1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Italian Literature
ITALIAN LITERATURE. 1. Origins.—One characteristic fact distinguishes the Italy of the middle ages with regard to its intellectual conditions—the tenacity with which the Latin tradition clung to life (see Latin). At the end of the 5th century the northern conquerors invaded Italy. The Roman world crumbled to pieces. A new kingdom arose at Ravenna under Theodoric, and there learning was not extinguished. The liberal arts flourished, the very Gothic kings surrounded themselves with masters of rhetoric and of grammar. The names of Cassiodorus, of Boetius, of Symmachus, are enough to show how Latin thought maintained its power amidst the political effacement of the Roman empire. And this thought held its ground throughout the subsequent ages and events. Thus, while elsewhere all culture had died out, there still remained in Italy some schools of laymen, and some really extraordinary men were educated in them, such as Ennodius, a poet more pagan than Christian, Arator, Fortunatus, Venantius Jovannicius, Felix the grammarian, Peter of Pisa, Paulinus of Aquileia and many others, in all of whom we notice a contrast between the barbarous age they lived in and their aspiration towards a culture that should reunite them to the classical literature of Rome. The Italians never had much love for theological studies, and those who were addicted to them preferred Paris to Italy. It was something more practical, more positive, that had attraction for the Italians, and especially the study of Roman law. This zeal for the study of jurisprudence furthered the establishment of the medieval universities of Bologna, Padua, Vicenza, Naples, Salerno, Modena and Parma; and these, in their turn, helped to spread culture, and to prepare the ground in which the new vernacular literature was afterwards to be developed. The tenacity of classical traditions, the affection for the memories of Rome, the preoccupation with political interests, particularly shown in the wars of the Lombard communes against the empire of the Hohenstaufens, a spirit more naturally inclined to practice than to theory—all this had a powerful influence on the fate of Italian literature. Italy was wanting in that combination of conditions from which the spontaneous life of a people springs. This was chiefly owing to the fact that the history of the Italians never underwent interruption,—no foreign nation having come in to change them and make them young again. That childlike state of mind and heart, which in other Latin races, as well as in the Germanic, was such a deep source of poetic inspiration, was almost utterly wanting in the Italians, who were always much drawn to history and very little to nature; so, while legends, tales, epic poems, satires, were appearing and spreading on all sides, Italy was either quite a stranger to this movement or took a peculiar part in it. We know, for example, what the Trojan traditions were in the middle ages; and we should have thought that in Italy—in the country of Rome, retaining the memory of Aeneas and Virgil—they would have been specially developed, for it was from Virgil that the medieval sympathy for the conquered of Troy was derived. In fact, however, it was not so. A strange book made its appearance in Europe, no one quite knows when, the Historia de excidio Trojae, which purported to have been written by a certain Dares the Phrygian, an eye-witness of the Trojan war. In the middle ages this book was the basis of many literary labours. Benoît de Sainte-More composed an interminable French poem founded on it, which afterwards in its turn became a source for other poets to draw from, such as Herbort of Fritzlar and Conrad of Würzburg. Now for the curious phenomenon displayed by Italy. Whilst Benoît de Sainte-More wrote his poem in French, taking his material from a Latin history, whilst the two German writers, from a French source, made an almost original work in their own language—an Italian, on the other hand, taking Benoît for his model, composed in Latin the Historia destructionis Trojae; and this Italian was Guido delle Colonne of Messina, one of the vernacular poets of the Sicilian school, who must accordingly have known well how to use his own language. Guido was an imitator of the Provençals; he understood French, and yet wrote his own book in Latin, nay, changed the romance of the Troubadour into serious history. Much the same thing occurred with the other great legends. That of Alexander the Great (q.v.) gave rise to many French, German and Spanish poems,—in Italy, only to the Latin distichs of Qualichino of Arezzo. The whole of Europe was full of the legend of Arthur (q.v.). The Italians contented themselves with translating and with abridging the French romances, without adding anything of their own. The Italian writer could neither appropriate the legend nor colour it with his own tints. Even religious legend, so widely spread in the middle ages, and springing up so naturally as it did from the heart of that society, only put out a few roots in Italy. Jacopo di Voragine, while collecting his lives of the saints, remained only an historian, a man of learning, almost a critic who seemed doubtful about the things he related. Italy had none of those books in which the middle age, whether in its ascetic or its chivalrous character, is so strangely depicted. The intellectual life of Italy showed itself in an altogether special, positive, almost scientific, form, in the study of Roman law, in the chronicles of Farfa, of Marsicano and of many others, in translations from Aristotle, in the precepts of the school of Salerno, in the travels of Marco Polo—in short, in a long series of facts which seem to detach themselves from the surroundings of the middle age, and to be united on the one side with classical Rome and on the other with the Renaissance.
The necessary consequence of all this was that the Latin language was most tenacious in Italy, and that the elaboration of the new vulgar tongue was very slow,—being in fact preceded by two periods of Italian literature in foreign languages. That is to say, there were many Italians Provençal and French preparatory periods.who wrote Provençal poems, such as the Marchese Alberto Malaspina (12th century), Maestro Ferrari of Ferrara, Cigala of Genoa, Zorzi of Venice, Sordello of Mantua, Buvarello of Bologna, Nicoletto of Turin and others, who sang of love and of war, who haunted the courts, or lived in the midst of the people, accustoming them to new sounds and new harmonies. At the same time there was other poetry of an epic kind, written in a mixed language, of which French was the basis, but in which forms and words belonging to the Italian dialects were continually mingling. We find in it hybrid words exhibiting a treatment of sounds according to the rules of both languages,—French words with Italian terminations, a system of vocalization within the words approaching the Italo-Latin usage,—in short, something belonging at once to both tongues, as it were an attempt at interpenetration, at fusion. Such were the Chansons de Geste, Macaire, the Entrée en Espagne written by Niccola of Padua, the Prise de Pampelune and some others. All this preceded the appearance of a purely Italian literature.
In the Franco-Italian poems there was, as it were, a clashing, a struggle between the two languages, the French, however, gaining the upper hand. This supremacy became gradually less and less. As the struggle continued between French and Italian, the former by degrees lost as much Dialect. as the latter gained. The hybridism recurred, but it no longer predominated. In the Bovo d’ Antona and the Rainardo e Lesengrino the Venetian dialect makes itself clearly felt, although the language is influenced by French forms. Thus these writings, which G. I. Ascoli has called “miste” (mixed), immediately preceded the appearance of purely Italian works.
It is now an established historical fact that there existed no writing in Italian before the 13th century. It was in the course of that century, and especially from 1250 onwards, that the new literature largely unfolded and developed itself. This development was simultaneous in the North Italy. whole peninsula, only there was a difference in the subject-matter of the art. In the north, the poems of Giacomino of Verona and Bonvecino of Riva were specially religious, and were intended to be recited to the people. They were written in a dialect partaking of the Milanese and the Venetian; and in their style they strongly bore the mark of the influence of French narrative poetry. They may be considered as belonging to the popular kind of poetry, taking the word, however, in a broad sense. Perhaps this sort of composition was encouraged by the old custom in the north of Italy of listening in the piazzas and on the highways to the songs of the jongleurs. To the very same crowds who had been delighted with the stories of romance, and who had listened to the story of the wickedness of Macaire and the misfortunes of Blanciflor, another jongleur would sing of the terrors of the Babilonia Infernale and the blessedness of the Gerusalemme celeste, and the singers of religious poetry vied with those of the Chansons de Geste.
In the south of Italy, on the other hand, the love-song prevailed,
of which we have an interesting specimen in the Contrasto
attributed to Ciullo d’ Alcamo, about which modern
Italian critics have much exercised themselves. This
“contrasto” (dispute) between a man and a woman
Italy. in Sicilian dialect certainly must not be considered as the most ancient or as the only southern poem of a popular kind. It belongs without doubt to the time of the emperor Frederick II., and is important as a proof that there existed a popular poetry independent of literary poetry. The Contrasto of Ciullo d’Alcamo is the most remarkable relic of a kind of poetry that has perished or which perhaps was smothered by the ancient Sicilian literature. Its distinguishing point was its possessing all the opposite qualities to the poetry of the rhymers of what we shall call the Sicilian school. Vigorous in the expression of feelings, it seems to come from a real sentiment. The conceits, which are sometimes most bold and very coarse, show that it proceeded from the lowest grades of society. Everything is original in Ciullo’s Contrasto. Conventionality has no place in it. It is marked by the sensuality characteristic of the people of the South.
The reverse of all this happened in the Siculo-Provençal school, at the head of which was Frederick II. Imitation was the fundamental characteristic of this school, to which belonged Enzio, king of Sardinia, Pier delle Vigne, Inghilfredi, Guido and Odo delle Colonne, Jacopo Siculo-Provençal School. d’ Aquino, Rugieri Pugliese, Giacomo da Lentino, Arrigo Testa and others. These rhymers never moved a step beyond the ideas of chivalry; they had no originality; they did not sing of what they felt in their heart; they abhorred the true and the real. They only aimed at copying as closely as they could the poetry of the Provençal troubadours. The art of the Siculo-Provençal school was born decrepit, and there were many reasons for this—first, because the chivalrous spirit, from which the poetry of the troubadours was derived, was now old and on its death-bed; next, because the Provençal art itself, which the Sicilians took as their model, was in its decadence. It may seem strange, but it is true, that when the emperor Frederick II., a philosopher, a statesman, a very original legislator, took to writing poetry, he could only copy and amuse himself with absolute puerilities. His art, like that of all the other poets of his court, was wholly conventional, mechanical, affected. It was completely wanting in what constitutes poetry—ideality, feeling, sentiment, inspiration. The Italians have had great disputes among themselves about the original form of the poems of the Sicilian school, that is to say, whether they were written in Sicilian dialect, or in that language which Dante called “volgare, illustre, aulico, cortigiano.” But the critics of most authority hold that the primitive form of these poems was the Sicilian dialect, modified for literary purposes with the help of Provençal and Latin; the theory of the “lingua illustre” has been almost entirely rejected, since we cannot say on what rules it could have been founded, when literature was in its infancy trying its feet, and lisping its first words. The Sicilian certainly, in accordance with a tendency common to all dialects, in passing from the spoken to the written form, must have gained in dignity; but this was not enough to create the so-called “lingua illustre,” which was upheld by Perticari and others on grounds rather political than literary.
In the 13th century a mighty religious movement took place in Italy, of which the rise of the two great orders of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic was at once the cause and the effect. Around Francis of Assisi a legend has grown up in which naturally the imaginative element prevails. Religious lyric poetry in Umbria. Yet from some points in it we seem to be able to infer that its hero had a strong feeling for nature, and a heart open to the most lively impressions. Many poems are attributed to him. The legend relates that in the eighteenth year of his penance, when almost rapt in ecstasy, he dictated the Cantico del Sole. Even if this hymn be really his, it cannot be considered as a poetical work, being written in a kind of prose simply marked by assonances. As for the other poems, which for a long time were believed to be by Saint Francis, their spuriousness is now generally recognized. The true poet who represented in all its strength and breadth the religious feeling that had made special progress in Umbria was Jacopo dei Benedetti of Todi, known as Jacopone. The story is that sorrow at the sudden death of his wife had disordered his mind, and that, having sold all he possessed and given it to the poor, he covered himself with rags, and took pleasure in being laughed at, and followed by a crowd of people who mocked him and called after him “Jacopone, Jacopone.” We do not know whether this be true. What we do know is that a vehement passion must have stirred his heart and maintained a despotic hold over him, the passion of divine love. Under its influence Jacopone went on raving for years and years, subjecting himself to the severest sufferings, and giving vent to his religious intoxication in his poems. There is no art in him, there is not the slightest indication of deliberate effort; there is only feeling, a feeling that absorbed him, fascinated him, penetrated him through and through. His poetry was all inside him, and burst out, not so much in words as in sighs, in groans, in cries that often seem really to come from a monomaniac. But Jacopone was a mystic, who from his hermit’s cell looked out into the world and specially watched the papacy, scourging with his words Celestine V. and Boniface VIII. He was put in prison and laden with chains, but his spirit lifted itself up to God, and that was enough for him. The same feeling that prompted him to pour out in song ecstasies of divine love, and to despise and trample on himself, moved him to reprove those who forsook the heavenly road, whether they were popes, prelates or monks. In Jacopone there was a strong originality, and in the period of the origins of Italian literature he was one of the most characteristic writers.
The religious movement in Umbria was followed by another literary phenomenon, that of the religious drama. In 1258 an old hermit, Raniero Fasani, leaving the cavern in which he had lived for many years, suddenly appeared at Perugia. These were very sad times for Italy. The The religious drama. quarrels in the cities, the factions of the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, the interdicts and excommunications issued by the popes, the reprisals of the imperial party, the cruelty and tyranny of the nobles, the plagues and famines, kept the people in constant agitation, and spread abroad mysterious fears. The commotion was increased in Perugia by Fasani, who represented himself as sent by God to disclose mysterious visions, and to announce to the world terrible visitations. Under the influence of fear there were formed “Compagnie di Disciplinanti,” who, for a penance, scourged themselves till they drew blood, and sang “Laudi” in dialogue in their confraternities. These “Laudi,” closely connected with the liturgy, were the first example of the drama in the vulgar tongue of Italy. They were written in the Umbrian dialect, in verses of eight syllables, and of course they have not any artistic value. Their development, however, was rapid. As early as the end of the same 13th century we have the Devozioni del Giovedì e Venerdì Santo, which have some dramatic elements in them, though they are still connected with the liturgical office. Then we have the representation di un Monaco che andò al servizio di Dio (“of a monk who entered the service of God”), in which there is already an approach to the definite form which this kind of literary work assumed in the following centuries.
