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They developed Republican governments of differing types in each of their great cities, and made, for the first time since the foundation of the Empire, the name of People sovereign. They resuscitated Roman law, and reorganized the commerce of the Mediterranean.

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Thus, through the people's familiarity with Latin; through the survival of Roman grammar schools and the memory of Roman local institutions; through a paramount and all-pervading enthusiasm for the Roman past; through the lack of new legendary and epical material; through the failure of feudalism, and through the political ferment attending on the Wars of Investment and Independence, the Italians were slow to produce a modern language and a literature of modern type.

They came late into the field; and when they took their place at last, their language presented a striking parallel to their political condition. As they failed to acquire a solid nationality, but remained split up into petty States, united by a Pan-Italic sentiment; so they failed to form a common speech. The written Italian of the future was used in its integrity by no one province; each district clinging to its dialect with obstinate pride. Their education during two centuries of strife was not without effect. The conditions of burghership in their free communes, the stirring of their political energies, the liberty of their popolo , and the keen sense of reality developed by their legal studies, prepared men like Dante and Guido Cavalcanti for solving the problems of art in a resolute, mature and manly spirit, fully conscious of the aim before them, and self-possessed in the assurance of adult faculties.

In the first, or, as it may be termed, the Latin period of medieval culture, there was not much to distinguish the Italians from the rest of Europe. Those Lombard schools, of which mention has already been made, did indeed maintain the traditions of decadent classical education more alive than among the peoples of the North. Better Latin, and particularly more fluent Latin verse, was written during the dark ages in Italy than elsewhere. Their previous vantage-ground had been lost in the political distractions of their country. At the same time, they were the first jurists and the hardiest, if not the most philosophical, freethinkers of Europe.

This is a point which demands at least a passing notice. Their practical studies, and the example of an emperor at war with Christendom, helped to form a sect of epicureans in Italy, for whom nothing sanctioned by ecclesiastical authority was sacred. To these pioneers of modern incredulity Dante assigned not the least striking Cantos of the Inferno. Their appearance in the thirteenth century, during the ascendancy of Latin culture, before the people had acquired a language, is one of the first manifestations of a national bias toward positive modes of thought and feeling, which we recognize alike in Boccaccio and Ariosto, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, Pomponazzi and the speculators of the South Italian School.

It was the quality, in fact, which fitted the Italians for their work in the Renaissance. As metaphysicians, in the stricter sense of that word, they have been surpassed by Northern races. Their religious sense has never been so vivid, nor their opposition to established creeds so earnest. But throughout modern history their great men have manifested a practical and negative good sense, worldly in its moral tone, impervious to pietistic influences, antagonistic to mysticism, contented with concrete reality, which has distinguished them from the more fervent, boyish, sanguine, and imaginative enthusiasts of Northern Europe.

We are tempted to speculate whether, as they were the heirs of ancient civility and grew up among the ruins of Roman greatness so they were born spiritually old and disillusioned. Another point which distinguished the Italians in this Latin period of their literature, was the absence of the legendary or myth-making faculty. It is not merely that they formed no epic, and gave birth to no great Saga; but they accepted the fabulous matter, transmitted to them from other nations, in a prosaic and positive spirit. This does not imply that they exercised a critical faculty, or passed judgment on the products of the medieval fancy.

On the contrary, they took legend for fact, and treated it as the material of history. Hector, Alexander, and Attila were stripped of their romantic environments, and presented in the cold prose of a digest, as persons whose acts could be sententiously narrated.

This attitude of the Italians toward the Saga is by no means insignificant.


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When their poets came to treat Arthurian or Carolingian fables in the epics of Orlando, they apprehended them in the same positive spirit, adding elements of irony and satire. It is not needful to dwell upon this aspect of the national culture, since it presents no specific features. What is most to our purpose, is to note the affectionate remembrance of Rome and Roman worthies, which endured in each great town. The people, as distinguished from the feudal nobility, were and ever felt themselves to be the heirs of the old Roman population.

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Therefore the soldiers on guard against the Huns at Modena in , sang in their barbarous Latin verse of Hector and the Capitol [8] :. A rhyming chronicler of Pisa compared the battles of the burghers against the Saracens with the Punic wars. The tomb of Virgil at Naples was an object for pilgrimage, and one of the few spots round which a group of local legends clustered.

The memory of Livy added luster to Padua, and Mussato boasted that her walls, like those of Troy, her mother-city, were sacrosanct. Florence clung to the mutilated statue of Mars upon her bridge with almost superstitious reverence, as proof of Roman origin; while Siena adopted for her ensign the she-wolf and the Roman twins. Pagan customs survived, and were jealously maintained in the central and southern provinces; and the name of the Republic sufficed to stir Arnold's revolution in Rome, long before the days of Rienzi. To the mighty German potentate, King Frederick Barbarossa, attended with his Northern chivalry, a handful of Romans dared to say: "Thou wast a stranger; I, the City, gave thee civic rights.

Thou camest from transalpine regions; I have conferred on thee the principality.

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Enough, however, has been said to show that through the gloom of medieval history, before humanism had begun to dawn, and while the other nations were creating legends and popular epics, Italy maintained a dim but tenacious sense of her Roman past. While the Italians were fighting the Wars of Investiture and Independence, two literatures had arisen in the country which we now call France.

The master-product of the latter was the Song of Roland, which, together with the after-birth of Arthurian romance, flooded Europe with narratives, embodying in a more or less epical form the ideals, enthusiasms, and social creed of Chivalry. The influence of feudal culture, communicated through these two distinct but closely connected channels, was soon felt in Italy.

