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Alfred von Reumont, which comprises the period from the election of Pope Martin V. to the death of Pope Alexander VI., 1417-1503. Von Reumont writes as an accomplished scholar, and views his subject in varied lights. He treats of the political and Church history of Rome, of its economic history, of its literary and artistic history. It is with his very interesting chapters on literary history that we shall have to deal. He writes as one whose sympathies are with the Roman Catholic Church, but who is fully alive to her sins and shortcomings at given periods. His point of view may best be described in the words of his preface:—
'After a long intermission,' he says, ' Rome steps forth once more (in the early part of the fifteenth century) into the sphere of the great movement of mind. The mode and nature of her action are decisive, for good and for evil, of the tendencies of that brilliant period which followed. During the eighty-three years' interval between the date of Martin's return and the death of Alexander VI., the political and ecclesiastical history of the Papacy reveals two currents, flowing in divergent directions, and bearing unmistakeable resemblance to the two currents which come to the broad light of day afterwards. It is easy to misunderstand the last without accurate knowledge of the first. For the city of Rome, the fifteenth century is a time of resurrection after deep decay. But for the Papacy, its close marks a moment of obscuration. The sequel [he is referring to the sixteenth century, the history of which, with the close of the work itself, has been published more recently,] will reveal the modern city on the pinnacle of its splendour; it will also show the expiation and the resuscitation of the Pontificate.'
2. The work of Zeller is written in a lively and popular strain, but makes no pretensions to original scholarship. He brings before us the leading tendencies and characters of the Renaissance from the middle of the fifteenth century to the end of Leo X.'s reign, depicting them with a good deal of the antithetical effect common in French writers, and also, we believe we must add, with some of that deficiency of critical conscience which is content with the transposition of a small anecdote or fact to enhance antithetical point.
3. Burckhardt:s 'Cultur der Renaissance' is a new edition of perhaps the most satisfactory and scholarly work on the intellectual aspect of the fifteenth century that modern criticism has produced. It would be difficult to do justice, in a few words, to the discriminating and sympathetic spirit with which the author follows up each line of thought, each whim of taste, suggested to the lively fancy of the Italians by the various elements of culture around them, notably by that devotion to the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, which gave the predominant character to the epoch.
Taking these three works for the basis of our remarks—or rather the first and third, for Zeller's work is less calculated for our purpose—we shall proceed to consider the leading characteristics of a movement possessing unusual fascination of interest both in its facts and its suggestions.
The subject brings us face to face with that remarkable mental phase of the fifteenth century known by the name of Humanism; psychologically, the questioning of man's understanding with the awakened sensibilities of his soul; historically, the turning aside of students from the technical ways of thought stereotyped in the learning of the schools, to investigate the experience and the taste of classical antiquity under their natural conditions.
The impulse to the Humanist movement came from various sources. That when the human mind received the impulse to move at all, the old scholastic framework should have been cast aside, was inevitable; the notions on which it was based were mere unrealities to inquiring and feeling men. That classical antiquity should have been the medium in which exclusively the self-emancipated intellect found range for its sympathies, was a consequence of the poverty of the world in experimental knowledge, added to the impatience inherent in all enthusiasm. There was assuredly, at that moment of time, no other influence which could compete with antiquity in its attractions for the culture of reason and of fancy. Science and philosophy could only be reached through the writings of the ancients: poetic beauty and grace found aptest reflection in them. A sense of their pre-eminence had indeed prevailed throughout the darkest ages. Homer and Virgil, Aristotle and Plato, had never ceased to be ideals in the sanctuary of popular fame. The Italian poetry of the Trecento might, perhaps, have shown that there was originality enough in the national genius to have led the way in the formation of a new literature. But to the eager students who followed Dante and Petrarch, the glamour of a past which had been glorious, took the brilliancj' from the hues of a day whose promise was young. The interest of the new movement, moreover, consisted in great measure in this: that it was an appeal to the real facts of a given period of intellectual life, in lieu of conventional representations, vague popular legends, and phantom logomachies. Ultimately, no doubt, it resulted in a somewhat servile shifting of allegiance from one class of authorities to another; but in its outset it had definite features of analogy with the scientific revolution inaugurated two centuries later by Bacon. It was in the fifteenth century that Humanism attained to
full recognition as the mode and condition of culture. Its tendencies, however, had been actively at work in the fourteenth; and it will be needful to glance at the position of the great men who first kindled the mastering passion for Greek and Roman lore—who, in fact, if not in current parlance, constituted the first generation of • Humanists'—in order to appreciate the relation in which their successors stood to the traditional landmarks of their time.
The poetry of ancient Rome, though discountenanced, as a rule, by the Church, and travestied by monkish fancies, was still sufficiently known to the few men of real literary genius who adorned the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—especially in Italy, where language and nature were in their degree an indissoluble bond of union between the present and the past— to excite their admiration and refine their taste: Dante's devotion to Virgil is the keynote of his Divina Commedia. In the generation succeeding Dante, when 'political life was very stirring in the peninsula, a spirit of literary curiosity mingled with the other sources of rivalry which so greatly promoted the growth and prosperity of its lively commonwealths and petty courts. Then, over and above the existing impulse for original composition, either in Latin or the vernacular, the minds of a few masters turned, not merely with a fanciful and poetical, but with a thoughtful and scholarly spirit of investigation, to explore the works of the great classics. Among those masters Petrarch and Boccaccio were pre-eminent. With them, the link between the present and the past was all suggestive. Rome—the spectacle of its actual degradation, the longing for its reinstatement as a headquarters of ecclesiastical and intellectual life—brought back to Petrarch's soul so vividly the glories of its ancient time, that it became, next to Laura, his most animating ideal. Nay, some have thought it was his Laura—his love—his anagrammatic Amor.
