PERIOD SECOND. REVIVAL OF ITALIAN LITERATURE AND ITS SECOND DECLINE (1476-1675).
1. THE CLOSE OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.—The first man who contributed to the restoration of Italian poetry was Lorenzo de' Medici (1448-1492), the grandson of Cosmo. In the brilliant society that he gathered around him, a new era was opened in Italian literature. Himself a poet, he attempted to restore poetry to the condition in which Petrarch had left it; although superior in some respects to that poet, he had less power of versification, less sweetness, and harmony, but his ideas were more natural, and his style was more simple. He attempted all kinds of poetical composition, and in all he displayed the versatility of his talents and the exuberance of his imagination. But to Lorenzo poetry was but an amusement, scarcely regarded in his brilliant political career. He concentrated in himself all the power of the republic—he was the arbiter of the whole political state of Italy, and from the splendor with which he surrounded himself, and his celebrity, he received the title of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He continued to collect manuscripts, and to employ learned men to prepare them for printing. His Platonic Academy extended its researches into new paths of study. The collection of antique sculpture, the germ of the gallery of Florence, which had been established by Cosmo, he enriched, and gave to it a new destination, which was the occasion of imparting fresh life and vigor to the liberal arts. He appropriated a part of his gardens to serve as a school for the study of the antique, and placed his statues, busts, and other models of art in the shrubberies, terraces, and buildings. Young men were liberally paid for the copies which they made while pursuing their studies. It was this institution that kindled the flame of genius in the breast of Michael Angelo, and to it must be attributed the splendor which was shed by the fine arts over the close of the fifteenth century, and which extended rapidly from Florence throughout Italy, and over a great part of Europe. Among the friends of Lorenzo may be mentioned Pico della Mirandola (1463- 1494), one of the most prominent men of his age, who left in his Latin and Italian works monuments of his vast erudition and exuberant talent.
The fifteenth century closed brightly on Florence, but it was otherwise throughout Italy. Some of its princes still patronized the sciences, but most of them were engaged in the intrigues of ambition; and the storms which were gathering soon burst on Florence itself. Shortly after the death of Lorenzo, nearly the whole of Italy fell under the rule of Charles VIII., and the voice of science and literature was drowned in the clash of arms; military violence dispersed the learned men, and pillage destroyed or scattered the literary treasures. Literature and the arts, banished from their long-loved home, sought another asylum. We find them again at Rome, cherished by a more powerful and fortunate protector, Pope Leo X., the son of Lorenzo (1475-1521). Though his patronage was confined to the fine arts and to the lighter kinds of composition, yet owing to the influence of the newly-invented art of printing, the discovery of Columbus, and the Reformation, new energies were imparted to the age, the Italian mind was awakened from its slumber, and prepared for a new era in literature.
2. THE ORIGIN OF THE DRAMA AND ROMANTIC EPIC.—Among the gifted individuals in the circle of Lorenzo, the highest rank may be assigned to Poliziano (1454-1494). He revived on the modern stage the tragedies of the ancients, or rather created a new kind of pastoral tragedy, on which Tasso did not disdain to employ his genius. His “Orpheus,” composed within ten days, was performed at the Mantuan court in 1483, and may be considered as the first dramatic composition in Italian. The universal homage paid to Virgil had a decided influence on this kind of poetry. His Bucolics were looked upon as dramas more poetical than those of Terence and Seneca. The comedies of Plautus were represented, and the taste for theatrical performances was eagerly renewed. In these representations, however, the object in view was the restoration of the classics rather than the amusement of the public; and the new dramatists confined themselves to a faithful copy of the ancients. But the Orpheus of Poliziano caused a revolution. The beauty of the verse, the charm of the music, and the decorations which accompanied its recital, produced an excitement of feeling and intellect that combined to open the way for the true dramatic art.
At the same time, several eminent poets devoted their attention to that style of composition which was destined to form the glory of Ariosto. The trouveres chose Charlemagne and his paladins as the heroes of their poems and romances, and these, composed for the most part in French in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, were early circulated in Italy. Their origin accorded with the vivacity of the prevailing religious sentiment, the violence of the passions and the taste for adventures which distinguished the first crusades; while from the general ignorance of the times, their supernatural agency was readily admitted. But at the close of the fifteenth century, when the poets possessed themselves of these old romances, in order to give a variety to the adventures of their heroes, the belief in the marvelous was much diminished, and they could not be recounted without a mixture of mockery. The spirit of the age did not admit in the Italian language a subject entirely serious. He who made pretensions to fame was compelled to write in Latin, and the choice of the vulgar tongue was the indication of a humorous subject. The language had developed since the time of Boccaccio a character of naivete mingled with satire, which still remains, and which is particularly remarkable in Ariosto.
The “Morgante Maggiore” of Pulci (1431-1470) is the first of these romantic poems. It is alternately burlesque and serious, and it abounds with passages of great pathos and beauty. The “Orlando Innamorato” of Boiardo (1430-1494) is a poem somewhat similar to that of Pulci. It was, however, remodeled by Berni, sixty years after the death of the author, and from the variety and novelty of the adventures, the richness of its descriptions, the interest excited by its hero, and the honor rendered to the female sex, it excels the Morgante.
