Stories from the Italian Poets: With Lives of the Writers, Vol. 2
by Leigh Hunt
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

You may guess how Prasildo's heart revived at these words. Truly might he be compared to flowers in sunshine after rain; he rejoiced through all his being, and displayed again a cheerful countenance. Hastily thanking the old man, he lost no time in repairing to the house of his neighbours, and telling them of their safety: and you may guess how the like joy was theirs. But behold a wonder! Iroldo was so struck with the generosity of his neighbour's conduct throughout the whole of this extraordinary affair, that nothing would content his grateful though ever-grieving heart, but he must fairly give up Tisbina after all. Prasildo, to do him justice, resisted the proposition as stoutly as he could; but a man's powers are ill seconded by an unwilling heart; and though the contest was long and handsome, as is customary between generous natures, the husband adhered firmly to his intention. In short, he abruptly quitted the city, declaring that he would never again see it, and so left his wife to the lover. And I must add (concluded the fair lady who was telling the story to Rinaldo), that although Tisbina took his departure greatly to heart, and sometimes felt as if she should die at the thoughts of it, yet since he persisted in staying away, and there appeared no chance of his ever doing otherwise, she did, as in that case we should all do, we at least that are young and kind, and took the handsome Prasildo for second spouse.[3]


The conclusion of this part of the history of Iroldo and Prasildo was scarcely out of the lady's mouth, when a tremendous voice was heard among the trees, and Rinaldo found himself confronting a giant of a frightful aspect, who with a griffin on each side of him was guarding a cavern that contained the enchanted horse which had belonged to the brother of Angelica. A combat ensued; and after winning the horse, and subsequently losing the company of the lady, the Paladin, in the course of his adventures, came upon a knight who lay lamenting in a green place by a fountain. The knight heeding nothing but his grief, did not perceive the new comer, who for some time remained looking at him in silence, till, desirous to know the cause of his sorrow, he dismounted from his horse, and courteously begged to be informed of it. The stranger in his turn looked a little while in silence at Rinaldo, and then told him he had resolved to die, in order to be rid of a life of misery. And yet, he added, it was not his own lot which grieved him, so much as that of a noble friend who would die at the same time, and who had nobody to help him.

The knight, who was no other than Tisbina's husband Iroldo, then briefly related the events which the reader has heard, and proceeded to state how he lead traversed the world ever since for two years, when it was his misfortune to arrive in the territories of the enchantress Falerina, whose custom it was to detain foreigners in prison, and daily give a couple of them (a lady and a cavalier) for food to a serpent which kept the entrance of her enchanted garden. To this serpent he himself was destined to be sacrificed, when Prasildo, the possessor of his wife Tisbina, hearing of his peril, set out instantly from Babylon, and rode night and day till he came to the abode of the enchantress, determined that nothing should hinder him from doing his utmost to save the life of a friend so generous. Save it he did, and that by a generosity no less devoted; for having attempted in vain to bribe the keeper of the prison, he succeeded in prevailing on the man to let him substitute himself for his friend; and he was that very day, perhaps that very moment, preparing for the dreadful death to which he would speedily be brought.

"I will not survive such a friend," concluded Iroldo. "I know I shall contend with his warders to no purpose; but let the wretches come, if they will, by thousands; I shall fight them to the last gasp. One comfort in death, one joy I shall at all events experience. I shall be with Prasildo in the other world. And yet when I think what sort of death he must endure, even the release from my own miseries afflicts me, since it will not prevent him from undergoing that horror."

The Paladin shed tears to hear of a case so piteous and affectionate, and in a tone of encouragement offered his services towards the rescue of his friend. Iroldo looked at him in astonishment, but sighed and said, "Ah, Sir, I thank you with all my heart, and you are doubtless a most noble cavalier, to be so fearless and good-hearted; but what right have I to bring you to destruction for no reason and to no purpose? There is not a man on earth but Orlando himself, or his cousin Rinaldo, who could possibly do us any good; and so I beg you to accept my thanks and depart in safety, and may God reward you."

"It is true," replied the Paladin, "I am not Orlando; and yet, for all that, I doubt not to be able to effect what I propose. Nor do I offer my assistance out of desire of glory, or of thanks, or return of any kind; except indeed, that if two such unparalleled friends could admit me to be a third, I should hold myself a happy man. What! you have given up the woman of your heart, and deprived yourself of all joy and comfort; and your friend, on the other hand, has become a prisoner and devoted to death, for your sake; and can I be expected to leave two such friends in a jeopardy so monstrous, and not do all in my power to save them? I would rather die first myself, and on your own principle; I mean, in order to go with you into a better world."

While they were talking in this manner, a great ill-looking rabble, upwards of a thousand strong, made their appearance, carrying a banner, and bringing forth two prisoners to die. The wretches were armed after their disorderly fashion; and the prisoners each tied upon a horse. One of these hapless persons too surely was Prasildo; and the other turned out to be the damsel who had told Rinaldo the story of the friends. Having been deprived of the Paladin's assistance, her subsequent misadventures had brought her to this terrible pass. The moment Rinaldo beheld her, he leaped on his horse, and dashed among the villains. The sight of such an onset was enough for their cowardly hearts. The whole posse fled before him with precipitation, all except the leader, who was a villain of gigantic strength; and him the Paladin, at one blow, clove through the middle. Iroldo could not speak for joy, as he hastened to release Prasildo. He was forced to give him tears instead of words. But when speech at length became possible, the two friends, fervently and with a religious awe, declared that their deliverer must have been divine and not human, so tremendous was the death-blow he had given the ruffian, and such winged and contemptuous slaughter he had dealt among the fugitives. By the time he returned from the pursuit, their astonishment had risen to such a pitch, that they fell on their knees and worshipped him for the Prophet of the Saracens, not believing such prowess possible to humanity, and devoutly thanking him for the mercy he had shewn them in coming thus visibly from heaven. Rinaldo for the moment was not a little disturbed at this sally of enthusiasm; but the singular good faith and simplicity of it restored him to himself; and with a smile between lovingness and humility he begged them to lay aside all such fancies, and know him for a man like themselves. He then disclosed himself for the Rinaldo of whom they had spoken, and made such an impression on them with his piety, and his attributing what had appeared a superhuman valour to nothing but his belief in the Christian religion, that the transported friends became converts on the spot, and accompanied him thenceforth as the most faithful of his knights.

* * * * *

The story tells us nothing further of Tisbina, though there can be no doubt that Boiardo meant to give us the conclusion of her share in it; for the two knights take an active part in the adventures of their new friend Rinaldo. Perhaps, however, the discontinuance of the poem itself was lucky for the author, as far as this episode was concerned; for it is difficult to conceive in what manner he would have wound it up to the satisfaction of the reader.

[Footnote 1: The hero and heroine of the famous romance of Tristan de Leonois.]

[Footnote 2: "Mr. Rose observes, that Medusa may be designed by Boiardo as the 'type of conscience;' and he is confirmed in his opinion by the circumstance mentioned in this canto (12, lib. i. stan. 39) of Medusa not being able to contemplate the reflection of her own hideous appearance, though beautiful in the sight of others. I fully agree with him."—PANIZZI, ut sup. Vol. iii p. 333.]

[Footnote 3: "Tisbina," says Panizzi, in a note on this passage, "very wisely acted like Emilia (in Chaucer), who, when she saw she could not marry Arcita, because he was killed, thought of marrying Palemone, rather than 'be a mayden all hire lyf.' It is to be observed, that although she regretted very much what had happened, and even fainted away, she did not, however, stand on ceremonies, as the poet says in the next stanza, but yielded immediately, and married Prasildo. This, at first, I thought to be a somewhat inconsistent; but on consideration I found I was wrong. Tisbina was wrong; because, having lost Iroldo, she did not know what Prasildo would do; but so soon as the latter offered to fill up the place, she nobly and magnanimously resigned herself to her fate."—Ut sup. vol. iii. p. 336.

It might be thought inconsistent in Tisbina, notwithstanding Mr. Panizzi's pleasantry, to be so willing to take another husband, after having poisoned herself for the first; but she seems intended by the poet to exhibit a character of impulse in contradistinction to permanency of sentiment. She cannot help shewing pity for Prasildo; she cannot help poisoning herself for her husband; and she cannot help taking his friend, when she has lost him. Nor must it be forgotten, that the husband was the first to break the tie. We respect him more than we do her, because he was capable of greater self-denial; but if he himself preferred his friend to his love, we can hardly blame her (custom apart) for following the example.]



