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From the garden of Europe, the fruitful and poetic Italy, we are universally allowed to have first received that elegant and popular form of composition, known as the Sonnet; and to increase acquaintance with, and admiration of which, is the object of this volume. In no country has this elegant style of composition been more studied or carried to higher perfection.
Of the Italian Sonnet Mr. Roscoe observes, (in his Life of Lorenzo de Medici,) “ It is a species of composition almost cöeval with the language itself; and may be traced back to that period when the Latin tongue, corrupted by the vulgar pronunciation, and intermixed with the idioms of the different nations that from time to time overran Italy, degenerated into what was called the lingua volgare; which language, though at first rude and unpolished, was by successive exertions reduced to a regular and determinate standard, and obtained at length a superiority over the Latin, not only in common use, but in the written compositions of the learned. The form of the Sonnet, confined to a certain versification, and to a certain number of lines, was unknown to the Roman poets, who adopting a legitimate measure, employed it as long as the subject required it, but was probably derived from the Provençals; although instances of the regular stanza, now used in these compositions, may be traced among the Italians, as early as the thirteenth century. From that time to the present, the Sonnet has retained its precise form, and has been the most favourite mode of composition in the Italian tongue.”
The confined limits of the Sonnet renders the judicious selection of a subject of appropriate length one of the chief merits in this art. Mr. Roscoe considers that from this circumstance, “these compositions display rather the glitter of wit, than the fire of genius;" as also that they have been chiefly appropriated to illustrate the passion of Love. The early writers of Sonnets, both in the Italian
and (in our own language, undoubtedly confine them mostly to this subject; and with our Poets, it is not surprising; admiration of the Sonnets of Petrarch having first led to the attempt of similar compositions by Henry Howard, Earl of Surry, and Sir Thomas Wiat; but that it is not of necessity the sole object suitable to that style, our later poets have given convincing proof. Petrarch has often the honour of being considered the first composer of the Sonnet; but this manifestly could not have been the case, as we find a considerable number of these compositions in the Vita Nuova of the immortal Dante, all devoted to the praises of his Beatrice, who, whether she were the daughter of Folco Portinari, or but the offspring of the Poet's imagination, (a subject of so much doubt among commentators,) will ever be associated with the name of Dante. One cannot but agree with Mr. Stebbing, * who mentions in a brief but interesting manner the first meeting of the youthful lovers, both about
Dr. Warton, however, gives the invention of the Sonnet to a poet of anterior date, Guitton d’Arezzo, a famous monk, in 1299, to whom also is attributed, with Franco of Cologne, the discovery of counterpoint, and to whom we are indebted for our present system of musical notation; he appears to have been in the zenith of his popularity, while Dante was yet a youth. He is mentioned by Petrarch, in the Trionfo d'Amore, with others.
* See the Rev. Henry Stebbing's Lives of the Italian Poets, vol. i.
“ Ecco Dante, e Beatrice: ecco Selvagia, Ecco Cin da Pistoja; Guitton d'Arezzo; Ecco i due Guidi che già juro in prezzo,
Onesto Bolognese, e i Siciliani.”
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, " the celebrated Pietro Bembo attempted again to introduce the style of Petrarch; but his Sonnets, though correct and chaste, are too often formal and insipid. Those of Casa, formed upon the same model, possess much more ease, and a greater flow of sentiment. Succeeding authors united the correctness of Petrarch with the bolder colouring of Lorenzo; and in the works of Ariosto, the two Tassos, Costanzo, Tansillo and Guarini, the poetry of Italy attained its highest degree of perfection."
The Italians consider the Sonnet as the most beautiful style of poetry they have, and their passion for this species of composition, far from becoming less, has only been strengthened: whilst in France, where the same taste reigned for a time, the Sonnet has quite passed away. Pasquier, a man of letters, celebrated for his learning and research about the year 1528, observes that Joachim du Bellay, who excelled particularly in the Sonnet, was the first who introduced that style of poetry into France. But Du Bellay himself says that Merlin de S. Galois first converted the Italian sonnet into French.
“The Sonnet is always comprised in fourteen lines, as the old madrigal must be under or not exceeding twelve. The Sonnet is divided in Italian rules into two quatrains and two triplets — the quatrains, which form the eight first lines, ought to be upon two rhymes, which may
be disposed in three different ways. In the first, which is the most used, the first line rhymes with the fourth, fifth, and eighth; the second line with the third, sixth, and seventh. In the second way, the first line rhymes with the third, fifth, and seventh; the second line with the fourth, sixth, and eighth. In the third way the first line rhymes with the third, sixth and eighth; the second line with the fourth, fifth, and seventh. In the six lines, in two triplets, there are also three sorts of arrangement, which all differ from that observed in the French Sonnet. Either the three lines of the first triplet are on three different rhymes, which have their respective correspondents in the three lines of the second triplet in whatever