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Title: The Countess of Albany
Author: Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
Language: English
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[Illustration: ALFIERI AND THE COUNTESS OF ALBANY

_From the original portrait in the possession of the Marchesa A.
 Alfieri de Sostegno_]



THE COUNTESS
OF ALBANY


BY
VERNON LEE

WITH PORTRAITS



LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY. MCMX

SECOND EDITION

Printed by BALLANTYNE AND CO. LIMITED
Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London



TO THE MEMORY OF MY FRIEND


MADAME JOHN MEYER,


I DEDICATE THIS VOLUME,
SO OFTEN AND SO LATELY TALKED OVER TOGETHER,
IN GRATEFUL AND AFFECTIONATE REGRET.



PREFACE


In preparing this volume on the Countess of Albany (which I consider as
a kind of completion of my previous studies of eighteenth-century
Italy), I have availed myself largely of Baron Alfred von Reumont's
large work _Die Gräfin von Albany_ (published in 1862); and of the
monograph, itself partially founded on the foregoing, of M. St. René
Taillandier, entitled _La Comtesse d'Albany_, published in Paris in
1862. Baron von Reumont's two volumes, written twenty years ago and when
the generation which had come into personal contact with the Countess of
Albany had not yet entirely died out; and M. St. René Taillandier's
volume, which embodied the result of his researches into the archives of
the Musée Fabre at Montpellier; might naturally be expected to have
exhausted all the information obtainable about the subject of their and
my studies. This has proved to be the case very much less than might
have been anticipated. The publication, by Jacopo Bernardi and Carlo
Milanesi, of a number of letters of Alfieri to Sienese friends, has
afforded me an insight into Alfieri's character and his relations with
the Countess of Albany such as was unattainable to Baron von Reumont and
to M. St. René Taillandier. The examination, by myself and my friend
Signor Mario Pratesi, of several hundreds of MS. letters of the Countess
of Albany existing in public and private archives at Siena and at
Milan, has added an important amount of what I may call psychological
detail, overlooked by Baron von Reumont and unguessed by M. St. René
Taillandier. I have, therefore, I trust, been able to reconstruct the
Countess of Albany's spiritual likeness during the period--that of her
early connection with Alfieri--which my predecessors have been satisfied
to despatch in comparatively few pages, counterbalancing the thinness of
this portion of their biographies by a degree of detail concerning the
Countess's latter years, and the friends with whom she then corresponded,
which, however interesting, cannot be considered as vital to the real
subject of their works.

Besides the volumes of Baron von Reumont and M. St. René Taillandier, I
have depended mainly upon Alfieri's autobiography, edited by Professor
Teza, and supplemented by Bernardi's and Milanesi's _Lettere di Vittorio
Alfieri_, published by Le Monnier in 1862. Among English books that I
have put under contribution, I may mention Klose's _Memoirs of Prince
Charles Edward Stuart_ (Colburn, 1845), Ewald's _Life and Times of
Prince Charles Stuart_ (Chapman and Hall, 1875), and Sir Horace Mann's
_Letters to Walpole_, edited by Dr. Doran. A review, variously
attributed to Lockhart and to Dennistoun, in the _Quarterly_ for 1847,
has been all the more useful to me as I have been unable to procure,
writing in Italy, the _Tales of the Century_, of which that paper gives
a masterly account.

For various details I must refer to Charles Dutens' _Mémoires d'un
Voyageur qui se repose_ (Paris, 1806); to Silvagni's _La Corte e la
Società Romana nel secolo XVIII._; to Foscolo's _Correspondence_, Gino
Capponi's _Ricordi_ and those of d'Azeglio; to Giordani's works and
Benassù Montanari's _Life of Ippolito Pindemonti_, besides the books
quoted by Baron Reumont; and for what I may call the general pervading
historical colouring (if indeed I have succeeded in giving any) of the
background against which I have tried to sketch the Countess of Albany,
Charles Edward and Alfieri, I can only refer generally to what is
now a vague mass of detail accumulated by myself during the years of
preparation for my _Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy_.

My debt to the kindness of persons who have put unpublished matter at my
disposal, or helped me to collect various information, is a large one.
In the first category, I wish to express my best thanks to the Director
of the Public Library at Siena; to Cavaliere Guiseppe Porri, a great
collector of autographs, in the same city; to the Countess Baldelli and
Cavaliere Emilio Santarelli of Florence, who possess some most curious
portraits and other relics of the Countess of Albany, Prince Charles
Edward, and Alfieri; and also to my friend Count Pierre Boutourline,
whose grandfather and great-aunt were among Madame d'Albany's friends.
Among those who have kindly given me the benefit of their advice and
assistance, I must mention foremost my friend Signor Mario Pratesi, the
eminent novelist; and next to him the learned Director of the State
Archives of Florence, Cavaliere Gaetano Milanese, and Doctor Guido
Biagi, of the Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuel of Rome, without whose
kindness my work would have been quite impossible.

Florence,
     March 15, 1884.



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I.--THE BRIDE                      1
CHAPTER II.--THE BRIDEGROOM               14
CHAPTER III.--REGINA APOSTOLORUM          25
CHAPTER IV.--THE HEIR                     33
CHAPTER V.--FLORENCE                      46
CHAPTER VI.--ALFIERI                      57
CHAPTER VII.--THE CAVALIERE SERVENTE      72
CHAPTER VIII.--THE ESCAPE                 80
CHAPTER IX.--ROME                         91
CHAPTER X--ANTIGONE                      102
CHAPTER XI.--SEPARATION                  120
CHAPTER XII.--COLMAR                     134
CHAPTER XIII.--RUE DE BOURGOYNE          142
CHAPTER XIV.--BEFORE THE STORM           155
CHAPTER XV.--ENGLAND                     166
CHAPTER XVI.--THE MISOGALLO              176
CHAPTER XVII.--CASA GIANFIGLIAZZI        190
CHAPTER XVIII.--FABRE                    199
CHAPTER XIX.--THE SALON OF THE COUNTESS  207
CHAPTER XX.--SANTA CROCE                 220



ILLUSTRATIONS

ALFIERI AND THE COUNTESS OF ALBANY

 _From the original portrait in the possession of the Marchesa A.
     Alfieri de Sostegno_


CHARLES EDWARD STUART

 _From a pastel, painter unknown, once in the possession of the heir
    of the Countess of Albany's heir Fabre. Now in the possession of
    Mrs. Horace Walpole, of Heckfield Place, Winchfield, Hants_


LOUISE, COUNTESS OF ALBANY

 _From a pastel once in the possession of the heirs of Fabre, now
    in the possession of Mrs. Horace Walpole, of Heckfield Place,
    Winchfield, Hants._



THE COUNTESS OF ALBANY.



CHAPTER I.

THE BRIDE.


On the Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week of the year 1772 the inhabitants
of the squalid and dilapidated little mountain towns between Ancona and
Loreto were thrown into great excitement by the passage of a travelling
equipage, doubtless followed by two or three dependent chaises, of more
than usual magnificence.

The people of those parts have little to do now-a-days, and must have
had still less during the Pontificate of His Holiness Pope Clement XIV.;
and we can imagine how all the windows of the unplastered houses, all
the black and oozy doorways, must have been lined with heads of women
and children; how the principal square of each town, where the horses
were changed, must have been crowded with inquisitive townsfolk and
peasants, whispering, as they hung about the carriages, that the great
traveller was the young Queen of England going to meet her bridegroom;
a thing to be remembered in such world-forgotten places as these, and
which must have furnished the subject of conversation for months and
years, till that Queen of England and her bridegroom had become part
and parcel of the tales of the "Three Golden Oranges," of the "King of
Portugal's Cowherd," of the "Wonderful Little Blue Bird," and such-like
stories in the minds of the children of those Apennine cities. The Queen
of England going to meet her bridegroom at the Holy House of Loreto. The
notion, even to us, does savour strangely of the fairy tale.

What were, meanwhile, the thoughts of the beautiful little fairy
princess, with laughing dark eyes and shining golden hair, and brilliant
fair skin, more brilliant for the mysterious patches of rouge upon
the cheeks, and vermilion upon the lips, whom the more audacious or
fortunate of the townsfolk caught a glimpse of seated in her gorgeous
travelling dress (for the eighteenth century was still in its stage of
pre-revolutionary brocade and gold lace and powder and spangles) behind
the curtains of the coach? Louise, Princess of Stolberg-Gedern, and
ex-Canoness of Mons, was, if we may judge by the crayon portrait and the
miniature done about that time, much more of a child than most women of
nineteen. A clever and accomplished young lady, but, one would say,
with, as yet, more intelligence and acquired pretty little habits and
ideas than character; a childish woman of the world, a bright, light
handful of thistle-bloom. And thus, besides the confusion, the unreality
due to precipitation of events and change of scene, the sense that she
had (how long ago--days, weeks, or years? in such a state time becomes a
great muddle and mystery) been actually married by proxy, that she had
come the whole way from Paris, through Venice and across the sea,
besides being in this dream-like, phantasmagoric condition, which must
have made all things seem light--it is probable that the young lady had
scarcely sufficient consciousness of herself as a grown-up, independent,
independently feeling and thinking creature, to feel or think very
strongly over her situation. It was the regular thing for girls of
Louise of Stolberg's rank to be put through a certain amount of rather
vague convent education, as she had been at Mons; to be put through a
certain amount of balls and parties; to be put through the formality of
betrothal and marriage; all this was the half-conscious dream--then
would come the great waking up. And Louise of Stolberg was, most likely,
in a state of feeling like that which comes to us with the earliest
light through the blinds: pleasant, or unpleasant? We know not which;
still drowsing, dreaming, but yet strongly conscious that in a moment we
shall be awake to reality.

There was, nevertheless, in the position of this girl something which,
even in these circumstances, must have compelled her to think, or, at
all events, to meditate, however confusedly, upon the present and the
future. If she had in her the smallest spark of imagination she must
have felt, to an acute degree, the sort of continuous surprise, recurring
like the tick of a clock, which haunts us sometimes with the fact that
it really does just happen to be ourselves to whom some curious lot,
some rare combination of the numbers in life's lottery, has come. For
the man whom she was going to marry--nay, to whom, in a sense, she was
married already--the unknown whom she would see for the first time that
evening, was not the mere typical bridegroom, the mere man of rank and
fortune, to whom, whatever his particular individual shape and name, the
daughter of a high-born but impoverished house had known herself, since
her childhood, to be devoted.

Louise Maximilienne Caroline Emanuele, daughter of the late Prince
Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg-Gedern, Prince of the Empire, who had
died, a Colonel of Maria Theresa, in the battle of Leuthen; and of
Elisabeth Philippine, Countess of Horn, born at Mons in Hainaut, the
20th September 1752, educated there in a convent, and subsequently
admitted to the half-ecclesiastic, half-worldly dignity of Canoness of
Ste. Wandru in that town: Louise, Princess of Stolberg, now in her
twentieth year, had been betrothed, and, a few weeks ago, married by
proxy in Paris to Charles Edward Stuart, known to history as the Younger
Pretender, to popular imagination as Bonnie Prince Charlie, and to
society in the second half of the eighteenth century as the Count of
Albany. The match had been made up hurriedly--most probably without
consulting, or dreaming of consulting, the girl--by her mother, the
dowager Princess Stolberg, and the Duke of Fitz-James, Charles Edward's
cousin. The French Minister, Duc d'Aiguillon, in one of those fits of
preparing Charles Edward as a weapon against England, which had more
than once cost the Pretender so much bitterness, and the Court of
Versailles so much brazenly endured shame, had intimated to the Count of
Albany that he had better take unto himself a wife. Charles Edward had
more than once refused; this time he accepted, and his cousin Fitz-James
looked around for a possible future Queen of England. Now it happened
that the eldest son of Fitz-James, the Marquis of Jamaica and Duke of
Berwick, had just married Caroline, the second daughter of the widow of
Prince Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg-Gedern; so that the choice
naturally fell upon this lady's elder sister, Louise of Stolberg, the
young Canoness of Ste. Wandru of Mons.

The alliance, short of royal birth, was, in the matter of dignity, all
that could be wished; the Stolbergs were one of the most illustrious
families of the Holy Roman Empire, in whose service they had discharged
many high offices; the Horns, on the other hand, were among the most
brilliant of the Flemish aristocracy, allied to the Gonzagas of Mantua,
the Colonna, Orsinis, the Medina Celis, Croys, Lignes, Hohenzollerns,
and the house of Lorraine, reigning or quasi-reigning families; and
Louise of Stolberg's mother was, moreover, on the maternal side, the
grand-daughter of the Earl of Elgin and Ailesbury, a Bruce, and a
staunch follower of King James II. Such had been the inducements in the
eyes of the Duke of Fitz-James; and therefore in the eyes of Charles
Edward, for whom he was commissioned to select a wife. The inducements
to the Princess of Stolberg had been even greater. Foremost among them
was probably the mere desire of ridding herself, poor and living as she
was on the charity of the Empress-Queen, of another of the four girls
with whom she had been left a widow at twenty-five. It had been a great
blessing to get the two eldest girls, Louise and Caroline, educated,
housed for a time, and momentarily settled in the world by their
admission to the rich and noble chapter of Ste. Wandru: it must have
been a great blessing to see the second girl married to the son of
Fitz-James; it would be a still greater one to get Louise safely off her
hands, now that the third and fourth daughters required to be thought
of. So far for the desirability of any marriage. This particular
marriage with Prince Charles Edward was, moreover, such as to tempt the
vanity and ambition of a lady like the widowed Princess of Stolberg,
conscious of her high rank, and conscious, perhaps painfully conscious
of the difficulty of living up to its requirements. The Count of
Albany's grandfather had been King of England; his father, the Pretender
James, had lived with royal state in his exile at Rome, recognised as
reigning Sovereign by the Pope, and even, every now and then, by France
and Spain. No Government had recognised Charles Edward as King of
England; but, on the other hand, Charles Edward had virtually been King
of Scotland during the '45; he had been promised the help of France to
restore him to his rights; and although that help had never been
satisfactorily given in the past, who could tell whether it might
not be given at any moment in the future? The ups and downs of politics
brought all sorts of unexpected necessities; and why should the French
Government, which had ignominiously kidnapped and bundled off Charles
Edward in 1748, have sent for him again only a year ago, have urged him
to marry, unless it had some scheme for reinstating him in England? The
Duke of Fitz-James had doubtless urged these considerations; he had not
laid much weight on the fact that Charles Edward was thirty-two years
older than his proposed wife; still less is it probable that he had bade
the Princess of Stolberg consider that his royal kinsman was said to be
neither of very good health, nor of very agreeable disposition, nor of
very temperate habits; or, if such ideas were presented to the Princess
Stolberg, she put them behind her. Be it as it may, these were matters
for the judicious consideration of a mother; not, certainly, for the
thoughts of a daughter. The judicious mother decided that such a match
was a good one; perhaps, in her heart, she was even overwhelmed by the
glory which this daughter of hers was permitted by Heaven to add to all
the glories of the illustrious Stolbergs and Horns. Anyhow, she accepted
eagerly; so eagerly as to forget both gratitude and prudence: for so far
from consulting her benefactress, Maria Theresa, about the advisability
of this marriage, or asking her sovereign permission for a step
which might draw upon the Empress-Queen some disagreeable diplomatic
correspondence with England, the Princess of Stolberg kept the matter
close, and did not even announce the marriage to the Court of Vienna;
yet she must have foreseen what occurred, namely, that Maria Theresa,
mortified not merely in her dignity as a sovereign, but also, and
perhaps more, in her ruling passion of benevolent meddlesomeness, would
suspend the pension which formed a large portion of the Princess's
income, and compel her to the abject apology before restoring it. The
marriage with Charles Edward Stuart was worth all that!

Louise of Stolberg was probably well aware of the extreme glory of the
marriage for which she had been reserved. The Fitz-Jameses, in virtue of
their illegitimate descent from James II., considered themselves and
were considered as a sort of Princes of the Blood; and as such they
doubtless impressed Louise with a great notion of the glory of the
Stuarts, and the absolute legitimacy of their claims. On his marriage
Charles Edward assumed the title, and attempted to assume the position,
of King of England; so his bride must have considered herself as the
wife not merely of the Count of Albany, but of Charles III., King of
Great Britain, France, and Ireland. She was going to be a _Queen_! We
must try, we democratic creatures of a time when kings and queens may
perfectly be adventurers and adventuresses, to put ourselves in the
place of this young lady of a century ago, brought up as a dignitary
of a chapter into which admission depended entirely upon the number
and quality of quarterings of the candidate's escutcheon, under a
superior--the Abbess of Ste. Wandru--who was the sister of the late
Emperor Francis, the sister-in-law of Maria Theresa; we must try and
conceive an institution something between a school, a sisterhood, and a
club, in which the ruling idea, the source of all dignity, jealousy,
envy, and triumph, was greatness of birth and connection; we must try
and do this in order to understand what, to Louise of Stolberg, was the
full value of the fact of becoming the wife of Charles Edward Stuart.
One hundred and twelve years ago, and seventeen years before the great
revolution which yawns, an almost impassable gulf, between us and the
men and women of the past, a woman, a girl of nineteen, and a Canoness
of Ste. Wandru of Mons, need have been of no base temper if, on the
eve of such a wedding as this one, her mind had been full of only one
idea: the idea, monotonous and drowningly loud like some big cathedral
bell, "I shall be a Queen." But if Louise of Stolberg was, as is most
probable, in some such a state of vague exultation, we must remember
also that there may well have entered into such exultation an element
with which even we, and even the most austerely or snobbishly democratic
among us, might fully have sympathised. Her mother, her sister, her
brother-in-law, and the old Duke of Fitz-James, who had made up her
marriage and married her by proxy, and every other person who had
approached her during the last month, must have been filling the mind of
Louise of Stolberg with tales of the '45 and of the heroism of Prince
Charlie. And her mind, which, as afterwards appeared, was romantic,
fascinated by eccentricity and genius, may easily have become enamoured
of the bridegroom who awaited her, the last of so brilliant and ill-fated
a race, the hero of Gladsmuir and Falkirk, at whose approach the
Londoners had shut their shops in terror, and the Hanoverian usurper
ordered his yacht to lie ready moored at the Tower steps; the more than
royal young man whom (as the Jacobites doubtless told her) only the
foolish and traitorous obstinacy of his followers had prevented from
reinstating his father on the throne of England. Historical figures,
especially those of a heroic sort, remain pictured in men's minds at
their moment of glory; and this was the case particularly with the Young
Pretender, who had disappeared into well-nigh complete mystery after his
wonderful exploits and hairbreadth escapes of the '45; so that in the
eyes of Louise of Stolberg the man she was about to marry appeared most
probably but little changed from the brilliant youth who had marched on
foot at the head of his army towards London, who had held court at
Holyrood and roamed in disguise about the Hebrides.

Still, it is difficult to imagine that as the hours of meeting drew
nearer, the little Princess, as her travelling carriage toiled up the
Apennine valleys, did not feel some terror of the future and the
unknown. The spring comes late to those regions; in the middle of April
the blackthorn is scarcely budding on the rocks, the violets are still
plentiful underneath the leafless roadside hedges; scarcely a faint
yellow, more like autumn that spring, is beginning to tinge the scraggy
outlines of the poplars, which rise in spectral regiments out of the
river beds. Wherever the valley widens, or the road gains some hill-crest,
a huge peak white with newly-fallen snow confronts you, closes in the
view, bringing bleakness and bitterness curiously home to the feelings.
These valleys, torrent-tracks between the steep rocks of livid basalt or
bright red sandstone, bare as a bone or thinly clothed with ilex and
juniper scrub, are inexpressibly lonely and sad, especially at this time
of year. You feel imprisoned among the rocks in a sort of catacomb open
to the sky, where the shadows gather in the early afternoon, and only
the light on the snow-peaks and on the high-sailing clouds tells you
that the sun is still in the heavens. Villages there seem none; and you
may drive for an hour without meeting more than a stray peasant cutting
scrub or quarrying gravel on the hill-side, a train of mules carrying
charcoal or faggots; the towns are far between, bleak, black, filthy,
and such as only to make you feel all the more poignantly the utter
desolateness of these mountains. No sadder way of entering Italy can
well be imagined than landing at Ancona and crossing through the
Apennines to Rome in the early spring. To a girl accustomed to the fat
flatness of Flanders, to the market-bustle of a Flemish provincial town,
this journey must have been overwhelmingly dreary and dismal. During
those long hours dragging up these Apennine valleys, did a shadow fall
across the mind of the pretty, fair-haired, brilliant-complexioned
little Canoness of Mons, a shadow like the cold melancholy blue which
filled the valleys between the sun-smitten peaks? And did it ever occur
to her, as the horses were changed in the little post-towns, that it was
in honour of Holy Week that the savage-looking bearded men, the big,
brawny, madonna-like women had got on their best clothes? Did it strike
her that the unplastered church-fronts were draped with black, the
streets strewn with laurel and box, as for a funeral, that the bells
were silent in their towers? Perhaps not; and yet when, a few years
later, the Countess of Albany was already wont to say that her married
life had been just such as befitted a woman who had gone to the altar on
Good Friday, she must have remembered, and the remembrance must have
seemed fraught with ill omen, that last day of her girlhood, travelling
through the black deserted valleys of the March, through the
world-forgotten mountain-towns with their hushed bells and black-draped
churches and funereally strewn streets.

At Loreto--where, as a good Catholic, the Princess Louise of Stolberg
doubtless prayed for a blessing on her marriage, in the great sanctuary
which encloses with silver and carved marble the little house of the
Virgin--at Loreto the bride was met by a Jacobite dignitary, Lord
Carlyle, and five servants in the crimson liveries of England. At
Macerata, one of the larger towns of the March of Ancona, she was
awaited by her bridegroom. A noble family of the province, the
Compagnoni-Marefoschis, one of whom, a cardinal, was an old friend of
the Stuarts, had placed their palace at the disposal of the royal pair.
We most of us know what such palaces, in small Italian provincial towns
south of the Apennines, are apt to be; huge, gloomy, shapeless masses of
brickwork and mouldering plaster, something between a mediæval fortress
and a convent; great black archways, where the refuse of the house, the
filth of the town, has peaceably accumulated (and how much more in those
days); magnificent statued staircases given over to the few servants
who have replaced the armed bravos of two centuries ago; long suites
of rooms, vast, resounding like so many churches, glazed in the last
century with tiny squares of bad glass, through which the light
comes green and thick as through sea-water; carpets still despised
as a new-fangled luxury from France; the walls, not cheerful with
eighteenth-century French panel and hangings, but covered with big naked
frescoed men and women, or faded arras; few fire-places, but those few
enormous, looking like a huge red cavern in the room. The Marefoschis
had got together all their best furniture and plate, and the palace was
filled with torches and wax lights; a funereal illumination in a
funereal place, it must have seemed to the little Princess of Stolberg,
fresh from the brilliant nattiness of the Parisian houses of the time of
Louis XV.

The bride alighted; a small, plump, well-proportioned, rather childish
creature, with still half-formed childish features, a trifle snub, a
trifle soulless, very pretty, tender, light-hearted; a charming little
creature, very well made to steal folk's hearts unconscious to
themselves and to herself.

The bridegroom met her. A faded, but extremely characteristic crayon
portrait, the companion of the one of which I have already spoken, now
in the possession of Cavaliere Emilio Santarelli (the only man still
living who can remember that same Louise d'Albany), a portrait evidently
taken at this time, has shown me what that bridegroom must have been.
The man who met Louise of Stolberg at Macerata as her husband and
master, the man who had once been Bonnie Prince Charlie, was tall,
big-boned, gaunt, and prematurely bowed for his age of fifty-two;
dressed usually, and doubtless on this occasion, with the blue ribbon
and star, in a suit of crimson watered silk, which threw up a red
reflection into his red and bloated face. A red face, but of a livid,
purplish red suffused all over the heavy furrowed forehead to where it
met the white wig, all over the flabby cheeks, hanging in big loose
folds upon the short, loose-folded red neck; massive features, but
coarsened and drawn; and dull, thick, silent-looking lips, of purplish
red scarce redder than the red skin; pale blue eyes tending to a watery
greyness, leaden, vague, sad, but with angry streakings of red;
something inexpressibly sad, gloomy, helpless, vacant and debased in the
whole face: such was the man who awaited Louise of Stolberg in the
Compagnoni-Marefoschi palace at Macerata, and who, on Good Friday the
17th of April 1772, wedded her in the palace chapel and signed his name
in the register as Charles III., King of Great Britain, France, and
Ireland.



CHAPTER II.

THE BRIDEGROOM.


On the Wednesday after Easter the bride and bridegroom made their solemn
entry into Rome; the two travelling carriages of the Prince and of the
Princess were drawn by six horses; four gala coaches, carrying the
attendants of Charles Edward and of his brother the Cardinal Duke of
York, followed behind, and the streets were cleared by four outriders
dressed in scarlet with the white Stuart cockade. The house to which
Louise of Stolberg, now Louise d'Albany, or rather, as she signed
herself at this time, Louise R., was conducted after her five days'
wedding journey, has passed through several hands since belonging to the
Sacchettis, the Muti Papazzurris, and now-a-days to the family of
About's charming and unhappy Tolla Ferraldi. Clement XI. had given or
lent it to the Elder Pretender: James III., as he was styled in Italy,
had settled in it about 1719 with his beautiful bride Maria Clementina
Sobieska, romantically filched by her Jacobites from the convent at
Innsbruck, where the Emperor Charles VI. had hoped to restrain her from
so compromising a match; here, in the year 1720, Charles Edward had been
born and had his baby fingers kissed by the whole sacred college; and
here the so-called King of England had died at last, a melancholy
hypochondriac, in 1766. The palace closes in the narrow end of the
square of the Santissimi Apostoli, stately and quiet with its various
palaces, Colonna, Odescalchi, and whatever else their names, and its
pillared church front. There is a certain aristocratic serenity about
that square, separated, like a big palace yard, from the bustling Corso
in front; yet to me there remains, a tradition of my childhood, a sort
of grotesque and horrid suggestiveness connected with this peaceful and
princely corner of Rome. For, many years ago, when the square of the
Santissimi Apostoli was still periodically strewn with sand that the
Pope might not be jolted when his golden coach drove up to the church,
and when the names of Charles Edward and his Countess were curiously
mixed up in my brain with those of Charles the First and Mary Queen of
Scots, there used to be in a little street leading out of the square
towards the Colonna Gardens, a dark recess in the blank church-wall, an
embrasure, sheltered by a pent-house roof and raised like a stage a few
steep steps above the pavement; and in it loomed, strapped to a chair,
dark in the shadow, a creature in a long black robe and a skull cap
drawn close over his head; a vague, contorted, writhing and gibbering
horror, of whose St. Vitus twistings and mouthings we children scarcely
ventured to catch a glimpse as we hurried up the narrow street, followed
by the bestial cries and moans of the solitary maniac. This weird and
grotesque sight, more weird and more grotesque seen through a muddled
childish fancy and through the haze of years, has remained associated in
my mind with that particular corner of Rome, where, with windows looking
down upon that street, upon that blank church-wall with its little
black recess, the palace of the Stuarts closes in the narrow end of the
square of the Santissimi Apostoli. And now, I cannot help seeing a
certain strange appropriateness in the fact that the image of that
mouthing and gesticulating half-witted creature should be connected in
my mind with the house to which, with pomp of six-horse coaches and
scarlet outriders, Charles Edward Stuart conducted his bride.

Illustration: CHARLES EDWARD STUART
   _From a pastel, painter unknown, once in the possession of the
    heir of the Countess of Albany's heir Fabre. Now in the possession
    of Mrs. Horace Walpole, of Heckfield Place, Winchfield, Hants._

For the beautiful and brilliant youth who had secretly left that palace
twenty-four years before to re-conquer his father's kingdom, the gentle
and gallant and chivalric young prince of whose irresistible manner and
voice the canny chieftains had vainly bid each other beware when he
landed with his handful of friends and called the Highlanders to arms;
the patient and heroic exile, singing to his friends when the sea washed
over their boat and the Hanoverian soldiers surrounded their cavern or
hovel, who had silently given Miss Macdonald that solemn kiss which she
treasured for more than fifty years in her strong heart--that Charles
Edward Stuart was now a creature not much worthier and not much less
repulsive than the poor idiot whom I still see, flinging about his
palsied hands and gobbling with his speechless mouth, beneath the
windows of the Stuart palace. The taste for drinking, so strange in a
man brought up to the age of twenty-three among the proverbially sober
Italians, had arisen in Charles Edward, a most excusable ill habit in
one continually exposed to wet and cold, frequently sleeping on the damp
ground, ill-fed, anxious, worn out by over-exertion in flying before his
enemies, during those frightful months after the defeat at Culloden,
when, with a price of thirty thousand pounds upon his head, he had
lurked in the fastnesses of the Hebrides. We hear that on the eve of his
final escape from Scotland, his host, Macdonald of Kingsburgh, prevented
the possible miscarriage of all their perilous plans only by smashing
the punch-bowl over which the Pretender, already more than half drunk,
had insisted upon spending the night. Still more significant is the
fact, recorded by Hugh Macdonald of Balshair, that when Charles Edward
was concealed in a hovel in the isle of South Uist, the prince and his
faithful followers continued drinking (the words are Balshair's own)
"for three days and three nights." Hard drinking was, we all know, a
necessary accomplishment in the Scotland of those days; and hard
drinking, we must all of us admit, may well have been the one comfort
and resource of a man undergoing the frightful mental and bodily
miseries of those months of lying at bay. But Charles Edward did not
relinquish the habit when he was back again in safety and luxury.
Strangely compounded of an Englishman and a Pole, the Polish element,
the brilliant and light-hearted chivalry, the cheerful and youthfully
wayward heroism which he had inherited from the Sobieskis, seemed to
constitute the whole of Charles Edward's nature when he was young and,
for all his reverses, still hopeful; as he grew older, as deferred
and disappointed hopes, and endured ignominy, made him a middle-aged
man before his time, then also did the other hereditary strain, the
morose obstinacy, the gloomy brutality of James II. and of his father
begin to appear, and gradually obliterated every trace of what had been
the splendour and charm of the Prince Charlie of the '45. Disappointed
of the assistance of France, which had egged him to this great enterprise
only to leave him shamefully in the lurch, Charles Edward had, immediately
upon the peace of Aix la Chapelle, become an embarrassing guest of
Louis XV., and a guest of whom the victorious English were continually
requiring the ignominious dismissal; until, wearied by the indifference
to all hints and orders to free France from his compromising presence,
the Court of Versailles had descended to the incredible baseness of
having the Prince kidnapped as he was going to the opera, bound hand and
foot, carried like a thief to the fortress of Vincennes, and then
conducted to the frontier like a suspected though unconvicted swindler,
or other public nuisance.

This indignity, coming close upon the irreparable blow dealt to the
Jacobite cause by the stupid selfishness which impelled Charles Edward's
younger brother to become a Romish priest and a cardinal, appears to
have definitively decided the extraordinary change in the character of
the Young Pretender. During the many years of skulking, often completely
lost to the sight both of Jacobite adherents and of Hanoverian spies,
which followed upon that outrage of the year 1748, the few glimpses
which we obtain of Charles Edward show us only a precociously aged,
brutish and brutal sot, obstinate in disregarding all efforts to restore
him to a worthier life, yet not obstinate enough to refuse unnecessary
pecuniary aid from the very government and persons by whom he had been
so cruelly outraged. We hear that Charles Edward's confessor, with whom,
despite his secret abjuration of Catholicism, he continued to associate,
was a notorious drunkard; and that the mistress with whom he lived for
many years, and whom he even passed off as his wife, was also addicted
to drinking; nay, Lord Elcho is said to have witnessed a tipsy squabble
between the Young Pretender and Miss Walkenshaw, the lady in question,
across the table of a low Paris tavern. The reports of the many spies
whom the English Government set everywhere on his traces are constant
and unanimous in one item of information: the Prince began to drink
early in the morning, and was invariably dead drunk by the evening; nay,
some letters of Cardinal York, addressed to an unknown Jacobite, speak
of the "nasty bottle, that goes on but too much, and certainly must at
last kill him." But, although drunkenness undoubtedly did much to
obliterate whatever still remained of the hero of the '45, it was
itself only one of the proofs of the strange metamorphosis which had
taken place in his character. We cannot admit the plea of some of his
biographers, who would save his honour at the price of his reason.
Charles Edward was the victim neither of an hereditary vice nor of a
mental disease; drink was in his case not a form of madness, but merely
the ruling passion of a broken-spirited and degraded nature. He had the
power when he married, and even much later in life, when he sent for his
illegitimate daughter, of refraining from his usual excesses; his will,
impaired though it was, still existed, and what was wanting in the sad
second half of his career was not resolution, but conscience, pride, an
ideal, anything which might beget the desire of reform. The curious
mixture of brow-beating moroseness with a brazen readiness to accept and
even extort favours, he would appear, as he ceased to be young, to have
gradually inherited from his father; he was ready to live on the alms of
the French Court, while never losing an opportunity of declaiming
against the ignoble treatment which that same Court had inflicted on
him. He became sordid and grasping in money matters, basely begging
for money, which he did not require, from those who, like Gustavus III.
of Sweden, discovered only too late that he was demeaning himself from
avarice and not from necessity. While keeping a certain maudlin sentiment
about his exploits and those of his followers, which manifested itself
in cruelly pathetic scenes when, as in his old age, people talked to him
of the Highlands and the Rebellion; he was wholly without any sense of
his obligation towards men who had exposed their life and happiness for
him, of the duty which bound him to repay their devotion by docility to
their advice, by sacrifice of his inclinations, or even by such mere
decency of behaviour as would spare them the bitterness of allegiance to
a disreputable and foul-mouthed sot. But, until the moment when old and
dying, he placed himself in the strong hands of his natural daughter,
Charles Edward seems to have been, however obstinate in his favouritism,
incapable of any real affection. When his brother Henry became a priest
Charles held aloof for long years both from him and from his father; and
this resentment of what was after all a mere piece of bigoted folly, may
be partially excused by the fact that the identification of his family
with Popery had seriously damaged the prospects of Jacobitism. But the
lack of all lovingness in his nature is proved beyond possibility of
doubt by the brutal manner in which, while obstinately refusing to part
with his mistress at the earnest entreaty of his adherents, he explained
to their envoy Macnamara that his refusal was due merely to resentment
at any attempted interference in his concerns; but that, for the rest,
he had not the smallest affection or consideration remaining for
the woman they wished to make him relinquish. As if all the stupid
selfishness bred of centuries of royalty had accumulated in this man
who might be king only through his own and his adherents' magnanimity,
Charles Edward seemed, in the second period of his life, to feel as
if he had a right over everything, and nobody else had a right over
anything; all sense of reciprocity was gone; he would accept devotion,
self-sacrifice, generosity, charity--nay, he would even insist upon
them; but he would give not one tittle in return; so that, forgetful of
the heroism and clemency and high spirit of his earlier days, one might
almost think that his indignant answer to Cardinal de Tenein, who
offered him England and Scotland if he would cede Ireland to France,
"Everything or nothing, Monsieur le Cardinal!" was dictated less by the
indignation of an Englishman than by the stubborn graspingness of a
Stuart. His further behaviour towards Miss Walkenshaw shows the same
indifference to everything except what he considered his own rights. He
had crudely admitted that he cared nothing for her, that it was only
because his adherents wished her dismissal that he did not pack her off;
and subsequently he seems to have given himself so little thought either
for his mistress or for his child by her, that, without the benevolence
of his brother the Cardinal, they might have starved. But when, after
long endurance of his jealousy and brutality, after being watched like
a prisoner and beaten like a slave, the wretched woman at length took
refuge in a convent, Charles Edward's rage knew no bounds; and he
summoned the French Government, despite his old quarrel with it, to
kidnap and send back the woman over whom he had no legal rights, and
certainly no moral ones, with the obstinacy and violence of a drunken
navvy clamouring for the wife whom he has well-nigh done to death.
Beyond the mere intemperance and the violence born of intemperance which
made Charles Edward's name a byword and served the Hanoverian dynasty
better than all the Duke of Cumberland's gibbets, there was at the
bottom of the Pretender's character--his second character at least, his
character after the year 1750--heartlessness and selfishness, an absence
of all ideal and all gratitude, much more morally repulsive than any
mere vice, and of which the vice which publicly degraded him was the
result much more than the cause. The curse of kingship in an age
when royalty had lost all utility, the habit of irresponsibility, of
indifference, the habit of always claiming and never giving justice,
love, self-sacrifice, all the good things of this world, this curse had
lurked, an evil strain, in the nature of this king without a kingdom,
and had gradually blighted and made hideous what had seemed an almost
heroic character. Royal-souled Charles Edward Stuart had certainly
been in his youth; brilliant with all those virtues of endurance,
clemency, and affability which the earlier eighteenth century still
fondly associated with the divine right of kings; and royal-souled, hard
and weak with all the hardness and weakness, the self-indulgence,
obstinacy, and thoughtlessness for others of effete races of kings, he
had become no less certainly, in the second part of his life; branded
with God's own brand of unworthiness, which signifies that a people, or
a class, or a family, is doomed to extinction.

