A History of Italian Literature/Bibliographical Note

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


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


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


Crescimbeni, Istoria della volgar Poesia, 1730. Quadrio, Della Storia e della ragione d'ogni Poesia, 1739–52. Standard histories long out of print, but to be found in all good public libraries.—Muratori, Della perfetta Poesia, 1821. Characterised at p. 295.—Ruth, Geschichte der italienischen Poesie, 1844–47.—Loise, Histoire de la Poésie en Italie, 1895.—Carducci, Studi Letterari, 1880. Valuable criticisms on various periods of Italian literature.—An excellent anthology of the dicta of modern Italian critics has been compiled by Morandi, Antologia, &c., 1893.


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


Rubieri, Storia della Poesia popolare italiana, 1877.—D'Ancona, La Poesia popolare italiana, 1878.—Tommaseo, Canti popolari, 1841–42.—Tigri, Canti popolari Toscani, 1869. See also J. A. Symonds's essay in his Italian Sketches and Studies, 1879, a new edition of which is in preparation.


Rossetti, Dante and his Circle, 1893. Consists chiefly of translations of the highest merit. The information it contains is chiefly derived from Nannucci, Manuale della Letteratura del primo Secolo, 1843; and Trucchi, Poesie italiane inedite di dugento autori, 1846.


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

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


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


Koerting's life of Boccaccio in the second volume of his Geschichte is the best; and the English reader may consult Symonds, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1895.


Perhaps the fullest account of the Italian novelists in an English book is that in Dunlop's History of Fiction, as edited by Wilson, 1888. See also Papanti, Catalogo dei Novelieri italiani, 1871 , and the notices prefixed to the specimens translated in Thomas Roscoe's Italian Novelists, 1832.


The fullest accounts of individual Italian dramatists will be found in Ginguené. The beginning of the Italian drama is investigated by D'Ancona in his Origini del Teatro in Italia, 1891; see also the volumes (iv.–vii.) devoted to Italy in Klein's Geschichte des Dramas, D'Ancona has written a monograph on the Sacre Rappresentazioni (see p. 226). The Commedia dell' Arte (pp. 305–307) is treated in Scherillo's monograph with this title, in Maurice Sand's Masques et Bouffons, and in Symonds's preface to his translation of the memoirs of Carlo Gozzi, 1892.


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


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


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


Crescimbeni, Vite degl' Arcadi Illustri, 1704–13.—Cantù, L'Abate Parini e la Lombardia nel Secolo XVIII—Carducci, Parini.—Vernon Lee, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy, 1880. Much of this brilliant book is devoted to music and the stage, but the literary element is never long absent.


The most valuable essays on Italian literature in the nineteenth century are at present to be found in periodicals, especially the Nuova Antologia and the Deutsche Rundschau; in general works on Italy like Mariotti's; in the biographies and correspondence of distinguished authors of the period, and in such monographs upon them as Zumbini's Sulle Poesie di Vincenzo Monti. Modern Italian poetry is well treated by W. D. Howells, Modern Italian Poets, 1887; by F. Sewall in his introduction to his translations from Carducci, 1892; and in the preface and biographical introductions to Greene's Italian Lyrists of To-Day, 1893.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.