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ITALIAN LITERATURE


birthplace. In translating or, if the expression is preferred,Niccolini. imitating Aeschylus, as well as in writing the Discorsi sulla tragedia greca, and on the Sublime e Michelangelo, Niccolini displayed his passionate devotion to ancient literature. In his tragedies he set himself free from the excessive rigidity of Alfieri, and partly approached the English and German tragic authors. He nearly always chose political subjects, striving to keep alive in his compatriots the love of liberty. Such are Nabucco, Antonio Foscarini, Giovanni da Procida, Lodovico il Moro, &c. He assailed papal Rome in Arnaldo da Brescia, a long tragic piece, not suited for acting, and epic rather than dramatic. Niccolini’s tragedies show a rich lyric vein rather than dramatic genius. At any rate he has the merit of having vindicated liberal ideas, and of having opened a new path to Italian tragedy.

The literary period we are dealing with had three writers who are examples of the direction taken by historical study. It seems strange that, after the learned school begun by Muratori, there should have been a backward movement here, but it is clear that this retrogression was due to the Historians. influence of classicism and patriotism, which, if they revived poetry, could not but spoil history. Carlo Botta, born in 1766, was a spectator of French spoliation in Italy and of the overbearing rule of Napoleon. Hence, excited by indignation, he wrote a History of Italy from 1789 to 1814; and later on he continued Guicciardini’s History up to 1789. He wrote after the manner of the Latin authors, trying to imitate Livy, putting together long and sonorous periods in a style that aimed at being like Boccaccio’s, caring little about that which constitutes the critical material of history, only intent on declaiming his academic prose for his country’s benefit. Botta wanted to be classical in a style that could no longer be so, and hence he failed completely to attain his literary goal. His fame is only that of a man of a noble and patriotic heart. Not so bad as the two histories of Italy is that of the Guerra dell’ indipendenza americana.

Close to Botta comes Pietro Colletta, a Neapolitan born nine years after him. He also in his Storia del reame di Napoli dal 1734 al 1825 had the idea of defending the independence and liberty of Italy in a style borrowed from Tacitus; and he succeeded rather better than Botta. He has a rapid, brief, nervous style, which makes his book attractive reading. But it is said that Pietro Giordani and Gino Capponi corrected it for him. Lazzaro Papi of Lucca, author of the Commentari della rivoluzione francese dal 1789 al 1814, was not altogether unlike Botta and Colletta. He also was an historian in the classical style, and treats his subject with patriotic feeling; but as an artist he perhaps excels the other two.

At first sight it seems unnatural that, whilst the most burning political passions were raging, and whilst the most brilliant men of genius in the new classical and patriotic school were at the height of their influence, a question should have arisen about “purism” of language. Yet the The Purists. phenomenon can be easily accounted for. Purism is another form of classicism and patriotism. In the second half of the 18th century the Italian language was specially full of French expressions. There was great indifference about fitness, still more about elegance of style. Prose then was to be restored for the sake of national dignity, and it was believed that this could not be done except by going back to the writers of the 14th century, to the “aurei trecentisti,” as they were called, or else to the classics of Italian literature. One of the promoters of the new school was Antonio Cesari of Verona, who republished ancient authors, and brought out a new edition, with additions, of the Vocabolario della Crusca. He wrote a dissertation Sopra lo stato presente della lingua italiana, and endeavoured to establish the supremacy of Tuscan and of the three great writers Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio. And in accordance with that principle he wrote several books, taking pains to copy the “trecentisti” as closely as possible. But patriotism in Italy has always had something municipal in it; so to this Tuscan supremacy, proclaimed and upheld by Cesari, there was opposed a Lombard school, which would know nothing of Tuscan, and with Dante’s De vulgari eloquio returned to the idea of the “lingua illustre.” This was an old question, largely and bitterly argued in the Cinquecento (16th century) by Varchi, Muzio, Castelvetro, Speroni and others. Now the question came up again quite fresh, as if no one had ever discussed it before. At the head of the Lombard school were Monti and his son-in-law Count Giulio Perticari. This gave Monti an occasion to write Proposta di alcune correzioni ed aggiunte al vocabolario della Crusca, in which he attacked the Tuscanism of the Crusca, but in a graceful and easy style, such in fact as to form a prose that is one of the most beautiful in Italian literature. Perticari on the other hand, with a very inferior intellect, narrowed and exasperated the question in two treatises, Degli scrittori del Trecento and Dell’ amor patrio di Dante, in which, often disguising or altering the facts, he only makes confusion where there was none. Meantime, however, the impulse was given. The dispute about language took its place beside literary and political disputes, and all Italy took part in it—Basilio Puoti at Naples, Paolo Costa in the Romagna, Marc’ Antonio Parenti at Modena, Salvatore Betti at Rome, Giovanni Gherardini in Lombardy, Luigi Fornaciari at Lucca, Vincenzo Nannucci at Florence.

A patriot, a classicist and a purist all at once was Pietro Giordani, born in 1774; he was almost a compendium of the literary movement of the time. His whole life was a battle fought for liberty. Most learned in Greek and Latin authors, and in the Italian trecentisti, he only leftGiordani. a few writings behind him, but they were carefully elaborated in point of style, and his prose was in his time considered wonderful. Now it is looked on as too majestic, too much laboured in phrases and conceits, too far from nature, too artificial. Giordani closes the literary epoch of the classicists.

7. Nineteenth Century and After.—At this point the contemporary period of literature begins. It has been said that the first impulse was given to it by the romantic school, which had as its organ the Conciliatore established in 1818 at Milan, and on the staff of which were Silvio Pellico, Manzoni. Lodovico di Breme, Giovile Scalvini, Tommaso Grossi, Giovanni Berchet, Samuele Biava and lastly Alessandro Manzoni. It need not be denied that all these men were influenced by the ideas that, especially in Germany, at the beginning of the 19th century constituted the movement called Romanticism. Nevertheless, in Italy the course of literary reform took another direction. There is no doubt that the real head of the reform, or at least its most distinguished man, was Alessandro Manzoni. He formulated in a letter of his the objects of the new school, saying that it aspired to try and discover and express “il vero storico” and “il vero morale,” not only as an end, but as the widest and eternal source of the beautiful. And it is precisely realism in art that characterizes Italian literature from Manzoni onwards. The Promessi Sposi is the one of his works that has made him immortal. No doubt the idea of the historical novel came to him from Sir Walter Scott, but he succeeded in something more than an historical novel in the narrow meaning of that word; he created an eminently realistic work of art. The romance disappears; no one cares for the plot, which moreover is of very little consequence. The attention is entirely fixed on the powerful objective creation of the characters. From the greatest to the least they have a wonderful verisimilitude; they are living persons standing before us, not with the qualities of one time more than another, but with the human qualities of all time. Manzoni is able to unfold a character in all particulars, to display it in all its aspects, to follow it through its different phases. He is able also to seize one moment, and from that moment to make us guess all the rest. Don Abbondio and Renzo are as perfect as Azzeccagarbugli and Il Sarto. Manzoni dives down into the innermost recesses of the human heart, and draws thence the most subtle psychological reality. In this his greatness lies, which was recognized first by his companion in genius, Goethe. As a poet too he had gleams of genius, especially in the Napoleonic ode, Il Cinque Maggio, and where he describes human affections, as in some stanzas of the Inni and in the chorus of the Adelchi. But it is on the Promessi Sposi alone that his fame now rests.