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From The Contemporary Review. science, one form of government, and ON SOME NATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS even in literature the substance at least OF EUROPEAN SOCIETY.
was common to all nationalities. On the The word “society” is employed in other hand, each single nation was divided various senses. We use it in political sci-into strictly severed castes; the citizens ence to designate the community of men and the clergy, the clergy and the knights, united to a State; in the language of cer
were sharply separated from each other tain aristocratic circles in Paris and Lon- without intermedium. In a similar way all don it means a league between a limited intellectual intercourse between the provnumber of coteries, whose chief care is to inces was impeded by differences of diakeep their doors closed, in order to follow lect, or could only be carried on by means the important pursuit of amusement of Latin — i.e., of a universal instrument, among themselves. It is not our purpose which hardly permitted the spirit of a here to treat either of Rousseau's or of nation to find utterance. The developfashionable society, but of the totality of ment of a national society dates only from those classes which everywhere represent the Renaissance, for it was not till then national culture, and are, properly speak- that the races of Europe began to form ing, not only its chief producers but chief into individual nations, that each of these consumers, which preside over national proceeded to develop a political and linactivity, which take the lead in State and guistic unity of its own, which enabled the Church, commerce and manufactures, let- cultured classes to approach each other, ters and science, - in short, of the whole to indulge in the interchange of thought of that stratum of the nation which in and feeling, to act and live together, and Germany, characteristically enough, goes to feel the healthy glow of common interby the name of the “educated class” ests. (die Gebildeten). Now, the nature and In this point Italy preceded every other habitus of this society has, in different European nation; for although, at the nations, at different periods, assumed set close of the fifteenth century, it had not forms under the determining influence yet formed a national State like the united here of this, there of that particular class, kingdoms of Spain, England, and France, now of this, now of that predominating it had begun since the last German invainterest. It is clearly not unimportant sion to feel itself an independent nation, whether a national society took its definite like the Greeks of old as opposed to the form during the sixteenth or eighteenth barbarians. A generation earlier, the century, whether the decisive part in its written language of Italy had already been formation was played by a community of recognized as such from the Alps to the peaceful burghers or by a nobility of sol. Passaro. Above all, the barriers of caste diers, whether the principle which pre- between the educated had well-nigh comvailed in its constitution was that of art pletely disappeared by the time the revival or religion, of science or the State. It of classical antiquity gave all of them a may not be uninteresting to trace this common interest. Here, however, it was progress of development in different na. neither the army nor the clergy, it was tionalities, even should we keep strictly to the citizen class i popolani grissi — the high-road without tarrying by the way, especially the commercial portion of it, much less allowing ourselves to be en- towards which the rest gravitated, which ticed into any of the many byways lying absorbed the others, or at least infused its invitingly on every side.
spirit into them. At the time of the Renaissance Italian society was
tially a town society, nor has it ever ceased NATIONAL society was a thing un to be so. In political as well as in intelknown to the Middle Ages. The spirit lectual life, the towns stood in the fore. by which they were animated was a spirit ground: Milan and Genoa, Venice and of universality; throughout the whole of Florence, Bologna, Pisa, Siena, Perugia. Europe there was but one religion, one During the fifteenth, and even until the
beginning of the sixteenth century, some reality were their subjects remained in of these cities were great European pow- form those of fellow-citizens. The relaers of about the same importance as the tion of Cosimo de' Medici towards DonaNetherlands in the seventeenth; and in tello and Brunelleschi resembled far more the greater part of them the citizen class that of a friend than of a patron, and the of wholesale merchants had early over-intercourse between his grandson Lopowered the military nobility of Germanic renzo and the Pulcis or Angelo Poliziano origin and possessed themselves of the took place on a footing of familiar equalsovereignty. Who does not know, by ity. The fact is, that these sovereigns Dante's example, that a noble was not were not foreign conquerors, such as allowed to take part in the government of ruled in other countries and in Italy also Florence until he had renounced his title at an earlier period, neither had their and had himself inscribed in a corpora- ancestors led a separate unapproachable tion ? And the armies employed by each life from times immemorial. Here rulers of these cities to fight its bloodless battles and ruled had grown up together, had were no nursery.ground for a fresh aris- transacted business with one another, and tocracy. Held as they were in slight es. the fiction that the rulers were only teem, recruited from the lowest orders, of allowed to govern by the consent of the very little influence in the State, they entire community was still retained. always remained dependants of the lords Hence the tone of complete equality of the cities. Even in towns, where, which prevailed in these circles. Nor was towards the close of that period, the gen- it predominant in Florence only; for even erals — mostly men of low extraction in Ferrara, the only northern state of succeeded in seizing the reins of govern- Italy whose sovereigns belonged to a ment, — as, for instance, the Sforzas in nobility established by foreign conquest, Milan, their officers did not form a mil. the same tone reigned, albeit with someitary nobility that gave the tone to society. what less freedom. The examples of the Nor was it otherwise with the clergy. cities exercised in fact a decisive inEducation having become diffused among Auence. Outwardly at least, this demothe laity, their influence was very small, cratic equality has kept its ground in daily nor did they in any sense take the lead in intercourse even to the present day. Nosociety, neither had they any privileged where are conventional forms less obposition, nor did they enjoy any special served than in Italy, — they are only
