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I cannot tell where. Therefore I leave off, I am no diviner; I find naught about souls in this volume that I follow, nor care I to repeat the opinions of them that write where spirits dwell. Arcite is cold and may Mars have care of his soul" (Modern Reader's Edition). How absolutely new is Chaucer's world!
Thoroughly paganized is Chaucer's view of life in the charming Nun's Priest's Tale. Nowhere in literature is there a more beautiful idealization of the life of nature. Not only is human life worth while in Chaucer, but the gods of Greece have returned to humanize the world of animal life! Hear Chaucer's description of Chanticleer: "His comb was redder than fine coral, and indented like a castle-wall. His black bill shone like jet; like azure were his legs and toes and his hue like burnished gold. This noble cock had in his governance seven hens, to do all his pleasure, his sisters and paramours, of which the fairest hued in her throat was named fair Demoiselle Partlet. She was courteous, discreet, debonair and companionable, and bore herself so fairly . that truly she held the heart of Chanticleer all locked and herself bore the key." When he dreams of the fox and murder, Partlet spurns his spiritual interpretation of dreams; he is full of bilious humors; he must beware of the sun and look to his diet! Her courtly presence dispels his fears: "When I see the beauty. of your face, all my fear dies away. For as true as the Gospel woman is man's whole bliss and joy!" And the royal cock roams up and down like a grim lion, not deigning to set his foot on the ground. The Canterbury Tales are as unlike the Divine Comedy as
Rubens is unlike Fra Angelico. Mediævalism has gone; modernity has come!
In Italian art we see this same development of realism. In mediæval art, fasting, suffering, contempt of the world, were necessary elements. In Fra Angelico (d. 1455) art is still the servant of the Church; he embodies the Christianity of St. Francis. His painting is beautiful but unworldly; it breathes the atmosphere of the cloister. The opposite swing of the pendulum is seen in Venetian art, in which the dominant influences are not the Church, religion, Greek culture, but commerce, wealth, worldliness, luxury. In Giorgione's (d. 1511) paintings, says Reinach, saints and Biblical characters gather together for the mere pleasure of being together! He paints glowing flesh and luminous atmosphere. Titian (d. 1576) gives us color, movement, life. Tintoretto (d. 1594) is unique in the presentation of passion and imagination. Veronese (d. 1588) is the painter of richness, luxury, and material magnificence. "From the close of the fifteenth century," says Reinach, "the Madonnas and Saints of the Venetian painters were no longer ascetic and morose persons, but beautiful young women and handsome young men, with blooming complexions and sunny hair, who loved to deck themselves with gorgeous stuffs and held life to be well worth living."
This transition to realism has been gracefully portrayed by Sir Wyke Bayliss as it is seen in the field of art. Formerly there ruled Proserpina and Ceres; Pluto, Apollo, and Pan. But the scene changes: Ceres has become a field of corn; Apollo's coming has changed into the sunrise; Pluto has become a lake and
Pan, a shepherd lad. "The beautiful Proserpina we see no more; for the wind that bent the tender blades of wheat, lifted her hair as it passed, and before it could fall again on her fair bosom she had become a Maytree" (Seven Angels of the Renascence).
Here we see the new world of realism: instead of fasting, the idealization of the body; instead of supernaturalism, naturalism; instead of world-denial, worldaffirmation. Fauns and nymphs replace mediaval angels; the Virgin becomes Aphrodite. The mortification of the body gives way to the charming grace and exquisite movement of Donatello's dancing boys. Ammanati is reported as having repented late in life for having created so many satyrs and fauns because he then thought their influence to be in opposition to the Christian moral consciousness.
This new love of the world, this new devotion to the present, this warfare on mediæval asceticism, this new sense of the worth of life, as it bursts forth in Italian renaissance art, is set to poetry in Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi. Let us hear Browning interpret this fifteenth century artist:
I was a baby when my mother died
And father died and left me in the street.
. One fine frosty day,
I did renounce the world, its pride and greed,
Have given their hearts to-all at eight years old.
They tried me with their books:
Lord! They'd have taught me Latin in pure waste!
I drew men's faces on my copy-books,
Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,
Found eyes and nose and chin for A's and B's,
And made a string of pictures of the world
Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun,
On the wall, the bench, the door. The monks looked black.
The Prior and the learned pulled a face
And stopped all that in no time. "How? what's here?
. It's devil's-game!
Your business is not to catch men with show,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there's such a thing as flesh.
And I've been
And saints again.1
Suppose I've made her eyes all right and blue,
Can't I take breath and try to add life's flash,
And then add soul and heighten them three fold?
If you get simple beauty and nought else,
You get about the best thing God invents:
That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed, Within yourself, when you return him thanks.
"Rub all out!" Well, well, there's my life, in short,
And so the thing has gone on ever since.
I'm grown a man no doubt, I've broken bounds:
You should not take a fellow eight years old
And make him swear to never kiss the girls.
The heads shake still-"It's art's decline, my son!
Don't you think they're the likeliest to know,
What would men have? Do they like grass or no-
You speak no Latin more than I, belike;
However, you're my man, you've seen the world
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
It makes me mad to see what men shall do
And we in our graves!
What Chaucer did for literature in his realistic interpretation of life, Rabelais (d. 1553) did for the Church in his realistic restatement of theological thought. His Gargantua (1535) and his Pantagruel (1533) give one of the most searching criticisms of mediæval ideals to be found in all literature. In his allegorical Abbey of Theleme the following rules were laid down: First, in the old view women who were not good nor fair became nuns. In Rabelais' abbey only fair women were admitted. Never were seen ladies
so handsome or more ready with their hands in every good action. Secondly, the old convents were separated from monasteries. The result was that men entered the convents by stealth. The new rule is: