HotFreeBooks.com
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

Tasso was stunned by this blow as much as if he had never done or suffered any thing to expect it. He could at first do nothing but wonder and bewail himself, and implore to be set free. The duke answered, that he must be cured first. Tasso replied by fresh entreaties; the duke returned the same answers. The unhappy poet had recourse to every friend, prince, and great man he could think of, to join his entreaties; he sought refuge in composition, but still entreated; he occasionally reproached and even bantered the duke in some of his letters to his friends, all of which, doubtless, were opened; but still he entreated, flattered, adored, all to no purpose, for seven long years and upwards. In time he became subject to maniacal illusions; so that if he was not actually mad before, he was now considered so. He was not only visited with sights and sounds, such as many people have experienced whose brains have been over-excited, but he fancied himself haunted by a sprite, and become the sport of "magicians." The sprite stole his things, and the magicians would not let him get well. He had a vision such as Benvenuto Cellini had, of the Virgin Mary in her glory; and his nights were so miserable, that he ate too much in order that he might sleep. When he was temperate, he lay awake. Sometimes he felt "as if a horse had thrown himself on him." "Have pity on me," he says to the friend to whom he gives these affecting accounts; "I am miserable, because the world is unjust."[13]

The physicians advised him to leave off wine; but he says he could not do that, though he was content to use it in moderation. In truth he required something to support him against the physicians themselves, for they continued to exhaust his strength by their medicines, and could not supply the want of it with air and freedom. He had ringings in the ears, vomits, and fluxes of blood. It would be ludicrous, if it were not deplorably pathetic, to hear so great a man, in the commonest medical terms, now protesting against the eternal drenches of these practitioners, now humbly submitting to them, and now entreating like a child, that they might at least not be "so bitter." The physicians, with the duke at their head, were as mad for their rhubarbs and lancets as the quacks in Moliere; and nothing but the very imagination that had nearly sacrificed the poet's life to their ignorance could have hindered him from dashing his head against the wall, and leaving them to the execrations of posterity. It is the only occasion in which the noble profession of medicine has not appeared in wise and beneficent connexion with the sufferings of men of letters. Why did Ferrara possess no Brocklesby in those days? no Garth, Mead, Warren, or Southwood Smith?

Tasso enabled himself to endure his imprisonment with composition. He supported it with his poetry and his poem, and what, alas! he had been too proud of during his liberty, the praises of his admirers. His genius brought him gifts from princes, and some money from the booksellers: it supported him even against his critics. During his confinement the Jerusalem Delivered was first published; though, to his grief, from a surreptitious and mutilated copy. But it was followed by a storm of applause; and if this was succeeded by as great a storm of objection and controversy, still the healthier part of his faculties were roused, and he exasperated his critics and astonished the world by shewing how coolly and learnedly the poor, wild, imprisoned genius could discuss the most intricate questions of poetry and philosophy. The disputes excited by his poem are generally supposed to have done him harm; but the conclusion appears to be ill founded. They diverted his thoughts, and made him conscious of his powers and his fame. I doubt whether he would have been better for entire approbation: it would have put him in a state of elevation, unfit for what he had to endure. He had found his pen his great solace, and he had never employed it so well. It would be incredible what a heap of things he wrote in this complicated torment of imprisonment, sickness, and "physic," if habit and mental activity had not been sufficient to account for much greater wonders. His letters to his friends and others would make a good-sized volume; those to his critics, another; sonnets and odes, a third; and his Dialogues after the manner of Plato, two more. Perhaps a good half of all he wrote was written in this hospital of St. Anne; and he studied as well as composed, and had to read all that was written at the time, pro and con, in the discussions about his Jerusalem, which, in the latest edition of his works, amount to three out of six volumes octavo! Many of the occasions, however, of his poems, as well as letters, are most painful to think of, their object having been to exchange praise for money. And it is distressing, in the letters, to see his other little wants, and the fluctuations and moods of his mind. Now he is angry about some book not restored, or some gift promised and delayed. Now he is in want of some books to be lent him; now of some praise to comfort him; now of a little fresh linen. He is very thankful for visits, for respectful letters, for "sweetmeats;" and greatly puzzled to know what to do with the bad sonnets and panegyrics that are sent him. They were sometimes too much even for the allowed ultra courtesies of Italian acknowledgment. His compliments to most people are varied with astonishing grace and ingenuity; his accounts of his condition often sufficient to bring the tears into the manliest eyes; and his ceaseless and vain efforts to procure his liberation mortifying when we think of himself, and exasperating when we think of the petty despot who detained him in so long, so degrading, and so worse than useless a confinement.

Tasso could not always conceal his contempt of his imprisoner from the ducal servants. Alfonso excelled the grandiloquent poet himself in his love of pomp and worship; and as he had no particular merits to warrant it, his victim bantered his love of titles. He says, in a letter to the duke's steward, "If it is the pleasure of the Most Serene Signor Duke, Most Clement and Most Invincible, to keep me in prison, may I beg that he will have the goodness to return certain little things of mine, which his Most Invincible, Most Clement, and Most Serene Highness has so often promised me.[14]

But these were rare ebullitions of gaiety, perhaps rather of bitter despair. A playful address to a cat to lend him her eyes to write by, during some hour in which he happened to be without a light (for it does not appear to have been denied him), may be taken as more probable evidence of a mind relieved at the moment, though the necessity for the relief may have been very sad. But the style in which he generally alludes to his situation is far different. He continually begs his correspondents to pity him, to pray for him, to attribute his errors to infirmity. He complains of impaired memory, and acknowledges that he has become subject to the deliriums formerly attributed to him by the enemies that had helped to produce them. Petitioning the native city of his ancestors (Bergamo) to intercede for him with the duke, he speaks of the writer as "this unhappy person;" and subscribes himself,—

"Most illustrious Signors, your affectionate servant, Torquato Tasso, a prisoner, and infirm, in the hospital of St. Anne in Ferrara."

In one of his addresses to Alfonso, he says most affectingly:

"I have sometimes attributed much to myself, and considered myself as somebody. But now, seeing in how many ways imagination has imposed on me, I suspect that it has also deceived me in this opinion of my own consequence. Indeed, methinks the past has been a dream; and hence I am resolved to rely on my imagination no longer."

Alfonso made no answer.

The causes of Tasso's imprisonment, and its long duration, are among the puzzles of biography. The prevailing opinion, notwithstanding the opposition made to it by Serassi and Black, is, that the poet made love to the Princess Leonora—perhaps was beloved by her; and that her brother the duke punished him for his arrogance. This was the belief of his earliest biographer, Manso, who was intimately acquainted with the poet in his latter days; and from Manso (though he did not profess to receive the information from Tasso, but only to gather it from his poems) it spread over all Europe. Milton took it on trust from him;[15] and so have our English translators Hoole and Wiffen. The Abbe de Charnes, however, declined to do so;[16] and Montaigne, who saw the poet in St. Anne's hospital, says nothing of the love at all. He attributes his condition to poetical excitement, hard study, and the meeting of the extremes of wisdom and folly. The philosopher, however, speaks of the poet's having survived his reason, and become unconscious both of himself and his works, which the reader knows to be untrue. He does not appear to have conversed with Tasso. The poet was only shewn him; probably at a sick moment, or by a new and ignorant official.[17] Muratori, who was in the service of the Este family at Modena, tells us, on the authority of an old acquaintance who knew contemporaries of Tasso, that the "good Torquato" finding himself one day in company with the duke and his sister, and going close to the princess in order to answer some question which she had put to him, was so transported by an impulse "more than poetical," as to give her a kiss; upon which the duke, who had observed it, turned about to his gentlemen, and said, "What a pity to see so great a man distracted!" and so ordered him to be locked up.[18] But this writer adds, that he does not know what to think of the anecdote: he neither denies nor admits it. Tiraboschi, who was also in the service of the Este family, doubts the truth of the anecdote, and believes that the duke shut the poet up solely for fear lest his violence should do harm.[19] Serassi, the second biographer of Tasso, who dedicated his book to an Este princess inimical to the poet's memory, attributes the confinement, on his own shewing, to the violent words he had uttered against his master.[20] Walker, the author of the Memoir on Italian Tragedy, says, that the life by Serassi himself induced him to credit the love-story:[21] so does Ginguene.[22] Black, forgetting the age and illnesses of hundreds of enamoured ladies, and the distraction of lovers at all times, derides the notion of passion on either side; because, he argues, Tasso was subject to frenzies, and Leonora forty-two years of age, and not in good health.[23] What would Madame d'Houdetot have said to him? or Mademoiselle L'Espinasse? or Mrs. Inchbald, who used to walk up and down Sackville Street in order that she might see Dr. Warren's light in his window? Foscolo was a believer in the love;[24] Sismondi admits it;[25] and Rosini, the editor of the latest edition of the poet's works, is passionate for it. He wonders how any body can fail to discern it in a number of passages, which, in truth, may mean a variety of other loves; and he insists much upon certain loose verses (lascivi) which the poet, among his various accounts of the origin of his imprisonment, assigns as the cause, or one of the causes, of it. [26]

