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Yet the opinion may be hazarded that the cultivation of Italian as a literary language was due in no small measure to the forethought and deliberate intention of an Emperor, who preferred his southern to his northern provinces. This seems to indicate both purpose and prevision on his part. Wishing to found an Italian dynasty, and to acclimatize the civilization of Provence in his southern capitals, he was careful to promote purely Italian studies. There can at any rate be no doubt that during his reign and under his influence very considerable progress was made towards fixing the diction and the forms of poetry.
He found dialects, not merely spoken, but already adapted to poetical expression, in more than one district of Italy. From these districts the most eminent artists flocked to his Court. It was there that a common type of speech was formed, which, when the burghers of Central Italy began to emulate the versifiers of Palermo, furnished them with an established style. How the lingua aulica came into being admits of much debate. The difficulty of understanding the problem is in part removed when we remember the variety of representatives from noble towns of Italy who met in Frederick's circle, the tendencies of a dialect to refine itself when it assumes a literary form, and the continuous influences of Court-life in common.
Italians gathered round the person of the sovereign at Palermo from their native cities, must in ordinary courtesy have abandoned the crudities of their respective idioms. That this generic or Court Italian was at root Sicilian, we have substantial reasons to believe; but that it exactly resembled the Sicilian of to-day, which does not greatly differ from extant documents of thirteenth and fourteenth century Sicilian dialect, seems too crude a supposition. Few poems of the Sicilian period, as will appear in the sequel, have descended to us in their primitive form.
Not only was a common language instituted in the Court of Frederick; but the metrical forms of subsequent Italian poetry were either fixed or suggested by the practice of these early versifiers. Few subjects are involved in darker obscurity than the history of meters—the creation of rhythmical structures whereby one national literature distinguishes itself from another.
The Italian hendecasyllabic, the French Alexandrian, the English heroic iambic, are obvious examples. This selection of a characteristic meter, and the essays through which the race arrives at its perfection, seem to imply some instinct, planted within the deeps of national personality, whereof the laws have not been formulated. When we speak of the genius of a language, we do but personify this instinct, which appears to exercise itself at an early period of national development, leaving for subsequent centuries the task of refining and completing what had been projected at the outset.
Therefore, nothing very distinct can be asserted about the origin of the hendecasyllable iambic line, which marks Italian poetry. The rhyming system of the octave stanza may possibly be traced in Ciullo d'Alcamo's tenzone between the lover and his mistress; though it still needed a century of elaboration at the hands of popular rispetti -writers, to present it in completed form to Boccaccio's muse. At the same time the highwrought structure of the Canzone , destined to play so triumphant a part during the whole period of the trecento , receives its essential outlines from the rhymers of this age, especially from Jacopo da Lentino and Guido delle Colonne.
Though the forms and language of Sicilian poetry decided the destinies of Italian, the substance of this literature was far from being national. After running a brilliant course in Provence, the poetry of chivalrous love was now declining to its decadence. It had ceased to be the spontaneous expression of a dominant ideal, and had degenerated into a pastime for dilettanti. Its style had become conventional; its phrases fixed. The visionary science upon which it was based, had to be studied in codes of doctrine and repeated with pedantic precision.
Frederick and his courtiers received it at the point of its extinction. They adhered as closely as possible to traditional forms, imitated time-honored models, and confined their efforts to the reproduction of the old art in a new vehicle of language. Therefore, vernacular Italian poetry in this first stage of its existence presents the curious spectacle of literature decrepit in the cradle, hampered with the euphuism of an exhausted manner before it could move freely, and taught to frame conceits and cold antitheses before it learned to lisp.
Yet a careful student of these Canzoni, Serventesi, and Tenzoni, will discover much that is both natural and graceful, much that is elevated in thought, much again that belongs to the crude sensuousness of Southern temperament. What might have been the destiny of Italian literature, if the Suabian House had maintained its hold on the Two Sicilies, and this process of fusion had been completed at Naples or Palermo, cannot even be surmised.
We can only trace faint indications of a progress toward greater freedom and more spontaneous inspiration, as the "courtly makers" yielded to the singers of the people. The battle of Benevento extinguished at one blow both the hopes of the Suabian dynasty and the development of Sicilian poetry. When Manfred's body had been borne naked on a donkey from the battle-field to his nameless grave, amid the cries of Chi compra Manfredi? Arthur was dead, and would never come again. Chivalry and feudalism had held their brief and feeble sway in Italy, and that was over.
Neither in Lombardy among the castles, nor in Sicily within the Court, throbbed the real life of the Italian nation. That life was in the Communes. It beat in the heart of the people—especially of that people who had made nobility a crime beside the Arno, and had outlawed the Scioperati from their City of the Flower. What the Suabian princes gave to Italy was the beginning of a common language. It remained for Tuscany to stamp that language with her image and superscription, to fix it in its integrity for all future ages, and to render it the vehicle of stateliest science and consummate art.
