There was a momentary pause, as Mr. Streatfield sadly and calmly pronounced the last words. Mr. Langley appeared to be absorbed in thought. At length he proceeded, speaking to himself:—
"It is strange! I remember that Clara left London on the day of the levee, to set out on a visit to her aunt; and only returned here two days since, to be present at her sister's marriage. Well, sir," he continued, addressing Mr. Streatfield, "granting what you say, granting that we all mentioned my absent daughter to you, as we are accustomed to mention her among ourselves, simply as 'Clara,' you have still not excused your conduct in my eyes. Remarkable as the resemblance is between the sisters, more remarkable even, I am willing to admit, than the resemblance usually is between twins, there is yet a difference, which, slight, indescribable though it may be, is nevertheless discernible to all their relations and to all their friends. How is it that you, who represent yourself as so vividly impressed by your first sight of my daughter Clara, did not discover the error when you were introduced to her sister Jane, as the lady who had so much attracted you."
"You forget, sir," rejoined Mr. Streatfield, "that I have never beheld the sisters together until to-day. Though both were in the balcony when I first looked up at it, it was Miss Clara Langley alone who attracted my attention. Had I only received the smallest hint that the absent sister of Miss Jane Langley was her twin-sister, I would have seen her, at any sacrifice, before making my proposals. For it is my duty to confess to you, Mr. Langley (with the candor which is your undoubted due), that when I was first introduced to your daughter Jane, I felt an unaccountable impression that she was the same as, and yet different from, the lady whom I had seen in the balcony. Soon, however, this impression wore off. Under the circumstances, could I regard it as any thing but a mere caprice, a lover's wayward fancy? I dismissed it from my mind; it ceased to affect me, until to-day, when I first discovered that it was a warning which I had most unhappily disregarded; that a terrible error had been committed, for which no one of us was to blame, but which was fraught with misery, undeserved misery, to us all!"
"These, Mr. Streatfield, are explanations which may satisfy you," said Mr. Langley, in a milder tone, "but they cannot satisfy me; they will not satisfy the world. You have repudiated, in the most public and most abrupt manner, an engagement, in the fulfilment of which the honor and the happiness of my family are concerned. You have given me reasons for your conduct, it is true; but will those reasons restore to my daughter the tranquillity which she has lost, perhaps for ever? Will they stop the whisperings of calumny? Will they carry conviction to those strangers to me, or enemies of mine, whose pleasure it may be to disbelieve them? You have placed both yourself and me, sir, in a position of embarrassment—nay, a position of danger and disgrace, from which the strongest reasons and the best excuses cannot extricate us."
"I entreat you to believe," replied Mr. Streatfield, "that I deplore from my heart the error—the fault, if you will—of which I have been unconsciously guilty. I implore your pardon, both for what I said and did at your table to-day; but I cannot do more. I cannot and I dare not pronounce the marriage vows to your daughter, with my lips, when I know that neither my conscience nor my heart can ratify them. The commonest justice, and the commonest respect towards a young lady who deserves both, and more than both, from every one who approaches her, strengthen me to persevere in the only course which it is consistent with honor and integrity for me to take."
"You appear to forget," said Mr. Langley, "that it is not merely your own honor, but the honor of others, that is to be considered in the course of conduct which you are now to pursue."
"I have by no means forgotten what is due to you," continued Mr. Streatfield, "or what responsibilities I have incurred from the nature of my intercourse with your family. Do I put too much trust in your forbearance, if I now assure you, candidly and unreservedly, that I still place all my hopes of happiness in the prospect of becoming connected by marriage with a daughter of yours? Miss Clara Langley—"
Here the speaker paused. His position was becoming a delicate and a dangerous one; but he made no effort to withdraw from it. Almost bewildered by the pressing and perilous emergency of the moment, harassed by such a tumult of conflicting emotions within him as he had never known before, he risked the worst, with all the blindfold desperation of love. The angry flush was rising on Mr. Langley's cheek; it was evidently costing him a severe struggle to retain his assumed self-possession; but he did not speak. After an interval, Mr. Streatfield proceeded thus:—
"However unfortunately I may express myself, I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I am now speaking from my heart on a subject (to me) of the most vital importance. Place yourself in my situation, consider all that has happened, consider that this may be, for aught I know to the contrary, the last opportunity I may have of pleading my cause; and then say whether it is possible for me to conceal from you that I can only look to your forbearance and sympathy for permission to retrieve my error, to—to—Mr. Langley! I cannot choose expressions at such a moment as this. I can only tell you that the feeling with which I regarded your daughter Clara, when I first saw her, still remains what it was. I cannot analyze it; I cannot reconcile its apparent inconsistencies and contradictions; I cannot explain how, while I may seem to you and to every one to have varied and vacillated with insolent caprice, I have really remained, in my own heart and to my own conscience, true to my first sensations and my first convictions. I can only implore you not to condemn me to a life of disappointment and misery, by judging me with hasty irritation. Favor me, so far at least, as to relate the conversation which has passed between us to your two daughters. Let me hear how it affects each of them towards me. Let me know what they are willing to think and ready to do under such unparalleled circumstances as have now occurred. I will wait your time, and their time; I will abide by your decision and their decision, pronounced after the first poignant distress and irritation of this day's events have passed over."
Still Mr. Langley remained silent; the angry word was on his tongue; the contemptuous rejection of what he regarded for the moment as a proposition equally ill-timed and insolent, seemed bursting to his lips; but once more he restrained himself. He rose from his seat, and walked slowly backwards and forwards, deep in thought. Mr. Streatfield was too much overcome by his own agitation to plead his cause further by another word. There was a silence in the room now, which lasted for some time.
We have said that Mr. Langley was a man of the world. He was strongly attached to his children; but he had a little of the selfishness and much of the reverence for wealth of a man of the world. As he now endeavored to determine mentally on his proper course of action—to disentangle the whole case from all its mysterious intricacies—to view it, extraordinary as it was, in its proper bearings, his thoughts began gradually to assume what is called, "a practical turn." He reflected that he had another daughter, besides the twin-sisters, to provide for; and that he had two sons to settle in life. He was not rich enough to portion three daughters; and he had not interest enough to start his sons favorably in a career of eminence. Mr. Streatfield, on the contrary, was a man of great wealth, and of great "connections" among people in power. Was such a son-in-law to be rejected, even after all that had happened, without at least consulting his wife and daughters first? He thought not. Had not Mr. Streatfield, in truth, been the victim of a remarkable fatality, of an incredible accident, and were no allowances, under such circumstances, to be made for him? He began to think there were. Reflecting thus, he determined at length to proceed with moderation and caution at all hazards; and regained composure enough to continue the conversation in a cold, but still in a polite tone.
"I will commit myself, sir, to no agreement or promise whatever," he began, "nor will I consider this interview in any respect as a conclusive one, either on your side or mine; but if I think, on consideration, that it is desirable that our conversation should be repeated to my wife and daughters, I will make them acquainted with it, and will let you know the result. In the mean time, I think you will agree with me, that it is most fit that the next communications between us should take place by letter alone."
Mr. Streatfield was not slow in taking the hint conveyed by Mr. Langley'a last words. After what had occurred, and until something was definitely settled, he felt that the suffering and suspense which he was already enduring would be increased tenfold if he remained longer in the same house with the twin sisters—the betrothed of one, the lover of the other! Murmuring a few inaudible words of acquiescence in the arrangement which had just been proposed to him, he left the room. The same evening he quitted Langley Hall.
