From Germany, which had repudiated French academic classicism and exalted the national spirit and traditions against Romanism, while celebrating the triumph of passion over reason and the most unbridled individualism over any limitation of the ego; from France, where Madame de Staël with the book De l’Allemagne (1813) had, with the intention of reinvigorating the French soul, spread the knowledge of customs, art, literature, philosophy of the Germans, came to Italy the critical conscience of a renewal of spiritual life and, with some guiding ideas, the name of “romantic”, which was also in Italy the appellative of the innovators, even if their spiritual tendencies were other than those of the German romantics.
According to Globalsciencellc, an article by Staël (1816) was the signal of a controversy between romantics and classicists, which debated lively and chatty until 1819. In the first fervor of the controversy, towards the end of 1816, the semi-serious Letter of Grisostomo by Giovanni Berchet was published , which was the manifesto of Italian romanticism; the Conciliatore (1818-19) was its periodical organ, founded by some noble spirits (including Count Luigi Porro Lambertenghi, financier, and Silvio Pellico, editor) to face the Italian Library , which, subsidized and supervised by Austria, had gradually reduced by necessity of circumstances to being the spokesman of the classicists.
The romantics fought the use of mythology and the servile imitation of the classics, the a priori distinction of literary genres and the rules founded on the authority of rhetoricians; they wanted poetry to take the true historical and moral as its subject, and to aim to improve the manners of men and to soften their souls, to take argument and inspiration from nature and feelings, from doctrines, from traditions, from modern histories, yes that it could be “popular”, that is to say, not only of interest to a small circle of scholars, but to all people of some culture. Thus and by promoting the study of modern foreign literatures, they extended the romantic boundaries of poetic beauty, showing how every time, every nation can produce, by virtue of very varied causes, an art of its own, and it is harmful to mortify the talents by imposing certain specific models on them. The foundations of romantic aesthetics (imitation of truth, educational intent) were no different from those of classical aesthetics; but the Romantics wanted a more rigorous application of those principles, meaning the existing and what had happened as true and turning the training to high moral and civil ends, and they claimed the fullness of its freedom to art, making use of those principles to to fight, in the name of the spontaneity of inspiration, those laws of regularity and structural balance that classical poetics instilled with mechanical absoluteness.
Lombard in its most fervent period, the classical-romantic controversy languished after 1819, but spread to almost every region of Italy, from time to time reviving, when new works by the romantics gave new bait to the fire. Traditional classicism, also favored by the classical styles and titles put into vogue by the Revolution and the Empire, still had in the first decades of the century a nucleus of followers that were not despicable, albeit scarcely of intellectual originality: Cesare Arici, modest modernized blacksmith Virgilian elegances in his numerous didactic poems; the historian Carlo Botta, also author of an epic poem, Il Camillo; Pietro Giordani, a wise architect of periods, a courageous apostle of Italian style and with greater breadth of ideas, companion to Antonio Cesari and Basilio Puoti in the work of purifying the language from the French slovenliness of the eighteenth century. But Italian literature was soon all romantic, of course it had its own romanticism, quite different from English, German, French romanticism. Orthodox good taste, shying away from any forestierume not just of word but of thought, infatuated with the “magisterium of style”, which then meant round and sonorous pedantic periods, loyal to calm, measured, dull artistic concepts, gradually shrinking and concentrating in a school that gathered its proselytes especially in the Papal State between Rome and Romagna, and that he continued his life beyond the capture of Rome. As its glorious head it recognized Vincenzo Monti, author of a sermon in 1825 On the mythology in beautiful loose, directed precisely against “the audacious boreal school”.
Monti is a magnificent late eighteenth-century artist, who was joined by the new school at the sunset of his activity as a poet, when imperial Romanism had reinvigorated and refreshed his eighteenth-century neoclassicism. He paid a large tribute to the exoticism of the century which saw him be born and which educated him in art; but more continuous and profound was his devotion to classicism, to those “Argive and Latin fables” which he lamented being despised by the romantics and which he put to good use by turning them to allegorical and flattering meanings. A very sensitive spirit to every impression, he tasted the beauty of all the ancient and modern literary forms, Italian and foreign, classical and religious, and made them his pro in his rhymes. But his imagination, agile and rich in colors and sounds, has little creative vigor, narrow field of action, shortness of breath. In idyllic representations and in the expression of domestic sentiments and of tender emotions, he succeeds in making art of direct experiences of reality, here too bringing his art closer to that of the romantics; the rest is second-hand poetry, a magnificent form of the emotion aroused in him by the various readings, poetry based on poetry. Hence the aesthetic inconsistencies and out-of-tune of this romantic forward-letter, which stubbornly to be classic, forgets himself in the exercise of his skill as an imitator or emulator of the pieces of poetry admired everywhere; but hence also the excellence of Monti as a translator of here too, bringing his art closer to that of the romantics; the rest is second-hand poetry, a magnificent form of the emotion aroused in him by the various readings, poetry based on poetry. Hence the aesthetic inconsistencies and out-of-tune of this romantic forward-letter, which stubbornly to be classic, forgets himself in the exercise of his skill as an imitator or emulator of the pieces of poetry admired everywhere; but hence also the excellence of Monti as a translator of here too, bringing his art closer to that of the romantics; the rest is second-hand poetry, a magnificent form of the emotion aroused in him by the various readings, poetry based on poetry. Hence the aesthetic inconsistencies and out-of-tune of this romantic forward-letter, which stubbornly to be classic, forgets himself in the exercise of his skill as an imitator or emulator of the pieces of poetry admired everywhere; but hence also the excellence of Monti as a translator ofIliad and the charm of his verse, which expresses a purely literary but sincere emotion.
A romantic soul nourished by foreign culture, especially English, had Ippolito Pindemonte, a contemporary of Monti and literally an eighteenth-century artist himself, for his neoclassicism and sentimental tendencies in keeping with the exoticism of that century. Good translator of the Odyssey , after having strongly influenced the influences of Gray, Young, Ossian , Klopstock, Shakespeare in a not short series of works, he too remains halfway between classicism and romanticism, not having his spirit, pleasantly superficial, so vigorous as to overcome that dualism in a resolute theoretical conception and in an original attitude of art.
The three great poets who at the beginning of the new century gave Italian literature some of the most distinguished works of which it boasts, naturally unclassifiable: Ugo Foscolo, the most romantic of classicists; Alessandro Manzoni, the most classic of the romantics; Giacomo Leopardi, a great romantic with a variety of intentions and classic clothes.