proffer Heaven, with all humility,
      My heart, which golden drapery did attire.
      And, of this disarrayed, not half so fair
        Smiles Earth to Sun when by his crescent light
        The ivory horn of vernal Bull is smit
      As in this glory did my heart appear,
        Which now my mortal breast doth scorn and slight,
        Abandoning, nor will return to it._

The Italian writings of Benivieni’s friend Savonarola are chiefly
theological. Their fervour gained them great influence at the time,
but the celebrity which they still enjoy is due rather to the fame of
the writer than to their literary qualities. Savonarola nevertheless
affected the literature of his day, partly by his war against classical
and Renaissance culture, and partly by the impulse which he gave to
the pamphlet, precursor of the newspaper press. Cristoforo Landino’s
Camaldolese Dialogues would have been important contributions lo the
national literature if they had been written in Italian.

The first writer of prose who presents us with a perfect example from
which the new period may be dated is JACOPO SANNAZARO, as much
as Politian the nursling of a court; to whom we are also indebted for
the first example of the pastoral romance, and the first proof that
excellent Italian prose could be written outside Tuscany. Sannazaro,
born in 1458, was a Neapolitan of Spanish descent, as it is said, and
the statement seems to be corroborated by the peculiar independence and
dignity of character which distinguish him from the supple literati of
his time. Even Pontano, whose obligations to the royal house of Naples
were so extreme, played an ambiguous part upon the ephemeral French
conquest of 1495. Sannazaro’s loyalty not only sustained that brief
ordeal, but when four years later the cause of the Neapolitan dynasty
was irrevocably lost, he accompanied his fallen master to France, and
spent several years in exile. Returning to Naples, he inhabited a
beautiful villa at Mergellina, and devoted himself to the poetry of
which we shall have to speak in another place. After witnessing the
destruction of his retreat in the French war (1528), he died in 1530
in the house of Cassandra, Marchesa Castriota, whom he had vainly
defended against her husband’s attempt to repudiate her. Few of his
contemporaries deserve equal respect as a man; and although as a
writer but of the second rank, it was granted to him, alike in prose
and verse, to mark an era in literature signalising the triumph of
Petrarch and Boccaccio over the pedantry of the fifteenth century, but
at the same time the deliberate preference of form to matter, and the
discouragement of irregular originality.

Sannazaro’s _Arcadia_, historically the most important of his
writings, is comparatively a youthful performance, having been
substantially completed by 1489, though not published in a correct
edition until 1504. It would in any case mark an epoch as the
first perfect example of the pastoral romance, which Boccaccio had
foreshadowed in his _Ameto_, but which Sannazaro enriched by elements
derived from Theocritus and Virgil. His landscape and personages are
entirely classical; the shepherds contend with each other in song
precisely as in the Greek and Latin eclogues, and no attempt is made
to represent rustic manners as they really are. The descriptions,
whether of nature or of humanity, on the other hand, are graceful
and vivid, and informed by a most poetical sentiment; and it may be
said that Sannazaro’s work would be more esteemed at this day if it
had had fewer imitators. The style admits of but little variety, and
pastoral fiction easily became insipid in the hands of a succession
of followers who did not, like Shakespeare in the _Winter’s Tale_,
resort to Nature for their delineations. Sannazaro himself is not
exempt from the charge of monotony. More serious defects, however, are
those of excessive Latinisation in the construction of sentences, and
rhetorical exaggeration, arising from his too close adherence to the
immature style of Boccaccio’s early writings, instead of the simple
elegance of the _Decameron_. The resolution to achieve poetry in prose
at any cost, causes a crabbed involution and overloads the diction with
adjectives; while there is yet enough of true feeling to overcome even
the wearisomeness of the perpetual laments of the shepherds over the
unparalleled cruelty of their innamoratas. Sannazaro had a mistress
to whose memory he remained faithful all his life, and most of his
fictitious characters veil actual personages. When this is understood,
the romance loses its apparent artificiality; and Settembrini’s remark
is justified, “_Anche oggi si sente una dolcezza d’ affetto a leggere
quel libro_.”

The main literary interest, however, of the _Arcadia_ is that it marks
an epoch and carries the reform which Lorenzo de’ Medici and Politian
had initiated in verse into the domain of prose. It is perhaps the sole
Italian prose composition of the fifteenth century which can be said
to wear a classic stamp; and being received with enthusiasm and read
by all, it fixed a standard which subsequent writers were compelled to
maintain. It prescribed the rule for pastoral romance in all languages:
not only did Sidney borrow its spirit and many of its episodes as well
as its name for his own work, more, however, of a romance and less of
a pastoral than Sannazaro’s; not only did the two great Portuguese
pastoralists, Bernardim Ribeiro and Montemayor, model themselves upon
it; but Shakespeare took from it the name of Ophelia, and traces of it
may be found, not only in the pastoral part of Keats’s _Endymion_, but
even in his _Hyperion_.

By Sannazaro’s time, then, it may be said that Italian literature
was fairly despatched on the route which it was to follow throughout
the golden Cinque Cento. Elegance, finish, polish were to be the
chief aims; form was to be esteemed at least on a par with matter;
the mediæval elements, as we find them in Dante, were to be kept in
abeyance. The classical tradition was to be taken up, and Italy was
to appear as the literary heiress of Rome; but not to the extent of
corrupting her own language with Latinisms. Such a tacit resolution
was admirable for raising and maintaining the standard of literary
composition, but was hostile to the development of transcendent genius.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[10] The best collection of popular Italian belletristic literature is
the _Canti e Racconti del Popolo Italiano_, in eight volumes, edited by
E. Comparetti and A. D’Ancona.



                               CHAPTER X
                           CHIVALRIC POETRY


The history of the Italian chivalric epic is one of the most
interesting departments of the story of literature, both on its own
account, and because it reveals as in a mirror the growth of the more
important epic of the tale of Troy. It arose out of a real event of the
deepest importance to Europe, but this it so disfigured by romance and
imagination as to be hardly recognisable. Charles Martel, the deliverer
of France from the Saracens, is confounded with another and still more
illustrious Charles, whose relations with the Saracen monarchs were
usually amicable; and, by what seems to be a universal law, this hero
comes to occupy but a corner of the temple nominally dedicated to
him, and his renown is transferred to creatures of pure imagination.
As Agamemnon, who at all events personifies the most powerful state
of primitive Greece, yields as a poetic hero to such historically
subordinate, if not absolutely fictitious personages as Achilles and
Ulysses; as the terrible Attila, the portent of his time, shrinks in
the Nibelungen Lied into the insignificant figure of Etzel; so, in the
romancer’s eye, the real glories of Charlemagne dwindle to nothing
before the petty skirmish of Roncesvalles.

In all these instances, and equally so in the cycle of Arthur, a
germ of historical reality lies latent in the human consciousness
for centuries, and then suddenly becomes prolific of a wealth of
imaginative detail. There can be no reasonable doubt that the writers
of the Homeric epics, whether few or many, stood in the same relation
to their sources as Malory and Boiardo to theirs, inheritors of a
tradition in which they reposed genuine belief, but which at the same
time they thought themselves at liberty to embellish and diversify as
they deemed best. We should probably find the resemblance between the
development of Trojan and of Arthurian legend to be very close, had we
the same acquaintance with the intellectual history of ancient Greece
as we possess with that of the mediæval period. Both were the result of
a great poetical revival, when the awakening spirit grasped eagerly at
the nutriment nearest to hand; and the Celtic romancers of the twelfth
century were inspired by true Celtic yearnings for an irrevocable past,
finding much of their material in the national historian, Geoffrey of
Monmouth.

With the Italian romantic epic the case was somewhat different: it
was largely influenced by a single book, and one composed with a
direct polemical purpose. The fear and hatred entertained in the tenth
and eleventh centuries for the Saracen invaders and the Danes, and
other heathens frequently confounded with them, found expression at
last in a remarkable book, the Latin Chronicles attributed to Turpin,
Archbishop of Rheims in the eighth century, but really a fabrication
of the eleventh, in which Charlemagne and his paladins were idealised
as the vanquishers of the pagans. From the prominent position given
to Charlemagne’s imaginary Spanish expeditions, the author is thought
to have been a Spaniard, and he owed much to that “Iliad of the
Middle Ages,” the _Song of Roland_, also a production of the eleventh
century. The panic passed away, but left behind it a rich deposit of
romantic fiction, deriving a beauty unknown to former ages from the
high estimate of woman which Christianity and Teutonic feeling had
jointly contributed to the collective human consciousness. Utilised in
many French narrative poems, this chivalric element first appeared in
Italian in the elaborate prose-romance, _I Reali di Francia_. From this
the step to metrical epic was easy, but the awkwardness of the Italian
poets’ first attempts seems to indicate that it was not taken until
the poetic art had reached its period of deepest depression in the
early part of the fifteenth century, when the rude and tedious epics
_Buovo di Antona_ (Bevis of Hampton), _La Spagna_, _Febus_, and _Queen
Ancronja_ were probably composed.

Another epic of the same period, without a name, recently discovered,
is to a considerable extent the groundwork of the _Morgante
Maggiore_[11] of LUIGI PULCI (1432-87), a humorous poem with a
serious purpose, or, at least, unconsciously expressing some of the
most serious phenomena of the age. Its mixture of sincere religious
feeling and genuine humanity with the most irreverent buffoonery
has made it the stumbling-block of critics and literary historians,
whose interpretation of its tendencies and estimate of its author’s
character are usually determined by their own prepossessions. While it
is impossible to deny that Morgante’s companion, the epicurean gourmand
Margutte,[12] is the author’s special creation, and the object of his
chief predilection among his characters, other portions of the poem
are couched in so lofty a strain, that he has been supposed to have
had assistance from no less a philosopher than Ficino and no less a
poet than Politian. Sarcastic sallies at the expense of the popular
theology alternate with set passages of fervent orthodoxy. To us the
_Morgante_ appears a symbol of the intellectual anarchy then prevalent
among the most intelligent Italians, among whom the religious sentiment
survived, while its external vesture had become mere mythology; who
had neither, like Benivieni, fallen under the influence of Savonarola,
nor were disqualified by lack of classical culture from participating
in the humanistic revival. Pulci’s opinions are probably expressed by
Astaroth, a devil introduced to aid the paladins and talk divinity, and
whose discourse contains a marvellous foreshadowing of the discovery of
America.


There can, nevertheless, be no question that the frivolous and mocking
element in the _Morgante_ is the source of its celebrity and literary
importance. It is the first really great modern example of burlesque
poetry, and there are few literatures without traces of its influence.
In our own, it was the father of Frere’s _Whistlecraft_, which was the
father of _Beppo_ and the _Vision of Judgment_, the first stanza of
which latter poem inverts an idea of Pulci’s; and Byron accompanied
these masterpieces by a translation of Pulci’s first canto, upon which
he himself set a special value. It has been contended that Shakespeare
was acquainted with Pulci, and certainly Panizzi’s portrait of the
vindictive traitor Gano in the _Morgante_ might almost serve for one
of Iago, while Orlando’s unsuspecting magnanimity resembles Othello’s.
Panizzi justly praises the truth and dignity of the characters of
Orlando and Rinaldo, and says of the general economy of the poem:
“Pulci was the first who wrote a long and complicated poem which,
diversified as it is by many incidents, has a principal subject and a
principal character, on which all other parts and personages depend,
without which the poem could not subsist, and which by itself alone
forms an uninterrupted narrative. This hero and this subject are Gano
and his treachery, which brings on the defeat of Roncesvalles.”

These are great merits. The principal defects are summed up by a genial
admirer, Leigh Hunt (_Stories from the Italian Poets_, vol. i.), as the
want of fine imagery and natural description, and frequent triviality
and prolixity. The vulgarity objected to by the Italian critics must
exist, but is not equally offensive to a foreigner. The poem is fully
analysed by Panizzi in the first volume of his edition of Boiardo, and
its general character may be very well caught from Byron’s translation
of the first canto. Pulci’s higher strain is ably conveyed in the
following portion of a translation of an episode by Lady Dacre:

      _And because Love not willingly excuses
      One who is loved and loveth not again;
      (For tyrannous were deemed the rule he uses,
      Should they who sue for pity sue in vain;
      What gracious lord his faithful liege refuses?)
      So when the gentle dame perceived the pain
      That well-nigh wrought to death her valiant knight,
      Her melting heart began his love requite._

      _And from her eyes soft beamed the answering ray
      That Oliver’s soul-thrilling glance returns;
      Love in these gleamy lightnings loves to play
      Till but one flame two youthful bosoms burns.
      To tend his grievous wounds she comes one day,
      And towards him with greeting mute she turns;
      For on her lips her voiceless words are stayed,
      And her bright eyes are fain to lend their aid._

      _When Oliver perceived that Forisene
      Accosted him with shrinking, timid grace,
      The pains which insupportable had been,
      Vanished, and to far other ills gave place:
      His soul is tost sweet hopes and doubts between,
      And you might almost 'mid these flutterings trace
      A dear assurance to be loved by her;
      For silence is Love’s best interpreter._

Not much is known of Pulci’s life except that he was the intimate
friend, correspondent, and confidential agent of Lorenzo de’ Medici,
and is said to have composed his poem at the request of Lorenzo’s
mother, whom he celebrated after her death. The disposition of his
contemporaries to attribute the finest portions of his poem to Ficino
and Politian may indicate some failure on his part to sustain the
poetical character in his daily walk and conversation; while the more
serious passages of his poetry, especially the noble pathos of the
death of Orlando, disclose an elevated soul. Orlando, standing alone
among his slaughtered friends on the battlefield of Roncesvalles, is
visited by the angel Gabriel, who offers him a new army, and promises
that earth and sea shall tremble at his name. But Orlando prefers to
follow those who are gone. The _Morgante_ was not printed till the year
after Pulci’s death. His minor works include a poem of humble life,
in imitation of Lorenzo’s _Nencia_, and a series of polemical sonnets
against Matteo Franco, who was equally dyslogistic on his own part.
Neither poet need be taken very seriously.

The year preceding the appearance of the _Morgante_ (1486) saw the
posthumous publication of the first part of another poem, which, from
some points of view, is entitled to rank at the very head of romantic
poetry. This is the _Orlando Innamorato_ of MATTEO MARIA BOIARDO, Count
of Scandiano. Little is known of his life except its simple and noble
outline. He was born at his family seat of Scandiano, near Reggio, in
the Modenese, about 1434. Like his successors, Ariosto and Tasso, he
was a favourite at the court of the Duke of Ferrara, his sovereign. He
celebrated Antonia Caprara in his lyrics, and bestowed his hand upon
Taddea Novellara. In his later years he was successively governor of
Modena and Reggio. In his disposition he was most generous, and too
clement for his arduous public duties. He composed Latin poetry, and
translated several classical and other authors; and died in 1494, on
the eve of the invasion of Charles VIII., prophetically bewailing
the consequent ruin of Italy at the end of his unfinished _Orlando
Innamorato_, which he is supposed to have begun about 1472. The greater
part of this poem had been published in 1486, the continuation is said
to have appeared in 1495, but the edition of 1506 is the earliest now
extant.

Although Orlando and Rinaldo are the heroes, the story of Boiardo’s
poem is original. “_Turpino istesso la nascose_,” he says. It is
exceedingly graceful and ingenious. Argalia and his sister Angelica,
the children of the King of Cathay, present themselves at Charlemagne’s
court. The former has an enchanted lance, by the virtue of which he
might have overthrown all Charles’s paladins; but the pig-headed
Saracen Feraù persists, like Monsieur Jourdain’s servant, in thrusting
tierce when he ought to thrust quarte, and Argalia is glad to make
his escape, leaving the lance behind him. It falls into the hands of
Astolfo, the English knight, not hitherto especially distinguished
in battle or tourney, but who at least possesses his countrymen’s
characteristic of not knowing when they are beaten.

      _Solea dir, ch’ egli era per sciagura,
      E tornava a cader senza paura._

By means of this lance Astolfo performs the most signal exploits,
delivering Charles from the invasion of Gradasso, King of Sericana, who
makes war upon him to obtain Rinaldo’s steed Bajardo, and Orlando’s
sword Durindana. Rinaldo and Orlando themselves are absent in pursuit
of Angelica, who has returned to her own country. Angelica and Rinaldo
are alternately wrought to fondness and antipathy through the spell of
enchanted potions supplied by the poet _ad libitum_. Orlando, without
obtaining any share of her affections, remains her humble slave. All
are involved in a maze of adventures, most cunningly interwoven,
replete with the endless delight of inexhaustible invention and the
surprise of perpetual novelty. No motto for the poem could be more
appropriate than that with which Panizzi prefaces his edition:

      _Ille per extentum funem mihi posse videtur
      Ire poeta, meum qui pectus inaniter angit,
      Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,
      Ut magus, et modo me Thebis, modo ponit Athenis._

In spite of the wild and fanciful character of the incidents, a deep
interest is excited for the principal personages, who are truly human,
except when avowedly of the _fortisque Gyas fortisque Cloanthus_ order,
or, as the Italian poet himself has it,

      _Avino, Avolio, Ottone, e Berlinghiero._

In this respect Boiardo has a great advantage over Spenser; his
characters are actual people, not mere abstractions, and he is
unencumbered with allegory. As a master of poetic language he is
greatly inferior. Though both picturesque and tuneful, he is far from
rivalling the colour and music of the Englishman. Compared to the
_Faerie Queene_ his poem is as his own clear-chiming octave to the
sonorous magnificence of the Spenserian stanza. In general, his tone is
much more easy and familiar than Spenser’s; when he chooses, however,
his sentiment is more elevated and his pathos more moving. Poetry has
few passages at once so nobly heroic and so exquisitely touching as
the combat between Orlando and Agricane, epitomised by Leigh Hunt in
his _Stories from the Italian Poets_. The pen fell from Boiardo’s hand
just as he was bringing his errant heroes back to encounter the new
invasion of the African king Agramante, and the powerful hand that took
it up used it to delay the approaching denouement, and superimpose a
new structure upon the original foundation. In every literary quality
Ariosto excels Boiardo, but he is a remove further from the realms of
chivalry and fairie, and

          _Never can recapture
      The first fine careless rapture._

Both are poets of the Renaissance, but Ariosto has more of that
aspect of pomp and luxury which estranged Ruskin, and Boiardo of
that half-erudite, half-ignorant naïveté which so fascinates in the
pictures of Botticelli and Roselli. The following stanzas, translated
by Miss Ellen Clerke, form an excellent specimen of Boiardo’s manner in
general, and exemplify that delightful blending of classic and romantic
feeling only possible in the youth of a literature:

      _In the glade’s heart a youth upon the sward,
      All nude, disported him with song and jest;
      Three ladies fair, to serve their love and lord,
      Danced round him, they, too, nude and all undrest.
      Unmeet for sword and shield, for watch and ward,
      He seemed, with eyes of brown, and sunny crest.
      That yet the dim upon his cheek had sprouted,
      By some might be averred, by others doubted._

      _Of roses, violets, and all blossoms pied,
      Full baskets holding, they their merry game
      Of love and frolic on the greensward plied,
      When Montalbano’s Lord upon them came.
      'Behold the traitor!’ with one voice they cried;
      'Behold the recreant!’ did all exclaim.
      'Him, who all joy contemned of sense enraptured,
      Now in his own despite our snare hath captured.’_

      _And with their baskets, when these words were said,
      They on Rinaldo flung themselves amain;
      One violets threw, another roses red,
      Lilies and hyacinths they strewed like rain;
      Each blow unto his heart keen anguish sped,
      The marrow of his bones was searched with pain,
      With burning aches they sting where’er they settle,
      As though of fire were leaf and flower and petal._

      _The youth who nude had figured on the scene,
      When all his basket he had emptied out,
      With a tall lily-stem full-branched with green,
      Rinaldo on Mambrino’s helm did flout.
      No help availed that baron bold, I ween,
      Felled like a four-year child beneath the clout,
      Scarce touched he earth, ere he who thus had mauled him,
      Caught by the heels and round the meadow hauled him._

      _Each of those ladies three a garland wore,
      Of roses twined, deep damask or snow-white;
      Each from her head its garniture now tore,
      Since other weapons failed them for the fight,
      And though the knight cried mercy o’er and o’er,
      They ceased not, e’en when tired, to scourge and smite,
      And dragged him round, and did with blows belabour,
      Until the noonday sun shone on their labour._

      _Nor hauberk stout, nor iron plate of mail,
      Those blows could fend, or parry their fierce might;
      But all his flesh was bruised with wound and wale,
      Beneath his arms, and with such fire alight,
      That souls condemned, in the infernal vale,
      Must of a surety suffer pains more slight
      Than those in which this baron sore did languish,
      When like to die of utter fear and anguish._

      _Nor could he tell if gods or men were those,
      Nor prayers availed, nor aught such foes could rout;
      And thus continued they, nor took repose,
      Till on their shoulders wings began to sprout,
      Of white and gold, vermilion blent with rose;
      While from each plume a living eye looked out,
      Not peacock-orbed, or other fowl’s in seeming,
      But like a lovely maiden’s softly gleaming._

      _Then straight did they uplift themselves in flight,
      And one by one unto high heaven upsoared,
      Rinaldo, on the lawn, in doleful plight,
      Now left alone, with tears his state deplored,
      O’erwhelmed so sore with pain and woe that quite
      His senses ebbed away, in grief outpoured;
      And in the end such anguish did invade him,
      That, as one dead, down on the sward he laid him._

The fastidious refinement of the Italians of the sixteenth century
for a time obscured the fame of one of their most delightful authors.
We have seen that Boiardo was a native of the district of Reggio; we
have also seen that Reggio was among the places which, in the opinion
of no less eminent a judge than Dante, were disqualified by their
dialect from ever producing a poet. It is no wonder, therefore, that
the _Orlando Innamorato_ should teem with inelegances of diction,
scarcely perceptible to a foreigner, but which seemed most flagrant in
an age when priests pocketed their breviaries for fear of contaminating
their style. Two other poets independently addressed themselves to the
task of making Boiardo presentable. Domenichi, “a literary gentleman
by trade,” did little good or harm; he neither added nor omitted a
stanza, except in the first canto, and as he went on his emendations
fell off. Berni, a great writer in his way, of whom much must be said
when we treat of comic and familiar poetry, inserted many stanzas of
his own, and altered so many throughout as to metamorphose the spirit
no less than the diction of the poem. Chivalry and humour are nicely
balanced throughout the original; the poet occasionally smiles at the
extravagance of his own imaginations, but his irony never broadens
into burlesque. In Berni’s _rifacimento_ the element of humour greatly
preponderates, and the elegance and grace of the adulteration make no
sufficient amends for the transposition of a noble poem from an heroic
into a familiar key. Although his _rifacimento_ was not frequently
reprinted, it attained such celebrity in literary circles that Boiardo
was almost forgotten, and the _Orlando Innamorato_ commonly passed
under Berni’s name. No edition of the original as Boiardo wrote it was
published from 1544 to 1830, when Antonio Panizzi, doubtless stimulated
by the circumstance that he himself was born near Reggio,[13]
redeemed it from oblivion, and restored it to the place it has ever
since maintained as a star of at least the second magnitude in the
constellation of Italian epic poetry.

The almost simultaneous appearance of two such poems as the _Morgante_
and the _Orlando_ by two writers of such social and intellectual
distinction as Pulci and Boiardo, indicates that the love of chivalrous
fiction must have been very rife in Italy. It is remarkable that
the Italian writers should have so rarely essayed the easier path
of prose-romance, but this they left to the Spaniards, who on their
part, excepting in ballads, in that age rarely ventured upon poetical
composition. One only of the Italian romantic epics between Boiardo
and Ariosto deserves mention. It is the Mambriano of FRANCESCO BELLO,
known as _Il Cieco d’Adria_. The blind bard amused the court of Mantua
with recitations which he afterwards stitched together into a long poem
devoid of all pretence to epic unity. But, as he himself observes, he
thought he had done enough in bringing all the paladins back to Paris,
and rendering all the Saracens tributary to the Emperor. His diction is
often as unshapen as his story; nevertheless, he is a real poet, and
his description of the Temple of Mars in particular will compare not
unfavourably with those of Statius, Chaucer, and Boccaccio.

Before parting with the predecessors of Ariosto, a word should be said
of Boiardo’s minor poems. Besides a comedy, _Timone_, to be noticed
hereafter, he wrote numerous canzoni and sonnets. Of these Panizzi
justly says: “Boiardo’s poetry, although in the manner of Petrarch,
has all the marks of originality, and resembles more the character
of the predecessors of the Bard of Laura than of his successors. His
poetry was not written to be read, but to be sung, and was submitted
to those musical as well as metrical laws by which that of Petrarch
had been governed. In his day, music was still subject to poetry, and
the inanimate instruments were designed to support, not to drown, the
human voice.” Panizzi, therefore, seems to consider Boiardo the last
of the truly melodious lyrists of Italy; though it is just to point
out that his remark respecting the predominance of the instrument over
the voice did not become applicable until the seventeenth century, and
that he elsewhere seems to confine the decay of Italian melody to the
two centuries immediately preceding his own time (1830). His edition of
Boiardo’s lyrics is almost inaccessible; but he has quoted enough in
his memoir of the author to confirm his favourable judgment of their
literary qualities.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[11] Morgante is the name of a giant converted to Christianity by
Orlando. He dies in the middle of the poem.

[12] The evident Greek derivation of this name from _margos_
(gluttonous) lends some countenance to the suspicion that Politian had
a hand in Pulci’s poem.

[13] It is curious to note in this connection that Rubiera, the
original seat of Boiardo’s family, having become a state prison under
the modern Dukes of Modena, gave Panizzi the subject for his first
publication, known under the abridged title of _I Processi di Rubiera_.



                              CHAPTER XI
                       ARIOSTO AND HIS IMITATORS


Boiardo had accomplished a great work. He had raised the old chivalric
romance to epic dignity, and shown its capability of classic form.
This, impeded by his provincial education and the low standard of
poetry prevailing in his time, he had not himself been able to impart.
The achievement was reserved for one who has infinitely transcended
him in reputation, though it may be questioned whether he has indeed
greatly surpassed him in any respect but style and the gift of
story-telling, and who is certainly inferior to him in sincerity and
simplicity.

LODOVICO ARIOSTO was born at Reggio, near which town Boiardo also
had first seen the light, on September 8, 1474. His family was noble,
and his father, who survived his birth about twenty years, filled
many important offices. Like the fathers of Petrarch and Boccaccio,
he insisted that his son should follow the profession of the law,
which the youth renounced after five years of fruitless, perhaps
not very persevering study. His father’s death left Ariosto at the
head of a large family, for which he had to provide out of a scanty
patrimony. He solaced his cares by classical studies, which made him a
fair Latin poet. About 1503 he entered the service of the Cardinal of
Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, and hence a member of that house
whose glory it has been to have numbered two of the most illustrious
poets of Italy in its train, and whose infelicity to have derived more
obloquy than honour from the connection. Boiardo’s _Orlando Innamorato_
had been designed for the glorification of the house of Este, but
the purpose is not sufficiently obtrusive to spoil our pleasure in
the poet’s ideal world. Ariosto took up the thread of the narrative
where his predecessor had dropped it, and writing in the spirit of
a courtier, produced in the _Orlando Furioso_ a sequel related to
Boiardo’s poem much as Virgil’s national epic on the wanderings of
Æneas is related to Homer’s artless tale of the wanderings of Ulysses.

In so far as Ariosto’s objects were poetical fame and the honour of
his native country they were attained to the full; but his toil was
almost vain as respected recompense from the princes for whose sake
he had blemished his poem. The Cardinal, a coarse, unscrupulous man,
fitter for a soldier than an ecclesiastic, was apparently unable to
discern any connection between Ruggiero’s hippogriff and the glories
of his descendants, and upon the publication of the _Orlando_ in
1510, asked the poet quite simply “where he had been for all that
rot?” He is stated, however, to have presented Ariosto with a golden
chain, rather for the ornament of his person than the relief of his
necessities, as he could not venture to turn it into money. Ariosto
further incurred his Eminence’s displeasure by hesitating to accompany
him on a mission to Hungary, and found it advisable to exchange his
service for the Duke’s. The Duke, a prince lavish in shows, economical
in salaries, thought the poet abundantly rewarded by the governorship
of the Garfagnana, which it was necessary to confer upon somebody. The
Garfagnana was a wild district overrun with poetical banditti, readers
and admirers of their governor’s epic. Here Ariosto gained much honour,
but little emolument.

His experience of his patrons generally justified his favourite motto,
_Pro bono malum_. Even the munificent Leo X. did nothing for him
but kiss him on both cheeks, and remit half the fees upon the brief
that assured his copyrights, his particular friend Cardinal Bibbiena
pocketing the other. His sole real benefactor was the Marquis del
Vasto, husband of the lady whom we shall find celebrated by Luigi
Tansillo, who settled an annuity of a hundred ducats upon him. Even
this was consideration for value to be received, the Marquis, himself a
poet, being properly impressed by the _Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona_
maxim. Ariosto acquitted himself of his obligation like a man,
comparing his patron to Cæsar, Nestor, Achilles, Nireus, and Ladas.
Great as was the renown which his _Orlando_ procured for him in his
lifetime, its profits were not such as to render him independent of
patronage; yet, after all, he was able to boast that the modest house
which he built for himself, and where he died in 1533, was paid for
by his own money.[14] It is kept to this day by the municipality of
Ferrara; and Ariosto’s manuscripts, evincing his indefatigable care in
the revision of his poem, are preserved in the public library.

The chief literary occupations of his latter years had been the
composition of comedies, the superintendence of theatrical performances
for the entertainment of the Duke, and the incessant revision of the
_Orlando Furioso_, enlarged from forty to forty-six cantos. The last
edition published under his own inspection appeared in 1532, and was
not regarded by him as definitive. He also began a continuation,
intended to narrate the death of Ruggiero by the treachery of Gano, of
which only five cantos were written.


So great is the variety of the _Orlando Furioso_, that it appears
difficult at first to discover a clue to a main action among its
thronging and complicated adventures. Ginguené and Panizzi, however,
have shown that one exists, and that this is the union of Ruggiero and
Bradamante, the fabulous ancestors of the house of Este. All the poet’s
skill is exerted to keep them apart, that he may bring them together
at last. Orlando, Rinaldo, Angelica, the chief personages of the
_Innamorato_, have become subordinate characters; and, notwithstanding
the title of the poem, Orlando’s madness is but an episode. The
unfortunate consequence is the transfer of the main interest from
personages whom Boiardo had made highly attractive, to Ruggiero and
Bradamante, less impressive in the hands of Ariosto, whose forte is
rather in depicting tender or humorous than heroic character. It would
not be just to say that this occasions the chief disadvantage of the
poem in comparison with the _Innamorato_, the loss of the elder poet’s
delightful naïveté. Rather the change of plan and the falling off in
simplicity spring from the same root, the taste and character of the
author.

Ariosto was more of a courtier than a knight, and thought more of
the house of Este than of the paladins of Charlemagne. He wrought
upon Boiardo in the spirit of Dryden adapting Chaucer; while his
predecessor, though himself courtly, may rather be likened to William
Morris. Boiardo, though also purposing the panegyric of the house of
Este, sings for the delight of singing, and introduces no incongruous
fifteenth-century figures into his romantic pageant. Ariosto mars
his epic by contemporary allusions, as Spenser and Tennyson marred
theirs by far-fetched allegory. It must be remembered, in justice to
him, that his perpetual adulation of the court of Ferrara seemed less
extravagant then than now. To us the importance attached to a family
which would be forgotten if Ariosto and Tasso had not swelled its
retinue, and if Lucrezia Borgia had not married into it, borders on the
absurd. It seems preposterous that hosts should be equipped, and giants
and dragons and enchanters set in motion, and paladins despatched on
errands to the moon, that Ariosto may compliment a cardinal whose
want of culture rather than his penetration led him to rate these
compliments at their worth. But in Ariosto’s day that court was a
bright and dazzling reality, and almost every member of his immediate
circle depended upon it for his bread.

If we can forget his servility, or persuade ourselves to deem it
loyalty, we shall find little to censure in Ariosto. Shelley’s
assertion that he is only sometimes a poet implies a narrow conception
of the nature of poetry. Rather may it be said that he is always a
poet, always fanciful, always musical, always elevated, though not
always to a very great altitude, above the level of the choicest prose.
It is true that he has nothing of the seer in his composition, that
his perfect technical mastery is rarely either exalted or disturbed by
any gleam of the light that never was on sea or land, that his poem
is destitute of moral or patriotic purpose, and that his standard in
all things is that of his age. This merely proves that he is not in
the rank of supremely great poets--a position which he would not have
claimed for himself; nor have his countrymen paralleled him with Dante.
He is hardly to be called Homeric, though endowed with the Homeric
rapidity, directness, conciseness, and, except when he voluntarily
turns to humour and burlesque, much of the Homeric nobility.

Perhaps the nearest literary analogy to the _Orlando Furioso_ in
another language is the _Metamorphoses_ of Ovid. In both poems appear
the same perspicuity and facility of narration, the same sweetness of
versification, the same art of interweaving episodes into a whole.
Ariosto’s vigour and directness, nevertheless, are wanting to Ovid, and
the palm of invention and of the delineation of character undoubtedly
belongs to him, for Ovid was forbidden to introduce a new incident, or
vary any of the personages afforded by his mythological repertory. The
fact that the _Orlando_ is not, like the _Jerusalem_, a new _Æneid_,
but a new _Metamorphoses_, entirely justifies the introduction of
such burlesque satire as the abode of Discord among the monks, or
such delightful extravagance as Astolfo’s flight to the moon in quest
of Orlando’s brains, resulting in the recovery of no inconsiderable
portion of his own. Such episodes are, indeed, the most characteristic
passages of the _Furioso_; yet in others, such as the siege of Paris
and the madness of Orlando, Ariosto shows himself capable of rising to
epical dignity, which he could have assumed more frequently if it had
entered into his plan. This rather required the gifts of the painter,
whether of natural scenery or of human emotion, which he possessed in
the most eminent degree; and of the ironic but kindly observer of human
life, which he exhibited so fully that even his descriptions are less
popular and admired than the reflective and moralising introductions to
his cantos. Never was such wildness of imagination ballasted with such
solid good sense. Yet, when all is said, his most distinctive merit
remains his unsurpassed talent of exposition, his unfaltering flow of
energetic, perspicuous, melodious narrative; excellence apparently
spontaneous and unstudied, but in truth due to the strenuous revision
of one who judged himself severely, and deemed with Michael Angelo that
trifles made perfection, and perfection was no trifle. Mr. Courthope,
in an admirable parallel, has pointed out his great superiority as a
narrator to his disciple Spenser, whose pictures, nevertheless, glow
with deeper and softer tints, and whose voluminous melody tills the ear
more perfectly than Ariosto’s ringing stanza.

The controversy whether Ariosto or Tasso’s poem is the greater epic,
as it was one of the most obstinately interminable ever raised by
academic pedantry, is also one of the idlest. They belong to different
departments of art; it would be as reasonable to compare a picture
with a statue. The question, nevertheless, which of the men was the
greater poet, does admit of profitable discussion, though it may be
difficult to establish any but a subjective criterion. If endowment
with the poetical temperament is to be taken as the test, the palm
certainly belongs to Tasso, whose actions, thoughts, and misfortunes
are invariably those of a poet, and whose inward music is constantly
finding expression in lyrical verse. Ariosto’s comparatively few lyrics
generally wear a less spontaneous aspect than Tasso’s; the incidents of
his life rather bespeak the man of affairs than the man of books; and
if his _Orlando_ had perished, we should hardly have surmised how great
a poet had been lost in him.

If, on the other hand, the palm should be bestowed for mastery of
art, it seems rather due to Ariosto, who handles his theme with
more vigour, and has it more thoroughly under control. He is not
obliged, like Tasso, to embellish his poem with episodes which, by
their superior attractiveness, almost eclipse the main action: the
few passages of the kind in the _Orlando_ are strictly subordinate,
and not among its principal ornaments. The chief artistic blots upon
his poem could not well have been avoided. So completely, though
unjustly, has he overshadowed his predecessor Boiardo, that we are apt
to forget that his work is an example, unique in literature, of the
successful continuation of another’s. The adulation of the house of
Este was an inheritance from his precursor; it is only to be regretted
that, contrary to the example of Boiardo and the subsequent practice
of Tasso, he should have given it disproportionate prominence. The
incurable defect of the action of the _Furioso_ is also a legacy from
the _Innamorato_. Ruggiero, the real hero of Ariosto’s part of the
poem, wins the hand of Bradamante, and becomes the ancestor of the
house of Este, by apostasy. The poem finds him a pagan, and leaves him
a Christian. All that ingenuity can effect is employed to extenuate his
desertion; nevertheless, the sympathies of every reader must be with
the Saracen Rodomonte when he appears in the last canto to tax Ruggiero
with his change of sides, and necessarily (for otherwise what would
have become of the house of Este?) is slain for his loyalty, to the
scandal of poetical justice.

That Ariosto, apart from his boundless invention and command of
language and narrative, was a true poet, is shown by the extreme beauty
of the majority of the introductions to his cantos, where he appears
even more at home than in the descriptions of the deeds of prowess
of which he was at bottom so sceptical. Another strong point is the
number, vividness, and originality of his similes, not in general
copied from ancient poets, but peculiar to himself, and perfectly
descriptive of the object designed to be illustrated. One of the
most apparently characteristic similes of a great master of quaint
comparison, the late Coventry Patmore, is borrowed from him.[15]

The sense of Ariosto is easily represented in English, but it is
another matter to reproduce his felicity of phrase. The following
stanzas in Miss Ellen Clerke’s version are from the description of
Angelica’s flight from Rinaldo:

      _Through dark and fearsome woods she takes her flight,
      By desert places wild, and lonely ways.
      The stirring of the leaves and foliage light
      Of oak, or elm, or beech that softly sways,
      Doth startle her aside in sudden fright,
      To wander here and there as in a maze;
      While every shadow seen on hill or hollow
      Seems to her fear Rinaldo’s who doth follow._

      _As baby fawn, or tender bleating goat,
      Which from its leafy cradle hath espied
      Its hapless dam seized by the quivering throat,
      By leopard fierce, and oped her breast or side,
      Flees from the brute to sylvan depths remote,
      Trembling with fears by fancy multiplied,
      And at each stump that she in passing touches,
      Deems that the monster grasps her in its clutches._


_That day and night, and all the next, sped she In circles round about,
she knew not where, But reached at last a grove right fair to see,
Stirred lightly by the cool and fragrant air. Two crystal streamlets,
murmuring o’er the lea, Perennially refreshed the herbage there, And a
sweet tune sang, in melodious treble, Their gentle current, chafed by
flint and pebble._

_And deeming that she here is safe indeed, A thousand miles beyond
Rinaldo’s quest, Weary of summer heat and travel speed, Resolves she
for brief spell to take a rest; 'Mid flowers dismounts, and looses in
the mead Her palfrey, and doth of the rein divest, To wander by the
wave pellucid flowing, With juicy grasses on its margin growing._

_A tempting bush site sees, not far away, Of thorn a-bloom with roses
blushing red, Which in the wave doth glass itself alway, Screened from
the sun by spreading oaks o’erhead. An empty space within it doth
display A chamber cool, with densest shade o’erspread, Where leaves and
branches roof so close have woven, Nor sun nor glance its dusk hath
ever cloven._

_A couch of softest grass within the lair Invites to rest upon its
herbage sweet. Down in its midst doth sink the lady fair, And lays her
there, and sleeps in that retreat; But not for long, for shortly she
was 'ware Of the approaching tread of coming feet. She softly rises,
and through leaves a-quiver A knight in armour sees draw near the
river._

The morality of the _Orlando Furioso_, some licentious episodes
excepted which stand quite apart from the main action, may be
considered good, being that of a refined and courtly circle where lofty
virtues were cordially recognised in theory, however they might fail to
be exemplified in practice. Ariosto does not, like Tasso, convey the
impression of a man above his time, and only depressed to its level by
unpropitious circumstances. He is the child of his age, at the summit
of its average elevation, but not transcending this. Yet it would have
been well for Italy if her princes and statesmen had generally acted
upon those ideas of honour and loyalty which they found and doubtless
admired in their favourite poet. Such precepts as the following, even
though enforced by the teacher’s example, were in their view much too
good for ordinary practice:

      _Bundle with cord is not so bound, I ween,
      Or plank to plank so riveted by nail,
      As knightly troth that once hath plighted been,
      Doth with the true and loyal soul prevail.
      Nor is Fidelity depicted seen,
      Save robed from head to foot in candid veil,
      Visage enveloping and frame and limb,
      Since but one stain would make her wholly dim._

      _Pure must she ever be, and free from spot,
      If to one only or to thousands plighted;
      Nor less if vowed in woodland wild or grot
      Far from men’s ways and dwellings disunited,
      Than where the judge doth duly law allot,
      And deeds are sealed, and testimonies cited.
      Nor oath she needs, or like appeal to Heaven;
      Enough the solemn word once gravely given._

      _His pledge chivalric, and the faith he gave,
      Zerbin in every circumstance defended;
      But ne’er did prove himself their duteous slave
      More than when now disconsolate he wended
      With this detested hag, whom like the grave
      His soul abhorred: by plague or death attended,
      Full sooner had he fared; but honour’s claim
      Bound him to that objectionable dame._

To appreciate Zerbino’s fidelity to his word, it must be known that,
having been vanquished in a joust, he has been compelled to vow to
escort a hideous old woman of singular depravity, and to maintain her
beauty and virtue against all comers, with the prospect of being killed
in her service. A more comic situation will hardly be found in any of
the romances.

Ariosto’s comedies must be considered along with the Italian drama
in general. The most important of his minor poetical works are the
Satires, rather in the vein of Horace than of Juvenal, and, in truth,
hardly satires at all in any proper sense of the term. They are good
metrical talk on light subjects, elegant, chatty, and discursive. His
own disappointments are alluded to very good-humouredly. His lyrical
pieces are not remarkable, except one impressive sonnet, in which he
appears to express compunction for the irregularities of his life:

      _How may I deem That thou in heaven wilt hear,
        O Lord divine, my fruitless prayer to Thee,
        If for all clamour of the tongue Thou see
      That yet unto the heart the net is dear?
      Sunder it Thou, who all behold’st so clear,
        Nor heed the stubborn will’s oppugnancy,
        And this do Thou perform, ere, fraught with me,
      Charon to Tartarus his pinnace steer.
      By habitude of ill that veils Thy light,
        And sensual lure, and paths in error trod,
        Evil from good no more I know aright.
      Ruth for frail soul submissive to the rod
        May move a mortal; in her own despite
        To drag her heavenward is work of God._

Late in life the poet married; whether he also reformed seems
doubtful. His amours, however, were unaccompanied by tragedy or
scandal. In fact, this most wildly imaginative of the Italian poets
seems to have had less than most poets of the poetic temperament, and
the amiability for which he is universally praised was not accompanied
by any remarkable acuteness of feeling. His virtues were those of an
excellent man of the world; he was liberal, courteous, sensible, just,
and sincere.

The success of the _Orlando Furioso_, which Bernardo Tasso, writing
in 1559, affirms to be better known and more talked of than Homer,
naturally produced the same effect as the popularity of Scott and
Byron produced in England--“All could raise the flower, for all
had got the seed.” The two most important of these imitations, the
_Girone il Cortese_ of Luigi Alamanni and the _Amadigi_ of Bernardo
Tasso--both good poets, to be mentioned again in other departments
of literature--resemble Pygmalion’s image before the interposition
of Venus; all the constituents of a fine poem are there, but the
breath of life is wanting. “The _Girone_,” says Ginguené, “is a very
dignified, very rational, and generally well-written poem, but cold
and consequently somewhat tiresome.” If there is more warmth in the
_Amadigi_, there is also more loquacity, and the power of the author,
an excellent writer on a small scale, is quite inadequate to sustain
continuous interest through a hundred cantos. The comparison which he
necessarily courts with the old romance of Vasco Lobeira, the best work
of its class, is always unfavourable to him. His copious employment
of elfin machinery gave him opportunities of which he failed to avail
himself. The best of him as an epic writer is his gift of brilliant
description. The younger Tasso’s _Rinaldo_ is a very extraordinary
production for a youth of eighteen, but the impulse towards the
chivalrous epic was exhausted by his time, and he wisely found another
way of rivalling Ariosto. The _Orlandino_ and the _Ricciardetto_ belong
rather to the class of the mock heroic, to be treated hereafter. The
names of a few of the most remarkable _bona-fide_ attempts at chivalric
poetry must suffice: the _Guerino il Meschino_ of Tullia d’Aragona,
the _Ogier the Dane_ of Cassiodoro Narni, the _Death of Ruggiero_ of
Giambatista Pescatore, the _Triumphs of Charlemagne_ of Francesco de’
Lodovici, the _First Exploits of Orlando_ of Lodovico Dolce, and the
_Angelica Innamorata_ of Vincenzo Brusantini.

Apart from the poems of the chivalric cycles, Italy witnessed but few
attempts at epic in the first half of the sixteenth century. Of the
author of one of these, however, it might be said, _Magnis excidit
ausis_. GIOVANNI GIORGIO TRISSINO was born of a noble family at Vicenza
in 1478. He repaired the defects of a neglected education with singular
industry, and endeared himself to the two Medici Popes, Leo and
Clement, who entrusted him with important diplomatic missions. His most
successful poetical work, the tragedy of _Sophonisba_ (1515), brought
him great fame, and actually does mark an era in the history of the
drama. He wrote much on grammar, but could effect only one reform, the
distinction between _i_ and _j_ and _u_ and _v_. After his retirement
from diplomacy Trissino lived many years among his fellow-citizens,
wealthy and honoured; but his later years were embittered by a painful
and disastrous lawsuit with his son by his first marriage. He died in
1549.

Trissino had commenced in 1525 the composition of his epic, _The
Deliverance of Italy from the Goths_, which was published in 1547 and
1548. It has some literary interest as the first attempt to write
Italian epic poetry in blank verse, but its great misfortune is to be
in verse of any kind. The diction is good, the exposition simple and
clear; if turned into prose it would make a pleasant story for youth,
something like Fénelon’s _Telemachus_. But how a man of Trissino’s
cultivation could have persuaded himself that a mere metrical form,
and this neither artful nor tuneful, could turn prose into poetry,
is indeed difficult to understand. The disyllabic termination of the
lines--almost inevitable in Italian--is not conducive to metrical
majesty at the best; and Trissino seems to have had no idea of cadence
or variety, and to have been content if he could scan his lines upon
his fingers. There is no inspiration, and no pretence to inspiration,
from exordium to peroration of his sober epic; his Pegasus is not only
a pack-horse, but a pack-horse without bells.

In truth, the displacement of the Goths, making room for the Pope, the
Lombard and the Byzantine Exarch, was no deliverance for Italy, but
her great misfortune. A poet, however, is not obliged like a historian
to distinguish nicely between Theodoric and Alaric; and Trissino, with
all his pedantry, might have ranked as a bard if he could have felt
as a patriot; if he could have depicted the Italy of the Goths as the
prototype of the Italy of his own age, rent amid French and Spaniards
and Germans. Whether he conceived the idea or not, he could not or
dared not give it utterance. He nevertheless energetically denounced
the abuses of the Papacy by a prophecy put into the mouth of an angel.

The history of chivalric poetry is especially interesting, as it in
all probability exactly repeats that of the Homeric epic. While the
great events, the siege of Troy and the Saracen invasion of France,
are being really enacted, we have no poetry at all. After two or three
centuries ballads appear, disfiguring genuine history, and shifting
its centre of gravity to incidents unimportant in themselves, but
susceptible of poetical treatment. After two or three more, poets arise
who embellish these romances, bestow poetical form upon them, and
work them into consistent wholes. Had Italy been no further advanced
than Greece at the corresponding epoch, the poems of Boiardo and
Ariosto would have braved two centuries of oral recitation, and come
much corrupted and interpolated into the hands of some Aristarchus
who would have given them their final form. The invention of printing
suppressed this ultimate stage of development, but encouraged the
growth of imitators, whom it preserved from annihilation, while unable
to preserve them from oblivion.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[14] _Parva sed apta mihi, sed nulli obnoxia; sed non Sordida, parta
meo sed tamen aere domus._


[15] _Joltings of the heart, like wine Poured from a flask of narrow
neck._ See _Orlando Furioso_, canto xxiii. st. 113.



                              CHAPTER XII
                     MACHIAVELLI AND GUICCIARDINI


We have now traversed nearly three centuries of Italian literature
without encountering one really great prose-writer, Boccaccio only
excepted. Unquestionably the development of Italian prose was
retarded by the cultivation of Latin, which deprived it of ornaments
in Petrarch, Pontano, and Æneas Sylvius--to say nothing of the
buried talent which the example of such writers would have called
into activity. With every allowance on these accounts, it is still
remarkable how generally the path of the historian of early Italian
literature lies amid the flowers of poetry and fiction. But the time
had now come when, as in Greece, the national genius was about to
assert itself in prose, and, also as in Greece, the movement was
heralded by historians. After a long interval, due to the exclusive
cultivation of ancient models, the Italian Herodotus, Giovanni Villani,
was to be followed by two men who might dispute the character of the
Italian Thucydides, who at all events belonged to that invaluable class
of historians who, like Thucydides, in the events of which they are the
narrators and the judges. This advantage was possessed in an eminent
degree by FRANCESCO GUICCIARDINI, the historian of contemporary times;
and though NICCOLÓ MACHIAVELLI did not write his principal work as
a contemporary, his knowledge of the Florentine constitution was so
intimate as almost to invest him with the authority of an eye-witness
of the Florentine revolutions of the past.

Niccolò Machiavelli, the first Italian and almost the first modern to
display eminent genius as an historical and political writer, was born
at Florence, May 3, 1469. His family had been illustrious for public
services; his father, whom he lost at sixteen, was a jurist; his mother
was a poetess. Little is known of his life until we find him in 1494
secretary to Marcello Virgilio, a learned man who four years afterwards
became head of the chancery of the Republic, a post somewhat resembling
Milton’s Latin Secretaryship under the Commonwealth, but allowing more
active participation in the business of diplomacy. Machiavelli rose
along with his patron, and in 1500 was entrusted with a mission to
France. In the following year he had a more arduous part to play as
envoy to Cæsar Borgia, then consolidating his power in the Romagna, but
for the moment pressed with great difficulties. Machiavelli’s reports
of his mission have been preserved, and attest the impression made upon
him by Cæsar’s supremacy in ability and villainy, which continued to
fascinate him when years afterwards he composed his manual of political
statecraft.

Judged in the sinister light which his writings have seemed to throw
back upon his actions, he has been accused of having counselled and
devised the coup by which Cæsar destroyed his treacherous condottieri
at Sinigaglia, as if the Borgia needed any tuition for an exploit of
this nature. He is also censured for recording it without disapproval;
but if Cæsar had never done anything worse than rid the Romagna of its
vermin, history would not be severe with him. Two years later, employed
upon a mission to Rome, he beheld Cæsar’s fall, and the elevation of
Pope Julius, whom he accompanied on yet another mission to the conquest
of Bologna. He was also despatched about this time on embassies to
Germany and France, and his observations on the circumstances and
characteristics of both nations exhibit great sagacity. Soon afterwards
the affairs of the Republic became troubled, hemmed in as she was
between the transalpine powers and the Pope and the exiled Medici.
Machiavelli was actively engaged in organising her military resources,
but his efforts were fruitless. The restoration of the Medici was
effected in September 1512. Machiavelli lost his employments, and soon
afterwards, upon suspicion of participation in a conspiracy, was thrown
into prison, tortured, and owed his deliverance to an amnesty granted
as an act of grace by the Medicean Pope Leo upon his election in 1513.

He retired to a small estate, where, as he tells us in a most
interesting letter which has reached our times, he consoled himself
with the study of the ancients, familiar intercourse with his rustic
neighbours, and the composition of his _Prince_. The chief purpose of
this famous work certainly was not to recommend himself to the Medici,
but he would willingly have made it subservient to that end. They
neglected him, however, until 1519, when Cardinal Medici, afterwards
Pope Clement VII., called upon him for a memoir on the best method of
administering the Florentine government, in which Machiavelli showed
much dexterity in reconciling the interests of the house of Medici
with the interests of his country. His advice was not followed; but
the Cardinal commissioned him to write the history of Florence. He had
previously employed his leisure in the production of his memorable
discourses on Livy, his comedy the _Mandragola_, and his life of
Castruccio Castracani. In 1527 he was employed in fortifying Florence
against an apprehended attack of the Imperial army, which fell upon
Rome, and he afterwards accompanied the forces sent to make a show
of delivering the Pope. During his absence the Medicean government
was overthrown, an event highly agreeable to his secret wishes; but
his compliances had rendered him odious to the patriotic party, and
he returned to his native city to find himself the object of general
aversion and suspicion. His mortification probably hastened his death,
which took place on June 21, 1527.

Of all Machiavelli’s writings the _Prince_ is the most famous, and
deservedly, for it is the most characteristic. Few subjects of literary
discussion have occasioned more controversy than the purpose of this
celebrated book. Some have beheld in it a manual for tyrants, like the
memoirs of Tiberius, so diligently perused by Domitian; others have
regarded it as a refined irony upon tyranny, on the sarcastic plan of
Swift’s Directions to Servants, if so humble an analogy be permissible.
From various points of view it might alternately pass for either,
but its purpose is accurately conveyed by neither interpretation.
Machiavelli was a sincere though too supple a republican, and by no
means desired the universal prevalence of tyranny throughout Italy.
If he had written with the sole view of ingratiating himself with the
Medici--probably in fact a subordinate motive with him, and the rather
as there actually was a project for investing Giuliano de’ Medici
with the sovereignty of the Romagna, the theatre of Cæsar Borgia’s
exploits--he would have been much more earnest in pressing it upon
their attention. If, on the other hand, satire had been his chief
object, this would have been more mordant and poignant; his power of
contemptuous irony is only revealed in the short chapter on the Papal
monarchy. His aim probably was to show how to build up a principality
capable of expelling the foreigner and restoring the independence of
Italy. But this intention could not be safely expressed, and hence his
work seems repulsive, because the reason of state which he propounds
as an apology for infringing the moral code appears not patriotic, but
purely selfish.

In our day we have seen Italian independence won by appeals to the
patriotism of the nation at large. This was impossible in Machiavelli’s
time; nor, had it been otherwise, would his lips have been touched with
the live coal of a Mazzini. He could only speak as a politician to
politicians, and addressing himself as it were to a body of scientific
experts, he designedly excludes all considerations of morality. His
treatise appears antiquated in our day, when the national conscience
is as easily manipulated as the conscience of the individual; in
oligarchical ages it passed not unreasonably for a perfect manual of
statecraft, and exercised great influence upon the statesmen of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Frederick the Great assailed it
vehemently in his youth, but lived to compliment it by what has been
described as the sincerest form of flattery. In Frederick’s century,
when public affairs actually were in the hands of a few able rulers,
it was worth attacking and defending; in the present democratic age,
when a statesman who squared his conduct by its maxims would soon
find himself the object of popular odium, its interest, except as
regards its weighty plea for a popular army, is mainly historical and
psychological. There is an intimate connection between the _Prince_
and the seven books on the _Art of War_, written about 1520. In the
_Prince_ Machiavelli insists particularly upon the part which the
habit of relying upon treacherous and mutinous mercenaries, and the
consequent decay of public spirit among the citizens, had had in
bringing about the ruin of the Italian states. In the _Art of War_
he shows how the citizen army he recommends is to be organised and
led in battles and sieges. His experience of military affairs as an
eye-witness, as well as an administrator, had been considerable, and he
is by no means to be slighted as a tactical writer; but the military
art was on the eve of great changes, which rendered much of his wisdom
obsolete.

