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culated freely throughout Italy, and, from the period of the invention of the art of printing, until the council of Trent, which proscribed it, in the middle of the sixteenth century. At the solicitation of the grand duke of Tuscany, and after two singular negotiations between this sovereign and the popes Pius V. and Sixtus V. the Decameron, corrected and revised, was printed in 1573, and 1582. t
The fifteenth century, so poor in Italian literature, was still a highly literary age; it was in this more, perhaps, than in any other, that the ardour for study was the most general; when it was the most powerfully seconded by princes and people; when it procured for those who devoted themselves to it, the most celebrity;and when the monuments of ancient languages, multiplied by the art of printing then discovered, had the strongest and most durable influence on the whole human race. All sovereigns, at this brilliant epoch, gloried in the protection which they accorded to literature, often in the classic educations which they had themselves received, and in their profound knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages. The popes, who, in preceding times, had directed all the power of superstition against learning, were, on the contrary, in the fifteenth century, the friends, the zealous patrons, and magnificent remunerators of men of letters. Two of them were, themselves, literati of high distinction. Thomas de Sarzane, afterwards Nicholas V. (1447, to 1455,) and AEneas Sylvius, since, Pius II. (1458, to 1464) who, after gaining great names in the literary world
for their immense erudition, were
raised, in consequence of this very merit, to the chair of St. Peter. The dukes of Milan, the men whom political history represents as the perturbators and tyrants of Lombardy, Philip-Maria, the last of the Visconti, and Francis Sforza, the founder of a warlike monarchy, were, in their capitals, surrounded with the most distinguished savans, to whom they gave the most generous recompenses, and confidential employments. The discovery of a classic manuscript, was to them, as it was to their subjects, an occasion of rejoicing; and they were as deeply interested in questions of antiquity, and the quarrels of philologists, as they were in affairs of State. Two less powerful sovereign families, the marquis of Gonzaga at Mantua, and the marquis of Este at Ferrara, endeavoured to supply the want of power, by the active zeal and constant protection which they allotted to literature; they sought after and invited the learned from one end of Italy to the other; they disputed the possession of them by the offer of the richest recompenses, and the most flattering distinctions; they entrusted them exclusively with the education of their children, and we might perhaps, seek in vain for men, in our most learned academies, who wrote Greek verse with as much purity and elegance, as several of the princes of Mantua and Ferrara. At Florence, a rich merchant, Cosmo de Medici, who shook the constitution of the state, and whose children were soon to establish in their country, the power of an individual, in lieu of that of the people; in the midst of the vast projects of his ambition and policy, master of all the monetary credit of Europe, and the equal of
kings with whom he negotiated, gave, in his own house, an asylum to all the learned, and to every artist; converted his gardens into an academy, and produced a revolution in philosophy, by substituting the authority of Plato for that of Aristotle. At the same time, his counting houses, spread over the whole of Europe and the Mussulman States, were consecrated as well to letters as to commerce; his clerks collected manuscripts, and sold spices: the vessels which came to him, from Constantinople, Alexandria, Smyrna, and filled the ports of Italy, were loaded with rich harvests of Greek, Syriac, and Chaldean manuscripts. Cosmo de Medici opened public libraries at the same time at Venice and Florence. In the south of Italy, an Arragonese king, Alphonso V. rivalled the kings of the North, and the princes of Italian extraction, in his love of the sciences. His secretaries, his friends and counsellors, were men whose names will ever remain illustrious in the republic of letters, and his reign is intimately connected with the literary history of all Italy. After the year 1470, the academies of literature and some poets of Rome, undertook, for the more complete revival of the ancients, to represent in the original some of the comedies of Plautus; this example was soon followed. The taste for the theatre was renewed with a vivacity proportioned to the view taken of it, as an essential part of classic antiquity; they had not yet thought of sup: porting it by the contributions of the spectators; and it was, as at Rome and in Greece, a part of the public, often of religious festivals. The sovereigns, who, at this epoch, made it their glory to protect literature and arts, struggled
to eclipse each other, in erecting on solemn occasions, theatres, to be used but for one representation; men of letters, and the grandees of the court, contended for the characters of the piece to be played, which was sometimes translated from the Greek or Latin, and sometimes composed by a modern poet in imitation of the ancient masters. Italy was elated, when it could boast of two theatrical representations in the same year, one at Ferrara or Milan, the other at Rome or Naples. All the neighbouring princes eagerly repaired to these places with their courts. The magnificence of the representation, the enormous expense which it occasioned, and gratitude for a gratuitous pleasure, prevented the public from being severe in its criticisms. The chronicles of each city, in recording these representations, speak only of the universal applause which they excited.