Such was the man to whom the easy-going habit of the world, the
perfectly self-righteous indifference to a woman's happiness or honour
of the well-bred people of that day, gave over as a partner for life a
half-educated, worldly-ignorant and absolutely will-less young girl of
nineteen and a half, who doubtless considered herself extremely
fortunate in being chosen for so brilliant a match.

There is a glamour, even for us, connected with the name of Charles
Edward Stuart; in his youth he forms a brilliant speck of romantic light
in that dull eighteenth century, a spot of light surrounded by the halo
of glory of the devotion which he inspired and the enthusiasm which he
left behind him. We feel, in a way, grateful to him almost as we might
feel grateful to a clever talker, a beautiful woman, a bright day, as to
something pleasing and enlivening to our fancy. But the brilliant effect
which has pleased us is like some gorgeous pageant connected with the
worship of a stupid and ferocious divinity; nay, rather, if we let our
thoughts dwell upon the matter, if we remember how, while the prisons
and ship-holds were pestilent with the Jacobite men and women penned up
like cattle in obscene promiscuity, while the mutilated corpses were
lying still green, piled up under the bog turf of Culloden, while so
many of the bravest men of Scotland, who had supplicated the Young
Pretender not to tempt them to a hopeless enterprise, were cheerfully
mounting the scaffold "for so sweet a prince," Charles Edward was
dancing at Versailles in his crimson silk dress and diamonds, with
his black-eyed boast the eldest-born Princess of France. Nay, worse,
if we remember how the man, for whose love and whose right so much
needless agony had been expended, let himself become a disgrace to the
very memory of the men who had died for him: if we bear all this in
mind, Charles Edward seems to become a mere irresponsible and fated
representative of some evil creed; the idol, at first fair-shapen and
smiling, then hideous and loathsome, to which human sacrifices are
brought in solemnity; a glittering idol of silver, or a foul idol of
rotten wood, but without nerves and mind to perceive the weeping all
around, the sop of blood at its feet. And now, after the sacrifice of so
many hundreds of brave men to this one man, comes the less tragic, less
heroic, perfectly legitimate and correct sacrifice to him of a pretty
young woman, not brave and not magnanimous, but very fit for innocent
enjoyment and very fit for honourable love.



CHAPTER III.

REGINA APOSTOLORUM.


Charles Edward had refrained from drink, or at least refrained from any
excesses, in honour of his marriage. Perhaps the notion that France was
again taking him up, a notion well-founded since France had bid him
marry and have an heir, and the recollection of the near miscarriage of
all his projects, thanks to having presented himself, a year before, to
the French Minister so drunk that he could neither speak nor be spoken
to, perhaps the old hope of becoming after all a real king, had turned
the Pretender into a temporarily-reformed character. Or, perhaps, weary
of the life of melancholy solitude, of debauched squalor, of the moral
pig-stye in which he had been rotting so many years, the idea of
decency, of dignity, of society, of a wife and children and friends,
may have made him capable of a strong resolution. Perhaps, also, the
unfamiliar, wonderful presence of a beautiful and refined young woman,
of something to adore, or at least to be jealous and vain of, may have
wakened whatever still remained of the gallant and high-spirited Polish
nature in this morose and besotten old Stuart. Be this as it may,
Charles Edward, however degraded, was able to command himself when he
chose, and, for one reason or another, he did choose to command himself
and behave like a tolerably decent man and husband during the first few
months following on his marriage. Besides the redness of his face, the
leaden suffused look of his eyes, the vague air of degradation all about
him, there was perhaps nothing, at first, that revealed to Louise, Queen
of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, that her husband was a drunkard
and well-nigh a maniac. Engaging he certainly could not have been,
however much he tried (and we know he tried hard) to show his full
delight at having got so charming a little wife; indeed, it is easy to
imagine that if anything might inspire even a properly educated and
high-born young Flemish or German lady of the eighteenth century with
somewhat of a sense of loathing, it must have been the assiduities and
endearments of a man such as Charles Edward. But Louise of Stolberg had
doubtless absorbed, from her mother, from her older fellow-canonesses,
nay, from the very school-girls in the convent where she had been
educated, all proper views, negative and positive, on the subject of
marriage; nor must we give to a girl who was probably still too much of
a child, too much of an unromantic little woman of the world, undeserved
pity on account of degradation which she had most probably, as yet, not
sufficient moral nerve to appreciate. Her husband was old, he was ugly,
he was not attractive; he may have been tiresome and rather loathsome in
his constant attendance; he may even have smelt of brandy every now and
then; but as marriages had been invented in order to give young women a
position in the world, husbands were not expected to be much more than
drawbacks to the situation; and as to the sense of life-long dependence
upon an individual, as to the desire for love and sympathy, it was still
too early in the eighteenth century, and perhaps, also, too early in the
life of a half-Flemish, half-German girl, very childish still in aspect,
and brought up in the worldly wisdom of a noble chapter of canonesses,
to expect anything of that kind.

There must, however, from the very beginning, have been something unreal
and uncanny in the girl's situation. The huge old palace, crammed with
properties of dead Stuarts and Sobieskis, with its royal throne and daïs
in the ante-room, its servants in the royal liveries of England, must
have been full of rather lugubrious memories. Here James III. of England
and VIII. of Scotland had moped away his bitter old age; here, years
and years ago, Charles Edward's mother, the beautiful and brilliant
grand-daughter of John Sobieski, had pined away, bullied and cajoled back
from the convent in which she had taken refuge, perpetually outraged by
the violence of her husband and the insolence of his mistress; it was an
ill-omened sort of place for a bride. Around extended the sombre and
squalid Rome of the second half of the eighteenth century, with its
huge ostentatious rococo palaces and churches, its straggled, black
and filthy streets, its ruins still embedded in nettles and filth, its
population seemingly composed only of monks and priests (for all men of
the middle-classes wore the black dress and short hair of the clergy),
or of half-savage peasants and workmen, bearded creatures, in wonderful
embroidered vests and scarves, looking exceedingly like brigands, as
Bartolomeo Pinelli etched them even some thirty years later. A town
where every doorway was a sewer by day and a possible hiding-place for
thieves by night; where no woman durst cross the street alone after
dusk, and no man dared to walk home unattended after nine or ten; where,
driving about in her gilded state-coach of an afternoon, the Pretender's
bride must often have met a knot of people conveying a stabbed man (the
average gave more than one assassination per day) to the nearest barber
or apothecary, the blood of the murdered man mingling, in the black ooze
about the rough cobble-stones over which the coaches jolted, with the
blood trickling from the disembowelled sheep hanging, ghastly in their
fleeces, from the hooks outside the butchers' and cheesemongers' shops;
or returning home at night from the opera, amid the flare of the
footmen's torches, must have heard the distant cries of some imprudent
person struggling in the hands of marauders; or, again, on Sundays and
holidays have been stopped by the crowd gathered round the pillory where
some too easy-going husband sat crowned with a paper-cap in a hail-storm
of mud and egg-shells and fruit-peelings, round the scaffold where some
petty offender was being flogged by the hangman, until the fortunate
appearance of a clement cardinal or the rage of the sympathising mob put
a stop to the proceedings. Barbarous as we remember the Rome of the
Popes, we must imagine it just a hundred times more barbarous, more
squalid, picturesque, filthy, and unsafe if we would know what it was a
hundred years ago.

But in this barbarous Rome there were things more beautiful and
wonderful to a young Flemish lady of the eighteenth century than they
could possibly be to us, indifferent and much-cultured creatures of the
nineteenth century, who know that most art is corrupt and most music
trashy. The private galleries of Rome were then in process of formation;
pictures which had hung in dwelling-rooms were being assembled in those
beautiful gilded and stuccoed saloons, with their out-look on to the
cloisters of a court, or the ilex tops or orange espaliers of a garden,
filled with the faint splash of the fountains outside, the spectral
silvery chiming of musical clocks, where, unconscious of the thousands of
beings who would crowd in there armed with guide-books and opera-glasses
in the days to come, only stray foreigners were to be met, foreigners
who most likely were daintily embroidered and powdered aristocrats from
England or Germany, if they were not men like Winckelmann, or Goethe, or
Beckford. It was the great day, also, for excavations; the vast majority
of antiques which we now see in Rome having been dug up at that period;
and among the ilexes of the Ludovisi and Albani gardens, among the laurels
and rough grass of the Vatican hill, porticoes were being built, and
long galleries and temple-like places, where a whole people of marble
might live among the newly-found mosaics and carved altars and vases.
Moreover, there was at that time in Rome a thing of which there is now
less in Rome than anywhere, perhaps, in the world--a thing for which
English and Germans came expressly to Italy: there was music. A large
proportion of the best new operas were always brought out in Rome--always
four or five new ones in each season; and the young singers from the
conservatorios of Naples came to the ecclesiastical city, where no
actresses were suffered, to begin their career in the hoop skirts and
stomachers, and powdered _toupés_ with which the eighteenth century was
wont to conceive the heroines of ancient Greece and Rome. The bride of
Charles Edward was herself a tolerable musician, and she had a taste for
painting and sculpture which developed into a perfect passion in
after life; so, with respect to art, there was plenty to amuse her.

It was different with regard to society. By insisting upon royal honours
such as had been enjoyed by his father, but which the Papal Court,
anxious to keep on good terms with England, absolutely refused to give
him, the Pretender had virtually cut himself and his wife out of all
Roman society; for he would not know the nobles on a footing of equality,
and they, on the other hand, dared know him on no other. The great
entertainments in the palaces where Charles Edward had so often danced,
the admired of all beholders, in his boyhood, were not for the Count and
Countess of Albany. There remained the theatres and public balls, to
which the Pretender conducted his wife with the assiduity of a man
immensely vain of having on his arm a woman far too young and too pretty
for his deserts. And, besides this, there was a certain amount of vague,
shifting foreign society, nobles on the loose, and young men on their
grand tour, who mostly considered that a visit to the Palazzo Muti, or
at least a seemingly accidental meeting and introduction in the lobby of
a theatre or the garden of a villa, was an indispensable part of their
sight-seeing. Such people as these were the guests of the Palazzo Muti;
and, together with a few Jacobite hangers-on, constituted the fluctuating
little Court of Louise, Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland,
whom the people of Rome, hearing of the throne and daïs in the ante-room
and of the royal ceremonial in the palace near the Santissimi Apostoli,
usually spoke of as the _Regina Apostolorum_; while only a very few, who
had approached that charming little blonde lady, corrected the title to
that of Queen of Hearts, Regina dei Cuori. Among the few who bowed
before Charles Edward's wife, in consideration of this last-named
kingdom, was a brilliant, wayward young man, destined to remain a sort
of brilliant, wayward, impracticable child until he was eighty; and
destined, also, to cherish throughout the long lives of both, the sort
of half genuine, half affected, boy's, or rather page's, passion with
which Queen Louise had inspired him. Karl Victor von Bonstetten, of a
patrician family of Bern, a Frenchified German, more French, more
butterfly-like than any real Frenchman, even of the old _régime_, came
to Rome, already well-known by his romantic friendship with the Swiss
historian Müller, and by the ideas which he had desultorily and gaily
aired on most subjects, in the year 1773. In his memoirs he wrote as
follows of the "Queen of Hearts": "She was of middle height, fair, with
dark-blue eyes, a slightly turned-up nose, and a dazzling white English
complexion. Her expression was gay and _espiègle_, and not without a
spice of irony, on the whole more French than German. She was enough to
turn all heads. The Pretender was tall, lean, good-natured, talkative.
He liked to have opportunities of speaking English, and was given to
talking a great deal about his adventures--interesting enough for a
visitor, but not equally so for his intimates, who had probably heard
those stories a hundred times over. After every sentence almost he would
ask, in Italian, 'Do you understand?' His young wife laughed heartily at
the story of his dressing up in woman's clothes." A dull, garrulous
husband, boring people with stories of which they were sick; a childish
little wife, trying to make the best of things, and laughing over the
stale old jokes; this is what may be called the idyllic moment in the
wedded life of Charles Edward and Louise. What would she have felt, that
strong, calm lady, growing old far off in the Isle of Skye, had she been
able to see what Bonstetten saw; had she heard the Count and Countess of
Albany laughing, the one with the laughter of an old sot, the other with
the laughter of a giddy child, over the adventures of that heroic Prince
Charlie whose memory was safe in her heart as the sheets he had slept in
were safe in her closet, waiting to be her grave-clothes?

Forty-four years later, when the Queen of Hearts was a stout, dowdy old
lady, with no traces of beauty, and himself a flighty, amiable old
gossip of seventy, Karl Victor von Bonstetten wrote to the Countess of
Albany from Rome: "I never pass through the Apostles' square without
looking up at that balcony, at that house where I saw you for the first
time."



CHAPTER IV.

THE HEIR.


In 1765 Horace Walpole, mentioning the now-ascertained fact of the
Pretender's abjuration of Catholicism, informed his friend Mann that
a rumour was about that Charles Edward had declared his intention of
never marrying, in order that no more Stuarts should remain to embroil
England. This magnanimous resolution, which was a mere repetition of an
answer made years ago by the Pretender's father, did not hold good
against the temptations of the Cabinet of Versailles. There is something
particularly disgusting in the thought that, merely because the French
Government thought it convenient to keep a Stuart in reserve with whom,
if necessary, to trip up England, the once magnanimous Charles Edward
consented to marry in consideration of a certain pension from Versailles;
to make money out of any possible or probable son he might have. This,
however, was the plain state of the case; and Louise of Stolberg had
been selected, and married to a drunkard old enough to be her father,
merely that this honourable bargain between the man outraged in 1748,
and the Government which had outraged him, might be satisfactorily
fulfilled.

The Court of Versailles wasted its money: the officially-negotiated baby
was never born. Nay, Sir Horace Mann, the English Minister at Florence,
whose spies watched every movement of the Count and Countess of Albany,
was able to report to his Government, in answer to a vague rumour of the
coming of an heir, that the wife of Charles Edward Stuart had never, at
any moment, had any reasons for expecting to become a mother. And when,
in the first years of this century, Henry Benedict, Cardinal York, the
younger brother of Charles Edward, was buried where the two melancholy
genii of Canova keep watch in St. Peter's, opposite to the portrait of
Maria Clementina Sobieska in powder and paint and patches, a certain
solemn feeling came over most Englishmen with the thought that the race
of James II. was now extinct.

But the world had forgotten that the children of Edward IV. were
resuscitated; that the son of Louis XVI., whose poor little dead body
had been handled by the Commissary of the Republic, had returned to
earth in the shape of five or six perfectly distinct individuals,
Bruneau, Hervagault, Naundorff, whatever else their names; that King
Arthur is still living in the kingdom of Morgan le Fay; and Barbarossa
still asleep on the stone table, waiting till the rooks which circle
round the Kiefhäuser hill shall tell him to arise; and the world had,
therefore, to learn that a Stuart still existed. The legend runs as
follows.

In 1773, a certain Dr. Beaton, a staunch Jacobite, who had fought at
Culloden, was attracted, while travelling in Italy, by the knowledge
that his legitimate sovereigns were spending part of the summer at a
villa in the neighbourhood, to a vague place somewhere in the Apennines
between Parma and Lucca, distinguished by the extremely un-Tuscan name
of St. Rosalie. Here, while walking about "in the deep quiet shades,"
the doctor was one day startled by a "calash and four, with scarlet
liveries," which dashed past him and up an avenue. During the one moment
of its rapid passage, the Scotch physician recognised in the rather
apocalyptic gentleman wearing the garter and the cross of St. Andrew,
who sat by the side of a beautiful young woman, "the Bonnie Prince Charlie
of our faithful beau ideal, still the same eagle-featured, royal bird,
which I had seen on his own mountains, when he spread his wings towards
the south." Towards dusk of that same day, as Dr. Beaton was pacing up
and down the convent church of St. Rosalie, doubtless thinking over that
"eagle-featured royal bird," whom he had seen driving in the calash and
four, he was startled in his meditations by the jingle of spurs on the
pavement, and by the approach of a man "of superior appearance."

This person was dressed in a manner which was "a little equivocal,"
wore a broad hat and a thick moustache, which, joined with the sternness
of his pale cheek and the piercingness of his eye, must indeed have
suggested something extremely eerie to a well-shaven, three-corner hat,
respectable man of the eighteenth century; so that we are not at all
surprised to hear that the doctor's imagination was crossed by "a sudden
idea of the celebrated Torrifino," who, although his name sounds like a
sweetmeat, was probably one of the many mysterious Italians, brothers of
the Count of Udolpho and Spalatro and Zeluco, who haunted the readers of
the romances of the latter eighteenth century. This personage enquired
whether he was addressing "il Dottor Betoni Scozzere."

The physician having answered this question, asked, for no conceivable
reason, in bad Italian of a Scotchman by a Scotchman (for we learn that
the unknown was a Chevalier Graham), the mysterious moustached man
requested him to attend at once upon "one who stood in immediate need."
Dr. Beaton's enquiries as to the nature of the assistance and the person
who required it, having been answered with the solemn remark that "the
relief of the malady, and not the circumstances of the patient, is the
province of a physician," and the proposal being made that he should go
to the sick person blindfolded and in a shuttered carriage, the doctor's
prudence and the thought of the famous Torrifino dictated a flat refusal;
but the mysterious stranger would not let him off. "Signor," he exclaimed
(persistently talking bad Italian), "I respect your doubts; by one word
I could dispel them; but it is a secret which would be embarrassing to
the possessor. It concerns the interest and safety of one--the most
illustrious and unfortunate of the Scottish Jacobites." "What! Whom?"
exclaimed Dr. Beaton. "I can say no more," replied the stranger; "but if
you would venture any service for one who was once the dearest to your
country and your cause, follow me." "Let us go," cried Dr. Beaton, the
enthusiasm for Prince Charlie entirely getting the better of the thought
of the famous Torrifino; and so, blindfolded, he was conveyed, partly by
land and partly by water (what water, in those Apennine valleys where
there are no streams save torrents in which even a punt would be
impossible, it is difficult to understand), to a house standing in a
garden. That it did stand in a garden appears to have been a piece of
information volunteered by the mysterious Chevalier Graham, for Dr.
Beaton expressly states that it was not till the two had passed through
a "long range of apartments" that the bandage was removed from his eyes.

The doctor found himself in a "splendid saloon, hung with crimson
velvet, and blazing with mirrors which reached from the ceiling to the
floor. At the farther end a pair of folding doors stood open, and showed
the dim perspective of a long conservatory." The mysterious Chevalier
Graham rang a silver bell, which summoned a little page dressed in
scarlet, with whom he exchanged a few rapid words in German. The
communication appeared to agitate the Chevalier; and after dismissing
the page, he turned to the doctor. "Signor Dottore," he said, "the most
important part of your occasion is past. The lady whom you have been
unhappily called to attend, met with an alarming accident in her
carriage, not half an hour before I found you in the church, and the
unlucky absence of her physician leaves her entirely under your charge.
Her accouchement is over, apparently without any result more than
exhaustion; but of that you will be the judge."

It was only at the mention of the carriage and the accident that Dr.
Beaton, whose wits appear to have been wool-gathering, suddenly guessed
at a possible connection between these "most illustrious and unfortunate
of Scottish Jacobites," to whose house he had been thus mysteriously
introduced, and the lady and gentleman in whom he had that same afternoon
recognised Charles Edward and his wife. The page reappeared, and
conducted Dr. Beaton through another suite of splendid apartments, till
they came to an ante-room decorated with the portraits of no less
remarkable persons than the rebel Duke of Perth and King James VIII., a
fact which shows that the Stuarts must have carried their furniture with
them, from Rome to a Lucchese villa hired for a few months, with more
recklessness than one might have imagined likely in those days of
post-chaises. Out of this ante-room the physician was ushered into a
large and magnificent bed-room, lit with a single taper. From the side
of a crimson-draped bed stepped a lady, who saluted Dr. Beaton in
English, and led him up to the patient, while a female attendant nursed
an infant enveloped in a mantle. The lady drew aside the curtain, and by
the faint light the doctor was able to distinguish a pale, delicate
face, and a slender white arm and hand lying upon the blue velvet
counterpane. The lady in waiting said some words in German, in answer
to which the sick woman feebly attempted to stretch out her hand to
the physician. Having ascertained that the patient was in a dangerous
condition, Dr. Beaton asked for pen and paper to write out a prescription,
which, in that Apennine wilderness, would doubtless be made up with the
greatest exactness and rapidity. By the side of the writing-desk was a
dressing-table; and on what should the doctor's casual glance not rest
but a miniature, thrown carelessly among the scent bottles and jewels,
and in which he instantly recognised a portrait of Charles Edward such
as he had seen him riding on the field of Culloden! But in a moment,
when he glanced again from his writing to the toilet-table, the
miniature was no longer visible.

The lady having apparently recovered, Dr. Beaton was dismissed,
blindfolded as he had come, but only after having taken an oath upon the
crucifix "never to speak of what he had heard, or seen, or thought,
that night, except it should be in the service of King Charles," and
also to quit Tuscany immediately. He repaired, therefore, to the nearest
seaport, but was detained there three days before the departure of his
ship. One moonlight evening, as he was walking on the sands, he was
surprised by seeing an English man-of-war at anchor. In answer to his
enquiries, she proved to be the _Albina_, Commodore O'Haloran. While he
was lying in a sequestered corner, watching the frigate, he was startled
by the sudden appearance of a small closed carriage and of a horseman,
in whom, by the moonlight, he immediately recognised the moustached
stranger of St. Rosalie. The cavalcade stopped at the water's brink,
and the horseman blew a shrill whistle. Immediately a man-of-war's boat
shot from behind some rocks and pulled straight towards them. A man with
glimmering epaulettes sprang from the boat on to the beach, and helped
into it a lady, who had alighted from the carriage, and carried something
wrapped in a shawl. Dr. Beaton heard the cry of an infant, the soothing
voice of the lady; and, a moment later, after a word and shake of the
hand with the moustached man, the boat pulled off from shore. "For
more than a quarter of an hour the tall black figure of the cavalier
continued fixed upon the same spot, and in the same attitude; but
suddenly the broad gigantic shadow of the frigate swung round in the
moonshine, her sails filled to the breeze, and dimly brightening in the
light, she bore off slow and still and stately towards the west."

Such is the adventure of Dr. Beaton, and thus he is said to have related
it, in the year 1831, eighty-five years after the battle of Culloden,
where he had himself seen Charles Edward; whence it is presumable that
the doctor was considerably over a hundred when he made the disclosure.
This story of Doctor Beaton was published, not in a historical work, but
in a volume entitled _Tales of the Century; or Sketches of the Romance
of History between the years 1746 and 1846_, published at Edinburgh in
1847. But although this book might pass as a work of imagination, and
could, therefore, scarcely be impugned as a historical document, there
is every reason for supposing that, while not officially claiming to
reveal the existence of an heir of the Stuarts, it was deliberately
intended to convey information to that effect; and as such, an anonymous
writer (either Lockhart or Dennistoun) made short work of it in the
_Quarterly Review_ for June 1847, from which I have derived the greater
part of my knowledge of this curious "romance of history."

Nay, the _Tales of the Century_ were undoubtedly intended to insinuate a
further remarkable fact: not merely that there still existed heirs of
Stuarts in the direct male line, but that these heirs of the Stuarts were
no others but the joint authors of the book. The two brothers styling
themselves on the title-page John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Edward
Stuart, but whose legal names were respectively John Hay Allan and
Charles Stuart Allan, had been known for some years in the Highlands as
persons enveloped in a degree of romantic mystery, and claiming to be
something much more illustrious than what they were officially supposed
to be, the grandsons of an admiral in the service of George III.
According to the information collected by Baron von Reumont, the joint
authors of the _Tales of the Century_ had made themselves conspicuous by
their affectation of the Stuart tartan, to which, as Hay Allans, they
could have no right; by a certain Stuart make-up (by the help of a
Charles I. wig which was once found and mistaken for a bird's-nest by an
irreverent Highlander) on the part of the elder, and by a habit of
bowing to his brother whenever the King's health was drunk on the part
of the younger. Moreover the family circumstances of these gentlemen's
father coincided exactly with those of the hero of this book, of the
supposed son of Charles Edward Stuart and Louise of Stolberg. Their
father, Thomas Hay Allan, once a lieutenant in the navy, was known
before the law as the younger son of a certain Admiral Carter Allan, who
laid claims to the earldom of Errol; and the Jolair Dhearg (for such was
the Keltic appellation of the hero of the _Tales of the Century_) was
the reputed son of a certain Admiral O'Haloran, who laid claim to the
Earldom of Strathgowrie, to which curious parallel the writer in the
_Quarterly_ adds the additional point that Errol, being in the district
of Gowrie, the Earldom of Strathgowrie claimed by the imaginary Admiral
O'Haloran was evidently another name for the Earldom of Errol claimed by
the real Admiral Carter Allan, two names, by the way, O'Haloran and
Carter Allan, of which the first seems intended to reproduce in some
measure the sound of the other. The father of Messrs. John Hay and
Charles Stuart Allan, was married in 1792, and the hero of the _Tales of
the Century_ was married somewhere about 1791, both to ladies more
suited to the sons of an admiral than to the sons of the Pretender.
Taking all these circumstances into consideration it becomes obvious
that when the two brothers Hay Allan assumed respectively the names
of John Sobieski and Charles Edward Stuart, they distinctly, though
unofficially, identified themselves with the sons of the Jolair Dhearg
of their book, with the sons of that mysterious infant at whose birth
Dr. Beaton had been present, who had been conveyed by night on board the
_Albina_ and educated as the son of Admiral O'Haloran; in other words,
with the sons of the child, unknown to history, of the Count and
Countess of Albany.

Now, not only are we assured by Sir Horace Mann, whose spies surrounded
the Pretender and his wife, and included even their physicians, that
there never was the smallest or briefest expectation of an heir to the
Stuarts; but, added to this positive evidence, we have an enormous bulk
of even more convincing negative evidence by which it is completely
corroborated. This negative evidence consists of a heap of improbabilities
and impossibilities, of which even a few will serve to convince the
reader. The Pretender married, and was pensioned for marrying, merely
that the French Court might have another possible Pretender to use as a
weapon against England; is it likely, therefore, that such an heir would
be hid away so as to lose his identity, and be completely and utterly
forgotten? The Pretender, separated from his wife in consequence of
circumstances which will be related further on, called to him, as sole
companion of his old age, his illegitimate daughter by Miss Walkenshaw,
after neglecting and apparently forgetting both her and her mother for
twenty years; is it likely he would have done this had he possessed a
legitimate son? Cardinal York assumed the title of Henry IX. immediately
on the decease of his brother; is it likely that he, always indifferent
to royal honours, always faithful to his brother, and now almost dying,
would have done so had he known that his brother had left a son? The
Countess of Albany, who never relinquished her Stuart position, and who
was extremely devoted to children, left her fortune to the painter
Fabre; is it likely she would have done so had she been aware that she
possessed a child of her own? But there is yet further evidence--I
scarcely know whether I should say positive or negative, but in point of
fact perhaps both at once, since it is evidence that the word of one, at
least, of the joint authors of the _Tales of the Century_ cannot
outweigh the silence of all other authorities. Five years before the
brothers Allan, or Stuart, whichever they should be called, mysteriously
informed the world of the adventures of the Jolair Dhearg, the elder of
the two, once John Hay Allan, now John Sobieski Stuart, had brought out
a magnificent volume, price five guineas, entitled _Vestiarium
Scoticum_, and purporting to be a treatise on family tartans written
somewhere in the 16th century, and now edited for the first time. The
history of this work, as stated in the preface, was well-nigh as
complicated and as romantic as the history of the Jolair Dhearg. The
only reliable copy of three known by Mr. Sobieski Stuart, of which one
was said to exist in the library of the Monastery of St. Augustine at
Cadiz, and another had been obtained from an Edinburgh sword-player and
porter named John Ross, was in the possession of the learned editors,
and had been given by the fathers of the Scots College at Douay to
Prince Edward Stuart, from whom it had, in some unspecified but
doubtless extremely romantic manner (probably sewn in the swaddling
clothes in which the Jolair Dhearg was consigned to Admiral O'Haloran)
descended to Mr. John Sobieski Stuart. This venerable heraldic document
appears, if one may judge by the review in the _Quarterly_, to have
been well-deserving of publication, owing to the extremely new and
unexpected information which it contained upon Scottish archæology.
Among such information may be mentioned that it derived several clans
from other clans with which they were well known to have no possible
connection; that it extended the use of tartans to border-families who
had never heard of such a thing; that it contained many words and
expressions hitherto entirely unknown in the particular dialect in which
it was written; and, moreover, that it multiplied complicated and
recondite patterns of tartans in a manner so remarkable that Sir Walter
Scott, to whom part of Mr. Sobieski Stuart's transcript of the ancient
MS. was submitted, was led to suspect "that information as to its origin
might be obtained even in a less romantic site than the cabin of a
Cowgate porter (or the Scots College at Douay), even behind the counter
of one of the great clan-tartan warehouses which used to illuminate the
principal thoroughfare of Edinburgh."

This important and well-nigh unique document was apparently never
submitted in its original MS. to anyone; the copy from the Scots College
at Douay, and the copy from the old sword-player of Cowgate, remained
equally unknown to everyone save their fortunate possessor. But
transcripts of some portions of the work were submitted, at the request
of the Antiquarian Society, to Sir Walter Scott, and as he dismissed the
deputation which had met to hear his opinion upon the _Vestiarium
Scoticum_, the author of _Waverley_ was pleased to remark by way of
summing up: "Well, I think the _March_ of the next rising" (alluding to
the part of the Highlanders in the '45) "must be not 'Hey tuttie tattie,'
but 'The Devil among the Tailors.'"

However, perhaps the _Vestiarium Scoticum_ may have come out of the
Scots College at Douay, and perhaps also the son of Charles Edward
Stuart and of Louise of Stolberg may have been born in the room hung
with red brocade, and have been handed over to a British Admiral one
moonlight night, in the presence of the venerable Dr. Beaton, whom
Providence permitted to attain the unusual age of a hundred years or
more, in order that, with unimpaired faculties and unclouded memory, he
might transmit to posterity this strange romance of history.



CHAPTER V.

FLORENCE.


It is quite impossible to tell the precise moment at which began what
Horace Mann, most light-hearted and chirpy of diplomatists, called the
Countess of Albany's martyrdom. As we have seen, Charles Edward had
momentarily given up all excessive drinking at the time of his marriage.
Bonstetten thought him a good-natured garrulous bore, and his wife a
merry, childish young woman, who laughed at her husband's oft-told
stories. This was the very decent exterior of the Pretender's domestic
life in the first year of his marriage. But who can tell what there may
have been before beneath the surface? Who can say when Louise d'Albany,
hitherto apparently so childish, became suddenly a woman with the first
terrible suspicion of the nature of the bondage into which she had been
sold? Such things are unromantic, unpoetical, coarse, common-place; yet
if the fears and the despair of a guiltless and charming girl have any
interest for us, the first whiff of brandy-tainted breath which met the
young wife in her husband's embraces, the first qualms and reekings
after dinner which came before her eyes, the first bestial and unquiet
drunkard's sleep which kept her awake in disgust and terror, these
things, vile though they be, are as tragic as any more ideal horrors. At
the beginning, most probably, Charles Edward drank only in the evening,
and slept off his drunkenness over-night; nor does Bonstetten appear to
have guessed that there was any skeleton in the palace at the Santissimi
Apostoli. But the spies of the English minister soon reported that
Charles Edward was returning to his old ways; that the "nasty bottle,"
as Cardinal York called it, had got the better of the young wife; and
when, two years after their marriage, the Count and Countess of Albany
had left Rome and settled in Florence, Charles Edward seems very soon to
have acquired in the latter place the dreadful notoriety which he had
long enjoyed in the former.

Circumstances also had conduced to replunge the Pretender into the
habits to which the renewed hope of political support, the novelty of
married life, and perhaps whatever of good may still have been conjured
up in his nature by the presence of a beautiful young wife, had
momentarily broken through. The French Government, after its sudden
pre-occupation about the future of the Stuarts, seemed to have
completely forgotten the existence of Charles Edward, except as regarded
the payment of the pension granted on his marriage. The child that had
been prepaid by that wedding pension, who was to rally the Jacobites
round a man whose claims must otherwise devolve legitimately in a few
years to the Hanoverian usurpers, the heir was not born, and, as month
went by after month, its final coming became less and less likely. Nor
was this all. Charles Edward seems to have expected that the sudden
interest taken by the Court of Versailles in his affairs, and his new
position as a married man and the possible father of a line of Stuarts,
would bring the obdurate sovereigns of Italy, and especially the Pope,
to grant him those royal honours enjoyed by his father, but hitherto
obstinately denied to the moody drunkard whose presence in the paternal
palace had been occasionally revealed only by the rumour of some more
than ordinarily gross debauch, or the noise of some more than ordinarily
violent scene of blackguardly altercation.

Charles Edward, as I have already had occasion to remark, while
absolutely callous to the rights which self-sacrifice and heroism might
give others over him, was extremely alive to the rights which, as a
Stuart and as an obstinate and wilful man, he imagined himself to
possess over other folk; and, while it never occurred to him that there
might be something slightly ungentlemanly in a prince who had secretly
abjured the Catholic faith for political reasons continuing to live in a
house and on a pension granted him by the unsuspecting sovereign Pontiff
in consideration of his being a martyr for the glory of the Church, he
was fully persuaded of the cowardly meanness which prevented Clement
XIV., whose interest it was to jog on amicably with England, from
acknowledging the grandson of James II. as a legitimate King of Great
Britain and Ireland. It is therefore easy to conceive the accumulation
of disappointment and anger with which Charles Edward saw his hopes
deluded. He had, immediately on his return to Rome, officially announced
to Clement XIV. the arrival in the Eternal City of King Charles III. and
his Queen, and the Pope had condescended no answer save that he had
hitherto been unaware of the existence of such persons, and that he
would suffer none such to live under his jurisdiction. He had, for more
than a year, imposed upon his wife (despite Cardinal York's and her own
entreaties, if we may credit Sir Horace Mann) the title and etiquette of
a Queen, and had flaunted his scarlet liveries along the Corso day after
day, with no result save that of making the Roman nobles keep carefully
out of the way wherever he and his wife might go; nay, more, he had
replaced over the doorway of his residence the royal escutcheon of Great
Britain, only to return from the country one day and find that the
Pontifical police had taken it down during his absence. After this we
can understand, as I said, the disappointment and rage which must have
accumulated in his heart, and which, fifteen months after his wedding,
made him abandon the base town of the popes and seek sympathy and
dignity in the capital of Tuscany. But he was destined only to
further disappointment. The Grand Duke, Peter Leopold, the practical,
economical, priest-hating, paternally-meddlesome, bustlingly and
tyrannically-reforming son of Maria Theresa, was not the man to console
so mediæval and antiquated and unphilosophical a thing as a Stuart. The
arrival, the presence of Charles Edward in Florence, was absolutely
ignored by the Court, and no invitations of any sort were sent out
either to King Charles III. or to the Count of Albany. Except the
Corsinis, old friends of the Stuarts, who had known Charles Edward in
his brilliant boyhood, and who politely placed at his disposal their
half-suburban palace or casino, opening on to the famous Oricellari
Gardens, no one seemed inclined to pay any particular respects to the
new-comers. There was, indeed, no pressure from the Government (as had
been the case in Rome), and the Florentine nobles, whose exclusiveness
and pride had been considerably diminished by the inroad of swaggering
Lorenese favourites under the Grand Duke Francis, and of cut and dry
Austrian officials under his son Peter Leopold, showed a sort of
lukewarm willingness to receive the Count and Countess of Albany on
equal terms into their society. But Charles Edward wanted royal honours;
he forbade his wife demeaning her queenly position by returning the
visits of Florentine ladies, and the nobles of the Tuscan Court
gradually left the would-be King and Queen of England to their own
resources.