The question of the origin of the Italian language pertains rather to philology than to the history of culture. Dante's De Eloquio , though based on unscientific principles of analysis, opened a discussion which exercised the acutest intellects of the sixteenth century.
During the whole Roman period, it is certain that literary Latin differed in important respects from the vulgar, rustic or domestic, language. Thus while a Roman gentleman would have said habeo pulchrum equum , his groom probably expressed the same thought in words like these: ego habeo unum bellum caballum. The vulgar or rustic Latin continued, side by side with its literary counterpart, throughout the middle ages, forming in the first centuries of imperial decline the common speech of the Romance peoples, and gradually assuming those specific forms which determined the French, Spanish, and Italian types.
There is little doubt that, could we possess ourselves of sufficient documents, we should be able to trace the stages in this process. Both literary and vulgar Latin suffered transformation—the former declining in purity, variety, and vigor; the latter diverging dialectically into the constituents of the three grand families of modern Latin.
But the metamorphosis was not of the same nature in both cases. While the literary language had been fixed, arrested, and delivered over to death, the vulgar tongue retained a vivid and assimilative life, capable of biological transmutation. French, Spanish, and Italian are modes of its existence continued under laws of organic variety and change. It would be unscientific to suppose that rustic Latin, even in the most flourishing period of the Roman Empire, was identical in all provinces.
From the first it must have held within itself the principles of differentiation. And when we consider the varying conditions of soil, climate, ethnological admixture and political development in the several regions of the Roman world, together with the divers influences of contiguous or invasive races, we shall form some notion of the process by which the three languages in question branched off from the common stock of rustic Latin. The same laws of differentiation hold good with regard to the dialects in each of these new languages.
It is improbable that absolutely the same vulgar Latin was at any epoch spoken in two remote districts of the same province—on the Tuscan sea-coast, for example, and on the banks of Padus. Again, the same conditions climatic, ethnological, political, and so forth which helped to determine the generic distinctions of French, Spanish, and Italian, determined also the specific distinctions of one Italian dialect from another.
Those of the north-west, for instance, inclined to Gallic, and those of the north-east to Illyrian idiom. Those of Lombardy in general exhibit a mixture of German words. Those of Sicily and the south approximate more to a Spanish type, and share the effects of Greek and Arab occupation. The dialects of the center, especially the Tuscan, show marked superiority both in grammatical form and phonetic purity over the more disintegrated and corrupted idioms of north and south.
It might be suggested that Tuscan, being less modified by foreign contact, continued the natural life of the old rustic Latin according to laws of unimpeded self-development. But, however we may attempt to explain this problem, the fact remains that, while the Italian dialects present affinities which show them to be of one linguistic family, it is Tuscan that completes and inter prets them collectively.
It is a dialect, but a dialect that realized the bent and striving of the language. We find it difficult to feel, far more to state, what qualities in a dialect and in the people of the district who use it, render one idiom more adapted to literary usage, more characteristic of the language it helps to constitute, more plastic and expressive of national peculiarities, than those around it. But the fact is certain that this superiority in Tuscan was early recognized;  and that too without any political advantages in favor of its triumph.
Boniface VIII. It was something spiritually quintessential, something complementary to the sister dialects, which caused the success of Tuscan. Thus, while literary Latin, though dying and almost dead, was taught in the grammar schools and used by learned men, the rustic Latin in the thirteenth century had disappeared.
But this disappearance was not death. It was transformation. The group of dialects which represented the new phase in its existence, shared such common qualities as proved them to have had original affinity; and fitted them for being recognized as a single family. The position, therefore, of the Italians at the close of the thirteenth century with regard to language, was this. They possessed the classic Latin authors in a bad state of preservation, and studied a few of them with some minuteness, basing their own learned style upon the imitation of Virgil and Ovid, Cicero, Boethius, and the rhetoricians of the lower empire.
But at home, in their families, upon the market-place, and in the prosecution of business, they talked the local dialects, each of which was more or less remotely representative of the ancient vulgar Latin. However these dialects might differ, they formed in combination a new language, distinct from the parent stock of Rustic Latin, and equally distinct from French and Spanish. If this was true of the refined type of Tuscan used by a great master, it was no less true of dialectical compositions selected for the express purpose of exhibiting their rudeness. Dante clearly expected contemporary readers not only to interpret, but to appreciate the shades of greater and lesser nicety in the examples he culled from Roman, Apulian, Florentine and other vernacular literatures.
This expectation proves that he felt himself to be dealing with a group of dialects which, taken collectively, formed a common idiom. The desideratum, to use Dante's words, was "that illustrious, cardinal, courtly, curial mother-tongue, proper to each Italian State, special to none, whereby the local idioms of every city are to be measured, weighed, and compared. The peculiar conditions of Italy, as he described them, were destined to subsist throughout the next two centuries and a half, when men of learning, taking Tuscan as their standard, sought by practice and example to form a national language.
