A History of Italian Literature
A HISTORY OF
RICHARD GARNETT, C. B., LL. D.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
"I think," says Jowett, writing to John Addington Symonds (August 4, 1890), "that you are happy in having unlocked so much of Italian literature, certainly the greatest in the world after Greek, Latin, English. To have interpreted one such literature and made it accessible to English-speaking people seems to me a sufficient result of a life."
It seems, however, peculiarly appropriate that a history of Italian literature should follow and should precede other and parallel histories. Symonds himself had long before pointed out that no man, at least in a single work of moderate compass, can fully deserve the credit of having unlocked Italian literature. The study of Italian letters, he had reminded us, cannot be profitably pursued by itself. The literature of Italy requires to be constantly considered in connection with other literatures, both those from which it is itself derived, and those which it has deeply influenced. It is more intimately affiliated to antiquity than any other European literature, and may indeed be regarded as a continuation or revival of the Latin. Its advent was long and unaccountably delayed—it is the youngest of all the chief European literatures; but when at length it did appear, its form, already classical, dispensed it from an infancy of rudeness and barbarism. It may be compared to Hermes, the youngest but most precocious of the Gods; not, like Pallas, born adult, but equal to any achievement from the cradle:
"The babe was born at the first peep of day;
He began playing on the lyre at noon;
And the same evening did he steal away
Entering at once upon a heritage of classical tradition, Italians began to teach foreign nations long before they found anything to learn from them; and this influence is so large a part of the glory of Italy that her literature cannot be fully unlocked to the foreigner unless he is shown, not only what she has herself effected in letters, but how greatly she has modified the intellectual development of other countries. She owes nothing to Chaucer, Spenser, or Milton; but Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton are infinitely indebted to her. The position she so long retained as the instructor and exemplar of civilised nations Invests her literature with an importance more considerable than that attaching to the merits of her individual authors, illustrious as these are. Yet it is impossible to elucidate this momentous department of the subject in a manual of four hundred pages. All that can be done is to indicate by continual reference and allusion that the need exists, and must be satisfied elsewhere. The influence upon Italy herself of foreign writers, and of movements common to Europe in general, has required and received fuller treatment.
Other circumstances, and these not attributable to the restricted scale of his undertaking, conspire to afflict the historian of Italian literature with a feeling of insufficiency. From causes which will appear in the course of this history, many of the most gifted Italians wrote in Latin. From Petrarch down to Nicius Erythræus a succession of books which would have adorned the vernacular literature if they had belonged to it, appeared in the common idiom of scholars. Petrarch's Canzoniere, as respects mere dimension, is as nothing to the mass of his Latin works. Politian writes just enough Italian to prove that he might have revived Boccaccio or anticipated Ariosto. Pontano, one of the brightest intellects of Italy, writes entirely in Latin. To exclude the Latin books of such men entirely from consideration is impossible; but they cannot be adequately treated in a professed history of vernacular literature; and much else of deep significance must be passed over without a hint of its existence.
Another circumstance places the Italian mind at a disadvantage when contemplated solely through a literary medium. Literature in Italy is a less exhaustive manifestation than elsewhere of the intellect of the nation. The intellectual glory of England, France, and Germany depends mainly upon their authors and men of science; their illustrious artists, the succession of great German composers since Handel excepted, are for the most part isolated phenomena. In the ages of Italian development, whether of the imitative arts or of music, artists far outnumber authors, and the best energies of the country are employed in artistic production. Of this superabundant vitality mere literary history affords no trace. Michael Angelo, one of the greatest men the world has seen, can here claim no more than a paragraph on the strength of a handful of sonn ets. It is indeed remarkable that out of the nine Italians most brilliantly conspicuous in the very first rank of genius and achievement—Aquinas, Dante, Columbus, Leonardo, Michael Angelo,Raphael, Titian, Galileo, Napoleon—only one should have been a man of letters. The reader, therefore, who may deem the field of Italian literature infertile in comparison with the opulence of England or France, must remember that it expresses a smaller proportion of the country's benefaction to humanity. Yet Jowett is perfectly justified in claiming for the Italian a front place among the literatures of the world, but only on condition that its great representatives shall be weighed rather than counted.