I confess, after a reasonable amount of inquiry into this subject, that I can find no proofs whatsoever of Tasso's having made love to Leonora; though I think it highly probable. I believe the main cause of the duke's proceedings was the poet's own violence of behaviour and incontinence of speech. I think it very likely that, in the course of the poetical love-making to various ladies, which was almost identical in that age with addressing them in verse, Torquato, whether he was in love or not, took more liberties with the princesses than Alfonso approved; and it is equally probable, that one of those liberties consisted in his indulging his imagination too far. It is not even impossible, that more gallantry may have been going on at court than Alfonso could endure to see alluded to, especially by an ambitious pen. But there is no evidence that such was the case. Tasso, as a gentleman, could not have hinted at such a thing on the part of a princess of staid reputation; and, on the other hand, the "love" he speaks of as entertained by her for him, and warranting the application to her for money in case of his death, was too plainly worded to mean any thing but love in the sense of friendly regard. "Per amor mio" is an idiomatical expression, meaning "for my sake;" a strong one, no doubt, and such as a proud man like Alfonso might think a liberty, but not at all of necessity an amatory boast. If it was, its very effrontery and vanity were presumptions of its falsehood. The lady whom Tasso alludes to in the passage quoted on his first confinement is complained of for her coldness towards him; and, unless this was itself a gentlemanly blind, it might apply to fifty other ladies besides the princess. The man who assaulted him in the streets, and who is supposed to have been the violator of his papers, need not have found any secrets of love in them. The servant at whom he aimed the knife or the dagger might be as little connected with such matters; and the sonnets which the poet said he wrote for a friend, and which he desired to be buried with him, might be alike innocent of all reference to Leonora, whether he wrote them for a friend or not. Leonora's death took place during the poet's confinement; and, lamented as she was by the verse-writers according to custom, Tasso wrote nothing on the event. This silence has been attributed to the depth of his passion; but how is the fact proved? and why may it not have been occasioned by there having been no passion at all?

All that appears certain is, that Tasso spoke violent and contemptuous words against the duke; that he often spoke ill of him in his letters; that he endeavoured, not with perfect ingenuousness, to exchange his service for that of another prince; that he asserted his madness to have been pretended in the first instance purely to gratify the duke's whim for thinking it so (which was one of the reasons perhaps why Alfonso, as he complained, would not believe a word be said); and finally, that, whether the madness was or was not so pretended, it unfortunately became a confirmed though milder form of mania, during a long confinement. Alfonso, too proud to forgive the poet's contempt, continued thus to detain him, partly perhaps because he was not sorry to have a pretext for revenge, partly because he did not know what to do with him, consistently either with his own or the poet's safety. He had not been generous enough to put Tasso above his wants; he had not address enough to secure his respect; he had not merit enough to overlook his reproaches. If Tasso had been as great a man as he was a poet, Alfonso would not have been reduced to these perplexities. The poet would have known how to settle quietly down on his small court-income, and wait patiently in the midst of his beautiful visions for what fortune had or had not in store for him. But in truth, he, as well as the duke, was weak; they made a bad business of it between them; and Alfonso the Second closed the accounts of the Este family with the Muses, by keeping his panegyrist seven years in a mad-house, to the astonishment of posterity, and the destruction of his own claims to renown.

It does not appear that Tasso was confined in any such dungeon as they now exhibit in Ferrara. The conduct of the Prior of the Hospital is more doubtful. His name was Agostino Mosti; and, strangely enough, he was the person who had raised a monument to Ariosto, of whom he was an enthusiastic admirer. To this predilection has been attributed his alleged cruelty to the stranger from Sorrento, who dared to emulate the fame of his idol;—an extraordinary, though perhaps not incredible, mode of skewing a critic's regard for poetry. But Tasso, while he laments his severity, wonders at it in a man so well bred and so imbued with literature, and thinks it can only have originated in "orders."[27] Perhaps there were faults of temper on both sides; and Mosti, not liking his office, forgot the allowance to be made for that of a prisoner and sick man. His nephew, Giulio Mosti, became strongly attached to the poet, and was a great comfort to him.

At length the time for liberation arrived. In the summer of 1586, Don Vincenzo Gonzaga, Prince of Mantua, kinsman of the poet's friend Scipio, came to Ferrara for the purpose of complimenting Alfonso's heir on his nuptials. The whole court of Mantua, with hereditary regard for Tasso, whose father had been one of their ornaments, were desirous of having him among them; and the prince extorted Alfonso's permission to take him away, on condition (so hard did he find this late concession to humanity, and so fearful was he of losing the dignity of jailor) that his deliverer should not allow him to quit Mantua without obtaining leave. A young and dear friend, his most frequent visitor, Antonio Constantini, secretary to the Tuscan ambassador, went to St. Anne's to prepare the captive by degrees for the good news. He told him that he really might look for his release in the course of a few days. The sensitive poet, now a premature old man of forty-two, was thrown into a transport of mingled delight and anxiety. He had been disappointed so often that he could scarcely believe his good fortune. In a day or two he writes thus to his visitor

"Your kindness, my dear friend, has so accustomed me to your precious and frequent visits, that I have been all day long at the window expecting your coming to comfort me as you are wont. But since you have not yet arrived, and in order not to remain altogether without consolation, I visit you with this letter. It encloses a sonnet to the ambassador, written with a trembling hand, and in such a manner that he will not, perhaps, have less difficulty in reading it than I had in writing."

Two days afterwards, the prince himself came again, requested of the poet some verses on a given subject, expressed his esteem for his genius and virtues, and told him that, on his return to Mantua, he should have the pleasure of conducting him to that city. Tasso lay awake almost all night, composing the verses; and next day enclosed them, with a letter, in another to Constantini, ardently begging him to keep the prince in mind of his promise. The prince had not forgotten it; and two or three days afterwards, the order for the release arrived, and Tasso quitted his prison. He had been confined seven years, two months, and several days. He awaited the prince's departure for a week or two in his friend's abode, paying no visits, probably from inability to endure so much novelty. Neither was he inclined or sent for to pay his respects to the duke. Two such parties could hardly have been desirous to look on each other. The duke must especially have disliked the thought of it; though Tasso afterwards fancied otherwise, and that he was offended at his non-appearance. But his letters, unfortunately, differ with themselves on this point, as on most others. About the middle of July 1586, the poet quitted Ferrara for ever.

At Mantua Tasso was greeted with all the honours and attentions which his love of distinction could desire. The good old duke, the friend of his father, ordered handsome apartments to be provided for him in the palace; the prince made him presents of costly attire, including perfumed silken hose (kindred elegancies to the Italian gloves of Queen Elizabeth); the princess and her mother-in-law were declared admirers of his poetry; the courtiers caressed the favourite of their masters; Tasso found literary society; he pronounced the very bread and fruit, the fish and the flesh, excellent; the wines were sharp and brisk ("such as his father was fond of"); and even the physician was admirable, for he ordered confections. One might imagine, if circumstances had not proved the cordial nature of the Gonzaga family, and the real respect and admiration entertained for the poet's genius by the greatest men of the time, in spite of the rebuke it had received from Alfonso, that there had been a confederacy to mock and mystify him, after the fashion of the duke and duchess with Don Quixote (the only blot, by the way, in the book of Cervantes; if, indeed, he did not intend it as a satire on the mystifiers).

For a while, in short, the liberated prisoner thought himself happy. He corrected his prose works, resumed and finished the tragedy of Torrismond, which he had begun some years before, corresponded with princes, and completed and published a narrative poem left unfinished by his father. Torquato was as loving a son as Mozart or Montaigne. Whenever he had a glimpse of felicity, he appears to have associated the idea of it with that of his father. In the conclusion of his fragment, "O del grand' Apennino," he affectingly begs pardon of his blessed spirit for troubling him with his earthly griefs.[28]

But, alas, what had been an indulgence of self-esteem had now become the habit of a disease; and in the course of a few months the restless poet began to make his old discovery, that he was not sufficiently cared for. The prince had no leisure to attend to him; the nobility did not "yield him the first place," or at least (he adds) they did not allow him to be treated "externally as their equal;" and he candidly confessed that he could not live in a place where such was the custom.[29] He felt also, naturally enough, however well it might have been intended, that it was not pleasant to be confined to the range of the city of Mantua, attended by a servant, even though he confessed that he was now subject to "frenzy." He contrived to stay another half-year by help of a brilliant carnival and of the select society of the prince's court, who were evidently most kind to him; but at the end of the twelvemonth he was in Bergamo among his relations. The prince gave him leave to go; and the Cavaliere Tasso, his kinsman, sent his chariot on purpose to fetch him.

Here again he found himself at a beautiful country-seat, which the family of Tasso still possesses near that city; and here again, in the house of his father, he proposed to be happy, "having never desired," he says, "any journey more earnestly than this." He left it in the course of a month, to return to Mantua.

And it was only to wander still. Mantua he quitted in less than two months to go to Rome, in spite of the advice of his best friends. He vindicated the proceeding by a hope of obtaining some permanent settlement from the Pope. He took Loretto by the way, to refresh himself with devotion; arrived in a transport at Rome; got nothing from the Pope (the hard-minded Sixtus the Fifth); and in the spring of the next year, in the triple hope of again embracing his sister, and recovering the dowry of his mother and the confiscated property of his father, he proceeded to Naples.