The self-consciousness of the Italians front to front with this problem, as revealed to us in the pages of the De Eloquio , and the decision with which the great authors of the fourteenth century fixed a certain type of diction, accurately spoken nowhere, though nearer to the Tuscan than to any other idiom, may be reckoned among the most interesting phenomena in the history of literature.
Tuscan predominated; but that the masterpieces of the trecento were not composed in any one of the unadulterated Tuscan dialects is clear, not merely from the contemporary testimony of Dante himself, but also from the obstinate discussions raised upon this subject by Bembo at a later period. A guiding and controlling principle of taste determined the instinctive method of selection whereby Tuscan was adapted to the common needs of Italy. Written for and by the people, the relics of this prose and poetry are valuable, not merely for the light they throw on the formation of language, but also for their indications of national tendencies.
To this class again belongs Bonvesin's Cinquanta Cortesie da Tavola , a book of etiquette adapted to the needs of the small bourgeoisie upon their entrance into social life. It is impossible to fix even an approximate date for the emergence of Italian prose. Law documents, deeds of settlement, contracts, and public acts, which can be referred with certainty to the first half of the thirteenth century, display a pressure of the vulgar speech upon the formal Latin of official verbiage.
The effort to obtain precision in designating some particular locality or some important person, forces the scribe back upon his common speech; and these evidences of difficulty in wielding the Latin which had now become a dying language, prove that, long before it was written, Italian was spoken. Then follow Lucchese documents and letters of Sienese citizens, which, though they have no literary value, show that people who could write had begun to express their thoughts in spoken idiom.
Among these a prominent place must be assigned to the version of Marco Polo's travels, which Rusticiano of Pisa first published in French, having possibly received them in Venetian from the traveler's own lips. The Tesoro of Brunetto Latini and Egidio's De Regimine Principum were Italianized in this way; while numerous digests of Frankish romances, including the collection known as Conti di antichi Cavalieri , appeared to meet the same popular demand.
Religious history and ethics furnished another library in the vernacular.
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After a like manner, books of rhetoric and grammar in vogue among the medieval students were popularized in abstracts for Italian readers. Of scientific compilations, the Composizione del Mondo by Ristoro of Arezzo, embracing astronomical and geographical information, takes rank with the ethical and rhetorical works already mentioned.
The note of all these compositions is that they are professedly epitomes of learning, already possessed in more authentic sources by scholars. As such, they prove that there existed a class of readers eager for instruction, to whom books written in Latin or in French were not accessible. In a word, they indicate the advent of the modern tongue, with all its exigencies and with all its capabilities. To deal with the Chronicles of this period is no easy matter; for those which are professedly the oldest—Matteo Spinelli's Ricordano Malespini's, and Lu Ribellamentu di Sicilia —have been proved in some sense fabrications.
On the other hand, it is clear from the Cento Novelle that the more dramatic episodes of history and myth were being submitted to the same epitomizing treatment. Finally we have to mention Guittone of Arezzo's epistles as the first serious attempt to treat the vulgar tongue rhetorically, for a distinct literary purpose.
From the dry records of incipient prose it is refreshing to turn to another species of popular poetry; for poetry in the period of origins is always more adult than prose. Numerous fragments of political songs have been disinterred from chronicles, which can be referred to the thirteenth century. Thus an anonymous Genoese rhymster celebrated the victories of Laiazzo and Curzola , while Giovanni Villani preserved six lines upon the siege of Messina More important, because of greater extent, are the laments and amorous or comic poems, which can be attributed to the same century.
Passing to satirical poems, I may mention two pieces extracted from a Bolognese MS. Each displays facility of composition and a literary style already formed. They are not without French parallels; but the mode of presentation is Italian, and the phrases have been transplanted without change from vulgar dialogue. Two romantic lyrics extracted from the same MS. Each of the ditties bears a thoroughly Italian stamp, and anticipates by its peculiar style of double entendre a whole department of national poetry—the Florentine Carnival Songs and the Capitoli of the Roman academies being distinctly foreshadowed in their humorous and allusive treatment of a vulgar topic.
Hence we may take occasion to observe that those who accuse Lorenzo de' Medici and his contemporaries of debasing popular taste by the deliberate introduction of licentiousness into art, exceed the limits of just censure. What is called the Paganism of the Renaissance, was indigenous in Italy. We find it inherent in vulgar literature before the date of Boccaccio; and if, with the advance of social luxury, it assumed, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a more objectionable prominence, this should not be exclusively ascribed to the influence of humanistic studies or to the example of far-sighted despots.
To an unprejudiced student of Italian arts and letters nothing seems more clearly proved than the fact that a certain powerful objective quality—call it realism, call it sensuousness—determines their most genuine productions, sinking to grossness, ascending to sublimity, combining with religious feeling in the fine arts, blending with the definiteness of classic style, but never absent. It is this objectivity, realism, sensuousness, which constitutes the strength of the Italians, and assigns the limitations of their faculty.
