« PreviousContinue »
in the mean time been turned to other subjects so nearly connected in interest, and to which his competency could admit of no question. Tlie labours of M. Gingucné demand our first consideration, in a general view of Italian literature ; but we shall occasionally recur to the professor of Geneva, whom we may at some future period have to follows, exclusively, as our guide to the literary treasures of the Western Peninsula.
The origin and formation of the Italian language must naturally be the first object of inquiry to those who are desirous of attaining a just notion of Italian literature; and it undoubtedly adds to the interest of this inquiry, when we reflect that the very language which first of all the modern dialects of Europe, served as a vehicle for any great and lasting efforts of human genius, was the last in order of birth, and actually burst into the full splendour of maturity, while yet the world was almost unconscious of ils existence. A whole generation of Italian poets intervenes between the age of Dante and that of Chaucer: yet the latter was but the morning star of English poctry; the former is the meridian sun which rivals in splendour the brightest luminaries of all ages and nations. On the other land, the language of Chaucer had been that of the people of England, and of English writers, for ages; while the first faint and imperfect articulations of that speech which Dante raised at once to perfectioli, are with difficulty to be distinguished before the thirteenth century, to the conclusion of which he himself belongs.
The solution of this reinarkable phenomenon has louş employed the conjectures, and directed the researches of the learned. Thcy bid us ascend to a period of the remotest, even of unknown antiquity, when the Celtic nation, ( whose language, if not primitive in an absolute sense, is so at least relatively to almost all known languages,') divided itself into two immense bodies; the one occupying the western shores of Asia, the other spreading through the northern countries of Europe, and following the course of the Danube from its mouths to the source, passing the barrier of the Rhine, and establishing itself at last in the regions that lie betireen that river, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, the northern and the Mediterranean seas; in short, between those which have of late years heen hunorously denominated the natural boundaries of the French republic. In process of time, the increase of population forced them, we are told, to infringe these sacred barriers ; and the Celtic nation, together with the Celtic language, (already contaminated by its mixture with the forgotten dialecis of forgotten people,) poured itself, with little resistance, through the fair fields of Italy,'till it met, mid-way in its course, another torrent flowing from a totally different sources
for the Greeks had in the mean time colonized the south eastern extremities of the same peninsula, and the superabundance of population impelled them towards the Alps, just as the same cause drove the others in a contrary direction. What convulsions may have attended the first shock of the two nations, are beyond the reach of history. Wars there were no doubt, 'car tel a toujours été l'abord de deux peuples qui se rencontrent;' but judging froni the natural progress of human events, it is reasonable to imagine that these wars were terminated by the principle of mutual convenience. To cut short the romance,' (lor, after all, it is no better,) the conflicting nations at last amalgamated together, and thus . was formed the new society of the Latin people, and the new dialect to which they imparted their name; a dialect compounded therefore of Gallo-celtic and Greek, combined with a variety of unknown ingredients, the reliques of the various indigenous idioms, which it is not to be invagined the new settlers took the pains to eradicate. In this mixture, the Celtic had a vast advantage. The Greek (as yet far from being the language of Homer and Plato) was in itself no better than a compound to which the Phænicians, the Macedonians, the Phrygians, the Illyrians, and even the Celts, (those of the great Asiatic division,) had contributed certain unassignable proportions.
From so multiplied a combination as this, arose the Latin; which, coarse in its origin, but polished and perfected by time, became at last the language of Terence and Cicero, of Horace and Virgil; and it is this same language, which, after so brilliant an empire, terminated hy so long and dismal a declension, mingled itself anew with its ancient Celtic, the common source of all the barbarous dialects of Goths and Lombards, Franks and Germans; to become at length that of Dante, Petrarch, and Bocaccio.'
