The facts which we shall quote in evidence of our thesis will be few in number. Here, if anywhere in the course of this discussion, the author is conscious that he is treading on the perilous ground of conjecture, and that what seems to him a clear, if delicate and gradual, transition in the intellectual movement of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, may not be equally plain to others. The gradual awakening of the soul of a people is a phenomenon which may produce a different impression on each spectator. Time will judge which impression is the most faithful.
Happily the study of the intellectual side of human nature began, not with the search after a theoretical psychology--for that, Aristotle still sufficed--but with the endeavor to observe and to describe. The indispensable ballast of theory was limited to the popular doctrine of the four temperaments, in its then habitual union with the belief in the influence of the planets. Such conceptions may remain ineradicable in the minds of individuals, without hindering the general progress of the age. It certainly makes on us a singular impression, when we meet them at a time when human nature in its deepest essence and in all its characteristic expressions was not only known by exact observation, but represented by an immortal poetry and art. It sounds almost ludicrous when an otherwise competent observer considers Clement VII to be of a melancholy temperament, but defers his judgement to that of the physicians, who declare the Pope of a sanguine-choleric nature; or when we read that the same Gaston de Foix, the victor of Ravenna, whom Giorgione painted and Bambaia carved, and whom all the historians describe, had the saturnine temperament. No doubt those who use these expressions mean something by them; but the terms in which they tell us their meaning are strangely out of date in the Italy of the sixteenth century.
As examples of the free delineation of the human spirit, we shall first speak of the great poets of the fourteenth century.
If we were to collect the pearls from the courtly and knightly poetry of all the countries of the West during the two preceding centuries, we should have a mass of wonderful divinations and single pictures of the inward life, which at first sight would seem to rival the poetry of the Italians. Leaving lyrical poetry out of account, Godfrey of Strassburg gives us, in 'Tristram and Isolt,' a representation of human passion, some features of which are immortal. But these pearls lie scattered in the ocean of artificial convention, and they are altogether something very different from a complete objective picture of the inward man and his spiritual wealth.
Italy, too, in the thirteenth century had, through the 'Trovatori,' its share in the poetry of the courts and of chivalry. To them is mainly due the 'Canzone,' whose construction is as difficult and artificial as that of the songs of any northern minstrel. Their subject and mode of thought represents simply the conventional tone of the courts, be the poet a burgher or a scholar.
But two new paths at length showed themselves, along which Italian poetry could advance to another and a characteristic future. They are not the less important for being concerned only with the formal and external side of the art.
To the same Brunetto Latini--the teacher of Dante--who, in his 'Canzoni,' adopts the customary manner of the 'Trovatori,' we owe the first-known 'versi sciolti,' or blank hendecasyllabic verses, and in his apparent absence of form, a true and genuine passion suddenly showed itself. The same voluntary renunciation of outward effect, through confidence in the power of the inward conception, can be observed some years later in fresco-painting, and later still in painting of all kinds, which began to cease to rely on color for its effect, using simply a lighter or darker shade. For an age which laid so much stress on artificial form in poetry, these verses of Brunetto mark the beginning of a new epoch.84
About the same time, or even in the first half of the thirteenth century, one of the many strictly balanced forms of mere, in which Europe was then so fruitful, became a normal and recognized form in Italy--the sonnet. The order of rhymes and even the number of lines varied for a whole century, till Petrarch fixed them permanently. In this form all higher lyrical and meditative subjects, and at a later time subjects of every possible description, were treated, and the madrigals, the sestine, and even the 'Canzoni' were reduced to a subordinate place. Later Italian writers complain, half jestingly, half resentfully, of this inevitable mould, this Procrustean bed, to which they were compelled to make their thoughts and feelings fit. Others were, and still are, quite satisfied with this particular form of verse, which they freely use to express any personal reminiscence or idle sing-song without necessity or serious purpose. For which reason there are many more bad or insignificant sonnets than good ones.
Nevertheless, the sonnet must be held to have been an unspeakable blessing for Italian poetry. The clearness and beauty of its structure, the invitation it gave to elevate the thought in the second and more rapidly moving half, and the ease with which it could be learned by heart, made it valued even by the greatest masters. In fact, they would not have kept it in use down to our own century had they not been penetrated with a sense of its singular worth. These masters could have given us the same thoughts in other and wholly different forms. But when once they had made the sonnet the normal type of lyrical poetry, many other writers of great, if not the highest, gifts, who otherwise would have lost themselves in a sea of diffusiveness, were forced to concentrate their feelings. The sonnet became for Italian literature a condenser of thoughts and emotions such as was possessed by the poetry of no other modern people.
