« AnteriorContinuar »
who enjoys among the Spaniards any degree of reputation. But those who are acquainted with his Labyrinto will probably think that the praise he has received must have been accorded rather to the boldness of his design, than to the happiness of ils execution. It is like Fazio d'Uberti's “ Dettamondo," a laborious imitation of the Divina Commedia, the most inimitable of poems; with some few passages of interest and beauty, amidst a profusion of pedantry and bad taste. But such productions do not properly fall under our general view of national poetry; and, we doubt not, our readers will readily dispense with an analysis which could not be relieved even by the variety of agreeable selection.
It is difficult to look back upon this early period of Spanish literature, without some melancholy recollections, and some gloomy anticipations. No where, perhaps, are the traces of the mutability of literature more strongly marked, or exhibited in more affecting colours. Centuries have already elapsed, since Arabia, that country that communicated to Spain and to Europe the stores of her vast knowledge, has relapsed into her primitive barbarism. The Arab again wanders, as rude as ever, over countries as wild as before. The colleges of Bagdad, of Balsora, and Sarmarcand, now appear only in fiction ;—the vast libraries of Arabian literature are only to be traced in the collections of the Escurial;—and those poets who were once honoured with the title of Divine, are passed over in silence by D'Herbelot. Granada, on which the Arabians had lavished all the labours of art, now owes its beauties to nature alone ;—the site of the Albaycin is disputed; the Generalife is a desert, and the Alhambra a ruin!
« Giace l'alia Cartago-e åppena i segni
Dell' alte sue ruine il lido serba ;
Copre i fasti e le pompe arena ed erba !" The beautiful Provençal—the first-born of European languages, which had also imbibed, through its intercourse with Spain, the knowledge and refinement of the East, after a blaze of three centuries, has expired. The language in which kings delighted to compose—in which Thibaut and Alphonso sang-and Caur-de-Lion gave vent to his feelings in prison, has already become a dead language, a labour and a study ;--and its Troubadours, once so celebrated, are now known only by the voluminous induslry of St. Palaye, and the eulogies of Dante and Petrarca. Over that period of Spanish literature which we have been considering the same obscurity has spread. Its poets, whose compositions are now read, admired, and commented on, have left behind them no trace to which the imagination can altach itself. They have“ died, and made no sign." We pass from the infancy of Spanish poetry, to the age of Charles, as through a long vista of monuments without inscriptions, as the traveller approaches the noise and bustle of modern Rome through the lines of silent and unknown tombs that border the Appian Way. And who shall say how soon the same principle of mutability may render the fall of our literature, in its turn, a subject of regret and enquiry ;-how soort the philosopher may have to point out the operation of those principles, unseen by us, which have occasioned its decline ;-how soon the poet may collect and weep over its scattered fragments; — and the antiquary speculate among the ruins of our palaces, as he now does in the silent chambers of the Alhambra, or the nameless temples of Palmyra or Persepolis !
SKETCH OF THE LYRIC POETRY OF SPAIN DURING THE
AGE OF CHARLES THE FIFTH.*
An elegant translation of an elegant poet induces us to resume the subject of Spanish Literature, and to present, not a detailed account, but a rapid sketch, of the lyric poetry of Spain during the age of Charles V., a period which Spanish critics seem to consider as the golden age of their poelry. The remarkable feature of this period, is the decline of that old chivalrous poetry to which we had occasion lately to direct the attention of our readers, and the general introduction of the Italian laste.
Till the labours of Herder, Dieze, and other critics in Germany, had brought to light those rich collections of ballads in which the poetry of Spain abounds, foreigners seem scarcely to have been aware that there existed any thing like a poetical literature in Spain before Garcilaso. To them Spain seemed to have made her appearance at once in the field of letters and of European politics. They were acquainted with her literature, only after it had approximated so closely to the Italian as to render it no easy matter to point out a characteristic difference independently of language, and were ignorant of the remarkable phenomenon exhibited by the decline of a national literature, among a people peculiarly allached to old habits and associations, and the introduction of a foreign taste, opposed in almost every point to that which it supplanted. From the Spanish critics little information was to be derived. Their notices of their older poets and their productions, are given in the same brief, patronising style, in which, until lately, it was the custom for French critics to speak of their own poetry before the age of Louis XIV.: and the change from the old Castilian poetry to the Italian is generally mentioned as a matter of course — an exchange of rudeness for refinement—which almost necessarily took place as soon as a fair opportunity of comparison was afforded, by the temporary connection occasioned by the political relations of the two countries.
