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It has been the vogue for a considerable time to speak of contemporary Italian literature as a negligible quantity;
as at best a beautiful garden, now untended and unkempt, where the few flowers are all but undiscoverable among the wilderness of weedy growths—a garden illumined, it may be, by the sunset radiance of Carducci, or by the summer-lightning of Gabriele D'Annunzio. Generalizations of tbe kind are notoriously misleading. Guy de Maupassant trenchantly alluded to them as the boomerangs of the would-be clever, that on
occasion might hit their object, but were more likely to return upon the thrower. The other day we read in a foreign summary that, since Walter Scott, no novelists of note had appeared in our country,
L'Italie est à cette heure le foyer d'une véritable renaissance de la poésie et du roman. L'esprit, qui souffle où il veut, rallume là des clartés évanouies sous d'autres cieux.
In the same year an Italian critic of repute, Alberto Manzi, thus hopefully concludes “a summary and outlook":
Young, strong, feverisbly studious and laborious, Italy is passing through a fertile period of preparation which will before long lead to a great and
and that since Byron the British muse had been silent. This statement is not further from the mark than that alluded to as common among us, nor than the rash assertion
• 1. "Poesie." By Giosue Cardocci (complete poetical works in one volume). Bologna: Zani. cbelli, 1900.
2. “Poesie Scelte"; "Valsolda"; etc. By Antonio Fogazzar. Milad: Fratelli Treves, 1900,
3. “Dopo 11 Tramonto"; “LI Dapaidi"; "Mor ana"; etc. By Artor Gnar. Milad: Fratelli Treves 1890-1901. "Medusa." By the same, (New edition.) Turlo: Loescher, 1890.
4. "Fatalita"; "Tempeste"; etc. By Ada Negd. Man: Fratelli Treves, 1898; 1896.
8. "Myricae." By Giovanni Pascoli. Livor
no: Giusti, 1890. "Poemetti." By the same. Milan: Sandron, 1900.
6. "Poesie" (Edizione Definitiva): “La Gloconda": Francesca da Rimini"; etc. By Ga. briele D'Annunzio. Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1896-1001. “La Canzone di Garibaldi." By the game. Florence: Barbiera, 1897.
r. “Dal Nostri Poeti Viventi." An anthology. Edited by Signora Eugenia Levi. Morence: Barbiera, 1891.
8. "Le Tendenze Presenti della Letteratura Itallapa,"
By Fausto Squillace, Turin: Rons, 1899.
splendid display of her artistic, liter- pagan. Into this conflict of "les deux ary, and scientific vitality.
génies opposés, qui se disputèrent de
tout temps l'âme italienne," has enThe truth must be sought somewhere
tered another element, the brooding between these optimistic declarations
spirit of the North. To the sadness and the deep despondency of the late
and pessimism inherent in the Latin Ruggero Bonghi, who (writing, it must be remembered, some five or six years
nature, along with the more obvious earlier, and at a time of exceptional
pagan delight in and absorbing preocnational depression) expressed himself
cupation with life for life's sake, have
another sadness and another
preoccupation. The "Melancolia” that In the literary life of the nation Dürer limped in symbol, and De there are signs of the same languor Quincey adumbrated in words, and the that paralyzes its economical life. I
musicians of the North breathed in see no sign of improvement. I should
strange airs and harmonies; that Schopbe very glad if there were a way out
enhauer has disclosed, and Ibsen of so great a lethargy; but I do not find it. I think that the chief cause
served, and Nietszche interpreted; that is the lack of any strong moral move
has inspired the Slavonic mind from ment; there is nothing that agitates Tolstoi and Turgeniev to Dostoievski the public mind.
