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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Arthur Livingston (1883–1944)

By Antonio Fogazzaro (1842–1911)

THE CONDEMNATION by the Church of ‘Il Santo’ and ‘Leila’ has tended to make Fogazzaro the object of polemics better calculated to spread his fame than to elucidate his art. It has won him an eminence among radicals he was the first to disclaim. It has laid far too great emphasis upon his value as critic and thinker, for Fogazzaro as an ethicist is a mystic authoritarian. He is interested in finding divine sanction and psychological basis for conclusions previously accepted from prejudice and social tradition. His pseudo-philosophical essays (‘Ascensioni umane’) attempt to square an ultra-amateurish notion of Darwin with a poetic perception of Saint Augustine. He is one of the critics, so common in every age, who would adapt dogma to progress by showing that the new is really old. Fogazzaro seeks in every science materials to justify his preconceptions. This is as true of his psychology as of his science and philosophy. No one is going to deny this right to any citizen, and Fogazzaro is pre-eminently a citizen-thinker. On this point Catholics as well as liberals ought readily to agree, in order, once and for all, to ground the eminence of Fogazzaro on the solid base of his artistic merit, where his figure rises in its own distinctive grandeur.

In thus denying value to the citizen’s thought of Fogazzaro we in no way impugn his value as a citizen. Fogazzaro, as a character, stands out in contrast not only with another distinguished figure of Italian letters, but with the whole army of post-Romantic littérateurs whose lives shine rather for richness and variety of experience than for singleness of moral purpose. Fogazzaro was a gentleman, of considerable wealth, of aristocratic tastes. The tenderness of family relationships warmed every corner of his life, as well as of his art. He was a lavish contributor to the charities of Vicenza, his native city. A certain stiffness is suggested by the quality of his wider social and literary associations. It is well to recall these facts; for this aristocratic environment becomes, in Fogazzaro’s work, wholly self-conscious, conscious also of its ultimate and purest ideals. Fogazzaro’s art is intensely personal. His personality never detaches itself from its social class. This class has a history, which, in a very real sense, is the history of modern Italy in one aspect of life where Italy is most Italian. Carducci is representative of part of the Italian past, just as d’Annunzio may reflect some potentialities of Italy’s future. Fogazzaro was the continuation of a representative tradition already glorious:—Rosmini, Gioberti, Manzoni, the practical idealists of the Italian “Risorgimento.”

We sometimes forget that between 1797 and 1859, the Italian revolution had not only to dethrone Jesuitism, but also to combat the eighteenth-century philosophy of France and the Hegelian and pseudo-Hegelian philosophy of Germany, with which most of the extremist agitation for freedom was affected. The national movement succeeded only from the time it was clearly destined to remain Catholic. This, in view of the perennial attitude of the Papacy toward the political question, has not yet wholly lost for Italians its character as a painful dilemma. Save that, since 1871, the position of the problem has been somewhat changed: before then it was a question of Catholicizing the national aspiration, while since it has been a question of nationalizing the Catholic spirit. Catholic patriotism, in its struggle toward coherence, has been one of the epic motives of Italian life throughout the nineteenth century. Of this motive in its second form, Fogazzaro was the poet.

Looking back to the first extensive work of Fogazzaro, to ‘Miranda,’ we have all his characteristic motives. There is a ferocious anguish in this simple tale of hopeless fidelity to love: but its gloom is illumined by the beauty of strong character divinely sustained in faith. Miranda loves once and loves forever. And this wondrous love, unrewarded in the realm of justice, finds—as we are led to hope—its true, its eternal reward in the sphere of divine charity. The mystic element in this tale in verse is not obtrusive, but everywhere implicit. Furthermore its presence can be documented from the letters of Fogazzaro. Miranda’s sacrifice is possible only because she is sustained by her faith, a faith which derives its unshakable firmness, its curative power from the faith and the hope of the world. Fogazzaro is not the first to have drawn tragic emotions from the juxtaposition of love and death. He is one of the great poets of the eternal separation. This motive drapes its melancholy about all the sweetness and melody of ‘Miranda.’ Only its richer and more socially oriented developments give artistic value and significance to Fogazzaro’s later work.

Let us not fail to emphasize the deep Italianity of these motivations of ‘Miranda.’ The gloom which is so characteristic of contemporary Italian letters finds here, in striking obviousness, its roots in Catholic idealism. But whereas the tearful sentimentality of present-day writers is too often self-sufficient but rarely aware of its own causative spiritual affiliations—in other words remaining deficient in social bearing and outlook—the wider orientation we have referred to comes to Fogazzaro precisely from his social self-consciousness. Viewed in this relation the conception of Fogazzaro’s tetralogy, which begins with ‘Piccolo mondo antico,’ and passing through ‘Piccolo mondo moderno’ and ‘Il santo,’ ends with ‘Leila,’ is little short of gigantic; in the sense that these works examine the reaction and the adaptation of the Catholic spirit, with all its limitations of inherited tradition and inherent contradiction, to the modern world.

