Immagini della pagina

is artistically Achilles, not strength or any other abstraction.” Thus his polemic is directed in the first instance against misunderstanding what he called the true Hegelian thought, which was in fact usually a correction made upon Hegel more or less consciously by himself. He was able to boast in his latter years that even at the time when all Naples went wild over Hegel, “at the time when Hegel was master of the field,” he had always “made certain reservations and refused to accept his apriorism, his triad or his formulae.” ” De Sanctis also took up an independent attitude towards the other German aestheticians. The views of Wilhelm Schlegel, very advanced for the day in which they had been promulgated, seemed to him to have been already superseded. In 1856 he wrote that Schlegel strives to “transcend ordinary criticism, which leads a humdrum existence among phraseology, versification and elocution, but loses its way and never comes face to face with art : whereas Schlegel throws himself headlong into the probable, the decorous and the moral ; into everything save art.” ” Thrown by the hazards of life into German territory, he found himself at the Zürich Polytechnic, and found among his colleagues (only imagine such a thing !) Theodor Vischer. What opinion can he have formed of the ponderous Hegelian scholastic who emerged dusty and panting from the systematic labours so well known to us, and smiled disdainfully at the poetry and music of the decadent Italian race 2 De Sanctis writes, “I went there with my opinions and my prejudices and ridiculed their ridicule. Richard Wagner seemed to me a corrupter of music, and nothing could be more inaesthetic than the AEsthetic of Vischer.” 4 His desire to correct the distorted views of Vischer, Adolf Wagner, Valentin Schmidt and other German critics and philosophers led him to undertake in 1858–59 a course of lectures before an international audience at Zürich upon Ariosto and Petrarch, the two Italian poets worst maltreated by these judges because hardest to reduce to philosophical allegory. He sketched a typical German critic and contrasted him with a French one, each with his own characteristic defects. “The Frenchman does not indulge in theories; he goes straight to the subject: his argument palpitates with warmth of impression and sagacity of observation : he never leaves the concrete : he estimates the quality of the talent and the work, studying the man in order to understand the writer.” He makes the mistake of substituting reflexion on the psychology of the author and history of his time for reflexion upon art. “Quite otherwise is your German: be a thing never so plain, he makes it his business to manipulate, distort and embroil : he accumulates a mass of darkness from whose centre rays of dazzling light now and again shoot forth : truth is there at bottom, in grievous pangs of parturition. Confronted with a work of art, he labours to fasten down and fix the quality which is most evanescent and impalpable. While nobody is more given to talk of life and the world of the living, nobody on earth takes more pains to decompose and disembody it in generalities: as consequence of this last process (last in appearance, that is to say ; in reality preconceived and a priori), he is able to fit you the same boot on every foot and the same coat on every back.” “The German school is dominated by metaphysic, the French by history.” " About this time (1858) a Piedmontese review published his exhaustive critical survey of the philosophy of Schopenhauer,” which was then beginning to attract disciples among his friends and companions in exile in Switzerland ; the criticism provoked the philosopher himself to confess that “this Italian " had “absorbed him in succum et sanguinem.” ” What value did De Sanctis attach to all Schopenhauer's subtleties concerning art 2 Having fully stated his doctrine of ideas, he contents himself with the merest reference to the third book “wherein is found an exaggerated theoly of Æsthetic.” " This moderate resistance and opposition to the partisans of the concept and to the romantic Italian mystics and moralists (he directed criticisms equally against Manzoni, Mazzini, Tommaseo and Cantú ) turned to open rebellion in one of his critical writings on Petrarch (1868) in which this false tendency is characterized with biting sarcasm. “According to this school ’’ (he says, meaning the school of Hegel and Gioberti), “according to this school the real and living is art only in so far as it surpasses its form and reveals its concept or the pure idea. The beautiful is the manifestation of the idea. Art is the ideal, a particular idea. Under the gaze of the artist the body becomes subtilized until it is nothing but the shadow of the soul, a beautiful veil. The world of poetry is peopled with phantasms; and the poet, eternal dreamer, with the eyes of one slightly intoxicated sees bodies float unsteadily around him and change their shapes. Nor do bodies merely become attenuated into forms and phantasms; these forms and phantasms themselves become free manifestations of every idea and every concept. The theory of the ideal has been driven to its last victorious limit, to the destruction of the very phantasms themselves, to concept as concept, form becoming a mere accessory.” “Thus the vague, the undecided, the undulating, the vaporous, the celestial, the aerial, the veiled, the angelic, have now a high position among artistic forms : whilst criticism revels in the beautiful, the ideal, the infinite, genius, the concept, the idea, truth, the superintelligible, the supersensible, the being and the existent, and many more generalities cast into barbarous formulae just like those of the scholastics from whose influence we had so much difficulty in escaping.” All these things, instead of determining the character of art, do nothing

Criticisms of

* La giovinezza di Fr. de S. pp. 279, 313-314, 321-324.
* Scritti vari, vol. ii. p. 83; cf. p. 274.
* Op. cit. vol. i. pp. 228-236.
* Saggio sul Petrarca, new ed. by B. Croce, p. 309 seqq.

