The Idea of the Renaissance, Revisited
SEDERI: Yearbook of the Spanish and Portuguese Society for English Renaissance Studies, Vol. 12 (2002)
In this essay I am going to revisit the beginnings of the Renaissance, a project which I intend to have two senses: the actual historical period, starting in fifteenth century Italy, but also the beginning of a modern consciousness of that period, which I place in nineteenth-century Switzerland. Both projects are massive, obviously enough, so I shall only be able to pick out a few the processes through which the Renaissance took shape, and also some of the agents responsible for shaping it. And I take ‘agents’ to refer not only to human beings, such as Petrarch, but also to social roles (teacher, publisher…), books, and indeed languages (such as Greek).
Since history as a discipline involves a direct link between past and present, then the historian is always in some way trying to carry himself back to the past. Some words of Francis Bacon may stand as a motto for my enterprise:
For to carry the mind in writing back into the past, and bring it into sympathy with antiquity; diligently to examine, freely and faithfully to report, and by the light of words to place as it were before the eyes, the revolutions of times, the characters of persons, the fluctuations of counsels, the courses of actions, the bottoms of pretences, and the secrets of governments; is a task of great labour and judgement…. (1857-74: IV, 302).