3. ROMANTIC EPIC POETRY.—The romances of chivalry, which had been thus versified by Pulci and Boiardo, were elevated to the rank of epic poetry by the genius of Ariosto (1474-1533). He was born at Reggio, of which place his father was governor. As the means of improving his resources, he early attached himself to the service of Cardinal D'Este, and afterwards to that of the Duke of Ferrara. At the age of thirty years he commenced his “Orlando Furioso,” and continued the composition for eleven years. While the work was in progress, he was in the habit of reading the cantos, as they were finished, at the courts of the cardinal and duke, which may account for the manner in which this hundred-fold tale is told, as if delivered spontaneously before scholars and princes, who assembled to listen to the marvelous adventures of knights and ladies, giants and magicians, from the lips of the story-teller. Ariosto excelled in the practice of reading aloud with distinct utterance and animated elocution, an accomplishment of peculiar value at a time when books were scarce, and the emoluments of authors depended more on the gratuities of their patrons than the sale of their works. In each of the four editions which he published, he improved, corrected, and enlarged the original. No poet, perhaps, ever evinced more fastidious taste in adjusting the nicer points that affected the harmony, dignity, and fluency of his composition, yet the whole seems as natural as if it had flowed extemporaneously from his pen. Throughout life it was the lot of Ariosto to struggle against the difficulties inseparable from narrow and precarious circumstances. His patrons, among them Leo X., were often culpable in exciting expectations, and afterwards disappointing them. The earliest and latest works of Ariosto, though not his best, were dramatic. He wrote also some satires in the form of epistles. He died in the fifty-eighth year of his age, and his ashes now rest under the magnificent monument in the new church of the Benedictines in Ferrara. The house in which the poet lived, the chair in which he was wont to study, and the inkstand whence he filled his pen, are still shown as interesting memorials of his life and labors.
Ariosto, like Pulci and Boiardo, undertook to sing the paladins and their amours at the court of Charlemagne, during the fabulous wars of this emperor against the Moors. In his poem he seems to have designedly thrown off the embarrassment of a unity of action. The Orlando Furioso is founded on three principal narratives, distinct but often intermingled; the history of the war between Charlemagne and the Saracens, Orlando's love for Angelica, his madness on hearing of her infidelity, and Ruggiero's attachment to Bradamante. These stories are interwoven with so many incidents and episodes, and there is in the poem such a prodigious quantity of action, that it is difficult to assign it a central point. Indeed, Ariosto, playing with his readers, seems to delight in continually misleading them, and allows them no opportunity of viewing the general subject of the poem. This want of unity is essentially detrimental to the general impression of the work, and the author has succeeded in throwing around its individual parts an interest which does not attach to it as a whole. The world to which the poet transports his readers is truly poetic; all the factitious wants of common life, its cold calculations and its imaginary distinctions, disappear; love and honor reign supreme, and the prompting of the one and the laws of the other are alone permitted to stimulate and regulate a life, of which war is the only business and gallantry the only pastime. The magic and sorcery, borrowed from the East, which pervade these chivalric fictions, lead us still farther from the world of realities. Nor is it the least charm that all the wonders and prodigies here related are made to appear quite probable from the apparently artless, truthful style of the narration. The versification of the Orlando is more distinguished for sweetness and elegance than for strength; but, in point of harmony, and in the beauty, pathos, and grace of his descriptions, no poet surpasses Ariosto.
4. HEROIC EPIC POETRY.—While, in the romantic epic of the Middle Ages, unity of design was considered unnecessary, and truthfulness of detail, fertility of imagination, strength of coloring, and vivacity of narration were alone required, heroic poetry was expected to exhibit, on the most extensive scale, those laws of symmetry which adapt all the parts to one object, which combine variety with unity, and, as it were, initiate us into the secrets of creation, by disclosing the single idea which governs the most dissimilar actions, and harmonizes the most opposite interests. It was reserved to Torquato Tasso to raise the Italian language to this kind of epic poetry.
Tasso (1544-1595) was born in Sorrento, and many marvels are told by his biographers of the precocity of his genius. Political convulsions early drove his father into exile. He went to Rome and sent for his son, then ten years of age. When the exiles were no longer safe at Rome, an asylum was offered them at Pesaro by the Duke of Urbino. Here young Tasso pursued his studies in all the learning and accomplishments of the age. In his seventeenth year he had completed the composition of an epic poem on the adventures of Rinaldo, which was received with passionate admiration throughout Italy. The appearance of this poem proved not only the beginning of the author's fame, but the dawn of a new day in Italian literature. In 1565, Tasso was nominated by the Cardinal D'Este as gentleman of his household, and his reception at the court was in every respect most pleasing to his youthful ambition. He was honored by the intimate acquaintance of the accomplished princesses Lucretia and Leonora, and to this dangerous friendship must be attributed most of his subsequent misfortunes, if it be true that he cherished a secret attachment for Leonora.
During this prosperous period of his life, Tasso prosecuted his great epic poem, the “Jerusalem Delivered,” and as canto after canto was completed and recited to the princesses, he found in their applause repeated stimulus to proceed. While steadily engaged in his great work, his fancy gave birth to numerous fugitive poems, the most remarkable of which is the “Aminta.” After its representation at the court of Ferrara, all Italy resounded with the poet's fame. It was translated into all the languages of Europe, and the name of Tasso would have been immortal even though he had never composed an epic. The various vexations he endured regarding the publication of his work at its conclusion, the wrongs he suffered from both patrons and rivals, together with disappointed ambition, rendered him the subject of feverish anxiety and afterwards the prey of restless fear and continual suspicion. His mental malady increased, and he wandered from place to place without finding any permanent home. Assuming the disguise of a shepherd, he traveled to Sorrento, to visit his sister; but soon, tired of seclusion, he obtained permission to return to the court of Ferrara. He was coldly received by the duke, and was refused an interview with the princesses. He left the place in indignation, and wandered from one city of Italy to another, reduced to the appearance of a wretched itinerant, sometimes kindly received, sometimes driven away as a vagabond, always restless, suspicious, and unhappy. In this mood he again returned to Ferrara, at a moment when the duke was too much occupied with the solemnities of his own marriage to attend to the complaints of the poet. Tasso became infuriated, retracted all the praises he had bestowed on the house of Este, and indulged in the bitterest invectives against the duke, by whose orders he was afterwards committed to the hospital for lunatics, where he was closely confined, and treated with extreme rigor. If he had never been insane before, he certainly now became so. To add to his misfortune, his poem was printed without his permission, from an imperfect copy, and while editors and printers enriched themselves with the fruit of his labors, the poet himself was languishing in a dungeon, despised, neglected, sick, and destitute of the common conveniences of life, and above all, deafened by the frantic cries with which the hospital continually resounded. When the first rigors of his imprisonment were relaxed, Tasso pursued his studies, and poured forth his emotions in every form of verse. Some of his most beautiful minor poems were composed during this period. After more than seven years' confinement, the poet was liberated at the intercession of the Duke of Mantua. Prom this time he wandered from city to city; the hallucinations of his mind never entirely ceased. Towards the close of the year 1594 he took up his residence at Rome, where he died at the age of fifty-two.