Thus the world of Italian sentiment comes before us in a series of pictures, clear, concise, and most effective in their brevity. Had other nations possessed a form of expression of the same kind, we should perhaps have known more of their inward life; we might have had a number of pictures of inward and outward situations--reflexions of the national character and temper--and should not be dependent for such knowledge on the so-called lyrical poets of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, who can hardly ever be read with any serious enjoyment. In Italy we can trace an undoubted progress from the time when the sonnet came into existence. In the second half of the thirteenth century the 'Trovatori della transizione,' as they have been recently named, mark the passage from the Troubadours to the poets--that is, to those who wrote under the influence of antiquity. The simplicity and strength of their feeling, the vigorous delineation of fact, the precise expression and rounding off of their sonnets and other poems, herald the coming of a Dante. Some political sonnets of the Guelphs and Ghibellines (1260-1270) have about them the ring of his passion, and others remind us of his sweetest lyrical notes.
Of his own theoretical view of the sonnet, we are unfortunately ignorant, since the last books of his work, 'De vulgari eloquentia,' in which he proposed to treat of ballads and sonnets, either remained unwritten or have been lost. But, as a matter of fact, he has left us in his Sonnets and 'Canzoni' a treasure of inward experience. And in what a framework he has set them! The prose of the 'Vita Nuova,' in which he gives an account of the origin of each poem, is as wonderful as the verses themselves, and forms with them a uniform whole, inspired with the deepest glow of passion. With unflinching frankness and sincerity he lays bare every shade of his joy and his sorrow, and molds it resolutely into the strictest forms of art. Reading attentively these Sonnets and 'Canzoni' and the marvelous fragments of the diary of his youth which lie between them, we fancy that throughout the Middle Ages the poets have been purposely fleeing from themselves, and that he was the first to seek his own soul. Before his time we meet with many an artistic verse; but he is the first artist in the full sense of the word--the first who consciously cast immortal matter into an immortal form. Subjective feeling has here a full objective truth and greatness, and most of it is so set forth that all ages and peoples can make it their own. Where he writes in a thoroughly objective spirit, and lets the force of his sentiment be guessed at only by some outward fact, as in the magnificent sonnets 'Tanto gentile,' etc., and 'Vede perfettamente,' etc., he seems to feel the need of excusing himself. The most beautiful of these poems really belongs to this class-- the 'Deh peregrini che pensosi andate,' ('Oh, pilgrims, walking deep in thoughts,' from Vita Nuova.) Even apart from the 'Divine Comedy,' Dante would have marked by these youthful poems the boundary between medievalism and modern times. The human spirit had taken a mighty step towards the consciousness of its own secret life.
The revelations in this matter which are contained in the 'Divine Comedy' itself are simply immeasurable; and it would be necessary to go through the whole poem, one canto after another, in order to do justice to its value from this point of view. Happily we have no need to do this, as it has long been a daily food of all the countries of the West. Its plan, and the ideas on which it is based, belong to the Middle Ages, and appeal to our interest only historically; but it is nevertheless the beginning of all modern poetry, through the power and richness shown in the description of human nature in every shape and attitude. From this time forward poetry may have experienced unequal fortunes, and may show, for half a century together, a so-called relapse. But its nobler and more vital principle was saved for ever; and whenever in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and in the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, an original mind devotes himself to it, he represents a more advanced stage than any poet out of Italy, given--what is certainly always easy to settle satisfactorily--an equality of natural gifts to start with.
Here, as in other things in Italy, culture--to which poetry belongs--precedes the visual arts and, in fact, gives them their chief impulse. More than a century elapsed before the spiritual element in painting and sculpture attained a power of expression in any way analogous to that of the 'Divine Comedy.' How far the same rule holds good for the artistic development of other nations, and of what importance the whole question may be, does not concern us here. For Italian civilization it is of decisive weight.