In quite a different region, but of no less importance for the future of Italian literature, must be reckoned the religious hymns, which, during the thirteenth century, began to be composed in the vernacular. The earliest known specimen is S. Francis' famous Cantico del Sole , which, even as it is preserved to us, after undergoing the process of modernization, retains the purity and freshness of a bird's note in spring.
After S. Francis, but at the distance of half a century, followed Jacopone da Todi, with his passionate and dithyrambic odes, which seem to vibrate tongues of fire. To this religious lyric the Flagellant frenzy and the subsequent formation of Companies of Laudesi gave decisive impulse. I shall have in a future chapter to discuss the relation between the Umbrian Lauds and the origins of the Drama. It is enough here to notice the part played in the evolution of the language by so early a transition from the Latin Hymns of the Church to Hymns written in the modern speech for private confraternities and domestic gatherings.
We learn from this meager review of ancient popular poetry that during the thirteenth century the dialects of each district had begun to seek literary expression. There are many indications that the products of one province speedily became the property of the rest.
What really happened was, that Frederick's Court became the center of a widespread literary movement. The Sicilian dialect predominating at Palermo over the rest, the poets of different provinces who assembled round the Emperor were subsequently known as Sicilian. Their songs, passing upward through the peninsula, bore that name, even when they had, as at Florence, been converted, by dialectical modifications, to the use of Tuscan folk. We must bear in mind that the poets of this Court were men of learned education—judges, notaries, officials.
Dante makes dottori nearly synonymous with trovatori. This proves that in the island, side by side with "courtly makers" and dottori , there flourished an original and vulgar manner of poetry. The process of Tuscanization referred to in the preceding paragraph is too important in its bearings on the problems of Italian language and literature, to be passed over without further discussion. We possess but a few stanzas in a pure condition. There is, therefore, reason to believe that when Dante treated of the courtly Sicilian poets in his essay De Vulgari Eloquio , he knew their writings in a form already Tuscanized.
At the date of the composition of that essay, the Suabian House had been extinguished; the literary society of the south was broken up; and to Florence had already fallen the heritage of art. What is even more remarkable, the Bolognese poets, who preceded Dante and his peers by one generation, had abandoned their own dialect in favor of the purified Tuscan. Consequently the new Italian literature was already Tuscan either by origin, or by adoption, or by a process of transformation, before the Florentines assumed the dictatorship of letters.
It seems paradoxical to hint that Dante should not have perceived what has been here stated as more than a mere possibility. How came it that he included Florentine among the peccant idioms, and maintained that the true literary speech was still to seek? These doubts may in part at least be removed, when we remember the peculiar conditions under which the courtly poetry he praised had been produced; and the indirect channels by which it had reached him.
They culled, for literary purposes, a vocabulary of colorless and neutral words, which clothed the same conventional ideas with elegant and artificial monotony.
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When these compositions underwent the further process of Tuscanization which was easy, owing to certain dialectical affinities between Sicilian and Tuscan , they lost to a large extent what still remained to them of local character, without acquiring the true stamp of Florentine. Even a contemporary could not have recognized in the verse of Jacopo da Lentino, thus treated, either a genuine Sicilian or a genuine Tuscan flavor. His language presented the appearance of being, as indeed it was, different from both idioms. The artifice of style made it pass for superior; and, in purely literary quality, it was in truth superior to the products of plebeian inspiration.
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We may prefer the racy stanzas of the Cognate to those frigid and exhausted euphuisms. But the critical taste of so great a master as even Dante was not tuned to any such preference. Though he recognized the defects of the Sicilian poets, as is manifest from his dialogue with Guido in the Purgatory , he gave them all credit for elevating verse above the vulgar level.
Their insipid diction seemed to him the first germ of a noble lingua aulica. Its colorlessness and strangeness hid the fact that it had already, at the close of the thirteenth century, assumed the Tuscan habit, and that from the well-springs of Tuscan idiom the Italian of the future would have to draw its aliment.
The downfall of the Hohenstauffens and the dispersion of their Court-poets proved a circumstance of decisive benefit to Italian literature, by removing it from a false atmosphere into conditions where it freely flourished and expanded its originality. Feudalism formed no vital part of the Italian social system, and chivalry had never been more than an exotic, cultivated in the hotbed of the aristocracy. It is from the people, in centers of popular activity, or where the spirit of the people finds full play in representative society, that characteristic art must be developed.
If the chances of our drama had been confined to Court-patronage or Sidney's Areopagus, instead of being extended to the nation by free competition in the wooden theaters where Marlowe and Shakspere appealed to popular taste, there is little doubt but that England would only have boasted of a mediocre and academical stage. When Italian poetry deserted Palermo for the banks of the Arno, it exchanged the Court for the people; the subtleties of decadent chivalry for the genuine impulses of a free community; the pettiness of culture for the humanities of a public conscious of high destinies and educated in a masculine political arena.
