The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Jacob Burckhardt

Part 4 out of 7

less extent, reproductions of antiquity.

Among these must be placed the treatise, which often took the shape of
a dialogue. In this case it was borrowed directly from Cicero. In order
to do anything like justice to this class of literature--in order not
to throw it aside at first sight as a bore two things must be taken
into consideration. The century which escaped from the influence of the
Middle Ages felt the need of something to mediate between itself and
antiquity in many questions of morals and philosophy; and this need was
met by the writer of treatises and dialogues. Much which appears to us
as mere commonplace in their writings, was for them and their
contemporaries a new and hard-won view of things upon which mankind had
been silent since the days of antiquity. The language too, in this form
of writing, whether Italian or Latin, moved more freely and flexibly
than in historical narrative, in letters, or in oratory, and thus
became in itself the source of a special pleasure. Several Italian
compositions of this kind still hold their place as patterns of style.
Many of these works have been, or will be mentioned on account of their
contents; we here refer to them as a class. From the time of Petrarch's
letters and treatises down to near the end of the fifteenth century,
the heaping up of learned quotations, as in the case of the orators, is
the main business of most of these writers. Subsequently the whole
style, especially in Italian, was purified, until, in the 'Asolani' of
Bembo, and the 'Vita Sobria' of Luigi Cornaro, a classical perfection
was reached. Here too the decisive fact was this, that antiquarian
matter of every kind had meantime begun to be deposited in encyclopedic
works (now printed), and no longer stood in the way of the essayist.

It was inevitable too that the humanistic spirit should control the
writing of history. A superficial comparison of the histories of this
period with the earlier chronicles, especially with works so full of
life, color, and brilliancy as those of the Villani, will lead us
loudly to deplore the change. How insipid and conventional appear by
their side the best of the humanists, and particularly their immediate
and most famous successors among the historians of Florence, Leonardo
Aretino and Poggio! The enjoyment of the reader is incessantly marred
by the sense that, in the classical phrases of Fazio, Sabellico,
Foglietta, Senarega, Platina in the chronicles of Mantua, Bembo in the
annals of Venice, and even of Giovio in his histories, the best local
and individual coloring and the full sincerity of interest in the truth
of events have been lost. Our mistrust is increased when we hear that
Livy, the pattern of this school of writers, was copied just where he
is least worthy of imitation--on the ground, namely, 'that he turned a
dry and walled tradition into grace and richness.' In the same place we
meet with the suspicious declaration that it is the function of the
historian-- just as if he were one with the poet--to excite, charm, or
overwhelm the reader. We ask ourselves finally, whether the contempt
for modern things, which these same humanists sometimes avowed openly,
must not necessarily have had an unfortunate influence on their
treatment of them. Unconsciously the reader finds himself looking with
more interest and confidence on the unpretending Latin and Italian
annalists, like those of Bologna and Ferrara, who remained true to the
old style, and still more grateful does he feel to the best of the
genuine chroniclers who wrote in Italian--to Marino Sanuto, Corio, and
Infessura--who were followed at the beginning of the sixteenth century
by that new and illustrious band of great national historians who wrote
in their mother tongue.

Contemporary history, no doubt, was written far better in the language
of the day than when forced into Latin. Whether Italian was also more
suitable for the narrative of events long past, or for historical
research, is a question which admits, for that period, of more answers
than one. Latin was, at that time, the 'Lingua franca' of instructed
people, not only in an international sense, as a means of intercourse
between Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Italians, but also in an
interprovincial sense. The Lombard, the Venetian, and the Neapolitan
modes of writing, though long modelled on the Tuscan, and bearing but
slight traces of the dialect were still not recognized by the
Florentines. This was of less consequence in local contemporary
histories, which were sure of readers at the place where they were
written, than in the narratives of the past, for which a larger public
was desired. In these the local interests of the people had to be
sacrificed to the general interests of the learned. How far would the
influence of a man like Biondo of Forli have reached if he had written
his great monuments of learning in the dialect of the Romagna? They
would have assuredly sunk into neglect, if only through the contempt of
the Florentines, while written in Latin they exercised the profoundest
influence on the whole European world of learning. And even the
Florentines in the fifteenth century wrote Latin, not only because
their minds were imbued with humanism, but in order to be more widely

Finally, there exist certain Latin essays in contemporary history which
stand on a level with the best Italian works of the kind. When the
continuous narrative after the manner of Livy--that Procrustean bed of
so many writers is abandoned, the change is marvelous. The same Platina
and Giovio, whose great histories we only read because and so far as we
must, suddenly come forward as masters in the biographical style. We
have already spoken of Tristano Caracciolo, of the biographical works
of Fazio and of the Venetian topography of Sabellico, and others will
be mentioned in the sequel.

The Latin treatises on past history were naturally concerned, for the
most part, with classical antiquity. What we are most surprised to find
among these humanists are some considerable works on the history of the
Middle Ages. The first of this kind was the chronicle of Matteo
Palmieri (449-1449), beginning where Prosper Accedence ceases. On
opening the 'Decades' of Biondo of Forli, we are surprised to find a
universal history, 'ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii,' as in Gibbon,
full of original studies on the authors of each century, and occupied,
through the first 300 folio pages, with early mediaeval history down to
the death of Frederick II. And this when in Northern countries nothing
more was current than chronicles of the popes and emperors, and the
'Fasciculus temporum.' We cannot here stay to show what writings Biondo
made use of, and where he found his materials, though this justice will
some day be done to him by the historians of literature. This book
alone would entitle us to say that it was the study of antiquity which
made the study of the Middle Ages possible, by first training the mind
to habits of impartial historical criticism. To this must be added,
that the Middle Ages were now over for Italy, and that the Italian mind
could the better appreciate them, because it stood outside them. It
cannot, nevertheless, be said that it at once judged them fairly, let
alone with piety. In the arts a strong prejudice established itself
against all that those centuries had created, and the humanists date
the new era from the time of their own appearance. 'I begin,' says
Boccaccio, 'to hope and believe that God has had mercy on the Italian
name, since I see that His infinite goodness puts souls into the
breasts of the Italians like those of the ancients souls which seek
fame by other means than robbery and violence, but rather on the path
of poetry, which makes men immortal.' But this narrow and unjust temper
did not preclude investigation in the minds of the more gifted men, at
a time, too, when elsewhere in Europe any such investigation would have
been out of the question. A historical criticism of the Middle Ages was
practicable, just because the rational treatment of all subjects by the
humanists had trained the historical spirit. In the fifteenth century
this spirit had so far penetrated the history even of the individual
cities of Italy that the stupid fairy tales about the origin of
Florence, Venice, and Milan vanished, while at the same time, and long
after, the chronicles of the North were stuffed with this fantastic
rubbish, destitute for the most part of all poetical value, and
invented as late as the fourteenth century.

The close connection between local history and the sentiment of glory
has already been touched on in reference to Florence. Venice would not
be behindhand. Just as a great rhetorical triumph of the Florentines
would cause a Venetian embassy to write home posthaste for an orator to
be sent after them, so too the Venetians felt the need of a history
which would bear comparison with those of Leonardo Aretino and Poggio.
And it was to satisfy this feeling that, in the fifteenth century, the
'Decades' of Sabellico appeared, and in the sixteenth the 'Historia
rerum Venetarum' of Pietro Bembo, both written at the express charge of
the republic, the latter a continuation of the former.

The great Florentine historians at the beginning of the sixteenth
century were men of a wholly different kind from the Latinists Bembo
and Giovio. They wrote Italian, not only because they could not vie
with the Ciceronian elegance of the philologists, but because, like
Machiavelli, they could only record in a living tongue the living
results of their own immediate observations and we may add in the case
of Machiavelli, of his observation of the past--and because, as in the
case of Guicciardini, Varchi, and many others, what they most desired
was, that their view of the course of events should have as wide and
deep a practical effect as possible. Even when they only write for a
few friends, like Francesco Vettori, they feel an inward need to utter
their testimony on men and events, and to explain and justify their
share in the latter.

And yet, with all that is characteristic in their language and style,
they were powerfully affected by antiquity, and, without its influence,
would be inconceivable. They were not humanists, but they had passed
through the school of humanism and have in them more of the spirit of
the ancient historians than most of the imitators of Livy. Like the
ancients, they were citizens who wrote for citizens.

Antiquity as the Common Source

We cannot attempt to trace the influence of humanism in the special
sciences. Each has its own history, in which the Italian investigators
of this period, chiefly through their rediscovery of the results
attained by antiquity, mark a new epoch, with which the modern period
of the science in question begins with more or less distinctness. With
regard to philosophy, too, we must refer the reader to the special
historical works on the subject. The influence of the old philosophers
on Italian culture will appear at times immense, at times
inconsiderable; the former, when we consider how the doctrines of
Aristotle, chiefly drawn from the Ethics and Politics--both widely
diffused at an early period--became the common property of educated
Italians, and how the whole method of abstract thought was governed by
him; the latter, when we remember how slight was the dogmatic influence
of the old philosophies, and even of the enthusiastic Florentine
Platonists, on the spirit of the people at large. What looks like such
an influence is generally no more than a consequence of the new culture
in general, and of the special growth and development of the Italian
mind. When we come to speak of religion, we shall have more to say on
this head. But in by far the greater number of cases, we have to do,
not with the general culture of the people with the utterances of
individuals or of learned circles; and here, too, a distinction must be
drawn between the true assimilation of ancient doctrines and
fashionable make-believe. For with many, antiquity was only a fashion,
even among very learned people.

Nevertheless, all that looks like affectation to our age, need not then
have actually been so. The giving of Greek and Latin names to children,
for example, is better and more respectable than the present practice
of taking them, especially the female names, from novels. When the
enthusiasm for the ancient world was greater than for the saints, it
was simple and natural enough that noble families called their sons
Agamemnon, Tydeus, and Achilles, and that a painter named his son
Apelles and his daughter Minerva.58 Nor will it appear unreasonable
that, instead of a family name, which people were often glad to get rid
of, a well-sounding ancient name was chosen. A local name, shared by
all residents in the place, and not yet transformed into a family name,
was willingly given up, especially when its religious associations made
it inconvenient. Filippo da San Gimignano called himself Callimachus.
The man, mis- understood and insulted by his family, who made his
fortune as a scholar in foreign cities, could afford, even if he were a
Sanseverino, to change his name to Julius Pomponius Laetus. Even the
simple translation of a name into Latin or Greek, as was almost
uniformly the custom in Germany, may be excused to a generation which
spoke and wrote Latin, and which needed names that could be not only
declined, but used with facility in verse and prose. What was
blameworthy and ridiculous was the change of half a name, baptismal or
family, to give it a classical sound and a new sense. Thus Giovanni was
turned into Jovianus or Janus, Pietro to Petreius or Pierius, Antonio
to Aoniuss Sannazaro to Syncerus, Luca Grasso to Lucius Crassus.
Ariosto, who speaks with such derision of all this, lived to see
children called after his own heroes and heroines.

Nor must we judge too severely the latinization of many usages of
social life, such as the titles of officials, of cere monies, and the
like, in the writers of the period. As long as people were satisfied
with a simple, fluent Latin style, as was the case with most writers
from Petrarch to, Aeneas Sylvius, this practice was not so frequent and
striking; it became inevitable when a faultless, Ciceronian Latin was
demanded. Modern names and things no longer harmonized with the style,
unless they were first artificially changed. Pedants found a pleasure
in addressing municipal counsellors as 'Patres Conscripti,' nuns as
'Virgines Vestales,' and entitling every saint 'Divus' or 'Deus'; but
men of better taste, such as Paolo Giovio, only did so when and because
they could not help it. But as Giovio does it naturally, and lays no
special stress upon it, we are not offended if, in his melodious
language, the cardinals appear as 'Senatores,' their dean as 'Princeps
Senatus,' excommunication as 'Dirae,' and the carnival as 'Lupercalia.'
The example of this author alone is enough to warn us against drawing a
hasty inference from these peculiarities of style as to the writer's
whole mode of thinking.

The history of Latin composition cannot here be traced in detail. For
fully two centuries the humanists acted as if Latin were, and must
remain, the only language worthy to be written. Poggio deplores that
Dante wrote his great poem in Italian; and Dante, as is well known,
actually made the attempt in Latin, and wrote the beginning of the
'Inferno' first in hexameters. The whole future of Italian poetry hung
on his not continuing in the same style, but even Petrarch relied more
on his Latin poetry than on the Sonnets and 'Canzoni,' and Ariosto
himself was desired by some to write his poem in Latin. A stronger
coercion never existed in literature; but poetry shook it off for the
most part, and it may be said, without the risk of too great optimism,
that it was well for Italian poetry to have had both means of
expressing itself. In both something great and characteristic was
achieved, and in each we can see the reason why Latin or Italian was
chosen. Perhaps the same may be said of prose. The position and
influence of Italian culture throughout the world depended on the fact
that certain subjects were treated in Latin--'urbi et orbi'--while
Italian prose was written best of all by those to whom it cost an
inward struggle not to write in Latin.