A lady has two suitors, a young and an old one, the latter of whom wins her against her inclinations by practising the artifice of Hippomanes in his race with Atalanta. Being very jealous, he locks her up in a tower; and the youth, who continued to be her lover, makes a subterraneous passage to it; and pretending to have married her sister, invites the old man to his house, and introduces his own wife to him as the bride. The husband, deceived, but still jealous, facilitates their departure out of the country, and returns to his tower to find himself deserted.

This story, like that of the Saracen Friends, is told by a damsel to a knight while riding in his company; with this difference, that she is the heroine of it herself. She is a damsel of a nature still lighter than the former; and the reader's sympathy with the trouble she brings on herself, and the way she gets out of it, will be modified accordingly. On the other hand, nobody can respect the foolish old man with his unwarrantable marriage; and the moral of Boiardo's story is still useful for these "enlightened times," though conveyed with an air of levity.

In addition to the classics, the poet has been to the Norman fablers for his story. The subterranean passage has been more than once repeated in romance; and the closing incident, the assistance given by the husband to his wife's elopement, has been imitated in the farce of Lionel and Clarissa.


My father (said the damsel) is King of the Distant Islands, where the treasure of the earth is collected. Never was greater wealth known, and I was heiress of it all.

But it is impossible to foresee what is most to be desired for us in this world. I was a king's daughter, I was rich, I was handsome, I was lively; and yet to all those advantages I owed my ill-fortune.

Among other suitors for my hand there came two on the same day, one of whom was a youth named Ordauro, handsome from head to foot; the other an old man of seventy, whose name was Folderico. Both were rich and of noble birth; but the greybeard was counted extremely wise, and of a foresight more than human. As I did not feel in want of his foresight, the youth was far more to my taste; and accordingly I listened to him with perfect good-will, and gave the wise man no sort of encouragement. I was not at liberty, however, to determine the matter; my father had a voice in it; so, fearing what he would advise, I thought to secure a good result by cunning and management. It is an old observation, that the craft of a woman exceeds all other craft. Indeed, it is Solomon's own saying. But now-a-days people laugh at it; and I found to my cost that the laugh is just. I requested my father to proclaim, first, that nobody should have me in marriage who did not surpass me in swiftness (for I was a damsel of a mighty agility); and secondly, that he who did surpass me should be my husband. He consented, and I thought my happiness secure. You must know, I have run down a bird, and caught it with my own hand.

Well, both my suitors came to the race; the youth on a large war-horse, trapped with gold, which curvetted in a prodigious manner, and seemed impatient for a gallop; the old roan on a mule, carrying a great bag at his side, and looking already tired out. They dismounted on the place chosen for the trial, which was a meadow. It was encircled by a world of spectators; and the greybeard and myself (for his age gave him the first chance) only waited for the sound of the trumpet to set off.

I held my competitor in such contempt, that I let him get the start of me, on purpose to make him ridiculous; but I was not prepared for his pulling a golden apple out of his bag, and throwing it as far as he could in a direction different from that of the goal. The sight of a curiosity so tempting was too much for my prudence; and it rolled away so roundly, and to such a distance, that I lost more time in reaching it than I looked for. Before I overtook the old gentleman, he threw another apple, and this again led me a chase after it. In short, I blush to say, that, resolved as I was to be tempted no further, seeing that the end of our course was now at hand, and my marriage with an old man instead of a young man was out of the question, he seduced me to give chase to a third apple, and fairly reached the goal before me. I wept for rage and disgust, and meditated every species of unconjugal treatment of the old fox. What right had he to marry such a child as I was? I asked myself the question at the time; I asked it a thousand times afterwards; and I must confess, that the more I have tormented him, the more the retaliation delights me.

However, it was of no use at the moment. The old wretch bore me off to his domains with an ostentatious triumph; and then, his jealousy misgiving him, he shut me up in a castle on a rock, where he endeavoured from that day forth to keep me from the sight of living being. You may judge what sort of castle it was by its name—Altamura (lofty wall). It overlooked a desert on three sides, and the sea on the fourth; and a man might as well have flown as endeavoured to scale it. There was but one path up to the entrance, very steep and difficult; and when you were there, you must have pierced outwork after outwork, and picked the lock of gate after gate. So there sat I in this delicious retreat, hopeless, and bursting with rage. I called upon death day and night, as my only refuge. I had no comfort but in seeing my keeper mad with jealousy, even in that desolate spot. I think he was jealous of the very flies.

My handsome youth, Ordauro, however, had not forgotten me; no, nor even given me up. Luckily he was not only very clever, but rich besides; without which, to be sure, his brains would not have availed him a pin. What does he do, therefore, but take a house in the neighbourhood on the sea-shore; and while my tormentor, in alarm and horror, watches every movement, and thinks him coming if he sees a cloud or a bird, Ordauro sets people secretly to work night and day, and makes a subterraneous passage up to the very tower! Guess what I felt when I saw him enter! Assuredly I did not show him the face which I shewed Folderico. I die with joy this moment to think of my delight. As soon as we could discourse of any thing but our meeting, Ordauro concerted measures for my escape; and the greatest difficulty being surmounted by the subterraneous passage, they at last succeeded. But our enemy gave us a frightful degree of trouble.

There was no end of the old man's pryings, peepings, and precautions. He left me as little as possible by myself; and he had all the coast thereabouts at his command, together with the few boats that ever touched it.

Ordauro, however, did a thing at once the most bold and the most ingenious. He gave out that he was married; and inviting my husband to dinner, who had heard the news with transport, presented me, to his astonished eyes, for the bride. The old man looked as if he would have died for rage and misery.

"Horrible villain!" cried he," what is this?"

Ordauro professed astonishment in his turn.

"What!" asked he; "do you not know that the princess, your lady's sister, is wonderfully like her, and that she has done me the honour of becoming my wife? I invited you in order to do honour to yourself, and so bring the good families together."

"Detestable falsehood!" cried Folderico. "Do you think I'm blind, or a born idiot? But I'll see to this business directly; and terrible shall be my revenge."

So saying, he flung out, and hastened, as fast as age would let him, to the room in the tower, where he expected to find me not. But there he did find me:—there was I, sitting as if nothing had happened, with my hand on my cheek, and full of my old melancholy.

"God preserve me!" exclaimed he; "this is astonishing indeed! Never could I have dreamt that one sister could be so like another! But is it so, or is it not? I have terrible suspicions. It is impossible to believe it. Tell me truly," he continued; "answer me on the faith of a daring woman, and you shall get no hurt by it. Has any one opened the portals for you to-day? Who was it? How did you get out? Tell me the truth, and you shall not suffer for it; but deceive me, and there is no punishment that you may not look for."

It is needless to say how I vowed and protested that I had never stirred; that it was quite impossible; that I could not have done it if I would, &c. I took all the saints to witness to my veracity, and swore I had never seen the outside of his tremendous castle.

The monster had nothing to say to this; but I saw what he meant to do—I saw that he would return instantly to the house of Ordauro, and ascertain if the bride was there. Accordingly, the moment he turned the key on me, I flew down the subterraneous passage, tossed on my new clothes like lightning, and sat in my lover's house as before, waiting the arrival of the panting old gentleman.

"Well," exclaimed he, as soon as he set eyes upon me, "never in all my life—no—I must allow it to be impossible—never can my wife at home be the lady sitting here."

From that day forth the old man, whenever he saw me in Ordauro's house, treated me as if I were indeed his sister-in-law, though he never had the heart to bring the two wives together, for fear of old recollections. Nevertheless, this state of things was still very perilous; and my new husband and myself lost no time in considering how we should put an end to it by leaving the country. Ordauro resorted, as before, to a bold expedient. He told Folderico that the air of the sea-coast disagreed with him; and the old man, whose delight at getting rid of his neighbour helped to blind him to the deceit, not only expedited the movement, but offered to see him part of the way on his journey!

The offer was accepted. Six miles he rode forth with us, the stupid old man; and then, taking his leave, to return home, we pushed our horses like lightning, and so left him to tear his hair and his old beard with cries and curses, as soon as he opened the door of his tower.


Critical Notice of his Life and Genius.