Here the grand qualities of the Italian genius found an open field. Literature, abandoning imitative elegance, expressed the feelings, thoughts, and aspirations of a breed second to none in Europe for acuteness of intellect, intensity of emotion, and greatness of purpose. At Palermo the princes and their courtiers had been reciprocally auditors and poets. At Florence the people listened; and the poets, sprung from them, were speakers. Except at Athens in the golden age of Hellas, no populace has equaled that of Florence both for the production of original genius, and also for the sensitiveness to beauty, diffused throughout all classes, which brings the artist and his audience into right accord.
Two stages in the transition from Sicily to Florence need to be described. Guittone of Arezzo strikes the historian of literature as the man who first attempted to nationalize the polished poetry of the Sicilian Court, and to strip the new style of its feudal pedantry. He wrote, however, roughly.
Though he practiced vernacular prose, and assumed in verse the declamatory tone which Petrarch afterwards employed with such effect in his addresses to the consciousness of Italy, yet Dante could speak of him with cold contempt  ; nor can we claim for him a higher place than that of precursor. He attempted more than he was able to fulfill. But his attempt, when judged by the conditions of his epoch, deserves to rank among achievements.
With a poet of Bologna the case is different. Placed midway between Lombardy and Tuscany, Bologna shared the instincts of the two noblest Italian populations—the Communes who wrested liberty from Frederick Barbarossa, and the Communes who were to give arts and letters to the nation. Bologna, moreover, was proud of her legal university, and had already won her title of "the learned.
Learning was the mother of the national Italian poetry. From Guido started a school of transcendental singers, who used the ancient form and subject-matter of exotic poetry for the utterance of metaphysical thought. The Italians, born, as it were, old, were destined thus to pass from imitation, through speculation, to the final freedom of their sensuous art. Of this new lyric style—logical, allegorical, mystical—the first masterpiece was Guido's Canzone of the Gentle Heart.
The code was afterwards formulated in Dante's Convito. The life it covered and interpreted was painted in the Vita Nuova. Its apocalypse was the Paradiso.
Guido's language is Tuscan; not the Tuscan of the people, but the Tuscan of the Toscaneggiamenti. Herein, again, we note the importance of this poet in the history of literature. Working outside Florence, but obeying Florentine precedent, he stamps Italian with a Tuscan seal, and helps to conceal from Tuscans themselves the high destinies of their idiom. Dante puts us at the right point of view for estimating Guido's service. Though he recognized the Sicilians as the first masters of poetic style in Italy, Dante saluted the poet of Bologna as his father  : On the authority of this sentence we hail in Guido the founder of the new and specifically national literature of the Italians.
If not the master, he was the prophet of that dolce stil nuovo , which freed them from dependence on foreign traditions, and led, by transmutation, to the miracles of their Renaissance art. He divined that sincere source of inspiration, whereof Dante speaks  :. The happy instinct which led him to use Tuscan, has secured his place upon the roll of poets who may still be read with pleasure. And of this, too, Dante prophesied  :. Bologna could boast of many minor bards—of the excellent Onesto, of Fabrizio and Ghislieri, qui doctores fuerunt illustres et vulgarium discretione repleti.
Thus both by example and precept, by the testimony of Dante and the fair fame of her own writers, this city makes for us a link between Sicilian and Tuscan literature. Manfred was slain at Benevento in , and with him expired the prospects of Sicilian poetry. Dante, destined to inaugurate the great age, was born at Florence in Guido Guinicelli died in , when Dante had completed his twelfth year. In one of those years of preparation and transition, while the learned stanzas of Guido Guinicelli were preluding the "new sweet style" of Tuscany, this yellow-haired scion of the Suabian princes, the progenitor of the Bentivogli, sent a song forth from his dungeon's loggie to greet the provinces of Italy:—.
These lines sound a farewell to the old age and a salutation to the new. Enzo's heart is in the lowlands of Apulia and the great Capitanate, where his father built castles and fought mighty wars. He belongs, like his verses, like his race, like the chivalrous sentiments he had imbibed in youth, to the past; and now he is dreaming life away, a captive with the burghers of Bologna. Yet it is Tuscany for which he reserves the epithet of Sovereign—Tuscany where all courtesy holds sway. The situation is pathetic. The poem is a prophecy. Raimond of Tours, one of the earlier French minnesingers, bade his friend seek hospitality "in the noble city of the Florentines, named Florence; for it is there that joy and song and love are perfected with beauty crowned.
Villani, writing of the year , when the Guelfs had triumphed and the nobles had been quelled, speaks thus of those festivities  :—"In this happy and fair state of ease and peaceful quiet so wealth-giving to merchants and artificers, and specially to the Guelfs, who ruled the land, there was formed in the quarter of S.
This band had no other purpose than to pass the time in games and solace, and in dances of ladies, knights and other people of the city, roaming the town with trumpets and divers instruments of music, in joy and gladness, and abiding together in banquets at mid-day and eventide. The young men mid the women went with gaze fixed upon those eyes angelical, that turn the midnight into noon.
Over their blonde tresses the maidens wore gems and precious garlands; lilies, violets and roses were their charming faces. You would not have said: 'Yon are mortal beings. The amusements lasted two months, from May 1 until the end of the midsummer feast of S. John, patron of Florence. Later on, we read of two companies, the one dressed in yellow, the other in white, each led by their King, who filled the city with the sound of music, and wore garlands on their heads, and spent their time in dances and banquets.
Again, when the nobles, after the battle of Campaldino, had been finally suppressed, Villani once more returns to the subject of these companies, describing the booths of wood adorned with silken curtains, which were ranged along the streets and squares, for the accommodation of guests. Not only was Florence freed from grave anxieties and heavy expenses, caused by the intramural quarrels between Counts and Burghers, but the city felt the advent of her own prosperity, the realization of her true type, in their victorious close.
Then the new noble class, the popolani grassi , assumed the gentle manners of chivalry, accommodating its customs to their own rich jovial ideal. Feudalism was extinguished; but society retained such portions of feudal customs as shed beauty upon common life. Tranquillity succeeded to strife, and the medieval city presented a spectacle similar to that which an old Greek lyrist has described among the gifts of Peace:. Goro di Stagio Dati, writing at the end of the fourteenth century, has preserved for us an animated picture of Florence in May.
John, which follows at midsummer, and there is none but provides himself betimes with clothes and ornaments and jewels. Marriages and other joyous occasions are deferred until that time, to do the festival honor; and two months before the date, they begin to furnish forth the decorations of the races—dresses of varlets, banners, clarions, draperies, and candles, and whatsoever other offerings should be made. The whole city is in a bustle for the preparation of the Festa; and the hearts of young men and women, who take part therein, are set on naught but dancing, playing, singing, banqueting, jousting, and other fair amusements as though naught else were to be done in those weeks before the coming of S.
John's Eve. John's Day which follows, need not be transcribed. Yet it may be well to call attention to a quattrocento picture in the Florentine Academy, which illustrates the customs of that festival. It is a long panel representing the marriage of an Adimari with a daughter of the Ricasoli. The Baptistery appears in the background; and on the piazza are ladies and young men, clad in damask and rich stuffs, with jewels and fantastic head-dresses, joining hands as though in act of dancing. Under the Loggia del Bigallo sit the trumpeters of the Signory, blowing clarions adorned with pennons.
The lily of Florence is on these trappings. Serving men carry vases and basins toward the Adimari palace, in preparation for the wedding feast. A large portion of the square is covered in with a white and red awning. If the chroniclers and painters enable us to form some conception of Florentine festivity, we are introduced to the persons and pastimes of these jovial companies by the poet Folgore da San Gemignano. He is a thirteenth-century Boccaccio, without Boccaccio's enthusiasm for humane studies. Ideal love, asceticism, religion, the virtues of the Christian and the knight, are not for him.
His soul is set on the enjoyment of the hour. But this material ism is presented in a form of art so temperate, with colors so refined and outlines so delicately drawn, that there is nothing repulsive in it. His selfishness and sensuality are related to Aretino's as the miniatures of a missal to Giulio Romano's Modes of Venus. In his sonnets on the Months, Folgore addresses the Brigata as "valiant and courteous above Lancelot, ready, if need were, with lance in rest, to spur along the lists of Camelot.
February brings the pleasures of the chase. March is good for fishing, with merry friends at night, and never a friar to be seen:. In April the "gentle country all abloom with fair fresh grass" invites the young men forth. May brings in tournaments and showers of blossoms—garlands and oranges flung from balcony and window—girls and youths saluting with kisses on cheeks and lips:.
In June the company of youths and maidens quit the city for the villa, passing their time in shady gardens, where the fountains flow and freshen the fine grass, and all the folk shall be love's servants. July finds them in town again, avoiding the sun's heat and wearing silken raiment in cool chambers where they feast. In August they are off to the hills, riding at morn and eve from castle to castle, through upland valleys where streams flow.
September is the month of hawking; October of fowling and midnight balls. With November and December winter comes again, and brings the fireside pleasures of the town. On the whole, there is too much said of eating and drinking in these sonnets; and the series concludes with a piece of inhumane advice:. The sonnets on the Days breathe the same quaint medieval hedonism. Tuesday is the day of battles and pitched fields; but these are described in mock-heroics, which show what the poet really felt about the pleasure of them.
Wednesday is the day of banquets, when ladies and girls are waited on by young men wearing amorous wreaths:. Thursday is the day of jousts and tourneys; Friday of hounds and horses; Saturday, of hawks and fowling-nets; Sunday, of "dances and feats of arms in Florence":. Such then was the joyous living, painted with colors of the fancy by a Tuscan poet, and realized in Florence at the close of that eventful century which placed the city under Guelf rule, in the plenitude of peace, equality, and wealth by sea and land.
Distinctions of class had been obliterated. The whole population enjoyed equal rights and equal laws. No man was idle; and though the simplicity of the past, praised by Dante and Villani, was yielding to luxury, still the pleasure-seekers were controlled by that fine taste which made the Florentines a race of artists. The buildings whereby the City of the Flower is still made beautiful above all cities of Italian soil, were rising.