In the 13th century Tuscany was peculiarly circumstanced both as regards its literary condition and its political life. The Tuscans spoke a dialect which most closely resembled the mother-tongue, Latin—one which afterwards became almost exclusively the language of literature, Tuscan poetry. and which was already regarded at the end of the 13th century as surpassing the others; “Lingua Tusca magis apta est ad literam sive literaturam”: thus writes Antonio da Tempo of Padua, born about 1275. Being very little or not at all affected by the Germanic invasion, Tuscany was never subjected to the feudal system. It had fierce internal struggles, but they did not weaken its life; on the contrary, they rather gave it fresh vigour and strengthened it, and (especially after the final fall of the Hohenstaufens at the battle of Benevento in 1266) made it the first province of Italy. From 1266 onwards Florence was in a position to begin that movement of political reform which in 1282 resulted in the appointment of the Priori delle Arti, and the establishment of the Arti Minori. This was afterwards copied by Siena with the Magistrato dei Nove, by Lucca, by Pistoia, and by other Guelph cities in Tuscany with similar popular institutions. In this way the gilds had taken the government into their hands, and it was a time of both social and political prosperity. It was no wonder that literature also rose to an unlooked-for height. In Tuscany, too, there was some popular love poetry; there was a school of imitators of the Sicilians, their chief being Dante of Majano; but its literary originality took another line—that of humorous and satirical poetry. The entirely democratic form of government created a style of poetry which stood in the strongest antithesis to the medieval mystic and chivalrous style. Devout invocation of God or of a lady came from the cloister and the castle; in the streets of the cities everything that had gone before was treated with ridicule or biting sarcasm. Folgore of San Gimignano laughs when in his sonnets he tells a party of Sienese youths what are the occupations of every month in the year, or when he teaches a party of Florentine lads the pleasures of every day in the week. Cene della Chitarra laughs when he parodies Folgore’s sonnets. The sonnets of Rustico di Filippo are half fun and half satire; laughing and crying, joking and satire, are all to be found in Cecco Angiolieri of Siena, the oldest “humorist” we know, a far-off precursor of Rabelais, of Montaigne, of Jean Paul Richter, of Sydney Smith. But another kind of poetry also began in Tuscany. Guittone d’ Arezzo made art quit chivalrous for national motives, Provençal forms for Latin. He attempted political poetry, and, although his work is full of the strangest obscurities, he prepared the way for the Bolognese school. In the 13th century Bologna was the city of science, and philosophical poetry appeared there. Guido Guinicelli was the poet after the new fashion of the art. In him the ideas of chivalry are changed and enlarged; he sings of love and, together with it, of the nobility of the mind. The reigning thought in Guinicelli’s Canzoni is nothing external to his own subjectivity. His speculative mind, accustomed to wandering in the field of philosophy, transfuses its lucubrations into his art. Guinicelli’s poetry has some of the faults of the school of Guittone d’Arezzo: he reasons too much; he is wanting in imagination; his poetry is a product of the intellect rather than of the fancy and the heart. Nevertheless he marks a great development in the history of Italian art, especially because of his close connexion with Dante’s lyric poetry.
But before we come to Dante, certain other facts, not, however, unconnected with his history, must be noticed. In the 13th century, there were several poems in the allegorical style. One of these is by Brunetto Latini, who, it is well known, was attached by ties of strong affection Allegorical poetry. to Alighieri. His Tesoretto is a short poem, in seven-syllable verses, rhyming in couplets, in which the author professes to be lost in a wilderness and to meet with a lady, who is Nature, from whom he receives much instruction. We see here the vision, the allegory, the instruction with a moral object—three elements which we shall find again in the Divina Commedia. Francesco da Barberino, a learned lawyer who was secretary to bishops, a judge, a notary, wrote two little allegorical poems—the Documenti d’ amore and Del reggimento e dei costumi delle donne. Like the Tesoretto, these poems are of no value as works of art, but are, on the other hand, of importance in the history of manners. A fourth allegorical work was the Intelligenza, by some attributed to Dino Compagni, but probably not his, and only a version of French poems.
While the production of Italian poetry in the 13th century was abundant and varied, that of prose was scanty. The oldest specimen dates from 1231, and consists of short notices of entries and expenses by Mattasalà di Spinello dei Lambertini of Siena. In 1253 and 1260 Prose in 13th century. there are some commercial letters of other Sienese. But there is no sign of literary prose. Before we come to any, we meet with a phenomenon like that we noticed in regard to poetry. Here again we find a period of Italian literature in French. Halfway on in the century a certain Aldobrando or Aldobrandino (it is not known whether he was of Florence or of Siena) wrote a book for Beatrice of Savoy, countess of Provence, called Le Régime du corps. In 1267 Martino da Canale wrote in the same “langue d’oil” a chronicle of Venice. Rusticiano of Pisa, who was for a long while at the court of Edward I. of England, composed many chivalrous romances, derived from the Arthurian cycle, and subsequently wrote the travels of Marco Polo, which may perhaps have been dictated by the great traveller himself. And finally Brunetto Latini wrote his Tesoro in French.
Next in order to the original compositions in the langue d’oil come the translations or adaptations from the same. There are some moral narratives taken from religious legends; a romance of Julius Caesar; some short histories of ancient knights; the Tavola rotonda; translations of the Viaggi of Marco Polo and of the Tesoro of Latini. At the same time there appeared translations from Latin of moral and ascetic works, of histories and of treatises on rhetoric and oratory. Up to very recent times it was still possible to reckon as the most ancient works in Italian prose the Cronaca of Matteo Spinello da Giovenazzo, and the Cronaca of Ricordano Malespini. But now both of them have been shown to be forgeries of a much later time. Therefore the oldest prose writing is a scientific book—the Composizione del mondo by Ristoro d’ Arezzo, who lived about the middle of the 13th century. This work is a copious treatise on astronomy and geography. Ristoro was superior to the other writers of the time on these subjects, because he seems to have been a careful observer of natural phenomena, and consequently many of the things he relates were the result of his personal investigations. There is also another short treatise, De regimine rectoris, by Fra Paolino, a Minorite friar of Venice, who was probably bishop of Pozzuoli, and who also wrote a Latin chronicle. His treatise stands in close relation to that of Egidio Colonna, De regimine principum. It is written in the Venetian dialect.
The 13th century was very rich in tales. There is a collection called the Cento Novelle antiche, which contains stories drawn from Oriental, Greek and Trojan traditions, from ancient and medieval history, from the legends of Brittany, Provence and Italy, and from the Bible, from the local tradition of Italy as well as from histories of animals and old mythology. This book has a distant resemblance to the Spanish collection known as El Conde Lucanor. The peculiarity of the Italian book is that the stories are very short, and that they seem to be mere outlines to be filled in by the narrator as he goes along. Other prose novels were inserted by Francesco Barberino in his work Del reggimento e dei costumi delle donne, but they are of much less importance than the others. On the whole the Italian novels of the 13th century have little originality, and are only a faint reflection of the very rich legendary literature of France. Some attention should be paid to the Lettere of Fra Guittone d’Arezzo, who wrote many poems and also some letters in prose, the subjects of which are moral and religious. Love of antiquity, of the traditions of Rome and of its language, was so strong in Guittone that he tried to write Italian in a Latin style, and it turned out obscure, involved and altogether barbarous. He took as his special model Seneca, and hence his prose assumed a bombastic style, which, according to his views, was very artistic, but which in fact was alien to the true spirit of art, and resulted in the extravagant and grotesque.
2. The Spontaneous Development of Italian Literature.—In the year 1282, the year in which the new Florentine constitution of the “Arti minori” was completed, a period of literature New Tuscan School of lyric poetry. began that does not belong to the age of first beginnings, but to that of development. With the school of Lapo Gianni, of Guido Cavalcanti, of Cino da Pistoia and Dante Alighieri, lyric poetry became exclusively Tuscan. The whole novelty and poetic power of this school, which really was the beginning of Italian art, consist in what Dante expresses so happily—
that is to say, in a power of expressing the feelings of the soul in the way in which love inspires them, in an appropriate and graceful manner, fitting form to matter, and by art fusing one with the other. The Tuscan lyric poetry, the first true Italian art, is pre-eminent in this artistic fusion, in the spontaneous and at the same time deliberate action of the mind. In Lapo Gianni the new style is not free from some admixture of the old associations of the Siculo-Provençal school. He wavered as it were between two manners. The empty and involved phraseology of the Sicilians is absent, but the poet does not always rid himself of their influence. Sometimes, however, he draws freely from his own heart, and then the subtleties and obscurities disappear, and his verse becomes clear, flowing and elegant.
Guido Cavalcanti was a learned man with a high conception of his art. He felt the value of it, and adapted his learning to it. Cavalcanti was already a good deal out of sympathy with the medieval spirit; he reflected deeply on his own work, and from this reflection he derived his Guido Cavalcanti. poetical conception. His poems may be divided into two classes—those which portray the philosopher, “il sottilissimo dialettico,” as Lorenzo the Magnificent called him, and those which are more directly the product of his poetic nature imbued with mysticism and metaphysics. To the first set belongs the famous poem Sulla natura d’amore, which in fact is a treatise on amorous metaphysics, and was annotated later in a learned way by the most renowned Platonic philosophers of the 15th century, such as Marsilius Ficinus and others. In other poems of Cavalcanti’s besides this we see a tendency to subtilize and to stifle the poetic imagery under a dead weight of philosophy. But there are many of his sonnets in which the truth of the images and the elegance and simplicity of the style are admirable, and make us feel that we are in quite a new period of art. This is particularly felt in Cavalcanti’s Ballate, for in them he pours himself out ingenuously and without affectation, but with an invariable and profound consciousness of his art. Far above all the others for the reality of the sorrow and the love displayed, for the melancholy longing expressed for the distant home, for the calm and solemn yearning of his heart for the lady of his love, for a deep subjectivity which is never troubled by metaphysical subtleties, is the ballata composed by Cavalcanti when he was banished from Florence with the party of the Bianchi in 1300, and took refuge at Sarzana.
The third poet among the followers of the new school was Cino da Pistoia, of the family of the Sinibuldi. His love poems are so sweet, so mellow and so musical that they are only surpassed by Dante. The pains of love are described by him with Cino da Pistoia. vigorous touches; it is easy to see that they are not feigned but real. The psychology of love and of sorrow nearly reaches perfection.
As the author of the Vita nuova, the greatest of all Italian
poets, Dante also belongs to the same lyric school. In the lyrics
of the Vita nuova (so called by its author to indicate
that his first meeting with Beatrice was the beginning
for him of a life entirely different from that he had
1321). hitherto led) there is a high idealization of love. It seems as if there were in it nothing earthly or human, and that the poet had his eyes constantly fixed on heaven while singing of his lady. Everything is supersensual, aerial, heavenly, and the real Beatrice is always gradually melting more and more into the symbolical one—passing out of her human nature and into the divine. Several of the lyrics of the Canzoniere deal with the theme of the “new life”; but all the love poems do not refer to Beatrice, while other pieces are philosophical and bridge over to the Convito.
The work which made Dante immortal, and raised him above all other men of genius in Italy, was his Divina Commedia. An allegorical meaning is hidden under the literal one of this great epic. Dante travelling through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, is a symbol of mankind aiming at the double object of temporal and eternal happiness. By the forest in which the poet loses himself is meant the civil and religious confusion of society, deprived of its two guides, the emperor and the pope. The mountain illuminated by the sun is universal monarchy. The three beasts are the three vices and the three powers which offered the greatest obstacles to Dante’s designs: envy is Florence, light, fickle and divided by the Bianchi and Neri; pride is the house of France; avarice is the papal court; Virgil represents reason and the empire. Beatrice is the symbol of the supernatural aid without which man cannot attain the supreme end, which is God.
But the merit of the poem does not lie in the allegory, which still connects it with medieval literature. What is new in it is the individual art of the poet, the classic art transfused for the first time into a Romance form. Dante is above all a great artist. Whether he describes nature, analyses passions, curses the vices or sings hymns to the virtues, he is always wonderful for the grandeur and delicacy of his art. Out of the rude medieval vision he has made the greatest work of art of modern times. He took the materials for his poem from theology, from philosophy, from history, from mythology—but more especially from his own passions, from hatred and love; and he has breathed the breath of genius into all these materials. Under the pen of the poet, the dead come to life again; they become men again, and speak the language of their time, of their passions. Farinata degli Uberti, Boniface VIII., Count Ugolino, Manfred, Sordello, Hugh Capet, St Thomas Aquinas, Cacciaguida, St Benedict, St Peter, are all so many objective creations; they stand before us in all the life of their characters, their feelings, their habits.