The position to be assigned to Petrarch in this respect must be settled by the many readers of the poet. Those who come to him in the spirit of a cross-examiner, and busy themselves in detecting the contradictions between the poet and the man, his infidelities in love, and the other weak sides of his character, may perhaps, after sufficient effort, end by losing all taste for his poetry. In place, then, of artistic enjoyment, we may acquire a knowledge of the man in his 'totality.' What a pity that Petrarch's letters from Avignon contain so little gossip to take hold of, and that the letters of his acquaintances and of the friends of these acquaintances have either been lost or never existed! Instead of Heaven being thanked when we are not forced to inquire how and through what struggles a poet has rescued something immortal from his own poor life and lot, a biography has been stitched together for Petrarch out of these so-called 'remains,' which reads like an indictment. But the poet may take comfort. If the printing and editing of the correspondence of celebrated people goes on for another half-century as it has begun in England and Germany, illustrious company enough sitting with him on repentance.
Without shutting our eyes to much that is _. artificial in his poetry, where the writer is merely imitating himself and singing on in the old strain, we cannot fail to admire the marvelous abundance of pictures of the inmost soul -- descriptions of moments of joy and sorrow which must have been thoroughly his own, since no one before him gives us anything of the kind, and on which his significance rests for his country and for the world. His verse is not in all places equally transparent; by the side of his most beautiful thoughts stands at times some allegorical conceit or some sophistical trick of logic, altogether foreign to our present taste. But the balance is on the side of excellence.
Boccaccio, too, in his imperfectly-known Sonnets, succeeds sometimes in giving a most powerful and effective picture of his feeling. The return to a spot consecrated by love (Son. 22), the melancholy of spring (Son. 33), the sadness of the poet who feels himself growing old (Son. 65), are admirably treated by him. And in the 'Ameto' he has described the ennobling and transfiguring power of love in a manner which would hardly be expected from the author of the 'Decameron.' In the 'Fiammetta' we have another great and minutely-painted picture of the human soul, full of the keenest observation, though executed with anything but uniform power, and in parts marred by the passion for high-sounding language and by an unlucky mixture of mythological allusions and learned quotations. The 'Fiammetta,' if we are not mistaken, is a sort of feminine counterpart to the 'Vita Nuova' of Dante, or at any rate owes its origin to it.
That the ancient poets, particularly the elegists, and Virgil, in the fourth book of the Aeneid, were not without influence on the Italians of this and the following generation is beyond a doubt; but the spring of sentiment within the latter was nevertheless powerful and original. If we compare them in this respect with their contemporaries in other countries, we shall find in them the earliest complete expression of modern European feeling. The question, be it remembered, is not to know whether eminent men of other nations did not feel as deeply and as nobly, but who first gave documentary proof of the widest knowledge of the movements of the human heart.
Why did the Italians of the Renaissance do nothing above the second rank in tragedy? That was the field on which to display human character, intellect, and passion, in the thousand forms of their growth, their struggles, and their decline. In other words: why did Italy produce no Shakespeare? For with the stage of other northern countries besides England the Italians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had no reason to fear a comparison; and with the Spaniards they could not enter into competition, since Italy had long lost all traces of religious fanaticism, treated the chivalrous code of honour only as a form, and was both too proud and too intelligent to bow down before its tyrannical and illegitimate masters. We have therefore only to consider the English stage in the period of its brief splendor.
It is an obvious reply that all Europe produced but one Shakespeare, and that such a mind is the rarest of Heaven's gifts. It is further possible that the Italian stage was on the way to something great when the Counter-reformation broke in upon it, and, aided by the Spanish rule over Naples and Milan, and indirectly over almost the whole peninsula, withered the best flowers of the Italian spirit. It would be hard to conceive of Shakespeare himself under a Spanish viceroy, or in the neighbourhood of the Holy Inquisition at Rome, or in his own country a few decades later, at the time o English Revolution. The stage, which in its perfection is a product of every civilization, must wait for its own time and fortune.
We must not, however, quit this subject without mentioning certain circumstances which were of a character to hinder or retard a high development of the drama in Italy, till the time for it had gone by.
As the most weighty of these causes we must mention without doubt that the scenic tastes of the people were occupied elsewhere, and chiefly in the mysteries and religious processions. Throughout all Europe dramatic representations of sacred history and legend form the origin of the secular drama; but Italy, as will be shown more fully in the sequel, had spent on the mysteries such a wealth of decorative splendor as could not but be unfavorable to the dramatic element. Out of all the countless and costly representations, there sprang not even a branch of poetry like the 'Autos Sagramentales' of Calderon and other Spanish poets, much less any advantage or foundation for the secular drama.