Of the three hypotheses now submitted to our election, we may safel
smile at the national partiality which dictated the two former. That which was first asserted by Leonard Aretin, and , afterwards maintained by Bembo, supposed the Italian to be co-eval with the Latin itself;--that the one was at all times the lingua volgare,' the dialect of the common classes --while the other was the chosen vehicle of learning and state-affairs. The Marquis Maffei was the author of the second opinion, scarcely more probable than the former; and evidently suggested by the same national bias. Unwilling to adınit the too probable pollutions of barbarous idioms, he imagined that the Latin, without aid from any external cause, gradually corrupled itself, by receiving from time to time into the regular forms of composition, all the slang of the illiterate vulgar. However gratifying such dreams may prove to the vanity of a native, the third and last is the only hypothesis that can be seriously entertained by an impartial inquirer. It is that which, even with
out proof, would be universally adopted for its probability, and which Muratori has established on internal evidence.
Invasions,'observes a learned Frenchman, (the president de Brosses,) * invasions are the scourge of idioms, as well as of nations; but not altogether in the same order. Of nations, the strongest always takes the lead. So it is with languages, but the strongest language is often that of the weakest people, and therefore takes place of that of the conquerors.'
It was thus with the Latio language, which the barbarous conquerors of Italy successively agreed to take in exchange for that which they had brought with them: but though its original strength enabled it to survive a first, a second and a third collision, it was gradually weakened by each following shock; and received in its turn the inflexions and phrases, the pronunciation (perhaps) and much of the vocabulary, even of the idioms which it despised, and which were ready to acknowledge their inferiority. From the age of Constantine to the 12th century, that which by courtesy was called the Latin, still continued to be the only public language of Italy; but the public records sufficiently prove its rapid degeneracy, and the writings of the learned, though of a standard of purity somewhat superior to that of the men of business, conspire to prove that, in common use, the ancient idiom was wholly superseded by a jargon which, towards the end of the period we have mentioned, gradually assumed the form of a distinct language, and in that state awaited only the powers of a creative genius, to mould it into the regular and beautiful symmetry
which it has ever since retained. It would seern a sufficient confirmation of this doctrine, (if it wanted any,) that each dialect, in proportion as it approaches the assigned limits of separation, most strongly partakes of some of the characteristics of the other. The Latin records of the 12th and 13th centuries are full of Ital
I follo ian terminations and phrases: while the poems of Dante, and of the few writers in Italian, who preceded him, abound in latinisms, which we find only gradually to wear away as we descend to Petrarch and Bocaccio, who may be considered as the finishers of the modern structure. At the same time, so distinct were these kindred idioms, that when the Patriarch of Aquileia, towards the end of the 12th century, pronounced a Latin homily before the people, the Bishop of Padua thought it necessary to translate it into the lingua volgare, in order to render it generally intelligible.
The first efforts of all languages have been poetical. It was thus even with the Italian, late as was the period of its formation. --The first written specimens extant are the verses of a few obscure Sicilian poets, about the beginning of the thirteenth century. After ascertaining the origin of the language, therefore, the next most
important object is to fix the genealogy of its poetical sentiment and diction. In prosecuting this examination it soon becomes evident that the poetry of Italy derives itself in a much more direct line from that of the Provençaux, and, through them, from the more distant source of Arabian literature, than from ancient Rome, of whose lyre the last faint and discordant sounds bad scarcely been heard for ages. The bistory of the provençal language, considered as a
literary dialect, affords two objects of contemplation equally striking, in its sudden rise, and its as sudden extinction.
• Lorsque, dans le dixième siècle,' says M. Sismondi, les peuples du midi de l'Europe essayèrent de donner de la consistance aux patois informes qui vivaient été produits par le mélange du Latin avec les langues du nord, un langage nouveau parut dominer pardessus tous les autres. Le premier formé, le plus généralement répandu, le plus rapidement cultivé, il sembla devoir prendre la place du Latin qu'on abandonnait; des milliers de poëtes fleurirent presqu'en mêine temps dans cette langue nouvelle ; ils lui donnèrent un caractère propre, celui d'une littérature tout à fait originale qui n'empruntait rien aux Latins et aux Grecs, ou à tout ce qu'on nomme classique : ils étendirent sa réputation des extremités de l'Espagne à celles de l'Italie ; ils servirent de modèles à tous les poëtes qu'on vit bientôt après se former dans, toutes les autres langues, même dans celles du Nord, chez les Anglais, et les Allemands. Mais tout à coup cet éclat éphémere s’ évanouit, les troubadours se turent, le Provençal fut abandonné : cette langue, en subissant de nouveaux changemens, redevint un patois, et après trois siecles d'une existence brillante, toutes ses productions furent rangées avec celles des langues mortes; on cessa d'y rien ajouter.