From the fourteenth century Cicero was recognized universally as the
purest model of prose. This was by no means due solely to a
dispassionate opinion in favour of his choice of language, of the
structure of his sentences, and of his style of composition, but rather
to the fact that the Italian spirit responded fully and instinctively
to the amiability of the letter writer, to the brilliancy of the
orator, and to the lucid exposition of the philosophical thinker. Even
Petrarch recognized dearly the weakness of Cicero as a man and a
statesman, though he respected him too much to rejoice over them. After
Petrarch's time, the epistolary style was formed entirely on the
pattern of Cicero; and the rest, with the exception of the narrative
style, followed the same influence. Yet the true Ciceronianism, which
rejected every phrase which could not be justified out of the great
authority, did not appear till the end of the fifteenth century, when
the grammatical writings of Lorenzo Valla had begun to tell on all
Italy, and when the opinions of the Roman historians of literature had
been sifted and compared. Then every shade of difference in the style
of the ancients was studied with closer and doser attention till the
consoling conclusion was at last reached that in Cicero alone was the
perfect model to be found, or, if all forms of literature were to be
embraced, in 'that immortal and almost heavenly age of Cicero.' Men
like Pietro Bembo and Pierio Valeriano now turned all their energies to
this one object. Even those who had long resisted the tendency, and had
formed for themselves an archaic style from the earlier authors,
yielded at last, and joined in the worship of Cicero. Longolius, at
Bembo's advice, determined to read nothing but Cicero for five years
long, and finally took an oath to use no word which did not occur in
this author. It was this temper which broke out at last in the great
war among the scholars, in which Erasmus and the elder Scaliger led the

For all the admirers of Cicero were by no means so one-sided as to
consider him the only source of language. In the fifteenth century,
Politian and Ermolao Barbaro made a conscious and deliberate effort to
form a style of their own, naturally on the basis of their
'overflowing' learning, and our informant of this fact, Paolo Giovio,
pursued the same end. He first attempted, not always successfully, but
often with remarkable power and elegance, and at no small cost of
effort, to reproduce in Latin a number of modern, particularly of
aesthetic, ideas. His Latin characteristics of the great painters and
sculptors of his time contain a mixture of the most intelligent and of
the most blundering interpretation. Even Leo X, who placed his glory in
the fact, 'ut lingua latina nostro pontificatu dicatur facta auctior,'
was inclined to a liberal and not too exclusive Latinity, which,
indeed, was in harmony with his pleasure-loving nature. He was
satisfied if the Latin which he had to read and to hear was lively,
elegant, and idiomatic. Then, too, Cicero offered no model for Latin
conversation, so that here other gods had to be worshipped beside him.
The want was supplied by representations of the comedies of Plautus and
Terence, frequent both in and out of Rome, which for the actors were an
incomparable exercise in Latin as the language of daily life. A few
years later, in the pontificate of Paul II, the learned Cardinal of
Teano (probably Niccolo Forteguerra of Pistoia) became famous for his
critical labors in this branch of scholarship. He set to work upon the
most defective plays of Plautus, which were destitute even of a list of
the characters, and went carefully through the whole remains of this
author, chiefly with an eye to the language. Possibly it was he who
gave the first impulse for the public representations of these plays.
Afterwards Pomponius Laetus took up the same subject, and acted as
producer when Plautus was put on the stage in the houses of great
churchmen. That these representations became less in common after 1520,
is mentioned by Giovio, as we have seen, among the causes of the
decline of eloquence.

We may mention, in conclusion, the analogy between Ciceronianism in
literature and the revival of Vitruvius by the architects in the sphere
of art. And here, too, the law holds good which prevails elsewhere in
the history of the Renaissance, that each artistic movement is preceded
by a corresponding movement in the general culture of the age. In this
case, the interval is not more than about twenty years, if we reckon
from Cardinal Adrian of Corneto (1505) to the first avowed Vitruvians.

Neo-Latin Poetry

The chief pride of the humanists is, however, their modern Latin
poetry. It lies within the limits of our task to treat of it, at least
in so far as it serves to characterize the humanistic movement.

How favourable public opinion was to that form of poetry, and how
nearly it supplanted all others, has been already shown. We may be very
sure that the most gifted and highly developed nation then existing in
the world did not renounce the language such as the Italian out of mere
folly and without knowing what they were doing. It must have been a
weighty reason which led them to do so.

This cause was the devotion to antiquity. Like all ardent and genuine
devotion it necessarily prompted men to imitation. At other times and
among other nations we find many isolated attempts of the same kind.
But only in Italy were the two chief conditions present which were
needful for the continuance and development of neo-Latin poetry: a
general interest in the subject among the instructed classes, and a
partial re-awakening of the old Italian genius among the poets
themselves--the wondrous echo of a far-off strain. The best of what is
produced under these conditions is not imitation, but free production.
If we decline to tolerate any borrowed forms in art, if we either set
no value on antiquity at all, or attribute to it some magical and
unapproachable virtue, or if we will pardon no slips in poets who were
forced, for instance, to guess or to discover a multitude of syllabic
quantities, then we had better let this class of literature alone. Its
best works were not created in order to defy criticism, but to give
pleasure to the poet and to thousands of his contemporaries.

The least success of all was attained by the epic narratives drawn from
the history or legends of antiquity. The essential conditions of a
living epic poetry were denied, not only to the Romans who now served
as models, but even to the Greeks after Homer. They could not be looked
for among the Latins of the Renaissance. And yet the 'Africa' of
Petrarch probably found as many and as enthusiastic readers and hearers
as any epos of modern times. Purpose and origin of the poem are not
without interest. The fourteenth century recognized with sound
historical sense that the time of the second Punic war had been the
noonday of Roman greatness; and Petrarch could not resist writing of
this time. Had Silius Italicus been then discovered, Petrarch would
probably have chosen another subject; but as it was, the glorification
of Scipio Africanus the Elder was so much in accordance with the spirit
of the fourteenth century, that another poet, Zanobi di Strada, also
proposed to himself the same task, and only from respect for Petrarch
withdrew the poem with which he had already made great progress. If any
justification were sought for the 'Africa,' it lies in the fact that in
Petrarch's time and afterwards Scipio was as much an object of public
interest as if he were then alive, and that he was regarded as greater
than Alexander, Pompey, and Caesar. How many modern epics treat of a
subject at once so popular, so historical in its basis, and so striking
to the imagination? For us, it is true, the poem is unreadable. For
other themes of the same kind the reader may be referred to the
histories of literature.

A richer and more fruitful vein was discovered in expanding and
completing the Greco-Roman mythology. In this too, Italian poetry began
early to take a part, beginning with the 'Teseid' of Boccaccio, which
passes for his best poetical work. Under Martin V, Maffeo Vegio wrote
in Latin a thirteenth book to the, Aeneid; besides which we meet with
many less considerable attempts, especially in the style of Claudian--a
'Meleagris,' a 'Hesperis,' and so forth. Still more curious were the
newly-invented myths, which peopled the fairest regions of Italy with a
primeval race of gods, nymphs, genii, and even shepherds, the epic and
bucolic styles here passing into one another. In the narrative or
conversational eclogue after the time of Petrarch, pastoral life was
treated in a purely conventional manner, as a vehicle of all possible
feelings and fancies; and this point will be touched on again in the
sequel.58 For the moment, we have only to do with the new myths. In
them, more clearly than anywhere else, we see the double significance
of the old gods to the men of the Renaissance. On the one hand, they
replace abstract terms in poetry, and render allegorical figures
superfluous; and, on the other, they serve as free and independent
elements in art, as forms of beauty which can be turned to some account
in any and every poem. The example was boldly set by Boccaccio, with
his fanciful world of gods and shepherds who people the country round
Florence in his 'Ninfale d'Ameto' and 'Ninfale Fiesolano.' Both these
poems were written in Italian. But the masterpiece in this style was
the 'Sarca' of Pietro Bembo, which tells how the river-god of that name
wooed the nymph Garda; of the brilliant marriage feast in a cave of
Monte Baldo; of the prophecies of Manto, daughter of Tiresias; of the
birth of the child Mincius; of the founding of Mantua, and of the
future glory of Virgil, son of Mincius and of Magia, nymph of Andes.
This humanistic rococo is set forth by Bembo in verses of great beauty,
concluding with .an address to Virgil, which any poet might envy him.
Such works are often slighted as mere declamation. This is a matter of
taste on which we are all free to form our own opinion.

Further, we find long epic poems in hexameters on biblical or
ecclesiastical subjects. The authors were by no means always in search
of preferment or of papal favour. With the best of them, and even with
less gifted writers, like Battista Mantovano, the author of the
'Parthenice,' there was probably an honest desire to serve religion by
their Latin verses--a desire with which their half-pagan conception of
Catholicism harmonized well enough. Gyraldus goes through a list of
these poets, among whom Vida, with his 'Christiad' and Sannazaro, with
his three books, 'De partu Virginis' hold the first place. Sannazaro
(b. 1458, d. 1530) is impressive by the steady and powerful flow of his
verse, in which Christian and pagan elements are mingled without
scruple, by the plastic vigor of his description, and by the perfection
of his workmanship. He could venture to introduce Virgil's fourth
Eclogue into his song of the shepherds at the manger without fearing a
comparison. In treating of the unseen world, he sometimes gives proofs
of a boldness worthy of Dante, as when King David in the Limbo of the
Patriarchs rises up to sing and prophesy, or when the Eternal, sitting
on the throne clad in a mantle shining with pictures of all the
elements, addresses the heavenly host. At other times he does not
hesitate to weave the whole classical mythology into his subject, yet
without spoiling the harmony of the whole, since the pagan deities are
only accessory figures, and play no important part in the story. To
appreciate the artistic genius of that age in all its bearings, we must
not refuse to notice such works as these. The merit of Sannazaro will
appear the greater, when we consider that the mixture of Christian and
pagan elements is apt to disturb us much more in poetry than in the
visual arts. The latter can still satisfy the eye by beauty of form and
color, and in general are much more independent of the significance of
the subject than poetry. With them, the imagination is interested
chiefly in the form, with poetry, in the matter. Honest Battista
Mantovano, in his calendar of the festivals, tried another expedient.
Instead of making the gods and demigods serve the purposes of sacred
history, he put them, as the Fathers of the Church did, in active
opposition to it. When the angel Gabriel salutes the Virgin at
Nazareth, Mercury flies after him from Carmel, and listens at the door.
He then announces the result of his eavesdropping to the assembled
gods, and stimulates them thereby to desperate resolutions. Elsewhere,
it is true, in his writings, Thetis, Ceres, Aeolus, and other pagan
deities pay willing homage to the glory of the Madonna.

The fame of Sannazaro, the number of his imitators, the enthusiastic
homage which was paid to him by the greatest men, all show how dear and
necessary he was to his age. On the threshold of the Reformation he
solved for the Church the problem, whether it were possible for a poet
to be a Christian as well as a classic; and both Leo and Clement were
loud in their thanks for his achievements.

And, finally, contemporary history was now treated in hexameters or
distichs, sometimes in a narrative and sometimes in a panegyrical
style, but most commonly to the honour of some prince or princely
family. We thus meet with a Sforziad, a Borseid, a Laurentiad, a
Borgiad, a Trivulziad, and the like. The object sought after was
certainly not attained; for those who became famous and are now
immortal owe it to anything rather than to this sort of poems, for
which the world has always had an ineradicable dislike, even when they
happen to be written by good poets. A wholly different effect is
produced by smaller, simpler and more unpretentious scenes from the
lives of distinguished men, such as the beautiful poem on Leo X's 'Hunt
at Palo,' or the 'Journey of Aulius II' by Adrian of Corneto. Brilliant
descriptions of hunting-parties are found in Ercole Strozzi, in the
above-mentioned Adrian, and in others; and it is a pity that the modern
reader should allow himself to be irritated or repelled by the
adulation with which they are doubtless filled. The masterly treatment
and the considerable historical value of many of these most graceful
poems guarantee to them a longer existence than many popular works of
our own day are likely to attain.