The _Discourses on Livy’s Decades_ occupy a middle position between
political and historical science. They are entirely grounded on the
study of Livy; but their main importance consists not in the commentary
upon the transactions Livy has related, but in the application of these
to the general principles of politics and to the circumstances of the
writer’s own country. They may be defined as in some sort the _Prince_
rewritten on a larger scale, and copiously illustrated by historical
examples; but the effect is much more pleasing. In the other book
Machiavelli appears as the mere scientific analyst of politics, and his
real purpose might be reasonably questioned; but the _Discourses_ leave
no doubt of his genuine patriotism and of his preference of morality to
obliquity, except where, as it seems to him, the interest of the state
interferes. The problem of the permissibility of an act reprehensible
in the abstract, but required by the safety of the stale--as, for
example, Mohammed Ali’s massacre of the Mamelukes--is a very difficult
one, and Machiavelli cannot be fairly judged from the standpoint of the
nineteenth century. He had not seen the trial and failure of his ideal
prince on a colossal scale in the person of Napoleon. It was a cardinal
error of his to deny a capacity of improvement to human nature and to
assume that mankind would be essentially the same in all ages. We see,
on the contrary, that the general standard of righteousness has been
greatly raised since his time; and that, even if this were not so, the
conditions of modern society are adverse to Machiavellian policy: to
import this perception, however, into the criticism of his work would
be but to reverse his own mistake. Many other criticisms might be
addressed to him: he did not, for example, foresee that another set of
patriots, from their own point of view, might arise, whose conception
of the _summum bonum_ in polity would be entirely different from his
own; and that within a few years his maxims might serve as an arsenal
for the Jesuits, whose objects would have been his utter abomination.
With all his faults and oversights, nothing can deprive Machiavelli of
the glory of having been the modern Aristotle in politics, the first,
or at least the first considerable writer who derived a practical
philosophy from history, and exalted statecraft into science.

Machiavelli’s _History of Florence_ is not, like his _Discourses_, a
work of profound thought, nor is it authoritative in any respect. It
rather exhibits him as the elegant and accomplished man of letters,
and is perhaps the first successful restoration of the classical
style of history to a European vernacular. His great contemporary
Guicciardini had indeed anticipated him with a fragment on the same
subject, but this long remained unpublished, and it is not likely that
Machiavelli ever saw it. Machiavelli has not delved deep for materials;
much of the early part of his history is taken almost literally from
Flavio Biondo and other predecessors. He has sometimes departed
unjustifiably from strict matter of fact, not by invention or serious
misrepresentation, but by accentuating and slightly modifying actual
incidents to give them the particular colour he desires. In the main,
however, his work is a faithful as well as an animated picture of the
public life of a community in its characteristics more nearly akin to
the ancient commonwealth of Athens than any the earth has seen since
this disappeared from her face. The quality which will preserve even a
bad history, and without which a good one will only live as a book of
reference, is never absent from Machiavelli’s--he entertains while he
instructs. His work, which was composed after 1520 by order of Cardinal
Giulio de’ Medici, is divided into eight books, and extends from the
beginning of Florentine history to the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in
1492. The intimate connection of Florence with the general course of
Italian politics leads to frequent digressions and copious notices of
neighbouring states. Another historical work of Machiavelli’s, the Life
of Castruccio Castracani, Prince of Lucca in the fourteenth century, is
little more than a romance, in which he has endeavoured to depict the
ideal soldier and statesman.

Machiavelli’s plays and poems will be noticed elsewhere. They in
no respect detract from his reputation. He came nearer than any
contemporary, except Leonardo da Vinci, to approving himself a
universal genius. No man of his time stands higher intellectually, and
his want of moral elevation is largely redeemed by his ample endowment
with the one virtue chiefly needful to an Italian in his day, but of
which too many Italians were destitute--patriotism.

Patriotism cannot be denied to Machiavelli’s great counterpart,
Francesco Guicciardini, and if it seems colder and more stained by
unworthy subserviency and political cynicism, it must be remembered
that these defects are the defects of the qualities in which
Guicciardini surpassed his rival. Machiavelli was a genius of the
creative order, and hence, with all his astuteness, occasionally
somewhat Utopian; his life was free, and his muse licentious.
Guicciardini had a great practical genius, infallible within a narrow
sphere. He does not invent or generalise; his wisdom comes mainly by
experience, and he accepts things for what they are. “His originality,”
says Signor Villari, “though doubtless considerable, was devoted to
giving an exact and most lucid shape to the current doctrines of his
day.” “A sound judgment,” he himself says in his _Ricordi_, “is better
than a pregnant wit.” He is correct in all the relations of life, and
has not the least turn for writing comedies. Machiavelli, after all
his experiences, still hopes like an enchanted maiden for the ideal
prince. Guicciardini knows that there is none such, and that, even
if there were, the barbarians would be too strong for him. He coldly
accepts the situation and hires himself out to a bad Government, with
this redeeming quality, that it is still a Government of Italians by
Italians. It may be said that Machiavelli was willing to enter the
service of the Medici, and such is the fact; but Florence had owed
glorious days to Cosmo and Lorenzo, and Machiavelli could never have
thought or written of them as Guicciardini did of his Papal employers:

“_No one can have a stronger detestation than mine for the avarice,
ambition, and sloth of the priesthood. Nevertheless, the position I
have always held with several pontiffs has compelled me to love them
for mine own advantage; and but for this consideration I should have
loved Martin Luther as myself, not for the purpose of freeing myself
from the laws introduced by the Christian religion, as it is generally
interpreted and understood, but in order to see this herd of wretches
reduced to their proper condition, namely, that of their being left
either without vices or without authority._”

It had not always been so. The Papal satellite had been a trusted
envoy of the Florentine Government. Born in 1483, he had studied law
at Ferrara and Padua, become an advocate on his return to Florence,
married advantageously, and in 1512 discharged a mission to Spain,
where he graduated in diplomacy under the eye of the most crafty and
faithless prince of the Age of Perfidy, Ferdinand the Catholic. The
revolution which restored the Medici occurred in his absence. He
accepted the situation, but instead of serving the Government at home,
passed into the employment of the Medicean Pope, Leo X., to whom he
must have been highly recommended, for he immediately received the
government of Modena, Reggio, and Parma, recently added to the states
of the Church, in which he showed the utmost energy and sagacity in
suppressing malefactors and preserving order. From 1524 to 1527 he was
President of the Romagna, and until 1534, when he retired from the
Pope’s service, Governor of Bologna, and all evidence goes to show that
the Papal power was never more faithfully served than by the man who
held it in such abhorrence. He cannot be acquitted of having favoured
the overthrow of Florentine liberty in 1530, and is accused of acts of
cupidity and vengeance which do not seem in harmony with his general
character. He returned to his native city in 1534, hoping to play
an important part under the restored dynasty; but the youthful Duke
Cosmo, who needed no tutor in the arts of intrigue and dissimulation,
gently thrust him aside, and the disappointed politician solaced his
latter years with the composition of his history. Six years of literary
leisure gave him a renown which his twenty years of active concern with
the world’s business would never have procured him. He died in 1540,
leaving his history still in want of the last touches.

It is, nevertheless, the leading fault of this very great book to
have had too many touches already. Guicciardini, like Gibbon, thought
much of his dignity, and assumed his historical as poets are said to
assume their singing robes. He dropped the easy and vigorous style
in which his fragment upon Florentine history had been composed in
his youth, and wrote in a dignified and ambitious manner for which
nature did not qualify him. Hence he is tedious, and the impression of
tameness is enhanced by the unsatisfactory character of the incidents
narrated, and the author’s general deficiency in enthusiasm. With all
these defects it is still one of the most valuable histories ever
written. It might be entitled the History of the Decline and Fall of
Italy, from the French invasion in 1494. For us the sadness of the
picture is relieved by our knowledge of the splendour of literature and
art in an age of complete dissolution of the body politic; but these
redeeming circumstances do not enter into Guicciardini’s view: he can
only write as Polybius wrote of the downfall of Greece. He has much in
common with this historian: both men of affairs; both largely concerned
with the events they describe; both embittered by public calamities
and contemptuous of the capacity of their countrymen; both patriotic
children of a ruined state, while compelled, and not wholly averse,
to adopt intimate association with the conqueror; neither of them the
master of a good style, but compensating this defect by good sense and
the invaluable political lessons they derive from the transactions they
record.

Another statesman-historian, Ranke, has brought heavy charges against
Guicciardini, both of plagiarism and of wilful manipulation of facts,
but he seems to have been successfully answered by Signor Villari in
his Life of Machiavelli. Villari, who has had access to the archives
of Guicciardini’s family, is able to show the extent to which he
availed himself of MS. materials, and his care in working them up into
his history. Many of his statements which have since been shown to be
erroneous, were in conformity with the general belief of his time.

Guicciardini’s literary glory was enhanced, though his moral character
suffered some injury, by the publication of his inedited writings
in ten volumes in 1857 and following years. These include, with
other important matter, the fragment of Florentine history to which
reference has been made; his official correspondence as diplomatist
and governor, full of historical information and practical sagacity;
the considerations on Machiavelli, his friend and fellow-expert in
politics, characteristic of the natures of the two men, so eminent
respectively in theory and in practice; the _Dialogue on the Government
of Florence_, avowing this ostensible partisan of the Medici’s secret
preference for a republic, though an oligarchical one; most important
of all, the _Ricordi politici e civili_, maxims and memoranda of a
statesman. These are purely aphoristic, without system or unity beyond
that which they necessarily derive from the constitution of the mind
upon which they have been impressed by experience and reflection.

“He fully understood,” says Villari, “that by this plan his counsels
and political maxims became nothing more than simple observations,
palliatives and tricks for the wiser or less wise guidance of the
social machine, apart from all radical reform or the creation of any
new system of political science or moral philosophy, and still less
of any new state or new people. But he neither hoped nor desired to
entertain hopes of so lofty a nature. System he did not seek, daring
hypotheses were not to his taste; he merely gathered the fruit of
his own and others’ daily experience.” In a word, Guicciardini was a
realist; Machiavelli, for all his worldly wisdom, an idealist. As the
Bishop of London has remarked: “It is the weakness of Machiavelli’s
political method that, while professing to deal with politics in
a practical spirit, he is not practical enough.” It would seem
Guicciardini’s chief fault to have taken too limited a view of human
affairs, and to have judged too exclusively from what was happening
in his own corner. The imperfection of historical materials, however,
rendered any attempt at a philosophy of history extremely difficult,
and Guicciardini’s time was too much occupied by administrative labours
for profound investigation. Notwithstanding his opportunism and
political pessimism, he had an ideal, and he tells us plainly what it
was:

“_I desire to see three things before my death--but I doubt I may live
long enough without seeing any of them--a well-ordered republican mode
of life in our own city, the deliverance of Italy from all barbarians,
and the world freed from the tyranny of these execrable priests._”

The mutability of the world might almost seem to justify
Guicciardini’s hand-to-mouth method of getting through it. We have seen
Petrarch two centuries earlier calling for the Pope’s return to Rome as
the panacea for all the ills of Italy. Guicciardini would have sided
with him in that age; in his own the same genius of liberty which spoke
by Petrarch’s mouth to demand the Pope’s restoration speaks by his to
demand the Pope’s expulsion. It was not given to him to see the great
value in evil times of the temporal power--in good times monstrous--as
an asylum for what little of independence could still subsist in
Italy, and a testimony, however feeble, to a moral and spiritual unity
destined to develop into a national unity. But against the Papal sway
on its own merits, apart from the accidental circumstances of the time,
Guicciardini and Machiavelli prophesy like the two witnesses of the
Apocalypse.



                             CHAPTER XIII
             OTHER PROSE-WRITERS OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY


Italy now possessed a perfect standard of prose. She had already had
one in the fourteenth century, when so rapid had been the development
of the power of expression that the form had outrun the substance. She
could say anything; but except by the mouth of the novelist Boccaccio,
and that of Petrarch, who preferred to write his prose in Latin, had
found little worthy of emphatic utterance. It may be partly owing to
this poverty of matter in the vernacular literature, as well as to the
passion for Latin, that style decayed so greatly during the fifteenth
century. Yet, so far as the latter of these causes operated, the evil
brought its own remedy: it was impossible to be as deeply versed
as Pontano or Politian in the elegances of Latin without becoming
impatient of barbarism and pedantry in Italian. Sannazaro, an exquisite
Latin writer, was perhaps the first considerable man who insisted
on an even standard of distinction in both languages. Fortunately
for Italy, the _Arcadia_ was a very popular book; fortunately, too,
the Latin constructions with which it is replete were not so easily
imitated as its general refinement of phrase. By the time of Leo X.
inelegance had almost disappeared from Italian literature, and Italy
might boast herself the only country in Europe that possessed a perfect
literary language; wanting, indeed, the golden simplicity of the
thirteenth century, but still the prose of cultivated men, and adequate
for every form of literary composition. The intellectual distinction
thus conferred upon the nation, combined with her still more
pronounced superiority in the arts, seemed, as with Greece in similar
circumstances, to regain for her a dominion more illustrious than that
of which she had been despoiled. For a hundred years her authors were
the arbiters of taste and the models of Europe, a sovereignty which
might have been prolonged had it been possible for her to place herself
on the right and victorious side in the great battle for civil and
religious freedom that resounded throughout the sixteenth century.

As in all countries at their first awakening to an era of literary
culture, this culture had gone deep enough to produce a multitude of
authors, but not deep enough to generate a literary public capable of
supporting them. The appetite for fame and the delight in authorship
filled the ranks of literature with aspiring recruits, but the
commissariat, without which no army can keep the field, had to be
supplied by patronage, either from individuals or the state. Hence,
except when some wealthy noble like Angelo di Costanzo was smitten
with the passion for literary fame, we usually find the writers of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, even when most illustrious,
in a condition of dependence. When with this is considered the utter
absence of civil freedom (for Venice, the one free city, hospitable to
authors, allowed little liberty to printers), it is remarkable that
the servility of the writers should have extended so little beyond
their dedications. Especially is this the case with history, which,
notwithstanding the influences at work to disfigure and corrupt it,
remained on the whole surprisingly impartial. This must be ascribed in
great part to the influence of classic models; partly, also, to the
real mental superiority of most of those who in the sixteenth century
essayed this form of composition.

No form is more attractive than the historical to men ambitious to
shine in letters, and conscious of high talent without creative genius.
“_No merita il nome di creatore, se non Iddio ed il Poeta_;” but
delineation of character and representation of events are as it were
an inferior kind of creation out of pre-existing material, like that
ascribed by ancient theology to the Demiurgus. The literary genius
of Italy addressed itself eagerly to the task. Ere long almost every
considerable state had its vernacular historian. Some of the most
important writers, nevertheless, continued to compose in Latin. Among
these the most eminent was that very secular prelate and not very
trustworthy historian PAOLO GIOVIO, Bishop of Nocera (1483-1552), one
of the men whose chief title to fame in our day is to have been famous
in their own, but who was certainly reckoned as the chief historian
of his time, and whose biographies of eminent men of letters and
illustrious captains are still found valuable. Part of his general
history of his own times perished in the sack of Rome (1527), and, with
a sensitiveness not dishonourable to him, he shrank from recording
the transactions of a time when the vials of wrath seemed so visibly
poured out upon the Papacy. Except for the gaps indicated, his history
extends from 1494 to 1547. Literature sustained a heavy loss in the
disappearance of the work of Andrea Navagero, another Latin historian
(1483-1529), who had been entrusted by the Venetian Government with
the history of their Republic. The loss of another historian--Girolamo
Borgia, who wrote the history of Italy in the days of Alexander VI. and
Julius II.--is greatly to be deplored, not because he was distinguished
as a writer, but because he was a Borgia.

The historian of Florence had given the first example of really
classic Italian history, and Florence, though backward in comparison
with Venice in the diffusion of literature by the art of printing,
still took the lead among Italian cities in literary as well as
artistic cultivation. A group of Florentine annalists sprung up, whose
pens were chiefly exerted for the honour of their birthplace. Their
candour generally prevented the publication of their works in their
lifetime. Such is the case with JACOPO NARDI, who wrote the history
of Florence from the expulsion of the Medici in 1494 to their final
restoration in 1530, “with sincerity of intention and painstaking
accuracy” (Symonds), but also with the acrimony to be expected from
a banished patriot who fought for liberty to the last, and for the
remainder of his life ate the bread of exile at Venice. The style is
accused of aridity; but his translation of Livy is regarded as one of
the best in the Italian language. His own history was not published
until 1582, nor that of his continuator Segni until 1713, although
this elegant historian, whose work occupies the period from 1527 to
1555, was a partisan of the Medici. A portion of the same epoch, from
1527 to 1538, is described much more diffusely by BENEDETTO VARCHI,
one of the most prolific men of letters of his time. Varchi, though
a devotee of the liberty of whose restoration he despaired, wrote by
the special commission of the Grand Duke Cosmo, which neither affected
his impartiality nor protected him from being nearly murdered by some
private persons who had been offended by his honesty, nor prevented his
history from remaining in MS. until the eighteenth century. In 1570
SCIPIONE AMMIRATO, a Neapolitan, received a commission from the Grand
Duke to write a general history of Florence, which he brought down to
1574. His free access to archives enabled him to be more accurate than
any predecessor. He also compiled some valuable genealogical works. The
history of Ferrara was written by Pigna, and that of Genoa by Foglietta
and Bonfadio, all of whom may be considered standard historians. The
same can hardly be said of any other of the numerous local writers
whom Italy produced in this age, except Porzio, the historian of the
conspiracy of the Neapolitan barons against King Ferdinand; Graziani,
who recounted the Venetian wars in Cyprus; and three others who deserve
notice not merely as historians but as typical figures.

Never since Petrarch’s day had the sceptre of Italian literature
rested so unequivocally in one hand as in PIETRO BEMBO’S during the
second quarter of the sixteenth century. In one respect Bembo’s
pre-eminence is even more remarkable than his predecessor’s, for
Petrarch towered immeasurably above any possible competitor except
Boccaccio, while Bembo was so far from being the first man of his day
that he was not even a man of genius. His wonderful gift for felicitous
imitation, whether in prose or verse, was unaccompanied by any power of
original thought. But he possessed beyond any contemporary the formal
perfection of style, whether in Latin or Italian, demanded by the age.
His History of Venice, which alone concerns us here, was originally
published in the former language, but Bembo vindicated his claim to a
place among Italian historians by himself translating it into Italian.
He had succeeded Andrea Navagero as Venetian historiographer in 1529.

Born at Venice in 1470, and son of the magistrate who so honourably
distinguished himself by raising a monument to Dante at Ravenna, Bembo
had all his life enjoyed the favour of the great. He had been the
Platonic admirer of Lucrezia Borgia, who had honoured him with the
shining tress and the dull letters religiously preserved in the Brera
Library at Milan. Leo X. had made him his secretary before issuing
from his own conclave, and, with munificence for once well applied,
had provided him with means to occupy a delicious retreat at Padua,
where he was residing when he received the Venetian commission. At a
later period Paul III., who loved to surround himself with illustrious
men, raised him to the Cardinalate and drew him to Rome, where he
died in 1547, more admired and lamented than any man of letters of
his time. His history, which extends from 1487 to 1513, and which he
composed with his eye upon Cæsar, is the image of the writer, perfect
in the harmony of its periods, and carrying the reader rapidly along
its smooth surface, but surface alone, describing every occurrence as
the ordinary man saw it and the statesman did not, with no attempt to
search out the secret springs of action, no reference to documents
public or private, and, which is more surprising, no effort to
delineate a remarkable character. That this would not have exceeded his
powers is shown by his beautiful portrait of the Duchess of Urbino, in
his Latin life of her husband.

Bembo’s successor, PIETRO PARUTA (1540-98), who continued his history
to 1551, typifies the statesman historian, versed in diplomacy and
public business, and so highly endowed with the qualifications demanded
by such employments as to have become Procurator of the Republic, and
to have been prevented only by his death from becoming Doge. He was
consequently well fitted to write the annals of a state like Venice,
and his work stands high among Italian histories. The third exceptional
historian of the age, typical of the accomplished literary amateur, is
ANGELO DI COSTANZO, a Neapolitan noble whom we shall meet again among
the poets. He wrote the history of Naples from 1250 to 1486, and is
interesting as the pupil of Sannazaro, the friend of Vittoria Colonna,
a patrician whose love of letters led him to cultivate authorship, and
a patriot whose love of country gave umbrage to the jealous Spanish
viceroy, and subjected him to perpetual confinement to his estates. His
history does not disappoint the favourable prepossessions thus aroused,
being composed with great elegance and dignity, and a manifest love
of truth; insomuch that the author of the modern standard history of
Naples, Giannone, while supplying Costanzo’s defects by close attention
to jurisprudence, public economy, and other subjects neglected by his
predecessor, has transfused most of the latter’s narrative into his own.

Biography, the most attractive form of prose composition, was also
well represented in this age, but inspired only two standard works,
extremely unlike in style and spirit, but both possessions for all
time, and both relating to the line arts. GIORGIO VASARI (1512-74),
biographer-general of painters, sculptors, and architects, may be
called the Herodotus of art; a practitioner himself, and acquainted
with many of the persons whom he describes; lively and garrulous,
apparently most artless, he possesses either the science or the knack
of felicitous composition in an extraordinary degree. Living when
picturesque stories about artists were accepted without question, he
is entirely unembarrassed in relating such as commend themselves to
him, to the joy of the readers and the scandal of the critics of the
future. It is probable that scepticism of the truth of his anecdotes
and the authority due to his attributions of pictures has gone much too
far; but however this may be, criticism will never be able to turn his
living book into a dead one, or to invalidate our debt to him for the
mass of unquestionably authentic particulars which he has preserved.
His good taste in art as well as in literature is evinced by his
admiration for the first-fruits of the early Tuscan school, neglected
in his day, and his character appears throughout his work in the most
amiable light. His chief defect, a serious one, is the imperfection of
his information respecting the important schools of Lombardy and Venice.

There is little amiability in a still more distinguished writer, whose
pen has gained him the immortality which he expected from the chisel
and the graver. BENVENUTO CELLINI (1501-71) was undoubtedly a very
eminent artist; yet the autobiography which has preserved his name,
while those of Pompeo Tarcone and Alessandro Cesati are forgotten, is
a greater work of art than any he accomplished in his own vocation. It
may be compared to the realistic sculpture of Donatello, surpassing
in vigour and animation the ideal models of which it falls short in
elegance and grace. It is the counterpart of a man, and a very manly
man, all muscle and sinew and rude force, a boaster, a bully, a
libertine, a duellist, almost an assassin, one whom a slight change of
circumstances would easily have made a brigand or a bravo but always
the artist. No book, it is probable, gives a better idea of the general
atmosphere of the Italy of the sixteenth century; assuredly no other
delineation is nearly so vivid. With truly Pepysian unconsciousness
the writer depicts in himself the man of turbulent and impracticable
character moving among princes and nobles, outraging their forbearance
by every action of his life, and revenging himself for their exhausted
patience by malicious truth or reckless calumny. The general fidelity
of the picture, however, does not depend upon the accuracy of
particular statements, and Cellini’s untruths where his own vanity is
concerned do not impair his claim to confidence as a delineator of his
age. Of the literary merit of his performance it is needless to speak;
if not at the very head of entertaining autobiographies, it is at least
second to none. The English reader will be continually reminded of
Haydon; although, however, Haydon’s confidence in himself was no less
robust than Cellini’s, he had far less reason for it, nor, with all his
vividness, is he the Italian’s equal in graphic power.

One other prose-writer of the period, and perhaps only one, may be
considered as much an author for all time as Vasari and Cellini. This
is BALDASSARE CASTIGLIONE, whose _Cortegiano_ depicts the ideal life
of the accomplished Italian courtier--a character of more importance
in that day than he can be in ours. In Castiglione’s time not only
were the court and good society almost convertible expressions, but
the relation of the courtier to the court was far more intimate than
it can be now. It actually was his sphere, which he seldom forsook
except when absent on military enterprises or public business; he
was in habits of daily intercourse with his sovereign, and professed
courtesy and civility as others professed arts or trades. A competent
writer on the court and its accomplishments, therefore, was necessarily
an instructor in manners and refinement, and as such might exercise an
important influence on his age. While the equally accomplished Casa,
in his _Galateo_, instructed the average gentleman in good manners,
the courtier’s training fell to the lot of Castiglione, than whom no
man could be better qualified either by actual disposition or the
circumstances of his life. A Mantuan by birth, he had served the Duke
of Urbino, had exemplified Italian refinement at the English court on
a mission to receive the Garter for his sovereign, and when he wrote
(1518), was envoy at the court of Leo X., and the intimate friend of
the most cultivated men of his age.

The machinery of his book is a report, imaginary in form, but
faithful in spirit, of dialogues held at the court of Urbino among the
distinguished persons who frequented it at various times. They are by
no means frivolous; Castiglione’s standard, not merely of deportment
and manly exercise, but of intellectual accomplishment, is very high.
The conversations deal with such themes as the preferable form of
government and the condition of women, and are handled with signal
elegance, acumen, and graceful but not cumbrous erudition. They are
interspersed with pleasant stories admirably told, and would give a
fascinating idea of Italian court life, were it not so evident that
its darker features have been kept out of view, and that the general
relation of Castiglione’s picture to reality is that of Sannazaro’s
Arcadia to the actual life of shepherds. Yet the picture has many
elements of truth, and it speaks well for the age that it could
produce even such an ideal. “Carried to the north of Europe,” says Mr.
Courthope, “and grafted on the still chivalrous manners of the English
aristocracy, the ideal of Castiglione contributed to form the character
of Sir Philip Sidney.” The delicacy of Castiglione’s sentiments is
shown by his bitter mortification at the unjust reproaches of Clement
VII., into whose service he afterwards entered, and who accused him of
failure as a diplomatist. These are said to have broken his heart. He
died in 1529. Raphael had painted his portrait, his tomb was designed
by Giulio Romano, and his epitaph was written by Bembo.

“Love rules the court, the camp, the grove.” The _Asolani_ of Bembo,
therefore, a disquisition on Love from different points of view,
composed in imitation of Cicero’s Tusculan Questions, should take
precedence of Castiglione’s _Cortegiano_, but it can hardly be said
that it does. The _Cortegiano_ is a piece of real life, indicating, if
not precisely what the highest Italian society was, at all events what
it felt it ought to be. Bembo’s dialogues, or rather monologues, might
have been composed in any age of refinement; they are purely academical
in form, and the perpetual justice of the sentiments is purchased by
perpetual commonplace. Seldom, however, have commonplaces been set
off with such harmony and polish of style, or with more ingenious
eloquence, especially at the conclusion, where the Hermit reconciles
Love’s advocates and his accusers by descanting on the charms of ideal
beauty. If it be true that to have read it was the indispensable
passport to good society, the circumstance is creditable to the age’s
literary taste, and still more so to its standard of ideal excellence.
Bembo’s prose is more satisfactory than his poetry, perhaps because
it raises less expectation; in verse the wonder is that he attains no
further, and in prose that he attains so far. _Gli Asolani_, first
published in 1505, was written at the age of twenty-eight, and was
dedicated to Lucrezia Borgia. On the strength of it Bembo is made the
chief interlocutor in Castiglione’s _Cortegiano_ when the question of
love is touched upon.

The number of writers at this period who, if not always moral, may be
described as moralists, is very considerable. ALESSANDRO PICCOLOMINI,
afterwards Archbishop of Patras, wrote a complete institution of the
citizen which is not devoid of merit; but he is better remembered by
a sin of his youth, the _Dialogo della bella creauza delle donne_,
in which an Italian Martha successfully exhorts an Italian Margaret
to add a lover to a husband. The literary merits of this otherwise
reprehensible performance are considerable; it is also an authority
on cosmetics. Sperone Speroni, eminent for the dignity of his life
and the elegance of his style, has the further honour of having first
employed the dialogue in the discussion of purely ethical questions.
Lodovico Dolce and A. F. Doni, industrious _littérateurs_, obtained
a reputation in their own day which posterity has not ratified. The
former, says Tiraboschi, wrote much in every style and well in none;
the latter is tersely characterised by Niceron as “grand diseur de
riens.” Far superior is GIOVANNI BATTISTA GELLI, the learned tailor of
Florence, who had the great advantage over the other moralists of being
able to clothe his wit and wisdom in an objective form. In his _Circe_,
Ulysses is represented as unsuccessfully endeavouring to persuade his
metamorphosed companions to reassume human shape. They know better, and
their argumentation might well have suggested the machinery of Dryden’s
_Hind and Panther_; even as that of Gelli’s _Capricci_, where Giusto
disputes with his own soul, was very probably copied in Smollett’s
_Adventures of an Atom_.

One of the most characteristic writers of the time is AGNOLO
FIRENZUOLA (1497-1547), an authority “on the form and colour of the
ear, and the proper way of wearing ornamental flowers,” whose elegant
and frequently licentious stories, idiomatically Tuscan in style,
fresh in humour, and brilliant in description, are interwoven with his
_Dialoghi d’Amore_, and who also gained fame by his comedies, and as
the translator, or rather adapter, of Apuleius. As the combination of
the photographic portraits of several members of any class of society
gives the mean average of its physiognomy, so Firenzuola represents the
average constitution of such men of letters of his day as wrote with a
real vocation for literature. It is doubtful whether any such vocation
can be credited to another satirist who greatly surpassed him in
celebrity, the notorious PIETRO ARETINO (1492-1556). Aretino was merely
a literary blackmailer, whose profligate and venal pen was employed to
extort or cajole money from the great men of the age. His indubitable
success is difficult to understand, except as the irrepressible and
irreversible decree of fashion. Apart from his comedies and his
letters, an amazing record of the abasement of rank before impudence,
only one of his works has any literary merit, and the genuineness of
this is questionable. His other immoralities are as insipid as his
moralities, and his personalities are of the kind best answered by a
cudgel. Notwithstanding, he became a power in public life as well as in
literature, rivalled the opulence and the pomp of his friend Titian,
and, like him, trained up disciples of his craft. The charm may have
lain in some measure in the boldness of the man, who alone in his age
made a show of free speech, although the real motor of his pen was
cupidity, who lived libelling, and died laughing. Worthless as he was,
he might have anticipated Pope’s boast that men not afraid of God were
afraid of him.

Aretino is only one among a host of letter-writers, who included
the most accomplished men of the age. Bembo appears as its typical
representative, here as elsewhere, although the unfortunate historian
Bonfadio is held to have written best. All wrote with an eye to the
publication of their epistles, and asked themselves what Cicero
would have said in their place. None had the delightful candour
and exuberance of Petrarch; they are in consequence much less
national, interesting, and human; and their letters, stripped of
the complimentary phrases which eke them out, are in general brief.
Yet it would be hard to refuse any among them the praise due to two
excellent qualities, good style and good sense. Such were the general
characteristics of the age, a period, but for Ariosto, almost devoid of
creative power in letters, yet fully worthy to be ranked with the other
great eras of artificial literature, the eras of Augustus, and Anne,
and Louis XIV. Its truest praise is perhaps afforded by a comparison of
it with the other contemporary literatures of Europe, then, the French
excepted, which is immensely indebted to the Italian, almost equally
destitute of genius and of art, although the magnificent rhythm of
English prose even then showed what an instrument had been provided for
performers yet to come. But temporal and spiritual tyranny were fast
destroying the elementary requisites of great literature in Italy. The
hare was lamed, and the tortoises were overtaking her. A little while
yet, and it would be needful to look beyond Alp and sea for the true
Italy, and find her in the bosoms of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Sidney.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                           THE PETRARCHISTS


We have seen that the definite result of the literary ferment which
accompanied the revival of vernacular Italian literature after the
long torpor of the fifteenth century was the recognition of literary
form, rather than intellectual substance, as the principal object of
cultivation, a conclusion completely in harmony with the national
genius as well as the national traditions. Had this been otherwise,
revolt would soon have made itself evident. On the contrary, however,
we meet with scarcely any manifestation of the existence of a romantic
spirit in Italian literature until Manzoni begins to be inspired by
Scott and Byron, and Foscolo by Rousseau. The consequence is a great
lack of richness and variety in comparison with a literature like
the English, where all descriptions of tendencies have been allowed
ample scope, and now one, now another, has successively seemed to be
predominant; but none, except now and then for a time, has attained an
absolute mastery.

On the other hand, the devotion of the Italian writers to elegance
and symmetry of composition has rendered their literature a model for
cultured writers in all languages, has deeply influenced contemporary
literatures in their rudimentary stages, and has preserved many a
writer from oblivion whose original power was not conspicuous, whose
themes have long since become antiquated, but who still challenges the
attention of posterity by charm of style. “Cela qui n’est pas écrit
ne dure pas” is a rule without exception, and the converse is often,
though not always, true also. One highly important class of these
writers is that large section of the poets who modelled themselves
avowedly on the greatest master of style their literature possessed or
possesses, the man whose thoughts, often most precious in themselves,
are displayed to incomparable advantage by incomparable felicity of
expression.

Very few Italian lyrical poets of the sixteenth century ventured to
stray far from the traces of Petrarch, who became to them what Virgil
and Homer and Ovid had necessarily become to writers in Latin verse.
Had Petrarch excelled in epic as he excelled in lyric, Ariosto and
Tasso too would have been his humble followers, and the whole of
the poetical literature of the age would have been imitative, and
consequently second-rate. Yet, although the mass of this derivative
literature is intolerably empty and insipid, much is distinguished by a
perfection of expression which makes it not merely delightful reading
but a valuable study. The poets frequently seem to approach Petrarch
very nearly, but none reproduce him. Those succeed best whose imitation
is the least avowed, and who are most remote from their model in native
temperament, such as Tansillo; on the other hand, Bembo, Molza, and
their like, who in mere form have most nearly approached Petrarch by
most completely suppressing their own individuality, present much less
to interest modern readers, although their contemporaries, estimating
them from another point of view, extolled them to the skies.

Bembo and Molza, nevertheless, only followed in the track of the
gifted man whom we have already seen so influential in the development
of Italian prose--Jacopo Sannazaro. Sannazaro’s attention was, indeed,
principally given to Latin poetry. But the qualifications of an
eminent Latinist and of a pattern Petrarchist were much the same. Both
abdicated all claim to originality by setting before themselves a model
which it was taken for granted--and with justice--that they would be
for ever unable to rival. Sannazaro was, notwithstanding, something
more than a master of felicitous expression. His Virgilian _De Partu
Virginis_, in which he vied with the chief contemporary writers of
Latin hexameters, Vida and Fracastoro, is less attractive than his
elegies, into which he has introduced more of personal feeling, or his
Piscatorian Eclogues, in which he has successfully revived the form, if
not the spirit, of ancient composition, and from which Milton did not
disdain to borrow ornaments for _Lycidas_. As a follower of Petrarch,
Sannazaro stands on a different footing from Bembo and Molza. Their
excellence in their own way is indisputable, but monotonous: they
neither rise nor sink; every poem of theirs is just as good as every
other poem. Sannazaro, a man of noble character and strong feeling,
imports a personal note into his poetry, and succeeds in proportion
to the clearness with which he can render this audible. His praise of
Petrarch’s Laura, for instance, is something more than conventionality,
and these lines, _Mors et Vita_, translated by Glassford, express the
sum of much serious meditation:

      _Alas! when I behold this empty show
        Of life, and think how soon it shall have fled;
        When I consider how the honoured head
      is daily struck by death’s mysterious blow,
      My heart is wasted like the melting snow,
        And hope, that comforter, is nearly dead;
        Seeing these wings have been so long outspread,
      And yet so sluggish is my flight and low.
      But if I therefore should complain and weep--
        If chide with love, or fortune, or the fair--
        No cause I have; myself must bear it all,
      Who, like a man 'mid trifles lulled to sleep,
        With death beside me, feed on empty air,
        Nor think how soon this mouldering garb must fall._

Among Sannazaro’s contemporaries, a little too early to have imbibed
the full spirit of the Petrarchan revival, may be especially named
Antonio Tebaldeo (1463-1537), an admired poet who survived his
reputation; Serafino dell’ Aquila, imitated by Wyat, whose Neapolitan
vehemence betrayed his lively talent into bombast; Antonio Cammelli,
the political laureate of the Ferrarese court; Antonello Petrucci, who
wrote as Damocles banqueted, with the headsman’s axe suspended over
him; Notturno Neapolitano; and Filosseno, chiefly remarkable for the
undisguised gallantry of his sonnets addressed to Lucrezia Borgia.

Bembo was a model man of letters, to whom in this capacity the Italian
language and Italian culture are infinitely beholden. As a poet he is
perhaps best characterised by the forty drawers through which he is
said to have successively passed his sonnets, making some alteration
for the better in every one of them. If there had been any originality
in any of them, this would hardly have survived the twentieth drawer,
but there never had been, and since the polish was always meant to be
the merit, there hardly could be too much polishing. Bembo’s poetry at
all events serves to refute the heresy which identities genius with
industry; and if we admit with Roscoe that “any person of good taste
and extensive reading might, _by a due portion of labour_, produce
works of equal merit,” we must nevertheless allow that it will probably
be long ere such a capacity for labour reappears. He entirely fulfilled
the requirements of his own age, by which he was simply idolised.
The quintessence of his contemporaries’ admiration is concentrated
in Vittoria Colonna’s humble yet dignified remonstrance with him for
having failed to celebrate the death of her husband:

      _Unkind was Fate, prohibiting the rays
        Of my great Sun your kindling soul to smite;
        For thus in perpetuity more bright
      Your fame had been, more glorious his praise.
      His memory, exalted in your lays,
        That ancient times obscure, and ours delight,
        Had 'scaped in fell Oblivion’s despite
      The second death, that on the spirit preys.
      If in your bosom might infusèd be
        My ardour, or my pen as yours inspired,
        Great as the dead should be the elegy.
      But now I fear lest Heaven with wrath be fired;
        Toward you, for overmuch humility;
        Toward me, who have too daringly aspired._

Bembo’s Latin poetry, of which charming specimens may be seen in
Symonds’s _Renaissance_, is better than his Italian, for it does not
disappoint. The fame of FRANCESCO MARIA MOLZA (1489-1544) was in his
day hardly second to Bembo’s, and was based on much the same grounds.
Like Bembo, he was an elegant Latin poet, who carried the maxims
appropriate for composition in a dead language into a living one.
Like Bembo’s, his vernacular poems, with one remarkable exception,
are models of diction as inexpressive as harmonious--a perpetual
silvery chime which soothes the ear, but conveys nothing to the mind.
The exception is a poem in which the usual vagueness and emptiness
of sentiment assumes substance from its pastoral setting. The _Ninfa
Tiberina_, in which one of Molza’s innumerable light loves is idealised
as a shepherdess, is just such a piece of mosaic as Gray’s Elegy.
The author has amassed all the commonplaces of pastoral poetry, and,
without adding a single idea of his own, has combined them into so
rich and glowing a picture that he may well claim to have superseded
the entire school of pastoral versifiers, the few excepted who have
derived their inspiration from Nature, like his predecessor Politian.
“Molza is to Politian,” says Symonds, “as the rose to the rosebud.” He
was born at Modena, but lived chiefly at Rome, leaving his wife and
family in his native city. They would indeed have been much in the
way, for he was continually involved in some amour, and his irregular
ties ultimately proved fatal to him. He was a leading member of the
brilliant literary circles of Rome and Florence, and as a companion and
a man of letters his contemporaries have nothing but praise for him.

Petrarch is a poet as much within the scope of imitation as beyond
the pursuit of rivalry. The swarms of Petrarchists stun the ear and
darken the light of the period: Tansillo might well say that every
hillock had grown a Parnassus. They may be found in the thesaurus of
Dolce, a series whose continuous publication for so many years at all
events affords proof that this appetite for imitative verse was not
factitious. Some few stand forth from the crowd by some exceptional
characteristics, and it is of these only that we can speak. The first
of these in chronological order is BERNARDO TASSO (1493-1568), whom
we have already met as the author of the _Amadigi_. In his lyrical as
in his epical attempts, Tasso is one of those provoking poets who are
always trembling on the verge of excellence, ever good, hardly ever
quite good enough. Even the famous sonnet on his renunciation of his
lady, which, Dolce tells us, thrilled Italy, is less eminent for the
beauty of the poetry than the nobility of the sentiment. Once, however,
straying within the domain of pastoral poetry, he found and polished a
gem worthy of the Greek Anthology:

      _The herb and floweret of my verdant shore,
        Shepherd, thy pasturing flock’s possession be;
        And thine the olive and the mulberry
      That mantle these fair hillocks o’er and o’er.
      But be my fountain’s fresh and sparkling store
        Of gushing waters undisturbed by thee,
        For they are vowed to Muses’ ministry,
      And whoso drinks is poet evermore.
      Solely for these and for Apollo fit,
        And Loves and Nymphs the sacred stream doth burst,
        Or haply some fair swan may drink of it;
      But thou, if not a swain untutored, first
        Thy dues to Love in melody acquit,
        Then with the bubbling coolness quench thy thirst._

Another poet of the time vies with Bernardo Tasso in nobility of
character, evinced in his case by the fervour of his patriotism.
The bulk of the verse of GUIDO GUIDICCIONI, Bishop of Fossombrone
(1500-41), consists of insipid love-strains in the style of Bembo and
Molza; but when he touches upon the wrongs and misfortunes of his
country he becomes inspired, and speaks in tones of alternate majesty
and pathos, to which the following sonnet superadds the charms of fancy:

      _The Arno and the Tiber and the Po
        This sad lament and heavy plaint of mine
        I hear, for solely I my ear incline,
      Accompany with music sad and low.
      No more Heaven’s light on sunny wave doth glow,
        No more the dwindled lamps of virtue shine;
        Dark western tempests, dank and foul with brine,
      Have swept the meads and laid the flowerets low.
      The myrtle, Rivers, and the laurel-spray,
        Delight and diadem of chosen souls,
        And sacred shrines the blast hath borne away;
      No more unto the sea your torrent rolls
        Exulting, or your Naiades display
        Their snowy breasts and shining aureoles._

If other Italian poets felt like Guidiccioni, they shunned to give
their sentiments utterance. The chief original poem of ANNIBALE CARO
(1507-66), the accomplished translator of Virgil and Longus, and one
of the best letter-writers of his age, was a panegyric on the house of
Valois--_Venite all’ombra dei gran gigli d’oro_ (“_Hither, where spread
the golden fleurs-de-lis_”). A few years later, with equal genius and
equal insensibility to the part that became an Italian, Caro turned to
celebrate the Spanish conqueror. Whatever may be thought of the theme
of his poem, it is in execution one of the great things of Italian
poetry:

      _Here the Fifth Charles reposes, at whose name
        Eyes of superbest monarchs seek the ground,
        Whom Story’s tongue and Honour’s trump resound,
      Quelling all loudest blasts of meaner fame.
      How hosts and legioned chiefs he overcame,
        Kings, but for him invincible, discrowned,
        Swayed realms beyond Imagination’s bound,
      And his own mightier soul did rule and tame--
      This knows the admiring world, and this the Sun,
        That did with envy and amazement see
        His equal course with equal glory run
      Wide earth around; which now accomplished, he,
        From heaven observant of the world he won,
        Smiling inquires, 'And toiled I thus for thee?'_

GIOVANNI DELLA CASA (1500-56) emulated Caro in the nobility of his
style, which would scarcely have been expected, considering the
licentious character of some of his verse and his ecclesiastical
profession. He does, however, sometimes attain a dignity and gravity
which, apart from the beauty of his diction, lift him high out of the
crowd of Petrarchists; nor are his themes invariably amorous. His
_Galateo_, a treatise on politeness, has earned him the name of the
Italian Chesterfield. He would have attained greater eminence as a man
of letters but for the distractions of politics and business, which he
deplores in the following sonnet:

      _To woodland fount or solitary cave
        In sunlit hour I plained my amorous teen;
        Or wove by light of Luna’s lamp serene
      My song, while yet to song and love I clave;
      Nor by thy side the sacred steep to brave
        Refused, where rarely now is climber seen;
        But cares and tasks ungrateful intervene,
      And like the weed I drift upon the wave.
      And idly thus my barren hours are spent
        In realms of fountain and of laurel void,
        Where but vain tinsel is accounted blest.
      Forgive, then, if not wholly unalloyed
        My pleasure to behold thee eminent
        On pinnacle no other foot hath prest._

ANGELO DI COSTANZO (1507-91), already noticed as an historian, is
another example of a writer of sonnets who rose from the crowd by the
individuality which he contrived to impress upon his performances. His
great characteristic is an exquisite elegance, not, as in some other
instances, veiling inanity, but usually the accompaniment of something
well worth saying. The following piece is a good instance of his power
of enhancing, by ingenious embellishment, a thought interesting and
attractive in itself:

      _River, that from thy Apennine recess,
        Swollen with surge of tributary snow,
        Com’st foaming, and thy tawny overflow
      Hurlest on Samnian vales with headlong stress;
      Thy farther shore, inhere Love awaits to bless,
        I seek, and by thy wrath unharmed would go;
        If thou intendest not my overthrow,
      With stringent curb thy furious flood repress.
      But art thou verily resolved to kill,
        And purposest that this conclusive day
        Shall jointly terminate my good and ill,
      Grant me but once to stem thy shock and spray:
        My happy errand I would fain fulfil;
        Me going spare, returning sweep away._

The general passion for verse naturally extended to the refined and
accomplished ladies of the time. Only two, however, have gained a
permanent position in Italian literature, as much by their characters
as by their poetry. The muse of VITTORIA COLONNA (1490-1547) chiefly
prompted the apotheosis of her husband, the Marquis of Pescara, “a
sworded man whose trade was blood,” and who, though a great captain,
scarcely possessed a single amiable or magnanimous trait of character.
The pathos of the situation surpasses that of the verse which it called
forth. As a woman, Vittoria evoked the enthusiastic admiration of her
contemporaries, and lives for posterity more in the strains of Michael
Angelo than in her own.

The unhappy fate of GASPARA STAMPA (1524-53), who literally died
of love, would have preserved her name without her verse; she was,
nevertheless, a true poetess, and might have been a great one had she
not, like so many poetesses, struck upon the fatal rock of fluency.
Could her centuries of sonnets be concentrated into a dozen, she would
rank high.

More truly a poet than any of the stricter Petrarchists is a
Neapolitan, LUIGI TRANSILLO, although his advantage is rather intensity
of feeling than superiority in the poetic art. He must indeed be
admitted to have derogated in some measure from the high standard of
taste then generally prevalent, and to have foreshadowed, though but in
a very trifling degree, the extravagances of the seventeenth century.
This may be forgiven to his southern ardour and liveliness, and foreign
critics are not likely to perceive the little technical defects so
severely visited upon him by his countrymen. He had the unspeakable
advantage over his competitors of being devoted to no ideal nymph, but
to a real and very great and very cold lady, the Marchioness del Vasto,
wife of the Viceroy of Naples. Such an attachment was necessarily
Platonic on his part, and imaginary, if so much, on the lady’s. The
first rapture is magnificently expressed in the sonnet in which the
poor knight and military retainer, whose business in life was to help
in clearing the Mediterranean of Turks, compares his rash love to the
flight of Icarus:

      _Now that my wings are spread to my desire,
        The more vast height withdraws the dwindling land,
        Wider to wind these pinions I expand,
      And earth disdain, and higher mount and higher:
      Nor of the fate of Icarus inquire,
        Nor cautious droop, or sway to either hand;
        Dead I shall fall, full well I understand;
      But who lives gloriously as I expire?
      Yet hear I my own heart that pleading cries,
        Stay, madman, whither art thou bound? descend!
        Ruin is ready Rashness to chastise.
      But I, Fear not, though this indeed the end;
        Cleave we the clouds, and praise our destinies,
        If noble fall on noble flight attend._

Suspicion, jealousy, bitterly wounded feeling, open breach, and hollow
reconciliation make up the remainder of the sonnets, the best of which
have few superiors in any literature for fire and passion. His other
poetical performances are far from inconsiderable. The best known is
the sin of his youth, the _Vendemmiatore_, whose ultra-Fescennine
truth to rustic manners and the licence of the vintage brought it into
the Index, and its author into gaol. In quite a different key are
his delightful didactic poems, _Il Podere_, on the management of an
estate, and _La Balía_, on the care of children, translated by Roscoe.
Some of his familiar _Capitoli_ are very pleasing, and some of his
miscellaneous poems are very fine, especially this on the Spaniards
slain by the Turks at Castel Nuovo, on the coast of Dalmatia:

      _Hail, scene of fated Valour’s final stand,
        Revered far these sad heaps of whitening bone,
        Their trace who other monument have none,
      Pyreless and tombless on this desert strand;
      Who hitherward from far Iberian land
        To Adria’s shores on blast of battle blown,
        With streaming blood of foemen, and their own,
      Came to empurple foreign sea and sand.
      Three hundred Fabii gave immortal name
        To ancient Tiber; what to Spain by death
        Heroic of three thousand shall be given?
      Greater the host, more excellent the aim
        Of warrior martyrs; those their dying breath
        Resigned to Italy, and these to heaven._

The graceful poets who thus tuned their harps to the notes of Petrarch
sang within the hearing of a spirit of another sort, whose verses, had
they known them, they would have compared unfavourably with their own
elegance, but whose appearance in their circle would have been like
that of Victor Hugo’s Pan at the banquet of the Olympians. MICHAEL
ANGELO, the greatest Italian after Dante, had not, like Dante, acquired
the secret of poetic form. He indites as on marble with mallet and
chisel; but the inscription is everlasting. “Ungrammatical, rude in
versification, crabbed or obscure in thought,” as Symonds describes
them, Michael Angelo’s sonnets are yet priceless as a revelation of the
man, more distinct than that vouchsafed by his painting or sculpture.
These tell of his tremendous force; the deep springs of tenderness in
his nature are only to be learned from the poems, the most important of
which are consecrated to Love, now ideal and impersonal, now expending
itself upon some fair object, masculine or feminine, but in either
case Platonic. Vittoria Colonna and Tommmaso de’ Cavalieri are the
objects of the poet’s deepest attachment. The following sonnet was most
probably inscribed to Cavalieri:

      _By your eyes’ aid a gentle light I see,
        Which but for these mine own would never share;
        By your auxiliar feet a load I bear
      Which my lame limbs refuse to bear for me.
      I, plumeless, yet upon your pinions flee;
        When heaven I seek, your soul conducts me there;
        Blushes or pallor at your will I wear;
      Sun chills and winter warms at your decree.
      The fashion of your will prescribeth mine;
        My thought hath in your thinking taken birth;
        My speech gives voice to your discourse unspoken.
      A sunless moon that by herself would shine,
        I were without you; only seen on earth
        By light of sun that on her dark hath broken._

The roughness of Michael Angelo’s verse was planed down by the first
editor, his great-nephew, and the true text has only been retrieved in
our time.

Two religious poets stand aloof from the class of Petrarchists, rather
by the nature of their themes than the quality of their talent. CELIO
MAGNO, a religious poet of Protestant tendencies, produced a hymn to
the Almighty which ranks among the best canzoni of the period, and
had anticipated Coleridge’s project, which with him as with Coleridge
remained a project, for a series of similar compositions. GABRIELE
FIAMMA, Bishop of Chioggia, is in general a tame versifier, but in
two inspired moments produced two of the most beautiful sonnets in
the language: one of which is remarkable for expressing in an ornate
style the thought of Heine’s famous lyric, “Mein Herz gleicht ganz dem
Meere”; the other, apart from its great beauty, as an instance of a
sonnet which, beginning apparently in a commonplace style, is vivified
through and through by the last tercet:

      _Never with such delight the bee in spring,
        When the full mead teems with the novel flower,
        The sweetness of the honey-burdened bower
      Amasses for her cell in wayfaring;
      Not with like joy, when glades cease echoing
        The baying hound, no more compelled to cower
        In covert, doth the hind the forest scour,
      Panting for crystal rivulet or spring:
      As I the sob acclaim that signifies
        Passion of love or awe divinely given,
        Or other ecstasy that God endears.
      Transported with her bliss the spirit cries;
        How vast his rapture who inhabits heaven,
        If joy he hath more joyful than these tears!_

The Cinque Cento period of Italian poetry, which to the men of that
day seemed the _ne plus ultra_ of artistic achievement, has since
received less praise and exerted less influence than fairly its due.
It was a great thing to have produced works so perfect in form, and
to have refined the language in so eminent a degree. The general
belief, too, that the Italian poetry of this age was devoid of all but
formal excellence involves a great exaggeration. It is true that the
literature of the period is overloaded with masses of mechanical and
conventional stuff, but Guidiccioni and Casa and Tansillo are capable
on occasion of expressing themselves with an energy the more impressive
from being restrained within the limits prescribed by a chastened
taste, and many Italian sonnets are even better fitted to be breathed
from the trumpet than warbled to the lute. A great development in this
direction might have been expected, but for the extinction of political
and spiritual liberty.

What the Italian lyric might have become we see in Milton, who could
have written neither his _Lycidas_ nor his sonnets without Tuscan
models. He undoubtedly weighted, without overweighting, both canzone
and sonnet with thought to a degree unparalleled in Italy, but how much
he owed to Italians appears by a comparison of his sonnets with those
of Wordsworth, who neglected the traditions which Milton carefully
observed. Wordsworth has even more ripeness of thought and moral
elevation than his predecessor; but while Milton’s work is immaculate,
Wordsworth’s is full of flaws.

With all its defects, the poetry of the Cinque Cento will survive as
a proof that rules of art exist and may be ascertained, and cannot be
safely departed from; no less than as an example of the embellishment
which even ordinary thoughts may receive from nobility of diction
and breadth of style; and as an instance of the great part which a
literature not too original or too racy of the native soil may play
in moulding and enriching the literatures of neighbouring and less
advanced nations. Nor can it be fairly judged by itself as an isolated
phenomenon. It was a part, and far from the most important part, of a
stupendous artistic movement, which spoke more readily and eloquently
with brush and chisel than with pen, and expressed through their medium
much that in an age more exclusively literary would have been committed
to paper.



                              CHAPTER XV
                   HUMOROUS POETRY--THE MOCK-HEROIC


Numerous as are the poets we have briefly passed in review, many
more might have been added whom it would have been agreeable to have
met in the barren fifteenth century. The Renaissance had by this
time entered into the blood of Italy, and produced one of the best
effects of impregnation with the classical spirit--a passion for fame.
This we find as constantly assigned as a motive of action in public
affairs in that day as humanitarian inducements are in ours; and when
it is considered that the sincerity of the former motive is much
less questionable than that of the latter, it is not clear that the
comparison is wholly to the advantage of the nineteenth century. Almost
every man of any mark was deeply influenced by it, and it was one of
the most potent instruments in stimulating both literary and artistic
production. The drawback was that the aspirant to fame was naturally
inclined to take the easiest and most fashionable path, and thus the
same impulse which braced effort suppressed originality.

The sentiment of an age mainly under the sway of Petrarch naturally
encouraged the production of lyrical poetry, and other styles were
neglected in comparison. Apart from the epical attempts which have
been mentioned, and the dramatic and humorous poems to which allusion
remains to be made, the period has little to show apart from the
lyric, with the exception of some didactic poems--the _Balía_ and the
_Podere_ of Luigi Tansillo, the _Nautica_ of Baldi, the _Caccia_ of
Valvasone, and two others modelled after Virgil, the _Coltivazione_
of Luca Alamanni, and the _Api_ of Giovanni Rucellai, both excellent
examples of the description of poetry which owes most to artifice and
least to inspiration. This might perhaps pass for a general character
of the poetry of the period, which ranks with the ages of Augustus and
Anne as an example of what exquisite culture can and cannot effect
in the absence of creative power. It was of high value to succeeding
periods by bequeathing to them a norm and standard of good taste by
which to chasten their frequent aberrations; and, notwithstanding its
almost academical character, it was actually in vital relation with the
literary appetite of its limited but highly accomplished public. There
was not, says Dolce, a cultivated person in Italy who could not repeat
before it was in print Bernardo Tasso’s sonnet resigning his mistress
to his successful rival, a fact which proves not only the existence
of a general appreciation of poetry independent of the machinery of
reviewing and the printing-press itself, but also a general preference
for its most refined and dignified examples.

The didactic poems of which we have spoken claim the less attention,
inasmuch as they were in no respect national. The rules for good
didactic poetry are the same in all languages, and any accomplished
versifier will instruct in agriculture or the chase in much the
same manner in any country, however his local colouring may vary
with his climate. It is otherwise with satirical, familiar, and
mock-heroic poetry. In all these styles Italian work is individual
and characteristic. Satiric traits are frequent enough in the
contemporaries of Dante, and from one point of view Dante himself may
be regarded as a great satirist. The professed satire, nevertheless,
of modern Italy derives from Horace rather than Juvenal; it aims at
good-humoured raillery rather than scathing vehemence or corroding
virulence; and its impetus is further moderated by its being generally
composed in the easy and garrulous _terza rima_. Alessandro Vinciguerra
(born 1480) appears to have first imparted this stamp; but the great
exemplar is Ariosto, whose satires are not the least ornament of his
poetic crown, yielding little in facetious urbanity to his model Horace.