Naples was in its most beautiful vernal condition, and the Neapolitans welcomed the poet with all honour and glory; but his sister, alas, was dead; he got none of his father's property, nor (till too late) any of his mother's; and before the year was out, he was again in Rome. He acquired in Naples, however, another friend, as attached to him and as constant in his attentions as his beloved Constantini, to wit, Giambattista Manso, Marquis of Villa, who became his biographer, and who was visited and praised for his good offices by Milton. In the society of this gentleman he seemed for a short while to have become a new man. He entered into field-sports, listened to songs and music, nay, danced, says Manso, with "the girls." (One fancies a poetical Dr. Johnson with the two country damsels on his knees.) In short, good air and freedom, and no medicine, had conspired with the lessons of disappointment to give him, before he died, a glimpse of the power to be pleased. He had not got rid of all his spiritual illusions, even those of a melancholy nature; but he took the latter more quietly, and had grown so comfortable with the race in general, that he encouraged them. He was so entirely freed from his fears of the Inquisition and of charges of magic, that whereas he had formerly been anxious to shew that he meant nothing but a poetical fancy by the spirit which he introduced as communing with him in his dialogue entitled the Messenger, he now maintained its reality against the arguments of his friend Manso; and these arguments gave rise to the most poetical scene in his history. He told Manso that he should have ocular testimony of the spirit's existence; and accordingly one day while they were sitting together at the marquis's fireside, "he turned his eyes," says Manso, "towards a window, and held them a long time so intensely on it, that, when I called him, he did not answer. At last, 'Behold,' said he, 'the friendly spirit which has courteously come to talk with me. Lift up your eyes, and see the truth.' I turned my eyes thither immediately (continues the marquis); but though I endeavoured to look as keenly as I could, I beheld nothing but the rays of the sun, which streamed through the panes of the window into the chamber. Whilst I still looked around, without beholding any object, Torquato began to hold, with this unknown something, a most lofty converse. I heard, indeed, and saw nothing but himself; nevertheless his words, at one time questioning, at another replying, were such as take place between those who reason strictly on some important subject. And from what was said by the one, the reply of the other might be easily comprehended by the intellect, although it was not heard by the ear. The discourses were so lofty and marvellous, both by the sublimity of their topics and a certain unwonted manner of talking, that, exalted above myself in a kind of ecstasy, I did not dare to interrupt them, nor ask Tasso about the spirit, which he had announced to me, but which I did not see. In this way, while I listened between stupefaction and rapture, a considerable time had elapsed; till at last the spirit departed, as I learned from the words of Torquato; who, turning to me, said, 'From this day forward all your doubts will have vanished from your mind.' 'Nay,' said I, 'they are rather increased; since, though I have heard many things worthy of marvel, I have seen nothing of what you promised to shew me to dispel them.' He smiled, and said, 'You have seen and heard more of him than perhaps —,' and here he paused. Fearful of importuning him with new questions, the discourse ended; and the only conclusion I can draw is, what I before said, that it is more likely his visions or frenzies will disorder my own mind than that I shall extirpate his true or imaginary opinion."[30]

Did the "smile" of Tasso at the close of this extraordinary scene, and the words which he omitted to add, signify that his friend had seen and heard more, perhaps, than the poet would have liked to explain? Did he mean that he himself alone had been seen and heard, and was author of the whole dialogue? Perhaps he did; for credulity itself can impose;—can take pleasure in seeing others as credulous as itself. On the other hand, enough has become known in our days of the phenomena of morbid perception, to render Tasso's actual belief in such visions not at all surprising. It is not uncommon for the sanest people of delicate organisation to see faces before them while going to sleep, sometimes in fantastical succession. A stronger exercise of this disposition in temperaments more delicate will enlarge the face to figure; and there can be no question that an imagination so heated as Tasso's, so full of the speculations of the later Platonists, and accompanied by a state of body so "nervous," and a will so bent on its fancies, might embody whatever he chose to behold. The dialogue he could as easily read in the vision's looks, whether he heard it or not with ears. If Nicholay, the Prussian bookseller, who saw crowds of spiritual people go through his rooms, had been a poet, and possessed of as wilful an imagination as Tasso, he might have gifted them all with speaking countenances as easily as with coats and waistcoats. Swedenborg founded a religion on this morbid faculty; and the Catholics worship a hundred stories of the like sort in the Lives of the Saints, many of which are equally true and false; false in reality, though true in supposition. Luther himself wrote and studied till he saw the Devil; only the great reformer retained enough of his naturally sturdy health and judgment to throw an inkstand at Satan's head,—a thing that philosophy has been doing ever since.

Tasso's principal residence while at Naples had been in the beautiful monastery of Mount Olivet, on which the good monks begged he would write them a poem; which he did. A cold reception at Rome, and perhaps the difference of the air, brought back his old lamentations; but here again a monastery gave him refuge, and he set himself down to correct his former works and compose new ones. He missed, however, the comforts of society and amusement which he had experienced at Naples. Nevertheless, he did not return thither. He persuaded himself that it was necessary to be in Rome in order to expedite the receipt of some books and manuscripts from Bergamo and other places; but his restlessness desired novelty. He thus slipped back from the neighbourhood of Rome to the city itself, and from the city back to the monastery, his friends in both places being probably tired of his instability. He thought of returning to Mantua; but a present from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, accompanied by an invitation to his court, drew him, in one of his short-lived transports, to Florence. He returned, in spite of the best and most generous reception, to Rome; then left Rome for Mantua, on invitation from his ever-kind deliverer from prison, now the reigning duke; tired again, even of him; returned to Rome; then once more to Naples, where the Prince of Conca, Grand Admiral of the kingdom, lodged and treated him like an equal; but he grew suspicious of the admiral, and went to live with his friend Manso; quitted Manso for Rome again; was treated with reverence on the way, like Ariosto, by a famous leader of banditti; was received at Rome into the Vatican itself, in the apartments of his friend Cintio Aldobrandino, nephew of the new pope Clement the Eighth, where his hopes now seemed to be raised at once to their highest and most reasonable pitch; but fell ill, and was obliged to go back to Naples for the benefit of the air. A life so strangely erratic to the last (for mortal illness was approaching) is perhaps unique in the history of men of letters, and might be therefore worth recording even in that of a less man than Tasso; but when we recollect that this poet, in spite of all his weaknesses, and notwithstanding the enemies they provoked and the friends they cooled, was really almost adored for his genius in his own time, and instead of refusing jewels one day and soliciting a ducat the next, might have settled down almost any where in quiet and glory, if he had but possessed the patience to do so, it becomes an association of weakness with power, and of adversity with the means of prosperity, the absurdity of which admiration itself can only drown in pity.

He now took up his abode in another monastery, that of San Severino, where he was comforted by the visits of his friend Manso, to whom he had lately inscribed a dialogue on Friendship; for he continued writing to the last. He had also the consolation, such as it was, of having the law-suit for his mother's dowry settled in his favour, though under circumstances that rendered it of little importance, and only three months before his death. So strangely did Fortune seem to take delight in sporting with a man of genius, who had thought both too much of her and too little; too much for pomp's sake, and too little in prudence. Among his new acquaintances were the young Marino, afterwards the corrupter of Italian poetry, and the Prince of Venosa, an amateur composer of music. The dying poet wrote madrigals for him so much to his satisfaction, that, being about to marry into the house of Este, he wished to reconcile him with the Duke of Ferrara; and Tasso, who to the last moment of his life seems never to have been able to resist the chance of resuming old quarters, apparently from the double temptation of renouncing them, wrote his old master a letter full of respects and regrets. But the duke, who himself died in the course of the year, was not to be moved from his silence. The poet had given him the last possible offence by recasting his Jerusalem, omitting the glories of the house of Este, and dedicating it to another patron. Alfonso, who had been extravagantly magnificent, though not to poets, had so weakened his government, that the Pope wrested Ferrara from the hands of his successor, and reduced the Este family to the possession of Modena, which it still holds and dishonours. The duke and the poet were thus fading away at the same time; they never met again in this world; and a new Dante would have divided them far enough in the next.[31]

The last glimpse of honour and glory was now opening in a very grand manner on the poet—the last and the greatest, as if on purpose to give the climax to his disappointments. Cardinal Cintio requested the Pope to give him the honour of a coronation. It had been desired by the poet, it seems, three years before. He was disappointed of it at that time; and now that it was granted, he was disappointed of the ceremony. Manso says he no longer cared for it; and, as he felt himself dying, this is not improbable. Nevertheless he went to Rome for the purpose; and though the severity of the winter there delayed the intention till spring, wealth and honours seemed determined to come in floods upon the poor expiring great man, in order to take away the breath which they had refused to support. The Pope assigned him a yearly pension of a hundred scudi; and the withholders of his mother's dowry came to an accommodation by which he was to have an annuity of a hundred ducats, and a considerable sum in hand. His hand was losing strength enough to close upon the money. Scarcely was the day for the coronation about to dawn, when the poet felt his dissolution approaching. Alfonso's doctors had killed him at last by superinducing a habit of medicine-taking, which defeated its purpose. He requested leave to return to the monastery of St. Onofrio—wrote a farewell letter to Constantini—received the distinguished honour of a plenary indulgence from the Pope—said (in terms very like what Milton might have used, had he died a Catholic), that "this was the chariot upon which he hoped to go crowned, not with laurel as a poet into the capitol, but with glory as a saint to heaven"—and expired on the 25th of April, 1575, and the fifty-first year of his age, closely embracing the crucifix, and imperfectly uttering the sentence beginning, "Into thy hands, O Lord!"[32]

Even after death, success mocked him; for the coronation took place on the senseless dead body. The head was wreathed with laurel; a magnificent toga delayed for a while the shroud; and a procession took place through the city by torchlight, all the inhabitants pouring forth to behold it, and painters crowding over the bier to gaze on the poet's lineaments, from which they produced a multitude of portraits. The corpse was then buried in the church of St. Onofrio; and magnificent monuments talked of, which never appeared. Manso, however, obtained leave to set up a modest tablet; and eight years afterwards a Ferrarese cardinal (Bevilacqua) made what amends he could for his countrymen, by erecting the stately memorial which is still to be seen.

