The chief pride of the humanists is, however, their modern Latin poetry. It lies within the limits of our task to treat of it, at least in so far as it serves to characterize the humanistic movement.
How favourable public opinion was to that form of poetry, and how nearly it supplanted all others, has been already shown. We may be very sure that the most gifted and highly developed nation then existing in the world did not renounce the language such as the Italian out of mere folly and without knowing what they were doing. It must have been a weighty reason which led them to do so.
This cause was the devotion to antiquity. Like all ardent and genuine devotion it necessarily prompted men to imitation. At other times and among other nations we find many isolated attempts of the same kind. But only in Italy were the two chief conditions present which were needful for the continuance and development of neo-Latin poetry: a general interest in the subject among the instructed classes, and a partial re-awakening of the old Italian genius among the poets themselves - the wondrous echo of a far-off strain. The best of what is produced under these conditions is not imitation, but free production. If we decline to tolerate any borrowed forms in art, if we either set no value on antiquity at all, or attribute to it some magical and unapproachable virtue, or if we will pardon no slips in poets who were forced, for instance, to guess or to discover a multitude of syllabic quantities, then we had better let this class of literature alone. Its best works were not created in order to defy criticism, but to give pleasure to the poet and to thousands of his contemporaries.