The people abode in industry and order beneath the sway of their elected leaders. Supreme in Tuscany, fearing no internal feuds, strong in their militia of thirty thousand burghers to repel a rival State, the Florentines had reached the climax of political prosperity. Not as yet had arisen that little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, above Pistoja, which was destined to plunge them into the strife of Blacks and Whites. During that interval of windless calm, in that fair city, where the viol and the lute were never silent through spring-tide and summer, the star of Italian poetry, that "crowning glory of unblemished wealth," went up and filled the heavens with light.
The subject-matter of this imitative poetry was love—but love that bore a peculiar relation to ordinary human feeling. Woman was regarded as an ideal being, to be approached with worship bordering on adoration. The lover derived personal force, virtue, elevation, energy, from his enthusiastic passion. Honor, justice, courage, self-sacrifice, contempt of worldly goods, flowed from that one sentiment; and love united two wills in a single ecstasy.
Love was the consummation of spiritual felicity, which surpassed all other modes of happiness in its beatitude. Thus Bernard de Ventadour and Jacopo da Lentino were ready to forego Paradise unless they might behold their lady's face before the throne of God.
For a certain period in modern history, this mysticism of the amorous emotion was no affectation. It formulated a genuine impulse of manly hearts, inflamed by beauty, and touched with the sense of moral superiority in woman, perfected through weakness and demanding physical protection. By bringing the cruder passions into accord with gentle manners and unselfish aspirations, it served to temper the rudeness of primitive society; and no little of its attraction was due to the conviction that only refined natures could experience it.
This new aspect of love was due to chivalry, to Christianity, to the Teutonic reverence for women, in which religious awe seems to have blended with the service of the weaker by the stronger. Sincere and beautiful as the ideal of chivalrous love may have been, it speedily degenerated. Chivalry, though a vital element of feudalism, existed, even among the nations of its origin, more as an aspiration than a reality.
In Italy it never penetrated the life or subdued the imagination of the people. They found it ready made. They used it because the culture of a Court, in sympathy with feudal Europe, left them no other choice. Louis, the nations of the South could only boast of a crusading Frederick II. Frederick the troubadour was a no less anomalous being than Frederick the crusader. He conformed to contemporary fashion, but his spirit ran counter to the age.
Curiosity, incipient humanism, audacious doubt, the toleration which inclined him to fraternize with Saracens and seek the learning of the Arabs, placed him outside the sphere of thirteenth century conceptions. His expedition to the East appears a mere parade excursion, hypocritical, political, ironical. In like manner his love-poetry and that of his courtiers rings hollow in our ears. It harmonized with the Italian genius, when Guido Guinicelli treated chivalrous love from the standpoint of Bolognese learning.
He altered none of the forms; he used the conventional phraseology. But he infused a new spirit into the subject-matter. His poetry ceased to be formal; the phrases were no longer verbiage. The epicureanism of Frederick's life clashed with the mystic exaltation of knighthood. There was no discord between Guido's scientific habit of mind and his expression of a philosophical idea conveyed in terms of amorous enthusiasm. Upon his lips the words:.
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They do not convey the spontaneity of feeling, but a philosopher's contemplation of love and beauty in their influence on human character. Guido's mood might be compared with that of the Greek sage, when he exclaimed that neither the morning nor the evening star is so wonderful as Justice, or when he thus apostrophized Virtue:. For the chivalrous races, Love had been an enthusiastic ideal. A public trained in legal and scholastic studies, whose mental furniture was drawn from S.
Thomas and Accursius, hailed their poet in Guido Guinicelli. For them it was natural that poetry should veil philosophy with verse; that love should be confounded with the movement of the soul toward truth; that beauty should be treated as the manifestation of a spiritual good. Dante in his Canzone, Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore , appeals, not to emotion, but to intelligence.
He tells us that understanding was the ancient name of love , and describes the effect of passion in a young man's heart as a revelation raising him above the level of common experience. Thus the transmutation of the simpler elements of the chivalrous code into philosophical doctrine, where the form of the worshiped lady transcends the sphere of sense, and her spirit is identified with the lover's deepest thought and loftiest aspiration, was sincere in medieval Florence.
The Tuscan intellect was too virile and sternly strung to be satisfied with amorous rhymes.
Enjoying neither the freedom of the Greek nor the disengagement of the modern spirit, he found it more proper to clothe a scientific content with the veil of passion, than to paint the personality of the woman he loved with natural precision. Between the mysticism of a sublime but visionary adoration on the one side, and the sensualities of vulgar appetite or the decencies of married life on the other, there lay for him no intermediate artistic region.
He understood the love of the imagination and the love of the senses; but the love of the heart, familiar to the Northern races, hardly existed for him. And here it may be parenthetically noticed that the Italians, in the middle ages, created no feminine ideal analogous to Gudrun or Chriemhild, Iseult or Guinevere. When they left the high region of symbolism, they descended almost without modulation to the prose of common life. Thus the Selvaggia of Cino, the Beatrice of Dante, the Laura of Petrarch, made way for the Fiammetta of Boccaccio and the women of the Decameron, when that ecstasy of earlier enthusiasm exhausted.