But the publication of the early monuments of Spanish poetry which the industry of modern critics has accumulated, while it has introduced juster views of the state of literature during that period which her national critics have passed over in silence, has tended materially to increase the difficulty of accounting for the decline of this captivating style of poetry, and the adoption of the Italian. Whatever may have been the opportunities of intercourse afforded by the wars of Charles, and whatever the talent of Boscan and Garcilaso, by whom the new system was first practised, it is difficult for us to ascribe to their individual efforts such a revolution, or to doubt that it had its origin in remoter and more general causes. Nor is it to be inferred that these had no existence, because they are little noticed by the critical historians of that period, who find a sufficient explanation of the phenomenon in the influence which a more artful and elaborate style of composition was likely to exert over a nation whose first forms of versification were of a ruder nature. It is probable, that we are, at the present day, more capable of appreciating the effect of such causes, than those who wrote at a period more nearly approaching to the events which they describe.
* 1. The Works of Garcilaso de la Vega. Translated into English verse, by J. H. Wiffen. 2. Floresia de Kimas Antiguas Castellanas. Por Bohl de Faher. – Vol. xl. p. 443. July,
Men have a tendency to over-rate the importance of events in which they have themselves participated, or which still operate on their minds by a kind of personal interest. To them, a small object in the foreground is sufficient to shut out miles of distance. The birth or death of a king—the loss or gaining of a battle—the opinions of some insulated critic—the labours
а of some favourite poet, magnified by their proximity, appear sufficient to account for revolutions which ve in truth been the silent work of centuries. It is only when events have ceased to agitate with this personal feeling-when, at ihe distance of a century or two, they have all subsided into their proper position in the chain of causes, that we learn to appreciate their relative influence on literature, and to perceive, as we generally do, how powerless is any single event, or the efforts of any individual, to arrest or accelerate its course of progression or decay.
To enable us, then, to understand properly the extent of the change now introduced into Spanish literature, it is necessary to state briefly the character of Italian poetry at this period, and the circumstances out of which it had originated.
In Italy, a number of causes had concurred to give to poetry a peculiar tone, to limit its objects, and to repress the development of those feelings which give dignity and stability to national poetry; but, at the same time, lo communicate, by these very restraints, a degree of polish and elegance, certainly far superior to any thing that had preceded them, and in itself not a little attractive and imposing. Amidst the general activity of intellect and fancy that accompanied the rise of chivalry, the descendants of the former masters of the world alone partook of no spark of the common enthusiasm. The wild romantic legends, and the heroic fictions, which elsewhere animaled the courage and exalted the sentiments of Europe, though sufficiently known in Italy, are sought for in vain in its literature. A few passing allusions in Dante-an occasional adoption of some incident from the French romances in the Cenlo Novelle—a contemptuous expression in Petrarca, are almost the only traces to be met with ; and it may certainly be said, that before the time of Zinabi or Pulci, these fictions had never exercised any influence on the literature of Italy.
This might be owing to many causes. Agitated by intestine tumults, or overrun by foreign enemies, the various provinces of Italy were united by no connecting link. Since the removal of the empire to Constantinople, her history had been little but a record of disasters. There were no national and brilliant recollections, therefore, to which, as to a bond of fellowship, the inhabitants of her scattered stales might appeal ; and that mercantile and commercial spirit* which even at this period prevailed in every province where war allowed some intervals of repose, seemed to have quenched for ever the sparks of national enthusiasm.
But the evil did not terminale here. States originally despotic became gradually more so; and, even in those which still retained ihe name of republican, the subjects found they had only exchanged one tyrant for many. It is true that, among the petty sovereigns of Italy, there were some that affected to patronise and encourage literature. Even among the families of Sforza, Visconti, Gonzaga, Scala, and “the antique brood of Este,” thoso turbulent spirits whose names are associated with ideas of rudeness and ferocity, a desire to add the lustre of learning to the splendour of a military
• This is paruliarly visible in the Decameron, the spirit of which, like that of the Trabian Tales, is entirely commercial,
reputation is occasionally visible. But what one sovereign cultivated, his successor frequently laboured to suppress; and literature, to maintain its ground, requires some steady and systematic support, independent of the caprice of individuals. On the whole, therefore, its vigour declined during these fitful alternations of storm and sunshine. A check had been given to free discussion and to moral energy, and its effects were speedily visible on literature. Music and painting indeed continued to flourish; for it seems to be of įheir nature lo flourish under any government. Deriving but little impulse from public opinion, they exercise on it in turn but a feeble action ; nor it is perhaps too much to say, that no great or abiding emotion was ever yet produced by the sight of a painting, or the sound of a strain of music. Hence they excite little attention and jealousy even in the most arbitrary states; nay, it is probable they may rather be regarded with a friendly eye. There is a species of contemplative idleness and passive enjoyment of the present, with an indifference to the future, connected with the indulgence of these fascinating pursuits, which, on the whole, harmonises belter with the stillness of despotism, than with the stir and activity of the popular forms of government. But the higher branches of philosophy and eloquence -the science that investigates principles, and the art ihat clothes them with a splendid colouring-were almost annihilated by the vigilance of the Italian princes. Philosophy was confined to the discussion of points that bore not the remotest relation to the business of life ; and these dicussions, unimportant as they now appear, were characterised by a disgraceful ferocity of personal invective, which can only be believed by those who have looked into the letters of Filelfo and Poggio. Eloquence was employed in multiplying Novelle-imitations of the Decameron, which surpassed the original in licentiousness as much as they fell short of it in feeling and beauty, Poetry, again, which seems to hold a middle rank between the passive and sensual tendencies of the arts, and the intellectual activity which is the essence of philosophy and eloquence, parlook of the general restraint which fettered the imagination, and the consequent tendency to quiet and thoughtless enjoyment. The great mind of Dante had indeed outstripped the spirit of his age; but his inspiration was personal; and perhaps no poet of such distinguished talent ever exercised less influence on the literature of his country. The stern vigour and vehemence of his sentiments-the masterly boldness which sketches a portrait in a single line—the carelessness of petty beauties—the sublime reach of invention, which distinguished the Divina Commedia, had expired with its author; and the true spirit of the fifteenth century must be traced in its diffuse and feeble lyrics. Where the poet is sensible that there exists no unity of feeling among his countrymen, he naturally adopts the lyric form—the expression of individual feeling. His own mind, too, insensibly takes a colour from surrounding circumstances ; his first ebullitions of feeling grow tamer; he learns to suppress those strains which find no echo in the bosoms of his countrymen, and at last confines himself to those safe topics on which all are permitted to expatiate.