Poor, illustrious Tasso! weak enough to warrant pity from his inferiors—great enough to overshadow in death his once-fancied superiors. He has been a by-word for the misfortunes of genius: but genius was not his misfortune; it was his only good, and might have brought him all happiness. It is the want of genius, as far as it goes, and apart from martyrdoms for conscience' sake, which produces misfortunes even to genius itself—the want of as much wit and balance on the common side of things, as genius is supposed to confine to the uncommon.

Manso has left a minute account of his friend's person and manners. He was tall even among the tall; had a pale complexion, sunken cheeks, lightish brown hair, head bald at the top, large blue eyes, square forehead, big nose inclining towards the mouth, lips pale and thin, white teeth, delicate white hands, long arms, broad chest and shoulders, legs rather strong than fleshy, and the body altogether better proportioned than in good condition; the result, nevertheless, being an aspect of manly beauty and expression, particularly in the countenance, the dignity of which marked him for an extraordinary person even to those who did not know him. His demeanour was grave and deliberate; he laughed seldom; and though his tongue was prompt, his delivery was slow; and he was accustomed to repeat his last words. He was expert in all manly exercises, but not equally graceful; and the same defect attended his otherwise striking eloquence in public assemblies. His putting to flight the assassins in Ferrara gave him such a reputation for courage, that there went about in his honour a popular couplet

"Colla penna e colla spada Nessun val quanto Torquato."

For the sword as well as pen Tasso is the man of men.

He was a little eater, but not averse to wine, particularly such as combined piquancy with sweetness; and he always dressed in black. Manso's account is still more particular, and yet it does not tell all; for Tasso himself informs us that he stammered, and was near-sighted;[33] and a Neapolitan writer who knew him adds to the near-sightedness some visible defect in the eyes.[34] I should doubt, from what Tasso says in his letters, whether he was fond of speaking in public, notwithstanding his debut in that line with the Fifty Amorous Conclusions.Nor does he appear to have been remarkable for his conversation. Manso has left a collection of one hundred of his pithy sayings—a suspicious amount, and unfortunately more than warranting the suspicion; for almost every one of them is traceable to some other man. They come from the Greek and Latin philosophers, and the apothegms of Erasmus. The two following have the greatest appearance of being genuine:

A Greek, complaining that he had spoken ill of his country, and maintaining that all the virtues in the world had issued out of it, the poet assented; with the addition, that they had not left one behind them.

A foolish young fellow, garnished with a number of golden chains, coming into a room where he was, and being overheard by him exclaiming, "Is this the great man that was mad?" Tasso said, "Yes; but that people had never put on him more than one chain at a time."

His character may be gathered, but not perhaps entirely, from what has been written of his life; for some of his earlier letters shew him to have been not quite so grave and refined in his way of talking as readers of the Jerusalem might suppose. He was probably at that time of life not so scrupulous in his morals as he professed to be during the greater part of it. His mother is thought to have died of chagrin and impatience at being separated so long from her husband, and not knowing what to do to save her dowry from her brothers; and I take her son to have combined his mother's ultra-sensitive organisation with his father's worldly imprudence and unequal spirits. The addition of the nervous temperament of one parent to the aspiring nature of the other gave rise to the poet's trembling eagerness for distinction; and Torquato's very love for them both hindered him from seeing what should have been corrected in the infirmities which he inherited. Falling from the highest hopes of prosperity into the most painful afflictions, he thus wanted solid principles of action to support him, and was forced to retreat upon an excess of self-esteem, which allowed his pride to become a beggar, and his naturally kind, loving, just, and heroical disposition to condescend to almost every species of inconsistency. The Duke of Ferrara, he complains, did not believe a word he said;[35] and the fact is, that, partly from disease, and partly from a want of courage to look his defects in the face, he beheld the same things in so many different lights, and according as it suited him at the moment, that, without intending falsehood, his statements are really not to be relied on. He degraded even his verses, sometimes with panegyrics for interest's sake, sometimes out of weak wishes to oblige, of which he was afterwards ashamed; and, with the exception of Constantini, we cannot be sure that any one person praised in them retained his regard in his last days. His suspicion made him a kind of Rousseau; but he was more amiable than the Genevese, and far from being in the habit of talking against old acquaintances, whatever he might have thought of them. It is observable, not only that he never married, but he told Manso he had led a life of entire continence ever since he entered the walls of his prison, being then in his thirty-fifth year.[36] Was this out of fidelity to some mistress? or the consequence of a previous life the reverse of continent? or was it from some principle of superstition? He had become a devotee, apparently out of a dread of disbelief; and he remained extremely religious for the rest of his days. The two unhappiest of Italian poets, Tasso and Dante, were the two most superstitious.

As for the once formidable question concerning the comparative merits of this poet and Ariosto, which anticipated the modern quarrels of the classical and romantic schools, some idea of the treatment which Tasso experienced may be conceived by supposing all that used to be sarcastic and bitter in the periodical party-criticism among ourselves some thirty years back, collected into one huge vial of wrath, and poured upon the new poet's head. Even the great Galileo, who was a man of wit, bred up in the pure Tuscan school of Berni and Casa, and who was an idolator of Ariosto, wrote, when he was young, a "review" of the Jerusalem Delivered, which it is painful to read, it is so unjust and contemptuous.[37] But now that the only final arbiter, posterity, has accepted both the poets, the dispute is surely the easiest thing in the world to settle; not, indeed, with prejudices of creeds or temperaments, but before any judges thoroughly sympathising with the two claimants. Its solution is the principle of the greater including the less. For Ariosto errs only by having an unbounded circle to move in. His sympathies are unlimited; and those who think him inferior to Tasso, only do so in consequence of their own want of sympathy with the vivacities that degrade him in their eyes. Ariosto can be as grave and exalted as Tasso when he pleases, and he could do a hundred things which Tasso never attempted. He is as different in this respect as Shakspeare from Milton. He had far more knowledge of mankind than Tasso, and he was superior in point of taste. But it is painful to make disadvantageous comparisons of one great poet with another. Let us be thankful for Tasso's enchanted gardens, without being forced to vindicate the universal world of his predecessor. Suffice it to bear in mind, that the grave poet himself agreed with the rest of the Italians in calling the Ferrarese the "divine Ariosto;" a title which has never been popularly given to his rival.

The Jerusalem Delivered is the history of a Crusade, related with poetic license. The Infidels are assisted by unlawful arts; and the libertinism that brought scandal on the Christians, is converted into youthful susceptibility, led away by enchantment. The author proposed to combine the ancient epic poets with Ariosto, or a simple plot, and uniformly dignified style, with romantic varieties of adventure, and the luxuriance of fairy-land. He did what he proposed to do, but with a judgment inferior to Virgil's; nay, in point of the interdependence of the adventures, to Ariosto, and with far less general vigour. The mixture of affectation with his dignity is so frequent, that, whether Boileau's famous line about Tasso's tinsel and Virgil's gold did or did not mean to imply that the Jerusalem was nothing but tinsel, and the AEneid all gold, it is certain that the tinsel is so interwoven with the gold, as to render it more of a rule than an exception, and put a provoking distance between Tasso's epic pretensions and those of the greatest masters of the art. People who take for granted the conceits because of the "wildness" of Ariosto, and the good taste because of the "regularity" of Tasso, just assume the reverse of the fact. It is a rare thing to find a conceit in Ariosto; and, where it does exist, it is most likely defensible on some Shakspearian ground of subtle propriety. Open Tasso in almost any part, particularly the love-scenes, and it is marvellous if, before long, you do not see the conceits vexatiously interfering with the beauties.

"Oh maraviglia! Amor, the appena e nato, Gia grande vola, e gia trionfa armato." Canto i. St. 47.

Oh, miracle! Love is scarce born, when, lo, He flies full wing'd, and lords it with his bow!

"Se 'l miri fulminar ne l'arme avvolto, Marte lo stimi; Amor, se scopre il volto." St. 58.

Mars you would think him, when his thund'ring race In arms he ran; Love, when he shew'd his face.

Which is as little true to reason as to taste; for no god of war could look like a god of love. The habit of mind would render it impossible. But the poet found the prettiness of the Greek Anthology irresistible.

Olindo, tied to the stake amidst the flames of martyrdom, can say to his mistress

"Altre fiamme, altri nodi amor promise." Canto ii. st. 34.

Other flames, other bonds than these, love promised.

The sentiment is natural, but the double use of the "flames" on such an occasion, miserable.

In the third canto the fair Amazon Clorinda challenges her love to single combat.

"E di due morti in un punto lo sfida." St. 23.

"And so at once she threats to kill him twice." Fairfax.

That is to say, with her valour and beauty.

Another twofold employment of flame, with an exclamation to secure our astonishment, makes its appearance in the fourth canto

"Oh miracol d'amor! che le faville Tragge del pianto, e'i cor' ne l'acqua accende." St. 76.

Oh, miracle of love! that draweth sparks Of fire from tears, and kindlest hearts in water!