That the most vigorous portion of the fourteenth century culture existed outside of the Church's influence, that it was indeed positively antagonistic to the Church as represented by the Papacy from Boniface VIII. downwards, was owing to other causes besides the contrast between Rome degraded and Rome triumphant. In the first place, the spirit of the Provencal and Sicilian poetry, the lineal progenitors of the Tuscan vernacular, had always worn a heterodox tinge; then, the exaltation of the ancient classics was a tacit challenge to the ecclesiastical bigotry which had so long held the famous masterpieces of the heathen world at arm's length; finally, the flagrant immorality of the Avignon Papacy came in as a powerful argument to cover and invigorate every other motive. That just at the time when the Papal See was in its discreditable French exile—its ' Babylonian captivity '—the patriotic sentiment about Rome should have been revived by the dreams of scholars was, indeed, a sinister omen for the Church. Petrarch's diatribes against Avignon and its corruptions were as severe as any that Luther or Zwingli could have enunciated. The immorality, the unfaithfulness to the interests of Rome, the hostility to the demands of culture which the Avignon Court exhibited, all entered into the motives of his wrath. Yet it would be an error to suppose that Petrarch meant to attack the Church of the Papacy as such. He was ready enough to hail the pontificate of no better a representative than Urban V., if only his projected return to Rome might be accomplished, and St. Peter's successor might once more sit in St. Peter's chair.
The germ of secularism which under the revived study of the classics was destined to such powerful expansion in the next century, found certainly no recognition in the moral consciousness of this generation of scholars. The position they took up as against the orthodox' obstructives' was this: 'Chris'tianity, it is true, had once to fear the influence of pagan poetry * and philosophy. When the world was only half converted 'from heathenism, reason good there was to banish the seduc'tive teaching of its votaries. But now Christianity tri'umphs: the old gods are dead; there can be no fear of an 'Olympian reign again. Let us then study these writers of 'the past for their beauty, search out iu them all that is good, 'recognise the grains of truth of which the Almighty permitted 'them to be the transmitters, and use them fearlessly as 'teachers of the true rules of literary taste to a generation that 'has much need of such teaching.' Petrarch was above all devotedly attached to the writings of Cicero; and Cicero was a thinker who had outgrown the mythological beliefs, and whose higher speculations presented many points of contact with Christian truth. No one can study the life and meditations of the pious student of Vaucluse without perceiving how entirely his admiration of the great works of antiquity was dominated by his conviction of the claims of religious faith and action. These last, whatever his practical distractions may have been, Petrarch consistently placed above learning, and love, and earthly interests of whatever sort. Boccaccio, who was much more of a heathen in his proclivities than Petrarch, much more like the scholars of the fifteenth century, and, had he lived among them, would perhaps have been as uncompromising a libertine as Filelfo or Valla, turned devout in his later years, and always professed the views we have indicated. Thus he justifies his work ' De Genealogia Deorum' explicitly on the ground that, whereas the early Church had to defend itself against the heathen, now, thanks be to Jesus Christ, the foe is conquered, the victors are in possession of the hostile camp, and the exploded superstitions may be handled without fear of contamination.
So far as to the moral position of these fourteenth-century students. With regard to the special classical studies brought into the foreground by them, it should be noticed that these mostly referred to the works of Roman authors already more or less traditionally known, but imperfectly comprehended and valued under the conditions of mediaeval scholarship. The discovery of obscure or forgotten works of the ancients was the industry of a later time. To obtain accurate copies of Cicero, of Livy, or of Quintilian, Petrarch and Boccaccio searched libraries and gave their hours to the work of transcription. Petrarch's 'Africa' and his Eclogues were attempts to imitate, in Latin verse, the style and spirit of Virgil. His familiar epistles and conversational treatises were avowedly after the models of the sage of Tusculum. If the knowledge of the Latin classics had been scanty and confused up to the middle of the fourteenth century, that of the Greek classics was to all intents and purposes a blank. Petrarch and Boccaccio undertook a memorable work when they attempted to revive this branch also of ancient lore. But their teachers, the best whom change brought to them, were only Grecised Calabrians. Petrarch could never read Plato or Homer save in Latin translations. Boccaccio was only able to follow the process by which the one language was transferred, under his eyes, into the other. Had the immigration of Greek scholars from the East then set in, these beginnings might have fructified. But the mere mercantile intercourse between Italy and the Levant seems never to have promoted the study of language; and when Barlaam and Leontius Pilatus moved off the scene, their place as pedagogues was not filled up. Hence it came to pass that, while the Latin revival held on its way, and numbered many eminent scholars, at Florence especially, through the closing quarter of the fourteenth century, the Greek revival came to a standstill, and made no sign till it began a new career with the advent to Florence of Manuel Chrysoloras in 1396. This is its real date in literary history. It is the real date of Humanism in its second and decisive start. It is on all accounts a memorable epoch.
Chrysoloras was a Greek who originally came to Italy from