Yet this world of fancy in which the poet moves is not only made living by the power of his genius, but it is changed by his consciousness. The real chastizer of the sins, the rewarder of the virtues, is Dante himself. The personal interest which he brings to bear on the historical representation of the three worlds is what most interests us and stirs us. Dante remakes history after his own passions. Thus the Divina Commedia can fairly be called, not only the most life-like drama of the thoughts and feelings that moved men at that time, but also the most clear and spontaneous reflection of the individual feelings of the poet, from the indignation of the citizen and the exile to the faith of the believer and the ardour of the philosopher. The Divina Commedia fixed and clearly defined the destiny of Italian literature, to give artistic lustre, and hence immortality, to all the forms of literature which the middle ages had produced. Dante begins the great era of the Renaissance.
Two facts characterize the literary life of Petrarch—classical
research and the new human feeling introduced into his lyric
poetry. Nor are these two facts separate; rather is
the one the result of the other. The Petrarch who
travelled about unearthing the works of the great
1374). Latin writers helps us to understand the Petrarch who, having completely detached himself from the middle ages, loved a real lady with a human love, and celebrated her in her life and after her death in poems full of studied elegance. Petrarch was the first humanist, and he was at the same time the first lyric poet of the modern school. His career was long and tempestuous. He lived for many years at Avignon, cursing the corruption of the papal court; he travelled through nearly the whole of Europe; he corresponded with emperors and popes; he was considered the first man of letters of his time; he had honours and riches; and he always bore about within him discontent, melancholy and incapacity for satisfaction—three characteristics of the modern man.
His Canzoniere is divided into three parts—the first containing the poems written during Laura’s lifetime, the second the poems written after her death, the third the Trionfi. The one and only subject of these poems is love; but the treatment is full of variety in conception, in imagery and in sentiment, derived from the most varied impressions of nature. Petrarch’s love is real and deep, and to this is due the merit of his lyric verse, which is quite different, not only from that of the Provençal troubadours and of the Italian poets before him, but also from the lyrics of Dante. Petrarch is a psychological poet, who dives down into his own soul, examines all his feelings, and knows how to render them with an art of exquisite sweetness. The lyrics of Petrarch are no longer transcendental like Dante’s, but on the contrary keep entirely within human limits. In struggles, in doubts, in fears, in disappointments, in griefs, in joys, in fact in everything, the poet finds material for his poetry. The second part of the Canzoniere is the more passionate. The Trionfi are inferior; it is clear that in them Petrarch tried to imitate the Divina Commedia, but never came near it. The Canzoniere includes also a few political poems—a canzone to Italy, one supposed to be addressed to Cola di Rienzi and several sonnets against the court of Avignon. These are remarkable for their vigour of feeling, and also for showing that Petrarch had formed the idea of Italianità better even than Alighieri. The Italy which he wooed was different from any conceived by the men of the middle ages, and in this also he was a precursor of modern times and of modern aspirations. Petrarch had no decided political idea. He exalted Cola di Rienzi, invoked the emperor Charles IV., praised the Visconti; in fact, his politics were affected more by impressions than by principles; but above all this reigned constantly the love of Italy, his ancient and glorious country, which in his mind is reunited with Rome, the great city of his heroes Cicero and Scipio.
Boccaccio had the same enthusiastic love of antiquity and the
same worship for the new Italian literature as Petrarch. He
was the first, with the help of a Greek born in Calabria,
to put together a Latin translation of the Iliad and
the Odyssey. His vast classical learning was shown
1375). specially in the work De genealogia deorum, in which he enumerates the gods according to genealogical trees constructed on the authority of the various authors who wrote about the pagan divinities. This work marked an era in studies preparatory to the revival of classical learning. And at the same time it opened the way for the modern criticism, because Boccaccio in his researches, and in his own judgment was always independent of the authors whom he most esteemed. The Genealogia deorum is, as A. H. Heeren said, an encyclopaedia of mythological knowledge; and it was the precursor of the great humanistic movement which was developed in the 15th century. Boccaccio was also the first historian of women in his De claris mulieribus, and the first to undertake to tell the story of the great unfortunate in his De casibus virorum illustrium. He continued and perfected former geographical investigations in his interesting book De montibus, silvis, fontibus, lacubus, fluminibus, stagnis, et paludibus, et de nominibus maris, for which he made use of Vibius Sequester, but which contains also many new and valuable observations. Of his Italian works his lyrics do not come anywhere near to the perfection of Petrarch’s. His sonnets, mostly about love, are quite mediocre. His narrative poetry is better. Although now he can no longer claim the distinction long conceded to him of having invented the octave stanza (which afterwards became the metre of the poems of Boiardo, of Ariosto and of Tasso), yet he was certainly the first to use it in a work of some length and written with artistic skill, such as is his Teseide, the oldest Italian romantic poem. The Filostrato relates the loves of Troiolo and Griseida (Troilus and Cressida). It may be that Boccaccio knew the French poem of the Trojan war by Benoît de Sainte-More; but the interest of the Italian work lies in the analysis of the passion of love, which is treated with a masterly hand. The Ninfale fiesolano tells the love story of the nymph Mesola and the shepherd Africo. The Amorosa Visione, a poem in triplets, doubtless owed its origin to the Divina Commedia. The Ameto is a mixture of prose and poetry, and is the first Italian pastoral romance.
The Filocopo takes the earliest place among prose romances. In it Boccaccio tells in a laborious style, and in the most prolix way, the loves of Florio and Biancafiore. Probably for this work he drew materials from a popular source or from a Byzantine romance, which Leonzio Pilato may have mentioned to him. In the Filocopo there is a remarkable exuberance in the mythological part, which damages the romance as an artistic work, but which contributes to the history of Boccaccio’s mind. The Fiammetta is another romance, about the loves of Boccaccio and Maria d’Aquino, a supposed natural daughter of King Robert, whom he always called by this name of Fiammetta.
The Italian work which principally made Boccaccio famous was the Decamerone, a collection of a hundred novels, related by a party of men and women, who had retired to a villa near Florence to escape from the plague in 1348. Novel-writing, so abundant in the preceding centuries, especially in France, now for the first time assumed an artistic shape. The style of Boccaccio tends to the imitation of Latin, but in him prose first took the form of elaborated art. The rudeness of the old fabliaux gives place to the careful and conscientious work of a mind that has a feeling for what is beautiful, that has studied the classic authors, and that strives to imitate them as much as possible. Over and above this, in the Decamerone, Boccaccio is a delineator of character and an observer of passions. In this lies his novelty. Much has been written about the sources of the novels of the Decamerone. Probably Boccaccio made use both of written and of oral sources. Popular tradition must have furnished him with the materials of many stories, as, for example, that of Griselda.
Unlike Petrarch, who was always discontented, preoccupied, wearied with life, disturbed by disappointments, we find Boccaccio calm, serene, satisfied with himself and with his surroundings. Notwithstanding these fundamental differences in their characters, the two great authors were old and warm friends. But their affection for Dante was not equal. Petrarch, who says that he saw him once in his childhood, did not preserve a pleasant recollection of him, and it would be useless to deny that he was jealous of his renown. The Divina Commedia was sent him by Boccaccio, when he was an old man, and he confessed that he never read it. On the other hand, Boccaccio felt for Dante something more than love—enthusiasm. He wrote a biography of him, of which the accuracy is now unfairly depreciated by some critics, and he gave public critical lectures on the poem in Santa Maria del Fiore at Florence.
Fazio degli Uberti and Federigo Frezzi were imitators of the
Divina Commedia, but only in its external form. The former
wrote the Dittamondo, a long poem, in which the
author supposes that he was taken by the geographer
Solinus into different parts of the world, and that his
of the Commedia. guide related the history of them. The legends of the rise of the different Italian cities have some importance historically. Frezzi, bishop of his native town Foligno, wrote the Quadriregio, a poem of the four kingdoms—Love, Satan, the Vices and the Virtues. This poem has many points of resemblance with the Divina Commedia. Frezzi pictures the condition of man who rises from a state of vice to one of virtue, and describes hell, the limbo, purgatory and heaven. The poet has Pallas for a companion.
Ser Giovanni Fiorentino wrote, under the title of Pecorone, a collection of tales, which are supposed to have been related by a monk and a nun in the parlour of the monastery of Forlì. He closely imitated Boccaccio, and drew on Villani’s chronicle for his historical stories. Franco Sacchetti Novelists. wrote tales too, for the most part on subjects taken from Florentine history. His book gives a life-like picture of Florentine society at the end of the 14th century. The subjects are almost always improper; but it is evident that Sacchetti collected all these anecdotes in order to draw from them his own conclusions and moral reflections, which are to be found at the end of every story. From this point of view Sacchetti’s work comes near to the Monalisationes of the middle ages. A third novelist was Giovanni Sercambi of Lucca, who after 1374 wrote a book, in imitation of Boccaccio, about a party of people who were supposed to fly from a plague and to go travelling about in different Italian cities, stopping here and there telling stories. Later, but important, names are those of Massuccio Salernitano (Tommaso Guardato), who wrote the Novellino, and Antonio Cornazzano whose Proverbii became extremely popular.
It has already been said that the Chronicles formerly believed to have been of the 13th century are now regarded as forgeries of later times. At the end of the 13th century, however, we find a chronicle by Dino Compagni, which, notwithstanding the unfavourable opinion of it entertained The chroniclers. especially by some German writers, is in all probability authentic. Little is known about the life of Compagni. Noble by birth, he was democratic in feeling, and was a supporter of the new ordinances of Giano della Bella. As prior and gonfalonier of justice he always had the public welfare at heart. When Charles of Valois, the nominee of Boniface VIII., was expected in Florence, Compagni, foreseeing the evils of civil discord, assembled a number of citizens in the church of San Giovanni, and tried to quiet their excited spirits. His chronicle relates the events that came under his own notice from 1280 to 1312. It bears the stamp of a strong subjectivity. The narrative is constantly personal. It often rises to the finest dramatic style. A strong patriotic feeling and an exalted desire for what is right pervade the book. Compagni is more an historian than a chronicler, because he looks for the reasons of events, and makes profound reflections on them. According to our judgment he is one of the most important authorities for that period of Florentine history, notwithstanding the not insignificant mistakes in fact which are to be found in his writings. On the contrary, Giovanni Villani, born in 1300, was more of a chronicler than an historian. He relates the events up to 1347. The journeys that he made in Italy and France, and the information thus acquired, account for the fact that his chronicle, called by him Istorie fiorentine, comprises events that occurred all over Europe. What specially distinguishes the work of Villani is that he speaks at length, not only of events in politics and war, but also of the stipends of public officials, of the sums of money used for paying soldiers and for public festivals, and of many other things of which the knowledge is very valuable. With such an abundance of information it is not to be wondered at that Villani’s narrative is often encumbered with fables and errors, particularly when he speaks of things that happened before his own time. Matteo was the brother of Giovanni Villani, and continued the chronicle up to 1363. It was again continued by Filippo Villani. Gino Capponi, author of the Commentari dell’ acquisto di Pisa and of the narration of the Tumulto dei ciompi, belonged to both the 14th and the 15th centuries.
The Divina Commedia is ascetic in its conception, and in a good many points of its execution. To a large extent similar is the genius of Petrarch; yet neither Petrarch nor Dante could be classified among the pure ascetics of their time. But many other writers come under this Ascetic writers. head. St Catherine of Siena’s mysticism was political. She was a really extraordinary woman, who aspired to bring back the Church of Rome to evangelical virtue, and who has left a collection of letters written in a high and lofty tone to all kinds of people, including popes. She joins hands on the one side with Jacopone of Todi, on the other with Savonarola. Hers is the strongest, clearest, most exalted religious utterance that made itself heard in Italy in the 14th century. It is not to be thought that precise ideas of reformation entered into her head, but the want of a great moral reform was felt in her heart. And she spoke indeed ex abundantia cordis. Anyhow the daughter of Jacopo Benincasa must take her place among those who from afar off prepared the way for the religious movement which took effect, especially in Germany and England, in the 16th century.
Another Sienese, Giovanni Colombini, founder of the order of Jesuati, preached poverty by precept and example, going back to the religious idea of St Francis of Assisi. His letters are among the most remarkable in the category of ascetic works in the 14th century. Passavanti, in his Specchio della vera penitenza, attached instruction to narrative. Cavalca translated from the Latin the Vite dei santi padri. Rivalta left behind him many sermons, and Franco Sacchetti (the famous novelist) many discourses. On the whole, there is no doubt that one of the most important productions of the Italian spirit of the 14th century was the religious literature.
In direct antithesis with this is a kind of literature which has a strong popular element. Humorous poetry, the poetry of laughter and jest, which as we saw was largely developed in the 13th century, was carried on in the 14th by Bindo Bonichi, Arrigo di Castruccio, Cecco Nuccoli, Comic poetry. Andrea Orgagna, Filippo de’ Bardi, Adriano de’ Rossi, Antonio Pucci and other lesser writers. Orgagna was specially comic; Bonichi was comic with a satirical and moral purpose. Antonio Pucci was superior to all of them for the variety of his production. He put into triplets the chronicle of Giovanni Villani (Centiloquio), and wrote many historical poems called Serventesi, many comic poems, and not a few epico-popular compositions on various subjects. A little poem of his in seven cantos treats of the war between the Florentines and the Pisans from 1362 to 1365. Other poems drawn from a legendary source celebrate the Reina d’ Oriente, Apollonio di Tiro, the Bel Gherardino, &c. These poems, meant to be recited to the people, are the remote ancestors of the romantic epic, which was developed in the 16th century, and the first representatives of which were Boiardo and Ariosto.