and Maxim Gorki-this new melanThe gracious phrase of Monsieur de
choly (coming to Italy ever with a
Teutonic aspect and accent) has taken Vogüé not only aroused European at
its place in the Italian soul, to work tention, but was welcomed in Italy,
for good or evil. We hear much of and sank deep into the finer national consciousness. The distinguished
the pagan tendency of the Latin French critic
genius; to-day the thought of Italy is was accepted
more colored with longing and bewilprophet. For Italy he foresees worthy destiny. It is not, perhaps,
derment than with that hedonistic visthe destiny dreamed of by those who
ion of life which is supposed to be the carved the inchoate "geographical ex
peculiar attribute of the peoples of the
South. It is not D'Annunzio (as is so pression” into the solidarity of a united realm; or of those who to-day
commonly assumed abroad) who is the would strain the national resources for
true representative of the Italian mind,
not even Carducci, the greatest of the fata morgana of a militant world
Italian poets since Leopardi; the true power; but it is a destiny at once high and possible. It is not, says M. de
representatives are writers such as the
northerners Antonio Fogazzaro, ArVogüé truly, to be achieved by war, or with great ships. It is not a des
turo Graf, Ada Negri; as the southern.
ers Mario Rapisardi, Giovanni Verga, tiny to be won by the sword, but by
Matilde Serao. In these the cry of the pen (“avec quelques condottieri de la plume").
revolt is against the conditions of life But what is of more immediate con
as produced by human wrong and cern is that the Vicomte de Vogüé
folly. In Carducci it is a vain cry of
revolt against the inevitable change of discerns clearly what the student of
ideals and circumstances, a contemporary Italian literature must
longing for the life that realize if he is to form a just estimate,
the that there is in the Italian genius a
beauty that has decayed; the cry that
finds utterance in verses like these conflict of two opposing influences, the one mystical, idealistic, austere, at
L'ora presente è in vano, non fa che times ascetic, the other sensual and
percuotere e fugge:
Sol' nel passato è il bello, sol ne la ror of the literature of the day and morte è il vero; ?
hour-a mirror in which we may disthe cry that in his militant prose ech- cover tendencies and tide-reach and oes in phrases such as this: "Poetry ebb-fall, but too vast and complex for to-day is useless from not having any but the broadest synthesis of learned that it has no concern with what it reveals. And as this article is the exigencies of the moment.” When, to deal with the outstanding features however, we speak of a yain cry we of recent Italian poetry, and not with mean only that echo of those poets the complex physiognomy of fiction, who lament, not for what is gone and the selection should comprise only the might yet be restored, but for what is most significant figures-Carducci and irrecoverable; the echo, for example, Arturo Graf and D'Annunzio, Antonio of Leopardi, who wasted his powerful Fogazzaro and Ada Negri and Giogenius in a continuous lyrical lamen- vanni Pas oli. Among the rest are tation. Carducci's strength stands re- many poets of fine achievement, one vealed in degree as his inspiration and or two of rare excellence, whom to outlook transcend individual regret; pass by here is not to ignore. his weakness stands as clearly revealed in that section of his poetical
There has been a singular undulawork wherein he cries insistently for
tory movement in Italian literature the moon.
during the last quarter of a century. In D'Annunzio we hear another cry
A wave of talent gathers from the still -the cry of revolt again, but of revolt
lagoons, but is barely discerned, at against spiritual and intellectual ennui,
most has moved only a short way, beof revolt against the wise tyranny of
fore it lapses; then again the listless the actual, of revolt against that
waste; then again a wave; and so the straight road of the commonweal, the
melancholy rhythm alternates. But in via media which the wisdom of the
each successive period the wave is ancients has projected far beyond us
wider, perhaps also deeper. If, in the into the ages to follow; the cry of intervals, the sad prophets have been temperament, the cry of exacerbated wont to lament with Bonghi, the more nerves, the cry of the singer who hopeful have been too apt to bail the thinks of the whole world as an air to
wave when it comes as no less than be played delicately upon his fute, the an upheaval of the Risorgimento. Botb cry of art withdrawn from the heart in some degree mislead; but it is wiser into the mind, the cry of egoism, of
to go a little astray with the eager the supreme egotist.