And when the latter did at length appear, it at once gave itself up to magnificence of scenic effects, to which the mysteries had already accustomed the public taste to far too great an extent. We learn with astonishment how rich and splendid the scenes in Italy were, at a time when in the North the simplest indication of the place was thought sufficient. This alone might have had no such unfavorable effect on the drama, if the attention of the audience had not been drawn away from the poetical conception of the play partly by the splendor of the costumes, partly and chiefly by fantastic interludes (Intermezzi).
That in many places, particularly in Rome and Ferrara, Plautus and Terence, as well as pieces by the old tragedians, were given in Latin or in Italian, that the academies of which we have already spoken, made this one of their chief objects, and that the poets of the Renaissance followed these models too servilely, were all untoward conditions for the Italian stage at the period in question. Yet I hold them to be of secondary importance. Had not the Counter-reformation and the rule of foreigners intervened, these very disadvantages might have been turned into useful means of transition. At all events, by the year 1520 the victory of the mother-tongue in tragedy and comedy was, to the great disgust of the humanists, as good as won. On this side, then, no obstacle stood in the way of the most developed people in Europe, to hinder them from raising the drama, in its noblest forms, to be a true reflection of human life and destiny. It was the Inquisitors and Spaniards who cowed the Italian spirit, and rendered impossible the representation of the greatest and most sublime themes, most of all when they were associated with patriotic memories. At the same time, there is no doubt that the distracting 'Intermezzi' did serious harm to the drama. We must now consider them a little more closely.
When the marriage of Alfonso of Ferrara with Lucrezia Borgia was celebrated, Duke Ercole in person showed his illustrious guests the 110 costumes which were to serve at the representation of five comedies of Plautus, in order that all might see that not one of them was used twice. But all this display of silk and camlet was nothing to the ballets and pantomimes which served as interludes between the acts of the Plautine dramas. That, in comparison, Plautus himself seemed mortally dull to a lively young lady like Isabella Gonzaga, and that while the play was going on everybody was longing for the interludes, is quite intelligible, when we think of the picturesque brilliancy with which they were put on the stage. There were to be seen combats of Roman warriors, who brandished their weapons to the sound of music, torch-dances executed by Moors, a dance of savages with horns of plenty, out of which streamed waves of fire-- all as the ballet of a pantomime in which a maiden was delivered from a dragon. Then came a dance of fools, got up as Punches, beating one another with pigs' bladders, with more of the same kind. At the Court of Ferrara they never gave a comedy without 'its' ballet (Moresca). In what style the 'Amphitruo' of Plautus was there represented (1491) at the first marriage of Alfonso with Anna Sforza), is doubtful. Possibly it was given rather as a pantomime with music than as a drama. In any case, the accessories were more considerable than the play itself. There was a choral dance of ivy-clad youths, moving in intricate figures, done to the music of a ringing orchestra; then came Apollo, striking the lyre with the plectrum, and singing an ode to the praise of the House of Este; then followed, as an interlude within an interlude, a kind of rustic farce, after which the stage was again occupied by classical mythology--Venus, Bacchus and their followers--and by a pantomime representing the judgement of Paris.
Not till then was the second half of the fable of Amphitruo performed, with unmistakable references to the future birth of a Hercules of the House of Este. At a former representation of the same piece in the courtyard of the palace (1487), 'a paradise with stars and other wheels,' was constantly burning, by which is probably meant an illumination with fireworks, that, no doubt, absorbed most of the attention of the spectators. It was certainly better when such performances were given separately, as was the case at other courts. We shall have to speak of the entertainments given by the Cardinal Pietro Riario, by the Bentivogli at Bologna, and by others, when we come to treat of the festivals in general.
This scenic magnificence, now become universal, had a disastrous effect on Italian tragedy. 'In Venice formerly,' writes Francesco Sansovino, about 1570, 'besides comedies, tragedies by ancient and modern writers were put on the stage with great pomp. The fame of the scenic arrangements (apparati) brought spectators from far and near. Nowadays, performances are given by private individuals in their own houses, and the custom has long been fixed of passing the carnival in comedies and other cheerful entertainments.' In other words, scenic display had helped to kill tragedy.