Many poets of the 14th century have left us political works.
Of these Fazio degli Uberti, the author of Dittamondo, who
wrote a Serventese to the lords and people of Italy, a
poem on Rome, a fierce invective against Charles IV.
of Luxemburg, deserves notice, and Francesco di
Political and amatory poetry.
Vannozzo, Frate Stoppa and Matteo Frescobaldi. It
may be said in general that following the example of Petrarch
many writers devoted themselves to patriotic poetry. From
this period also dates that literary phenomenon known under
the name of Petrarchism. The Petrarchists, or those who sang
of love, imitating Petrarch’s manner, were found already in the
14th century. But others treated the same subject with more
originality, in a manner that might be called semi-popular.
Such were the Ballate of Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, of Franco
Sacchetti, of Niccolò Soldanieri, of Guido and Bindo Donati.
Ballate were poems sung to dancing, and we have
in verse. very many songs for music of the 14th century. We have already stated that Antonio Pucci versified Villani’s Chronicle. This instance of versified history is not unique, and it is evidently connected with the precisely similar phenomenon offered by the “vulgar Latin” literature. It is enough to notice a chronicle of Arezzo in terza rima by Gorello de’ Sinigardi, and the history, also in terza rima, of the journey of Pope Alexander III. to Venice by Pier de’ Natali. Besides this, every kind of subject, whether history, tragedy or husbandry, was treated in verse. Neri di Landocio wrote a life of St Catherine; Jacopo Gradenigo put the gospels into triplets; Paganino Bonafede in the Tesoro dei rustici gave many precepts in agriculture, beginning that kind of Georgic poetry which was fully developed later by Alamanni in his Coltivazione, by Girolamo Baruffaldi in the Canapajo, by Rucellai in the Api, by Bartolommeo Lorenzi in the Coltivazione dei monti, by Giambattista Spolverini in the Coltivazione del riso, &c.
There cannot have been an entire absence of dramatic literature in Italy in the 14th century, but traces of it are wanting, although we find them again in great abundance in the 15th century. The 14th century had, however, one drama unique of its kind. In the sixty years (1250 to 1310) which Drama. ran from the death of the emperor Frederick II. to the expedition of Henry VII., no emperor had come into Italy. In the north of Italy, Ezzelino da Romano, with the title of imperial vicar, had taken possession of almost the whole of the March of Treviso, and threatened Lombardy. The popes proclaimed a crusade against him, and, crushed by it, the Ezzelini fell. Padua then began to breathe again, and took to extending its dominion. There was living at Padua Albertino Mussato, born in 1261, a year after the catastrophe of the Ezzelini; he grew up among the survivors of a generation that hated the name of the tyrant. After having written in Latin a history of Henry VII. he devoted himself to a dramatic work on Ezzelino, and wrote it also in Latin. The Eccerinus, which was probably never represented on the stage, has been by some critics compared to the great tragic works of Greece. It would probably be nearer the truth to say that it has nothing in common with the works of Aeschylus; but certainly the dramatic strength, the delineation of certain situations, and the narration of certain events are very original. Mussato’s work stands alone in the history of Italian dramatic literature. Perhaps this would not have been the case if he had written it in Italian.
In the last years of the 14th century we find the struggle that was soon to break out between the indigenous literary tradition and the reviving classicism already alive in spirit. As representatives of this struggle, of this antagonism, we may consider Luigi Marsilio and Coluccio Salutati, both learned men who spoke and wrote Latin, who aspired to be humanists, but who meanwhile also loved Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, and felt and celebrated in their writings the beauty of Italian literature.
3. The Renaissance.—A great intellectual movement, which had been gathering for a long time, made itself felt in Italy in the 15th century. A number of men arose, all learned, laborious, indefatigable, and all intent on one great work. Such were Niccolò Niccoli, Giannozzo Manetti, Graeco-Latin learning. Palla Strozzi, Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Filelfo, Poggio Bracciolini, Carlo d’Arezzo, Lorenzo Valla. Manetti buried himself in his books, slept only for a few hours in the night, never went out of doors, and spent his time in translating from Greek, studying Hebrew, and commenting on Aristotle. Palla Strozzi sent into Greece at his own expense to search for ancient books, and had Plutarch and Plato brought for him. Poggio Bracciolini went to the Council of Constance, and found in a monastery in the dust-hole Cicero’s Orations. He copied Quintilian with his own hand, discovered Lucretius, Plautus, Pliny and many other Latin authors. Guarino went through the East in search of codices. Giovanni Aurispa returned to Venice with many hundreds of manuscripts. What was the passion that excited all these men? What did they search after? What did they look to? These Italians were but handing on the solemn tradition which, although partly latent, was the informing principle of Italian medieval history, and now at length came out triumphant. This tradition was that same tenacious and sacred memory of Rome, that same worship of its language and institutions, which at one time had retarded the development of Italian literature, and now grafted the old Latin branch of ancient classicism on the flourishing stock of Italian literature. All this is but the continuation of a phenomenon that has existed for ages. It is the thought of Rome that always dominates Italians, the thought that keeps appearing from Boetius to Dante Alighieri, from Arnold of Brescia to Cola di Rienzi, which gathers strength with Petrarch and Boccaccio, and finally becomes triumphant in literature and life—in life, because the modern spirit is fed on the works of the ancients. Men come to have a more just idea of nature: the world is no longer cursed or despised; truth and beauty join hands; man is born again; and human reason resumes its rights. Everything, the individual and society, are changed under the influence of new facts.
First of all there was formed a human individuality, which was wanting in the middle ages. As J. Burckhardt has said, the man was changed into the individual. He began to feel and assert his own personality, which was constantly attaining a fuller realization. As a consequence of New social conditions. this, the idea of fame and the desire for it arose. A really cultured class was formed, in the modern meaning of the word, and the conception was arrived at (completely unknown in former times) that the worth of a man did not depend at all on his birth but on his personal qualities. Poggio in his dialogue De nobilitate declares that he entirely agreed with his interlocutors Niccolò Niccoli and Lorenzo de’ Medici in the opinion that there is no other nobility but that of personal merit. External life was growing more refined in all particulars; the man of society was created; rules for civilized life were made; there was an increasing desire for sumptuous and artistic entertainments. The medieval idea of existence was turned upside down; men who had hitherto turned their thoughts exclusively to heavenly things, and believed exclusively in the divine right, now began to think of beautifying their earthly existence, of making it happy and gay, and returned to a belief in their human rights. This was a great advance, but one which carried with it the seeds of many dangers. The conception of morality became gradually weaker. The “fay ce que vouldras” of Rabelais became the first principle of life. Religious feeling was blunted, was weakened, was changed, became pagan again. Finally the Italian of the Renaissance, in his qualities and his passions, became the most remarkable representative of the heights and depths, of the virtues and faults, of humanity. Corruption was associated with all that is most ideal in life; a profound scepticism took hold of people’s minds; indifference to good and evil reached its highest point.
Besides this, a great literary danger was hanging over Italy. Humanism threatened to submerge its youthful national literature. There were authors who laboriously tried to give Italian Latin forms, to do again, after Dante’s time, what Guittone d’Arezzo had so unhappily done Literary dangers of Latinism. in the 13th century. Provincial dialects tried to reassert themselves in literature. The great authors of the 14th century, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, were by many people forgotten or despised.
It was Florence that saved literature by reconciling the classical models to modern feeling, Florence that succeeded in assimilating classical forms to the “vulgar” art. Still gathering vigour and elegance from classicism, still drawing from the ancient fountains all that they Influence of Florence. could supply of good and useful, it was able to preserve its real life, to keep its national traditions, and to guide literature along the way that had been opened to it by the writers of the preceding century. At Florence the most celebrated humanists wrote also in the vulgar tongue, and commented on Dante and Petrarch, and defended them from their enemies. Leone Battista Alberti, the learned Greek and Latin scholar, wrote in the vernacular, and Vespasiano da Bisticci, whilst he was constantly absorbed in Greek and Latin manuscripts, wrote the Vite di uomini illustri, valuable for their historical contents, and rivalling the best works of the 14th century in their candour and simplicity. Andrea da Barberino wrote the beautiful prose of the Reali di Francia, giving a colouring of “romanità” to the chivalrous romances. Belcari and Benivieni carry us back to the mystic idealism of earlier times.
But it is in Lorenzo de’ Medici that the influence of Florence
on the Renaissance is particularly seen. His mind was formed
by the ancients: he attended the class of the Greek
Argyropulos, sat at Platonic banquets, took pains to
collect codices, sculptures, vases, pictures, gems and
de’ Medici. drawings to ornament the gardens of San Marco and to form the library afterwards called by his name. In the saloons of his Florentine palace, in his villas at Careggi, Fiesole and Ambra, stood the wonderful chests painted by Dello with stories from Ovid, the Hercules of Pollajuolo, the Pallas of Botticelli, the works of Filippino and Verrocchio. Lorenzo de’ Medici lived entirely in the classical world; and yet if we read his poems we only see the man of his time, the admirer of Dante and of the old Tuscan poets, who takes inspiration from the popular muse, and who succeeds in giving to his poetry the colours of the most pronounced realism as well as of the loftiest idealism, who passes from the Platonic sonnet to the impassioned triplets of the Amori di Venere, from the grandiosity of the Salve to Nencia and to Beoni, from the Canto carnascialesco to the Lauda. The feeling of nature is strong in him—at one time sweet and melancholy, at another vigorous and deep, as if an echo of the feelings, the sorrows, the ambitions of that deeply agitated life. He liked to look into his own heart with a severe eye, but he was also able to pour himself out with tumultuous fulness. He described with the art of a sculptor; he satirized, laughed, prayed, sighed, always elegant, always a Florentine, but a Florentine who read Anacreon, Ovid and Tibullus, who wished to enjoy life, but also to taste of the refinements of art.
Next to Lorenzo comes Poliziano, who also united, and with greater art, the ancient and the modern, the popular and the classical style. In his Rispetti and in his Ballate the freshness of imagery and the plasticity of form are Poliziano. inimitable. He, a great Greek scholar, wrote Italian verses with dazzling colours; the purest elegance of the Greek sources pervaded his art in all its varieties, in the Orfeo as well as the Stanze per la giostra.
As a consequence of the intellectual movement towards the Renaissance, there arose in Italy in the 15th century three academies, those of Florence, of Naples and of Rome. The Florentine academy was founded by Cosmo I. de’ Medici. Having heard the praises of Platonic The Academies. philosophy sung by Gemistus Pletho, who in 1439 was at the council of Florence, he took such a liking for those opinions that he soon made a plan for a literary congress which was especially to discuss them. Marsilius Ficinus has described the occupations and the entertainments of these academicians. Here, he said, the young men learnt, by way of pastime, precepts of conduct and the practice of eloquence; here grown-up men studied the government of the republic and the family; here the aged consoled themselves with the belief in a future world. The academy was divided into three classes: that of patrons, who were members of the Medici family; that of hearers, among whom sat the most famous men of that age, such as Pico della Mirandola, Angelo Poliziano, Leon Battista Alberti; that of disciples, who were youths anxious to distinguish themselves in philosophical pursuits. It is known that the Platonic academy endeavoured to promote, with regard to art, a second and a more exalted revival of antiquity. The Roman academy was founded by Giulio Pomponio Leto, with the object of promoting the discovery and the investigation of ancient monuments and books. It was a sort of religion of classicism, mixed with learning and philosophy. Platina, the celebrated author of the lives of the first hundred popes, belonged to it. At Naples, the academy known as the Pontaniana was instituted. The founder of it was Antonio Beccadelli, surnamed Il Panormita, and after his death the head was Il Pontano, who gave his name to it, and whose mind animated it.
Romantic poems were the product of the moral scepticism and the artistic taste of the 15th century. Italy never had any true epic poetry in its period of literary birth. Still less could it have any in the Renaissance. It had, however, many poems called Cantari, because they Romantic poetry. contained stories that were sung to the people; and besides there were romantic poems, such as the Buovo d’ Antona, the Regina Ancroja and others. But the first to introduce elegance and a new life into this style was Luigi Pulci, who grew up in the house of the Medici, and who wrote the Morgante Maggiore at the request of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The material of the Morgante is almost completely taken from an obscure chivalrous poem of the 15th century recently discovered by Professor Pio Rajna. On this foundation Pulci erected a structure of his own, often turning the subject into ridicule, burlesquing the characters, introducing many digressions, now capricious, now scientific, now theological. Pulci’s merit consists in having been the first to raise the romantic epic which had been for two centuries in the hands of story-tellers into a work of art, and in having united the serious and the comic, thus happily depicting the manners and feelings of the time. With a more serious intention Matteo Boiardo, count of Scandiano, wrote his Orlando innamorato, in which he seems to have aspired to embrace the whole range of Carlovingian legends; but he did not complete his task. We find here too a large vein of humour and burlesque. Still the Ferrarese poet is drawn to the world of romance by a profound sympathy for chivalrous manners and feelings—that is to say, for love, courtesy, valour and generosity. A third romantic poem of the 15th century was the Mambriano by Francesco Bello (Cieco of Ferrara). He drew from the Carlovingian cycle, from the romances of the Round Table, from classical antiquity. He was a poet of no common genius, and of ready imagination. He showed the influence of Boiardo, especially in something of the fantastic which he introduced into his work.