The congenial spirits of Pulci and Boiardo may be said to have attained to their height in the person of Ariosto, upon the principle of a transmigration of souls, or after the fashion of that hero in romance, who was heir to the bodily strengths of all whom he conquered.

Lodovico Giovanni Ariosto was born on the 8th of September, 1474, in the fortress at Reggio, in Lombardy, and was the son of Niccolo Ariosto, captain of that citadel (as Boiardo had been), and Daria Maleguzzi, whose family still exists. The race was transplanted from Bologna in the century previous, when Obizzo the Third of Este, Marquess of Ferrara, married a lady belonging to it, whose Christian name was Lippa. Niccolo Ariosto, besides holding the same office as Boiardo had done, at Modena as well as at Reggio, was master of the household to his two successive patrons, the Dukes Borso and Ercole. He was also employed, like him, in diplomacy; and was made a count by the Emperor Frederick the Third, though not, it seems, with remainder to his heirs.

Lodovico was the eldest of ten children, five sons and five daughters. During his boyhood, theatrical entertainments were in great vogue at court, as we have seen in the life of Boiardo; and at the age of twelve, a year after the decease of that poet (who must have been well known to him, and probably encouraged his attempts), his successor is understood to have dramatised, after his infant fashion, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, and to have got his brothers and sisters to perform it. Panizzi doubts the possibility of these precocious private theatricals; but considering what is called "writing" on the part of children, and that only one other performer was required in the piece, or at best a third for the lion (which some little brother might have "roared like any sucking-dove"), I cannot see good reason for disbelieving the story. Pope was not twelve years old when he turned the siege of Troy into a play, and got his school-fellows to perform it, the part of Ajax being given to the gardener. Man is a theatrical animal ([Greek: zoon mimaetikon]), and the instinct is developed at a very early period, as almost every family can witness that has taken its children to the "playhouse."

At fifteen the young poet, like so many others of his class, was consigned to the study of the law, and took a great dislike to it. The extreme mobility of his nature, and the wish to please his father, appear to have made him enter on it willingly enough in the first instance;[2] but as soon as he betrayed symptoms of disgust, Niccolo, whose affairs were in a bad way, drove him back to it with a vehemence which must have made bad worse.[3] At the expiration of five years he was allowed to give it up.

There is reason to believe that Ariosto was "theatricalising" during no little portion of this time; for, in his nineteenth year, he is understood to have been taken by Duke Ercole to Pavia and to Milan, either as a writer or performer of comedies, probably both, since the courtiers and ducal family themselves occasionally appeared on the stage; and one of the poet's brothers mentions his having frequently seen him dressed in character.[4]

On being delivered from the study of the law, the young poet appears to have led a cheerful and unrestrained life for the next four or five years.

He wrote, or began to write, the comedy of the Cassaria; probably meditated some poem in the style of Boiardo, then in the height of his fame; and he cultivated the Latin language, and intended to learn Greek, but delayed, and unfortunately missed it in consequence of losing his tutor. Some of his happiest days were passed at a villa, still possessed by the Maleguzzi family, called La Mauriziana, two miles from Reggio. Twenty-five years afterwards he called to mind, with sighs, the pleasant spots there which used to invite him to write verses; the garden, the little river, the mill, the trees by the water-side, and all the other shady places in which he enjoyed himself during that sweet season of his life "betwixt April and May."[5] To complete his happiness, he had a friend and cousin, Pandolfo Ariosto, who loved every thing that he loved, and for whom he augured a brilliant reputation.

But a dismal cloud was approaching. In his twenty-first year he lost his father, and found a large family left on his hands in narrow circumstances. The charge was at first so heavy, especially when aggravated by the death of Pandolfo, that he tells us he wished to die. He took to it manfully, however, in spite of these fits of gloom; and he lived to see his admirable efforts rewarded; his brothers enabled to seek their fortunes, and his sisters properly taken care of. Two of them, it seems, had become nuns. A third married; and a fourth remained long in his house. It is not known what became of the fifth.

In these family-matters the anxious son and brother was occupied for three or four years, not, however, without recreating himself with his verses, Latin and Italian, and recording his admiration of a number of goddesses of his youth. He mentions, in particular, one of the name of Lydia, who kept him often from "his dear mother and household," and who is probably represented by the princess of the same name in the Orlando, punished in the smoke of Tartarus for being a jilt and coquette.[6] His friend Bembo, afterwards the celebrated cardinal, recommended him to be blind to such little immaterial points as ladies' infidelities. But he is shocked at the advice. He was far more of Othello's opinion than Congreve's in such matters; and declared, that he would not have shared his mistress' good-will with Jupiter himself.[7]

Towards the year 1504, the poet entered the service of the unworthy prince, Cardinal Ippolito of Este, brother of the new Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso the First. His eminence, who had been made a prince of the church at thirteen years of age by the infamous Alexander the Sixth (Borgia), was at this period little more than one-and-twenty; but he took an active part in the duke's affairs, both civil and military, and is said to have made himself conspicuous in his father's lifetime for his vices and brutality. He is charged with having ordered a papal messenger to be severely beaten for bringing him some unpleasant despatches: which so exasperated his unfortunate parent, that he was exiled to Mantua; and the marquess of that city, his brother-in-law, was obliged to come to Ferrara to obtain his pardon. But this was a trifle compared with what he is accused of having done to one of his brothers. A female of their acquaintance, in answer to a speech made her by the reverend gallant, had been so unlucky as to say that she preferred his brother Giulio's eyes to his eminence's whole body: upon which the monstrous villain hired two ruffians to put out his brother's eyes; some say, was present at the attempt. Attempt only it fortunately turned out to be, at least in part; the opinion being, that the sight of one of the eyes was preserved.[8]

Party-spirit has so much to do with stories of princes, and princes are so little in a condition to notice them, that, on the principle of not condemning a man till he has been heard in his defence, an honest biographer would be loath to credit these horrors of Cardinal Ippolito, did not the violent nature of the times, and the general character of the man, even with his defenders, incline him to do so. His being a soldier rather than a churchman was a fault of the age, perhaps a credit to the man, for he appears to have had abilities for war, and it was no crime of his if he was put into the church when a boy. But his conduct to Ariosto shewed him coarse and selfish; and those who say all they can for him admit that he was proud and revengeful, and that nobody regretted him when he died. He is said to have had a taste for mathematics, as his brother had for mechanics. The truth seems to be, that he and the duke, who lived in troubled times, and had to exert all their strength to hinder Ferrara from becoming a prey to the court of Rome, were clever, harsh men, of no grace or elevation of character, and with no taste but for war; and if it had not been for their connexion with Ariosto, nobody would have heard of them, except while perusing the annals of the time. Ippolito might have been, and probably was, the ruffian which the anecdote of his brother Giulio represents him; but the world would have heard little of the villany, had he not treated a poet with contempt.

The admirers of our author may wonder how he could become the servant of such a man, much more how he could praise him as he did in the great work which he was soon to begin writing. But Ariosto was the son of a man who had passed his life in the service of the family; he had probably been taught a loyal blindness to its defects; gratuitous panegyrics of princes had been the fashion of men of letters since the time of Augustus; and the poet wanted help for his relatives, and was of a nature to take the least show of favour for a virtue, till he had learnt, as he unfortunately did, to be disappointed in the substance. It is not known what his appointment was under the cardinal. Probably he was a kind of gentleman of all work; an officer in his guards, a companion to amuse, and a confidential agent for the transaction of business. The employment in which he is chiefly seen is that of an envoy, but he is said also to have been in the field of battle; and he intimates in his Satires, that household attentions were expected of him which he was not quick to offer, such as pulling off his eminence's boots, and putting on his spurs.[9] It is certain that he was employed in very delicate negotiations, sometimes to the risk of his life from the perils of roads and torrents. Ippolito, who was a man of no delicacy, probably made use of him on every occasion that required address, the smallest as well as greatest,—an interview with a pope one day, and a despatch to a dog-fancier the next.