These resources, with the exception of receiving such few visitors as
might care to know them on unequal terms, and a dogged pushing into
notice in every place, promenade, theatre, or nobles' club, where no
invitation was required, these resources consisted on the part of
Charles Edward in the old, old consoler, the flask of Cyprus or bottle
of brandy, in the even grosser pleasures of excessive eating, the
indefatigable, assiduous courtship of his young wife, and the occasional
rows with his servants and acquaintances. The Count and Countess of
Albany appear to have inhabited the Casino Corsini until 1777, when they
sent for the greater part of the furniture of their Roman house, and
established themselves in a palace, bought of the Guadagnis and later
sold to the Duke of San Clemente, between the now suppressed Porta San
Sebastiano and the Garden of St. Mark's. In both these places Sir Horace
Mann, the vigilant Minister to the Tuscan Court and head spy over the
Stuarts in Italy, kept the Pretender well in sight; but, in fact, things
had now become so public that spying had grown unnecessary. Already,
the year following the removal from Rome to Florence, Sir Horace Mann
wrote to Walpole that the Pretender's health was giving way beneath his
excesses of eating and drinking; dyspepsia and dropsy were beginning,
and a sofa had been ordered for his opera-box, that he might conveniently
snooze through the performance. For neither drunkenness nor ailments
would induce Charles Edward to let his wife out of his sight for a
minute. His systematic jealousy may possibly have originated, as the
English Minister reports Charles Edward to have himself declared, from
fear lest there might attach to the birth of any possible heir of his
those doubts of legitimacy which are almost invariably the lot of a
pretender; but there can be no doubt that jealousy was an essential
feature of his character, in which it amounted almost to monomania. He
had caged his mistress long after he had ceased, by his own avowal, to
care for her; he now caged his wife, and with probably about as much or
as little affection. He had fenced up Miss Walkenshaw's bed with tables
and chairs fitted with bells which the slightest touch set ringing;
he now (and so early as 1775) barricaded all avenues to his wife's
room excepting the one through his own. Very soon, also, the gross
and violent language, the blows which had fallen to the lot of the
half-tipsy mistress, were to be shared by the virtuous and patient wife.

[Illustration: LOUISE, COUNTESS OF ALBANY
   _From a pastel once in the possession of the heirs of Fabre, now
    in the possession of Mrs. Horace Walpole, of Heckfield Place,
    Winchfield, Hants._]

For virtuous and patient all accounts unite in showing the young
Countess of Albany to have been. In that corrupt Florence of the corrupt
eighteenth century, where every married woman was furnished, within two
years of her marriage, with an officially appointed lover who sat in her
dressing-room while she was finishing her toilet, who accompanied her
on all her visits, who attended her to balls and theatres, and, in fact,
entirely replaced, by the strict social necessities of the system of
cicisbeism, the husband, who was similarly employed about the wife
of another; in this society, where conjugal infidelity was a social
organisation supplemented by every kind of individual caprice of
gallantry; where women were none the worse thought of if they added
to the official _cavaliere servente_ a whole string of other lovers,
varying from the Cardinals of the Holy Church to the singers who
played women's parts, in powder and hoops, at the opera; in this world
of jog-trot immorality, where jealousy was tolerated in lovers, but
ridiculous in husbands, such a couple as the Count and Countess of
Albany was indeed a source of pity, wonder, and amazement. But if a
husband who barricaded his wife's room, never went out without her, nor
permitted her to go out without him, who was never further off than the
next room during the presence of any visitor, was a marvellous sight;
still more marvellous was a beautiful and charming woman of twenty-three
or twenty-four, who cast no glances of longing at the brilliant
cavaliers all round her, who consoled her dreary prison-hours with
reading hard enough for a professor at the university, and who showed
towards the peevish, violent, disgustingly-ailing old toper who
overshadowed her life with his presence nothing, as Horace Mann tells
us, but attention and tenderness. The fact is that Louise of Stolberg,
much as her subsequent life and ways of thought proved her to be a woman
of the eighteenth century, and not at all above the eighteenth century's
easy-going habits and conventional ideas, was a kind of woman rare at
all times and rarest of all in a time like her own, With a kindly and
affectionate temper, the immense bulk of her nature, the overbalance, the
top-heaviness of it, was intellectual; and intellectual not in the sense
of the ready society intelligence, so common among eighteenth-century
women, but in the sense of actual engrossing interest and in abstract
questions and ideals. The portraits done of her immediately after her
marriage show, as I have said, a remarkably childish person; and
childish, without much ballast of passion or even likings, the likeness
sketched by Bonstetten seems certainly to show her. But there are women
who, while immature as women and human beings, are precocious as
intellects, and in whom the character, instead of rapidly developing
itself by the force of its own emotions and passions, seems in a manner
to be called into existence by the intelligence: retarded natures, in
whom the thoughts seem to determine the feelings. Of this sort, I think,
we must imagine the Countess of Albany, if we would understand the
anomalies of her life: a person rather deficient in sensitiveness;
indifferent, light-hearted, in her girlhood; not rebelling against the
frightful negativeness of existence, the want of love, of youth, of
brightness, of all that a young girl can want in the early part of her
married life; not rebelling against the positive miseries, the constant
presence of everything that was mentally and physically loathsome in the
second period of this wedded slavery; a woman of cold temperament, and
even, you might say, of cold heart, and safe, safe in the routine of
duty and suffering, until a merely intellectual flame burst out, white
and cold, in her hitherto callous nature. A creature, so to speak, only
half awake, or awake, perhaps, only when she devoured her books and
tried to puzzle out her mathematical problems; and going through life by
the side of her jealous, brutal, sickly, drunken husband, in a kind of
somnambulistic indifferentism, perhaps not feeling her miseries very
acutely, and probably not envying other women their meaningless liberty,
their inane lovers, their empty wholeness of life.

Thus the routine continued. The Count and Countess of Albany, cured
by this time of any affectation of royalty, had gradually got
domesticated in Florentine society. People began to go to their house,
the newly-bought palace in Via San Sebastiano. People came to the
opera-box where Charles Edward lay stretched, dozing or snoring, his
bottle of Cyprus wine by his side, on his sofa. It is easy to read
through the lines of Sir Horace Mann's pages of social tittle-tattle,
that Florence, frivolous and unintellectual and corrupt though it was,
and, perhaps, almost in proportion to its frivolity, emptiness, and
corruption, felt a strange sort of interest, experienced a vague, mixed
feeling, pity, fear, and general surprise and want of comprehension
towards this beautiful young woman, with her dazzling white complexion,
dark hazel eyes and blonde hair, her childish features grown, perhaps
not less young, but more serious and solemn for her five years of wasted
youth and endured misery, with her reputation for coldness, her almost
legendary eccentricities of intellectual interests. Women like this one
are apt to be regarded not so much with dislike and envy, as with the
mixed awe and pity which peasants feel towards an idiot, by frivolous
and immoral people like those powdered Florentines of a hundred years
ago, whose brocaded trains and embroidered coats have long since found
their way into the cupboards of curiosity shops, and been cut up into
quaint room decoration by æsthetically-minded foreigners; pity and awe
the more natural when, as in the case of Louise d'Albany, it is evident
to every man and woman, however heartless and stupid, that the creature
in question is a victim, and an innocent one. People were led, perhaps
to some extent by impertinent curiosity, by the lazy desire to have
some opinion to give upon that now legendary household of the besotten,
sleepy, nauseous old King of England and his terribly virtuous and
intellectual young Queen, to the palace in Via San Sebastiano; and men
and women of fashion led thither, as to one of the curious sights of
Florence, their country cousins and their distinguished visitors from
other parts. And thus, one day in the autumn of 1777, there was brought,
we know not by whom, half-curious and half-indifferent, to the _salon_
of the Countess of Albany a certain very tall, thin, pale young man of
twenty-eight, with handsome, mobile, rather hard aquiline features,
choleric, flashing blue eyes, and a head of crisp, bright red hair; a
man of fashion, nattily dressed in the Sardinian uniform, but with
something strange, untamed, morose about his whole aspect which
contrasted singularly with the effete gracefulness and amiability of
young Florentine dandies. He had heard of the Countess of Albany's
eccentricities long before; she had doubtless heard of his.

One can imagine the curiosity with which the wild, moody young officer
fixed those bright, hard, steel, flashing blue eyes upon the beautiful
young woman of whom he had heard that she was, what no woman of
his acquaintance (and his acquaintance was but too large) had
been--intellectual and virtuous. One can imagine the curiosity, much
vaguer and more indifferent, with which the woefully cold and woefully
weary young woman met the scrutiny of those hard, flashing blue eyes,
and took the moral measure of this eccentric creature, come from Turin
to Florence with some ten or twelve half-tamed horses, in order to learn
Tuscan grammar for the sake of writing tragedies. The common friend,
whose name has been engulfed into the unknowable, introduced to the
Countess of Albany Count Vittorio Alfieri.



CHAPTER VI.

ALFIERI.


The childhood and early youth of Vittorio Alfieri had been strangely
vacant, dreary, one might almost say intellectually and morally sordid;
and the strangest, the dreariest circumstance about them was exactly
that this vacuity, this dreariness, this total want of all that can make
the life of a boy and of a young man pleasant to our fancy or attractive
to our sympathy, did not in the least depend upon any harshness or
stinginess of fate. Indeed, perhaps, no man had ever prepared for him
an easier existence; no man had ever less misfortune sent to him by
Providence, or less unkindness shown towards him by mankind, than this
constantly struggling, this pessimistic and misanthropic man. The only
son of Count Alfieri of Cortemiglia, of one of the richest and noblest
families of Asti in Piedmont, his early childhood was spent under the
care of his mother, a woman of almost saintly simplicity and kindness,
unworldly, charitable, devoted to her children, and to the poor of
the place; and of her third husband, also an Alfieri, who appears to
have been, in his affection and generosity towards his wife's children,
everything that a step-father is usually supposed not to be. Being
delicate in health, the boy was treated with every degree of consideration,
never worried with lessons, never exasperated with punishments, as long
as he remained at home. He was sent, under the care of an uncle, the
eminent architect, Benedetto Alfieri, who appears to have been the
ideally amiable uncle as Giacinto Alfieri had been the ideally amiable
step-father, to the academy or nobles' college at Turin, where again,
provided with plenty of money, and a most accommodating half-tutor,
half-valet, he enjoyed, or might have enjoyed, every advantage possible
to a young Piedmontese noble, either in the way of study or of idleness.
And, finally, when still in his teens, he had been supplied with ample
money, horses and fine clothes _ad libitum_, and almost unlimited
liberty to wander all over the world, from Naples to Holland, from
St. Petersburg to Cadiz, in search of experience or amusement. Nor
during those years of youthful wanderings, does he ever seem, except
upon one memorable occasion, to have been made to suffer from the
unconscientiousness, the harshness, the infidelity, the indifference of
the men and women whom he met, any more than in his boyhood he had
suffered from the severity of his masters, the brutality of his
tutor-servants, or the ill-nature of his fellow pupils. Fate and the
world were extremely kind to Vittorio Alfieri: giving him every
advantage and comfort, and teaching him no cruel lessons. But Vittorio
Alfieri was nevertheless one of the least happy of little boys, and one
of the least happy of young men. He was born with an uncomfortable
and awkward and unwieldy character, as some men are born lame, or
scrofulous, or dyspeptic. The child of a father over sixty, and of a
very young mother; there was in him some indefinable imperfection of
nature, some jar of character, or some great want, some original sin of
mental constitution, which made him different from other men, disabled
him from getting pleasure or profit out of the circumstances which gave
pleasure or profit to them; and turned his youth into a long period of
mental weakness and suffering, from which he recovered, indeed, by a
system of moral and intellectual cold water, meagre diet, and excessive
exercise, but only to remain for the rest of his days in a condition
of character absolutely analogous to the bodily condition of those
self-martyring invalids, who keep the gout down by taking exhausting
walks, eating next to no dinner, and filling the lives of others with
their excitable cantankerousness and gloomy forebodings. There was a
numbness and yet a sort of over-sensitiveness about his youth; a
strangeness which, without giving the least promise of superior genius,
merely made him less happy than other lads.

The word numbness returns to my mind in connexion with this young
Alfieri; it certainly does not express the exact impressions left in me
by his own narrative of his boyhood and youth, and yet I can find no
better word: there was in him something like those irregularities of the
circulation due to dyspepsia, which, while making some part of the body,
say the head, throb and ache at the least sound, yet leave the whole man
dull, heavy, only half-awake.

As a child he had vague and wistful cravings, untempered, unbeautified
by such imaginative visions as usually accompany the eccentric feelings
of such children as are subject to them. Obstinate and taciturn, he
tells us of the curious passion which he experienced for the little
choristers, boys of twelve or thirteen, whom he saw serving mass, or
heard singing the responses, in the Carmine Church at Asti. Silently,
painfully, he seems to have yearned for them in solitude; the daily
visit to the church where they shone out in their white surplices,
being the only pleasure in this black, blind little life of seven or
eight. Some physical ailment, some want of change and movement may have
underlain this morbid and sombre passionateness; and we learn that when
he was still a tiny boy, having heard that the poisonous hemlock was a
sort of grass which brought death, and with no clear notion what death
was, but with a vague longing for it, he gorged himself with grass out
of the garden, in the belief that there would be some hemlock in it.

At school he learned nothing. The education given at the Academy of
Turin may, indeed, have been poor in quantity and quality; still it was
the best which a young Piedmontese nobleman could obtain, and Alfieri
himself confesses that of his school-fellows most came away with more
profit, and some afterwards became cultured and even learned men. He
learned nothing because he felt interest, emulation, curiosity about
nothing. His nature was still dull, dumb, dormant; and what he calls a
period of vegetation might more fitly be termed a moral and intellectual
hibernation. His school life is a weary, colourless, featureless part of
his autobiography. He would seem to have made neither friends nor
enemies. The tricks practised by or upon other school-boys are never
mentioned by him; never a practical joke, a lark, a scrape. Of his
intellectual tendencies, which were but little developed, we learn
only that he exchanged a copy of Ariosto, finally confiscated by the
authorities, for a certain number of helpings of chicken, relinquished
by him to its possessor; and that he bribed, with eatables also, a
certain other boy to tell him stories.

The one incident which sheds light upon the lad's morbid constitution
or condition, which reveals that strange, apathetic obstinacy, that
_vis inertiæ_ which was the spring even of his most decided actions in
after life, and which at the same time raises grave doubts in my mind
whether there may not have been an actual taint of insanity in this
extraordinary being, is the incident of his having submitted, rather
than give in after some misdemeanour, to being confined to his room in
the Academy for nearly three months at a stretch. Alfieri was fifteen;
he might have been let loose for the asking, since there was no real
severity in the school. He slept nearly all day long, rose in the
evening, but refused to let himself be combed or dressed, and lay for
hours on a mattress before the fire, cooking a squalid meal of _polenta_
instead of his dinner, which he regularly sent down; receiving the
visits of his school-fellows without speaking or even moving; deaf and
dumb, as he describes himself, by the hour together, his eyes fixed on
the ground, brimful with tears, but never permitting himself to cry or
complain--a strange sort of savage animal rather than a human being.

After leaving school at eighteen, he began his long series of journeys,
his series of passions for women and for horses, passions dull and
dumb, but violent, yet never such as to break through the spell of
inarticulateness which seemed to freeze his nature. Nothing more curious
can be fancied than his journeys. He went from place to place without
being attracted to any, without feeling the smallest interest in
anything which he saw, without contracting the faintest attachment for
any person or thing, driven along by a sort of fury of restlessness
and sombre vacuity. Many youths have doubtless been to the full as
indifferent as Vittorio Alfieri to all the objects of interest on their
road; but they have been so from frivolity and giddiness, and no one was
ever less frivolous or giddy than the young Alfieri. With no particular
purity of nature or principles of conduct to restrain him from vice, his
dissipation could yet scarcely be called dissipation, so little did it
wake up this lethargic, ailing, restless nature. Despite the furious
passion which he had for horses, and the hysterical, one might almost
say epileptic passions which he experienced for women, he remained
characterless, chaotic, only half alive. His many journeys gave him only
the negative pleasure of getting away from already known places, the
negative wisdom of seeing through a variety of things, military and
diplomatic distinctions and national prejudices. He remained joyless and
ignorant, and, what was worse, without longing for pleasure or desire
for knowledge. More than once kindly men of the world and scholars were
smitten with pity for this strange lad, in whom they could not but
recognise certain negative qualities rare in the eighteenth century--an
intense and cruel truthfulness, an absolute disinterestedness, a
constitutional contempt for all the vanities and baseness of the world.
They tried to talk to him, to lend him books, to awaken him out of this
dormouse sleep of the intellect, to break the spell which weighed him
down. All in vain. He continued his life of dull dissipation and dull
wanderings, through Italy, Germany, France, England, far into Spain,
Portugal, Russia, and even Finland. Periodic fits of depression and of
almost sordid avarice showed that he was still the same person as the
boy of fifteen who had spent those three months unwashed, unkempt, in
savage squalor, by his fireside; and fits of brutal and almost maniac
violence, as when, because a hair was sharply pulled out by the roots
during the elaborate process of frizzling, he cut open with a blow of a
heavy silver candlestick the temple of his faithful valet Elia, who had
nursed him like a mother, and whose only revenge, after this fearful
scene, was to keep the two handkerchiefs steeped with his blood as a
memorial and a warning to his master.

Still, seeing nothing, learning nothing, taking interest in nothing, by
turns morosely apathetic and brutally violent, continually intriguing
with women, mercenary or depraved, Vittorio Alfieri had, at twenty-five,
less things to be proud of, but perhaps less also to regret as absolutely
dishonourable, than most young men of his time. He had never lied, never
seduced, never stooped to anything which seemed to him demeaning. He was
splashed with vice from head to foot, but he was neither unnerved nor
warped by it. A subject of constant gossip, of frequent scandal, with
his teams of half-tame horses, his flashy clothes, his furious passions
for worthless women, his moroseness and violence, he was still, so far,
a very negative character, a mere mass of rough material, out of which a
man might be made. But who should mould that matter? It is extremely
difficult to understand how it came about, as difficult almost as to
understand how a certain amount of inorganic molecules will sometimes
suddenly seem to obey an impulse from within, and become an organism,
a yeast plant, or a microscopic animal; but whether or not we succeed
in understanding the how and why of the phenomenon, the phenomenon
nevertheless took place; and this unorganised mass of passions called
Vittorio Alfieri, this chaotic thing without a higher life or a purpose
in the world, only partially sensitive, and seemingly quite impervious
to external influence, suddenly obeyed some inner impulse (perhaps some
accumulation of unnoticed effects from without), and organised itself
into a man, a thinker, and a writer.

Alfieri had always been capable of contempt for others, and largely also
of contempt for himself: blind and dull, impulsive and indifferent by
turns, he had yet felt acutely the ignominy of certain excesses, whether
of avarice, or brutality, or love (if love it may be called), which
had ever and anon broken the monotony of his aimless life. Of these
ignominies the one he had felt most, perhaps because it deprived him of
the independence which even in his stupidest times he put his pride in,
was the ignominy of love; that is to say, of what love was to him,
unworthy incapacity of doing without a woman whom he despised and even
occasionally hated. The very fits of moral hysterics, nay, of moral St.
Vitus's dance, of which such love maladies largely consisted, sickened
him, degraded him in his own eyes like some disgusting physical infirmity.
In his twenty-second year he had such a love malady, he had been the
scandal of all London in an intrigue with a certain very lovely Lady
Ligonier, who, divorced by her husband for her guilt with the young
Italian, was on the point of being joyfully taken to wife by Alfieri when
it came out that before being his mistress she had been the mistress
of her own groom; a termination of the adventure which, much as it
distressed the writer of Alfieri's autobiography, is extremely
satisfactory to the reader. A few years later, after a variety of minor
love affairs, he became entangled at Turin in the nets of a Marchesa di
Prié, a rather faded Armida of very tarnished reputation, and whom
he thoroughly despised and even disliked at the very height of his
attachment. The struggles between his sense of weariness and degradation
and his unworthy love for this woman half wore him out, and brought on a
severe malady, from which he recovered only to swear he would never
enter her house again, and to return to it as soon as he could stand on
his feet. The beautiful social customs of eighteenth-century Italy
authorised and even imposed upon a man who had accepted the position of
_cavaliere servente_ (a sort of pseudo-platonic vice-husbandship which
covered illicit connections with a worldly propriety) to attend upon his
lady from the moment of her getting up in the morning to the moment when
she returned home or dismissed her guests at night, with only a few
intervals during which the lover might have his meals or pay his visits;
so, when the Marchesa di Prié fell ill of a malady which required
absolute repose and silence, Alfieri was bound to spend the whole
morning seated at the foot of her bed. During one of these weary
watches, it came into his head to kill time by scribbling some dramatic
scenes on loose sheets of paper, which he hid during the intervals of
his visits under the cushion of an arm-chair. A Piedmontese and a
thorough ignoramus, he had scarcely ever attempted to write even so
much as a letter in Italian; and as to a literary composition in any
language, such a thing had never occurred to him. The _Cleopatra_ thus
written in his lady's bed-room and secreted under the chair cushion, was
a most worthless performance, but it made Alfieri an author. Always
devoured by a desire to shine, hitherto by the excellence of his
get-up, the beauty of his person, and the number of his horses, it
suddenly flashed across him that he might shine in future as a
poet. This was the turning-point of his life, or what he called his
liberation. But, like a man bound in all his limbs, and who at length
has slipped the cord from off one hand, there still remained to Alfieri
an infinite amount of struggle, of bitter effort, of hopeless inaction,
before he could completely liberate himself from the bonds of sloth, of
worldly vanity, dissipation, and unworthy love, before he could step
forth and walk steadily along the new road which had appeared to him.
His ignorance was appalling. He could no longer construe a line of
Latin, he had not for months opened a book; and as to Italian, he knew
it no better than any Piedmontese street porter. His idleness, his habit
of absolute vacuity, was even worse; his desire to shine before the
frivolous women, the inane young men of Turin, nay, merely to have
himself, his well-cut coat, his well-frizzled hair, the horse he rode or
drove, noticed by any chance loafer in the street, was another almost
incredible obstacle; and, worst of all, there was his degrading serfdom
to a woman whom he knew he neither loved nor respected, and who had
never loved, still less respected, him. But Alfieri, once awakened out
of that strange long torpor of his youth, was able to put forth as
active and invincible forces all that extraordinary obstinacy, that
morose doggedness, that indifference to comfort and pleasure, that
brutal violence which had more than once, in their negative condition,
made him seem more like some wild animal or half-savage monomaniac
than an ordinary young man under five-and-twenty. He had, moreover, at
this moment, when all the energies of his nature suddenly burst out, a
power of deliberate, complacent, and pitiless moral self-vivisection, a
power of performing upon his character such cutting and ripping-open
operations as he thought beneficial to himself, which makes one think of
the abnormal faculty of enduring pain, the abnormal and almost cruel
satisfaction in examining the mechanism of one's own suffering,
occasionally displayed by hysterical women; and which brings back the
impression already conveyed by the morbid sensitiveness, the frenzied
violence, the moody torpor of his youth, that there was something
abnormal in Alfieri's whole nature. He was now employing that very
hysterical satisfaction in pain and impatience of half measures, to
reduce himself, by heroic means, to at least such moral and mental
health as would permit the full exercise of his faculties. There exists
a diary of his, written in 1777, which is an almost unique example
of the seemingly cold, but really excited and hysterical kind of
self-vivisection of which I have spoken. Alfieri had always been
extraordinarily truthful, not merely for his time and country, but
truthful quite beyond the limits of a mere negative virtue. But he was
also, what seems almost incompatible with this ferocious truthfulness,
excessively self-conscious and morally attitudinising, a thin-skinned
_poseur_. To reconcile these seemingly contradictory characteristics, to
become what he wished to appear, to pose as what he was, to make himself
up (if I may say so) as himself, to intensify what he recognised as his
main characteristics and efface all his other ones, now became to
Alfieri a sort of unconscious aim of life, closely connected with his
avowed desire to become a great poet; "the reason of which desire," he
himself wrote in his diary, "is my immoderate ambition, which, finding
no other field, has devoted itself entirely to literature." Nothing
can be more serious, as I have already remarked, than this diary of
Alfieri's struggles, where he notes, day by day, the laziness, the
meanness, the want of frankness to himself and others, the despicable
vanity, the attempt to appear what he is not, the indulged unfounded
suspiciousness towards his friends, all the little base defects which
must have pained a nature like his more than any real sinfulness, as the
prodding of a surgeon's instruments would have agonised such a man more
than an actual amputation. He narrates _in extenso_ all his vacillations
about nothing at all, all his givings way to laziness, all his insincere
confidences made to others. One morning is consumed in debating whether
or not he will buy a certain Indian walking-stick: "Torn by avarice and
the ambition of having it, I go away without deciding whether I will buy
it or not, yet I know full well that before two days are out I shall
have bought it. Seeking to understand this contradiction, I discover
a thousand ridiculous dirtinesses in my character (_mille ridicole
porcherie_)." Another day he notes down, after describing the mean envy
with which he has listened to the praises of another member of his
little club of dilettante authors: "I do believe that as much praise as
is being given and will ever be given to all mankind for every sort of
praiseworthy thing, I should like to snap up for myself alone." Again,
another day he writes: "More lazy than ever. Walking with a friend, and
talking about our incomes, &c. I thought I was giving him a perfectly
open account of my money matters; but, with the best intention of
telling him the truth, I find that, in order to deceive myself as well
as him, I increased my fortune by one-fifth." Again, "I had some doubts
whether, as it was blowing hard on the promenade, I would go on as far
as where the ladies were walking; because, knowing that I was looking
pale and ill, and that the wind had taken the powder out of my hair, I
was unwilling to show myself in a condition so unsuitable to my
pretensions to beauty."

But while thus analyzing himself, while working at Latin and grammar
like a school-boy, this fashionable young man, ashamed of being seen when
he was not in good looks, ashamed of having one horse less than usual,
was continually ruminating over the glory for which he intended living,
and which he appears never for a moment to have doubted of attaining.
"In my mind, which is completely given up to the idea of glory, I
frequently go over the plan of my life. I determine that at forty-five
I will write no more, but merely enjoy the fame which I shall have
obtained, or imagine that I have obtained, and prepare myself for death.
One thing only makes me uneasy: I fear that as I approach the prescribed
limit, I may push it continually back, and that at forty-five I may
still be thinking only of continuing to live and, perhaps, of continuing
to scribble. Hard as I try to think, or to make others think, that I am
different from the rest of mankind, I fear, I tremble lest I be
extremely like them."

But in order to devote himself to the pursuit of literary glory, one
thing remained to be achieved by this strange, self-conscious, frank,
contemptuous, and vain creature, by this young man who, even in his
weaknesses, has a certain heroic air about him. It was necessary to
break through the bonds of unworthy love. Unable to trust any longer to
his often baffled resolution and self-command, Alfieri devised a
primitive and theatrical remedy too much in harmony with his whole
nature to be otherwise than efficacious. The lady occupied a house in
the great rococo square of San Carlo, opposite to the one which he
rented; she could not go in or out of her door without being seen by
Alfieri, and the sight of her was too much for him: he invariably broke
all his resolves and went across the square to his Armida. Knowing this,
Alfieri obliged a friend of his to receive from him a solemn written
promise to the effect that he would not merely never go to the lady, nor
take any notice of her messages, but that, until he felt himself
absolutely indifferent and beyond her reach, he would go out only in
solitary places and at unlikely hours, and spend the greater part of the
day seated at his window looking at her house, seeing her pass, hearing
her spoken of, receiving her letters, without ever approaching her
or sending her the smallest message. As a pledge of this engagement,
Alfieri cut off his long red hair, and sent the plait to his friend,
leaving himself in a state of crop-headedness, which made it utterly
impossible, in that day when wigs had been given up but short hair had
not yet been adopted, for him to appear anywhere. And then he had
himself tied to his chair with ropes hidden under his cloak, and spent
day after day looking at his mistress' windows, quite unable to read a
word or attend to conversation, raging and sobbing and howling like a
demoniac, but never asking to be untied; until, at the end of a
fortnight or three weeks, he was rewarded, most characteristically, by
being at once delivered of all love for his lady, and inspired with the
idea for a sonnet.

Alfieri worked harder and harder at his Latin and Italian lessons,
sketched out the plan of several plays: and, then, in the early summer
of 1776, got together his horses, procured a permission to travel from
the King of Sardinia, and set out for Tuscany in order to learn the
language in which he was to achieve that great literary glory to which
he had dedicated his life.



CHAPTER VII.

THE CAVALIERE SERVENTE.


Alfieri's greatest terror in life was to fall in love once more. All his
love affairs had been degrading to his good sense, his will and his
manhood; they had been odious, even at the moment, to his extraordinary
innate passion, or, one might almost say, monomania for independence;
he who even in his dullest and most inane years had hated the thought
of any sort of military or diplomatic position which should imply
subjection to a despotic government, whose only strong feeling about the
world in general had long been a fierce hatred and contempt both for
those who tyrannised and those who were tyrannised over, this Alfieri
had always, as he tells us, fled, though unsuccessfully, from the
presence of women whose social position (though the words sound like a
sarcasm) was sufficiently good to make any regular love intrigue
possible or probable. How much more must he not defend his liberty now
that he saw before him the direct road to glory, and felt within himself
the power to journey along it.

Thus it was, as he explains in his autobiography, that on his first
arrival in Florence, hearing everyone praising the character and talents
of the wife of Charles Edward Stuart, and seeing the beautiful young
woman at theatres and in the public promenade, he resolutely declined to
be introduced to her. The very charm of the impression which she had
thus accidentally made upon him, the vivid image of those very dark eyes
(I am translating his words, and must explain that her eyes, which
seemed blue to Bonstetten and dark to Alfieri's, were in reality of that
hazel colour which gives great prominence to the pupil, and therefore
leaves the idea of black eyes) contrasting with the brilliant fair skin
and pale blonde hair, of the graciousness and sweetness and perhaps even
a certain sad austerity in her whole appearance and manner,--all this
made Alfieri determine to avoid all personal acquaintance.

But after some months at Siena, where his thoughts had been entirely
absorbed in the literary projects which he discussed with his new
friend, the grave and good and serious-minded Gori, and one or two
Sienese professors, after that first feeling of attraction had died
away, and he felt himself covered, as it were, with an impenetrable
armour of poetic interests, Alfieri decided, on his return to Florence,
that he was quite sufficiently of a new man to expose himself without
any danger to such a lady as the Countess of Albany. He was, after all,
a different individual from that inane, dull, violent young man who in
the vacuity of life had raged and roared in the chains of unworthy love.
And she, she also, was quite a different woman from the Lady Ligonier
and from the Marchesa di Prié, the shameless, unfaithful wives, and
heartless, vain, worldly coquettes who had made such havoc of his heart.
She was a cold, virtuous, extremely intellectual woman, trying to
find consolation for her quietly and bravely supported miseries in
study, in abstract interests which should take away her thoughts from
the sickening reality of things; a woman who would be valuable as a
friend to a poet, and who would know how to value his friendship. And
he, continually seeking for people who could understand his literary
ambitions, with whom he could discuss all his poetical projects, and
from whom he might receive assistance in this new intellectual life,
was he not in need of such a friendship? Would he not appreciate its
usefulness and uniqueness sufficiently to see that it did not turn to a
mere useless and demoralising love affair? There may also have been
something very reassuring to Alfieri's apprehensions in the knowledge
that he would be dealing, not with an Italian woman, accustomed and
almost socially obliged to hold a man in the degrading bonds of
cicisbeism, but with a foreigner, the jealously-guarded wife of a sort
of legendary ogre, with whom, however much the old fury of love might
awaken in him, there could by no possibility be anything beyond the most
strictly watched friendship. So Alfieri went to the palace of the Count
of Albany; and, having once been, returned there.

The palace bought by Charles Edward about 1776 stands in the most remote
and peaceful quarter of Florence. A few quiet streets, unbroken by
shop-fronts and unfrequented by vehicles, lead up to that quarter;
streets of low white-washed convent walls overtopped by trees, of silent
palaces, of unpretending little houses of the seventeenth or eighteenth
century, from behind whose iron window-gratings and blistered green
shutters one expects even now, as one passes in the silence of the
summer afternoons, to hear the faint jangle of some harpsichord-strummed
minuet, the turns and sudden high notes of some long-forgotten song by
Cimarosa or Paisiello. It is a region of dead walls, over which bend
the acacias and elms, over which shoot up the cypresses and cedars
of innumerable convent and palace-gardens, on whose flower-beds and
fountains and quincunxes the first-floor windows look down. In the midst
of all this, at the corner of two very quiet streets, stands the palace,
now of the Duke of San Clemente, an ungainly, yellow structure of
various epochs, with a pretty late sixteenth-century belvedere tower on
one side; a lot of shuttered and heavily-grated seventeenth-century
windows, ornamented with stone stay-laces and tags, upon the dark
street; and to the back a desolate old garden, where the vines have
crawled over the stonework, and the grotesque seventeenth-century
statues, green and yellow with lichen, stand in niches among the
ill-trimmed hedges of ilex and laurel: the most old-world house and
garden in the old-world part of the town. The eighteenth century still
seems very near as we walk in those streets and look in, through the
railings, at the ilex and laurel quincunxes, the lichened statues of
that garden; and from the roof of the house still floats, creaking in
the wind, regardless of the triumph of the Hanoverians, unconscious of
the many banners which have been thrown, mere heaps of obsolete coloured
tatters, on the dust-heap, a rusty metal weather-vane, bearing the
initials of Carolus Rex, the last successor of the standard that was
raised in Glenfinnan.

In this house was now developing one of the most singular loves that
ever were. Shortly after his introduction to the Countess of Albany,
Alfieri, terrified lest he might be forfeiting his spiritual liberty
once more, took to flight and tried to forget the lady in a mad journey
to Rome. But he had not forgotten her; and on his passage through Siena,
returning to Florence, he had explained his feelings, his fears, to
his friend Francesco Gori. This Gori, a young Sienese of the middle
class, extremely cultured, of "antique uprightness," to use the
eighteenth-century phrase, seems to have taken to his heart, as one
might some wild younger brother, or some eccentric, moody child, the
strange, self-engrossed, passionate Piedmontese. A gentle, grave, and
quiet man, he had loved the magnanimity and independence so curiously
mingled with mere vanity and egotism in Alfieri's nature; he had never
tired of hearing his friend's plans for the future, had never smiled at
his almost comic certainty of supreme greatness, he had never lost
patience with the self-meritorious egotism which made all Alfieri's
actions seem the one interest of the world in Alfieri's own eyes. To
Francesco Gori, therefore, Alfieri went for advice: ought he, or ought
he not, to fly from this new love while it was still possible to do so?

The grave and virtuous Gori answered that he should not: this new love
had been sent to him as a cure for all baser loves; instead of crushing
it as an obstacle to his higher life and his glory, he should thankfully
cultivate it as an incentive and assistance in working out his
intellectual redemption.

Let us pause, and consider for a moment the meaning of Alfieri's
question, and the meaning of Gori's answer; let us try and realise the
ideas and feelings of two honourable men, seeking a higher life, in a
country so near our own as Italy, and so short a while ago as the year
1777. Here was Alfieri, passionately desirous to redeem his own
existence by intellectual efforts, and confident of a vague mission to
awaken his countrymen to his own nobler feelings: to the contempt of
sensual pleasures and worldly vanities, the hatred of political and
religious servitude, the love of truth and justice, the love of Italy.
Here was this Alfieri, at the very outset of his new career, solemnly
confiding to his kindest and wisest friend the scruples, the fears,
which restrained him from seeking the company of a woman whom he was
beginning to love, and who was beginning to love him, a young woman
married by mere worldly convention to a sickly, brutal, and brutish
drunkard, old enough to be her father. And what were these scruples?
Merely that a new love might distract Alfieri from his plans of study
and work, that a woman might cheat him of glory, and Italy of the tragic
drama which would school her to virtue. That there could be any other
scruples appears never to have crossed Alfieri's brain: that there could
be any reason to pause and ask himself whether he was doing wrong or ill
before exposing to temptation the woman whom he loved, and the honour
which he loved more than her; whether he had a right to return to the
palace of Charles Edward and, while receiving his hospitality, while
enjoying his confidence, to teach the wife of his host how to love
another man than her husband; whether he had a right to return to the
presence of that beautiful and intellectual lady, who had hitherto
suffered only from the brutishness of her husband, and add to these
sufferings the sufferings of hopeless love, the sufferings of a guilty
conscience?

But to the Italian of the eighteenth century, even to the man who most
thoroughly despised and loathed his country's and century's corruption,
no such scruple ever came. What consideration need any man or any woman
waste upon a husband? What possible disgrace could come to a woman
in having a lover? And did not the frantic jealousy of the besotted
old husband, his continual attendance, his perpetual spying, most
effectually remove any further consideration there might be for him?