In general, these poems are good in proportion to the sparing use of
the sentimental and the general. Some of the smaller epic poems, even
of recognized masters, unintentionally produce, by the ill-timed
introduction of mythological elements, an impression that is
indescribably ludicrous. Such, for instance, is the lament of Ercole
Strozzi on Cesare Borgia. We there listen to the complaint of Roma, who
had set all her hopes on the Spanish Popes, Calixtus III and Alexander
VI, and who saw her promised deliverer in Cesare. His history is
related down to the catastrophe of 1503. The poet then asks the Muse
what were the counsels of the gods at that moment, and Erato tells how,
upon Olympus, Pallas took the part of the Spaniards, Venus of the
Italians, how both then embrace the knees of Jupiter, how thereupon he
kisses them, soothes them, and explains to them that he can do nothing
against the fate woven by the Parc, but that the divine promises will
be fulfilled by the child of the House of Este-Borgia.60 After relating
the fabulous origin of both families, he declares that he can confer
immortality on Cesare as little as he could once, in spite of all
entreaties, on Memnon or Achilles; and concludes with the consoling
assurance that Cesare, before his own death, will destroy many people
in war. Mars then hastens to Naples to stir up war and confusion, while
Pallas goes to Nepi, and there appears to the dying Cesare under the
form of Alexander VI. After giving him the good advice to submit to his
fate and be satisfied with the glory of his name, the papal goddess
vanishes 'like a bird.'

Yet we should needlessly deprive ourselves of an enjoyment which is
sometimes very great, if we threw aside everything in which classical
mythology plays a more or less appropriate part. Here, as in painting
and sculpture, art has often ennobled what is in itself purely
conventional. The beginnings of parody are also to be found by lovers
of that class of literature, e.g. in the Macaroneid-- to which the
comic Feast of the Gods, by Giovanni Bellini, forms an early parallel.

Many, too, of the narrative poems in hexameters are merely exercises,
or adaptations of histories in prose, which latter the reader will
prefer, where he can find them. At last, everything-- every quarrel and
every ceremony--came to be put into verse, and this even by the German
humanists of the Reformation. and yet it would be unfair to attribute
this to mere want of occupation, or to an excessive facility in
stringing verses together. In Italy, at all events, it was rather due
to an abundant sense of style, as is further proved by the mass of
contemporary reports, histories, and even pamphlets, in the 'terza
rima.' Just as Niccolo da Uzzano published his scheme for a new
constitution, Machiavelli his view of the history of his own time, a
third, the life of Savonarola, and a fourth the siege of Piombino by
Alfonso the Great, in this difficult meter, in order to produce a
stronger effect, so did many others feel the need of hexameters, in
order to win their special public. What was then tolerated and
demanded, in this shape, is best shown by the didactic poetry of the
time. Its popularity in the fifteenth century is something astounding.
The most distinguished humanists were ready to celebrate in Latin
hexameters the most commonplace, ridiculous, or disgusting themes, such
as the making of gold, the game of chess, the management of silkworms,
astrology, and venereal diseases _(morbus gallicus), _to say nothing of
many long Italian poems of the same kind. Nowadays this class of poem
is condemned unread, and how far, as a matter of fact, they are really
worth the reading, we are unable to say. One thing is certain: epochs
far above our own in the sense of beauty--the Renaissance and the
Greco-Roman world--could not dispense with this form of poetry. It may
be urged in reply, that it is not the lack of a sense of beauty, but
the greater seriousness and the altered method of scientific treatment
which renders the poetical form inappropriate, on which point it is
unnecessary to enter.

One of these didactic works has been occasionally republished--the
'Zodiac of Life,' by Marcellus Palingenius (Pier Angelo Manzolli), a
secret adherent of Protestantism at Ferrara, written about 1528. With
the loftiest .speculations on God, virtue, and immortality, the writer
connects the discussion of many questions of practical life, and is, on
this account, an authority of some weight in the history of morals. On
the whole, however, his hi fruit of contrast, nor the 'burla,' for
their subject; their aim is merely to give simple and elegant
expression to wise sayings and pretty stories or fables. But if
anything proves the great antiquity of the collection, it is precisely
this absence of satire. For with the fourteenth century comes Dante,
who, in the utterance of scorn, leaves all other poets in the world far
behind, and who, if only on account of his great picture of the
deceivers, must be called the chief master of colossal comedy. With
Petrarch begin the collections of witty sayings after the pattern of
Plutarch (Apophthegmata, etc.).

is no verbal imitation, in precisely the tone and style of the verses
on Lesbia's sparrow. There are short poems of this sort, the date of
which even a critic would be unable to fix, in the absence of positive
evidence that they are works of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

On the other hand, we can find scarcely an ode in the Sapphic or Alcaic
meter, which does not clearly betray its modern origin. This is shown
mostly by a rhetorical verbosity, rare in antiquity before the time of
Statius, and by a singular want of the lyrical concentration which is
indispensable to this style of poetry. Single passages in an ode,
sometimes two or three strophes together, may look like an ancient
fragment; but a longer extract will seldom keep this character
throughout. And where it does so, as, for instance, in the fine Ode to
Venus, by Andrea Navagero, it is easy to detect a simple paraphrase of
ancient masterpieces. Some of the ode-writers take the saints for their
subject, and invoke them in verses tastefully modelled after the
pattern of analogous odes of Horace and Catullus. This is the manner of
Navagero, in the Ode to the Archangel Gabriel, and particularly of
Sannazaro, who goes still further in his appropriation of pagan
sentiment. He celebrates above all his patron saint, whose chapel was
attached to his lovely villa on the shores of Posilippo, 'there where
the waves of the sea drink up the stream from the rocks, and surge
against the walls of the little sanctuary.' His delight is in the
annual feast of St. Nazzaro, and the branches and garlands with which
t_e chapel is hung on this day seem to him like sacrificial gifts. Full
of sorrow, and far off in exile, at St. Nazaire, on the banks of the
Loire, with the banished Federigo of Aragon, he brings wreaths of box
and oak leaves to his patron saint on the same anniversary, thinking of
former years, when all the youth of Posilippo used to come forth to
greet him on flower-hung boats, and praying that he may return home.

Perhaps the most deceptive likeness to the classical style is borne by
a class of poems in elegiacs or hexameters, whose subject ranges from
elegy, strictly so called, to epigram. As the humanists dealt most
freely of all with the text of the Roman elegiac poets, so they felt
themselves most at home in imitating them. The elegy of Navagero
addressed to the Night, like other poems of the same age and kind, is
full of points which remind us of his model; but it has the finest
antique ring about it. Indeed Navagero always begins by choosing a
truly poetical subject, which he then treats, not with servile
imitation, but with masterly freedom, in the style of the Anthology, of
Ovid, of Catullus, or of the Virgilian eclogues. He makes a sparing use
of mythology, only, for instance, to introduce a sketch of country
life, in a prayer to Ceres and other rural divinities. An address to
his country, on his return from an embassy to Spain, though left
unfinished, might have been worthy of a place beside the 'Bella Italia,
amate sponde' of Vincenzo Monti, if the rest had been equal to this

'Salve cura Deum, mundi felicior ora, Formosae Veneris dulces salvete
recessus; Ut vos post tantos animi mentisque labores Aspicio lustroque
libens, ut munere vestro Sollicitas toto depello e pectore curas! '

The elegiac or hexametric form was that in which all higher sentiment
found expression, both the noblest patriotic enthusiasm and the most
elaborate eulogies on the ruling houses, as well as the tender
melancholy of a Tibullus. Francesco Maria Molza, who rivals Statius and
Martial in his flattery of Clement VII and the Farnesi, gives us in his
elegy to his 'comrades,' written from a sick-bed, thoughts on death as
beautiful and genuinely antique as can be found in any of the poets of
antiquity, and this without borrowing anything worth speaking of from
them. The spirit and range of Roman elegy were best understood and
reproduced by Sannazaro, and no other writer of his time offers us so
varied a choice of good poems in this style as he. We shall have
occasion now and then to speak of some of these elegies in reference to
the matter they treat of.

The Latin epigram finally became in those days an affair of serious
importance, since a few clever lines, engraved on a monument or quoted
with laughter in society, could lay the foundation of a scholar's
celebrity. This tendency showed itself early in Italy. When it was
known that Guido da Polenta wished to erect a monument at Dante's
grave, epitaphs poured in from all directions, 'written by such as
wished to show themselves, or to honour the dead poet, or to win the
favour of Polenta.' On the tomb of the Archbishop Giovanni Visconti (d.
1354), in the Cathedral at Milan, we read at the foot of thirty-six
hexameters: 'Master Gabrius de Zamoreis of Parma, Doctor of Laws, wrote
these verses.' In course of time, chiefly under the influence of
Martial, and partly of Catullus, an ex- tensive literature of this sort
was formed. It was held the greatest of all triumphs, if an epigram was
mistaken for a genuine copy from some old marble, or if it was so good
that all Italy learned it by heart, as happened in the case of some of
Bembo's. When the Venetian government paid Sannazaro 600 ducats for a
eulogy in three distichs, no one thought it an act of generous
prodigality. The epigram was prized for what it was, in truth, to all
the educated classes of that age--the concentrated essence of fame.
Nor, on the other hand, was any man then so powerful as to be above the
reach of a satirical epigram, and even the most powerful needed, for
every inscription which they set before the public eye, the aid of
careful and learned scholars, lest some blunder or other should qualify
it for a place in the collections of ludicrous epitaphs. Epigraphy and
literary epigrams began to link up; the former was based on a most
diligent study of the ancient monuments.

The city of epigrams and inscriptions was, above all others, Rome. In
this state without hereditary honours, each man had to look after his
own immortality, and at the same time found the epigram an effective
weapon against competitors. Pius II enumerates with satisfaction the
distichs which his chief poet Campanus wrote on any event of his
government which could be turned to poetical account. Under the
following popes satirical epigrams came into fashion, and reached, in
the opposition to Alexander VI and his family, the highest pitch of
defiant invective. Sannazaro, it is true, wrote his verses in a place
of comparative safety, but others in the immediate neighbourhood of the
court ventured on the most reckless attacks. On one occasion when eight
threatening distichs were found fastened to the doors of the library,
Alexander strengthened his guard by 800 men; we can imagine what he
would have done to the poet if he had caught him. Under Leo X, Latin
epigrams were like daily bread. For complimenting or for reviling the
Pope, for punishing enemies and victims, named or unnamed, for real or
imaginary subjects of wit, malice, grief, or contemplation, no form was
held more suitable. On the famous group of the Virgin with Saint Anne
and the Child, which Andrea Sansovino carved for Sant' Agostino, no
fewer than 120 persons wrote Latin verses, not so much, it is true,
from devotion, as from regard for the patron who ordered the work. This
man, Johann Goritz of Luxemburg, papal referendary of petitions, not
only held a religious service on the feast of Saint Anne, but gave a
great literary dinner in his garden on the slopes of the Capitol. It
was then worth while to pass in, review, in a long poem 'De poetis
urbanis,' the whole crowd of singers who sought their fortune at the
court of Leo. This was done by Franciscus Arsillus--a man who needed
the patronage neither of pope nor prince, and who dared to speak his
mind, even against his colleagues. The epigram survived the pontificate
of Paul III only in a few rare echoes, while epigraphy continued to
flourish till the seventeenth century, when it perished finally of

In Venice, also, this form of poetry had a history of its own, which we
are able to trace with the help of the 'Venezia' of Francesco
Sansovino. A standing task for the epigram-writers was offered by the
mottoes (Brievi) on the pictures of the Doges in the great hall of the
ducal palace--two or four hexameters, setting forth the most noteworthy
facts in the government of each. In addition to this, the tombs of the
Doges in the fourteenth century bore short inscriptions in prose,
recording merely facts, and beside them turgid hexameters or leonine
verses. In the fifteenth century more care was taken with the style; in
the sixteenth century it is seen at its best; and then coon after came
pointless antithesis, prosopopceia, false pathos, praise of abstract
qualities-- in a word, affectation and bombast. A good many traces of
satire can be detected, and veiled criticism of the living is implied
in open praise of the dead. At a much later period we find a few
instances of deliberate recurrence to the old, simple style.

Architectural works and decorative works in general were constructed
with a view to receiving inscriptions, often in frequent repetition;
while the Northern Gothic seldom, and with difficulty, offered a
suitable place for them, and in sepulchral monuments, for example, left
free only the most exposed parts -- namely the edges.

By what has been said hitherto we have, perhaps, failed to convince the
reader of the characteristic value of this Latin poetry of the
Italians. Our task was rather to indicate its position and necessity in
the history of civilization. In its own day, a caricature of it
appeared--the so-called macaronic poetry. The masterpiece of this
style, the 'opus macaronicorum,' was written by Merlinus Coccaius
(Teofilo Folengo of Mantua). Vi/e shall now and then have occasion to
refer to the matter of this poem. As to the form--hexameter and other
verses, made up of Latin words and Italian words with Latin endings --
its comic effect lies chiefly in the fact that these combinations sound
like so many slips of the tongue, or like the effusions of an over-
hasty Latin 'improvisatore.' The German imitations do not give the
smallest notion of this effect.