His great poem, however, proceeded. It was probably begun before he entered the cardinal's service; certainly was in progress during the early part of his engagement. This appears from a letter written to Ippolito by his sister the Marchioness of Mantua, to whom he had sent Ariosto at the beginning of the year 1509 to congratulate her on the birth of a child. She gives her brother special thanks for sending his message to her by "Messer Ludovico Ariosto," who had made her, she says, pass two delightful days, with giving her an account of the poem he was writing.[10] Isabella was the name of this princess; and the grateful poet did not forget to embalm it in his verse.[11]

Ariosto's latest biographer, Panizzi, thinks he never served under any other leader than the cardinal; but I cannot help being of opinion with a former one, whom he quotes, that he once took arms under a captain of the name of Pio, probably a kinsman of his friend Alberto Pio, to whom he addresses a Latin poem. It was probably on occasion of some early disgust with the cardinal; but I am at a loss to discover at what period of time. Perhaps, indeed, he had the cardinal's permission, both to quit his service, and return to it. Possibly he was not to quit it at all, except according to events; but merely had leave given him to join a party in arms, who were furthering Ippolito's own objects. Italy was full of captains in arms and conflicting interests. The poet might even, at some period of his life, have headed a troop under another cardinal, his friend Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo the Tenth. He had certainly been with him in various parts of Italy; and might have taken part in some of his bloodless, if not his most military, equitations.

Be this as it may, it is understood that Ariosto was present at the repulse given to the Venetians by Ippolito, when they came up the river Po against Ferrara towards the close of the year 1509; though he was away from the scene of action at his subsequent capture of their flotilla, the poet having been despatched between the two events to Pope Julius the Second on the delicate business of at once appeasing his anger with the duke for resisting his allies, and requesting his help to a feudatary of the church. Julius was in one of his towering passions at first, but gave way before the address of the envoy, and did what he desired. But Ariosto's success in this mission was nearly being the death of him in another; for Alfonso having accompanied the French the year following in their attack on Vicenza, where they committed cruelties of the same horrible kind as have shocked Europe within a few months past,[12] the poet's tongue, it was thought, might be equally efficacious a second time; but Julius, worn out of patience with his too independent vassal, who maintained an alliance with the French when the pope had ceased to desire it, was to be appeased no longer. He excommunicated Alfonso, and threatened to pitch his envoy into the Tiber; so that the poet was fain to run for it, as the duke himself was afterwards, when he visited Rome to be absolved. Would Julius have thus treated Ariosto, could he have foreseen his renown? Probably he would. The greater the opposition to the will, the greater the will itself. To chuck an accomplished envoy into the river would have been much; but to chuck the immortal poet there, laurels and all, in the teeth of the amazement of posterity, would have been a temptation irresistible.

It was on this occasion that Ariosto, probably from inability to choose his times or anodes of returning home, contracted a cough, which is understood to have shortened his existence; so that Julius may have killed him after all. But the pope had a worse enemy in his own bosom—his violence—which killed himself in a much shorter period. He died in little more than two years afterwards; and the poet's prospects were all now of a very different sort—at least he thought so; for in March 1513, his friend Giovanni de' Medici succeeded to the papacy, under the title of Leo the Tenth.

Ariosto hastened to Rome, among a shoal of visitants, to congratulate the new pope, perhaps not without a commission from Alfonso to see what he could do for his native country, on which the rival Medici family never ceased to have designs. The poet was full of hope, for he had known Leo under various fortunes; had been styled by him not only a friend, but a brother; and promised all sorts of participations of his prosperity. Not one of them came. The visitor was cordially received. Leo stooped from his throne, squeezed his hand, and kissed him on both his cheeks; but "at night," says Ariosto, "I went all the way to the Sheep to get my supper, wet through." All that Leo gave him was a "bull," probably the one securing to him the profits of his Orlando; and the poet's friend Bibbiena—wit, cardinal, and kinsman of Berni—facilitated the bull, but the receiver discharged the fees. He did not get one penny by promise, pope, or friend.[13] He complains a little, but all in good humour; and good-naturedly asks what he was to expect, when so many hungry kinsmen and partisans were to be served first. Well and wisely asked too, and with a superiority to his fortunes which Leo and Bibbiena might have envied.

It is thought probable, however, that if the poet had been less a friend to the house of Este, Leo would have kept his word with him, for their intimacy had undoubtedly been of the most cordial description. But it is supposed that Leo was afraid he should have a Ferrarese envoy constantly about him, had he detained Ariosto in Rome. The poet, however, it is admitted, was not a good hunter of preferment. He could not play the assenter, and bow and importune: and sovereigns, however friendly they may have been before their elevation, go the way of most princely flesh when they have attained it. They like to take out a man's gratitude beforehand, perhaps because they feel little security in it afterwards.

The elevation to the papacy of the cheerful and indulgent son of Lorenzo de' Medici, after the troublous reign of Julius, was hailed with delight by all Christendom, and nowhere more so than in the pope's native place, Florence. Ariosto went there to see the spectacles; and there, in the midst of them, he found himself robbed of his heart by the lady whom he afterwards married. Her name was Alessandra Benucci. She was the widow of one of the Strozzi family, whom he had known in Ferrara, and he had long admired her. The poet, who, like Petrarch and Boccaccio, has recorded the day on which he fell in love, which was that of St. John the Baptist (the showy saint-days of the south offer special temptations to that effect), dwells with minute fondness on the particulars of the lady's appearance. Her dress was black silk, embroidered with two grape-bearing vines intertwisted; and "between her serene forehead and the path that went dividing in two her rich and golden tresses," was a sprig of laurel in bud. Her observer, probably her welcome if not yet accepted lover, beheld something very significant in this attire; and a mysterious poem, in which he records a device of a black pen feathered with gold, which he wore embroidered on a gown of his own, has been supposed to allude to it. As every body is tempted to make his guess on such occasions, I take the pen to have been the black-haired poet himself, and the golden feather the tresses of the lady. Beautiful as he describes her, with a face full of sweetness, and manners noble and engaging, he speaks most of the charms of her golden locks. The black gown could hardly have implied her widowhood: the allusion would not have been delicate. The vine belongs to dramatic poets, among whom the lover was at that time to be classed, the Orlando not having appeared. Its duplification intimated another self; and the crowning laurel was the success that awaited the heroic poet and the conqueror of the lady's heart.[14]

The marriage was never acknowledged. The husband was in the receipt of profits arising from church-offices, which put him into the condition of the fellow of a college with us, who cannot marry so long as he retains his fellowship: but it is proved to have taken place, though the date of it is uncertain. Ariosto, in a satire written three or four years after his falling in love, says he never intends either to marry or to take orders; because, if he takes orders, he cannot marry; and if he marries, he cannot take orders—that is to say, must give up his semi-priestly emoluments. This is one of the falsehoods which the Roman Catholic religion thinks itself warranted in tempting honest men to fall into; thus perplexing their faith as to the very roots of all faith, and tending to maintain a sensual hypocrisy, which can do no good to the strongest minds, and must terribly injure the weak.

Ariosto's love for this lady I take to have been one of the causes of dissatisfaction between him and the cardinal. "Fortunately for the poet," as Panizzi observes, Ippolito was not always in Ferrara. He travelled in Italy, and he had an archbishopric in Hungary, the tenure of which compelled occasional residence. His company was not desired in Rome, so that he was seldom there. Ariosto, however, was an amusing companion; and the cardinal seems not to have liked to go anywhere without him. In the year 1515 he was attended by the poet part of the way on a journey to Rome and Urbino; but Ariosto fell ill, and had leave to return. He confesses that his illness was owing to an anxiety of love; and he even makes an appeal to the cardinal's experience of such feelings; so that it might seem he was not afraid of Ippolito's displeasure in that direction. But the weakness which selfish people excuse in themselves becomes a "very different thing" (as they phrase it) in another. The appeal to the cardinal's experience might only have exasperated him, in its assumption of the identity of the case. However, the poet was, at all events, left this time to the indulgence of his love and his poetry; and in the course of the ensuing year, a copy of the first edition of the Orlando Furioso, in forty cantos, was put into the hands of the illustrious person to whom it was dedicated.