I scarcely know whether it is a thing about which to be cheerful or sad,
proud or ashamed; but the more one studies the ideas and feelings of
even one's nearest neighbours, in place or in time, the more is one
impressed with the sense that, say what people choose, men and women do
not think and feel, even upon the most important subjects, in anything
like a uniform manner. Social misarrangements, which are crimes towards
the individual, are invariably partially righted, made endurable, by
individual rearrangements, which are crimes towards society. The woman
was not consulted by her parents before her marriage, she was not
restrained by her conscience afterwards; she was given for ambition to a
man whose tenure of her received legal and religious sanction; she gave
herself for love to a man whose possession of her was against society
and against religion; but society received her to its parties, and the
Church gave her its communion. And thus, in Italy, and in the eighteenth
century, where no one had found any fault at a girl of nineteen being
married by proxy to a man who turned out to be a disgusting and brutal
sot; no one also could find any fault at a young man of twenty-eight
seeking, and obtaining, the love of a married woman of twenty-five. The
immoral law had produced the immoral lawlessness. So, to the scruples
of Alfieri, Francesco Gori had answered: "Return to Florence."

We shall now see how, out of this vile piece of prose, the higher nature
of Alfieri and of the Countess of Albany, and (what a satire upon poetic
and platonic affection!) most of all, the monomaniac jealousy of Charles
Edward, contrived to make a sort of poetry.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE ESCAPE.


Alfieri's fears had been groundless. His love for the wife of Charles
Edward Stuart--a love, he tells us, quite different from any he had
previously experienced, quiet, pure, and solemn--was destined not to
interfere with that austere process of detaching his soul from the base
passions of the world, and devoting it to the creation of a new style
of poetry, to the achievement of a new kind of glory; nay, rather,
by bringing to the surface whatever capacity for tenderness and
self-restraint and respect for others had hitherto lurked within this
fantastic nature, this new love helped to complete that strange
monumental personality of Alfieri--a personality more striking, more
ideal, than any of those plays by which he hoped to regenerate Italy,
and which has been far more potent than his works in the moral
regeneration of his country. Alfieri's youth had been illiterate and
stupid; and he required, in order to make up for so much waste of time
and waste of spirit, that he should now be surrounded by an atmosphere
as intensely intellectual as the atmosphere in which he had previously
lived had been the reverse. After the long spiritual numbness of his
earlier years, this soul, if it was to be kept alive, must be kept in an
almost artificially high spiritual temperature, and continually plied
with spiritual cordials. These advantages he obtained in the love, or,
we ought rather to say, the friendship of the Countess of Albany, and it
is extremely improbable whether he would have obtained them otherwise.
Irritable and vain and moody, at once excessively persuaded of his own
dramatic mission and morbidly diffident of his actual powers of carrying
it out, contemptuous of others and of himself, Alfieri, who required
such constant sympathy and encouragement in his work, was not the
man who could hope to obtain much of either from other men, whom
his excessive pretensions, his ups and downs of humour, his very
dissatisfaction with himself, must have quickly exhausted of the small
amount of brotherly tenderness which seems to exist in the literary
brotherhood. He did, indeed, meet a degree of sincere helpfulness and
friendliness from the members of the Turinese Literary Club; from
Cesarotti, the translator of _Ossian_; from Parini, the great Milanese
satirist, and from one or two other men of letters; which shows that
there is more kindness in the world than he ever would admit, and
confirms me in my remark that he was singularly well treated by fate
and mankind. But all this was very lukewarm sympathy; and except from
his two great friends, Francesco Gori and Tommaso di Caluso, a
difficult-tempered man like Alfieri could receive only lukewarmness.
Now what he required was sympathy, admiration, adoration, of the most
burning description. This was possible, towards such a man, only
from a woman. But where find the woman who could give it, among the
convent-educated, early corrupted, frivolous ladies of Italy, to whom
love-making was the highest interest in life, but an interest only a
trifle higher than card-playing, dancing, or dressing? Where, even among
the very small number of women like Silvia Verza at Verona, Isabella
Albrizzi at Venice, or Paolina Castiglione at Milan, who actually had
some amount of culture, and actually prided themselves on it? The rank
and file of Italian ladies could give him only another Marchesa di Prié,
a little better or a little worse, another woman who would degrade
him in the sensual and inane routine of a _cicisbéo_. The exceptional
ladies were even worse. Fancy this morbid, conceited, self-doubtful,
violent, moody Alfieri accepting literary sympathy in a room full of
small provincial lions--sympathy which had to be divided with half a
dozen others; learned persons who edited Latin inscriptions, dapper
poet priestlets, their pockets crammed with sonnets on ladies' hats,
opera-singers, canary birds, births, deaths, and marriages, and
ponderous pedants of all sorts and descriptions. Why, a lady who set
up as the muse of a hot-tempered and brow-beating creature like
Alfieri, a man whom consciousness of imperfect education made horribly
sensitive--such a lady would have lost all the accustomed guests of her
_salon_ in ten days' time. Herein, therefore, consisted the uniqueness
of the Countess of Albany, in the fact that she was everything to
Alfieri, which no other woman could be. Originally better educated than
her Italian contemporaries, the ex-canoness of Mons, half-Flemish,
half-German by family, French by training, and connected with England
through her marriage with the Pretender, had the advantage of open
doors upon several fields of culture. She could read the books of four
different nations--a very rare accomplishment in her day; and she was,
moreover, one of those women, rarer even in the eighteenth century than
now-a-days, whose nature, while unproductive in any particular line, is
intensely and almost exclusively intellectual, and in the intellectual
domain even more intensely and almost exclusively literary--women who
are born readers, to whom a new poem is as great an excitement as a new
toilette, a treatise of philosophy (we shall see the Countess devouring
Kant long before he had been heard of out of Germany) more exquisitely
delightful than a symphony. And this woman, thus educated, with this
immense fund of intellectual energy, was living, not a normal life with
the normal distracting influences of an endurable husband, of children
and society, but a life of frightful mental and moral isolation, by the
side, or rather in the loathsome shadow, of a degraded, sordid, violent,
and jealous brute, from the reality of whose beastly excesses and
bestial fury, of whose vomitings and oaths and outrages and blows, she
could take refuge only in the unreal world of books.

With such a woman, Alfieri, accepted as an intimate by the husband, who
doubtless thought one hare-brained poet more easy to manage than two or
three fashionable gallants--with such a woman as this, Alfieri might
talk over plans of self-culture and work, his plays, his essays on
liberty and literature, and all the things by which he intended to
redeem Italy and make himself immortal, without any fear of his listener
ever growing weary; from her he could receive that passionate sympathy
and encouragement without which life and work were impossible to him.
For we must bear in mind what a man like Alfieri, in the heyday of his
youth, his beauty, and that genius which was the indomitable energy and
independence of his nature, must have been in the eyes of the Countess
of Albany. She had been married at nineteen--she was now twenty-six: in
those seven years of suffering there had been ample time to obliterate
all traces of the frivolous, worldly girl whom Bonstetten had seen
light-heartedly laughing at her old husband's jokes; there had been
plenty of time to produce in this excessively intellectual nature that
vague dissatisfaction, that desire for the ideal, which is the price too
often paid for the consolation of mere abstract and literary interests.
The pressure of constant disgust and terror at her husband's doings, the
terrible mental and moral solitude of living by such a husband's side,
had probably wrought up Louise d'Albany to the very highest and almost
morbid refinement of nature--a refinement far surpassing the normal
condition of her character, even as the extra fining off of already
delicate features by illness will make them surpass by far their healthy
degree of beauty. In such a mental condition the sense of what her
husband was must have exasperated her imagination quite as much as his
actual loathsomeness must have repelled her feelings; the knowledge of
the frightful moral and intellectual fall of Charles Edward must have
been as bad as the filthy place to which he had fallen. And opposite to
the image of the Pretender must constantly have arisen the image of
Alfieri--opposite to the image of the man, once heroic and charming and
brilliant, who had sold his heroism and his charm, his mind and his
manhood, for the bestial pleasure of drink--who had rewarded the
devotion and self-sacrifice and noble enthusiasm of his followers
by the sight, worse than the scaffold on Tower Hill, of their idol
turning into a half-maniac, besotted brute; opposite to this image of
degradation must have arisen the image of the man who had wrestled with
the baser passions of his nature, who had broken through the base habits
of his youth, who had fashioned himself into a noble moral shape as the
marble is fashioned by the hand of the sculptor; who was struggling
still, not merely with the difficulties of his art, but with whatever he
thought mean and slothful in himself.

Some eighteen months after their first acquaintance, Alfieri announced
to the wife of Charles Edward that he had just happily settled a most
important piece of business, the success of which was one of the most
fortunate things of his life. He had made a gift of all his estates to
his sister, reserving for himself only a very moderate yearly income; he
had reduced himself from comparative wealth to comparative poverty; he
had cut himself off from ever making a suitable marriage; he had made
himself a pensioner of his sister's husband: but at this price he had
bought independence--he was no longer the subject of the King of
Sardinia, nor of any sovereign or State in the world.

The passion for political liberty, the abhorrence of any kind of
despotism, however glorious or however paternal, had grown in Alfieri
with every journey he had made through France, Spain, Germany,
Russia--with every sojourn in England; it had grown with every page of
Livy and Tacitus, with every line of Dante and Petrarch which he had
read; it had grown with every word that he himself had written. He had
determined to be the poet who should make men ashamed of being slaves
and ashamed of being tyrants. But he was himself the subject of the
little military despotism of Piedmont, whose nobles required, every
time they wished to travel or live abroad, to beg civilly for leave of
absence, which was usually most uncivilly granted; and one of whose laws
threatened any person who should print books in foreign countries, and
without the permission of the Sardinian censor, with a heavy fine, and,
if necessary, with corporal chastisement.

In order to become a poet, Alfieri required to become a free agent; and
the only way to become a free agent, to break through the bars of what
he called his "abominable native cage," the only way to obtain the power
of writing what he wished to write, was to give up all his fortune, and
live upon the charity of the relatives whom he had enriched. So, during
the past months, he had been in constant correspondence with his sister,
his brother-in-law, and his lawyer; and now he had succeeded in ridding
himself of all his estates and all his capital. The Countess of Albany
knew Alfieri sufficiently well by this time to understand that this
alienation of all his property was a real sacrifice. Alfieri was the
vainest and most ostentatious of men; young, handsome, showy and
eccentric, accustomed to cut a grand figure wherever he went, it must
have cost him a twinge to be obliged to reduce his hitherto brilliant
establishment, to dismiss nearly all his servants, to sell most of his
horses, to exchange his embroidered velvets and satins for a plain black
coat for the evening, and a plain blue coat for the afternoon. The worst
sacrifice of all he doubtless confided, with savage bitterness, to the
Countess, as he confided it to the readers of his autobiography, it was
to resign the nominal service of Piedmont--to put aside, for good and
all, that brilliant Sardinian uniform in which he looked to such
advantage. We can imagine how this subject was talked over--how Alfieri,
with that savage pleasure of his in the self-infliction of pain and
humiliation, exposed to the Countess all the little, mean motives which
had deterred him or which had encouraged him in his liberation from
political servitude; we can imagine how she chid him for his rash step,
and how, at the same time, she felt a delicious pride in the meanness
which he so frankly revealed, in the rashness which she so severely
reproved; we can imagine how the thought of Alfieri, who had thus
sacrificed fortune, luxury, vanity, to the desire to be free, met in the
Countess of Albany's mind the thought of Charles Edward, living the
pensioner of a sovereign who had insulted him and of a sovereign whom he
had cheated, spending in liquor the money which France had paid him to
get himself an heir and the Stuarts another king.

A strange and dangerous situation, but one whose danger was completely
neutralised. Of all the various persons who speak of the extraordinary
friendship between Vittorio Alfieri and Louise d'Albany which existed at
this time, not one even ventures to hint that the relations between
them exceeded in the slightest degree the limits of mere passionate
friendship; and the solemn words of Alfieri, in whom truthfulness was
not merely an essential part of his natural character, but an even more
essential part of his self-idealised personality, merely confirm the
words of all contemporary writers. Now, if there was a country where an
intrigue between a woman noted for her virtue and a poet noted for his
eccentricity would, had it existed, have been joyfully laid hold of by
gossip, it was certainly this utterly-demoralised Italy of _cavalieri
serventi_: every fashionable woman and every fast man would have felt a
personal satisfaction in tearing to pieces the reputation of a lady
whose whole character and life had been a censure upon theirs. But, as
there are women the intensity of whose pure-mindedness, felt in every
feature and gesture and word, paralyses even the most ribald wish to
shock or outrage, and momentarily drags up towards themselves the very
people who would dearly love to drag them down even for a second; so
also it would appear that there are situations so strange, meetings of
individuals so exceptional, that calumny itself is unable to attack
them. No one said a word against Alfieri and the Countess; and Charles
Edward himself, jealous as he was of any kind of interference in his
concerns, appears never to have attempted to rid himself of his wife's
new friend.

Much, of course, must be set down to the very madness of the Pretender's
jealousy, to his more than Oriental systematic guarding and watching of
his wife. Mann, we must remember, had written, long before Alfieri
appeared upon the scene, that Charles Edward never went out without his
wife and never let her go out without him; he barricaded her apartment,
and was never further off than the next room. Charles Edward undoubtedly
conferred upon two people, living in a day of excessive looseness of
manners, the inestimable advantage of confining their love within the
bounds of friendship, of crushing all that might have been base, of
liberating all that could be noble, of turning what might have been
merely a passion after the pattern of Rousseau into a passion after the
pattern of Dante. But what Charles Edward could not do, what no human
being or accidental circumstances could bring about, was due to the
special nature of Alfieri and of the Countess; namely, that this strange
platonic passion, instead of dying out after a very brief time, merely
intensified, became long-lived, inextinguishable, nay continued, in its
absolute austerity and purity, long after every obstacle and restraint
had been removed, except the obstacles and restraints which, from the
very ideality of its own nature, increased for itself. And, if we look
facts calmly in the face, and, letting alone all poetical jargon, ask
ourselves the plain psychological explanation, we see that such things
not only could, but, considering the character of the Countess of Albany
and of Alfieri, must have been. The Countess had found in Alfieri the
satisfaction of those intellectual and ideal cravings which in a nature
like hers, and in a situation like hers, must have been the strongest
and most durable necessities. Alfieri, on the other hand, sick of his
past life, mortally afraid of falling once more under the tyranny of his
baser nature, seeking on all sides assistance in that terrible struggle
of the winged intellect out of the caterpillar cocoon in which it had
lain torpid so long, was wrought up, if ever a man was, to the pitch of
enjoying, of desiring a mere intellectual passion just in proportion as
it was absolutely and completely intellectual.

A poet especially in his conception of his own personality, an artist
who manipulated his own nature, a _poseur_ whose _pose_ was his
concentrated self cleared of all things which recalled the vulgar herd;
moreover, a furiously literary temper with a mad devotion to Dante and
Petrarch: Alfieri must have found in this love, which fate in the
Pretender's person ordained to be platonic, the crowning characteristic
of his present personality, the almost miraculous confirmation of his
mystic relationship to the lover of Beatrice and the lover of Laura.
And, in the knowledge of what he was to this poor, tormented young
wife; in the consciousness of being the only ray of light in this
close-shuttered prison--nay, rather bedlam-like existence; in the sense
of how completely the happiness of Louise d'Albany depended upon
him, whatever there was of generous and dutiful in the selfish and
self-willed nature of Alfieri must have become paramount, and enjoined
upon him never to vacillate or grow weary in this strange mixture of
love and of friendship.



CHAPTER IX.

ROME.


This strange intellectual passion, the meeting, as it were, of two
long-repressed, long solitary intellectual lives, austerely satisfied
with itself and contemptuous of all baser loves, might have sufficed for
the happiness of two such over-wrought natures as were at that moment
Vittorio Alfieri and Louise d'Albany.

But there could be no happiness for the wife of the Pretender, and no
happiness, therefore, for the man who saw her the daily victim of the
cantankerousness, the grossness and the violence of her drunken husband.
To an imaginative mind, loving in things rather the ideal than the
reality, striving for ever after some poetical or heroic model of love
and of life, trying to be at once a patriot out of Plutarch and a
lover after the fashion of the _Vita Nuova_, there are few trials more
exasperating than to have to see the real creature who for the moment
embodies one's ideal, the creature whom one carefully garlands with
flowers and hangs round with lamps, raised above all vulgar things in
the niche in one's imagination, elbowed by brutish reality, bespattered
with ignoble miseries. And this Alfieri had constantly to bear.
Perhaps the very knowledge of the actual suffering, of the unjust
recriminations, the cruel violence, the absolute fear of death, among
which Louise d'Albany spent her life, was not so difficult for her lover
to bear as to see her, the beautiful and high-minded lady of his heart,
seated in her opera box near the sofa where the red and tumid-faced
Pretender lay snoring, waking up, as Mann describes him, only to summon
his lacqueys to assist him in a fit of drunken sickness, or to be
carried, like a dead swine, with hanging bloated head and powerless
arms, down-stairs to his carriage; not so difficult to bear as to hear
her, his Beatrice, his Laura, made the continual victim of her bullying
husband's childish bad-temper, of his foul-mouthed abuse, to hear it and
have to sit by in silence, dependent upon the good graces of a besotted
ruffian against whom Alfieri's hands must have continually itched.

A little poem, poor, like all Alfieri's lyrics, written about this time,
and complaining of having to see a beautiful pure rose dragged through
ignoble filth, shows that Alfieri, like most poetical minds, resented
the vulgar and the disgusting much more than he would have resented what
one may call clean tragedy. But things got worse and worse, and the real
tragedy threatened. Charles Edward had outraged and beaten his mistress;
older and much more profoundly degraded, he now outraged and beat his
wife. In 1780 Sir Horace Mann reports upon the "cruel and indecent
behaviour" of which Mme. d'Albany was the victim. Ill-treatment and
terror were beginning to undermine her health, and there can be no
doubt, I think, that the symptoms of a nervous disorder, of which she
complained a couple of years later to Alfieri's bosom friend Gori, must
originally have been produced in this unusually robust young woman by
the horrible treatment to which she was at this time subjected. Mme.
d'Albany, who had astonished the world by her resignation, appears to
have fairly taken fright; she wrote to her brother-in-law Cardinal
York, entreating him to protect her from her husband. The weak-minded,
conscientious cardinal was not the man to take any bold step; he promised
his sister-in-law all possible assistance if she were driven to
extremities, but begged her to endure a little longer and save him the
pain of a scandal. So the Countess of Albany, long since abandoned by
her own kith and kin, abandoned also by her brother-in-law, alone in the
world between a husband who was daily becoming more and more of a wild
beast, and a lover who was fearful of giving any advice which might
compromise her reputation or separate them for ever, went on suffering.

But the moment came when she could suffer no more. At the beginning of
the winter of 1780, the celebration of St. Andrew's day by Charles
Edward and his drinking companions, was followed by a scene over which
Alfieri drops a modest veil, calling it vaguely a violent bacchanal
which endangered the life of his lady. From the biographers of Charles
Edward we learn that the Pretender roused his wife in the middle of
the night with a torrent of insulting language which provoked her to
vehement recriminations; that he beat her, committed foul acts upon her,
and finished off with attempting to choke her in her bed, in which he
would probably have succeeded had the servants not been waked by the
Countess's screams and dragged Charles Edward away.[1]

Alfieri, partly from an honourable reluctance to see his lady made the
heroine of a public scandal, and partly, no doubt, from the more selfish
fear lest a separation from her husband might imply a separation also
from her lover, had long persisted in advising the Countess against any
extreme measure. Alfieri tells us that with the desire for freedom of
speech and writing at the bottom of his act of self-spoliation in his
sister's favour, there had mingled a sense also that by breaking all
connections with Piedmont, and liberating himself from all temptation of
marrying for the sake of his family, he was, in a manner, securing the
continuation of his relations with Mme. d'Albany. The Countess's flight
from her husband, they both well knew, would in all probability put an
end to these relations; the Catholic Church could grant no divorce, and
Charles Edward would probably refuse a separation; so that the honour,
nay, the life of the fugitive wife would be safe only in a convent,
whence Alfieri would be excluded together with Charles Edward. The
choice was a hard one to make; the choice between a life of peace and
safety, but separated from all that made life dear to her, and a life
consoled by the presence of Alfieri, but made wretched and absolutely
endangered by the violence of a drunken maniac. But after that frightful
night of St. Andrew no choice remained; to remain under the Pretender's
roof was equivalent for his wife either to a violent death in another
such fit of madness, or to a lingering death from sheer misery and daily
terror. The Countess of Albany must leave her husband.

To effectuate this was the work of Alfieri--of Alfieri, who, of all
men, was most interested to keep Mme. d'Albany in her husband's house;
of Alfieri, who, of all men, was the least fitted for any kind of
underhand practices. The actual plot for escape was the least part of
the business; the conspiracy would have utterly miscarried, and Mme.
d'Albany have been condemned to a life of much worse agony, had not
provision been made against the Pretender's certain efforts to get his
wife back. Mme. d'Albany may have remembered how her mother-in-law
Clementina Sobieska, although protected by the Pope, had been eventually
got out of the convent whither she had escaped, and had been restored
to her husband the Pretender James; she was probably aware, also,
how Charles Edward had stormed at the French Government to have Miss
Walkenshaw sent back to him from the convent at Meaux. No Government
could give a man back his mistress, but it was different with a wife;
and both Alfieri and the Countess must have known full well that
however lax the Grand Ducal Court might be on the subject of conjugal
infidelity, when quietly carried on under the domestic roof and
dignified by the name of _serventismo_, no court, no society, could do
otherwise than virtuously resent so great a turpitude as a wife publicly
running away by herself from her husband's house. It became necessary to
win over the sympathies of those in power, to secure their connivance,
or at all events their neutrality; and this task of talking, flattering,
wheedling, imploring, fell to Alfieri, whose sense of self-debasement
appears to have been mitigated only by the knowledge that he was working
for the good of a guiltless and miserable woman, of the woman whom he
loved more than the whole world; by the bitter knowledge that the
success of his efforts, the liberation of his beloved, meant also the
sacrifice of that intercourse which made the happiness of his life.

Alfieri succeeded; the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess were won over.
The actual flight alone remained to be accomplished.

[2]In the first days of December 1780 a certain Mme. Orlandini, a
half Irish lady connected with the Jacobite Ormonds, was invited to
breakfast at the palace in the Via San Sebastiano. She skilfully led
the conversation into a discussion on needle-work, and suggested that
the Countess of Albany should go and see the last embroidery produced
at the convent of Bianchette, a now long-suppressed establishment in
the adjoining Via del Mandorlo. The Countess of Albany ordered her
carriage for immediately after breakfast, and the two ladies drove off,
accompanied, of course, by Charles Edward, who never permitted his wife
to go out without him. Near the convent-gate they met a Mr. Gahagan, an
Irish Jacobite and the official _cavaliere servente_ of Mme. Orlandini,
who, hearing that they were going to pay a visit to the nuns, offered to
accompany them. Gahagan helped out the Countess and Mme. Orlandini, who
rapidly ran up the flight of steps leading to the convent door; he then
offered his arm to Charles Edward, whose legs were disabled by dropsy.
Leaning on Gahagan's arm, the Pretender was slowly making his way up the
steps when his companion, looking up, suddenly exclaimed that the two
ladies had already entered the convent and that the nuns had stupidly
and rudely shut the door in his and the Count of Albany's face. "They
will soon have to open," answered Charles Edward, and began to knock
violently. Mr. Gahagan doubtless knocked also. But no answer came. At
length the door opened, and there appeared behind a grating no less a
person than the Lady Abbess, who ceremoniously informed the Count that
she was unable to let him in, as his wife had sought an asylum in her
convent under the protection of Her Highness the Grand Duchess of
Tuscany.

Sir Horace Mann says that Alfieri, who is not mentioned in the very
circumstantial narrative of Dutens, was hanging about the convent,
in order to prevent the Pretender, who always carried pistols in his
pockets, from committing any violence. This seems extremely unlikely,
as the first use to which Charles Edward would naturally have put
his pistols would have been shooting Alfieri, for whose murder he
immediately offered a thousand sequins. At any rate, raging like a
maniac, the discomfited husband went back to his empty house.

It would be pretty and pathetic to insert in this part of my narrative a
page of half-condemnatory condolence with Charles Edward. But this I
find it perfectly impossible to do. Of course, if we call to mind
Falkirk and Skye, if we conjure up in our fancy the Prince Charlie who
still lived in the thoughts of Flora MacDonald, there is something very
frightful in this tragi-comic flight of the Countess of Albany: the
slamming of that convent door in his face is the worst injury, the worst
injustice, the worst ignominy reserved by fate for the last of the
unhappy Stuarts.

But of the Charles Edward of the Forty-five there remained so little in
this Count of Albany that we have no right to consider them any longer
as one individual, to condone the brutishness of the Count of Albany for
the sake of the chivalry of Prince Charles, to degrade our conception of
the young man by tacking on to it the just ignominy inflicted upon the
old man, the man who had inherited his name and position, but scarcely
his personality. Above all, we have no right to add to whatever reproaches
we may think fit to shower upon the Countess of Albany and on Alfieri,
the imaginary reproach that the husband whose rights they were violating
was the victor of Gladsmuir and Falkirk.

There must always be something which shocks us in the behaviour,
however otherwise innocent and decorous, of a woman who runs away
from her husband with the assistance of her lover; but this quality of
offensiveness is not, in such a case as the present one, a fault of
the woman: it is one of her undeserved misfortunes, as much as is the
bad treatment, the solitude, the temptation, to which she has been
subjected. The evil practice of the world, its folly and wickedness in
permitting that a girl like Louise of Stolberg should be married to a
man like Charles Edward, its injustice and cruelty in forbidding the
legal breaking of such an unrighteous contract; the evil practice of the
world which condemned the Countess of Albany to be for so much of her
life an unhappy woman, also condemned her to be in some of her actions a
woman deserving of blame. We shall see further on how, in the attempt to
work out their happiness in despite of the evil world in which they
lived, the Countess and Alfieri, infinitely intellectually and morally
superior to many of us whom circumstances permit to live blameless and
comfortable, were splashed with the mud of unrighteousness, which was
foreign to their nature, and remained spotted in the eyes of posterity.

Charles Edward did what he had done once before in his life: he applied
to the Government to put him again in possession of the woman whom he
had victimised; but as the French Government had refused to recognise
his claims over his fugitive mistress, so the Government of the Grand
Duke of Tuscany now refused to give him back his fugitive wife. The
Countess of Albany had naturally taken no clothes with her in her
flight; and she presently sent a maid to the palace in Via San Sebastiano
to fetch such things as she might require. But Charles Edward would not
permit a single one of her effects to be touched; if she wanted her
clothes and trinkets, she might come and fetch them herself. However,
after a few days, a message came from the Pope, ordering the Pretender
to supply his wife with whatever she might require; a threat to suspend
the pension was probably expressed or implied, for Charles Edward
immediately obeyed.

Meanwhile, the Countess of Albany was anxiously awaiting at the convent
of the Bianchette a decision from her brother-in-law, to whom she had
written immediately after her flight. Those first days must have been
painfully unquiet. What if the Tuscan Court should listen to the Count
of Albany's entreaties? What if Cardinal York should take part with his
brother? Return to the house of her husband would be death or worse
than death. Cardinal York answered immediately: a long, kind, rather
weak-minded letter, the ideal letter of a well-intentioned, rather
silly priest, in curious Anglo-Roman French. He informed her that for
some time past he had expected to hear of her flight from her husband;
he protested that he had had no hand in her unhappy marriage, and begged
her to believe that it had been out of his power to protect her. He had
informed the Pope of the whole affair, and with His Holiness' approval
had prepared for his sister-in-law a temporary asylum in the Ursuline
convent in Rome, whither he invited her to remove as soon as possible.
In January 1781 the Countess of Albany, accompanied by a Mme. de Marzan,
who appears to have formed part of her household, and two maids, started
for Rome; but such had been the threats of Charles Edward, and his
ravings to get his wife back, that Alfieri and Gahagan, armed and
dressed as servants, accompanied the carriage a considerable part of its
way. The Pretender, we must remember, had offered a thousand sequins to
anyone who would kill Alfieri; and even in that humdrum late eighteenth
century a man of position might easily hire a couple of ruffians to
waylay a carriage and kidnap a woman.

The Countess of Albany was installed in the Ursuline convent in Via
Vittoria, a street near the Piazza di Spagna. A gloomy family memory
hung about the place: it had been the asylum of Clementina Sobieska when
she had fled from the elder Pretender as Louise d'Albany had fled from
the younger. But the wife of Charles Edward was in a very different mood
from the wife of James III.; and it is probable that, despite the many
charms of the convent, and the excellent manners of its aristocratic
inmates, upon which Cardinal York had laid great store, the Countess,
with her heart full of the thought of Alfieri, was not at all inclined
to give her pious brother-in-law the satisfaction, which he apparently
expected, of developing a sudden vocation for Heaven.

She had left Florence at the end of the year; in the spring she saw
Alfieri again. The quiet work which had seemed so natural and easy while
he was sure of seeing his lady every day, had become quite impossible to
him. He felt that he ought to remain in Florence, that he ought not to
follow her to Rome. But Florence had become insufferable to him; and
he determined to remove to Naples, because to get to Naples it was
necessary to pass through Rome. The melancholy barren approach to the
Eternal City, which, three years before, had inspired Alfieri with
nothing but melancholy and disgust, now seemed to him a sort of earthly
paradise; and Rome, which he hated, as the most delightful of places.
He hurried to the Ursuline convent, and was admitted to speak to the
Countess of Albany. "I saw her," he wrote many years later, "but (O God!
my heart seems to break at the mere recollection) I saw her a prisoner
behind a grating; less tormented than in Florence, but yet not less
unhappy. We were separated, and who could tell how long our separation
might not last? But, while crying, I tried to console myself with the
thought that she might at least recover her health, that she would
breathe freely, and sleep peacefully, no longer trembling at every
moment before the indivisible shadow of her drunken husband; that she
might, in short, live."



CHAPTER X.

ANTIGONE.


About three months after the Countess of Albany's flight from her
husband, the Pope granted her permission to leave the Ursuline convent;
and her brother-in-law, Cardinal York, offered her hospitality in his
magnificent palace of the Cancelleria. Alfieri was at Naples when he
received this news, riding gloomily along the sea-shore, weeping
profusely (for we must remember that to an Italian, especially of the
eighteenth century, there is no incongruity in a would-be ancient Roman
shedding love-sick tears), unable to give his attention to work, living,
as he expresses it, on the coming in and going out of the post. "I
wished to return to Rome," he writes, "and at the same time I felt very
keenly that I ought not to do it yet. The struggles between love and
duty which take place in an honourable and tender heart, are the most
terrible and mortal pain that a man can suffer. I delayed throughout
April, and I determined to drag on through May; but on the 12th May I
found myself, I scarcely know how, back in Rome."

Alfieri found the Countess of Albany established in the palace of the
Cancelleria, the mistress of the establishment, for her brother-in-law
was living in his episcopal town of Frascati. They were free to see each
other as much as they chose, to love each other as much as they would;
for the Cardinal and the priestly circles seem to have gone completely
to sleep in the presence of this critical situation; and the habits of
Roman society, which were even a shade worse than those of Florence,
were not such as to give umbrage to the lovers. But those years during
which they had loved under the vigilant jealousy of Charles Edward, had
apparently fostered a love which was accustomed and satisfied with being
only a more passionate kind of friendship; the indomitable power of
resistance to himself, the passion for realising in himself some heroic
attitude which he admired, and the almost furious desire to reverse
completely his former habits of life, kept Alfieri up to the point of a
platonic connexion; and the Countess of Albany, intellectual, cold,
passive, easily moulded by a more vehement nature, loved Alfieri much
more with the head than with the heart, and loved in him just that which
made him prefer that they should meet and love as austerely as Petrarch
and Laura. The fact was, I believe, that the Countess of Albany had much
more mind than personality, and that she was therefore mere wax in the
hands of a man who had become so exclusively and violently intellectual
as Alfieri: she had seen too much of the coarse realities of life, of
the brutal giving way to sensual impulse: the heroic, the ideal, nay the
deliberately made up, the artificial, had a charm for her. Be this
as it may, the Countess and Alfieri continued, in the opinion of all
contemporaries, and according to the assurance of Alfieri himself, whose
cynicism and truthfulness are equal, on the same footing as in
Florence.

And these months in Rome seem to have been the happiest months of
Alfieri's life, the happiest, probably, of the life of the Countess
of Albany. Alfieri hired the villa Strozzi, on the Esquiline, a small
palace built by one of Michel Angelo's pupils, and for which, including
the use of furniture, stables, and garden, he paid the now incredibly
small sum of ten scudi a month, about two pounds of our money. Permitting
himself only two coats, the black one for the evening, and the famous
blue one for ordinary occasions, and limiting his dinner to one dish of
meat and vegetables, without wine or coffee, Alfieri contrived to make
the comparatively small pension paid to him by his sister, go almost
as far as had the fine fortune of which he had despoiled himself. He
spent lavishly on books, and more lavishly on horses, on horses which,
according to his own account, were his third passion, coming only after
his love for Mme. d'Albany, and sometimes usurping the place of his love
of literary glory.

The mania for systematic division of his time, the invincible tendency
to routine, which follows in most Italians after the disorder and
wastefulness of youth, had already got the better of Alfieri. He had,
almost at the moment when the passion for literature first disclosed
itself, made up his mind to write a definite number of tragedies, first
twelve, then fourteen, and no more; and to devote a certain number of
years to the elaborate process of first constructing them mentally, then
of writing them full length in prose, and finally of turning this prose
into verse; and he was later to devise a corresponding plan of writing
an equally fixed number of comedies and satires in an equally fixed
number of years, after which, as we have seen, he was to give up his
thoughts, having attained the age of forty-five, to preparing for death.

This routine is a national characteristic, and absorbs many an Italian,
turning all the poetry of his nature to prose, with a kind of dreadful
inevitableness; but Alfieri did not merely submit to routine, he enjoyed
it, he devised and carried it out with all the ferocity of his nature.
To this man, who cared so much for the figure he cut, and so little for
all the things which surrounded him, a life reduced to absolute monotony
of grinding work was almost an object of æsthetic pleasure, almost
an object of sensual delight: he enjoyed a dead level, an endless
white-washed wall, as much as other men, and especially other poets,
enjoy the ups and downs, the irregularities and mottled colours of
existence. So Alfieri arranged for himself, in his house near Santa
Maria Maggiore, what to him was a life of exquisite delightfulness.

He spent the whole early morning reading the Latin and Italian classics,
and grinding away at his tragedies, which, after repeated sketching out,
repeated writing out in prose, were now going through the most elaborate
process of writing, re-writing, revising, and re-revising in verse.
Then, before resuming his solitary studies in the afternoon, he would
have one of his many horses saddled, and ride about in the desolate
tracts of the town, which in papal times extended from Santa Maria
Maggiore to the Porta Pia, the Porta San Lorenzo, and St. John Lateran:
miles of former villa gardens, with quincunxes and flower-beds, cut up
for cabbage-growing, wide open spaces where the wall of a temple, the
arch of an aqueduct, rose crowned with wall-flower and weeds out of the
rank grass, the briars and nettles, the heaps of broken masonry and
plaster, among which shone beneath the darting lizards, scraps of
vermilion wall-fresco, the chips of purple porphyry or dark-green
serpentine; long avenues of trees early sere, closed in by arum-fringed
walls, or by ditches where the withered reeds creaked beneath the
festoons of clematis and wild vine; solemn and solitary wildernesses
within the city walls, where the silence was broken only by the lowing
of the herds driven along by the shaggy herdsman on his shaggy horse, by
the long-drawn, guttural chant of the carter stretched on the top of his
cart, and the jingle of his horse's bells; places inaccessible to the
present, a border-land of the past, and which, as Alfieri says, thinking
of those many times when he must have reined in his horse, and vaguely
and wistfully looked out on to the green desolation islanded with ruins
and traversed by the vast procession of the aqueducts, invited one to
meditate, and cry, and be a poet. And sometimes--we know it from the
sonnets to his horse Fido, who had, Alfieri tells us, carried the
beloved burden of his lady--Alfieri did not ride out alone. One of the
horses of the villa Strozzi was saddled for the Countess of Albany; and
this strange pair of platonic lovers rode forth together among the
ruins, the wife of Charles Edward listening, with something more than
mere abstract interest, to Alfieri's fiercest contemptuous tirades
against the tyranny of soldiers and priests, the tyranny of sloth and
lust which had turned these spots into a wilderness, and which had left
the world, as Alfieri always felt, and a man not unlike Alfieri in
savage and destructive austerity, St. Just, was later to say, empty
since the days of the Romans.