The first merit of Tasso is, his having chosen the finest subject possible, to inflame the genius of a modern poet. There exists in history but one solitary example of a great struggle between the nations who were to carry the human species to the highest point of civilization, and those who were to reduce it to the most degrading servitude. This example is furnished by the crusades. At the moment when the Latins embarked in them, the Arabs were still greatly superior in literature, in the arts, and even in virtue, to the crusaders who came to attack them; but they had passed the meridian of their glory; the vices of their religion and government, with the barbarism of the Turks, were rapidly propelling them to their present wretched condition. The crusaders, however, in spite of their ferocity, ignorance, and superstition, had in them the germ of great things. The influence of thought and sentiment was soon to develope this disposition, which manifested itself first among the Latins in the eleventh century, and which has rendered Europe superior to the rest of the world. If the crusaders had been conquerors in the bloody contest with the Orientals, Asia would have received our laws, morals, and habits, she would have been at this moment, populous, flourishing, inhabited by a happy and free people. The arts, of which she is the proper soil, would have reached that high degree of perfection in which they were known to the Greeks, and in which they have been found in brilliant Seleucia, in happy Antioch. Millions of cultivators would have been still fertilizing the banks of the Jordan; and the lofty walls of Jerusalem would not have stood insulated, in the midst of the sands of the desert and of barren rocks. The fruitful plains of Syria, the delicious valleys of Libanus, would have been at once, the abode of peace and felicity, and the theatre of the most brilliant achievements. The proud and abject Turk, the ferocious Druse, or the savage Bedouin, would not have oppressed the wretched descendants of the most ancient people of the earth. But, if, on the contrary, the Mussulmen had succeeded in their projects of conquest, if the invasion of Europe, commenced at the same moment from the Levant, the East and the South, had been accomplished, the human mind would have been crushed by the hand of despotism;-none of the qualities which distinguish the European, would have been un
folded; he would have been cowardly, ignorant, and perfidious, like the Greek, the Syrian, and the Fellah of Egypt; and, his country, little favoured by nature, would have been hidden under gloomy forests, or inundated by marshy rivers, like the remote parts of Romania. The contest terminated without victory for either power; the Mussulmen and the Franks are still before us, to furnish examples to each other, and that the latter may know, after the lapse of seven centuries, the immense obligation they owe to the valour of their forefathers.
The birth of the opera, is, perhaps the only literary event of Italy, which has secured any glory to the seventeenth century. The lustre of the art of painting, and that of literature, expired together. Michael Angelo was the cotemporary of Ariosto; his pupils and successors flourished with Tasso; but genius ceased at the same moment to express itself in verse and by the pencil. The grand improvement of music was posterior to that of the other fine arts; and it seems, as if the natural hardihood of genius had retreated to this asylum, in which it was secure from danger; and, as if those who felt within them a creative power, had abandoned themselves to that harmony which gives elasticity to the soul, and in which they do not encounter the various obstacles thrown in the way of the other arts. The Italians were no less admirably organized for music, than for poetry and painting; an exquisite delicacy of sense made, and still makes them, distinguish without study or preparation, the beautiful' and the chaste in the arts. The
most skilful composers submit with diffidence, the music of their new operas to the judgment of the lazzaroni of Naples; and the simultaneous movement of those pointed caps, with which the pit of St. Charles is filled, indicates, at the first trial, whether the new music will succeed or fail. A fine voice, united to a good manner of singing, is the only thing which now rouses the Italians from their apathy. I have seen their houses surrounded by the people of the streets, endeavouring to catch the notes of a concert of amateurs, in which a female of talents was singing. The progress of music happening at a time when poetry was on the decline, the former made use of the latter as mere ornament, it subdued it, made it submit to its convenience; and its advancement was in proportion, as well to the importance it had acquired, as to the aid which it received from the other arts.