than to stumble in the slough of deIt is because of this triple element in
spond. To-day three main factors act contemporary Italian literature this as deterrents on Italian literature: the mystical, idealistic, austere element,
absence of a united national ideal; the this sensual and pagan element, and continually more conspicuous recesthis element of intellectual melancholy
sion of religious faith in the direction -"cette vraie maladie septentrionale,"
of a callous formalisın; and the proas M. Bourget calls it—that we shall found discontent with existing condido better to seek its reflection in the tions, political, social, economic, which writings of a few typical minds rather finds vent in the steady growth of a than in the “immagine fuente" pre
crude socialism, and, concurrently, in sented by the ampler but confused mir- a gathering disbelief in the stability
* The present bour is as Daught; it is gone
even as it sounds
In the past alone is Beauty: only in death to
of the monarchical rock against the have the chief clue to that ominously coming flood.
frequent ebb and flow to which alluUnder these depressing influences, it sion has been made. The causes act is to “Young Italy" that the nation so potently that the results immedilooks above all for salutary inspira- ately follow; for example, after 1887, tion. The high hopes, the passionate a year of great despondency and disRisorgimento of the days of the Aus- quietude, the publications of 1888 trian struggle, of the Garibaldian lib- were fewer by some three hundred. eration, of the Mazzinian gospel of No wonder that in this year Bonghi emancipation, of the triumph of Rome, wrote, “In all that makes literature, of the Unification, seem to bave my native country has certainly grown lapsed. Heavy taxation, the strain of feeble and weary, and is growing supporting a great army and a power- more so every year.” For the next ful navy, the disastrous enterprise in year or two almost nothing of note Abyssinia, the futile dreams of colo- appeared. A young poet, Mario di nial empire, the slow disintegration of Siena, a youth of seventeen, on whom monarchical influence, the growth of high hopes were set, proved to be but a hostile socialism, the apparition of one of the innumerable stelle cadenti. the anarchist, the bitter trade-rivalry Even that new meteor, D'Annunzio, with France, the tragic assassination showed himself at his weakest in of the devoted head of the state, son “Giovanni Episcopo." of the Liberator-King, the financial In 1891 the slow wave began to lift scandals in Rome, the labor-risings again. Carducci published his noble from Milan to Palermo, the recurrent and patriotic lyrical epic, “Piemonte"; ferment in Sicily, the misery of and the marked success which met Apulia, the gradual depopulation of Signora Eugenia Levi's delightful anCalabria-all this, and more,
has thology, “Dai Nostri Poeti Viventi," moved "immortal Italy” to its depths. showed that not only was Italy "a It is a welcome augury that, in despite nest of singing birds,” but that a pubof all, the nation does not despair; tbat lic far wider than had been foreseen her statesmen hope; that her poets waited ready to listen. Three welland dreamers proclaim a new day. “If known writers of charming verse only we could believe in the honesty added to their reputation by the publi. and far-sightedness of those set above cation of collective editions about this us, we would shape our destiny as our time-Guido Mazzoni, Giovanni Marnoblest and truest discern it"-that radi, and Aurelio Costanzo; and the what one hears everywhere, from “Carducci of the South," the Sicilian Genoa to Venice, from Messina to master-poet, Mario Rapisardi, made Milan.
all the insurgent element of Italy reAlas! that "prevalent political lep- echo with the fierce lyrical cries of his rosy," on which Ruggero Bonghi so “Giustizia,” while at the same time continually laid sad insistence, is more he won the admiration of the critics than all else accountable for the by his delicate “Empedocle." The trouble. The Neapolitans have a say- brief wave culminated before the lapse ing—“Every one is unsettled when Ve- of 1893 in the beautiful “Myricae” of suvius is restless”; and, unfortunately, Giovanni Pascoli, one of the freshest, there is a moral Vesuvius which keeps most winsome, and happiest of modthe intellectual activities of the nation ern Italian books; in an "outburst" of in a feverish excitation when it is not the minor Sicilian poets, fired, perhaps, in a torpor of hesitancy.
Here we by Rapisardi's return to popularity