The development of the drama in the 15th century was very great. This kind of semi-popular literature was born in Florence, and attached itself to certain popular festivities that were usually held in honour of St John the Baptist, patron saint of the city. The Sacra Rappresentazione is in Drama. substance nothing more than the development of the medieval Mistero (“mystery-play”). Although it belonged to popular poetry, some of its authors were literary men of much renown. It is enough to notice Lorenzo de’ Medici, who wrote San Giovanni e Paolo, and Feo Belcari, author of the San Panunzio, the Abramo ed Isac, &c. From the 15th century, some element of the comic-profane found its way into the Sacra Rappresentazione. From its Biblical and legendary conventionalism Poliziano emancipated himself in his Orfeo, which, although in its exterior form belonging to the sacred representations, yet substantially detaches itself from them in its contents and in the artistic element introduced.
From Petrarch onwards the eclogue was a kind of literature that much pleased the Italians. In it, however, the pastoral element is only apparent, for there is nothing really rural in it. Such is the Arcadia of Jacopo Sannazzaro of Naples, author of a wearisome Latin poem De Partu Pastoral poetry. Virginis, and of some piscatorial eclogues. The Arcadia is divided into ten eclogues, in which the festivities, the games, the sacrifices, the manners of a colony of shepherds are described. They are written in elegant verses, but it would be vain to look in them for the remotest feeling of country life. On the other hand, even in this style, Lorenzo de’ Medici was superior. His Nencia da Barberino, as a modern writer says, is as it were the new and clear reproduction of the popular songs of the environs of Florence, melted into one majestic wave of octave stanzas. Lorenzo threw himself into the spirit of the bare realism of country life. There is a marked contrast between this work and the conventional bucolic of Sannazzaro and other writers. A rival of the Medici in this style, but always inferior to him, was Luigi Pulci in his Beca da Dicomano.
The lyric love poetry of this century was unimportant. In
its stead we see a completely new style arise, the Canto carnascialesco.
These were a kind of choral songs, which
were accompanied with symbolical masquerades,
common in Florence at the carnival. They were
poetry. written in a metre like that of the ballate; and for the most part they were put into the mouth of a party of workmen and tradesmen, who, with not very chaste allusions, sang the praises of their art. These triumphs and masquerades were directed by Lorenzo himself. At eventide there set out into the city large companies on horseback, playing and singing these songs. There are some by Lorenzo himself, which surpass all the others in their mastery of art. That entitled Bacco ed Arianna is the most famous.
Girolamo Savonarola, who came to Florence in 1489, arose to fight against the literary and social movement of the Renaissance. Some have tried to make out that Savonarola was an apostle of liberty, others that he was a precursor of the Reformation. In truth, however, he was neither Religious reaction. Savonarola. the one nor the other. In his struggle with Lorenzo de’ Medici, he directed his attack against the promoter of classical studies, the patron of pagan literature, rather than against the political tyrant. Animated by mystic zeal, he took the line of a prophet, preaching against reading voluptuous authors, against the tyranny of the Medici, and calling for popular government. This, however, was not done from a desire for civil liberty, but because Savonarola saw in Lorenzo and his court the greatest obstacle to that return to Catholic doctrine which was his heart’s desire; while he thought this return would be easily accomplished if, on the fall of the Medici, the Florentine republic should come into the hands of his supporters. There may be more justice in looking on Savonarola as the forerunner of the Reformation. If he was so, it was more than he intended. The friar of Ferrara never thought of attacking the papal dogma, and always maintained that he wished to remain within the church of Rome. He had none of the great aspirations of Luther. He only repeated the complaints and the exhortations of St Catherine of Siena; he desired a reform of manners, entirely of manners, not of doctrine. He prepared the ground for the German and English religious movement of the 16th century, but unconsciously. In the history of Italian civilization he represents retrogression, that is to say, the cancelling of the great fact of the Renaissance, and return to medieval ideas. His attempt to put himself in opposition to his time, to arrest the course of events, to bring the people back to the faith of the past, the belief that all the social evils came from a Medici and a Borgia, his not seeing the historical reality, as it was, his aspiring to found a republic with Jesus Christ for its king—all these things show that Savonarola was more of a fanatic than a thinker. Nor has he any great merit as a writer. He wrote Italian sermons, hymns (laudi), ascetic and political treatises, but they are roughly executed, and only important as throwing light on the history of his ideas. The religious poems of Girolamo Benivieni are better than his, and are drawn from the same inspirations. In these lyrics, sometimes sweet, always warm with religious feeling, Benivieni and with him Feo Belcari carry us back to the literature of the 14th century.
History had neither many nor very good students in the 15th century. Its revival belonged to the following age. It was mostly written in Latin. Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo wrote the history of Florence, Gioviano Pontano that of Naples, Histories, &c. in Latin. Bernardino Corio wrote the history of Milan in Italian, but in a rude way.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote a treatise on painting, Leon Battista Alberti one on sculpture and architecture. But the names of these two men are important, not so much as authors of these treatises, but as being embodiments of another characteristic of the age of the Renaissance—versatility of genius, power of application along many and varied lines, and of being excellent in all. Leonardo was an architect, a poet, a painter, an hydraulic engineer and a distinguished mathematician. Alberti was a musician, studied jurisprudence, was an architect and a draughtsman, and had great fame in literature. He had a deep feeling for nature, an almost unique faculty of assimilating all that he saw and heard. Leonardo and Alberti are representatives and almost a compendium in themselves of all that intellectual vigour of the Renaissance age, which in the 16th century took to developing itself in its individual parts, making way for what has by some been called the golden age of Italian literature.
4. Development of the Renaissance.—The fundamental characteristic of the literary epoch following that of the Renaissance is that it perfected itself in every kind of art, in particular uniting the essentially Italian character of its language with classicism of style. This period lasted from about 1494 to about 1560; and, strange to say, this very period of greater fruitfulness and literary greatness began from the year 1494, which with Charles VIII.’s descent into Italy marked the beginning of its political decadence and of foreign domination over it. But this is not hard to explain. All the most famous men of the first half of the 16th had been educated in the preceding century. Pietro Pomponazzi was born in 1462, Marcello Virgilio Adriani in 1464, Castiglione in 1468, Machiavelli in 1469, Bembo in 1470, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Ariosto in 1474, Nardi in 1476, Trissino in 1478, Guicciardini in 1482. Thus it is easy to understand how the literary activity which showed itself from the end of the 15th century to the middle of the following one was the product of the political and social conditions of the age in which these minds were formed, not of that in which their powers were displayed.
Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini were the chief originators of the science of history. Machiavelli’s principal works are the Istorie fiorentine, the Discorsi sulla prima deca di Tito Livio, the Arte della guerra and the Principe. His merit consists in having been the creator of the experimental History. science of politics—in having observed facts, studied histories and drawn consequences from them. His history is sometimes inexact in facts; it is rather a political than an historical work. The peculiarity of Machiavelli’s genius lay, as has been said, in his artistic feeling for the treatment and discussion of politics in and for themselves, without regard to an immediate end—in his power of abstracting himself from the partial appearances of the transitory present, in order more thoroughly to possess himself of the eternal and inborn kingdom, and to bring it into subjection to himself.
Next to Machiavelli both as an historian and a statesman comes Francesco Guicciardini. Guicciardini was very observant, and endeavoured to reduce his observations to a science. His Storia d’ Italia, which extends from the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici to 1534, is full of political wisdom, is skilfully arranged in its parts, gives a lively picture of the character of the persons it treats of, and is written in a grand style. He shows a profound knowledge of the human heart, and depicts with truth the temperaments, the capabilities and the habits of the different European nations. Going back to the causes of events, he looked for the explanation of the divergent interests of princes and of their reciprocal jealousies. The fact of his having witnessed many of the events he related, and having taken part in them, adds authority to his words. The political reflections are always deep; in the Pensieri, as G. Capponi says, he seems to aim at extracting through self-examination a quintessence, as it were, of the things observed and done by him—thus endeavouring to form a political doctrine as adequate as possible in all its parts. Machiavelli and Guicciardini may be considered, not only as distinguished historians, but as originators of the science of history founded on observation.
Inferior to them, but still always worthy of note, were Jacopo Nardi (a just and faithful historian and a virtuous man, who defended the rights of Florence against the Medici before Charles V.), Benedetto Varchi, Giambattista Adriani, Bernardo Segni; and, outside Tuscany, Camillo Porzio, who related the Congiura de’ baroni and the history of Italy from 1547 to 1552, Angelo di Costanza, Pietro Bembo, Paolo Paruta and others.
Ariosto’s Orlando furioso was a continuation of Boiardo’s
Innamorato. His characteristic is that he assimilated the romance
of chivalry to the style and models of classicism.
Ariosto was an artist only for the love of his art; his
sole aim was to make a romance that should please
Romantic epic. Ariosto (1474–
1533). the generation in which he lived. His Orlando has no grave and serious purpose; on the contrary it creates a fantastic world, in which the poet rambles, indulging his caprice, and sometimes smiling at his own work. His great desire is to depict everything with the greatest possible perfection; the cultivation of style is what occupies him most. In his hands the style becomes wonderfully plastic to every conception, whether high or low, serious or sportive. The octave stanza reached in him the highest perfection of grace, variety and harmony.
Meanwhile, side by side with the romantic, there was an attempt at the historical epic. Gian Giorgio Trissino of Vicenza composed a poem called Italia liberata dai Goti. Full of learning and of the rules of the ancients, he formed himself on the latter, in order to sing of the campaigns Heroic epic. of Belisarius; he said that he had forced himself to observe all the rules of Aristotle, and that he had imitated Homer. In this again, we see one of the products of the Renaissance; and, although Trissino’s work is poor in invention and without any original poetical colouring, yet it helps one to understand better what were the conditions of mind in the 16th century.
Lyric poetry was certainly not one of the kinds that rose to
any great height in the 16th century. Originality was entirely
wanting, since it seemed in that century as if nothing better
could be done than to copy Petrarch. Still, even
poetry. in this style there were some vigorous poets. Monsignore Giovanni Guidiccioni of Lucca (1500–1541) showed that he had a generous heart. In fine sonnets he gave expression to his grief for the sad state to which his country was reduced. Francesco Molza of Modena (1489–1544), learned in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, wrote in a graceful style and with spirit. Giovanni della Casa (1503–1556) and Pietro Bembo (1470–1547), although Petrarchists, were elegant. Even Michelangelo Buonarroti was at times a Petrarchist, but his poems bear the stamp of his extraordinary and original genius. And a good many ladies are to be placed near these poets, such as Vittoria Colonna (loved by Michelangelo), Veronica Gambara, Tullia d’ Aragona, Giulia Gonzaga, poetesses of great delicacy, and superior in genius to many literary men of their time.
The 16th century had not a few tragedies, but they are all weak. The cause of this was the moral and religious indifference of the Italians, the lack of strong passions and vigorous characters. The first to occupy the tragic stage was Trissino with his Sofonisba, following the rules of the art most Tragedy. scrupulously, but written in sickly verses, and without warmth of feeling. The Oreste and the Rosmunda of Giovanni Rucellai were no better, nor Luigi Alamanni’s Antigone. Sperone Speroni in his Canace and Giraldi Cintio in his Orbecche tried to become innovators in tragic literature, but they only succeeded in making it grotesque. Decidedly superior to these was the Torrismondo of Torquato Tasso, specially remarkable for the choruses, which sometimes remind one of the chorus of the Greek tragedies.
The Italian comedy of the 16th century was almost entirely modelled on the Latin comedy. They were almost always alike in the plot, in the characters of the old man, of the servant, of the waiting-maid; and the argument was often the same. Thus the Lucidi of Agnolo Firenzuola, Comedy. and the Vecchio amoroso of Donato Giannotti were modelled on comedies by Plautus, as were the Sporta by Gelli, the Marito by Dolce, and others. There appear to be only three writers who should be distinguished among the many who wrote comedies—Machiavelli, Ariosto and Giovan Maria Cecchi. In his Mandragora Machiavelli, unlike all the others, composed a comedy of character, creating types which seem living even now, because they were copied from reality seen with a finely observant eye. Ariosto, on the other hand, was distinguished for his picture of the habits of his time, and especially of those of the Ferrarese nobles, rather than for the objective delineation of character. Lastly, Cecchi left in his comedies a treasure of spoken language, which nowadays enables us in a wonderful way to make ourselves acquainted with that age. The notorious Pietro Aretino might also be included in the list of the best writers of comedy.
The 15th century was not without humorous poetry; Antonio Cammelli, surnamed the Pistoian, is specially deserving of notice, because of his “pungent bonhomie,” as Sainte-Beuve called it. But it was Francesco Berni who carried this kind of literature to perfection in the Burlesque and satire. 16th century. From him the style has been called “bernesque” poetry. In the “Berneschi” we find nearly the same phenomenon that we already noticed with regard to Orlando furioso. It was art for art’s sake that inspired and moved Berni to write, as well as Anton Francesco Grazzini, called Il Lasca, and other lesser writers. It may be said that there is nothing in their poetry; and it is true that they specially delight in praising low and disgusting things and in jeering at what is noble and serious. Bernesque poetry is the clearest reflection of that religious and moral scepticism which was one of the characteristics of Italian social life in the 16th century, and which showed itself more or less in all the works of that period, that scepticism which stopped the religious Reformation in Italy, and which in its turn was an effect of historical conditions. The Berneschi, and especially Berni himself, sometimes assumed a satirical tone. But theirs could not be called true satire. Pure satirists, on the other hand, were Antonio Vinciguerra, a Venetian, Lodovico Alamanni and Ariosto, the last superior to the others for the Attic elegance of his style, and for a certain frankness, passing into malice, which is particularly interesting when the poet talks of himself.
