« PředchozíPokračovat »
DECLINE Of RenaissANCE IMPULSE.
Humanism, after recovering the classics and forming a new ideal of culture, was sinking into pedantry and academic erudition. Painting and sculpture, having culminated in the great work of Michelangelo, tended toward a kind of empty mannerism. Architecture settled down into the types fixed by Palladio and Barozzi. Poetry seemed to have reached its highest point of development in Ariosto. The main motives supplied to art by medieval traditions and humanistic enthusiasm were worked out. Nor was this all. The Renaissance had created a critical spirit which penetrated every branch of art and letters. It was not possible to advance further on the old lines; yet painters, sculptors, architects, and poets of the rising generation had before their eyes the masterpieces of their predecessors, in their minds the precepts of the learned. All alike were rendered awkward and self-conscious by the sense of laboring at a disadvantage, and by the dread of academical censorship.
In truth, this critical spirit, which was the final product of the Renaissance in Italy, favored the development of new powers in the nation: it hampered workers in the elder spheres of art, literature, and scholarship; but it set thinkers upon the track of those investigations which we call scientific. I shall endeavor, in a future chapter, to show how the Italians were now upon the point of carrying the ardor of the Renaissance into fresh fields of physical discovery and speculation, when their evolution
was suspended by the Catholic Reaction. But here it must suffice to observe that formalism had succeeded by the operation of natural influences to the vigor and inventiveness of the national genius in the main departments of literature and fine art.
If we study the development of other European races, we shall find that each of them in turn, at its due season, passed through similar phases. The mediæval period ends in the efflorescence of a new delightful energy, which gives a Rabelais, a Shakspere, a Cervantes to the world. The Renaissance riots itself away in Marinism, Gongorism, Euphuism, and the affectations of the Hôtel Rambouillet. This age is succeeded by a colder, more critical, more formal age of obedience to fixed canons, during which scholarly efforts are made to purify style and impose laws on taste. The ensuing period of sense is also marked by profounder inquiries into nature and more exact analysis of mental operations. The correct school of poets, culminating in Dryden and Pope, holds sway in England; while Newton, Locke, and Bentley extend the sphere of science. In France the age of Rabelais and Montaigne yields place to the age of Racine and Descartes. Germany was so distracted by religious wars, Spain was so downtrodden by the Inquisition, that they do not offer equally luminous examples. It may be added that in all these nations the end of the eighteenth and
With regard to Germany, see Mr. T. S. Perry's acute and philosophical study, entitled From Opitz to Lessing (Boston).
TRANSFORMATIONS IN EUROPE.
the beginning of the nineteenth centuries are marked by a similar revolt against formality and common sense, to which we give the name of the Romantic
Quitting this sphere of speculation, we may next point out that the European system had undergone an incalculable process of transformation. Powerful nationalities were in existence, who, having received their education from Italy, were now beginning to think and express thought with marked originality. The Italians stood no longer in a relation of uncontested intellectual superiority to these peoples, while they met them under decided disadvantages at all points of political efficiency. The Mediterranean had ceased to be the high road of commercial enterprise and naval energy. Charles V.'s famous device of the two columns, with its motto Plus Ultra, indicated that illimitable horizons had been opened, that an age had begun in which Spain. England and Holland should dispute the sovereignty of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Italy was left, with diminished forces of resistance, to bear the brunt of Turk and Arab depredations. The point of gravity in the civilized world had shifted. The Occidental nations looked no longer toward the South of Europe.
While these various causes were in operation, Catholic Christianity showed signs of re-wakening. The Reformation called forth a new and sincere spirit in the Latin Church; new antagonisms were
evoked, and new efforts after self-preservation had to be made by the Papal hierarchy. The center of the world-wide movement which is termed the Counter-Reformation was naturally Rome. Events had brought the Holy See once more into a position of prominence. It was more powerful as an Italian State now, through the support of Spain and the extinction of national independence, than at any previous period of history. In Catholic Christendom its prestige was immensely augmented by the Council of Trent. At the same epoch, the foreigners who dominated Italy, threw themselves with the enthusiasm of fanaticism into this Revival. Spain furnished Rome with the militia of the Jesuits and with the engines of the Inquisition. The Papacy was thus able to secure successes in Italy which were elsewhere only partially achieved. It followed that the moral, social, political and intellectual activities of the Italians at this period were controlled and colored by influences hostile to the earlier Renaissance. Italy underwent a metamorphosis, prescribed by the Papacy and enforced by Spanish rule. In the process of this transformation the people submitted to rigid ecclesiastical discipline, and adopted, without assimilating, the customs of a foreign troop of despots.
At first sight we may wonder that the race which had shone with such incomparable luster from Dante to Ariosto, and which had done so much to create modern culture for Europe, should
THE COUNTER-REFORMATION PERIOD.
so quietly have accepted a retrogressive revolution. Yet, when we look closer, this is not surprising. The Italians were fatigued with creation, bewildered by the complexity of their discoveries, uncertain as to the immediate course before them. The Renaissance had been mainly the work of a select few. It had transformed society without permeating the masses of the people. Was it strange that the majority should reflect that, after all, the old ways are the best? This led them to approve the Catholic Revival. Was it strange that, after long distracting aimless wars, they should hail peace at any price? This lent popular sanction to the Spanish hegemony, in spite of its obvious drawbacks.
These may be reckoned the main conditions which gave a peculiar but not easily definable complexion of languor, melancholy, and dwindling vitality to nearly every manifestation of Italian genius in the second half of the sixteenth century, and which well nigh sterilized that genius during the two succeeding centuries. In common with the rest of Europe, and in consequence of an inevitable alteration of their mental bias, they had lost the blithe spontaneity of the Renaissance. But they were at the same time suffering from grievous exhaustion, humiliated by the tyranny of foreign despotism, and terrorized by ecclesiastical intolerance. In their case, therefore, a sort of moral and intellectual atrophy becomes gradually more and more perceptible. The clear artistic sense of rightness and of beauty yields to