Immagini della pagina

philosophic methods and refines, without sharpening, the wits; and no advantage whatever was reaped from either by mankind at large. With great reason, therefore, does Verulam, equally eminent as politician and philosopher, propound, commend and illustrate induction in his Organum : he is followed by the English with excellent results to experimental philosophy.”i From this source is derived his criticism of mathematics, which have always, but especially in his day, been considered as the type of perfect science. In all this, Vico is not only a thorough revolutionary, Vico opposed

to all former but is quite conscious of being so : he knows himself to

theories of be in opposition to all previous theories on the subject. poetry. He says that his new principles of poetry "are wholly opposed to, and not merely different from, all which have : been imagined from the time of Plato and his disciple Aristotle to Patrizzi, Scaliger and Castelvetro among the moderns ; poetry is now discovered to have been the first language used by all nations alike, even the Hebrew.” 2 In another passage he says that by his theories “is overthrown all that has ever been said of the origin of poetry, beginning from Plato and Aristotle, right down to our own Patrizzi, Scaliger and Castelvetro; and it is found that poetry arising through defect of human ratiocination is as sublime as any which owes its being to the later rise of philosophy and the arts of composition and criticism ; indeed, that these later sources never gave rise to any poetry that could equal, far less surpass it.” 3 In the Autobiography he boasts of having discovered

other principles of poetry than those found by Greeks and Latins and all others from those times down to the present day; on these are founded other views on mythology."

These ancient principles of poetry "laid down first by Plato and confirmed by Aristotle had been the

[ocr errors]


Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii., Ultimi corollari, ş vi.
2 Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 2.
3 Scienza nuova sec. bk. ü., Della metafisica poetica, etc.
· Vita scritta da se medesimo, in Opere, ed. cit. iv. P. 365.

anticipation or prejudice which had misled all writers on poetic reason (among whom he cites Jacopo Mazzoni). Statements “even of most serious philosophers such as Patrizzi and others " upon the origin of song and verse are so inept that he “ blushes even to mention them.” 1 It is curious to see him annotating the Ars Poetica of Horace, with a view to finding some plausible sense in it by applying the principles of the Scienza nuova 2

It is probable that he was familiar with the writings of Muratori among contemporaries, for he quotes him by name, and of Gravina, who was a personal acquaintance; but if he read the Perfetta Poesia and the Forza della fantasia he could not have been satisfied by the treatment meted out to the faculty of imagination, so highly valued and respected by himself; and if Gravina influenced him at all it must have been by provoking him to contradiction. In this latter (if not directly in such French writers as Le Bossu) he may have met with the fallacy of regarding Homer as a repository of wisdom, a fallacy which he combated with vigour and pertinacity. In his estimation, among the gravest faults of the Cartesians was their inability to appreciate the world of imagination and poetry. Of his own times he complained they were “ benumbed by analytical methods and by a philosophy which sought to deaden every faculty of soul which reached it through the body, especially that of imagination, now held to be mother of all human error”: times “ of a wisdom which freezes the generous soul of the

best poetry,” and prevents all understanding of it.3 Vico's

It is just the same with the theory of language. “ The judgements

manner of birth and the nature of languages has been of the grammarians the cause of much painful toil and meditation : nor, and linguists from the Cratylus of Plato, in which in our other works

we have falsely delighted and believed ” (he alludes to the doctrine followed by him in his own first book, De antiquissima Italorum sapientia), “down to Wolfgang Latius, Julius Caesar Scaliger, Francisco Sanchez and others, can we find anything to satisfy our understanding ; so much that in discussing matters of this kind Signor Giovanni Clerico says there is nothing in philology involved in such a maze of doubt and difficulty.” 1 The chief grammarian-philosophers do not escape criticism. Grammar, says he, lays down rules for speaking correctly : Logic for speaking truly; "and since in the order of nature we must speak truly before learning to speak correctly, Giulio Cesare della Scala, followed by the best grammarians, employs all his magnificent energy to reason to the causes of the Latin language from the principles of logic. But his great design ended in failure for this reason, that he attached himself to the logical principles of a single philosopher, namely Aristotle, whose principles are too universal to explain the almost infinite particulars which naturally beset him who would reason concerning a language. Whence it happened that Francisco Sanchez, who followed him with admirable zeal, attempting in his Minerva to explain the innumerable particles which are found in Latin by his famous principle of ellipsis, and trying thereby, though without success, to vindicate the logical principles of Aristotle, fell into the most cumbrous clumsinesses among an almost innumerable host of Latin phrases whereby he meant to make good the slight and subtle omissions employed by Latin in expressing its meaning." The origin of parts of speech and syntax is wholly different from that assigned to them by folk who fancied that “the people who invented language must first have gone to school to Aristotle.” 3 The same criticism undoubtedly must have extended to the logico-grammarians of Port-Royal, for Vico remarked that the Logic of Arnauld was built “on the same plan as that of Aristotle.” 4


i Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 37.
: Note allArte poetica di Orazio, in Opere, ed. cit. vi. pp. 52-79.
3 Letter to De Angelis, cit.

1 Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 22 ; cf. the review of Clerico (Le Clerc) in Opere, iv. p. 382.

2 Giudizio intorno alla gram. d'Antonio d' Aronne, in Opere, vi. Pp. 149-150.

3 Scienza nuova sec. bk. i., Corollari d' intorno all' origini delle lingue, etc.

4 Vita, cit. p. 343.

") 2

Influence of It may well be granted that Vico was more in sympathy seventeenth

with the seventeenth-century rhetoricians, in whom we century writers on Vico, have detected a premonition of æsthetic science. For

Vico, as for them, wit (referring to imagination and memory) was “the father of all invention”: judgement concerning poetry was for him a "judgement of the senses," a phrase equivalent to "taste” or good taste," expressions never used by him in this connexion. There is no doubt he was familiar with the writers of treatises on wit and conceits, for, in a dry rhetorical manual written for the use of his school (in which one looks in vain for a shadow of his own personal ideas), he quotes Paolo Beni, Pellegrini, Pallavicino and the Marquis Orsi. He highly esteems Pallavicini's treatise on Style and has knowledge of the book Del bene by the same author ; perhaps too his mind was not unaffected by the flash of genius which had enabled the Jesuit for one instant to perceive that poetry consists of " first apprehensions.' He does not name Tesauro, but there is no doubt he knew him ; indeed the Scienza nuova includes a section, besides that on poetry, upon “blazons,”

blazons,” “knightly bearings,” military banners, medals," and so forth, precisely similar in method to that of Tesauro when he treats of " figurate conceits” in his Cannochiale aristotelico.3 For Tesauro such conceits are merely metaphorical ingenuities, like any other; for Vico they are wholly the work of imagination, for imagination expresses itself not. in words only, but in the “mute language” of lines and colours. He knew something also of Leibniz; the great German and Newton were by him described as "the greatest wits of the time "4; but he seems to have remained in complete ignorance of the æsthetic attempts of the Leibnitian school in Germany. His “Logic of poetry” was a discovery independent of, and earlier than, Bülffinger's Organon of the inferior faculties, the Gnoseo


1 Instituzioni oratorie e scritti inediti, Naples, 1865, PP. 90 seqq. : De sententiis, vulgo del ben parlare in concetti.

2 Letter to the Duke of Laurenzana, March 1, 1732 ; and cf. letter to Muzio Gaeta.

4 Scienza nuova sec. bk. i., Del metodo.

3 Cf. p. 190.

in the Scienza

logia inferior of Baumgarten, and the Logik der Einbildungskraft of Breitinger. In truth, Vico belongs on one side to the vast Renaissance reaction against formalism and scholastic verbalism, which, beginning with the reaffirmation of experience and sensation (Telesio, Campanella, Galileo, Bacon), was bound to go on by reasserting the function of imagination in individual and social life : on the other side he is a precursor of Romanticism.

The importance of Vico's new poetic theory in his Æsthetic thought as a whole as well as in the organism of his Scienza nuova has never been fully appreciated, and the nuova.” Neapolitan philosopher is still commonly regarded as the inventor of the Philosophy of History. If by such a science is meant the attempt to deduce concrete history by ratiocination and to treat epochs and events as if they were concepts, the only result of Vico's efforts to solve the problem could have been failure; and the same is true of his many successors.

The fact is that his philosophy of history, his ideal history, his Scienza nuova d'intorno alla comune natura delle nazioni, does not concern the concrete empirical history which unfolds itself in time : it is not history, it is a science of the ideal, a Philosophy of the Spirit. That Vico made many discoveries in history proper which have been to a great extent confirmed by modern criticism (e.g. on the development of the Greek epic and the nature and genesis of feudal society in antiquity and in the Middle Ages) certainly deserves all emphasis ; but this side of his work must be kept distinctly apart from the other, strictly philosophical, side. And if the philosophical part is a doctrine expounding the ideal moments of the spirit, or in his own words“ the modifications of our human mind,” of these moments or modifications Vico undertakes especially to define and fully describe not the logical, ethical and economic moments (though on these too he throws much light), but precisely the imaginative or poetic. The larger portion of the second Scienza nuova hinges on the discovery of the creative imagination, including the “new principles of Poetry,” the observations

« IndietroContinua »