restricted access An Italian Critic on Donne and Crashaw. An unsigned review of Secentismo e marinismo in Inghilterra: John Donne – Richard Crashaw, by Mario Praz
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596 ] An Italian Critic on Donne and Crashaw1 An unsigned review of Secentismo e marinismo in Inghilterra: John Donne – Richard Crashaw, by Mario Praz Florence: La voce, 1925. Pp. xii + 294. Times Literary Supplement, 1248 (17 Dec 1925) 878 If there be any fault to find with this book, it is with the title. Signor Praz’s work is neither a general study of the poetry of the seventeenth century in England, nor is it by any means limited to the influence of Marino.2 It is two books, independent but closely related; a study of the life and works of Donne, followed by a study of the life and works of Crashaw. When this is understood, we can give the book nothing but praise. It is an illustration – another is the Balzac of Curtius, and we may expect the Walter Savage Landor of Valéry Larbaud to make a third3 – of the great benefits which foreign criticism and foreign scholarship can confer upon any literature. Indeed, the present volume, interesting as it may be for Italian readers, is still more interesting for us; it is indispensable for any student of this period and these authors. Signor Praz has, it must be allowed, been happy in his choice of a period (and of two poets of that period) where Italian scholarship, backed by critical acumen and taste, operates at a particular advantage. In the case of Crashaw, the one of our poets who is the most deeply saturated in Italian andSpanishinfluences,theadvantageisimmediatelyevident.ThatCrashaw’s poetry was much affected by the Italian poetry of his time, and that his thought and feeling were deeply affected by Spanish mysticism, is common knowledge; but few English critics can quote chapter and verse as effectively as Signor Praz. And as an Italian he is perhaps better fitted than most of our English critics to appreciate the enormous influence during the first half of the seventeenth century of the Society of Jesus. This influence was exerted upon English poetry in two ways: indirectly through the vast quantity of Jesuit poetry and belles-lettres then produced – much of which Crashaw, for one, certainly read.4 The Jesuits of that time were perhaps the most intelligent body of politicians that has ever existed; it speaks ill for the intelligence of later political and religious bodies, or perhaps still worse [ 597 An Italian Critic on Donne and Crashaw for the literacy and taste of later generations, that no similar attempt to capture the human mind through poetry and belles-lettres has ever been made. But there was, also, in England until the Great Rebellion, an active Romanising tendency in which the Jesuits took part. The section of Signor Praz’s book which deals with Roman activity and with the extreme Right of the Anglican Church under Laud, with Crashaw’s connexion with the retreat of Little Gidding and with the misfortunes of Peterhouse makes extremely good reading; and it suggests that there is ample material, for some patient Sainte-Beuve, for an extensive Port-Royal of English literature.5 Signor Praz’s evidence of the close dependence of Crashaw upon Italy for his inspiration is all the more pointed by the high place which he assigns to this poet. He considers him not only a member of a type, but the most perfect illustration of that type. For Signor Praz the spirit of the time reaches its finest literary expression in Crashaw, whom he appears to admire more than he admires any of Crashaw’s Italian predecessors and contemporaries. As Italy expressed the period supremely in architecture, in the Baroque, so Crashaw expresses the Baroque supremely in verse. “The Weeper” (which is a “string of pearls,” a sequence of self-contained stanzas )6 belongs to a form of verse much practised by the Jesuits, derivative from the Greek anthology, and is the finest example of this form; the St. Theresa of Crashaw is the most perfect expression in verse of the mysticism of the sixteenth century in Spain.7 Such opinions, from an Italian critic of Signor Praz’s standing, are of very great interest. As to the religious feeling and religious thought of these poets, Signor Praz is also better qualified than any English critic to pronounce judgment. No one is more aware than he of the world of difference between the religion of the seventeenth century and that of the thirteenth. It is the difference between psychology and metaphysics. Here Signor Praz is able to supply...