This puerile antithesis of fire and water, fire and ice, light in darkness, silence in speech, together with such pretty turns as wounding one's-self in wounding others, and the worse sacrifice of consistency and truth of feeling,—lovers making long speeches on the least fitting occasions, and ladies retaining their rosy cheeks in the midst of fears of death,—is to be met with, more or less, throughout the poem. I have no doubt they were the proximate cause of that general corruption of taste which was afterwards completed by Marino, the acquaintance and ardent admirer of Tasso when a boy. They have been laid to the charge of Petrarch; but, without entering into the question, how far and in what instances conceits may not be natural to lovers haunted, as Petrarch was, with one idea, and seeing it in every thing they behold, what had the great epic poet to do with the faults of the lyrical? And what is to be said for his standing in need of the excuse of bad example? Homer and Milton were in no such want. Virgil would not have copied the tricks of Ovid. There is an effeminacy and self-reflection in Tasso, analogous to his Rinaldo, in the enchanted garden; where the hero wore a looking-glass by his side, in which he contemplated his sophisticated self, and the meretricious beauty of his enchantress.[38] Agreeably to this tendency to weakness, the style of Tasso, when not supported by great occasions (and even the occasion itself sometimes fails him), is too apt to fall into tameness and common-place,—to want movement and picture; while, at the same time, with singular defect of enjoyment, it does not possess the music which might be expected from a lyrical and voluptuous poet. Bernardo prophesied of his son, that, however he might surpass him in other respects, he would never equal him in sweetness; and he seems to have judged him rightly. I have met with a passage in Torquato's prose writings (but I cannot lay my hands on it), in which he expresses a singular predilection for verses full of the same vowel. He seems, if I remember rightly, to have regarded it, not merely as a pleasing variety, which it is on occasion, but as a reigning principle. Voltaire (I think, in his treatise on Epic Poetry) has noticed the multitude of o's in the exordium of the Jerusalem.This apparent negligence seems to have been intentional.

"Canto l'armi pietose e 'l capitano Che 'l gran Sepolero libero di Cristo; Molto egli opro col senno e con la mano, Molto soffri nel glorioso acquisto; E invan l'inferno a lui s'oppose; e invano S'armo d'Asia e di Libia il popol misto; Che il ciel gli die favore, e sotto ai santi Segni ridusse i suoi compagni erranti."

The reader will not be surprised to find, that he who could thus confound monotony with music, and commence his greatest poem with it, is too often discordant in the rest of his versification. It has been thought, that Milton might have taken from the Italians the grand musical account to which he turns a list of proper names, as in his enumerations of realms and deities; but I have been surprised to find how little the most musical of languages appears to have suggested to its poets anything of the sort. I am not aware of it, indeed, in any poets but our own. All others, from Homer, with his catalogue of leaders and ships, down to Metastasio himself, though he wrote for music, appear to have overlooked this opportunity of playing a voluntary of fine sounds, where they had no other theme on which to modulate. Its inventor, as far as I am aware, is that great poet, Marlowe.[39]

There are faults of invention as well as style in the Jerusalem. The Talking Bird, or bird that sings with a human voice (canto iv. 13), is a piece of inverisimilitude, which the author, perhaps, thought justifiable by the speaking horses of the ancients. But the latter were moved supernaturally for the occasion, and for a very fine occasion. Tasso's bird is a mere born contradiction to nature and for no necessity. The vulgar idea of the devil with horns and a tail (though the retention of it argued a genius in Tasso very inferior to that of Milton) is defensible, I think, on the plea of the German critics, that malignity should be made a thing low and deformed; but as much cannot be said for the storehouse in heaven, where St. Michael's spear is kept with which he slew the dragon, and the trident which is used for making earthquakes (canto vii. st. 81). The tomb which supernaturally comes out of the ground, inscribed with the name and virtues of Sueno (canto viii. st. 39), is worthy only of a pantomime; and the wizard in robes, with beech-leaves on his head, who walks dry-shod on water, and superfluously helps the knights on their way to Armida's retirement (xiv. 33), is almost as ludicrous as the burlesque of the river-god in the Voyage of Bachaumont and Chapelle.

But let us not wonder, nevertheless, at the effect which the Jerusalem has had upon the world. It could not have had it without great nature and power. Rinaldo, in spite of his aberrations with Armida, knew the path to renown, and so did his poet. Tasso's epic, with all its faults, is a noble production, and justly considered one of the poems of the world. Each of those poems hit some one great point of universal attraction, at least in their respective countries, and among the givers of fame in others. Homer's poem is that of action; Dante's, of passion; Virgil's, of judgment; Milton's, of religion; Spenser's, of poetry itself; Ariosto's, of animal spirits (I do not mean as respects gaiety only, but in strength and readiness of accord with the whole play of nature); Tasso looked round with an ultra-sensitive temperament, and an ambition which required encouragement, and his poem is that of tenderness. Every thing inclines to this point in his circle, with the tremulousness of the needle. Love is its all in all, even to the design of the religious war which is to rescue the sepulchre of the God of Charity from the hands of the unloving. His heroes are all in love, at least those on the right side; his leader, Godfrey, notwithstanding his prudence, narrowly escapes the passion, and is full of a loving consideration; his amazon, Clorinda, inspires the truest passion, and dies taking her lover's hand; his Erminia is all love for an enemy; his enchantress Armida falls from pretended love into real, and forsakes her religion for its sake. An old father (canto ix.) loses his five sons in battle, and dies on their dead bodies of a wound which he has provoked on purpose. Tancred cannot achieve the enterprise of the Enchanted Forest, because his dead mistress seems to come out of one of the trees. Olindo thinks it happiness to be martyred at the same stake with Sophronia. The reconciliation of Rinaldo with his enchantress takes place within a few stanzas of the close of the poem, as if contesting its interest with religion. The Jerusalem Delivered, in short, is the favourite epic of the young: all the lovers in Europe have loved it. The French have forgiven the author his conceits for the sake of his gallantry: he is the poet of the gondoliers; and Spenser, the most luxurious of his brethren, plundered his bowers of bliss. Read Tasso's poem by this gentle light of his genius, and you pity him twentyfold, and know not what excuse to find for his jailer.

The stories translated in the present volume, though including war and magic, are all love-stories. They were not selected on that account. They suggested themselves for selection, as containing most of the finest things in the poem. They are conducted with great art, and the characters and affections happily varied. The first (Olindo and Sophronia) is perhaps unique for the hopelessness of its commencement (I mean with regard to the lovers), and the perfect, and at the same time quite probable, felicity of the conclusion. There is no reason to believe that the staid and devout Sophronia would have loved her adorer at all, but for the circumstance that first dooms them both to a shocking death, and then sends them, with perfect warrant, from the stake to the altar. Clorinda is an Amazon, the idea of whom, as such, it is impossible for us to separate from very repulsive and unfeminine images; yet, under the circumstances of the story, we call to mind in her behalf the possibility of a Joan of Arc's having loved and been beloved; and her death is a surprising and most affecting variation upon that of Agrican in Boiardo. Tasso's enchantress Armida is a variation of the Angelica of the same poet, combined with Ariosto's Alcina; but her passionate voluptuousness makes her quite a new character in regard to the one; and she is as different from the painted hag of the Orlando as youth, beauty, and patriotic intention can make her. She is not very sentimental; but all the passion in the world has sympathised with her; and it was manly and honest in the poet not to let her Paganism and vehemence hinder him from doing justice to her claims as a human being and a deserted woman. Her fate is left in so pleasing a state of doubt, that we gladly avail ourselves of it to suppose her married to Rinaldo, and becoming the mother of a line of Christian princes. I wish they had treated her poet half so well as she would infallibly have treated him herself.

But the singer of the Crusades can be strong as well as gentle. You discern in his battles and single combats the poet ambitious of renown, and the accomplished swordsman. The duel of Tancred and Argantes, in which the latter is slain, is as earnest and fiery writing throughout as truth and passion could desire; that of Tancred and Clorinda is also very powerful as well as affecting; and the whole siege of Jerusalem is admirable for the strength of its interest. Every body knows the grand verse (not, however, quite original) that summons the devils to council, "Chiama gli abitator," &c.; and the still grander, though less original one, describing the desolations of time, "Giace l'alta Cartago."[40] The forest filled with supernatural terrors by a magician, in order that the Christians may not cut wood from it to make their engines of war, is one of the happiest pieces of invention in romance. It is founded in as true human feeling as those of Ariosto, and is made an admirable instrument for the aggrandizement of the character of Rinaldo. Godfrey's attestation of all time, and of the host of heaven, when he addresses his army in the first canto, is in the highest spirit of epic magnificence. So is the appearance of the celestial armies, together with that of the souls of the slain Christian warriors, in the last canto, where they issue forth in the air to assist the entrance into the conquered city. The classical poets are turned to great and frequent account throughout the poem; and yet the work has a strong air of originality, partly owing to the subject, partly to the abundance of love-scenes, and to a certain compactness in the treatment of the main story, notwithstanding the luxuriance of the episodes. The Jerusalem Delivered is stately, well-ordered, full of action and character, sometimes sublime, always elegant, and very interesting-more so, I think, as a whole, and in a popular sense, than any other story in verse, not excepting the Odyssey. For the exquisite domestic attractiveness of the second Homeric poem is injured, like the hero himself, by too many diversions from the main point. There is an interest, it is true, in that very delay; but we become too much used to the disappointment. In the epic of Tasso the reader constantly desires to learn how the success of the enterprise is to be brought about; and he scarcely loses sight of any of the persons but he wishes to see them again. Even in the love-scenes, tender and absorbed as they are, we feel that the heroes are fighters, or going to fight. When you are introduced to Armida in the Bower of Bliss, it is by warriors who come to take her lover away to battle.