Fall of the Humanists in the Sixteenth Century

Why, it may be asked, were not these reproaches, whether true or false,
heard sooner? As a matter of fact, they were heard at a very early
period, but the effect they produced was insignificant, for the plain
reason that men were far too dependent on the scholars for their
knowledge of antiquity--that the scholars were personally the
possessors and diffusers of ancient culture. But the spread of printed
editions of the classics, and of large and well-arranged handbooks and
dictionaries, went far to free the people from the necessity of
personal intercourse with the humanists, and, as soon as they could be
but partly dispensed with, the change in popular feeling became
manifest. It was a change under which the good and bad suffered

The first to make these charges were certainly the humanists
themselves. Of all men who ever formed a class, they had the least
sense of their common interests, and least respected what there was of
this sense. All means were held lawful, if one of them saw a chance of
supplanting another. From literary discussion they passed with
astonishing suddenness to the fiercest and the most groundless
vituperation. Not satisfied with refuting, they sought to annihilate an
opponent. Something of this must be put to the account of their
position and circumstances; we have seen how fiercely the age, whose
loudest spokesmen they were, was borne to and fro by the passion for
glory and the passion for satire. Their position, too, in practical
life was one that they had continually to fight for. In such a temper
they wrote and spoke and described one another. Pog- gio's works alone
contain dirt enough to create a prejudice against the whole class--and
these 'Opera Poggii' were just those most often printed, on the north
as well as on the south side of the Alps. We must take care not to
rejoice too soon, when we meet among these men a figure which seems
immaculate; on further inquiry there is always a danger of meeting with
some foul charge, which, even if it is incredible, still discolors the
picture. The mass of indecent Latin poems in circulation, and such
things as ribaldry on the subject of one's own family, as in Pontano's
dialogue 'Antonius,' did the rest to discredit the class. The sixteenth
century was not only familiar with all these ugly symptoms, but had
also grown tired of the type of the humanist. These men had to pay both
for the misdeeds they had done, and for the excess of honour which had
hitherto fallen to their lot. Their evil fate willed it that the
greatest poet of the nation, Ariosto, wrote of them in a tone of calm
and sovereign contempt.

Of the reproaches which combined to excite so much hatred, many were
only too well founded. Yet a clear and unmistakable tendency to
strictness in matters of religion and morality was alive in many of the
philologists, and it is a proof of small knowledge of the period, if
the whole class is condemned. Yet many, and among them the loudest
speakers, were guilty.

Three facts explain and perhaps diminish their guilt: the overflowing
excess of fervour and fortune, when the luck was on their side; the
uncertainty of the future, in which luxury or misery depended on the
caprice of a patron or the malice of an enemy; and finally, the
misleading influence of antiquity. This undermined their morality,
without giving them its own instead; and in religious matters, since
they could never think of accepting the positive belief in the old
gods, it affected them only on the negative and sceptical side. Just
because they conceived of antiquity dogmatically--that is, took it as
the model or all thought and action--its influence was here pernicious.
But that an age existed which idolized the ancient world and its
products with an exclusive devotion was not the fault of individuals.
It was the work of an historical providence, and if the culture of the
ages which have followed, and of the ages to come, rests upon the fact
that it was so, and that all the ends of life but this one were then
deliberately put aside.

The career of the humanists was, as a rule, of such a kind hat only the
strongest characters could pass through it unscathed. The first danger
came, in some cases, from the parents, rho sought to turn a precocious
child into a miracle of learning, with an eye to his future position in
that class which then was supreme. Youthful prodigies, however, seldom
rise above a certain level; or, if they do, are forced to achieve their
further progress and development at the cost of the bitterest trials.
For an ambitious youth, the fame and the brilliant position of the
humanists were a perilous temptation; it seemed to him that he too
'through inborn pride could no longer regard the low and common things
of life.' He was thus led to plunge into a life of excitement and
vicissitude, in which exhausting studies, tutorships, secretaryships,
professorships, offices in princely households, mortal enmities and
perils, luxury and beggary, boundless admiration and boundless
contempt, followed confusedly one upon the other, and in which the most
solid worth and learning were often pushed aside by superficial
impudence. But the worst of all was, that the position of the humanist
was almost incompatible with a fixed home, since it either made
frequent changes of dwelling necessary for a livelihood, or so affected
the mind of the individual that he could never be happy for long in one
place. He grew tired of the people, and had no peace among the enmities
which he excited, while the people themselves in their turn demanded
something new. Much as this life reminds us of the Greek sophists of
the Empire, as described to us by Philostratus, yet the position of the
sophists was more favourable. They often had money, or could more
easily do without it than the humanists, and as professional teachers
of rhetoric, rather than men of learning, their life was freer and
simpler. But the scholar of the Renaissance was forced to combine great
learning with the power of resisting the influence of ever-changing
pursuits and situations. Add to this the deadening effect of licentious
excess, and--since do what he might, the worst was believed of him--a
total indifference to the moral laws recognized by others. Such men can
hardly be conceived to exist without an inordinate pride. They needed
it, if only to keep their heads above water, and were confirmed in it
by the admiration which alternated with hatred in the treatment they
received from the world. They are the most striking examples and
victims of an unbridled subjectivity.

The attacks and the satirical pictures began, as we have said, at an
early period. For all strongly marked individuality, for every kind of
distinction, a corrective was at hand in the national taste for
ridicule. And in this case the men themselves offered abundant and
terrible materials which satire had but to make use of. In the
fifteenth century, Battista Mantovano, in discoursing of the seven
monsters, includes the humanists, with any others, under the head
'Superbia.' He describes how, fancying themselves children of Apollo,
they walk along with affected solemnity and with sullen, malicious
looks, now gazing t their own shadow, now brooding over the popular
praise they hunted after, like cranes in search of food. But in the
sixteenth century the indictment was presented in full. Besides
Ariosto, their own historian Gyraldus gives evidence of this, whose
treatise, written under Leo X, was probably revised about the year
1540. Warning examples from ancient and modern times the moral disorder
and the wretched existence of the scholars meet us in astonishing
abundance, and along with these, accusations of the most serious nature
are brought formally against them. Among these are anger, vanity,
obstinacy, self-adoration, dissolute private life, immorality of all
descriptions, heresy, theism; further, the habit of speaking without
conviction, a sinister influence on government, pedantry of speech,
thanklessness towards teachers, and abject flattery of the great, who
st give the scholar a taste of their favours and then leave m to
starve. The description is closed by a reference to the den age, when
no such thing as science existed on the earth. these charges, that of
heresy soon became the most dangers, and Gyraldus himself, when he
afterwards republished a perfectly harmless youthful work, was
compelled to take refuge neath the mantle of Duke Ercole II of Ferrara,
since men had the upper hand who held that people had better spend
their time on Christian themes than on mythological researches.
justifies himself on the ground that the latter, on the contrary, were
at such a time almost the only harmless branches of study, as they deal
with subjects of a perfectly neutral character.

But if it is the duty of the historian to seek for evidence in which
moral judgement is tempered by human sympathy, he 11 find no authority
comparable in value to the work so often quoted of Pierio Valeriano,
'On the Infelicity of the Scholar.' It was written under the gloomy
impressions left by the sack of Rome, which seems to the writer, not
only the direct cause of untold misery to the men of learning, but, as
it were, the fulfilment of an evil destiny which had long pursued them.
Pierio is here led by a simple and, on the whole, just feeling. He does
not introduce a special power, which plagued the men of genius on
account of their genius, but he states facts, in which an unlucky
chance often wears the aspect of fatality. Not wishing to write a
tragedy or to refer events to the conflict of higher powers, he is
content to lay before us the scenes of everyday life. We are introduced
to men who, in times of trouble, lose first their incomes and then
their places; to others who, in trying to get two appointments, miss
both; to unsociable misers who carry about their money sewn into their
clothes, and die mad when they are robbed of it; to others, who accept
well-paid offices, and then sicken with a melancholy longing for their
lost freedom. We read how some died young of a plague or fever, and how
the writings which had cost them so much toil were burnt with their bed
and clothes; how others lived in terror of the murderous threats of
their colleagues; how one was slain by a covetous servant, and another
caught by highwaymen on a journey, and left to pine in a dungeon,
because unable to pay his ransom. Many died of unspoken grief from the
insults they received and the prizes of which they were defrauded. We
are told how a Venetian died because of the death of his son, a
youthful prodigy; and how mother and brothers followed, as if the lost
child drew them all after him. Many, especially Florentines, ended
their lives by suicide; others through the secret justice of a tyrant.
Who, after all, is happy?--and by what means? By blunting all feeling
for such misery? One of the speakers in the dialogue in which Pierio
clothed his argument, can give an answer to these questions-- the
illustrious Gasparo Contarini, at the mention of whose name we turn
with the expectation to hear at least something of the truest and
deepest which was then thought on such matters. As a type of the happy
scholar, he mentions Fra Urbano Valeriano of Belluno, who was for years
a teacher of Greek at Venice, who visited Greece and the East, and
towards the close of his life travelled, now through this country, now
through that, without ever mounting a horse; who never had a penny of
his own, rejected all honours and distinctions, and after a gay old
age, died in his eighty-fourth year, without, if we except a fall from
a ladder, having ever known an hour of sickness. And what was the
difference between such a man and the humanists? The latter had more
free will, more subjectivity, than they could turn to purposes of
happiness. The mendicant friar, who had lived from his boyhood in the
monastery, and never eaten or slept except by rule, ceased to feel the
com- pulsion under which he lived. Through the power of this habit he
led, amid all outward hardships, a life of inward peace, by which he
impressed his hearers far more than by his teaching. Looking at him,
they could believe that it depends on ourselves whether we bear up
against misfortune or surrender to it. 'Amid want and toil he was
happy, because he willed to be so, because he had contracted no evil
habits, was not capricious, inconstant, immoderate; but was always
contented with little or nothing.' If we heard Contarini himself,
religious motives would no doubt play a part in the argument--but the
practical philosopher in sandals speaks plainly enough. An allied
character, but placed in other circumstances, is that of Fabio Calvi of
Ravenna, the commentator of Hippocrates. He lived to a great age in
Rome, eating only pulse 'like the Pythagoreans,' and dwelt in a hovel
little better than the tub of Diogenes. Of the pension which Pope Leo
gave him, he spent enough to keep body and soul together, and gave the
rest away. He was not a healthy man, like Fra Urbano, nor is it likely
that, like him, he died with a smile on his lips. At the age of ninety,
in the sack of Rome, he was dragged away by the Spaniards, who hoped
for a ransom, and died of hunger in a hospital. But his name has passed
into the kingdom of the immortals, for Raphael loved the old man like a
father, and honoured him as a teacher, and came to him for advice in
all things. Perhaps they discoursed chiefly of the projected
restoration of ancient Rome, perhaps of still higher matters. Who can
tell what a share Fabio may have had in the conception of the School of
Athens, and in other great works of the master?

We would gladly close this part of our essay with the picture of some
pleasing and winning character. Pomponius Laetus, of whom we shall
briefly speak, is known to us principally through the letter of his
pupil Sabellicus, in which an antique coloring is purposely given to
his character. Yet many of its features are clearly recognizable. He
was a bastard of the House of the Neapolitan Sanseverini, princes of
Salerno, whom he nevertheless refused to recognize, writing, in reply
to an invitation to live with them, the famous letter: 'Pomponius
Laetus cognatis et propinquis suis salutem. Quod petitis fieri non
potest. Valete.' t An insignificant little figure, with small, quick
eyes, and quaint dress, he lived, during the last decades of the
fifteenth century, as professor in the University of Rome, either in
his cottage in a garden on the Esquiline hill, or in his vineyard on
the Quirinal. In the one he bred his ducks and fowls; the other he
cultivated according to the strictest precepts of Cato, Varro, and
Columella. He spent his holidays in fishing or bird-catching in the
Campagna, or in feasting by some shady spring or on the banks of the
Tiber. Wealth and luxury he despised. Free himself from envy and
uncharitable speech, he would not suffer them in others. It was only
against the hierarchy that he gave his tongue free play, and passed,
till his latter years, for a scorner of religion altogether. He was
involved in the persecution of the humanists begun by Pope Paul II, and
surrendered to this pontiff by the Venetians; but no means could be
found to wring unworthy confessions from him. He was afterwards
befriended and supported by popes and prelates, and when his house was
plundered in the disturbances under Sixtus IV, more was collected for
him than he had lost. No teacher was more conscientious. Before
daybreak he was to be seen descending the Esquiline with his lantern,
and on reaching his lecture-room found it always filled to overflowing.
A stutter compelled him to speak with care, but his delivery was even
and effective. His few works give evidence of careful writing. No
scholar treated the text of ancient authors more soberly and
accurately. The remains of antiquity which surrounded him in Rome
touched him so deeply that he would stand before them as if entranced,
or would suddenly burst into tears at the sight of them. As he was
ready to lay aside his own studies in order to help others, he was much
loved and had many friends; and at his death, even Alexander VI sent
his courtiers to follow the corpse, which was carried by the most
distinguished of his pupils. The funeral service in the Aracceli was
attended by forty bishops and by all the foreign ambassadors.