The vigorous satires of Luigi Alamanni, imitated in English by Sir
Thomas Wyat, evince a remarkable freedom of speech. Bentivoglio,
Aretino, Anguillara, and other writers of note followed in his track
with varying success. The first to employ blank verse in satire was
Lodovico Paterno, who is perhaps more exceptionally distinguished for
having achieved an epithalamium to Queen Mary of England without the
least allusion to her restoration of the Roman Catholic religion.
The _Decennali_ of Machiavelli, a highly-condensed sketch in verse
of the events of his time, may also be regarded as a satire; but his
reputation as a poet rather arises from his _Capitoli_, disquisitions
in verse in which Tansillo and many others also excelled, and whose
easy familiarity is hardly to be paralleled in any other literature,
and from his elegant versification of portions of Apuleius’s _Golden
Ass_. FRANCESCO COPPETTA (1510-1554), an excellent writer of sonnets,
extended the domain of poetry by constituting himself the first
laureate of the feline species. His ode on the loss of his cat (_di
tutta la Soria gloria e splendore_, and consequently an Angora) is
a curious blending of parodies of Petrarch with genuine feeling. He
eventually finds comfort in the conclusion that the object of his
affections has been appropriated by Jupiter and placed among the
constellations. Two brilliant stars never seen before have of late been
observable in the firmament, and the inference is obvious.

Ariosto and Machiavelli, nevertheless, although geniuses of the
first order, rank in familiar poetry below FRANCESCO BERNI, better
equipped for it by nature and entirely devoted to its practice. Berni,
born at Lamporecchio, near Florence, about 1497, was a dependant of
the Medici, successively attached to Cardinal Bibbiena and to Bishop
Ghiberti, Papal datary. His life was consequently for a long time spent
at Rome, where he enjoyed the friendship of the most eminent men of
letters of the period, executed the remodelled version of Boiardo’s
_Orlando Innamorato_ by which his name is best known, and produced
the numerous _Capitoli_, which would stand high as examples of easy
familiar verse, were it not for their frequent indecency. They gave
the pattern of the style (_Bernesque_) which has derived its name from
him, and in which he has had many successors, but no absolute rival.
Humour, as Roscoe remarks, is very local. Berni loses much, not merely
by translation, but on perusal by a foreigner. It is enough for his
fame if he continues to be appreciated in his own country, and that
nothing worse happens to him abroad than must equally happen to the
author of a _Hudibras_ or a _Jobsiad_. How well some portions of his
work lend themselves to translation in congenial hands may appear
from a specimen, rendered by Leigh Hunt, of the poem whose subject is
the author’s own prodigious laziness. His portrait of himself is very
lifelike, and probably very accurate:

      _The man, for all that, was a happy man;
        Thought not too much; indulged no gloomy fit;
      Folks wished him well. Prince, peasant, artisan,
        Every one loved him; for the rogue had wit,
      And knew how to amuse. His fancy ran
        On thousands of odd things which he had writ:
      Certain mad waggeries in the shape of poems,
      With strange elaborations of their proems._

      _Choleric he was withal, when fools reproved him;
        Free of his tongue, as he was frank of heart;
      Ambition, avarice, neither of these moved him;
        True to his word; caressing without art;
      A lover to excess of those that loved him;
        Yet, if he met with hate, could play a part
      Which showed the fiercest he had found his mate;
      Still he was proner far to love than hate._

      _In person he was big, yet tight and lean,
        Had long thin legs, big nose, and a large face;
      Eyebrows which there was little space between;
        Deep-set, blue eyes; and beard in such good case
      That the poor eyes would scarcely have been seen
        Had it been suffered to forget its place;
      But, not approving beards to that amount.
      The owner brought it to a sharp account._

Berni’s death did him more honour than his life. The suppressed
dedication to the twentieth canto of his _Orlando_ seems to prove that
he had become serious in his later years, and fallen under Protestant
influences; but this was unknown to Cardinal Cibo, who deemed him the
right sort of man to commend a poisoned chalice to the lips of Cardinal
Salviati; and his refusal, there is every reason to believe, cost
him his own life (1535). He died with strong symptoms of poison, was
buried hastily without epitaph or monument, and, although his works
were collected, nothing was said of the author. This sudden silence
corroborates the suspicion of his Protestantism.

Berni’s chief characteristics as a poet are graceful ease and perfect
mastery of style and diction. He is fluent and entirely unembarrassed,
never at a loss for the right word, and handles the difficult _terza
rima_ with the facility of prose. This command of language would have
raised him high if he had possessed any of the elements of greatness;
but he is incapable of elevated sentiment, and has the good sense never
to aspire to it. What is most admirable in him, his poetical gift
apart, is the evident sincerity and consistency of his Epicurean view
of life, and his eupeptic sanity. As regards his strictly original
compositions, he occupies about the same position in Italian poetry
as Goldsmith would have filled in English if he had written nothing
but _Retaliations_ and _Haunches of Venison_. In his _rifacimento_
of Boiardo’s _Orlando Innamorato_ he has attempted something more
considerable, and, from his own point of view, with much success.
Modern taste will hardly sympathise with his disfigurement of the
romantic grace and simple sincerity of the original, for the mere sake
of heightening the comic element and improving its style. In his own
day men thought differently, and it must be admitted that the disparity
between Boiardo’s comparatively unadorned groundwork and the brilliant
superstructure of Ariosto marred the continuity of the _Orlando_ as a
whole, and that the chasm may well have seemed to require filling up.
Berni could not impart the special qualities of Ariosto, but he could
bring Boiardo’s style more nearly up to Ariosto’s level, and he could
adorn his original by graceful introductions to the respective cantos.
Both these objects have been achieved with taste and success; and
although Boiardo’s comparatively artless composition is still the best,
as nearest to Nature, it cannot be denied that Berni’s alterations must
have appeared to his contemporaries great improvements, and that his
embellishments may be read with abundant pleasure. Conscious of his
lack of poetical invention, he has abstained from interfering with the
narrative. His work was not published until after his death, and there
is reason to suspect that it was considerably adulterated by or at the
instance of the great literary bully of the day, Pietro Aretino.

It does not appear that Berni had any intention of parodying the
_Orlando Innamorato_ in his _rifacimento_; he simply wished to bring
it, in his conception, nearer to the literary level of the continuation
which had superseded it, and deemed that this could be best effected by
an infusion of humour and satire. It would be a still greater error to
assume, with some modern Italian critics, an intention on the part of
Boiardo and Ariosto of parodying the old chivalric romance. They merely
desired to adapt it to the spirit of their own age, as Tennyson has
adapted the _Morte d’Arthur_ to ours, and their sprightliness is the
correlative of his moral earnestness. Ariosto is less reverent of his
original than Boiardo, but he keeps within bounds. The great success
of his poem, however, was sure to evolve a _bona-fide_ parodist, as
in our day Mark Twain has capered with cap and bells in the wake of
Tennyson. The Italian Mark Twain was TEOFILO FOLENGO (1491-1544), known
under his pseudonym of _Merlinus Cocaius_ as a distinguished cultivator
of macaronic poetry, a by-path of literature which we are compelled
to leave unexplored. He was a dissipated runaway monk, who repented,
became serious, and resought his cell just as he seemed within an ace
of turning Protestant. His _Orlandino_ is a burlesque upon the poems
of chivalry, with pieces of genuine poetry interspersed, and many
digressions on the corruptions of the age, especially the vices of the
religious orders. It is unfinished. What was published is said to have
been written in three months, a statement confirmed by the energy of
the verse.

It was a great step in Greek comedy when the mythological parodies
which had constituted the substance of the middle comedy were replaced
by the picture of contemporary manners which formed the staple of
the new. So great an advance could not be made by ALESSANDRO TASSONI
(1565-1638), the chief representative of serio-comic poetry in the
seventeenth century, for his age would not have tolerated it; but he
effected much in the same direction by converting the mere parody of
the chivalric romance which had satisfied his predecessors into the
mock-heroic epic, a form of literature which, if he did not invent, he
may claim to have perfected. Instead of contriving burlesque variations
upon Ariosto, he took a real incident of a serio-comic nature--the war
which in the thirteenth century had actually broken out between the
republics of Modena and Bologna respecting a bucket carried off by the
former. The treatment is admirable; the characters, some of whom are
historical, and others sketched after Tassoni’s contemporaries, have
an air of reality altogether wanting to the personages of Folengo’s
parodies; there is enough of idyllic charm and tender pathos here
and there to approve the writer a true poet, while humour dominates,
and many of the sarcasms are really profound. A more biting irony on
the wretched dissensions which had been the ruin of Italy cannot be
conceived; and, notwithstanding a subordinate purpose of deriding
Tasso’s languid imitators, and the personal quarrel which prompted
composition in the first instance, such was probably the main purpose
of the writer, in his political sentiments and aspirations a statesman
of the type of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, who burned with hatred of
the Spanish oppressor, but, except for the two Philippics he composed
in demonstration of the real hollowness of the Spanish power, could
find no other vent for his patriotism than his poetry, and wasted his
life in the service of petty princes. _La Secchia Rapita_ (_The Rape of
the Bucket_) was published under a pseudonym at Paris in 1622, having
long circulated in manuscript. Tassoni also showed himself a bold if
bilious critic of Petrarch, against whose predominance a reaction was
declaring itself, and participated in the general anti-Aristotelian
movement of his times by a volume of miscellaneous reflections.

A contemporary of Tassoni is usually named along with him as a master
of the heroi-comic style, but is in every respect greatly his inferior.
This is FRANCESCO BRACCIOLINI (1566-1645), whose pen, if he really
meant to serve the Church by ridiculing the classical mythology, should
have been wielded a century sooner. Part of the humour of his _Scherno
degli Dei_ consists in the unconscious anachronism. It manifests
considerable fertility of invention, and has survived the author’s four
epics, placed as these were immediately after Tasso’s by good judges in
his own day. The _Malmantile Racquistato_ of Lorenzo Lippi the painter,
the delight of the philologist for its idiomatic Tuscan, is remarkable
for embalming much local folk-lore, and so many local phrases as to be
shorter than its own glossary.

Two more recent examples of the mock-heroic epic maybe included here
to complete the subject. The _Ricciardetto_ of NICOCOLÒ FORTEGUERRI,
published under the pseudonym of Carteromaco, has received much merited
and more unmerited praise. The author (1670-1730) was a prelate of the
Roman court, and so great a favourite of Pope Clement XII. that he is
said to have died from mortification at having displeased his patron
by neglecting to ask for a vacant appointment. His poem burlesques the
chivalric epics of Ariosto and others, not with the refined raillery of
a Berni, but in a style of broad, coarse buffoonery. It was published
after his death, when his friends sought to extenuate its unclerical
character by alleging that it had been undertaken for a wager, composed
in spare intervals of time, and never designed for publication. All
these statements seem to be groundless. It has considerable merit as a
burlesque, and some passages indicate a talent for serious poetry which
might have developed into something considerable; in the main, however,
the ability displayed is of a low though drastic strain. The best idea
is that of making the Saracen champion Feraù turn hermit, a character
which he supports less in the fashion of St. Jerome than of Friar Tuck.

It seems an instance of apparent injustice in prevalent literary
opinion that the _Ricciardetto_ should be so widely known, while no
less a poem than Leopardi’s Supplement (_Paralipomeni_) to Homer’s
Battle of the Frogs and the Mice is hardly mentioned. The wonder,
however, is not so great as it seems. Forteguerri wrote what all
could understand, while Leopardi only cared to please exceptional
readers, and was, moreover, compelled to shroud much of his satire in
obscurity for fear of the ruling powers. The allegory, nevertheless, is
sufficiently transparent. The vanquished mice are the people of Italy;
the frogs are the priesthood and other accomplices of the powers of
darkness; the crabs, who turn the scale in the latter’s favour, are the
Austrians. The weakness and disunion of the oppressed, no less than the
brutality of the oppressor, are depicted with the most refined sarcasm.
Nothing can be more humorous, for example, than the crab’s exposition
to the mouse of the principle of the balance of power; and through
all the fancy and drollery pierce the grief and rage of a patriotic
Italian. There are also fine flashes of true poetry, especially
near the end, when the adventurous mouse visits the underworld of
his species; and Ariosto is parodied as well as Dante. The satire,
nevertheless, transcends the appreciation of ordinary readers; and it
certainly does appear somewhat singular that the fastidious author, who
composed so sparingly and with such difficulty upon the most exalted
themes, should have bestowed so much labour upon a _jeu d’esprit_.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                               THE NOVEL


The novel presents one of the most remarkable examples in literary
history of arrested development, and of all departments of literature
is perhaps the only one which failed to attain perfection in the hands
of the ancients. Great progress is indeed observable from its first
artless beginnings under the Pharaohs, so recently recovered for us;
but having advanced far along several lines, it becomes stationary
upon all. The germ of the picaresque novel is clearly discernible in
Petronius, of the novel of adventure in Apuleius, of erotic fiction
in Longus; but these examples apparently remain ineffectual. Either
the path is not prosecuted at all, or it leads to mere repetition. No
new element appears until we encounter the chivalric romance, which in
Spain produced an extensive prose literature, but in Italy ran almost
entirely to verse. The more elaborate romances of Boccaccio, indeed,
disclose influences from this quarter; but their reputation was slight
in comparison with those short and familiar tales, commonly founded
upon some anecdote and dealing with scenes and personages of real
life, which prescribed the form for the national novelette. A more
distinctively national type never existed. The extraordinary thing is
that the nation never got beyond it. It should have seemed an obvious
advance to lengthen the stories; to stimulate surprise and suspense by
greater intricacy of plot; to embellish by elaborate description; to
depict character with fulness and exactness; to employ fiction for the
ventilation of ideas. Precedents for all these improvements, except
the last, might have been found in the classical romances, and it
might have been expected that fiction would have experienced the same
development as other branches of literature. On the contrary, the last
Italian novelette is as far from the novel of the nineteenth century
as the first, and the most powerful literary agent of good or evil,
next to the equally modern newspaper, remained to be created in recent
times. Whatever the defects of the Italian novel of the sixteenth
century, it was nevertheless, unlike the drama, a thoroughly national
form of composition, it was far in advance of anything of the kind
existing elsewhere, and it exerted great influence on the literature of
other countries as the general storehouse of dramatic plots.

It is no doubt to the credit of Italian novelists as artists that they
did not overload their stories with didactic purpose; but this was an
error which, writing mainly to amuse, they lay under little temptation
to commit. None of them were endowed with creative imagination; none
transcended the sphere of ordinary experience, or showed the least
inclination to effect for prose fiction what Boiardo and Ariosto had
accomplished for narrative poetry. Their _notti piacevoli_ were not
Arabian Nights. Their object of amusing could consequently only be
achieved by keeping close to actual manners, and we may depend upon
receiving from them a tolerably accurate picture of Italian society in
so far as it suited them to present it; although the portion that best
lent itself to their objects was the most licentious and corrupt, and
the loose women and salacious priests who recur in their tales from
generation to generation, though by no means creatures of imagination,
are still far from typical of the entire society of Italy. Like the
masks of the Greek comedy, like the rakes and topers of the English
comedy of the Restoration and Revolution, they are in a certain degree
traditional and conventional. Modern fiction is encyclopædic: no class
of the community is outside its scope. Italian fiction was eclectic,
restricted by a tacit convention to what was deemed its appropriate
sphere. The history of pictorial and plastic art has been reproduced
in modern fiction; the property of the connoisseur has become the
possession of the nation. Hence, whatever the literary merits of the
Italian novelists of this period, whatever the fidelity with which they
reproduce the social atmosphere of the time, their works all taken
together count for less in the history of the human mind than those of
a single first-class modern novelist such as Dickens or Balzac.

Boccaccio’s immediate successors as novelists are FRANCO SACCHETTI
and GIOVANNI FIORENTINO, already mentioned as poets of the fifteenth
century. Sacchetti (1335-1410) had in his youth been a merchant, and
had travelled much both in Italy and in Slavonian countries. After his
return he became a Florentine magistrate, and filled some important
public offices. He was a man of solid and humorous wisdom, who
instructed his times, partly by religious and moral discourses, which
frequently display great liberality of feeling, partly by his stories,
which, apart from their literary merits, afford a valuable picture of
a society half-way on the road from barbarism to civilisation. The
majority are founded on real occurrences, generally humorous, though
the humour is not always as visible to us as to his contemporaries; but
sometimes tragic. Some, as with Boccaccio, are derived from folk-lore
in the _Gesta Romanorum_ or the _Fabliaux_. All are recounted with
extreme simplicity and brevity. The art of working up a single incident
into a long story by subtle delineation of character, elaborate
description, and ingenious plot and underplot, was then unknown.[16]
Sacchetti is the straightforward _raconteur_ and nothing more, but
he deserves as much praise for the ease of his narrative as for the
purity of his style. He can hardly be considered as an imitator of
Boccaccio, who is always the poet and man of letters, while Sacchetti
rather produces the impression of an ordinary Florentine gentleman
telling stories after dinner with no special care for artistic effect,
which nevertheless he attains by the plain good sense which bids
him go straight to his subject and subordinate minor details to the
really essential. His tales are single, not set in a framework like
Boccaccio’s.


This is not the case with his contemporary Ser Giovanni Fiorentino,
author of the _Pecorone_ (_Great Stupid_), who has exposed himself to
ridicule by the quaintness of his introductory machinery. A friar and
a nun are supposed to meet weekly in the parlour of a convent, and
console themselves for the insuperable obstacles to their attachment by
telling stories, upon the merits of which they compliment each other
extravagantly. The tales, however, are interesting, well told, and
greatly esteemed for the excellence of their style. Like Sacchetti’s,
they are mostly genuine anecdotes, or at least founded upon fact or
popular tradition; some are taken with little alteration from Villani’s
Chronicles. Nothing is certainly known of the author, except that
he began to write his tales in 1378 at the Castle of Dovadola, in
compulsory or voluntary exile from his native city. He is believed to
have been a notary, and a partisan of the Guelf faction.

Giovanni da Prato, author of _Il Paradin degli Alberti_ (about 1420)
also deserves mention here, on account of the short stories inserted
into his ethical dialogues; but the first novelist of much importance
after Giovanni Fiorentino is MASSUCCIO of Salerno, a Neapolitan, who
seems to have been a man of rank, and to have been for some time
in the service of the Duke of Milan. He wrote about 1470, and his
tales were first printed in 1476. The celebrity which he continues
to enjoy is, it may be feared, mainly owing to his character as the
most licentious of the Italian novelists in fact, although, if we
may trust his own assurance, the most virtuous in intention. His
tales are divided into five parts, each of the first three of which
has what the writer considers to be a distinct moral purpose. In the
first, in Dunlop’s words, “the scope of the stories is to show that
God will sooner or later inflict vengeance on dissolute monks.” The
second “proves that the monks of those days invented many frauds.”
The third “is intended to show that the greatest and finest ladies of
Italy indulged in gallantries of a nature which did them very little
honour.” All these propositions might have been thought susceptible
of demonstration without the _Novellino_, and much better established
than Massuccio’s claim to a place among moralists or reformers. He
protests that his tales are “ower true,” and for the most part founded
on recent transactions; and, in fact, he appears less indebted than any
predecessor to folk-lore and the French fabliaux. The last two sections
of his work, however, contain love adventures of too exceptional a
nature to be founded upon actual incidents. Some of these manifest,
not merely ingenuity of invention, but considerable tragic power. The
style is somewhat barbarous; and the same remark applies to the lighter
fiction, generally of the nature of anecdote, of his contemporary
Sabadino degli Arienti, a native and historian of Bologna. Sabadino’s
tales are much less objectionable than Massuccio’s, though no less than
his in the author’s opinion _moralissimi documenti_. They are entitled
_Porrettane_, from their having been composed for the amusement of the
visitors to the baths of Porretta, which gives them some importance
as an index to the taste of the more opulent and leisured classes of
society.

The novels of the following century are exceedingly numerous, but in
general too much upon one pattern to deserve especial notice until we
arrive at those of Bandello, Cinthio, and Grazzini, each of whom is
eminent for some special characteristic. Of Firenzuola, one of the most
typical writers of his day, we have already spoken, his novelettes
being generally interwoven with his other prose works. Two single
novelettes by separate authors deserve special notice as world-famous,
though not by the genius of their authors. The _Romeo and Giulietta_ of
Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza who died in 1529, is a powerful
and well-told story, although it would have been little heard of but
for Shakespeare, who nevertheless seems to have been unacquainted with
it, having founded his tragedy upon the inferior version made by Arthur
Brooke after the French of Boistuau. The other story which has become
a portion of the world’s repertory of fiction is the _Belphegor_ of
Giovanni Brevio, a subject also treated by Machiavelli, and revived
in our own day by Thackeray. The idea of the devil’s aversion to
matrimony, not as a divine ordinance, but as a nuisance inconsistent
with his own peace and comfort, is so irresistibly comic that one is
surprised to find it originally Slavonian.

The celebrity of Pietro Aretino requires the mention of his novels,
which, however, possess no very distinctive features. To find these
we must turn chiefly to Straparola, whose genre requires a distinct
notice; and, among those who diverged less from the beaten track,
Bandello, Cinthio, and Grazzini. Bandello, says Settembrini, depicts
the Italian, Grazzini the Florentine, Cinthio humanity at large.

MATTEO BANDELLO (1480-1561) was a Lombard and a Dominican, who resided
successively at Mantua and at Milan, the latter city in his time one
of the most uncomfortable places in Italy from the oppressions and
depredations of the Spanish soldiery. Popular commotions concurred
to drive him to France, where Henry II. made him Bishop of Agen. His
novelettes had been composed before this distinction befell him, but
his episcopacy was no obstacle to their publication in 1554. Though
frequently licentious, his stories indicate a considerable advance upon
his forerunners in the power of depicting character and in seriousness
of tone. He prefers historical narration to invention, and usually
bases his tales upon some actual occurrence, often revolting for its
cruelty or indecency. The story of _Violante_, analysed in No. 380
of the _Edinburgh Review_, is a good example of his tragic force,
and many others might be given. The pathetic grace of the opening
of his _Gerardo and Elena_, analysed in the same essay, is no less
excellent in its more romantic and delicate way. He was a prolific
writer, producing no fewer than eighty-nine novelettes, more esteemed
by foreigners than by his own countrymen, who were offended by his
Lombardisms. Settembrini, however, not in general favourable to the
productions of the Cinque Cento, pronounces him the first Italian
novelist after Boccaccio.

No imputation of rusticity can be attached to the diction of ANTONIO
MARIA GRAZZINI, surnamed _Il Lasca_ (1503-83), for here the style
is the main recommendation of the work. Grazzini, an apothecary
by profession, was one of the chief promoters of the movement for
prescribing a standard of pure Tuscan, and as one of the founders
of the celebrated Academy _degli Umidi_, each of whose members was
bound to assume the name of some fish, he called himself _Il Lasca_
(the Roach), by which name he is best known. Such toys occupied the
thoughts of Italians in an age of decay when great deeds had become
impossible. Grazzini’s stories are mostly taken from Florentine private
life, and as such have their value, apart from the idiomatic Tuscan,
which is best apprehended by the writer’s countrymen. They are not of
enthralling interest, and when tragical are sometimes revolting, but
the exposition is easy and artistic.

GIOVANNI BATTISTA GIRALDI CINTHIO of Ferrara (1504-73) is better
known by name to English readers than most of his fellow-novelists,
since from him Shakespeare derived the plots of _Othello_ and _Measure
for Measure_. The story on which the former drama is founded is not
a bad specimen of Cinthio’s usual work. His subjects are frequently
tragical, sometimes shocking, but the treatment is generally powerful,
the narrative direct and forcible, and he is in great measure exempt
from the grossness of his contemporaries. The tales, a hundred in
number, whence their title of _Ecatomithi_, are supposed to be narrated
on board a ship bound for Marseilles, and conveying a party of Romans
escaping from the sack of the Eternal City. They are divided like
Boccaccio’s into ten classes, each considered to illustrate some
particular point of morals or manners. They are highly respectable
performances; but by so much as they surpass Grazzini’s in matter they
fall below them in style, which, though not incorrect, is devoid of
colour and individuality.

STRAPAROLA, already briefly alluded to, was a native of Caravaggio,
and published his _Notti Piacevoli_ in 1554. He is a good story-teller,
although a bad stylist; but what gives him an epoch-making rank among
Italian novelists is not his merit or demerit in either capacity, but
his having been the first to avail himself of popular folk-lore as
a groundwork for fiction. Nothing is more annoying than the almost
complete neglect of popular mythology by men of culture in antiquity.
Apuleius tells one inimitable tale, without saying where he got it.
Synesius spends his evenings listening to the stories of the Libyan
peasants, and is not at the trouble to preserve a single one. It
is nevertheless clear that such tales must have been as rife in
ancient times as in our own. Straparola was perhaps the first man who
systematically turned them to literary account: it would have been
well if he had gone much further, and proportionately reduced his debt
to Hieronymo Morlini, the chief recommendation of whose generally
indecent and always ungrammatical Latin stories (Naples, 1520) is
their exceeding rarity. Nearly a hundred years afterwards Straparola
was completely eclipsed both as concerned the quantity and the quality
of his folk-lore fictions, by the _Pentamerone_ of GIOVANNI BASILE,
Count of Morone, a collection whose relation to the popular mythology
of other nations has occasioned endless discussion. Puss in Boots, and
Cinderella, and Rapunzel, and many another favourite owe to Basile
their first appearance in literary costume. In narrative he is the
breathless, loquacious, exuberant Neapolitan, too much in a hurry to
trouble himself about style or art, but carrying all before him by
his vigour and vehemence, and betraying, as his German translator has
pointed out, strong traces of the influence of Rabelais.

It will be evident from the above brief sketch of the Italian novel
that in the sixteenth century the art of novel-writing was nearly
identical with the art of narrative. This was fully possessed by most
writers of fiction; but characterisation, ingenuity of construction
and development of plot, underplot, episode, artful suspension of
interest, above all the application of the novelist’s art to weighty
purposes, were all in the most rudimentary condition. Compared with
the modern novel, the ancient story is as a simple air upon a flute to
the complicated harmony of an organ. It is true that the old romances
abound with hints and germs only needing development, but development
was slow in coming, and even when about the beginning of the eighteenth
century romance and novelette had grown into the novel, it was still
long before the novel became a vehicle of ideas and a potent factor in
civilisation. The reason probably is that while the novel may employ
the highest human faculties, it is at the same time the best medium for
conveying ideas to the less cultivated orders of society. The extension
of reading and writing to these classes has called forth a tribe of
readers which had no existence in the days of the Cinque Cento, and has
invested the only description of literature which powerfully appeals
to them with extraordinary significance. The influence of the novel
in the modern sense grows, and will continue to grow; but there is
still abundant room for the short and simple story, the consistent
development of a single incident or situation, compensating in art for
what it lacks in variety, yet, now that human life has become so much
richer and more complex than of old, at a further remove from mere
anecdote than seemed necessary for its Italian prototype.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[16] The Italian style of novel has been imitated in English in
_Stories after Nature_, by Charles Wells, author of _Joseph and his
Brethren_, with great success, except for Wells’s deficiency in humour,
and his employment of a more poetical diction than the Italians would
have allowed themselves.



                             CHAPTER XVII
                               THE DRAMA


Alone among the great nations of the modern world, Italy stands in the
unenviable position of possessing no drama at the same time national
and literary. From one point of view three classes of the drama may be
distinguished, (1) The rude popular play entirely a creation of the
people, such as the buffooneries of the Dionysiac festival, out of
which the Athenian drama grew, or the dramatic exhibitions at fairs of
itinerant actors barely distinguishable from mountebanks, like those
whose puppet-plays originated _Faust_. Performances of this nature have
probably existed in every nation endowed with the rudiments of culture.
(2) These crude beginnings elevated by men of genius into the sphere
of art, and become literary without ceasing to be popular. This is the
true national drama, when the pulses of the poet and the people beat
in full unison, and of which Greece, England, and Spain have given the
world the most brilliant examples. (3) The artificial drama, written by
men of culture for men of culture, but neglecting, or at least failing
to reach the heart of the people. With the exception of the musical
drama of which Metastasio affords the type, and of the comedies of
Goldoni and Gozzi, all of which belonged to a more recent period than
that with which we are now engaged, the whole of the Italian drama
possessing any literary pretensions belongs to this class. It is true
that, as in England and elsewhere, it is accompanied by a lower order
of dramatic composition which may be regarded as popular. In the early
days of the Italian drama we have the _Rappresentazioni_, at a later
period the _Commedia dell’ Arte_, of both of which some notice must be
taken. But neither is, strictly speaking, literature.

It appears at first exceedingly surprising that a nation, not only
so gifted as the Italian, but so dramatically gifted, should not
merely never have achieved a national drama, but should have no
dramatic writer meriting to be ranked among the chief masters of
the art. Lively, emotional, capable of being worked up to the most
violent degrees of passion; at the same time observant, sagacious,
reflective; members of a society comprising every variety of character
and profession, and inheritors of a history replete with moving and
tragic incidents, Italians should seem to have wanted no requisite
for the creation of a flourishing stage. Prolific they were indeed:
more than five thousand plays were written between 1500 and 1734.
Perhaps there are not five which enjoy any considerable reputation out
of Italy, or which, whatever their literary merit, can be considered
characteristically Italian. The most potent of probable causes will be
adduced in its place, but no single explanation, or any accumulation
of partially satisfactory explanations, will entirely account for
so remarkable a circumstance. One reason was probably the great
development of Italian culture at an early period, compared with that
of other European nations. The ablest men had become fully acquainted
with Seneca and Terence, and looked upon them as painters looked upon
Raphael, or sculptors upon Phidias. They deemed them the norm of
excellence, and condemned themselves to a sterile imitation, which
might and often did possess high literary merit, but which was entirely
estranged from popular sympathies. Men like Politian and Pontano, who
really could have created a national drama if they could have trusted
their own instincts, were deterred from producing anything at variance
with the canons in which they themselves believed. It must be said
in extenuation of their error, that the classical school, with all
its defects, was vastly in advance of the rude, amorphous beginnings
of the romantic drama in every country but one. One little corner of
Europe alone possessed in the early sixteenth century a drama at once
living, indigenous, and admirable as literature. Nothing in literary
history is more surprising than the gap between Gil Vicente and his
contemporaries, whether classical or romantic. Had he been born an
Italian instead of a Portuguese, the history of the Italian stage might
possibly have been different. It nevertheless remains to be explained
why no such person arose among so gifted a people, and why throughout
their entire history, with one or two marked exceptions in particular
departments, Italians have never had a drama that they could justly
call their own.

In its first beginnings, notwithstanding, the Italian drama was as
national as any other. As with all other modern European dramas, its
origin was religious. Christianity found the need of replacing the
heathen shows and spectacles it had suppressed, and amused the people
with representations of Scriptural subjects, or of incidents in the
lives of the saints. For centuries these were never written down,
but improvised or exhibited in dumb show. Gradually the miracle-play
came into being, a more advanced development, compelling learning by
rote and much drilling of the performers, and therefore of necessity
committed to writing. In Italy this assumed a more polished form
than elsewhere, the _Rappresentazione Sacra_, rude in construction,
but composed frequently in elegant, sometimes in excellent octave
verse. This was a development of the fifteenth century, the earliest
of which the date is known being the _Abraham and Isaac_ of Feo
Belcari, 1449. It became exceedingly popular in the later part of
the century, especially at Florence. No less distinguished a person
than Lorenzo de’ Medici is enumerated among its authors. Numbers of
such pieces were printed, down even to the end of the seventeenth
century, and usually set off with wood-engravings, sometimes of great
elegance. The materials were usually drawn from ecclesiastical legend.
Constantine is represented as giving his daughter to his successful
general Gallicanus, on condition of his becoming a Christian. Julian,
marching to wage war with the Persians, is slain by an invisible saint.
The histories of Tobit, of St. Agnes, of St. Cecilia, and numbers
of similar legends, form the staple subjects. Sometimes romance is
laid under contribution, as in the instance of the Emperor Octavian,
but always with a religious motive. Dramatic force does not seem to
have been much considered, the stately octave being better adapted
for declamation than for dialogue; but the stage directions are
very precise, and every effort seems to have been made to impress
the spectators, so far as permitted by the rudeness of the open-air
theatre, a mere scaffold with perhaps a curtain for a background, yet
often very splendidly decorated.

How near Italy came to creating a national drama is shown by
the frequent representations of public events upon the stage,
quite in the spirit of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Two types
may be discriminated--one adhering very closely to that of the
_Rappresentazioni_, and composed in the vernacular; the latter
following classical models, and in Latin. To the latter belongs
the very tedious play of Carlo Verardi on the fall of Granada,
performed before Cardinal Riario in 1492; but the very remarkable and
unfortunately lost dramatic chronicle of the usurpations and downfall
of the house of Borgia, acted before the Duke of Urbino on the recovery
of his states in 1504, seems rather to have belonged to the former
class. To this type also is allied the first Italian drama of genuine
literary merit, the _Orfeo_ of Politian, where the dialogue is mostly
in octave stanzas, as in the _Rappresentazioni_, and the object is
evidently rather to delight the spectators by a rapid succession of
scenes admitting of musical accompaniment than to “purge the soul by
pity and terror.” Slight as this juvenile work of Politian’s is, it
is the work of a poet, and written with a swing and rush which recall
the lyrical parts of the _Bacchæ_ of Euripides. It indicates what the
_Rappresentazioni_ might have become but for the competition of the
more classical type of drama, and seems a prelude to the thoroughly
national species of composition which arose in the seventeenth and
prevailed in the eighteenth century, the opera.

The Italian stage had thus made a respectable beginning with the drama
a hundred years before any drama worthy of the name existed in England.
The disappointment of such auspicious promise is justly ascribed by
Symonds, in great measure, to the want of a representative public and a
centre of social life. The emulation of a number of independent cities,
so favourable to the development of art, prevented the development
of the national feeling essential to a national drama. The political
circumstances of these communities, moreover, were inimical to the
existence of a popular stage. Theatrical representations remained
the amusement of courts; and when the general public was allowed to
participate in them, the play itself was so enveloped in show and
spectacle as to appear the least part of the entertainment. It was not
possible that under such circumstances the drama could deviate far
from conventional models. Tragedy continued to be composed after the
pattern of Seneca, an imitation of an imitation. Comedy, though also in
bondage to classical precedents, could not avoid depicting contemporary
manners, and hence displays far more vitality and vigour.

Latin plays had been written by Italians from the beginning of the
fifteenth century, and had included comedies, now lost, by persons of
no less account than Petrarch and Æneas Sylvius. The first vernacular
tragedies worthy of the name were composed for the entertainment of
the court of Ferrara, and were written in the octave stanza or _terza
rima_. No genius could have adapted this form to the exigencies of the
stage, and a great step was taken when in 1515 Trissino, whose epic
on the Gothic wars has been previously noticed, wrote his tragedy of
_Sophonisba_ in blank verse, retaining nothing of the lyrical element
but the chorus. The piece marks an era, and as such remains celebrated,
notwithstanding its total want of poetry and passion. It would have
been a good outline for an abler hand to have clothed with substance.
Trissino had abundance of successors and imitators, most of whom had
more poetical endowment, but few more genuine vocation, and all of whom
are devoid of any impulse except the ambition of literary distinction.
This could only be reached by the prescribed path; and no vestige of
originality appears in any of them except Sperone Speroni’s innovation,
not laudable in a tragedy, although a fruitful suggestion for the
pastoral drama, of mingling lyrical metres with the regulation blank
verse. The subject of his play, the incest of Macareus and Canace,
infinitely overtaxed his elegant talent. Of the other tragedies of the
time, the best known are the _Rosmunda_ of Rucellai, the _Mariamne_
of Lodovico Dolce, and the _Orbecche_ of Cinthio the novelist,
whose _Epitia_ contains the rude germ of Shakespeare’s _Measure for
Measure_[17]. At a later date tragedy was attempted by a true poet of
great genius, who would assuredly have produced something memorable
under favourable circumstances. Hut the composition of Tasso’s
_Torrismondo_, commenced in his youth, was long interrupted, and the
play was completed in 1586 under the depressing circumstances of his
Mantuan exile. It thus wants energy; and, as Carducci remarks, Tasso is
too much of an eclectic, striving by a combination of the advantages
of all styles to supply the one indispensable gift of poetical
inspiration, which misfortune had all but extinguished.

The first Italian comedies, like the tragedies, were written in rhyme.
One early example is entitled to notice, both on account of the
subject and as the work of an excellent poet, the _Timone_ of Boiardo.
It is little more than a translation of Lucian’s Dialogue, yet was,
we feel confident, the channel through which Shakespeare gained the
acquaintance with that work revealed in his _Timon of Athens_. The
history of Italian comedy as a recognised form of art should, however,
be dated from the _Calandra_ of Cardinal Bibbiena, first performed
about 1508. It hardly attempts delineation of character, but, as
Symonds remarks, “achieved immediate success by reproducing both the
humour of Boccaccio and the invention of Plautus in the wittiest
vernacular.” The plot is taken from the _Menæchmi_ of Plautus, the
source of Shakespeare’s _Comedy of Errors_; but Bibbiena’s idea of
making the indistinguishable twins brother and sister enhances the
comic effect at the expense of morality, little considered by cardinals
in those days.

The great success of Bibbiena’s comedy was calculated to encourage
rivalry, and it chanced that two of the first men in Italy of the day
possessed the dramatic instinct, combined with a decided gift for
satire. In the year following the exhibition of the _Calandra_ (1509),
Ariosto gave the _Cassaria_, a comedy of intrigue on the Plautine
model. The same description is applicable to his other comedies, the
_Suppositi_, the _Lena_, the _Negromante_, and the _Scolastica_. In
all except the _Negromante_ the action turns upon the stratagems of a
knavish servant to obtain for his master the money indispensable for
the gratification of his amorous desires. This style of comedy requires
a well-contrived plot, and the maintenance of the interest throughout
by a series of ingenious surprises and unforeseen incidents. In these
Ariosto fully attains his object. Writing for the amusement of a
court, he does not care to stray from the conventions which he knows
will satisfy, and his pieces afford no measure of the success he might
have attained if he had appealed to the public and essayed to depict
Italian society as it existed. One of the characters is exceedingly
lifelike, the accommodating Dominican in the _Scolastica_, who, armed
with all imaginable faculties from the Pope, is ready to commute the
fulfilment of an inconvenient vow into the performance of some good
work profitable to his order. This play was left unfinished, but was
written before the _Lena_ and the _Negromante_, which probably appeared
about 1528.

The other Italian comic writer of genius was one of more powerful
intellect and more serious character than Ariosto, if less richly
endowed as a poet. Released from prison after the overthrow of his
party and the loss of his political position in 1512, Machiavelli
found solace in the composition of the _Mandragola_ (_Mandrake_),
a piece acted before the Pope in that day, and which could hardly
be represented anywhere in this. Its cynicism is worse than its
immorality, the plot consisting in the stratagem by which an innocent
young wife is persuaded to admit a lover; all the personages, including
the husband, who is nevertheless himself deceived in a material point,
co-operating for so laudable an end. Disagreeable as the situation is,
it is probably founded upon fact; and at all events the play is no
pale copy of Plautus or Terence, but full of consistent and strongly
individualised characters, and scenes of the most drastically comic
effect. The portrait of the rascally father confessor is particularly
vigorous, and proves of itself how ripe the times were for Luther. A
dozen more plays of equal merit would have raised the Italian stage
very high. But no successor to Machiavelli appeared; and his other
play, the _Clizia_, is deficient in originality, being little more than
a paraphrase of the _Casina_ of Plautus.

Many comedies of considerable merit succeeded Machiavelli’s, among
which may be particularly mentioned those of Firenzuola, who followed
Roman precedents, and of Cecchi, and Gelli, and Grazzini, who to a
considerable extent disengaged themselves from tradition. Angelo
Beolco, called _Il Ruzzante_, struck upon a new vein in the delineation
of rustic life, involving the employment of dialect; and, near the end
of the century, the life of the people was represented with extreme
vividness by Buonarotti, nephew of Michael Angelo, in his _Fiera_ and
_Tancia_. One other comic dramatist takes an important place, the
repulsive and decried Aretino. His claim to permanent significance is
grounded, not on the scanty literary merits of his works, but on the
unique characteristic thus expressed by Symonds, “They depict the great
world from the standpoint of the servants’ hall.” They are the work of
a low-minded man, who could see nothing but the baser traits of the
society around him, but saw these clearly, and also saw no reason why
he should not blazon what he saw. Hence his usefulness is in the ratio
of his offensiveness.

It is significant of the difference between the Italian mind and the
Spanish, and of the extent to which the former had emancipated itself
from mediævalism, that the _Rappresentazione_, touching so nearly on
the confines of the Spanish _Auto_, never developed into that or any
allied variety of the drama. The abstractions of the vices and virtues,
so natural to the Spaniard and the man of the Middle Age in general,
were uncongenial to the Italian, whose _Rappresentazioni_ were always
peopled by definite, tangible persons, even if of the spiritual order.
The _Adamo_ of Andreini, early in the seventeenth century, from which
Milton undoubtedly derived his first idea of treating the Fall in a
miracle play, might have led to a development in this direction, but
remained an isolated eccentricity. The true national development lay
in quite another path, the pastoral drama. Something like this might
be found in Gil Vicente, but we may be certain that his works were
totally unknown in Italy, and that the pastoral play grew out of such
romances as the Arcadia, such eclogues as those of Baptista Mantuanus,
and the court masques in which the principal parts were taken by
shepherds and shepherdesses. Politian’s _Orfeo_ is not very far from
being such a piece, although it is a good deal more. A pastoral masque
was composed as early as 1506 by Castiglione for the amusement of the
court of Urbino. Others followed from time to time, and developed into
a real pastoral drama by Beccari in 1554; but the literary pretensions
of this class of composition continued to be very slender until it was
virtually created by Tasso’s _Aminta_ in 1573. Few novel experiments
in literature have enjoyed a more immediate or more permanent success.
Numerous as were the _Aminta’s_ imitators, its primacy has never but
once been seriously challenged, and its nature and simplicity have
in general been justly preferred to the more elaborate artifice of
the _Pastor Fido_. It is indeed deficient in the rich poetry of its
English rival, the _Faithful Shepherdess_, “as inferior, poetically
speaking,” says Leigh Hunt, “as a lawn with a few trees on it is to
the depths of a forest.” But Leigh Hunt confesses its superiority in
“true dramatic skill, and flesh and blood interest”: it is indeed as
far as anything can be from the insipidity usually associated with
pastoral compositions. It has, moreover, more of the genuine yearning
for the golden age, the spirit which inspires Keats’s _Endymion_, than
is found in the fanciful dramas of Fletcher, or Milton, or Ben Jonson.
“The central motive of _Aminta_ and the _Pastor Fido_,” says Symonds,
“is the contrast between the actual world of ambition, treachery, and
sordid strife, and the ideal world of pleasure, loyalty, and tranquil
ease.”

Although the pastoral drama is a legitimate as well as a beautiful kind
of composition, it is not capable of very great extension or variety.
Tasso’s successors might conceivably surpass him as poets, but could
only repeat him as dramatists. His only serious competitor is his
contemporary GIOVANNI BATTISTA GUARINI, the author of the _Pastor Fido_
(1537-1612).

Guarini, the descendant of a Veronese family already distinguished
in letters, was, like Tasso, attached to the court of the Duke of
Ferrara; but, unlike Tasso, was a man of the world, and was employed
in several important missions, especially one to solicit the crown
of Poland for his master, where he nearly died of a Polish inn. Like
most of the Duke’s literary protégés, he became estranged from him,
and spent the later part of his life in roaming from court to court in
quest of employment, and litigating with his children and the world
at large. His disposition was quarrelsome; literary disputes had long
severed him from Tasso; it is to his honour that when the latter was
unable to watch over his own works, he took care of and published his
lyrical poems. The most brilliant episode of Guarini’s life was the
publication of his _Pastor Fido_ in 1590; but not the least troublesome
was the literary controversy in which it involved him. These disputes,
born rather of the idleness than of the conscientiousness of the
Italian literati, are now forgotten, and the _Pastor Fido_, a direct
challenge to the _Aminta_, is allowed an honourable though a second
place. Its relation to its predecessor may be compared to that of the
Corinthian order to the Ionic. Guarini has sought to compensate for
the lack of natural, spontaneous inspiration by superior artifice of
plot: his characters are more numerous, and his action more intricate
and ingenious. This would not have availed him much if he had not been
a poet, but this he certainly was, though with less of the _nascitur_
and more of the _fit_ than usual. Tasso was conscious of a truer
inspiration, and conveys his claim to the virtual invention of a new
mode in poetry in the verses which he has placed in the mouth of Love
appearing in the disguise of a shepherd, thus rendered by Leigh Hunt:

      _After new fashion shall these woods to-day
      Hear love discoursed; and it shall well be seen
      That my divinity is present here
      In its own person, not its ministers.
      I will inbreathe high fancies in rude hearts;
      I will refine, and render dulcet sweet,
      Their tongues; because, wherever I may be,
      Whether with rustic or heroic men,
      There am I Love; and inequality,
      As it may please me, I do equalise;
      And ’tis my crowning glory and great miracle
      To make the rustic pipe as eloquent
      Even as the subtlest harp._

Guarini frequently repeated Tasso’s ideas, striving to enhance their
effect by careful elaboration. The poetry of one or both has passed
into Calderon’s _Magico Prodigioso_, and originated the scene of
the temptation of Justina, an ornament of English literature in the
incomparable version of Shelley.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[17] The novel by Cinthio himself on which this play is founded was
dramatised by Whetstone; but that Shakespeare had seen Cinthio’s
dramatic version also may be inferred from a minute circumstance.
Cinthio’s play, not his novel or Whetstone’s adaptation of it, has
a character named Angela, whose name disappears from _Measure for
Measure_, but who bequeaths Angelo as that of her brother, whom Cinthio
calls Juristi, and Whetstone Andrugio.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                                 TASSO


The year 1564 is memorable in the intellectual history of the world.
It marks the beginning of the long ascent of the North, and of the
slow depression of the South. In it Shakespeare was born; in it
Michael Angelo died; in it the decrees of the Council of Trent were
promulgated by one of the most liberal and enlightened of the Popes,
even as the Society of Jesus had been established twenty-four years
before by another entitled to the same commendation. Neither Paul nor
Pius was free to gratify his personal inclinations at the expense
of the institution over which he presided; and in fact the Society
and the Council were less important in themselves than as indicative
of the new spirit which was to prevail in Roman Catholic countries,
destructive, so far as its influence extended, of science, and deadly
to learning, literature, and art. The time was at hand when the policy
of great states was to be controlled by confessors; when the clergy,
under the influence of a training in special seminaries, were to
be converted from an order into a caste; when the entire influence
of State and Church was to be devoted to the repression of free
thought, with the inevitable result of intellectual degeneracy, and
mortifying inferiority to the nations which, with whatever limitations,
acknowledged the principle of freedom.

From this period Italian literature, though still interesting in
itself, becomes comparatively unimportant in its relation to general
civilisation; it drops from the first place into the third, and every
year widens the interval between the retrogressive and the progressive
peoples. The results of eighty years of oppression are thus stated by
an illustrious visitor on the authority of the Italians themselves:
“I have sate among their learned men,” says Milton, “and been counted
happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom as they
supposed England was, while they themselves did nothing but bemoan the
servile condition into which learning among them was brought, that
this was it which had damped the glory of Italian wits; that nothing
had been written there now these many years but flattery and fustian.”
These, it will be observed, are not Milton’s own words, but report
the views of the cultivated Italians with whom he associated, and
who, enslaved but not subdued, still nurtured hopes which our times
have seen fulfilled. Could the foreigner have been excluded, could
men like these have been left to settle by themselves with priest and
prince, it is probable that the anti-Renaissance reaction and the
counter-Reformation would never have come to pass. Yet Italy cannot be
wholly excused; the foreigner had brought the mischief, but who had
brought the foreigner?

This age of decadence is nevertheless represented to posterity by one
of the greatest poets of Italy; nor can his misfortunes be specially
charged upon it. The sad story of TORQUATO TASSO has ever excited and
ever must excite the deepest compassion; but it is not now believed
that any fellow-mortal was responsible for his sorrows, or that they
were materially aggravated by ill-usage from any quarter. The simple
fact is that during the later part of his life Tasso was frequently
either insane or on the borderland between sanity and insanity, and
that, given his peculiar mental constitution, his double portion of
the morbid irritability and sensitiveness commonly incidental to the
poetical temperament, the same affliction must have befallen him under
any circumstances or in any age of the world. It is indeed possible
that his brain was in some measure clouded and warped by the unnatural
discipline of the Jesuits into whose hands he fell in his boyhood,
and that this determined the nature of some of the symptoms of mental
alienation which he afterwards manifested. It was, moreover, his great
misfortune that his age should have afforded no other sphere for a
delicate and candid mind than a court honeycombed with intrigue and
jealousy. Yet the fate of so morbidly sensitive a spirit could hardly
have been materially different; it is only wonderful that he should
have regained so much of his intellect and died master of himself.
Courtly society and religious excitement between them admirably trained
his magnificent genius to write the _Jerusalem Delivered_, in its
relation to general culture the epic of the Roman Catholic revival,
but, from the large-hearted humanity of the author, happily much more.

The circumstances of Tasso’s youth were such as to intensify the
innate melancholy of his disposition. His father Bernardo, whom we have
met with as a poet and a high-minded cavalier, ruined himself and his
family within a few years after Torquato’s birth at Sorrento (1544)
by the noble imprudence of the advice which he gave to his Neapolitan
patron, and, though afterwards the servant of princes, died in poverty.
When twelve years old Tasso lost his mother, poisoned, as was thought,
by her relatives, to rob her husband of her portion. We have spoken of
the Jesuitry which marred his early education; afterwards, however,
he was brought up in a much saner manner. At Urbino, where his father
found a temporary refuge, afterwards in busy Venice and at Padua, where
he ineffectually studied law, he had become a master of classics,
mathematics, and philosophy, and had not only read but annotated Dante.
By the time (1565) when he became attached to the court of Ferrara,
he had published his _Rinaldo_, in form an imitation of Ariosto, but
indicative of a new spirit; and had less fortunately signalised the
termination of a two years’ residence at Bologna by a scrape in which
he had involved himself by reciting a pasquinade upon the university,
which not unnaturally caused him to be accused of having written
it. This adventure at least evinced serious deficiency in tact--an
endowment more essential than genius in the situation where he now
found himself.

Tasso’s immediate obligations at the court of Ferrara were to Luigi,
Cardinal d’Este, brother of the Duke, who seems to have expected
nothing from him but duteous attendance, and the completion of the
great poem of which the _Rinaldo_ had given promise, and whose theme
was still unfixed. Nothing appears to the Cardinal’s disadvantage; nor
is any especial reproach addressed to his high-spirited brother the
Duke, except the heavy taxation he imposed to maintain a magnificence
disproportioned to his revenue. The two great ladies of the court,
the Duke’s sisters, were decidedly sympathetic, and there seems no
reason to attribute malevolence to his fellow-courtiers. The situation
of this child of genius at a court was indeed a false one, and could
have no fortunate issue; yet the innate germ of insanity would almost
certainly have developed itself, whatever the external circumstances of
his lot. For five or six years all went well. Tasso chose the subject
of his poem, laboured diligently at it, attracted universal admiration
by the brilliancy and fluency of his occasional compositions, disputed
successfully with the élite of Ferrara on the subject of Love, and in
1571 accompanied the Cardinal on a mission to France. The French court
had not yet resolved upon the St. Bartholomew, and its coquettings with
the Huguenots scandalised the devout poet. He composed two discourses
upon France and its affairs, which, although in some respects fanciful,
display much penetration. On his return he quitted the Cardinal’s
service for no very apparent reason, and shortly afterwards entered
the Duke’s. This would bring him into more intimate relations with the
Duke’s sisters. One of these, Lucrezia, soon contracted, avowedly for
reasons of state, a marriage with the Duke of Urbino; but Leonora, weak
in health and devoted to good works, remained single. With her the
romance of Tasso’s life is associated; and although the belief that
a presumptuous attachment occasioned his imprisonment is undoubtedly
groundless, the attachment itself is the evident inspiration of much of
his lyrical poetry:

      _Lady, though cruel destiny deny
        To follow you, and eager feet enchains,
        Ever the heart upon your vestige strains,
      And save your tresses knows not any tie.
      And as the birdling doth attendant fly,
        Lured by the hand that tempting food detains,
        Moved by like cause if follows you and plains,
      Pining for consolation from your eye.
      Gently within your hand the roamer take
        Into your breast, and let it nestle there,
        Soothed to great blissfulness in narrow span,
      Until at length its soul in song awake,
        And its dear woe and your great worth declare
        From Adria’s shore to shores Etrurian._

Such verses are too deeply felt for mere compliment, and, if sincere,
could only be addressed to some one much above himself in station. In
another sonnet a consciousness of presumption is clearly indicated:

      _Of Icarus and Phaethon hast read?
        Thou’lt know how one was in these waters whirled,
        When he with orient light would wake the world,
      And with sun’s fire endiadem his head;
      That other in the sea, when, rashly spread,
        His waxen wings he voyaging unfurled;
        So headlong evermore the man be hurled
      Who ways divine with mortal foot would tread.
      But who shall quake in difficult emprise
        If Gods attend him? What is not allowed
        To Love, who knits in one all things divine?
      Forsaking heavenly spheres that sing and shine,
        By him Diana to a shepherd bowed,
        And Ida’s youth was rapt unto the skies._

Neither Tasso nor Leonora, however, was of an amorous temperament; and
there is no reason to suppose that he experienced any great difficulty
in keeping his passion within Platonic bounds. The hidden flame may
well have wrought him to the production of his unsurpassed _Aminta_ in
1572-73. But in 1574 a severe illness marks an era in his life; he is
never again quite the same man. In 1575 we encounter the first decided
symptoms of an unsettled mind in querulousness and morbid suspicion,
augmented, we may well believe, by the vexations attendant upon the
revision of his now completed epic. He thought, and with justice,
that he had written a truly religious poem, and he now found the
ecclesiastical reaction demanding by the mouth of Silvio Antoniano, a
type of the Roman Catholic Puritan of that ungenial day, that it should
be adapted to the reading of monks and nuns. Solerti, his chief modern
biographer, seems inclined to consider “his two years’ warfare with
bigotry and pedantry” the principal cause of his insanity; Carducci
rather accuses his Jesuit education. Both were actual causes, more
potent and malignant than his sentimental attachment to Leonora; but in
truth the germ of insanity had always been latent in his brain, and the
special occasion of its manifestation was comparatively immaterial.

Happily, as Settembrini justly distinguishes, it was not obscuration
or decay, but exalted tension of the mind, and left the power of
thinking and writing almost unimpaired, except under the influence
of violent paroxysm. The disorder assumed the special form of
morbid suspicion, a constant dread of inimical machinations, and
self-accusation of imaginary heresies. He fled from Ferrara only to
return; and at length (July 1579) a frenzied attack upon a retainer
of the court necessitated his confinement as a lunatic. He would not
have been subjected to the indignity of chains in our day, but the
psychiatry of that age knew no better, and the best proof that its
methods were not utterly perverse is the speedy restoration of his
reason in a much greater measure than could have been hoped. At first
he was unquestionably maniacal; but his state gradually became one of
apparent sanity infested by delusions, to which many of the painful
particulars alleged in his letters are to be ascribed. One prevailing
hallucination was the frequent visitation of a familiar spirit, with
whom he held long dialogues. His treatment improved with his mental
condition; though sometimes, by the inattention of his custodians, as
we must think, short of necessary food, he had comfortable apartments,
was allowed to carry on an extensive and apparently uncontrolled
correspondence, and produced enough excellent work, chiefly prose
dialogues, to prove at least the enjoyment of numerous lucid intervals.
At length, in July 1586, he was permitted to retire to Mantua. Alphonso
appears to have behaved becomingly to the poet, considered merely as an
unhappy vassal: it is no special reproach to him to have been neither
an Alexander the Great nor a Wolfe to rightly appraise the comparative
worth of the _Jerusalem Delivered_ and the ducal crown of Ferrara.

The remainder of Tasso’s life was spent in restless wanderings to
and fro between courts and cities, like the tossings of a sick man
who vainly seeks ease by shifting his position upon his couch. He
could not live without a patron, and no patron long contented him. It
would be tedious to tell how often he forsook and resought Mantua,
Florence, Rome, Naples; he even made overtures of reconciliation to
Ferrara. It was not his fault, but sheer mental infirmity, by which,
however, his reason, though frequently obscured or misled, was never
again overthrown. At Naples his friend Manso heard a profound argument
between him and his familiar spirit; both voices were his own, but of
this Tasso was unconscious. He had completed and published his tragedy,
_Torrismondo_, at Mantua in 1586; at Naples the exhortations of Manso’s
mother led him to compose his blank-verse poem on the Week of Creation
(_Il Mondo Creato_), chiefly remarkable for its evident influence on
the style and versification of Milton. The latter books, written in
sickness, evince some languor, but no symptoms of disordered faculties
appear, although the servility of the pseudo-religious sentiment
painfully evinces how much ecclesiastical influences had enslaved him,
and how he had fallen away from the free spirit of the Renaissance.

Another work of Tasso’s decline, the reconstruction of the _Jerusalem
Delivered_ under the title of the _Conquest of Jerusalem_, although
an error of judgment, yet rather indicates undue sensitiveness to
criticism than insanity. Imperfect as the first editions had been, the
_Jerusalem_ had been received with enthusiasm, but had also excited
much pedantic and some bigoted censure. The general result had been
to convince Tasso that his poem was too romantic and not sufficiently
epical; which, abstractedly considered, was true, but simply arose from
the fact that his genius was rather romantic than epic. In endeavouring
to bring his poem nearer Homer he led it away from Nature, and the
beauties which he introduced bore no proportion to those which he
retrenched. The new recension fell entirely flat, and is now almost
unknown; although had the _Jerusalem Delivered_ never been published,
the _Conquest_ would undoubtedly have gained Tasso a considerable
name. It was dedicated to a new patron, Cardinal Cinthio Aldobrandini,
nephew of Pope Clement VIII., and all allusions to the house of Este,
for whose heritage the Pope, “hushed in grim repose,” was patiently
waiting, were carefully expunged. Cinthio proved a kind and considerate
patron; and Clement, who was endowed with a regal instinct for doing
the right thing at the right time, was on the point of honouring Tasso
with a public coronation after the example of Petrarch, when on April
25, 1595, death removed him from earthly honours and indignities in the
convent of San Onofrio, where he had for some time found an asylum, and
where the crown which should have arrayed his temples was placed upon
his bier.

Apart from the failings without which he would hardly have been a
poet, and the infirmities for which it would be unjust to make him
responsible, Tasso’s deportment throughout life was that of an amiable,
high-minded, and accomplished gentleman. Two defects alone produce a
painful impression--the entire lack of any sense of humour, and the
apparent indifference to all public interests outside of court and
ecclesiastical life. The former of these was congenital, irremediable,
and bitterly expiated by the undignified predicaments in which it
involved him; the latter would not have existed if he had lived in
a better age. He did, indeed, like Spenser and Tennyson, attribute
a didactic and allegorical purpose to his poem which may have been
patent to his own mind, but with which no reader, if not a commentator
also, ever concerned himself. Yet the significance of the _Jerusalem
Delivered_ does not solely consist in the beauty of the language and
the exquisiteness of the characters: although an artificial, it is in
some sense a national epic. Thanks mainly to the pressure of foreign
tyrants, Protestantism and the Renaissance both had for the time been
crushed in Italy, and the Italian poet who would be national must write
in the spirit of the reaction. Catholicism was putting forth its utmost
strength to drive back the Ottoman and the heretic; and although, when
Tasso began his _Jerusalem_, he could have foreseen neither Lepanto nor
the St. Bartholomew, it is a remarkable instance of the harmony which
pervades all human affairs, that both should have happened ere he had
completed it. Had either been the subject of his poem, the result would
have been utter failure; but the great theme of the Crusades exhibits
the dominant thought of his own day exalted to a commanding elevation,
set at an awful distance, and purged of all contemporary littleness;
transfigured in the radiance of poetry and history. A nobler subject
for epic song could not well be found, save for the defect which it
shares with almost all epics which have been created by study and
reflection, and have not, like the _Iliad_, grown spontaneously out
of the heart and mind of a great people. The principal action is
insufficient for the poem, and needs to be eked out and adorned by
copious episodes. The _Æneid_ would present a poor figure without the
burning of Troy, the death of Dido, and Æneas’s descent to the shades;
the _Jerusalem_ is still more indebted to Clorinda and Armida, and
the embellishment is still more loosely connected with the poem’s
ostensible purpose. Tasso’s genius was in many respects truly epical;
yet, the nearer he approaches lyric or pastoral, the more thoroughly he
seems at home. That his Saracens should be more interesting than his
Christians, and his Christians most interesting when least Christian,
was perhaps inevitable. It is a proof of the essential excellence of
human nature that, unless in very extreme cases, its sympathies are
always most readily enlisted by the weaker side. Homer himself could
not avoid making Hector more attractive than Achilles. Another defect
lay less in the nature of things than in the spirit of the age, the
occasional anticipation of the false taste of the seventeenth century.
Italy was weary of the elegant exteriors and empty interiors of the
compositions of Bembo and Molza. A Wordsworth, arising to proclaim
a return to nature, might have endowed her with a new age of great
literature, but the circumstances of the time absolutely forbade any
such apparition, and the craving for vitality and vigour had to be
appeased by a show of intellectual dexterity and mere exaggeration.
Tasso betrays just enough of the premonitory symptoms of this literary
plague to call down the wrath of Boileau, whose outrageous denunciation
has been remembered where measured reproof would have been forgotten.

When all has been said that can be said, the _Jerusalem Delivered_
remains a very great poem, the greatest of all the artificial epics
after the _Æneid_ and _Paradise Lost_ (for Ariosto’s poem, so
frequently paralleled with it, is not an epic at all). That Tasso
should approach Virgil more nearly than any other poet is perhaps
unfortunate for him; the _Jerusalem_ and the _Æneid_ constantly admit
of comparison, and wherever comparison is possible the former is a
little behind. To compare Tasso with Milton seems almost profanation;
and indeed, if, as so often assumed, the greatness of an epic poet is
to be measured by his sublimity, the _Jerusalem_ is entirely out of
the field. Milton is the sublimest of non-dramatic poets after Homer:
Tasso, always dignified and sometimes grand, rarely attains sublimity,
and falls particularly short of it in the description of the infernal
council, where comparison with Milton is most obvious. Yet he has
advantages which it would be unjust to deny. He has not, like Milton,
proposed to himself an unattainable object: he has not to justify
the ways of God to man, but to recount the conquest of Jerusalem.
He is more uniform in merit: it cannot be said of his poem that the
catastrophe takes place in the middle, and that the interest steadily
declines thenceforth.

What, however, especially distinguishes Tasso, not only from Milton,
but from modern epic poets in general, is the number and excellence of
his characters, mostly of his own creation. Rinaldo, Tancred, Argante,
Emireno, Solimano, Clorinda, Armida, Erminia, form a gallery of
portraits whose picturesqueness and variety redeem Tasso’s inferiority
in other respects; while at the same time, even were his canvas less
brilliantly occupied, it could not be said that his poem wanted either
the unity, the interest, the dignity, the just proportion, the poetical
spirit, the elevated diction, or the harmonious versification essential
to a great epic. The great defect of the poem, regarded as an epic, is
that Tasso’s bent, like Virgil’s, was rather towards the pathetic, the
picturesque, and the romantic, than towards the sublime and majestic.
He can command dignity and grandeur on occasion; but, even as the
_Æneid_ opens most readily at Dido, Marcellus, or Euryalus, so the
_Jerusalem_ attracts most by its female characters, Erminia, Clorinda,
and Armida. Armida is a charming personage, an improvement upon the
Alcina of Ariosto, but a passage like the following, rendered by Miss
Ellen Clerke, would be more appropriately placed in an _Orlando_ or
an _Odyssey_ than in an epic on so high and grave a theme as the
redemption of the holy city from the unbeliever:

        _Arrived on shore, he in review doth pass
      The spot with eager glance, but nought descries,
      Save caves and water-flowers, and trees and grass,
      So deems himself befooled; but in such wise
      The place doth tempt--such charms did nature mass
      Together there--that on the sward he lies,
      His forehead from its heavy armour eases,
      And bares it to the sweet and soothing breezes._

        _Then of a gurgling murmur he was 'ware
      Within the stream, and thither turned his eyes,
      And saw a ripple in 'mid current there
      Whirl round about itself in eddying guise,
      And thence emerge a glint of golden hair,
      And thence a maiden’s lovely face uprise;
      Her voice the ear enthralled, her face the vision,
      And heaven hung tranced upon her notes Elysian._

        _And now the false one’s song of treacherous wile
      O’erpowers the youth with slumberous heaviness,
      And by degrees that serpent base and vile
      Subdues his senses with o’ermastering stress,
      Nor death’s still mimicry, wrought by her guile,
      Could thunders rouse from; other sounds far less.
      Then the foul sorceress from her ambush showing,
      Stands over him, with hate and fury glowing._

        _But as she gazing scans the gentle sighs,
      The stir of whose soft breathing she can mark,
      The smile that lurked around the beauteous eyes,
      Now closed (what then their living glances dark?),
      She pauses thrilled, then droops in tender guise,
      Beside him--quenched her hatred’s every spark,
      As rapt above that radiant brow inclining,
      She seems Narcissus o’er the fountain pining._

        _The dew of heat there starting, she ne’er tires
      With tender fingers in her veil to dry;
      While his cheek softly fanning, she desires
      The heat to temper of the summer sky;
      Thus (who could have believed it?) smouldering fires
      Of hidden orbs dissolved the frost, whereby
      That adamantine heart its core did cover,
      And the harsh foe becomes the tender lover._

        _Pale privet, roses red, and lilies white,
      Perennial blooming on that lovely shore,
      Blent with strange art, she wove in fetters light
      Yet close of clasp, and flung them softly o’er
      His neck and arms and feet; thus helpless quite
      She bound and held him fast, and sleeping bore
      Unto the prison of her car aerial,
      And carried in swift flight through realms ethereal._

Few of the great artificial epics of the world, those which have
not been moulded out of songs and legends welling up spontaneously
from the heart of the people, can sustain very strict criticism of
their poetical economy, and the _Jerusalem Delivered_ perhaps less
than any other. The subject of the Crusades, indeed, is a very great
one, too vast even to be embraced in a single poem; and the capture
of Jerusalem, though of all its incidents incomparably the most fit
for poetical treatment, is not of itself sufficiently extensive for
an epic poem. It must consequently be enriched by episodes, which in
Tasso’s hands have the double fault of jarring with the spirit of the
main action, and of obscuring its due predominance by their superior
attractiveness. It might perhaps have been otherwise if Tasso had been
cast in the mould of Milton or had lived in an austerer age. Italian
poetry, however, was so saturated by the influence of Petrarch and
Ariosto that any embellishments of the chief action must of necessity
partake of the character of love and romance. The former class, however
charming in themselves, inevitably depressed the character of an epic
so largely depending upon them as the _Jerusalem_, below that proper to
an heroic poem. The romance and sorcery, though recommended to Tasso
as introducing the supernatural, then considered indispensable to epic
poetry, provoke criticism by their inconsistency. If the enchanters
Ismeno and Armida could do so much, they might have done a great deal
more. Ismeno has all the infernal hosts at his command, and makes
hardly any use of them. Pluto is a most lazy and incompetent devil.
Armida might easily have made her magic island impregnable. The whole
contrivance of the enchanted wood, though full of descriptive beauties,
is weak as poetical machinery; it could have offered no real obstacle
to the Christians. And it is almost comical to observe that amid all
the confusion the venerable Peter the Hermit knows perfectly well what
is to happen, can remedy every misfortune when he chooses, and could
have prevented it but for the convenience of the poet, more inexorable
than the fiat of the Fates.

The merit of the _Jerusalem_, then, consists mainly in details whose
beauty requires no exposition. Mention has already been made of the
merit of the character-painting, which greatly surpasses Ariosto’s. The
latter’s personages are in comparison puppets; Tasso’s are living men
and women. The passion of love in the three principal female characters
is exquisitely painted, and admirably discriminated in accordance with
the disposition of each. Erminia, in particular, calls up the sweetest
image conceivable of womanly tenderness and devotion. Rinaldo is less
interesting than he should have been; but Tancred is the mirror of
chivalry; and the difficulty of delineating a perfect hero without
provoking scepticism or disgust is overcome as nearly as possible in
the character of Goffredo. The veteran Raimondo’s insistence upon the
post of honour and danger; the indomitable spirit of Solimano; the
circumspect valour of Emireno, devoid of illusion, and with no aim but
the fulfilment of duty--are noble traits, and the more so as the poet
found them in himself. The very last incident in the poem, Goffredo’s
interference to save his gallant enemy Altamoro, is one that could
have occurred to no one less noble and courteous than the author of
the _Jerusalem_. It is very different from Bradamante’s behaviour to
Atlante in the _Orlando Furioso_.

Another honourable characteristic is Tasso’s love of science and
discovery, revealed by many passages in his minor poems and his
dialogues, and in the _Jerusalem_ by the noble prophecy of the Columbus
to be. His sonnet to Stigliani, hereafter to be quoted, appears to
hint that with better health and fortune he would himself have taken
the exploits of Columbus as the subject of another epic; and he is
said to have remarked that the only contemporary poet against whom
he felt any hesitation in measuring himself was Camoens, the singer
of the discoveries of the Portuguese. This theme, often essayed, and
never with success, would have favoured Tasso’s genius in so far as it
exempted him from describing single combats and pitched battles. His
battle-pieces are not ineffective, but he is evidently more at home
among the sorceries of Armida’s enchanted garden:

      _“Ah mark!” he sang, “the rose but now revealed,
      Fresh from its veiling sheath of virgin green,
      Unfolded yet but half, half yet concealed,
      More fair to see, the less it may be seen.
      Now view its bare and flaunting pride unsealed;
      All faded now, as though it ne’er had been
      The beauteous growth, that while it bloomed retired,
      A thousand maids, a thousand youths desired._

      _“Thus passeth in the passing of a day
      Life’s flower, with green and roseate tints imbued:
      Think not, since Spring leads back the laughing May,
      The mortal bloom shall likewise be renewed.
      Cull we the rose in morning’s prime, ere grey
      Dims the fair vault, and cloud and gloom intrude.
      Cull we Love’s roses in the hour approved,
      When whoso loves may hope to be beloved.”_

      _He ceased, and with one voice the feathered choir,
      Applauding as it seemed, resume their strain;
      Again the billing, amorous doves suspire,
      And every creature turns to love again;[18]
      Chaste laurel burns, the thrilling sap mounts higher
      In rugged oaks, light foliage flutters fain;
      And earth and ocean seem to throb and move
      With softest sense and sweetest sighs of Love._

The alterations introduced by Tasso when he remodelled his epic amount
to an admission of the justice of the charges brought against him, of
having deviated too much into picturesque episodes, and been, in short,
too lyrical. It might therefore have been expected that he would have
taken a supreme place in lyrical poetry, and the anticipation would
have been confirmed by the triumph of his _Aminta_. It is not entirely
justified by his other lyrical performances; few of his numerous
canzoni and multitudinous sonnets being absolutely in the front rank.
The cause is probably want of concentration; he was always ready with
a sonnet at call, and composed far too many upon petty and trivial
occasions. His best lyrics, nevertheless, have a property which no
other Italian poetry possesses in like measure--a certain majestic
vehemence, like that of a mighty river, or what Shakespeare describes
as “the proud full sail of his great verse.” It has even been argued,
mainly on the strength of “that affable familiar ghost,” that Tasso
was the rival of whom Shakespeare complains; however this may be, no
description could better express the peculiarity of his lyrical style.
The manner, unfortunately, is often far in advance of the matter. There
is no more splendid example, for instance, than his “Coronal”[19] of
sonnets, where a sonority and impetuosity that might have celebrated
the battle of Lepanto are squandered upon the house of Este. The same
qualities, however, are always present when his feelings are deeply
moved, as when he accompanies in thought his lady to the verge of the
sea:

      _Silver and diamond and gem and gold--
        Wealth from wrecks anciently by tempests rent--
        And coral of its own with pearl besprent,
      The sea in homage at thy feet uprolled;--
      For whom might Jupiter again be bold
        In shape of bull to plough the element--
        And, foaming at thy feet in billows spent,
      With liquid tongue its murmuring story told:
      O Nymph, O Goddess, not from caverned bower
        Of ocean sprung, but heaven, who canst enchain
        My seething turbulence, not now the power
      Of gentle moon conducts the obedient main,
        But thine; fear nothing; I but swell to shower
        My gifts, and turn me to my deeps again._


                              FOOTNOTES:

[18] “_Ogni animal di amar si riconsiglia._” A line taken bodily out of
Petrarch.

[19] A series of twelve sonnets on the same subject, interlinked by
each successive piece beginning with the last line of the preceding.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                 THE PROSE OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY


The seventeenth century is for Italy a period of stagnation, relieved
only by the endeavour to conceal decay by fantastic extravagance, by a
fortunate reaction near its termination, and by some genuine progress
in isolated directions, which would have been fruitful of important
results in a better age. The false taste which disfigured the epoch
was not peculiar to Italy; but while in other countries it appears a
symptom of exuberant life, a disorder incident to infancy, in Italy
it dominates literature, some departments of practical knowledge and
study excepted. What elsewhere was boisterous youth, was in Italy
premature old age. No other cause for this decadence can be assigned
than the withering of national life under the blight of civil and
ecclesiastical tyranny. The reform of the Church, the purification
of morals, excellent things in themselves, had been bought from the
counter-Reformation at far too high a price.

We have indicated 1564 as the year in which the North of Europe begins
to gain steadily at the expense of the South. The date especially fatal
to Italy may perhaps be carried five years back, to 1559, when the long
contest between France and Spain for supremacy in the Peninsula was
decided in favour of the latter by the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. Up
to this time the Italians had been in some measure able to play their
oppressors off against each other; and such from Alexander the Sixth’s
time had been the policy of the Popes, who all wished the expulsion
of the barbarians, in so far as compatible with their own family
interests. The accommodation between the foreign Herod and the foreign
Pilate put an end to this system. The hope of the independence of Italy
was definitively resigned, the minor princes submitted to be Spanish
vassals, and the Popes indemnified themselves by enlisting the monarchs
in support of their spiritual authority. Jesuits, seminary priests,
and inquisitors darkened the land, and the ever-augmenting pressure
culminated at last in the rules for censorship promulgated by Clement
VIII. in 1595, which effectually stifled freedom of thought, and
stopped the dissemination of knowledge, except by leave of those whose
interest it was to prevent it. Not merely were heretical or licentious
writings interdicted, but criticism on rulers and ecclesiastics, and
praises of the freedom and virtue of antiquity.

Such satires as those in which, in the days of the Renaissance,
Alamanni and other orthodox Catholics had scourged the sins of
Church and State, could now be printed only in Protestant countries.
Anything might be prohibited that shocked the prejudice or surpassed
the comprehension of an ignorant and bigoted priest. Authors were
discouraged from writing, booksellers from publishing, and readers
from reading, while the frivolous pedantry and execrable taste of
the Jesuits infected almost all the schools. Renaissance had become
reaction; the new birth had passed into the second death. This iron
despotism could not be perpetually maintained. It was impossible to
shut Italians out from all knowledge of the intellectual progress of
Protestant countries, nor in the universal flux of things could the
stern inquisitorial type of ecclesiastical ruler be stereotyped for
ever. In course of time the _zelanti_ Popes gave way to affable and
humane personages, but the nation had meanwhile sunk into a mental
torpor, in which, with a few glorious exceptions, it remained plunged
until the crash of the old order of things in the French Revolution.
The exclusion of the vivifying spirit of the Reformation, the
impossibility of so much as alluding, except in disparagement, to the
chief transaction of contemporary history, indicate an emasculation, as
well as a paralysis, beyond the power of language to express.

The extinction of the free spirit of the Renaissance was the more
unfortunate for Italy, as it arrested the development of speculative
and scientific research which seemed opening upon her. It has been
frequently observed that the close of a brilliant literary epoch has
coincided with the birth of an era of positive science. The early
Greek philosophers follow Homer and the rhapsodists; Aristotle and
Theophrastus, Epicurus and Zeno, succeed the dramatists and the
orators; the decline of Latin literature is the age of the illustrious
jurists. Even so, as the great authors and the great artists departed
from Italy, she produced her greatest man of science, and a bold school
of philosophers arose to challenge the authority to which Dante and
Aquinas had bowed. “Philosophy,” says Symonds, “took a new point of
departure among the Italians, and all the fundamental ideas which have
since formed the staple of modern European systems were anticipated by
a few obscure thinkers.”

The chief representative of physical science, however, was by no
means obscure. GALILEO GALILEI was born in 1564, the year of the death
of Michael Angelo. The scientific achievements of this mighty genius
do not concern us as such. It must not be forgotten, however, that
he was also an accomplished author in the vernacular. His immortal
Dialogue (1632), the glory and the shame of his age, is written in
Italian, and is enumerated by Italians among exemplars of diction,
_testi di lingua_. What he might have accomplished if he had enjoyed
the applause and sympathy which greeted a Newton is difficult to say;
but the contrast between the lot of the Master of the Mint and the
President of the Royal Society on the one hand, and that of the lonely
captive on the other, is not greater than that between the condition of
England and that of Italy. It is needless to relate the oft-told story
of Galileo, which indeed rather regards the history of science than
that of literature. We are only concerned with him as a typical figure,
the most eminent victim of the spirit of persecution which deprived
Italy of her supremacy among intellectual nations, and which, even
before Galileo had excited its hatred, had claimed another victim, less
illustrious, but not less interesting.

It is probably owing to the considerable infusion of Greek blood into
Naples and Sicily that the inhabitants of these regions, so backward in
many respects in comparison with the rest of Italy, have displayed a
peculiar genius for philosophical research. Aquinas was a Neapolitan,
and in our own day the subtleties of German metaphysics have found a
more sympathetic reception and a more ready comprehension in the South
than elsewhere in Italy. The four chief Italian thinkers of the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries belonged to the kingdom of
Naples. BERNARDO TELESIO (1509-85) has missed the posthumous celebrity
of the others by escaping their tragic fate; but his reputation in his
own day was greater than theirs. Campanella wept at his tomb, and Bacon
calls him the first experimental observer of nature. He led the way in
the revolt against the authority of Aristotle which became general in
the seventeenth century, and his sensationalism helped to mould the
thought of Hobbes and Gassendi.

A fiery martyrdom, a sublimely poetical mind, and an intuition of
modern views and discoveries have made GIORDANO BRUNO a more celebrated
and interesting figure than Telesio, although too far in advance of his
contemporaries and too late recognised by posterity to be influential
with either. “The most faithful and pithily condensed abstract of
Bruno’s philosophy,” says Symonds, “is contained in Goethe’s poem,
_Prôömium zu Gott und Welt_. Yet this poem expresses Goethe’s thought,
and it is doubtful whether Goethe had studied Bruno except in the
work of his disciple, Spinoza.” “Disciple,” it may be added, is much
too strong a word to express the Hebrew thinker’s relation to the
Neapolitan. It would be difficult to conceive two men more dissimilar,
except in intellectual intrepidity and in love of truth. Spinoza is the
closest of reasoners, without a particle of poetry in his composition.
Bruno has magnificent divinations, with little reasoning power. If
Spinoza did read him, he must have been greatly annoyed by him. On the
other hand, the celebrated definition, “A God-intoxicated man,” which
seems so inappropriate to the intellectual geometer of Amsterdam,
absolutely fits the rapt Neapolitan prophet of the essential unity of
all things. The same vehemence which we have remarked in Neapolitan
men of letters--Pontano, Tansillo, Basile--combines in Bruno with
the metaphysical instinct of the race to form a poet-philosopher, as
incoherent as if he had just emerged from the Sibyl’s cave, but full
of the most surprising intuitions, instinct with the germs of modern
thought and discovery. His very incoherence seems a claim to reverence;
it does not convey the impression of intellectual inadequacy, but
rather of an inspired message transcending mortal powers of speech. A
chastened taste cannot but be offended by the drollery and burlesque
which, like a true Neapolitan, Bruno blends with daring speculation and
serious reflection, as well as by his gaudy rhetoric and exaggerated
euphuism; yet Symonds is right in observing that “when the real divine
œstrum descends upon him the thought is simple, the diction direct;
the attitude of mind and the turn of expression are singularly living,
surprisingly modern.”

Like Galileo, Bruno chose the dialogue as the most convenient form of
propagating his opinions, and unlike most contemporary philosophers,
claims a place among vernacular writers. In his _Spaccio della
Bestia Trionfante_ and his comedy _Il Candelaio_ he is satirical;
metaphysically speculative in the _Cena delle Ceneri_, _Della Causa_,
and _Dell’ Infinito Universo_; but perhaps the most interesting of
his works is _Gli Eroici Furori_, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, a
dithyramb in prose and verse on the progress of the soul to union with
the Divinity. It may be too much to say with the English translator
that in this remarkable book the author “lays down the basis for the
religion of thought and science”; but it is true that the ordinary
ecclesiastical ideals are thrust aside, and progress in truth,
knowledge, and justice declared to be the end of man. If many had
thought so, none had said it so openly. Bruno, however, never learned
to observe, and remained all his life the metaphysician and the poet.
Chief among his intuitions, after his perception of the unity of all
existence, must be placed his instinctive recognition of the immense
revolution which the acceptance of the Copernican theory must effect in
religious belief. It is probable that he thus alarmed the priesthood
ere he could arouse the laity, and that to him must be ascribed the
persecution of Galileo, nearly a century after Copernicus had been
permitted to dedicate his treatise to the Pope.

Bruno’s own martyrdom had preceded Galileo’s; he suffered death in
February 1600, after a life of constant flight and exile, which at
one time brought him to England, where he lectured at Oxford and
became Sidney’s friend, and latterly of imprisonment. His fate is a
striking illustration of the dismal though inevitable change that had
come over the spirit of the ecclesiastical rulers: a Renaissance Pope
would probably have protected him. His name long seemed forgotten,
and his writings obliterated. Early in the eighteenth century
interest in him revived, as is shown by the collection of his works
in Lord Sunderland’s library. Brucker gave an intelligible digest
of his opinions; Schelling avowedly sought inspiration from him;
Coleridge names him with Dante and Ariosto as one of the three most
representative Italians; and at present, even though he be chiefly
efficient through his influence on more disciplined geniuses and more
systematic thinkers, the world has hardly a more striking example of
the truth, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become
the head of the corner.”

As Bruno is the personification of martyrdom in the cause of
philosophical speculation, another Neapolitan philosopher of the age,
the Dominican TOMMASO CAMPANELLA (1568-1639) represents martyrdom for
the sake of country. Campanella is not only a less important figure
than Bruno, but less sane and practical. With all his extravagance,
Bruno is no visionary; if he sometimes appears obscure and confused,
the defect is not in the brain, but in the tongue. Campanella, though
endowed with profound ideas, was a visionary who based his hopes
of delivering his country from the Spanish yoke on predictions of
the millennium, to be fulfilled by the advent of the Turks, and was
sufficiently paradoxical to dream of a perfect republic in the kingdom
of Naples. But this alliance of mental unsoundness with extraordinary
intelligence renders him deeply interesting; unlike the frank and
candid Bruno, he is one of the _problematische Naturen_ who, as Goethe
justly says, perpetually attract mankind. The flower of his life
(1599-1625) was spent in prison, and some of it in torture, on account
of a conspiracy which, after all the investigations of Signor Amabile,
remains in many respects obscure, but which was undoubtedly designed to
free Naples from the yoke, not only of Spain, but of Rome.

Released at length, Campanella successively found an asylum at Rome
and at Paris, where he died in 1639. As his captivity became milder,
he had been permitted to write, and to receive visits from friends,
through whom his works found their way to the public. They are mostly
of a political character. The chief, _De Sensu et Magia Naturali_, is
a curious blending of philosophy and occultism; another, a defence of
Galileo, does him honour, even though he afterwards changed his view;
but another, _De Monarchia Universali_, seeks to revive the mediæval
idea of the universal Church and the universal Empire, substituting
Spain for Germany. Until the rediscovery of his poems, his literary
reputation principally rested upon one of his slightest productions,
his _City of the Sun_, an Utopian picture of a perfect community. It
contains a remarkable anticipation of the steamboat: “They possess
rafts and triremes which go over the waters without rowers or the force
of the wind, but by a marvellous contrivance. And other vessels they
have which are moved by the winds.”

Campanella’s claims as a vernacular writer rest entirely upon his
poems, of which there are said to have been seven books. With the
exception of some extracted from the documents of his trial by the
diligence of Signor Amabile, all that remain are the sonnets printed
in Germany by his disciple, Tobias Adami, in 1622, and forgotten
until their republication by Orelli, in 1834. But for these pieces
we should not know the real Campanella, whom they exhibit in a more
favourable light, even as a thinker, than does the brilliant intuition,
chequered with gross credulity, of his professedly philosophical
writings. Like Michael Angelo’s, they are rather hewn than written--the
utterances of a powerful intellect and a passionate heart seeking to
express themselves through a medium but imperfectly mastered, hence
vehement, abrupt, contorted even to the verge of absurdity, but full
of substance, and as remote as possible from the polished inanity
which is so frequently a reproach to the Italian sonnet. Addington
Symonds, wrestling with Campanella as Campanella wrestled with his own
language, has produced excellent translations, accompanied by a careful
commentary. “That this sonnet,” he says of the following, “should have
been written by a Dominican monk, in a Neapolitan prison, in the first
half of the seventeenth century, is truly noteworthy:”

      _The people is a beast of muddy brain
        That knows not its own force, and therefore stands
        Loaded with wood and stone; the powerless hands
      Of a mere child guide it with bit and rein.
      One kick would be enough to break the chain;
        But the beast fears, and what the child demands
        It does; nor its own terror understands,
      Confused and stupefied by bugbears vain.
      Most wonderful! with its own hand it ties
        And gags itself--gives itself death and war
        For pence doled out by kings from its own store.
      Its own are all things between earth and heaven;
        But this it knows not, and if one arise
        To tell this truth, it kills him unforgiven._

Some of Campanella’s other sonnets are very striking, especially his
impassioned remonstrance with the free Swiss for hiring themselves out
to Italian despots. His religious pieces are characterised by a devout
tone, and an unshakeable reliance upon Providence. His creed, like
Bruno’s, is pantheistic. The same is the case with another Neapolitan
thinker of less importance, GIULIO CESARE VANINI (1585-1626), whose
misunderstood pantheism caused him to be burned at Toulouse, the
most intolerant city in France. His writings are in Latin, but so
characteristically Italian in spirit as to deserve the attention of
Italian students. Out of many which he composed, only two were printed.
The _Amphitheatre_ is, in the opinion of Mr. Owen (_Sceptics of the
Italian Renaissance_), decidedly orthodox, the _Dialogues_ are as
decidedly free-thinking, but it is not always quite clear how far the
author is speaking in his own person.

While these adventurous speculators were infusing a ferment into the
quiescent thought of their day, the edifice of modern jurisprudence
was receiving important additions from Alberico Gentili, a Protestant
exile, happily in safety at Oxford, whose works, nevertheless,
belong rather to moral science than to literature. Much at the same
time prose literature was enriched by the ethical prolusions of the
most distinguished poet of the age. Though suffering from delusions
sometimes amounting to frenzy, Tasso’s brain was clear on all subjects
to which these delusions did not extend. He could reason powerfully
and gracefully on any question of taste or morals, arrange his ideas
with symmetry, and support his views with appropriate quotations. The
form which he adopted was the dialogue, requiring not only judgment
and memory, but an accurate discrimination between the interlocutors,
which he always maintains. Even the discourse with his familiar spirit,
although composed in the hospital for lunatics, and containing many
fantastic notions, is consecutive and rational. It is perhaps the most
interesting of any, from its close relation to the writer; although
almost as much may be said for the _Gonzaga_, in which Tasso celebrates
the noble conduct of his father in preferring public duty to private
interest; and the _Paterfamilias_, in which he describes a personal
adventure. His other dialogues, all models of elegance and urbanity,
usually treat of those virtues which enter most especially into the
character of a gentleman, and his own bad success at courts does not
discourage him from tendering advice to courtiers.

A more powerful intellect if a less accomplished pen than Tasso’s
forms a connecting link between the science, alike moral and physical,
and the historical erudition of the age. PIETRO SARPI (1552-1623)
would in our day have been a great natural philosopher; and in fact,
notwithstanding his profound knowledge both of theology and canon
law, his reputation long principally rested upon his experiments
and researches in optics, anatomy, and other natural sciences. Paul
the Fifth’s aggression upon Sarpi’s native Venice in a matter of
ecclesiastical jurisdiction summoned the modest friar to public
life, and after the triumphant issue of the controversy in which
he had borne the chief part, he turned to write the history of the
momentous assembly which had so deeply affected the character of the
Church of Rome for good and ill--the Council of Trent. As a liberal
thinker, whose creed approached without quite attaining the Protestant
standpoint, he was naturally hostile to a convocation which had
stereotyped so many corruptions; while as an ecclesiastical statesman
he was well able to penetrate the worldly motives which had actuated
its conveners from first to last. The substantial truth of his view
of it is generally admitted; it remains a question how far he has
dealt conscientiously with his materials. The equitable Ranke subjects
both him and the antagonistic historian, Cardinal Sforza Pallavicino,
to a close scrutiny, and finds himself unable to entirely acquit or
condemn either of them. Both have frequently displayed a praiseworthy
fairness under strong temptation to garble the documents before them,
but neither has always resisted the inducement to magnify or minimise
evidence in accordance with his prepossessions. Sarpi’s main fault is a
disposition to interpret every document in the light of his own times,
when the pretensions of the Papacy had greatly risen, and its spirit
had become more inflexible and despotic. This, however it may detract
from the value of his history, was pardonable in one who had taken
a leading part in resisting the most arrogant of the Popes, and had
been left for dead by assassins, suborned, as generally believed, by
the Papal court. As an advocate, Sarpi is far superior to his verbose
though often ingenious antagonist; as an historian, Ranke places him
immediately after Machiavelli. As a man, he appears sublimed by study
and suffering into an incarnation of pure intellect, passionless
except in his zeal for truth and freedom and his devotion to the
Republic. “Let us,” he nobly said when the Pope hurled his interdict at
Venice--“let us be Venetians first and Christians afterwards.”

The secular historians of the period are very numerous, but, with the
exception of the Latinist Strada, only two have attained a durable
celebrity. Enrico Caterino Davila (1576-1631), who had become well
acquainted with French affairs by military service in the wars of
religion, wrote the history of these contests from 1558 to 1598
“with Venetian sagacity and soldierly brevity.” He wants few of the
qualifications of an excellent historian, and his history is placed
not far below that of Guicciardini, to which, indeed, it is preferred
by Macaulay. He is accused, however, of affecting more penetration
than he possessed into the secret counsels of princes. Cardinal Guido
Bentivoglio’s history of the revolt of the Low Countries against the
Spaniards (1558-1609) is necessarily defective as coming from the
wrong side. Such a history could not be adequately written without
sympathy with its heroes and comprehension of the principles involved,
neither of which could be expected from a Papal nuncio. Bentivoglio
nevertheless writes with reasonable impartiality, and is well informed
on the exterior of the transactions he records, though utterly blind
to their real significance. His style is most agreeable. His relation
of his mission as nuncio, with speculations on the possibility of
suppressing the Reformation in England and elsewhere, is perhaps more
intrinsically valuable than his history; and his memoirs of his own
career at the Papal court, though necessarily worded with great reserve
and caution, are both entertaining and instructive. He was born in
1577, and died in conclave in 1644, just as he seemed about to be
elected Pope; done to death, Nicius Erythræus affirms, by the snoring
of the Cardinal in the next cell, which deprived him of sleep for
eleven successive nights.

All the authors we have mentioned, though for the most part writing in
the seventeenth century, were born in the sixteenth. The seventeenth
century was far advanced towards its close ere it had produced a single
prose-writer of literary importance, although some of its numerous
penmen were interesting for their characters or the circumstances of
their lives. Bartoli’s _History of the Society of Jesus_ is badly
executed, but important from its subject. GREGORIO LETI was the most
representative figure, personifying the spirit of revolt against
tyranny spiritual and political. Born at Milan in 1630, he emigrated
to Geneva, became a Protestant, and, after a roving life, eventually
settled at Amsterdam, where he died historiographer of the city
in 1701. He had already constituted himself a historiographer and
biographer general, writing the lives of kings, princes, and governors,
and depicting the rise and fall of states, as fast as bookseller could
commission, or printer put into type. Yet he is not a hack writer, but
has an individuality of his own, and although his works are devoid
of scientific worth, they served a useful purpose in their day by
asserting freedom of speech. Their value is in proportion to the degree
in which they subserve this purpose; the most important, therefore,
are his lives of Sixtus V. and of Innocent the Tenth’s rapacious and
imperious niece, Olimpia Maldachini. Ranke has clearly shown that the
former, which has done more than any other book to determine popular
opinion regarding Sixtus, is mainly derived from MS. authorities of
little value; which proves that Leti did not invent, but also that he
did not discriminate.

Several other writers approached Leti’s type, of whom Tomasi, the
author of a very uncritical life of Cæsar Borgia, may be taken as
a specimen. Two emigrant Italians, Siri and Marana, ministered
successfully to the growing appetite for news and political criticism,
soon to engender regular journalism; the former by his _Mercurio_,
published irregularly from 1644 to 1682; the latter by his ingenious
_Turkish Spy_. Ferrante Pallavicino enlivened the general dulness
by his _Divorzio Celeste_, a conception worthy of Lucian, though
not worked out as Lucian would have wrought it, and other satires
which eventually cost him his life. TRAJANO BOCCALINI, nearer the
commencement of the century, had treated political as well as literary
affairs with freedom in his _News from Parnassus_, in which he
professed to impart information respecting transactions in the kingdom
of Apollo. The fiction was greatly admired in its day, translated into
most European languages, and probably exerted considerable influence
upon Quevedo, Swift, and Addison. Boccalini also distinguished himself
as a commentator on Tacitus, a writer much studied at this epoch of
general gloom and discouragement, and as the author of an exposure of
the weakness of the Spanish monarchy, which is said to have occasioned
his assassination.

The one writer, however, whom it is possible to admire without
qualification, and who has preserved his freshness to our own day, is
a traveller, PIETRO DELLA VALLE, who between 1614 and 1626 explored
Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Persia, and part of India. Apart from the
prejudices inevitable in his age and country, Della Valle is the
model of an observant and sagacious voyager, and the letters in which
his observations are recorded form most delightful reading. Later in
the century excellent letters on scientific subjects were written by
Magalotti and Redi. The illustrious naturalists who in some measure
redeemed the intellectual barrenness of the epoch, do not fall within
the domain of literary history, which, except for some poets, is one
of ever-augmenting inanity and insipidity, culminating in absolute
sterility. A second Greece had been enslaved, but this time the fierce
conqueror refused to be himself led into captivity. Spain and the
Papacy and their victim were equally useless to culture, which would
have perished from the earth had it still been confined to the fair land

      _Begirt by wall of Alp and azure sea,
      And cloven by the ridges Apennine._



                              CHAPTER XX
                 THE POETRY OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY


The blight that fell upon Italian literature near the close of the
sixteenth century was in the main to be ascribed to tyranny, temporal
and spiritual. Yet there was another source of ill for which neither
monarch nor priest was responsible: this was the malady which
necessarily befalls every form of literature and art when the bounds
of perfection have been reached, the craving to improve upon what is
incapable of improvement; first, perhaps, distinctly evinced in this
age by the Spanish bishop Guevara, author of the _Dial of Princes_
(1529), who invented what he called the _estilo alto_, which, if not
absolutely the predominant, had by the end of the century become a
conspicuous element in every European literature. The true course
would have been a new departure like that made by the Spanish and
Dutch masters when Italian art had fulfilled its mission; but this
requires not only genius, but the concurrence of favourable social and
political circumstances, without which nothing is possible but servile
repetition or preposterous exaggeration. Genius born amid inauspicious
surroundings is more prone to elect the latter than the former
alternative, and the greater the natural gift, the more outrageous the
abuse likely to be made of it.

Such epidemics are of no unfrequent occurrence in the history of
every literature; but at the beginning of the seventeenth century the
plague was common to all, and it was but natural that none should
suffer so severely as that which had hitherto been the model of good
taste. There seems no good reason for attributing this particular
affliction to Spanish influence. Spain had her Gongora, as Italy her
Marini, but there is no evidence that either taught the other. It was
a prevalent malady, which left Italian prose by no means unaffected.
Cardinal Bentivoglio, himself a model of pure and simple composition in
prose, though in verse an admirer of Marini, says of the poet Ciampoli,
redactor of briefs under Clement VIII., that his style would have been
in place if he had been inditing an heroic poem. Ciampoli’s poetry
was not likely to be more chastened than his prose; and in truth the
determination to dazzle and astonish at any cost was inevitably most
conspicuous in the branch of literature where a divine transport, when
real and not simulated, is rightly held to excuse many lapses from
absolute purity of diction; and where, as was also to be expected,
the arch offender was a man of genuine gifts, who with more natural
refinement and moral earnestness might have regenerated the literature
of his country, but whose false brilliancy only served to lure it
further astray.

It is the best apology of GIOVANNI BATTISTA MARINI (1569-1625) to
have been born a Neapolitan. From the days of Statius till now,
these vehement children of the South have been great improvisers.
Could we look upon Marini in this light, we should find little but
his voluptuousness to censure, and should be compelled to admire him
in some measure as a remarkable phenomenon, only lamenting that his
contemporaries should have mistaken a _lusus naturæ_ for an inspired
genius, a calculating boy for a Newton or a Galileo. It might indeed
have been better for Marini if he had trusted more to his natural
faculty for improvisation. “His first strokes,” says Settembrini,
“are sometimes beautiful, and if he left them as they were all would
be well, but he touches and retouches until they are quite blurred.”
This refers to the descriptions in his _Adone_ (1623), a poem which
is nothing but description. Adonis does nothing, but is carried
involuntarily through a series of situations contrived to display the
pictorial power of the poet. The showman makes the puppet dance, and
the puppet returns the compliment. There is no story, no moral, no
character, no inner unity, nothing but forty-five thousand lines of
word-painting, rich and brilliant indeed, but commonplace in so far
as the poet sees nothing invisible to ordinary eyes, and evinces no
originality in his manner of regarding man and nature.

Such merely verbal beauty must inevitably satiate, and Marini has
experienced more neglect, and even contempt, than many men of far
inferior faculty. In his own day he carried all before him, and was
even more admired in France than in Italy. It is at least to his credit
not to have undertaken his gorgeous but empty _Adone_ until he had
convinced himself of his inability to vie with Tasso in a nobler form
of epic. He also composed one really dignified poem on the deplorable
condition of Italy (attributed, however, by many to Fulvio Testi),
and poured forth a flood of idyllic and bucolic, marine, erotic, and
lyrical poetry, not devoid of striking beauties, but so disfigured by
conceits as to be necessarily condemned to oblivion upon the revival
of a purer taste. In some respects he might be compared to the Cowleys
and Crashaws of Charles the First’s time; but he is physical, while
they are metaphysical; his conceits are less far-fetched and ingenious
than theirs, and few of them either could or would have produced his
licentious, but, in an artistic point of view, admirable _Pastorella_.
Marini’s influence on the contemporary poetry of his own country was
very great; but the two or three men of genius remained unaffected
by him, and the names of his multitudinous imitators are not worth
preserving. His life, though chequered by scrapes and quarrels, was on
the whole prosperous, and the patronage of the French court made him
independent of the petty princes of Italy. He had bitter enemies in
Gasparo Murtola, a poet who would be forgotten but for his and Marini’s
mutual lampoons, and Tommaso Stigliani, a more considerable personage,
who had enjoyed the great honour of being run through the body by the
historian Davila, and whose early promise had drawn a sonnet from
Tasso, remarkable for the hint it affords that Tasso himself had
projected an epic upon Columbus:

      _Thy song Orphean, able to placate
        The Stygian thrones, and wailing shades appease,
        Stiglian, doth so upon my spirit seize,
      Mine own in its compare I humbly rate.
      And if like Autumn with thy April mate
        As promised by such harbingers as these,
        Thou’lt pass the pillared bounds of Hercules,
      And safe to utmost Thule navigate.
      Now, parted from the crowd, intrepid go,
        Scaling steep Helicon, thy high desire,
        No more in dread to wander to and fro.
      There swaying from a cypress hangs my lyre;
        Salute it in my name, and bid it know
        That Time and Fortune for my ill conspire._

The peculiar appropriateness of Tasso’s compliment arises from the
fact that Stigliani was then engaged upon an epic on the discovery of
America, which was far from justifying Torquato’s predictions.

The style of Marini, however, was not allowed to bear unchallenged
sway. The first place in lyrical poetry was boldly claimed by, and
by many accorded to, another bard, whose personal and poetical
idiosyncrasies stood in strong contrast to the Neapolitan’s. GABRIELLO
CHIABRERA (1552-1637), a native of Savona, was a man of antique
mould, haughty, aspiring, and self-sufficing. His youth was spent at
Rome. Jealous of his honour, he found himself, as he tells us in his
autobiography, necessitated to wash out sundry affronts in blood, which
he accomplished to his satisfaction, but whether in single combat or
in other fashion he does not explicitly say. Retired for safety to
his native Ligurian town, and digesting the large assortment of ideas
which he had brought away with him from the literary circles of Rome,
he hit upon the great discovery of his life, that the Italian canzone
needed to be reformed upon a Greek model. It really was a discovery
which changed the whole course of his literary activity--of no such
importance as that of the need of a closer observation of nature which
Wordsworth deduced from noticing the blackness of a leaf outlined
against a sunny sky, but still a genuine discovery. Its value lay
not so much in its abstract worth or in any real assimilation of the
spirit of Greek poetry by Chiabrera, but in an endeavour after a high
standard, which, even when misdirected, proved the best corrective of
the inanity and effeminacy to which the Italian canzone had become
prone.

Chiabrera might be somewhat conventional in style and barren in
thought: he was all the more a precious antidote to the dissolute
lusciousness of a Marini, and his example exercised a salutary
influence throughout the whole of the seventeenth century. So late as
1740, Spence, travelling in Italy, was told that the Italian lyrical
poets of the day were divisible into Petrarchists and Chiabrerists. The
popularity of so bold an innovator, and the honours and distinctions
showered upon him by princes and potentates, are creditable to the age.
He wrote his brief autobiography at eighty, and died at eighty-five,
exulting to the last in his sanity of mind and body; distinguished
also, according to Rossi (Nicius Erythræus), as the ugliest of the
poets: “Quis enim qui ejus faciem aspexisset, arbitratus esset, ex
illius ore subnigro, tetrico, invenusto, tam candidula, tam vinula, tam
venustula carmina posse prodere?” A man congenial to Wordsworth, who
has translated some of his stately metrical epitaphs with corresponding
dignity.[20] He has many traits of those great modern masters of form,
Landor and Platen, but, though no mean sculptor of speech, falls as
much behind them in perfection of classic mould as he surpasses them in
productiveness.


Chiabrera wrote several epics, dramas, poems on sacred history, and
other pieces, and the mass of his poetry is of formidable extent; but
apart from his _Sermoni_, felicitous imitations of Horace, he lives
solely by his lyrics. These fall into two classes, which he would have
described as Pindaric and Anacreontic. The former are set compositions
of great pomp and magnificence; not like Marini’s poems, depending
upon verbal beauty alone, but upon a real if formal grandeur of style.
They are less like the notes of Apollo’s lyre than orchestras of all
sorts of instruments, “flute, violin, bassoon,” but more particularly
bassoon. They are splendidly sonorous, and exhibit great art in
heightening ordinary ideas by magnificent diction. Of the wild,
untutored graces of the woods and fields they have absolutely nothing;
their sphere is the court, save for the feeling which Chiabrera, as
becomes a Ligurian, occasionally manifests for the sea; and the ideas
are seldom absolutely novel, though they often seem so. But there is
true elevation of thought and majesty of diction: a lyrical afflatus
seems to descend upon the poet and whirl him on, sped, in the absence
of a really inspiring subject, by his own excitement, as a courser is
urged along by the thunder of his own hoofs. Yet there is no factitious
emotion, the theme is really for the moment everything to the poet,
while he remains sufficiently master of himself to turn every strong
point to the best account.

Like the surviving lyrics of his model Pindar, his odes are usually
addressed to particular persons or prompted by some event. Among the
best are the long series he poured forth on occasion of the trifling
victories gained by the Italian galleys over the Turks, which prove
how fine a patriotic poet he might have been if his age had given him
anything better to celebrate. His Anacreontics precisely correspond to
his Pindarics, brilliant effusions with more glitter than glow, but
ingenious, felicitous, and transcending mere rhetoric by the exquisite
music of the versification. Chiabrera is not an Italian Pindar or
Anacreon, and his natural gift for poetry was inferior to Marini’s; but
he is entitled to the great honour of having barred out by a strong
dike the flood of false taste, and having conferred dignity upon a most
unpropitious age of Italian literature.

Chiabrera’s mantle fell upon Count FULVIO TESTI (1593-1646), in some
respects a more genuine poet, though his inferior in splendour of
language and harmony of versification, and like him infertile in ideas
and contracted in his outlook upon the world. Testi was nevertheless
an interesting personage, picturesque in the style of Rembrandt or
Caravaggio, an unquiet spirit, haughty, moody, vindictive. Under a free
government he might have been a great citizen, but the circumstances of
his age left him no other sphere than court or diplomatic employment.
He was not the man to run easily in harness, and spent his life in
losing and regaining the favour of the Este princes, now come down to
be Dukes of Modena, but still with places and pensions in their gift,
and died in prison, just as, if the Duke may be believed, he was on
the point of being released. If so, the cause of his disgrace was
probably nothing graver than his wish to quit the Duke’s service. In
any case, the tale of his having been secretly decapitated to appease
the resentment of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, satirised in his famous
canzone, _Ruscelletto orgoglioso_, seems to be a mere legend.

This canzone is undoubtedly one of the finest lyrics in the Italian
language, magnificent alike in its description of the swollen rivulet
and in its application to the inflated upstart. The rest of Testi’s
better compositions resemble it; they are odes stately in diction
and sonorous in versification, fine examples of the grand style in
poetry, and proving what dignity of style can effect even without any
considerable opulence or striking novelty of thought. They are usually
on subjects personal to himself, sometimes depicting the miseries of
court life with the feeling that comes from experience, sometimes
affecting a philosophical tranquillity to which he was really a
stranger. One stands out from the rest, the poem which he addressed in
his youth to the Duke of Savoy, exhorting him to deliver Italy from
the Spaniards. Testi was not alone in the prophetic foresight that
the redemption of Italy would come from Savoy. Campanella, Chiabrera,
and others of the best Italians of the day shared it with him, but no
other has given it such direct and eloquent expression. The genius of
Italy appears in vision to the poet, enumerates her wrongs, denounces
her oppressor, and calls for vengeance in a series of most animated
octaves, equally impressive and persuasive.

Marini’s school continued to dominate literary circles, although Rossi
assures us that Testi’s simplicity was more acceptable to readers
at large. “The sun,” says Vernon Lee, “cooled itself in the waters
of rivers which were on fire; the celestial sieve, resplendent with
shining holes, was swept by the bristly back of the Apennines; love
was an infernal heaven and a celestial hell, it was burning ice and
freezing fire, and was inspired by ladies made up entirely of coral,
gold thread, lilies, roses, and ivory, on whose lips sat Cupids
shooting arrows which were snakes.” Poetry worthy of the name seemed
extinct after Testi’s death, and the literature of England being then
unknown beyond her own borders, the sceptre over every department of
intellectual activity except science passed into the hand of France.
After a while, however, signs of revival became apparent. The writers
who restored to Italy some share of her ancient glory were all strongly
influenced by Chiabrera.

The first of these in order of time was a man who would have been
famous if he had never written a verse, FRANCESCO REDI (1626-99), the
illustrious physician and naturalist. One would scarcely have expected
this eager scrutiniser of nature to have come forward as a Bacchanalian
laureate; but certain it is that, neglecting the more imposing side
of Chiabrera’s poetical work, Redi applied himself to develop the
dithyramb in its strict sense of a Bacchic song. Chiabrera had given
excellent examples of this on a small scale; but Redi completely
distanced him with his _Bacchus in Tuscany_, where the jolly god,
returned from his Indian conquest, for the benefit of Ariadne passes
in review literally and figuratively all the wines of Tuscany, with
such consequences as is reasonable to expect. The literary character of
the piece cannot be better described than by Salfi, the continuator of
Ginguené, as “consisting in the enthusiasm which passes rapidly from
one theme to another, and, seeming to say nothing but what it chooses,
says, in effect, nothing but what it should.” Dryden evidently had
it in mind when he wrote _Alexander’s Feast_, and the difficulties
of translation have been surprisingly overcome by Leigh Hunt. Redi’s
sonnets are also remarkable, occasionally tame in subject or disfigured
by conceits, but in general nobly thought and nobly expressed, with
a strong Platonic element. They nearly all relate to Love, and fall
into two well-marked divisions, one upbraiding him as the source of
perpetual torment, the other celebrating him as the symbol of Divinity,
and the chief agent by which man is raised above himself. The latter
thought has seldom been more finely expressed than in the following
pair of sonnets, the first of which is translated by Mr. Gosse:

      _Love is the Minstrel; for in God’s own sight,
        The master of all melody, he stands,
        And holds a golden rebeck in his hands,
      And leads the chorus of the saints in light;
      But ever and anon those chambers bright
        Detain him not, for down to these low lands
        He flies, and spreads his musical commands,
      And teaches men some fresh divine delight.
      For with his bow he strikes a single chord
        Across a soul, and wakes in it desire
        To grow more pure and lovely, and aspire
      To that ethereal country where, outpoured
      From myriad stars that stand before the Lord,
        Love’s harmonies are like a flame of fire._

      _If I am aught, it is Love’s miracle,
        He to rough mass gave shape with forming file;
        He, as youth bloomed in April’s sunny smile,
      Came through the eyes within the heart to dwell.
      My Lord and Master he, who bade expel
        All sordid thought and apprehension vile,
        Sweetness bestowed on rude unmellowed style,
      And melody that shall be memorable.
      My spirit at his call her pinions bent
        To wing the heavenly realm where Time is not;
        From star to star he beckoned, and she went:
      By him my heart hath chosen for her lot
        True honour whose renown shall ne’er be spent;
        If aught my soul hath borne, ’twas he begot._

Poets are often found to be gregarious. Redi had two chief friends
at the Tuscan court--Menzini, of whom we shall have to speak, and
Filicaja, who in an unpoetical age raised the Italian lyric to as
great a height as it had ever attained in the Cinque Cento. VINCENZO
FILICAJA (1642-1707) is one of the highest examples the world has seen
of the academical poet, the man who is rarely hurried away by the god,
but who seriously and perseveringly follows poetry as an art, in whose
breast the sacred fire is always burning, but always needing to be
stirred up. A grave, just magistrate, and a deeply religious man, he
was well constituted to sing events of such importance to the Christian
commonwealth as the deliverance of Vienna by Sobieski, and, from his
point of view, the conversion of Queen Christina. Tender, affectionate,
and carrying with him the life-long wound of an unfortunate passion,
he was no less qualified to be the laureate of domestic sorrow, while
his elevation of mind lent uncommon dignity to many of his occasional
pieces, especially his sonnets. If only his scrolls smelt less of the
lamp he might deserve Macaulay’s exaggerated praise as the greatest
lyrist of modern times, supposing this expression to denote the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The great qualities of Filicaja are majesty and tenderness. The _non
bene conveniunt nec in una sede morantur majestas et amor_ only applies
to him in so far as these gifts, though dwelling in the same breast,
are not often found united in the same poem. His canzoni possess
amplitude of form and pomp of diction, seldom or never bombastic,
or transgressing the limits of good taste. From this the poet was
preserved by his deep seriousness, to which anything like tinsel
was utterly abhorrent. He strongly felt the obligation to exert his
utmost strength when writing on an important theme, as he usually did
when he wrote at all. It is his manner to approach his subject from
a variety of sides, and make each the topic of a separate poem. Thus
his great cycle of odes on the relief of Vienna, perhaps the finest of
his works, consists of six separate productions, constituting a grand
whole, but any one of which could have stood perfectly well by itself.
Such a method of composition implies great deliberation, and Filicaja
rarely conveys the impression of a seer or a bard. His thoughts are
sometimes trite, but the feeling which gives them birth is always deep
and sincere. The same is true of the best of his numerous sonnets, some
of which rise to grandeur. By far the finest is the famous _Italia,
Italia, a cui feò la sorte_, which is to Italian literature what
Milton’s sonnet on the massacre of the Vaudois is to English:

      _Italia, O Italia, doomed to wear
        The fatal wreath of loveliness, and so
        The record of illimitable woe
      Branded for ever on thy brow to bear!
      Would that less beauty or more vigour were
        Thy heritage! that they who madly glow
        For that which their own fury layeth low,
      More terrible might find thee, or less fair!
      Not from thine Alpine rampart should the horde
        Of spoilers then descend, or crimson stain
        Of rolling Po quench thirst of Gallic steed:
      Nor should’st thou, girded with another’s sword,
        Smite with a foreign arm, enslavement’s chain,
        Victor or vanquished, equally thy meed._

Filicaja, however, did not always compose in this majestic style.
He could be light and playful. Some of his sonnets, like those of
Tansillo and other writers of the Cinque Cento, strongly bring out the
characteristic distinction between the Italian and the English sonnet,
which is entirely in favour of the former. The English sonnet, even
when dealing with a light theme, is apt to be ponderous. The Italian,
even when serious, is tuneful, and buoyant on the wing.

Filicaja fixed the model of the Italian canzone for a long time, for
the innovations of his successor ALESSANDRO GUIDI (1650-1712), a
protégé of Queen Christina, and one of the founders of the “Arcadia,”
had more admirers than imitators. They consisted in the irregularity
and sometimes the disuse of rhyme, interesting as experiments, but
unfavourable to the stately march of the most dignified form of lyrical
composition. Guidi was nevertheless a fine poet, and manifests a
peculiar fire and dignity when hymning the glories and tragedies of
Rome. He must have been a very ermine among authors, if it be true that
he died of disgust at a misprint in one of his books.

Three other poets who did not aspire to the elevation of Filicaja and
Guidi, aided to re-enthrone sound taste, and did honour to the end
of the seventeenth century. BENEDETTO MENZINI (1646-1704), another
protégé of Christina’s, and in some sense a pupil of Redi, wrote
caustic satires, graceful Anacreontics, respectable odes, and an Art
of Poetry as sound as could be expected from one whose knowledge of
modern literature was so limited. To see, more than half a century
after Shakespeare, the Solimano and the Torrismondo propounded as the
highest modern examples of tragic art certainly inspires cogitation
touching the serviceableness of the light within, supposing that light
to be darkness. Within his limits, however, Menzini is most judicious,
and his own compositions do credit to his maxims; witness the following
keen satiric apologue in sonnet form:


      _A tender slip of laurel I of late
        Implanted in fair soil, and Heaven besought
        To prosper till it might, to fulness brought,
      Enshade the brow august of Laureate;
      And Zephyrus to boot did supplicate
        To fan with soothing wing, lest harm in aught
        By bitter breath of Boreas should be wrought,
      Loosed from the cave where Æolus holds state.
      Tardy and difficult, full well I know,
        The upward striving of Apollo’s spray,
        Matched with frail growths that lightly come and go;
      Yet chide we not the fortunate delay,
        If, when the bay is worthy of the brow,
        Brow there be also worthy of the bay._

Carlo Maria Maggi (1630-99), without soaring high, did excellent work
in ode, sonnet, and madrigal. Francesco Lemene (1634-1704) was more
ambitious, but his tumid religious poetry has fallen into oblivion, and
he only lives by his pretty Anacreontics.

As the great questions which had divided the preceding century became
settled, and political interests narrowed more and more, the spirit
of the age naturally turned to satire. Menzini is its best satirist;
but at an earlier period Chiabrera, Soldani, and the impetuous and
unequal Salvator Rosa had exercised themselves in this department
of literature, and the century’s last literary sensation was the
successive appearance of the Latin satires of Sergardi (Sectanus),
models of composition, which for nearly a decade kept the reading
portion of the Roman public in an uproar. It might have been thought
that comedy would have flourished, but some promising beginnings died
away, while opera progressed steadily. Tragedies continued to be
written on the classical system, but there was no power to breathe
life into the old forms, unless the great temporary success of
Prospero Bonarelli’s _Solimano_, which we have seen Menzini parallel
with Tasso’s _Torrismondo_, may be taken to denote an exception. The
_Phillis of Scyros_ of Bonarelli’s brother Giudubaldo was the one
achievement in pastoral drama. The novelette languished, and chivalric
fiction had but one representative in Italy, the _Caloandro_ of
Giuseppe Ambrogio Marini, an excellent romance nevertheless, ending
with five marriages, where monarchs and warriors play the part of the
antiquated knights-errant, and so superior in sanity to the unwieldy
fictions of the Clélie type that Caylus thought it worth translating
into French in the following century. The _Eudemia_ of J. V. Rossi
(Nicius Erythræus), in Latin, is a good specimen of the _Argenis_ class
of romances. The same author’s _Pinacotheca_, in three parts, a most
entertaining repertory of biographies, chiefly more or less literary,
of the early part of the century, is further remarkable as indicative
of a perception of the growing needs of the world, and an unconscious
foreshadowing of a culture as yet afar off. And this is broadly the
character of the seventeenth century in Italy, a poor and barren time
if paralleled with the past, but pregnant with the seeds of future
harvests, repressed for a time by ungenial circumstances. Comparing
the Italian literature of the seventeenth century with that of England
and France, we see that all ran through substantially the same stages,
but that, while these are vigorous alike in their aberrations and
their reforms, Italian literature is languid in both, a circumstance
sufficiently accounted for by its absolute enslavement, and their
comparative freedom.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[20] It is not improbable that the “three feet long and two feet wide,”
which brought such ridicule upon Wordsworth, may be a reminiscence of
Chiabrera’s description of his house, “Di cui l’ampiezza venticinque
braccia Forse consume.”



                              CHAPTER XXI
                        THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY


The eighteenth century was a period of recovery for Italy. The ancient
lustre of literature, indeed, was but feebly rekindled; and fine art,
with the exception of music, which rose to unexampled heights, sank
lower and lower. But an invigorating breath pervaded the nation; men
wrote and thought in comparative freedom; and if pedantry and frivolity
still reigned in many quarters, the sway of outrageous bad taste had
departed. Political and spiritual tyranny were still enthroned, and
religion and politics could only be handled with great caution; yet
reform was more hardy and oppression less assured than of yore. Italy
rose slowly from her abasement, like a trodden flower resuming its
erect attitude, bruised but not crushed, feeble but not inanimate,
obeying a natural impulse by which she could not fail to right herself
in time.

The chief cause of Italian regeneration, so far as peculiar to the
country, and unconnected with that general movement towards liberty and
toleration which, originating in England, was gradually transforming
Europe, was the disappearance of the Spanish dominion, which had for
two centuries inflicted every political and spiritual evil upon Italy
without conferring a single benefit in return. A Spanish dynasty did,
indeed, in 1734 re-establish itself in the Two Sicilies, but no longer
a dynasty of viceroys; it regarded itself as Italian, and was served
by Italian administrators. Lombardy slumbered under the comparatively
benign sway of Austria. There was as yet little patriotic resentment
against foreign domination as such; Austria was inert and unaggressive,
and Italy’s princes and people felt conscious of a great deliverance.
It was no time for violent intellectual exercise, but for quiet and
gradual revival. The convalescing country could not be expected to
vie with the intellectual development of England and France, but her
progress was in the same direction. Within the Alps, as beyond them,
the age, save in music, was unimaginative. It created little, but
brought much to light. Its most potent intellects, the Kants, Lessings,
Diderots, Butlers, Humes, were turned towards criticism or moral
science. So it was in Italy, where the current of the most powerful
thought ran strongly in the direction of history and jurisprudence,
state reform and public economy. Vico, Giannone, Beccaria, Filangieri,
Genovesi, Galiani are its representatives. Closely allied to these,
but devoid of their originality, are the investigators of the past and
the critical lawgivers of their own day, the Muratoris, Crescimbenis,
Maffeis, Mazzuchellis, and Tiraboschis. Nor must the academical
movement be left out of sight, which, if impotent to create good
literature, at all events kept its traditions alive. Lastly, the
development of music reacted on the lyrical drama, which kindled the
other branches of the dramatic art into activity, and for a time made
the Italian drama, tragic, comic, and operatic, the most interesting in
Europe.

Among the philosophical writers who conferred so much distinction upon
Italy in the eighteenth century, the first, both in order of time and
of importance, was GIOVANNI BATTISTA VICO, a Neapolitan (1668-1744).
Vico’s life was uneventful. He devoted his youth to the study of
metaphysics and Roman law, spent some happy years in a tutorship in the
country, and, returning to Naples, passed the remainder of his life in
a conflict with poverty, deriving most of his income from adulating the
great in complimentary verses. A small professorship of rhetoric eked
out this precarious means of subsistence, and when the Spanish dynasty
supplanted the Austrian in 1734, Charles III. conferred a pension upon
him, but the aged philosopher was already sinking into a condition
of imbecility. It seems surprising that he should have been able to
publish so many important and far from remunerative books.

Vico’s fame rests less upon any particular achievement than upon the
general impression which he produces as a man greatly in advance of his
age. His superiority in almost every branch of investigation except
physical science, of which he knew little, arises from his unflinching
application of a principle which he was almost the first of moderns
to recognise, that man is to be viewed collectively. All individuals,
all societies, all sciences, are thus concatenated and regarded as
diverse aspects of a single all-comprehending unity. As a metaphysician
and a jurist, Vico’s claims to attention are very high, but do not
properly fall within our scope. They are fully set forth by Professor
Flint in his volume on Vico in Blackwood’s Philosophical Classics.
We can only treat of Vico where he comes into contact with history
and literary criticism, as he does very remarkably in his criticisms
upon Roman history and upon Homer. His investigations into Roman
jurisprudence showed him the untruth of the traditions of the Twelve
Tables, and starting from this point, he anticipated almost everything
subsequently brought forward by Niebuhr, although from his deficiency
in exact philological knowledge his arguments were less conclusive.
His scepticism respecting Homer was also the result of speculation;
before the ballads of the mediæval period had been compared with the
Homeric poems, he pronounced on the internal evidence of the latter,
that they must be the work, not of a man, but of a nation. In both
departments he may have gone too far, but his views are the divinations
of an extraordinary genius. They are intimately connected with his
speculations on history, which anticipate the general drift of modern
thought by tending to put nations into the place of individuals, and
to represent history as the product of an inevitable sequence of
development. These views greatly influenced Herder and Turgot, and,
through them, Europe. Vico’s doctrine of the three stages through which
human society passes was used, if it was not plagiarised, by Comte and
Schelling.

Another great Neapolitan writer of the age, though working on a much
smaller scale than Vico, attracted more notice from contemporaries,
inasmuch as Vico seemed to deal merely with abstract things, while
PIETRO GIANNONE came into rough contact with vested interests.
Giannone, born at Ischitella, in Apulia, May 1676, went to the
Neapolitan bar, and made the legal and ecclesiastical history of
the kingdom his especial study. In his Civil History of the Kingdom
of Naples (1723), the work of twenty years, he demonstrated the
illegitimacy of the Papal claims to jurisdiction over Naples, with a
learning and research which, now that these claims are no longer heard
of, maintain his works in request as one of the highest authorities
upon mediæval law. The more ordinary qualities of a historian are not
manifested in the same measure, but Giannone’s place is something
quite apart. The book was received with gratitude and delight by the
educated part of the public; but the monks, secretly prompted by the
court of Rome, raised an outcry against Giannone as an unbeliever in
St. Januarius, and he was compelled to fly the country. He found refuge
successively in Vienna, Venice, and Geneva; but having been tempted
into Savoy for the purpose of attending the Roman Catholic service, was
seized and most iniquitously imprisoned by the King of Sardinia, the
King Charles of Browning’s drama, until his death in 1748, though he
maintained all the time an amicable correspondence with the King and
his minister D’Ormea. Notwithstanding the wrongs which he suffered from
the house of Savoy, he foresaw and foretold its greatness and service
to the nation. He imitated Machiavelli by exhorting the Italians to
military discipline, and his principal work is epoch-making as a
precursor of the great movement which tended to subject the Church
to the civil power in the latter half of the eighteenth century. He
also composed the _Triregno_, a review of the temporal power of the
Church in general, which was so effectually sequestrated as to have
remained unpublished until 1895. It is not quite complete. Giannone’s
autobiography, which comes down to a late period of his captivity, was
published for the first time in 1891.

Giannone is rather a jurist than an historian, and the writers whose
affinity to him is closest are not historians like Denina, but the
legists and economists, Beccaria, Filangieri, Genovesi, Galiani. Three
of these distinguished men were Neapolitans, a circumstance significant
alike of the lively genius of the people, and of the liberality of
the government under Charles the Third and his enlightened minister
Tanucci. The spirit of the Renaissance seemed to have returned in
some measure; but the drift was not now to the classical art and
the literature that had effected the spiritual emancipation of the
former age, but to new theories of human rights and duties, and to
the removal of restrictions from civic action and social intercourse.
There probably never was a time since the age of Marcus Aurelius
when philosophers attained nearer to royalty than in the age of
Frederick and Catherine, and, were not vaster issues at stake than
the improvement of human institutions, the same kind of regret might
be felt at the French Revolution which some have expressed for the
Reformation as a premature movement, destructive of safe and moderate
reform.

In truth, however, the human spirit at both epochs needed
regeneration; to have perpetuated the eighteenth-century type,
admirable as this is in many respects, would have denoted consent to
dwell in decencies for ever. CESARE BECCARIA (1738-94) and GAETANO
FILANGIERI (175-287) were nevertheless great reformers, who, the former
in his _Dei Delitti delle Pene_ (1763), the latter in his _Scienza
della Legislazione_ (1783), contributed greatly to overthrow mediæval
notions of justice, and to infuse a humane spirit into legislation,
not merely by the abolition of revolting and atrocious penalties,
but by proposing the reformation of the criminal as a chief object
of the lawgiver. This was the especial mission of Beccaria, who
also introduced a very important principle by his clear separation
of the legislative and the judicial functions. Filangieri combats
in particular the excessive interference of governments, while he
foreshadows the logic and simplicity of a universal code in the future,
realised in some measure by the Code Napoleon. ANTONIO GENOVESI
(1712-69), the first to show the necessity of Italian unity, besides
making important contributions to ethics and metaphysics, expounded
freedom of trade and the laws that govern prices, in his _Lezioni di
Commercio, o sia d’Economia Civile_. Free trade in corn had also a
powerful champion in the witty Abate FERDINANDO GALIANI (1728-87),
whose most important works, however, were written in French. Galiani
adorned the circles of the encyclopædist philosophers at Paris, whose
views on many points he soundly refuted, and who avenged themselves by
comparing the explosive little Neapolitan to a pantomime incarnate. His
discourse upon trade in corn was speedily translated into Italian, and
gave him rank as an Italian classic; the best known of his vernacular
writings is probably his humorous account of the alarm created by an
eruption of Vesuvius.

After this group of economists--to whom the historian PIETRO VERRI may
be added--should be recorded another of literary historians, eminently
useful though not brilliant writers, and consummate men of letters. Of
GIOVANNI MARIO CRESCIMBENI, the historian of Italian poetry, we shall
have to speak in mentioning the Arcadian Academy, which he so largely
contributed to found and maintain. He may be justly termed a pedant,
but neither his book nor himself can be spared from Italian literary
history. A much greater name is LODOVICO ANTONIO MURATORI (1672-1745),
but his imperishable monument was raised not as author but as editor.
The publication of twenty-seven folio volumes of mediæval Italian
historians displays a man singly equal to many learned societies. No
one has stamped his name more deeply on the historical literature of
his country than he has done by this publication, by his _Antiquitates
Italicæ Medii Ævi_, and by his _Annali_ from the Christian era to
1749. One of his original writings has an abiding place in literature,
the _Della perfetta Poesia_, which indicates the high-water mark of
good taste at the time of its publication. The affected style of the
preceding century was then entirely out of fashion. On the negative
side Muratori’s taste is almost faultless, and he often manifests great
discrimination in the appreciation of exquisite beauties. Unfortunately
he is all for the delicate and graceful, and has little feeling for the
really great, of which the Italy of the eighteenth century saw hardly
so much as the counterfeit until, late in the secular period, Cesarotti
produced his version of Ossian. Muratori venerates Dante rather than
admires him; like Confucius, he respects the gods, but keeps them at a
distance.

The learning and industry of Muratori were almost rivalled by
Count SCIPIONE MAFFEI (1675-1755), the sovereign of contemporary
Italian, almost of European archæologists, author of the famous
tragedy of _Merope_ and of the equally famed _Verona Illustrata_;
and by Count Giovanni Maria Mazzuchelli (1707-65), who should have
been the biographer-general of Italian men of letters, but who began
his work on too large a scale for completion. GIROLAMO TIRABOSCHI
(1731-94), librarian of the Duke of Modena, is the standard Italian
literary historian. His great work has immortalised his name; it will
nevertheless disappoint those who resort to it in the expectation
of encountering a history on the modern plan. It is not, strictly
speaking, so much a history of literature as a history of learning.
The fortunes of schools and universities, the rise and decay of
particular branches of study, are narrated very fully, while there is
little literary criticism, and the lives of great men are recounted
with astonishing brevity, except when some personal or intellectual
circumstance regarding them has become the theme of erudite
controversy, when the incident overshadows the life. One of the most
potent literary influences of the age was the _Giornale de’ Letterati_,
founded early in the century by Apostolo Zeno, which long served as a
rallying-point for Italian literary men.

The number of historical works published in Italy during the
eighteenth century was considerable, but they are chiefly monographs on
local history, and, unless Verri’s history of Lombardy be an exception,
none gained the author the character of a philosophical historian save
CARLO DENINA’S _Rivoluzioni d’Italia_ (1768-72), a work so superior
to the writer’s other performances that it has been doubted whether
he really wrote it. A valuable history of another description was
produced by the ex-Jesuit LUIGI LANZI (1732-1811), also celebrated
as an Etruscan scholar, in his _Storia Pittorica dell’ Italia_, long
ago superseded by more accurate research, but excellent for the
time. Art criticism was promoted by FRANCESCO ALGAROTTI (1712-1764),
chamberlain and friend of Frederick the Great, Carlyle’s “young
Venetian gentleman of elegance in dusky skin and very while linen,” a
most voluminous writer, “who,” says the unmusical Carlyle, “took up
the opera in earnest manner as capable of being a school of virtue
and the moral sublime,” but whose chief title to fame is rather his
popular exposition of the physics of Newton, a modest but meritorious
service. Two miscellaneous writers deserve considerable attention. One
is GIUSEPPE BARETTI (1719-86), “a wonderful, wild, coarse, tender,
angry creature,” says Vernon Lee; endeared to Englishmen as the friend
of Johnson and of Reynolds, and the imitator of the _Spectator_ in his
_Frusta Litteraria_, although an Ishmael whose hand was against every
contemporary, and who carried personality to lengths which Addison
would have highly disapproved. The most entertaining of his writings
are his lively letters from Spain and Portugal. The other is GASPARE
GOZZI (1715-86), brother of the famous dramatist, who also imitated
the _Spectator_ in a periodical, wrote excellent stories in prose and
verse, and rendered a durable service to literature by his defence of
Dante against the aspersions of Bettinelli, preluding the Dantesque
revival of the next century.

Contemporaneously with this development of moral and economical
science, another active movement went on which created far more
agitation among Italian literati, and which, if it scarcely enriched
the national literature with a single work of merit, at all events kept
up the tradition of poetry. This was the universal itch for rhyming
which seized upon the nation about the beginning of the eighteenth
century, and dates from the foundation of the Arcadian Academy in
1692. This epoch-making event is related with unsurpassable verve in
the brilliant pages of Vernon Lee, who rekindles for us the chief
lights of the institution and the time: the frigid and sardonic, but
really illustrious jurist Gravina, instructor of Montesquieu and of the
Academy; the uncouth pedant but excellent administrator Crescimbeni,
whose history of Italian poetry is a more valuable book than Vernon Lee
allows; the fluent versifiers, not without gleams of a genuine poetical
vein, Rolli and Frugoni; the marvellous improvisatore Perfetti, a
sounding brass, but no tinkling cymbal, who actually received in the
Capitol the crown awarded to Petrarch and designed for Tasso.

The seriousness with which these Alfesibeo Carios and Opico Erimanteos
took themselves, their crooks and their wigs, is astonishing. But they
got accepted at their own valuation, and none disputed their claims
as the sovereign arbiters of elegant literature until, about 1760,
Giuseppe Baretti arose to demonstrate that, as shepherds, they must be
the representatives of the ancient Scythians. Settembrini in our own
day rather opines that they were created by the Jesuits, just as the
Cobbett of the _Rejected Addresses_ denounces “the gewgaw fetters of
rhyme, invented by the monks in the Middle Ages to enslave the people.”
Every city in Italy had its offshoot of the Arcadia; every member did
something to approve his literary taste, were it but one of the hundred
and fifty elegies, in all manner of languages, on the decease of Signor
Balestrieri’s cat (1741). The result was a deluge of insipid verse,
preferable at any rate to the extravagance of the preceding century.

Two Arcadians alone evinced real poetical talent, the two Zappis
of Imola. FELICE ZAPPI wrought on a small scale, but with exquisite
perfection. His sonnets, madrigals, and lyrical trifles generally are
among the very choicest examples of Italian minor poetry for elegance,
_esprit_, and melody. It is true that he exposed himself to the
merciless ridicule of Baretti by dreaming that he stood upon his hind
legs and barked madrigals in the character of his lady’s lap-dog, but
this lapse ought not to count against his genuine merits. His wife,
Faustina, formerly Maratti, is more ambitious but less consummate.
Her writings are nevertheless always estimable, and one sonnet is
remarkable for an energy and vehemence sped straight from the heart:

      _Lady, on whom my Lord was wont to gaze
        Complacent so, that oft unto mine ear
        Of thy abundant tress and aspect clear
      And silvery speech he yet resounds the praise;
      Tell me, when thou to him discourse didst raise,
        Seemed he, immersed in musing, not to hear?
        Or, as to me may chance, did look austere,
      And moody frown his countenance deface?
      Time was, I know, when passionate and weak
        Thy fair eyes found him, and I know that, till--
        But ah! what blushes mantle on thy cheek!
      Thy glance declines to earth, thy eyelids thrill!
        Answer, I pray thee--no! hush! never speak
        If thou wouldst tell me that he loves thee still!_

All the minor Italian versifiers were speedily eclipsed by the genius
of Metastasio, whose place, however, is with dramatic poets. But for
him, the eighteenth century wore away without producing a poet of
great mark, until, in 1763, Italy was startled by the appearance of
the _Mattina_, the first part of the _Giorno_ of GIUSEPPE PARINI.
Parini is particularly interesting as the first eminent Italian poet
who shows decided traces of English influence. The plan of his poem is
taken from Thomson, the spirit is the spirit of Pope; the net result is
much such a poem as Cowper might have written had he been an Italian.
Just as Thomson in his _Seasons_ depicts the entire course of Nature
from four points of view, so Parini in his _Giorno_ delineates the
useless life of a frivolous young Italian of quality by exhibiting the
occupations of his morning, afternoon, evening, and night. The spirit
is that of Pope’s satires, but Parini, composing in blank verse, has
been led into a style more nearly resembling that of Young, although
he has little of the sententious abruptness of the _Night Thoughts_ or
of their fatiguing glitter: the four poems are perfect wholes, gliding
from theme to theme by the most ingenious and delicate transitions, and
replete with charming episodes; the diction is exquisite, and the blank
verse the best that Italy had then seen. The work is invaluable as a
picture of manners, and a masterpiece of delicate polished satire; the
_jeunesse dorée_ of Milan is or ought to be made thoroughly ashamed of
the vapidity of its existence, but every phrase is urbane, and all the
ridicule dainty and ironical. The subject is hardly susceptible of high
poetry, but Parini has adorned it as only a poet could. The composition
of the remaining three parts occupied him for many years, and the
last two are not quite complete. His minor pieces reveal the same
remarkable power as the _Giorno_ of elevating trifling circumstances
into the region of poetry. One sonnet especially is worthy of the Greek
Anthology in finish and charm of invention:

      _Benignant Sleep, that on soft pinion sped
        Dost wing through darkling night thy noiseless way,
        And fleeting multitudes of dreams display
      To weariness reposed on quiet bed:
      Go where my Phillis doth her gentle head
        And blooming cheek on peaceful pillow lay,
        And while the body sleeps, the soul affray
      With dismal shape from thy enchantment bred.
      So like unto mine own that form be made,
        Pallor so dim disfiguring its face,
        That she may waken by compassion swayed.
      If this thou wilt accomplish of thy grace,
        A double wreath of poppies I will braid,
        And silently upon thine altar place._

Parini, “a poor sickly priest,” led an uneventful life in Milan
until the overthrow of Austrian rule by the French invasion, when he
came forward prominently in public affairs, and earned credit by his
good sense and moderation. He died in 1799, aged seventy. He was a
high-minded man of austere morality.

Another poet of the eighteenth century deserves no less fame than
Parini, but has remained comparatively unknown from having written
in dialect. It is his compensation to be as decidedly at the head
of the Sicilian lyrists as Petrarch is at the head of the Tuscan;
nor is Sicilian in any degree a rude or barbarous idiom. Schools of
Sicilian poetry existed in the thirteenth, and again in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, but all previous celebrities were eclipsed
by the brilliant achievements of GIOVANNI MELI (1740-1815). Meli can
hardly be paralleled either with Burns or with our English Theocritus,
William Barnes, for he possesses neither Burns’s tragic pathos and
withering satire, nor Barnes’s power of realistic description. But he
rivals Burns in simplicity and melody, and is capable of much loftier
lyric flights than Barnes; and if his satire does not brand or scathe,
it smiles and sparkles with genial humour. The lightness, ease, and
grace of his songs cannot be exceeded; his pastorals are worthy of a
countryman of Theocritus; and his mock-heroics, _Don Quixote_, and the
_Origin of the World_, though evincing less of poetical inspiration,
are effluences of genuine humour. His employment of the Sicilian
dialect was highly favourable to his genius by exempting him from all
obligation to write with academical constraint. It is most interesting
to find Wordsworth’s plea for a return to nature anticipated by a
Sicilian of the generally stiff and affected eighteenth century.
One of the most marked features of his poetry is its lively and
dramatic character, arising from the close observation of national
types, apparently just as they were observed by the ancient writers
of Sicilian mimes, Sophron and Epicharmus. “As in antiquity,” says
Paul Heyse, “so at this day, idyll, song, and mime are the species
of poetical composition allotted as the Sicilian heritage.” Meli
represented the national genius to perfection. His life was uneventful.
He is represented as an amiable, sensible, unassuming man, as much
of a Bacchus as consistent with sobriety, and as much of an Anacreon
as comported with an utter ignorance of Greek, an _abate_ of the old
school, attached, but not in a perverse or bigoted manner, to the
ancient social order, which, by the aid of British ships and troops,
maintained itself better in Sicily than elsewhere in Italy.

The licentious poems of the Abate GIOVANNI BATTISTA CASTI (1721-1803)
deserve attention from their influence on Byron’s _Don Juan_, and
also from the veiled political character of many of them. Casti, an
accomplished traveller and acquainted with many distinguished men,
belongs, like Talleyrand, both to the old time and to the new. Attached
by habit and taste to the polished and frivolous society of the
ancient régime, his sympathies were nevertheless liberal. He satirised
Catherine the Second, and when exiled from Vienna on that account, had
the spirit to resign his Austrian pension. The _Animali Parlanti_ a
satire upon the rule of the stronger in political life, and thus an
interesting revival of the old conception of Reynard the Fox, is his
best work.

It is remarkable that the age of Richardson and Fielding in England,
and Marivaux and Prevost d’Exiles in France, should have produced no
novelist of reputation in Italy. The imitation of even such world-famed
books as the _Nouvelle Héloise_ and _Werther_ was reserved for a later
generation. One romancer acquired some celebrity--Count ALESSANDRO
VERRI (1741-1816), who hit upon, or borrowed from Wieland, the idea of
resorting for his themes to antiquity. His _Notti Romane_, _Saffo_, and
_Erostrato_ are all works of merit, and the first-named was probably
not without influence upon Landor.

On the whole, the history of the Italy of the eighteenth century is
in most departments, intellectual and political, that of a patient
recovering from a formidable malady by slow but certain stages. Much
is lost, never to return. The relation of Italy to the rest of Europe
is no longer that of Athens to Sparta or Bœotia, as in the sixteenth
century; but neither, as in the seventeenth, is she estranged from
the general current of European thought. Her intellectual position
may be read in the very portraits of her eminent men, who in general
display the placid eighteenth-century type, and might as well have been
Frenchmen or Englishmen as Italians. They were writers of signal merit
and utility, but, Vico excepted, not men of creative genius, and the
national mind might easily have degenerated into mediocrity but for
the tremendous convulsions of the end of the century. In one province,
however, she stood apart and supreme during nearly the whole of the
age--the drama, with or without musical accompaniment, which must form
the subject of our next chapter.



                             CHAPTER XXII
    THE COMEDY OF MASKS--THE OPERA--DRAMA OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY


The eighteenth century, if chiefly remarkable in Italian literary
history for the dawn of national regeneration, and the assimilation
of literature to the type prevailing in other European countries, is
also memorable as the period when Italian dramatists first acquired a
European renown. This recognition may be considered to date from the
production of Count Maffei’s _Merope_ in 1714, and from the summons
of Apostolo Zeno to Vienna a few years afterwards. These two men
represented, one, the classical tragedy, which, notwithstanding its
conventional acceptance, has ever remained an exotic in Italy; the
other, that special creation of Italian genius, the musical play or
opera. Later in the century, Alfieri and Metastasio carried both forms
nearer to perfection, and Goldoni gave his country a comedy at once
brilliant and regular. Yet the genuine dramatic life of the nation is
to be found in the _commedia dell’ arte_, or Comedy of Masks, contemned
by the learned, but dear to the people, which, except for a brief
interval in the hands of Carlo Gozzi, failed to clothe itself with
literary form, but has pervaded the theatres of Europe in the costume
of harlequin, columbine, and pantaloon.

As the simplest, the _commedia dell’ arte_ is probably the oldest
form of the drama. There can be no question that the Greek rustics who
smeared their faces with wine-lees at the Dionysiac festivals, and
from whose improvised songs and gestures Greek comedy was developed,
virtually enacted the same parts as the Tuscan and Neapolitan peasants,
who, inheriting this rude entertainment from Roman times, preserved
it through the Middle Ages, until it assumed new importance in the
general awakening of the sixteenth century. The original wine-lees
gave place to masks, and as masks cannot be varied _ad infinitum_, the
characters became limited to a few well-defined and salient types.
Hence every piece had substantially the same personages; although the
Italian comedy allows of numerous variations upon its four stock parts.
This caused the dialogue to be mainly extemporaneous; and as comedy is
more easily extemporised than tragedy, the pieces tended more and more
towards farce. At the same time, “the fertility of fancy, quickness
of intelligence, facility of utterance, command of language, and
presence of mind,” indispensable to a good impromptu comedian, bestowed
a certain regularity upon the performance. The actor was obliged
to observe the conditions imposed by the character he represented,
conventional as this was: if he enacted Pantaloon, he must not comport
himself as Brighella or the Doctor, and _vice versâ_. As in the Indian
drama, the comic passages were usually in dialect; the serious, if any,
in cultivated language. Despised as literature, these pieces attained
great popularity even beyond the limits of Italy, especially in Paris,
where they divided public favour with the national theatre for a
hundred and fifty years. As, however, they were mainly improvised, and
no care was taken of such parts as might chance to be written down,
they have virtually perished. No literary relic of their palmy days
seems to exist except the _scenarios_ or skeleton plans of some of
them, mere outlines to be filled up by the performers. Modern readers
will hardly obtain a better idea of their spirit than from Vernon
Lee’s inimitable _Prince of the Hundred Soups_, a fantastic tale laid
in the seventeenth century, the culminating period of these dramatic
impromptus, towards the close of which they began to yield to the
musical drama. Their capability of real dramatic excellence is revealed
by two more recent developments--the improved Pulcinello farces of
FRANCESCO CERLONE, a Neapolitan tailor, who, in the later half of the
eighteenth century, “lifted,” says Scherillo, “Pulcinello from the
crowd of masks, and made him the monarch of the popular theatre”; and
the fairy dramas of Carlo Gozzi, a Venetian of the same period. Both
usually wrote their plays out, or at least left comparatively little
to the invention of the actors; but Cerlone composed entirely in the
spirit of the _commedia dell’ arte_. His Pulcinello is commonly a butt,
designed to keep the audience throughout in a roar of laughter by his
ridiculous adventures, an object most fully attained. Gozzi’s pieces
are of higher literary quality, and demand a more particular notice.

CARLO GOZZI (1720-1808), brother of Gaspare Gozzi, already mentioned,
would merit an honourable place among Italian writers merely on the
strength of his entertaining memoirs, translated by Symonds. His real
significance in literary history, however, is confined to the four
brilliant years in which he carried all before him on the Venetian
stage by his _fiabe_ or dramatised fairy tales, composed in the spirit
of the _commedia dell’ arte_, in so far that many of the characters
belonged to the old conventional types, and that a portion of the
action was highly farcical. These characteristics were nevertheless
combined with a regular plot capable of exciting deep interest. The
_fiabe_ originated in a literary quarrel. Goldoni, the restorer of true
comedy to Italy, had denounced the buffooneries of the old _commedia
dell’ arte_, and Gozzi, who had himself cultivated that form, and whose
partiality for it was enhanced by a misunderstanding with Goldoni,
determined to show its capabilities, and at the same time to ridicule
his dramatic rivals, Goldoni and the Abate Chiari. To this end he
hit upon the extremely happy idea of dramatising the fairy tales in
Basile’s _Pentamerone_, thus creating a form represented in English
literature by the admirable burlesques of Planché, but with even more
resemblance to an ancient form of which no complete example remains,
the mythological parodies of the Attic Middle Comedy, which combined
ridicule of the tragic poets with a regular plot derived from ancient
tradition.

In the _scenario_ of his _Three Oranges_, a play not preserved in
its entirety, Gozzi has explained how he burlesqued his rivals, as,
for instance, when the long journeys which Chiari’s personages are
supposed to perform within the compass of a single action are ridiculed
by Tartaglia and Truffaldino being propelled two thousand leagues by
the devil with a pair of bellows. (“They sprawled on the grass at the
sudden cessation of the favouring gale.”) The success of the _Three
Oranges_ was immense, and contributed to drive Goldoni from Venice. It
was followed by a rapid succession of similar pieces, tending, however,
to assume more of a literary character, and become more and more remote
from the original type of the Comedy of Masks. This, if diminishing
their value as illustrations of popular manners and sentiment, renders
them more generally enjoyable; and they would have a wide European
reputation were they not principally composed in the Venetian dialect.
_Turandot_, in the translation, or rather imitation, of Schiller, is
known wherever German literature extends; but the scarcely inferior
merits of the _Blue Monster_, the _Green Bird_, and the like, have not
in general induced foreigners to learn the Venetian patois.

Gozzi, in truth, just missed greatness; he had the artistic talent
to work out a clever idea, but not the poetical fancy requisite to
elevate this lo a region of ideal beauty. As suggested by Symonds, his
pieces would supply excellent material for operatic libretti. Tieck
subsequently undertook the task with higher qualifications, but the
favourable moment had gone by. Gozzi’s plays are the true offspring of
the national spirit, Tieck’s merely importations. After four years of
brilliant triumphs, Gozzi slopped short, fearing to fatigue the public
taste, or conscious of having exhausted his vein. The remainder of his
career as a dramatic author was chiefly occupied with adaptations from
the Spanish.

While in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century the Comedy
of Masks was decaying, a new form of drama was silently growing up,
the operatic, “a thing,” says Vernon Lee, “born of scenic displays
and concerts, moulded into a romantic, wholly original shape, by the
requirements of scenery, music, and singing.” Its character as a
literary production is indicated by the fact that its proper title
of _melodrama_ has become synonymous with something quite different,
the prose tragedy which aims at strong sensational situations, while
_melodramatic_ evokes no association with music.

The chief representatives of new literary forms are frequently heralded
by precursors, who, if serving in some sense as foils to their genius,
yet deprive them of the praise of absolute originality. What Phrynichus
was to Æschylus, and Marlowe to Shakespeare, APOSTOLO ZENO (1668-1750),
a Venetian of Candiote extraction, was to PIETRO METASTASIO. It was
not Metastasio but Zeno who gave the musical drama literary rank, and
proved that poets as well as musicians might make their reputations
and their fortunes by it. Zeno produced his first serious attempt in
musical drama in 1695, and long held the position of chief dramatic
poet of Italy. After founding and for many years conducting the
influential _Giornale de’ Letterati_, he became court poet at Vienna
in 1718, and eleven years afterwards retired voluntarily in favour of
the rising Metastasio, who completely eclipsed him on the stage, but
could not deprive him of the honour of having first taught Italy how
dramatic poetry of a high order might be associated with music. Zeno,
moreover, was no mere playwright, but a good lyrical poet with a strong
dramatic instinct, a scholar, moreover, and antiquary, and a renowned
collector of medals. His last years were spent in honour and comfort at
his native Venice. Ere his life terminated in 1750 the productiveness
of his successor had almost come to an end.

Metastasio’s long prosperous life was not destitute of romance. The
son (born 1698) of a petty Neapolitan druggist settled at Rome, he was
adopted by the famous jurist and excellent dramatic critic Gravina,
who had heard him singing in the street, for although at the time an
inglorious, he was fortunately not a mute Milton. Victor Cousin was
similarly snatched from the gutter, for different issues and from
different motives. His sonorous appellative was the gift of his patron,
who Hellenised his protégé’s original name of Trapassi, and left him
a fortune. After wasting most of his benefactor’s legacy, Metastasio
articled himself to a Neapolitan lawyer named Castagnola, who received
him on condition that he should not even read, much less write, a line
of verse. This pledge was broken by the composition in 1722 of the
_Gardens of the Hesperides_, a little mask composed under compulsion
from the Austrian viceroy. The secret of the authorship was ferreted
out by La Romanina, the celebrated _cantatrice_, who pounced upon
Metastasio, bore him from Castagnola’s house to her own, and made him a
dramatic poet. She was a married woman much older than Metastasio, and
there seems no suggestion that her affection was other than maternal.
It ended, however, unhappily, perhaps tragically.

The immense success of his _Didone Abbandonata_, performed at Rome in
1723, and followed by a number of similar pieces, had made Metastasio
the undisputed sovereign of the lyric stage, and in 1730 he was invited
to Vienna to replace the veteran Zeno. He went. La Romanina wished to
follow, but never did, and died very suddenly in 1734. Had Metastasio,
now devoted to Countess Althan, to whom he is said to have been
privately married, obstructed her journey? and was her death natural?
There is nothing but surmise as to the precise nature of the case; but
Vernon Lee’s tragical summing-up is true as a statement of fact: “Thus
ended the romance of Metastasio’s life, and with it his youth, and soon
after his hope and his genius.” His Vienna period between 1730 and 1740
was artistically the most brilliant of his life, but he wrote little
afterwards; though his dramas long monopolised the Italian lyric stage;
and the decline of his productive power seems to have been chiefly
owing to the untoward interruption to dramatic performances occasioned
by the Austrian war of succession in 1740 and following years. When
peace returned, Metastasio had become nervous and hypochondriacal; he
yet gained his culminating triumph with the _Atilio Regolo_ in 1750,
and the later half of his life, which ended in 1782, was embellished by
his friendship with the Italian singer-statesman, Farinelli. Metastasio
was selfish, but not cold-hearted; he pined for affection, but shrank
from self-sacrifice; and his self-regarding instinct was not ennobled
by devotion to any of the causes or pursuits which inspired Goethe. Yet
he was a connoisseur in virtue, and his dramas represent her in some of
her most attractive shapes. He saw forty editions of his works in his
own library; he had not only accumulated but had refused distinctions;
if he could feel free from blame towards La Romanina, there was nothing
with which he needed to reproach himself. His life had been a continual
triumph; no wonder if he had become weary of it at last.

Operatic success requires two endowments rarely united in the same
person, the ingenuity of a playwright and the melody of a nightingale.
Both these are combined in Metastasio; he is a very Scribe for
briskness, deftness, and clever contrivance of plot; ere he had become
nervous and depressed, his Neapolitan brain seethed at a dramatic
situation; his _Achille in Sciro_, one of the best of his pieces, was
written, provided with music and scenery, and thoroughly organised
for representation, within eighteen days. Other Italian librettists
may have rivalled him in tunefulness or in the faculty of dramatic
construction, none in both these respects, and none have been able
to impart the like literary quality to their compositions; partly
because he possessed and they lacked the indescribable something that
makes the poet; partly because the sentiment which with them is merely
theatrical, is with him sincere.

The general inferiority of operatic libretti has occasioned the
musical drama to be despised as a branch of literature; although,
to say nothing of the recent achievements of Richard Wagner, the
Euripidean play, with its frequent predominance of solos over choral
parts, approximated to the modern opera. It is no doubt true that the
first requisite is that the words should be a vehicle for the music,
and that, supposing this object attained, it is feasible to dispense
with poetry. It follows that poetry usually is dispensed with, and
that the only literary gift deemed absolutely indispensable for opera
is that of dramatic construction. It is the great distinction of
Metastasio to have been at the same time a consummate playwright and
a true lyrical poet. Other great playwrights have been great poets
in blank verse; but, at any rate for the first half of his life,
Metastasio’s bosom was as affluent a storehouse of melody as Rückert’s;
to sing was for him as easy as to speak. He was constrained to submit
himself to the laws of the opera, inexorable because founded upon the
reason of things. As an opera can be nothing without a _cantatrice_,
it follows that it must turn chiefly upon the passion of love; as
the principal performers’ throats will not bear a perpetual strain,
they must necessarily be sometimes relieved by inferior executants;
hence the necessity of an underplot, and of constructive ability to
interweave this with the main action. As the musical drama is not,
after all, natural, the audience’s attention must be kept occupied
by continual action and bustle; as the singer must leave the stage
at his best, the recitative must be followed by an air. Such tags
must be judged simply with reference to the musical effect, which
with Metastasio was always very great. On the whole, few writers have
adapted means to ends more successfully than he has done, or have more
completely solved the problem of investing the amusement of the moment
with abiding literary worth.

The most celebrated of Metastasio’s lyrical dramas are perhaps the
_Olimpiade_, the _Achille in Sciro_, the _Clemenza di Tito_, and the
_Atilio Regolo_. The _Artaserse_, the _Temistocle_, the _Zenobia_,
have also a high reputation, and in truth the intervals of merit among
his pieces are not very wide. The operatic dramatist is released from
many of the obligations which press most heavily upon the tragic
or comic poet; he is at liberty to mingle the manners and ideas of
different ages and nations as much as he pleases; no great profundity
of psychological analysis can be expected from him, for if he possessed
this gift the conditions of his field of art would debar him from
manifesting it. It is enough if his subject is interesting, his action
lively and well combined, and his melody copious and spontaneous.
Metastasio selected his themes with consummate judgment, and showed a
Scribe-like power of devising bustling action and sudden surprises,
while his tunefulness is remarkable even for an Italian poet. His
pieces would have enthralled audiences even without literary charm.
That they retain their place in the library after their disappearance
from the stage proves him a poet as well as a dramatist. His oratorios
resemble his secular pieces, but are less interesting. His cantatas
have the air of loppings from his dramas. The chief merit of his other
lyrical compositions is their inexhaustible melody.

The vogue of the lyrical drama under Zeno and Metastasio was not
favourable to the more legitimate forms of the art. “_Ce beau
monstre_,” said Voltaire, “_étouffe Melpomène_.” If so, the Italian
drama was stifled, like Desdemona, in her sleep. The extravagance of
the first half of the seventeenth century had been succeeded by the
torpor of the second, and nothing really good had been produced in
either. It was not until 1713 that a tragedy appeared which deserved
and obtained a European reputation. This was the _Merope_ of Count
Scipione Maffei, whose principal work, his _Verona Illustrata_,
has already been mentioned, and who, besides many other claims to
distinction, gained an honourable fame as a natural philosopher, as
the critical historian of chivalric orders, and as the denouncer of
duelling. A man of this stamp, however gifted, was not likely to be
richly endowed with the poetical temperament, and Maffei’s _Merope_
shares the almost universal fault of modern tragedies on classical
subjects, it is essentially a work of reflection. It was composed
with the deliberate purpose of retrieving the Italian drama from its
degraded condition, and was the result of conversations wilh the
actor Riccoboni, author of an esteemed work on the Italian stage, who
lamented that the theatre of his own country afforded him no fine
parts. The want was well supplied by _Merope_, the plot being highly
dramatic, and the treatment, in the opinion of Matthew Arnold, more
poetical than that of either of Maffei’s successors, Voltaire and
Alfieri.

Maffei nevertheless was to yield to one of the most extraordinary men
that Italy ever produced, one brought up under so many disadvantages
that it might seem impossible that he should occupy a high place in
the literature of his country, and who nevertheless, by the mere force
of will and character, has fought his way to almost the highest in
his own field. It must be added that although Count VITTORIO ALFIERI
(1749-1803) might probably have been eminent as an historian or a
political writer, tragedy and satire were the only departments of
poetry in which it seems possible that he should have excelled. This
is as much as to say that he was by nature little of a poet. He was
also little of an Italian, being by birth a Piedmontese, a people
whom the Italians of that day regarded, from an ethnographical point
of view, much as the Greeks of Philip’s day regarded the Macedonians,
and who were in truth destined to work out the parallel by subduing
the rest of the peninsula, though with very different aims and to very
different results. Alfieri was indeed more like an Englishman than an
Italian, and might well have sat as a model to some delineator of the
haughty, eccentric, whimsical, misanthropic, hopelessly perverse, but
on occasion extravagantly generous being who is still accepted on the
Continent as the embodiment of British national character. He did,
in fact, belong to a type more common in England than elsewhere, the
patrician republican of the mould of Algernon Sidney or Savage Landor,
animated by an unaffected passion for liberty, and yet arrogant,
exacting, domineering; fired by a disinterested love of man, and always
quarrelling with men.

Alfieri fortunately felt moved to write his _Autobiography_, a
work of intense interest, and perhaps the most thoroughly sincere
among celebrated books of its order of literature. It depicts a man
continually under the influence of pride and discontent, but whom pride
and discontent stimulate to lofty endeavour and noble actions. Vivid
indeed is the picture of his self-contempt for his wasted youth and his
ignorance of his own language, the speech of Piedmont being then the
worst of all provincial jargons. Most interesting is the detail of his
self-education, both in purity of diction and in the dramatic art. This
psychological interest is relieved and enhanced by the detail of his
numerous adventures, his extensive travels, and his love affairs, three
of which were memorable. In London, in 1772, he fought, by the last
rays of the setting sun, unattended by seconds, a duel with the injured
husband of Lady Ligonier, and wounded in the right arm, was immediately
afterwards back in the theatre out of which he had been summoned to
the fray. His Milan adventure, if less romantic, was more whimsical:
convinced of the unworthiness of his siren, he imitated Ulysses by
compelling his servant to bind him to his chair until the craving for
her company had passed away.

Alfieri’s third escapade of the kind is world-famous, his rescue
of Louise von Stolberg, Countess of Albany, from the drunken husband
who habitually maltreated her, and who, one blushes to record, was
no other than Charles Edward Stuart, the chivalrous and adventurous
Young Pretender of a former generation. Alfieri’s attachment to the
Countess was undoubtedly deep and permanent, and although she seems
to have forgotten him after his death, she felt for him when he was
the only resource she had in the world. The intimacy might long have
remained Platonic but for the extreme brutality of Charles Edward,
which compelled the Countess to escape by Alfieri’s contrivance to
a convent where she saw neither her husband nor her lover. After a
while the Cardinal of York, the Pretender’s brother, offered her an
asylum in a Roman palace, where her acquaintance with Alfieri became
more intimate. Afterwards, legally separated by the interposition of
the King of Sweden, she withdrew to Alsace, where Alfieri followed
her. They eventually established themselves in Paris, and the death
of Charles Edward made no change in their existence. Louise, though
apparently not a warm-hearted, was a highly intellectual woman;
half French, half German, she possessed a range of knowledge and
accomplishment which Alfieri could hardly have found in any Italian
woman at that date, and her sympathy, without doubt, contributed
greatly to the development of his genius. Driven from France by the
storms of the Revolution, which he had at first hailed with a warmth
which he afterwards repented, Alfieri settled with his mistress at
Florence. There he wrote the _Misogallo_, a furious denunciation of
France, and exhausted by hard study and an ascetic life, died in
October 1803, as, with an unconscious touch of irony, he was compelling
himself to write comedies. There seems no ground for believing that he
was privately married to the Countess, who honoured him with a monument
beautifully sculptured by Canova. If, however, the mourning figure
by the tomb represents the bereaved one, she has taken the lion’s
share, Alfieri appearing merely as a medallion head in profile. Room
should have been found for a bust at least, for whimsical, saturnine,
arrogant as he was, he possessed not only a head but a heart. Scornful
of superstition, he was endowed with deep religious feeling, and the
defects of his harsh, angular character were at all events remote from
those national failings which had chiefly contributed to the ruin of
Italy.

It is remarkable indeed that a Piedmontese, who had to teach himself
classical Italian with infinite labour, and whose character possessed
few distinctively national traits, should have been the reviver of
the national spirit in Italy. This Alfieri unquestionably was. He had
what is so deplorably wanting among the gifted men of the golden age
of Italian literature, a passion for freedom and a hatred of tyranny,
which impart to his works, however remote in subject from modern times,
the air of indignant protests against the subjection and degradation of
his country. This feeling, as well as the haughty and self-sufficing
independence of his character, brings him very near to the stoical
Romans of the age of Nero, whose literary productions he approaches
by his declamatory eloquence, his defective feeling for nature, and
the generally studied and laboured character of his poetry. Had Seneca
possessed the leading requisites of a tragic poet, he would have been
a kind of Roman Alfieri. Comparing Alfieri’s tragedy with the modern
form of the art which owes most to Seneca, the French drama of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we are sensible of a great
advance; not that Alfieri is comparable as a poet or a stylist to
Corneille or Racine, but that his dramatic economy is improved by the
suppression of much conventional machinery, and the subordination of
amorous gallantry to more dignified and serious emotion.

The strongest family likeness prevails among Alfieri’s tragedies.
“He is,” says Arnold, “a noble-minded, deeply interesting man, but a
monotonous poet.” The quality of “narrow elevation” which Arnold finds
in Alfieri is indeed most apparent throughout all his plays; but they
are not, like so many productions of the classical school tame and
frigid from pedantic over-correctness, nor are they untrue to nature
through servile adherence to tradition and convention. Their dignity
and nobility of feeling inspire deep respect; the author is evidently
akin to the heroes he depicts, and in their place would have been
capable of their actions. His genius did not lead him to the imitation
of the Greeks; his plays are rather such as a Roman poet might have
produced if he could have more completely emancipated himself from
Greek models. He aimed at nervous conciseness, and attained it. The
eloquence which he acquired by a Demosthenic severity of study may
be fitter for the forum than the stage, but rarely degenerates into
mere rhetoric. His theme is always some grand action derived from
history or mythology. His predilection is rather for the heroes of
liberty, like Timoleon or the Brutuses. _Saul_, however, is probably
his most successful play upon the whole, though _Myrrha_ may produce
the greatest effect when an actress can be found competent for so
exceptional a part. _Philip the Second_ inspired Schiller’s _Don
Carlos_. _Antigone_, _Orestes_, and the _Conspiracy of the Pazzi_ may
also be named among Alfieri’s most successful pieces.

Alfieri’s prose-writings possess no great value, except the
_Autobiography_, which is invaluable alike from the interest of the
character depicted and of the events narrated, and from its transparent
candour. As a rule, the only quite trustworthy autobiographic
delineations are the unconscious ones. Pepys has undoubtedly portrayed
himself just as he was, but it is equally certain that he had no
intention of doing so. Alfieri may or may not have depicted himself
as he was, although the portrait is perfectly in harmony with the
impression derived from his writings. But he has unquestionably
depicted himself as he appeared to himself, and more could not be
expected. Alfieri’s minor poems display the “narrow elevation” ascribed
by Matthew Arnold to his tragedies. He has little music, fancy, or
variety, but expresses strong feeling with unusual energy, especially
when moved to wrath:

      _Was Angelo born here? and he who wove
        Love’s charm with sorcery of Tuscan tongue
        Indissolubly blent? and he whose song
      Laid bare the world below to world above?
      And he who from his lowly valley clove
        The azure height and trod the stars among?
        And he whose searching mind the monarch’s wrong
      Fount of the people’s misery did prove?
      Yea, these had birth when men might uncontrolled
        Speak, read, write, reason with impunity;
        Not from the chair was cowardice extolled;
      Not for free thinking would indictment lie;
        Nor did the city in her Book of Gold
        Inscribe the name and office of the spy._

If Alfieri was a manifest child of Melpomene, the third great
dramatic writer of the age bore the impress of Thalia with no less
distinctness. CARLO GOLDONI’S memoirs paint with the utmost liveliness
the born comedian, careless, light-hearted, proof by a happy
temperament against all strokes of Fate, yet thoroughly respectable
and honourable. Such characters abound in Italy, and wonderful it is
that only one member of so observant and lively a race should have won
an European reputation as a comic author. Tragedy has in some measure
flourished since the death of Alfieri, but Goldoni still stands alone.
The absence of any predecessor is explicable from the circumstances
enumerated at the beginning of this chapter: the national style of
comedy was not literary, and no literary reputation could be built
upon or out of it; while those who followed a different path produced
simply academic work devoid of all vitality. Goldoni broke the spell,
and gave Italy a classical form of comedy, which has not indeed
remained uncultivated, but has never since his time been cultivated
by a master. He was born at Venice in 1707, and was the son of a
physician. His dramatic tastes were inherited from his grandfather, a
Modenese, and all the endeavours of his parents to direct his activity
into other channels came to nothing. He was indeed educated for a
lawyer, graduated, held at different times a secretaryship and a
councillorship, seemed to have settled steadily down to the practice of
law, when an unexpected invitation carried him off to Venice, and for
years he did nothing but manage theatres and write plays, directing all
his energies to supersede the national Comedy of Masks, and comedies of
intrigue dependent upon intricacy of plot, by representations of actual
life and manners. Many of his best plays were written in the Venetian
dialect. At length (1761) umbrage, as was thought, at the vogue of
Gozzi’s fairy dramas induced Goldoni to accept a royal invitation to
Paris, where he spent the remainder of his life composing plays in
French, and writing his memoirs in the same language. He survived
the downfall of the monarchy, and died in 1793, just as the pension
of which he had been deprived was about to be restored to him. The
first half of his life had been full of vicissitudes and entertaining
adventures, agreeably recounted in his memoirs.

The future master of comedy commenced his dramatic career with a
melodrama, _Amalasunta_, which he burned, and followed this up with
another, of whose success he afterwards professed himself ashamed. He
was not long, nevertheless, in discovering his proper vocation; he
inwardly, and from his point of view rightly--for he could never have
been a Gozzi--declared war against the popular Comedy of Masks, and
when a piece of his succeeded, whispered to himself, “Good, but not
yet Molière.” The great Frenchman was the object of his idolatry, and
justly, for not only was Molière the true monarch of the comic stage,
but his period was neither too near nor too remote, and his world
neither too like nor unlike Goldoni’s, for successful imitation. By
1753 Goldoni’s apprenticeship was over, and none but literary enemies
contested his title of the Italian Molière, a title confirmed by the
suffrage of posterity. _Un Curioso Accidente_, _Il Vero Amico_, _La
Bottega del Caffè_, _La Locandiera_, and many other comedies that
might be named, while true to the manners of a past age, retain all
their freshness in our own. Italian audiences yet take delight in his
pictures of their ancestors. “One of the best theatres in Venice,” says
Symonds, “is called by his name. His house is pointed out by gondoliers
to tourists. His statue stands almost within sight of the Rialto. His
comedies are repeatedly given by companies of celebrated actors.” Yet
as Cæsar called Terence a halved Menander, so we may term Goldoni a
halved Molière. The Menandrine element in Molière is present with
him; the Aristophanic is missing. Goldoni wants the French writer’s
overpowering _vis comica_, and is happier in “catching the manners
living as they rise” than in laying bare the depths of the heart.
Wit, gaiety, elegance, simplicity, truth to nature, skill in dramatic
construction, render him nevertheless a most delightful writer, and
his fame is the more assured from his position as his country’s sole
eminent representative in the region of polite comedy.

The eighteenth century had thus endowed Italy with dramatic poets of
European reputation, worthy to be inscribed on the same roll as Racine
and Molière. All the varied dramatic activity of the Cinque Cento,
Machiavelli’s _Mandragola_ and the two great pastoral dramas excepted,
belonging essentially to a lower sphere, fails to counterweigh
the masterpieces of Alfieri and Goldoni. Even their achievement,
nevertheless, did not amount to the creation of a national drama. If
tragedy and comedy can be said to have taken root at all, the latter
degenerated, while the former put forth only sparse and occasional
flowers. Alfieri’s best plays continue stock-pieces to this extent,
that they are revived as offering the most suitable opportunities for
the display of the brilliant histrionic genius which from time to
time irradiates the Italian stage. A succession of gifted men--Monti,
Foscolo, Manzoni, Pellico, Niccolini, Cossa--have continued the
tradition, and on the whole the state of tragedy seems much the same in
Italy as in England. Comedy, on the other hand, notwithstanding some
encouraging signs of revival, is far from vigorous, and the melodrama
which occupies the stage is devoid of literary pretensions. Under
these discouraging circumstances it is not perhaps very extraordinary,
though assuredly it is very amusing, that the Italian _literati_ of
the present day, as reported by their interviewer-general, Signor
Ojetti, should gravely pronounce the drama which they cannot write
a rudimentary and superannuated form of art in comparison with the
novel which they can--_ein ueberwundener Standpunkt_, as would be
said in Germany. The idea of modern romancers transcending the art of
Shakespeare and Sophocles is delightful from its modesty; but it must
be evident that the short story alone can rival the artistic finish of
a perfect drama, for every romance on a large scale must necessarily be
eked out by descriptions, reflections, and episodes unessential to the
main action.

The cause of the failure of the drama to establish itself in the land
of opera is certainly not to be found in any preference on the part of
the public for the tedious psychological analysis of the modern school
of fiction over the rapidity and variety of the stage, but rather in
some deep-seated trait of the national character. This is most probably
the prevailing sensuousness of the people--a term not here used in
any disparaging sense, but as expressing the national preference for
the eye to the ear. _Segnius irritant_, as an ancient Italian has it.
The shows of the _Rappresentazioni_ were undoubtedly more attractive
to the Florentine public than the verses which expounded them; and we
have seen that magnificent scenic equipments were needed to bring the
people to share the dramatic amusements of the courts of the sixteenth
century. This tendency would probably be found to be inveterate, and
to date from the period when the Atellan farces of Latium prefigured
the _Commedia dell’ Arte_. It was not mere love of bloodshed that
made gladiatorial shows popular at Rome. Professor Mahaffy remarks
that while the refinement of Terence’s translations from the Greek in
comparison with Plautus attests the improvement of the taste of the
Roman aristocracy, “this brilliant success was not popular with the
masses, and led to no further attempts in the same direction.”



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                              THE REVIVAL


We have seen that the Italy of the eighteenth century had fully entered
into the general intellectual movement of the rest of Europe. Scarcely
any trace remained of the special characteristics of the Cinque
Cento except the imperishable tradition of culture and refinement
which still kept literature at a high level of style. The vagaries
of the seventeenth century had passed without leaving a trace. The
prevailing taste was that of France. The chief exception to this
polished uniformity was found in the drama. On the lyrical stage,
Italy, favoured by the musical capabilities of her language and the
superior aptitudes of her vocalists, had created something really
novel and national; and in the allied realm of instrumental music had
emulated the architectural and pictorial triumphs of the sixteenth
century. In tragedy and comedy, moreover, she had at length attained
to a semblance of a national drama; but this, being the achievement
of two exceptionally gifted men, who in comedy at all events left no
worthy successors, was comparatively apart from the national life, and
could not be expected to prove an important element in the literary
development of the future.

What Italy was at that time as regards originality, she has continued
to be until our own day. While claiming her full share in the conquests
of science, and by no means behind-hand in the study of antiquity,
she has produced little that can be regarded as an absolute creation.
Leopardi, alike in genius and art the most consummate among her men
of letters, has wrought on old lines, exalting the forms he found to
more eminent perfection. Manzoni’s innovations are chiefly introduced
from beyond the Alps. Carducci has rendered a priceless service in
repressing the language’s tendency to fluent inanity, and has widely
expanded its metrical capabilities, but has mainly worked upon hints
derived from antique or foreign literatures. If, however, Italy
has originated none of the great movements which have transformed
European literature since the middle of the eighteenth century, she
has participated in them all. As she then fully associated herself
with the enlightened and humanising tendencies of that beneficent if
prosaic age; she has since entered freely into the four great movements
which have broken up eighteenth-century formality and bought life and
liberty at the price of intellectual disorder--the naturalistic, the
sentimental, the romantic, and the revolutionary.

The naturalistic impulse to the living and accurate description of
natural beauty, and the recognition of a living spirit in Nature, is
no modern phenomenon. It is present as a vivifying influence in the
classics and in the poetry of Palestine and the East, and even more
so in Celtic literature, where more than anywhere else it appears
spontaneous and exempt from literary manipulation. Whether from a
Celtic admixture of race or from some other reason, it seems among
modern literatures the more especial property of the British. The
descriptions of Shakespeare and Milton, like those of their Greek
predecessors, may have been surpassed in the minute elaboration of
detail, not in truth or feeling. Spenser affords a still better
example, for--the multitudinous melodies of his peculiar stanza
excepted--this is the one point in which he transcends his Italian
models. In propriety of plan, in human and dramatic interest, in
terseness and polish of style, he is greatly their inferior; but the
natural descriptions of Ariosto and Tasso, beautiful as they often are,
fall far behind his in rich warmth and glowing splendour.

This national gift fell into abeyance in the later half of the
seventeenth century: there is scarcely a vestige of it in Dryden except
where he reproduces Chaucer. Thomson’s _Seasons_ mark its revival,
and were not without their effect in Europe; yet it must be owned
that its modern herald and hierophant is not a Briton, but a Swiss
justly reckoned among French authors--Jean Jacques Rousseau. It was
the mission of this extraordinary man to inaugurate not merely the
naturalistic, but the sentimental movement also, which, taken up by
Sterne and Goethe, filled Europe with imitators, and, among other
consequences, gave a great impulse to the novel at the expense of the
drama. Neither the description of nature nor the analysis of feeling is
peculiarly congenial to the Italian character, and it may be doubted
whether the latter impulse would have been very deeply felt but for the
unhappy political circumstances of the country, which engendered among
the noblest minds a prevailing disgust and despair conducive to the
diffusion of morbid sentiment and a generally mournful cast of thought.
Both the naturalistic and the sentimental tendencies inaugurated by
Rousseau found a powerful representative in Ugo Foscolo.

The next great development of taste by which Italian literature came
to be modified was one with which the Italian temperament has naturally
so little sympathy, that the influence which it exercised and continues
to exercise must be regarded as a strong proof of the susceptibility of
Italy to all great currents affecting intellectual Europe. The romantic
school is at variance with all her literary traditions and all her
canons of taste. Had it been anything but an exotic, it would have come
into being centuries before among a people rich in popular legends,
and whose history abounds with subjects adapted for ballad poetry.
Little, however, is seen or heard of it until, as the cosmopolitan
drift becomes more and more powerful, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Scott
excite the curiosity of the Italian reading public. One reason for
this backwardness may be plausibly alleged in the absence of Gothic
architecture from Italy. The earliest architectural remains were either
classical or Byzantine, which passed so easily into the Palladian and
other modern Italian styles as to render Gothic architecture in Italy
little more than an episode, and to leave no room for those impressions
of vague sublimity and solemn grandeur which Gothic architecture
produces, and which so naturally spring up in the minds of the
inhabitants of countries covered like England and Germany with ruined
castles and abbeys. Every feeling which the artist of the romantic
school would address is aroused by the mossed keeps and mouldering
fanes of mediæval antiquity. Horace Walpole may have been a dilettante
in architecture as in literature; nevertheless the romantic school in
England is inaugurated by Strawberry Hill and the _Castle of Otranto_;
and Goethe’s residence at Strasburg had much to do with _Goetz von
Berlichingen_. When, on the other hand, the Northern man is initiated
into the beauties of Italian architecture, his romantic feeling is apt
to wane, as he himself admits:

      _’Tis not for centuries four for nought
      Our European world of thought
      Hath made familiar to its home
      The classic mind of Greece and Rome;
      In all new work that would look forth
      To more than antiquarian worth,
      Palladio’s pediments and bases,
      Or something such, will find their places:
      Maturer optics don’t delight
      In childish dim religious light,
      In evanescent vague effects
      That shirk, not face, one’s intellects;
      They love not fancies just betrayed,
      And artful tricks of light and shade,
      Put pure form nakedly displayed,
      And all things absolutely made._

The feeling thus expressed by Clough, speaking through the mouth of
the Devil, is utterly contrary to the mystic awe and vague apprehension
of infinity characteristic of romantic art. It is no wonder, therefore,
that the movement engendered towards the middle of the eighteenth
century by impatience with the prosaic present and reaction towards
the neglected Middle Age, favoured by the moral atmosphere created by
Rousseau, and for England and Germany so imperious a necessity that
Wordsworth, Scott, Coleridge, Novalis and Tieck, all romanticists from
the cradle, appeared in the world within three years, should have
been little heard of in Italy until Scott and Goethe had captivated
the youthful genius of Manzoni. Yet a streak of romantic light had
preceded, though from quite a different quarter, namely, Ossian. If
the Gaelic bard’s antiquity was questionable, he was not the less
acceptable to a modern imagination; and the prodigious success in all
European nations of what would have been universally derided thirty
years sooner, showed that new tastes and new cravings had been awakened
among them. Of these Italy had her share, as attested, towards the end
of the eighteenth century, by the vogue of the translation of Ossian by
Cesarotti.

Not much need be said in this place of the last great factor in the
literary metamorphosis to which Italy, in common with the rest of
Europe, had to conform herself. The Revolution modified literature by
altering the environment of men of letters, supplying them with themes
and ideas which could not otherwise have come within their scope, and
inspiring them with vehement passions according as their circumstances
and temperaments led them to champion the new gospel or rally to the
ancient traditions. Italy was one of the last countries to feel its
effects in the literary sphere, chiefly because the movement did not,
as elsewhere, originate in the land itself, but was thrust upon it
by an invader whose rapine alienated much of the patriotic sentiment
that would otherwise have welcomed the Revolution. Monti, the first
great Italian writer whose career was powerfully affected by it, was
neither a revolutionist nor an anti-revolutionist, but a straw in a
whirlpool. When, however, the idea of Italian unity--Napoleon’s legacy
to his true native country--had had time to develop itself, and it had
become manifest that the only path to it lay through a cordial adoption
of revolutionary principles, the Revolution acquired more practical
significance for Italy than for any other country in Europe.

In a certain respect, Alfieri may be considered as the first
representative of both the sentimental and the national tendencies
in modern Italian literature. He had denounced tyranny and extolled
liberty while the Bastille had yet many years to stand; and if he
could not write like Goethe or Rousseau, he had practically lived, and
recorded in his autobiography, a life of sentimental passion. The air
of the Revolution, nevertheless, was needed to bring these germs to
maturity. Its stimulating influence is especially conspicuous in the
tone of Madame de Staël’s _Corinne_, compared with that of the letters
of Goethe and Beckford. The landscape is the same, but is beheld in
quite another light. Thus encouraged by general European sympathy, the
revolutionary and sentimental movements overpower the pliable Monti,
and find a genuine representative in the moody and malcontent Foscolo.
The romantic movement, which Italy would hardly have originated for
herself, necessarily came later, and found its leader in Manzoni.
Silvio Pellico and others acceded, and connected these currents
of feeling with the more decided revolutionary impulse of a later
generation, typified in Leopardi, Giusti, and Mazzini.

VINCENZO MONTI (1754-1828) is indeed no representative of the
Revolution, for the most celebrated of his poems is a denunciation of
it, and although he afterwards changed sides, the Republic was for
him merely a transition to the Empire. He nevertheless in a measure
personifies Italy herself amid the gusts of the revolutionary tempest,
tossed to and fro between contending influences, her sails spread to
the sky, her anchor still cleaving to earth. Born in the district of
Ferrara, and having gone through the ordeal, so often exacted from
poets, of distasteful law-study, he repaired to Rome as a literary
adventurer, and by his splendid tercets on the Beauty of Nature and
other lyrics adapted for recitation, sang himself into the good graces
of the Papal court. He took a yet higher flight in his fine, rather
lyrical than dramatic, tragedy of _Aristodemo_ (1787), as superior to
Alfieri in versification as inferior in virile energy. The subject is
one of the most pathetic, the grief of a father for having slain his
daughter. The _Galeotto Manfredi_ (1788), partly inspired by private
circumstances, is interesting as one of the first Italian examples of
romantic tragedy. One of the characters is copied from Iago.

It was not until 1793 that Monti took rank as the first epic poet of
his time by his _Bassvilliana_, a poem on the murder of the French
diplomatist Bassville, who had perished in a tumult provoked by his
own imprudence. Never since the tentmaker of Tarsus was caught up
into the third heaven was an obscure person elevated so mightily as
this insignificant Bassville, of whose remorseful spirit Monti’s
ardent imagination makes a new Dante, guided by an angel to behold
the atrocities of the French Revolution as a penance preliminary to
its entrance into Paradise. In the whole compass of literature there
is perhaps no other instance of so close and successful a copy as
Monti’s of Dante, combined with so much impetuous vigour, and other
qualities not usually associated with imitation. It revealed Monti as
the most impressionable of poets in his equal subjugation by Dantesque
influences and by the passions of the hour. Such a man must needs move
with the times. Ere long the Papal courtier was the friend and guest
of the French generals, inditing thundering odes against superstition
and fanaticism; soon he held office under the Cisalpine Republic, and
when the Austrians prevailed he fled to Paris. He came back as the
courtier and flatterer of Napoleon; and yet this versatility seems less
the effect of self-interest than of ductility of character, and his
countrymen laughingly talked of the three periods of the _abate_, the
_citizen_, and the _cavalier_ Monti. This sensitiveness was serviceable
to his lyric genius, for he thrilled with the emotion he wished to
express, and in expressing it approved himself a perfect master of
language and metre.

In the interval between Monti’s withdrawal from Rome and the brilliant
position which under the Imperial auspices he acquired at Milan, he
had produced his _Prometheus_, one of the finest examples of Italian
blank verse, but a curious mixture of things ancient and modern;
his _Musologia_, charming octaves on the Muses; _Caius Gracchus_, a
tragedy betraying imitation of Shakespeare’s _Coriolanus_, celebrated
for the force of the fifth act; _Mascheroniana_, a palinode for the
_Bassvilliana_, notwithstanding the art with which the poet manages
to assert his consistency. Disfigured as it is by adulation of
Napoleon and senseless abuse of England[21], this is perhaps Monti’s
finest poem. It is the offspring of a genuine poetic _œstrum_, which
whirls the stuff of a party pamphlet into sublimity, like a rag in a
hurricane. It was never finished. Incomplete too is the _Bard of the
Black Forest_, a poem on Napoleon’s exploits, unequal to the subject,
but remarkable for its concise rapidity of expression. Monti was now
Napoleon’s official laureate for the Italian department, and it is
sufficiently amusing to find him expressing his apprehensions lest
he should be so far carried away by his patriotism as to offend the
reigning powers, and breathing a superfluous prayer for prudence in his
vocation. There was little danger; patriotism, though a genuine, was a
weaker emotion with him than respect for dignities, as he sufficiently
evinced by his obedience to the Austrian mandate to celebrate the
expulsion of the French, although he never abased himself so far as to
assail Napoleon. He lost his office of historiographer, and retiring
into private life, devoted himself mainly to critical and philological
work. He had a short time previously published a translation of the
_Iliad_, commenced in 1790, highly admired by his countrymen, and
certainly a remarkable performance when it is considered that he
scarcely knew a word of Greek; whence Foscolo wittily called him
_gran traduttor dei traduttor d’Omero_. So much more important to
the translator is flexibility of mind than exactness of scholarship.
Monti’s later days, now embittered by controversies and pecuniary
embarrassments, mitigated by the generosity of friends, now brightened
by successful work on his unfinished _Feronia_, a youthful production
in which he had celebrated the draining of the Pontine marshes, or by
the production of some fine lyric, passed on the whole tranquilly until
his death in 1828 from the effects of a paralytic stroke.


The eloquent but unspeculative Monti had nothing to teach but his
almost inimitable art of verbal expression, and hence has founded
no school. His reputation has declined, chiefly from the ephemeral
character of the themes on which his genius was expended, and of which
none but himself could have made so much. He can hardly be called
a great poet, if for no other reason than that his impressionable
imagination wanted tenacity; he tired of his own works, and left the
majority of them incomplete. He is nevertheless a brilliant phenomenon,
the more interesting from the decidedly national stamp of his genius.
He has Southern demonstrativeness and volubility, and kindles like a
meteor by his own flight; when thoroughly fired, whether in epic or
lyric, he is almost an improvisatore. Improvisation in an English poet
would seem a _tour de force_ at best, but it appears natural to the
quick intelligence and musical speech of Italy.

Monti is thus a representative of his nation, and is no less true
to the general spirit of his epoch: classic in aspiration, modern
in sentiment, related to the Greeks much as Canova was related to
Phidias. He was no interpreter of his age, but a faithful mirror of its
successive phases, and endowed with the rare gift of sublimity to a
degree scarcely equalled by any contemporary except Goethe, Byron, and
Shelley. The descriptions in the _Mascheroncide_ of Napoleon’s descent
upon Italy, and of the inundation of the Po, if not perfect models of
taste, are almost Lucretian in their stormy and tumultuous grandeur.
The frequent poverty, or at least shallowness of his thought is veiled
by splendid diction; and in tact and felicity of encomium he recalls
Dryden, whom he so strongly resembles in the character of many of his
compositions, the versatility of his conduct, and the circumstances
of his life. A further analogy may be found in the eminence of both
as critics, Monti’s disquisitions on Dante and the Cruscan vocabulary
constituting as important a portion of his work as Dryden’s prefaces of
his. His dialogues, chiefly between deceased authors and grammarians
recalled from the shades to discuss philological questions, are
charming for their elegance and grace.

UGO FOSCOLO (1778-1827), the second eminent poet of the revolutionary
period, successively Monti’s champion and his adversary, is in most
respects a violent contrast to him. It would have been well had
he been merely his complement. Monti’s pliant character greatly
needed an infusion of vigour and independence; but Foscolo, though a
self-restrained artist in his poems, in his life required the curb as
much as Monti required the spur. Worse, his tempestuous vehemence and
crabbed indocility were no tokens of real strength; he was at bottom
weak and whimsical, the slave of passion, physical and intellectual.
His countrymen, nevertheless, have forgotten his faults and follies
for the sake of his untarnished patriotism, most unjustly suspected in
his own day; he is the first very distinguished modern Italian whose
consistency in this particular is a source of national joy and pride.
Alfieri’s resentment against the French, though sufficiently excusable,
blinded him to the real tendency of his times; other well-meaning men
were either too intimately associated with the temporary makeshift of
the despotic Empire, or too amenable to clerical pressure. Foscolo was
untainted by either influence, and might be deemed not only absolved
but canonised by his countrymen when Garibaldi made a pilgrimage to
his tomb at Chiswick, and when, in 1871, his remains were transferred
to the cemetery at Florence, the inspiration of the most famous of his
poems.

Alike in personal character and the quality of his productions,
Foscolo may be compared with Landor, but with the capital distinction
that Landor was a man of the past, and Foscolo, for all his Greek
erudition and classical enthusiasm, a man of his own time. His romance,
_Jacopo Ortis_ (1798), perhaps the most celebrated of his productions,
is a reminiscence of _Werther_ and a forerunner of _René_, but adds to
the merely personal sorrows of these tragic autobiographies the nobler
motive of despair at the ruin and enslavement of the hero’s country.
Foscolo, though born at Zante, was prouder of his Venetian descent than
of his Greek nativity, and the ignominious end of so glorious a history
as the Republic’s not unnaturally or ignobly drove him to despair. At
the same time he was usually under the spell of some woman; one of
his genuine letters, indeed, written at a much later date, surpasses
his romance in the eloquence of unhappy passion. Both motives combine
to drive Ortis to suicide. Apart from its impressive style, the book
is weak and unwholesome, but it powerfully depicts an unquestionable
tendency of the age, and as such has a right to live, apart from its
influence on Leopardi, George Sand, and other more recent writers of
genius. Foscolo’s melancholy, fretful and egotistic as it is, is not
pessimism; it is not grounded in the nature of things, but is always
remediable by a change in external circumstances.

Unlike the exuberant Monti, Foscolo wrote little poetry, but his
scanty production is of choice quality. His most celebrated poem is
the _Sepolcri_ (1807), which in style and subject bears a remarkable
resemblance to the finest poem America has yet given to the world,
Bryant’s _Thanatopsis_. The American poet has conceived his work in
a larger and grander spirit, and consequently surpasses Foscolo in
the sublimity of his thought, though the latter’s poem is longer and
adorned with episodes, and in merit of execution there may be little to
choose. Bryant dwells on the majesty of death; Foscolo on the reverence
due to the tomb, and the immortality of the memories of the great--a
fine theme undoubtedly, and deserving of the monumental eloquence
with which he has adorned it, but small if measured against Bryant’s.
Foscolo’s other most considerable poetical composition, his _Hymns to
the Graces_, celebrated as the beneficent spirits of Greece, Italy,
and an ideal world, was long but an aggregation of fragments, and was
recovered as a whole only in 1856. The fastidious author could never
satisfy himself, and the result is a production more remarkable for
high polish than warmth of poetic feeling. It is just such a poem as
Landor might have written. Foscolo’s tragedies, _Ajax_ and _Ricciarda_,
are fine compositions in the spirit of Alfieri: the former,
notwithstanding its classical theme, has a relation to contemporary
circumstances, Moreau being depicted as Ajax, and Bonaparte as
Agamemnon. The few minor poems of Foscolo are admirable, full of
weighty lines that imprint themselves on the memory. As a critic he
accomplished more than it will be easy to accomplish after him, coming
just at the moment when Europe, weary of the superficial æsthetics of
the eighteenth century, was anxiously looking for a guide to the spirit
of the past. It is as much by this happy fortune as by their intrinsic
merit that his essays mark an era in the literary history of Dante,
Petrarch, Tasso, and Boccaccio.

Foscolo’s agitated life has afforded matter for many biographers,
but the essential facts lie in narrow compass. Born in Zante of mixed
Venetian and Greek parentage, he early sought Venice, and learned
the secret of literary style from Cesarotti, the translator of
Ossian. The shameful extinction of the Venetian Republic by France
and Austria combined with his own ill-regulated passions to make him
write _Jacopo Ortis_ and talk of imitating his suicidal hero. A spell
of military service, partly at the siege of Genoa, partly in the army
destined for the invasion of England, went far to cure him, and he
spent several years as a man of letters at Milan, translating Homer,
composing his tragedies, and too much engaged in unedifying literary
quarrels for his own dignity or the credit of letters. He showed an
honourable independence in rejecting the bribes offered to induce him
to adulate Napoleon, and, equally spurning the proffered subvention
of the Austrian Government, became an exile at the overthrow of the
Empire. He ultimately took refuge in England, exchanged, he might have
boasted, for Byron. Here he was warmly received in aristocratic as well
as literary circles, and might have performed a distinguished part.
But his extravagance and his irregular habits wore out his friends’
patience, though Mr. Smiles says: “Ugo Foscolo lived to the end of
his life surrounded by all that was luxurious and beautiful.” If so,
Hudson Gurney, who raised his tomb, must have given him bread as well
as a stone. He was also affectionately tended by his natural daughter,
whose mother was an Englishwoman. He died in September 1827. Some of
his best critical work belongs to this last period, and a valuable
correspondence from English friends is understood to be awaiting
publication. His own letters are admirable, full of life and movement.

Little as IPPOLITO PINDEMONTE (1754-1825) resembled Foscolo either
as an author or as a man, their names are frequently associated on
account of Pindemonte’s reply to Foscolo’s _Sepolcri_, a fine poem
breathing the spirit of resignation and tranquillity, for which his
gloomy predecessor had left him abundant scope. Pindemonte’s best
production, however, is his _Antonio Foscarini_, a true tale of unhappy
love, recited with great pathos in elegant octaves. He is a kind of
Italian Cowper, a gentle and amiable valetudinarian. Like Cowper, he
sang country life, and touched the events and the manners of his times
in a strain of soft elegiac melancholy; like Cowper, too, he translated
Homer. He holds no such important position in Italian as Cowper
does in English literature, but represents the large class of his
fellow-citizens who, carrying the spirit of the eighteenth century into
the nineteenth, were rather ornamental than useful to their country.

Monti and Foscolo, with all their genius, could not escape the
influence of their times. In the French and Italian literature of the
Imperial period, and still more in its art, a certain pseudo-classical
affectation is visible. Sublimity and grace are attained indeed, but
there is something mannered about the one, and something fastidious
about the other. The reigning taste required to be brought nearer
to Nature, and the writer who could effect this was sure to mark an
epoch in the literature of his country. The mission was discharged by
ALESSANDRO MANZONI (1785-1873), a man who announces a new departure in
many ways, and whose historical significance, even more than his fine
genius, places him above the still more gifted Leopardi at the head of
the Italian literature of the first half of the nineteenth century.
From one point of view he signalises the invasion of the romantic
spirit. Goethe, Byron, Shakespeare, Scott are more to him than the old
Italian masters. From another, he founds the Neo-Catholic school, and
personifies the revival of the religious spirit in its most gentle and
edifying form. Monti and Foscolo had been sceptics; Manzoni is devout,
while at the same time there is nothing grotesque in his mediævalism,
and he keeps the spheres of religion and politics so apart as to be
able to hail the downfall of the temporal power. Yet, again, he is
a reformer of the language, and the first to form a style equally
acceptable to his cultured and to his unlettered countrymen.

The hero of these various achievements was singularly unlike the usual
type of great renovators and innovators. Such epoch-making personages
rarely want for self-assertion. Manzoni was a gentle, undemonstrative
man, though observant of others and not ignorant of his own worth, and
capable of sarcasm on occasion; a valetudinarian, whose dread of crowds
frequently confined him to his house, who made no display, mounted no
rostrum, and ceased to write at forty. Hence, though _I Promessi Sposi_
is probably more widely known than any Italian book after the _Divina
Commedia_, the author has failed to personally impress the European
imagination, and appears a mere shadow in comparison with Victor Hugo
or even Lamartine, neither of whom, notwithstanding their infinitely
greater productiveness, so profoundly influenced the literature of
their country. Born at Milan, Manzoni was an Austrian subject, and,
though a true patriot, shunned to offend the ruling powers. He led
the life of a respectable Italian gentleman of moderate fortune, at
one time greatly impaired by his father’s extravagance, and basked
for nearly half a century in the tranquil enjoyment of European fame,
which, after the success of _I Promessi Sposi_, he imperilled by no
further venture. “Formerly,” he said in excuse, “the Muse came after
me, now I should have to go after her.” The events of 1848 failed to
draw him from his retirement; when the unity of Italy was accomplished
he accepted public honours, but declined public duties; none criticised
his inaction, for all felt that he had done his best by Italy. His
death at the age of eighty-eight evoked such a unanimity of sentiment
as has perhaps accompanied that of no great author of modern times
except Sir Walter Scott. Goethe had hostile detractors. Settembrini and
the few others who presumed to criticise Manzoni urged their scruples
in a spirit of becoming reverence.

Manzoni’s claim to this universal veneration was three-fold. In
the first place, he was really a great writer; in the second, he
was the standard-bearer of Italian literature, the one contemporary
author of his nation who could be named along with Goethe and Byron;
thirdly and chiefly, he represented the most important intellectual
movement of the post-Napoleonic age, the romantic and mediæval
reaction--a necessity, for justice demanded it. The Middle Age was
indeed no model for the nineteenth century, as the romanticists and
reactionaries thought, but it did possess elements indispensable for
the enrichment of the national life; and although the Italian mind
was probably less in harmony with these than the mind of any other
people, no Italian could forget that the greatest of his countrymen
was also the greatest and most representative writer of the Middle
Ages. It had been one of Monti’s chief merits to have emulated and
revived the style of Dante, to the disgust of Pope Pius VI., who asked
him why on earth he could not write like Metastasio. After the form
came the spirit of the _Divine Comedy_, commended to the nation by
the misfortunes and deceptions which succeeded the fall of Napoleon,
when the exile of Florence appeared more than ever a symbol of his
country. The worshippers of Dante were indeed divided, some seeing in
him the Ghibelline, the enemy of the temporal power no less than of the
foreigner; others, the apostle of mediæval Catholicism. Both views were
right and both wrong, and the choice between them was merely a matter
of temperament, but the latter was the more likely to be propagated by
the air of the time.

The gentle and modest Manzoni obeyed the more potent influence. In
1812 he began to produce his hymns, mostly on the festivals of the
Church, which perhaps suggested Keble’s _Christian Year_. They were
published in 1815, but the finest, that for Whitsunday, is a later
addition. They attracted little attention until the appearance of
his famous ode on the death of Napoleon, _Il Cinque Maggio_, which,
appearing at the right “psychological moment,” at a time when every
man felt almost as an intimate of the great conqueror who had made so
large a portion of his own existence, took Italy and Europe by storm.
The note of personal compassion which pervades it was then in place,
but now that Napoleon’s exploits and disasters are ancient history, and
he is chiefly regarded as a great world-shaker and incarnate elemental
force, we feel the need of a deeper insight and a wider sweep. Even
Manzoni’s fire and eloquence, vivid as they are, scarcely rival
Lamartine’s on the same subject. A patriotic poem of equal power, the
ode on the march of the Piedmontese volunteers to succour the Lombards
in 1821, imaginary as fact, but veracious as prophecy, has suffered
less, or indeed nothing, from the lapse of time, expressing the deepest
feelings of every Italian heart now as then. Though composed in 1821,
it was not so much as written down until 1848, from apprehension of the
Austrian police. No less fine are the lyrics in Manzoni’s tragedies,
the _Carmagnola_ (1820) and the _Adelchi_ (1822).

These dramas themselves mark an epoch in Italian literary history,
not so much from their absolute merit, as from being the first
attempt to adapt Shakespearian methods to the Italian drama. Alfieri
and Monti had adhered to the classical school; Manzoni struck into
a new path, and by so doing revealed a new world to his countrymen,
little as it followed that the old world need be entirely forsaken.
The _Carmagnola_ depicts the condottieri of the fifteenth century,
the _Adelchi_ the Lombards of the eighth. The latter is the more
dramatic, and the two principal characters, Adelchi and Ermengarda,
are depicted with extreme beauty and power. The pieces, however, are
rather dramatic poems than plays, and rise highest where there is most
scope for poetry. Martin the Deacon’s description of his journey in the
_Adelchi_, for instance, so finely translated by Mr. W. D. Howells, is
magnificent, but on a scale disproportioned to the play. The fire and
spirit of the two martial lyrics in the _Carmagnola_ and the _Adelchi_
respectively are marvellous; “their wonderful plunging metre,” it
has been said, “suggests a charge of horses.” That in the _Adelchi_
should alone vindicate Manzoni against the accusation of unpatriotic
lukewarmness. It paints the lot of the Italian people of the eighth
century, transferred by the fortune of war from a Lombard master to a
Frank, who unite to oppress them, and nothing can be more evident than
the contemporary application to Italian, Austrian, and Frenchman. The
following slightly abridged version is by Miss Ellen Clerke:

      _From moss-covered ruin of edifice nameless,
      From forests, from furnaces idle and flameless,
        From furrows bedewed with the sweat of the slave,
      A people dispersed doth arouse and awaken,
      With senses all straining and pulses all shaken,
        At a sound of strange clamour that swells like a wave._

      _In visages pallid, and eyes dim and shrouded,
      As blinks the pale sun through a welkin beclouded,
        The might of their fathers a moment is seen;
      In eye and in countenance doubtfully blending,
      The shame of the present seems dumbly contending
        With pride in the thought of a past that hath been._

      _Now they gather in hope to disperse panic-stricken,
      And in tortuous ways their pace slacken or quicken,
        As, ’twixt longing and fear, they advance or stand still,
      Gazing once and again where, despairing and scattered,
      The host of their tyrants flies broken and shattered
        From the wrath of the swords that are drinking their fill._

      _As wolves that the hunter hath cowed and subjected,
      Their hair on their hides in dire horror erected,
        So these to their covert distractedly fly;
      And hope springs anew in the breast of the peasant;
      O’ertaking the future in joy of the present,
        He deems his chain broken, and broken for aye._

      _Nay, hearken! Yon heroes in victory warring,
      From refuge and rescue the routed debarring,
        By path steep and rugged have come from afar,
      Forsaking the halls of their festive carousing,
      From downy repose on soft couches arousing,
        In haste to obey the shrill summons of war._

      _They have left in their castles their wives broken-hearted,
      Who, striving to part, still refused to be parted,
        With pleadings and warnings that died on the tongue.
      The war-dinted helmet the brow hath surmounted,
      And soon the dark chargers are saddled and mounted,
        And hollow the bridge to their gallop hath rung._

      _From land unto land they have speeded and fleeted,
      With lips that the lay of the soldier repeated,
        But hearts that have harboured their home and its bowers.
      They have watched, they have starved, by grim discipline driven,
      And hauberk and helm have been battered and riven,
        And arrows around them have whistled in showers._

      _And deem ye, poor fools! that the meed and the guerdon
      That lured from afar were to lighten your burden,
        Your wrongs to abolish, your fate to reverse?
      Go! back to the wrecks of your palaces stately,
      To the forges whose glow ye extinguished so lately,
        To the field ye have tilled in the sweat of your curse!_

      _The victor and vanquished, in amity knitted,
      Have doubled the yoke to your shoulders refitted;
        One tyrant had quelled you, and now ye have twain.
      They cast forth the lot for the serf and the cattle,
      They throne on the sods that yet bleed from their battle,
        And the soil and the hind are their servants again._

If Manzoni was surpassed as a dramatist and equalled as a lyrist by
others among his countrymen, he has hitherto found no competitor as
a novelist. _I Promessi Sposi_ (1825) was the first great Italian
romance, and it remains the greatest. It would be difficult to
transcend its capital merits, the beauty and truth of description,
the interest of its leading characters, and its perfect fidelity
to life, if not in every respect to the place and period where and
when the scene is laid--Milan under the dreary Spanish rule of the
seventeenth century--yet to the universal feelings and instincts of
humanity. As a picture of human nature the book is above criticism;
it is just the fact, neither more nor less. “It satisfies us,” said
Goethe, “like perfectly ripe fruit.” It has, notwithstanding, a weak
side, which Goethe did not fail to point out--the prominence of the
historical element, and the dryness with which the writer exhibits his
authorities, instead of dissolving them in the flow of his narrative.
“The German translator,” said Goethe, “must get rid of a great part of
the war and the famine, and two-thirds of the plague.” Other objections
to Manzoni’s romance refer to its real or supposed tendencies, which
leave its artistic merits unaffected. It may be granted that panegyrics
upon Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, however just, were hardly seasonable
when the Pope was the fast ally of the Austrian; and Manzoni did still
worse by his country when (1819) he wrote a treatise on Catholic
Morals, unexceptionable when there should be no more question of the
Temporal Power. But he then cherished generous illusions which he
was ultimately obliged to renounce; though never parting with one of
the leading and most remarkable features of _I Promessi Sposi_, its
sympathy with the poor and lowly. It is a remarkable proof of the
difficulties of style which beset the Italian author, that Manzoni
found it necessary to give his romance a thorough revision to bring its
diction nearer to the Tuscan standard. His other prose works comprise,
the _Column of Infamy_, an historical appendix to _I Promessi Sposi_,
_Letters on Romanticism_, an able polemic on behalf of the romantic
school, and _Letters on the Unities of Time and Place_, demonstrating
that the unity of action is the only unity which need be regarded by
the dramatist.

The success of _I Promessi Sposi_ could not but create a school of
historical novelists in Italy, whose works probably effected more for
the propagation of Italian literature beyond the Alps than those of
any writer except Manzoni himself. The _Marco Visconti_ of Tommaso
Grossi, the _Ettorre Fieramosca_ of Massimo d’Azeglio, the _Margherita
Pusterla_ of Cesare Cantù, are romances of great merit, but, as the
author of one of them exclaims, “How far we are behind Manzoni!”

Little as any anti-national motive can be attributed to the _Adelchi_,
it is true that Manzoni’s patriotism was chiefly evinced in his lyrics,
and that he was not prominent as a patriotic dramatist. This part was
reserved for GIOVANNI BATTISTA NICCOLINI (1782-1861). In times of
trial and distress the measure of service is apt to be the measure of
applause, and popular gratitude may for a time have exalted Niccolini’s
tragedies to a higher level than that due to their strictly literary
desert. They are nevertheless fine productions, and the most patriotic
are usually the best. _Arnaldo di Brescia_, too bold an apotheosis
of the fiery monk who defied the Papacy in the twelfth century to be
printed in Italy for many years after its appearance in France, is
the most poetical, but is neither intended nor adapted for the stage.
Notwithstanding its historical subject, this mighty tragedy, as Mr. W.
D. Howells, the translator of some of its finest passages, not unjustly
terms it, is an idealistic work. The other dramas, taken from history,
and representing such crises in Italian story as the destruction of
Florentine liberty and the Sicilian Vespers, are more compliant with
ordinary dramatic rules; but the most celebrated and successful on the
stage is _Antonio Foscarini_, founded on the same incident in Venetian
history that had afforded the subject of Pindemonte’s poem. Before he
became imbued with the spirit of the romantic school, Niccolini had
acquired great distinction as a classical dramatist, especially by his
_Polissena_ and his _Medea_. His first performance, _Nabucco_ (1816),
idealised the fall of Napoleon in a Babylonian tragedy. Among his plays
is a free translation of Shelley’s _Cenci_, in general excellent,
but remarkable for the entire disfigurement of the opening speech,
no doubt for prudential reasons. At first poor, afterwards in easy
circumstances, Niccolini spent an uneventful life in the service of
the Academy of Florence; his mode of living was sequestered, and his
character stainless.

With all his good-will, Niccolini could deal no such blows at foreign
or domestic oppressors as that which a brother dramatist of greatly
inferior power delivered by the mere record of his sufferings. _Le Mie
Prigioni_ made SILVIO PELLICO (1789-1854) as typical a figure as the
Iron Mask or the Prisoner of Chillon, and won Italy a moral victory
in her darkest day (1832). It is needless to give any particular
account of so famous a book. The candid and innocent author was born
to move mankind by a single story, and to relapse into obscurity after
delivering his message. His dramas and lyrics do not exceed mediocrity,
with the exception of _Francesca da Rimini_ (1818), a tragedy full of
tender feeling, admired by Byron, to whom the version of some scenes in
the _Quarterly Review_ has been attributed. They were, however, in fact
rendered by Milman.

                              FOOTNOTES:

[21] _Impatient to put out the only light Of Liberty that yet remains
on Earth!_

                                              --WORDSWORTH.



                             CHAPTER XXIV
                           THE REGENERATION


That only one of the distinguished writers reviewed in the last
chapter should have given free expression to the Italian craving for
liberty and national unity, may be accounted for in the simplest
possible manner. Foscolo was the only one in exile; the unexpatriated,
writing under a censorship, said not what they would, but what they
could. Apart, nevertheless, from this consideration, it is true that
the national movement was slow in acquiring energy and consistency,
inasmuch as it was not in the first instance an indigenous growth.
The conception of an Italian nation under a single political head had
not been too clearly formulated, even by Petrarch and Machiavelli,
and since the latter’s time had been in great measure the exclusive
possession of the finest minds. As an upbursting bubble may hint at
what is passing in the depths of the sea, so Gernando’s scoff in the
_Gerusalemme Liberata_ at Rinaldo as a native of _la serva Italia_
reveals the hidden workings of Tasso’s spirit, and vindicates him from
the charge of ludicrously servile adulation. Nothing more ridiculous
can be conceived than the poet’s notion that his patron Alphonso might
well lead either the armies or the fleets of Europe in a new crusade if
he was to be no more than a Duke of Ferrara; not so if the headship of
a united and regenerated Italy was to fall to him.

The next generation reposed hopes premature, indeed--yet, as the
far-off event was to show, not irrational--in the house of Savoy; but
as time wore on and material circumstances improved, these patriotic
aspirations waned, and the call for liberty which came from France in
the revolutionary era had to create the sentiment to which it appealed.
Any prospect of such a response seemed destroyed by the behaviour of
the French propaganda itself--its infamous betrayal of the Venetian
Republic, its exactions from private fortunes, pillages from public
treasuries, and wholesale robbery of Italian works of art. Yet by an
extraordinary turn of events the chief perpetrator of these iniquities,
himself an Italian, became most undesignedly on his own part the father
of Italian unity and freedom. By crowning himself King of Italy,
Napoleon Bonaparte gave her a national existence. After a few years of
his rule the inhabitants of the peninsula could not but perceive that
the visions of their seers and the aspirations of their statesmen had
in great measure come to pass.

Notwithstanding the existence of some nominally independent
principalities, for the first time since Theodoric the Italians of the
North at all events actually were Italians--not Lombards, or Tuscans,
or Piedmontese. They were indeed ruled by a despot; but to this, with
the practical instinct of their race, the Italians submitted in the
prevision that Napoleon’s empire must be dissolved by his death, and
the hope that the national unity would survive it and him. Such might
well have been the case had his authority been peacefully transmitted
to a successor; but the circumstances of his downfall inevitably
brought back the Austrians and the exiled princes, to reign no longer
over a contented or an indifferent people, but over one which had taken
the idea of national unity to its heart. The effect on literature is
illustrated by a passage in one of Byron’s letters from Italy: “They
talk Dante, write Dante, and think and dream Dante to an extent that
would be ridiculous but that he deserves it.” It was not so much the
recognition of Dante’s literary desert which occasioned this reaction
from eighteenth-century neglect, as the incarnation of the sufferings
and the genius of his country in his person.

A generation thus nurtured on Dante, and on Dante studied from such
a point of view, could not but grow up serious and patriotic. Nor
were other literary influences wanting. The fourth canto of _Childe
Harold_, and even more Madame de Staël’s _Corinne_, contrasted in the
most forcible manner the past artistic and intellectual glories with
the actual political degradation, and showed Italy how far she had
fallen, but also how high she might hope to reascend. Such influences
imbued the youthful generation with a more impassioned and enthusiastic
character than its fathers. The new aspirations embodied themselves
most distinctly in three men--Mazzini, type of physical resistance
to oppression; Giusti, of relentless opposition in the intellectual
sphere; Leopardi, of the passive protest of martyrdom. In him, as by an
emblem, the beauty and the anguish of the suffering country are shown
forth, and on this account no less than from the superiority of his
literary genius, though no active insurgent against the established
order of things, he claims the first place in his hapless but glorious
generation.

The tragical yet uneventful life of GIACOMO LEOPARDI was little else
than ardent cultivation of the spirit and constant struggle with the
infirmities of the body. Born in 1798 at Recanati, a small dull town
near Rimini, the son of a learned and high-minded, but unfortunately
bigoted and retrograde Italian nobleman, of anti-national politics and
antiquarian tastes, whose embarrassed circumstances and incapacity for
business had induced him to assign his property to a practical but
parsimonious wife, Leopardi solaced the forlornness of existence in a
spiritual desert by intense study, favoured by his father’s extensive
library, in which he immured himself to a degree propitious to neither
bodily nor mental health. So extraordinary were his powers that at
nineteen, besides many excellent _bonâ fide_ translations, he produced
imaginary versions of lost Greek authors which deceived accomplished
classical scholars. But the maladies from which he was to suffer all
his life had already made progress; he could follow no profession, and
was entirely dependent upon well-intentioned but uncongenial parents,
whose dread of the liberal and free-thinking opinions he had imbibed,
chiefly from correspondence with Pietro Giordani, induced them to
imprison him at home.

Though solaced by the affection of his brother Carlo and his sister
Paolina, Leopardi’s position was most uncomfortable, and the chief
external events of his history for many years are his temporary escapes
and his enforced returns. He sought refuge successively at Rome,
Bologna, and Florence, meeting with friends everywhere, especially at
Rome, where he won the esteem and excited the wonder of Niebuhr and
Bunsen. His craving for deeper sympathy twice involved him in love
affairs, both fruitful in humiliation and disappointment. Nothing else,
indeed, could be expected for the suit of the pallid, deformed youth,
whose blood barely circulated, whose indigestion almost deprived him
of nourishment, whose feeble limbs bent beneath the weight of a body
even so attenuated, and whose heart and lungs scarcely discharged
their office. All active life seemed concentrated in his brain, which
throve and energised at the expense of every other organ. He executed
some work for the booksellers, especially his condensed but invaluable
comment on Petrarch, and from time to time gave expression to some
slowly-maturing thought, in literary form meet for immortality, but
unvalued and unrecompensed by his contemporaries.

Neither Leopardi’s patriotic sentiments nor his speculative opinions
could be disclosed under the pressure of Austrian and Bourbon
despotism; the King of Sardinia had not yet declared himself on the
side of liberty, and there was literally no spot in Italy where an
Italian could write what he thought. Emigration to France or England
would have been forbidden by his parents, upon whom he was entirely
dependent. At length, in September 1833, he was able to establish
himself at Naples, where for a time his health and spirits seemed
marvellously improved; but from the summer of 1836 these retrograded,
and he succumbed to a sudden aggravation of the dropsy which had long
threatened him, on June 14, 1837. His unpublished philological writings
were bequeathed to a Swiss friend, Professor de Sinner, who neglected
his trust. The MSS., however, were bought from his heirs by the Italian
Government, and have been partially published. Leopardi’s other works
were faithfully edited by Antonio Ranieri, a friend whose devoted
kindness to him during his life renders it utterly incomprehensible
how he should have sought to blacken his memory after his death by
the publication of a number of painful and humiliating circumstances,
which, if they had been facts, should have been consigned to oblivion,
but which Dr. Franco Ridella has shown to be mere invention.

While he still posed as Leopardi’s Pythias, Ranieri summed up his
friend’s titles to renown as, “first a great philologer, next a great
poet, at the last a great philosopher.” Great poet he unquestionably
was; his refined classical scholarship might have earned him the
distinction of a great philologer in a sense disused since comparative
philology has taken rank among the exact sciences; if he was a great
philosopher, so Voltaire and Lucian must be esteemed. The keen
sensibility to pain which dominated his mental constitution was as
little associated with any constructive faculty or capacity for
systematic thought as was their hatred of pretence and perception of
the ludicrous; but while their endowments were brilliantly serviceable
to mankind, Leopardi’s moral pathology, if it had any potency at all,
could operate only for ill. Mischievous attempts have indeed been made
to accredit the pessimism of our times by exalting the cries wrung by
anguish from a wretched invalid into the last and ripest fruit of the
tree of knowledge. Whatever may be the case in Oriental countries,
there has seldom been a pessimist in the West without some moral or
physical malady which ought to have withheld him from assuming the
part of an instructor of mankind; but Leopardi’s pessimism is not only
morbid, but unmanly. The stress which he lays upon merely physical
evils, such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, would have moved
the contempt of an ancient sage of any sect; and the contemporary of
so many martyrs for their country admits no spring of human action
but naked egotism. The grandeur and beauty of material nature, the
sublime creations of man’s spirit, the teeming harvest of human virtues
and affections, the tranquillising recognition of eternal order and
controlling law, the marvellous course of the world’s history, when
not ignored, are treated as the mere mockery and aggravation of the
entirely imaginary background of blackness--a shining leprosy upon
a hideous countenance. And yet the real nature of the man was quite
different; his pessimism and egotism are simply the product of bodily
suffering, of the wounded self-esteem and disappointed affections
which followed in its train, and of the absence of any outlet for his
surpassing intellectual powers.

It was a cruel injury to Italy that her greatest modern genius should
have done so little for her regeneration, and that his writings,
instead of inspiring a healthy public spirit, should rather tend to
foster the selfish indifference and the despair of good which continue
to be her principal bane. In two points of view, nevertheless, Leopardi
rendered his country essential service. His sufferings, and the moral
infirmities which they entailed, enabled him to represent in his own
person, as no soundly-constituted man could have done, the unhappy
Italy of his day. He seemed the living symbol of a country naturally
favoured beyond all others, but racked and dismembered by foreign and
domestic tyrants, the counterparts in the body politic of the maladies
which crippled Leopardi’s energies, and distorted his views of man and
nature. At the same time the transcendent excellence of his scanty
literary performances raised Italian literature to a height which,
Alfieri and Monti notwithstanding, it had not attained since Tasso, and
in the midst of an epoch of servitude and subjugation gave Italians at
least one thing of which they might justly be proud.

The bulk of Leopardi’s writings, indeed, is diminutive, and the
range of his ideas narrow; but within these limits he has approached
absolute perfection more closely, not only than any other Italian, but
than any modern writer. He is one of that small and remarkable class
of men who have arisen here and there in recent Europe to reproduce
each some peculiar aspect of the ancient Greek genius. As Shelley is a
Greek by his pantheism, Keats by his feeling for nature, Platen by the
architectonic of his verse, so is Leopardi by his impeccability. All
the best Greek productions, whether of poetic or of plastic art, have
this character of inevitableness: they can neither be better nor other
than they are. It is not the same in romantic poetry. Shakespeare no
doubt always chose the best path, but he always seems to have had the
choice among a thousand. In almost everything of Leopardi’s, whether
verse or prose, form and thought appear indissolubly interfused without
the possibility of disjunction. This is eminently the case with his
poems, perfect examples of lofty and sustained eloquence entirely
uncontaminated by rhetoric. There are few thoughts which strike by
their novelty, few elaborated similes, few phrases which stand forth
in isolation from the environing text. All seems of a piece; but the
words chosen are invariably the most apt to express the idea sought
to be conveyed, and the stream of sentiment is as pellucid as it is
impetuous. The same mastery is evinced in the descriptive passages,
which never appear to exist for their own sakes, but as depicting
the inner feeling of the poem by a visible symbol. Be the subject
small or great, from the disappearance of a vast landscape at the
setting of the moon, or the terrified peasant listening sleeplessly
to the roar of Vesuvius, down to the rain pattering at the poet’s
window, or the rattle of the carriage resuming its journey after the
storm, these descriptions impress by their perfect adequacy and their
complete fusion of speech and thought, and it can only be objected
to them that they are finer than the moralities they usher in. So
wrote the Greeks, and the recovery of an apparently lost type makes
amends for the monotony of Leopardi’s dismal message to mankind and
the extreme limitation of his range of thought. In his later days his
horizon seemed to expand; his serio-comic _Paralipomeni_, already
noticed with other examples of its class, displays an unexpected
versatility, and his last ode, _La Ginestra_, inspired by the hardy
and humble broom-plant flourishing on the brink of the lava-fields of
Vesuvius, is more original in conception and ampler in sweep than any
of its predecessors. It somewhat resembles Shelley’s _Mont Blanc_;
as Shelley’s _Triumph of Life_, with equal unconsciousness on the
author’s part, approximates to Leopardi’s first important poem, the
_Appressamento alla Morte_. They had here a common model in Petrarch.

Leopardi’s poems, though the majority are in blank verse, may
generally be defined as canzoni, either odes in the strict sense of the
term, addresses to friends, impassioned outpourings of lonely thought
akin to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” or apostrophes to inanimate
objects, such as the moon, the natural friend of the melancholy poet,
or the Vesuvian broom-plant, already mentioned. A few pieces, such as
_Il Primo Amore_, _Il Risorgimento_, are autobiographical; in these
Leopardi usually adopts _terza rima_ or the ordinary rhymed metres.
Personal as these pieces are in subject, they are not really more
subjective than the rest. Leopardi is entirely devoid of inventive
power: the wandering shepherd of Asia, mouthpiece for one of his
finest poems, is the author in everything but costume. Three of the
most celebrated odes, _To Italy_, _On the Florentine Monument to
Dante_, and _To Angelo Mai on the Recovery of Cicero De Republica_,
may be styled patriotic; but although the love of Italy is clearly and
eloquently expressed, the scorn of her actual condition, the fault of
no one then breathing, is so bitter and contumelious that the effect
is anything but Tyrtæan. These are nevertheless masterpieces of noble
diction, and little short of miraculous for the age of twenty, at which
they were produced. It is perhaps a defect that lines are frequently
left unrhymed, and that the ear is thus defrauded of an anticipated
satisfaction.

Leopardi’s blank verse is the finest in Italian literature. If it has
neither the “wood-note wild” of Shakespeare’s sweetest passages, nor
the voluminous harmony of Milton’s organ-music, nor the dainty artifice
of Tennyson, it is fully on a par with the finest metrical performances
of Shelley and Coleridge; and perhaps the English reader could hardly
obtain a better idea of it than by imagining a blending of the manner
of Coleridge’s idylls with that of Shelley’s _Alastor_. It admits of
translation into English; while an adequate rendering of the strictly
lyrical poems, so smooth and yet so muscular, like the marble statue of
an athlete, would be an achievement of very great difficulty. Perhaps
the following little piece may convey some idea of Leopardi’s manner in
blank verse. Few are the poems in which a mere triviality has been made
the occasion of a meditation so sublime:

      _Dear to me ever was this lonely hill,
      And this low hedge, whose potent littleness
      Forbids the vast horizon to the eye.
      For, as I sit and muse, my fancy frames
      Interminable space beyond its bound,
      And silence more than human, and secure
      Unutterable and unending rest,
      Where even the heart hath peace. And as I hear
      The faint wind’s breath among the trees, my mind
      Compares these lispings with the infinite hush
      Of that invisible distance, and the dead
      And unborn hours of dim eternity
      With this hour and its voices. Thus my thought
      Gulfing infinity doth swallow up;
      And sweet to me is shipwreck in this sea._

Leopardi’s prose works, his correspondence and philological essays
excepted, are, like his poetry, limited in extent and in range of
subject, but incomparable for refinement and beauty of form. He deemed
a perfect prose more beautiful and more difficult of achievement than
poetry of like rank, and related to it as the undraped figure to the
figure clothed. The most remarkable of his prose writings are the
Dialogues, which almost all turn upon the everlasting theme of the
misery of mankind, varied in the exposition with a grace and fanciful
ingenuity recalling the little apologues in Turgenev’s _Senilia_. In
one, Mercury and Atlas play at ball with the earth, become light as
tinder by internal decay and the extinction of life; in another, the
earth and the moon compare notes on the infelicity of their respective
inhabitants; in another, Momus and Prometheus descend to earth to
investigate the success of the latter’s philanthropic inventions, which
have answered Momus’s expectations better than his; in another, Tasso’s
familiar genius promises to make him happy in the only possible manner,
by a pleasing dream. Comparison is continually suggested with two
great writers, Lucian and Pascal, and Leopardi sustains it worthily.
Inferior to Lucian in racy humour, to Pascal in keenness of sarcasm,
he surpasses both in virtue of the poetical endowment which nature had
utterly denied to them. In form he comes nearest to Lucian, in spirit
to Pascal. Lucian, a healthy four-square man, robust in common-sense,
little given to introspection and untroubled by sensitiveness, is
constitutionally very unlike Leopardi; but it might be difficult to
establish a closer parallel than between the Italian and the French
recluse; both very sparing but very choice writers; exquisite scholars
in classics and mathematics respectively; both hopeless pessimists
because hopeless invalids; the keenest and most polished intellects of
their time, and yet further astray on the most momentous subjects than
many a man “whose talk is of bullocks.” Leopardi has the advantage in
so far that his scorn of man never degenerates into misanthropy, and
his negation is better than Pascal’s superstition.

Leopardi’s strictly ethical writings (_Storia del Genere Umano_;
_Parini_, or _On Glory_; _Bruto Minore_; _Filippo Ottonieri_) are
necessarily devoid of imaginative form, and hence want the peculiar
charm of his Dialogues, but are not inferior in classical finish.
They bring out a more serious defect of his thought than even his
pessimism--his ultra-hedonism in definition of happiness as a
succession of momentary pleasurable emotions, each to be enjoyed as
something complete in itself without reference to antecedents or
consequences. This theory, said to have originated with Aristippus of
Cyrene, is precisely that put forth by Walter Pater at the beginning
of his career, but afterwards virtually retracted. There is one human
condition, and but one, which it actually does suit, and that is
Leopardi’s own--the condition of the chronic invalid. To the sufferer
whose life is a continual physical agony, the brief intervals of ease
actually are the utmost bliss he is capable of conceiving, and he may
well be forgiven if he makes a succession of such thrills of pleasure
the ideal of life. From any other point of view this hedonism is the
doctrine of a voluptuary, which Leopardi assuredly was not. His mode
of thought, nevertheless, increased his infelicity by depriving him
of solace from the anticipation of posthumous fame, for which, as
no ingenuity could prove it a pleasurable sensation, his hedonistic
materialism left no place. With his low estimate of men, he could
repose little hope in their justice; nor, though perfectly aware of
the supreme literary excellence of his own writings, could he feel
the assurance of their immortality which is only possible to him who
regards the universe as incarnate Reason. His verdict upon himself and
them, widely at variance with the truth, but logical from his own point
of view, is pathetically summed up in his epitaph on the imaginary
Filippo Ottonieri, his own ideal portrait: “_Here lies Filippo
Ottonieri, born for renown and virtuous deeds; who lived without profit
and died without fame; ignorant neither of his nature nor of his
fortune._”

Many of Leopardi’s detached meditations and aphorisms evince great
subtlety and accuracy of observation, distorted by his persistent
determination to think ill of the human race as a whole, while amicably
and often affectionately disposed towards its individual members. His
philological writings are those of an accomplished scholar, but their
themes are generally of minor importance. His letters are frequently
most pathetic in their references to his wretched situation, which
alone can excuse the frequent insincerity of those addressed to his
father. On the whole, his faults and his virtues are such as to render
him the most lively representation of the Italy of his day, superior to
the Italy of a past age in so far as awakened to a consciousness of her
abject condition, but not yet nerved to struggle for her redemption.

While Leopardi, although at heart a patriot, was virtually proclaiming
patriotism a phantom, a poet of a very different cast was assailing
abuses and preparing a better day by dint of humorous indignation and
sturdy hopefulness. The Italy of the time stands between Leopardi
and GIUSEPPE GIUSTI (1809-50) like Garrick between tragedy and
comedy. Giusti’s gifts were less sublime than Leopardi’s, but not
less original. What Leopardi was to the Italian language in its most
classical form, Giusti was to the peculiar niceties of the most
idiomatic Tuscan. What Leopardi was to the most elevated description
of poetry, Giusti was to political satire. Indeed he was more, for
Leopardi merely carried recognised form to more consummate perfection,
while Giusti’s style was actually created by him. Rich as Italy had
been in most kinds of humorous and burlesque poetry, she had achieved
little in political satire for very evident reasons. Campanella
and Alfieri had verged upon it; and Casti’s _Animali Parlanti_ and
Leopardi’s _Paralipomeni_ may, from one point of view, be regarded as
political satires, though rather belonging to the mock-heroic epic.
But no political satirist had yet reached the heart of the people,
partly because few had the courage to make the attempt, partly because
metrical satire was as yet restricted to refined and artificial forms.
The gallantry with which Giusti, living under the absolute government
of Tuscany, itself wholly subservient to Austria, launched shaft
after shaft against the oppressors of his country, is paralleled by
the boldness of the literary innovation he made in discarding the
time-honoured forms of blank verse and _terza rima_, and conveying
satire in easy and familiar lyric.

Giusti has been compared to Béranger, but certainly falls short of the
Frenchman as a master of song, while he has more of the sacred fire
of poetical indignation. The Anacreontic side of Béranger’s genius
has no counterpart in him. As a master of idiomatic Tuscan he stands
alone; but his poems require a glossary, and what helps his fame with
his countrymen hinders it with foreigners. His satires are sometimes
called forth by the occurrences of the day, but are more frequently
directed at some persistent evil or misfortune of the country; and
although the expulsion of the foreigner and his vassals is the idea
most commonly in the background, not a few of the best pieces treat of
the defects of the Italian people itself, the frivolity of some classes
of society, the ignorance and superstition of others, and not least the
pretentious emptiness of much modern liberalism. The general tone of
Giusti’s compositions is easy and humorous; but under the impulse of
emotion he is capable of rising into high poetry, as in the description
of the corruption of Florentine society in his _Gingillino_, or in the
palinode to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, when (October 1847) the poet for
a moment believed that Leopold was about to pursue a liberal course.

Giusti would have found it difficult to reconcile this attitude
with the aspirations for the unity of Italy which he had expressed
in his _Stivale_ in 1836, but it soon appeared that Leopold’s
constitutionalism was of a piece with the monastic inclinations
attributed to invalid devils, and Giusti went back into opposition,
more annoyed and dispirited by the follies and vagaries of his own
party than by the iniquities of the enemy. The French Revolution
of February 1848 gave the upper hand to the Tuscan liberals, who
had superabundantly manifested their incapacity ere, in March 1849,
the fate of Tuscany was decided on the battlefield of Novara. The
heart-broken poet, already suffering from grievous illness, could
not survive until the better day, dying on 31st March 1850. _Chi
dura vince._ His profession had been that of an advocate, and, until
his last days, his life was uneventful except for an unfortunate
attachment. It certainly speaks for the lenity of the Tuscan Government
that he should not have spent much of it in prison, for his satires
from 1833 to 1847 circulated widely in manuscript, and some were
printed in Switzerland in his lifetime. They must suffer with posterity
for their general relation to temporary circumstances; but Giusti will
ever retain the honour of having been the first to apply ordinary
Italian speech to the poetical expression of new ideas and new needs,
thus enlarging the domain both of language and of literature.

The best English translations from Giusti are the brilliant renderings
by Mr. W. D. Howells, especially that of the striking poem of _St.
Ambrose_, where an Italian is represented as moved to sympathy with the
Austrian soldiers by the beauty of

      _A German anthem that to heaven went
        On unseen wings, up from the holy fane;
      It was a prayer, and seemed like a lament,
        Of such a pensive, grave, pathetic strain,
      That in my soul it never shall be spent;
        And how such heavenly harmony in the brain
      Of those thick-skulled barbarians should dwell,
      I must confess it passes me to tell._

      _In that sad hymn I felt the bitter sweet
        Of the songs heard in childhood, which the soul
      Learns from beloved voices, to repeat
        To its own anguish in the days of dole:
      A thought of the dear mother, a regret,
        A longing for repose and love--the whole
      Anguish of distant exile seemed to run
      Over my heart and leave it all undone._

      _When the strain ceased, it left me pondering
        Tenderer thoughts, and stronger and more clear;
      These men, I mused, the self-same despot king
        Who rules on Slavic and Italian fear,
      Tears from their homes and arms that round them cling,
        And drives them slaves thence, to keep as slaves here;
      From their familiar fields afar they pass,
      Like herds to winter in some strange morass._

      _Poor souls! far off from all that they hold dear,
        And in a land that hates them! Who shall say
      That at the bottom of their hearts they bear
        Love for our tyrant? I should like to lay
      They’ve our hate for him in their pockets! Here,
        But that I turned in haste and broke away,
      I should have kissed a corporal, stiff and tall,
      And like a scarecrow stuck against the wall._

Affinities with Browning may be observed in these stanzas, and Browning
meets Giusti half-way in _Up at a Villa--Down in the City_.

Another popular poet claims a high and exceptional place in Italian
letters, not so much from his poetical gift as from his vivid and
uncompromising realism. The peculiar domain of GIOACCHINO BELLI
(1791-1863) is the populace of Rome, whose humours, joys, and tragedies
he has made his own. He has indeed competitors, but, as his editor
Morandi observes, these are but as rivers to the sea in comparison with
the fabulous opulence of Belli, who has depicted the life around him in
more than two thousand sonnets, each in its way a little masterpiece.
Almost all represent some scene in the life of the people, observed
in his daily ramble, and versified upon his return home. For spirit
and truth to nature most of them are almost comparable to Theocritus’s
portrait of Praxinoe, and there is probably not another instance in the
world of the life of a great city so perfectly delineated in verse,
or of such an enormous collection of sonnets of so high an average of
merit. The drawback to their general enjoyment is their inevitable
composition in the Roman dialect, lively, coloured, and full of comic
phrases, but uncouth and corrupt. Another important division of Belli’s
work is the political sonnet, full of mordant satire on the abuses of
the Papal government under Gregory XVI., not the less veracious because
the author wished to recall it when the Catholic in him ultimately
overcame the Liberal.

The patriotic work of Giusti and of Belli was thus in a measure
local; one took charge of Tuscany, and the other of Rome. Another
distinguished man took all Italy (the impossible kingdom of the Two
Sicilies excepted) for his province, and deserves to be enumerated
among the more eminent Italian writers of the nineteenth century who
have powerfully contributed to the regeneration of their country.
PIETRO GIORDANI (1774-1848) is nevertheless not a great author, and
perhaps his highly interesting correspondence is the only portion of
his writings which will retain a permanent value. But he was almost
the mainspring of the literary movement of his time. Italian authors
resorted to him for ideas, as English authors resorted to Samuel Rogers
for breakfasts, and neither went empty away. But for him Leopardi might
have wasted his life on classical philology and verbal criticism; he
helped Manzoni and Giusti to their fame; he lived familiarly with
Niccolini, Capponi, and Colletta, and was the intimate friend of
Monti and Canova. The first forty years of his life, spent in various
official employments, had been troubled and needy, but he ultimately
inherited a fortune, and during the Thirty Years’ Peace his activity
incessantly pervaded Italian letters like an unseen sap, save when he
came forward to promote a savings-bank or an infant-school, or got
himself expelled from the territories of some petty prince. His style
is highly finished and polished, but is the chief recommendation of his
writings, the epistolary excepted.

Finally, among the more distinguished authors of the period who
systematically laboured for the deliverance and regeneration of their
country must be named two most illustrious men, both called upon to
deal with practical affairs, yet chiefly efficacious through their
writings, VINCENZO GIOBERTI and GIUSEPPE MAZZINI. Both were subjects of
the King of Sardinia--Gioberti a royal chaplain at Turin; Mazzini a man
of letters at Genoa writing essays in defence of the romantic school.
Both were incarcerated and banished--Gioberti through the animosity of
the Jesuits, Mazzini as a Carbonaro. Gioberti betook himself to France,
Mazzini to England. Gioberti soon obtained an European reputation by
his philosophical writings, but does not appear to have materially
influenced French opinion in favour of his country. Mazzini, on the
other hand, produced great effects by his mission to England, where the
“swift, yet still, Ligurian figure; merciful and fierce; true as steel,
the word and thought of him limpid as water” (Carlyle),[22] fascinated
the best men and women, and made the emancipation of Italy a cause
dear to the heart of the people. On the other hand, he misused the
liberality of his friends by promoting a number of petty revolts and
foolish expeditions which commonly ended in the destruction of all who
participated in them.

Gioberti accomplished infinitely more for the national cause by his
great book, _Il Primato d’Italia_ (1845), which dissuaded Italy from
abortive conspiracies, and preached spiritual as a preparation for
political unity. It also, by its own merits and the reputation which
the author had already gained as a thinker, compelled men of intellect
to look into her case. Unfortunately, Gioberti had not grasped the
necessity of absolute administrative concentration, and advocated
confederacy among the various Italian states; an idea irreconcilable
with that of unity, and moreover utterly impracticable on account of
the centrifugalism of the sovereigns concerned. This made it possible
for Gioberti, when at length he had himself become minister at Turin,
to propose that Piedmont should anticipate the inevitable restoration
of the sovereigns of Central Italy by Austria or France by restoring
them herself; a step which would have ruined the house of Savoy in
public opinion, and consequently have destroyed all hope of an united
Italy. Gioberti soon retired to Paris, where he died suddenly in 1852,
just as a new chapter of events was opening, in which, taught by
experience, he would probably have performed a more efficient part.

It would have been well for the political, though not the literary
reputation of Mazzini if he had died about the same time in the good
odour of the courage and capacity he had shown in the defence of Rome
against the French. Although he had a great advantage over Gioberti
in his perception of the need of national unity, he was unable to
conceive of this otherwise than under Republican forms. He was hence
almost as ready to thwart the Piedmontese as to expel the Austrian;
he opposed every practical scheme for the redemption of Italy, from
the Crimean expedition downwards; and his public career down to his
death in 1872 is a series of lamentable mistakes. He could not see
that his mission was performed when he had once breathed life into the
dry bones, and he had no appreciation of the practical genius of a man
like Cavour, fully as indispensable to the common cause as his own
ideal enthusiasm. Happily there was another and more extensive field
in which this enthusiasm was perfectly in place. Mazzini was much more
than a conspirator, more even than a patriot. As a man of letters,
he concerned himself with German, English, and Slavonic literature,
and opened up new horizons to Italian thought. Polish literature was
especially congenial to him, for at that period its inspiration came
from worlds beyond mortal ken, and Mazzini, recoiling from the prosaic
common-sense of the eighteenth century, possessed the vein of mysticism
common to contemporaries otherwise so dissimilar as Lamennais, Balzac,
George Sand, Newman, Mickiewicz. This gave a singular elevation to his
ethical thought. A severe thinker, he meditated much on human rights
and human duties, and assigned precedence to the latter. “Think less
of your rights and more of your duties” is the burden of much ethical
admonition addressed, especially during his later years, to the
working classes, and containing some of the noblest and most dignified
teaching to be found in the world. Mazzini had little sympathy with
some of the more recent developments of democracy; his life had been
one of disinterested privation for great ends, and he thought little,
perhaps too little, of merely material ameliorations. His mysticism,
his austere magnanimity, and his deeply religious feeling find their
most perfect expression in his noble epistle to the members of the
Œcumenical Council of 1869, which, along with President Lincoln’s
oration on the battlefield of Gettysburg, crowns the public eloquence
of our time; nor needs the age which has produced two such deliverances
to envy in this respect the age of Pericles.

Time has worked and is working for Mazzini; the fanaticism and unreason
of one side of his character, having produced no permanent ill effect,
fall more and more into oblivion, or are recognised as the necessary
conditions of his unique gifts. His failings were the failings of
a prophet: little as he was qualified to guide the movement he had
evoked, none but such an one as he could have brought about the
national resurrection truly described by Mr. Swinburne in the poem
where he as truly hails in Mazzini the third Italian prophet after
Dante and Michael Angelo:

      _And the third prophet standing by her grave,
        Stretched forth his hand and touched her, and her eyes
        Opened as sudden suns in heaven might rise,
      And her soul caught from his the faith to save:
      Faith above creeds, faith beyond records, born
      Of the pure, naked, fruitful, awful morn._

There is an ancient story of a princess carried off by a dragon and
confined on a desert island in the most remote recesses of the ocean,
who owed her deliverance to the joint exertions of three most eminent
brothers, none of whom could have accomplished anything without the
other two. One, an astrologer, discovered the place of her captivity;
the second, a mechanician, made a winged horse; upon which the third, a
soldier, proceeded to the spot and slew the dragon. In the liberation
of Italy the part of the astrologer fell to Mazzini, that of the
mechanician to Cavour, and that of the soldier to Garibaldi.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[22] There is a lively portrait of him in Ruffini’s _Lorenzo Benoni_,
where he is introduced as “Fantasio.”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                 THE NINETEENTH CENTURY--MIDDLE PERIOD


Literature, as a rule, must ever be on the side of liberty, for one
conclusive reason among others--that liberty is the life of literature.
Hence every man of letters is instinctively a partisan of freedom; and
even should his political or religious opinions drive him to support
a tyranny by which these are protected, or should he be willing to
acquiesce in a despotism which maintains peace and encourages art, he
must yet disapprove of restraint upon his own productiveness, and this
inevitable concession implies all the rest. Poetry--and the remark may
in its measure be extended to every department of intellectual labour
implying creation or even construction--has been well said to represent
the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds, a virtue
and felicity to be understood as referring solely to the intellectual
sphere. That is, there is no activity so pleasurable as production, or,
by consequence, anything so intolerable as restraint.

The history of European literature for the half-century following the
fall of Napoleon is, therefore, in the main, that of a force enlisted
to contend with the Governments and the various sinister interests
which strove to ignore the Revolution and restore the state of
affairs which had existed in the eighteenth century. Many illustrious
authors, no doubt, especially in England, more or less favoured this
tendency, but their literary practice was commonly inconsistent with
their political principles. Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey,
Chateaubriand, might be reactionary as politicians, but in the literary
sphere they were innovators and iconoclasts. The study of their
writings could not but engender a habit of mind entirely inconsistent
with the deference to authority required for the perpetuation of the
ancient régime in State and Church. No man, for example, more sincerely
deplored the tendencies of his times than Niebuhr, but he should have
thought of them before he meddled with the history of Rome. By proving
its legendary character, he had done more to unsettle allegiance to
tradition than could have been accomplished by the wit and malice of a
hundred Heines. We are thus justified in regarding the literature of
the nineteenth century as in the main a great liberating force, and in
the long-run favourable to sound conservatism also, since it aimed at
procuring that liberty for the human spirit without which renovation
was as impossible as demolition.

If there was any country in Europe where literature might be expected
to be unequivocally on the side of Liberty, it was Italy; for Italy
alone had to reckon with foreign as well as domestic oppressors. In
fact, the general tendency of Italian literature during the period
under review is more uniformly liberal than that of any other; but
at the same time its expression is more restrained than that of any
other, for the conclusive reason that an Italian writer could only
obtain liberty of speech at the price of exile. Love of country is,
nevertheless, the dominant thought, which colours it throughout as the
soil colours the flower. The men of greatest genius and most prominent
association with the national movement have been treated of in previous
chapters, but the host of distinguished if less illustrious authors who
must be briefly reviewed in this, was not less animated with patriotic
feeling, and this pervading spirit imparts to the Italian literature of
the period unity and dignity, and entitles it to a higher place in the
general history of literature than could have been procured for it by
the mere ability of its representatives.

One apparent exception to this generally liberal and patriotic tendency
is not really an exception. The New Catholic reaction which was a
necessary consequence of the Revolution, whatever it may have been
among the priesthood and the less cultivated classes, was neither
illiberal nor unpatriotic among men of letters. Many of the most
eminent of these were fervent Catholics, and as such felt themselves in
a strait between the claims of religion and of country. As the head of
the Church, the Pope was entitled to the profoundest veneration, but
as temporal prince, he was as much supported by Austrian bayonets as
any of the rest. Could he be promoted from this undignified position to
that of spiritual King of Italy by the union of all Italian states into
a confederacy under his auspices? This project, if Utopian, was yet
natural, generous, and in no respect inconsistent with true patriotic
feeling. It broke down from the demonstration furnished by the course
of events of the incompatibility of Italian confederacy with Italian
unity, but, by the exertions of its opponents, no less than those of
its supporters, it left deep traces upon literature.

This idea was the especial property of Vincenzo Gioberti, already
mentioned among the men to whom Italian regeneration owes most.
Its very fallacy was a powerful aid to the popular cause, for it
conciliated many who would have shrunk from openly assailing the
Pope’s secular authority, while at the same time it was not so
obviously unsound as to be incapable of being maintained in good
faith until refuted by the course of events. Although, nevertheless,
Gioberti’s essay on Italy’s spiritual and intellectual primacy is
the most important of his works, it almost disappears in the mass of
the remainder, treating for the most part of religion, or of moral
or speculative philosophy. Among them was a violent attack on the
writings of the most eminent Italian philosopher of the age, ANTONIO
ROSMINI-SERBATI (1797-1855), who in turn accused Gioberti of pantheism.
The great purpose of Rosmini’s philosophy may be defined to be the
perfecting of St. Thomas Aquinas’s system by expelling the element
it had derived from Aristotle, which in Rosmini’s view led direct to
pantheism and materialism. He laboured hard at this object all his
life, but died before his work was done. It says much for his genius
that one so encumbered with childish ultramontane notions should have
won the acknowledged rank he holds among the first philosophical
thinkers. He is equally well known as the founder of a religious Order,
the constant antagonist of the Jesuits, and the author of the _Five
Wounds of the Church_, an appeal for reform whose honest frankness was
used by his enemies to deprive him of the cardinal’s hat that had been
promised him. His Order still flourishes, his system is still potent,
and his memory, honoured everywhere, is almost adored in his native
place, Roveredo in the Italian Tyrol.

Another philosopher influential on Italian thought was GIOVANNI
DOMENICO ROMAGNOSI (1761-1835), whose importance chiefly consists in
his application of philosophy to legal and political science, and his
clear prevision of the coming deliverance of Italy.

No Italian of his age, perhaps, was more thoroughly admirable in every
respect than TERENZIO MAMIANI (1799-1885), an approved patriot, a
wise statesman, a sound and sober thinker in religion and philosophy,
an elegant poet, and a man excellent in every relation of life. With
more angularity of character, he would, perhaps, have possessed
more creative force, and impressed himself more powerfully on the
imagination. The dignified eloquence of his meditative poetry, usually
in blank verse, and of his discourses, political or academical, is
often very impressive, but the form seems more remarkable than the
substance. Like most of the best Italians of his day, he spent his
youth in exile, his prime in office, and his old age in study and
composition. A good selection from his voluminous writings has been
published with a memoir by Giovanni Mestica, the editor of Petrarch.

A connecting link between the thinkers and the historians is formed
by GIUSEPPE FERRARI (1812-1872). A disciple of Romagnosi, he imported
abstract ideas into his survey of the revolutions of Italy since the
downfall of the Roman Empire--a very readable if not always a very
convincing book. Ferrari was also a distinguished publicist, and an
indefatigable pamphleteer in the cause of his country.

History has been extensively cultivated in Italy during the nineteenth
century; and although many histories were but popular compendiums, or
magnified party pamphlets, or mere _mémoires pour servir_, others have
gained for the writers honourable rank among first-class historians.
The most extensive in scale and imposing in subject are histories by
CARLO BOTTA (1766-1837) of the American War of Independence and of
Italy from 1789 to 1814. The former is the best history of the subject
out of the United States; the latter, though taxed with partiality,
is a great and invaluable work. His continuation of Guicciardini
is of less account. Botta’s style is severe and dignified; too
archaic in diction, and occasionally deficient in flexibility, but
he always writes with the consciousness of his mission which becomes
the historian. He was a determined enemy of the romantic school. A
Piedmontese by birth, he had been concerned in the disturbances of
the early revolutionary period, and had made several campaigns in the
capacity of an army surgeon. Become temporarily a Frenchman by the
annexation of Piedmont to France, he had held office under Napoleon,
whom he displeased by his frankness. After Napoleon’s fall he lived
chiefly in France. Though always a patriot as regarded the independence
of Italy, the melancholy deceptions of revolutionary times led him at
last to deem his countrymen only fit for an enlightened despotism.

A stancher liberal was PIETRO COLLETTA (1770-1831) and an even more
eminent historian. A Neapolitan officer of engineers, he served under
Murat, but was, nevertheless, maintained in his rank by the restored
Bourbons. He was Minister of War under the Constitutional Government of
1820, and after its overthrow was for some time imprisoned at Brunn in
Austria, where his health suffered greatly. Upon his release he settled
at Florence, and devoted himself to writing the history of Naples from
the accession of the Bourbon dynasty in 1734 up to 1825. He was wholly
inexperienced as an author, but succeeded in imparting classic form to
his work by dint of infinite labour and careful imitation of Tacitus,
for which the imperious brevity natural to him, intensified by the
habits of military life, admirably qualified him. His work is one of
the most marrowy and sinewy of histories, and is especially valuable
where he speaks as an eye-witness. It deals fully with financial and
economical as well as political and military affairs.

Another excellent historian has been almost lost to Italy by the
circumstances attending the publication of his book. GIOVANNI BATTISTA
TESTA, an exile in England, published in 1853 his history of the
Lombard League, at Doncaster, a place better affected to the horse
of Neptune than to the olive of Pallas, and, thus producing _invita
Minerva_, has been almost ignored. In fact, he is an admirable
historian, lucid and delightful in his narrative, and his style is
so fashioned upon the purest models, that he might seem to have come
straight out of the sixteenth century. This might be reprehended as
affectation, but the objection, if in any respect well founded, has
no application to the excellent English version (1877), a book which
cannot be too strongly recommended to historians desirous of acquiring
the pregnant brevity so essential in this age of multiplication of
books to all who would catch and retain the ear of posterity.

The friend and biographer of Manzoni, and imitator of his style in a
successful novel, _Margherita Pusterla_, CESARE CANTÙ was a long-lived
and industrious, and consequently a voluminous author. His position
is well marked as almost the only considerable writer of his time who
favoured political and ecclesiastical reaction, and the resulting
unpopularity has led him to be unjustly depreciated as a man of
letters; he is always interesting, always individual, and his principal
works, the _History of Italy from 1750 to 1850_ and his _History of
Italian Heretics_, though disfigured by party spirit, are important
books. The latter is still the standard authority on the subject,
though it will hardly be allowed to continue so.

An unique position among Italian historians is occupied by MICHELE
AMARI (1805-89), the Orientalist and national historian of Sicily.
Detesting the Neapolitan oppression of his native island, he look up
the investigation of the Sicilian Vespers, and depicted this great
event as not the consequence of a conspiracy subtly organised by
John of Procida, but as a spontaneous uprising against intolerable
oppression. The allusion did not escape the Neapolitan Government,
and Amari found it expedient to withdraw to Paris, where he studied
Arabic as a preparation for his yet more important _History of Sicily
under Moslem Dominion_, published between 1854 and 1872. In the
interim he had taken part in the Sicilian insurrection, and after the
final expulsion of the Bourbons, was successively Minister of Public
Instruction and professor of Arabic at Florence, continuing to write
and edit books on his favourite subjects. No historian has a higher
reputation for erudition and sagacity.

GIUSEPPE MICALI (1780-1844) devoted himself to a subject even more
difficult than Amari’s, and one incapable of an authoritative solution
of its numberless problems. His _Storia degli Antichi Popoli Italiani_
is nevertheless a highly important work, which exploded much error, if
it did not establish much truth.

A Neapolitan, CARLO TROYA (1784-1858) was to have written the History
of Italy in the Middle Ages from 476 to 1321, which by his method
of working might have required forty volumes, but he only arrived
at Charlemagne and only filled sixteen. The book is, as Settembrini
remarks, a thesaurus rather than a history, but cannot be opened
without encountering valuable information and judicious criticism.
Troya loved the Middle Age without idolising it; his liberal opinions,
much against his will, made the indefatigable bookworm a Minister under
one of the ephemeral Neapolitan constitutions, and there was sense as
well as wit in the reply of the restored Ferdinand when advised to
arrest him: “No! leave him in the Middle Ages!”

Three distinguished statesmen of the nineteenth century, Cesare Balbo,
Gino Capponi, and Luigi Carlo Farini, respectively wrote histories of
much worth; Balbo an abridged history of Italy, and Capponi one of the
Florentine republic, while Farini chronicled the transactions of the
States of the Church from 1814 to 1850. Farini’s is the most important
and authoritative of these works, as he has made the field entirely
his own. Balbo and Capponi, however, patricians and men of wealth, did
even more for historical studies by their encouragement and pecuniary
assistance than by their own writings. The great Ministers, Cavour,
Ricasoli, and Minghetti claim a place in literary history as orators
and pamphleteers.

For some reason difficult to understand, biography has not of late
flourished in Italy. No country is so much overrun with little
ephemeral memoirs of little ephemeral people, and there are many
extremely valuable studies of particular episodes in the lives of
celebrated men, of scientific rather than literary merit. The very
important works of Villari, Pasolini, and Solerti belong to a later
period than that now under review, which possesses only two biographies
of decided literary pretensions, both autobiographic.

So important was the public career of MASSIMO D’AZEGLIO (1798-1866),
a fervent patriot, but also a prudent statesman, for nobility of
character second to no contemporary, that his memoirs might have
been expected to have been very serious. On the contrary, they are
eminently lively and gay, in part, perhaps, from their terminating at
the beginning of 1846, before the author’s heaviest cares had come
upon him. GIUSEPPE MONTANELLI (1813-62), one of the triumvirs in the
inauspicious Tuscan revolution of 1849, though equally honest, was
entirely deficient in the ballast that steadied D’Azeglio. But his
very levity and inconstancy lend vivacity to his memoirs of the Tuscan
affairs of his time, and the paradoxes of his character, faithfully
depicted by himself, make a striking and memorable portrait. His style
is unequal, but excellent when at its best.

NICCOLÓ TOMMASEO, a Dalmatian (1802-74) forms a connecting link
between history and _belles-lettres_. With marvellous versatility he
essayed history, politics, moral and speculative philosophy, biography,
philology, criticism and poetry, distinguishing himself in all without
producing great or enduring work in any. His greatest distinction,
perhaps, was attained as an Italian grammarian and lexicographer; but
as a critic he wielded great authority, and powerfully contributed
to the development of literature. He was essentially the man of his
own times, and seemed to resume their various aspects in himself, a
sound Catholic and an ardent liberal; a classicist and a romanticist;
a conservative and an innovator; impetuous yet moderate in his aims;
frequently inconsistent with himself, yet ever controlled by an austere
sense of duty; a fine and even brilliant writer, who yet could achieve
no durable work. His account of his exile at Corfu, nevertheless,
deserves to live for its style, although the theme is insufficient.
Tommaseo was a man of marked character, disinterested, independent and
impracticable; rejecting the public honours which he had well earned
by his share in the defence of Venice, he spent his later years at
Florence, where, although totally blind, he worked indomitably to
the last. He should be endeared to England as the author of the fine
inscription placed upon the house of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The history of Italian poetry during the post-Napoleonic era,
after deducting the great names of Leopardi and Giusti, is in the
main the history of the romantic school. It has been remarked that
this school is not congenial to the Italian genius, and that its
temporary prevalence could only occur through the decay of the
classical tradition and the inevitable reaction from the excesses
of the Revolution. It was further prejudiced in Italian eyes by the
ecclesiastical colouring which it could not help assuming. Most of
the literary youth of Italy, though they might not be bad Catholics,
were still better patriots, and although their compositions might be
influenced by Scott and Goethe, were utterly averse to the mediæval
development which the romantic idea was receiving in France and
Germany. This was particularly the case with the first poet of eminence
who imbibed romantic feeling from Manzoni and broke entirely with the
already attenuated classicism of Monti and Foscolo. GIOVANNI BERCHET
(1783-1851), although of French descent, was a devoted Italian patriot,
whose first works of importance were published in London, where he had
been obliged to seek refuge. He began by denouncing the conduct of
the English Government towards the people of Parga, and followed this
up by a succession of stirring ballads, mostly of patriotic tendency,
and a longer poem, _Fantasie_, a vision of the past glories of the
Lombard League. In style these poems resemble the romantic poetry of
Germany and England, without a vestige of classical influence, but
also with no trace of the worship of the past, except as an example to
the present, or anything of the mystic spirit of genuine romanticism.
Well timed as they were, their effect was extraordinary; but whether
antique or contemporary in subject, they were essentially poems of the
day, and such poetry cannot continue to be read unless it attains the
level of Manzoni’s ode on the death of Napoleon and Tennyson’s on the
death of Wellington. This Berchet knew. “My aim was not,” he said on
one occasion, “to write a fine poem, but to perform a fine action.”
His style is consequently defective; his poetry was not written to
be criticised, but to inspire and inflame, and fully answered its
purpose. “He has found,” says Settembrini, “all the maledictions that
can possibly be hurled against the foreigner.” Upon Charles Albert’s
conversion to the national cause, Berchet returned to Italy, and died a
member of the Sardinian Parliament, universally honoured and beloved,
nor will his countrymen forget him.

“Accursed,” adds Settembrini, “be the Italian who forgets GABRIELE
ROSSETTI.” Rossetti (1785-1854) assuredly will not be forgotten by
England, for which he has done what no other inhabitant of these isles
ever did in begetting two great poets. His claims to the gratitude of
his countrymen are of quite another sort, resting chiefly upon the
spirit and fluency of his political poems, which helped to keep the
flame of patriotism alive at home, while the exiled author was teaching
Italian at King’s College. His life is well known as an appendage
to the biography of his more celebrated son. It is one of the most
interesting speculations imaginable what kind of poetry Dante Gabriel
Rossetti would have written if he had been born and brought up in
Italy; certain it is that no prefigurement of his singular alliance
of purity and transparency of feeling with intricacy of thought
and opulence of illustration, or of his objectivity and marvellous
pictorial gift, is to be found in his father’s simple, natural, rather
overfluent verse. The elder Rossetti may, nevertheless, be ranked among
the poets of the romantic school; and a similar place belongs to the
amiable Luigi Carrer (1801-53) on account of his ballads, the most
successful of his works. Francesco dall’ Ongaro, a good lyric poet in
other departments, applied the popular _stornello_ to the purposes of
patriotic poetry with eminent success.

Two poets of more importance enjoyed for a time great renown,
but their reputation, without becoming extinct, has considerably
declined. GIOVANNI PRATI (1815-54), a native of the Italian Tyrol,
gained great reputation in 1841 by a narrative poem in blank verse,
_Edmenegarda_, founded upon a tragic event in the family of the great
Venetian patriot Daniele Manin. It is a poor apology for adultery, but
in sentimentality, though not in morality, belongs to the school of
Lamartine, whose _Jocelyn_ was then at the meridian of its celebrity.
In consequence, notwithstanding much real poetical merit, it bears
that fatal impress of the boudoir which disfigures so much of the best
pictorial as well as poetical work of the time. Its success encouraged
Prati to produce several volumes of lyrics, spirited, melodious, but
too fluent. His facility, like Monti’s, approached the faculty of
improvisation, but Monti’s tawny torrent has shrunk in Prati into a
silver rill, equally swift but by no means equally majestic. He is
nevertheless a poet, and in a particular manner the poet of the brief
interval of hope and joy which accompanied the uprising of 1848. The
national feeling of the time remains embodied in these verses, the most
permanently valuable of his writings; for the more imaginative and
ambitious productions of his later years, such as _Satana e le Grazie_
or _Armando_, though interesting, belong to the fundamentally unsound
_genre_ of adaptation from _Faust_.

Another poet once in the enjoyment of a popularity which he has failed
to retain is ALEARDO ALEARDI (1812-78). He has too much elegance and
feeling to be forgotten, but wants force; his general attitude seems
not inaccurately indicated in his own description of his heroine
Arnalda da Roca as she appeared in the act of blowing up a shipload of
Turks:

      “Placidamente _fulminò la palla_.”

The expression is rarely at the height of the sentiment to be
expressed. If this can be overlooked, the reader who does not wish his
emotions to run away with him may find much to admire in the languid
grace of the poems, generally descriptive, didactic or idyllic, which
form the most important part of Aleardi’s work. It is rather a reproach
than an honour to his patriotic lyrics that their strong point should
be not eloquence but description, which is always excellent.

The reputation of the good priest and good patriot, GIACOMO ZANELLA
(1820-89), has, on the contrary, gone on increasing, and with justice,
for his verse is usually at the level of his thought, and his thought,
if more frequently graceful than striking, sometimes attains a
commanding elevation, as in his odes to Dante and on the opening of
the Suez Canal. His _Psyche_ and _Egoism and Charity_ are clearly and
exquisitely cut as Greek gems. Zanella’s speciality, however, is his
effort to ally science with poetry, and though he cannot always prevail
upon them to shake hands, one of his lyrics of this character, _The
Vigil_, a meditation upon Evolution from a theologian’s point of view,
is perhaps his masterpiece. Another very striking poem is the colloquy
between Milton and Galileo, in which Galileo’s dread of the sceptical
tendency of the science to which he has imparted such an impulse is
represented as determining Milton “to justify the ways of God to man.”
Zanella, a native of the Vicenzan district, was a gentle, tender,
melancholy man, not unlike Cowper, and his reason, under the stress of
domestic affliction, at one time seemed in danger of suffering the same
eclipse. Recovering, he forsook the career of college professor for a
cottage near Vicenza, where:

                    _Dopo sparsi al vento
      Tanti sogni superbi e tanto foco
      Di poesia dagl’ anni inerti spento,
      Voluntario romito in questo loco,
      Tra pochi arbori e fior vivo contento._

This retirement, nevertheless, produced some of Zanella’s most
delicate poetry, comprised in his dainty little volume _Astichello ed
altre Poesie_, not yet included in his works. One of the most beautiful
of his poems, _The Redbreast_ (_Il Pettirostro_), marvellously
resembles the idylls of Coleridge, with whose works Zanella betrays his
acquaintance. Charming, also, are the sonnets celebrating the various
aspects of the local river, the little Astichello, such as this upon
the sympathy between man and Nature in time of drought, a “pathetic
fallacy,” perhaps, but none the worse for that:--

      _Shrunk to a thread, the dwindling waters stray
          Where Astichello 'neath the poplar flows
          With languid tide that scarce avails to sway
      The moss that nigh the midmost channel grows._

      _Sirius the while, ablaze with fiery ray,
          Above the unsheltered meadow throbs and glows;
          And all the blithe fecundity of May
      One withering waste of dismal yellow shows._

      _The peasant groans despair, and shakes his head;
          The friendly stream, munificent no more,
          Barred from the brink it lately overran,
      Like rustic met with rustic to deplore
          The common ill, wails feebly from its bed,
          Mingling its music with the plaint of man._

Zanella might have applied to himself the proud humility of Musset,
_Mon verre n’est pas grand, mais je bois dans mon verre_. His modest
strain was independent of traditional or contemporary influence.
The other poets of the time are more historically significant as
representing the decadence of the romantic school. A new development
was urgently required to make good its exhausted vitality. The problem
was solved much in the same way as that of the renovation of the
operatic stage, left void by the once brilliant but now moribund school
of Rossini, save that in that instance the evening star of the old
dispensation was also the morning star of the new. No such Janus-Verdi
arose upon poetry, but the man for the occasion was found in the
principal figure of our next chapter, Giosuè Carducci.

The drama of the period has only one eminent representative, PIETRO
COSSA (1830-80), and his works, strictly speaking, fall somewhat
later. Cossa, though fine both in versification and rhetoric, is
essentially more of a playwright than of a poet, but half redeems his
deficiencies by a quality not too common on the tragic stage of our
day, masculine strength. Almost every scene is powerful, the action
rarely halts or lingers, there is never any room for doubt as to the
author’s intention, and the language is energetic without bombast.
Cossa’s shortcomings are mainly in the higher region of art. He has
little creative power, and although he is occasionally felicitous in
the invention of a minor character, he rarely ventures to travel beyond
the record in the delineation of the historical personages who form the
most important portion of his dramatic flock. There is no penetration,
no subtlety, nothing to manifest endowment with any insight beyond
the ordinary. As conventional representations, however, Cossa’s
characters are brilliant, and he may even be accused of excess in the
accumulation of historical traits, as though he could not bear to part
with an anecdote. _Nero_, _Messalina_, _Cola di Rienzo_, _The Borgias_,
_Cleopatra_, _Julian the Apostate_ are among the most remarkable of his
numerous historical tragedies; if not great plays or dramatic poems,
they are, at all events, very splendid historical masquerades. There
is more originality in his one comedy, _Plautus and his Age_, a lively
picture of Roman society in Plautus’s time.

The period immediately preceding the establishment of Italian unity
brought forth many novels, mostly of the Manzonian school. The most
important of these have been already mentioned. FRANCESCO DOMENICO
GUERAZZI (1804-73), of infelicitous memory as a politician, had
sufficient force as an historical novelist to deviate from the
Manzonian model, and to obtain for a while an European reputation with
his _Battle of Benevento_, _Siege of Florence_, and _Pasquale Paoli_.
He was a man of powerful but unregulated character, and the inequality
extends to his writings; his diction is extolled, his style condemned.
Italian fiction had a serious loss in Ippolito Nievo, drowned on his
return from Garibaldi’s expedition to Sicily. “Perhaps,” says Vernon
Lee, “no better picture could be given of Italy in the last years of
the eighteenth century than that contained in Nievo’s _Confessioni di
un Ottuagenario_.”

The literary period which we have been traversing in the last two
chapters may be approximately described as that extending from the
fall of Napoleon the First (1814) to the intervention of Napoleon the
Third in Italian politics (1859). It saw the later works of Monti
and Foscolo, all the chief productions of Manzoni, and everything
of Leopardi’s. Apart from these, it produced no great genius, but a
number of highly distinguished writers who did honour to their own
literature without producing any marked effect upon the literatures of
foreign nations. The main reason of this circumscription of Italian
influence was the legitimate preoccupation of Italy with her own
affairs. The main aspiration of every Italian breast was the expulsion
of the foreigner and the constitution of the national unity, whether
as monarchy, federation, or republic. This common thought gave a
noble unity to the authorship of the period, but could not materially
affect contemporary literatures, although Mazzini’s English writings,
Mr. Gladstone’s Neapolitan pamphlets, Sydney Dobell’s _Roman_, Mrs.
Browning’s _Casa Guidi Windows_ and _Poems before Congress_, and divers
poems of Robert Browning, and Algernon Swinburne, and Dante Rossetti,
show that England was not uninfluenced by it. In the next generation,
Italian letters, though, except for the poets Carducci and D’Annunzio,
rather retrograding than advancing in merit, became more influential by
becoming more cosmopolitan.



                             CHAPTER XXVI
                    CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN LITERATURE


The present age of letters in Italy resembles its contemporary
literary epochs in the one respect in which these agree among
themselves and differ from most preceding ages; it is an age of
literary anarchy. No standard of taste exists to which it is deemed
essential to conform, and antipathetic schools flourish comfortably,
if not always peaceably, side by side. This was the case with the
Greek schools of philosophy under the Roman Empire, but in literature
has rarely happened before the nineteenth century. At almost all
former periods some prevailing canon of taste has stamped the literary
productions of the era with its own signet, and the most celebrated
authors of the day have legislated for the rest. The Goethes, the
Victor Hugos, the Tennysons of our time, while powerfully affecting
contemporary thought, have failed to thus impress their image and
superscription on contemporary style. Scepticism which at former
periods would have horrified the coævals of Pope or Bembo, is
audaciously professed with regard to the merits of greater men; and
whereas, in former ages, admiration meant imitation, some of the
sincerest votaries of a Hugo or a Browning would be farthest from
attempting to reproduce their mannerisms. It is quite true that the
endeavour is still sometimes made to erect individual tastes and
distastes into articles of faith, that we are confidently told that
such a writer or such a form of art is hopelessly antiquated, and
that such another is accepted by the right-minded. But this dogmatism
is invariably an expression of individual taste, and has no real
substance and no permanence. The change cannot but be salutary if,
as we believe, it is in the main an effect of the expansion of the
area of knowledge. The class of intelligent readers is now so greatly
enlarged that the legislation of academies and the verdict of coteries
reach comparatively but a little way; readers think for themselves
more than they did of old; and if the public taste is less disciplined
than formerly, it is in less danger of being biassed in one direction.
It may be added that the armistice between the classic and romantic
schools, consequent upon the proved inability of each to subdue the
other, has demonstrated the impossibility of any infallible æsthetic
criterion. Men disputed what this criterion might be, and different
conceptions of it prevailed in different ages, but the existence of
some definite standard entitled to exact conformity was questioned by
none. Now it is generally recognised that men are born classicists
or romanticists, as they have been said to be born Platonists or
Aristotelians, and that the right course for every author is to
cultivate his powers in whatsoever direction Nature has assigned
to them, and for every reader to strive to appreciate excellence
whencesoever it comes. The result is life, spirit, energy, but a
commotion as of tossing billows, which may or may not eventually settle
down into the calm of an accepted theory of art.

We cannot speak in Italy more than elsewhere of any great writer
as ruling his age and prescribing laws to his contemporaries.
Individual genius, however, is no less effective than of old upon
those constitutionally in sympathy with it, and no gifted writer
can introduce a new style without enlisting disciples and provoking
antagonists. Such a genius and such a style appertain to GIOSUÈ
CARDUCCI (born 1836), the one contemporary poet of Italy who, if we
except Gabriele d’Annunzio, “in shape and gesture proudly eminent,”
stands forth like a tower from the rest, and who has made an abiding
reputation as the introducer of the new elements needed to replace the
expiring impulse of the romantic school. Like many of his compeers,
Carducci partakes of both classic and romantic elements; romantic in
his revolt against convention, classic in his worship of antique form;
and it is in great measure this duality which renders him so important
and interesting.

Carducci, far from being the literary dictator of his age, is perhaps
not less distasteful to the ultra-realists for whom he paved the way,
than to the romanticists whom he overthrew, yet is in a very special
sense the representative of his age and nation. The commencement
of poetical activity synchronised with a new dispensation in the
world of politics. The reviving nation must have a new poet or none.
Egypt was plainly unfit to sing the songs of Sion. The submission of
Manzoni, the despair of Leopardi, had in their respective ways well
suited an age of slavery; but the age of liberty had now arrived, and
craved strains combative, resonant, and joyous. The Pope’s obstinate
clinging to the temporal power also compelled the national poet to be
anti-clerical. Neither Carducci’s political nor his religious views
wanted anything essential to the effectual fulfilment of his mission:
that their vehemence sometimes transgressed the limits of good sense
and good taste would probably now be acknowledged by himself. It was
equally important that the form should correspond to the feeling. The
new spirit sought a new body. Carducci solved the problem in the same
manner as Chiabrera would have solved it two centuries and a half
before, had Chiabrera’s genius equalled his discernment. He perceived
that in the circumstances of his day a return to classic models would
be no retrogression, but renovation for Italian poetry: unfortunately
he had no true insight into the classical spirit. This Carducci
possessed, and there are few happier examples of the alliance of one
literature with another than the poems, the most important part of his
work, in which he has kept classical examples steadily before him. The
imitation, it must be understood, is one of form and not of essence;
the themes are but occasionally classical, and even when this is the
case express the feelings of a modern Italian spirit. Imitate classical
forms as the poet may, he is essentially the man of the nineteenth
century: his variety of mood and theme is great; his orchestra has a
place for every instrument; but in nine cases out of ten the direction
to the performer is _con brio_. By this dashing vigour Carducci has
poured new blood into the exhausted veins of Italian poetry, and
administered an antidote to her besetting maladies by the example of a
style condensed, nervous, and terse to a fault. Epic or dramatic power
he does not claim: his genius is entirely lyrical.

Carducci’s first volume appeared in 1857, and the events of the
following years called forth a number of occasional poems, clearly
indicating the representative poet of the people and the time. In
1865, the vigorous “Hymn to Satan” provoked the controversy which the
poet had no doubt designed. His Satan, it hardly need be said, is not
the monarch of the fallen seraphim, but the spirit of revolt against
social and ecclesiastical tyranny, more of a Luther than a Lucifer.
_Levia Gravia_ (1867) greatly extended the poet’s reputation. _Odi
Barbare_ (1877) excited a literary controversy almost as virulent as
the theological. The splendour of the diction was beyond question, but
what was to be said to the novel or exotic forms in which the poet had
thought fit to clothe it? To us, the naturalisation of the Alcaic and
Sapphic metres appears most successful, although in the former the
writer has permitted himself some deviation from the Horatian model,
and the form is perhaps too deeply impressed with his own personality
to become frequent in Italian literature. Most of the other forms,
including the hexameters and pentameters, seem to us either too stiff
or too intricate to be quite satisfactorily manipulated even by
Carducci himself; but the study of them must be a valuable training
for practitioners in more facile metres. If the form be sometimes
too elaborate, there can be no dispute as to the weight and massive
majesty of the sense. Carducci has solved the problem which baffled
the Renaissance, of linking strength of thought to artifice of form.
The _Rime Nuove_ brought him new laurels, and his poetical career has
paused for the present with a noble ode on the tercentenary of Tasso in
1895. The jubilee of his connection with the University of Bologna was
celebrated by a great demonstration in 1896, and, reconciled with the
monarchy which he once opposed, he enjoys the honour of a Senator of
the Kingdom. A Liberal but a Royalist, a freethinker but a theist, he
is happily placed to exert a reconciling and moderating influence alike
in the political and the intellectual sphere.

The difficulties of translating Carducci’s more characteristic poems
are almost insuperable. He is not in the least obscure, but his
noble and austere form is indissolubly wedded to the sense, and in
reproduction his bronze too often becomes plaster. Many versions,
moreover, would be required to render justice to the various aspects of
his many-sided genius--his love of country, his passion for beautiful
form, his Latin and Hellenic enthusiasm, his photographic intensity of
descriptive touch, his sympathy for honest labour and uncomplaining
poverty, his capacity for caressing affection and scathing indignation.
The following poem powerfully exhibits his intense devotion to the
past, and faith in the future of his Italy. The subject is the statue
of Victory in the Temple of Vespasian at Brescia; but to appreciate the
full force of the poem, it must be known that the statue was a recent
discovery of happiest augury (1826), and that Brescia had been the
scene of an heroic defence and a cruel sack in the uprising against the
Austrians in 1848:

      _Hast thou, high Virgin, wings of good augury
      Waved o’er the crouching, targeted phalanxes,
        With knee-propt shield and spear protended,
        Biding the shock of the hostile onset?_

      _Or hast thou, soaring in front of the eagles,
      Led surging swarms of Marsian soldiery,
        With blaze of fulgent light the neighing
        Parthian steed and his lord appalling?_

      _Thy pinions folded, thy stern foot haughtily
      Pressing the casque of foeman unhelmeted;--
        Whose fair renown for feat triumphant
        Art on the orb of thy shield inscribing?_

      _An archon’s name, who boldly in face of Wrong
      The freeman’s law upheld and immunity?
        A consul’s, far and wide the Latin
        Limit and glory and awe enlarging?_

      _Thee throned on Alpine pinnacle loftily,
      Radiant 'mid tempest, heralding might I hear_,
        Kings and peoples, here stands Italy,
        Weaponed to strike for her soil and honour.

      _Lydia, the while, a garland of flowerets,
      By sad October strewn o’er the wreck of Rome,
        To deck thee braids, and gently bending,
        Questioneth, as at thy foot she lays it:_

      _“What thoughts, what visions, Victory, came to thee,
      Years on years in the humid imprisonment
        Of earth immured? the German horses
        Heardest thou stamp o’er thy brow Hellenic?”_

      _“I heard,” she answers, flashing and fulminant,
      “Heard and endured, for glory of Greece am I,
        And strength of Rome, in bronze immortal
        Sped without flaw through the fleeting ages._

      _“The ages passed like the twelve birds ominous,
      Descried by gaze of Romulus anciently:
        They passed, I rose: thy Gods, proclaiming,
        Italy, see! and thy buried heroes._

      _“Proud of her fortune, Brescia enshrinèd me,
      Brescia the stalwart, Brescia the iron-girt,
        Italia’s lioness, her vesture
        Dyed in the blood of her land’s invaders.”_

A large proportion of Carducci’s lyrics flow with more of liquid
ease in more familiar metres, better adapted for popularity. This is
especially the case with his impassioned addresses to the dead or to
contemporaries who have won his admiration, and the poems which depict
ordinary life, such as “A Dream in Summer,” “On a Saint Peter’s Eve,”
and “The Mother,” whose apparently loose but really well-knit texture
is admirably reproduced by his American translator Mr. Sewall, and
which are such pieces as Walt Whitman might have written if he had been
a poet in virtue of his art as well as of his nature. Perhaps none of
the shorter pieces is more expressive of his profound humanity than his
apotheosis of patient toil under the figure of “The Ox,” ably rendered
by Mr. Sewall, a poem Egyptian in its grave massiveness and tranquil
repose:

      _I love thee, pious Ox; a gentle feeling
        Of vigour and of peace thou giv’st my heart.
        How solemn, like a monument, thou art!
      Over wide fertile fields thy calm gaze stealing!
      Unto the yoke with grave contentment kneeling,
        To man’s quick work thou dost thy strength impart:
        He shouts and goads, and, answering thy smart,
      Thou turn’st on him thy patient eyes appealing._

      _From thy broad nostrils, black and wet, arise
        Thy breath’s soft fumes; and on the still air swells,
        Like happy hymn, thy lowing’s mellow strain.
      In the grave sweetness of thy tranquil eyes
        Of emerald, broad and still reflected, dwells
        All the divine green silence of the plain._

Carducci has rendered his country much service as a literary critic,
especially of the Renaissance, and of the Risorgimento of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He is not subtle or profound,
but puts forth unanswerably propositions dictated by the soundest
common-sense. There is something Teutonic as well as Italian in
his composition, and he recalls no precursor so much as the German
poet Platen, an equal master of form; but Platen, though a real
patriot, is more at home with any nation than his own. It is a chief
glory of Carducci to have united an intensely patriotic spirit to a
comprehensive cosmopolitanism. Though ranging far and wide to enrich
the domestic literature with new metrical forms, he loves those in
which the Italian genius has embodied itself from days of old, and
is always ready to defend them against degenerate countrymen, no
less than against unappreciative foreigners. Like Wordsworth, he has
simultaneously vindicated and illustrated the sonnet:

      _Brief strain with much in little rife; whose tone,
        As worlds untrodden rose upon his thought,
        Dante touched lightly; that Petrarca sought,
      Flower among flowers by gliding waters grown;
      That from trump epical of Tasso blown
        Pealed through his prison; that wert gravely fraught
        With voice austere by him who marble fought
      To free the spirit he divined in stone:--_

      _To Æschylus new-born by Avon’s shore
        Thou camest harbinger of Art, to be
      A hidden cell for hidden sorrow’s store;
        On thee smiled Milton and Camoens; thee,
      His rout of lines unleashing with a roar,
        Bavius blasphemes; the dearer thence to me._

Carducci’s example could not but create a school of poets, many of
great merit, but most of whom stand to him more or less in the relation
of disciples to a master. The chief exception is the only one who can
claim, like Timotheus, to “divide the crown,” GABRIELE D’ANNUNZIO.

D’Annunzio (born 1863) is a second Marini, endowed with an even
more brilliant genius, and better armed against besetting faults. It
is terrible to think what synchronism with Marini might have made of
him, but it has been his good fortune to have had Carducci’s example
before his eyes, and his merit to have profited by it. At the same time
his genius is so distinct from Carducci’s as to vindicate for him an
independent position. To employ Coventry Patmore’s happy application of
a passage in Zephaniah to the poetic art, D’Annunzio rather represents
“Beauty,” and Carducci “Bands”; the note of the one is restraint,
and that of the other is exuberance. D’Annunzio’s verse is not cast
in bronze like Carducci’s, nor has he his rival’s splendid virility
or his devotion to ideal interests; his affluence is nevertheless so
well restrained by a natural instinct for form that it never, as with
Marini, becomes riotous extravagance. Some of the metrical forms,
indeed, which, influenced as may be surmised by Mr. Swinburne, he has
endeavoured to introduce, seem ill adapted to the genius of the Italian
language, though they would probably succeed well in English. But
nothing can be more satisfactory than the form of his sonnets or of his
ballad-romances, and he has enriched Italian poetry with one new form
of great beauty, the _rima nona_, a happy compromise between the terse
purity of the national octave and the rich harmony, like the chiming
of many waters, of the English Spenserian stanza, which no foreign
literature has yet succeeded in acclimatising. It is also to his honour
that, while no writer is more partial to the employment of unusual
words, commonly derived from science or natural history, the effect
is that of brilliant mosaic without a mosaic’s rigidity, but soft and
liquid as a glowing canvas.

In many respects D’Annunzio presents a strong affinity to Keats;
but to the innocent sensuousness which rejoices in the reproduction
of sumptuous beauty, he adds that which purposely ministers to
voluptuousness. This might be forgiven as the failing of a youthful
and ardent poet, and becomes, indeed, much less obtrusive in his later
poetical writings. The misfortune is that nothing seems to be taking
its place. Had years brought D’Annunzio “the philosophic mind,” had his
third volume compared with its predecessors as _Locksley Hall_ and _In
Memoriam_ compare with the _Lotus Eaters_, he would be at the head, not
merely of Italian, but of European poets. His most recent productions,
while indicating, as must almost inevitably be the case, an
impoverishment of the merely sensuous opulence of his youth, manifest
but slight advance in power of thought, in dignity of utterance, in
human or national sympathies, in anything that discriminates the noon
of poetical power from its morning. The _Canto Novo_ (1881) and the
_Intermezzo_ (1883) were a splendid dawn; and _L’Isotteo_ (1885) and
_La Chimera_ (1888) revealed further development, not indeed in power
of thought, but in objectivity and in mastery of form. Much of all
these volumes is mere voluptuous dreaming, but the pictures of nature
are marvellously vivid; such pieces as the little unrhymed lyric of
twelve lines, _O falce di luna calante_, reveal the natural magic which
is perhaps the rarest endowment of genius; and the melody is such as
is only granted to a true poet. In the _Poema Paradisiaco_, the joy of
life is evidently on the wane, and, except in a few pieces of exquisite
pathos, such as _Consolazione_, seems in danger of being replaced,
not by a nobler and more serious theory of life, but by the worst
kind of pessimism, that born of mere satiety. The most recent poems,
the _Odi Navali_ (1893), though patriotic in theme, appear tame and
artificial in comparison with earlier work. The epilogue to the _Poema
Paradisiaco_, nevertheless, argues progress in the right direction, and
leaves room to hope that D’Annunzio may yet take rank not merely with
poets eminent for melody, fancy, and imagination, but with those who
have counted among the shaping forces of their time.

The general impression of D’Annunzio’s poetry is one of dazzling
splendour and intoxicating perfume. The poet seems determined to leave
no sense ungratified, and not to omit a hue, an odour, or a cadence
that can by any possibility be pressed into his service. It says much
for the genuineness of his poetical faculty that he should actually be
able to perform this without falling into extravagance; but although
his lavish luxury of phrase and description is kept within the limits
of taste, the too uniform splendour satiates and fatigues. Mr. Greene’s
translations in his Italian Lyrists convey a very good notion of
D’Annunzio’s most usual manner. The following sonnet may serve as a
specimen:--

      _Beneath the white full-moon the murmuring seas
        Send songs of love across the pine-tree glade;
      The moonlight filtering through the dome-topped trees
        Fills with weird light the vast and secret shade;
      A fresh salt perfume on the Illyrian breeze
        From sea-weeds on the rock is hither swayed,
      While my sad heart, worn out and ill at ease,
        A wild poetic longing doth invade._

      _But now more joyous still the love-songs flow
        O’er waves of silver sea; from pine to pine
      A sweet name echoes in the winds that blow;
        And, hovering through yon spaces diamantine,
      A phantom fair with silent flight and slow,
        Smiles on me from its great-orbed eyes divine._

At the same time D’Annunzio has another style, principally exhibited
in his minor lyrics and his ballad romances, where simple but perfect
melody is mated with hearty vigour. The contrast between Tennyson’s
_Palace of Art_ and his _Edward Gray_ is hardly greater than that
between the brilliant poetical landscape just quoted, and this joyous
_aubade_:--

      _While yet the veil of misty dew
        Conceals the morning flush,_
      (How light of foot the foxes’ crew
        Are scampering in the bush!)

      _On damask bed my Clara spends
        In dreams the idle hours:_
      (Warm the wet meadow’s breath ascends,
        And herbs are sweet as flowers.)

      _Lift, lovely lady all amort,
        The glory of your head._
      (The hounds are yelling in the court
        Enough to wake the dead.)

      _Hear’st not the note of merry horn
        That calls thee to the chase?_
      (In glades of ancient oak and thorn
        The deer hath left his trace.)

      _With manly vesture, trim and tight,
        Those budding breasts be bound;_
      (I hear thy jennet neigh delight,
        And paw the paven ground.)

      _Soho! my beauty! down the stairs
        At last! Aha! Huzza!_
      (Red morning o’er the mountain flares.)
        _To saddle! and away!_

It is manifest that although the Carduccis and D’Annunzios of the
present day may not rank higher as poets than the Montis and Leopardis
of the past, they have done far more to fit the Italian lyre with new
strings, and have opened up paths of progress formerly undreamed of.
Many of the novel and exotic forms they have introduced will richly
repay cultivation, but the problem will be to employ the technique
acquired by their practice to the embellishment and elevation of
forms more adapted for general use. This the great master of modern
Italian poetry has seen, and, magnificently as he has handled the more
elaborate harmonies, it is the simple, popular song that he invokes
after all, while incomparably exemplifying it:

      _Cura e onor de’ padri miei,
      Tu mi sei
      Come lor sacra e diletta.
      Ave, o rima: e dammi un fiore
      Per l’amore,
      E per l’odio una saetta._

Apart from these two chief names Italy possesses at present a
number of excellent lyrical poets. The best known is perhaps Olindo
Guerrini, whose first poems, _Posthuma_, supposed to be edited from the
papers of an imaginary Lorenzo Stecchetti, caused a great sensation,
not so much by their unquestionable talent as by their audacious
immorality. Of late years Guerrini has produced a number of poems on
the political circumstances of the country, many of which are perfect
masterpieces of refined form and energetic expression. As much may
be said for the political verses of the Parliamentary orator Felice
Cavallotti. The poet of the social revolution is Mario Rapisardi, a
Sicilian, known also as the literary antagonist of Carducci; while the
sorrows of the poor are pathetically expressed by a lady, Ada Negri.
Alessandro Arnaboldi, lately deceased, possessed an eminent faculty
for description and excelled in grave and dignified lyric, not unlike
Matthew Arnold; while Italy has her James Thomson in the gloomy and
powerful Arturo Graf. Antonio Fogazzaro, on the other hand, is the
poet of hope and faith. Enrico Panzacchi, less individual than most
of these, surpasses them all in grace and variety; Edmondo de Amicis,
celebrated as a traveller, has the gift of brilliant description; Luigi
Capuana has emulated Carducci’s metrical experiments; and excellent
poetry has been produced by Giovanni Marradi, Giuseppe Pascoli, and
Alfredo Baccelli. Translated specimens of these and other poets,
with biographical and bibliographical particulars, will be found in
Mr. G. A. Greene’s _Italian Lyrists of To-Day_. On the whole, the
present condition of Italian poetry is one of abundant vitality, but
of deficient concentration either in great men or great poems. The
serious drama is best represented by Cavallotti’s tragedies and the New
Testament trilogy of Giuseppe Bovio, and the humorous by the comedies
of Roberto Bracco and Giacinto Gallina.

The novel is at present as vigorously cultivated in Italy as in any
civilised nation, and the talent it attracts cannot be altogether
devoid of results. No talent, however, succeeds in permanently
naturalising forms of literature uncongenial to the national mind,
and it remains to be seen whether this is or is not the case with the
novel in Italy. The novelette arose spontaneously, and was maintained
without difficulty; but with every encouragement from the example of
other nations, Italy failed to acclimatise either romantic fiction or
the novel of manners, until far entered into the nineteenth century.
The inference that lengthy story-telling must be alien to the genius of
the people is confirmed by the general inferiority of modern Italian
novelists. One or two, such as Matilda Serao, Salvatore Farini, and
Giulio Barrili, have acquired a reputation beyond the limits of their
own country. One or two others, such as Antonio Fogazzaro, the leader
of a reaction towards a spiritualistic conception of things; Carlo
Placci, the very promising author of _Un Furto_; and Luciano Zuccoli,
author of _Roberta_, have shown the ability to impress themselves upon
the national literature.

Only two, however, seem to stand forth very decidedly as masters of
fiction. One of them is Gabriele d’Annunzio, already treated as a
poet. D’Annunzio’s novels have made more noise than his poems, being
from one point of view much more, from another much less, suited for
general perusal. The scandal which has grown up about them has diverted
attention from their real merits of fine style and conscientious
workmanship. As an artist, D’Annunzio is almost as admirable in prose
as in verse; and if with his descriptive he combined the creative
gift, all his immoralities would not debar him from permanent
renown. Unfortunately, he is like most French and Italian novelists,
monotonously restricted to the portrayal of a single passion, and
his splendid scenery is the background for trivial characters. He
reminds us of the demon in Victor Hugo’s poem, who consumes the
strength of lions and the wisdom of elephants in fashioning a locust.
This is the besetting sin of the novelists of France and Italy:
with a few brilliant exceptions on both sides, the English novel
lives by character, the French by situation. D’Annunzio’s novels are
nevertheless important literary events, and cannot be omitted from
any survey of modern European literature. They have already gained
him renown and circulation in France and the United States. The most
celebrated are _Il Piacere_, _Il Trionfo della Morte_, _La Vergine
delle Rocce_, the last of which is exempt from most of the objections
justly urged against the others.

GIOVANNI VERGA (b. 1840) rivals the European reputation of D’Annunzio,
and is, like him, the head of a realistic school; but his realism is of
quite another sort, owing nothing to Zola or Maupassant. He is the most
eminent European representative of the local novel, dealing with the
manners, humours, and peculiar circumstances of some special locality.
The vogue of this style was perhaps originally due to George Sand’s
idyllic pictures of Berri. Verga has found a yet more interesting
corner of the world to delineate. A Sicilian, though residing at Milan,
he has made his native island the scene of his fiction. Centuries of
misgovernment have unhappily accumulated stores of tragic material in
the people’s misery and oppression, and the ferocity and vindictiveness
these have engendered. Verga depicts these circumstances with the
fidelity of a dispassionate observer and the skill of an artist. His
books not only attract in their own day, but will be treasured in the
future among the most valuable documents for the social history of
Sicily.

Any one of even the minor poets whom we have enumerated has a chance
of reaching posterity, for their work is at all events individual, and
expressive of the personality of the author. If this is sufficiently
interesting, the work may live, though it be far from inaugurating a
new literary era like Carducci’s. It is otherwise with the contemporary
prose literature of Italy. A history, a biography, philology like
Ascoli’s or D’Ancona’s, a work on social science like Sella’s or
Morselli’s may possess great value as the work of an expert, even
though devoid of individuality; but in this case it must sooner or
later lapse into the category of books of reference. Such appears
to be the case with most of the excellent work now being done in
Italy in these and other departments: the statue is carved, but no
name is inscribed upon the pedestal, for the sculpture is the work
of a craftsman, not of an artist. Exceptions may be made in favour
of a few writers recently deceased--Ruggiero Bonghi, translator of
Plato and historian of Rome, one of the soundest heads in Italy;
Giuseppe Chiarini, champion of Carducci; Enrico Nencioni, lately lost
to his country, a high authority upon English literature; Angelo
de Gubernatis, a brilliant and almost too versatile critic and
philologist; and Giuseppe Guerzoni, raised above himself by his theme
when he wrote the life of Garibaldi. Among living men, two at least
have won an abiding reputation as writers, apart from the utilitarian
worth of their work--Pascale Villari, biographer of Savonarola and
Machiavelli, and writer on the social conditions of the South; and
Domenico Comparetti, author of _Virgilio nel Medio Evo_. In general,
however, the chief distinction of contemporary writers on serious
subjects seems to be their general diligence and good sense. Admirable
writers have gained European renown for themselves, and exalted the
fame of their country by the substantial merit of works making no
especial pretension to literary distinction. Thus Ascoli stands high in
general philology; D’Ancona, Tigri, and Rubieri in literary history;
Lanciani and Rossi in archæology; Nitti in historical research;
Pasolini and Solerti in biography; Cremona in mathematics; Lombroso and
Ferrero in psychology; and Cossa in political economy.

These form a galaxy indeed, but belong rather to learning and science
than to literature. This temporary languor of pure literature may
perhaps be accounted for when it is considered that one main factor
of inspiration has been removed by the contentment of the national
aspirations. The subjection and oppression of the country, with all
their evils, at all events afforded an intense stimulus to literary
genius. Every Italian heart was possessed by the emotions most
conducive to impassioned composition; and patriotic sentiment, even
when not expressed in words, imbued the whole of literature. The
tension removed, it was perhaps inevitable that overstrained feelings
should decline to a lower level, which may be suddenly elevated by the
occurrence of some great national crisis, or the appearance of some
genius gifted, like Mazzini and Carducci, with an especial power of
influencing the young. What Italian letters seem to want above all
things is men, other than poets and novelists, capable of impressing
their own individuality on what they write, and such men are most
readily formed either by the agitation of stirring times, or by the
contagious enthusiasm caught from a great teacher.

The opinions of many eminent living men of letters on the future of
their country’s literature have been collected by Signor Ugo Ojetti in
his _Alla scoperta dei Letterati_ (1895). They are not in general of a
very encouraging character, but their weight is considerably impaired
by their almost complete restriction to a single branch of literature,
and that one whose preponderance is by no means to be desired. Almost
all the authors interviewed by Signor Ojetti are novelists, and, so
far as appears from his reports, would appear utterly unconscious of
the existence of any class of literature but fiction, poetry, and
the drama. They seem to regard literature and _belles lettres_ as
convertible terms, and take no notice of the wider and more important
domains of history, biography, philosophy, moral and economic science,
which may be and often have been in the most flourishing condition
while _belles lettres_ languish. It is, indeed, much to be wished
that more of the literary talent of Italy were directed to solid
and permanent work, and less to fiction, which must be ephemeral in
proportion to the very fidelity with which it fulfils its ordinary task
of depicting the manners of the day. Work like Comparetti’s _Virgilio
nel Medio Evo_, for example, confers higher distinction on the national
literature than any number of novels, unless when creations of genius
of a high order.

Such genius, when exercised in fiction or in poetry, does not depend
for its manifestation upon the state of the book market; the really
gifted author obeys an impulse from within. “Genius does what it must,
and talent does what it can.” If modern Italians have it in them
to produce great books, they will not be prevented by such of the
obstacles stated by Signor Ojetti’s confabulators as may be fairly
resolved into one, the insufficient remuneration of literary work.
It is just to acknowledge, however, the existence of impediments of
another kind. From the earliest period of letters Italy has suffered
from the variance of the written and the spoken language. The
refinements of cultivated circles at Rome were not accepted in the
provinces: there was a Latin of books and a Latin of ordinary life. In
process of time the former became the exclusive speech of the learned,
while the language of the vulgar gave birth to a number of dialects,
out of which, when a vernacular literature came to exist, the Tuscan
was selected as the most appropriate for written speech. Hence there
has always been something artificial in Italian literary language. Many
of the most gifted authors who happened to be born out of Tuscany never
attained to write it with perfect correctness; and the jealous care
taken to ensure its purity tended to limit its flexibility and compass.
It thus became hardly adequate to deal with the mass of neologism
absolutely forced upon it by the development of modern civilisation.

“The difficulty,” says Symonds, “under which a mother-tongue,
artificially and critically fashioned like Italian, suffers when it
copes with ordinary affairs of modern life, is illustrated by the
formation of feeble vocables, and by newspaper jargon,” of which he
gives a horrible instance. The same critic wrote in 1877: “Italian
has undergone no process of transformation and regeneration according
to the laws of organic growth since it first started. The different
districts still use different dialects, while writers in all parts
of the peninsula have conformed their style, as far as possible,
to early Tuscan models. It may be questioned whether united Italy,
having for the first time gained the necessary conditions of national
concentration, is not now at last about to enter on a new phase of
growth in literature, which, after many years, will make the style of
the first authors more archaic than it seems at present.” The immense
difficulty experienced by so great a writer as Manzoni in reconciling
vigour with purity of diction, and his complaints of the limited
vocabulary at his disposal, seem to prove that these impediments are
not imaginary. Since Symonds wrote, however, a view differing in some
respects has been expressed by one of the few living men who may claim
to be regarded as masters of Italian prose, Gabriele d’Annunzio. In
the dedicatory preface to his _Trionfo della Morte_ (1894), D’Annunzio
enters into the question of the adequacy of the Italian language to
express modern ideas, which he emphatically asserts. There is no
respect, he declares, in which it need envy other tongues, or anything
that it need wish to borrow from them. The misfortune is that its great
resources are neglected by modern writers, whose ordinary vocabulary
is limited to a few hundred words, many of illegitimate extraction or
hopelessly disfigured by vulgar usage, and these thrown into sentences
of nearly uniform length, destitute of logical connection and of the
rhythmical accompaniment indispensable to a fine style. The remedy is
a return to the old authors; and, justly remarking that the novelists
of the best period are entirely out of harmony with modern requirements
by reason of their wholly objective character and incapacity for
psychological analysis, D’Annunzio seriously advises modern romancers
to enrich their vocabulary and perfect their style by a course of the
ancient ascetic, casuistical, and devotional writers. The Zolas of
modern Italy resorting for instruction to St. Catherine of Siena would
indeed afford a scene for Aristophanes; yet from a merely stylistic
point of view the advice is judicious.

As regards the ancient writers, the effect would be to renovate them
instead of rendering them more archaic, as anticipated by Symonds,
so far at least as concerns their vocabulary. Although perhaps an
inevitable tribute to Time and Evolution, it is yet no gain to the
English language or literature that so much of our early writers should
be obsolete; and Italy would do well to preserve as much as possible
the speech of the original masters of her tongue, which can be best
effected by keeping their phraseology in constant employment. It may be
hoped that a standard of taste will thus be created enabling writers
to deal satisfactorily with the mass of neologisms which the great
development of modern civilisation renders it impossible to exclude,
but which, indiscriminately admitted, threaten to swamp and debase
the national speech, or possibly to sunder the common inheritance
into two languages, one for the scholar, the other for the multitude.
It is, indeed, a most serious problem for patriotic scholars in all
nations how to preserve the continuity of the national speech amid the
vicissitudes of the national life, and the tendencies which in the
intellectual as in the physical sphere are always at work to wear all
diversities down to one monotonous level. The consolation is that,
whereas these agencies are mere unconscious forces, called into being
by causes independent of the human will, the resisting influences have
their origin in the will, and are capable of intelligent direction. It
should be the task of the cultivators of every literature to ascertain
what course this literature has instinctively shaped for itself;
what are the dominant ideas which have determined the course of its
development. In Italy, from the first lyrists down to Carducci, from
the first prose writers down to D’Annunzio, the guiding principle
would seem to have been the love of perfect form and artistic finish,
liable, like all other meritorious tendencies, to abuse, when its too
exclusive pursuit has cramped originality; to aberration, when writers,
remembering the end, have mistaken the means; but on the whole a right
and laudable aim, because in harmony with the genius of the people and
the language. As it has been said that what is not clear is not French,
so it might be added that what is not refined is not Italian.

Notwithstanding the production of much inferior work, this character
still appertains to the literature in its best contemporary examples,
the only ones with which posterity is likely to concern itself. The
enormous recent development, nevertheless, of the sphere of human
interests; the creation of new arts and sciences, necessitating a
corresponding expansion of the resources of language; the facility
of intercourse among peoples, tending to a cosmopolitanism which
continually threatens to obliterate national distinctions; the
formation of an immense and imperfectly trained reading class, to
whose tastes the majority of authors must or at all events will
condescend--these are trying circumstances for every literature, and
especially for one whose special claims are polish and dignity. But if
it be true that these latter qualities are not imported, or imposed
by external pressure, but inherent in the constitution of the nation
itself, it may well be hoped that they will adapt themselves to the
circumstances of the present, without breach of continuity with the
past. Up to the present time this continuity appears to us unbroken,
and we have been able to conceive of the history of Italian literature
as biography, not so much of individual writers as of a single fair
spirit living through them all, which has moulded, animated, and laid
aside all in their turn. Like other finite existences, this spirit has
known infancy, adolescence, and maturity, and must one day know decay
and death; but the phenomena accompanying her present development
seem to us rather to indicate that, in common with other literatures,
she is traversing a crisis than that she is entering upon a period
of decadence. Every age of letters has its own peculiar peril: that
of ours is the debasement of the standard of writing to the level of
imperfectly educated readers. Against this danger Italian literature
should be especially protected by its close affinity to the languages
of antiquity, by uniform practice and tradition ever since Dante called
Love _the fountain of fair speech_[23], and by a refinement so deeply
imbibed that it seems to have become a part of itself.


                              FOOTNOTES:

[23] _Risponde il fonte del gentil parlare._
                                              --Sonnet XLII.



                         BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE


The number of books which may be usefully consulted on various points
of Italian literature is very considerable. Only the most important
can be named here, and those for the most part such as are written
in English or Italian, and fall strictly under the heads of literary
history or bibliography, or standard editions with indispensable
commentaries. Many books not referable to any of these classes, such
as Burckhardt’s _Cicerone_, Des Brosses’s _Letters_, or Dennistoun’s
_Lives of the Dukes of Urbino_, are incidentally of high value, but
cannot be enumerated in a bibliographical list. Some few biographies,
however, have been added which may be deemed essential. The dates given
are in general those of the best or most accessible editions. Some of
the most important are out of print.


GENERAL COLLECTIONS OF ITALIAN AUTHORS

D’Ancona and Bacci, _Manuale della Letteratura italiana_, 5 vols.
1893-95. A most admirable selection, both for its soundness of
judgment and its comprehensiveness. The notices of the various authors
prefixed to the selections are excellent from the biographical and
bibliographical points of view, and also from the critical when
criticism is sufficiently full, which is not always the case.--Cantù,
_La Letteratura italiana esposta_, &c., 1851, and Morandi, _Antologia_,
1893, are inferior to D’Ancona and Bacci, yet deserve attention.


GENERAL HISTORIES

Tiraboschi, _Storia della Letteratura italiana_, &c., 1822. The
Italian literary historian _par excellence_, characterised at pp. 295,
296 of this book. There is a continuation by Lombardi.--Sismondi,
_Histoire de la Littérature du Midi de l’Europe_; numerous editions and
translations, but hardly equal to its reputation.--Ginguené, _Histoire
littéraire d’Italie_, 14 vols., 1811-35 [the last four volumes by
Salfi]. A work of extraordinary diligence and erudition, on no account
to be neglected by the few who may have time to read it, though written
from an eighteenth-century point of view now entirely antiquated. The
chief literary defect is the immoderate space devoted to unravelling
the plots of uninteresting epics and dramas; this excess of diligence,
however, renders it a valuable source of information concerning minor
authors frequently omitted.--This is also a valuable feature of
Corniani, _I Secoli della Letteratura italiana_, 1832-33.--Bartoli,
_Storia della Letteratura italiana_, 1875. This unfinished work is
the best authority for the history of the early period, beyond which
it does not as yet extend. It is full of learning and research, but
prolix.--Gaspary, _Geschichte der italienischen Litteratur_, &c.,
1885. Another important work unfortunately left incomplete, breaking
off in the Cinque Cento. The best of all the larger Italian literary
histories, but deficient in form, rather a quarry of material than a
regular edifice. An English translation by H. Oelsner is in preparation.


HISTORIES OF SPECIAL DEPARTMENTS

Crescimbeni, _Istoria della volgar Poesia_, 1730. Quadrio, _Della
Storia e della regione d’ogni Poesia_, 1739-52. Standard histories long
out of print, but to be found in all good public libraries.--Muratori,
_Della perfetta Poesia_, 1821. Characterised at p. 295.--Ruth,
_Geschichte der italienischen Poesie_, 1844-47.--Loise, _Histoire de la
Poésie en Italie_, 1895.--Carducci, _Studi Letterari_, 1880. Valuable
criticisms on various periods of Italian literature.--An excellent
anthology of the dicta of modern Italian critics has been compiled by
Morandi, _Antologia_, &c., 1893.


ABRIDGED LITERARY HISTORIES

Emiliani-Giudici, _Compendia della Storia della Letteratura italiana_,
1855. Very sound, but verbose.--Settembrini, _Lezioni della Letteratura
italiana_, 1877. Perhaps on the whole the most recommendable of all
the minor Italian literary histories. The author, an exile lately
restored to his country, is inspired with a spirit of patriotism which
renders his work singularly vital and energetic, and the young men to
whom his lectures are addressed are ever before him. Notwithstanding
occasional paradoxes, his appreciations are in general sound, although
he is naturally inclined to bear hardly upon authors who fail to attain
his standard of patriotism.--De Sanctis, _Storia della Letteratura
italiana_, 1879. Very good, but deficient in the spirit and fire of
Settembrini.--Fenini, _Letteratura italiana_, 1889. The model of
an abbreviated handbook; and the same may be said of its English
counterpart, Snell’s _Primer of Italian Literature_, 1893.


POPULAR POETRY

Rubieri, _Storia della Poesia popolare italiana_, 1877.--D’Ancona,
_La Poesia popolare italiana_, 1878.--Tommaseo, _Canti popolari_,
1841-42.--Tigri, _Canti popolari Toscani_, 1869. See also J. A.
Symonds’s essay in his _Italian Sketches and Studies_, 1879, a new
edition of which is in preparation.


PREDECESSORS AND CONTEMPORARIES OF DANTE

Rossetti, _Dante and his Circle_, 1893. Consists chiefly of
translations of the highest merit. The information it contains is
chiefly derived from Nannucci, _Manuale della Letteratura del primo
Secolo_, 1843; and Trucchi, _Poesie italiane inedite di dugento
autori_, 1846.


DANTE

There is, perhaps, as much commentary upon Dante as upon all the
rest of Italian literature put together. The most charming edition,
when comment is not needed, is that of Dr. Edward Moore, 1894, where
all Dante’s works are compressed into one small and exquisitely
printed volume; but few students can dispense with a commentary, and
it is generally advisable to read Dante in a modern Italian edition,
with notes in that language. Of several excellent editions of this
description, the best, perhaps, is Fraticelli’s, 1892. For profound
students, Ferrazzi, _Manuale Dantesco_, 1865, and Poletto, _Dizionario
Dantesco_, 1885, are indispensable. A similar and not less important
work in English, by Mr. Paget Toynbee, is now in the press. Of the
numerous introductions to the _Divine Comedy_, the following may be
recommended to English readers: Scartazzini, _Companion to Dante_,
translated by A. J. Butler, 1895; Symonds, _Introduction to Dante_,
1890; Maria Francesca Rossetti, _A Shadow of Dante_, 1884; Dean Church,
_Dante_, 1878; and A. J. Butler, _Dante_, 1895. Of these, Scartazzini
is the scholar and Dantophilist, Symonds and Butler are the efficient
critics from the modern point of view, and Miss Rossetti and Dean
Church represent Dante’s own position. Moore’s _Studies in Dante_, now
in course of publication, and Wicksteed’s _Sermons on Dante_, have a
wider scope than that of an introductory manual. The point of Dante’s
influence on posterity has been investigated by Oelsner, _Influence of
Dante on Modern Thought_, 1895; and his relation to his own countrymen
is discussed in the third volume of Dean Plumptre’s translation of the
_Divine Comedy_. He is treated from the neo-catholic point of view by
Ozanam, _Dante et la Philosophie catholique_, 1845.

The best editions of Dante’s lyrical poems, including the very many
falsely attributed to him, and of his _Vita Nuova_ and other prose
works, are those by Fraticelli. The best English translation of the
_Vita Nuova_ is Rossetti’s; but other translators (Martin, 1862;
Norton, 1893; Boswell, 1895; and the Austrian translator Federn, 1897)
have done much more for the illustration of the text. A beautiful work
on _Dante, sein Leben und sein Werk, sein Verhältniss zur Kunst und zur
Politik_, by Franz Xaver Kraus, has just been published in Berlin.


PETRARCH

No authority for Petrarch’s life is equal to his own letters, published
complete in the edition of Fracassetti, 1859-63. An English translation
has been announced. There are recent biographies corresponding to the
requirements of modern research by Geiger, 1874, and in the first
volume of Koerting’s _Geschichte der Litteratur Italiens_, 1878.
Petrarch’s position and resources as a scholar have been thoroughly
investigated by Pierre de Nolhac, _Pétrarque et l’Humanisme_, 1892.
The best commentary is Leopardi’s, always printed with the current
Florentine edition of the _Canzoniere_. The most critical edition is
Mestica’s, 1896. The best literary criticism is Zumbini’s _Studi sul
Petrarca_, 1895.


BOCCACCIO

Koerting’s life of Boccaccio in the second volume of his _Geschichte_
is the best; and the English reader may consult Symonds, _Giovanni
Boccaccio_, 1895.


ITALIAN NOVEL

Perhaps the fullest account of the Italian novelists in an English
book is that in Dunlop’s _History of Fiction_, as edited by Wilson,
1888. See also Papanti, _Catalogo dei Novelieri italiani_, 1871, and
the notices prefixed to the specimens translated in Thomas Roscoe’s
_Italian Novelists_, 1832.


ITALIAN DRAMA

The fullest accounts of individual Italian dramatists will be found
in Ginguené. The beginning of the Italian drama is investigated by
D’Ancona in his _Origini del Teatro in Italia_, 1891; see also the
volumes (iv.-vii.) devoted to Italy in Klein’s _Geschichte des Dramas_.
D’Ancona has written a monograph on the _Sacre Rappresentazioni_
(see p. 226). The _Commedia dell’ Arte_ (pp. 305-307) is treated in
Scherillo’s monograph with this title, in Maurice Sand’s _Masques et
Bouffons_, and in Symonds’s preface to his translation of the memoirs
of Carlo Gozzi, 1892.


ROMANTIC POETRY

This subject is most fully treated in general histories, whether of
Italian or romantic literature. Panizzi’s introduction to his edition
of Boiardo and Ariosto (1831), though in many respects erroneous or
antiquated, deserves attention, as does Ferrario, _Storia ed Analisi
degli antichi Romanzi di Cavalleria_, 1828-29. Ariosto’s indebtedness
to earlier romancers has been investigated by Rajna, _Le Fonti dell’
Orlando Furioso_. Leigh Hunt’s _Stories from the Italian Poets_ is a
charming companion to Italian chivalric poetry.


ITALIAN RENAISSANCE

The best view of the Renaissance as a whole is to be obtained from
Symonds’s great work, _The Renaissance in Italy_, 1875-81. A new
edition is in course of issue. Much of this comprehensive book relates
to politics, and much to art; but so complete in the Renaissance
period was the interpenetration of all forms of mental activity that
no part of the work is useless for the study of literature. The same
may be said of almost all modern biographies of leading Italians of the
period, of most collections of letters, and of such books as Bisticci’s
memoirs of his contemporaries (p. 107). A useful abridged account of
the scholars of the early period of the Renaissance will be found in
Villari’s _Life of Machiavelli_; and authors of later date are noticed
in Roscoe’s _Life of Leo X_. The dissemination of literature upon the
invention of printing is illustrated by Horatio Brown in his _Venetian
Printing Press_, 1892.


TASSO

All previous biographies are superseded by Solerti’s, 1895.


EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Crescimbeni, _Vite degl’ Arcadi Illustri_, 1704-13.--Cantù, _L’Abate
Parini e la Lombardia nel Secolo XVIII_.--Carducci, _Parini_.--Vernon
Lee, _Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy_, 1880. Much of this
brilliant book is devoted to music and the stage, but the literary
element is never long absent.


NINETEENTH CENTURY

The most valuable essays on Italian literature in the nineteenth
century are at present to be found in periodicals, especially the
_Nuova Antologia_ and the _Deutsche Rundschau_; in general works
on Italy like Mariotti’s; in the biographies and correspondence of
distinguished authors of the period, and in such monographs upon them
as Zumbini’s _Sulle Poesie di Vincenzo Monti_. Modern Italian poetry
is well treated by W. D. Howells, _Modern Italian Poets_, 1887; by F.
Sewall in his introduction to his translations from Carducci, 1892;
and in the preface and biographical introductions to Greene’s _Italian
Lyrists of To-Day_, 1893.



INDEX


      _Adelchi_, 346

      _Adone_, 273, 274

      Alamanni, Luigi, his _Girone_, 152;
        his didactic poetry, 202;
        his satires, 203

      Alberti, Leone Battista, 105-107

      Aleardi, Aleardo, 388, 389

      Alfieri, Count Vittorio, biography, 316-319;
        tragedies, 319, 320;
        minor writings, 321

      Algarotti, Francesco, 296

      Alphonso, Duke of Ferrara, 240, 244

      Amari, Michele, 382

      Amicis, Edmondo de, 408

      _Aminta_, 233, 234

      Ammirato, Scipione, 173

      Andreini, 233

      Angioleri, Cecco, 20

      Annunzio, Gabriele d’, as poet, 402-406;
        as novelist, 409;
        on the Italian language, 415

      _Arcadia_, 123, 124

      _Arcadian Academy_, 279-298

      Aretino, Pietro, 182;
        his comedies, 232

      Ariosto, Lodovico, biography, 140-143;
        his _Orlando Furioso_, 143-154;
        minor poetical works, 151;
        satires, 203;
        comedies, 230, 231

      Arnaboldi, Alessandro, 408

      _Arnaldo da Brescia_, 350

      Arnold, Matthew, on Alfieri, 320

      _Asolani, Gli_, 180

      Azeglio, Massimo d’, 349, 384

      Baccelli, Alfredo, 408

      Balbo, Cesare, 383

      Ballala, the, 10

      Bandello, Matteo, 218, 219

      Barberino, Francesco, 21

      Baretti, Giuseppe, 297

      Barrili, Giulio, 409

      Basile, Giovanni, _l’entamerone_, 221

      _Bassvilliana, La_, 334

      Beatrice de’ Portinari, Dante’s lady, 25, 26, 32

      Beccaria, Cesare, 293

      Belli, Gioacchino, 368, 369

      Bello, Francesco, 138

      Bembo, Pietro, his history of Venice, 174, 175;
        his _Asolani_, 180;
        his letters, 183;
        his poems, 188, 189

      Benivieni, Girolamo, 121

      Bentivoglio, Cardinal Guido, 269, 273

      Beolco, Angelo, 232

      Berchet, Giovanni, 386

      Berni, Francesco, his humorous poetry, 204, 205;
        his _rifacimento_ of Boiardo, 206, 207

      Bibbiena, Cardinal, 142, 230

      Bible, translated into Italian, 113

      Biondo, Flavio, 111

      Bisticci, Vespasiano da, 107

      Boccaccio, Giovanni, his sonnet on Dante, 31;
        his friendship with Petrarch, 61, 84;
        his biography, 82-85;
        his romances, 85-87;
        his _Decameron_, 87-90;
        his poetry, 91-95;
        his character, 96

      Boccalini, Trajano, 270, 271

      Boiardo, Matteo Maria, his _Orlando Innamorato_, 131, 138;
        his lyrics, 139;
        his _Timone_, 230

      Bonghi, Ruggiero, 411

      Borgia, Girolamo, 172

      Botta, Carlo, 380

      Bovio, Giuseppe, 408

      Bracciolini, Francesco, 209

      Bracciolini, Poggio, 111

      Bracco, Roberto, 408

      Bruni, Leonardo, his life of Dante, 27;
        translates Plato and Aristotle, 111

      Bruno, Giordano, 260-263

      Bryant, 339

      Buonarotti, M. A., 232

      Burchiello, Domenico, 101

      Byron, 354


      Campanella, Tommaso, 263, 265

      Cantù, Cesare, 349, 381

      Canzone, the, 8

      _Canzoniere, Il_, 66, 67

      Capponi, Gino, 104

      Capuana, Luigi, 408

      Carducci, Giosuè, sonnet on Dante, 52;
        his beneficial influence, 328;
        leading position in modern Italian literature, 396, 397;
        characteristics of his poetry, 397-401;
        founder of a school of poets, 402

      _Carmagnola_, 346

      Caro, Annibale, 192

      Carrer, Luigi, 387

      Casa, Giovanni della, 179, 193

      Casti, Giovanni Battista, 302, 303

      Castiglione, Baldassare, his _Cortegiano_, 178-180

      Cavalcanti, Guido, 17, 18

      Cavalieri, Tommaso de’, 197

      Cavallotti, Felice, 407, 408

      Cayley, C. B., on Petrarch’s _Canzoniere_, 66, 67

      Cellini, Benvenuto, his autobiography, 177, 178

      Cerlone, Francesco, 307

      Charles V., Caro’s sonnet upon, 192

      Chaucer, 61, 90, 91, 98

      Chiabrera, Gabriello, 276-279, 397

      Chiari, Abate, 308

      Chiarini, Giuseppe, 411

      Chrysoloras, Emanuel, 111

      Cielo dal Carno, 7

      Cino da Pistoia, 18-20

      Cinthio, Giovanni Battista Giraldi, 219, 229

      Ciriaco di Ancona, 105

      Clement VI., Pope, 58, 69

      Clement VII., Pope, 158

      Clement VIII., Pope, 246, 257

      Clerke, Miss Ellen, translations by, 93, 117, 135, 148, 250, 347

      Clough, quoted, 331

      Coleridge, S. T., 35, 61, 62, 361, 390

      Colletta, Pietro, 380, 381

      Colonna, Cardinal, patron of Petrarch, 55, 59

      Colonna, Francesco, 108

      Colonna, Vittoria, her sonnet to Bembo, 191;
        poems on her husband, 194;
        Michael Angelo’s attachment to her, 197

      _Commedia dell’arte_, 305, 306

      Compagni, Dino, chronicle attributed to, 27, 103, 104

      Comparetti, Domenico, 411, 413

      Conti, Giusto de’, 101

      _Convito, Il_, 34

      Coppetta, Francesco, 203, 204

      Coronal of Sonnets, Tasso’s, 255

      _Cortegiano, Il_, 178-180

      Cosmo de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, 166

      Cossa, Pietro, 391, 392

      Costanzo, Angelo di, his history of Naples, 176;
        his poems, 193, 194

      Courthope, W. J., 146

      Crescimbeni, Giovanni Mario, 294, 298


      Dacre, Lady, translation from Pulci by, 130

      Dante Alighieri, biography, 24-31;
        _Vita Nuova_, 31-34;
        _Convito_, 34-36;
        _De Monarchia_, 36, 37;
        _Divina Commedia_, 40-52;
        Petrarch upon him, 63, 77;
        Boccaccio upon him, 93, 96

      Davila, Enrico Caterino, 268

      _Decamerone, Il_, 88-90

      _De Monarchia_, 36, 37

      Denina, Carlo, 296

      _De Vulgari Eloquio_, 36

      _Discorsi sopra Tito Livio_, 161

      _Divina Commedia, La_, 40-52


      Este, house of, 141, 144


      Farini, Luigi Carlo, 383

      Farini, Salvatore, 409

      Ferrari, Giuseppe, 379

      Fiamma, Gabriele, 198

      Fiammetta, Boccaccio’s _innamorata_, 83

      _Fiammetta, La_, 86-88

      Filangieri, Gaetano, 293

      Filicaja, Vincenzo, 283-285

      _Filocopo, Il_, 85, 86

      _Filostrato, Il_, 91, 92

      Firenzuola, Agnolo, 182, 217

      Fogazzaro, Antonio, 408, 409

      Folengo, Teofilo, 207

      Folgore di San Geminiano, 20

      Fortiguerri, Niccoló, 210

      Foscolo, Ugo, life and works, 337-341

      Francis of Assisi, St., 16

      Frederick II., Emperor of Germany, 6, 7

      Frezzi, Frederico, 100

      Galiani, Ferdinando, 294

      Galileo, 259

      Gallina, Giacinto, 408

      Gelli, Giovanni Battista, 181

      Gemma Donati, Dante’s wife, 28, 29

      Genovesi, Antonio, 294

      Gentili, Alberico, 266

      _Gerusalemme Liberata, La_, 246-253

      Giannone, Pietro, 291, 292

      Gil Vicente, 225

      Ginguené, 77, 143

      Gioberti, Vincenzo, 370, 371, 377, 378

      Giordani, Pietro, 369, 370

      _Giorno, Il_, 299

      _Giostra, La_, 117

      Giovanni Fiorentino, 102, 215, 216

      Giovio, Paolo, 172

      Giusti, Giuseppe, 365-368

      Giustiniani, Leonardo, 102

      Glassford, James, translation from Sannazaro by, 187

      Goethe, on _I Promessi Sposi_, 348

      Goldoni, Carlo, controversy with Gozzi, 308;
        life, 321-323;
        comedies, 323, 324

      Gosse, Edmund, translation of a sonnet of Redi by, 282

      Gozzi, Carlo, life and dramatic writings, 307-309

      Gozzi, Gaspare, 297

      Graf, Arturo, 408

      Gravina, Vincenzo, 298, 310

      Grazzini, Antonio Maria, 219

      Greene, G. A., translation from D’Annunzio, 405;
        his _Italian Lyrists of To-Day_, 408

      Grossi, Tommaso, 349

      Guarini, Giovanni Battista, _Pastor Fido_, 234-236

      Gubernatis, Angelo de, 411

      Guerrazzi, Francesco Domenico, 391

      Guerrini, Olindo, 407

      Guerzoni, Giuseppe, 411

      Guicciardini, Francesco, his life, 164-166;
        history of his times, 166, 167;
        miscellaneous writings, 168, 169

      Guidi, Alessandro, 285

      Guidiccioni, Guido, 191, 192

      Guinicelli, Guido, 15

      Guittone di Arezzo, 13, 14


      Homeric epic, probable genesis of, 154, 155

      Howells, W. H., translation from Giusti by, 367

      Hunt, Leigh, translations by, 78, 205, 235;
        on Pulci, 130;
        on Tasso’s _Aminta_, 233

      _Hypnerotomachia Poliphili_, 108


      Ippolito d’Este, Cardinal of Ferrara, 141


      Jacopino de’ Todi, 21

      Jacopo da Lentino, 8

      _Jacopo Ortis_, 338, 339


      Lanzi, Luigi, 296

      Latini, Brunetto, 21, 22

      Laura, Petrarch’s _innamorata_, 55, 67-73

      Lee, Vernon [Miss Violet Paget], 280, 297, 307, 309, 392

      Leo X., Pope, 142, 158, 165, 175

      Leonora d’Este, sister of the Duke of Ferrara, 241

      Leopardi, Giacomo, his commentary on Petrarch, 81;
        his _Paralipomeni_, 210;
        biography, 354-357;
        as philosopher, 357, 358;
        as poet, 359-362;
        his prose works, 362, 363;
        as moralist, 363, 364

      Leti, Gregorio, 269, 270

      Lippi, Lorenzo, 209

      Lorenzo de’ Medici, his poetry and patronage of literature,
        113-116

      Luigi d’Este, Cardinal of Ferrara, 240


      Macgregor, Major, translation from Petrarch by, 58

      Machiavelli, Niccoló, his life, 157-159;
        his _Prince_, 159-161;
        _Discourses on Livy’s Decades_, 161;
        _History of Florence_, 162, 163;
        his poems, 203;
        his comedies, 231

      Maffei, Scipione, Marquis, 295, 315

      Magno, Celio, 198

      Mamiani, Terenzio, 379

      _Mandragola, La_, 231

      Manzoni, Alessandro, life and character, 342-344;
        lyrical poetry, 345;
        dramas, 346;
        _I Promessi Sposi_, 348, 349

      Marini, Giovanni Battista, 273-275

      Marini, Giuseppe Ambrogio, 287

      Marradi, Giovanni, 408

      Massuccio Salernitano, 216

      Mazzini, Giuseppe, 370-374

      Mazzuchelli, Giovanni Maria, 295

      Meli, Giovanni, 301, 302

      Menzini, Benedetto, 285

      _Merope_, 315

      Mestica, Giovanni, commentator on Petrarch, 74, 80, 379

      Metastasio, Pietro, biography, 310-312;
        works and literary characteristics, 312-315

      Micali, Giuseppe, 382

      Michael Angelo, as a poet, 197

      _Mie Prigioni, Le_, 351

      Milton, compared with Dante, 49, 50;
        indebtedness to Sannazaro, 187;
        study of Italian models, 199;
        on the decay of Italian literature in
      his time, 238;
        influence of Tasso on his versification, 245;
        compared with Tasso, 248, 249

      Molière, 323, 324

      Molza, Francesco Maria, 189, 190

      _Mondo Creato, Il_, 245

      Montanelli, Giuseppe, 384

      Montemagno, Bonaccorso da, 102

      Monti, Vincenzo, life and works, 333-337;
        a reviver of Dante, 344

      _Morgante Maggiore, Il_, 128-131

      Muratori, Lodovico Antonio, 295


      Napoleon, the true founder of Italian unity, 353

      Nardi, Jacopo, 172

      Navagero, Andrea, 172

      Negri, Ada, 408

      Nencioni, Enrico, 411

      Niccolini, Giovanni Battista, 350

      Nicholas V., Pope, 112

      Niebuhr, 376

      Nievo, Ippolito, 391

      Nolhac, Pierre de, _Pétrarque et l’Humanisme_, 65

      _Novellino, Il_, 85


      Ojetti, Ugo, 325, 412

      Ongaro, Francesco dall’, 387

      Opera, the, 313, 314

      Ophelia, 124

      _Orfeo_, 233

      _Orlando Furioso_, 143-151

      _Orlando Innamorato_, 132-138

      Ottonieri, Filippo, pseudonym of Leopardi, 364

      Ovid, 145


      Pallavicino, Cardinal Sforza, 267, 268

      Palmieri, Matteo, 101

      Panizzi, Antonio, 11, 129, 130, 138, 139, 143

      Panzacchi, Enrico, 408

      Parini, Giuseppe, 299-301

      Paruta, Pietro, 174, 175

      Pascoli, Giuseppe, 408

      _Pastor Fido, Il_, 234, 235

      Paterno, Lodovico, 203

      Patmore, Coventry, 97, 148, 403

      Paul III., Pope, 175, 237

      Paul V., Pope, 267

      Petrarca, Francesco, biography, 53-61;
        his Latin poetry, 61-63;
        other Latin writings, 63, 64;
        epistles, 64, 65;
        classical scholarship, 65;
        his passion for Laura, 66-73;
        his _Canzoniere_, 73-79;
        his character, 79, 80

      Pellico, Silvio, 351

      Piccolomini, Alessandro, 181

      Pindemonte, Ippolito, his sonnet on Petrarch’s Laura, 72;
        his life and writings, 341, 342

      Pius II., Pope [Enea Silvio Piccolomini], 105

      Pius IV., Pope, 237

      Placci, Carlo, 409

      Pletho, Gemistus, 111

      Poliziano, Angelo, his poetry and scholarship, 116-119;
        his _Orfeo_, 227, 233

      Polo, Marco, 105

      Pontano, Giovanni, 107, 108

      Porto, Luigi da, 217

      Prati, Giovanni, 387, 388

      _Principe, Il_, 158-161

      _Promessi Sposi, I_, 348, 349

      Provençal literature, 4-6

      Pulci, Luca, 121

      Pulci, Luigi, his _Morgante Maggiore_, 128-131


      Ranieri, Antonio, 356

      Rapisardi, Mario, 408

      _Rappresentazione Sacra_, 226

      _Reali di Francia, I_, 128

      Redi, Francesco, 281, 282

      Reeve, Henry, 81

      Ridella, Franco, 357

      Romagnosi, Giovanni Domenico, 378

      Rosa, Salvator, 286

      Roscoe, William, 189, 196

      Rosmini-Serbati, Antonio, 378

      Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, translations by, 7, 8, 9, 15, 19, 20, 22,
       34, 95, 100, 102

      Rossetti, Gabriel, 386, 387

      Rossi, J. V. [Nicius Erythræus], 269, 277, 287

      Rousseau, 329

      Rucellai, Giovanni, 202


      Sabadino degli Arienti, 217

      Sacchetti, Franco, 102, 214, 215

      Sade, Abbé de, his theory respecting Petrarch’s Laura, 68-71

      Sannazaro, Jacopo, his life, 122;
        his _Arcadia_, 123, 124;
        his Latin and Italian poetry, 187

      Sarpi, Pietro, 267, 268

      Savonarola, Girolamo, 121

      _Secchia Rapita, La_, 208, 209

      Senuccio del Bene, 101

      _Sepolcri, I_, 339

      Serao, Matilda, 409

      Settembrini, Luigi, 124, 219, 243, 274, 344

      Sewall, Frank, translation from Carducci, 401

      Shakespeare, _Othello_, 219;
        _Measure for Measure_, 219, 229;
        _Timon of Athens_, 230;
        sonnets, 255

      Shelley, 17, 27, 35, 41, 144, 360

      Sicilian octave, the, 10

      Sidney, Sir Philip, 124, 262

      Sixtus V., Pope, 270

      Solerti, 243

      _Song of Roland_, 128

      Sonnet, the, 9, 284

      Spenser, 134, 146, 329, 403

      Speroni, Sperone, 229

      Staël, Madame de, her _Corinne_, 333, 354

      Stampa, Gaspara, 195

      Stigliani, Tommaso, 275

      Straparola, his _Notti Piacevoli_, 220

      Swinburne, quoted, 373

      Symonds, J. A., cited, 26, 44, 48, 106, 118, 190, 197, 232,
        234, 260, 309, 323, 414; translations by, 120, 265


      Tansillo, Luigi, his life and poems, 195-197

      Tasso, Bernardo, his _Amadigi_, 152;
        his sonnets, 191;
        his misfortunes, 239

      Tasso, Torquato, his _Rinaldo_, 152;
        _Torrismondo_, 229;
        _Aminta_, 233, 234;
        his life, 238-246;
        _Jerusalem Delivered_, 246-254;
        minor poems, 254, 255;
        his dialogues, 266;
        his sonnet to Stigliani, 275;
        his patriotic feeling, 352

      Tassoni, Alessandro, 208, 209

      Telesio, Bernardo, 260

      _Teseide, La_, 91, 92

      Testa, Giovanni Battista, 381

      Testi, Fulvio, 279, 280

      Tiraboschi, Girolamo, 295, 296

      Tomlinson, C., 81

      Tommaseo, Niccoló, 384, 385

      Trissino, Giovanni Giorgio, his _Italia Liberata_, 153, 154;
        his _Sophonisba_,228

      Troya, Carlo, 382, 383

      Turpin, Archbishop of Rheims, 127


      Uberti, Fazio degli, 99, 100


      Valla, Lorenzo, 111

      Valle, Pietro della, 271

      Vanini, Giulio Cesare, 265

      Varchi, Benedetto, 172

      Vasari, Giorgio, his lives of Italian artists, 176, 177

      Verga, Giovanni, 410

      Verri, Alessandro, 303

      Vico, Giovanni Battista, 290, 291

      Villani, Giovanni, 104

      Villari, Pasquale, on Guicciardini, 167, 168;
        his writings, 411

      _Vita Nuova, La_, 32-34

      Wells, C., 215

      Whitman, Walt, and Carducci, 401

      Wordsworth, 200, 277, 402


      Zanella, Giacomo, 389-391

      Zappi, Faustina, 299

      Zappi, Felice, 298

      Zeno, Apostolo, 310

      Zuccoli, Luciano, 409


                                THE END


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                  *       *       *       *       *

                       Literatures of the World

                     Edited by EDMUND GOSSE, M.A.

                                  I.
                             A History of
                       Ancient Greek Literature

                        By Gilbert Murray, M.A.

      Professor of Greek in the University of Glasgow; sometime
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  is full of humour, not exactly racy epigram, but felicitous phrases.
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  must also say a word of praise for the translated extracts throughout
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  in really thrilling English.”

  =_The Journal of Education._=--“The series starts _felici omine_. No
  brighter or more readable account of a subject so immense as Greek
  literature has, to our knowledge, ever been published in English than
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  =_The Spectator._=--“Professor Murray soon convinces his readers that
  he is equal to his subject, has something fresh to say about it, and
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  he surpasses, we think, all his predecessors. We have seldom found a
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  =_The Standard._=--“Professor Murray does all the justice which is
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  and many-sided. He has written a lucid and fascinating sketch of the
  men and movements that shaped in prose and poetry the most splendid
  and influential literary bequest of antiquity. The method of the
  book is to realise what sort of men the Greek poets, historians,
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  as they lived. The book abounds in fresh and vigorous thought, and
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                       Literatures of the World

                     Edited by EDMUND GOSSE, M.A.

                                  II.
                    A History of French Literature

                    By Edward Dowden, D.C.L., LL.D.

              Professor of Oratory and English Literature
                      in the University of Dublin

                   Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, 6s.

  =_The Athenæum._=--“Mr. Dowden has condensed a remarkable amount
  of carefully formed judgments into his 400 pages. He has done it
  with so honest an intelligence that we can trust him alike when
  he writes of Rabelais and when he writes of Fénelon.... The book
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  in English.... Mr. Dowden is for the most part so just, because,
  whatever his personal preferences, he possesses pre-eminently a sane
  enthusiasm for literature as literature. Looking at literature as the
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  is most valuable, most corrective of much that is unduly academic in
  the professional treatment of literature, is that he has realised
  literature in this living way, as being itself so living a thing....
  A book which is certainly the best history of French Literature in
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  =_The Saturday Review._=--“This is a history of literature as
  histories of literature should be written. From beginning to end of
  this book, in which French Literature is chronicled from the Middle
  Ages to the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, there is
  not a page in which the writer is not seen successfully endeavouring
  to understand, sympathise with, and truthfully interpret writer after
  writer, Rabelais, Calvin, Victor Hugo.... His style has the singular
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  as well as how much reading, have gone to the making of these
  picturesque portraits of writers.”


                       Literatures of the World

                     Edited by EDMUND GOSSE, M.A.

                                 III.
                             A History of
                       Modern English Literature

                                  By

                             Edmund Gosse

                Hon. M.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge

                   Large crown 8vo, cloth extra, 6s.

  =_Athenæum._=--“The author has succeeded in giving a really useful
  account of the whole process of evolution in English letters--an
  account based upon a keen sense at once of the unity of his subject
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  felicity in hitting off the leading characteristics of individual
  writers, ”placing“ them critically in a few graceful lines. As a
  whole the book is full of insight and serenity of judgment.”

  =_Literature._=--“Mr. Gosse possesses a rare power of giving adequacy
  even to his most summarised accounts of literary work, and his most
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  stroke. This 'History of Modern English Literature’ is a work which
  will not only serve its purpose in the class-room, but is eminently
  worthy of a place of honour in the library.”

  =_Saturday Review._=--“It is difficult to be too thankful to a
  historian who judges everything from the strictly literary point
  of view, to whom the word history really means a tracing of the
  continuous life of literature, and to whom the historian himself is a
  person to be kept rigorously out of sight.”

  =_Times._=--“Mr. Gosse’s most ambitious book, and probably his best.
  It bears on every page the traces of wide reading, of a genuine love
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  is extremely readable--more readable, in fact, than any other single
  volume dealing with the subject that we can call to mind. The picture
  given is in the main true to life, and it is painted with extreme
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  =_Daily Chronicle._=--“Mr. Gosse has been remarkably successful in
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  but with a singular emotion. The very rapidity with which the
  majestic procession of names passed in review, brought home to us
  with peculiar vividness the greatness of the phenomenon comprised in
  the words ”English Literature.“ Mr. Gosse’s criticism is generally
  sympathetic, but at the same time it is always sober.”

  =_Daily Graphic._=--“Mr. Gosse is a careful student and skilful
  critic; he knows the subject as well as any one, and he knows how to
  write something better than a school-book. We wish we could help our
  readers to enjoy to the full this most delightful book, which every
  one should read from beginning to end.”

  =_St. James’s Gazette._=--“Certainly one of the most valuable as well
  as one of the most interesting books of its kind.”

  =_Academy._=--“A book that is interesting in every paragraph.”

  =_Manchester Guardian._=--“Animation, sympathy, proportion, govern
  the book throughout. Alike in his treatment of individuals and in
  his firm hold of the main threads of his story, the author shows his
  mastery of the art of weaving a history.”

  =_Glasgow Herald._=--“This brilliant book gives a new value and
  distinction to the series. Mr. Gosse’s critical taste and skill have
  never been better exemplified. The book is a fine and solid piece of
  work.”

  =_Manchester Courier._=--“An interesting body of criticism
  unsurpassed in its sanity, luminousness, and sense of proportion,
  expressed with a directness and clearness which render it all the
  more valuable, and with a felicity which gives it a charm, rarely
  associated with handbooks of literature.”

  =_Globe._=--“It is wonderful that Mr. Gosse should have been able
  to get so much fact as well as thought into a space comparatively so
  small. We have here, in effect, the cream of the author’s meditations
  on the wide field of English literature.”


                          The Great Educators

 _A Series of Volumes by Eminent Writers, presenting in their entirety
                “A Biographical History of Education”_


                                  I.

            Aristotle, and the Ancient Educational Ideals.
               By THOMAS DAVIDSON, M.A., LL.D. Price 5s.

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  Education up to Aristotle and down from Aristotle, to show the past
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  =_Saturday Review._=--“It is well written and interesting, and, while
  making no vain display of learning, shows a thorough acquaintance
  with its subject.”


                                  II.

          Loyola, and the Educational System of the Jesuits.
                 By Rev. THOMAS HUGHES, S.J. Price 5s.

  =_Saturday Review._=--“This volume will probably be welcomed by
  others besides those specially interested in the theories and methods
  of education. Written by a member of the Jesuit Society, it comes to
  us with authority, and presents a complete and well-arranged survey
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  ponder not merely the wisdom contained in the Ratio, but on the
  self-sacrifice it requires from the Jesuit teacher.”


                                 III.

            Alcuin, and the Rise of the Christian Schools.
            By Professor ANDREW F. WEST, Ph.D. Price 5s.

  =_Times._=--“Professor West’s monograph is a valuable contribution,
  based upon original and independent study, to our knowledge of an
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               Froebel, and Education by Self-Activity.
                 By H. COURTHOPE BOWEN, M.A. Price 5s.

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      Abelard, and the Origin and Early History of Universities.
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                     Herbart and the Herbartians.
                 By CHARLES DE GARMO, Ph.D. Price 5s.

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                                 VII.

 Thomas and Matthew Arnold, and their Influence on English Education.
 By Sir JOSHUA FITCH, M.A., LL.D., formerly Her Majesty’s Inspector of
                     Training Colleges. Price 5s.

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   Horace Mann, and the Common School Revival in the United States.
 By B. A. HINSDALE, Ph.D., LL.D., Professor of the Science and Art of
           Teaching in the University of Michigan. Price 5s.

                                                   [_Just Ready._

                           _In Preparation._

    Rousseau, and Education according to Nature. By PAUL H. HANUS.

          Pestalozzi, or the Friend and Student of Children.


                       LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                        21 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.



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