Towards dusk Alfieri put by his books, and descended through the twilit
streets of the upper city--where the troops of red and yellow and blue
seminarists, and black and brown monks, passed by like ants, homeward
bound after their evening walk--into the busier parts of Rome, and
crossing the Corso filled with painted and gilded coaches, and making
his way through the many squares where the people gathered round the
lemonade-booth near the fountain or the obelisk, through the tortuous
black streets filled with the noise of the anvils and hammers of
the locksmiths and nailors behind the Pantheon, made his way towards
the palace, grand and prim in its architecture of Bramants, of the
Cancelleria, perhaps not without thinking that in the big square before
its windows, where the vegetable carts were unloaded every morning, and
the quacks and dentists and pedlars bawled all day, a man as strange, as
wayward and impatient of tyranny as himself, Giordano Bruno, had been
burned two centuries before by Cardinal York's predecessor in that big
palace of the Cancelleria. Fortunately there was no Cardinal York in the
Cancelleria, or at least only rarely; but instead only the beautiful
blonde woman with the dark hazel eyes, whom Alfieri spoke of as his
"lady," and, somewhat later, "as the sweet half of himself," and in
whose speech Alfieri was never Alfieri, or Vittorio, or the Count, but
merely "the poet," so completely had these strange, self-modelling,
unconsciously-attitudinising lovers, arrayed themselves and their love
according to the pattern of Dante and Petrarch.

To the Countess, we may be sure, Alfieri never failed to give a most
elaborate account of his day's work, nor to read to her whatever scenes
of his plays he had blocked out, in prose, or worked up in verse. By 11
o'clock, he tells us, he was always back in his solitary little villa on
the Esquiline.

But this, although it is probably correct with regard to his visits to
Mme. d'Albany, with whom consideration for gossip prevented his staying
much after ten at night, must not be taken as the invariable rule; for
Alfieri, devoted as he was to his lady, by no means neglected other
society. He was finishing his allotted number of tragedies, and, as the
solemn moment of publication approached, he began to be tormented with
that same desire to display his work to others, to hear their praises
even if false, to understand their opinion even if unfavourable, which
came, by gusts, as one of the passions of his life. Rome was at that
time, like every Italian town, full of literary academies, conventicles
of very small intellectual fry meeting in private drawing-rooms or at
coffee-houses, and swayed by the overlordship of the famous Arcadia,
which had now sunk into being a huge club to which every creature who
scribbled, or daubed, or strummed, or had a coach-and-pair, or a bad
tongue, or a pretty face, or a title, belonged without further claims.
There were also several houses of women who affected intelligence or
culture, having no claims to beauty or fashion; and foremost among these,
but differing from them by the real originality and culture of the lady
of the house, the charm of her young daughter, and the superior quality
of the conversation and music to be enjoyed there, was the house of a
Signora Maria Pizzelli, of all women in Rome the one to whom, after the
Countess of Albany, Alfieri showed himself most assiduous. In her house
and in many others Alfieri began to give almost public readings of his
plays; trying to persuade himself that his object in so doing was to
judge, from the expression of face and even more from the restlessness
or quiescence of his listeners on their chairs, how his work might
affect the mixed audience of a theatre; but admitting in his heart of
hearts that the old desire to be remarked had as much to do with these
exhibitions as with the six-horse gallops which used to astonish the
people of Turin and Florence.

But something better soon offered itself. The Duke Grimaldi had had a
small theatre constructed in the Spanish palace, his residence as
Ambassador from the Catholic King, and a small company of high-born
amateurs had been playing in it translations of French comedies and
tragedies. To these ladies and gentlemen Alfieri offered his _Antigone_,
which was accepted with fervour. The beautiful and majestic Duchess
of Zagarolo was to act the part of the heroine; her brother and
sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Ceri, respectively the parts of
Hæmon and of Argia, while the character of Creon, the villain of the
piece, was reserved for Alfieri himself. The performance of _Antigone_
was a great solemnity. The magnificent rooms of the Spanish Embassy were
crowded with the fashionable world of Rome, which, in the year 1782,
included priests and princes of the Church quite as much as painted
ladies and powdered cavaliers. A contemporary diary, kept by the page of
the Princess Colonna, a certain Abate Benedetti, enables us to form some
notion of the assembly. Foremost among the ladies were the two rival
beauties, equally famous for their conquests in the ecclesiastical as
well as the secular nobility, the Princess Santacroce and the Princess
Altieri, vying with each other in the magnificence of their diamonds and
of their lace, and each upon the arm of a prince of the Church who had
the honour of being her orthodox _cavaliere servente_; the Princess
Altieri led in by Cardinal Giovan Francesco Albani, the very gallant and
art-loving nephew of Winckelmann's Cardinal Alessandro; the Princess
Santacroce escorted by the French Ambassador Cardinal de Bernis, the
amiable society rhymester of Mme. de Pompadour, whom Frederick the Great
had surnamed _Babet la bouquetière_. In the front row sat the wife of
the Senator Rezzonico, who, in virtue of being the niece of the late
Pope Clement XIII., affected an almost royal pomp, and by her side sat
the wittiest and most literary of the Sacred College, the still very
flirtatious old Cardinal Gerdil. The hall was nearly full when the stir
in the crowd, and the general looking in one direction, announced the
arrival of a guest who excited unwonted attention. A young woman, who
scarcely looked her full age of thirty, small, slender, very simply and
elegantly dressed, with something still girlish in her small irregular
features and complexion of northern brilliancy, was conducted along the
gangway between the rows of chairs, and, as if she were the queen of the
entertainment, solemnly installed by the side of the Princess Rezzonico
in the first row. Was it because her husband had called himself King of
England, or because her lover was the author of the play about to be
performed? Be it as it may, the Countess of Albany was the object of
universal curiosity, and the emotion which she displayed during the play
was a second and perhaps more interesting performance for the
scandal-loving Romans.


While the ghosts of these long dead men and women, ladies in voluminous
brocaded skirts and diamond-covered bosoms, bursting out of the lace
and jewels of their stiff bodices, cardinals in trailing scarlet robes
and bishops with well-powdered hair contrasting curiously with their
Dominican or Franciscan dress, Roman nobles all in the strange old-world
costumes, with ruffs and trunk hose and emblazoned mantles, of the
Pope's household and of the military orders of Malta and Calatrava,
secular dandies in elaborately-embroidered silk coats and waistcoats,
ecclesiastical dandies to the full as dapper with their heavy lace,
and abundant fob jewels and inevitable two watches on the sober black
of their clothes;--while these ghosts whom we have evoked in all
their finery (long since gone to the _bric-à-brac_ shops) to fill the
theatre-hall of the Spanish palace, sit and listen to the symphony
which Cimarosa himself has written for _Antigone_, sit and watch the
magnificent Duchess of Zagarolo, dressed as Antigone in hoop and
stomacher and piled-up feathered hair, and the red-haired eccentric
Piedmontese Count, the d'Albany's lover, bellowing the anger of Creon;
let us try and sum up what the tragedies of Alfieri are for us people of
to-day, and what they must have been for those people of a hundred years
ago.

While scribbling for mere pastime at his earliest play, Alfieri had felt
his mind illumined by a sort of double revelation: he would make his
name immortal, and he would create a new kind of tragedy. These two
halves of a proposition, of which he appears never to have entertained a
single moment's doubt, had originated at the same time and developed in
close connection: that he could be otherwise than an innovator was as
inconceivable to Alfieri as that he could be otherwise than a genius,
although, in reality, he was as far from being the one as from being
the other. The fact was that Alfieri felt in himself the power of
inventing a style and of producing works which should answer to the
requirements of his own nature: considering himself as the sole audience,
he considered himself as the unique playwright. Excessively limited in
his mental vision, and excessively strong in his mental muscle, it was
with his works as with his life: the ideal was so comparatively within
reach, and the will was so powerful, that one feels certain that he
nearly always succeeded in behaving in the way of which he approved, and
in writing in the style which he admired. And the most extraordinary
part of the coincidence was, that as he happened to live in a time and
country which had entirely neglected the tragic stage, and consequently
had no habits or aspirations connected with it, his own desires with
reference to Italian tragedy preceded those of his fellow-countrymen,
his own ideal was thrust upon them before they well knew where they
were; and his own nature and likings became the sole standard by which
he measured his works, his own satisfaction the only criterion by which
they could be judged. In order, therefore, to understand the nature of
Alfieri's plays, it is necessary, first of all, to understand what were
Alfieri's innate likings and dislikings in the domain of the drama.
Before all other things, Alfieri was not a poet: he lacked all, or very
nearly all, the faculties which are really poetical. To begin with the
more gross and external ones, he had no instinct for, no pleasure in,
metrical arrangements for their own sake; he did not think nor invent in
verse, ideas did not come to him on the wave of metre; he thought out,
he elaborately finished, every sentence in prose, and then translated
that prose into verse, as he might have translated (and in some
instances actually did translate) from a French version into an Italian
one. Moreover he was, to a degree which would have been surprising even
in a prose writer, deficient in that which constitutes the intellectual
essence of poetry as metre constitutes its material externality; in
that tendency to see things surrounded by, disguised in, a swarm, a
masquerade, of associated ideas; deficient in the power of suggesting
images, of conceiving figures of speech; in fancy, imagination, in the
metaphorical faculty, or whatever else we may choose to call it. Nor did
he perceive or describe visible things, visible effects, in their own
unmetaphorical shapes and colours: not a line of description, not an
adjective can be found in his works except such as may be absolutely
indispensable for topographical or similar intelligibility; Alfieri
obviously cared as little for beautiful sights as for beautiful sound.
This being the case, everything that we might call distinctly poetical,
all those things which are precious to us in Shakespeare, or Marlowe,
or Webster, in Goethe or Schiller, nay, even, occurring at intervals,
in Racine himself, at least as much as mere psychology or oratory or
pathos, appeared to Alfieri in the light of mere meretricious gewgaws,
which took away from the interest of dramatic action without affording
him any satisfaction in return. As it was with metre and metaphor and
description, so it was also with the indefinable something which we call
lyric quality: the something which sings to our soul, and which sends a
thrill of delight through our nerves or a gust of emotion across our
nature in the same direct way as do the notes of certain voices, the
phrases of certain pieces of music: instantaneously, unreasoningly and
unerringly. Of this Alfieri had little, so little that we may also say
that he had nothing; the presence of this quality being evidently
unnoticed by him and unappreciated. So much for the absolutely poetical
qualities. Of what I may call the prose qualities of a playwright, only
a certain number appealed to Alfieri, and only a certain number were
possessed by him. In a time when the novel was beginning to become a
psychological study more minute than any stage play could ever be,
Alfieri was only very moderately interested in the subtle analysis or
representation of character and state of mind; the fine touches which
bring home a person or a situation did not attract his attention; nor
was he troubled by considerations concerning the probability of a
given word or words being spoken at a particular moment and by a
particular man or woman: realism had no meaning for him. As it was
with intellectual conception, so was it also with instructive sympathy:
Alfieri never subtly analysed the anatomy of individual nature, nor
did he unconsciously mimic its action and tones; what most of us mean
by pathos did not appeal to him. Neither metrical nor imaginative
pleasurableness, nor descriptive charm, nor lyric poignancy, nor
psychological analysis or intention entered, therefore, into Alfieri's
conception of a desirable tragedy, any more than any of these things
fell within the range of his special talents; for, we must always bear
in mind that with this man, whose feelings and desires were in such
constant action and reaction, with this man whose will imposed his
intellectual notions on his feelings, and his emotional tendencies on
his thoughts, the thing which he enjoys is always as the concave to the
convex of the thing which he produces. But although Alfieri was not a
poet, and was not even a potential novel writer, he was, in a sense,
essentially a dramatist; though even here we must distinguish and
diminish. Alfieri was not a man who cared for rapid action or for
intricate plot: he never felt the smallest inclination to violate the
old traditions of the pseudo-classic stage by those thrilling scenes
or sights which had to be described and not shown, nor by those
complications of interest which require years for an action instead of
the orthodox twenty-four hours.

He was perfectly satisfied with the no-place, no-where--with the vague
temple, or palace hall, or public square where, as in the country of the
abstract, the action of pseudo-classic tragedy always takes place, or,
more properly speaking, the talking of pseudo-classic tragedy always
goes on; he was perfectly satisfied with sending in a servant or a
messenger to inform the public of a murder or suicide committed behind
the scenes; he was perfectly satisfied with taking up a story, so to
speak, at the eleventh hour, without tracing it to its original causes
or developing it through its various phases. In such matters Alfieri was
as undramatic as Corneille or Racine. Nevertheless Alfieri had a
distinct dramatic sense: an intense _poseur_ himself, enjoying nothing
so much as working himself up to produce a given effect upon his own
mind or upon others, he had an extraordinary instinct for the theatrical,
for the moral attitude which may be struck so as to be effective, and
for the arrangement of subordinate parts so that this attitude surprise
and move the audience. The moral attitude, the psychological gesture,
which thus became the main interest of Alfieri's plays, was, as might be
expected from such a man, nearly always his own moral attitude, his own
psychological gesture; he himself, his uncompromising, unhesitating,
unflinching, curt and emphatic nature, is always the hero or heroine
of the play, however much the situation, the incidents, the other
characteristics may vary. Antigone is generous and tender, Creon is
inhuman in all save paternal feeling, Saul is a suspicious madman,
Agamemnon a just and confiding hero, Clytæmnestra is sinful and
self-sophisticating, Virginia pure and open-minded; yet all these
different people, despite all their differences, speak and act as
Alfieri would speak and act, could he, without losing his peculiar
characteristics, adopt for the moment vices or virtues which would
become quite secondary matters by the side of his essential qualities of
pride, narrowness, decision, violence, and self-importance. Whether he
paint his face into a smile or a scowl, whether he put on the blond wig
of innocence, or the black wig of villainy, the man's movement and
gesture, the tone of his voice, the accent of his words, the length of
his sentences, are always the same: so much so that in one play there
may be two or three Alfieris, good and bad, Alfieris turned perfectly
virtuous or perfectly vicious; but anything that is not an Alfieri in
some tolerably transparent disguise, is sure to be a puppet, a lay
figure with as few joints as possible, just able to stretch out its arms
and clap them to its sides, but dangling suspended between heaven and
earth.

The attitude and the gesture, which are the things for whose sake the
play exists, are, as I have said, the attitude and gesture of Alfieri.
But the moral attitude and gesture of Alfieri happened to be just those
which were rarest in the eighteenth century in all countries, and more
especially rare in Italy; and they were the moral attitude and gesture
which the eighteenth century absolutely required to become the nineteenth,
and which the Italy of Peter Leopold and Pius VI. and Metastasio
and Goldoni absolutely required to become the Italy of Mazzini and
Garibaldi, the Italy of Foscolo and Leopardi: they were the attitude and
the gesture of single-mindedness, haughtiness, indifference to one's
own comfort and one's neighbours' opinion, the attitude and gesture
of manliness, of strength, if you will, of heroism. To have written
tragedies whose whole value depended upon the striking exhibition of
these qualities; and to have made this exhibition interesting, nay,
fascinating to the very people, to the amiable, humane, indifferent,
lying, feeble-spirited Italians of the latter eighteenth century, till
these very men were ashamed of what they had hitherto been; to stamp the
new generation with the clear-cut die of his own strong character; this
was the reality of the mission which Alfieri had felt within himself: a
reality which will be remembered when his plays shall have long ceased
to be acted, and shall long have ceased to be read. Alfieri imagined
himself to be a great poetic genius, and a great dramatic innovator:
he scorned with loathing the works of Corneille, of Racine, and of
Voltaire, all immeasurably more valuable as poetry and drama than his
own; he hated the works of Metastasio, a poet and a playwright by the
divine right of genius; he refused to read Shakespeare, lest Shakespeare
should spoil the perfection of his own conceptions. He slaved for months
and years perfecting each of his plays, recasting the action and
curtailing the dialogue and polishing the verse; yet the action was
always heavy, the dialogue unnatural to the last degree, the verse
unpoetical. But all this extraordinary self-sufficiency was not a
delusion, all this extraordinary labour was not a waste: Alfieri, who
never had a single poetical thought, nor a single art-revolutionising
notion, was yet a great genius and a great innovator, inasmuch as he
first moulded in his own image the Italian patriot of the nineteenth
century. His use consisted in his mere existence among men so different
from himself; and his dramas, his elaborately constructed and curtailed
and corrected dramas, were, so to speak, a system of mirrors by which
the image of this strange new-fangled personality might be flashed
everywhere into the souls of his contemporaries. To perceive the
moral attitude and gesture specially characteristic of himself, to
artificially correct and improve and isolate them in his own reality,
and then to multiply their likeness for all the world; to know himself
to be Alfieri, to make himself up as Alfieri, and to write plays whereof
the heroes and heroines were mere repetitions of Alfieri; such was the
mission of this powerful and spontaneous nature, of this self-conscious
and self-manipulating _poseur_.

The success of that performance of _Antigone_ on the amateur stage
in the Spanish palace was very great. A young man, half lay, half
ecclesiastic, a dubious sort of poet, secretary, factotum, accustomed to
write not the most sincere poetry, and to execute, perhaps, not the most
creditable errands, of the Pope's dubious nephew, Duke Braschi--a young
man named Vincenzo Monti, was present at this performance, or one
of the succeeding ones; and from that moment became the author of the
revolutionary tragedy of _Aristodemo_, the potential author of that
famous ode on the battle of Marengo, one of the forerunners of new
Italy. Nay, even when, some few months later, there died at Vienna the
old Abate Metastasio, and his death brought home to a rather forgetful
world what a poet and what a dramatist that old Metastasio had been;
even then, an intimate friend of the dead man, a worldly priest, a quasi
prelate, the Abate Taruffi, could find no better winding up for the
funeral oration, delivered before all the pedants and prigs and fops and
spies of pontifical Rome assembled in the rooms of the Arcadian academy,
than to point to Count Vittorio Alfieri, and prophesy that Metastasio
had found a successor greater than himself.



CHAPTER XI.

SEPARATION.


Alfieri and the Countess were happy, happier, perhaps, than at any
other time of their lives; but this happiness had to be paid for. The
false position in which, however faultlessly, they were placed; the
illegitimate affection in which, however blamelessly, they were
indulging; these things, offensive to social institutions, although in
no manner wrong in themselves, had produced their fruit of humiliation,
nay, of degradation. Fate is more of a Conservative than we are apt to
think; it resents the efforts of any individual, be he as blameless
as possible, to resist for his own comfort and satisfaction the
uncomfortable and unsatisfactory arrangements of the world; it punishes
the man who seeks to elude an unjust law by condemning him to the same
moral police depôt, to the same moral prison-food, as the villain who
has eluded the holiest law that was ever framed; and Fate, therefore,
soiled the poetic passion of Alfieri and his lady by forcing it to the
base practices of any illicit love. The manner in which Fate executes
these summary lynchings of people's honour could not usually be more
ingenious; there seems to be a special arrangement by which offenders
are punished in their most sensitive part. The punishment of Alfieri
and of Mme. d'Albany for refusing to sacrifice their happiness to the
proprieties of a society which married girls of nineteen to drunkards
whom they had never seen, but which would not hear of divorce; this
punishment, falling directly only upon the man, but probably just as
heavy upon the woman who witnessed the humiliation of the person whom
she most loved and respected, consisted in turning Alfieri, the man who
was training Italy to be self-respecting, truthful, unflinching, into a
toady, a liar, and an intriguer.

The Countess of Albany, living in the palace of her brother-in-law,
Cardinal York, and under the special protection of the Pope, was
entirely dependent on the good pleasure of the priestly bureaucracy of
the Rome of Pius VI., that is to say, of about the most contemptible
and vilest set of fools and hypocrites and sinners that can well be
conceived; the Papacy, just before the Revolution, had become one of the
most corrupt of the many corrupt Governments of the day. Cardinal York
himself was a weak and silly, but honest and kind-hearted man; but
Cardinal York was entirely swayed by the prelates and priests and
priestlets and semi-priestly semi-lay nondescripts among whom he lived.
He was responsible for the honour of the Countess of Albany, that is to
say, of her husband and his brother; and the honour of the Countess of
Albany depended exactly upon the remarks which the most depraved and
hypocritical clergy in Europe, the people who did or abetted all the
dirty work of Pius VI. and his Sacred College, chose to make or not to
make about her conduct.

Such were the persons upon whom depended the liberty and happiness of
Alfieri's lady, the possibility of that high-flown Platonic intercourse
which constituted Louis d'Albany's whole happiness, and Alfieri's
strongest incentive to glory; a word from them could exile Alfieri and
lock the Countess up in a convent. The consequence of this state of
things is humiliating to relate, since it shows to what baseness the
most high-minded among us may be forced to degrade themselves. Already,
during those few days' sojourn in Rome, before his stay in Naples and
Mme. d'Albany's release from the Ursuline convent, Alfieri had spent his
time running about flattering and wheedling the powers in command (that
is to say, the corrupt ministers of the Papacy and their retinue of
minions and spies), in order to obtain leave to inhabit the same city as
his beloved and to see her from time to time; doing everything, and
stooping to everything, he tells us, in order to be tolerated by those
priests and priestlets whom he abhorred and despised from the bottom
of his heart. "After so many frenzies, and efforts to make myself a
free man," he writes, in his autobiography, "I found myself suddenly
transformed into a man paying calls, and making bows and fine speeches
in Rome, exactly like a candidate on promotion in prelatedom." At this
price of bitter humiliation, nay, of something more real than mere
humiliation, Alfieri bought the privilege of frequenting the palace of
Cardinal York. But it was a privilege for which you could not pay once
and for all; its price was a black-mail of humbugging, and wheedling,
and dirt-eating.

Alfieri hated and despised all sovereigns and all priests; and if
there were a sovereign and a priest whom he despised and hated more
than the rest, it was the then reigning Pius VI., a vain, avaricious,
weak-minded man, stickling not in the least at humiliating Catholicism
before anyone who asked him to do it, by no means clean-handed in his
efforts to enrich his family, without courage, or fidelity to his
promise; a man whose miserable end as the brutally-treated captive of
the French Republic has not been sufficient to raise to the dignity of a
martyr. Of this Pope Pius VI. did Alfieri crave an audience, and to him
did he offer the dedication of one of his plays; nay, the man who had
sacrificed his fortune in order to free himself from the comparatively
clean-handed despotism of Sardinia, who had stubbornly refused to be
presented to Frederick the Great and Catherine II., who had declined
making Metastasio's acquaintance on account of a too deferential bow
which he had seen the old poet make to Maria Theresa; the man who had in
his portfolios plays and sonnets and essays intended to teach the world
contempt for kings and priests, this man, this Alfieri, submitted to
having his cheek patted by Pope Braschi. This stain of baseness and
hypocrisy with which, as he says, he contaminated himself, ate like a
hidden and shameful sore into Alfieri's soul; yet, until the moment of
writing his autobiography, he had not the courage to display this
galling thing of the past even to his most intimate friends. To Louise
d'Albany, to the woman between whom and himself he boasted that there
was never the slightest reticence or deceit, he screwed up the force to
tell the tale of that interview only some time later. Alfieri, honest
enough to lay bare his own self-degradation, was not generous enough to
hide the fact that this self-degradation was incurred out of love for
her. That her hero should have stooped so low, so low that he scarcely
dared to tell even her, surely this must have been as galling to the
Countess of Albany as was the caress of Pius VI. to Alfieri himself;
this high poetic love of theirs, this exotic Dantesque passion, had been
dragged down, by the impartial legality of fate, to the humiliating
punishment which awaited all the basest love intrigues in this base Rome
of the base eighteenth century.

And, after some time, the stock of toleration bought at the price of
this baseness was exhausted. The clerical friends and advisers of
Cardinal York, who had hitherto assured the foolish prince of the Church
that he was acting for the honour of his brother and his brother's wife
in leaving a young woman of thirty-one to the sole care of a young poet
of thirty-four, each being well known to be over head and ears in love
with the other; these prudent ecclesiastics, little by little, began to
change their minds, and the success of Alfieri's plays, the general
interest in him and his lady which that success produced, suggested to
them that there really might be some impropriety in the familiarity
between the wife of Charles Edward and the author of _Antigone_. The
train was laid, and the match was soon applied. In April 1783 the
Pretender fell ill in Florence, so ill that his brother was summoned at
once to what seemed his death-bed. Charles Edward recovered. But during
that illness the offended husband, who, we must remember, had offered a
reward for Alfieri's murder, poured out to his brother, moved and
reconciled to him by the recent fear of his death, all his grievances
against the Tuscan Court, against his wife, and against her lover. A
letter of Sir Horace Mann makes it clear that Charles Edward persuaded
his brother that his ill-usage of his wife (which, however, Mann, with
his spies everywhere, had vouched for at the time) was a mere invention,
and part of an odious plot by which Alfieri had imposed upon the Grand
Duke, the Pope, the society of Florence and Rome, nay, upon Cardinal
York himself, in order to obtain their connivance in a shameful intrigue
development. The Cardinal returned to Rome in a state of indignation
proportionate to his previous saintly indifference to the doings of
Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany; he discovered that he had been shutting his
eyes to what all the world (by Alfieri's own confession) saw as a very
hazardous state of things; and, with the tendency to run into extremes
of a foolish and weak-minded creature, he immediately published from all
the housetops the dishonour whose existence had never occurred to him
before. To the Countess of Albany he intimated that he would not permit
her to receive Alfieri under his roof; and of the Pope (the Pope who had
so recently patted Alfieri's cheek) he immediately implored an order
that Alfieri should quit the Papal States within a fortnight. The order
was given; but Alfieri, in whose truthfulness I have complete faith,
says that, knowing that the order had been asked for, he forestalled the
ignominy of being banished by spontaneously bidding farewell to the
Countess of Albany and to Rome.

"This event," says Alfieri, "upset my brains for nearly two years; and
upset and retarded also my work in every way." In speaking of Alfieri's
youth I have already had occasion to remark that there was in this man's
character something abnormal; he was, as I have said, a moral invalid
from birth; his very energy and resolution had somewhat of the frenzy
and rigidity of a nervous disease, and though he would seem morally
stronger than other men when strictly following his self-prescribed
rule of excessive intellectual exercise, and when surrounded by a
soothing atmosphere of affection and encouragement, his old malady of
melancholy and rage (melancholy and rage whom he represents in one of his
sonnets as two horrible-faced women seated on either side of him), his
old incapacity for work, for interest in anything, his old feverish
restlessness of place, returned, as a fever returns with its heat and
cold and impotence and delirium, whenever he was shut out of this
atmosphere of happiness, whenever he was exposed to any sort of moral
hardship. On leaving Rome Alfieri went to Siena, where, years before,
when he had come light-hearted and bent only upon literary fame, to
learn Tuscan, he had been introduced into a little circle of men and
women whom he faithfully loved, and to that Francesco Gori who shared
with Tommaso di Caluso the rather trying honour of being his bosom
friend. This Gori, "an incomparable man," writes Alfieri, "good,
compassionate, and with all his austerity and ruggedness of virtue (_con
tanta altezza e ferocia di sensi_) most gentle," appears literally to
have nursed Alfieri in this period of moral sickness as one might nurse
a sick or badly-bruised child. "Without him," writes Alfieri, "I think
I should most likely have gone mad. But he, although he saw in me a
would-be hero so disgracefully broken in spirit and inferior to himself"
(this passage is characteristic, as showing that Alfieri considered
himself, when in a normal condition, far superior to his much-praised
Gori), "although he knew better than any the meaning of courage and
endurance, did not, therefore, cruelly and inopportunely, oppose
his severe and frozen reason to my frenzies, but, on the contrary,
diminished my pain by dividing it with me. O rare, O truly heavenly
gift, this of being able both to reason and to feel."

Weeping and raving, Alfieri was living once more upon letters received
and sent as during his previous separation from Mme. d'Albany; and of
all these love-letters, none appear to have come down to us. Carefully
preserved by Mme. d'Albany and by her heir Fabre, they fell into the
hands of a Mr. Gache of Montpellier, who assumed the grave responsibility
of destroying them and of thus suppressing for ever the most important
evidence in the law-suit which posterity will for ever be bringing
against Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany in favour of Charles Edward, or
against Charles Edward in favour of Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany. But some
weeks ago, among the pile of the Countess's letters to Sienese friends
preserved by Cavaliere Guiseppe Porri at Siena, I had the good fortune
to discover what are virtually five love-letters of hers, obviously
intended for Alfieri although addressed to his friend Francesco Gori.
I confess that an eerie feeling came over me as I unfolded these five
closely-written, unsigned and undated little squares of yellow paper,
things intended so exclusively for the mere moment of writing and
reading, all that long-dead momentary passion of a long-dead man and
woman quivering back into reality, filling, as an assembly of ghosts
might fill a house, and drive out its living occupants, this present
hour which so soon will itself have become, with all its passions and
worries, a part of the past, of the indifferent, the passionless. One is
frightened on suddenly being admitted to witness, unperceived, as by
the opening of a long-locked door, or by some spell said over a crystal
globe or a beryl-stone, such passion as this; one feels as if one would
almost rather not. These five letters, as I have said, are addressed to
a "Dear Signor Francesco, friend of my friend," and who, of course,
is Francesco Gori; and are written, which no other letters of Mme.
d'Albany's are, not in French, but in tolerably idiomatic though far
from correct Italian. Only one of them has any indication of place or
date, "Genzano, Mardi"; but this, and the references to Alfieri's
approaching journey northward and to Gori's intention of escorting him
as far as Genoa, is sufficient to show that they must have been written
in the summer of 1783, when Cardinal York, terrified at the liberty
which he had allowed to his sister-in-law, had conveyed her safely to
some villa in the Alban Hills. The woman who wrote these letters is a
strangely different being from the quiet jog-trot, rather cynically
philosophical Countess of Albany whom we know from all her other
innumerable manuscript letters, from the published answers of Sismondi,
of Foscolo and of Mme. de Souza to letters of hers which have disappeared.
The hysterical frenzy of Alfieri seems to have entered into this woman;
he has worked up this naturally placid but malleable soul, this woman in
bad health, deprived of all friends, jealously guarded by enemies, weak
and depressed, until she has become another himself, "weeping, raving,"
like himself, but unable to relieve, perhaps to enjoy, all this frantic
grief by running about like the mad Orlando, or talking and weeping by
the hour to a compassionate Gori.

"Dear Signor Francesco," she writes; "how grateful I am to you for your
compassion. You can't have a notion of our unhappiness. My misery is not
in the least less than that of our friend. There are moments when I
feel my heart torn to pieces thinking of all that he must suffer. I have
no consolation except your being with him, and that is something. Never
let him remain alone. He is worse, and I know that he greatly enjoys
your society, for you are the only person who does not bore him and whom
he always meets with pleasure. Oh! dear Signor Francesco, in what a sea
of miseries are we not! You also, because our miseries are certainly
also yours. I no longer live; and if it were not for my friend, for whom
I am keeping myself, I would not drag out this miserable life. What do I
do in this world? I am a useless creature in it; and why should I suffer
when it is of no use to anyone? But my friend--I cannot make up my mind
to leave him, and he must live for his own glory; and, as long as he
lives, even if I had to walk on my hands, I would suffer and live. Who
knows what will happen, it is so long since the man in Florence (Charles
Edward) is ill, and still he lives, and it seems to me that he is made
of iron in order that we may all die. You will say, in order to console
me, that he can't last; but I see things clearly. This illness has not
made him younger, but he may live another couple of years. He may at any
moment be suffocated by the humours which have risen to his chest. What
a cruel thing to expect one's happiness from the death of another! O
God! how it degrades one's soul! And yet I cannot refrain from wishing
it. What a thing, what a horrible thing is life; and for me it has been
a continual suffering, all except the two years that I spent with my
friend, and even then I lived in the midst of tears. And you also are
probably not happy; with a heart like yours it is not possible that
you should be. Whoever is born with any feeling can scarcely enjoy
happiness. I recommend our friend to your care, particularly his health.
Mine is not so bad; I take care of myself and stay much in bed to kill
the time and to rest my nerves, which are very weak. Good-bye, dear
Signor Francesco, preserve your friendship for me; I deserve it, since I
appreciate you."

Later on she writes again:--

"Dear Signor Francesco, friend of ours. I do all I can to take courage.
I study as much as I can. Music alone distracts my thoughts, or rather
deadens them, and I play the harp many hours a day, and I do so also
because I know that my friend wishes me to get to play it well. I work
at it as hard as I can. I live only for him; without him life would be
odious to me, and I could not endure it. I do nothing in this world; I
am useless in it; and where is the use of suffering for nothing? But
there is my friend, and I must remain on this earth. I do not doubt of
him; I know how much he loves me. But in moments of suffering I have
fears lest he should find someone who would give him less pain than
myself, with whom he might live cheerful and happy. I ought to wish it,
but I have not got the strength to do so. But I believe so fully in him
that I am satisfied as soon as he tells me that such a thing cannot
happen. I love him more than myself; it is a union of feeling which
we only can understand. I find in him all that I can desire; he is
everything for me; and yet I must suffer separation from him. Certainly
if I could come to a violent decision I should be the happiest woman
in the world; I should never think of the past; I should live in him
and for him; for I care for nothing in this world. Comfort, luxury,
position, all is vanity for me; peace by his side would suffice for me.
And yet I am condemned to languish far from him. What a horrible life!"

Again she writes to Gori:--

"Dear friend, I am so very, very grateful for the interest you take in
my unhappy situation, which is really terrible. Time serves only to
aggravate it, and certainly it will bring no alleviation to my misery
until I shall meet our friend. There is no peace, no tranquillity for
me. I would give whatever of life may remain to me in order to live for
one day with him, and I should be satisfied. My feelings for him are
unchangeable, and I am sure that his for me are the same. When shall I
see the end of my woes? Who knows whether I shall ever see it? That man
(Charles Edward) does not seem inclined to depart ... I suffer a little
from my nerves ... but those are the least of my sufferings. It is the
heart which suffers. I have moments of despair when I could throw myself
out of the window were it not for the thought that I must live for my
friend's sake; that my life is his. I feel a disgust for life which is
so reasoned out that I say to myself sometimes, 'Why do I live? What
good do I do?' and then I continue to suffer patiently, remembering
my friend. Forgive me for unbosoming myself with you, who alone can
understand me; you alone, except my friend, understand what I suffer.
Do you know, you ought to come and see me this winter, you would give
me such a pleasure. Good-bye, dear Signor Francesco; preserve your
friendship for me."

Thus she runs on, repeating and re-repeating the same ideas, the same
words, her love for Alfieri, her desperate situation, her hatred of
life, her uselessness, her desire to play the harp well for Alfieri's
sake, her hopes that Charles Edward may die; disconnected phrases, run
into each other without so much as a comma or a full stop (since I
have had to punctuate my translation, at least partially, to make it
intelligible); the excited, unconsecutive, unceasing, discursive,
reiterating gabble of hysteria, eager, vague, impotent, thoughts
suddenly vanishing and as suddenly coming to a dead stop; everything
rattled off as if between two sobs or two convulsions. Did Alfieri enjoy
receiving letters such as these? Doubtless: they were echoes of his own
ravings; fuel for his own passion and vanity. It did not strike him, for
all the Greek and Roman heroes and heroines whom he had made to speak
with stoical, unflinching curtness, that there could be anything to move
shame, and compassion sickened by shame, in the fact that this should be
the expression of that high and pure love imitated from Dante and
Petrarch. What could he do? Give up Louise d'Albany, forget her; and bid
her, who lived only in him, whom a few years must free, forget him at
the price of breaking her heart? Certainly not. But he, the man, the man
free to move about, to work, with friends and occupations, should surely
have tried to teach resignation and patience to this poor lonely, sick,
hysterical woman, pointing out to her that if only they would wait, and
wait courageously, the moment of liberation and happiness must come.
Surely more difficult and humiliating for this lover to bear than the
sight of his lady degraded by the foul words and deeds of the drunken
Pretender, ought to have been the reading of such letters as these; the
sight of this once calm and dignified woman, of this Beatrice or Laura,
in her disconnected hysterical ravings. And for myself, the thought of
all that the Countess of Albany endured at the hands of Charles Edward
awakens less pity, though pity mixed with indignation at the fate which
humiliated her so deeply, and with shame for that deep humiliation, than
that sudden cry with which she stops in the midst of the light-headed
gabble about her miseries, and seems to start back ashamed as at the
sight of her passion and tear-defiled face in a mirror: "What a cruel
thing to expect one's happiness from the death of another! O God! how it
degrades one's soul!"



CHAPTER XII.

COLMAR.


"On the 17th August 1784, at eight in the morning, at the inn of the
_Two Keys_, Colmar, I met her, and remained speechless from excess of
joy." So runs an annotation of Alfieri on the margin of one of his
lyrics.