The various starts or attempts of these modern tragedians, among which the 'Sofonisba' of Trissino (1515) was the most celebrated, belong in the history of literature. The same may be said of genteel comedy, modelled on Plautus and Terence. Even Ariosto could do nothing of the first order in this style. On the other hand, popular prose-comedy, as treated by Machiavelli, Bibbiena, and Aretino, might have had a future, if its matter had not condemned it to destruction. This was, on the one hand, licentious to the last degree, and on the other, aimed at certain classes in society, which, after the middle of the sixteenth century, ceased to afford a ground for public attacks. If in the 'Sofonisba' the portrayal of character gave place to brilliant declamation, the latter, with its half-sister, caricature, was used far too freely in comedy also.
The writing of tragedies and comedies, and the practice of putting both ancient and modern plays on the stage, continued without intermission; but they served only as occasions for display. The national genius turned elsewhere for living interest. When the opera and the pastoral fable came up, these attempts were at length wholly abandoned.
One form of comedy only was and remained national--the unwritten, improvised 'Commedia dell' Arte.' It was of no great service in the delineation of character, since the masks used were few in number and familiar to everybody. But the talent of the nation had such an affinity for this style, that often in the middle of written comedies the actors would throw themselves on their own inspiration, so that a new mixed form of comedy came into existence in some places. The plays given in Venice by Burchiello, and afterwards by the company of Armonio, Val. Zuccato, Lod. Dolce, and others, were perhaps of this character. Of Burchiello we know expressly that he used to heighten the comic effect by mixing Greek and Slavonic words with the Venetian dialect. A complete 'Commedia dell' Arte,' or very nearly so, was represented by Angelo Beolco, known as 'Il Ruzzante' (1502-42), whose customary masks were Paduan peasants, with the names Menato, Vezzo, Billora, etc. He studied their dialect when spending the summer at the villa of his patron Luigi Cornaro (Aloysius Cornelius) at Codevico. Gradually all the famous local masks made their appearance, whose remains still delight the Italian populace in our day: Pantalone, the Doctor, Brighella, Pulcinella, Arlecchino, and the rest. Most of them are of great antiquity, and possibly are historically connected with the masks in the old Roman farces; but it was not till the sixteenth century that several of them were combined in one piece. At the present time this is less often the case; but every great city still keeps to its local mask--Naples to the Pulcinella, Florence to the Stentorello, Milan to its often so admirable Meneghino.
This is indeed scanty compensation for a people which possessed the power, perhaps to a greater degree than any other, to reflect and contemplate its own highest qualities in the mirror of the drama. But this power was destined to be marred for centuries by hostile forces, for whose predominance the Italians were only in part responsible. The universal talent for dramatic representation could not indeed be uprooted, and in music Italy long made good its claim to supremacy in Europe. Those who can find in this world of sound a compensation for the drama, to which all future was denied, have, at all events, no meagre source of consolation.
But perhaps we can find in epic poetry what the stage fails to offer us. Yet the chief reproach made against the heroic poetry of Italy is precisely on the score of the insignificance and imperfect representation of its characters.
Other merits are allowed to belong to it, among the rest, that for three centuries it has been actually read and constantly reprinted, while nearly the whole of the epic poetry of other nations has become a mere matter of literary or historical curiosity. Does this perhaps lie in the taste of the readers, who demand something different from what would satisfy a northern public? Certainly, without the power of entering to some degree into Italian sentiment, it is impossible to appreciate the characteristic excellence of these poems, and many distinguished men declare that they can make nothing of them. And in truth, if we criticize Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Berni solely with an eye to their thought and matter, we shall fail to do them justice. They are artists of a peculiar kind, who write for a people which is distinctly and eminently artistic.