In the 16th century there were not a few didactic works. In his poem of the Api Giovanni Rucellai approaches to the perfection of Virgil. His style is clear and light, and he adds interest to his book by frequent allusions to the events of the time. But of the didactic works that which Didactic works. surpasses all the others in importance is Baldassare Castiglione’s Cortigiano, in which he imagines a discussion in the palace of the dukes of Urbino between knights and ladies as to what are the gifts required in a perfect courtier. This book is valuable as an illustration of the intellectual and moral state of the highest Italian society in the first half of the 16th century.
Of the novelists of the 16th century, the two most important were Anton Francesco Grazzini and Matteo Bandello—the former as playful and bizarre as the latter is grave and solemn. As part of the history of the times, we must not forget that Bandello was a Fiction.Dominican friar and a bishop, but that notwithstanding his novels were very loose in subject, and that he often holds up the ecclesiastics of his time to ridicule.
At a time when admiration for qualities of style, the desire for classical elegance, was so strong as in the 16th century, much attention was naturally paid to translating Latin and Greek authors. Among the very numerous translations of the time those of the Aeneid and of the Pastorals of Translations. Longus the Sophist by Annibal Caro are still famous; as are also the translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Giovanni Andrea dell’ Anguillare, of Apuleius’s Golden Ass by Firenzuola, and of Plutarch’s Lives and Moralia by Marcello Adriani.
The historians of Italian literature are in doubt whether Tasso
should be placed in the period of the highest development of
the Renaissance, or whether he should form a period
by himself, intermediate between that and the one
following. Certainly he was profoundly out of harmony
1595). with the century in which he lived. His religious faith, the seriousness of his character, the deep melancholy settled in his heart, his continued aspiration after an ideal perfection, all place him as it were outside the literary epoch represented by Machiavelli, by Ariosto, by Berni. As Carducci has well said, Tasso “is the legitimate heir of Dante Alighieri: he believes, and reasons on his faith by philosophy; he loves, and comments on his love in a learned style; he is an artist, and writes dialogues of scholastic speculation that would fain be Platonic.” He was only eighteen years old when, in 1562, he tried his hand at epic poetry, and wrote Rinaldo, in which he said that he had tried to reconcile the Aristotelian rules with the variety of Ariosto. He afterwards wrote the Aminta, a pastoral drama of exquisite grace. But the work to which he had long turned his thoughts was an heroic poem, and that absorbed all his powers. He himself explains what his intention was in the three Discorsi written whilst he was composing the Gerusalemme: he would choose a great and wonderful subject, not so ancient as to have lost all interest, nor so recent as to prevent the poet from embellishing it with invented circumstances; he meant to treat it rigorously according to the rules of the unity of action observed in Greek and Latin poems, but with a far greater variety and splendour of episodes, so that in this point it should not fall short of the romantic poem; and finally, he would write it in a lofty and ornate style. This is what Tasso has done in the Gerusalemme liberata, the subject of which is the liberation of the sepulchre of Jesus Christ in the 11th century by Godfrey of Bouillon. The poet does not follow faithfully all the historical facts, but sets before us the principal causes of them, bringing in the supernatural agency of God and Satan. The Gerusalemme is the best heroic poem that Italy can show. It approaches to classical perfection. Its episodes above all are most beautiful. There is profound feeling in it, and everything reflects the melancholy soul of the poet. As regards the style, however, although Tasso studiously endeavoured to keep close to the classical models, one cannot help noticing that he makes excessive use of metaphor, of antithesis, of far-fetched conceits; and it is specially from this point of view that some historians have placed Tasso in the literary period generally known under the name of “Secentismo,” and that others, more moderate in their criticism, have said that he prepared the way for it.
5. Period of Decadence.—From about 1559 began a period of decadence in Italian literature. The Spanish rule oppressed and corrupted the peninsula. The minds of men were day by day gradually losing their force; every high aspiration was quenched. No love of country could any longer be felt when the country The Secentismo. was enslaved to a stranger. The suspicious rulers fettered all freedom of thought and word; they tortured Campanella, burned Bruno, made every effort to extinguish all high sentiment, all desire for good. Cesare Balbo says, “if the happiness of the masses consists in peace without industry, if the nobility’s consists in titles without power, if princes are satisfied by acquiescence in their rule without real independence, without sovereignty, if literary men and artists are content to write, paint and build with the approbation of their contemporaries, but to the contempt of posterity, if a whole nation is happy in ease without dignity and the tranquil progress of corruption,—then no period ever was so happy for Italy as the hundred and forty years from the treaty of Cateau Cambresis to the war of the Spanish succession.” This period is known in the history of Italian literature as the Secentismo. Its writers, devoid of sentiment, of passion, of thoughts, resorted to exaggeration; they tried to produce effect with every kind of affectation, with bombast, with the strangest metaphors, in fact, with what in art is called mannerism, “barocchism.” The utter poverty of the matter tried to cloak itself under exuberance of forms. It seemed as if the writers vied with one another as to who could best burden his art with useless metaphors, with phrases, with big-sounding words, with affectations, with hyperbole, with oddities, with everything that could fix attention on the outer form and draw it off from the substantial element of thought.
At the head of the school of the “Secentisti” comes Giovan Battista Marini of Naples, born in 1569, especially known by a poem called L’ Adone. His aim was to excite wonder by novelties; hence the most extravagant metaphors, the most forced antitheses, the most far-fetched conceits, are to Marini. be found in his book. It was especially by antitheses that he thought he could produce the greatest effect. Sometimes he strings them together one after the other, so that they fill up whole stanzas without a break. Achillini of Bologna followed in Marini’s steps. He had less genius, however, and hence his peculiarities were more extravagant, becoming indeed absolutely ridiculous. In general, we may say that all the poets of the 17th century were more or less infected with “Marinism.” Thus Alessandro Guidi, although he does not attain to the exaggeration of his master, is emptily bombastic, inflated, turgid, while Fulvio Testi is artificial and affected. Yet Guidi as well as Testi felt the influence of another poet, Gabriello Chiabrera, born at Savona in 1552. In him the Secentismo took another character. Enamoured as he said he was of the Greeks, he made new metres, especially in imitation of Pindar, treating of religious, moral, historical and amatory subjects. It is easy to understand that a Pindaric style of poetry in the 17th century in Italy could not but end in being altogether artificial, without anything of those qualities which constitute the greatness of the Greek poet. Chiabrera, though elegant enough in form, proves empty of matter, and, in his vain attempt to hide this vacuity, has recourse to poetical ornaments of every kind. These again, in their turn, become in him a fresh defect. Nevertheless, Chiabrera’s school, in the decadence of the 17th century, marks an improvement; and sometimes he showed that he had lyrical capacities, which in better literary surroundings would have brought forth excellent fruit. When he sings, for example, of the victories of the Tuscan galleys against the Turks and the pirates of the Mediterranean, he rises to grand imagery, and seems quite another poet.
Filicaja the Florentine has a certain lyric élan, particularly in the songs about Vienna besieged by the Turks, which seems to raise him more than the others above the vices of the time; but even in him we see clearly the rhetorical artifice and the falseness of the conceits. And in general all the lyric poetry of the 17th century may be said to have had the same defects, but in different degrees—defects which may be summed up as absence of feeling and exaggeration of form. There was no faith; there was no love; and thus art became an exercise, a pastime, a luxury, for a servile and corrupt people.
The belief then arose that it would be sufficient to change the form in order to restore literature, in forgetfulness that every reform must be the effect of a change in social and moral conditions. Weary of the bombastic style of the 17th century, full of conceits and antithesis, men said—let The Arcadia. us follow an entirely different line, let us fight the turgid style with simplicity. In 1690 the “Academy of Arcadia” was instituted. Its founders were Giovan Maria Crescimbeni and Gian Vincenzo Gravina. The Arcadia was so called because its chief aim and intention were to imitate in literature the simplicity of the ancient shepherds, who were fabulously supposed to have lived in Arcadia in the golden age. As the “Secentisti” erred by an overweening desire for novelty, which made them always go beyond the truth, so the Arcadians proposed to themselves to return to the fields of truth, always singing of subjects of pastoral simplicity. This was obviously nothing else than the substitution of a new artifice for the old one; and they fell from bombast into effeminacy, from the hyperbolical into the petty, from the turgid into the over-refined. The Arcadia was a reaction against Secentismo, but a reaction which, reversing the movement of that earlier epoch, only succeeded in impoverishing still further and completely withering up the literature. The poems of the “Arcadians” fill many volumes, and are made up of sonnets, madrigals, canzonets and blank verse. The one who most distinguished himself among the sonneteers was Felice Zappi. Among the authors of songs Paolo Rolli was illustrious. Innocenzo Frugoni was more famous than all the others, a man of fruitful imagination but of shallow intellect, whose wordy verses nobody now reads.
Whilst the political and social conditions in Italy in the 17th century were such as to make it appear that every light of intelligence, all spirit of liberty, was extinguished, there appeared in the peninsula, by that law of reaction which in great part governs human events, some strong Symptoms of revival. Scientific prose. and independent thinkers, such as Bernardino Telesio, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, Lucilio Vanini, who turned philosophical inquiry into fresh channels, and opened the way for the scientific conquests of Galileo Galilei, the great contemporary of Descartes in France and of Bacon in England. Galileo was not only a great man of science, but also occupied a conspicuous place in the history of letters. A devoted student of Ariosto, he seemed to transfuse into his prose the qualities of that great poet—a clear and frank freedom of expression, a wonderful art of knowing how to say everything with precision and ease, and at the same time with elegance. Galileo’s prose is in perfect antithesis to the poetry of his time. Perhaps it is the best prose that Italy has ever had; it is clear, goes straight to the point, is without rhetorical ornaments and without vulgar slips, artistic without appearing to be so.
Another symptom of revival, a sign of rebellion against the vileness of Italian social life, is given us in satire and in particular in that of Salvator Rosa and Alessandro Tassoni. Salvator Rosa, born in 1615, near Naples, was a painter, a musician and a poet. As a poet he showed that he felt the sad condition of his country, showed that he mourned over it, and gave vent to his feeling (as another satire-writer, Giuseppe Giusti, said) in generosi rabbuffi. His exhortation to Italian poets to turn their thoughts to the miseries of their country as a subject for their song—their country languishing under the tyrant’s hands—certain passages where he deplores the effeminacy of Italian habits, a strong apostrophe against Rome, make Salvator Rosa a precursor of the patriotic literature which inaugurated the revival of the 18th century. Tassoni, a man really quite exceptional in this century, was superior to Rosa. He showed independent judgment in the midst of universal servility, and his Secchia Rapita proved that he was an eminent writer. This is an heroic comic poem, which is at the same time an epic and a personal satire. He was bold enough to attack the Spaniards in his Filippiche, in which he urged Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy to persist in the war against them.
6. The Revival in the 18th Century.—Having for the most part freed itself from the Spanish dominion in the 18th century, the political condition of Italy began to improve. Promoters of this improvement, which was shown in many civil reforms, were Joseph II., Leopold I. and Charles I. New Political conditions. The work of these princes was copied from the philosophers, who in their turn felt the influence of a general movement of ideas, which was quietly working in many parts of Europe, and which came to a head in the French encyclopedists.
Giambattista Vico was a token of the awakening of historical consciousness in Italy. In his Scienza nuova he applied himself to the investigation of the laws governing the progress of the human race, and according to which events are developed. From the Historical works. psychological study of man he endeavoured to infer the “comune natura delle nazioni,” i.e. the universal laws of history, or the laws by which civilizations rise, flourish and fall.
From the same scientific spirit which animated the philosophical investigation of Vico, there was born a different kind of investigation, that of the sources of Italian civil and literary history. Lodovico Antonio Muratori, after having collected in one entire body (Rerum Italicarum scriptores) the chronicles, the biographies, the letters and the diaries of Italian history from 500 to 1500, after having discussed the most obscure historical questions in the Antiquitates Italicae medii aevi, wrote the Annali d’ Italia, minutely narrating facts derived from authentic sources. Muratori’s associates in his historical researches were Scipione Maffei of Verona and Apostolo Zeno of Venice. In his Verona illustrata the former left, not only a treasure of learning, but an excellent specimen of historical monograph. The latter added much to the erudition of literary history, both in his Dissertazioni Vossiane and in his notes to the Biblioteca dell’ eloquenza italiana of Monsignore Giusto Fontanini. Girolamo Tiraboschi and Count Giovanni Maria Mazzuchelli of Brescia devoted themselves to literary history.
While the new spirit of the times led men to the investigation of historical sources, it also led them to inquire into the mechanism of economical and social laws. Francesco Galiani wrote on currency; Gaetano Filangieri wrote a Scienza della legislazione. Social science. Cesare Beccaria, in his treatise Dei delitti e delle pene, made a contribution to the reform of the penal system and promoted the abolition of torture.