Tasso was particularly happy in choosing the most engaging subject that could inspire a modern poet—the struggle between the Christians and the Saracens. The Saracens considered themselves called on to subjugate the earth to the faith of Mohammed; the Christians to enfranchise the sacred spot where their divine founder suffered death. The religion of the age was wholly warlike. It was a profound, disinterested, enthusiastic, and poetic sentiment, and no period has beheld such a brilliant display of valor. The belief in the supernatural, which formed a striking characteristic of the time, seemed to have usurped the laws of nature and the common course of events.
The faith against which the crusaders fought appeared to them the worship of the powers of darkness. They believed that a contest might exist between invisible beings as between different nations, and when Tasso armed the dark powers of enchantment against the Christian knights, he only developed and embellished a popular idea.
The scene of the Jerusalem Delivered, so rich in recollections and associations with all our religious feelings, is one in which nature displays her riches and treasures, and where descriptions, in turn the most lovely and the most austere, attract the pen of the poet. All the nations of Christendom send forth their warriors to the army of the cross, and the whole world thus becomes his patrimony. Whatever interest the taking of Troy might possess for the Greeks, or the vanity of the Romans might attach to the adventures of AEneas, whom they adopted as their progenitor, it may be asserted that neither the Iliad nor the Aeneid possesses the dignity of subject, the interest at the same time divine and human, and the varied dramatic action which are peculiar to the Jerusalem Delivered.
The whole course of the poem is comprised in the campaign of 1093, when the Christian army, assembled on the plain of Tortosa, marched towards Jerusalem, which they besieged and captured. From the commencement of the poem, the most tender sentiments are combined with the action, and love has been assigned a nobler part than had been given to it in any other epic poem. Love, enthusiastic, respectful, and full of homage, was an essential characteristic of chivalry and the source of the noblest actions. While with the heroes of the classic epic it was a weakness, with the Christian knights it was a devotion. In this work are happily combined the classic and romantic styles. It is classic in its plan, romantic in its heroes; it is conceived in the spirit of antiquity, and executed in the spirit of medieval romance. It has the beauty which results from unity of design and from the harmony of all its parts, united with the romantic form, which falls in with the feelings, the passions, and the recollections of Europeans. Notwithstanding some defects, which must be attributed rather to the taste of his age than to his genius, in the history of literature Tasso may be placed by the side of Homer and Virgil.
5. LYRIC POETRY.—Lyric poetry, which had been brought to such perfection by Petrarch in the fourteenth century, but almost lost sight of in the fifteenth, was cultivated by all the Italian poets of this period. Petrarch became the model, which every aspirant endeavored to imitate. Hence arose a host of poetasters, who wrote with considerable elegance, but without the least power of imagination. We must not, however, confound with the servile imitators of Petrarch those who took nothing from his school but purity of language and elegance of style, and who consecrated the lyre not to love alone, but to patriotism and religion. First of these are Poliziano and Lorenzo de' Medici, in whose ballads and stanzas the language of Petrarch reappeared with all its beauty and harmony. Later, Cardinal Bembo (1470-1547), Molza (1489-1544), Tarsia (1476-1535), Guidiccioni (1480-1541), Della Casa (1503-1556), Costanzo (1507-1585), and later still, Chiabrera (1552-1637), attempted to restore Italian poetry to its primitive elegance. Their sonnets and canzoni contributed much to the revival of a purer style, although their elegance is often too elaborate and their thoughts and feelings too artificial. Besides these, Ariosto, Tasso, Machiavelli, and Michael Angelo, whose genius was practiced in more ambitious tasks, did not disdain to shape and polish such diminutive gems as the canzone, the madrigal, and the sonnet.
This reform of taste in lyric composition was also promoted by several women, among whom the most distinguished at once for beauty, virtue, and talent was Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547). She was daughter of the high constable of Naples, and married to the Marquis of Pescara. Early left a widow, she abandoned herself to sorrow. That fidelity which made her refuse the hand of princes in her youth, rendered her incapable of a second attachment in her widowhood. The solace of her life was to mourn the loss and cherish the memory of Pescara. After passing several years in retirement, Vittoria took up her residence at Rome, and became the intimate friend of the distinguished men of her time. Her verses, though deficient in poetic fancy, are full of tenderness and absorbing passion. Vittoria Colonna was reckoned by her contemporaries as a being almost more than human, and the epithet divine was usually prefixed to her name. By her death-bed stood Michael Angelo, who was considerably her junior, but who enjoyed her friendship and regarded her with enthusiastic veneration. He wrote several sonnets in her praise. Veronica Gambara, Tullia d'Aragona, and Giulia Gonzaga may also be named as possessing superior genius to many literary men of their time.
6. DRAMATIC POETRY.—Tragedy, in the hands of the Romans, had exhibited no national characteristics, and disappeared with the decline of their literature. When Europe began to breathe again, the natural taste of the multitude for games and spectacles revived; the church entertained the people with its representations, which, however, were destitute of all literary character. At the commencement of the fourteenth century we find traces of Latin tragedies, and these, during the fifteenth century, were frequently represented, as we have seen, more as a branch of ancient art and learning than as matter of recreation. After the “Orpheus” of Poliziano had appeared on the stage, the first drama in the Italian tongue, Latin tragedies and comedies were translated into the Italian, but as yet no one had ventured beyond mere translation.
