IL SEIC,ENTO.- 17TH CENTURY.-- DECADENCE.
In his Sposi' Manzoni has vividly portrayed that wretched contrast in Italian 17th century life between the actual poverty and weakness, and the inflated magnificence and insincerity which in art produced barroc chism and in literature produced morinism. What the over-ornamented statues of Bernini, or the facade of San Mose in Venice are in sculpture, the poetry of Marino is in poetry: productions vacuous in conception, lavish in embellishment. But life is more than poetry and the plastic arts, and these do not com pletely represent the evolution of the Italian people. Though the Seicento is the most barren in the history of Italian literature, it is also the century of such solitary souls as Giordano Bruno, Toinmaso Campanella and Galileo Galilei and Paolo Sarpi; a period of travail from which was born the modern spirit and the beginnings of a new era in Science and Letters and experimental philosophy; the more beautifully bright when contrasted with the surrounding meanness and spiritual poverty.
Secentism in Italy, euphuism in England, le style precieux in France, gongorism in Spain are all equivalent phenomena. The mannerism of this period can be traced back even to Pe varch, and is seen in Tasso, but it only became overwhelming under the double pall of Spanish and papal oppression that now weighed upon Italy. It was not the special fault of any indi vidual poet or prose writer, though some were greater sinners than others; it was the char acteristic of the century, this moral inertness, this soul vacuity this pretension, this imbecility, virtuosity and affectation of glitter that was not gold, nor even pure brass. Love, that informing spirit of all lyric poetry, which had been alle gorical and mystic in the Middle Ages, esthetic and sensual in the Renaissance, now became a mere rhetorical artifice, a left motif for infinite melodious and fantastic variations and multitudinous images, and minced and prated in sensual trifles. In the pages of the crowds of epic poetasters striving for immortal ity along the path of Tasso and Ariosto, the word °heroism)) echoed as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. The more religion, morality
and patriotism those great lights of inspira tion — grew dim in the souls of men the more did the marshlight of imitation elaborate with emptiness the pages of these versifiers.
Yet never had the forms of composition been more elaborate and finished; all the spoils of the past, all the treasures of classicism and RenaiSsance, were at the command of these witty, refined, but sceptic, wearied and unspir itual poets incapable of either Pagan or Chris tian ideals. Giambattista Marini (1569-1625) is the epitome of Secentism. What Bernini is to Michelangelo, Marini is to Tasso and Petrarch. The same fatuity which multiplies the flowing draperies around the sculptured figures of the one fills the poems of the other with strained images, extravagantly expressed. Marini, with his ample imagination, familiarity with classic models, facile devices of lewdness, grossness of detail, excessive ornamentation, extravagant metaphors, remains a curious document of the degree of aberration into which a civilized so ciety can fall at some turning point in its evo lution, when the intellectual of the past have grown dim and the beacon fires of the new age are not yet perceived. Toute society a la poisie qu'elle tnerite and Marini's was as low as the society for which it was written. Even the pulpit caught the infection and the cheap rhetorical falbalas of Padre Seg neri were greatly admired. At least these writers and orators gave to their most mean ingless sentences the charm of melody, they possessed the gift of style.
Alessandro Tassoni was a man discontented with his own lot and who perceived the empti ness of the world about him. Witty, pungent, impudent; his invectives, libels and satires struck everything he disliked, especially the Spanish oppressors of Italy and the sometimes subservient Savoian princes. His 'La Secchia Rapita' was the sort of ridicule which could prove effective, but his critical essays