The man in whom above all others the literary revival of the 18th century was most conspicuously embodied was Giuseppe Parini. He was born in a Lombard village in 1729, was mostly educated at Milan, and as a youth was known among the Arcadian poets by the name of Darisbo Elidonio. Even as an Arcadian, however, Parini showed signs of departing Satire: Parini. from the common type. In a collection of poems that he published at twenty-three years of age, under the name of Ripano Eupilino, there are some pastoral sonnets in which the poet shows that he had the faculty of taking his scenes from real life, and also some satirical pieces in which he exhibits a spirit of somewhat rude opposition to his own times. These poems are perhaps based on reminiscences of Berni, but at any rate they indicate a resolute determination to assail boldly all the literary conventionalities that surrounded the author. This, however, was only the beginning of the battle. Parini lived in times of great social prostration. The nobles and the rich, all given up to ease and to silly gallantry, consumed their lives in ridiculous trifles or in shameless self-indulgence, wasting themselves on immoral “Cicisbeismo,” and offering the most miserable spectacle of feebleness of mind and character. It was against this social condition that Parini’s muse was directed. Already, improving on the poems of his youth, he had proved himself an innovator in his lyrics, rejecting at once Petrarchism, Secentismo and Arcadia, the three maladies that had weakened Italian art in the centuries preceding his own, and choosing subjects taken from real life, such as might help in the instruction of his contemporaries. In the Odi the satirical note is already heard. But it came out more strongly in the poem Del giorno, in which he imagines himself to be teaching a young Milanese patrician all the habits and ways of gallant life; he shows up all its ridiculous frivolities, and with delicate irony unmasks the futilities of aristocratic habits. Dividing the day into four parts, the Mattino, the Mezzogiorno, the Vespero, the Notte, by means of each of these he describes the trifles of which they were made up, and the book thus assumes a social and historical value of the highest importance. Parini, satirizing his time, fell back upon truth, and finally made art serve the purpose of civil morality. As an artist, going straight back to classical forms, aspiring to imitate Virgil and Dante, he opened the way to the fine school that we shall soon see rise, that of Alfieri, Foscolo and Monti. As a work of art, the Giorno is wonderful for the Socratic skill with which that delicate irony is constantly kept up by which he seems to praise what he effectually blames. The verse has new harmonies; sometimes it is a little hard and broken, not by accident, but as a protest against the Arcadian monotony. Generally it flows majestically, but without that Frugonian droning that deafens the ears and leaves the heart cold.
Gasparo Gozzi’s satire was less elevated, but directed towards the same end as Parini’s. In his Osservatore, something like Addison’s Spectator, in his Gazzetta veneta, in the Mondo morale, by means of allegories and novelties he hit the vices with a delicate touch, and inculcated a Gozzi; Baretti. practical moral with much good sense. Gozzi’s satire has some slight resemblance in style to Lucian’s. It is smooth and light, but withal it does not go less straight to its aim, which is to point out the defects of society and to correct them. Gozzi’s prose is very graceful and lively. It only errs by its overweening affectation of imitating the writers of the 14th century. Another satirical writer of the first half of the 18th century was Giuseppe Baretti of Turin. In a journal called the Frusta letteraria he took to lashing without mercy the works which were then being published in Italy. He had learnt much by travelling; and especially his long stay in England had contributed to give an independent character to his mind, and made him judge of men and things with much good sense. It is true that his judgments are not always right, but the Frusta letteraria was the first book of independent criticism directed particularly against the Arcadians and the pedants.
Everything tended to improvement, and the character of the reform was to throw off the conventional, the false, the artificial, and to return to truth. The drama felt this influence of the times. Apostolo Zeno and Metastasio (the Arcadian name for Pietro Trapassi, a native of Rome) had endeavoured to make “melodrama and reason compatible.” The latter in particular succeeded in giving fresh expression to the affections, a natural Dramatic reform. turn to the dialogue and some interest to the plot; and if he had not fallen into constant unnatural over-refinement and unseasonable mawkishness, and into frequent anachronisms, he might have been considered as the first dramatic reformer of the 18th century. That honour belongs to Carlo Goldoni, a Venetian. He found comedy either entirely devoted to classical imitation or given up to extravagance, to coups de théâtre, to the most boisterous succession of unlikely situations, or else treated by comic actors who recited impromptu on a given subject, of which they followed the outline. In this old popular form of comedy, with the masks of pantaloon, of the doctor, of harlequin, of Brighella, &c., Goldoni found the strongest obstacles to his reform. But at last he conquered, creating the comedy of character. No doubt Molière’s example helped him in this. Goldoni’s characters are always true, but often a little superficial. He studied nature, but he did not plunge into psychological depths. In most of his creations, the external rather than the internal part is depicted. In this respect he is much inferior to Molière. But on the other hand he surpasses him in the liveliness of the dialogue, and in the facility with which he finds his dramatic situations. Goldoni wrote much, in fact too much (more than one hundred and fifty comedies), and had no time to correct, to polish, to perfect his works, which are all rough cast. But for a comedy of character we must go straight from Machiavelli’s Mandragora to him. Goldoni’s dramatic aptitude is curiously illustrated by the fact that he took nearly all his types from Venetian society, and yet managed to give them an inexhaustible variety. A good many of his comedies were written in Venetian dialect, and these are perhaps the best.
The ideas that were making their way in French society in
the 18th century, and afterwards brought about the Revolution
of 1789, gave a special direction to Italian literature
of the second half of the 18th century. Love of ideal
liberty, desire for equality, hatred of tyranny, created
Patriotic literature and
return to classicism. in Italy a literature which aimed at national objects, seeking to improve the condition of the country by freeing it from the double yoke of political and religious despotism. But all this was associated with another tendency. The Italians who aspired to a political redemption believed that it was inseparable from an intellectual revival, and it seemed to them that this could only be effected by a reunion with ancient classicism—in other words, by putting themselves in more direct communication with ancient Greek and Latin writers. This was a repetition of what had occurred in the first half of the 15th century. The 17th century might in fact be considered as a new Italian Middle Age without the hardness of that iron time, but corrupted, enervated, overrun by Spaniards and French, an age in which previous civilization was cancelled. A reaction was necessary against that period of history, and a construction on its ruins of a new country and a new civilization. There had already been forerunners of this movement; at the head of them the revered Parini. Now the work must be completed, and the necessary force must once more be sought for in the ancient literature of the two classic nations.
Patriotism and classicism then were the two principles that
inspired the literature which began with Alfieri. He worshipped
the Greek and Roman idea of popular liberty in arms
against the tyrant. He took the subjects of his
tragedies almost invariably from the history of these
1803). nations, made continual apostrophes against the despots, made his ancient characters talk like revolutionists of his time; he did not trouble himself with, nor think about, the truth of the characters; it was enough for him that his hero was Roman in name, that there was a tyrant to be killed, that liberty should triumph in the end. But even this did not satisfy Alfieri. Before his time and all about him there was the Arcadian school, with its foolish verbosity, its empty abundance of epithets, its nauseous pastoralizing on subjects of no civil importance. It was necessary to arm the patriotic muse also against all this. If the Arcadians, not excluding the hated Metastasio, diluted their poetry with languishing tenderness, if they poured themselves out in so many words, if they made such set phrases, it behoved the others to do just the contrary—to be brief, concise, strong, bitter, to aim at the sublime as opposed to the lowly and pastoral. Having said this, we have told the good and evil of Alfieri. He desired a political reform by means of letters; he saved literature from Arcadian vacuities, leading it towards a national end; he armed himself with patriotism and classicism in order to drive the profaners out of the temple of art. But in substance he was rather a patriot than an artist. In any case the results of the new literary movement were copious.
Ugo Foscolo was an eager patriot, who carried into life the heat of the most unbridled passion, and into his art a rather rhetorical manner, but always one inspired by classical models. The Lettere di Jacopo Ortis, inspired by Goethe’s Werther, are a love story with a mixture of patriotism; they Foscolo. contain a violent protest against the treaty of Campo Formio, and an outburst from Foscolo’s own heart about an unhappy love-affair of his. His passions were sudden and violent; they came to an end as abruptly as they began; they were whirlwinds that were over in a quarter of an hour. To one of these passions Ortis owed its origin, and it is perhaps the best, the most sincere, of all his writings. Even in it he is sometimes pompous and rhetorical, but much less so than he is, for example, in the lectures Dell’ origine e dell’ ufficio della letteratura. On the whole, Foscolo’s prose is turgid and affected, and reflects the character of the man who always tried to pose, even before himself, in dramatic attitudes. This was indeed the defect of the Napoleonic epoch; there was a horror of anything common, simple, natural; everything must be after the model of the hero who made all the world gaze with wonder at him; everything must assume some heroic shape. In Foscolo this tendency was excessive; and it not seldom happened that, in wishing to play the hero, the exceptional man, the little Napoleon of ladies’ drawing-rooms, he became false and bad, false in his art, bad in his life. The Sepolcri, which is his best poem, was prompted by high feeling, and the mastery of versification shows wonderful art. Perhaps it is to this mastery more than to anything else that the admiration the Sepolcri excites is due. There are most obscure passages in it, as to the meaning of which it would seem as if even the author himself had not formed a clear idea. He left incomplete three hymns to the Graces, in which he sang of beauty as the source of courtesy, of all high qualities and of happiness. Here again what most excites our admiration is the harmonious and easy versification. Among his prose works a high place belongs to his translation of the Sentimental Journey of Sterne, a writer by whom one can easily understand how Foscolo should have been deeply affected. He went as an exile to England, and died there. He wrote for English readers some Essays on Petrarch and on the texts of the Decamerone and of Dante, which are remarkable for the time at which they were written, and which may be said to have initiated a new kind of literary criticism in Italy. Foscolo is still greatly admired, and not without reason. His writings stimulate the love of fatherland, and the men that made the revolution of 1848 were largely brought up on them.
If in Foscolo patriotism and classicism were united, and formed almost one passion, so much cannot be said of Vincenzo Monti, in whom the artist was absolutely predominant. Yet Monti was a patriot too, but in his own way. He had no one deep feeling that ruled him, or rather the mobility Monti. of his feelings is his characteristic; but each of these was a new form of patriotism, that took the place of an old one. He saw danger to his country in the French Revolution, and wrote the Pellegrino apostolico, the Bassvilliana and the Feroniade; Napoleon’s victories caused him to write the Prometeo and the Musagonia; in his Fanatismo and his Superstizione he attacked the papacy; afterwards he sang the praises of the Austrians. Thus every great event made him change his mind, with a readiness which might seem incredible, but is yet most easily explained. Monti was above everything an artist; art was his real, his only passion; everything else in him was liable to change, that alone was persistent. Fancy was his tyrant, and under its rule he had no time to reason and to see the miserable aspect of his political tergiversation. It was an overbearing deity that moved him, and at its dictation he wrote. Pius VI., Napoleon, Francis II., were to him but passing shadows, to which he hardly gives the attention of an hour; that which endures, which is eternal to him, is art alone. It were unjust to accuse Monti of baseness. If we say that nature in giving him one only faculty had made the poet rich and the man poor, we shall speak the truth. But the poet was indeed rich. Knowing little Greek, he succeeded in making a translation of the Iliad which is remarkable for its Homeric feeling, and in his Bassvilliana he is on a level with Dante. In fine, in him classical poetry seemed to revive in all its florid grandeur.
Monti was born in 1754, Foscolo in 1778; four years later still was born another poet of the same school, Giambattista Niccolini. In literature he was a classicist; in politics he was a Ghibelline, a rare exception in Guelph Florence, his birthplace. In translating or, if the expression is preferred,Niccolini. imitating Aeschylus, as well as in writing the Discorsi sulla tragedia greca, and on the Sublime e Michelangelo, Niccolini displayed his passionate devotion to ancient literature. In his tragedies he set himself free from the excessive rigidity of Alfieri, and partly approached the English and German tragic authors. He nearly always chose political subjects, striving to keep alive in his compatriots the love of liberty. Such are Nabucco, Antonio Foscarini, Giovanni da Procida, Lodovico il Moro, &c. He assailed papal Rome in Arnaldo da Brescia, a long tragic piece, not suited for acting, and epic rather than dramatic. Niccolini’s tragedies show a rich lyric vein rather than dramatic genius. At any rate he has the merit of having vindicated liberal ideas, and of having opened a new path to Italian tragedy.
The literary period we are dealing with had three writers who are examples of the direction taken by historical study. It seems strange that, after the learned school begun by Muratori, there should have been a backward movement here, but it is clear that this retrogression was due to the Historians. influence of classicism and patriotism, which, if they revived poetry, could not but spoil history. Carlo Botta, born in 1766, was a spectator of French spoliation in Italy and of the overbearing rule of Napoleon. Hence, excited by indignation, he wrote a History of Italy from 1789 to 1814; and later on he continued Guicciardini’s History up to 1789. He wrote after the manner of the Latin authors, trying to imitate Livy, putting together long and sonorous periods in a style that aimed at being like Boccaccio’s, caring little about that which constitutes the critical material of history, only intent on declaiming his academic prose for his country’s benefit. Botta wanted to be classical in a style that could no longer be so, and hence he failed completely to attain his literary goal. His fame is only that of a man of a noble and patriotic heart. Not so bad as the two histories of Italy is that of the Guerra dell’ indipendenza americana.