It was Laetus who introduced and conducted the representations of
ancient, chiefly Plautine, plays in Rome. Every year, he celebrated the
anniversary of the foundation of the city by a festival, at which his
friends and pupils recited speeches and poems. Such meetings were the
origin of what acquired, and long retained, the name of the Roman
Academy. It was simply a free union of individuals, and was connected
with no fixed institution. Besides the occasions mentioned, it met at
the invitation of a patron, or to celebrate the memory of a deceased
member, as of Platina. At such times, a prelate belonging to the
academy would first say mass; Pomponio would then ascend the pulpit and
deliver a speech; someone else would then follow him and recite an
elegy. The customary banquet, with declamations and recitations,
concluded the festival, whether joyous or serious, and the
academicians, notably Platina himself, early acquired the reputation of
epicures. At other times, the guests performed farces in the old
Atellan style. As a free association of very varied elements, the
academy lasted in its original form down to the sack of Rome, and
included among its hosts Angelus Coloccius, Johannes Corycius and
others. Its precise value as an element in the intellectual life of the
people is as hard to estimate as that of any other social union of the
same kind; yet a man like Sadoleto reckoned it among the most precious
memories of his youth. A large number of other academies appeared and
passed away in many Italian cities, according to the number and
significance of the humanists living in them, and to the patronage
bestowed by the great and wealthy. Of these we may mention the Academy
of Naples, of which Jovianus Pontanus was the centre, and which sent
out a colony to Lecce, and that of Pordenone, which formed the court of
the Condottiere Alviano. The circle of Lodovico il Moro, and its
peculiar importance for that prince, has been already spoken of.

About the middle of the sixteenth century, these associations seem to
have undergone a complete change. The humanists, driven in other
spheres from their commanding position, and viewed askance by the men
of the Counter-reformation, lost the control of the academies: and
here, as elsewhere, Latin poetry was replaced by Italian. Before long
every town of the least importance had its academy, with some strange,
fantastic name, and its own endowment and subscriptions. Besides the
recitation of verses, the new institutions inherited from their
predecessors the regular banquets and the representation of plays,
sometimes acted by the members themselves, sometimes under their
direction by young amateurs, and sometimes by paid players. The fate of
the Italian stage, and afterwards of the opera, was long in the hands
of these associations.



Journeys of the Italians

Freed from the countless bonds which elsewhere in Europe checked
progress, having reached a high degree of individual development and
been schooled by the teachings of antiquity, the Italian mind now
turned to the discovery of the outward universe, and to the
representation of it in speech and form.

On the journeys of the Italians to distant parts of the world, we can
here make but a few general observations. The Crusades had opened
unknown distances to the European mind, and awakened in all the passion
for travel and adventure. It may be hard to indicate precisely the
point where this passion allied itself with, or became the servant of,
the thirst for knowledge; but it was in Italy that this was first and
most completely the case. Even in the Crusades the interest of the
Italians was wider than that of other nations, since they already were
a naval power and had commercial relations with the East. From time
immemorial the Mediterranean Sea had given to the nations that dwelt on
its shores mental impulses different from those which governed the
peoples of the North; and never, from the very structure of their
character, could the Italians be adventurers in the sense which the
word bore among the Teutons. After they were once at home in all the
eastern harbors of the Mediterranean, it was natural that the most
enterprising among them should be led to join that vast inter- national
movement of the Mohammedans which there found its outlet. A new half of
the world lay, as it were, freshly discovered before them. Or, like
Polo of Venice, they were caught in the current of the Mongolian
peoples, and carried on to the steps of the throne of the Great Khan.
At an early period, we find Italians sharing in the discoveries made in
the Atlantic Ocean; it was the Genoese who, in the thirteenth century
found the Canary Islands. In the same year, 1291, when Ptolemais, the
last remnant of the Christian East, was lost, it was again the Genoese
who made the first known attempt to find a sea-passage to the East
Indies. Columbus himself is but the greatest of a long list of Italians
who, in the service of the western nations, sailed into distant seas.
The true discoverer, however, is not the man who first chances to
stumble upon anything, but the man who finds what he has sought. Such a
one alone stands in a link with the thoughts and interests of his
predecessors, and this relationship will also determine the account he
gives of his search. For which reason the Italians, although their
claim to be the first comers on this or that shore may be disputed,
will yet retain their title to be pre-eminently the nation of
discoverers for the whole latter part of the Middle Ages. The fuller
proof of this assertion belongs to the special history of discoveries.
Yet ever and again we turn with admiration to the august figure of the
great Genoese, by whom a new continent beyond the ocean was demanded,
sought and found; and who was the first to be able to say: 'il mondo e
poco'--the world is not so large as men have thought. At the time when
Spain gave Alexander VI to the Italians, Italy gave Columbus to the
Spaniards. Only a few weeks before the death of that pope Columbus
wrote from Jamaica his noble letter (July 7, 1503) to the thankless
Catholic kings, which the ages to come can never read without profound
emotion. In a codicil to his will, dated Valladolid, May 4, I 506, he
bequeathed to 'his beloved home, the Republic of Genoa, the prayer-book
which Pope Alexander had given him, and which in prison, in conflict,
and in every kind of adversity, had been to him the greatest of
comforts.' It seems as if these words cast upon the abhorred name of
Borgia one last gleam of grace and mercy.

The development of geographical and allied sciences among the Italians
must, like the history of their voyages, be touched upon but very
briefly. A superficial comparison of their achievements with those of
other nations shows an early and striking superiority on their part.
Where, in the middle of the fifteenth century, could be found, anywhere
but in Italy, such a union of geographical, statistical, and historical
knowledge as was found in Aeneas Sylvius? Not only in his great
geographical work, but in his letters and commentaries, he describes
with equal mastery landscapes, cities, manners, industries and
products, political conditions and constitutions, wherever he can use
his own observation or the evidence of eye-witnesses. What he takes
from books is naturally of less moment. Even the short sketch of that
valley in the Tyrolese Alps where Frederick III had given him a
benefice, and still more his description of Scotland, leaves untouched
none of the relations of human life, and displays a power and method of
unbiased observation and comparison impossible in any but a countryman
of Columbus, trained in the school of the ancients. Thousands saw and,
in part, knew what he did, but they felt no impulse to draw a picture
of it, and were unconscious that the world desired such pictures.

In geography, as in other matters, it is vain to attempt to distinguish
how much is to be attributed to the study of the ancients, and how much
to the special genius of the Italians. They saw and treated the things
of this world from an objective point of view, even before they were
familiar with ancient literature, partly because they were themselves a
half-ancient people, and partly because their political circumstances
predisposed them to it; but they would not so rapidly have attained to
such perfection had not the old geographers shown them the way. The
influence of the existing Italian geographies on the spirit and
tendencies of the travellers and discoverers was also inestimable. Even
the simple 'dilettante' of a science-- if in the present case we should
assign to Aeneas Sylvius so low a rank--can diffuse just that sort of
general interest in the subject which prepares for new pioneers the
indispensable favourable predisposition in the public mind. True
discoverers in any science know well what they owe to such meditation.

The Natural Sciences in Italy

For the position of the Italians in the sphere of the natural sciences,
we must refer the reader to the special treatises on the subject, of
which the only one with which we are familiar is the superficial and
depreciatory work of Libri. The dispute as to the priority of
particular discoveries concerns us all the less, since we hold that, at
any time, and among any civilized people, a man may appear who,
starting with very scanty preparation, is driven by an irresistible
impulse into the path of scientific investigation, and through his
native gifts achieves the most astonishing success. Such men were
Gerbert of Rheims and Roger Bacon. That they were masters of the whole
knowledge of the age in their several departments was a natural
consequence of the spirit in which they worked. When once the veil of
illusion was torn asunder, when once the dread of nature and the
slavery to books and tradition were overcome, countless problems lay
before them for solution. It is another matter when a whole people
takes a natural delight in the study and investigation of nature, at a
time when other nations are indifferent, that is to say, when the
discoverer is not threatened or wholly ignored, but can count on the
friendly support of congenial spirits. That this was the case in Italy
is unquestionable. The Italian students of nature trace with pride in
the 'Divine Comedy' the hints and proofs of Dante's scientific in-
terest in nature. On his claim to priority in this or that discovery or
reference, we must leave the men of science to decide; but every layman
must be struck by the wealth of his observations on the external world,
shown merely in his picture and comparisons. He, more than any other
modern poet, takes them from reality, whether in nature or human life,
and uses them never as mere ornament, but in order to give the reader
the fullest and most adequate sense of his meaning. It is in astronomy
that he appears chiefly as a scientific specialist, though it must not
be forgotten that many astronomical allusions in his great poem, which
now appear to us learned, must then have been intelligible to the
general reader. Dante, learning apart, appeals to a popular knowledge
of the heavens, which the Italians of his day, from the mere fact that
they were a nautical people, had in common with the ancients. This
knowledge of the rising and setting of the constellations has been
rendered superfluous to the modern world by calendars and clocks, and
with it has gone whatever interest in astronomy the people may once
have had. Nowadays, with our schools and handbooks, every child knows--
what Dante did not know--that the earth moves round the sun; but the
interest once taken in the subject itself has given place, except in
the case of astronomical specialists, to the most absolute

The pseudo-science which dealt with the stars proves nothing against
the inductive spirit of the Italians of that day. That spirit was but
crossed, and at times overcome, by the passionate desire to penetrate
the future. We shall recur to the subject of astrology when we come to
speak of the moral and religious character of the people.

The Church treated this and other pseudo-sciences nearly always with
toleration; and showed itself actually hostile even to genuine science
only when a charge of heresy together with necromancy was also in
question--which certainly was often the case. A point which it would be
interesting to decide is this: whether and in what cases the Dominican
(and also the Franciscan) Inquisitors in Italy were conscious of the
falsehood of the charges, and yet condemned the accused, either to
oblige some enemy of the prisoner or from hatred to natural science,
and particularly to experiments. The latter doubtless occurred, but it
is not easy to prove the fact. What helped to cause such persecutions
in the North, namely, the opposition made to the innovators by the
upholders of the received official, scholastic system of nature, was of
little or no weight in Italy. Pietro of Abano, at the beginning of the
fourteenth century, is well known to have fallen a victim to the envy
of another physician, who accused him before the Inquisition of heresy
and magic; and something of the same kind may have happened in the case
of his Paduan contemporary, Giovannino Sanguinacci, who was known as an
innovator in medical practice. He escaped, however, with banishment.
Nor must it be forgotten that the inquisitorial power of the Dominicans
was exercised less uniformly in Italy than in the North. Tyrants and
free cities in the fourteenth century treated the clergy at times with
such sovereign contempt that very different matters from natural
science went unpunished. But when, with the fifteenth century,
antiquity became the leading power in Italy, the breach it made in the
old system was turned to account by every branch of secular science.
Humanism, nevertheless, attracted to itself the best strength of the
nation, and thereby, no doubt, did injury to the inductive
investigation of nature. Here and there the Inquisition suddenly
started into life, and punished or burned physicians as blasphemers or
magicians. In such cases it is hard to discover what was the true
motive underlying the condemnation. But even so, Italy, at the close of
the fifteenth century, with Paolo Toscanelli, Luca Pacioli and Leonardo
da Vinci, held incomparably the highest place among European nations in
mathematics and the natural sciences, and the learned men of every
country, even Regiomontanus and Copernicus, confessed themselves its
pupils. This glory survived the Counter-reformation, and even today the
Italians would occupy the first place in this respect if circumstances
had not made it impossible for the greatest minds to devote themselves
to tranquil research.

A significant proof of the widespread interest in natural history is
found in the zeal which showed itself at an early period for the
collection and comparative study of plants and animals. Italy claims to
be the first creator of botanical gar dens, though possibly they may
have served a chiefly practical end, and the claim to priority may be
itself disputed. It is of far greater importance that princes and
wealthy men, in laying out their pleasure-gardens, instinctively made a
point of collecting the greatest possible number of different plants in
all their species and varieties. Thus in the fifteenth century the
noble grounds of the Medicean Villa Careggi appear from the
descriptions we have of them to have been almost a botanical garden,
with countless specimens of different trees and shrubs. Of the same
kind was a villa of the Cardinal Trivulzio, at the beginning of the
sixteenth century, in the Roman Campagna towards Tivoli, with hedges
made up of various species of roses, with trees of every description--
the fruit-trees especially showing an astonishing variety--with twenty
different sorts of vines and a large kitchen-garden. This is evidently
something very different from the score or two of familiar medicinal
plants which were to be found in the garden of any castle or monastery
in Western Europe. Along with a careful cultivation of fruit for the
purposes of the table, we find an interest in the plant for its own
sake, on account of the pleasure it gives to the eye. We learn from the
history of art at how late a period this passion for botanical
collections was laid aside, and gave place to what was considered the
picturesque style of landscape-gardening.

