Italy Literature – Renewal of Thought and Literary Art in the 18th Century Part II

By | February 25, 2022

Only Giambattista Vico, the great thinker who, pioneering modern idealism, supported the concept of the constructive synthesis of the spirit against the analytical and deductive method of Cartesian philosophy and in the  New Science drew from myths, from traditions, from laws, from language the guidelines of the universal course of society, conceived a new organic and coherent aesthetic doctrine, and was the first to recognize the autonomy of art, making poetry a form of conscience and the fruit of an activity of the spirit that creates images, different from logical activity, that creates concepts. Applying these principles to literary criticism, he sensed and explained the difference between spontaneous poetry and reflected art poetry and the strengthening of reasoning to the detriment of the imagination in the more mature ages of man and peoples; he saw in Homeric poems the fruit of a centuries-old elaboration of popular poetry and the mirror of the customs and sentiments of a primitive and imaginative age, and he was the first to be able to penetrate into the intimate reasons of Dante’s fresh and youthful art. Only half a century after his death did Vico’s ideas begin to spread and bear fruit; but in the eyes of the historian he stands out in the first half of the eighteenth century as a vigorous spirit of not only logical but also fantastic faculties, because from his profound thought comes a prose that is rough, convoluted and even incorrect, but powerful in expression, imaginative and precise.

According to USAERS.COM, a well-identified soul of man and writer also sometimes manifests itself in the prose, perhaps not yet worthily appreciated, by Lodovico Antonio Muratori, in which that movement of research, cataloging, criticism, historical reconstruction is strengthened and culminates , which, started in the century. XVI (see above), it continued, intensifying and expanding from archeology and civil and ecclesiastical history to the history of letters, academies, libraries and so on, in the century. XVII, and refined, fixed methodical concepts to its development, took organic arrangements, in the eighteenth century. Then the libraries already founded in the previous centuries had conspicuous increases and stable arrangements and new libraries and museums of classical antiquity and art arose; and next to the Lincei and Cimento academies, inherited from the seventeenth century, other academies were formed which, freeing themselves from the pompous and ceremonious vanity of too many of their other sisters, waited to promote the advancements of science, to illustrate archaeological monuments, to publish historical documents. Around Muratori, an admirable investigator of the facts, customs, institutes of the Italian Middle Ages, collector, organizer and tireless editor of the historical sources of that age, a legion of scholars flourished intended to explore with more or less sense, d acumen and method, the history of a region, a city, an institution, a particular activity of the spirit, from Apostolo Zeno to Scipione Maffei, from Giammario Crescimbeni to Girolamo Tiraboschi, from Francesco Saverio Quadrio to Ireneo Affò, from Giammaria Mazzuchelli to Cristoforo Poggiali; industrious and worthy illustrators of every aspect of the past, who prepared the materials for that renewal of historiography, which romanticism will accomplish by giving it the soul and backbone of a thought based on the idea of ​​development. Then, in the century. XVIII, it was either placed at the service of current political theses, as in Civil history of the Kingdom of Naples  by Pietro Giannone, powerful advocate of the rights of the lay state against the claims of the Church; or he inquired about abstract conceptions of progress without development, as in  the Risorgimento of Italy after the year 1000  by Saverio Bettinelli and in the stories of Carlo Denina, both nourished by French rationalistic spirits.

From across the Alps, in fact, philosophical doctrines that renewed the concepts of religion, society, state, wealth, and examples of new start-ups and new literary forms came to Italy. Worthy response to the French encyclopedists, but different from them as the political conditions were different and Italy brought in speculation a tendency of its own to realistic concreteness, a group of thinkers, philosophers, jurist and economists, built with true originality doctrines in every field of reformers : in the kingdom of Naples, Antonio Genovesi, Ferdinando Galiani, magnificent genius of artist and scientist, Gaetano Filangieri, Mario Pagano; in Lombardy, Pietro Verri, Gian Rinaldo Carli, Cesare Beccaria. With much less originality the Italian literature of the imagination took up from the French, reworked and perfected in the tragedy, in the fable, in the comedy, the classicism that had transmitted to it; but from English and German literature, directly or indirectly by way of French translations, came the love of melancholy and sentimentality, of the gloomy and gloomy, which went with increasing intensity in contrast to the traditional frivolous and gay serenity. Great vogue for translations and imitations had, alongside the Pope’s works, at seasons  by John Thompson, to the novels of De Foe, Swift, Sterne,  Edoardo Young’s Thoughts of Night  and Tommaso Gray’s Elegy over a Country Cemetery  , which suggested compositions of a similar genre to Italians ( The Roman Nights  by Alessandro Verri ;  The Clementine Nights by Aurelio Bertola) and were able to spread the taste of darkly painful thoughts, dark images, feeble complaints in almost every literary genre. Translated from Macpherson’s English by Melchiorre Cesarotti, Ossian’s chants also had a wide consensus with admirers and imitators in Italy, attracting with their gloomy visions the minds tired of the rhetorical composure and monotonous light of neoclassical art. The affected simplicity, the pathetic sensitivity and descriptive skill of the bucolic Salomon Gessner, translated by Bertola, caressed the Arcadian and academic taste and at the same time the sentimental languor of the eighteenth century, while in French and Italian translations the  Messiah  of Klopstock raised the spirits to a ideal of Christian art (which Alfonso Varano tried to implement in his Visions ) and  Goethe’s Werther  satisfied passionate and greedy souls with painful emotions.

Thus Italian literature, which in the Renaissance had spoken its word of life and imposed its own regime of inspirations and forms on all European literatures, bowed to the imitation of the transalpine genius and was about to emerge from its isolation to participate in the great European cultural meeting. It was the fall of that concept of the necessary classical authentication, which, triumphant in the middle of the century. XVI, that same century and the following ones had slowly been corroding. The ideas, the spirits, the forms that had produced this effect, and which have been gradually detected in this scheme of history, acquired full awareness of themselves and were coordinated in a body of doctrines by the work of romanticism, the prevailing mood. in Europe already at the end of the eighteenth century.

Italy Literature - Renewal of Thought and Literary Art in the 18th Century 2