Fogazzaro’s problem thus defined presents in reality two aspects: a criticism of modern society, and a criticism of Catholicism. He is chiefly concerned with the latter of these aspects, perhaps because all he might say of the former is implicit in what he does say of the latter. For Fogazzaro the world of to-day presents to the decent citizen, who would work for human well-being, two methods and two ideals: rational humanitarianism—justice; and ethical spirituality—charity. As a Catholic, as an Italian, as a man, Fogazzaro chooses the latter. Christianity bears within itself the evidence of its eternity (‘Leila’); the living existence of God, the immortality of the spirit, are miraculously demonstrated to minds disposed by will to receive the evidence, in the phenomena of conscious mental and spiritual experience (‘Piccolo mondo moderno,’ and passim). But those strong minds, conscious of their clear intellect, passionate in their devotion to the humane ideals of noble character (Luisa in ‘Piccolo mondo antico’), will find, pragmatically, that only in faith can the crushing realities of life be met, only in charity is justice obtainable.

Thus, above rational ethical values, Fogazzaro creates spiritual values of a higher order, which embrace the lower, and without which the lower cannot exist. Only within the Church and through its dogmas and rites can the individual attain and realize in action these higher values. But is the Church actually fulfilling this high mission of interpreting spirituality to the world? Yes (Franco, Don Giuseppe Flores, Don Aurelio, Piero Maironi, Donna Fedele) and no (the whole background of the “little modern and ancient world”), perhaps rather no than yes. Certainly in our society social problems must be met, new conceptions of duty, greater approximations to justice are to be created. The Church has to decide whether it will captain the march toward progress, or whether it will leave that task and the glory of it to rational humanitarianism (socialism, liberalism, industrial revolution). In ‘Il Santo’ and ‘Leila’ Fogazzaro presents his conception of the spiritual reform that must take place within the Church, the goal the Church must attain, the dangers that beset the path of the reformer. In all this, Fogazzaro’s dialectic is skillfully evolved; the life philosophies he would combat are incarnated in the characters we love (Luisa, Enrico, Jeanne, Leila), while no socialist could be more merciless than he in the portrayal of clerical depravity and Catholic pharisaism.

A distinguished thinker, Mr. Guglielmo Ferrero, has found the charm of Fogazzaro in the deep seriousness of this historic and social setting of his novels. This setting (save perhaps in ‘Piccolo Mondo Antico’) is suggested rather than described. It too is implicit in character portrayal rather than explicit in plot. It reveals its presence, rather than in social criticism, in an undertone of earnest civic purpose fundamental in all of Fogazzaro’s extremely rich and complicated lyric moods. These moods, when most intense and most characteristic, rise usually from the conflict in individuals between the higher spiritual ideals we have indicated and the natural impulses of human nature. In ‘Miranda’ Fogazzaro was the poet of separation. In his social novels he is the poet of renunciation, separation willed at the dictates of ideals, consoled, and sanctified to eternity by the attainment of the enduring riches of faith, integrated in the infinite store of vicarious sacrifice which as the ages pass will redeem the world.

We have, in Fogazzaro, people who renounce wealth, personal comfort, ambition, society. But the great artistic facts are love and death, Luisa and Ombretta, if you wish, or Jeanne Desalle and Piero Maironi. In Leila too is the grim desperation of eternal loss, long sustained by “comedy relief,” that prepares for the high flights of lyric fervor. But through the darkness breaks the light of faith, with its sense of peace and security, ultimate union in love, ultimate intoxication with divine joy: Refecit nos; me reddidit tibi et te mihi, but, as Fogazzaro adds—in lumine vitæ.

Limitless anguish, then, and infinite consolation. The image that binds Fogazzaro’s tetralogy into close æsthetic unity is the cemetery of Oria, among the crags of Lake Lugano. There sleeps the little child Ombretta, who died that she might take her mother by the hand and lead her to the perfect vision of love and life. There sleep Franco and Luisa in the life of the Lord, caressing with the hand of love the feverish brow of Piero Maironi. There, over the grave of Piero, Jeanne Desalle will perform the last act of redeeming sacrifice. There Massimo Alberti will consecrate himself to the love of Leila, and to the faith of Donna Fedele. The great fact in human life is death. The graves of Oria are the symbol of death’s annihilation. Through them the souls of the dear ones left behind are united with the forces of spiritual greatness which live and work through eternity. Before them the turmoils of passion, disappointment, despair, are changed to hope, confidence, realization.

