Pagina:Baretti - Prefazioni e polemiche.djvu/127


The beginning of every language is necessarily obscure; ali speech is orai before it is written and rude before it is polished. Words not committed to writing are lost with the breath that formed them; and the first rude essays are despised and neglected when a style nearer to perfection is once attained. It is therefore impossible to fix the time at which one language ceased and another began, or to mark exactly the gradations by which the change proceeded; it is at least impossible to a native of Italy to say when the present language had its first formation, amidst the confiision of war and the incursions of Barbarians, who for a time suspended ali attention to literature and left behind them no other memorials but mischief and desolation. But, as far as I am able, I will endeavour to satisfy the curiosity of an English reader by tracing the tongue of Italy from its remotest source and coming gradually down to the present time: give as clear and faithful an idea of its state, as lies in my power to give. It appears to me that the Italians of the eleventh century had no language fit to write in, or thought themselves that they had not, because those of their compositions that bave escaped the ravages of time, are either in corrupt Latin, coarse Sicilian, or inelegant Provenza!. The monks and clergymen, who from time out of memory not only performed their sacred duties in Latin among themselves, but preached also in the same tongue to the people, generally wrote their verses, whatever they were, in Latin: the Sicilian metres were cultivated only by the most