The foregoing remarks appeared necessary in order to understand the subsequent history of the dramatic pastoral as well as the conditions under which it took form and being, but they have led us far beyond the limits of literary criticism proper. The next characteristic of the play to be considered is one which, while possessing an important ethical bearing, is also closely connected with the aesthetic composition. I refer to the peculiar, not sensual but sensuous, nature of the beauty. The effect produced by the descriptions, by the suggestions, by the general tone, by the subtle modulations of the verse in adaptation to its theme, is less one of literary and intellectual than of direct emotional perception, producing the immediate physical impression of an actual presence. The beauty has a subtle enervating charm, languid and voluptuous, at the same time as clear and limpid in tone. The effect produced is one and whole, that of a perfect work of art, and the same impression remains with us afterwards. Smooth limbs, soft and white, that shine through the waters of the spring and amid the jewelled spray, or half revealed among the thickets of lustrous green, a slant ray of sunlight athwart the loosened gold of the hair—the vision floats before us as if conjured up by the strains of music rather than by actual words. This kinship with another art did not escape so acute a critic as Symonds as a characteristic of Tasso’s style. But the kinship on another side with the art of painting is equally close; a thousand pictures rise before us as we follow the perfect melody of the irregular lyric measures. The white veil fluttering and the swift feet flashing amid the brambles and the trailing creepers of the wood, bright crimson staining the spotless purity of the flying skirts as the huntress bursts through the clinging tangles that seek to hold her as if jealous of a human love, the lusty strength of the bronzed and hairy satyr in contrast with the tender limbs of the captive nymph, the dark cliff, and the still mirror of the lake reflecting the rosebuds pressed artfully against the girl’s soft neck as she crouches by its brink,
Backed by the forest, circled
by the flowers,
Bathed in the sunshine of the golden hours,
the armed huntress, the grey-coated wolves, and the white-robed chorus—here are a series of pictures of seductive beauty for the brush of a painter to realize upon the walls of some palace of pleasure.
The Aminta attained a wide popularity even before the appearance of the first edition from the Aldine house at Venice early in 1581—the epistle is dated 1580. The printer of the Ferrarese edition of the same year remarks: ‘Tosto che la Fama ... mi rapporto, che in Venetia si stampava l’ Aminta, ... cosi subito pensai, che quella sola Impressione dovesse essere ben poca per sodisfattione di tanti virtuosi, che sono desiderosi di vederla alla luce.’ A critical edition was prepared