The hour of liberty and happiness had come for Alfieri and Mme.
d'Albany; sooner by far than they expected, and sooner, we may think,
than they deserved. Liberty and happiness, however, not in the face
of the law. Charles Edward was still alive; but, pressed by King
Gustavus III. of Sweden, whom he contrived to wheedle out of some most
unnecessary money, he had consented to a legal separation from his
fugitive wife; as a result of which the Countess of Albany, renouncing
all money supplies from the Stuarts, and subsisting entirely upon a
share of the two pensions, French and Papal, granted to her husband,
was permitted to spend a portion of the year wheresoever she pleased,
provided she returned for awhile to show herself in the Papal States.
On hearing the unexpected news, Alfieri, who was crossing the Apennines
of Modena with fourteen horses that he had been to buy in England, was
seized with a violent temptation to send his caravan along the main
road, and gallop by cross-paths to meet the Countess, who was crossing
the Apennines of Bologna on her way from Rome to the baths of Baden in
Switzerland. The thought of her honour and safety restrained him, and he
pushed on moodily to Siena. But, as on a previous occasion, his stern
resolution not to seek his lady soon gave way; and two months later
followed that meeting at the _Two Keys_ at Colmar on the Rhine.

For the first time in those seven long years of platonic passion,
Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany found themselves settled beneath the same
roof. To the mind of this Italian man, and this half-French, half-German
woman of the eighteenth century, for whom marriage was one of the
sacraments of a religion in which they wholly disbelieved, and one
of the institutions of a society which alleviated it with universal
adultery; to Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany the legal separation from Charles
Edward Stuart was equivalent to a divorce. The Pretender could no longer
prescribe any line of conduct to his wife; she was free to live where
and with whom she chose; and if she were not free to marry, the idea,
the wish for marriage, probably never crossed the brains of these two
platonic lovers of seven years' standing. Marriage was a social contract
between people who wished to obtain each other's money and titles and
lands--who wished to have heirs. Alfieri, who had made over all his
property to his sister, and the Countess, who lived on a pension, had no
money or titles or lands to throw together; and they certainly neither
of them, the man living entirely for his work, the woman living entirely
for the man, had the smallest desire to have children, heirs to nothing
at all. What injury could their living together now do to Charles Edward,
who had relinquished all his husband's rights? None, evidently. On the
other hand, what harm could their living together do to their own honour
or happiness, now that they had had seven years' experience that only
death could extinguish their affection? None, again evidently. And as to
harm to the institutions of society, what were those institutions, and
what was their value, that they should be respected? Such, could we
have questioned them, would have been the answers of Alfieri and the
Countess. That they were setting an example to others less pure in mind,
less exceptional in position; that they were making it more difficult
for marriage to be reorganised on a more rational plan, by showing men
and women a something that might do instead of rationally organised
marriage; that they were, in short, preventing the law from being
rectified, by taking the law into their own hands: such thoughts could
not enter into the mind of continentals of the eighteenth century,
people for whom the great Revolution, Romanticism, and the new views
of society which grew out of both, were still in the future. That a
punishment should await them, that as time went on and youthful passion
diminished, their lives should be barren and silent and cold for want of
all those things: children, legal bonds, social recognition, by which
their union should fall short of a real marriage; this they could never
anticipate.

For the moment, united in the "excessively clean and comfortable" little
château, rented by Madame d'Albany at a short distance from Colmar;
riding and driving about in the lovely Rhine country; the Countess deep
in her reading again, Alfieri deep once more in his writings; together,
above all, after so many months of separation: they seemed perfectly
happy. So happy that it seemed as if a misfortune must come to restore
the natural balance of things; and the misfortune came, in the sudden
news of the death of poor Francesco Gori. A sense as of guiltiness at
having half forgotten that thoughtful and gentle friend in the first
flush of their happiness, seems to have come over them.

"O God," wrote Alfieri to Gori's friend Bianchi at Siena, "I don't know
what I shall do. I always see him and speak to him, and every smallest
word and thought and gesture of his returns to my mind, and stabs my
heart. I do not feel very sorry for him: he cared little for life for
its own sake, and the life which he was forced to lead was too far below
his great soul, and the goodness and tenderness of his heart, and the
nobility of his noble scornfulness. The person dearest to me of any,
and immediately next to whom I loved Checco [Gori] most, knew and
appreciated him and is not to be consoled for such a loss. I told him
already last July, so many, many times, that he was not well, that he
was growing visibly thinner day by day. Oh! I ought never to have left
him in this state."

A letter, this one on Gori's death, which may induce us to forgive the
letters of Alfieri of which we have seen a reflection in those of Mme.
d'Albany: the passionate grief for the lost friend making us feel that
there is something noble in the possibility of even the morbid grief at
the lost mistress. More touching still, bringing home what each of us,
alas! must have felt in those long, dull griefs for one who is not
our kith and kin, whom the thoughts of our nearest and dearest, of our
work, of all those things which the world recognises as ours in a sense
in which the poor beloved dead was not, does not permit us to mourn in
such a way as to satisfy our heart, and the longing for whom, half
suppressed, comes but the more pertinaciously to haunt us, to make the
present and future, all where he or she is not, a blank; more touching
than any letter in which Alfieri gives free vent to his grief for poor
Gori, is that note which he wrote upon the manuscript of his poem on
Duke Alexander's murder, after the annotation saying that this work was
resumed at Siena, the 17th July 1784--"O God! and the friend of my heart
was still living then"; the words which a man speaks, or writes only for
himself, feeling that no one, not those even who are the very flesh and
blood of his heart, can, since they are not himself, feel that terrible
pang at suddenly seeing the past so close within his reach, so
hopelessly beyond his grasp.

The death of Gori seemed the only circumstance which diminished the
happiness of Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany; nay, it is not heartless,
surely, to say that, cruel as was that wound, there was doubtless a
quite special sad sweetness in each trying to heal it in the other, in
the redoubled love due to this fellow-feeling in affliction, the new
energy of affection which comes to the survivors whenever Death calls
out the warning, "Love each other while I still let you." But they had
still to pay, and pay in many instalments, the price of happiness
snatched before its legitimate time.

Supposed to be living apart from Alfieri, the Countess could not,
therefore, take him back with her to Italy, where, according to the
stipulations of the act of separation, she was bound to spend the
greater part of every year. Hence the stay at Colmar in 1784, and those
in the succeeding years, were merely so many interludes of happiness in
the dreary life of separation; happiness which, as Alfieri says in one
of his sonnets, was constantly embittered by the thought that every day
and every hour was bringing them nearer to a cruel parting. The day
came: Alfieri had to take leave of Mme. d'Albany; and, as he expresses
it, had to return to much worse gloom than before, being separated from
his lady without having the consolation of seeing Gori once more.
Mechanically he returned to Siena, to Siena which it was impossible
to conceive without his friend Checco; but when he realised the empty
house, the empty town, he found the place he had so loved insupportable,
and went to spend his long solitary winter writing, reading, translating,
breaking in horses, leading a slave's life to pass the weary time, at
Pisa. In April 1785 Mme. d'Albany obtained permission to quit Bologna,
where she had spent the winter, and to go to her sisters in France. In
September she and her lover met once more in the beloved country-house
on the Rhine. But again, in December, came another separation; Mme.
d'Albany went to Paris, and Alfieri remained behind at Colmar.

"Shall we then be again separated," he writes in a sonnet, "by cruel and
lying opinion, which blames us for errors which the whole world commits
every day? Unhappy that I am! The more I love thee with true and loyal
love, the more must I ever refuse myself that for which I am always
longing: thy sweet sight, beyond which I ask for nothing. But the vulgar
cannot understand this, and knows us but little, and does not see that
thy pure heart is the seat of virtue."

Strange words, and which, coming from a man cynical and truthful as
Alfieri, may make us pause and refuse to affirm that this strange love,
platonic for seven long years, ceased to be a mere passionate friendship
even when it resorted to the secrecy and deceptions of a mere common
intrigue; even when it openly braved, in the semblance of marriage, the
opinion of the world at large. During those many months of solitude in
the villa at Colmar, with no other company than that of his Sienese
servant or secretary and of the horses, whose news he carefully sent, in
letters and sonnets, to the Countess, Alfieri appears for the first time
to have got into a habit of excessive overwork, and to have had the
first serious attack of the gout; overwork and gout, the two things
which were to kill him. A six months' stay in Paris, where society, the
business of printing his works, and the great distance of his lodgings
from the house of Mme. d'Albany, diminished his intellectual work, kept
him up for the moment. But in the following summer of the year 1787,
shortly after he had returned to Colmar with the Countess, and had
welcomed as a guest Tommaso di Caluso, his greatest friend since Gori's
death, he suddenly broke down under a terrific attack of dysentery.
For many days, reduced to a skeleton, ice cold even under burning
applications, and just sufficiently alive to feel in his intensely proud
and masculine nature the cruel degradation of an illness which made him
an object of loathing to himself, Alfieri remained at death's door,
devotedly tended by his beloved and by his friend.

"It grieved me dreadfully to think that I should die, leaving my lady,
and my friend, and that fame scarcely rough hewn for which I had worked
and frenzied myself so terribly for more than ten years," writes
Alfieri; "for I felt very keenly that of all the writings which I should
leave behind me, not one was completed and finished as it should have
been had time been given me to complete and to perfect according to my
ideas. On the other hand, it was a great consolation to know that, if I
must die, I should die a free man, and between the two best beloved
persons that I had, and whose love and esteem I believed myself to
possess and to deserve."

Alfieri recovered. But with that illness ends, I think, the period of
his youth, and of his genius, that is to say, of that high-wrought and
passionate austerity and independence of character which was to him
what artistic endowment is to other writers; and with that illness
begins a premature old age, mental and moral, decrepitude gradually
showing itself in a kind of ossification of the whole personality; the
decrepitude which corresponds, on the other side of a brief manhood of
comparative strength and health, to the morally inert and sickly years
of Alfieri's strange youth.



CHAPTER XIII.

RUE DE BOURGOYNE.


Alfieri's mother, an old lady of extreme simplicity of mind and
gentleness of spirit, was still living at Asti, cheerfully depriving
herself of every luxury in order to devote her fortune, as she devoted
her thoughts and her strength, to the services of the poor and of the
sick. Alfieri, who had left her as a boy, and scarcely seen her except
for a few hours at rare intervals, looked up to her less with the
affection of a son than with the satisfaction of an artist who sees
in the woman of whom he is born the peculiar type of features or
character which he prizes most in womankind; if he, for all his
conscious weaknesses, was more like his own heroes than any man of his
acquaintance, if Mme. d'Albany might be judiciously got up as the Laura
of his affections, the old Countess Alfieri was even more unmistakably
the mother who suited his ideas, the living model of his mother of
Virginia, or his mother of Myrrha. To the Countess Alfieri he had,
already in 1784, introduced the Countess of Albany, whom she invited to
stay with her on her passage through Asti as she returned from Colmar
into Italy. Mme. d'Albany found an excuse for not accepting in the bad
state of the roads, which rendered another route than that of Asti
preferable. Frank and indifferent to the world's opinion as was Mme.
d'Albany, her originally cut and dry intellectual temper hardened by
many years' misery, one can conceive that she should shrink from
accepting the hospitality of Alfieri's mother. Alfieri had doubtless
shown her his mother's letters, and from these letters, as reflected in
his answers, it is clear that the Countess of Albany, returning from
that first stay with her lover at Colmar, would have felt that she was
tacitly deceiving the noble old lady under whose roof she was staying.
For the Countess Alfieri, noble, and Italian, and woman of the
eighteenth century though she was, seems to have been one of those
persons into whose mind, high removed above all worldly concerns, no
experience of vice, of weakness, nay, of mere equivocal situations, can
enter. Whatever she may have seen or heard in her youth of the habits of
women of her century and station, of the virtual divorce which, after a
few years, reigned in aristocratic houses, of authorised lovers and
socially accepted infidelity, seems to have passed out of her memory
and left her mind as innocent as it may have been during her convent
school-days. She had taken great interest in this poor young woman,
maltreated by a drunken husband, and finally saved from his clutches by
the benevolence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and of a prince of the
church, about whom her son had written to her. That her son experienced
more than her own pity for so worthy an object, that he was at all
compromised in the fate of this virtuous, unhappy lady, never entered
her mind. So little could she understand the muddy things of this
world, that in 1789, when Alfieri was publicly living with Mme. d'Albany
at Colmar, the Countess Alfieri sent him, through his friend Caluso, the
suggestion of a match which she had greatly at heart, between him and a
young lady of Asti, "fifteen or sixteen years old, without any faults,
such as he would certainly like, cultivated, docile, and clever." It is
one of the things which grate upon one most in Alfieri's character,
and which show that however much he might be cast and have chiselled
himself in antique heroic form he was yet made of the same stuff as his
contemporaries, to find that he and his friend Caluso merely amused
themselves immensely at this proposal of marriage, and concocted a
dutiful letter to the old Countess explaining that matrimony was not at
present in his plans. What would Madame Alfieri have thought had she
known the truth! It is very sad to think how, in some cases, the very
noblest and purest, just because they are so completely noble and pure
and above all the base necessities of the world of passion, must be
unable to see, in the doings of others less fortunate than themselves,
those very elements of nobility and purity which redeem the baser
circumstances of their lives. That Mme. d'Albany had loved a man not her
husband, had fled from her husband and united her life to that of her
lover, would be a horror visible to the old Countess' eyes; the platonic
purity, the fidelity, the loyalty of this long and illegitimate love,
would have escaped her. No art is so cruelly contemptuous of whatever of
beauty and sweetness imperfect reality may contain, as the art which is
able to attain an ideal perfection; and thus it is also in matters of
appreciation of man by man and woman by woman. The Countess of Albany
was apparently more frank than Alfieri, because frank rather from
temperament than from pre-occupation about a given ideal of conduct.
That the mother of Alfieri should understand so little seems to have
worried her; and when the unsuspecting old lady asked her sympathisingly
for news of Charles Edward, she wrote back as follows: "As to my husband,
he is better; but I must confess to you, Madame, that I cannot take so
lively an interest in him as you suppose, for he made me, during nine
years, the most wretched woman that ever lived. If I do not hate him it
is a result of Christian charity, and because we are desired to pardon.
He drags out a miserable life, abandoned by all the world, without
relatives or friends, given over to his servants; but he has willed
it thus, since he has never been able to live with anyone. Forgive
me, Madame, for having entered into such details with you; but the
friendship which you have shown towards me obliges me to speak
sincerely." Mme. d'Albany, writing some time before to condole about the
death of Alfieri's half-brother, had tried to insinuate to the old
Countess what her son was for her, and what position she herself might
one day assume in the Alfieri family: "I hope that if circumstances
change, you will not see a family die out to which you are so attached,
and that you will receive the greatest consolation from M. le Comte
Alfieri." Words which could only mean that when the Pretender died Mme.
Alfieri might hope for a daughter-in-law in the writer, and for
grand-children through her. But Madame Alfieri did not understand;
imagining, perhaps, that Mme. d'Albany was alluding to some project of
marriage of her friend M. le Comte Alfieri; and the letter in which the
ill-treated wife's aversion to her husband was first openly revealed
appears to have acted as a thunder-clap, and to have, at least
momentarily, put an end to all correspondence.

The Countess of Albany was mistaken in supposing that Charles Edward
would die in the arms of mere servants. The very year after her own
separation from Alfieri, the Pretender had called to Florence the
natural daughter born to him by Miss Walkenshaw, and whom he had left,
apparently forgotten for twenty-five years, in the convent at Meaux,
where her mother had taken refuge from his brutalities, even as Louise
d'Albany had taken refuge from them in the convent of the Bianchette.
Partly from a paternal feeling born of the unexpected solitude in which
his wife's flight had left him; partly, doubtless, from a desire to
spite the Countess; he had solemnly, as King of England, legitimated
this daughter, and created her Duchess of Albany: he had made incredible
efforts, abandoning drink, going into the world and keeping open house,
to attach this young woman to him, and to treat her as well as he had
treated his wife ill.

Charlotte of Albany, a strong, lively, good-humoured, big creature,
devoted to gaiety, effectually reformed her father in his last years,
and turned him, from the brute he had been, to a tolerably well-behaved
old man. But we must not therefore conclude that Charlotte was a better
woman, or a woman more desirous of doing her duty, than Louise d'Albany.
Between the two there was an abyss: Charlotte had been sent for by a man
weary of solitude, smarting under the frightful punishment brought upon
his pride by the flight of his wife; ready to do anything in order not
to be alone and despised by the world; a man broken by illness and age,
weak, hysterical, incapable almost of his former excesses; and Charlotte
was a woman of thirty, she was a daughter, she was free to go where she
would to marry, and her father could buy her presence only at the price
of submission to her tastes and to her desires. How different had it not
been with Louise of Stolberg: united to this man twelve years before, a
mere child of nineteen, given over to him as his wife, his chattel, his
property, to torment and lock up as he might torment and lock up his dog
or his horse; losing all influence over him with every day which made
her less of a novelty and diminished the chance of an heir; and sickened
and alarmed more and more by the obstinate jealousy and drunkenness and
brutality of a man still in the vigour of his odious passions. Still,
the fact remains that while Louise d'Albany was secretly or openly
making light of all social institutions, and living as the mistress,
almost the wife, of Alfieri; this insignificant Charlotte, this
bastard of a Miss Walkenshaw, this woman who had probably never had an
enthusiasm, or an ideal, or a thought, had succeeded in reclaiming
whatever there remained of human in the degraded Charles Edward; had
succeeded in doing the world the service of laying out at least with
decency and decorum this living corpse which had once contained the soul
of a hero, so that posterity might look upon it without too much
contempt and loathing, nay, almost, seeing it so quiet and seemingly
peaceful, with compassion and reverence.

And when, at the beginning of February 1788, the Countess of Albany, in
the full enjoyment of her love for Alfieri, and of the pleasures of the
most brilliant Parisian society, received the news that on the last day
of January Charles Edward had passed away peacefully in the arms of the
Duchess Charlotte; and that the drink-soiled broken body, from which she
must so often have recoiled in disgust and terror, had been laid out,
with the sad mock royalty of a gilt wooden sceptre and pinchbeck crown,
in state in the cathedral of Frascati; when, I say, the news reached
Paris, this woman, so confident of having been in the right, and who had
written so frankly that if she did not hate her husband it was from mere
Christian charity and the duty of forgiveness, felt herself smitten by
an unexpected grief.

Alfieri, who witnessed it with astonishment, and to whose cut-and-dry
nature it must have seemed highly mysterious, was, nevertheless, in a
way overawed by this sudden emotion at the death of the man who had
made both lovers so miserable. His appreciation, difficult to so
narrow a temper, of all that may move our sympathy in that, to him,
unintelligible grief, is, I think, one of the facts in his life which
brings this strange, artificial, heroic, admirable, yet repulsive
character, most within reach of our affection; as that same grief, so
unexpected by herself, at what was after all her final deliverance, is,
together with the letter to Alfieri's mother, telling of her hatred to
Charles Edward, and that exclamation in the hysterical love-letter at
Siena--"O God! how this degrades the soul!"--one of the things which
persuade us that this woman, whom we shall see inconsistent, worldly,
and cynical, did really possess at bottom what her lover called "a most
upright and sincere and incomparable soul."

"For the present," wrote Alfieri to his Sienese friends on the occasion
of Charles Edward's death, "nothing will be altered in our mode of
life." In other words, the Countess of Albany and her lover, established
publicly beneath the same roof in Paris, did not intend getting married.
Whatever hopes may have filled Mme. d'Albany's heart when, years before,
she had hinted to Alfieri's mother that when certain circumstances
changed, the Alfieri family should be saved from extinction; whatever
ideas Alfieri had had in his mind when he prayed in a sonnet for the
happy day when he might call his love holy; whatever intention of
repairing the injury done to social institutions, may at one time have
mingled with the lovers' remorse and the lovers' temptations,--had now
been completely forgotten. We have seen how, more than once, love,
however self-restrained, had induced Alfieri to put aside all his
Republican sternness and truthfulness, and to cringe before people
whom he thoroughly despised; we cannot easily forget that ignominious
stroking of the Brutus poet's cheek by Pope Pius VI. We shall now see
how this peculiar sort of Roman and stoical virtue, cultivated by
Alfieri in himself and in his beloved as the one admirable thing in
the world, a strange exotic in this eighteenth-century baseness, had
nevertheless withered in several of its branches, beaten by the wind
of illegitimate passion, and dried up by the callousness of an immoral
state of society: an exotic, or rather a precocious moral variety, come
before its season, and bleached and warped like a winter flower.

Alfieri and the Countess did not get married, simply, I think, because
they did not care to get married; because marriage would entail
reorganisation of a mode of life which had somehow organised itself;
because it would give a common-place prose solution to what appeared a
romantic and exceptional story; and finally because it might necessitate
certain losses in the way of money, of comfort, and of rank.

One sees throughout all his autobiography and letters that Alfieri drew
a sharp distinction between love and marriage; that he conceived
marriage as the act of a man who sets up shop, so to say, in his native
place, goes in for having children, for being master in his own house,
administering and increasing his estates, and generally devoting himself
to the advancement of his family. As such Alfieri, who was essentially a
routinist, respected and approved of marriage; and anything different
would have struck his martinet, rule and compass, mind, as ridiculous
and contemptible. In giving up his fortune to his sister, Alfieri had
deliberately cut himself off from the possibility of such a marriage;
moreover, putting aside the financial question, his notion of the
liberty of a writer, who must be able to speak freely against any
government, was incompatible with his notion of a father of a family,
settled in dignity in his ancestral palace; and finally, I feel
perfectly persuaded that in the mind of Alfieri, which saw things only
in sharpest black and white contrasts, there existed a still more
complete incompatibility between a woman like the Countess of Albany,
and a wife such as he conceived a wife: to marry Mme. d'Albany would be
to degrade a poetical ideal into vulgar domesticity, and at the same
time to frightfully depart from the normal type of matrimony, which
required that the man be absolute master, and not afflicted with any
sort of sentimental respect for his better half.

According to Alfieri, there were two possibilities for the ideal man: a
handsome and highly respectable marriage with a girl twenty years his
junior, fresh from the convent, provided with the right number of
heraldic quarterings, acres, diamonds, and domestic virtues, and who
would bear him, in deep awe for his unapproachable superiority, five or
six robust children; and a romantic connexion with a married woman or a
widow, a woman all passion and intellect and aspiration, with whom he
should go through a course of mutual soul improvement, who should be the
sharer of all his higher life, and whom he would diligently deck out as
a Beatrice or a Laura in the eyes of society.

The Countess of Albany did not fit into the first ideal; nor, for the
matter of that, did Alfieri, poor, expatriated, mad for independence,
engrossed in literature, fit into it himself; and both, as it happened,
fitted in perfectly to the second ideal possibility. To get married with
a view to turning into domestic beings, would be a failure, a trouble,
an interruption, a desecration, and a bore; to get married merely to go
on as they were at present, would, in the eyes of Alfieri, have been a
profanation of the poetry of their situation, a perfectly unnecessary
piece of humbug.

Such were, doubtless, Alfieri's views of the case. Mme. d'Albany, on
the other hand, had evidently no vocation as a housewife or a mother;
marriage was full of disagreeable associations to her: a husband
might beat one, and a lover might not. She, probably, also, guessed
instinctively that to Alfieri a Laura must always be a mere mistress,
and a wife must always be a mere Griselda; she knew his cut-and-dry
views, his frightful power of carrying theory into practice; she may
have guessed that the most respectful of lovers would in his case make
the most tyrannical of husbands. But while Alfieri doubtless brought
Mme. d'Albany to share his abstract reasons, Mme. d'Albany probably
brought home to him her own more practical ones. Alfieri, we must
remember, had been a man of excessive social vanity; and much as he
despised mankind, he certainly still liked to enjoy its admiring
consideration. Mme. d'Albany, on the other hand, had been brought up in
the full worldliness of a canoness of Ste. Wandru, and had grown
accustomed to a certain amount of state and of luxury; and these worldly
tendencies, thrown into the background by the passion, the poetry which
sprang up with the irresistible force of a pressed down spring during
her married misery, had returned to her as years went on, and as passion
cooled and poetry diminished. Now marriage would probably involve a
great risk of a diminution of income, since the Pope and the Court of
France might easily refuse to support Charles Edward's widow once she
had ceased to be a Stuart; and it must inevitably mean an end to a
quasi-regal mode of life to which the widow of the Pretender could lay
claim, but the wife of a Piedmontese noble could not. It is one of the
various meannesses, committed quite unconsciously by Mme. d'Albany, and
apparently not censured by the people of the eighteenth century, that,
so far from being anxious to shake off all vestiges of her hateful
married life, the Countess of Albany, on the contrary, seemed determined
to enjoy, so to speak, her money's worth; to get whatever advantages had
been bought at the price of her marriage with Charles Edward. Mme.
d'Albany enjoyed being the widow of a kind of sovereign. Rather
easy-going and familiar by nature, she nevertheless assumed towards
strangers a certain queenly haughtiness which frequently gave offence;
and Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, who was introduced at her house in 1788,
found, to his surprise, that all the plate belonging to Mme. d'Albany
was engraved with the royal arms of England; that guests were conducted
through an ante-room in which stood a royal throne also emblazoned with
the arms of England; nay, that the servants had orders to address the
lady of the house by the title of a queen: a state of things whose
institution by a woman who affected nobility of sentiment and who made
no secret of her hatred of Charles Edward, whose toleration by a man
who scorned the world and abhorred royalty, is one of those strange
anomalies which teach us the enormous advance in self-respect and
self-consistency due to social and democratic progress, an improvement
which separates in feeling even the most mediocre and worldly men and
women of to-day from the most high-minded and eccentric men and women of
a century ago. To marry Alfieri would mean, for the Countess of Albany,
to risk part of her fortune and to relinquish her royal state, as well
as to sink into a mere humdrum housewife. Hence, in both parties
concerned, a variety of reasons, contemptible in our eyes, excellent in
their own, against legitimating their connection. And, on the other hand,
no corresponding inducement. Why should they get married? The Countess,
going in state every Sunday to a convent where she was received with
royal honours, Alfieri writing to his mother that although he was not
regular at confession, he was yet provided with a most austere and
worthy spiritual director in case of need, neither of them had the
smallest belief in Christianity nor in its sacraments. To please whom
should they marry, pray? To please religion? Why, they had none. To
please society? Why, society, in this Paris of the year 1788, at least
such aristocratic society as they cared to see, consisted entirely
either of devoted couples of high-minded lovers each with a husband or
wife somewhere in the background, or of even more interesting triangular
arrangements of high-minded and devoted wife, husband, and lover,
all living together on charming terms, and provided, in case of
disagreement, each with a _lettre de cachet_ which should lock the other
up in the Bastille. A Queen of England by right divine, keeping open
house in company with a ferociously republican Piedmontese poet, was
indeed a new and perhaps a questionable case; but the pre-revolutionary
society of Paris was too philosophical to be surprised at anything; and,
after very little hesitation, resorted to the charming Albany-Alfieri
hotel in the Rue de Bourgoyne. Now, if the well-born and amusing people
in Paris did not insist upon Alfieri and the Countess getting married,
why should they go out of their way to do so? We good people of the
nineteenth century should have liked them the better; but then, you see,
it was the peculiarity of the men and women of the eighteenth century to
be quite unable to conceive that the men and women of the nineteenth
century would be in the least different from themselves.



CHAPTER XIV

BEFORE THE STORM.


The well-born and amusing people of the end of the eighteenth and
beginning of the nineteenth century did not stickle at the question
of the marriage. They flocked to the hotel of the Rue de Bourgoyne,
attracted by the peculiar cosmopolitan charm, the very undeniable
talent for society, the extraordinary intellectual superiority of Mme.
d'Albany; attracted, also, by a certain easy-going and half-motherly
kindliness which seems, to all those who wanted sympathy, to have been
quite irresistible. It was the moment of the great fermentation, when
even trifling things and trifling people seemed to boil and seethe with
importance; when cold-hearted people were suddenly full of tenderness
and chivalry, selfish people full of generosity, prosaic people full of
poetry, and mediocre people full of genius: the brief carnival-week
of the old world, when men and women masqueraded in all manner of
outlandish and antiquated thoughts and feelings, and enjoyed the
excitement of dressing-up so much that they actually believed themselves
for the moment to be what they pretended: it was the brief moment,
grotesque and pathetic, when the doomed classes of society, who were
fatally going to be exterminated for their long selfishness and
indifference, enthusiastically caught up pick-axe and shovel and tore
down the bricks of the edifice which was destined to fall and to crush
them all beneath its ruins.

All these men and women, their deep in-born corruption momentarily
transfigured by this enthusiasm for liberty, for equality, for sentiment,
for austerity, which mingled oddly with their childish pleasure in all
new things, in mesmerism, in America, in electricity, in Montgolfier
balloons, with their habitual pleasure in all their big and small futile
and wicked pleasures of worldliness;--all these men and women, these
_morituri_ delighted at the preparations, the scaffoldings, red clothes,
black crape, torches and drums and bugles, for their own execution, all
assembled at that hotel of the Rue de Bourgoyne.

A brilliant crowd of ministers and diplomatists, and artists and
pamphleteers, and wits and beautiful women; perishable and perished
things, out of which we must select one or two, either as types of that
which has perished, or as types of the imperishable; and the perished,
the amiable and beautiful women, the amusing and brilliantly-improvising
orators and philosophers of the half-hour, are often that which, could
we have chosen, we should have preserved. Most notable among the women,
the young daughter of Necker, the wife of the Swedish ambassador, Mme.
la Baronne de Staël Holstein: a rather mannish superb sort of creature,
with shoulders and arms compensating for thick swarthy features; eyes
like volcanoes; the laugh of the most kind-hearted of children; the
stride, the attitude, with her hands for ever behind the back, of an
unceremonious man; a young woman already accounted a genius, and felt to
be a moral force. Next to her a snub, drab-coloured Livonian, with
northern eyes telling of future mysticism, that Mme. de Krüdener, as yet
noted only for the droll contrast of her enthusiasm for St. Pierre and
the simplicity of nature with her quarterly bills of twenty thousand
francs from Mdlle. Bertin, the Queen's milliner; but later to be famous
for her literary and religious vagaries, her influence on Mme. de Staël,
her strange influence on Alexander of Russia. Near her, doubtless, that
fascinating Suard, in the convent of whose sister Mme. de Krüdener was
wont to spend a month in religious exercises, thanking God, at the foot
of the altar, for giving her a sister like Mdlle. Suard, and a lover
like Suard himself. As yet but little noticed, except as the pet friend,
the "younger sister" of Mme. d'Albany, a Mme. de Flahault, later married
to the Portuguese Souza; a simple-natured little woman, adoring her
children and the roses in her garden, and who, if I may judge by the
letters which, many, many years later, she addressed to Mme. d'Albany,
would be the woman of all those one would rather resuscitate for a
friend, leaving Mmes. de Staël and de Krüdener quiet in their coffins.
Further on, the delicate and charming Pauline de Beaumont, who was to be
the Egeria of Joubert and the tenderly-beloved friend of Châteaubriand;
and a host of women notable in those days for wit or heart or looks,
wherewith to make a new Ballade of Dead Ladies, much sadder than the one
of Villon: "But where are the snows of yester-year?"

Round about these ladies an even greater number of men of what were, or
passed for, eminent qualities; political for the most part, or busied
with the new science of economy, like the Trudaines; and most notable
among them, as the typical victim of genius of the Reign of Terror, poor
André Chénier, his exquisite imitations of Theocritus still waiting to
be sorted and annotated in prison; and the typical blood-maniac of
genius, the painter David, who was to startle Mme. d'Albany's guests,
soon after the 10th August, by wishing that the Fishwives had stuck
Marie Antoinette's head without more ado upon a pike. Imagine all these
people assembled in order to hear M. de Beaumarchais, in the full glory
of his millions and his wonderful garden, give a first reading of his
_Mère Coupable_, after inviting them to prepare themselves to weep
(which was easy in those days of soft hearts) "_à plein canal_." Or else
listening to the cold and solemn M. de Condorcet, prophesying the time
when science shall have abolished suffering and shall abolish death;
little dreaming of those days of wandering without food, of those nights
in the quarries of Montrouge, of that little bottle of poison, the only
thing that science could give to abolish his suffering.

To all these great and illustrious people the Countess of Albany--I had
almost said the Queen of England--introduced her "incomparable friend"
(style then in vogue) Count Vittorio Alfieri; and all of them doubtless
took a great interest in him as her lover, and a little interest in him
as _the_ great poet of Italy; not certainly without wondering--amiable
people as they were, and persuaded that France and Paris alone
existed--that Mme. d'Albany should find anything to love in this
particularly rude and disagreeable man, and that a country like Italy
should have the impudence to set up a poet of its own. The Countess of
Albany, made to be a leader of intellectual society, was happy; but
Alfieri was not. Ever since his childhood, when a French dancing-master
had vainly tried to unstiffen his rigid person, he had mortally hated
the French nation; ever since his first boyish travels he had loathed
Paris as the sewer, the _cloaca maxima_ (the expression is his own) of
the world; his whole life had been a struggle with the French manners,
the French language, which had permeated Piedmont; one of the chief
merits of the new drama he had conceived was (in his own eyes) to sweep
Corneille, Racine, and particularly Voltaire, his arch-aversion
Voltaire, off the stage.

Alfieri, with his faults and his virtues, was specially constructed, if
I may use the expression, to ignore all the good points, and to feel
with hysterical sensitiveness all the bad ones, of the French nation;
and more especially of the French nation of the pre-revolutionary and
revolutionary era. Alfieri's reality and Alfieri's ideal were austerity,
inflexibility, pride and contemptuousness of character, coldness,
roughness, decision of manner, curtness, reticence, and absolute
truthfulness of speech; above all, no consideration for other folks'
likings and dislikings, no mercy for their foibles. His ideal, even more
so than the ideal of other idealising minds, was the mere outcome of
himself; it contained his faults as well as his virtues. Now all that
fell short of, or went beyond, his ideal--that is to say, himself--was
abomination in Alfieri's eyes. Consequently France and the French,
all the nobility, the wit, the sentiment, the warm-heartedness, the
enthusiasm, the wide-mindedness, the childishness, the frivolity, the
instability, the disrespectfulness, the sentimentality, the high
falutinism, the superficiality, the looseness of principle, everything
that made up the greatness and littleness of the France of the end of
last century, everything which will make up the greatness and littleness
of France, the glories and weaknesses which the world must love, to the
end of time; all these things were abhorrent to Alfieri; and Alfieri,
when once he disliked a person or a thing, justly or unjustly, could
only increase but never diminish his dislike. Let us look at this
matter, which is instructive to all persons whose nobility of character
runs to injustice, a little closer; it will help us to understand the
_Misogallo_, the extraordinary apostasy which, quite unconsciously,
Alfieri was later to commit towards the principle of freedom. Alfieri,
intensely Italian, if mediæval and peasant Italy may give us the
Italian type, in a certain silent or rather inarticulate violence of
temper--violence which roars and yells and stabs and strangles, but
which never talks, and much less argues--could not endure the particular
sort of excitement which surrounded him in France; excitement mainly
cerebral, heroism or villainy resulting, but only as the outcome of
argument and definition of principle and of that mixture of logic and
rhetoric called by the French _des mots_. Alfieri was not a reasoning
mind, he was not an eloquent man; above all, he was not a witty man; his
satirical efforts are so many blows upon an opponent's head; they are
almost physical brutalities; there is nothing clever or funny about
them. In such a society as this Parisian society of the years '87, '88,
'89, '90, he must have been at a continual disadvantage; and at a
disadvantage which he felt keenly, but which he felt, also, that
any remarkable piece of Alfierism which would have moved Italy to
admiration, such as glaring, or stalking off in silence, or punching a
man's head, could only increase. To feel himself at a disadvantage on
account of his very virtues, and with people whom those virtues did
not impress, must have been most intolerable to a man as vain and
self-conscious as Alfieri, and to this was added the sense that,
from mere ignorance of the language (the language whose nobility, as
contrasted with the "low, plebeian, nasal disgustingness" of French, he
so often descanted on) in which he wrote, it was quite impossible for
these people to be reduced to their right place and right mind by the
crushing superiority of his dramatic genius. He, who hungered and
thirsted for glory, what glory could he hope for among all these monkeys
of Frenchmen, jabbering and gesticulating about their States-General,
their Montgolfier, their St. Pierre, their Condorcet, their Parny, their
Necker, who had not even the decent feeling to know Italian, and who
bowed and smiled and doubtless mixed him up with Metastasio and Goldoni
when introduced by the Countess to so odd a piece of provincialism as an
Italian poet. "Does Monsieur write comedies or tragedies?" One fancies
one can hear the politely indifferent question put with a charming
smile by some powdered and embroidered French wit to Mme. d'Albany in
Alfieri's hearing; nay, to Alfieri himself.