The mediaeval legends had lived on after the gradual extinction of the poetry of chivalry, partly in the form of rhyming adaptations and collections, and partly of novels in prose. The latter was the case in Italy during the fourteenth century; but the newly-awakened memories of antiquity were rapidly growing up to a gigantic size, and soon cast into the shade all the fantastic creations of the Middle Ages. Boccaccio, for example, in his 'Visione Amorosa,' names among the heroes in his enchanted palace Tristram, Arthur, Galeotto, and others, but briefly, as if he were ashamed to speak of them; and following writers either do not name them at all, or name them only for purposes of ridicule. But the people kept them in its memory, and from the people they passed into the hands of the poets of the fifteenth century. These were now able to conceive and represent their subjects in a wholly new manner. But they did more. They introduced into it a multitude of fresh elements, and in fact recast it from beginning to end. It must not be expected of them that they should treat such subjects with the respect once felt for them. All other countries must envy them the advantage of having a popular interest of this kind to appeal to; but they could not without hypocrisy treat these myths with any respect.
Instead of this, they moved with victorious freedom in the new field which poetry had won. What they chiefly aimed at seems to have been that their poems, when recited, should produce the most harmonious and exhilarating effect. These works indeed gain immensely when they are repeated, not as a whole, but piecemeal, and with a slight touch of comedy in voice and gesture. A deeper and more detailed portrayal of character would do little to enhance this effect; though the reader may desire it, the hearer, who sees the rhapsodist standing before him, and who hears only one piece at a time, does not think about it at all. With respect to the figures, which the poet found ready made for him, his feeling was of a double kind; his humanistic culture protested against their mediaeval character, and their combats as counterparts of the battles and tournaments of the poet's own age exercised all his knowledge and artistic power, while at the same time they called forth all the highest qualities in the reciter. Even in Pulci, accordingly, we find no parody, strictly speaking, of chivalry, nearly humour of his paladins at times approaches it. By their side stands the ideal of pugnacity--the droll and jovial Morgante--who masters whole armies with his bellclapper, and who is himself thrown into relief by contrast with the grotesque and most interesting monster Margutte. Yet Pulci lays no special stress on these two rough and vigorous characters, and his story, long after they had disappeared from it, maintains its singular course. Boiardo treats his characters with the same mastery, using them for serious or comic purposes as he pleases; he has his fun even out of supernatural beings, whom he sometimes intentionally depicts as louts. But there is one artistic aim which he pursues as earnestly as Pulci, namely, the lively and exact description of all that goes forward. Pulci recited his poem, as one book after another was finished, before the society of Lorenzo il Magnifico, and in the same way Boiardo recited his at the court of Ercole of Ferrara. It may be easily imagined what sort of excellence such an audience demanded, and how little thanks a profound exposition of character would have earned for the poet. Under these circumstances the poems naturally formed no complete whole, and might just as well be half or twice as long as they now are. Their composition is not that of a great historical picture, but rather that of a frieze, or of some rich festoon entwined among groups of picturesque figures. And precisely as in the figures or tendrils of a frieze we do not look for minuteness of execution in the individual forms, or for distant perspectives and different planes, so we must as little expect anything of the kind from these poems.
The varied richness of invention which continually astonishes us, most of all in the case of Boiardo, turns to ridicule all our school definitions as to the essence of epic poetry. For that age, this form of literature was the most agreeable diversion from archaeological studies, and, indeed, the only possible means of re-establishing an independent class of narrative poetry. For the versification of ancient history could only lead to the false tracks which were trodden by Petrarch in his 'Africa,' written in Latin hexameters, and a hundred and fifty years later by Trissino in his 'Italy delivered from the Goths,' composed in 'versi sciolti'--a never-ending poem of faultless language and versification, which only makes us doubt whether this unlucky alliance has been more disastrous to history or to poetry.
And whither did the example of Dante beguile those who imitated him? The visionary 'Trionfi' of Petrarch were the last of the works written under this influence which satisfy our taste. The 'Amorosa Visione' of Boccaccio is at bottom no more than an enumeration of historical or fabulous characters, arranged under allegorical categories. Others preface what they have to tell with a baroque imitation of Dante's first canto, and provide themselves with some allegorical comparison, to take the place of Virgil. Uberti, for example, chose Solinus for his geographical poem--the 'Dittamondo'--and Giovanni Santi, Plutarch for his encomium on Federigo of Urbino. The only salvation of the time from these false tendencies lay in the new epic poetry which was represented by Pulci and Boiardo. The admiration and curiosity with which it was received, and the like of which will perhaps never fall again to the lot of epic poetry to the end of time, is a brilliant proof of how great was the need of it. It is idle to ask whether that epic ideal which our own day has formed from Homer and the 'Nibelungenlied' is or is not realized in these works; an ideal of their own age certainly was. By their endless descriptions of combats, which to us are the most fatiguing part of these poems, they satisfied, as we have already said, a practical interest of which it is hard for us to form a just conception--as hard, indeed, as of the esteem in which a lively and faithful reflection of the passing moment was then held.