The next morning the remainder of the guests departed, their curiosity to know all the particulars of what had happened remaining ungratified. They were simply informed that an extraordinary and unexpected obstacle had arisen to delay the wedding; that no blame attached to any one in the matter; and that as soon as every thing had been finally determined, every thing would be explained. Until then, it was not considered necessary to enter in any way into particulars. By the middle of the day every visitor had left the house; and a strange and melancholy spectacle it presented when they were all gone. Rooms were now empty and silent, which the day before had been filled with animated groups, and had echoed with merry laughter. In one apartment, the fittings for the series of "Tableaux" which had been proposed, remained half completed: the dresses that were to have been worn, lay scattered on the floor; the carpenter who had come to proceed with his work, gathered up his tools in ominous silence, and departed as quickly as he could. Here lay books still open at the last page read; there was an album, with the drawing of the day before unfinished, and the color-box unclosed by its side. On the deserted billiard-table, the positions of the "cues" and balls showed traces of an interrupted game. Flowers were scattered on the rustic tables in the garden, half made into nosegays, and beginning to wither already. The very dogs wandered in a moody, unsettled way about the house, missing the friendly hands that had fondled and fed them for so many days past, and whining impatiently in the deserted drawing-rooms. The social desolation of the scene was miserably complete in all its aspects.
Immediately after the departure of his guests, Mr. Langley had a long interview with his wife. He repeated to her the conversation which had taken place between Mr. Streatfield and himself, and received from her in return such an account of the conduct of his daughter, under the trial that had befallen her, as filled him with equal astonishment and admiration. It was a new revelation to him of the character of his own child.
"As soon as the violent symptoms had subsided," said Mrs. Langley, in answer to her husband's first inquiries, "as soon as the hysterical fit was subdued, Jane seemed suddenly to assume a new character, to become another person. She begged that the Doctor might be released from his attendance, and that she might be left alone with me and with her sister Clara. When every one else had quitted the room, she continued to sit in the easy-chair where we had at first placed her, covering her face with her hands. She entreated us not to speak to her for a short time, and, except that she shuddered occasionally, sat quite still and silent. When she at last looked up, we were shocked to see the deadly paleness of her face, and the strange alteration that had come over her expression; but she spoke to us so coherently, so solemnly even, that we were amazed; we knew not what to think or what to do; it hardly seemed to be our Jane who was now speaking to us."
"What did she say?" asked Mr. Langley, eagerly.
"She said that the first feeling of her heart, at that moment, was gratitude on her own account. She thanked God that the terrible discovery had not been made too late, when her married life might have been a life of estrangement and misery. Up to the moment when Mr. Streatfield had uttered that one fatal exclamation, she had loved him, she told us, fondly and fervently; now, no explanation, no repentance (if either were tendered), no earthly persuasion or command (in case Mr. Streatfield should think himself bound, as a matter of atonement, to hold to his rash engagement), could ever induce her to become his wife."
"Mr. Streatfield will not test her resolution," said Mr. Langley, bitterly; "he deliberately repeated his repudiation of his engagement in this room; nay, more, he—"
"I have something important to say to you from Jane on this point," interrupted Mrs. Langley. "After she had spoken the first few words which I have already repeated to you, she told us that she had been thinking—thinking more calmly perhaps than we could imagine—on all that had happened; on what Mr. Streatfield had said at the dinner-table; on the momentary glance of recognition which she had seen pass between him and her sister Clara, whose accidental absence, during the whole period of Mr. Streatfield's intercourse with us in London, she now remembered and reminded me of. The cause of the fatal error, and the manner in which it had occurred, seemed to be already known to her, as if by intuition. We entreated her to refrain from speaking on the subject for the present; but she answered that it was her duty to speak on it—her duty to propose something which should alleviate the suspense and distress we were all enduring on her account. No words can describe to you her fortitude, her noble endurance—." Mrs. Langley's voice faltered as she pronounced the last words. It was some minutes ere she became sufficiently composed to proceed thus:
"I am charged with a message to you from Jane—I should say, charged with her entreaties, that you will not suspend our intercourse with Mr. Streatfield, or view his conduct in any other than a merciful light—as conduct for which accident and circumstances are alone to blame. After she had given me this message to you, she turned to Clara, who sat weeping by her side, completely overcome; and said that they were to blame, if any one was to be blamed in the matter, for being so much alike as to make all who saw them apart doubt which was Clara and which was Jane. She said this with a faint smile, and an effort to speak playfully, which touched us to the heart. Then, in a tone and manner which I can never forget, she asked her sister—charging her, on their mutual affection and mutual confidence, to answer sincerely—if she had noticed Mr. Streatfield on the day of the levee, and had afterwards remembered him at the dinner-table, as he had noticed and remembered her? It was only after Jane had repeated this appeal, still more earnestly and affectionately, that Clara summoned courage and composure enough to confess that she had noticed Mr. Streatfield on the day of the levee, had thought of him afterwards during his absence from London, and had recognized him at our table, as he had recognized her.
"Is it possible! I own I had not anticipated—not thought for one moment of that," said Mr. Langley.
"Perhaps," continued his wife, "it is best that you should see Jane now, and judge for yourself. For my part, her noble resignation under this great trial, has so astonished and impressed me, that I only feel competent to advise, as she advises, to act as she thinks fit. I begin to think that it is not we who are to guide her, but she who is to guide us."
Mr. Langley lingered irresolute for a few minutes; then quitted the room, and proceeded along to Jane Langley's apartment.
When he knocked at the door, it was opened by Clara. There was an expression partly of confusion, partly of sorrow on her face; and when her father stopped as if to speak to her, she merely pointed into the room, and hurried away without uttering a word.
Mr. Langley had been prepared by his wife for the change that had taken place in his daughter since the day before; but he felt startled, almost overwhelmed, as he now looked on her. One of the poor girl's most prominent personal attractions, from her earliest years, had been the beauty of her complexion; and now, the freshness and the bloom had entirely departed from her face; it seemed absolutely colorless. Her expression, too, appeared to Mr. Langley's eye, to have undergone a melancholy alteration; to have lost its youthfulness suddenly; to have assumed a strange character of firmness and thoughtfulness, which he had never observed in it before. She was sitting by an open window, commanding a lovely view of wide, sunny landscape; a Bible which her mother had given her, lay open on her knees; she was reading in it as her father entered. For the first time in his life, he paused, speechless, as he approached to speak to one of his own children.
"I am afraid I look very ill," she said, holding out her hand to him; "but I am better than I look; I shall be quite well in a day or two. Have you heard my message, father? have you been told?"—
"My love, we will not speak of it yet; we will wait a few days," said Mr. Langley.
"You have always been so kind to me," she continued, in less steady tones, "that I am sure you will let me go on. I have very little to say, but that little must be said now, and then we need never recur to it again. Will you consider all that has happened, as something forgotten? You have heard already what it is that I entreat you to do; will you let him—Mr. Streatfield—" (She stopped, her voice failed for a moment, but she recovered herself again almost immediately.) "Will you let Mr. Streatfield remain here, or recall him if he is gone, and give him an opportunity of explaining himself to my sister? If poor Clara should refuse to see him for my sake, pray do not listen to her. I am sure this is what ought to be done; I have been thinking of it very calmly, and I feel that it is right. And there is something more I have to beg of you, father; it is, that, while Mr. Streatfield is here, you will allow me to go and stay with my aunt.—You know how fond she is of me. Her house is not a day's journey from home. It is best for every body (much the best for me) that I should not remain here at present; and—and—dear father! I have always been your spoiled child; and I know you will indulge me still. If you will do what I ask you, I shall soon get over this heavy trial. I shall be well again if I am away at my aunt's—if—"
She paused; and putting one trembling arm round her father's neck, hid her face on his breast. For some minutes, Mr. Langley could not trust himself to answer her. There was something, not deeply touching only, but impressive and sublime, about the moral heroism of this young girl, whose heart and mind—hitherto wholly inexperienced in the harder and darker emergencies of life—now rose in the strength of their native purity superior to the bitterest, cruellest trial that either could undergo; whose patience and resignation, called forth for the first time by a calamity which suddenly thwarted the purposes and paralyzed the affections that had been destined to endure for a life, could thus appear at once in the fullest maturity of virtue and beauty. As the father thought on these things; as he vaguely and imperfectly estimated the extent of the daughter's sacrifice; as he reflected on the nature of the affliction that had befallen her—which combined in itself a fatality that none could have foreseen, a fault that could neither be repaired nor resented, a judgment against which there was no appeal—and then remembered how this affliction had been borne, with what words and what actions it had been met, he felt that it would be almost a profanation to judge the touching petition just addressed to him, by the criterion of his worldly doubts and his worldly wisdom. His eye fell on the Bible, still open beneath it; he remembered the little child who was set in the midst of the disciples, as teacher and example to all; and when at length he spoke in answer to his daughter, it was not to direct or to advise, but to comfort and comply.
