"Forse era ver, ma non pero credibile A chi del senso suo fosse Signore."
Astolpho's being carried to the moon by St. John, in order to look for Orlando's lost wits, at the end of the 34th book, and the many lost things that he finds there, is a most happy extravagancy, and contains, at the same time, a great deal of sense. I would advise you to read this poem with attention. It is, also, the source of half the tales, novels, and plays, that have been written since.
The 'Pastor Fido' of Guarini is so celebrated, that you should read it; but in reading it, you will judge of the great propriety of the characters. A parcel of shepherds and shepherdesses, with the TRUE PASTORAL' SIMPLICITY, talk metaphysics, epigrams, 'concetti', and quibbles, by the hour to each other.
The Aminto del Tasso, is much more what it is intended to be, a pastoral: the shepherds, indeed, have their 'concetti' and their antitheses; but are not quite so sublime and abstracted as those in Pastor Fido. I think that you will like it much the best of the two.
Petrarca is, in my mind, a sing-song, love-sick poet; much admired, however, by the Italians: but an Italian who should think no better of him than I do, would certainly say that he deserved his 'Laura' better than his 'Lauro'; and that wretched quibble would be reckoned an excellent piece of Italian wit.
The Italian prose-writers (of invention I mean) which I would recommend to your acquaintance, are Machiavello and Boccacio; the former, for the established reputation which he has acquired, of a consummate politician (whatever my own private sentiments may be of either his politics or his morality): the latter, for his great invention, and for his natural and agreeable manner of telling his stories.
Guicciardini, Bentivoglio, Davila, etc., are excellent historians, and deserved being read with attention. The nature of history checks, a little, the flights of Italian imaginations; which, in works of invention, are very high indeed. Translations curb them still more: and their translations of the classics are incomparable; particularly the first ten, translated in the time of Leo the Tenth, and inscribed to him, under the title of Collana. That original Collana has been lengthened since; and if I mistake not, consist now of one hundred and ten volumes.
From what I have said, you will easily guess that I meant to put you upon your guard; and not let your fancy be dazzled and your taste corrupted by the concetti, the quaintnesses, and false thoughts, which are too much the characteristics of the Italian and Spanish authors. I think you are in no great danger, as your taste has been formed upon the best ancient models, the Greek and Latin authors of the best ages, who indulge themselves in none of the puerilities I have hinted at. I think I may say, with truth; that true wit, sound taste, and good sense, are now, as it were, engrossed by France and England. Your old acquaintances, the Germans, I fear, are a little below them; and your new acquaintances, the Italians, are a great deal too much above them. The former, I doubt, crawl a little; the latter, I am sure, very often fly out of sight.
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