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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’
By Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842)
From ‘Literature of the South of Europe’: Translation of Thomas Roscoe

ONE cannot but pause in astonishment at the choice of so gloomy an introduction to effusions of so gay a nature. We are amazed at such an intoxicated enjoyment of life under the threatened approach of death; at such irrepressible desire in the bosom of man to divert the mind from sorrow; at the torrent of mirth which inundates the heart, in the midst of horrors which should seem to wither it up. As long as we feel delight in nourishing feelings that are in unison with a melancholy temperament, we have not yet felt the overwhelming weight of real sorrow. When experience has at length taught us the substantial griefs of life, we then first learn the necessity of resisting them; and calling the imagination to our aid to turn aside the shafts of calamity, we struggle with our sorrow, and treat it as an invalid from whom we withdraw every object which may remind him of the cause of his malady. With regard to the stories themselves, it would be difficult to convey an idea of them by extracts, and impossible to preserve in a translation the merits of their style. The praise of Boccaccio consists in the perfect purity of his language, in his eloquence, his grace,—and above all, in that naïveté which is the chief merit of narration, and the peculiar charm of the Italian tongue. Unfortunately, Boccaccio did not prescribe to himself the same purity in his images as in his phraseology. The character of his work is light and sportive. He has inserted in it a great number of tales of gallantry; he has exhausted his powers of ridicule on the duped husband, on the depraved and depraving monks, and on subjects in morals and religious worship which he himself regarded as sacred; and his reputation is thus little in harmony with the real tenor of his conduct.  1

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