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A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance

In Scaliger this principle is carried one stage farther


"Hanc unam vates sibi proposuere magistram."

Nature has no particular interest for Vida in itself. He accepts the classics as we accept the Scriptures; and nature is to be imitated and followed because the ancients seem to require it.

In Scaliger this principle is carried one stage farther. The poet creates another nature and other fortunes as if he were another God.[261] Virgil especially has created another nature of such beauty and perfection that the poet need not concern himself with the realities of life, but can go to the second nature created by Virgil for the subject-matter of his imitation. "All the things which you have to imitate, you have according to another nature, that is, Virgil."[262] In Virgil, as in nature, there are the most minute details of the foundation and government of cities, the management of armies, the building and handling of ships, and in fact all the secrets of the arts and sciences. What more can the poet desire, and indeed what more can he find in life, and find there with the same certainty and accuracy? Virgil has created a nature far more perfect than that of reality, and one compared with which the actual world and life itself seem but pale and without beauty. What Scaliger stands for, then, is the substitution of the world of art instead of life as the object of poetic imitation. This point of view finds expression in many of the theorists of his time. Partenio, for

example, asserts that art is a firmer and safer guide than nature; with nature we can err, but scarcely with art, for art eradicates from nature all that is bad, while nature mingles weeds with flowers, and does not distinguish vices from virtues.[263]

Boileau carries the neo-classical ideal of nature and art to its ultimate perfection. According to him, nothing is beautiful that is not true, and nothing is true that is not in nature. Truth, for classicism, is the final test of everything, including beauty; and hence to be beautiful poetry must be founded on nature. Nature should therefore be the poet's sole study, although for Boileau, as for Vida, nature is one with the court and the city. Now, in what way can we discover exactly how to imitate nature, and perceive whether or not we have imitated it correctly? Boileau finds the guide to the correct imitation of nature, and the very test of its correctness, in the imitation of the classics. The ancients are great, not because they are old, but because they are true, because they knew how to see and to imitate nature; and to imitate antiquity is therefore to use the best means the human spirit has ever found for expressing nature in its perfection.[264] The advance of Boileau's theory on that of Vida and Scaliger is therefore that he founded the rules and literary practice of classical literature on reason and nature, and showed that there is nothing arbitrary in the authority of the ancients. For Vida, nature is to be followed on the authority of the classics; for Boileau, the classics are to be followed on the authority of nature and reason. Scaliger had shown that such a poet as Virgil had created another nature more perfect than that of reality, and that therefore we should imitate this more beautiful nature of the poet. Boileau, on the contrary, showed that the ancients were simply imitating nature itself in the closest and keenest manner, and that by imitating the classics the poet was not imitating a second and different nature, but was being shown in the surest way how to imitate the real and only nature. This final reconciliation of the imitation of nature and the imitation of the classics was Boileau's highest contribution to the literary criticism of the neo-classical period.


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