They delayed her removal for a few days, to see if she faltered in her resolution, if her bodily weakness increased; but she never wavered; nothing in her appearance changed, either for better or for worse. A week after the startling scene at the dinner-table, she was living in the strictest retirement in the house of her aunt.
About the period of her departure, a letter was received from Mr. Streatfield. It was little more than a recapitulation of what he had already said to Mr. Langley—expressed, however, on this occasion, in stronger and, at the same time, in more respectful terms. The letter was answered briefly: he was informed that nothing had, as yet, been determined on, but that the next communication would bring him a final reply.
Two months passed. During that time, Jane Langley was frequently visited at her aunt's house, by her father and mother. She still remained calm and resolved; still looked pale and thoughtful, as at first. Doctors were consulted: they talked of a shock to the nervous system; of great hope from time, and their patient's strength of mind; and of the necessity of acceding to her wishes in all things. Then, the advice of the aunt was sought. She was a woman of an eccentric, masculine character, who had herself experienced a love-disappointment in early life, and had never married. She gave her opinion unreservedly and abruptly, as she always gave it. "Do as Jane tells you!" said the old lady, severely; "that poor child has more moral courage and determination than all the rest of you put together! I know better than any body what a sacrifice she has had to make; but she has made it, and made it nobly—like a heroine, as some people would say; like a good, high-minded, courageous girl, as I say! Do as she tells you! Let that poor, selfish fool of a man have his way, and marry her sister—he has made one mistake already about a face—see if he doesn't find out, some day, that he has made another, about a wife! Let him!—Jane is too good for him, or for any man! Leave her to me; let her stop here; she shan't lose by what happened! You know this place is mine—I mean it is to be hers, when I'm dead. You know I've got some money—I shall leave it to her. I've made my will: it's all done and settled! Go back home; send for the man, and tell Clara to marry him without any more fuss! You wanted my opinion—There it is for you!"
At last Mr. Langley decided. The important letter was written, which recalled Mr. Streatfield to Langley Hall. As Jane had foreseen, Clara at first refused to hold any communication with him; but a letter from her sister, and the remonstrances of her father, soon changed her resolution. There was nothing in common between the twin-sisters but their personal resemblance. Clara had been guided all her life by the opinions of others, and she was guided by them now.
Once permitted the opportunity of pleading his cause, Mr. Streatfield did not neglect his own interests. It would be little to our purpose to describe the doubts and difficulties which delayed at first the progress of his second courtship—pursued as it was under circumstances, not only extraordinary, but unprecedented. It is no longer with him, or with Clara Langley, that the interest of our story is connected. Suffice it to say, that he ultimately overcame all the young lady's scruples; and that, a few months afterwards, some of Mr. Langley's intimate friends found themselves again assembled round his table as wedding-guests, and congratulating Mr. Streatfield on his approaching union with Clara, as they had already congratulated him, scarcely a year back, on his approaching union with Jane!
The social ceremonies of the wedding-day were performed soberly—almost sadly. Some of the guests (especially the unmarried ladies) thought that Miss Clara had allowed herself to be won too easily—others were picturing to themselves the situation of the poor girl who was absent; and contributed little toward the gayety of the party. On this occasion, however, nothing occurred to interrupt the proceedings; the marriage took place; and, immediately after it, Mr. Streatfield and his bride started for a tour on the Continent.
On their departure, Jane Langley returned home. She made no reference whatever to her sister's marriage; and no one mentioned it in her presence. Still the color did not return to her cheek, or the old gayety to her manner. The shock that she had suffered had left its traces on her for life. But there was no evidence that she was sinking under the remembrances which neither time nor resolution could banish. The strong, pure heart had undergone a change, but not a deterioration. All that had been brilliant in her character was gone; but all that was noble in it remained. Never had her intercourse with her family and her friends been so affectionate and so kindly as it was now.
When, after a long absence, Mr. Streatfield and his wife returned to England, it was observed, at her first meeting with them, that the momentary confusion and embarrassment were on their side, not on hers. During their stay at Langley Hall, she showed not the slightest disposition to avoid them. No member of the family welcomed them more cordially, entered into all their plans and projects more readily, or bade them farewell with a kinder or better grace, when they departed for their own home.
Our tale is nearly ended: what remains of it, must comprise the history of many years in a few words.
Time passed on; and Death and Change told of its lapse among the family at Langley Hall. Five years after the events above related, Mr. Langley died; and was followed to the grave, shortly afterwards, by his wife. Of their two sons, the eldest was rising into good practice at the bar; the youngest had become attache to a foreign embassy. Their third daughter was married, and living at the family seat of her husband, in Scotland. Mr. and Mrs. Streatfield had children of their own, now, to occupy their time and absorb their care. The career of life was over for some—the purposes of life had altered for others—Jane Langley alone, still remained unchanged.
She now lived entirely with her aunt. At intervals—as their worldly duties and avocations permitted them—the other members of her family, or one or two intimate friends, came to the house. Offers of marriage were made to her, but were all declined. The first, last love of her girlish days—abandoned as a hope, and crushed as a passion; living only as a quiet grief, as a pure remembrance—still kept its watch, as guardian and defender, over her heart. Years passed on and worked no change in the sad uniformity of her life, until the death of her aunt left her mistress of the house in which she had hitherto been a guest. Then it was observed that she made fewer and fewer efforts to vary the tenor of her existence, to forget her old remembrances for awhile in the society of others. Such invitations as reached her from relations and friends were more frequently declined than accepted. She was growing old herself now; and, with each advancing year, the busy pageant of the outer world presented less and less that could attract her eye.
So she began to surround herself, in her solitude, with the favorite books that she had studied, with the favorite music that she had played, in the days of her hopes and her happiness. Every thing that was associated, however slightly, with that past period, now acquired a character of inestimable value in her eyes, as aiding her mind to seclude itself more and more strictly in the sanctuary of its early recollections. Was it weakness in her to live thus; to abandon the world and the world's interests, as one who had no hope, or part in either? Had she earned the right, by the magnitude and resolution of her sacrifice, thus to indulge in the sad luxury of fruitless remembrance? Who shall say!—who shall presume to decide that cannot think with her thoughts, and look back with her recollections!
Thus she lived—alone, and yet not lonely; without hope, but with no despair; separate and apart from the world around her, except when she approached it by her charities to the poor, and her succor to the afflicted; by her occasional interviews with the surviving members of her family and a few old friends, when they sought her in her calm retreat; and by the little presents which she constantly sent to brothers' and sisters' children, who worshipped, as their invisible good genius, "the kind lady" whom most of them had never seen. Such was her existence throughout the closing years of her life: such did it continue—calm and blameless—to the last.
* * * * *
Reader, when you are told, that what is impressive and pathetic in the Drama of Human Life has passed with a past age of Chivalry and Romance, remember Jane Langley, and quote in contradiction the story of the TWIN SISTERS!
* * * * *
When about nine years old, Southey attended a school at Bristol, kept by one Williams, a Welshman, the one, he says, of all his schoolmasters, whom he remembered with the kindliest feelings. This Williams used sometimes to infuse more passion into his discipline than was becoming, of which Southey records a most ridiculous illustration. One of his schoolmates—a Creole, with a shade of African color and negro features—was remarkable for his stupidity. Williams, after flogging him one day, made him pay a half-penny for the use of the rod, because he required it so much oftener than any other boy in school.
From Fraser's Magazine.
