chapter  3
33 Pages

HUMANISTS BEFORE HUMANISM: THE RENAISSANCE

For their Victorian enthusiasts, the early humanists were travellers: adventurers as fearless in their explorations of the intellectual world as their seafaring contemporaries were in the discovery of the physical one. Symonds called the Florentine scholar-poet Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) ‘the Columbus of a new spiritual hemisphere, the discoverer of modern culture’ (1898: 62). Walter Pater described the Renaissance as ‘that movement in which, in various ways, the human mind wins for itself a new kingdom of feeling and sensation and thought’ (1873: 54). This is the language of conquest and empire, conscripting the earlier humanists to the commercial, scientific and imperial expansionism of the later nineteenth century.