The creation of the theatre of Alfieri, is a phenomenon that strikes us with astonishment. Until his time, the Italians were inferior in the dramatic art to all the nations of Europe. Alfieri has placed himself on a level with the French tragic writers, and above all others. He has united together the peculiar characteristics of the French, Grecian, and English theatres; from the first he has taken its studied beauty, its unity, its purity of design, and its probability,+from the second, its sublimity of incident and character, —from the last, its profoundness of thought and feeling. He has extricated tragedy from the saloons of the palace, to which it was too much confined by the habits of the court of Louis XIV.
and has transported it to the public square, into the councils of state; he has attached to the most sublime of poetical productions, the most weighty public interests; he has destroyed those conventional forms, which substituted a ridiculous affectation, to the grandeur of nature, the gallantry inherited from the ancient French. romances, which exhibited the heroes of Greece and IRome in fantastical masquerade,-that melting softness—that pastoral languor, which, since the time of Guarini, produced the great men on the Italian stage with effeminate manners and sentiments, he has also destroyed that chivalric boasting, that rhodomontade, which in the Spanish theatre made life consist in the observance of punctilios of honour, and disguised great men in the strut of bravoes, ever ready to murder each other. Romantic gallantry, pastoral softness, and chivalric susceptibility, seemed to him, masks put on nature, under which true sentiment and passion were concealed from view. He tore them away, to produce man on the stage in his real greatness, and intent on his true interests. If, in this new mode of conceiving tragedy he has sometimes gone astray, if he has abandoned himself to a certain headlong violence peculiar to his character, he has still done quite enough to merit our admiration; and the poets, his successors, who have profited by all that was great in his manner, without falling into the errors peculiar to his genius, have shown us the progress which he alone caused the Italian stage to make, and the great obligations which the dramatic art owes him. The publication of the four first tragedies of Alfieri was, perhaps, the greatest literary event that
occurred during the eighteenth century. Until then, the nation, content with its languishing love intrigues and effeminate dramas, considered the laws of the theatre as sufficiently elucidated, and its boundaries as fixed where her tragic writers had stopped short: the ennui which all these representations, still seen, but no longer listened to, caused, the Italians ascribed to the want of talent in the poet, rather than to the false idea which they had formed of tragedy. The appearance of four master-pieces of a character so novel, so grand, and so austere, immediately brought every mind back to the study of the essence itself of the art. Alfieri undertook the task of breaking the shameful yoke under which thought was humbled in Italy. All those, whose elevated souls were shocked at the humiliation of their country, felt themselves united to him by a noble sympathy, and the taste for higher o was identified with the love of glory and of liberty. The theatre, which had so long been a school of amorous intrigue, of languor, of effeminacy, and abject sentiment, was now, on the contrary, considered by the most virtuous Italians, the only one where their compatriots could resume the warmth of feeling, the true sentiment of honour, and the culture of public virtues. Critics dared henceforth direct, with a noble pride, their attention to the theatres of other nations, whose superiority had so long humiliated them. Divided in opinion about the laws and the essence of the drama, all were seen to unite in applauding the elevation, the dignity, and the energy of the sentiments of Alfieri; and opinions, which had until then, been most carefully exiled from Italy, now burst forth like a public voice
long stifled. Even in the more confined range of criticism, we might be astonished at the profoundness and variety of knowledge manifested at this epoch, by men, whose talents were hitherto unknown, and whose influence on the national mind would have been null, if a great genius had not opened the road to them. Thus, we find in a letter of Renier of Calsabigi to count Alfieri, a knowledge of the ancient, the French, and the English theatres, with their peculiar faults, which no one would have expected from a Neapolitan.
We have endeavoured, by means of extracts and fragments of translations, to make known the poets, who, during five centuries, have rendered the Italian language illustrious, or rather, to awaken curiosity with regard to them, and to engage our readers, themselves to study them. Italy however, possesses still another class of Poets, whose fugitive talent leaves no monument behind it; but which, in return, causes, perhaps, in the first moment, an enjoyment so much the more vivid. We should have given but a very imperfect idea of Italian poetry, if we did not say some few words on the composers of extempore verse, (Improvisatori). Their talent, their inspiration, the enthusiasm which they excite, are features characteristic of the nation. It is in them that we particularly see how completely poetry is the language of the soul and imagination; how ideas assume the form of harmony from their very birth; how the music of language, and the colouring of description, are so connected with feeling, that the poet has in verse a genius which he would not have in prose,