Mixed with such meaner, though unconscious motives for dissatisfaction,
must have been the sense, intolerable to a man like Alfieri, of the
horrid and grotesque jumble of good and bad, of real and false, not
merely in the revolutionary movement itself, but in all these men of the
_ancien régime_ who initiated it. Alfieri conceived liberty from the
purely antique, or, if you prefer, pseudo-antique, point of view; it
was to him the final cause of the world; the aim of all struggles; to
be free was the one and only desideratum, to be master of one's own
thoughts, actions, and words, merely for the sake of such mastery. The
practical advantages of liberty entirely escaped him, as did the
practical disadvantages of tyranny; nay, one can almost imagine that
had liberty involved absolute misery for all men, and tyranny absolute
happiness, Alfieri would have chosen liberty. To this pseudo-Roman
and intensely patrician stoic, who had never known privation or
injustice towards himself, and scarcely noticed it towards others,
the humanitarian, the philanthropic movement, characteristic of the
eighteenth century, and which was the strong impulse of the revolution,
was absolutely incomprehensible. Alfieri was, in the sense of certain
ancients, a hard-hearted man, indifferent, blind and deaf to suffering.
That a man of education and mind, a gentleman, should have to sweep the
ground with his hat on the passage of another man, because that other
happened to wear a ribbon and a star; that he should be liable to exile,
to imprisonment, for a truthful statement of his opinion: these were to
Alfieri the insupportable things of tyranny. But that a man in wooden
shoes and a torn smock frock, sleeping between the pigs and the cows on
the damp clay floor, eating bread mainly composed of straw, should have
all the profits of his hard labour taken from him in taxes, while
another man, a splendid gentleman covered over with gold, riding over
acres of his land with his hounds, or a fat priest dressed in silk,
snoozing over his Lucullus dinner, should be exempt from taxation and
empowered to starve, rob, beat, or hang the peasant: such a thing as
this did not fall within the range of Alfieri's feelings. To his mind,
for ever wrapped in an intellectual toga, there was no tragedy in mere
misery; there was no injustice in mere cruelty, or rather misery,
cruelty, nay, all their allied evils, ignorance, brutality, sickness,
superstition, vice, were unknown to him. Hence, as I have said, all the
philanthropic side of the revolutionary movement was lost to him; just
as the defence of Labarre, the vindication of Calas, never disturbed
the current of his contempt for Voltaire. So also the abolition of
privileges, the secularisation of church property, the equalisation of
legal punishment, the abrogation of barbarous laws, the liberation of
slaves; all these things, which stirred even the most corrupt and
apathetic minds of the late eighteenth century, seemed merely so much
declamation to Alfieri. To him, who could conceive no virtues beyond
independent truthfulness, such things were mere sentimental trash, mere
hypocritical nonsense beneath which base men hid their baseness. And
the baseness, unhappily, was there: baseness of absolute corruption,
or of scandalous levity, even in the noblest. To Alfieri, a man like
Beaumarchais, for all his quick philanthropy, his audacious outspokenness,
must have seemed base, with his background of money-jobbing, of dirty
diplomatic work, of legal squabbles. How much more such a man as
Mirabeau, with his heroic resolution, his heroic kindliness, his whole
Titan nature, carous, eaten into by a hundred mean vices. That Mirabeau
should have gained his bread writing libels and obscene novels, meant to
Alfieri not that a man born in corruption and tainted thereby had, by
the force of his genius, by the force of the great humanitarian
movement, raised himself as morally high as he had hitherto grovelled
morally low; it merely meant that the immaculate name of hero was
degraded by a foul writer.

From such figures as these Alfieri turned away in indignant disgust. The
great movement of the eighteenth century seemed to him a mere stirring
and splashing in a noisome pool, in that _cloaca maxima_, as he had
called it.

Already before settling in Paris in 1787, he had written to his Sienese
friends that, were it not for the necessity of attending to the printing
of his works (to print which permission would not be obtainable in
Italy), he would rather have established himself at Prats, at Colle,
at Buonconvento, at any little town of two thousand inhabitants near
Florence or Siena. Surrounded by, in daily contact with, some of the
noblest minds of the century, nay, of any century, by people like Mme.
de Staël, André Chénier, Condorcet, Mirabeau, Alfieri could write, with
a sort of bitter pleasure at his own narrow-mindedness: "Now I am among
a million of men, and not one of them that is worth Gori's little
finger."

I am almost prepared to say that Alfieri really felt as if living in
Paris, among such people and at such a moment, was a sort of saintly
sacrifice, the crowning heroism of his life, which he made in order to
print his books; that he endured the contact of this plague-stricken
city, merely because he knew that unless he corrected a certain number
of manuscript pages, and revised a certain number of proof-sheets, the
world would be defrauded of the great and sovereign antidote to all such
baseness as this in the shape of his own complete works.

Writing to his mother towards the end of the year 1788, he mentions
contemptuously the excitement and enthusiasm created by the approaching
election of the States-General, and adds calmly: "But all these sort of
things interest me very little; and I give my attention only to the
correction of my proofs, a piece of work with which I am pretty well
half through."



CHAPTER XV.

ENGLAND.


The contradictions in complex and self-contradictory characters like
those of the Frenchmen of the early revolution can be easily explained,
and, say what we will, must be easily pardoned: rich natures, creatures
of impulse, intensely sensitive to external influences, we feel that
it is to the very richness of nature, the warmth of impulse, the
susceptibility to influence, that we owe not merely these men's virtues
but their vices. But the contradictions of the self-righteous are an
afflicting spectacle, over which we would fain draw the veil: there is
no room in a narrow nature for any flagrant violation of its own ideals
to be stuffed away unnoticed in a corner. And now we come to one of the
strangest self-contradictions in the history of Mme. d'Albany, that is
to say, of her lord and master Alfieri.

The revision and printing of Alfieri's works had been brought to an end;
but neither he nor the Countess seems to have contemplated a return to
Italy. The fact was that they were both of them retained by money
matters. A proportion of Mme. d'Albany's income consisted in the pension
which she received from the French Court; and the greater part of
Alfieri's income consisted in certain moneys made over to him by his
sister as the capital of his life pension, and which he had invested in
French funds.

By the year 1791, the French Court and the French funds had got to be
very shaky; and those who depended upon them did not dare go to any
distance, lest on their return they should find nothing to claim, or no
one to claim from. Hence the necessity for Alfieri and the Countess to
remain in France, or, at least, hover about near it.

Now, whether the unsettled state of French affairs suggested to Mme.
d'Albany, and through her to Alfieri, that it would be wise to see what
sort of home, nay, perhaps, what sort of pecuniary assistance, might be
found elsewhere, I cannot tell; but this much is certain, that on the
19th May, 1791, Horace Walpole wrote as follows to Miss Barry:--

"The Countess of Albany is not only in England, in London, but at this
very moment, I believe, in the palace of St. James; not restored by as
rapid a revolution as the French, but, as was observed at supper at
Lady Mount Edgecumbe's, by that topsy-turvihood that characterises the
present age. Within these two days the Pope has been burnt at Paris;
Mme. du Barry, mistress of Louis Quinze, has dined with the Lord Mayor
of London; and the Pretender's widow is presented to the Queen of Great
Britain."

That we should have to learn so striking an episode of the journey to
England from the letters of a total stranger, who noticed it as a mere
piece of gossip, while the memoirs of Alfieri, who accompanied Mme.
d'Albany to England, are perfectly silent on the subject, is, to say the
least of it, a suspicious circumstance.

As he grew old, Alfieri seems to have lost that power, nay that
irresistible desire, of speaking the truth and the whole truth which
made him record with burning shame the caress of Pius VI. Perhaps, on
the other hand, Alfieri, who, after all, was but a sorry mixture of
an ancient Roman and a man of the eighteenth century, thought that a
certain amount of baseness and dirt-eating, quite degrading in a man,
might be permitted to a woman, even to the lady of his thoughts. And
still I cannot help thinking that Alfieri, who could certainly, with his
strong will, have prevented the Countess from demeaning herself, and in
so far demeaning also his love for her, quietly abetted this step, and
then as quietly consigned it to oblivion.

But oblivion did not depend upon registration, or non-registration,
in Alfieri's memoirs. The letters of Walpole, the memoirs of Hannah
More, the political correspondence collected by Lord Stanhope, furnish
abundant detail of this affair. The Countess of Albany was introduced
by her relation, or connexion, the young Countess of Aylesbury, and
announced by her maiden name of Princess of Stolberg. Horace Walpole's
informant, who stood close by, told him that she was "well-dressed, and
not at all embarrassed." George III. and his sons talked a good deal to
her, about her passage, her stay in England, and similar matters; but
the princesses none of them said a word; and we hear that Queen Charlotte
"looked at her earnestly." The strait-laced wife of George III. had
probably consented to receive the Pretender's widow, only because this
ceremony was a sort of second burial of Charles Edward, a burial of all
the claims, the pride of the Stuarts; but she felt presumably no great
cordiality towards a woman who had run away from her husband, who was
travelling in England with her lover; and who, while affecting royal
state in her own house, could crave the honour of being received by the
family of the usurper.

Mme. d'Albany was not abashed: she seems to have made up her mind to get
all she could out of royal friendliness. She accepted a seat in the
King's box at the opera; nay, she accepted a seat at the foot of the
throne ("the throne she might once have expected to mount," remarks
Hannah More), on the occasion of the King's speech in the House of
Lords. It was the 10th of June, the birthday of Prince Charlie; and the
woman who sat there so unconcernedly, kept a throne with the British
arms in her ante-room, and made her servants address her as a Queen!

What were Alfieri's feelings when Mme. d'Albany came home in her Court
toilette, and told him of all these fine doings? The more we try to
conceive certain things, the more inconceivable they become: it is like
straining to see what may be hidden at the bottom of a very deep well.
In the case of Alfieri, I think we may add that the well was empty.
Since his illness at Colmar, he had aged in the most extraordinary way:
the process of dessication and ossification of his moral nerves and
muscles, which, as I have said, was the form that premature decrepitude
took in this abnormal man, had begun. The creative power was extinct in
him, both as regards his works and himself: there was no possibility of
anything new, of any response of this wooden nature to new circumstances.
He had attained to the age of forty-two without any particular feelings
such as could fit into this present case, and the result was that he
probably had no feelings. The Countess of Albany was the ideal woman he
had enshrined her as such ages ago, and an ideal woman could not change,
could not commit an impropriety, least of all in his eyes. If she had
condescended to ridiculous meanness in order to secure for herself an
opening in English society, a subsidy from the English Government
(apparently already suggested at that time, but granted only many years
later) in case of a general break-up of French things; if she had done
this, it was no concern of Alfieri: Mme. d'Albany had been patented as
the ideal woman. As to him, why should he condescend to think about
state receptions, galas, pensions, kings and queens, and similar low
things? He had put such vanities behind him long ago.

Alfieri and the Countess made a tour through England, and projected
a tour through Scotland. Whether the climate, the manners, the aspect
of England and its inhabitants really disappointed the perhaps ideal
notions she had formed; or whether, perhaps, she was a little bit put
out of sorts by no pension being granted, and by a possible coldness of
British matrons towards a widow travelling about with an Italian poet,
it is not for me to decide. But her impressions of England, as recorded
in a note-book now at the Musée Fabre at Montpellier, are certainly not
those of a person who has received a good welcome:

"Although I knew," she says, repeating the stale platitudes (or perhaps
the true impressions?) of all foreigners, "that the English were
melancholy, I had not imagined that life in their capital would be so to
the point which I experienced it. No sort of society, and a quantity of
crowds ... As they spend nine months in the country--the family alone,
or with only a very few friends--they like, when they come to town, to
throw themselves into the vortex. Women are never at home. The whole
early part of the day, which begins at two (for, going to bed at four
in the morning, they rise only at mid-day), is spent in visits and
exercise, for the English require, and their climate absolutely
necessitates, a great deal of exercise. The coal smoke, the constant
absence of sunshine, the heavy food and drink, make movement a necessity
to them.... If England had an oppressive Government, this country and
its inhabitants would be the lowest in the universe: a bad climate, bad
soil, hence no sort of taste; it is only the excellence of the political
constitution which renders it inhabitable. The nation is melancholy,
without any imagination, even without wit; the dominant characteristic
is a desire for money."

The same note as that even of such a man as Taine. The almost morbid
love of beauty which a civilisation, whose outward expression are the
lines and lines of black boxes, with slits for doors and windows of
Bloomsbury, produced in men like Coleridge, Blake, and Turner, naturally
escaped Mme. d'Albany; but the second great rebellion of imagination
and love of beauty, the rebellion led by Madox Brown and Morris, and
Rossetti and Burne Jones, escaped Taine. But of all the things which
most offended this quasi-Queen of England in our civilisation, the
social arrangements did so most of all. With the instinct of a woman who
has lived a by no means regular life in the midst of a society far worse
than herself, with the instinct of one of those strange pseudo-French
Continental mongrels with whom age always brings cynicism, she tries to
account for the virtue of Englishwomen by accidental, and often rather
nasty, necessities. Mme. d'Albany writes with the freedom and precision
of a Continental woman of the world of eighty years ago; and her remarks
lose too much or gain too much by translation into our chaster language.
"The charm of intimate society," she winds up, conscious of the charms
of her own little salon full of clever men and pretty women all
well-acquainted with each other--"the charm of intimate society is
unknown in England."

In short, the sooner England be quitted, the better. Political,
or rather financial circumstances--that is to say, the frightful
worthlessness of French money (and Alfieri's and her money came mainly
from France), made a return to Paris urgent.

An incident, as curious perhaps as that of Mme. d'Albany's presentation
at Court, but which, unlike that, Alfieri has not thought fit to
suppress, marked their departure from England. As Alfieri, who had
preceded the Countess by a few minutes to see whether the luggage had
been properly stored on the ship at Dover, turned to go and meet her,
his eyes suddenly fell with a start of recognition upon a woman standing
on the landing-place. She was not young, but still very handsome, as
some of us may know her from Gainsborough's portrait; and she was no
other than Penelope Lady Ligonier, for whom Alfieri had been so mad
twenty years before, for whom he had fought his famous duel in St.
James' Park, and got himself disgracefully mixed up in a peculiarly
disgraceful divorce suit. He had several times inquired after her, and
always in vain; and now he would scarcely have believed his eyes had his
former mistress not given him a smile of recognition. Alfieri was
terribly upset. The sight of this ghost from out of a disgraceful past,
coming to haunt what he considered a dignified present, seems fairly to
have terrified him; he ran back into the ship and dared not go to meet
Mme. d'Albany, lest in so doing he should meet Lady Ligonier. Presently,
Mme. d'Albany came on board. With the indifference of a woman of the
world, of that easy-goingness which was rapidly effacing in her the
romantic victim of Charles Edward, she told Alfieri that the friends
who had escorted her to the ship (and who appear to have perfectly
understood the temper of the Countess) had pointed out his former flame
and entertained her with a brief biography of her predecessor in
Alfieri's heart. Mme. d'Albany took it all as a matter of course: she
was probably no longer at all in love with Alfieri, but she admired his
genius and character as much and more than ever; and was probably
beginning to develop a certain good-natured, half-motherly acquiescence
in his eccentricities, such as women who have suffered much, and grown
stout and strong, and cynically optimistic now that suffering is over,
are apt to develop towards people accustomed to resort to them, like
sick children, in all their ups and downs of temper.

"Between us," says Alfieri, "there was never any falsehood, or reticence,
or coolness, or quarrel";--and, indeed, when a woman, such as Mme.
d'Albany must have been at the age of forty, has once determined to
adore and humour a particular individual in every single possible thing,
all such painful results of more sensitive passion naturally become
unnecessary. If Mme. d'Albany merely smiled over bygone follies, Alfieri
had been put into great agitation by the sight of Lady Ligonier. From
Calais he sent her a letter, of which no copy has been preserved, but
which, according to his account, "was full, not indeed of love, but of
a deep and sincere emotion at seeing her still leading a wandering life
very unsuited to her birth and position; and of pain in thinking that I,
although innocently (that "although innocently", on the part of a man
who had been the cause of her scandalous downfall, is perfectly charming
in its simple revelation of Continental morals), might have been the
cause or the pretext thereof."

Lady Ligonier's answer came to hand in Brussels. Written in bad French,
it answered Alfieri's tragic grandiloquence with a cold civility, which
shows how deeply his magnanimous compassion had wounded a woman who felt
herself to be no more really corrupt than he.

"Monsieur," so runs the letter, "you could not doubt that the expression
of your remembrance of me, and of the interest which you kindly take in
my lot, would be duly appreciated and received gratefully by me; the
more especially as I cannot consider you as the cause of my unhappiness,
since I am not unhappy, although the uprightness of your soul makes you
fear that I am. You were, on the contrary, the agent of my liberation
from a world for which I was in no way suited, and which I have not
for a moment regretted.... I am in the enjoyment of perfect health,
increased by liberty and peace of mind. I seek the society only of
simple and virtuous persons without pretensions either to particular
genius or to particular learning; and besides such society I entertain
myself with books, drawing, music, &c. But what constitutes the basis of
real happiness and satisfaction is the friendship and unalterable love
of a brother whom I have always loved more than the whole world, and who
possesses the best of hearts." "I hear," goes on Lady Ligonier, after a
few compliments on Alfieri's literary fame, "that you are attached to
the Princess with whom you are travelling, whose amiable and clever
physiognomy seems indeed formed for the happiness of a soul as sensitive
and delicate as yours. I am also told that she is afraid of you: I
recognise you there. Without wishing, or perhaps even knowing it, you
have an irresistible ascendancy over all who are attached to you."

Was it this disrespectful hint concerning what he wished the world to
consider as his ideal love for Mme. d'Albany, or was it Lady Ligonier's
determination to let him know that desertion by him had made her neither
more disreputable nor more unhappy than before, I cannot tell; but
certain it is that something in this letter appears to have put Alfieri,
who had not objected to Mme. d'Albany's mean behaviour towards George
III., into a condition of ruffled virtue and dignity.

"I copy this letter," he writes in his memoirs, "in order to give an
idea of this woman's eccentric and obstinately evilly-inclined
character."

Did it never occur to Alfieri that his own character, whose faults
during youth he so keenly appreciated, was not improving with years?



CHAPTER XVI.

THE MISOGALLO.


Alfieri and Madame d'Albany were scarcely back in Paris, and settled in
a new house, when the disorders in Paris and the movements of the
Imperial troops on the frontier began to make the situation of
foreigners difficult and dangerous. The storming of the Tuileries, the
great slaughter of the 10th August 1792, admonished them to sacrifice
everything to their safety. With considerable difficulty a passport for
the Countess had been obtained from the Swedish Minister, one for
Alfieri from the Venetian Resident (almost the only diplomatic
representatives, says Alfieri, who still remained to that ghost of a
king), and a passport for each of them and for each of their servants
from their communal section. Departure was fixed for the 20th August,
but Alfieri's black presentiments hastened it to the 18th. Arrived at
the Barrière Blanche, on the road to Calais, passports were examined by
two or three soldiers of the National Guard, and the gates were on the
point of being opened to let the two heavily-loaded carriages pass, when
suddenly, from out of a neighbouring pot-house, rushed some twenty-five
or thirty ruffians, ragged, drunken, and furious. They surrounded the
carriages, yelling that all the rich were running away and leaving them
to starve without work; and a crowd rapidly formed round them and the
National Guards, who wanted the travellers to be permitted to pass on.
Alfieri jumps out of the carriage, brandishing his seven passports, and
throws himself, a long, lean, red-haired man, fiercely gesticulating and
yelling at the top of his voice, among the crowd, forcing this man and
that to read the passports, crying frantically, "Look! Listen! Name
Alfieri. Italian and not French! Tall, thin, pale, red-haired; that is
I; look at me. I have my passport! We have our passports all in order
from the proper authorities! We want to pass; and, by God! we will
pass!"

After half an hour of this altercation, with voices issuing from the
crowd, "Burn the carriages!" "Throw stones at them!" "They are running
away, they are noble and rich; take them to the Hotel de Ville to be
judged!" at last Alfieri's vociferations and gesticulations wearied even
the Paris mob, the crowd became quieter, the National Guards gave the
sign for departure, and Alfieri, jumping into the carriage where Mme.
d'Albany was sitting more dead than alive, shouted to the postillions to
gallop off.

At a country house near Mons, belonging to the Countess of Albany's
sister, the fugitives received the frightful news of the September
massacres; of those men and women driven, like beasts into an arena,
down the prison-stairs into the prison yard, to fall, hacked to pieces
by the bayonets and sabres and pikes of Maillard's amateur executioners,
on to the blood-soaked mattresses, while the people of Paris, morally
divided on separate benches, the gentlemen here, the ladies there, sat
and looked on; of those men and women many had frequented the salon of
the Rue de Bourgoyne, had chatted and laughed, only a few weeks back,
with Alfieri and the Countess; amongst those men and women Alfieri and
the Countess might themselves easily have been, had the ruffians of the
Barrière Blanche dragged them back to their house, where an order to
arrest Mme. d'Albany arrived two days later, that very 20th August which
had originally been fixed for their departure. The thought of this
narrow escape turned the recollection of that scene at the Barrière
Blanche into a perfect nightmare, which focussed, so to speak, all the
frenzied horror conceived by Alfieri for the French Revolution, for the
"Tiger-Apes" of France.

By November Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany were in Florence, safe; but
established in a miserable inn, without their furniture, their horses,
their books; all left in Paris; nay, almost without the necessary
clothes, and with very little money. From the dirty inn they migrated
into rather unseemly furnished lodgings, and finally, after some
debating about Siena and inquiring whether a house might not be had
there on the promenade of the Lizza, they settled down in the house, one
of a number formerly belonging to the Gianfigliazzi family, on the Lung
Arno, close to the Ponte Santa Trinita, in Florence. The situation is
one of the most delightful in Florence: across the narrow quay the
windows look almost sheer down into the river, sparkling with a hundred
facets in the spring and summer sunlight, cut by the deep shadows of the
old bridges, to where it is lost to sight between the tall poplars by
the Greve mouth and the ilexes and elms of the Cascine, closed in by
the pale blue peaks of the Carrara Alps; or else, in autumn and winter,
scarcely moving, a mass of dark-greens and browns, wonderfully veined,
like some strange oriental jasper, with transparent violet streakings,
and above which arise, veiled, half washed out by mist, the old
corbelled houses, the church-steeples and roofs, the tiers and tiers of
pine and ilex plumes on the hill opposite.

For a moment, with the full luminousness of the Tuscan sky once more
in his eyes, and the guttural strength of the Tuscan language once more
in his ears, Alfieri seems to have been delighted. But his cheerfulness
was not of long duration. Ever since his great illness at Colmar,
Alfieri had, I feel persuaded, become virtually an old man; his strength
and spirits were impaired, and the strange morose depression of his
half-fructified youth seemed to return. Coming at that moment, the
disappointment, the terror, the horror of the French Revolution became,
so to speak, part of a moral illness which lasted to his death. Alfieri
was not a tender-hearted nor a humane man; had he been, he would have
felt more sympathy than he did with the beginning of the great movement,
with the strivings after reform which preceded it; he had, on the
contrary, the sort of cold continuous rage, the ruthless self-righteousness
and cut-and-dryness which would have made him, had he been a Frenchman,
a terrorist of the most dreadful type; a regular routinist in extermination
of corrupt people. Hence I cannot believe that, much as he may have been
shocked by the news of the September massacres, of the _grandes
fournées_ which preceded Thermidor, and much as he may have been
distressed by Mme. d'Albany's anxiety and grief for so many friends who
lost their property or life, Alfieri was the man to be driven mad by
the mere thought of bloodshed. But Alfieri had, ever since his earliest
youth, made liberty his goddess, and the worship of liberty his special
religion and mission. That such a religion and mission, to which he had
devoted himself in a time and country when and where no one else dreamed
of anything of the sort, should suddenly become, and without the
smallest agency of his, the religion and mission of the very nation
and people whom he instinctively abhorred from the depths of his soul;
that liberty, which he alone was to teach men to desire, should be the
fashionable craze, mixed up with science, philanthropy, sentiment, and
everything he hated most in the French, this was already a pain that
gnawed silently into Alfieri's soul. But when liberty was, as it were,
dragged out of his own little private temple, where he adored and hymned
it, decked out in patrician dignity of Plutarch and Livy, and carried
about, dressed in the garb of a Paris fish-wife, a red cotton night-cap
on her head, by a tattered, filthy, drunken, blood-stained crew of
_sansculottes_, nay, worse, rolled along on a triumphal car by an
assembly of lawyers and doctors and ex-priests and journalists--when
liberty, which had been to him antique and aristocratic, became modern
and democratic; when the whole of France had turned into a blood-reeking
and streaming temple of this Moloch goddess, then a sort of moral
abscess, long growing unnoticed, seemed to burst within Alfieri's soul,
and a process of slow moral blood-poisoning to begin.

The Reign of Terror came to an end, the reaction of Thermidor set
in; but this was nothing to Alfieri, for, whereas the unspeakable
profanation of what was his own personal and quasi-private property,
liberty, had hitherto been limited to France, it now spread, a
frightful invading abomination, with the armies of the Directory all
over the world; nay, to Italy itself.

It was as an expression, an eternal, immortal expression, the severest
conceivable retribution, Alfieri sincerely thought, of this rage, all
the stronger as there entered into it the petty personal vanity as well
as the noble abstract feeling of the man--it was as an expression of
this gallophobia that Alfieri composed his famous but little-read
_Misogallo_. This collection of prose arguments and vituperations and
versified epigrams, all larded and loaded with quotations from all the
Latin and Greek authors whom Alfieri was busy spelling out, does
certainly contain many things which, old as they are, strike even us
with the force of living contempt and indignation. Nay, even including
its most stupid and dullest violent parts, we can sympathise with its
bitterness and violence, when we think of the frightful deeds of blood
which, talking heroically of justice and liberty, France had been
committing; of the miserable series of petty rapines and extortions
which, talking patronisingly of the Greeks and Romans, the French nation
was practising upon the Italians whom it had come to liberate. That such
feeling should be elicited was natural enough. But we feel, as we turn
over the pages of the _Misogallo_, and collate with its epigrams a
certain passage in Alfieri's memoirs and letters, that when we meet
it in this particular man, in this hard, savage, narrow, pedantic
doctrinaire, whose very magnanimity is vanity and egotism, we can no
longer sympathise with the hatred of the French, which in juster and
more modest men, as for instance Carlo Botta, invariably elicits our
sympathy. Much as we dislike the republican French who descended into
Italy, the _Misogallo_ makes us like Alfieri even less. Whether this
revolution, despite the oceans of blood which it shed, might not be
bringing a great and lasting benefit to mankind by sweeping away the
hundred and one obstacles which impeded social progress; whether this
French invasion, despite the money which it extorted, the statues and
pictures which it stole, the miserable high-flown lies which it told,
might not be doing Italy a great service in accustoming it to modern
institutions, in training it to warfare, in ridding it of a brood of
inept little tyrants: such questions did not occur to Alfieri, for whom
liberty meant everything, progress and improvement nothing. As the
century drew to a close, and the futility of so many vaunted reforms,
the hollowness of so many promises, became apparent to the Italians with
the shameful treaty which gave Venice, liberated of her oligarchy, to
Austria, all the nobler men of the day, Pindemonti, Botta, Foscolo, and
the crowds of nameless patriotic youths who filled the universities,
were seized by a terrible soul-sickness; everything seemed to have given
way, each course was as bad as the other, and Italy seemed destined to
servitude and indignity, whether under her new masters the French, or
under her old masters the Austrians and Bourbons and priests. But the
feelings of Alfieri were not of this kind; he was not torn by
patriotism; he was simply pushed into sympathy with the tyrannies which
he had so hated by the intolerable pain of finding that the liberty
which he had preached was being propagandised by the nation and the
class of society which he detested most.

Such Alfieri appears to me, and such I think he must appear to everyone
who conscientiously studies the extraordinary manner in which this
apostle of liberty came to preach in favour of despotism. But in his own
eyes, and in the eyes of the Countess of Albany, Alfieri doubtless found
abundant arguments to prove himself perfectly logical and magnanimous.
This French Revolution was merely a revolt of slaves; and what tyranny
could be more odious than the tyranny of those whom nature had fitted
only for slavery? What are the French? "The French," answers one of the
epigrams of the _Misogallo_, "have always been puppets; formerly puppets
in powder, now stinking and blood-stained puppets." "We indeed are
slaves," says another epigram, "but at least indignant slaves" (a
statement which the whole history of Italy in the nineties goes to
disprove); "not, as you Gauls always have been and always will be,
slaves applauding power whatever it be." The nasal and guttural
pronunciation of the French language, the bare existence of such a word
as _quatrain_, is enough to prove to Alfieri that the French can never
know true liberty. Alfieri, who had looked the _ancien régime_ more than
once in the face, actually persuaded himself that, as he writes, "the
frightful French mob robbed and slaughtered the upper classes because
those upper classes had always treated it too kindly." Alfieri actually
got to believe these things. He would, had power been put in his hands,
have headed a counter revolution and exterminated as many people again
as the republicans had exterminated. Power not being in his hands, he
hastened to do what seemed to him a vital matter to all Europe, a sort
of fatal thrust to France; he solemnly recanted all his former writings
in favour of revolutions and republics. He, who had witnessed the taking
of the Bastille and sung it in an ode, deliberately wrote as follows:
"The famous day of the 14th July 1789 crowned the victorious iniquity
(of the people). Not understanding at that time the nature of these
slaves, I dishonoured my pen by writing an ode on the taking of the
Bastille." Surely, if we admit that to see liberty degraded by its
association with revolutionary horrors must have been unbearably bitter
to the nobler portion of Alfieri's nature, we must admit that to see
Alfieri himself, Alfieri so proud of his former ferocious love of
liberty, turned into a mere ranting renegade, is an unendurable
spectacle also; we should like to wash our hands of him as he tried to
wash his hands of the Revolution.

All this political atrabiliousness did not improve Alfieri's temper;
and could not have made it easier or more agreeable to live with him.
The Countess of Albany naturally disliked the Revolution and the
French, after all the grief and inconvenience which she owed them; she
naturally, also, disliked everything that Alfieri disliked. Still, I
cannot help fancying that this woman, far more intellectual than
passionate, and growing more indifferent, more easy-going, more
half-optimistically, half-cynically charitable towards the world with
every year that saw her grow fat, and plain, and dowdy,--I cannot help
fancying that the Countess of Albany must have got to listen to
Alfieri's misogallic furies much as she might have listened to his
groans had he been afflicted with gout or the toothache, sympathising
with the pain, but just a little weary of its expression. She must
also, at times, have compared the little company of select provincial
notabilities, illustrious people never known beyond their town and their
lifetime, which she collected about herself and Alfieri in the house by
the Arno, with the brilliant society which had assembled in her hotel
in Paris. To her, who was, after all, not Italian, but French by
education and temper, and who had been steeped anew in French ideas and
habits, this small fry of Italian literature, professional and pedantic,
able to discuss and (alas! but too able) to hold forth, but absolutely
unable to talk, to _causer_ in the French sense, must have become rather
oppressive. She and Alfieri were both growing elderly, and the hearth by
which they were seated, alone, childless, with nothing but the ghost of
their former passion, the ghost of their former ideal, to keep them
company, was on the whole very bleak and cheerless. Alfieri, working off
his over-excitement in a system of tremendous self-education, sitting
for the greater part of the day poring over Latin and Greek and Hebrew
grammars, and exercises and annotated editions, till he was so exhausted
that he could scarcely digest his dinner; the Countess killing the
endless days reading new books of philosophy, of poetry, of fiction,
anything and everything that came to hand, writing piles and piles of
letters to every person of her acquaintance; this double existence of
bored and overworked dreariness, was this the equivalent of marriage?
was this the realisation of ideal love?

But there were things to confirm Mme. d'Albany in that easy-going
indifferentism which replaced passion and suffering in this fat, kindly,
intellectual woman of forty; things which, as they might have made other
women weep, probably made this woman do what in its way was just as
sad--smile.

Alfieri had always had what, to us, may seem very strange notions on the
subject of love, but which were not strange when we consider the times
and nation in general, and the man in particular. After the various
love manias which preceded his meeting with Mme. d'Albany, he had
determined, as he tells us, to save his peace of mind and dignity by
refusing to fall in love with women of respectable position. The
Countess of Albany, by enchaining him in the bonds of what he called
"worthy love," had saved him from any chance of fresh follies with these
alarming "virtuous women." But follies with women of less respectable
position and less obvious virtue appear to have presented no fear of
degradation to Alfieri's mind. And now, late on in the nineties, when
Mme. d'Albany was rapidly growing plain and stout and elderly, and he
was getting into the systematic habit of regarding her less in her
reality than in the ideal image which he had arranged in his mind; now,
when he was writing the autobiography where the Countess figured as
his Beatrice, and when he was composing the Latin epitaphs which were
to unite his tomb with that of the woman "a Victorio Alferio, ultra
resomnia dilecta," just at this time Alfieri appears to have returned to
those flirtations with women neither respectable nor virtuous which
seemed to him so morally safe to indulge in. A very strange note,
preserved at Siena, to a "Nina padrona mia dilettissima," shows that the
memory of Gori and the friendship of Gori's friends were not the only
things which attracted him ever and anon from Florence to Siena. A
collection of wretched bouts-rimés and burlesque doggrel, written at
Florence in a house which Mme. d'Albany could not enter, and in the
company of women whom Mme. d'Albany could not receive, and among which
is a sonnet in which Alfieri explains his condescension in joining in
these poetical exercises of the demi-monde by an allusion to Hercules
and Omphale, shows that Alfieri frequented in Florence other society
besides that which crowded round his lady in Casa Gianfigliazzi.

Mme. d'Albany was far too shrewd and far too worldly not to see all
this; and Alfieri was far too open and cynical to attempt to hide
it. Mme. d'Albany, having her praises and his love read to her in
innumerable sonnets, in the autobiography and in the epitaphs, probably
merely smiled; she was a woman of the eighteenth century, a foreigner,
an easy-going woman, and had learned to consider such escapades as these
as an inevitable part of matrimony or quasi-matrimony. But, for all her
worldly philosophy, did she never feel a vague craving, a void, as she
sat in that big empty house reading her books while Alfieri was studying
his Greek, a vague desire to have what consoles other women for coldness
or infidelity, a son or a daughter, a normal object of devotion, something
besides Alfieri, and which she could love whether deserving or not;
something besides Alfieri's glory, in which she could take an interest
whether other people did or did not agree? Such a connection as hers
with Alfieri may have had an attraction of romance, of poetry, connected
with its very illegitimacy, its very negation of normal domestic life,
as long as both she and Alfieri were young and passionately in love; but
where was the romance, the poetry now, and where was the humdrum married
woman's happiness, at whose expense that romance, that poetry, had been
bought?

Mme. d'Albany, if I may judge by the enormous piles of her letters which
I have myself seen, and by the report of my friend Signor Mario Pratesi,
who has examined another huge collection for my benefit, was getting to
make herself a sort of half-vegetating intellectual life, reading so
many hours a day, writing letters so many more hours; taking the quite
unenthusiastic, business-like interest in literature and politics of a
woman whose life is very empty, and, it seems to me, from the tone of
her letters, growing daily more indifferent to life, more desultory,
more cynical, more misanthropic and tittle-tattling. And Alfieri,
meanwhile, was growing more unsociable, more misanthropic, more violent
in temper, hanging a printed card stating that he wished no visits (one
such is preserved in the library at Florence) in the hall, pursuing and
flogging street-boys because they splashed his stockings by playing in
the puddles; insulting Ginguené and General Miollis when they attempted
to be civil; groaning over the victories of the French, rejoicing over
the brutal massacres by the priest-hounded Tuscan populace; going to
Florence (when they were spending the summer in a villa) for the
pleasure of seeing the Austrian troops enter, and of witnessing (as Gino
Capponi records) the French prisoners or Frenchly-inclined Florentines
being pilloried and tortured by the anti-revolutionary mob. Besides such
demonstrations of an unamiable disposition as these, working with the
fury of an alchemist, and, perhaps, taking a holiday at that house where
the doggrel verses were written. The Countess of Albany, who had been so
horribly unhappy with her legitimate husband, must have been rather
dreary of soul with her world-authorised lover.

It was at this moment, as she sat, an idle, desultory, neither happy nor
unhappy woman, rapidly growing old, watching the century draw to a close
amid chaos and misery,--it was at this moment that an eccentric English
prelate, Lord Bristol, Bishop of Derry, introduced at the house on the
Lung Arno a friend of his, a French painter, a former pupil of David,
and who had won the _Prix de Rome_, by name François Xavier Fabre. M.
Fabre was French, but he was a royalist; he hated the Revolution; he had
settled in Italy; and, in consideration of this, he was tolerated by
Alfieri. To Mme. d'Albany, on the other hand, the fact of Fabre being
French must secretly have been a great recommendation. French in
language, habits, mode of thought, French in heart, cut off, as it
seemed, for ever from Paris and Parisian society, cooped up among this
pedantic small fry of Florentines, listening all day to Alfieri's
tirades against the French nation, the French reforms, the French
philosophy, the French language, the French everything, the poor woman
must have heartily enjoyed an hour's chat in good French with a real
Frenchman, a Frenchman who, for all Alfieri might say, was really
French; she must have enjoyed talking about his work, his pictures,
about everything and anything that was not Alfieri's Greek, or Alfieri's
Hebrew, or Alfieri's tragedies, or comedies or satires. Alfieri was a
great genius and a great man; and she loved, or imagined she loved,
Alfieri like her very soul. But still--still, it was somehow a relief
when young Fabre, with his regular south-of-France face, his rather
mocking and cynical French expression, his easy French talk, came to
give her a painting lesson while Alfieri was pacing up and down
translating Homer and Pindar with the help of a lexicon.