Vittorio Alfieri was born at Asti, a city of Piedmont, on the 17th of January, 1749,—the year in which his great contemporary, Goethe, first saw the light. His father, Antonio Alfieri, was a nobleman of high rank in his own country; his mother, whose name was Monica Maillard di Tournon, was of Savoyard descent. At the time of Vittorio's birth his father was sixty years of age; and as until then he had had no son, the entrance of the future poet into the world was to him a subject of unspeakable delight: but his happiness was of short duration, for he overheated himself one day by going to see the child at a neighboring village where he was at nurse, and died of the illness that ensued, his son being at the time less than a year old. The countess, his widow, did not long remain so, as she very shortly married again, her third husband (she was a widow when the count married her) being the Cavalier Giacinto Alfieri, a distant member of the same family.
When about six years old, Alfieri was placed under the care of a priest called Don Ivaldi, who taught him writing, arithmetic, Cornelius Nepos, and Phaedrus. He soon discovered, however, that the worthy priest was an ignoramus, and congratulates himself on having escaped from his hands at the age of nine, otherwise he believes that he should have been an absolute and irreclaimable dunce. His mother and father-in-law were constantly repeating the maxim then so popular among the Italian nobility, that it was not necessary that a gentleman should be a doctor. It was at this early age that he was first attacked by that melancholy which gradually assumed entire dominion over him, and throughout life remained a most prominent feature in his character. When only seven years of age, he made an attempt to poison himself by eating some noxious herbs, being impelled to this strange action by an undefined desire to die. He was well punished for his silliness by being made very unwell, and by being, moreover, shut up in his room for some days. No punishment for his youthful transgressions was, however, so effectual as being sent in a nightcap to a neighboring church. "Who knows," says he, "whether I am not indebted to that blessed nightcap for having turned out one of the most truthful men I ever knew?"
In 1758, his paternal uncle and guardian, seeing what little progress he was making, determined to send him to the Turin Academy, and accordingly he started in the month of July.
"I cried (he says, in his autobiography) during the whole of the first stage. On arriving at the post-house, I got out of the carriage while the horses were being changed, and feeling thirsty, instead of asking for a glass, or requesting any body to fetch me some water, I marched up to the horse-trough, dipped the corner of my cap in the water, and drank to my heart's content. The postilions, seeing this, told my attendant, who ran up and began rating me soundly; but I told him that travellers ought to accustom themselves to such things, and that no good soldier would drink in any other manner. Where I fished up these Achilles-like ideas I know not, as my mother had always educated me with the greatest tenderness, and with really ludicrous care for my health."
He describes his character at this period, where he ends what he calls the epoch of childhood, and begins that of adolescence, as having been as follows:
"I was taciturn and placid for the most part, but occasionally very talkative and lively; in fact, I generally ran from one extreme to another. I was obstinate and restive when force was exerted, most docile under kind treatment; restrained more by fear of being scolded than by any thing else; susceptible of shame even to excess, and inflexible when rubbed against the grain."
He entered the Academy on the 1st of August. It was a magnificent quadrangular building, of which two of the sides were occupied by the King's Theatre and the Royal Archives; another side was appropriated to the younger students, who composed what were called the second and third apartments, while the fourth contained the first apartment, or the older students, who were mostly foreigners, besides the king's pages, to the number of twenty or twenty-five. Alfieri was at first placed in the third apartment, and the fourth class, from which he was promoted to the third at the end of three months. The master of this class was a certain Don Degiovanni, a priest even more ignorant than his good friend Ivaldi. It may be supposed that under such auspices he did not make much progress in his studies. Let us hear his own account:
"Being thus an ass, in the midst of asses, and under an ass, I translated Cornelius Nepos, some of Virgil's Eclogues, and such-like; we wrote stupid, nonsensical themes, so that in any well-directed school we should have been a wretched fourth class. I was never at the bottom; emulation spurred me on until I surpassed or equalled the head boy; but as soon as I reached the top, I fell back into a state of torpor. I was perhaps to be excused, as nothing could equal the dryness and insipidity of our studies. It is true that we translated Cornelius Nepos; but none of us, probably not even the master himself, knew who the men were whose lives we were translating, nor their countries, nor the times in which they lived, nor the governments under which they flourished, nor even what a government was. All our ideas were contracted, false, or confused; the master had no object in view; his pupils took not the slightest interest in what they learned. In short, all were as bad as bad could be; no one looked after us, or if they did, knew what they were about."
In November, 1759, he was promoted to the humanity class, the master of which was a man of some learning. His emulation was excited in this class by his meeting a boy who could repeat 600 lines of the Georgics without a single mistake, while he could never get beyond 400. These defeats almost suffocated him with anger, and he often burst out crying, and occasionally abused his rival most violently. He found some consolation, however, for his inferior memory, in always writing the best themes. About this time he obtained possession of a copy of Ariosto in four volumes, which he rather believes he purchased, a volume at a time, with certain half-fowls that were given the students on Sundays, his first Ariosto thus costing him two fowls in the space of four weeks. He much regrets that he is not certain on the point, feeling anxious to know whether he imbibed his first draughts of poetry at the expense of his stomach. Notwithstanding that he was at the head of the humanity class, and could translate the Georgics into Italian prose, he found great difficulty in understanding the easiest of Italian poets. The master, however, soon perceived him reading the book by stealth, and confiscated it, leaving the future poet deprived for the present of all poetical guidance.
During this period he was in a wretched state of health, being constantly attacked by various extraordinary diseases. He describes himself as not growing at all, and as resembling a very delicate and pale wax taper. In 1760 he passed in the class of rhetoric, and succeeded, moreover, in recovering his Ariosto, but read very little of it, partly from the difficulty he found in understanding it, and partly because the continued breaks in the story disgusted him. As to Tasso, he had never even heard his name. He obtained a few of Metastasio's plays as libretti of the Opera at carnival time, and was much pleased with them, and also with some of Goldoni's comedies that were lent to him.
"But the dramatic genius, of which the germs perhaps existed in me, was soon buried or extinguished for want of food, of encouragement, and every thing else. In short, my ignorance and that of my instructors, and the carelessness of every body in every thing exceeded all conception."
The following year he was promoted into the class of philosophy, which met in the adjoining university. The following is his description of the course:
"This school of peripatetic philosophy was held after dinner. During the first half-hour we wrote out the lecture at the dictation of the professor, and in the subsequent three-quarters of an hour, when he commented upon it, Heaven knows how, in Latin, we scholars wrapped ourselves up comfortably in our mantles, and went fast asleep; and among the assembled philosophers, not a sound was heard except the drawling voice of the professor himself, half asleep, and the various notes of the snorers, who formed a most delightful concert in every possible key."
During his holidays this year, his uncle took him to the Opera for the first time, where he heard the Mercato di Malmantile. The music produced a most extraordinary effect upon him, and for several weeks afterwards he remained immersed in a strange but not unpleasing melancholy, followed by an absolute loathing of his usual studies. Music all through life affected him most powerfully, and he states that his tragedies were almost invariably planned by him when under its influence. It was about this time that he composed his first sonnet, which was made up of whole or mutilated verses of Metastasio and Ariosto, the only two Italian poets of whom he knew any thing. It was in praise of a certain lady to whom his uncle was paying his addresses, and whom he himself admired. Several persons, including the lady herself, praised it, so that he already fancied himself a poet. His uncle, however, a military man, and no votary of the Muses, laughed at him so much, that his poetical vein was soon dried up, and he did not renew his attempts in the line till he was more than twenty-five years old. "How many good or bad verses did my uncle suffocate, together with my first-born sonnet!"
He next studied physics and ethics—the former under the celebrated Beccaria, but not a single definition remained in his head. These studies, however, as well as those in civil and canon law, which he had commenced, were interrupted by a violent illness, which rendered it necessary for him to have his head shaved, and to wear a wig. His companions, at first, tormented him greatly about this wig, and used to tear it from his head; but he soon succeeded in appeasing the public indignation, by being always the first to throw the unhappy ornament in question up in the air, calling it by every opprobrious epithet. From that time he remained the least persecuted wig-wearer among the two or three who were in this predicament.
