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ITALIAN LITERATURE


external rather than the internal part is depicted. In this respect he is much inferior to Molière. But on the other hand he surpasses him in the liveliness of the dialogue, and in the facility with which he finds his dramatic situations. Goldoni wrote much, in fact too much (more than one hundred and fifty comedies), and had no time to correct, to polish, to perfect his works, which are all rough cast. But for a comedy of character we must go straight from Machiavelli’s Mandragora to him. Goldoni’s dramatic aptitude is curiously illustrated by the fact that he took nearly all his types from Venetian society, and yet managed to give them an inexhaustible variety. A good many of his comedies were written in Venetian dialect, and these are perhaps the best.

The ideas that were making their way in French society in the 18th century, and afterwards brought about the Revolution of 1789, gave a special direction to Italian literature of the second half of the 18th century. Love of ideal liberty, desire for equality, hatred of tyranny, created Patriotic literature and
return to classicism.
in Italy a literature which aimed at national objects, seeking to improve the condition of the country by freeing it from the double yoke of political and religious despotism. But all this was associated with another tendency. The Italians who aspired to a political redemption believed that it was inseparable from an intellectual revival, and it seemed to them that this could only be effected by a reunion with ancient classicism—in other words, by putting themselves in more direct communication with ancient Greek and Latin writers. This was a repetition of what had occurred in the first half of the 15th century. The 17th century might in fact be considered as a new Italian Middle Age without the hardness of that iron time, but corrupted, enervated, overrun by Spaniards and French, an age in which previous civilization was cancelled. A reaction was necessary against that period of history, and a construction on its ruins of a new country and a new civilization. There had already been forerunners of this movement; at the head of them the revered Parini. Now the work must be completed, and the necessary force must once more be sought for in the ancient literature of the two classic nations.

Patriotism and classicism then were the two principles that inspired the literature which began with Alfieri. He worshipped the Greek and Roman idea of popular liberty in arms against the tyrant. He took the subjects of his tragedies almost invariably from the history of these Alfieri (1749–
1803).
nations, made continual apostrophes against the despots, made his ancient characters talk like revolutionists of his time; he did not trouble himself with, nor think about, the truth of the characters; it was enough for him that his hero was Roman in name, that there was a tyrant to be killed, that liberty should triumph in the end. But even this did not satisfy Alfieri. Before his time and all about him there was the Arcadian school, with its foolish verbosity, its empty abundance of epithets, its nauseous pastoralizing on subjects of no civil importance. It was necessary to arm the patriotic muse also against all this. If the Arcadians, not excluding the hated Metastasio, diluted their poetry with languishing tenderness, if they poured themselves out in so many words, if they made such set phrases, it behoved the others to do just the contrary—to be brief, concise, strong, bitter, to aim at the sublime as opposed to the lowly and pastoral. Having said this, we have told the good and evil of Alfieri. He desired a political reform by means of letters; he saved literature from Arcadian vacuities, leading it towards a national end; he armed himself with patriotism and classicism in order to drive the profaners out of the temple of art. But in substance he was rather a patriot than an artist. In any case the results of the new literary movement were copious.

Ugo Foscolo was an eager patriot, who carried into life the heat of the most unbridled passion, and into his art a rather rhetorical manner, but always one inspired by classical models. The Lettere di Jacopo Ortis, inspired by Goethe’s Werther, are a love story with a mixture of patriotism; they Foscolo. contain a violent protest against the treaty of Campo Formio, and an outburst from Foscolo’s own heart about an unhappy love-affair of his. His passions were sudden and violent; they came to an end as abruptly as they began; they were whirlwinds that were over in a quarter of an hour. To one of these passions Ortis owed its origin, and it is perhaps the best, the most sincere, of all his writings. Even in it he is sometimes pompous and rhetorical, but much less so than he is, for example, in the lectures Dell’ origine e dell’ ufficio della letteratura. On the whole, Foscolo’s prose is turgid and affected, and reflects the character of the man who always tried to pose, even before himself, in dramatic attitudes. This was indeed the defect of the Napoleonic epoch; there was a horror of anything common, simple, natural; everything must be after the model of the hero who made all the world gaze with wonder at him; everything must assume some heroic shape. In Foscolo this tendency was excessive; and it not seldom happened that, in wishing to play the hero, the exceptional man, the little Napoleon of ladies’ drawing-rooms, he became false and bad, false in his art, bad in his life. The Sepolcri, which is his best poem, was prompted by high feeling, and the mastery of versification shows wonderful art. Perhaps it is to this mastery more than to anything else that the admiration the Sepolcri excites is due. There are most obscure passages in it, as to the meaning of which it would seem as if even the author himself had not formed a clear idea. He left incomplete three hymns to the Graces, in which he sang of beauty as the source of courtesy, of all high qualities and of happiness. Here again what most excites our admiration is the harmonious and easy versification. Among his prose works a high place belongs to his translation of the Sentimental Journey of Sterne, a writer by whom one can easily understand how Foscolo should have been deeply affected. He went as an exile to England, and died there. He wrote for English readers some Essays on Petrarch and on the texts of the Decamerone and of Dante, which are remarkable for the time at which they were written, and which may be said to have initiated a new kind of literary criticism in Italy. Foscolo is still greatly admired, and not without reason. His writings stimulate the love of fatherland, and the men that made the revolution of 1848 were largely brought up on them.

If in Foscolo patriotism and classicism were united, and formed almost one passion, so much cannot be said of Vincenzo Monti, in whom the artist was absolutely predominant. Yet Monti was a patriot too, but in his own way. He had no one deep feeling that ruled him, or rather the mobility Monti. of his feelings is his characteristic; but each of these was a new form of patriotism, that took the place of an old one. He saw danger to his country in the French Revolution, and wrote the Pellegrino apostolico, the Bassvilliana and the Feroniade; Napoleon’s victories caused him to write the Prometeo and the Musagonia; in his Fanatismo and his Superstizione he attacked the papacy; afterwards he sang the praises of the Austrians. Thus every great event made him change his mind, with a readiness which might seem incredible, but is yet most easily explained. Monti was above everything an artist; art was his real, his only passion; everything else in him was liable to change, that alone was persistent. Fancy was his tyrant, and under its rule he had no time to reason and to see the miserable aspect of his political tergiversation. It was an overbearing deity that moved him, and at its dictation he wrote. Pius VI., Napoleon, Francis II., were to him but passing shadows, to which he hardly gives the attention of an hour; that which endures, which is eternal to him, is art alone. It were unjust to accuse Monti of baseness. If we say that nature in giving him one only faculty had made the poet rich and the man poor, we shall speak the truth. But the poet was indeed rich. Knowing little Greek, he succeeded in making a translation of the Iliad which is remarkable for its Homeric feeling, and in his Bassvilliana he is on a level with Dante. In fine, in him classical poetry seemed to revive in all its florid grandeur.

Monti was born in 1754, Foscolo in 1778; four years later still was born another poet of the same school, Giambattista Niccolini. In literature he was a classicist; in politics he was a Ghibelline, a rare exception in Guelph Florence, his