Close to Botta comes Pietro Colletta, a Neapolitan born nine years after him. He also in his Storia del reame di Napoli dal 1734 al 1825 had the idea of defending the independence and liberty of Italy in a style borrowed from Tacitus; and he succeeded rather better than Botta. He has a rapid, brief, nervous style, which makes his book attractive reading. But it is said that Pietro Giordani and Gino Capponi corrected it for him. Lazzaro Papi of Lucca, author of the Commentari della rivoluzione francese dal 1789 al 1814, was not altogether unlike Botta and Colletta. He also was an historian in the classical style, and treats his subject with patriotic feeling; but as an artist he perhaps excels the other two.
At first sight it seems unnatural that, whilst the most burning political passions were raging, and whilst the most brilliant men of genius in the new classical and patriotic school were at the height of their influence, a question should have arisen about “purism” of language. Yet the The Purists. phenomenon can be easily accounted for. Purism is another form of classicism and patriotism. In the second half of the 18th century the Italian language was specially full of French expressions. There was great indifference about fitness, still more about elegance of style. Prose then was to be restored for the sake of national dignity, and it was believed that this could not be done except by going back to the writers of the 14th century, to the “aurei trecentisti,” as they were called, or else to the classics of Italian literature. One of the promoters of the new school was Antonio Cesari of Verona, who republished ancient authors, and brought out a new edition, with additions, of the Vocabolario della Crusca. He wrote a dissertation Sopra lo stato presente della lingua italiana, and endeavoured to establish the supremacy of Tuscan and of the three great writers Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio. And in accordance with that principle he wrote several books, taking pains to copy the “trecentisti” as closely as possible. But patriotism in Italy has always had something municipal in it; so to this Tuscan supremacy, proclaimed and upheld by Cesari, there was opposed a Lombard school, which would know nothing of Tuscan, and with Dante’s De vulgari eloquio returned to the idea of the “lingua illustre.” This was an old question, largely and bitterly argued in the Cinquecento (16th century) by Varchi, Muzio, Castelvetro, Speroni and others. Now the question came up again quite fresh, as if no one had ever discussed it before. At the head of the Lombard school were Monti and his son-in-law Count Giulio Perticari. This gave Monti an occasion to write Proposta di alcune correzioni ed aggiunte al vocabolario della Crusca, in which he attacked the Tuscanism of the Crusca, but in a graceful and easy style, such in fact as to form a prose that is one of the most beautiful in Italian literature. Perticari on the other hand, with a very inferior intellect, narrowed and exasperated the question in two treatises, Degli scrittori del Trecento and Dell’ amor patrio di Dante, in which, often disguising or altering the facts, he only makes confusion where there was none. Meantime, however, the impulse was given. The dispute about language took its place beside literary and political disputes, and all Italy took part in it—Basilio Puoti at Naples, Paolo Costa in the Romagna, Marc’ Antonio Parenti at Modena, Salvatore Betti at Rome, Giovanni Gherardini in Lombardy, Luigi Fornaciari at Lucca, Vincenzo Nannucci at Florence.
A patriot, a classicist and a purist all at once was Pietro Giordani, born in 1774; he was almost a compendium of the literary movement of the time. His whole life was a battle fought for liberty. Most learned in Greek and Latin authors, and in the Italian trecentisti, he only leftGiordani. a few writings behind him, but they were carefully elaborated in point of style, and his prose was in his time considered wonderful. Now it is looked on as too majestic, too much laboured in phrases and conceits, too far from nature, too artificial. Giordani closes the literary epoch of the classicists.
7. Nineteenth Century and After.—At this point the contemporary period of literature begins. It has been said that the first impulse was given to it by the romantic school, which had as its organ the Conciliatore established in 1818 at Milan, and on the staff of which were Silvio Pellico, Manzoni. Lodovico di Breme, Giovile Scalvini, Tommaso Grossi, Giovanni Berchet, Samuele Biava and lastly Alessandro Manzoni. It need not be denied that all these men were influenced by the ideas that, especially in Germany, at the beginning of the 19th century constituted the movement called Romanticism. Nevertheless, in Italy the course of literary reform took another direction. There is no doubt that the real head of the reform, or at least its most distinguished man, was Alessandro Manzoni. He formulated in a letter of his the objects of the new school, saying that it aspired to try and discover and express “il vero storico” and “il vero morale,” not only as an end, but as the widest and eternal source of the beautiful. And it is precisely realism in art that characterizes Italian literature from Manzoni onwards. The Promessi Sposi is the one of his works that has made him immortal. No doubt the idea of the historical novel came to him from Sir Walter Scott, but he succeeded in something more than an historical novel in the narrow meaning of that word; he created an eminently realistic work of art. The romance disappears; no one cares for the plot, which moreover is of very little consequence. The attention is entirely fixed on the powerful objective creation of the characters. From the greatest to the least they have a wonderful verisimilitude; they are living persons standing before us, not with the qualities of one time more than another, but with the human qualities of all time. Manzoni is able to unfold a character in all particulars, to display it in all its aspects, to follow it through its different phases. He is able also to seize one moment, and from that moment to make us guess all the rest. Don Abbondio and Renzo are as perfect as Azzeccagarbugli and Il Sarto. Manzoni dives down into the innermost recesses of the human heart, and draws thence the most subtle psychological reality. In this his greatness lies, which was recognized first by his companion in genius, Goethe. As a poet too he had gleams of genius, especially in the Napoleonic ode, Il Cinque Maggio, and where he describes human affections, as in some stanzas of the Inni and in the chorus of the Adelchi. But it is on the Promessi Sposi alone that his fame now rests.
The great poet of the age was Leopardi, born thirteen years after Manzoni at Recanati, of a patrician family, bigoted and avaricious. He became so familiar with Greek authors that he used afterwards to say that the Greek mode of Leopardi. thought was more clear and living to his mind than the Latin or even the Italian. Solitude, sickness, domestic tyranny, prepared him for profound melancholy. From this he passed into complete religious scepticism, from which he sought rest in art. Everything is terrible and grand in his poems, which are the most agonizing cry in modern literature, uttered with a solemn quietness that at once elevates and terrifies us. But besides being the greatest poet of nature and of sorrow, he was also an admirable prose writer. In his Operette morali—dialogues and discourses marked by a cold and bitter smile at human destinies which freezes the reader—the clearness of style, the simplicity of language and the depth of conception are such that perhaps he is not only the greatest lyrical poet since Dante, but also one of the most perfect writers of prose that Italian literature has had.
As realism in art gained ground, the positive method in criticism kept pace with it. From the manner of Botta and Colletta history returned to its spirit of learned research, as is shown in such works as the Archivio storico italiano, Political literature.established at Florence by Giampietro Vieusseux, the Storia d’ Italia nel medio evo by Carlo Troya, a remarkable treatise by Manzoni himself, Sopra alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia, and the very fine history of the Vespri siciliani by Michele Amari. But alongside of the great artists Leopardi and Manzoni, alongside of the learned scholars, there was also in the first half of the 19th century a patriotic literature. To a close observer it will appear that historical learning itself was inspired by the love of Italy. Giampietro Vieusseux had a distinct political object when in 1820 he established the monthly review Antologia. And it is equally well known that his Archivio storico italiano (1842) was, under a different form, a continuation of the Antologia, which was suppressed in 1833 owing to the action of the Russian government. Florence was in those days the asylum of all the Italian exiles, and these exiles met and shook hands in Vieusseux’s rooms, where there was more literary than political talk, but where one thought and one only animated all minds, the thought of Italy.
The literary movement which preceded and was contemporary with the political revolution of 1848 may be said to be represented by four writers—Giuseppe Giusti, Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, Vincenzo Gioberti and Cesare Balbo. Giusti wrote epigrammatic satires in popular language. In incisive phrase he scourged the enemies of Italy; his manner seemed very original, but it really was partly imitated from Béranger. He was a telling political writer, but a mediocre poet. Guerrazzi had a great reputation and great influence, but his historical novels, though read with ferverish avidity before 1848, are now almost forgotten. Gioberti, a powerful polemical writer, had a noble heart and a great mind; his philosophical works are now as good as dead, but the Primato morale e civile degli Italiani will last as an important document of the times, and the Gesuita moderno will live as the most tremendous indictment ever written against the Jesuits. Balbo was an earnest student of history, and made history useful for politics. Like Gioberti in his first period, Balbo was zealous for the civil papacy, and for a federation of the Italian states presided over by it. His Sommario della storia d’ Italia is an excellent epitome. (A. Ba.)
After the year 1850 political literature becomes less important, one of the last poets distinguished in this genre being Francesco dall’ Ongaro, with his stornelli politici. For details as to the works of recent writers, reference may be made Contem-porary literature. to the separate biographical articles, and here a summary must suffice. Giovanni Prati and Aleardo Aleardi continue romantic traditions. The dominating figure of this later period, however, is Giosuè Carducci, the opponent of the Romantics and restorer of the ancient metres and spirit, who, great as a poet, was scarcely less distinguished as a literary critic and historian. Other classical poets are Giuseppe Chiarini, Domenico Guoli, Arturo Graf, Guido Mazzoni and Giovanni Marradi, of whom the two last named may perhaps be regarded as special disciples of Carducci, while another, Giovanni Pascoli, best known by his Myricae and Poemetti, only began as such. Enrico Panzacchi (b. 1842) was at heart still a romantic. Olindo Guerrini (who wrote under the pseudonym of Lorenzo Stecchetti) is the chief representative of veriomo in poetry, and, though his early works obtained a succès de scandale, he is the author of many lyrics of intrinsic value. Alfredo Baccelli and Mario Rapisardi are epic poets of distinction. Felice Cavallotti is the author of the stirring Marcia de Leonida. Among dialect writers, the great Roman poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli has found numerous successors, such as Renato Fucini (Pisa), Berto Barbarini (Verona) and Cesare Pascarella (Rome). Among the women poets, Ada Negri, with her socialistic Fatalità and Tempeste, has achieved a great reputation; and others, such as Vittoria Aganoor, A. Brunacci-Brunamonti and Annie Vivanti, are highly esteemed in Italy.
Among the dramatists, Pietro Cossa in tragedy, Gherardi del Testa, Ferdinando Martini and Paolo Ferrari in comedy, represent the older schools. More modern methods were adopted by Giuseppe Giacosa and Gerolamo Rovetta.
In fiction, the historical romance has fallen into disfavour, though Emilio de Marchi has written some good examples in this genre. The novel of intrigue was cultivated by Anton Giulio Barrili and Salvatore Farina, the psychological novel by Enrico Annibale Butti, the realistic local tale by Giovanni Verga, the mystic philosophical novel by Antonio Fogazzaro. Edmondo de Amicis, perhaps the most widely read of all modern Italians, has written acceptable fiction, though his moral works and travels are more generally known. Of the women novelists, Matilde Serao and Grazia Deledda have become deservedly popular.
Gabriele d’ Annunzio has produced original work in poetry, drama and fiction, of extraordinary quality. He began with some lyrics which were distinguished no less by their exquisite beauty of form than by their licence, and these characteristics reappeared in a long series of poems, plays and novels. D’ Annunzio’s position as a man of the widest literary and artistic culture is undeniable, and even his sternest critics admit his mastery of the Italian tongue, based on a thorough knowledge of Italian literature from the earliest times. But with all his genius, his thought is unhealthy and his pessimism depressing; the beauty of his work is the beauty of decadence.
Bibliography.—Among the more aesthetic accounts of Italian literature, those of Emiliano Giudici (Florence, 1855) and Francesco de Sanctis (Naples, 1870) are still the best. Two histories of real scientific value were interrupted by the death of the authors: that of Adolfo Bartoli (Florence, 1879–1899) breaking off in the 14th century, and that of Gaspary (Berlin, 1884–1889; English version, so far only down to the death of Dante, London, 1901) breaking off before Tasso (a completion being undertaken by Wendriner). Bartoli’s article in the 9th edition of this encyclopaedia has been reproduced, with some slight revision, above. Among the many recent Italian works, the most important is the elaborate series of volumes contributing the Storia lett. d’ Italia scritta da una società di professori (1900 sqq.): Giussani, Lett. romana; Novati, Origini della lingua; Zingarelli, Dante; Volpi, Il Trecento; Rossi, Il Quattrocento; Flamini, Il Cinquecento; Belloni, Il Seicento; Concari, Il Settecento; Mazzoni, L’ Ottocento. Each volume has a full bibliography. Important German works, besides Gaspary, are those of Wilse and Percopò (illustrated; Leipzig, 1899), and of Casini (in Gröber’s Grundr. der röm. Phil., Strassburg, 1896–1899). English students are referred to Symonds’s Renaissance in Italy (especially, but not exclusively, vols. iv. and v.; new ed., London, 1902), and to R. Garnett’s History of Italian Literature (London, 1898). (H. O.)
- See Giesebrecht, De litterarum studiis apud Italos primis mediaevi saeculis (Berlin, 1845.)
- See Gaspary, Die sicilianische Dichterschule des 13ten Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1878).
- Storia della repubblica di Firenze (Florence, 1876).