Imagens das páginas

comprehension on the part of a wider, less educated public? Or is such impatience of form a sign of intellectual puberty, to which elaborate exposition is vexatious and almost an affront? Certain it is that prose like that of Milton is capable of a beauty and a dignity unattainable by one who writes in gasps, and yet—who can deny it ?—smartness and tartness are the qualities of a good society novel. Boccaccio never thought of that. It seems to me, therefore, that Boccaccio's style is above reproach in the abstract, but is applied to an unnatural use. His masters developed that style in the forum; he imported it into the boudoir. It was a mistake.

Blunders are not always bad, least of all when they take the form of exaggerated art. If Boccaccio had B<xxac<rfo'» really chosen a "fiorentino stilo umilissimo," triumph. instead of achieving a most imposing reputation, he would have been nought. In these matters, as Lord Bacon has remarked, pride is a rare antiseptic, and the Decameron is exceeding proud. It triumphed in Italy, in Europe in the fourteenth century, and it triumphs still. Among the poets who have derived inspiration from it are Chaucer, Hans Sachs, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega (notably in his play Servir con mala Estrella), Moliere, Dryden, Lessing, La Fontaine, and Alfred de Musset. The last-named observes in his Sylvia

"La Fontaine a ri duns Boccaee,
Oil Shakespeare fondait en pleura."

While 1 am forced to renounce any attempt to trace

in detail the effect of Boccaccio's labours, and more especially of the Decameron, on the «en

Dixiples. r' . . . ° .

eral course of things literary, it is requisite to point out the vast impulse it gave to prosewriting in the Italian peninsula. Whereas prose had been confined almost exclusively to sacred legend, secular tradition, and didactic writing, principally in the shape of translations, the second half of what has been called the "Tuscan period" (a.d. 1283-1375) witnessed the growth of a rich harvest of original compositions—letters and sermons, treatises and histories, novels and romances. Here I will deal only with a trio of writers who may be claimed as Boccaccio's immediate disciples. When the great prose-author died in 1375, Franco Sacchetti sang:—

"Ora o mancata ogni poesia,
E vote son le case di Parnaso."

This was a high compliment, for Sacchetti also was a poet, and of no mean order. Not to speak of his sonnets, his Battaglia delle Vecchie colic Giovane is almost worthy of Berni. His Novelle, though doubtless suggested by the Decameron, are composed in a different key. While there are realistic elements in Boccaccio, the natural tendency of that writer is towards the romantic, the ideal, even the impossible, a characteristic especially noticeable in his version of the Troilus legend. Sacchetti, on the other hand, a man of affairs who had held important public charges, is bent, not on creating a fancy world corresponding to his own conceptions of ought and slwuld, but on reproducing the common, everyday life of his own age. His novels constitute a portrait-gallery of " marquises and counts or cavaliers, and gentlemen great and small, and also ladies, great, middling, and lesser, and people of every other sort." Many of his personages were still alive at the time he was writing of them. Sacchetti's stories partake largely of anecdote. They are short and lively, and the style is not like Boccaccio's, but simple, direct, and yet elegant—the style that is formed by the encounter of wits in society rather than by solitary pains in the closet. Of the Trecento Novelle only two hundred and twenty-three have come down to us, some of them mere fragments.

Of the Pecorone of "Ser Giovanni" and the novels of Giovanni Sercambi it is impossible to speak flatteringly. They are modelled so obviously on the Decameron that comparison is inevitable, and these cold and colourless, or dull and desultory, stories cannot bear the test. So far as Sercambi is concerned, his failure in this respect is partially redeemed by a vivid chronicle of Lucca, his native city.

[ocr errors]





In England, as in Spain, the second half of the fourteenth century is marked by a new poetic blossoming. consecrated Such a phenomenon has often, and perhaps """'"• usually, its consecrated metre. In Italy it was endecasilldbi, in Spain the arte mayor. Chiefly through Chaucer's example, a characteristic decasyllabic verse was destined to supplant in English favour the heretofore fashionable short-rhymed couplets. This verse was not Chaucer's by invention. It had appeared in France as early as the Song of Roland, though, in couplets, probably not much before Machault. Such couplets appear stragglingly in Hampole's English, but perhaps by accident only. Chaucer, too, employs the "heroic couplet," but associates with its use a stanza of seven lines—" rhyme royal." The mastery Chaucer obtained over this form—albeit it had been adopted before his time by both Provencal and Xorth French poets—renders it in a sense his own. The arte mayor is found mostly in stanzas; and the growing use of the stanza, of which evidence has already appeared in the case of Boccaccio, and which will culminate hereafter in the poems of Ariosto and Tasso, is typical of the age.

It is to be remarked that Chaucer's verse differs

from the arte mayor, on which more will be said later,

in its strictly syllabic, or perhaps one

The Crnfima*. . , . . *

should say iambic, character. On the other hand, he dispensed with the observance of the fixed cccsura, which in French and Provencal poetry invariably coincided with the conclusion of a foot, and so introduced greater variety in the rhythms. Another point is the order of the rhymes. Chaucer regularly follows the system abalibce, whereas his predecessors had commonly preferred ababbaa. The employment of a new rhyme, accentuating the close of the stanza, is a peculiarly English craving, of which we find evidence in the transformation of the sonnet. It is desirable to emphasise here and elsewhere the subject of Chaucer's metres, because, though Chaucer himself is much more than a master of rhyme and rhythm, the distinguishing quality of the verse of which he was—at any rate in England—both inaugurator and most finished craftsman, is the art. Like Dante, Chaucer not only dreamed but studied. He has

« AnteriorContinuar »