He now took lessons on the piano, and in geography, fencing, and dancing. He imbibed the most invincible dislike to the latter, which he attributed to the grimaces and extraordinary contortions of the master, a Frenchman just arrived from Paris. He dates from this period that extreme hatred of the French nation which remained with him through life, and which was one of the strangest features in his character. His uncle died this year (1763), and as he was now fourteen, the age at which, by the laws of Piedmont, minors are freed from the care of their guardians, and are placed under curators, who leave them masters of their income, and can only prevent the alienation of their real estates, he found himself possessed of considerable property, which was still farther increased by his uncle's fortune. Having obtained the degree of master of arts, by passing a public examination in logic, physics, and geometry, he was rewarded by being allowed to attend the riding-school, a thing he had always ardently desired. He became an expert horseman, and attributes to this exercise the recovery of his health, which now rapidly improved.
"Having buried my uncle, changed my guardian into a curator, obtained my master's degree, got rid of my attendant Andrea, and mounted a steed, it is incredible how proud I became. I told the authorities plainly that I was sick of studying law, and that I would not go on with it. After a consultation, they determined to remove me into the first apartment, which I entered on the 8th May, 1763."
He now led an extremely idle life, being little looked after. A crowd of flatterers, the usual attendants upon wealth, sprung up around him, and he indulged in amusements and dissipations of every kind. A temporary fit of industry, which lasted for two or three months, came over him, and he plunged deeply into the thirty-six volumes of Fleury's Ecclesiastical History. Soon, however, he resumed his old course, and conducted himself so badly that the authorities found it necessary to place him under arrest, and he remained for some months a prisoner in his own apartment, obstinately refusing to make any apology, and leading the life of a wild beast, never putting on his clothes, and spending most of his time in sleep. He was at length released, on the occasion of his sister Giulia's marriage to the Count Giacinto di Cumiana, in May, 1764.
On regaining his former position he bought his first horse, and soon afterwards another, on the pretence of its being delicate. He next purchased two carriage horses, and went on thus till in less than a year he had eight in his possession. He also had an elegant carriage built for him, but used it very seldom, because his friends were obliged to walk, and he shrunk from offending them by a display of ostentation. His horses, however, were at the service of all, and as his love for them could not excite any feelings of envy, he took the greatest delight in them.
It was now that he first felt the symptoms of love, excited by a lady who was the wife of an elder brother of some intimate friends of his, to whom he was on a visit. His transient passion, however, soon passed away, without leaving any trace behind it. The period had now arrived for his leaving the academy, and in May, 1766, he was nominated ensign in the provincial regiment of Asti, which met only twice a-year for a few days, thus allowing ample opportunity for doing nothing; the only thing, he says, he had made up his mind to do. But he soon got tired of even this slight restraint. "I could not adapt myself to that chain of graduated dependence which is called subordination, and which although the soul of military discipline, could never be the soul of a future tragic poet." He therefore obtained permission, though with great difficulty, to accompany an English Catholic tutor, who was about to visit Rome and Naples with two of his fellow-students. He chooses this moment for commencing the epoch of youth, which he describes as embracing ten years of travel and dissipation.
On reaching Milan, the travellers visited the Ambrosian library.
"Here the librarian placed in my hands a manuscript of Petrarch, but, like a true Goth, I threw it aside, saying it was nothing to me. The fact was, I had a certain spite against the aforesaid Petrarch; for having met with a copy of his works some years before, when I was a philosopher, I found on opening it at various places by chance that I could not understand the meaning in the least; accordingly I joined with the French and other ignorant pretenders in condemning him, and as I considered him a dull and prosy writer, I treated his invaluable manuscript in the manner above described."
At this time he always spoke and wrote in French, and read nothing but French books.
"As I knew still less of Italian, I gathered the necessary fruit of my birth in an amphibious country, and of the precious education I had received."
They proceeded afterwards to Florence, Rome, and Naples. At the latter place he obtained permission from his own court, through the intercession of the Sardinian minister, to leave the tutor, and travel for the future alone. Attended only by his faithful servant Elia, who had taken the place of the worthless Andrea, and for whom he felt a great affection, he returned to Rome, and had the honor of kissing the Pope's toe. The pontiff's manner pleased him so much, that he felt no repugnance to going through the ceremony, although he had read Fleury, and knew the real value of the aforesaid toe.
Having obtained leave to travel for another year, he determined to visit France, England, and Holland. He went first to Venice, and there was assailed by that melancholy, ennui, and restlessness, peculiar to his character.
"I spent many days without leaving the house, my chief employment being to stand at the window, and make signs, and hold brief dialogues with a young lady opposite; the rest of the day I spent in sleeping, in thinking of I know not what, and generally crying, I knew not why."
All through life he was subject to these periodical fits, which came on every spring, and materially influenced his powers of composition.
He proceeded afterwards to France, expecting to be delighted with Paris; but on arriving there he found it so unlike what he had anticipated, that he burst into a violent fit of passion at having made so much haste, undergone so much fatigue, and had his fancy excited to such a pitch of frenzy, only to plunge into that filthy sewer, as he calls it! His anger is quite ludicrous; but he, notwithstanding, remained there five months, during which time he was presented to Louis XV. at Versailles, but the cold reception he met with greatly annoyed him.
"Although I had been told that the king did not speak to ordinary foreigners, and although I did not care much for his notice, yet I could not swallow the Jove-like superciliousness of the monarch, who surveyed from head to foot the people presented to him, without appearing to receive the slightest impression. It was as if somebody said to a giant, 'I beg to present an ant to you;' and he were either to stare or to smile, or to say, it may be, 'Oh, what a little creature!'"
He was as much delighted with England as he had been disgusted with France. He falls into perfect raptures when speaking of our national character and our national institutions, and regrets that it was not in his power to remain here for ever. In June, 1768, he went to Holland, and at the Hague fell violently in love with the wife of a rich gentleman whom he knew. When the lady was obliged to go into Switzerland, he was thrown into such a state of frenzy that he attempted to commit suicide, by tearing off the bandages from the place where he had had himself bled, under pretence of illness. His servant, however, suspected his intentions, and prevented him from carrying his resolution into effect. He gradually recovered his spirits, and determined to return to Italy. On reaching Turin, he was seized by a desire to study. The book in which he took most delight was Plutarch's Lives:
"Some of these, such as Timoleon, Caesar, Brutus, Pelopidas, and Cato, I read four or five times over, with such transports of shouting, crying, and fury, that any person in the next room must have thought me mad. On reading any particular anecdotes of those great men, I used often to spring to my feet in the greatest agitation, and quite beside myself, shedding tears of grief and rage at seeing myself born in Piedmont, and in an age and under a government where nothing noble could be said or done, and where it was almost useless to think or to feel."
His brother-in-law now strongly urged him to marry, and he consented, although unwillingly, that negotiations should be entered into on his behalf with the family of a young, noble, and rich heiress, whose beautiful black eyes would, doubtless, soon have driven Plutarch out of his head. The end, however, was that she married somebody else, to Alfieri's internal satisfaction. "Had I been tied down by a wife and children, the Muses would certainly have bid me good bye."
The moment he felt himself free he determined to start again on his travels. On reaching Vienna, the Sardinian minister offered to introduce him to Metastasio; but he cared nothing at that time for any Italian author, and, moreover, had taken a great dislike to the poet, from having seen him make a servile genuflexion to the Empress Maria Theresa in the Imperial Gardens at Schoenbrunn. On entering the dominions of Frederick the Great, he was made extremely indignant by the military despotism that reigned there. When presented to the king he did not appear in uniform.
"The minister asked me the reason of this, seeing that I was in the service of my own sovereign. I replied, 'Because there are already enough uniforms here.' The king said to me his usual four words; I watched him attentively, fixing my eyes respectfully on his, and thanked Heaven that I was not born his slave."
Denmark, Sweden, and Russia, were then successively visited by him. He had heard so much of the latter country, that when he reached St. Petersburgh his expectations were wrought up to a great pitch.
"But, alas! no sooner did I set foot in this Asiatic encampment of tents, than I called to mind Rome, Genoa, Venice, and Florence, and began to laugh. The longer I remained in the country, the more were my first impressions confirmed, and I left it with the precious conviction that it was not worth seeing."