The comparative—though only comparative—paucity of authors in Italy is so far favourable to the historian working on a small scale, that it allows a more expansive treatment of the greatest men, and at the same time the inclusion of minor writers not always of high distinction, but indispensable to the continuity of the narrative. This is essential in a book which does not profess to be a string of biographies, but a biography of Italian Literature herself regarded as a single entity revealed through a succession of personages, the less gifted among whom may be true embodiments of her spirit for the time being. Many remarkable manifestations of the national intellect are, nevertheless, necessarily excluded. Writers in dialect are omitted, unless when acknowledged classics like Meli or Belli. Academies and universities are but slightly mentioned. Theologians, jurists, and men of science have been passed over, except in so far as they may also have been men of letters. There is, in fact, no figure among them like Luther, who, though not inspired by the love of letters as such, so embodied the national spirit and exerted so mighty an influence upon the language, that he could no more than Goethe be omitted from a history of German literature.
Some want of proportion may be charged against the comparatively restricted space here allotted to Dante. It is indeed true that if genius prescribed the scale of treatment, at least a third of the book ought to have been devoted to him; but this very fact refutes the censure it seems to support, since, the limits assigned admitting of no extension, all other authors must have suffered for the sake of one. In a history, moreover, rather dealing with Italian literature as a whole than with writers as individuals, the test is not so much greatness as influence upon letters, and in this respect Dante is less significant than Petrarch and Boccaccio. Preceding the Renaissance, he could not profoundly affect its leading representatives, or the succeeding generations whose taste was moulded by it; and although at all times admired and venerated, it was only at the appearance of the romantic school and the Revolution that he became a potent literary force. Another reason for a more compendious treatment of Dante is that while in the cases of other Italian writers it is difficult to remedy defects by reference to any special monograph, English literature possesses several excellent handbooks to the Divine Comedy, resort to which would be expedient in any case.
The books to which the writer has been chiefly versions from Boiardo and other poets contributed by Miss Ellen Clerke have not, with one exception, been previously printed. Where no acknowledgment of indebtedness is made, translations are by the author of the volume.are enumerated in a special biography. He is obliged to Mr. W. M. Rossetti and to Messrs. Ellis and Elvey for permission to use the exquisite translations from the Dante and his Circle of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, cited in the early chapters of the book. The graceful
Short Histories of the Literatures
of the World
Edited by Edmund Gosse
LITERATURES OF THE WORLD.
Edited by EDMUND GOSSE,
Hon. M. A. of Trinity College, Cambridge.
A succession of attractive volumes dealing with the history of literature in each country. Each volume will contain about three hundred and fifty 12mo pages, and will treat an entire literature, giving a uniform impression of its development, history, and character, and of its relation to previous and to contemporary work.
Each, 12mo, cloth, $1.50.
CHINESE LITERATURE. By Herbert A. Giles, M. A., LL. D. (Aberd.), Professor of Chinese in the University of Cambridge, and late H. B. M. Consul at Ningpo.
SANSKRIT LITERATURE. By A. A. Macdonell, M. A., Deputy Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford.
RUSSIAN LITERATURE. By K. Wauszewski.
BOHEMIAN LITERATURE. By Francis, Count Lützow, author of "Bohemia: An Historical Sketch."
JAPANESE LITERATURE. By W G. Aston, C. M. G., M. A., late Acting Secretary at the British Legation at Tokio.
SPANISH LITERATURE. By J. Fitzmaurice-Kelly, Member of the Spanish Academy.
ITALIAN LITERATURE. By Richard Garnett, C. B., LL. D., Keeper of Printed Books in the British Museum.
ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE. By Gilbert Murray, M. A., Professor of Greek in the University of Glasgow.
FRENCH LITERATURE. By Edward Dowden, D. C. L., LL. D., Professor of English Literature at the University of Dublin.
MODERN ENGLISH LITERATURE. By the Editor.
American Literature. By Prof. W. P. Trent, of the University of the South.
Hungarian Literature. By Dr. Zoltán Beöthy, Professor of Hungarian Literature at the University of Budapest.
Latin Literature. By Dr. Arthur Woolgar-Verrall, Fellow and Senior Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Modern Scandinavian Literature. By Dr. Georg Brandes, of Copenhagen.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.
From a photograph by Le Lieure, Rome.