The words in which the cardinal was pleased to express himself on this occasion have become memorable. "Where the devil, Master Lodovick," said the reverend personage, "have you picked up such a parcel of trumpery?" The original term is much stronger, aggravating the insult with indecency. There is no equivalent for it in English; and I shall not repeat it in Italian. "It is as low and indecent," says Panizzi, "as any in the language." Suffice it to say that, although the age was not scrupulous in such matters, it was one of the last words befitting the lips of the reverend Catholic; and that, when Ippolito of Este (as Ginguene observes) made that speech to the great poet, "he uttered—prince, cardinal, and mathematician as he was—an impertinence."[15]

Was the cardinal put out of temper by a device which appeared in this book? On the leaf succeeding the title-page was the privilege for its publication, granted by Leo in terms of the most flattering personal recognition.[16] So far so good; unless the unpoetical Este patron was not pleased to see such interest taken in the book by the tasteful Medici patron. But on the back of this leaf was a device of a hive, with the bees burnt out of it for their honey, and the motto, "Evil for good" (Pro bono malum). Most biographers are of opinion that this device was aimed at the cardinal's ill return for all the sweet words lavished on him and his house. If so, and supposing Ariosto to have presented the dedication-copy in person, it would have been curious to see the faces of the two men while his Eminence was looking at it. Some will think that the good-natured poet could hardly have taken such an occasion of displaying his resentment. But the device did not express at whom it was aimed: the cardinal need not have applied it to himself if he did not choose, especially as the book was full of his praises; and good-natured people will not always miss an opportunity of covertly inflicting a sting. The device, at all events, shewed that the honey-maker had got worse than nothing by his honey; and the house of Este could not say they had done any thing to contradict it.

I think it probable that neither the poet's device nor the cardinal's speech were forgotten, when, in the course of the next year, the parties came to a rupture in consequence of the servant's refusing to attend his master into Hungary. Ariosto excused himself on account of the state of his health and of his family. He said that a cold climate did not agree with him; that his chest was affected, and could not bear even the stoves of Hungary; and that he could not, in common decency and humanity, leave his mother in her old age, especially as all the rest of the family were away but his youngest sister, whose interests he had also to take care of. But Ippolito was not to be appeased. The public have seen, in a late female biography, a deplorable instance of the unfeelingness with which even a princess with a reputation for religion could treat the declining health and unwilling retirement of a poor slave in her service, fifty times her superior in every thing but servility. Greater delicacy was not to be expected of the military priest. The nobler the servant, the greater the desire to trample upon him and keep him at a disadvantage. It is a grudge which rank owes to genius, and which it can only wave when its possessor is himself "one of God Almighty's gentlemen." I do not mean in point of genius, which is by no means the highest thing in the world, whatever its owners may think of it; but in point of the highest of all things, which is nobleness of heart. I confess I think Ariosto was wrong in expecting what he did of a man he must have known so well, and in complaining so much of courts, however good-humouredly. A prince occupies the station he does, to avert the perils of disputed successions, and not to be what his birth cannot make him—if nature has not supplied the materials. Besides, the cardinal, in his quality of a mechanical-minded man with no taste, might with reason have complained of his servant's attending to poetry when it was "not in his bond;" when it diverted him from the only attentions which his employer understood or desired. Ippolito candidly confessed, as Ariosto himself tells us, that he not only did not care for poetry, but never gave his attendant one stiver in patronage of it, or for any thing whatsoever but going his journeys and doing as he was bidden.[17] On the other hand, the cardinal's payments were sorry ones; and the poet might with justice have thought, that he was not bound to consider them an equivalent for the time be was expected to give up. The only thing to have been desired in this case was, that he should have said so; and, in truth, at the close of the explanation which he gave on the subject to his friends at court, he did—boldly desiring them, as became him, to tell the cardinal, that if his eminence expected him to be a "serf" for what he received, he should decline the bargain; and that he preferred the humblest freedom and his studies to a slavery so preposterous.[18] The truth is, the poet should have attached himself wholly to the Medici. Had he not adhered to the duller house, he might have led as happy a life with the pope as Pulci did with the pope's father; perhaps have been made a cardinal, like his friends Bembo and Sadolet. But then we might have lost the Orlando.

The only sinecure which the poet is now supposed to have retained, was a grant of twenty-five crowns every four months on the episcopal chancery of Milan: so, to help out his petty income, he proceeded to enter into the service of Alfonso, which shews that both the brothers were not angry with him. He tells us, that he would gladly have had no new master, could he have helped it; but that, if he must needs serve, he would rather serve the master of every body else than a subordinate one. At this juncture he had a brief prospect of being as free as he wished; for an uncle died leaving a large landed property still known as the Ariosto lands (Le Arioste); but a convent demanded it on the part of one of their brotherhood, who was a natural son of this gentleman; and a more formidable and ultimately successful claim was advanced in a court of law by the Chamber of the Duchy of Ferrara, the first judge in the cause being the duke's own steward and a personal enemy of the poet's. Ariosto, therefore, while the suit was going on, was obliged to content himself with his fees from Milan and a monthly allowance which he received from the duke of "about thirty-eight shillings," together with provisions for three servants and two horses. He entered the duke's service in the spring of 1518, and remained in it for the rest of his life. But it was not so burden-some as that of the cardinal; and the consequence of the poet's greater leisure was a second edition of the Furioso, in the year 1521, with additions and corrections; still, however, in forty cantos only. It appears, by a deed of agreement,[19] that the work was printed at the author's expense; that he was to sell the bookseller one hundred copies for sixty livres (about 5l. 12s.) on condition of the book's not being sold at the rate of more than sixteen sous (1s. 8d.); that the author was not to give, sell, or allow to be sold, any copy of the book at Ferrara, except by the bookseller; that the bookseller, after disposing of the hundred copies, was to have as many more as he chose on the same terms; and that, on his failing to require a further supply, Ariosto was to be at liberty to sell his volumes to whom he pleased. "With such profits," observes Panizzi, "it was not likely that the poet would soon become independent;" and it may be added, that he certainly got nothing by the first edition, whatever he may have done by the second. He expressly tells us, in the satire which he wrote on declining to go abroad with Ippolito, that all his poetry had not procured him money enough to purchase a cloak.[20] Twenty years afterwards, when he was dead, the poem was in such request, that, between 1542 and 1551, Panizzi calculates there must have been a sale of it in Europe to the amount of a hundred thousand copies.[21]

The second edition of the Furioso did not extricate the author from very serious difficulties; for the next year he was compelled to apply to either to relieve him from his necessities, or permit him to look for some employment more profitable than the ducal service. The answer of this prince, who was now rich, but had always been penurious, and who never laid out a farthing, if he could help it, except in defence of his capital, was an appointment of Ariosto to the government of a district in a state of anarchy, called Garfagnana, which had nominally returned to his rule in consequence of the death of Leo, who had wrested it from him. It was a wild spot in the Apennines, on the borders of the Ferrarese and papal territories. Ariosto was there three years, and is said to have reduced it to order; but, according to his own account, he had very doubtful work of it. The place was overrun with banditti, including the troops commissioned to suppress them. It required a severer governor than he was inclined to be; and Alfonso did not attend to his requisitions for supplies. The candid and good-natured poet intimates that the duke might have given him the appointment rather for the governor's sake than the people's; and the cold, the loneliness and barrenness of the place, and, above all, his absence from the object of his affections, oppressed him. He did not write a verse for twelve months: he says he felt like a bird moulting[22]. The best thing got out of it was an anecdote for posterity. The poet was riding out one day with a few attendants—some say walking out in a fit of absence of mind—when he found himself in the midst of a band of outlaws, who, in a suspicious manner, barely suffered him to pass. A reader of Mrs. Radcliffe might suppose them a band of condottieri, under the command of some profligate desperado; and such perhaps they were. The governor had scarcely gone by, when the leader of the band, discovering who he was, came riding back with much earnestness, and making his obeisance to the poet, said, that he never should have allowed him to pass in that manner had he known him to be the Signor Ludovico Ariosto, author of the Orlando Furioso; that his own name was Filippo Pacchione (a celebrated personage of his order); and that his men and himself, so far from doing the Signor displeasure, would have the honour of conducting him back to his castle. "And so they did," says Baretti, "entertaining him all along the way with the various excellences they had discerned in his poem, and bestowing upon it the most rapturous praises[23]."

On his return from Garfagnana, Ariosto is understood to have made several journeys in Italy, either with or without the duke his master; some of them to Mantua, where it has been said that he was crowned with laurel by the Emperor Charles the Fifth. But the truth seems to be, that he only received a laureate diploma: it does not appear that Charles made him any other gift. His majesty, and the whole house of Este, and the pope, and all the other Italian princes, left that to be done by the imperial general, the celebrated Alfonso Davallos, Marquess of Vasto, to whom he was sent on some mission by the Duke of Ferrara, and who settled on him an annuity of a hundred golden ducats; "the only reward," says Panizzi, "which we find to have been conferred on Ariosto expressly as a poet."[24] Davallos was one of the conquerors of Francis the First, young and handsome, and himself a writer of verses. The grateful poet accordingly availed himself of his benefactor's accomplishments to make him, in turn, a present of every virtue under the sun. Caesar was not so liberal, Nestor so wise, Achilles so potent, Nireus so beautiful, nor even Ladas, Alexander's messenger, so swift.[25] Ariosto was now verging towards the grave; and he probably saw in the hundred ducats a golden sunset of his cares.