He refused to be presented to the celebrated female autocrat, Catherine II., whom he stigmatizes as "a philosophical Clytemnestra."
He next visited England for the second time, arriving at the end of 1770. During his stay in London, which lasted for seven months, he became involved in an affair which excited an extraordinary sensation at the time, and which is even remembered by the scandal-mongers of the present day. He formed the acquaintance of the wife of an officer of high rank in the Guards, and this intimacy soon assumed a criminal character. Her husband, a man of a very jealous temperament, suspected his wife's infidelity, and had them watched. On finding his suspicions confirmed, he challenged Alfieri, and they fought a duel with swords in the Green Park, in which the future poet was wounded in the arm. The husband pressed for a divorce, and Alfieri announced his intention of marrying the lady as soon as she was free; but, to his horror, she confessed to him one day, what was already known to the public through the newspapers, although he was ignorant of it, that before she knew him she had been engaged in an intrigue with a groom of her husband! Despite this discovery, it was some time before his affection for her abated; but at length, on her announcing her determination to enter a convent in France, he quitted her at Rochester, and left this country himself almost immediately afterwards. He went to Paris, and there bought a collection of the principal Italian poets and prose-writers in thirty-six volumes, which from that time became his inseparable companions, although he did not make much use of them for two or three years. However, he now learned to know at least something of the six great luminaries, Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, Boccaccio, and Machiavelli.
He next proceeded to Spain and Portugal. At Lisbon he formed the acquaintance of the Abate Tommaso di Caluso, younger brother of the Sardinian minister. The society of this distinguished man produced the most beneficial effect on him. One evening, when the Abate was reading to him the fine Ode to Fortune of Alessandro Guidi, a poet whose name he had never even heard, some of the stanzas produced such extraordinary transports in him, that the former told him that he was born to write verses. This sudden impulse of Apollo, as he calls it, was however only a momentary flush, which was soon extinguished, and remained buried for a long time to come.
He now bent his steps homewards, and reached Turin in May, 1772, after an absence of three years. He took a magnificent house in the Piazza di San Carlo, furnished it sumptuously, and commenced leading a merry life with about a dozen friends, who formed a society, which met at his house every week. This Society was governed by strict rules, one of which was that all should contribute something in writing for their reciprocal amusement; these contributions being placed in a chest, of which the president for the time being kept the key, and read aloud by him at their meetings. They were all written in French, and Alfieri mentions one of his which was very successful. It described the Deity at the last judgment demanding from every soul an account of itself, and the characters he drew were all those of well-known individuals, both male and female, in Turin.
It was not long before he fell in love for the third time, the object of his passion now being a lady some years older than himself, and of somewhat doubtful reputation. For the space of nearly two years she exercised unbounded dominion over him. Feeling that he could not support the fetters of Venus and of Mars at one and the same time, he with some little difficulty obtained permission to throw up his commission in the army.
While attending at his mistress's bedside, during an illness by which she was attacked in January, 1744, the idea first struck him of writing a dramatic sketch. He wrote it without the slightest plan, in the form of a dialogue between three persons, called respectively, Photinus, Lachesis, and Cleopatra. He gives a specimen of it in a note, and it is certainly not of the very highest order of merit. On the recovery of the lady he placed it under the cushion of her couch, where it remained forgotten for a year, and thus were the first fruits of his tragic genius brooded over, as it were, by the lady and all who chanced to sit upon the couch.
At length he threw off the chains which had so long bound him. The exertion was, however, so great that he was actually obliged to get his servant Elia to tie him to his chair, that he might not quit the house. When his friends came to see him, he dropped his dressing gown over the bandages, so that his forced imprisonment was not perceived. His first appearance in public was at the carnival of 1775, where he dressed himself up as Apollo, and recited at the public ball at the theatre a masquerade he had composed on the subject of love, twanging a guitar vigorously all the time. He was afterwards heartily ashamed of this freak, which he wonders he could ever have been guilty of. An ardent desire for glory now seized him, and after some months spent in constant poetical studies, and in fingering grammars and dictionaries, he succeeded in producing his first tragedy; which, like the sketch already mentioned, he entitled Cleopatra. It was performed at Turin, on the 16th June, 1775, at the Carignan Theatre, and was followed by a comic after-piece, also written by him, called The Poets, in which he introduced himself under the name of Giusippus, and was the first to ridicule his own tragedy; which, he says, differed from those of his poetical rivals, inasmuch as their productions were the mature offspring of an erudite incapacity, whilst his was the premature child of a not unpromising ignorance. These two pieces were performed with considerable success for two successive evenings, when he withdrew them from the stage, ashamed at having so rashly exposed himself to the public. He never considered this Cleopatra worthy of preservation, and it is not published with his other works. From this moment, however, he felt every vein swollen with the most burning thirst for real theatrical laurels, and here terminates the epoch of Youth and commences that of Manhood.
Up to this point we have seen Alfieri's character as formed by nature, and before it was influenced by study, or softened down by intercourse with the world. We have seen him ardent, restless beyond all belief, passionate, oppressed by unaccountable melancholy, acting under the toiling impulse of the moment, whether in love or hate, and, what is of extreme disadvantage to him as respects the career he is about to enter upon, suffering from a deficient education. We have now to see how he overcame all the obstacles arising from his natural character, and from a youth wasted in idleness and dissipation; and how he gradually won his way from victory to victory, until he at length attained the noble and enviable eminence which is assigned to him by universal consent as the greatest, we had almost said the only, modern Italian poet.
He describes the capital with which he commenced his undertaking as consisting in a resolute, indomitable, and extremely obstinate mind, and a heart full to overflowing with every species of emotion, particularly love, with all its furies, and a profound and ferocious hatred of tyranny. To this was added a faint recollection of various French tragedies. On the other hand, he was almost entirely ignorant of the rules of tragic art, and understood his own language most imperfectly. The whole was enveloped in a thick covering of presumption, or rather petulance, and a violence of character so great as to render it most difficult for him to appreciate truth. He considers these elements better adapted for forming a bad monarch than a good author.
He began by studying grammar vigorously; and his first attempt was to put into Italian two tragedies, entitled Filippo and Polinice, which he had some time before written in French prose. At the same time he read Tasso, Ariosto, Dante, and Petrarch, making notes as he proceeded, and occupying a year in the task. He then commenced reading Latin with a tutor; and shortly afterwards went to Tuscany in order to acquire a really good Italian idiom. He returned to Turin in October, 1776, and there composed several sonnets, having in the meantime made considerable progress with several of his tragedies. The next year he again went to Tuscany, and on reaching Florence in October, intending to remain there a month, an event occurred which—to use his own words—"fixed and enchained me there for many years; an event which, happily for me, determined me to expatriate myself for ever, and which by fastening upon me new, self-sought, and golden chains, enabled me to acquire that real literary freedom, without which I should never have done any good, if so be that I have done good."
Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, was at that time residing in Florence, in company with his wife, the Countess of Albany, whose maiden name was Louisa Stolberg, of the princely house of that name. The following is Alfieri's description of her:—
"The sweet fire of her very dark eyes, added (a thing of rare occurrence) to a very white skin and fair hair, gave an irresistible brilliancy to her beauty. She was twenty-five years of age, was much attached to literature and the fine arts, had an angelic temper, and, in spite of her wealth, was in the most painful domestic circumstances, so that she could not be as happy as she deserved. How many reasons for loving her!"
Her husband appears to have been of a most violent and ungovernable temper, and to have always treated her in the harshest manner.—No wonder, then, that an impassioned and susceptible nature like Alfieri's should have been attracted by such charms! A friendship of the closest and most enduring description ensued between them; and although a certain air of mystery always surrounded the story of their mutual attachment, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it partook in the slightest degree of a dishonorable character.