The clergy intermingled with brought forward on great State occasions; the rest of that citizen class from which whereas in ordinary circumstances a familthey mostly sprang, and when a prelate iar laisser-aller is the order of the day, became the object of any special regard, which among Italians, chastened as they this distinction came to him in virtue of are by centuries of civilization, seldom his superior attainments, the weight of degenerates into vulgarity. Still this his individuality, or his connection with Italian society, in spite of its ready wit, powerful citizens, never in virtue of his its brio, and its inborn gracefulness, had clerical dignity alone. The men who not at that time, nor has it now, the rose to distinction in the State, in letters, peculiar charm of French and Spanish in art, belonged almost exclusively to the society, as it appears in the comedies and citizen class. Petrarch's father was a novels of the sixteenth century; that notary, Boccaccio's a merchant, Macchia- charm which consists in the art of mov velli and Guicciardini were of middle-ing freely within the limits of conven. class parentage. Even long after cer- tional forms, of making them bend to the tain families had grown into dynasties will, of allowing the individuality free and certain groups of families into oligar- play in spite of them, of knowing how to chies, they still continued to trade as be- speak of anything and everything without fore, not always to the advantage of the infringing them. Such social intercourse State which they ruled at the saine time, was in fact a game of skill, which, though while their relations towards those who in not without its dangers as well as its fas
cinations, differs as widely from . vulgar operation of all the forces of woman's nafamiliarity as a sonnet does from dog- ture." Well might Ariosto proudly sing: gerel. To be sure, doggerel, like the versification of “Faust” and of the “ Wan
Ben mi par di veder ch' al secol nostro
Tanta virtu fra belle donne emerga dering Jew,” may be worth all Petrarch's
Che qud dar opra a carte ed ad inchiostro sonnets put together; still even a Goethe
Perchè nei futuri anni si disperga. hardly ventures to indulge in it always and everywhere, and readily returns to For, indeed, they were not a few, those the sonnet, where circumstances require highly educated women of the fifteenth it, because he feels that it is precisely century, who shared largely the conversa“when the spirit begins to move most tion, the intellectual pursuits, nay, even powerfully;” that we learn the value of the business of the men; yet not one of restraint; and may this not be applied in them ceased to be a true woman. the main to every branch of culture? but remember Lucrezia Tornabuoni, her
This social equality which acknowl- self a poetess and a friend of poets, the edged no superior, even while it sub- mother of Lorenzo de' Medici, who supermitted in fact to rulers, in the Italy of the intended the studies of her gifted son, fifteenth century was coupled with a rare who presided wisely and cleverly over a unity of culture. Each speciality having large establishment, the master of which, developed on the soil of a common culture, Piero, was almost constantly ill, and let. mankind here were no longer divided into us call to mind that charming letter, in merchants, statesmen, men of learning, which she describes the beauty of her and artists. Who among us
can say future daughter-in-law, Clarice Orsini, whether it was his wool trade, State affairs with the eye of a female connoisseur. (at that time still in the hands of a circle The way in which Sandro Botticcelli has of families nearly allied to him), his friend placed together the juvenile daughter of Donatello's works, or the new university the Albizzis with Pico della Mirandola in he had undertaken to found at his own ex- his glorious frescoes at the Villa Lemmi pense, which most absorbed the interest near Florence, leaves no doubt, though and attention of a Niccolo da Uzzano? this young lady is not mentioned in the Even the fair sex took a large part in this chronicles and correspondences of the education and in this society. Convent time which abound in allusions to so education was still the exception. Patri- many of her contemporaries, that the cians' daughters were taught Greek, Latin, handsome prodigy of his age, who "knew and mathematics at home with their broth- everything that could be known,” must ers. Thus the gulf which now yawns be- have been an intimate and playfellow of tween the sexes was at that time nowhere the graceful girl. And, setting aside perceptible, nor was there any opportu. Florence, did not Caterina Cornaro, who nity for the modern blue-stocking to arise, facilitated the first steps of a Bembo in since she is a product of the unnatural state his eventful career, continue to patronize of things by which women are debarred art and science long after she had doffed from the educational advantages of men, her Cyprian crown and retired once more so that those who contrive to obtain them into private life at Venice? Did not Elifind themselves isolated among their own sabetta da Urbino number a Castiglione, sex, and are in danger of appearing and a Bernardo Accolti - an author whose indeed of becoming unwomanly. “In “ Virginia” is too little known - among the hands of the women of the Renais- her intimate friends ? Were not Bojardo sance," as a contemporary writer finely and Guarini, the humanist, guests at the expresses it, “the education of their time table of the elder Leonora cf Ferrara, only became an instrument with which to jusť as, two generations afterwards, Tasso develop their feminine characteristics and Guarini, the poet, found favor and more brilliantly; not the result of an protection with the younger Leonora ? exterior, conventional education, but an And how learned was that graceful houseinterior harmony, arising from the co- I wife Portia, the mother of Torquato !