Meantime, however, the poet had built a house, which, although small, was raised with his own money; so that the second edition of the Orlando may have realised some profits at last. He recorded the pleasant fact in an inscription over the door, which has become celebrated:

"Parva, sed apta mihi; sed nulli obnoxia; sed non Sordida; parta meo sed tamen acre domus." Small, yet it suits me; is of no offence; Was built, not meanly, at my own expense.

What a pity (to compare great things with small) that he had not as long a life before him to enjoy it, as Gil Blas had with his own comfortable quotation over his retreat at Lirias![26]

The house still remains; but the inscription unfortunately became effaced; though the following one remains, which was added by his son Virginio:

"Sic domus haec Areostea Propitios habeat deos, olim ut Pindarica."

Dear to the gods, whatever come to pass, Be Ariosto's house, as Pindar's was.

This was an anticipation—perhaps the origin—of Milton's sonnet about his own house, addressed to "Captains and Collonels," during the civil war.[27]

Davallos made the poet his generous present in the October of the year 1513; and in the same month of the year following the Orlando was published as it now stands, with various insertions throughout, chiefly stories, and six additional cantos. Cardinal Ippolito had been dead some time; and the device of the beehive was exchanged for one of two vipers, with a hand and pair of shears cutting out their tongues, and the motto, "Thou hast preferred ill-will to good" (Dilexisti malitiam super benignitatem). The allusion is understood to have been to certain critics whose names have all perished, unless Sperone (of whom we shall hear more by and by) was one of them. The appearance of this edition was eagerly looked for; but the trouble of correcting the press, and the destruction of a theatre by fire which had been built under the poet's direction, did his health no good in its rapidly declining condition; and after suffering greatly from an obstruction, he died, much attenuated, on the sixth day of June, 1533. His decease, his fond biographers have told us, took place "about three in the afternoon;" and he was "aged fifty-eight years, eight months, and twenty-eight days." His body, according to his direction, was taken to the church of the Benedictines during the night by four men, with only two tapers, and in the most private and simple manner. The monks followed it to the grave out of respect, contrary to their usual custom.

So lived, and so died, and so desired humbly to be buried, one of the delights of the world.

His son Virginio had erected a chapel in the garden of the house built by his father, and he wished to have his body removed thither; but the monks would not allow it. The tomb, at first a very humble one, was subsequently altered and enriched several times; but remains, I believe, as rebuilt at the beginning of the century before last by his grand-nephew, Ludovico Ariosto, with a bust of the poet, and two statues representing Poetry and Glory.

Ariosto was tall and stout, with a dark complexion, bright black eyes, black and curling hair, aquiline nose, and shoulders broad but a little stooping. His aspect was thoughtful, and his gestures deliberate. Titian, besides painting his portrait, designed that which appeared in the woodcut of the author's own third edition of his poem, which has been copied into Mr. Panizzi's. It has all the look of truth of that great artist's vital hand; but, though there is an expression of the, genial character of the mouth, notwithstanding the exuberance of beard, it does not suggest the sweetness observable in one of the medals of Ariosto, a wax impression of which is now before me; nor has the nose so much delicacy and grace.[28]

The poet's temperament inclined him to melancholy, but his intercourse was always cheerful. One biographer says he was strong and healthy—another, that he was neither. In all probability he was naturally strong, but weakened by a life full of emotion. He talks of growing old at forty four, and of leaving been bald for some time.[29] He had a cough for many years before he died. His son says he cured it by drinking good old wine. Ariosto says that "vin fumoso" did not agree with him; but that might only mean wine of a heady sort. The chances, under such circumstances, were probably against wine of any kind; and Panizzi thinks the cough was never subdued. His physicians forbade him all sorts of stimulants with his food.[30]

His temper and habits were those of a man wholly given up to love and poetry. In his youth he was volatile, and at no time without what is called some "affair of the heart." Every woman attracted him who had modesty and agreeableness; and as, at the same time, he was very jealous, one might imagine that his wife, who had a right to be equally so, would have led no easy life. But it is evident he could practise very generous self-denial; and probably the married portion of his existence, supposing Alessandra's sweet countenance not to have belied her, was happy on both sides. He was beloved by his family, which is never the case with the unamiable. Among his friends were most Of the great names of the age, including a world of ladies, and the whole graceful court of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, for which Catiglione wrote his book of the Gentleman (Il Cortegiano). Raphael addressed him a sonnet, and Titian painted his likeness. He knew Vittoria Colonna, and Veronica da Gambera, and Giulia Gonzaga (whom the Turks would have run away with), and Ippolita Sforza, the beautiful blue-stocking, who set Bandello on writing his novels, and Bembo, and Flaminio, and Berni, and Molza, and Sannazzaro, and the Medici family, and Vida, and Macchiavelli; and nobody doubts that he might have shone at the court of Leo the brightest of the bright. But he thought it "better to enjoy a little in peace, than seek after much with trouble."[31] He cared for none of the pleasures of the great, except building, and that he was content to satisfy in Cowley's fashion, with "a small house in a large garden." He was plain in his diet, disliked ceremony, and was frequently absorbed in thought. His indignation was roused by mean and brutal vices; but he took a large and liberal view of human nature in general; and, if he was somewhat free in his life, must be pardoned for the custom of the times, for his charity to others, and for the genial disposition which made him an enchanting poet. Above all, he was an affectionate son; lived like a friend with his children; and, in spite of his tendency to pleasure, supplied the place of an anxious and careful father to his brothers and sisters, who idolized him.

"Ornabat pietas et grata modestia vatem,"

wrote his brother Gabriel,

"Sancta fides, dictique memor, munitaque recto Justitia, et nullo patientia victa labore, Et constans virtus animi, et elementia mitis, Ambitione procul pulsa fastusque tumore; Credere uti posses natum felicibus horis, Felici fulgente astro Jovis atque Diones."[32]

Devoted tenderness adorn'd the bard, And grateful modesty, and grave regard To his least word, and justice arm'd with right, And patience counting every labour light, And constancy of soul, and meekness too, That neither pride nor worldly wishes knew. You might have thought him born when there concur The sweet star and the strong, Venus and Jupiter.

His son Virginio, and others, have left a variety of anecdotes corroborating points in his character. I shall give them all, for they put us into his company. It is recorded, as an instance of his reputation for honesty, that an old kinsman, a clergyman, who was afraid of being poisoned for his possessions, would trust himself in no other hands; but the clergyman was his own grand-uncle and namesake, probably godfather; so that the compliment is not so very great.

In his youth he underwent a long rebuke one day from his father without saying a word, though a satisfactory answer was in his power; on which his brother Gabriel expressing his surprise, he said that he was thinking all the time of a scene in a comedy he was writing, for which the paternal lecture afforded an excellent study.

He loved gardening better than he understood it; was always shifting his plants, and destroying the seeds, out of impatience to see them germinate. He was rejoicing once on the coming up of some "capers," which he had been visiting every day to see how they got on, when it turned out that his capers were elder-trees!

He was perpetually altering his verses. His manuscripts are full of corrections. He wrote the exordium of the Orlando over and over again; and at last could only be satisfied with it in proportion as it was not his own; that is to say, in proportion as it came nearer to the beautiful passage in Dante from which his ear and his feelings had caught it.[33]

He, however, discovered that correction was not always improvement. He used to say, it was with verses as with trees. A plant naturally well growing might be made perfect by a little delicate treatment; but over-cultivation destroyed its native grace. In like manner, you might perfect a happily-inspired verse by taking away any little fault of expression; but too great a polish deprived it of the charm of the first conception. It was like over-training a naturally graceful child. If it be wondered how he who corrected so much should succeed so well, even to an appearance of happy negligence, it is to be considered that the most impulsive writers often put down their thoughts too hastily, then correct and re-correct them in the same impatient manner; and so have to bring them round, by as many steps, to the feeling which they really had at first, though they were too hasty to do it justice.

