Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/21

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xv
INTRODUCTION.

Even when dealing with his grosser topics—and these he derived from others—he half disarms disgust by the lightness of his touch. And he could tell a tale, one of the most difficult of literary tasks. When he deals with graver actions, if he does not always rise to the occasion, he never fails to give the due impression of seriousness and dignity. It is not for nothing that the Decamerone has been the storehouse of poetic inspiration for nearly five centuries. In this country alone, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dryden, Keats, Tennyson, have each in turn gone to Boccaccio for material.

In his own country he is the fountainhead of a wide stream of literary influences that has ever broadened as it flowed. Between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries the Italian presses poured forth some four thousand novelle, all avowedly tracing from Boccaccio.[1] Many of these, it is true, were imitations of the gayer strains of Boccaccio's genius. But a considerable proportion of them have a sterner tone, and deal with the weightier matters of life, and in this they had none but the master for their model. The gloom of the Black Death settles down over the greater part of all this literature. Every memorable outburst of the fiercer passions of men that occurred in Italy, the land of passion, for all these years, found record in a novella of Boccaccio's followers. The Novelle answered in some respects to our newspaper reports of trials and the earlier Last Speech and Confession. But the example of Boccaccio raised these gruesome topics into the region of art. Often these tragedies are reported of the true actors; still more often under the disguise of fictitious names, that enabled the narrator to have more of the artist's freedom in dealing with such topics.

The other Novellieri from whom Painter drew inspiration may be dismissed very shortly. Of Ser Giovanne Florentine, who wrote the fifty novels of his Pecorone about 1378, little is known nor need be known; his merits of style or matter do not raise him above mediocrity. Straparola's Piacevole Notti were composed in Venice in the earlier half of the sixteenth century, and are chiefly interest-

  1. Specimens of these in somewhat wooden English were given by Roscoe in his Italian Novelists.