Instead of finding his passion for the Countess an obstacle to literary glory and useful occupations, as had always been the case previously with him, when under the influence of similar emotions, he found that it incited and spurred him on to every good work, and accordingly he abandoned himself, without restraint, to its indulgence. That he might have no inducement to return to his own country, he determined to dissolve every tie that united him to it, and with that intent made an absolute donation for life of the whole of his estates, both in fee and freehold, to his natural heir, his sister Giulia, wife of the Count di Cumiana. He merely stipulated for an annual pension, and a certain sum in ready money, the whole amounting to about one-half of the value of his property. The negotiations were finally brought to a conclusion in November, 1778. He also sold his furniture and plate which he had left in Turin; and, unfortunately for himself, invested almost the whole of the money he now found himself possessed of in French life annuities. At one period of the negotiations he was in great fear lest he should lose every thing, and revolved in his mind what profession he should adopt in case he should be left penniless.
"The art that presented itself to me as the best for gaining a living by, was that of a horse-breaker, in which I consider myself a proficient. It is certainly one of the least servile, and it appeared to me to be more compatible than any other with that of a poet, for it is much easier to write tragedies in a stable than in a court."
He now commenced living in the simplest style, dismissed all his servants, save one; sold or gave away all his horses, and wore the plainest clothing. He continued his studies without intermission, and by the beginning of 1782 had nearly finished the whole of the twelve tragedies which he had from the first made up his mind to write, and not to exceed. These were entitled respectively Filippo, Polinice, Antigone, Agamennone, Oreste, Don Garzia, Virginia, La Congiura de' Pazzi, Maria Stuarda, Ottavia, Timoleone and Rosmunda.—Happening, however, to read the Merope of Maffei, then considered the best Italian tragedy, he felt so indignant, that he set to work, and very shortly produced his tragedy of that name, which was soon followed by the Saul, which is incomparably the finest of his works.
The Countess had obtained permission at the end of 1780 to leave her husband, in consequence of the brutal treatment she experienced at his hands, and to retire to Rome. It was not long before Alfieri followed her, and took up his habitation there also. At the end of 1782, his Antigone was performed by a company of amateurs—he himself being one—before an audience consisting of all the rank and fashion of Rome. Its success was unequivocal, and he felt so proud of his triumph, that he determined to send four of his tragedies to press, getting his friend Gori, at Siena, to superintend the printing; and they were accordingly published.
The intimacy between Alfieri and the Countess now inflamed the anger of Charles Edward and his brother, Cardinal York, to such a pitch, that Alfieri found it prudent to leave Rome, which he did in May, 1783, in a state of bitter anguish. He first made pilgrimages to the tombs of Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto, at Ravenna, Arqua, and Ferrara; at each of which he spent some time in dreaming, praying, and weeping, at the same time pouring forth a perfect stream of impassioned poetry. On getting to Siena, he superintended personally the printing of six more of his tragedies, and for the first time felt all the cares of authorship, being driven nearly distracted by the sad realities of censors, both spiritual and temporal, correctors of the press, compositors, pressmen, &c., and the worry he experienced brought on a sharp attack of gout. On recovering, he determined to start off once more on his travels, making as a plea his desire to purchase a stud of horses in England, his equestrian propensities having returned with violence. He accordingly left his tragedies, both published and unpublished, to shift for themselves, and proceeded to England, where, in a few weeks, he bought no less than fourteen horses. That being the exact number of the tragedies he had written, he used to amuse himself by saying, "For each tragedy you have got a horse," in reference to the punishment inflicted on naughty schoolboys in Italy, where the culprit is mounted on the shoulders of another boy, while the master lays on the cane.
He experienced almost endless trouble and difficulty in conveying his acquisitions safely back to Italy. The account he gives of the passage of the Alps by Mount Cenis, from Lanslebourg to the Novalese, is really quite romantic; and he compares himself to Hannibal on the occasion, but says that if the passage of the latter cost him a great deal of vinegar, it cost him (Alfieri) no small quantity of wine, as the whole party concerned in conveying the horses over the mountain, guides, farriers, grooms, and adjutants, drank like fishes.
On reaching Turin, he was present at a performance of his Virginia at the same theatre where, nine years before, his early play of Cleopatra had been acted. He shortly received intelligence that the Countess had been permitted to leave Rome and to go to Switzerland. He could not refrain from following her, and accordingly rejoined her at Colmar, a city of Alsace, after a separation of sixteen months. The sight of her whom he loved so dearly again awakened his poetic genius, and gave birth, at almost one and the same moment, to his three tragedies of Agide, Sofonisba, and Mirra, despite his previous resolve to write no more. When obliged to leave the Countess, he returned to Italy, but the following year again visited her, remaining in Alsace when she proceeded to Paris. She happened to mention in a letter that she had been much pleased with seeing Voltaire's Brutus performed on the stage. This excited his emulation. "What!" he exclaimed, "Brutuses written by a Voltaire? I'll write Brutuses, and two at once, moreover, time will show whether such subjects for tragedy are better adapted for me or for a plebeian-born Frenchman, who for more than sixty years subscribed himself Voltaire, Gentleman in Ordinary to the King." Accordingly he set to work, and planned on the spot his Bruto Primo and Bruto Secondo; after which he once more renewed his vow to Apollo to write no more tragedies. About this period he also sketched his Abel, which he called by the whimsical title of a Tramelogedy. He next went to Paris, and made arrangements with the celebrated Didot for printing the whole of his tragedies in six volumes. On returning to Alsace, in company with the Countess, he was joined by his old friend the Abate di Caluso, who brought with him a letter from his mother, containing proposals for his marriage with a rich young lady of Asti, whose name was not mentioned. Alfieri told the Abate, smilingly, that he must decline the proffered match, and had not even the curiosity to inquire who the lady was. Shortly afterwards he was attacked by a dangerous illness, which reduced him to the point of death. On recovering, he went with his friends to Kehl, and was so much pleased with the printing establishment of the well-known Beaumarchais, that he resolved to have the whole of his works, with the exception of his tragedies, which were in Didot's hands, printed there; and accordingly, by August, 1789, all his writings, both in prose and poetry, were printed.
In the mean time, the Countess of Albany had heard of the death of her husband, which took place at Rome, on the 31st January, 1788. This event set her entirely free, and it is generally believed that she was shortly afterwards united in marriage to Alfieri; but the fact was never known, and to the last the poet preserved the greatest mystery on the subject.
Paris now became their regular residence, and it was not long before the revolutionary troubles commenced. In April, 1791, they determined to pay a visit to England, where the Countess had never been. They remained here some months, and on their embarking at Dover on their return, Alfieri chanced to notice among the people collected on the beach to see the vessel off, the very lady, his intrigue with whom twenty years before had excited so great a sensation. He did not speak to her, but saw that she recognized him. Accordingly, on reaching Calais, he wrote to her to inquire into her present situation. He gives her reply at full length in his Memoirs. It is in French; and we regret that its length precludes us from giving it here, as it is a very remarkable production. It indicates a decisive and inflexible firmness of character, very unlike what is usually met with in her sex.
After visiting Holland and Belgium, Alfieri and the Countess returned to Paris. In March, 1792, he received intelligence of his mother's death. In the mean time the war with the emperor commenced, and matters gradually got worse and worse. Alfieri witnessed the events of the terrible 10th of August, when the Tuileries was taken by the mob after a bloody conflict, and Louis XVI. virtually ceased to reign. Seeing the great danger to which they would be exposed if they remained longer in Paris, they determined on a hasty flight; and after procuring the necessary passports, started on the 18th of the same month. They had a narrow escape on passing the barriers. A mob of the lowest order insisted on their carriage being stopped, and on their being conducted back to Paris, exclaiming that all the rich were flying away, taking their treasures with them, and leaving the poor behind in want and misery. The few soldiers on the spot would have been soon overpowered; and nothing saved the travellers except Alfieri's courage. He at length succeeded in forcing a passage; but there is little doubt that if they had been obliged to return, they would have been thrown into prison, in which case they would have been among the unhappy victims who were so barbarously murdered by the populace on the 2d September.
They reached Calais in two days and a half, having had to show their passports more than forty times. They afterwards learned that they were the first foreigners who had escaped from Paris and from France after the catastrophe of the 10th August. After stopping some time at Brussels, they proceeded to Italy, and reached Florence in November. That city remained Alfieri's dwelling-place, nearly uninterruptedly, from this moment to the period of his death.