The collections, too, of foreign animals not only gratified curiosity,
but served also the higher purposes of observation. The facility of
transport from the southern and eastern harbors of the Mediterranean,
and the mildness of the Italian climate, made it practicable to buy the
largest animals of the south, or to accept them as presents from the
Sultans. The cities and princes were especially anxious to keep live
lions even where a lion was not, as in Florence, the emblem of the
State. The lions' den was generally in or near the government palace,
as in Perugia and Florence; in Rome, it lay on the slope of the
Capitol. The beasts sometimes served as executioners of political
judgements, and no doubt, apart from this, they kept alive a certain
terror in the popular mind. Their condition was also held to be ominous
of good or evil. Their fertility, especially, was considered a sign of
public prosperity, and no less a man than Giovanni Villani thought it
worth recording that he was present at the delivery of a lioness. The
cubs were often given to allied States and princes, or to Condottieri
as a reward of their valor. In addition to the lions, the Florentines
began very early to keep leopards, for which a special keeper was
appointed. Borso of Ferrara used to set his lion to fight with bulls,
bears, and wild boars.

By the end of the fifteenth century, however, true menageries
(serragli), now reckoned part of the suitable appointments of a court,
were kept by many of the princes. 'It belongs to the position of the
great,' says Matarazzo, 'to keep horses, dogs, mules, falcons, and
other birds, court-jesters, singers, and foreign animals.' The
menagerie at Naples, in the time of Ferrante, contained even a giraffe
and a zebra, presented, it seems, by the ruler of Baghdad. Filippo
Maria Visconti possessed not only horses which cost him each 500 or
1,000 pieces of gold, and valuable English dogs, but a number of
leopards brought from all parts of the East; the expense of his hunting
birds, which were collected from the countries of Northern Europe,
amounted to 3,000 pieces of gold a month. King Emanuel the Great of
Portugal knew well what he was about when he presented Leo X with an
elephant and a rhinoceros. It was under such circumstances that the
foundations of a scientific zoology and botany were laid.

A practical fruit of these zoological studies was the establishment of
studs, of which the Mantuan, under Francesco Gonzaga, was esteemed the
first in Europe. All interest in, and knowledge of the different breeds
of horses is as old, no doubt, as riding itself, and the crossing of
the European with the Asiatic must have been common from the time of
the Crusades. In Italy, a special inducement to perfect the breed was
offered by the prizes at the horse-races held in every considerable
town in the peninsula. In the Mantuan stables were found the in-
fallible winners in these contests, as well as the best military
chargers, and the horses best suited by their stately appearance for
presents to great people. Gonzaga kept stallions and mares from Spain,
Ireland, Africa, Thrace, and Cilicia, and for the sake of the last he
cultivated the friendship of the Sultans. All possible experiments were
here tried, in order to produce the most perfect animals.

Even human menageries were not wanting. The famous Cardinal Ippolito
Medici, bastard of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, kept at his strange court
a troop of barbarians who talked no less than twenty different
languages, and who were all of them perfect specimens of their races.
Among them were incomparable _voltigeurs _of the best blood of the
North African Moors, Tartar bowmen, Negro wrestlers, Indian divers, and
Turks, who generally accompanied the Cardinal on his hunting
expeditions. When he was overtaken by an early death (1535), this
motley band carried the corpse on their shoulders from Itri to Rome,
and mingled with the general mourning for the open-handed Cardinal
their medley of tongues and violent gesticulations.

These scattered notices of the relations of the Italians to natural
science, and their interest in the wealth and variety of the products
of nature, are only fragments of a great subject. No one is more
conscious than the author of the defects in his knowledge on this
point. Of the multitude of special works in which the subject is
adequately treated, even the names are but imperfectly known to him.

Discovery of the Beauty of Landscape

But outside the sphere of scientific investigation, there is another
way to draw near to nature. The Italians are the first among modern
peoples by whom the outward world was seen and felt as something

The power to do so is always the result of a long and complicated
development, and its origin is not easily detected, since a dim feeling
of this kind may exist long before it shows itself in poetry and
painting and thereby becomes conscious of itself. Among the ancients,
for example, art and poetry had gone through the whole circle of human
interests, before they turned to the representation of nature, and even
then the latter filled always a limited and subordinate place. And yet,
from the time of Homer downwards, the powerful impression made by
nature upon man is shown by countless verses and chance expressions.
The Germanic races, which founded their States on the ruins of the
Roman Empire, were thoroughly and specially fitted to understand the
spirit of natural scenery; and though Christianity compelled them for a
while to see in the springs and mountains, in the lakes and woods,
which they had till then revered, the working of evil demons, yet this
transitional conception was soon outgrown. By the year 1200, at the
height of the Middle Ages, a genuine, hearty enjoyment of the external
world was again in existence, and found lively expres- sion in the
minstrelsy of different nations, which gives evidence of the sympathy
felt with all the simple phenomena of nature --spring with its flowers,
the green fields and the woods. But these pictures are all foreground
without perspective. Even the crusaders, who travelled so far and saw
so much, are not recognizable as such in their poems. The epic poetry,
which describes amour and costumes so fully, does not attempt more than
a sketch of outward nature; and even the great Wolfram von Eschenbach
scarcely anywhere gives us an adequate picture of the scene on which
his heroes move. From these poems it would never be guessed that their
noble authors in all countries inhabited or visited lofty castles,
commanding distant prospects. Even in the Latin poems of the wandering
clerks, we find no traces of a distant view--of landscape properly so
called-- but what lies near is sometimes described with a glory and
splendor which none of the knightly minstrels can surpass. What picture
of the Grove of Love can equal that of the Italian poet -- for such we
take him to be--of the twelfth century?

'Immortalis fieret Ibi manens homo; Arbor ibi quaelibet Suo gaudet
pomo; Viae myrrha, cinnamo Fragrant, et amomo-- Conjectari poterat
Dominus ex domo' etc.

To the Italian mind, at all events, nature had by this time lost its
taint of sin, and had shaken off all trace of demoniacal powers. Saint
Francis of Assisi, in his Hymn to the Sun, frankly praises the Lord for
creating the heavenly bodies and the four elements.

But the unmistakable proofs of a deepening effect of nature on the
human spirit begin with Dante. Not only does he awaken in us by a few
vigorous lines the sense of the morning air and the trembling light on
the distant ocean, or of the grandeur of the storm-beaten forest, but
he makes the ascent of lofty peaks, with the only possible object of
enjoying the view--the first man, perhaps, since the days of antiquity
who did so. In Boccaccio we can do little more than infer how country
scenery affected him; yet his pastoral romances show his imagination to
have been filled with it. But the significance of nature for a
receptive spirit is fully and clearly displayed by Petrarch--one of the
first truly modern men. That clear soul--who first collected from the
literature of all countries evidence of the origin and progress of the
sense of natural beauty, and himself, in his 'Aspects of Nature,'
achieved the noblest masterpiece of description--Alexander von Humboldt
has not done full justice to Petrarch; and following in the steps of
the great reaper, we may still hope to glean a few ears of interest and

Petrarch was not only a distinguished geographer--the first map of
Italy is said to have been drawn by his direction--and not only a
reproducer of the sayings of the ancients, but felt himself the
influence of natural beauty. The enjoyment of nature is, for him, the
favorite accompaniment of intellectual pursuits; it was to combine the
two that he lived in learned retirement at Vaucluse and elsewhere, that
he from time to time fled from the world and from his age. We should do
him wrong by inferring from his weak and undeveloped power of
describing natural scenery that he did not feel it deeply. His picture,
for instance, of the lovely Gulf of Spezia and Porto Venere, which he
inserts at the end of the sixth book of the 'Africa,' for the reason
that none of the ancients or moderns had sung of it, is no more than a
simple enumeration, but Petrarch is also conscious of the beauty of
rock scenery, and is perfectly able to distinguish the picturesqueness
from the utility of nature. During his stay among the woods of Reggio,
the sudden sight of an impressive landscape so affected him that he
resumed a poem which he had long laid aside. But the deep- est
impression of all was made upon him by the ascent of Mont Ventoux, near
Avignon. An indefinable longing for a distant panorama grew stronger
and stronger in him, till at length the accidental sight of a passage
in Livy, where King Philip, the enemy of Rome, ascends the Haemus,
decided him. He thought that what was not blamed in a greyheaded
monarch, might well be _excused _in a young man of private station. The
ascent of a mountain for its own sake was unheard of, and there could
be no thought of the companionship of friends or acquaintances.
Petrarch took with him only his younger brother and two country people
from the last place where he halted. At the foot of the mountain an old
herdsman besought him to turn back, saying that he himself had
attempted to climb it fifty years before, and had brought home nothing
but repentance, broken bones, and torn clothes, and that neither before
nor after had anyone ventured to do the same. Nevertheless, they
struggled forward and upward, till the clouds lay beneath their feet,
and at last they reached the top. A description of the view from the
summit would be looked for in vain, not because the poet was insensible
to it, but, on the contrary, because the impression was too
overwhelming. His whole past life, with all its follies, rose before
his mind; he remembered that ten years ago that day he had quitted
Bologna a young man, and turned a longing gaze towards his native
country; he opened a book which then was his constant companion, the
'Confessions' of St. Augustine, and his eye fell on the passage in the
tenth chapter, 'and men go forth, and admire lofty mountains and broad
seas, and roaring torrents, and the ocean, and the course of the stars,
and forget their own selves while doing so.' His brother, to whom he
read these words, could not understand why he closed the book and said
no more.

Some decades later, about 1360, Fazio degli Uberti describes, in his
rhyming geography, the wide panorama from the mountains of Auvergne,
with the interest, it is true, of the geographer and antiquarian only,
but still showing clearly that he himself had seen it. He must,
however, have ascended far higher peaks, since he is familiar with
facts which only occur at a height of 10,000 feet or more above the
sea--mountain-sickness and its accompaniments--of which his imaginary
comrade Solinus tries to cure him with a sponge dipped in an essence.
The ascents of Parnassus and Olympus, of which he speaks, are perhaps
only fictions.

In the fifteenth century, the great masters of the Flemish school,
Hubert and Jan van Eyck, suddenly lifted the veil from nature. Their
landscapes are not merely the fruit of an endeavor to reflect the real
world in art, but have, even if expressed conventionally, a certain
poetical meaning--in short, a soul. Their influence on the whole art of
the West is undeniable, and extended to the landscape-painting of the
Italians, but without preventing the characteristic interest of the
Italian eye for nature from finding its own expression.

On this point, as in the scientific description of nature, Aeneas
Sylvius is again one of the most weighty voices of his time. Even if we
grant the justice of all that has been said against his character, we
must nevertheless admit that in few other men was the picture of the
age and its culture so fully reflected, and that few came nearer to the
normal type of the men of the early Renaissance. It may be added
parenthetically, that even in respect to his moral character he will
not be fairly judged, if we listen solely to the complaints of the
German Church, which his fickleness helped to balk of the Council it so
ardently desired.

He here claims our attention as the first who not only enjoyed the
magnificence of the Italian landscape, but described it with enthusiasm
down to its minutest details. The ecclesiastical State and the south of
Tuscany--his native home--he knew thoroughly, and after he became Pope
he spent his leisure during the favourable season chiefly in excursions
to the country. Then at last the gouty man was rich enough to have
himself carried in a litter across the mountains and valleys; and when
we compare his enjoyments with those of the Popes who succeeded him,
Pius, whose chief delight was in nature, antiquity, and simple, but
noble, architecture, appears almost a saint. In the elegant and flowing
Latin of his 'Commentaries' he freely tells us of his happiness.

His eye seems as keen and practiced as that of any modern observer. He
enjoys with rapture the panoramic splendor of the view from the summit
of the Alban Hills--from the Monte Cavo--whence he could see the shores
of St. Peter from Terracina and the promontory of Circe as far as Monte
Argentaro, and the wide expanse of country round about, with the ruined
cities of the past, and with the mountain-chains of Central Italy
beyond; and then his eye would turn to the green woods in the hollows
beneath and the mountain-lakes among them. He feels the beauty of the
position of Todi, crowning the vineyards and olive-clad slopes, looking
down upon distant woods and upon the valley of the Tiber, where towns
and castles rise above the winding river. The lovely hills about Siena,
with villas and monasteries on every height, are his own home, and his
descrip- tions of them are touched with a peculiar feeling. Single
picturesque glimpses charm him too, like the little promontory of Capo
di Monte that stretches out into the Lake of Bolsena. 'Rocky steps,' we
read, 'shaded by vines, descend to the water's edge, where the
evergreen oaks stand between the cliffs, alive with the song of
thrushes.' On the path round the Lake of Nemi, beneath the chestnuts
and fruit-trees, he feels that here, if anywhere, a poet's soul must
awake--here in the hiding-place of Diana! He often held consistories or
received ambassadors under huge old chestnut-trees, or beneath the
olives on the greensward by some gurgling spring. A view like that of a
narrowing gorge, with a bridge arched boldly over it, awakens at once
his artistic sense. Even the smallest details give him delight through
something beautiful, or perfect, or characteristic in them--the blue
fields of waving flax, the yellow gorse which covers the hills, even
tangled thickets, or single trees, or springs, which seem to him like
wonders of nature.