But this is not all. Fogazzaro draws deeply upon filial, paternal, and maternal emotions, conceived both in natural and mystic relations (see especially ‘Leila’). There is something distinctive about Fogazzaro’s marvelously lyric portrayal of suppressed sensuousness, of which the best example appears in his second romance, ‘Daniele Cortis.’ Even Mr. Enrico Panzacchi, who professes inability to rise to the heights of Fogazzaro’s mystic vision, cannot be insensible to the sustained volitional tension which gives such a striking and cogent ethical value to all these novels.

The extrinsic accessories to Fogazzaro’s art make themselves felt most apparently in the works of his earlier maturity—‘Miranda,’ ‘Malombra,’ ‘Daniele Cortis’—and in his minor works. A careful analysis of ‘Eden Anto’ (there are two important collections of tales, ‘Fedele’ and ‘Idilj spezzati,’ and several volumes of verse condensed later in ‘Poesie’) or of ‘Nadeide’ would show all of Fogazzaro’s philosophy and all of his technical devices. He is a master of “comedy relief,” especially developed in minor characters, vividly intuited and carefully worked out. Here he draws richly upon regional types, who reveal themselves in their native dialects. Equally remarkable are his expositions, which start far afield, and elaborate the background, playing skillfully upon the reader’s curiosity in a manner perfected, perhaps exaggerated, by Mr. Salvatore di Giacomo. The symbolical interpretation of natural scenery—Fogazzaro’s lingers most willingly on turbulent imagery, wind, rain, gathering storms, with an occasional moonlight, and in ‘Leila,’ the suffocating perfume of flowers—is second in importance only to music. Here Fogazzaro revels in delight. The “Mystic Prelude” to ‘Leila’ is only one of numberless specimens of symphonic development in his works, which are cluttered with musical erudition. The effect of music is sought repeatedly, and somewhat artificially perhaps at times, as in ‘Miranda’ and ‘Daniele Cortis,’ where there are rhythmic recurrences of resonant and suggestive sentences deeply fraught with passion and pregnant with the mellow anguish of memory. Who can forget the melody of vocalic rhyme that breaks into the blank verse of ‘Miranda’:

  • Quando più ferve intorno a me la danza,
  • Quand’alto il riso nei conviti suona,
  • L’anima mia nella sua buia stanza
  • Di te, di te, solo di te ragiona….
  • When most the dance around me seethes,
  • When loud the banquet laughter rings,
  • My soul in its dark chamber breathes
  • And of thee, of thee only, sings.

  • Or “Hieme et æstate, et prope et procul, usque dum vivam et ultra,” from ‘Daniele Cortis,’—only one of the Latin epigraphs, so rich in stately elegance, which ring through the memory for years.

    The totality of effect that Fogazzaro’s work produces is one of extraordinary fibrousness and solidity. Of pure sentimentality there is little—unless perhaps in ‘Il mistero del poeta,’ which has enjoyed a vogue precisely for that. The social and ethical vision of Fogazzaro separates him distinctly from the maudlin tearfulness of so much, too much, contemporary Italian art. He is more truly a religious poet than Dante. He is one of the greatest interpreters of mystic emotion since Dante’s time.

    BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE.—Antonio Fogazzaro, born at Vicenza, March 25th, 1842, died at Vicenza, March 7th, 1911; son of Mariano and Terresa Barrera Fogazzaro; friend and pupil of Giacomo Zanella; educated at Padua; in 1866 married Margherita Valmarana, having three children, Gina, Mariano, and Maria. Of a family of considerable wealth, Fogazzaro lived most of his life on his estates at Vicenza and in the region of Lake Lugano. He performed a variety of civic duties in his native city (education, public monuments, charities). He traveled extensively in Europe as a popular lecturer. Works: first publication of verse, 1863; ‘Miranda,’ 1874, French, German, and Czech translations between 1882 and 1909; ‘Valsolda,’ 1876, English, French, Russian, Spanish trans.; ‘Malombra,’ novel, 1881; ‘Daniele Cortis,’ 1885, trans., ‘The Politician’; ‘Fedele,’ tales, 1887; ‘Il mistero del poeta,’ 1888; ‘Racconti brevi,’ 1894; ‘Piccolo mondo antico,’ trans., ‘The Patriot,’ 1896; ‘Poesie scelte,’ 1898; ‘Ascensioni umane,’ 1899; ‘Piccolo mondo moderno,’ trans., ‘The Sinner,’ 1901; ‘Idilli spezzati,’ tales, 1901; ‘Scene,’ 1903; ‘Il santo,’ trans., ‘The Saint,’ 1903; ‘Le poesie,’ 1908, best collection of verse; ‘Leila,’ 1910. Bibliography and biography by Molmenti, Milan, 1900, and S. Rumor, Milan, 1912. See McKenzie, Yale Review, 1913.