One of the reasons why Tasso hurt the style of his poem by a manner too lyrical was, that notwithstanding its deficiency in sweetness, he was one of the profusest lyrical writers of his nation, and always having his feelings turned in upon himself. I am not sufficiently acquainted with his odes and sonnets to speak of them in the gross; but I may be allowed to express my belief that they possess a great deal of fancy and feeling. It has been wondered how he could write so many, considering the troubles he went through; but the experience was the reason. The constant succession of hopes, fears, wants, gratitudes, loves, and the necessity of employing his imagination, accounts for all. Some of his sonnets, such as those on the Countess of Scandiano's lip ("Quel labbro," &c.); the one to Stigliano, concluding with the affecting mention of himself and his lost harp; that beginning

"Io veggio in cielo scintillar le stelle,"

recur to my mind oftener than any others except Dante's "Tanto gentile" and Filicaia's Lament on Italy; and, with the exception of a few of the more famous odes of Petrarch, and one or two of Filicaia's and Guidi's, I know of none in Italian like several of Tasso's, including his fragment "O del grand' Apennino," and the exquisite chorus on the Golden Age, which struck a note in the hearts of the world.

His Aminta, the chief pastoral poem of Italy, though, with the exception of that ode, not equal in passages to the Faithful Shepherdess (which is a Pan to it compared with a beardless shepherd), is elegant, interesting, and as superior to Guarini's more sophisticate yet still beautiful Pastor Fido as a first thought may be supposed to be to its emulator. The objection of its being too elegant for shepherds he anticipated and nullified by making Love himself account for it in a charming prologue, of which the god is the speaker:

"Queste selve oggi ragionar d'Amore S'udranno in nuova guisa; e ben parassi, Che la mia Deita sia qui presente In se medesma, e non ne' suoi ministri. Spirero nobil sensi a rozzi petti; Raddolciro nelle lor lingue il suono: Perche, ovunque i' mi sia, io sono Amore Ne' pastori non men che negli eroi; E la disagguaglianza de' soggetti, Come a me piace, agguaglio: e questa e pure Suprema gloria, e gran miracol mio, Render simili alle piu dotte cetre Le rustiche sampogne."

After new fashion shall these woods to-day Hear love discoursed; and it shall well be seen That my divinity is present here In its own person, not its ministers. I will inbreathe high fancies in rude hearts; I will refine and render dulcet sweet Their tongues; because, wherever I may be, Whether with rustic or heroic men, There am I Love; and inequality, As it may please me, do I equalise; And 'tis my crowning glory and great miracle To make the rural pipe as eloquent Even as the subtlest harp.

I ought not to speak of Tasso's other poetry, or of his prose, for I have read little of either; though, as they are not popular with his countrymen, a foreigner may be pardoned for thinking his classical tragedy, Torrismondo, not attractive—his Sette Giornate (Seven Days of the Creation) still less so—and his platonical and critical discourses better filled with authorities than reasons. Tasso was a lesser kind of Milton, enchanted by the Sirens. We discern the weak parts of his character, more or less, in all his writings; but we see also the irrepressible elegance and superiority of the mind, which, in spite of all weakness, was felt to tower above its age, and to draw to it the homage as well as the resentment of princes.

[Footnote 1: My authorities for this notice are, Black's Life of Tasso (2 vols. 4to, 1810), his original, Serassi, Vita di Torquato Tasso (do. 1790), and the works of the poet in the Pisan edition of Professor Rosini (33 vols. 8vo, 1332). I have been indebted to nothing in Black which I have not ascertained by reference to the Italian biographer, and quoted nothing stated by Tasso himself but from the works. Black's Life, which is a free version of Serassi's, modified by the translator's own opinions and criticism, is elegant, industrious, and interesting. Serassi's was the first copious biography of the poet founded on original documents; and it deserved to be translated by Mr. Black, though servile to the house of Este, and, as might be expected, far from being always ingenuous. Among other instances of this writer's want of candour is the fact of his having been the discoverer and suppresser of the manuscript review of Tasso by Galileo. The best summary account of the poet's life and writings which I have met with is Ginguene's, in the fifth volume of his Histoire Litteraire, &c. It is written with his usual grace, vivacity, and acuteness, and contains a good notice of the Tasso controversy. As to the Pisan edition of the works, it is the completest, I believe, in point of contents ever published, comprises all the controversial criticism, and is, of course, very useful; but it contains no life except Manso's (now known to be very inconclusive), has got a heap of feeble variorum comments on the Jerusalem, no notes worth speaking of to the rest of the works, and, notwithstanding the claim in the title-page to the merit of a "better order," has left the correspondence in a deplorable state of irregularity, as well as totally without elucidation. The learned Professor is an agreeable writer, and, I believe, a very pleasant man, but he certainly is a provoking editor.]

[Footnote 2: In the beautiful fragment beginning, O del grand'Apennino:

"Me dal sen della madre empia fortuna Pargoletto divelse. Ah! di que' baci, Ch'ella bagno di lagrime dolenti, Con sospir mi rimembra, e degli ardenti Preghi, che sen portar l'aure fugaci, Ch'io giunger non dovea piu volto a volto Fra quelle braccia accolto Con nodi cosi stretti e si tenaci. Lasso! e seguii con mal sicure piante, Qual Ascanio, o Camilla, il padre errante."

Me from my mother's bosom my hard lot Took when a child. Alas! though all these years I have been used to sorrow, I sigh to think upon the floods of tears which bathed her kisses on that doleful morrow:

I sigh to think of all the prayers and cries She wasted, straining me with lifted eyes: For never more on one another's face was it our lot to gaze and to embrace! Her little stumbling boy, Like to the child of Troy, Or like to one doomed to no haven rather, Followed the footsteps of his wandering father.]

[Footnote 3: Rosini, Saggio sugli Amori di Torquato Tasso, &c., in the Professor's edition of his works, vol. xxxiii.]

[Footnote 4: Lettere Inedite, p. 33, in the Opere, vol. xvii.]

[Footnote 5: Entretiens, 1663, p.169 quoted by Scrassi, pp. 175, 182.]

[Footnote 6: Suggested by Ariosto's furniture in the Moon.]

[Footnote 7: This was a trick which he afterwards thought he had reason to complain of in a style very different from pleasantry.]

[Footnote 8: Alfonso. The word for "leader" in the original, duce, made the allusion more obvious. The epithet "royal," in the next sentence, conveyed a welcome intimation to the ducal car, the house of Este being very proud of its connexion with the sovereigns of Europe, and very desirous of becoming royal itself.]

[Footnote 9: Serassi, vol i. p. 210.]

(Footnote 10: "Alla lor magnanimita e convenevole il mostrar, ch'amor delle virtu, non odio verso altri, gli abbia gia mossi ad invitarmi con invito cosi largo." Opere, vol. xv. p. 94.]

[Footnote 11: The application is the conjecture of Black, vol. i. p. 317. Serassi suppressed the whole passage. The indecent word would have been known but for the delicacy or courtliness of Muratori, who substituted an et-cetera in its place, observing, that he had "covered" with it "an indecent word not fit to be printed" ("sotto quell'et-cetera ho io coperta un'indecente parola, che non era lecito di lasciar correre alle stampe." Opere del Tasso, vol. xvi. p. 114). By "covered" he seems to have meant blotted out; for in the latest edition of Tasso the et-cetera is retained.]

[Footnote 12: Black's version (vol. ii. p. 58) is not strong enough. The words in Serassi are "una ciurma di poltroni, ingrati, e ribaldi." ii. p. 33.]

[Footnote 13: Opere, vol xiv. pp. 158, 174, &c.]

[Footnote 14: "Prego V. Signoria the si contenti, se piace al Serenissimo Signor Duca, Clementissimo ed Invitissimo, the io stia in prigione, di farmi dar le poche robicciole mie, the S.A. Invitissima, Clementissima, Serenissima m' ha promesse tante volte," &c. Opere, vol. xiv. p. 6.]

[Footnote 15: "Altera Torquatum cepit Leonora poetam," &c.]

[Footnote 16: Vie du Tasse, 1695, p. 51.]

[Footnote 17: In the Apology for Raimond de Sebonde; Essays, vol. ii. ch. 12.]

[Footnote 18: In his _Letter to Zeno,—Opere del

Tasso_, xvi. p. 118.]

[Footnote 19: Storia della Poesia Italiana (Mathias's edition), vol. iii. part i. p 236.]

[Footnote 20: Serassi is very peremptory, and even abusive. He charges every body who has said any thing to the contrary with imposture. "Egli non v' ha dubbio, che le troppe imprudenti e temerarie parole, che il Tasso si lascio uscir di bocca in questo incontro, furone la sola cagione della sua prigionia, e ch' e mera favola ed impostura tutto cio, che diversamente e stato affermato e scritto da altri in tale proposito." Vol. ii. p. 33. But we have seen that the good Abbe could practise a little imposition himself.]

[Footnote 21: Black, ii. 88.]

[Footnote 22: Hist. Litt. d'Italie, v. 243, &c.]