Hence we may explain something of that monotonous and languid eloquence which pervades the Italian poetry of the fifteenth century. Excluded from the use of national traditions by that wretched system of subdivision which has doomed Italy “per servir sempre, o vincitrice o vinta;"barred from all themes connected with Roman glory by the misgovernment of sovereigns, who, knowing the transitory nature of their power, used it with
a greater harshness, Poetry turned her attention to themes which could excite no jealousy or distrust—to the complaints or triumphs of love-to the celebration of the delights of a pastoral life—to the delineation of a world of magic and enchantment—to the unrestrained indulgence of a vein of buffoonery, which delighted in dispelling the illusions of Romance, by coupling them with low or ludicrous imagery-to all, in short, which was most remote from the existing state of things. The elaborale Sonnet, the artificial Canzone, the intricate Sestina, sufficient alone to have chilled the flow of lyrical inspiration—harmonised well with sentiments as artificial as themselves. Every thing took a tone of listlessness and luxurious easean air of composed melancholy, or quiet Epicurean enjoyment, that seemed to lull emotion to rest, and blend, in equal forgetfulness, the senses and the soul.
Yet this very limitation of the efforts of poetry to one class of subjects, -this studious exclusion of themes of more national and warmer interest, must be admitted to have given to the amatory and pastoral poetry of Italy a degree of perfection unequalled by that of any other nation. The love-verses of Petrarch, of Giusto da Conti, of Bembo, Lorenzo de' Medici, Politian, and Sannazzaro, are models of elegance and refinement; and calculated, beyond doubt, to exercise a considerable influence on the taste of any nation, whose poetry was of a less ornate and elaborate kind. Borrowing from the Troubadours the harmonious intricacy of the canzone, and from the Sicilians the form of the sonnet, they had eclipsed and cast into the shade the sources from which they had obtained them. It is an easy task to point oul their conceits and affectation; but who can be insensible, at the same time, to their exquisite imagination—the refinement of their sentiments—the beauty of their pictures—the classic air that pervades their eclogues
or the delicious harmony of their choruses, that float around us like lyrical voices heard in the air ? It is but a slender boast, perhaps, for a nation, that she has carried to its perfection the poetry of the senses ; but never, before or since, has it been dignified by so much genius, or allied to so many tender and amiable sentiments, or embalmed in such a stream of sweetness and melody.
Such appears to have been the general character of Italian poetry during the latter part of the fourteenth and the whole of the fifteenth century; and those who recollect the nature of the original romantic poetry of Spain will perceive, that it was opposed to the spirit of the Italian in almost all its leading features. The very essence of Spanish poetry was activity--that of the Italian repose.-The former had devoted its strains to the celebration of the national glories, and presented, only in a more dignified shape, events, which really adorned its annals ; in the latter, patriotism seemed to have expired with Dante and Petrarea," and all allusions to national events were scrupulously avoided. Hence the character of Spanish poetry, with all its occasional Orientalism, was natural; for it was the poetry of life and action ;-that of the Italian, occupied with an ideal world and imaginary Arcadia, was contemplative, dreamy, and unsubstantial.
From what causes, then, did it arise, that the reign of Charles V. should be remarkable for the decline of the old chivalrous taste in Spain, and the
. Even theirs is of a suspicious cast. Dante was evidently more a Ghibelline than an Italiana and Petrarch's patriotism evaporated in a single canzone, and a foolish admiration of the insane schemes of Cola de Rienzi .