La haute réputation des poëtes Provençaụx, et le rapide déclin de leur langue, sont deux phénomènes également frappans dans l'histoire de la culture de l'esprit humain. La littérature qui a servi de modèle à toutes les autres, et qui cependant, parmi des milliers de poésies agréables, n'a pas produit un chef-d'ouvre, pas un ouvrage
de génie dont le nom soit arrivé à l'immortalité, est d'autant plus digne de liser notre attention, qu'elle est toute entière l'ouvrage du siècle, et non cclui des individus ; elle nous révèle les sentimens, l'imagination, l'esprit, des nations modernes, à leur naissance; ce qui était partout, et non ce qu'un génie supérieur à son siècle a pu inspirer à un seul Blomme. Ainsi le retour des beaux jours nous est annoncé au printemps par l'éclat des fleurs des champs, par le luxe des prairies, mais non par quelque prodige des jardins, pour lesquels l'art et la puissance de l'homme ont secondé la nature.'-Tom. i. p. 78.
Without ascending to the origin of the Langue Romane, that singular language which, produced by successive and ill-defined combinations of the Latin and Celtic, had gradually spread over the whole of Gaul after the declension of the Roman power; and contenting ourselves with barely noticing its first great separa,
tion (usually assigned to the period of the accession of the Capetian race) into the Roman Wallon, or Langue d'Oil, and the Pro
ů vençal or Langue d'Oc; it will be sufficient for our present pur. pose to take a rapid survey of the rise, progress, and decline, and the striking qualities of the Provençal poetry, as detailed to us at considerable length and with great ingenuity by both the writers whom we liave chosen for our guides. The capture of Toledo in 1083, by Alonso
VI, king of Castile and Leon, and the succession of Raymond Berenger, count of Barcelona, to the county of Provence, about fifty years later, have been respectively assigned by diferent writers as the periods of the birth of Provençal poetry. Whatever may be the true date of its earliest efforts, (which have undoubtedly perished,) both these erents must be considered as contributing in a very immediate degree to the character which it assumed in its progress. Toledo, at the time of its conquest, was one of the principal seats of Arabian literature, nor did it wholly change its condition by passing into the hands of the Christians. With a liberality which reflects disgrace on more civilized ages, its former inhabitants were encouraged to remain, their religion was protected, their national custoins preserved inviolate, and above all, their national schools maintained in all their ancient privileges. It is not to be supposed that conquerors, so wisely magnanimous, failed to improve the circumstances in which their own policy had placed ihem; and if we recollect, on the one hand, that the poetical art was the most widely disfused and cultivated among the conquercal people, so that (to use the strong expression of M. Ginguené) it formed the very essence of their character; and, on the other, that among the followers of the Castilian monarch at this celebrated siege, a very large proportion consisted of adventurers from the southern provinces of France, of which his queen was herself a native, we can hardly hesitate to acquiesce in the conclusion, that the first poetical attempts of the Spanish nation are probably, thuse of the Provençaux certainly, to be referred to this epocli.
With regard to the second period, the commercial intercourse of dhe
Catalans with the nations of the East bad, long before the accession of Rayinond Berenger, co-operated with the less amicable relations produced by the neighbourhood of the Moorish kingdom of Valencia to inspire the polished court of Barcelona witli the spirit of freedom and chivalry, and a relish for the refinements of
une luxury, the elegance, the arts and sciences of the Arabs. The language of the Catalans was itself a dialect of the Langue Romane, differing but slightly from the Provençal in structure and accent. The removal of this gay and splendid court to Provence then, even if we hesitate to fix it as the period of the origin of the national