The height of his enthusiasm for natural beauty was reached during his
stay on Monte Amiata, in the summer of 1462, when plague and heat made
the lowlands uninhabitable. Half-way up the mountain, in the old
Lombard monastery of San Salvatore, he and his court took up their
quarters. There, between the chestnuts which clothe the steep
declivity, the eye may wander over all Southern Tuscany, with the
towers of Siena in the distance. The ascent of the highest peak he left
to his companions, who were joined by the Venetian envoy; they found at
the top two vast blocks of stone one upon the other--perhaps the
sacrificial altar of a prehistoric people--and fancied that in the far
distance they saw Corsica and Sardinia rising above the sea. In the
cool air of the hills, among the old oaks and chestnuts, on the green
meadows where there were no thorns to wound the feet, and no snakes or
insects to hurt or to annoy, the Pope passed days of unclouded
happiness. For the 'Segnatura,' which took place on certain days of the
week, he selected on each occasion some new shady retreat 'novos in
convallibus fontes et novas inveniens umbras, quae dubiam facerent
electionem.' At such times the dogs would perhaps start a great stag
from his lair, who, after defending himself a while with hoofs and
antlers, would fly at last up the mountain. In the evening the Pope was
accustomed to sit before the monastery on the spot from which the whole
valley of the Paglia was visible, holding lively conversations with the
cardinals. The courtiers, who ventured down from the heights on their
hunting expeditions, found the heat below intolerable, and the scorched
plains like a very hell, while the monastery, with its cool, shady
woods, seemed like an abode of the blessed.

All this is genuine modern enjoyment, not a reflection of antiquity. As
surely as the ancients themselves felt in the same manner, so surely,
nevertheless, were the scanty expressions of the writers whom Pius knew
insufficient to awaken in him such enthusiasm.

The second great age of Italian poetry, which now followed at the end
of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, as well
as the Latin poetry of the same period, is rich in proofs of the
powerful effect of nature on the human mind. The first glance at the
lyric poets of that time will suffice to convince us. Elaborate
descriptions of natural scenery, it is true, are very rare, for the
reason that, in this energetic age, poetry had something else to paint
nature vigorously, but no effort to appeal by their reader, which they
endeavor to reach solely by their narrative and characters. Letter-
writers and the authors of philosophical dialogues are, in fact, better
evidence of the growing love of nature than the poets. The novelist
Bandello, for example, observes rigorously the rules of his department
of literature; he gives us in his novels themselves not a word more
than is necessary on the natural scenery amid which the action of his
tales takes place, but in the dedications which always precede them we
meet with charming descriptions of nature as the setting for his
dialogues and social pictures. Among letter-writers, Aretino
unfortunately must be named as the first who has fully painted in words
the splendid effect of light and shadow in an Italian sunset.

We sometimes find the feeling of the poets, also, itself with
tenderness to graceful scenes of country Strozzi, about the year 1480,
describes in a Latin elegy the dwelling of his mistress. We are shown
an old ivy-clad house, half hidden in trees, and adorned with weather-
stained frescoes of the saints, and near it a chapel much damaged by
the violence of the River Po, which flowed hard by; not far off, the
priest ploughs his few barren roods with borrowed cattle. This is no
reminiscence of the Roman elegists, but true modern sentiment; and the
parallel to it--a sincere, unartificial description of country life in
general--will be found at the end of this part of our work.

It may be objected that the German painters at the beginning of the
sixteenth century succeeded in representing with perfect mastery these
scenes of country life, as, for instance, Albrecht Durer, in his
engraving of the Prodigal Son. But it is one thing if a painter,
brought up in a school of realism, introduces such scenes, and quite
another thing if a poet, accustomed to an ideal or mythological
framework, is driven by inward impulse into realism. Besides which,
priority in point of time is here, as in the descriptions of country
life, on the side of the Italian poets.

Discovery of Man

To the discovery of the outward world the Renaissance added a still
greater achievement, by first discerning and bringing to light the
full, whole nature of man. This period, as we have seen, first gave the
highest development to individuality, and then led the individual to
the most zealous and thorough study of himself in all forms and under
all conditions. Indeed, the development of personality is essentially
involved in the recognition of it in oneself and in others. Between
these two great processes our narrative has placed the influence of
ancient literature because the mode of conceiving and representing both
the individual and human nature in general was defined and colored by
that influence. But the power of conception and representation lay in
the age and in the people.

The facts which we shall quote in evidence of our thesis will be few in
number. Here, if anywhere in the course of this discussion, the author
is conscious that he is treading on the perilous ground of conjecture,
and that what seems to him a clear, if delicate and gradual, transition
in the intellectual movement of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
may not be equally plain to others. The gradual awakening of the soul
of a people is a phenomenon which may produce a different impression on
each spectator. Time will judge which impression is the most faithful.

Happily the study of the intellectual side of human nature began, not
with the search after a theoretical psychology--for that, Aristotle
still sufficed--but with the endeavor to observe and to describe. The
indispensable ballast of theory was limited to the popular doctrine of
the four temperaments, in its then habitual union with the belief in
the influence of the planets. Such conceptions may remain ineradicable
in the minds of individuals, without hindering the general progress of
the age. It certainly makes on us a singular impression, when we meet
them at a time when human nature in its deepest essence and in all its
characteristic expressions was not only known by exact observation, but
represented by an immortal poetry and art. It sounds almost ludicrous
when an otherwise competent observer considers Clement VII to be of a
melancholy temperament, but defers his judgement to that of the
physicians, who declare the Pope of a sanguine-choleric nature; or when
we read that the same Gaston de Foix, the victor of Ravenna, whom
Giorgione painted and Bambaia carved, and whom all the historians
describe, had the saturnine temperament. No doubt those who use these
expressions mean something by them; but the terms in which they tell us
their meaning are strangely out of date in the Italy of the sixteenth

As examples of the free delineation of the human spirit, we shall first
speak of the great poets of the fourteenth century.

If we were to collect the pearls from the courtly and knightly poetry
of all the countries of the West during the two preceding centuries, we
should have a mass of wonderful divinations and single pictures of the
inward life, which at first sight would seem to rival the poetry of the
Italians. Leaving lyrical poetry out of account, Godfrey of Strassburg
gives us, in 'Tristram and Isolt,' a representation of human passion,
some features of which are immortal. But these pearls lie scattered in
the ocean of artificial convention, and they are altogether something
very different from a complete objective picture of the inward man and
his spiritual wealth.

Italy, too, in the thirteenth century had, through the 'Trovatori,' its
share in the poetry of the courts and of chivalry. To them is mainly
due the 'Canzone,' whose construction is as difficult and artificial as
that of the songs of any northern minstrel. Their subject and mode of
thought represents simply the conventional tone of the courts, be the
poet a burgher or a scholar.

But two new paths at length showed themselves, along which Italian
poetry could advance to another and a characteristic future. They are
not the less important for being concerned only with the formal and
external side of the art.

To the same Brunetto Latini--the teacher of Dante--who, in his
'Canzoni,' adopts the customary manner of the 'Trovatori,' we owe the
first-known 'versi sciolti,' or blank hendecasyllabic verses, and in
his apparent absence of form, a true and genuine passion suddenly
showed itself. The same voluntary renunciation of outward effect,
through confidence in the power of the inward conception, can be
observed some years later in fresco-painting, and later still in
painting of all kinds, which began to cease to rely on color for its
effect, using simply a lighter or darker shade. For an age which laid
so much stress on artificial form in poetry, these verses of Brunetto
mark the beginning of a new epoch.84

About the same time, or even in the first half of the thirteenth
century, one of the many strictly balanced forms of mere, in which
Europe was then so fruitful, became a normal and recognized form in
Italy--the sonnet. The order of rhymes and even the number of lines
varied for a whole century, till Petrarch fixed them permanently. In
this form all higher lyrical and meditative subjects, and at a later
time subjects of every possible description, were treated, and the
madrigals, the sestine, and even the 'Canzoni' were reduced to a
subordinate place. Later Italian writers complain, half jestingly, half
resentfully, of this inevitable mould, this Procrustean bed, to which
they were compelled to make their thoughts and feelings fit. Others
were, and still are, quite satisfied with this particular form of
verse, which they freely use to express any personal reminiscence or
idle sing-song without necessity or serious purpose. For which reason
there are many more bad or insignificant sonnets than good ones.

Nevertheless, the sonnet must be held to have been an unspeakable
blessing for Italian poetry. The clearness and beauty of its structure,
the invitation it gave to elevate the thought in the second and more
rapidly moving half, and the ease with which it could be learned by
heart, made it valued even by the greatest masters. In fact, they would
not have kept it in use down to our own century had they not been
penetrated with a sense of its singular worth. These masters could have
given us the same thoughts in other and wholly different forms. But
when once they had made the sonnet the normal type of lyrical poetry,
many other writers of great, if not the highest, gifts, who otherwise
would have lost themselves in a sea of diffusiveness, were forced to
concentrate their feelings. The sonnet became for Italian literature a
condenser of thoughts and emotions such as was possessed by the poetry
of no other modern people.

Thus the world of Italian sentiment comes before us in a series of
pictures, clear, concise, and most effective in their brevity. Had
other nations possessed a form of expression of the same kind, we
should perhaps have known more of their inward life; we might have had
a number of pictures of inward and outward situations--reflexions of
the national character and temper--and should not be dependent for such
knowledge on the so-called lyrical poets of the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, who can hardly ever be read with any serious
enjoyment. In Italy we can trace an undoubted progress from the time
when the sonnet came into existence. In the second half of the
thirteenth century the 'Trovatori della transizione,' as they have been
recently named, mark the passage from the Troubadours to the poets--
that is, to those who wrote under the influence of antiquity. The
simplicity and strength of their feeling, the vigorous delineation of
fact, the precise expression and rounding off of their sonnets and
other poems, herald the coming of a Dante. Some political sonnets of
the Guelphs and Ghibellines (1260-1270) have about them the ring of his
passion, and others remind us of his sweetest lyrical notes.

Of his own theoretical view of the sonnet, we are unfortunately
ignorant, since the last books of his work, 'De vulgari eloquentia,' in
which he proposed to treat of ballads and sonnets, either remained
unwritten or have been lost. But, as a matter of fact, he has left us
in his Sonnets and 'Canzoni' a treasure of inward experience. And in
what a framework he has set them! The prose of the 'Vita Nuova,' in
which he gives an account of the origin of each poem, is as wonderful
as the verses themselves, and forms with them a uniform whole, inspired
with the deepest glow of passion. With unflinching frankness and
sincerity he lays bare every shade of his joy and his sorrow, and molds
it resolutely into the strictest forms of art. Reading attentively
these Sonnets and 'Canzoni' and the marvelous fragments of the diary of
his youth which lie between them, we fancy that throughout the Middle
Ages the poets have been purposely fleeing from themselves, and that he
was the first to seek his own soul. Before his time we meet with many
an artistic verse; but he is the first artist in the full sense of the
word--the first who consciously cast immortal matter into an immortal
form. Subjective feeling has here a full objective truth and greatness,
and most of it is so set forth that all ages and peoples can make it
their own. Where he writes in a thoroughly objective spirit, and lets
the force of his sentiment be guessed at only by some outward fact, as
in the magnificent sonnets 'Tanto gentile,' etc., and 'Vede
perfettamente,' etc., he seems to feel the need of excusing himself.
The most beautiful of these poems really belongs to this class-- the
'Deh peregrini che pensosi andate,' ('Oh, pilgrims, walking deep in
thoughts,' from Vita Nuova.) Even apart from the 'Divine Comedy,' Dante
would have marked by these youthful poems the boundary between
medievalism and modern times. The human spirit had taken a mighty step
towards the consciousness of its own secret life.

The revelations in this matter which are contained in the 'Divine
Comedy' itself are simply immeasurable; and it would be necessary to go
through the whole poem, one canto after another, in order to do justice
to its value from this point of view. Happily we have no need to do
this, as it has long been a daily food of all the countries of the
West. Its plan, and the ideas on which it is based, belong to the
Middle Ages, and appeal to our interest only historically; but it is
nevertheless the beginning of all modern poetry, through the power and
richness shown in the description of human nature in every shape and
attitude. From this time forward poetry may have experienced unequal
fortunes, and may show, for half a century together, a so-called
relapse. But its nobler and more vital principle was saved for ever;
and whenever in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and in the beginning of the
sixteenth centuries, an original mind devotes himself to it, he
represents a more advanced stage than any poet out of Italy, given--
what is certainly always easy to settle satisfactorily--an equality of
natural gifts to start with.