The second phase of Italian development has been called Lombard, because it was chiefly in the north of the peninsula that the motive force derived from France was active. Yet if we regard the matter of this new literature, rather than its geographical distribution, we shall more correctly designate it by the title Franco-Italian.

In the first or Latin period, the Italians used an ancient language. They now adopted not only the forms but also the speech of the people from whom they received their literary impulse.

It is probable that the Lombard dialects were still too rough to be accommodated to the new French style. The cultivated classes were familiar with Latin, and had felt no need of raising the vernacular above the bare necessities of intercourse. But the superior social development of the French courts and castles must be reckoned the main reason why their language was acclimatized in Italy together with their literature. Just as the Germans before the age of Herder adopted polite culture, together with the French tongue, ready-made from France, so now the Lombard nobles, bordering by the Riviera upon Provence, borrowed poetry, together with its diction, from the valley of the Rhone.

Passing along the Genoese coast, crossing the Cottian Alps, and following the valley of the Po, the languages of France and Provence diffused themselves throughout the North of Italy. With the langue d'oc came the various forms of troubadour lyric. Without displacing the local dialects, these imported languages were used and spoken purely by the nobles; while a hybrid, known as franco-italian , sprang up for the common people who listened to the tales of Roland and Rinaldo on the market-place.

The district in which the whole mass of this foreign literature seems to have flourished most at first, was the Trevisan March, stretching from the Adige, along the Po, beyond the Brenta and past Venice, to the base of the Friulian Alps.

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Exactly to define the period of Trevisan culture would be difficult. It is probable that it began to flourish about the end of the twelfth, and declined in the middle of the thirteenth century. Dante alludes to it in a famous passage of the Purgatory [11] :. There are many traces of advanced French civilization in this district, among which may be mentioned the exhibition of Miracle Plays upon the French type at Civitale in the years and , and the Castello d'Amore at Treviso described by Rolandini in the year Francis first composed poetry in French.

So late as the middle of the fourteenth century this habit had not died out. Dante in the Convito thought it necessary to stigmatize "those men of perverse mind in Italy who commend the vulgar tongue of foreigners and depreciate their own. We have seen that the language and the matter of this imported literature were twofold; and we can distinguish two distinct currents, after its reception into Italy. The person of one of them, Sordello, is familiar to every reader of the Purgatory.

The second tide of influence passed from Northern France together with the epics of chivalry. We can trace for instance a marked difference between the effect produced by the Chansons de Geste and that of the Arthurian tales. The latter seem to have been appropriated by the nobles, while the former found acceptance with the people. Nor was this unnatural. At the opening of the twelfth century the Carolingian Cycle had begun to lose its vogue among the polished aristocracy of France. That uncompromising history of warfare hardly suited a society which had developed the courtesy and the romance of chivalry.

It represented the manners of an antecedent age of feudalism. Therefore the tales of the Round Table arose to satisfy the needs of knights and ladies, whose thoughts were turned to love, the chase, the tournament, and errantry. The Arthurian myth idealized their newer and more refined type of feudal civility. It was upon the material of this romantic Epic that the nobles of North Italy fastened with the greatest eagerness.

No one has forgotten how the tragedy of Lancelot and Guinevere proved, in a later day, the ruin of Francesca and her lover. The Chansons de Geste formed the stock in trade of those Cantatores Francigenarum , who crowded the streets and squares of Lombard cities. The Carolingian Cycle, on the contrary, introduced personages with a good right to be considered historical, and dwelt upon familiar names and traditional ideas. We are not, therefore, surprised to find that this Epic took a strong hold on the popular imagination, and so penetrated the Italian race as to assume a new form on Italian soil, while the Arthurian romance survived as a pastime of the upper classes, and underwent no important metamorphosis at their hands.

In the course of this volume, I shall have to show how, when Italian literature emerged again from the people after nearly a century of neglect, it was the transformed tale of Charlemagne and Roland which supplied the Italian nation with its master-works of epic poetry—the Morgante and the two Orlandos. The Lombard, or rather the Franco-Italian period is marked by the adoption of a foreign language and foreign fashions.

Literature at this stage was exotic and artificial; but the legacy transmitted to the future was of vast importance. On the other hand, the populace who listened to the Song of Roland on the market-place, prepared the necessary conditions for a specific and eminently characteristic product of Italian genius.

Without a national epic, the Italians were forced to borrow from the French. But what they borrowed, they transmuted—not merely adding new material, like the tale of Gano's treason and the fiction of Orlando's birth at Sutri, but importing their own spirit, positive, ironical and incredulous, into the substance of the legend.

In the course of Italianizing the tale of Roland, the native dialects made their first effort to assume a literary form. We possess sufficient MS. The process was not one of pure translation. The dialects were not fit for such performance. It may rather be described as the attempt of the dialects to acquire capacity for studied expression. With French poems before them, the popular rhapsodes introduced dialectical phrases, substituted words, and, where this was possible, modified the style in favor of the dialect they wished to use.

French still pre dominated.

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But the hybrid was of such a nature that a transition from this mixed jargon to the dialect, presented in a literary shape, was imminent. There is sufficient ground for presuming that the Italian dialects triumphed simultaneously in all parts of the peninsula about the middle of the thirteenth century. The peculiar problems offered by the conditions of poetry at Frederick II.

It is difficult to understand the third or Sicilian period of literature without hypothesizing an antecedent stage of vulgar poetry produced in local dialects. But, owing to the scarcity of documents, no positive facts regarding the date and mode of their emergence can be adduced. We have on this point to deal with matters of delicate conjecture and minute inference; and though it might seem logical to introduce at once a discussion on the growth of the Italian language, and its relation to the dialects which were undoubtedly spoken before they were committed to writing, special reasons induce me to defer this topic for the present.