Leo X. shed over the dramatic art the same favor which he bestowed on the other liberal arts, and the theatricals of the Vatican were of the most splendid description. During his pontificate, Trissino (1478-1550) dedicated to him the tragedy of “Sofonisba,” formed on the Greek model, the first regular tragedy which had appeared since the revival of letters. Its subject is found entire in the work of Livy, and the invention of the poet has added little to the records of the historian. The piece is not divided into acts and scenes, and the only repose given to the action is by the chorus, who sing odes and lyric stanzas. The story is well conducted, the characters are all dramatic, and the incidents arise spontaneously out of each other; but the style of the tragedy has neither the sublimity nor the originality which becomes this kind of composition, and which distinguished the genius of the dramatic poets of Athens.
The example of Trissino was followed by Rucellai (1475-1525), who left two dramas, “Rosamunda” and “Orestes,” written in blank verse, with a chorus, much resembling the Greek tragedies. This poet used much more license with his subject than Trissino; his plot is less simple and pathetic, but abounds in horror, and his style is florid and rhetorical. Tasso, Speroni (1500-1588), Giraldi (1504-1573), and others, attempted also this species of composition, and their dramas are considered the best of the age.
As the tragic poets of this century servilely imitated Sophocles and Euripides, the comic writers copied Plautus and Terence. The comedies of Ariosto, of which there are five, display considerable ingenuity of invention and an elegant vivacity of language. The dramatic works of Machiavelli approach more nearly to the middle comedy of the Greeks. They depict and satirize contemporaneous rather than obsolete manners, but the characters and plots awaken little interest.
Bentivoglio (1506-1573), Salviati (1540-1589), Firenzuola (1493-1547), Caro (1507-1566), Cardinal Bibiena, (1470-1520), Aretino (1492-1556), and others, are among the principal comic writers of the age, who displayed more or less dramatic talent. Of all the Italian comedies composed in the sixteenth century, however, scarcely one was the work of eminent genius. A species of comic drama, known under the name of Commedia dell' arte, took its rise in this century. The characteristic of these plays is that the story only belongs to the poet, the dialogue being improvised by the actors. The four principal characters, denominated masks, were Pantaloon, a merchant of Venice, a doctor of laws from Bologna, and two servants, known to us as Harlequin and Columbine. When we add to these a couple of sons, one virtuous and the other profligate; a couple of daughters, and a pert, intriguing chambermaid, we have nearly the whole dramatis personae of these plays. The extempore dialogue by which the plot was developed was replete with drollery and wit, and there was no end to the novelty of the jests.
7. PASTORAL DRAMA AND DIDACTIC POETRY.—The pastoral drama, which describes characters and passions in their primitive simplicity, is thus distinguished from tragedy and comedy. It is probable that the idyls of the Greeks afforded the first germ of this species of composition, but Beccari, a poet of Ferrara (1510-1590), is considered the father of the genuine pastoral drama. Before him Sannazzaro (1458-1530) had written the “Arcadia,” which, however, bears the character of an eclogue rather than that of a drama. It is written in the choicest Italian; its versification is melodious, and it abounds with beautiful descriptions; as an imitation of the ancients, it is entitled to the highest rank. The beauty of the Italian landscape and the softness of the Italian climate seem naturally fitted to dispose the poetic soul to the dreams of rural life, and the language seems, by its graceful simplicity, peculiarly adapted to express the feelings of a class of people whom we picture to ourselves as ingenuous and infantine in their natures. The manners of the Italian peasantry are more truly pastoral than those of any other people, and a bucolic poet in that fair region need not wander to Arcadia. But Sannazzaro, like all the early pastoral poets of Italy, proposed to himself, as the highest excellence, a close imitation of Virgil; he took his shepherds from the fabulous ages of antiquity, borrowed the mythology of the Greeks, and completed the machinery with fauns, nymphs, and satyrs. Like Sannazzaro, Beccari places his shepherds in Arcadia, and invests them with ancient manners; but he goes beyond mere dialogue; he connects their conversations by a series of dramatic actions. The representation of one of these poems incited Tasso to the composition of his “Aminta,” the success of which was due less to the interest of the story than to the sweetness of the poetry, and the soft voluptuousness which breathes in every line. It is written in flowing verse of various measures, without rhyme, and enriched with lyric choruses of uncommon beauty.
The imitations of the Aminta were numerous, but, with one exception, which has disputed the palm with its model, they had an ephemeral existence. Guarini (1537-1612) was the author of the “Pastor Fido,” which is the principal monument of his genius; its chief merit lies in the poetry in which the tale is embodied, the simplicity and clearness of the diction, the tenderness of the sentiments, and the vehement passion which gives life to the whole. This drama was first performed in 1585, at Turin, during the nuptial festivities of the Prince of Savoy. Its success was triumphant, and Guarini was justly considered as second only to Tasso among the poets of the age. Theatrical music, which was now beginning to be cultivated, found its way into the acts of the pastoral drama, and in one scene of the Pastor Fido it is united with dancing; thus was opened the way for the Italian opera.
Among the didactic poets, Rucellai may be first mentioned. His poem of “The Bees” is an imitation of the fourth book of the Georgics; he does not, however, servilely follow his model, but gives an original coloring to that which he borrowed. Alamanni (1495-1556) occupies a secondary rank among epic, tragic, and comic poets, but merits a distinguished place in didactic poetry. His poem entitled “Cultivation" is pure and elegant in its style.
8. SATIRICAL POETRY, NOVELS, AND TALES.—In an age when every kind of poetry that had flourished among the Greeks and Romans appeared again with new lustre, satire was not wanting. There is much that is satirical in the “Divine Comedy” of Dante. Three of Petrarch's sonnets are satires on the court of Rome; those of Ariosto are valuable not only for their flowing style, but for the details they afford of his character, taste, and circumstances. The satires of Alamanni are chiefly political, and in general are characterized by purity of diction and by a high moral tendency.
