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In like manner, La Harpe imputes to them the sins of Jodelle and the contemporary wits, though these last preceded by some years the literary existence of Marini; and the vices of the English metaphysical school have been expressly referred, by Dr. Johnson, to Marini and his followers.
A nearer inspection, however, might justify the opinion, that these various affectations bear too much of the physiognomy of the respective nations in which they are found, and are capable of being traced to too high a source in each, to be thus exclusively imputed to the Italians. Thus the elements of the cultismo of the Spaniards, that compound of Aat pedantry and Oriental hyperbole, so different from the fine concetti of the Italian, are to be traced through some of their most eminent writers, up to the fugitive pieces of the fifteenth century, as collected in their Cancioneros; and in like manner, the elements of the metaphysical jargon of Cowley, whose intellectual combinations and far-fetched analogies show too painful a research after wit for the Italian taste, may be traced in England through Donne and Ben Jonson, to say nothing of the unparalleled John Lillie,' up to the veteran versifiers of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Thus, also, some features of the style precieur of the hôtel de Rambouillet, so often lashed by Boileau, and laughed at by Molière, may be imputed to the malign influence of the constellation of pedants, celebrated in France under the title of Pleiades, in the sixteenth century.
The Greek is the only literature, which, from the first, seems to have maintained a sound and healthful state. In every other, the barbaric love of ornament, so discernible even in the best of the early writers, has been chastised only by long and assiduous criticism ; but the principle of corruption still remains, and the season of perfect ripeness seems to be only that of the commencement of decay. Thus it was in Italy, in the perverted age of the seicentisti, an age yet warm with the productions of an Ariosto and a Tasso.
The literature of the Italians assumed in the last century a new and highly improved aspect. With less than its usual brilliancy of imagination, it displayed an intensity, and, under the circumstances in which it has been produced, we may add, intrepidity of thought, quite worthy of the great spirits of the fourteenth century, and a freedom and nature in its descriptions, altogether opposed to the heartless affectations of the VOL. XXXIII.-NO. 72.
seventeenth. The prejudicial influence of their neighbors threatened at one time, indeed, to precipitate the language into a French machéronico; but a counter-current, equally exclusive, in favor of the trecentisti, contributed to check the innovation, and to carry them back to the ancient models of purity and vigor. The most eminent writers of this period seem to have formed themselves on Dante, in particular, as studiously as those of the preceding age affected the more effeminate graces of Petrarch. Among these, Monti, who, in the language of his master, may be truly said to have inherited from him
Lo bello stile, che l'ha fatto onore,' is thought most nearly to reseinble Dante in the literary execution of his verses; while Alfieri, Parini, and Foscolo approach him still nearer in the rugged virtue and independence of their sentiments. There seems to be a didactic import in much of the poetry of this age,
a too, and in its descriptions of external nature, a sober contemplative vein, that may remind us of writers in our own language. Indeed an English influence is clearly discernible in some of the most eminent poets of this period, who have either visited Great Britain in person, or made themselves familiar with its language.* The same influence may be perhaps recognised in the moral complexion of many of their compositions, the most elegant specimen of which is probably Parini's satire, which disguises the sarcasm of Cowper in the rich embroidered verse which belongs to the Italians.
In looking back on the various branches of literature, which we have been discussing, we are struck with the almost exclusive preference given to poetry over prose, with the great variety of beautiful forms which the former exhibits, with its finished versification, its inexhaustible inventions, and a wit that never tires. But in all this admirable mechanism, we too often feel the want of an informing soul, of a nobler, or at least some more practical object, than mere amusement. Their writers too rarely seem to feel
Divinity within them, breeding wings
Wherewith to spurn the earth.' They have gone beyond every other people in painting the intoxication of voluptuous passion ; but how rarely have they
* Among these may be mentioned Monti, Pindemonte, Cesarotti, Mazza, Alfieri, Pignotti, and Foscolo.
exhibited it in its purer and more ethereal form! How rarely have they built up their dramatic or epic fables on national or patriotic recollections ! Even satire, disarmed of its moral sting, becomes in their hands a barren, though perhaps a brilliant jest,—the harmless electricity of a summer sky.
The peculiar inventions of a people best show their peculiar genius. The romantic epic has assumed with the Italians a perfectly original form; in which, stripped of the fond illusions of chivalry, it has descended through all the gradations of mirth, from well-bred raillery to broad and bald buffoonery. In the same merry vein, their various inventions in the burlesque style have been conceived. Whole cantos of these puerilities have been strung together with a patience altogether unrivalled, except by that of their indefatigable commentators.* Even the most austere intellects of the nation, a Machiavelli and a Galileo, for example, have not disdained to revel in this frivolous debauch of fancy, and may remind one of Michael Angelo, at the instance of Pietro de' Medici, employing his transcendent talents in sculpturing a perishable statue of snow!