Who does not recollect Vittoria Colonna, but even the State, and above all the indiMichael Angelo's beautiful muse? Above viduality, works of art. And here it was all, where can we find a finer type of true that the Renaissance, which possessed no womanhood than Isabella of Mantua, conventional compass, too soon struck whose letters to her husband, to her sis- upon the rocks which were destined to ter-in-law of Urbino, to her artist friends, wreck the vessel of Italian society. It reveal a feminine soul of such finished had been able to reach the highest possigrace through their somewhat constrained ble pitch of art, because here liberty was form. Now we find her receiving the restrained by law, and Ariosto has remost learned works of antiquity from Al- mained the most striking example of an dus Manutius; now it is Ariosto who apparently unrestrained, in reality strictly submits to her the sketch of his “ Orlando controlled freedom. Not so in daily life; Furioso;” Bellini is unable to supply her for here people only too readily forgot fast enough to please her; she listens to that the Muses should accompany, but are Plautus's comedies, ay, even to Cardinal incapable of guiding life. An age which Bibbiena's “ Calandra,” a piece which could see no more guilt in a Cæsar Bormen would nowaday's hardly venture to gia than in a tiger lurking for and pouncread aloud to each other, and enjoys it ing upon its prey, could not long hold merrily in company with the men belongs together. Art is indifferent to morals; ing to her society; yet no one who had society cannot subsist without moral conever seen her found her a whit less wom- vention. Art is inexorably true; society anly because she had read Vitruvius, or cannot dispense with a certain amount of dreamt of casting a doubt on her purity hypocrisy. The absolute indifference and chastity because she could laugh with regard to social morality, and the heartily at Macchiavelli's “Manragola” undisguised love of truth which characGirls under twenty, were, of course, not terize this period, - a love of truth, by admitted to social intercourse with their the way, which was quite compatible with elders, any more than boys of the same the use of direct falsehood or dissimulaage, and unmarried women above twenty tion in order to attain a given end, - the were so extremely rare at that time that worship of nature as infallible, and the they scarcely come into account.
contempt for any other authority, neces. Women's influence in the State was, for sarily led this society to its dissolution, the most part, quite indirect, although a and had done so, in fact, long ere Spanfew, like Caterina Sforza, took openly a ish influences fettered the life of Italy. leading share in politics. In general, the Unrestrained political license had alpart played by women was confined to ready resulted in petty despotism before the truly feminine mission of receiving an unlimited intellectual freedom resulted and returning ideas and ains; they selo in narrow-minded bigotry. True, art had dom took the initiative either in thought not ceased to be cultivated; but it had or action ; but they lent the lives of those become an exterior thing, and the artist indomitable men moderation, grace, and degenerated with inconceivable rapidity refinement, whenever a lull in the inexora- into the virtuoso, the man of science into ble struggle for existence gave them an the pedant, poetry became academism, opportunity of doing so. And thus they sociability a mere satisfaction of empty were indeed the first to realize that artistic vanity and a coarse thirst for pleasure. ideal which the whole age had in its mind's Commerce declined, and with it a free, eye. For art - 1.1., the interpreting rep- high-spirited class of citizens. Work resentation of nature was the principle began to be discredited; a man of quality which pervaded the whole intellectual lived on the inheritance of his forefathers atmosphere of the age. During the mem- nay, even down to the present day, orable interview between Charles V. and Italians give the name signori only to Pope Clement VII. at Bologna, which those who have enough to live upon withwas to seal the fate of Italy for many out working. The ancient city patriciate years to come, the wonderfully wrought itself became a nobility, not of arms, but clasp, designed by Benvenuto Cellini to of court offices. And what courts were fasten the pope's mantle, caused both those at which the descendants of the sovereigns for fully a quarter of an hour great merchants of the fourteenth cento lose sight of the purpose for which tury were now content to fawn for titles they had met. It was their desire to ren- and dignities, even when, as at Florence, der not only their domestic surroundings, the new sovereigns descended from a their dress, their dwellings, utensils, gar- race of traders ! They were the courts dens, their banquets and entertaininents, of small vassals to great foreign potentates. The horizon had narrowed. No. vent into marriage ; on them likewise the where was there an open view to be had absence of all public life acted depressof the wide ocean of European politics. ingly, damping their energies; they also The noble freedom of intercourse which were shut out from the interests which had prevailed during the previous cen- animated the men; they also, like the tury gave way to an oppressive etiquette, men, allowed themselves to be absorbed a formal