Ariosto would have altered his house as often as his verses, but did not find it so convenient. Somebody wondering that he contented himself with so small an abode, when he built such magnificent mansions in his poetry, he said it was easier to put words together than blocks of stone.[34]

He liked Virgil; commended the style of Tibullus; did not care for Propertius; but expressed high approbation of Catullus and Horace. I suspect his favourite to have been Ovid. His son says he did not study much, nor look after books; but this may have been in his decline, or when Virginio first took to observing him. A different conclusion as to study is to be drawn from the corrected state of his manuscripts, and the variety of his knowledge; and with regard to books, he not only mentions the library of the Vatican as one of his greatest temptations to visit Rome, but describes himself, with all the gusto of a book-worm, as enjoying them in his chimney-corner.[35]

To intimate his secrecy in love-matters, he had an inkstand with a Cupid on it, holding a finger on his lips. I believe it is still in existence.[36] He did not disclose his mistresses' names, as Dante did, for the purpose of treating them with contempt; nor, on the other hand, does he appear to have been so indiscriminately gallant as to be fond of goitres.[37] The only mistress of whom he complained he concealed in a Latin appellation; and of her he did not complain with scorn. He had loved, besides Alessandra Benucci, a lady of the name of Ginevra; the mother of one of his children is recorded as a certain Orsolina; and that of the other was named Maria, and is understood to have been a governess in his father's family.[38]

He ate fast, and of whatever was next him, often beginning with the bread on the table before the dishes came; and he would finish his dinner with another bit of bread. "Appetiva le rape," says his good son; videlicet, he was fond of turnips. In his fourth Satire, he mentions as a favourite dish, turnips seasoned with vinegar and boiled must (sapa), which seems, not unjustifiably, to startle Mr. Panizzi.[39] He cared so little for good eating, that he said of himself, he should have done very well in the days when people lived on acorns.

A stranger coming in one day at the dinner-hour, he ate up what was provided for both; saying afterwards, when told of it, that the gentleman should have taken care of himself. This does not look very polite; but of course it was said in jest. His son attributed this carelessness at table to absorption in his studies.

He carried this absence of mind so far, and was at the same time so good a pedestrian, that Virginio tells us he once walked all the way from Carpi to Ferrara in his slippers, owing to his having strolled out of doors in that direction.

The same biographers who describe him as a brave soldier, add, that he was a timid horseman and seaman; and indeed he appears to have eschewed every kind of unnecessary danger. It was a maxim of his, to be the last in going out of a boat. I know not what Orlando would have said to this; but there is no doubt that the good son and brother avoided no pain in pursuit of his duty. He more than once risked his life in the service of government from the perils of travelling among war-makers and banditti. Imagination finds something worthy of itself on great occasions, but is apt to discover the absurdity of staking existence on small ones. Ariosto did not care to travel out of Italy. He preferred, he says, going round the earth in a map; visiting countries without having to pay innkeepers, and ploughing harmless seas without thunder and lightning[40].

His outward religion, like the one he ascribed to his friend Cardinal Bembo, was "that of other people." He did not think it of use to disturb their belief; yet excused rather than blamed Luther, attributing his heresy to the necessary consequences of mooting points too subtle for human apprehension[41]. He found it impossible, however, to restrain his contempt of bigotry; and, like most great writers in Catholic countries, was a derider of the pretensions of devotees, and the discords and hypocrisies of the convent. He evidently laughed at Dante's figments about the other world; not at the poetry of them, for that he admired, and sometimes imitated, but at the superstition and presumption. He turned the Florentine's moon into a depository of non-sense; and found no hell so bad as the hearts of tyrants. The only other people he put into the infernal regions are ladies who were cruel to their lovers! He had a noble confidence in the intentions of his Creator; and died ill the expectation of meeting his friends again in a higher state of existence.

Of Ariosto's four brothers, one became a courtier at Naples, another a clergyman, another an envoy to the Emperor Charles the Fifth; and the fourth, who was a cripple and a scholar, lived with Lodovico, and celebrated his memory. His two sons, whose names were Virginio and Gianbattista, and who were illegitimate (the reader is always to bear in mind the more indulgent customs of Italy in matters of this nature, especially in the poet's time), became, the first a canon in the cathedral of Ferrara, and the other an officer in the army. It does not appear that he had any other children.

Ariosto's renown is wholly founded on the Orlando Furioso, though he wrote satires, comedies, and a good deal of miscellaneous poetry, all occasionally exhibiting a master-hand. The comedies, however, were unfortunately modelled on those of the ancients; and the constant termination of the verse with trisyllables contributes to render them tedious. What comedies might he not have written, had he given himself up to existing times and manners[42]!

The satires are rather good-natured epistles to his friends, written with a charming ease and straightforwardness, and containing much exquisite sense and interesting autobiography.

On his lyrical poetry he set little value; and his Latin verse is not of the best order. Critics have expressed their surprise at its inferiority to that of contemporaries inferior to him in genius; but the reason lay in the very circumstance. I mean, that his large and liberal inspiration could only find its proper vent in his own language; he could not be content with potting up little delicacies in old-fashioned vessels.

The Orlando Furioso is, literally, a continuation of the Orlando Innamorato; so much so, that the story is not thoroughly intelligible without it. This was probably the reason of a circumstance that would be otherwise unaccountable, and that was ridiculously charged against him as a proof of despairing envy by the despairing envy of Sperone; namely, his never having once mentioned the name of his predecessor. If Ariosto had despaired of equalling Boiardo, he must have been hopeless of reaching posterity, in which case his silence must have been useless; and, in any case, it is clear that he looked on himself as the continuator of another's narration. But Boiardo was so popular when he wrote, that the very silence shews he must have thought the mention of his name superfluous. Still it is curious that he never should have alluded to it in the course of the poem. It could not have been from any dislike to the name itself, or the family; for in his Latin poems he has eulogised the hospitality of the house of Boiardo[43].

The Furioso continued not only what Boiardo did, but what he intended to do; for as its subject is Orlando's love, and knight-errantry in general, so its object was to extol the house of Este, and deduce it from its fabulous ancestor Ruggiero. Orlando is the open, Ruggiero the covert hero; and almost all the incidents of this supposed irregular poem, which, as Panizzi has shewn, is one of the most regular in the world, go to crown with triumph and wedlock the originator of that unworthy race. This is done on the old groundwork of Charlemagne and his Paladins, of the treacheries of the house of Gan of Maganza, and of the wars of the Saracens against Christendom. Bradamante, the Amazonian intended of Ruggiero, is of the same race as Orlando, and a great overthrower of infidels. Ruggiero begins with being an infidel himself, and is kept from the wars, like a second Achilles, by the devices of an anxious guardian, but ultimately fights, is converted, and marries; and Orlando all the while slays his thousands, as of old, loves, goes mad for jealousy, is the foolishest and wisest of mankind (somewhat like the poet himself); and crowns the glory of Ruggiero, not only by being present at his marriage, but putting on his spurs with his own hand when he goes forth to conclude the war by the death of the king of Algiers.

The great charm, however, of the Orlando Furioso is not in its knight-errantry, or its main plot, or the cunning interweavement of its minor ones, but in its endless variety, truth, force, and animal spirits; in its fidelity to actual nature while it keeps within the bounds of the probable, and its no less enchanting verisimilitude during its wildest sallies of imagination. At one moment we are in the midst of flesh and blood like ourselves; at the next with fairies and goblins; at the next in a tremendous battle or tempest; then in one of the loveliest of solitudes; then hearing a tragedy, then a comedy; then mystified in some enchanted palace; then riding, dancing, dining, looking at pictures; then again descending to the depths of the earth, or soaring to the moon, or seeing lovers in a glade, or witnessing the extravagances of the great jealous hero Orlando; and the music of an enchanting style perpetually attends us, and the sweet face of Angelica glances here and there like a bud: and there are gallantries of all kinds, and stories endless, and honest tears, and joyous bursts of laughter, and beardings for all base opinions, and no bigotry, and reverence for whatsoever is venerable, and candour exquisite, and the happy interwoven names of "Angelica and Medoro," young for ever.

