Tassoni, a man really quite exceptional in this century, was superior to Rosa. He showed independent judgment in the midst of universal servility, and his Secchia Rapita proved that he was an eminent writer. This is an heroic comic poem, which is at the same time an epic and a personal satire. He was bold enough to attack the Spaniards in his Filippiche, in which he urged Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy to persist in the war against them.
6. The Revival in the 18th Century.—Having for the most part freed itself from the Spanish dominion in the 18th century, the political condition of Italy began to improve. Promoters of this improvement, which was shown in many civil reforms, were Joseph II., Leopold I. and Charles I. New Political conditions. The work of these princes was copied from the philosophers, who in their turn felt the influence of a general movement of ideas, which was quietly working in many parts of Europe, and which came to a head in the French encyclopedists.
Giambattista Vico was a token of the awakening of historical consciousness in Italy. In his Scienza nuova he applied himself to the investigation of the laws governing the progress of the human race, and according to which events are developed. From the Historical works. psychological study of man he endeavoured to infer the “comune natura delle nazioni,” i.e. the universal laws of history, or the laws by which civilizations rise, flourish and fall.
From the same scientific spirit which animated the philosophical investigation of Vico, there was born a different kind of investigation, that of the sources of Italian civil and literary history. Lodovico Antonio Muratori, after having collected in one entire body (Rerum Italicarum scriptores) the chronicles, the biographies, the letters and the diaries of Italian history from 500 to 1500, after having discussed the most obscure historical questions in the Antiquitates Italicae medii aevi, wrote the Annali d’ Italia, minutely narrating facts derived from authentic sources. Muratori’s associates in his historical researches were Scipione Maffei of Verona and Apostolo Zeno of Venice. In his Verona illustrata the former left, not only a treasure of learning, but an excellent specimen of historical monograph. The latter added much to the erudition of literary history, both in his Dissertazioni Vossiane and in his notes to the Biblioteca dell’ eloquenza italiana of Monsignore Giusto Fontanini. Girolamo Tiraboschi and Count Giovanni Maria Mazzuchelli of Brescia devoted themselves to literary history.
While the new spirit of the times led men to the investigation of historical sources, it also led them to inquire into the mechanism of economical and social laws. Francesco Galiani wrote on currency; Gaetano Filangieri wrote a Scienza della legislazione. Social science. Cesare Beccaria, in his treatise Dei delitti e delle pene, made a contribution to the reform of the penal system and promoted the abolition of torture.
The man in whom above all others the literary revival of the 18th century was most conspicuously embodied was Giuseppe Parini. He was born in a Lombard village in 1729, was mostly educated at Milan, and as a youth was known among the Arcadian poets by the name of Darisbo Elidonio. Even as an Arcadian, however, Parini showed signs of departing Satire: Parini. from the common type. In a collection of poems that he published at twenty-three years of age, under the name of Ripano Eupilino, there are some pastoral sonnets in which the poet shows that he had the faculty of taking his scenes from real life, and also some satirical pieces in which he exhibits a spirit of somewhat rude opposition to his own times. These poems are perhaps based on reminiscences of Berni, but at any rate they indicate a resolute determination to assail boldly all the literary conventionalities that surrounded the author. This, however, was only the beginning of the battle. Parini lived in times of great social prostration. The nobles and the rich, all given up to ease and to silly gallantry, consumed their lives in ridiculous trifles or in shameless self-indulgence, wasting themselves on immoral “Cicisbeismo,” and offering the most miserable spectacle of feebleness of mind and character. It was against this social condition that Parini’s muse was directed. Already, improving on the poems of his youth, he had proved himself an innovator in his lyrics, rejecting at once Petrarchism, Secentismo and Arcadia, the three maladies that had weakened Italian art in the centuries preceding his own, and choosing subjects taken from real life, such as might help in the instruction of his contemporaries. In the Odi the satirical note is already heard. But it came out more strongly in the poem Del giorno, in which he imagines himself to be teaching a young Milanese patrician all the habits and ways of gallant life; he shows up all its ridiculous frivolities, and with delicate irony unmasks the futilities of aristocratic habits. Dividing the day into four parts, the Mattino, the Mezzogiorno, the Vespero, the Notte, by means of each of these he describes the trifles of which they were made up, and the book thus assumes a social and historical value of the highest importance. Parini, satirizing his time, fell back upon truth, and finally made art serve the purpose of civil morality. As an artist, going straight back to classical forms, aspiring to imitate Virgil and Dante, he opened the way to the fine school that we shall soon see rise, that of Alfieri, Foscolo and Monti. As a work of art, the Giorno is wonderful for the Socratic skill with which that delicate irony is constantly kept up by which he seems to praise what he effectually blames. The verse has new harmonies; sometimes it is a little hard and broken, not by accident, but as a protest against the Arcadian monotony. Generally it flows majestically, but without that Frugonian droning that deafens the ears and leaves the heart cold.
Gasparo Gozzi’s satire was less elevated, but directed towards the same end as Parini’s. In his Osservatore, something like Addison’s Spectator, in his Gazzetta veneta, in the Mondo morale, by means of allegories and novelties he hit the vices with a delicate touch, and inculcated a Gozzi; Baretti. practical moral with much good sense. Gozzi’s satire has some slight resemblance in style to Lucian’s. It is smooth and light, but withal it does not go less straight to its aim, which is to point out the defects of society and to correct them. Gozzi’s prose is very graceful and lively. It only errs by its overweening affectation of imitating the writers of the 14th century. Another satirical writer of the first half of the 18th century was Giuseppe Baretti of Turin. In a journal called the Frusta letteraria he took to lashing without mercy the works which were then being published in Italy. He had learnt much by travelling; and especially his long stay in England had contributed to give an independent character to his mind, and made him judge of men and things with much good sense. It is true that his judgments are not always right, but the Frusta letteraria was the first book of independent criticism directed particularly against the Arcadians and the pedants.
Everything tended to improvement, and the character of the reform was to throw off the conventional, the false, the artificial, and to return to truth. The drama felt this influence of the times. Apostolo Zeno and Metastasio (the Arcadian name for Pietro Trapassi, a native of Rome) had endeavoured to make “melodrama and reason compatible.” The latter in particular succeeded in giving fresh expression to the affections, a natural Dramatic reform. turn to the dialogue and some interest to the plot; and if he had not fallen into constant unnatural over-refinement and unseasonable mawkishness, and into frequent anachronisms, he might have been considered as the first dramatic reformer of the 18th century. That honour belongs to Carlo Goldoni, a Venetian. He found comedy either entirely devoted to classical imitation or given up to extravagance, to coups de théâtre, to the most boisterous succession of unlikely situations, or else treated by comic actors who recited impromptu on a given subject, of which they followed the outline. In this old popular form of comedy, with the masks of pantaloon, of the doctor, of harlequin, of Brighella, &c., Goldoni found the strongest obstacles to his reform. But at last he conquered, creating the comedy of character. No doubt Molière’s example helped him in this. Goldoni’s characters are always true, but often a little superficial. He studied nature, but he did not plunge into psychological depths. In most of his creations, the