, Spanish ceremonial replaced the by petty social and religious formalities preceding laisser-aller. Outside the court, and the jealousies of position and rank, it is true, the old tone of friendly inti- or gave themselves up, behind closed macy was still preserved in the intercourse doors, to every caprice of passion or inbetween the cultured middle class and the dolence. The one thing which slightly newly-created nobles, who were so numer- relieved and enlivened the hopeless emptious that their titles were almost meaning- ness of female existences such as these, less; but it had become purely a matter was recognized, tolerated cicisbeism; of form, and this merely external equality, while the inborn grace, the childlike simwhich had been inherited from the age plicity, so nearly akin to nature, of Italian of the Renaissance, can only deceive the women, perhaps also the inheritance of eye of the superficial observer. Then, as the oldest of European civilizations, toned now, counts and marquises exchanged down and refined to a certain degree the the familiar" thou” with lawyers and pro- inner poverty of such a life. The traces fessors, but only with the certain knowl. of this existence of the seventeenth and edge, that the distance which separated eighteenth centuries are not yet quite them inwardly could not be overstepped, obliterated; but Italy is perhaps the counas Don Giovanni is able to joke with try which has undergone the greatest Leporello with impunity, because both social revolution during the last forty inwardly feel how great a gulf is fixed years, a revolution which is still proceedbetween them. In fact, a relationship of ing. French domination at the beginning client to patron had taken the place of of this century, and the almost uninterthe former equality. The decline of com- rupted influence of French literature ever merce and of manufacture, the wide ex. since; the levelling of all frontiers in the tension of the court and of the service of interior; the present rule of the Piedmonthe State besides, had for their conse- tese, a race more nearly allied to the quence a steadily increasing poverty and Swiss than to the Italians; above all, the servility of the middle class; the number rise of a new ruling class, and precisely and influence of parasites was continu- of that very same middle class which for ally augmenting Contrary to the cus. the two previous centuries had been so tom elsewhere, the Church, justice, gove poor and so humbly dependent, and which ernment offices became a refuge for these to-day reigns supreme and is fully conreduced classes, wlio no longer felt it scious of the advantages of its position, a humiliation to be patronized by the all this has contributed to bring about wealthy. The dignity with which reli- a transformation, which is still far from gion, jurisprudence, and the State are being completed. wont elsewhere to invest their servants, here had lost all its value; the priest was an affable bachelor to whom the smaller IN France likewise the influence of social functions were entrusted, nothing Spain was powerfully felt after that of more; the man of learning, the poet Italy; but in that country national life generally also an abbé — was the panegyr- was so vigorous, that it soon completely ist, at times even the buffoon of the noble subjected and absorbed the foreign elehouse; the judge was hardly anything but ment. From time immemorial the State a business agent; the State councillor had been led, the Church governed, and was a steward to the signori. The wives the cultivation of literature and science and daughters of such professional men appropriated to themselves, by the no– for commerce had almost entirely dwin. bility of the sword and the robe. These dled into a retail trade — led the life of two classes had at an early period enmaidservants, in extreme poverty, seclu- tered into a league with the crown against sion, and obscurity, from which they only the higher aristocracy. But ihe more inissued on high days and holidays. The dependent the monarchy rendered itself women of higher rank, it is true, con. of that aristocracy, the greater became tinued to be the centre of society, in the the influence and importance of its allies. aristocratic acceptation of the term ; but Finally, when Richelieu had overcome they, too, passed at a bound from the con- the higher nobility, they also entered into