Nor can a more inappropriate test be applied to Ariosto than the degree in which his 'Orlando Furioso' serves for the representation of character. Characters, indeed, there are, and drawn with an affectionate care; but the poem does not depend on these for its effect, and would lose, rather than gain, if more stress were laid upon them. But the demand for them is part of a wider and more general desire which Ariosto fails to satisfy as our day would wish it satisfied. From a poet of such fame and such mighty gifts we would gladly receive something better than the adventures of Orlando. From him we might have hoped for a work expressing the deepest conflicts of the human soul, the highest thoughts of his time on human and divine things--in a word, one of those supreme syntheses like the 'Divine Comedy' or 'Faust.' Instead of which he goes to work like the visual artists of his own day, not caring for originality in our sense of the word, simply reproducing a familiar circle of figures, and even, when it suits his purpose, making use of the details left him by his predecessors. The excellence which, in spite of all this, can nevertheless be attained, will be the more incomprehensible to people born without the artistic sense, the more learned and intelligent in other respects they are. The artistic aim of Ariosto is brilliant, living action, which he distributes equally through the whole of his great poem. For this end he needs to be excused, not only from all deeper expression of character, but also from maintaining any strict connection in his narrative. He must be allowed to take up lost and forgotten threads when and where he pleases; his heroes must come and go, not because their character, but because the story requires it. Yet in this apparently irrational and arbitrary style of composition he displays a harmonious beauty, never losing himself in description, but giving only such a sketch of scenes and persons as does not hinder the flowing movement of the narrative. Still less does he lose himself in conversation and monologue, but maintains the lofty privilege of the true epos, by transforming all into living narrative. His pathos does not lie in the words, not even in the famous twentythird and following cantos, where Roland's madness is described. That the love-stories in the heroic poem are without all lyrical tenderness, must be reckoned a merit, though from a moral point of view they cannot always be approved. Yet at times they are of such truth and reality, notwithstanding all ; and romance which surrounds them, that we might think them personal affairs of the poet himself. In the full consciousness of his own genius, he does not scruple to interweave t he events of his own day into the poem, and to celebrate the fame of the house of Este in visions and prophecies. The wonderful stream of his octaves bears it all forward in even and dignified movement.
With Teofilo Folengo, or, as he here calls himself, Limerno Pitocco, the parody of the whole system of chivalry attained the end it had so long desired. But here comedy, with its realism, demanded of necessity a stricter delineation of character. Exposed to all the rough usage of the half-savage street-lads in a Roman country town, Sutri, the little Orlando grows up before our eyes into the hero, the priest-hater, and the disputant. The conventional world which had been recognized since the time of Pulci and had served as a framework for the epos, here falls to pieces. The origin and position of the paladins is openly ridiculed, as in the tournament of donkeys in the second book, where the knights appear with the most ludicrous armament. The poet utters his ironical regrets over the inexplicable faithlessness which seems implanted in the house of Gano of Mainz, over the toilsome acquisition of the sword Durindana, and so forth. Tradition, in fact, serves him only as a substratum for episodes, ludicrous fancies, allusions to events of the time (among which some, like the close of cap. vi. are exceedingly fine), and indecent jokes. Mixed with all this, a certain derision of Ariosto is unmistakable, and it was fortunate for the 'Or- lando Furioso' that the 'Orlandino,' with its Lutheran heresies, was soon put out of the way by the Inquisition. The parody is evident when (cap. vi, 28) the house of Gonzaga is deduced from the paladin Guidone, since the Colonna claimed Orlando, the Orsini Rinaldo, and the house of Este--according to Ariosto-- Ruggiero as their ancestors. Perhaps Ferrante Gonzaga, the patron of the poet, was a party to this sarcasm on the house of Este.
That in the 'Jerusalem Delivered' of Torquato Tasso the delineation of character is one of the chief tasks of the poet, proves only how far his mode of thought differed from that prevalent half a century before. His admirable work is a true monument of the Counter-reformation which had meanwhile been accomplished, and of the spirit and tendency of that movement.