[Footnote 23: Vol. ii. p. 89.]

[Footnote 24: Such at least is my impression; but I cannot call the evidence to mind.]

[Footnote 25: Literature of the South of Europe (Roscoe's translation), vol. ii. p. 165. To shew the loose way in which the conclusions of a man's own mind are presented as facts admitted by others, Sismondi says, that Tasso's "passion" was the cause of his return to Ferrara. There is not a tittle of evidence to shew for it.]

[Footnote 26: Saggio sugli Amori, &c. ut sup p. 84, and passim. As specimens of the learned professor's reasoning, it may be observed that whenever the words humble, daring, high, noble, and royal, occur in the poet's love-verses, he thinks they must allude to the Princess Leonora; and he argues, that Alfonso never could have been so angry with any "versi lascivi," if they had not had the same direction.]

[Footnote 27: Opere, vol. xvii. p.32.]

[Footnote 28:

"Padre, o buon padre, che dal ciel rimiri, Egro e morto ti piansi, e ben tu il sai; E gemendo scaldai La tomba e il letto. Or che negli altri giri Tu godi, a te si deve onor, non lutto: A me versato il mio dolor sia tutto."

O father, my good father, looking now On thy poor son from heaven, well knowest thou What scalding tears I shed Upon thy grave, upon thy dying bed; But since thou dwellest in the happy skies, 'Tis fit I raise to thee no sorrowing eyes Be all my grief on my own head.]

[Footnote 29:

" Non posso viver in citta, ove tutti i nobili, o non mi concedano i primi luoghi, o almeno non si contentino the la cosa in quel the appartiene a queste esteriori dimostrazioni, vada del pari." Opere,, vol. xiii. p. 153.]

[Footnote 30: Black, vol. ii. p. 240.]

[Footnote 31: The world in general have taken no notice of Tasso's reconstruction of his Jerusalem, which he called the Gerusalemme Conquistata. It never "obtained," as the phrase is. It was the mere tribute of his declining years to bigotry and new acquaintances; and therefore I say no more of it.]

[Footnote 32: In manus tuas, Domine. One likes to know the actual words; at least so it appears to me.]

[Footnote 33: Serassi, ii. 276.]

[Footnote 34: "Quem cernis, quisquis es, procera statura virum, luscis oculis, &c. hic Torquatus est."—Cappacio, Illustrium Literis Virorum Elogia et Judici, quoted by Serassi, ut sup. The Latin word luscus, as well as the Italian losco, means, I believe, near-sighted; but it certainly means also a great deal more; and unless the word cernis (thou beholdest) is a mere form of speech implying a foregone conclusion, it shews that the defect was obvious to the spectator.]

[Footnote 35: "Il Signor Duca non crede ad alcuna mia parola." Opere, xiv. 161.]

[Footnote 36: "Fui da bocca di lui medesimo rassicurato, che dal tempo del suo ritegno in sant'Anna, ch'avenne negli anni trentacinque della sua vita e sedici avanti la morte, egli intieramente fu casto: degli anni primi non mi favello mai di modo ch' io possa alcuna cosa di certo qui raccontare." Opere, xxxiii. 235.]

[Footnote 37: It is to be found in the collected works, ut supra; both of the philosopher and the poet.]

[Footnote 38: It is an extraordinary instance of a man's violating, in older life, the better critical principles of his youth,—that Tasso, in his Discourses on Poetry, should have objected to a passage in Ariosto about sighs and tears, as being a "conceit too lyrical," (though it was warranted by the subtleties of madness, see present volume, p. 219), and yet afterwards not in the same conceits when wholly without warrant.]

[Footnote 39: [Greek:

Dardanion aut aerchen, eus pais Agchisao, Aineias ton hup Agchisae teke di Aphroditae Idaes en knaemoisi, thea brotps eunaetheisa Ouk oios hama toge duo Antaenoros uie, Archilochos t, Akamas te machaes en eidute pasaes.

Iliad, ii. 819.]

It is curious that these five lines should abound as much in a's Tasso's first stanza does in o's. Similar monotonies are strikingly observable in the nomenclatures of Virgil. See his most perfect poem, the Georgics:

"Omnia secum 'Armentarius 'Afer agit, tectumque, Laremque, 'Armaque, 'Amyclaeumque canem, Cressamque pharetram." Lib. iii. 343.

It is clear that Dante never thought of this point. See his Mangiadore, Sanvittore, Natan, Raban, &c. at the end of the twelfth canto of the Paradiso. Yet in his time poetry was recitatived to music. So it was in Petrarch's, who was a lutenist, and who "tried" his verses, to see how they would go to the instrument. Yet Petrarch could allow himself to write such a quatrain as the following list of rivers

"Non Tesin, Po, Varo, Arno, Adige e Tebro, Eufrate, Tigre, Nilo, Ermo, Indo c Gange, Tana, Istro, Alfeo, Garrona, e 'l mar the frange, Rodano, Ibero, Ren, Senna, Albia, Era, Ebro!"

In Tasso's Sette Giornate, to which Black thinks Milton indebted for his grand use of proper names, the following is the way in which the poet writes

"Di Silvani Di Pani, e d' Egipani, e d' altri erranti, Ch'empier le solitarie inculte selve D'antiche maraviglie; e quell'accolto Esercito di Bacco in oriente Ond'egli vinse, e trionfo degl'Indi, Tornando glorioso ai Greci lidi, Siccom'e favoloso antico grido."

The most diversified passage of this kind (as far as I an, aware) is Ariosto's list of his friends at the close of the Orlando; and yet such writing as follows would seem to shew that it was an accident:

"Io veggio il Fracastoro, il Bevazzano, Trifon Gabriel, e il Tasso piu lontano; Veggo Niccolo Tiepoli, e con esso Niccolo Amanio in me affissar le ciglia; Auton Fulgoso, ch'a vedermi appresso Al lito, mostra gaudio e maraviglia. Il mio Valerio e quel che la s'e messo Fuor de le donne," &c.

Even Metastasio, who wrote expressly for singers, and often with exquisite modulation, especially in his songs, forgets himself when he comes to the names of his dramatis persome,—"'Artaserse, 'Artabano, 'Arbace, Mandane, Semira, Megabise,"—all in one play.

"Gran cose io temo. Il mio germano 'Arbace Parte pria de l'aurora. Il padre armato Incontro, e non mi parla. 'Accusa il cielo 'Agitato 'Artaserse, e m'abbandona."

Atto i. se. 6.

I am far from intending to say that these reiterations are not sometimes allowable, nay, often beautiful and desirable. Alliteration itself may be rendered an exquisite instrument of music. I am only speaking of monotony or discord in the enumeration of proper names.]

[Footnote 40: See them both in the present volume, pp. 420 and 445.]

OLINDO AND SOPHRONIA.

Argument.

The Mahomedan king of Jerusalem, at the instigation of Ismeno, a magician, deprives a Christian church of its image of the Virgin, and sets it up in a mosque, under a spell of enchantment, as a palladium against the Crusaders. The image is stolen in the night; and the king, unable to discover who has taken it, orders a massacre of the Christian portion of his subjects, which is prevented by Sophronia's accusing herself of the offence. Her lover, Olindo, finding her sentenced to the stake in consequence, disputes with her the right of martyrdom. He is condemned to suffer with her. The Amazon Clorinda, who has come to fight on the side of Aladin, obtains their pardon in acknowledgment of her services; and Sophronia, who had not loved Olindo before, now returns his passion, and goes with him from the stake to the marriage-altar.

OLINDO AND SOPHRONIA.

Godfrey of Boulogne, the leader of the Crusaders, was now in full march for Jerusalem with the Christian army; and Aladin, the old infidel king, became agitated with wrath and terror. He had heard nothing but accounts of the enemy's irresistible advance. There were many Christians within his walls whose insurrection he dreaded; and though he had appeared to grow milder with age, he now, in spite of the frost in his veins, felt as hot for cruelty, as the snake excited by the fire of summer. He longed to stifle his fears of insurrection by a massacre, but dreaded the consequence in the event of the city's being taken. He therefore contented himself, for the present, with laying waste the country round about it, destroying every possible receptacle of the invaders, poisoning the wells, and doubly fortifying the only weak point in his fortifications.

At this juncture the renegade Ismeno stood before him—a bad old man who had studied unlawful arts. He could bind and loose evil spirits, and draw the dead out of their tombs, restoring to them breath and perception. This man told the king, that in the church belonging to his Christian subjects there was an altar underground, on which stood a veiled image of the woman whom they worshipped—the mother, as they called her, of their dead and buried God. A dazzling light burnt for ever before it; and the walls were hung with the offerings of her credulous devotees. If this image, he said, were taken away by the king's own hand, and set up in a mosque, such a spell of enchantment could be thrown about it as should render the city impregnable so long as the idol was kept safe.

Aladin proceeded instantly to the Christian temple, and, treating the priests with violence, tore the image from its shrine and conveyed it to his own place of worship. The necromancer then muttered before it his blasphemous enchantment. But the light of morning no sooner appeared in the mosque, than the official to whose charge the palladium had been committed missed it from its place, and in vain searched every other to find it. In truth it never was found again; nor is it known to this day how it went. Some think the Christians took it; others that Heaven interfered in order to save it from profanation. And well (says the poet) does it become a pious humility so to think of a disappearance so wonderful.