There is a kind of jocose or burlesque satire peculiar to Italy, in which the literature is extremely rich. If it serves the cause of wisdom, it is always in the mask of folly. The poet who carried this kind of writing to the highest perfection was Berni (1499-1536). Comic poetry, hitherto known in Italy as burlesque, of which Burchiello was the representative in the fifteenth century, received from Berni the name of Bernesque, in its more refined and elegant character. His satirical poems are full of light and elegant mockery, and his style possesses nature and comic truth. In his hand, everything was transformed into ridicule; his satire is almost always personal, and his laughter is not always restrained by respect for morals or for decency. To burlesque poetry may be referred also the Macaronic style, a ludicrous mixture of Latin and Italian, introduced by Merlino Coccajo (1491-1544). His poems are as full of lively descriptions and piquant satire as they are wanting in decorum and morality.
The story-tellers of the sixteenth century are numerous. Sometimes they appear as followers of Boccaccio; sometimes they attempt to open new paths for themselves. The class of productions, of which the “Decameron” was the earliest example in the fourteenth century, is called by the Italians “Novelle.” In general, the interest of the tale depends rather on a number of incidents slightly touched, than on a few carefully delineated; from the difficulty of developing character in a few isolated scenes, the story-teller trusts for effect to the combination of incident and style, and the delineation of character, which is the nobler part of fiction, is neglected. Italian novelists, too, have often regarded the incidents themselves but as a vehicle for fine writing. An interesting view of these productions is, that they form a vast repository of incident, in which we recognize the origin of much that has since appeared in our own and other languages.
Machiavelli was one of the first novelists of this age. His little tale, “Belfagor,” is pleasantly told, and has been translated into all languages. The celebrated “Giulietta” of Luigi da Porta is the sole production of the author, but it has served to give him a high place among Italian novelists. This is Shakspeare's Romeo and Juliet in another shape, though it is not probable that it was the immediate source from which the great dramatist collected the materials for his tragedy. The “Hundred Tales” of Cinzio Giraldi (1504-1573) are distinguished by great boldness of conception, and by a wild and tragic horror which commands the attention, while it is revolting to the feelings. He appears to have ransacked every age and country, and to have exhausted the catalogue of human crimes in procuring subjects for his novels.
Grazzini, called Lasca (1503-1583), is perhaps the best of the Italian novelists after Boccaccio. His manner is light and graceful. His stories display much ingenuity, but are often improbable and cruel in their nature. The Fairy Tales of Strapparola (b. 1500) are the earliest specimens of the kind in the prose literature of Italy, and this work has been a perfect storehouse from which succeeding writers have derived a vast multitude of their tales. To this, also, we are indebted for the legend of “Fair Star,” “Puss in Boots,” “Fortunio,” and others which adorn our nursery libraries.
Firenzuola (1493-1547) occupies a high rank among the Italian novelists; his “Golden Ass,” from Apuleius, and his “Discourses of Animals” are distinguished for their originality and purity of style.
Bandello (1480-1562) is the novelist best known to foreigners after Boccaccio. Shakspeare and other English dramatists have drawn largely from his voluminous writings. His tales are founded upon history rather than fancy.
9. HISTORY.—Historical composition was cultivated with much success by the Italians of the sixteenth century; yet such was the altered state of things, that, except at Venice and Genoa, republics had been superseded by princes, and republican authority by the pomp of regal courts. Home was a nest of intrigue, luxury, and corruption; Tuscany had become the prey of a powerful family; Lombardy was but a battle-field for the rival powers of France and Germany, and the lot of the people was oppression and humiliation. High independence of mind, one of the most valuable qualities in connection with historical research, was impossible under these circumstances, and yet, some of the Italian writers of this age exhibit genius, strength of character, and a conscientious sense of the sacred commission of the historian.
Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born in Florence of a family which had enjoyed the first offices in the republic. At the age of thirty, he was made chancellor of the state, and from that time he was constantly employed in public affairs, and particularly in embassies. Among those to the smaller princes of Italy, the one of the longest duration was to Caesar Borgia, whom he narrowly observed at the very important period when this illustrious villain was elevating himself by his crimes, and whose diabolical policy he had thus an opportunity of studying. He had a considerable share in directing the counsels of the republic, and the influence to which he owed his elevation was that of the free party, which censured the power of the Medici, and at that time held them in exile. When the latter were recalled, Machiavelli was deprived of all his offices and banished. He then entered into a conspiracy against the usurpers, which was discovered, and he was put to the torture, but without wresting from him any confession which could impeach either himself or those who had confided in his honor. Leo X., on his elevation to the pontificate, restored him to liberty. At this time he wrote his “History of Florence,” in which he united eloquence of style with depth of reflection, and although an elegant, animated, and picturesque composition, it is not the fruit of much research or criticism.
Besides this history, Machiavelli wrote his discourses on the first decade of Livy, considered his best work, and “The Art of War,” which is an invaluable commentary on the history of the times. These works had the desired effect of inducing the Medici family to use the political services of the author, and at the request of Leo X. he wrote his essay “On the Reform of the Florentine Government.”
Guicciardini (1483-1541), the friend of Machiavelli, is considered the greatest historian of this age. He attached himself to the service of Leo X., and was raised to high offices and honors by him and the two succeeding popes. On the expulsion of the Medici from Florence, the republican party having obtained the ascendency, he was obliged to fly from the city. From this time he manifested an utter abhorrence of all popular institutions, and threw himself heart and soul into the interests of the Medici. He displayed his zeal at the expense of the lives and liberties of the most virtuous among his fellow-citizens. Having aided in the elevation of Cosmo, afterwards Grand Duke of Tuscany, and being requited with ingratitude and neglect, he retired in disgust from public life, and devoted himself wholly to the completion of his history of Italy. This work, which is a monument of his genius and industry, commences with the coming of Charles VIII. to Italy, and concludes with the year 1534, embracing one of the most important periods of Italian history. His powerfully-drawn pictures exhibit the men and the times so vividly, that they seem to pass before our eyes. His delineations of character, his masterly views of the course of events, the conduct of leaders, and the changes of war, claim our highest admiration. His language is pure and his style elegant, though sometimes too Latinized; his letters are considered as a most valuable contribution to the history of his times.