But so great a work is not to be dismissed with a mere rhapsody of panegyric. Ariosto is inferior, in some remarkable respects, to his predecessors Pulci and Boiardo. His characters, for the most part, do not interest us as much as theirs by their variety and good fellowship; he invented none as Boiardo did, with the exception, indeed, of Orlando's, as modified by jealousy; and he has no passage, I thick, equal in pathos to that of the struggle at Roncesvalles; for though Orlando's jealousy is pathetic, as well as appalling, the effects of it are confined to one person, and disputed by his excessive strength. Ariosto has taken all tenderness out of Angelica, except that of a kind of boarding-school first love (which, however, as here-after intimated, may have simplified and improved her general effect), and he has omitted all that was amusing in the character of Astolfo. Knight-errantry has fallen off a little in his hands from its first youthful and trusting freshness; more sophisticate times are opening upon us; and satire more frequently and bitterly interferes. The licentious passages (though never gross in words, like those of his contemporaries,) are not redeemed by sentiment as in Boiardo; and it seems to me, that Ariosto hardly improved so much as he might have done Upon his predecessor's imitations of the classics. I cannot help thinking that, upon the whole, he had better have left them alone, and depended entirely on himself. Shelley says, he has too much fighting and "revenge,"[44]—which is true; but the revenge was only among his knights. He was himself (like my admirable friend) one of the most forgiving of men; and the fighting was the taste of the age, in which chivalry was still flourishing in the shape of such men as Bayard, and ferocity in men like Gaston de Foix. Ariosto certainly did not anticipate, any more than Shakspeare did, that spirit of human amelioration which has ennobled the present age. He thought only of reflecting nature as he found it. He is sometimes even as uninteresting as he found other people; but the tiresome passages, thank God, all belong to the house of Este! His panegyrics of Ippolito and his ancestors recoiled on the poet with a retributive dulness.

But in all the rest there is a wonderful invigoration and enlargement. The genius of romance has increased to an extraordinary degree in power, if not in simplicity. Its shoulders have grown broader, its voice louder and more sustained; and if it has lost a little on the sentimental side, it has gained prodigiously, not only in animal vigour, but, above all, in knowledge of human nature, and a brave and joyous candour in shewing it. The poet takes a universal, an acute, and, upon the whole, a cheerful view, like the sun itself, of all which the sun looks on; and readers are charmed to see a knowledge at once so keen and so happy. Herein lies the secret of Ariosto's greatness; which is great, not because it has the intensity of Dante, or the incessant thought and passion of Shakspeare, or the dignified imagination of Milton, to all of whom he is far inferior in sustained excellence,—but because he is like very Nature herself. Whether great, small, serious, pleasureable, or even indifferent, he still has the life, ease, and beauty of the operations of the daily planet. Even where he seems dull and common-place, his brightness and originality at other times make it look like a good-natured condescension to our own common habits of thought and discourse; as though he did it but on purpose to leave nothing unsaid that could bring him within the category of ourselves. His charming manner intimates that, instead of taking thought, he chooses to take pleasure with us, and compare old notes; and we are delighted that he does us so much honour, and makes, as it were, Ariostos of us all. He is Shakspearian in going all lengths with Nature as he found her, not blinking the fact of evil, yet finding a "soul of goodness" in it, and, at the same time, never compromising the worth of noble and generous qualities. His young and handsome Medoro is a pitiless slayer of his enemies; but they were his master's enemies, and he would have lost his life, even to preserve his dead body. His Orlando, for all his wisdom and greatness, runs mad for love of a coquette, who triumphs over warriors and kings, only to fall in love herself with an obscure lad. His kings laugh with all their hearts, like common people; his mourners weep like such unaffected children of sorrow, that they must needs "swallow some of their tears."[45] His heroes, on the arrival of intelligence that excites them, leap out of bed and write letters before they dress, from natural impatience, thinking nothing of their "dignity." When Astolfo blows the magic horn which drives every body out of the castle of Atlantes, "not a mouse" stays behind;—not, as Hoole and such critics think, because the poet is here writing ludicrously, but because he uses the same image seriously, to give an idea of desolation, as Shakspeare in Hamlet does to give that of silence, when "not a mouse is stirring." Instead of being mere comic writing, such incidents are in the highest epic taste of the meeting of extremes,—of the impartial eye with which Nature regards high and low. So, give Ariosto his hippogriff, and other marvels with which he has enriched the stock of romance, and Nature takes as much care of the verisimilitude of their actions, as if she had made them herself. His hippogriff returns, like a common horse, to the stable to which he has been accustomed. His enchanter, who is gifted with the power of surviving decapitation and pursuing the decapitator so long as a fated hair remains on his head, turns deadly pale in the face when it is scalped, and falls lifeless from his horse. His truth, indeed, is so genuine, and at the same time his style is so unaffected, sometimes so familiar in its grace, and sets us so much at ease in his company, that the familiarity is in danger of bringing him into contempt with the inexperienced, and the truth of being considered old and obvious, because the mode of its introduction makes it seem an old acquaintance. When Voltaire was a young man, and (to Anglicise a favourite Gallic phrase) fancied he had profounded every thing deep and knowing, he thought nothing of Ariosto. Some years afterwards he took him for the first of grotesque writers, but nothing more. At last he pronounced him equally "entertaining and sublime, and humbly apologised for his error." Foscolo quotes this passage from the Dictionnaire Philosophique; and adds another from Sir Joshua Reynolds, in which the painter speaks of a similar inability on his own part, when young, to enjoy the perfect nature of Raphael, and the admiration and astonishment which, in his riper years, he grew to feel for it.[46]

The excessive "wildness" attributed to Ariosto is not wilder than many things in Homer, or even than some things in Virgil (such as the transformation of ships into sea-nymphs). The reason why it has been thought so is, that he rendered them more popular by mixing them with satire, and thus brought them more universally into notice. One main secret of the delight they give us is their being poetical comments, as it were, on fancies and metaphors of our own. Thus, we say of a suspicious man, that he is suspicion itself; Ariosto turns him accordingly into an actual being of that name. We speak of the flights of the poets; Ariosto makes them literally flights—flights on a hippogriff, and to the moon. The moon, it has been said, makes lunatics; he accordingly puts a man's wits into that planet. Vice deforms beauty; therefore his beautiful enchantress turns out to be an old hag. Ancient defeated empires are sounds and emptiness; therefore the Assyrian and Persian monarchies become, in his limbo of vanities, a heap of positive bladders. Youth is headstrong, and kissing goes by favour; so Angelica, queen of Cathay, and beauty of the world, jilts warriors and kings, and marries a common soldier.

And what a creature is this Angelica! what effect has she not had upon the world in spite of all her faults, nay, probably by very reason of them! I know not whether it has been remarked before, but it appears to me, that the charm which every body has felt in the story of Angelica consists mainly in that very fact of her being nothing but a beauty and a woman, dashed even with coquetry, which renders her so inferior in character to most heroines of romance. Her interest is founded on nothing exclusive or prejudiced. It is not addressed to any special class. She might or might not have been liked by this person or that; but the world in general will adore her, because nature has made them to adore beauty and the sex, apart from prejudices right or wrong. Youth will attribute virtues to her, whether she has them or not; middle-age be unable to help gazing on her; old-age dote on her. She is womankind itself, in form and substance; and that is a stronger thing, for the most part, than all our figments about it. Two musical names, "Angelica and Medoro," have become identified in the minds of poetical readers with the honeymoon of youthful passion.

The only false acid insipid fiction I can call to mind in the Orlando Furioso is that of the "swans" who rescue "medals" from the river of oblivion (canto xxxv.). It betrays a singular forgetfulness of the poet's wonted verisimilitude; for what metaphor can reconcile us to swans taking an interest in medals? Popular belief had made them singers; but it was not a wise step to convert them into antiquaries.

Ariosto's animal spirits, and the brilliant hurry and abundance of his incidents, blind a careless reader to his endless particular beauties, which, though he may too often "describe instead of paint" (on account, as Foscolo says, of his writing to the many), spew that no man could paint better when he chose. The bosoms of his females "come and go, like the waves on the sea-coast in summer airs."[47] His witches draw the fish out of the water

"With simple words and a pure warbled spell."[48]

He borrows the word "painting" itself,—like a true Italian and friend of Raphael and Titian, to express the commiseration in the faces of the blest for the sufferings of mortality

"Dipinte di pietade il viso pio."[49]

Their pious looks painted with tenderness.

Jesus is very finely called, in the same passage, "il sempiterno Amante," the eternal Lover. The female sex are the

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse