Immagini della pagina

on the nature of language, mythology, writing, symbolic figures and so forth. All his “system of civilization, of the Republic, of laws, of poetry, of history, in a word, of humanity at large” is founded upon this discovery, which constitutes the novel point of view at which Vico places himself. The author himself observes that his second book, dedicated to Poetic Wisdom,“ wherein is made a discovery totally opposed to Verulam's,” forms

nearly the whole body of the work ”; but the first and third books also deal almost exclusively with works of the imagination. It might be maintained, therefore, that Vico's “ New Science " was really just Æsthetic ; or at least the Philosophy of the Spirit with special emphasis upon the Philosophy of the Æsthetic Spirit.

Among so many luminous points, or rather in such a general blaze of light, there are yet dark nooks in his mind ; corners that remain in shadow. By not maintaining a rigid distinction between concrete history and the philosophy of the spirit, Vico allowed himself to suggest historical periods which do not correspond with the real periods, but are rather allegories, the mythological expression of his philosophy of the spirit. From the same source arises the multiplicity of those periods (usually three in number) which Vico finds in the history of civilization in general, in poetry and language and practically every subject. “The first peoples, who were the children of the human race, founded first the world of the arts : next, after a long interval, the philosophers, who were therefore the aged among nations, founded the world of the sciences : with which humanity attained completion."i Historically, understood in an approximate sense, this scheme of evolution has some truth; but only an approximate truth. In consequence of the same confusion of history and philosophy he denied primitive peoples any kind of intellectual logic, and conceived not only their physics, cosmology, astronomy and geography as poetic in character, but their morals, their economy and their politics as well. But not only has there never been a period in concrete human history entirely poetic and ignorant of all abstraction or power of reasoning, but such a state cannot even be conceived. Morals, politics, physics, all presuppose intellectual work, however imperfect they may be. The ideal priority of poetry cannot be materialized into a historical period of civilization.

Vico's mistakes.

i Scienza nuova sec., Ultimi corollari, $ 5.

Linked with this error is another into which Vico often falls when he asserts that "the chief aim of poetry" is to“ teach the ignorant vulgar to act virtuously” and to "invent fables adapted with the popular understanding capable of producing strong emotion."1 Having regard to the clear explanations he himself gave of the inessentiality of abstractions and intellectual artifice in poetry; when we remember that for him poetry makes her own rules for herself without consulting anybody, and that he clearly established the peculiar theoretical nature of the imagination, such a proposition cannot be taken as a return to the pedagogic and heteronomous theory of poetry which in substance he had left far behind : therefore, without doubt, it follows from his historical hypothesis of a wholly poetical epoch of civilization, in which education, science and morality were administered by poets. Another consequence is that “imaginative universals are apparently sometimes understood by him as imperfect universals (empirical or representative concepts as they were subsequently called); although, on the other hand, individualization is so marked in them and their unphilosophical nature so accentuated that their interpretation as purely imaginative forms may be taken as normal. In conclusion, we remark that fundamental terms are not always used by Vico in the same sense : it is not always clear how far “sensation,” memory,” “imagination,”

wit” are synonymous or different. Sometimes

sensation " seems outside the spirit, at others one of its chief moments; poets are sometimes the organ of " imagination,” some

Sometimes " sensation

i Scienza nuova pr. bk. iii. ch. 3; Scienza nuova sec. bk. ii., Della metafisica poetica ; and bk. iii. ad init.

Progress still to be achieved.

times the "sensation ” of humanity; and imagination is described as “ dilated memory." These are the aberrations of a thought so virgin and original that it was not easy to regulate.

To sever the Philosophy of the Spirit from History, the modifications of the human mind from the historic vicissitudes of peoples, and Æsthetic from Homeric civilization, and by continuing Vico's analyses to determine more clearly the truths he uttered, the distinctions he drew and the identities he divined ; in short, to purge Æsthetic of the remains of ancient Rhetoric and Poetics as well as from some over-hasty schematisms imposed upon her by the author of her being : such is the field of labour, such the progress still to be achieved after the discovery of the autonomy of the æsthetic world due to the genius of Giambattista Vico.




This step in advance had no immediate effect. The The influence pages in the Scienza nuova devoted to æsthetic doctrine of Vico. were actually the least read of any in that marvellous book. Not that Vico exercised no influence at all; we shall see that several Italian authors both of his own time and of the generation immediately following show traces of his æsthetic ideas; but these traces are all external and material and therefore sterile. Outside Italy the Scienza nuova (already announced by a compatriot in 1726 in the Acta of Leipzig with the graceful comment that magis indulget ingenio quam veritati and the pleasing information that ab ipsis Italis taedio magis quam applausu excipitur) 1 was mentioned toward the end of the century, as is well known, by Herder, Goethe, and some few others. In connection with poetry, especially with the Homeric question, Vico's book was quoted by Friedrich August Wolf, to whom it had been recommended by Cesarotti 3 after the publication of the Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795), but without any suspicion of the importance of its general doctrine of poetry, of which the Homeric hypothesis was a mere

1 Vico, Opere, ed. cit. iv. P. 305.

* Herder, Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität, 1793-1797, Letter 59; Goethe, Italien. Reise, Mar. 5, 1787.

3 Letters from Wolf to Cesarotti, June 5, 1802 ; in Cesarotti, Opere, vol. xxxviii. pp. 108-112; cf. ibid. pp. 43-44, and vol. xxxvii. pp. 281, 284, 324 ; cf. on the question of the relations between Wolf and Vico, Croce, Bibliografia vichiana, pp. 51, 56-58, and Supplem. Pp. 12-14.

Italian writers : A. Conti,

application. Wolf (1807) imagined himself in the presence of a talented forerunner in an isolated problem, instead of a man of intellectual stature towering above any philologist, however great.

Neither by reliance on the works of Vico, who founded no real school, nor, it must be added, by any independent effort along new lines, did thought succeed in maintaining or improving upon the position already attained. A notable attempt to establish a philosophical theory of poetry and the arts was made by the Venetian A. Conti, who left numerous sketches for essays on imagination, the faculties of the soul, poetic imitation and similar subjects, designed for inclusion in a large treatise on the Beautiful and Art. Conti had started by professing ideas very like those of Du Bos, affirming that the poet must“ put everything in images ”; that taste is as indefinable as feeling, and that there are persons without taste just as there are blind and deaf persons ; he also wrote polemical tracts against the Cartesians. Later he abandoned his sensationalistic or sentimentalist theories, and, inquiring into the nature of poetry, declared himself ill-satisfied with Castelvetro, Patrizzi, and even Gravina. “Had Castelvetro,” he observes, “who writes so subtly of Aristotle's Poetics, given two or three chapters to a philosophical explanation of the idea of imitation, he would have solved many questions raised but not clearly answered by himself concerning poetic theories. In his Poetica and in his controversy against Torquato Tasso, Patrizzi never succeeded in clearly defining the philosophical idea of imitation; he collected much useful information about the history of poetry, but wilfully lost the Platonic doctrine by allowing it to mingle with the historical detail instead of gathering it up without sophistry into a single point, when it would have appeared in a very different guise. The Ragion poetica of Gravina shadows forth a sort of philosophical idea of imitation ; but so wholly engrossed is he in deducing therefrom rules for lyrical, dramatical

1 Letter in French to Mme. Ferrant (1719), and to the Marquis Maffei in Prose e poesie, vol. ii. (1756), pp. lxxXV.-civ., cviii.-cix.

« IndietroContinua »