Numberless historians, of more or less merit, stimulated by the renown of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, composed annals of the states to which they belonged, while others undertook to write the histories of foreign nations. Nardi (1496-1556), one of the most ardent and pure patriots of his age, takes the first place. He wrote the history of the Florentine Revolution of 1527, a work which, though defective in style, is distinguished for its truthfulness. The histories of Florence by Adriani, Varchi, and Segni (1499-1559), are considered the best works of their kind, for elegance of style and for interest of the narrative. Almost all the other cities of Italy had their historians, but the palm must be awarded to the Florentine writers, not only on account of their number, but for the elegance and purity of their style, for their impartiality and the sagacity of their research into matters of fact. Among the writers of the second class may be mentioned Davanzati (1519), the translator of Tacitus, who wrote, in the Florentine dialect, a history of the schism of England; Giambullari (1495-1564), who wrote a history of Europe; D'Anghiera (fl. 1536), who, after having examined the papers of Christopher Columbus, and the official reports transmitted from America to Spain, compiled an interesting work on “Ocean Navigation and the New World.” His style is incorrect; but this is compensated for by the fidelity of his narration. Several of the German States, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, and the East Indies, found Italian authors in this age to digest and arrange their chronicles, and give them historical form.
To this period belong also the “Lives of the Most Celebrated Artists,” written by Vasari (1512-1574), himself a distinguished artist, a work highly interesting for its subject and style, and the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (b. 1500), one of the most curious works which was ever written in any language.
10. GRAMMAR AND RHETORIC.—The Italian language was used both in writing and conversation for three centuries before its rules and principles were reduced to a scientific form. Bembo was the first scholar who established the grammar. Grammatical writings and researches were soon multiplied and extended. Salviati was one of the most prominent grammarians of the sixteenth century, and Buonmattei and Cinonio of the seventeenth. But the progress in this study was due less to the grammarians than to the Dictionary della Crusca. Among the scholars who took part in the exercises of the Florentine Academy, founded by Cosmo de' Medici, there were some who, dissatisfied with the philosophical disputations which were the object of this institution, organized another association for the purpose of giving a new impulse to the study of the language. This academy, inaugurated in 1587, was called della Crusca, literally, of the bran. The object of this new association being to sift all impurities from the language, a sieve, the emblem of the academy, was placed In the hall; the members at their meetings sat on flour-barrels, and the chair of the presiding officer stood on three mill-stones. The first work of the academy was to compile a universal dictionary of the Italian language, which was published in 1612. Though the Dictionary della Crusca was conceived in an exclusive spirit, and admitted, as linguistic authorities, only writers of the fourteenth century, belonging to Tuscany, it contributed greatly to the progress of the Italian tongue.
Every university of Italy boasted in the sixteenth century of some celebrated rhetoricians, all of whom, however, were overshadowed by Vettori (1499-1585), distinguished for the editions of the Greek and Latin classics published under his superintendence, and for his commentaries on the rhetorical books of Aristotle. B. Cavalcanti (1503-1562) was also celebrated in this department, and his “Rhetoric" is the best work of the age on that subject.
The oratory of this period is very imperfect. Orations were written in the style of Boccaccio, which, however suitable for the narration of merry tales, is entirely unfit for oratorical compositions. Among those who most distinguished themselves in this department are Della Casa (1503-1556), whose harangues against the Emperor Charles V. are full of eloquence; Speroni (1500-1588), whose style is more perfect than that of any other writer of the sixteenth century; and Lollio (d. 1568), whose orations are the most polished. At that time, in the forum of Venice, eloquent orators pleaded the causes of the citizens, and at the close of the preceding century, Savonarola (1452-1498), a preacher of Florence, thundered against the abuses of the Roman church, and suffered death in consequence. Among the models of letter-writing, Caro takes the first place. His familiar letters are written with that graceful elegance which becomes this kind of composition. The letters of Tasso are full of eloquence and philosophy, and are written in the most select Italian.
11. SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, AND POLITICS.—The sciences, during this period, went hand in hand with poetry and history. Libraries and other aids to learning were multiplied, and academies were organized with other objects than those of enjoyment of mere poetical triumphs or dramatic amusements. The Academy del Cimento was founded at Florence in 1657 by Leopold de' Medici, for promoting the study of the natural sciences, and similar institutions were established in Rome, Bologna, and Naples, and other cities of Italy, besides the Royal Academy of London (1660), and the Academy of Sciences in Paris (1666). From the period of the first institution of universities, that of Bologna had maintained its preeminence. Padua, Ferrara, Pavia, Turin, Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Rome were also seats of learning. The men who directed the scientific studies of their country and of Europe were almost universally attached as professors to these institutions. Indeed, at this period, through the genius of Galileo and his school, European science first dawned in Italy. Galileo (1564-1641) was a native of Pisa, and professor of mathematics in the university of that city. Being obliged to leave it on account of scientific opinions, at that time at variance with universally received principles, he removed to the university of Padua, where for eighteen years he enjoyed the high consideration of his countrymen. He returned to Pisa, and at the age of seventy was summoned to Rome by the Inquisition, and required to renounce his doctrines relative to the Copernican system, of which he was a zealous defender, and his life was spared only on condition of his abjuring his opinions. It is said that on rising from his knees, after making the abjuration of his belief that the earth moved round the sun, he stamped his foot on the floor and said, “It does move, though.” To Galileo science is indebted for the discovery of the laws of weight, the scientific construction of the system of Copernicus, the pendulum, the improvement of many scientific instruments, the invention of the hydrostatic balance, the thermometer, proportional compasses, and, above all, the telescope. He discovered the satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the mountains of the moon, the spots and the rotation of the sun. Science, which had consisted for centuries only of scholastic subtleties and barren dialectics, he established on an experimental basis. In his works he unites delicacy and purity with vivacity of style.
Among the scholars of Galileo, who most efficaciously contributed to the progress of science, may be mentioned Torricelli (1608-1647), the inventor of the barometer, an elegant and profound writer; Borelli (1608-1679), the founder of animal mechanics, or the science of the movements of animals, distinguished for his works on astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, and natural philosophy; Cassini (1625-1712), a celebrated astronomer, to whom France is indebted for its meridian; Cavalieri (1598-1648), distinguished for his works on geometry, which paved the way to the discovery of the infinitesimal calculus.