Nor must it be thought that the emotions thus philosophized were unreal. Dante loved Beatrice, though she became for him an allegory. The splendid vision of her beauty and goodness attended him through life, assuming the guidance of his soul in all its stages. Difficult as it may be to comprehend this blending of the real and transcendental, we must grasp it if we desire to penetrate the spirit of the fourteenth century in Italy. The human heart remains unchanged. No metaphysical sophistication, no allegory, no scholastic mysticism, can destroy the spontaneity of instinct in a man who loves, or cloud a poet's vision.
Love does not cease to be love because it is sublimed to the quintessence of a self-denying passion. It still retains its life in feeling, and its root in sense. Beauty does not cease to be beautiful because it has been moralized and identified with the attraction that lifts men upward to the sphere of the eternal truths.
Nor is poetry extinguished because the singer deems it his vocation to utter genuine thought, and scorns the rhyming pastimes of the simple amorist. The Florentine school presents us with a poetry which aimed at being philosophical, but which at the same time vibrated with life and delineated moods of delicate emotion. To effect a flawless fusion between these two strains in the new style, was infinitely difficult; nor were the poets of that epoch equally successful.
Guido Cavalcanti, the leader of the group which culminates in Dante, won his fame by verse that savors more of the dialectician than the singer. Ranking science above poetry, he is said to have disdained even Virgil. His odes are dryly scholastic—especially that famous Donna mi priega , which contemporaries studied clause by clause, and which, after two centuries, served Dino del Garbo for the text of a metaphysical discourse.
His Ballate were probably regarded by himself and his friends as playthings, thrown off in idle moments to distract a mind engaged in thorny speculations. Yet we find here the first full blossom of genuine Italian verse. Their beauty is that of popular song, starting flowerlike from the soil, and fragrant in its first expansion beneath the sun of courtesy and culture. Nothing remained, in this kind, for Boccaccio and Poliziano, but to echo the Ballata of the country maidens, and to complete the welcome to the May.
Two currents of verse, the one rising from the senses, the other from the brain, the one deriving force and fullness from the people, the other nourished by the schools, flowed apart in Guido Cavalcanti's poetry. They were combined into a single stream by Cino da Pistoja. His Selvaggia deserves a place with Beatrice and Laura. From Cino Petrarch derived his mastery of limpid diction. In Cino the artistic sense of the Italians awoke. He produced something distinct both from the scientific style of Guido Guinicelli, and also from the wilding song which Guido Cavalcanti's Ballate echoed.
He seems to have applied himself to the main object of polishing poetical diction, and rendering expression at once musical and lucid. We instinctively compare his work with that of Mino da Fiesole in bass-relief. Dante was five years older than Cino. To him belongs the glory of having effected the same fusion in a lyric poetry at once more comprehensive and more lofty. Dante yields no point as a dialectician and subtle thinker to Guido Cavalcanti. He surpasses Cino da Pistoja as an artist. His passion and imagination are more fiery than Guido's.
His tenderness is deeper and more touching than Cino's. Even in those minor works with which he preluded the Divine Comedy, Dante soars above all competition, taking rank among the few poets born to represent an age and be the everlasting teachers of the human soul. Yet even Dante, though knowing that he was destined to eclipse both the Guidi, though claiming Love alone for his inspirer, was not wholly free from the scholasticism of his century.
In the earlier lyrics of the Vita Nuova and in the Canzoni of the Convito , he allows his feeling to be over-weighted by the scientific content. Between his emotion and our sympathy there rises, now and again, the mist of metaphysic. While giving them intenser meaning, he still plays upon the commonplaces of his predecessors.
Thus in the sonnet Amor e 'l cor gentil son una cosa he rehandles Guinicelli's theme; while the following stanza repeats the well-worn doctrine that Love should be the union of beauty and of excellence  :. Dante's concessions to the mannerism of the school weigh as nothing in the scales against the beauty and the truth of that most spiritual of romances, to which the Vita Nuova gives melodic utterance.
Within the compass of one little book is bound up all that Florence in the thirteenth century contributed to the refinement of medieval manners, together with all that the new school of poets had imagined of highest in their philosophical conception. The harmony of life and science attains completion in the real but idealized experience, which transcends and combines both motives in a personality uniquely constituted for this blending.
It is enough for the young Dante to meet Beatrice, to pass her among her maidens in the city-ways, to receive her salute, to admire her moving through the many-colored crowd, to meditate upon her apparition, as of one of God's angels, in the solitude of his chamber. She is a dream, a vision. But it is the dream of his existence, the vision that unfolds for him the universe—more actual, more steeped in emotion, more stimulative of sublime aspiration and virile purpose than many loves which find fruition in long years of intercourse.