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reflected in the breadth and majesty of the Commedia, while the fact that the poem was written in a tongue "understanded of the people" attests the influence and freedom of the people in the Italian commonwealths. The absence of literary pretence and literary frippery, in so far as it is not attributable to the nobility of the writer, is due to the same cause. A generation passes; commonwealths are supplanted by despotisms, and the new style in politics is kept, as it were, in countenance by new fashions in literature. The wide sweep of the Commedia, with its remissus et humilis modus loquendi, gives place to the soliloquies of the Canzoniere, or the proud aloofness of the Secretum. Boccaccio, it is true, seems cast in a more popular mould, but the pomp of his period is symptomatic of a tendency which culminated, politically, in pinchbeck Caesarism.
A political and economic fact of the first importance is the prosperity of the middle-class. This fact has been already insisted on in the opening chapters, and incidentally throughout the work. A few remarks, however, may be permitted by way of "apology." Deliberately to assail the middle-class, in a country of which it is popularly supposed to be the backbone, would argue a temerity of which the writer is guiltless, and he has no desire to bring a swarm of hornets about his ears by representing, as some wretches have done, the sober and salutary middle-class as of essence vulgar and unpoetical. If anything is assailed, it is not the middle-class, at any rate per se, but monopoly and limitation. All true literature is a protest against the undue predominance of the sentiment of class. The best and highest literature appeals, not to a party, but, fully and frankly, to mankind. Were it not for this necessary qualification, I should not scruple to describe the Commedia as a splendid expression of middle-class feeling; but Dante does not address his poem to the middle-class—he is not prejudiced against the barons, poor fellows—and so there is a difference. Literature addressed to a stratum of humanity is bound to suffer for its favouritism. The line of section, if it is to be drawn at all, must be drawn vertically, and delimit, not a class, but a nation.
Dante is middle-class by virtue of the purity of his moral sentiment, by virtue of his "ecclesiasticalmindedness." In the region of art it seems fair to associate with the prevalence of the middle-class the spread and triumph of allegory, of which, of course, the Commedia is the supreme example. Although Dante in his later years espoused the cause of the Ghibellines, he was never Ghibelline, as it were, outand-out. He was Guelf by inheritance, and the whole bias of his nature was towards Guelfism. It was his instinct to sympathise with the clerisy, not with the secular nobility. Indeed, he was a clerk himself. Now the abstract, the allegorical—"the evidence of things not seen"—was essentially the field of the clerks, condemned to live for the most part at secondhand, and to postpone their enjoyments to beyond the tomb. Courtiers and worldlings might invade this field, either for convenience or for disport, but the clerisy held, so to speak, the original deed; and they were both the spiritual guides and the intellectual sponsors of the middle-class. Wherever and whenever the middle-class became important, and, as at Florence, was strong enough to disfranchise the nobility, and affect a literature of its own, the doctrine and dialect of the clerisy grafted themselves on the new lyric and the new prose, and even bore fruit in vast poetical efficacy. The phenomenon is not quite confined to Italy — the Apocalypse and the Old Testament prophecies were in tolerably wide diffusion — but Italy was mistress of the literary art, and the Meistersingers were theologians first, and poets, by a long, long way, last.
The fourteenth century was distinctively an age of tolerance. This quality might be illustrated in a variety of ways. Boccaccio's bold attacks on the clergy, notably in his tale of the conversion of Abraham the Jew, would have been wholly impossible a century or two later, when his works were subjected to official censure and expurgation. Abraham's change of religion was due to a candid study of facts. He had been to Eome and failed to discern in churchmen any sign of goodness. How was he to account for the continued existence of Christianity? There was only one method of accounting for it, and that was that the Holy Ghost himself, the Hand of God, sustained the fabric of the Church, which would otherwise have collapsed in ruin. This selection of a Jew as critic of the established religion — and it may be worth recalling that he is substituted in this rôle for the noble Saladin—is indeed notable. When we think of the mediaeval Jew in relation to literature, we are apt to remember the tragedy of Lincoln, as rehearsed in the Canterbury Tales, to brand in our imagination the unholy Israelite as the incarnation of all that is bad—the black beast of a black time. In the Middle Age, however, literature owed much to the Jew. On this subject let me quote the sentence of an able French scholar, M. Adolphe de Puibusque: "Les services rendus par d'autres Israélites sont inappréciable. Ces hommes sans patrie ont rempli l'office d'agents de communication entre toutes les nations de l'ancien monde; ils ont suppléé par leur activité à l'inertie des populations musulmanes et devancé le mouvement propagateur de l'imprimerie; après avoir fait circuler de proche en proche les traditions antiques dans les littératures orientales, ils les ont introduites en Occident par des versions soit en latin soit en langue vulgaire."1 Incidentally, in the first chapter of this work, has been mentioned the co-operation of a Jew in the Erweiterung of Parzival, but such humble and obscure service in the building of European literature is naturally forgotten in after-ages. Not so the splendid achievements of the Jewish moralists in Spain, in the fourteenth century the most liberal country in Europe. Nor was Spanish courtesy confined to the Jew. It was shared in equal measure by the hereditary but now vanquished enemy, the Moor. A curious monument of the intercourse between the 1 See Preface to his translation of El Conde Lucanor, p. 136.
two races has been preserved in the manuscript of Josef, a Castilian poem written in Arabic characters. The rise of a whole national literature, as in England, is a yet more striking proof of tolerance, but, au boat du compte, the most striking of all possible proofs is Messer Giovanni Boccaccio. How many a poor wretch has been hanged by the neck, or burnt at the stake, for daring immeasurably less than he! But to deform is often safer than to reform, though, in regard of learning, the mocker was reformer too.
From a strictly literary, and at the same time broadly European, point of view, the most salient feature of the age is the forfeiture of the primacy, in matters intellectual, by France. Amidst the distractions of endless unlucky wars it would have been nothing short of a miracle had Frenchmen been able to revenge their national calamities by perpetuating their spiritual empire. At any rate this consolation was refused them, and the French now looked, not indeed to England, which had been intellectually a province of their own, but to Italy, for the supply of fresh models. It was not that Italy could offer much new material. The material was, on the whole, the joint-stock of all European nations, and France herself might claim a considerable part on the ground of invention, or prescription, or first effectual use. But the Italians had studied more profoundly the art of expression, and by discarding the fresh utterances of the old French school for more of form and method, had succeeded in elevating themselves to the position of classics. This excessive attention to form, especially