In 1795, when he was forty-six years old, a feeling of shame came over him at his ignorance of Greek, and he determined to master that language. He applied himself with such industry to the task, that before very long he could read almost any Greek author. There are few instances on record of such an effort being made at so advanced a period of life. Yet, perhaps, a still more remarkable case than that of our poet is that of Mehemet Ali, who did not learn to read or write till more than forty years of age. His son, Ibrahim, never did even that. At the same time that he was learning Greek, Alfieri amused himself by writing satires, of which he had completed seventeen by the end of 1797. The fruit of his Greek studies appeared in his tragedies of Alceste Prima and Alceste Seconda, which he composed after reading Euripides' fine play of that name. He calls these essays his final perjuries to Apollo. We have certainly seen him break his vow sufficiently often. The twelve tragedies he pledged himself not to exceed had now grown to their present number of twenty-one, besides the tramelogedy of Abel.
He remained quietly and happily at Florence till the French invasion in March, 1799, when he and the Countess retired to a villa in the country. He marked his hatred of the French nation by writing his Misogallo, a miscellaneous collection in prose and verse of the most violent and indiscriminate abuse of France, and every thing connected with it, as its name imports. On the evacuation of Florence by the French in July, they returned to the city, but again left it on the second invasion in October, 1800. The French commander-in-chief wrote to Alfieri, requesting the honor of the acquaintance of a man who had rendered such distinguished services to literature: but he told him in reply, that if he wrote in his quality as Commandant of Florence, he would yield to his superior authority; but that if it was merely as an individual curious to see him, he must beg to be excused.
We now find him irresistibly impelled to try his hand at comedy, and he accordingly wrote the six which are published with his other works. They are entitled respectively, L'Uno, I Pochi, Il Troppo, Tre Velene rimesta avrai l'Antido, La Finestrina, and Il Divorzio. The first four are political in their character, and written in iambics, like his tragedies. The last is the only one that can be ranked with modern comedies. Sismondi truly remarks, that in these dramas he exhibits the powers of a great satirist, not of a successful dramatist.
His health was by this time seriously impaired, and he felt it necessary to cease entirely from his labors. On the 8th December, 1802, he put the finishing stroke to his works, and amused himself for the short remainder of his life in writing the conclusion of his Memoirs. Feeling extremely proud at having overcome the difficulties of the Greek language in his later years, he invented a collar, on which were engraved the names of twenty-three ancient and modern poets, and to which was attached a cameo representing Homer. On the back of it he wrote the following distich:
Auton poiesas Alpherios hippe Homeron Koiranikes timen elphane zeioteran,]
which may be thus Englished:
"Perchance Alfieri made no great misnomer When he dubb'd himself Knight of the Order of Homer."
With the account of this amusing little incident, Alfieri terminates the history of his life. The date it bears is the 14th of May, 1803, and on the 8th October of the same year he breathed his last, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. The particulars of his death are given in a letter addressed by the Abate di Caluso to the Countess of Albany. An attack of gout in the stomach was the immediate cause of it. The delicate state of his health greatly accelerated the progress of the disease, which was still further promoted by his insisting on proceeding with the correction of his works almost to the very last. He was so little aware of his impending dissolution, that he took a drive in a carriage on the 3d October, and tried to the last moment to starve his gout into submission. He refused to allow leeches to be applied to his legs, as the physicians recommended, because they would have prevented him from walking. At this period, all his studies and labors of the last thirty years rushed through his mind; and he told the Countess, who was attending him, that a considerable number of Greek verses from the beginning of Hesiod, which he had only read once in his life, recurred most distinctly to his memory. His mortal agony came on so suddenly, that there was not time to administer to him the last consolations of religion. He was buried in the church of Santa Croce at Florence, where already reposed the remains of Machiavelli, of Michael Angelo, and of Galileo. A monument to his memory, the work of the great Canova, was raised over his ashes by direction of the Countess of Albany.
Such then was Alfieri! And may we not draw a moral from the story of his life as faintly and imperfectly shadowed forth in the preceding sketch? Does it not show us how we may overcome obstacles deemed by us insuperable, and how we may seek to become something better than what we are? The poet's name will go down to future ages as the idol of his countrymen; may the beneficial effect produced by a mind like his upon the character and aspirations of the world be enduring!
From the Dublin University Magazine
ANECDOTES OF PAGANINI.
Paganini was in all respects a very singular being, and an interesting subject to study. His talents were by no means confined to his wonderful powers as a musician. On other subjects he was well informed, acute, and conversible, of bland and gentle manners, and in society, perfectly well bred. All this contrasted strangely with the dark, mysterious stories which were bruited abroad, touching some passages in his early life. But outward semblance and external deportment are treacherous as quicksands, when taken as guides by which to sound the real depths of human character. Lord Byron remarks, that his pocket was once picked by the civilest gentleman he ever conversed with, and that by far the mildest individual of his acquaintance was the remorseless Ali Pacha of Yanina. The expressive lineaments of Paganini told a powerful tale of passions which had been fearfully excited, which might be roused again from temporary slumber, or were exhausted by indulgence and premature decay, leaving deep furrows to mark their intensity. Like the generality of his countrymen, he looked much older than he was. With them, the elastic vigor of youth and manhood rapidly subside into an interminable and joyless old age, numbering as many years but with far less both of physical and mental faculty, to render them endurable, than the more equally poised gradations of our northern clime. It is by no means unusual to encounter a well-developed Italian, whiskered to the eyebrows, and "bearded like the pard," who tells you, to your utter astonishment, that he is scarcely seventeen, when you have set him down from his appearance as, at least, five-and-thirty.
The following extract from Colonel Montgomery Maxwell's book of Military Reminiscences, entitled, "My Adventures," dated Genoa, February 22nd, 1815, supplies the earliest record which has been given to the public respecting Paganini, and affords authentic evidence that some of the mysterious tales which heralded his coming were not without foundation. He could scarcely have been at this time thirty years old. "Talking of music, I have become acquainted with the most outre, most extravagant, and strangest character I ever beheld, or heard, in the musical line. He has just been emancipated from durance vile, where he has been for a long time incarcerated on suspicion of murder. His long figure, long neck, long face, and long forehead; his hollow and deadly pale cheek, large black eye, hooked nose, and jet black hair, which is long, and more than half hiding his expressive, Jewish face; all these rendered him the most extraordinary person I ever beheld. There is something scriptural in the tout ensemble of the strange physiognomy of this uncouth and unearthly figure. Not that, as in times of old, he plays, as Holy Writ tells us, on a ten-stringed instrument; on the contrary, he brings the most powerful, the most wonderful, and the most heart-rending tones from one string. His name is Paganini; he is very improvident and very poor. The D——s, and the Impressario of the theatre got up a concert for him the other night, which was well attended, and on which occasion he electrified the audience. He is a native of Genoa, and if I were a judge of violin playing, I would pronounce him the most surprising performer in the world!"
That Paganini was either innocent of the charge for which he suffered the incarceration Colonel Maxwell mentions, or that it could not be proved against him, may be reasonably inferred from the fact that he escaped the gallies of the executioner. In Italy, there was then, par excellence (whatever there may be now), a law for the rich, and another for the poor. As he was without money, and unable to buy immunity, it is charitable to suppose he was entitled to it from innocence. A nobleman, with a few zecchini, was in little danger of the law, which confined its practice entirely to the lower orders. I knew a Sicilian prince, who most wantonly blew a vassal's brains out, merely because he put him in a passion. The case was not even inquired into. He sent half a dollar to the widow of the defunct (which, by the way, he borrowed from me, and never repaid), and there the matter ended. Lord Nelson once suggested to Ferdinand IV. of Naples, to try and check the daily increase of assassination, by a few salutary executions. "No, no," replied old Nasone, who was far from being as great a fool as he looked, "that is impossible. If I once began that system, my kingdom would soon be depopulated. One half my subjects would be continually employed in hanging the remainder."