The general scope of our vernacular literature, as contrasted with that of the Italian, will set the peculiarities of the latter in a still stronger light. In the English, the drama and the novel, which may be considered as its staples, aiming at more than a vulgar interest, have always been made the theatre of a scientific dissection of character. Instead of the romping merriment of the novelle, it is furnished with those periodical essays which, in the form of apologue, of serious disquisition or criticism, convey to us lessons of practical wisdom. Its pictures of external nature have been deepened by a sober contemplation, not familiar to the mercurial fancy of the Italians. Its biting satire, from Pierce Plowman's Visions to the Baviad and Mæviad of our day, instead of breaking into vapid jests, has been effectually sharpened against the follies or vices of the age; and the body of its poetry, in general, from the days of
moralle Gower,' to those of Cowper and Wordsworth, breathes a spirit of piety and unsullied virtue. Even Spenser deemed it necessary to shroud the eccentricities of his Italian imagination in sober allegory; and Milton, while he adopted in his Comus the beautiful, and somewhat luxurious form of the
* The' annotations upon Lippi's burlesque poem of the Malmantile Racquistata are inferior in bulk to those only on the Divine Comedy.
Aminta and Pastor Fido, animated it with the most devotional sentiments.
The political situation of Italy may afford a key to some of the peculiarities of her literature. Oppressed by foreign or domestic tyrants, for more than five centuries, she has been condemned, in the indignant language of her poet,
• Per servir sempre, o vincitrice o vinta.' Her citizens, excluded from the higher walks of public action, have too often resigned themselves to corrupt and effeminate pleasure; and her writers, inhibited from the free discussion of important topics, have too frequently contented themselves with an impotent play of fancy. The histories of Machiavelli and of Guicciardini were not permitted to be published entire, until the conclusion of the last century. The writings of Alemanni, from some umbrage given to the Medici, were burnt by the hands of the common hangman. Marchetti's elegant version of Lucretius was long prohibited on the ground of its epicurean philosophy ; and the learned labors of Giannone were recompensed with exile. Under such a government, it is wonderful that so many, rather than so few writers should have been found with intrepidity sufficient to raise the voice of unwelcome truth. It is not to be wondered at, that they should have produced so few models of civil or sacred eloquence, the fruit of a happier and more enlightened system ; that they should have been too exclusively devoted to mere beauties of form ; have been more solicitous about style, than thought; have studied rather to amuse than to instruct. Hence the superabundance of their philological treatises and mere verbal criticisms, of their tomes of commentaries, with which they have illustrated or obscured their most insignificant poets, where a verse furnishes matter for a lecture, and a canzone becomes the text for a volume. This is no exaggeration. Hence, too, the frequency and ferocity
* of their literary quarrels; into which the Italians, excluded too often from weightier disquisition, enter with an enthusiasm, which in other nations can be roused only by the dearest in
* Benedetto of Ravenna wrote ten lectures on the fourth sonnet of Petrarch. Pico della Mirandola devoted three whole books to the illustration of a canzone of his friend Benivieni; and three Arcadians published a volume in defence of the Tre Sorelle of Petrarch! It would be easy to multiply similar examples of critical prodigality.
terests of humanity. The comparative merit of some obscure classic, the orthography of some obsolete term, a simple sonnet, even, has been sufficient to throw the whole community into a ferment, in which the parties have not always confined themselves to a war of words.
The influence of academies on Italian literature is somewhat doubtful. They have probably contributed to nourish that epicurean sensibility to mere verbal elegance, so conspicuous in the nation. The great variety of these institutions scattered over every remote district of the country, the whimsicality of their titles, and still more of those of their members, have an air sufficiently ridiculous.* Some of them have been devoted to the investigation of science. But a license, refused to individuals, will hardly be conceded to public associations; and the persecution of some of the most eminent has proved an effectual warning to confine their speculations within the inoffensive sphere of literary criticism. Hence the exuberance of prose and lezioni, endless dissertations on barren rhetorical topics; and those vapid attempts at academic wit, which should never have transcended the bounds of the Lyceum.
It is not in such institutions that the great intellectual efforts of a nation are displayed. Indeed all that any academy can propose to itself, is to keep alive the flame, which genius has kindled ; and in more than one instance, they have gone near to smother it. The French academy, as is well known, opened its career with its celebrated attack upon Corneille; and the earliest attempt of the Cruscan was upon Tasso's Jerusalem, which it compelled its author to re-model
, or in other words, to reduce, by the extraction of all its essential spirit, into a flat and insipid decoction. Denina has sarcastically intimated, that the era of the foundation of this latter academy corresponds exactly with thal of the commencement of the decline of good taste. More liberal critics concede, however, that this body has done much to preserve the integrity of the tongue, and that a pure spirit of criticism was kept alive within its bosom, when it had become extinct in almost every other
* Take at hazard some of the most familiar, the Ardent,' the “Frozen,' the Wet,' the ‘Dry,' the "Stupid,' the ‘Lazy.' The Cruscan takes its name from Crusca, (bran); and its members adopted the corresponding epithets of brown bread,'white bread,” “the kneaded,' &c. Some of the Italians, as Lasca, La Bindo, for instance, are better known by their frivolous academic names, than by their own.