Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/20

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them republics, had developed individual life just as the city-states of Hellas had done in ancient times. The main interest shifted from the state and the nation to the life and development of the individual.[1] And with this interest arose in the literary sphere the dramatic narrative of human action—the Novella.

The genealogy of the Novella is short but curious. The first known collection of tales in modern European literature dealing with the tragic and comic aspects of daily life was that made by Petrus Alphonsi, a baptized Spanish Jew, who knew some Arabic.[2] His book, the Disciplina Clericalis, was originally intended as seasoning for sermons, and very strong seasoning they must have been found. The stories were translated into French, and thus gave rise to the Fabliau, which allowed full expression to the esprit Gaulois. From France the Fabliau passed to Italy, and came ultimately into the hands of Boccaccio, under whose influence it became transformed into the Novella.[3]

It is an elementary mistake to associate Boccaccio's name with the tales of gayer tone traceable to the Fabliaux. He initiated the custom of mixing tragic with the comic tales. Nearly all the novelle of the Fourth Day, for example, deal with tragic topics. And the example he set in this way was followed by the whole school of Novellieri. As Painter's book is so largely due to them, a few words on the Novellieri used by him seem desirable, reserving for the present the question of his treatment of their text.

Of Giovanne Boccaccio himself it is difficult for any one with a love of letters to speak in few or measured words. He may have been a Philistine, as Mr. Symonds calls him, but he was surely a Philistine of genius. He has the supreme virtue of style. In fact, it may be roughly said that in Europe for nearly two centuries there is no such thing as a prose style but Boccaccio's.

  1. See Burckhardt, Cultur der Renaisance in Italien, Buch II., especially Kap. iii.
  2. On Peter Alphonsi see my edition of Caxton's Æsop, which contains selections from him in Vol. II.
  3. Signor Bartoli has written on I Precursori di Boccaccio, 1874, Landau on his Life and Sources (Leben, 1880, Quellen des Dekameron, 1884), and on his successors (Beitrage zur Geschichte der ital Novelle, 1874). Mr. Symonds has an admirable chapter on the Novellieri in his Renaissance, vol. v.