Italy and the English Romantics: The Italianate Fashion in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Italy and the English Romantics: The Italianate Fashion in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Italy and the English Romantics: The Italianate Fashion in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Italy and the English Romantics: The Italianate Fashion in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Excerpt

The importance of the Italian contribution to English life in the Renaissance is generally acknowledged. English scholars who travelled to Italy and studied under the Italian humanists, and Italian scholars, merchants and diplomats in England brought to this country a new learning which had repercussions on nearly every aspect of the national life--manners, commerce, scholarship, literature, music, art. To be able to speak a few words of Italian to the monarch became a mark of distinction; Italians were employed at Court as scholars, secretaries and diplomats; Italian merchants introduced new methods of commerce and trading; Italian riding and fencing-masters instructed the nobility; Italian physicians and musicians had almost a monopoly of their professions in London. Wyatt and Surrey introduced a new poetry based on the Italian authors, and Italian tracts on history, politics, manners and other subjects provided patterns which English writers readily followed.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, however, Italian influence in this country had suffered a sharp decline. Having once absorbed the lessons of the Italian Renaissance, Englishmen came to consider themselves superior to the rather 'decadent' Italian of the Seicento, and a jealous patriotism was opposed to the Italian supremacy in trade and commerce, and in diplomacy. The growth of Puritanism encouraged denunciations of the Italian 'danger': the Italians, it was said, were vicious and lascivious, their Church was corrupt, their poetry artificial and licentious; their political tracts taught treachery and deceit. During the latter half of the seventeenth century French literary influences largely supplanted Italian, and following the attacks of French and English critics the Italian authors fell into disrepute. The Italians were now damned in their character and in their literature.

In spite of the anti-Italian feeling of Addison and his contemporaries, however, Italian influence in this country persisted in several spheres. The Grand Tour now came to form part of the normal education of a young man of good family; the Palladian style of architecture introduced by Inigo Jones and the Earl of Burlington predominated in a large number of country-houses built in the early eighteenth century, and the Italian Opera, effectively established . . .

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