Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/24

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xviii
INTRODUCTION.

not innocent while remaining unspotted herself. Her case is not a solitary one.

The whole literature of the Novella has the attraction of graceful naughtiness in which vice, as Burke put it, loses half its evil by losing all its grossness. At all times, and for all time probably, similar tales, more broad than long, will form favourite talk or reading of adolescent males. They are, so to speak, pimples of the soul which synchronise with similar excrescences of the skin. Some men have the art of never growing old in this respect, but I cannot say I envy them their eternal youth. However, we are not much concerned with tales of this class on the present occasion. Very few of the novelle selected by Painter for translation depend for their attraction on mere naughtiness. In matters of sex the sublime and the ridiculous are more than usually close neighbours. It is the tragic side of such relations that attracted Painter, and it was this fact that gave his book its importance for the history of English literature, both in its connection with Italian letters and in its own internal development.

The relations of Italy and England in matters literary are due to the revivers of the New Learning. Italy was, and still is, the repository of all the chief MSS. of the Greek and Latin classics. Thither, therefore, went all the young Englishmen, whom the influence of Erasmus had bitten with a desire for the New Learning which was the Old Learning born anew. But in Italy itself, the New Learning had even by the early years of the sixteenth century produced its natural result of giving birth to a national literature (Ariosto, Trissino). Thus in their search for the New Learning, Englishmen of culture who went to Italy came back with a tincture of what may be called the Newest Learning, the revival of Italian Literature.

Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey "The Dioscuri of the Dawn" as they have been called, are the representatives of this new movement in English thought and literature, which came close on the heels of the New Learning represented by Colet, More, Henry VIII. himself and Roger Ascham. The adherents of the New Learning did not look with too favourable eyes on