The king, who fell into a paroxysm of rage, not doubting that some Christian was the offender, issued a proclamation setting a price on the head of any one who concealed it. But no discovery was made. The necromancer resorted to his art with as little effect. The king then ordered a general Christian massacre. His savage wrath hugged itself on the reflection, that the criminal would be sure to perish, perish else who might.

The Christians heard the order with an astonishment that took away all their powers of resistance. The suddenness of the presence of death stupified them. They did not resort even to an entreaty. They waited, like sheep, to be butchered. Little did they think what kind of saviour was at hand.

There was a maiden among them of ripe years, grave and beautiful; one who took no heed of her beauty, but was altogether absorbed in high and holy thoughts. If she thought of her beauty ever, it was only to subject it to the dignity of virtue. The greater her worth, the more she concealed it from the world, living a close life at home, and veiling herself from all eyes.

But the rays of such a jewel could not but break through their casket. Love would not consent to have it so locked up. Love turned her very retirement into attraction. There was a youth who had become enamoured of this hidden treasure. His name was Olindo; Sophronia was that of the maiden. Olindo, like herself, was a Christian; and the humbleness of his passion was equal to the worth of her that inspired it. He desired much, hoped little, asked nothing.[1] He either knew not how to disclose his love, or did not dare it. And she either despised it, or did not, or would not, see it. The poor youth, up to this day, had got nothing by his devotion, not even a look.

The maiden, who was nevertheless as generous as she was virtuous, fell into deep thought how she might save her Christian brethren. She soon came to her resolve. She delayed the execution of it a little, only out of a sense of virgin decorum, which, in its turn, made her still more resolute. She issued forth by herself, in the sight of all, not muffling up her beauty, nor yet exposing it. She withdrew her eyes beneath a veil, and, attired neither with ostentation nor carelessness, passed through the streets with unaffected simplicity, admired by all save herself. She went straight before the king. His angry aspect did not repel her. She drew aside the veil, and looked him steadily in the face.

"I am come," she said, "to beg that you will suspend your wrath, and withhold the orders given to your people. I know and will give up the author of the deed which has offended you, on that condition."

At the noble confidence thus displayed, at the sudden apparition of so much lofty and virtuous beauty, the king's countenance was confused, and its angry expression abated. Had his spirit been less stern, or the look she gave him less firm in its purpose, he would have loved her. But haughty beauty and haughty beholder are seldom drawn together. Glances of pleasure are the baits of love. And yet, if the ungentle king was not enamoured, he was impressed. He was bent on gazing at her; he felt an emotion of delight.

"Say on," he replied; "I accept the condition."

"Behold then," said she, "the offender. The deed was the work of this hand. It was I that conveyed away the image. I am she whom you look for. I am the criminal to be punished."

And as she spake, she bent her head before him, as already yielding it to the executioner.

Oh, noble falsehood! when was truth to be compared with thee?[2]

The king was struck dumb. He did not fall into his accustomed transports of rage. When he recovered from his astonishment, he said, "Who advised you to do this? Who was your accomplice?"

"Not a soul," replied the maiden. "I would not have allowed another person to share a particle of my glory. I alone knew of the deed; I alone counselled it; I alone did it."

"Then be the consequence," cried he, "on your own head!"

"'Tis but just," returned Sophronia. "Mine was the sole honour; mine, therefore, should be the only punishment."

The tyrant at this began to feel the accession of his old wrath. "Where," he said, "have You hidden the image?"

"I did not hide it," she replied, "I burnt it. I thought it fit and righteous to do so. I knew of no other way to save it from the hands of the unbelieving. Ask not for what will never again be found. Be content with the vengeance you have before you."

Oh, chaste heart! oh, exalted soul! oh, creature full of nobleness! think not to find a forgiving moment return. Beauty itself is thy shield no longer.

The glorious maiden is taken and bound. The cruel king has condemned her to the stake. Her veil, and the mantle that concealed her chaste bosom, are torn away, and her soft arms tied with a hard knot behind her. She said nothing; she was not terrified; but yet she was not unmoved. Her bosom heaved in spite of its courage. Her lovely colour was lost in a pure white.

The news spread in an instant, and the city crowded to the sight, Christians and all, Olindo among them. He had thought within himself, "What if it should be Sophronia!" But when he beheld that it was she indeed, and not only condemned, but already at the stake, he made way through the crowd with violence, crying out, "This is not the person,—this poor simpleton! She never thought of such a thing; she had not the courage to do it; she had not the strength. How was she to carry the sacred image away? Let her abide by her story if she dare. I did it."

Such was the love of the poor youth for her that loved him not.

When he came up to the stake, he gave a formal account of what he pretended to have done. "I climbed in," he said, "at the window of your mosque at night, and found a narrow passage round to the image, where nobody could expect to meet me. I shall not suffer the penalty to be usurped by another. I did the deed, and I will have the honour of doing it, now that it comes to this. Let our places be changed."

Sophronia had looked up when she heard the youth call out, and she gazed on him with eyes of pity. "What madness is this!" exclaimed she. "What can induce an innocent person to bring destruction on himself for nothing? Can I not bear the thing by myself? Is the anger of one man so tremendous, that one person cannot sustain it? Trust me, friend, you are mistaken. I stand in no need of your company."

Thus spoke Sophronia to her lover; but not a whit was he disposed to alter his mind. Oh, great and beautiful spectacle! Love and virtue at strife;—death the prize they contend for;—ruin itself the salvation of the conqueror! But the contest irritated the king. He felt himself set at nought; felt death itself despised, as if in despite of the inflictor. "Let them be taken at their words," cried be; "let both have the prize they long for."

The youth is seized on the instant, and bound like the maiden. Both are tied to the stake, and set back to back. They behold not the face of one another. The wood is heaped round about them; the fire is kindled.

The youth broke out into lamentations, but only loud enough to be heard by his fellow-sufferer. "Is this, then," said he, "the bond which I hoped might join us? Is this the fire which I thought might possibly warm two lovers' hearts?[3] Too long (is it not so?) have we been divided, and now too cruelly are we united: too cruelly, I say, but not as regards me; for since I am not to be partner of thy existence, gladly do I share thy death. It is thy fate, not mine, that afflicts me. Oh! too happy were it to me, too sweet and fortunate, if I could obtain grace enough to be set with thee heart to heart, and so breathe out my soul into thy lips! Perhaps thou wouldst do the like with mine, and so give me thy last sigh."

Thus spoke the youth in tears; but the maiden gently reproved him.

She said: "Other thoughts, my friend, and other lamentations befit a time like this. Why thinkest thou not of thy sins, and of the rewards which God has promised to the righteous? Meet thy sufferings in his name; so shall their bitterness be made sweet, and thy soul be carried into the realms above. Cast thine eyes upwards, and behold them. See how beautiful is the sky; how the sun seems to invite thee towards it with its splendour."

At words so noble and piteous as these, the Pagans themselves, who stood within hearing, began to weep. The Christians wept too, but in voices more lowly. Even the king felt an emotion of pity; but disdaining to give way to it, he turned aside and withdrew. The maiden alone partook not of the common grief. She for whom every body wept, wept not for herself.

The flames were now beginning to approach the stake, when there appeared, coming through the crowd, a warrior of noble mien, habited in the arms of another country. The tiger, which formed the crest of his helmet, drew all eyes to it, for it was a cognizance well known. The people began to think that it was a heroine instead of a hero which they saw, even the famous Clorinda. Nor did they err in the supposition.

A despiser of feminine habits had Clorinda been from her childhood. She disdained to put her hand to the needle and the distaff. She renounced every soft indulgence, every timid retirement, thinking that virtue could be safe wherever it went in its own courageous heart; and so she armed her countenance with pride, and pleased herself with making it stern, but not to the effect she looked for, for the sternness itself pleased. While yet a child her little right hand would control the bit of the charger, and she wielded the sword and spear, and hardened her limbs with wrestling, and made them supple for the race; and then as she grew up, she tracked the footsteps of the bear and lion, and followed the trumpet to the wars; and in those and in the depths of the forest she seemed a wild creature to mankind, and a man to the wildest creature. She had now come out of Persia to wreak her displeasure on the Christians, who had already felt the sharpness of her sword; and as she arrived near this assembled multitude, death was the first thing that met her eyes, but in a shape so perplexing, that she looked narrowly to discern what it was, and then spurred her horse towards the scene of action. The crowd gave way as she approached, and she halted as she entered the circle round the stake, and sat gazing on the youth and maiden. She wondered to see the male victim lamenting, while the female was mute. But indeed she saw that he was weeping not out of grief but pity; or at least, not out of grief for himself; and as to the maiden, she observed her to be so wrapt up in the contemplation of the heavens at which she was gazing, that she appeared to have already taken leave of earth.

Pity touched the heart of the Amazon, and the tears came into her eyes. She felt sorry for both the victims, but chiefly for the one that said nothing. She turned to a white-headed man beside her, and said, "What is this? Who are these two persons, whom crime, or their ill fortune, has brought hither?"

The man answered her briefly, but to the purpose; and she discerned at once that both must be innocent. She therefore determined to save them. She dismounted, and set the example of putting a stop to the flames, and then said to the officers, "Let nobody continue this work till I have spoken to the king. Rest assured he will hold you guiltless of the delay." The officers obeyed, being struck with her air of confidence and authority; and she went straight towards the king, who had heard of her arrival, and who was coming to bid her welcome.

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