In the scientific department of the earlier part of this period may also be mentioned Tartaglia (d. 1657) and Cardano (1501-1576), celebrated for their researches on algebra and geometry; Vignola (1507-1573) and Palladio (1518-1580), whose works on architecture are still held in high estimation, as well as the work of Marchi (fl. 1550) on military construction. Later, Redi (1626-1697) distinguished himself as a natural philosopher, a physician and elegant writer, both in prose and verse, and Malpighi (1628-1694) and Bellini (1643-1704) were anatomists of high repute. Scamozzi (1550-1616) emulated the glory formerly won by Palladio in architecture, and Montecuccoli (1608-1681), a great general of the age, ably illustrated the art of strategy.
The sixteenth century abounds in philosophers who, abandoning the doctrines of Plato, which had been in great favor in the fifteenth, adopted those of Aristotle. Some, however, dared to throw off the yoke of philosophical authority, and to walk in new paths of speculation. Patrizi (1529-1597) was one of the first who undertook to examine for himself the phenomena of nature, and to attack the authority of Aristotle. Telesio (1509-1588), a friend of Patrizi, joined him in the work of overthrowing the Peripatetic idols; but neither of them dared to renounce entirely the authority of antiquity. The glory of having claimed absolute freedom in philosophical speculation belongs to Cardano, already mentioned, to Campanella (1568-1639), who for the boldness of his opinions was put to the torture and spent thirty years in prison, and to Giordano Bruno (1550- 1600), a sublime thinker and a bold champion of freedom, who was burned at the stake.
Among the moral philosophers of this age may be mentioned Speroni, whose writings are distinguished by harmony, freedom, and eloquence of style; Tasso, whose dialogues unite loftiness of thought with elegance of style; Castiglione (1468-1529), whose “Cortigiano” is in equal estimation as a manual of elegance of manners and as a model of pure Italian; and Della Casa, whose “Galateo” is a complete system of politeness, couched in elegant language, and a work to which Lord Chesterfield was much indebted.
Political science had its greatest representative in Machiavelli, who wrote on it with that profound knowledge of the human heart which he had acquired in public life, and with the habit of unweaving, in all its intricacies, the political perfidy which then prevailed in Italy. The “Prince” is the best known of his political works, and from the infamous principles which he has here developed, though probably with good intentions, his name is allied with everything false and perfidious in politics. The object of the treatise is to show how a new prince may establish and consolidate his power, and how the Medici might not only confirm their authority in Florence, but extend it over the whole of the Peninsula. At the time that Machiavelli wrote, Italy had been for centuries a theatre where might was the only right. He was not a man given to illusive fancies, and throughout a long political career nothing had been permitted to escape his keen and penetrating eye. In all the affairs in which he had taken part he had seen that success was the only thing studied, and therefore to succeed in an enterprise, by whatever means, had become the fundamental idea of his political theory. His Prince reduced to a science the art, long before known and practiced by kings and tyrants, of attaining absolute power by deception and cruelty, and of maintaining it afterwards by the dissimulation of leniency and virtue. It does not appear that any exception was at first taken to the doctrines which have since called forth such severe reprehension, and from the moment of its appearance the Prince became a favorite at every court. But soon after the death of Machiavelli a violent outcry was raised against him, and although it was first heard with amazement, it soon became general, The Prince was laid under the ban of several successive popes, and the name of Machiavelli passed into a proverb of infamy. His bones lay undistinguished for nearly two centuries, when a monument was erected to his memory in the church of Santa Croce, through the influence of an English nobleman.
12. PERIOD OF DECADENCE.—The sixteenth century reaped the fruits that had been sown in the fifteenth, but it scattered no seeds for a harvest in the seventeenth, which was therefore doomed to general sterility. In the reigns of Charles V. and Philip II. the chains of civil and religious despotism were forged which subdued the intellect and arrested the genius of the people. The Spanish viceroys ruled with an iron hand over Milan, Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Poverty and superstition wasted and darkened the minds of the people, and indolence and love of pleasure introduced almost universal degeneracy. But the Spanish yoke, which weighed so heavily at both extremities of the Peninsula, did not extend to the republic of Venice, or to the duchy of Tuscany; and the heroic character of the princes of Savoy alone would have served to throw a lustre over this otherwise darkened period. In literature, too, there were a few who resisted the torrent of bad taste, amidst many who opened the way for a crowd of followers in the false route, and gave to the age that character of extravagance for which it is so peculiarly distinguished.
The literary works of the seventeenth century may be divided into three classes, the first of which, under the guidance of Marini, attained the lowest degree of corruption, and remain in the annals of literature as monuments of bombastic style and bad taste. The second embraces those writers who were aware of the faults of the school to which they belonged, and who, aiming to bring about a reform in literature, while they endeavored to follow a better style, partook more or less of the character of the age. To this class may be referred Chiabrera already named, and more particularly Filicaja and other poets of the same school. The third class is composed of a few writers who preserved themselves faithful to the principles of true taste, and among them are Menzini, Salvator Rosa, Redi, and more particularly Tassoni.
13. EPIC AND LYRIC POETRY.—Marini (1569-1625), the celebrated innovator on classic Italian taste, is considered as the first who seduced the poets of the seventeenth century into a labored and affected style. He was born at Naples and educated for the legal profession, for which he had little taste, and on publishing a volume of poems, his indignant father turned him out of doors. But his popular qualities never left him without friends. He was invited to the Court of France, obtained the favor of Mary de' Medici, and the situation of gentleman to the king. He became exceedingly popular among the French nobility, many of whom learned Italian for the sole purpose of reading his works. It was here that he published the most celebrated of his poems, entitled “Adonis.” He afterwards purchased a beautiful villa near Naples, to which he retired, and where he soon after died. The Adonis of Marini is a mixture of the epic and the romantic style, the subject being taken from the well-known story of Venus and Adonis. He renounced all keeping and probability, both in his incidents and descriptions; if he could present a series of enchanted pictures, he was little solicitous as to the manner of their arrangement. But the work has much beauty and imagination, and is often animated by the true spirit of poetry. Its principal faults are that it is sadly wire-drawn, and abounds in puns, endless antitheses, and inventions for surprising or bewildering the reader; graces which were greatly admired by the contemporaries of the poet. Marini was a voluminous writer, and was not only extolled in his own country above its classic authors, and in France, but the Spaniards held him in the highest esteem, and imitated and even surpassed him in his own eccentric career. He had also innumerable imitators in Italy, many of whom attained a high reputation during their lives, and afterwards sank into complete oblivion.