Here, as in other things in Italy, culture--to which poetry belongs--
precedes the visual arts and, in fact, gives them their chief impulse.
More than a century elapsed before the spiritual element in painting
and sculpture attained a power of expression in any way analogous to
that of the 'Divine Comedy.' How far the same rule holds good for the
artistic development of other nations, and of what importance the whole
question may be, does not concern us here. For Italian civilization it
is of decisive weight.

The position to be assigned to Petrarch in this respect must be settled
by the many readers of the poet. Those who come to him in the spirit of
a cross-examiner, and busy themselves in detecting the contradictions
between the poet and the man, his infidelities in love, and the other
weak sides of his character, may perhaps, after sufficient effort, end
by losing all taste for his poetry. In place, then, of artistic
enjoyment, we may acquire a knowledge of the man in his 'totality.'
What a pity that Petrarch's letters from Avignon contain so little
gossip to take hold of, and that the letters of his acquaintances and
of the friends of these acquaintances have either been lost or never
existed! Instead of Heaven being thanked when we are not forced to
inquire how and through what struggles a poet has rescued something
immortal from his own poor life and lot, a biography has been stitched
together for Petrarch out of these so-called 'remains,' which reads
like an indictment. But the poet may take comfort. If the printing and
editing of the correspondence of celebrated people goes on for another
half-century as it has begun in England and Germany, illustrious
company enough sitting with him on repentance.

Without shutting our eyes to much that is _. artificial in his poetry,
where the writer is merely imitating himself and singing on in the old
strain, we cannot fail to admire the marvelous abundance of pictures of
the inmost soul -- descriptions of moments of joy and sorrow which must
have been thoroughly his own, since no one before him gives us anything
of the kind, and on which his significance rests for his country and
for the world. His verse is not in all places equally transparent; by
the side of his most beautiful thoughts stands at times some
allegorical conceit or some sophistical trick of logic, altogether
foreign to our present taste. But the balance is on the side of

Boccaccio, too, in his imperfectly-known Sonnets, succeeds sometimes in
giving a most powerful and effective picture of his feeling. The return
to a spot consecrated by love (Son. 22), the melancholy of spring (Son.
33), the sadness of the poet who feels himself growing old (Son. 65),
are admirably treated by him. And in the 'Ameto' he has described the
ennobling and transfiguring power of love in a manner which would
hardly be expected from the author of the 'Decameron.' In the
'Fiammetta' we have another great and minutely-painted picture of the
human soul, full of the keenest observation, though executed with
anything but uniform power, and in parts marred by the passion for
high-sounding language and by an unlucky mixture of mythological
allusions and learned quotations. The 'Fiammetta,' if we are not
mistaken, is a sort of feminine counterpart to the 'Vita Nuova' of
Dante, or at any rate owes its origin to it.

That the ancient poets, particularly the elegists, and Virgil, in the
fourth book of the Aeneid, were not without influence on the Italians
of this and the following generation is beyond a doubt; but the spring
of sentiment within the latter was nevertheless powerful and original.
If we compare them in this respect with their contemporaries in other
countries, we shall find in them the earliest complete expression of
modern European feeling. The question, be it remembered, is not to know
whether eminent men of other nations did not feel as deeply and as
nobly, but who first gave documentary proof of the widest knowledge of
the movements of the human heart.

Why did the Italians of the Renaissance do nothing above the second
rank in tragedy? That was the field on which to display human
character, intellect, and passion, in the thousand forms of their
growth, their struggles, and their decline. In other words: why did
Italy produce no Shakespeare? For with the stage of other northern
countries besides England the Italians of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries had no reason to fear a comparison; and with the Spaniards
they could not enter into competition, since Italy had long lost all
traces of religious fanaticism, treated the chivalrous code of honour
only as a form, and was both too proud and too intelligent to bow down
before its tyrannical and illegitimate masters. We have therefore only
to consider the English stage in the period of its brief splendor.

It is an obvious reply that all Europe produced but one Shakespeare,
and that such a mind is the rarest of Heaven's gifts. It is further
possible that the Italian stage was on the way to something great when
the Counter-reformation broke in upon it, and, aided by the Spanish
rule over Naples and Milan, and indirectly over almost the whole
peninsula, withered the best flowers of the Italian spirit. It would be
hard to conceive of Shakespeare himself under a Spanish viceroy, or in
the neighbourhood of the Holy Inquisition at Rome, or in his own
country a few decades later, at the time o English Revolution. The
stage, which in its perfection is a product of every civilization, must
wait for its own time and fortune.

We must not, however, quit this subject without mentioning certain
circumstances which were of a character to hinder or retard a high
development of the drama in Italy, till the time for it had gone by.

As the most weighty of these causes we must mention without doubt that
the scenic tastes of the people were occupied elsewhere, and chiefly in
the mysteries and religious processions. Throughout all Europe dramatic
representations of sacred history and legend form the origin of the
secular drama; but Italy, as will be shown more fully in the sequel,
had spent on the mysteries such a wealth of decorative splendor as
could not but be unfavorable to the dramatic element. Out of all the
countless and costly representations, there sprang not even a branch of
poetry like the 'Autos Sagramentales' of Calderon and other Spanish
poets, much less any advantage or foundation for the secular drama.

And when the latter did at length appear, it at once gave itself up to
magnificence of scenic effects, to which the mysteries had already
accustomed the public taste to far too great an extent. We learn with
astonishment how rich and splendid the scenes in Italy were, at a time
when in the North the simplest indication of the place was thought
sufficient. This alone might have had no such unfavorable effect on the
drama, if the attention of the audience had not been drawn away from
the poetical conception of the play partly by the splendor of the
costumes, partly and chiefly by fantastic interludes (Intermezzi).

That in many places, particularly in Rome and Ferrara, Plautus and
Terence, as well as pieces by the old tragedians, were given in Latin
or in Italian, that the academies of which we have already spoken, made
this one of their chief objects, and that the poets of the Renaissance
followed these models too servilely, were all untoward conditions for
the Italian stage at the period in question. Yet I hold them to be of
secondary importance. Had not the Counter-reformation and the rule of
foreigners intervened, these very disadvantages might have been turned
into useful means of transition. At all events, by the year 1520 the
victory of the mother-tongue in tragedy and comedy was, to the great
disgust of the humanists, as good as won. On this side, then, no
obstacle stood in the way of the most developed people in Europe, to
hinder them from raising the drama, in its noblest forms, to be a true
reflection of human life and destiny. It was the Inquisitors and
Spaniards who cowed the Italian spirit, and rendered impossible the
representation of the greatest and most sublime themes, most of all
when they were associated with patriotic memories. At the same time,
there is no doubt that the distracting 'Intermezzi' did serious harm to
the drama. We must now consider them a little more closely.

When the marriage of Alfonso of Ferrara with Lucrezia Borgia was
celebrated, Duke Ercole in person showed his illustrious guests the 110
costumes which were to serve at the representation of five comedies of
Plautus, in order that all might see that not one of them was used
twice. But all this display of silk and camlet was nothing to the
ballets and pantomimes which served as interludes between the acts of
the Plautine dramas. That, in comparison, Plautus himself seemed
mortally dull to a lively young lady like Isabella Gonzaga, and that
while the play was going on everybody was longing for the interludes,
is quite intelligible, when we think of the picturesque brilliancy with
which they were put on the stage. There were to be seen combats of
Roman warriors, who brandished their weapons to the sound of music,
torch-dances executed by Moors, a dance of savages with horns of
plenty, out of which streamed waves of fire-- all as the ballet of a
pantomime in which a maiden was delivered from a dragon. Then came a
dance of fools, got up as Punches, beating one another with pigs'
bladders, with more of the same kind. At the Court of Ferrara they
never gave a comedy without 'its' ballet (Moresca). In what style the
'Amphitruo' of Plautus was there represented (1491) at the first
marriage of Alfonso with Anna Sforza), is doubtful. Possibly it was
given rather as a pantomime with music than as a drama. In any case,
the accessories were more considerable than the play itself. There was
a choral dance of ivy-clad youths, moving in intricate figures, done to
the music of a ringing orchestra; then came Apollo, striking the lyre
with the plectrum, and singing an ode to the praise of the House of
Este; then followed, as an interlude within an interlude, a kind of
rustic farce, after which the stage was again occupied by classical
mythology--Venus, Bacchus and their followers--and by a pantomime
representing the judgement of Paris.

Not till then was the second half of the fable of Amphitruo performed,
with unmistakable references to the future birth of a Hercules of the
House of Este. At a former representation of the same piece in the
courtyard of the palace (1487), 'a paradise with stars and other
wheels,' was constantly burning, by which is probably meant an
illumination with fireworks, that, no doubt, absorbed most of the
attention of the spectators. It was certainly better when such
performances were given separately, as was the case at other courts. We
shall have to speak of the entertainments given by the Cardinal Pietro
Riario, by the Bentivogli at Bologna, and by others, when we come to
treat of the festivals in general.

This scenic magnificence, now become universal, had a disastrous effect
on Italian tragedy. 'In Venice formerly,' writes Francesco Sansovino,
about 1570, 'besides comedies, tragedies by ancient and modern writers
were put on the stage with great pomp. The fame of the scenic
arrangements _(apparati) _brought spectators from far and near.
Nowadays, performances are given by private individuals in their own
houses, and the custom has long been fixed of passing the carnival in
comedies and other cheerful entertainments.' In other words, scenic
display had helped to kill tragedy.

The various starts or attempts of these modern tragedians, among which
the 'Sofonisba' of Trissino (1515) was the most celebrated, belong in
the history of literature. The same may be said of genteel comedy,
modelled on Plautus and Terence. Even Ariosto could do nothing of the
first order in this style. On the other hand, popular prose-comedy, as
treated by Machiavelli, Bibbiena, and Aretino, might have had a future,
if its matter had not condemned it to destruction. This was, on the one
hand, licentious to the last degree, and on the other, aimed at certain
classes in society, which, after the middle of the sixteenth century,
ceased to afford a ground for public attacks. If in the 'Sofonisba' the
portrayal of character gave place to brilliant declamation, the latter,
with its half-sister, caricature, was used far too freely in comedy

The writing of tragedies and comedies, and the practice of putting both
ancient and modern plays on the stage, continued without intermission;
but they served only as occasions for display. The national genius
turned elsewhere for living interest. When the opera and the pastoral
fable came up, these attempts were at length wholly abandoned.

One form of comedy only was and remained national--the unwritten,
improvised 'Commedia dell' Arte.' It was of no great service in the
delineation of character, since the masks used were few in number and
familiar to everybody. But the talent of the nation had such an
affinity for this style, that often in the middle of written comedies
the actors would throw themselves on their own inspiration, so that a
new mixed form of comedy came into existence in some places. The plays
given in Venice by Burchiello, and afterwards by the company of
Armonio, Val. Zuccato, Lod. Dolce, and others, were perhaps of this
character. Of Burchiello we know expressly that he used to heighten the
comic effect by mixing Greek and Slavonic words with the Venetian
dialect. A complete 'Commedia dell' Arte,' or very nearly so, was
represented by Angelo Beolco, known as 'Il Ruzzante' (1502-42), whose
customary masks were Paduan peasants, with the names Menato, Vezzo,
Billora, etc. He studied their dialect when spending the summer at the
villa of his patron Luigi Cornaro (Aloysius Cornelius) at Codevico.
Gradually all the famous local masks made their appearance, whose
remains still delight the Italian populace in our day: Pantalone, the
Doctor, Brighella, Pulcinella, Arlecchino, and the rest. Most of them
are of great antiquity, and possibly are historically connected with
the masks in the old Roman farces; but it was not till the sixteenth
century that several of them were combined in one piece. At the present
time this is less often the case; but every great city still keeps to
its local mask--Naples to the Pulcinella, Florence to the Stentorello,
Milan to its often so admirable Meneghino.

This is indeed scanty compensation for a people which possessed the
power, perhaps to a greater degree than any other, to reflect and
contemplate its own highest qualities in the mirror of the drama. But
this power was destined to be marred for centuries by hostile forces,
for whose predominance the Italians were only in part responsible. The
universal talent for dramatic representation could not indeed be
uprooted, and in music Italy long made good its claim to supremacy in
Europe. Those who can find in this world of sound a compensation for
the drama, to which all future was denied, have, at all events, no
meagre source of consolation.

But perhaps we can find in epic poetry what the stage fails to offer
us. Yet the chief reproach made against the heroic poetry of Italy is
precisely on the score of the insignificance and imperfect


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