* Saggi critici, pp. 361-363, 413–414; cf. as touching Klein, Scritti vari, vol. i. pp. 32-34.

* Op. cit., Schopenhauer e Leopardi, pp. 246, 299.

* Schopenhauer, Briefe, ed. Grisebach, pp. 405-406; cf. pp. 381-383, 403-404, 438-439.

Final rebellion against metaphysical Æsthetic.

* Saggi critici, p. 269, note. * Cf. Scritti vari, i. pp.39-45, and Letterat. ital. nel sec. XIX, lectures, ed. Croce, pp. 241-243, 427-432.

save illustrate the contrary of art : its feebleness and
impotence, preventing it from slaying abstractions and
laying hold of life. If beauty and the ideal have actually
the meaning given them by these philosophers “the
essence of art is neither the beautiful nor the ideal, but the
living, the form ; the ugly too belongs to art since ugliness
lives also in nature ; outside the domain of art lies nothing
but the formless and the deformed. Thais in Malebolge is
more living and poetical than Beatrice, who is pure allegory
representing abstract combinations. The Beautiful ?
Tell me of anything as beautiful as Iago, a form uprisen
from the profundity of real life; so rich, so concrete ; in
every part, in each finest gradation, one of the most
beautiful creations in the world of poetry.” If in the
course of “wrangling about the idea or the concept or real,
moral, or intellectual beauty, and confusing philosophical
or moral truths with aesthetic ’’ you choose to call “a
great part of the poetic world ugly, granting it a permit
merely that it may act as contrast, antagonist or foil to
beauty, accepting Mephistopheles as a foil to Faust, or
Iago as foil to Othello,” you are imitating “ those good
folk who thought, in illo tempore, that the stars shone in
the firmament in order to give light to this earth.” "
The aesthetic theory of De Sanctis himself arises entirely
from the criticism of the highest manifestations of Euro-
pean aestheticas known to him. Its nature is revealed by the
contrast. “If you desire a statue in the vestibule of art,”
says he, “let it be that of Form; gaze upon this, question
this, begin with this. Before form is attained, that exists
which existed before the creation : chaos. Chaos is no
doubt a respectable thing, with a most interesting history :
science has not yet uttered its last word about this pre-
world of fermenting elements. Art also has its pre-world :
art also has its geology, born but yesterday and as yet
scarcely stretched, a science sui generis, which is neither
Criticism nor AEsthetic. AEsthetic appears when form
appears, in which this pre-world is sunk, fused, forgotten
and lost. Form is itself as the individual is himself; and
* Saggio sul Petrarca, introd. pp. 17-29.

De Sanctis’ own theory. The concept of form.

no theory is so destructive to art as the continual harping
upon the beautiful as manifestation, clothing, light, or veil
of truth or the idea. The aesthetic world is not appearance,
it is substance ; to it indeed belongs everything sub-
stantial and living : its criterion, its raison d'étre, lies
nowhere save in this motto: I live.” "
For De Sanctis, form did not meanform “in the pedantic
sense attached to it until the end of the eighteenth cen-
tury,” that is to say, that which first strikes a superficial
observer, the words, the period, the sense, the individual
image; * or form in the Herbartian sense, the meta-
physical hypostatization of the former. “Form is not a
priori, it is not something existing of itself and distinct
from the content as though it were a kind of ornament or
vesture or appearance or adjunct of the content : it is
generated by the content acting in the mind of the artist :
such as the content is, such is the form.” ” Between form
and content there is at the same time identity and diver-
sity. In a work of art the content, which had been lying
in a chaotic state in the mind of the artist, appears “not
as it was originally, but as it has become ; the whole of it,
with its own value, its own importance, its own natural
beauty enriched, not weakened, by the process.” There-
fore content is essential for the production of concrete
form ; but the abstract quality of the content does not
determine that of artistic form.” If the content, though
beautiful and important, remain inoperative or lifeless or

waste within the mind of the artist, if it have not sufficient

generative power and reveal itself in the form as weak or false or vitiated, why trouble to sing its praises 2 In such cases the content may be important in itself, but as literature or art it is worthless. On the other hand the content may be immoral, absurd, false or frivolous : but if at certain times or in certain circumstances it has worked powerfully on in the brain of the artist, and taken form, such content is immortal. The gods of Homer are dead;

* Saggio sul Petrarca, p. 29 seqq. * Scritti vari, vol. i. pp. 276-277, 317. * Nuovi saggi critici, pp. 239-240, note.

« IndietroContinua »