Filicaja (1642-1709) stands at the head of the lyric poets of the seventeenth century. His inspiration seems first to have been awakened when Vienna was besieged by the Turks in 1683, and gallantly defended by the Christian powers. His verses on this occasion awoke the most enthusiastic admiration, and called forth the eulogies of princes and poets. The admiration which he excited in his day is scarcely to be wondered at; for, though this judgment has not been ratified by posterity, Filicaja has at least the merit of having raised the poetry of Italy from the abject service of mere amorous imbecility to the noble office of embodying the more manly and virtuous sentiments; and though his style is infected with the bombastic spirit of the age, it is even in this respect singularly moderate, compared with that of his contemporaries.
14. MOCK-HEROIC POETRY, THE DRAMA, AND SATIRE.—The full maturity of the style of mock-heroic poetry is due to Tassoni (1565-1635). He first attracted public notice by disputing the authority of Aristotle, and the poetical merits of Petrarch. In 1622 he published his “Rape of the Bucket,” a burlesque poem on the petty wars which were so common between the towns of Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The heroes of Modena had, in 1325, discomfited the Bolognese, and pursued them to the very heart of their city, whence they carried off, as a trophy of their victory, the bucket belonging to the public well. The expedition undertaken by the Bolognese for its recovery forms the basis of the twelve mock-heroic cantos of Tassoni. To understand this poem requires a knowledge of the vulgarisms and idioms which are frequently introduced in it.
About the same period, Bracciolini (1566-1645) produced another comic- heroic poem, entitled the “Ridicule of the Gods,” in which the ancient deities are introduced as mingling with the peasants, and declaiming in the low, vulgar dialect, and making themselves most agreeably ridiculous. Somewhat later appeared one more example of the same species of epic, “The Malmantile,” by Lippi (1606-1664). This poem is considered a pure model of the dialect of the Florentines, which is so graceful and harmonious even in its homeliness.
The seventeenth century was remarkable for the prodigious number of its dramatic authors, but few of them equaled and none excelled those of the preceding age. The opera, or melodrama, which had arisen out of the pastoral, seemed to monopolize whatever talent was at the disposal of the stage, and branches formerly cultivated sank below mediocrity. Amid the crowd of theatrical corrupters, the name of Andreini (1564-1652) deserves peculiar mention, not from any claim to exemption from the general censure, but because his comedy of “Adam” is believed to have been the foundation of Milton's “Paradise Lost.” Andreini was but one of the common throng of dramatic writers, and it has been fiercely contended by some, that it is impossible that the idea of so sublime a poem should have been taken from so ordinary a composition as his Adam. His piece was represented at Milan as early as 1613, and so has at least a claim of priority,
Menzini (1646-1708) and Salvator Rosa (1615-1675) were the representatives of the satire of this century; the former distinguished for the purity of his language and the harmony of his verse; the latter for his vivacity and sprightliness.
15. HISTORY AND EPISTOLARY WRITINGS.—The number of historical works in this century is much greater than in that of the preceding, but they are generally far from possessing the same merit or commanding the same interest. The historians seem to have lost all feeling of national dignity; they do not venture to unveil the causes of public events, or to indicate their results. Even those that dared treat of Italy or its provinces, confined themselves to the reigning dynasties, and overlooking the causes which most deeply affected the happiness of the people, described only the festivities, battles, and triumphs of their princes. A large number of historians chose foreign subjects; the history of France was remarkable for the number of Italians who endeavored to relate it in this age. The work of Davila (1576-1630) on “The Civil Wars of France,” however, throws all the rest into the shade. What gives to it peculiar value is the carefulness with which the materials were collected, in connection with the opportunities its author enjoyed for gaining information. This history is considered as superior to that of Guicciardini in its matter, as the latter excels it in style. It is wanting in that elegance which characterized the Florentine historians of the sixteenth century. Bentivoglio (1579-1644) was an eminent rival of Davila; he wrote the history of the civil wars of Flanders; a work remarkable for the elegance and correctness of its style. Above all stand the works of Sarpi, who lived between 1552 and 1623, and who defended with great courage the authority of the Senate of Venice against the power of the Popes, notwithstanding their excommunication and continued persecution. His history of the Council of Trent contains a curious account of the intrigues of the Court of Rome at the period of the Reformation.
It was chiefly in the more showy departments of literature that the extravagance of the Marinists was most conspicuous, and the decay of native genius was most apparent. But this genius had turned into other paths, which it pursued with a steady, though less brilliant course. Of all branches of prose composition, the epistolary was the most carefully cultivated. The talent for letter-writing was often the means of considerable emolument, as all the petty princes of Italy and the cardinals of Rome were ambitious of having secretaries who would give them eclat in their correspondence, and these situations, which were steps to higher preferment, were eagerly sought; hence the prodigious number of collections of letters which have at all times inundated Italy—specimens by which those who believed themselves elegant writers endeavored to make known their talent. The letters of Bentivoglio have obtained European celebrity. They are distinguished for elegance of style as well as for the interest of those historical recollections which they transmit; they are considered superior to his history. But of all the letters of this or of the preceding age, none are more rich, more varied, or more pleasing than those of Redi, who threw into this form his discoveries in natural history. The driest subjects, even those of language and grammar, are here treated in an interesting and agreeable manner.