CHAPTER XVII.

CASA GIANFIGLIAZZI.


Thus things jogged on. Occasionally a grand performance of one of
Alfieri's plays enlivened the house on the Lung Arno. A room was filled
with chairs, arranged with curtains, and a select company invited to see
the poet (for by this respectful title he appears always to have been
mentioned) play Saul or Creon, to his own admiration, but apparently
less so to that of his guests. Occasionally, also, Alfieri and Mme.
d'Albany would go for a few days to Siena to enjoy the conversation of a
little knot of friends of their dead friend Gori; a certain Cavaliere
Bianchi, a certain Canon Ansano Luti, a certain Alessandro Cerretani,
and one or two others, who met in the house of a charming and
intellectual woman, Teresa Regoli, daughter of a Sienese shopkeeper,
married to another shopkeeper, called Mocenni, and who was one of Mme.
d'Albany's most intimate friends. Occasionally, also, some of these
would come for a jaunt to Florence, when Alfieri and the Countess moved
heaven and earth (recollecting their own aversion to husbands) that the
_Grumbler_, as Signor Mocenni was familiarly called, should be left
behind, and _la chère_ Thérèse come accompanied (in characteristic
Italian eighteenth-century fashion) only by her children and by her
_cavaliere servente_, Mario Bianchi. These were the small excitements in
this curious double life of more than married routine. Alfieri, who, as
he was getting old and weak in health, was growing only the more
furiously active and rigidly disciplinarian, had determined to learn
Greek, to read all the great Greek authors; and worked away with
terrific ardour at this school-boy work, crowning his efforts with a
self-constituted Order of Homer, of which he himself was the sole
founder and sole member. He was, also, having finally despatched the
sacramental number of tragedies, working at an equally sacramental
number of satires and comedies, absolutely unconscious of his complete
deficiency in both these styles, and persuaded that he owed it to his
nation to set them on the right road in comedy and satire, as he had set
them on the right road in tragedy.

A ridiculous man! Not so. I have spoken many hard words against Alfieri;
and I repeat that he seems to me to have often fallen short, betrayed by
his century, his vanity, his narrowness and hardness of temper, even of
the ideal which he had set up for himself. But I would not have it
supposed that I do not see the greatness of that ideal, and the nobleness
of the reality out of which it arose. That Alfieri, a strange mixture of
the passionate man of spontaneous action, and of the self-manipulating,
idealising _poseur_, should have fallen short of his own ideals, is
perhaps the one pathetic circumstance of his life; the one dash of
suffering and failure which makes this heroic man a hero. Alfieri did
not probably suspect wherein he fell short of his own ideal; he did
not, could not see that his faults were narrowness of nature, and
incompleteness, meanness of conception, for, if he had, he would have
ceased to be narrow and ceased to be mean. But Alfieri knew that there
was something very wrong about himself, he felt a deficiency, a jar in
his own soul; he felt, as he describes in the famous sonnet at the back
of Fabre's portrait of him, that he did not know whether he was noble or
base, whether he was Achilles or Thersites.

"_Uom, sei tu grande o vile? Mori, il saprai._" ("Man, art thou noble
or base? Die, and thou shalt know it.") Thus wrote Alfieri, making, as
usual, fame the arbiter of his worth; and showing, even in the moment of
seeking for truth about himself, how utterly and hopelessly impossible
it was for him to feel it. Mean and great; both, I think, at once. But
of the meanness, the narrowness of nature, the want of resonance of
fibre, the insufficiency of moral vitality in so many things; of
Alfieri's vanity, intolerance, injustice, indifference, hardness; of all
these peculiarities which make the real man repulsive, the ideal man
unattractive, to us, I have said more than enough, and when we have
said all this, Alfieri still remains, for all his vanity, selfishness,
meanness, narrow-mindedness, a man of grander proportions, of finer
materials, nay, even of nobler moral shape, than the vast majority of
men superior to him in all these points. Let us look at him in those
last decaying years, at those studies which have seemed to us absurd:
self-important, pedantic, almost monomaniac; or brooding over those
feelings which were, doubtless, selfish, morbid; let us look at him,
for, despite all his faults, he is fine. Fine in indomitable energy, in
irrepressible passion. Alfieri was fifty; he was tormented by gout; his
health was rapidly sinking; but the sense of weakness only made him more
resolute to finish the work which (however mistakenly) he thought it his
duty to leave completed; more determined that, having lived for so many
years a dunce, he would go down to the grave cleansed of the stain of
ignorance, having read and appreciated as much of the great writers of
antiquity as any man who had had a well-trained youth, a studious
manhood. Soon after his great illness (which, I believe, changed him so
much for the worse by hastening premature old age) at Colmar, he had
written to his friends at Siena that he had very nearly been made a fool
of by Death; but that, having escaped, he intended, by hurrying his
work, to make a fool of Death instead. And in 1801 he wrote in his
memorandum-book: "Health giving way year by year; whence, hurrying to
finish my six comedies, I make it decidedly worse."

Soon after, as Mme. d'Albany later informed his friend Caluso, Alfieri,
finding that his digestion had become so bad as to produce inability to
work after meals, began systematically to diminish his already extremely
sober allowance of food; while, at the same time, he did not diminish
the exercise, walking, riding, and driving, which he found necessary to
keep himself in spirits. Knowing that death could not be far ahead, and
accustomed since his youth to think that his life ought not to extend
over sixty years, Alfieri was calmly and deliberately walking to meet
Death.

Calmly and deliberately; but not heartlessly. Engrossed in his studies,
devoted to his own glory as he was, he was still full of a kind of
mental passion for Mme. d'Albany. He was unfaithful to her for the
sake of low women, he was neglectful of her for the sake of his work; he
did not, perhaps, receive much pleasure from this stout, plain, prosaic
lady (like one of Rubens's women grown old, as Lamartine later described
her) whom he left to her letter-writing, her reading of Kant, of La
Harpe, of Shakespeare, of Lessing; to her painting lessons, and long
discussions on art with Monsieur Fabre. The woman whose presence, no
longer exciting, was doubtless a matter of indifference to him. But,
nevertheless, it seems to me probable that Alfieri never wrote more
completely from his heart than when, composing the epitaph of the
Countess, he said of Mme. d'Albany that she had been loved by him more
than anything on earth, and held almost as a mortal divinity. "A
Victorio Alferio ... ultra res omnes dilecta, et quasi mortale numen
ab ipso constanter habita et observata." For a thought begins about
the year 1796 to recur throughout Alfieri's letters and sonnets, and
whenever he mentions the Countess in his autobiography; a thought too
terrible not to be genuine: he or his beloved must die first; one or the
other must have the horror of remaining alone, widowed of all interest
on earth. How constantly this idea haunted him, and with what painful
vividness, is apparent from a letter which I shall translate almost _in
extenso_; as, together with those few words which I have quoted about
Gori's death, it shows the passionate tenderness that was hidden, like
some aromatic herb beneath the Alpine snow, under the harsh exterior of
Alfieri.

The letter is to Mme. Teresa Mocenni at Siena, and relates to the death
of Mario Bianchi, who had long been her devoted _cavaliere servente_.
"Your letter," writes Alfieri, "breaks my heart. I feel the complete
horror of a situation which it gives me the shivers merely to think may
be my situation one day or other; and oh! how much worse would it not be
for me, living alone, isolated from everyone, closed up in myself. O
God! I hope I may not be the survivor, and yet how can I wish that my
better self (_la parte migliore di me stesso_) should endure a situation
which I myself could never have the courage to endure? These are frightful
things. I think about them very often, and sometimes I write some bad
rhymes about them to ease my mind; but I never can get accustomed either
to the thought of remaining alone, nor to that of leaving my lady."
"Some opinions," he goes on--and this hankering after Christianity on
the part of a man who had lived in eighteenth-century disbelief seems
to bear out what Mme. d'Albany told the late Gino Capponi, that had
Alfieri lived much longer he would have died telling his rosary,--"some
opinions are more useful and give more satisfaction than others to a
well-constituted heart. Thus, it does our affection much more good to
believe that our Mario (Bianchi) is united to Candido (another dead
friend) and to Gori, that they are talking and thinking about us, and
that we shall meet them all some day, than to believe that they are all
of them reduced to a handful of ashes. If such a belief as the first is
repugnant to physics and to mathematical evidence, it is not, therefore,
to be despised. The principal advantage and honour of mankind is that it
can feel, and science teaches us how not to feel. Long live, therefore,
ignorance and poetry, and let us accept the imaginary as the true. Man
subsists upon love; love makes him a god: for I call _God_ an intensely
felt love, and I call dogs, or French, which comes to the same, the
frozen philosophisers who are moved only by the fact that two and two
make four."

Alfieri's secret desire that he might not survive his beloved was
fulfilled sooner, perhaps, than he expected. The eccentric figure, the
tall, gaunt man, thin and pale as a ghost, with flying red hair and
flying scarlet cloak, driving the well-known phaeton, or sauntering
moodily along the Lung Arno and through the Boboli gardens, was soon to
be seen no more. As the year 1803 wore on he felt himself hard pressed
by the gout; he ate less and less, he took an enormous amount of
foot exercise; he worked madly at his memoirs, his comedies, his
translations, he felt almost constantly fatigued and depressed. On the
3rd October 1803, after his usual morning's work, he went out for a
drive in his phaeton; but a strange and excessive cold, despite the
still summer weather, forced him to alight and to try and warm himself
by walking. Walking brought on violent internal pains, and he returned
home with the fever on him. The next day he rose and dressed, but he was
unable to eat or work, and fell into a long drowse; the next day after
that he again tried to take a walk, but returned with frightful pains.
He refused to go to bed except at night, and tore off the mustard
plaisters which the doctors had placed on his feet, lest the blisters
should prevent his walking; dying, he would still not be a sick man. The
night of the 8th he was unable to sleep, and talked a great deal to the
Countess, seated by his bedside, about his work, and repeated part of
Hesiod in Greek to her. Accustomed for months to the idea of death, he
does not seem to have guessed that it was near at hand. But the news
that he was dying spread through Florence. A Piedmontese lady--strangely
enough a niece of that Marchesa de Prié opposite to whose windows
Alfieri had renewed the device of Ulysses and the sirens by being tied
to a chair--hastened to a learned and eccentric priest, a Padre Canovai,
entreating him to run and offer the dying poet the consolations of
religion. Canovai, knowing that both Alfieri and Mme. d'Albany were
unbelievers, stoutly refused; but later on, seized with remorse, he
hurried to the house on the Lung Arno. Admitted into the sick room, he
came just in time to see Alfieri, who had got up during a momentary
absence of Mme. d'Albany, rise from his arm-chair, lean against his
bed, and, without agony or effort, unconscious "like a bird," says the
Countess, give up the ghost. It was between nine and ten of the morning
of the 9th October 1803. Vittorio Alfieri was in his fifty-fifth year.

The Abate di Caluso, the greatest friend he had, after Gori, was
summoned from Turin to console the Countess and put all papers in order.
Alfieri's will, made out in 1799, left all his books and MSS., and
whatever small property he possessed, to the Countess Louise d'Albany,
leaving her to dispose of them entirely according to her good pleasure.
Among these papers was found a short letter, undated, addressed "To the
friend I have left behind, Tommaso di Caluso, at Turin," and which ran
as follows:--

"As I may any day give way beneath the very serious malady which is
consuming me, I have thought it wise to prepare these few lines in order
that they may be given to you as a proof that you have always, to my
last moment, been present to my mind and very dear to my heart. The
person whom above everything in the world I have most respected and
loved, may some day tell you all the circumstances of my illness. I
supplicate and conjure you to do your best to see and console her, and
to concert with her the various measures which I have begged her to
carry out with regard to my writings.

"I will not give you more pain, at present, by saying any more. I have
known in you one of the most rare men in every respect. I die loving and
esteeming you, and valuing myself for your friendship if I have deserved
it. Farewell, farewell."



CHAPTER XVIII.

FABRE.


"Happiness has disappeared out of the world for me," wrote Mme. d'Albany,
in January 1804, to her old friend Canon Luti, at Siena. "I take
interest in nothing; the world might be completely upset without my
noticing it. I read a little, and reading is the only thing which gives
me any courage, a merely artificial courage; for when I return to my
own thoughts and think of all that I have lost, I burst into tears and
call Death to my assistance, but Death will not come. O God! what a
misfortune to lose a person whom one adores and venerates at the same
time. I think that if I still had Thérèse (Mme. Mocenni) it would
be some consolation; but there is no consolation for me. I have the
strength to hide my feelings before the world, for no one could conceive
my misfortune who has not felt it. A twenty-six years' friendship with
so perfect a being, and then to see him taken away from me at the very
age when I required him most."

Alfieri a perfect being--a being adored and venerated by Mme. d'Albany!
One cannot help, in reading these words, smiling sadly at the strange
magic by which Death metamorphoses those whom he has taken in the eyes
of the survivors; at the strange potions by means of which he makes love
spring up in the hearts where it has ceased to exist, saving us from
hypocrisy by making us really feel what is false to our nature,
enabling us to lie to ourselves instead of lying to others. The Countess
of Albany's grief was certainly most sincere; long after all direct
references to Alfieri have ceased in her correspondence (I am speaking
principally of that with her intimates at Siena), there reigns
throughout her letters a depression, an indifference to everything,
which shows that the world had indeed become empty in her eyes. But
though the grief was sincere, I greatly question whether the love was
so. Alfieri had become, in his later years, the incarnation of dreary
violence; he could not have been much to anyone's feelings; and Mme.
d'Albany's engrossment in her readings, in political news and town
gossip, even with her most intimate correspondents, shows that Alfieri
played but a very small part in her colourless life. So small a part,
that one may say, without fear of injustice, that Mme. d'Albany had
pretty well ceased to love him at all; for had she loved him, would she
have been as indifferent, as serene as she appears in all her letters,
while the man she loved was killing himself as certainly as if he were
taking daily doses of a slow poison? Love is vigilant, love is full of
fears, and Mme. d'Albany was so little vigilant, so little troubled by
fears, that when this visibly dying man, this man who had prepared his
epitaph, who had settled all his literary affairs, who had written the
farewell letter to his friend, actually died, she would seem to have
been thunder-stricken not merely by grief, but by amazement.

The Countess of Albany was not a selfish woman; she had, apparently
without complaining, sacrificed her social tastes, made herself an old
woman before her time, in acquiescence to Alfieri's misanthropic and
routinist self-engrossment; she had been satisfied, or thought herself
satisfied, with the cold, ceremonious adoration of a man who divided his
time between his studies, his horses, and his intrigues with other
women; but unselfish natures are often unselfish from their very
thinness and coldness. Alfieri, heaven knows, had been selfish and
self-engrossed; but, perhaps because he was selfish and self-engrossed,
because he was always listening to his own ideas, and nursing his own
feelings, Alfieri had been passionate and loving; and, as we have seen,
while he seemed growing daily more fossilised, while he was at once
engrossed with his own schemes of literary glory, and indifferently
amusing himself by infidelities to his lady, he was then, even then,
constantly haunted by the thought that, unless he himself were left
behind in the terrors of widowhood, the Countess of Albany would have to
suffer those pangs which he felt that he himself could never endure.

Alfieri saw the Countess through the medium of his own character, and he
proved mistaken. Perhaps the most terrible ironical retribution which
could have fallen upon his strange egomania, would have been, had such a
thing been possible, the revelation of how gratuitous had been that
terrible vision of Mme. d'Albany's life after his death; the revelation
of how little difference, after the first great grief, his loss had made
in her life; the revelation that, unnoticed, unconsciously, a successor
had been prepared for him.

In a very melancholy letter, dated May 31, 1804, in which Mme. d'Albany
expatiates to her friend Canon Luti upon the uselessness of her life,
and her desire to end it, I find this unobtrusive little sentence:
"Fabre desires his compliments to you. He has been a great resource to
me in everything."

This sentence, I think, explains what to the enemies of Mme. d'Albany
has been a delightful scandal, and to her admirers a melancholy mystery;
explains, reduces to mere very simple, conceivable, neither commendable
nor shameful every-day prose, the fact that little by little the place
left vacant by Alfieri was filled by another man. Italian writers,
inheriting from Giordani, even from Foscolo, a certain animosity against
a woman who, as soon as Alfieri was dead, became once more what nature
had made her, half French, with a great preference for French and French
things--Italian writers, I say, have tried to turn the Fabre episode
into something extremely disgraceful to Mme. d'Albany. Massimo d'Azeglio,
partly out of hatred to the Countess, who was rather severe and
acrimonious upon his youthful free-and-easiness, partly out of a desire
to amuse his readers, has introduced into his autobiography an anecdote
told him by Mme. de Prié (the niece of Alfieri's famous Turin mistress,
and the lady who took it upon herself to send him a priest without
consulting the Countess), to the effect that she had watched Fabre
making eyes, kissing his fingers, and generally exchanging signals with
Mme. d'Albany at a party where Alfieri was present. Let those who are
amused by this piece of gossip believe it implicitly; it does not appear
to me either amusing, or credible, or creditable to the man who retailed
it. The Florentine society of the early years of this century was, if we
may trust the keen observation of Stendhal, almost as naïvely and
openly profligate as that of a South Sea Island village; and such a
society, which could talk of the things and in the way which it did,
which could permit certain poetical compositions (found highly
characteristic by Stendhal) to be publicly performed before the ladies
and gentlemen celebrated therein, such a society naturally enjoyed and
believed a story like that retailed by d'Azeglio. But surely we may put
it behind us, we who are not Florentines of the year 1800, and who can
actually conceive that a woman who had exchanged irreproachable
submission to a drunken husband, for legally unsanctioned, but open and
faithful attachment for a man like Alfieri, might at the age of fifty
take a liking to a man of thirty-five without that liking requiring a
disgusting explanation. The clean explanation seems so much simpler and
more consonant. Fabre had become an intimate of the house during
Alfieri's last years. He was French, he was a painter; two high
recommendations to Mme. d'Albany. He was, if we may trust Paul Louis
Courier, who made him the hero of a famous imaginary dialogue, clever
with a peculiarly French sort of cleverness; he gave the Countess
lessons in painting while Alfieri was poring over his work. The sudden
death of Alfieri would bring Fabre into still closer relations with Mme.
d'Albany, as a friend of the deceased, the brother of his physician, and
the virtual fellow-countryman of the Countess; he would naturally be
called upon to help in a hundred and one melancholy arrangements: he
received visitors, answered letters, gave orders; he probably laid
Alfieri in his coffin. When all the bustle incident upon death had
subsided, Fabre would remain Mme. d'Albany's most constant visitor. He,
who had seen Alfieri at the very last, might be admitted when the door
was closed to all others; he could help to sort the dead man's papers;
he could, in his artistic capacity, discuss the plans for Alfieri's
monument, write to Canova, correspond with the dignitaries of Santa
Croce, and so forth; come in contact with the Countess in those manifold
pieces of business, in those long conversations, which seem, for a time,
to keep the dead one still in the company of the living. There is
nothing difficult to understand or shameful to relate in all this; and
the friends of the Countess, delicate-minded women like Mme. de Souza,
puritanic-minded men like Sismondi, misanthropic or scoffing people like
Foscolo or Paul Louis Courier, found nothing at which to take umbrage,
nothing to rage or laugh at, in this long intimacy between a woman over
fifty and a man many years her junior; a man who lived at the other end
of Florence, who (if I may trust traditions yet alive) was supposed to
be attached to a woman well known to Mme. d'Albany; nor have we, I
think, any right to be less charitable than they.

Louise d'Albany, careless, like most women of her day, of social
institutions, and particularly hostile to marriage, was certainly not an
impure woman; her whole life goes to prove this. But Louise d'Albany was
an indifferent woman, and the extinction of all youthful passion and
enthusiasm, the friction of a cynical world, made her daily more
indifferent. She had been faithful to Alfieri, devotedly enduring one of
the most unendurable of companions, loving and admiring him while he was
still alive. But once the pressure of that strong personality removed,
the image of Alfieri appears to have been obliterated little by little
from the soft wax of her character. She continued, nay instituted,
a sort of cultus of Alfieri; became, as his beloved, the priestess
presiding over what had once been his house, and was now his temple. The
house on the Lung Arno remained the Casa Alfieri; the rooms which he
had inhabited were kept carefully untouched; his books and papers were
elaborated and preserved as he had left them; his portraits were
everywhere, and visitors, like Foscolo, Courier, Sismondi, and the young
Lamartine, were expected to inquire respectfully into the legend of the
divinity, to ask to see his relics, as the visitors of a shrine might be
expected to enquire into the legend, to ask to see the relics, of some
great saint. Mme. d'Albany conscientiously devoted a portion of her time
to seeing that Alfieri's works were properly published, and that
Alfieri's tomb in Santa Croce was properly executed. She was, as I have
said, the priestess, the divinely selected priestess, of the divinity. But
at the same time Mme. d'Albany gradually settled down quite comfortably
and happily without Alfieri. After the first great grief was over a
sense of relief may have arisen, a sense that after all "'tis an ill
wind that blows no good"; that if she had lost Alfieri she had gained a
degree of liberty, of independence, that she had acquired a possibility
of being herself with all her tastes, the very existence of which she
had forgotten while living under the shadow of that strange and
disagreeable great man. A negative sense of compensation, of pleasure
in the foreign society to which she could now devote herself; of
satisfaction in the miniature copy of her former Parisian salon which
she could arrange in her Florentine house; of comfort in a gently
bustling, unconcerned, cheerful old age; negative feelings which,
perhaps as a result of their very repression, seem little by little to
have turned to a positive feeling, a positive aversion for the past
which she refused to regret, a positive dislike to the memory of the
man whom she could no longer love. Horrible things to say; yet, I
fear, true. A man such as Alfieri had permitted himself to become,
admirable in many respects, but intolerant, hard, arrogant, selfish,
self-engrossed, cannot really be loved; he may be endured as a result of
long habit, he may inflict his personality without effort upon another;
but in order that this be the case that other must be singularly
apathetic, indifferent, malleable; and apathetic, indifferent, and
malleable people, those who never resist the living individual, rarely
remember the dead one. "She was," writes one of the most conscientious
and respectful of men, the late Gino Capponi, "heavy in feature and
form, and, if I may say so, her mind, like her body, was thick-set....
Since several years she had ceased to love Alfieri."

We cannot be indignant with her; she had never pretended to be what she
was not. A highly intellectual, literary mind, a pure temperament, a
passive, rather characterless character, taking the impress of its
surroundings; passionate when Alfieri was passionate, depressed when
Alfieri was depressed; cheerful when Alfieri's successors, Fabre and
mankind and womankind in general, were cheerful. To be angry with such a
woman would be ridiculous; but, little as we may feel attached to the
memory of Alfieri, we cannot help saying to ourselves, "Thank Heaven he
never understood what she was; thank Heaven he never foresaw what she
would be!"



CHAPTER XIX.

SALON OF THE COUNTESS.


A shadowy being, nay, a shadow cast in the unmistakable shape of
another, so long as Alfieri was alive, the Countess of Albany seems to
gain consistency and form, to become a substantive person, only after
Alfieri's death. This woman, whom, in the last ten years, we have seen
consorting almost exclusively with Italians, and spending the greater
proportion of her days in solitary reading of Condillac, Lock, Kant,
Mme. de Genlis, Lessing, Milton, everything and anything; whose letters,
exclusively (as far as I know them) to Italians of the middle classes,
are full of fury against everything that is French; this woman, who has
hitherto been a feeble replica of Alfieri, suddenly turns into an
extremely sociable, chatty woman of the world, and a woman of the world
who is, to all intents and purposes, French.

To be the rallying point of a very cosmopolitan, literary, but by no
means unworldly society, seems suddenly to have become Mme. d'Albany's
mission; and reading the letters copied from the Montpellier Archives,
and published by M. Saint René Taillandier, one wonders how this friend
of Mme. de Staël, of Sismondi, of Mme. de Souza, this hostess of Moore,
of Lamartine, of Lady Morgan, of every sort of French, English, German,
Russian, or polyglot creature of distinction that travelled through
Italy in the early part of this century, could ever have been the
beloved of Alfieri, the misanthropic correspondent of a lot of Sienese
professors, priests, and shop-keepers.

The fact was that Mme. d'Albany could now become, so to speak, what she
really was; or, at least, show herself to be such. Worldly wise and a
trifle cynical she had always been; in the midst of the pages of literary
review and political newspaper constituting her letters to Mme. Mocenni,
Canon Luti and Alessandro Cerretani of Siena, there is a good deal of
mere personal gossip, stories of married women's lovers, married men's
mistresses, domestic bickerings, &c., interspersed with very plain-spoken
and (according to our ideas) slightly demoralised moralisings. It is
evident that this was not a woman to shrink from the reality of things,
to take the world in disgust, to expect too much of her acquaintances.
On the other hand these letters of the Alfieri period show Mme. d'Albany
to have been decidedly a good-natured and friendly woman. She has the
gift of getting people to trust her with their little annoyances and
grievances; she is constantly administering sympathy to Mme. Mocenni
for the tiresomeness and stupidity and harshness of her husband; she
keeps up a long correspondence, recommending books, correcting French
exercises, exhorting to study and to virtue (particularly to abstinence
from gambling), encouraging, helping Mme. Mocenni's boy Vittorio. She is
clearly a woman who enjoys hearing about other folk's concerns, enjoys
taking an interest in them, sympathising and, if possible, assisting
them.

These two qualities, a dose of cynical worldliness, sufficient to
prevent all squeamishness and that coldness and harshness which springs
from expecting people to be better than they are, and a dose of
kindliness, helpfulness, pleasure in knowing the affairs and feelings
and troubles of others; these two qualities are, I should think, the
essentials for a woman who would keep a salon in the old sense of the
word, who would be the centre of a large but decidedly select society,
the friend and correspondent of many and various people possessed of
more genius or more character than herself. Such a woman, thanks to her
easy-going knowledge of the world, and to her cordial curiosity and
helpfulness, is the friend of the most hostile people; and she is so
completely satisfied with, and interested in, the particular person with
whom she is talking or to whom she is writing, that that particular
person really believes himself or herself to be her chief friend, and
overlooks the scores of other chief friends, viewed with exactly the
same degree of interest, and treated with the same degree of cordiality
all round. The world is apt to like such women, as such women like it,
and to say of them that there must be an immense richness of character,
an extraordinary power of bringing out the best qualities of every
individual, in a woman who can drive such complicated teams of friends.
But is it not more probable that the secret of such success is poverty
of personality rather than richness; and that so many people receive a
share of friendship, of sympathy, of comprehension, because each
receives only very little; because the universal friend is too obtuse to
mind anybody's faults, and too obtuse, also, to mind anybody's great
virtues? In short, do not such women pay people merely in the paper
money of attention, which can be multiplied at pleasure, rather than in
the gold coin of sympathy, of which the supply is extremely small?

Be this as it may, Mme. d'Albany, after having been, in the earlier
period of her life, essentially the woman who had one friend, who let
the wax of her nature be stamped in one clear die, became, in the twenty
years which separate the death of Alfieri from her own, pre-eminently
the woman with many friends, a blurred personality in which we recognise
traces of the mental effigy of many and various people. Mme. d'Albany
was, therefore, in superficial sympathy with nearly everyone, and in
deep antagonism with no one: she was the ideal of the woman who keeps a
literary and political salon. At that time especially, when Italy was
visited only by people of a certain social standing, society was carried
on by a most complicated system of letters of introduction, and everyone
of any note brought a letter to Mme. d'Albany. "_La grande lanterne
magique passe tout par votre salon_," wrote Sismondi to the Countess;
and the metaphor could not be truer. Writers and artists, beautiful
women, diplomatists, journalists, pedants, men of science, women of
fashion, Châteaubriand and Mme. de Staël, Lamartine and Paul Louis
Courier, Mme. Récamier and the Duchess of Devonshire, Canova and
Foscolo, and Sismondi and Werner, the whole intellectual world of the
Empire and the Restoration, all seem to be projected, figures now
flitting past like shadows, now dwelling long, clear and coloured, upon
the rather colourless and patternless background of Mme. d'Albany's
house; nay, of Mme. d'Albany herself. Such readers as may wish to have
all these figures, remembered or forgotten, pointed out to them, called
by their right names and titles, treated with the perfect impartiality
of a _valet de place_ expounding monuments, or of a chamberlain
announcing the guests at a _levée_, may refer to the two volumes of
Baron Alfred von Reumont; and such readers (and I hope they are more
numerous) as may wish to examine some of the nobler and more interesting
of these projected shadows of men and women, may read with pleasure and
profit the letters of Sismondi, Bonstetten, Mme. de Souza and Mme. de
Staël to the Countess of Albany, and the interesting pages of criticism
in which they have been imbedded by M. St.-René Taillandier. With regard
to myself, I feel that the time and space which have been given me in
order to analyse or reconstruct the curious type and curious individual
called Louise d'Albany are both nearly exhausted; and I can therefore
select to dwell upon, of these many magic-lantern men and women, of
these friends of the Countess, only two, because they seem to me to
exemplify my remarks about the friendship of a woman whose vocation it
is to have many friends. The two are Sismondi and Foscolo.

Two or three years after Alfieri's death, somewhere about the year 1806
or 1807, there was introduced to Mme. d'Albany a sort of half-Italian,
half-French Swiss, a man young in years and singularly young--with the
peculiar earnestness, gravity, purity which belongs sometimes to
youth--in spirit, Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi. Quietly
idealistic, with one of those northern, eminently Protestant minds which
imagine the principle of good to be more solemnly serious, the principle
of evil more vainly negative, than is, alas, the case in this world--M.
de Sismondi, full of the heroism of mediæval Italy which he was studying
with a view to his great work, came to the house of Alfieri, to the
woman whom Alfieri had loved, as to things most reverend and almost
sacred. The Countess of Albany received him very well; and this good
reception, the motherly cordiality of this woman with that light in her
hazel eyes, that welcoming graciousness in the lines of her mouth, which
Lamartine has charmingly described, with the "_parole suave, manières
sans apprêt, familiarité rassurante_," "which made one doubt whether she
was descending to the level of her visitor, or raising him up to her
own,"--this reception by this woman, who was, moreover, still surrounded
by a halo of Alfieri's glory, fairly conquered the heart, the pure,
warm, grave and truthful heart of young Sismondi. He saw her often, on
his way between Geneva, whither he was called by his family business and
his lectures, and Pescia, a little town nestled among the olives of the
Lucchese Apennine, where he was for ever sighing to join his mother, to
resume his walks, his readings with this noble old woman. Florence, the
house on the Lung Arno, had an almost romantic fascination for Sismondi;
those passing visits, at intervals of months, when Mme. d'Albany would
devote herself entirely to the traveller, sit chatting, or rather (we
feel that) listening to the young man's enthusiastic talk about liberty,
letters, and philanthropy, about Alfieri and Mme. de Staël, enabled
Sismondi to make up for himself a sort of half-imaginary Countess of
Albany, to whom he poured out all his hopes and fears in innumerable
letters, for whom he longed as (alas!) we perhaps long only for the
phantoms of our own creating. That Mme. d'Albany was, after all, a
shallow woman; that she adored a mediocre M. Fabre (to whom Sismondi
invariably sent respectful messages) and half disliked the memory of
Alfieri; that she had called Mme. de Staël, Sismondi's goddess, about
whom he was for ever expatiating, "a mad woman who always wants to
inspire passions, and feels nothing, and makes her readers feel nothing"
(I am quoting from an unpublished letter at Siena); that she preferred
despotism on the whole to liberty, and had no particular belief or
interest in the heroic things of the present and future; that she was a
lover of gossip and scandal, sometimes (as Gino Capponi says) hard and
disagreeable; that she inspired some men, like d'Azeglio and Giordani,
with a positive repulsion as a vulgar-minded, spiteful, meddlesome old
thing; that there should be any other Mme. d'Albany than the one of his
noble fancy, than the woman whose image (fashioned by himself) he loved
to unite with the image of his own sweet, serious, shy, noble-minded
mother: all these things M. de Sismondi, who never guessed himself to be
otherwise than the most unpoetical and practical of men, never dreamed
of. So Sismondi went on writing to Mme. d'Albany, pouring out his grief
at Mme. de Staël's persecutions, his schemes of general improvement, all
the interests which filled his gentle, austere, and enthusiastic mind.
1814 came, and 1815. Sismondi had always hated, with the hatred of an
Italian mediæval patriot, and the hatred of an eighteenth-century
philanthropist, the despotism, the bureaucratic levelling, the great
military slaughters of Napoleon; but when he saw Napoleon succeeded by
the inept and wicked governments of the Restoration, his heart seemed to
burst. A Swiss, scarcely acquainted with France, the passion for the
principles of liberty and good sense and progress which France had
represented, the passion for France itself, burst out in him with
generous ardour. This man suffered intensely at what to him, as to Byron
and to Shelley (we must recollect the introduction of the _Revolt of
Islam_), seemed the battle between progress and retrogression; and
suffered all the more as he was too pure and just-minded not to feel the
impossibility of complete sympathy with either side. Mme. d'Albany
answered his letters with Olympic serenity. What was it to her which got
the upper hand? She was by this time one of those placid mixtures of
optimism and pessimism which do not expect good to triumph, simply
because they do not care whether good does triumph. Sismondi, in his
adoration of her, thought this might be the result of a superior
magnanimity of character; yet he kept conjuring her to take an interest
in the tragedy which was taking place before her eyes. If she will take
no interest, will not Fabre? "Does M. Fabre not feel himself turning
French again?" writes Sismondi, and there is a pathetic insistency
in the question. Fabre thought of his pictures, his collections of
antiques, perhaps of his dinner; of anything save France and political
events. Mme. d'Albany smiled serenely, and chaffed Sismondi a little for
his political passions. Sismondi, of all men the most loyal to the idea
he had formed of his friends, seems never to have permitted himself to
see the real woman, the real abyss of indifference, beneath his ideal
Mme. d'Albany. But there are few things more pathetic, I think, than the
letters of this enthusiastic man to this cold woman; than the belief of
Sismondi--writing that the retrograde measures of which he reads in the
papers give him fits of fever, that the post days on which he expects
political news are days of frenzied expectation--in the moral fibre,
the faculty for indignation, of this pleasant, indifferent, cynical
quasi-widow of Alfieri.

The story of the Countess and Foscolo is an even sadder instance of
those melancholy little psychological dramas which go on, unseen to the
world, in a man's soul; little dramas without outward events, without
deaths or partings or such-like similar visible catastrophes, but the
action of which is the slow murder of an affection, of an ideal, of a
belief in the loyalty, sympathy, and comprehension of another. The
character and history of Ugo Foscolo, like Chénier, half a Greek in
blood, and more than half a Greek in passionate love of beauty and
indomitable love of liberty, are amongst the most interesting in Italian
literature; and I regret that I can say but little of them in this
place. Reviewing his brief life, his long career from the moment when,
scarcely more than a boy, he had entered the service of liberty as a
soldier, a political writer, and a poet, only to taste the bitterness of
the betrayal of Campo Formio, he wrote, in 1823, from London, where he
was slowly dying, to his sister Rubina: "I am now nearly forty-six;
and you, although younger than myself, can recollect how miserable,
how unquiet and uncertain our lives have always been ever since our
childhood." Poor, vain, passionate and proud, torn between the selfish
impulses of an exactingly sensuous and imaginative nature, and the rigid
sense of duty of a heroic and generous mind, Ugo Foscolo was one of the
earliest and most genuine victims of that sickness of disappointed hope
and betrayed enthusiasm, of that _Weltschmerz_ of which personal
misfortunes seemed as but the least dreadful part, that came upon the
noblest minds after the Revolution, and which he has painted, with
great energy and truthfulness, in his early novel _Jacopo Ortis_. His
career broken by his determination never to come to terms with any
sort of baseness, his happiness destroyed by political disappointment,
literary feuds, and a number of love affairs into which his weaker, more
passionate and vainer, yet not more ungenerous temper was for ever
embroiling him, Foscolo came to Florence, ill and miserable, in the year
1812. The Countess of Albany, recognising in him a something--a mixture
of independence, of passion, of vanity, of truthfulness, of pose--which
resembled Alfieri in his earlier days (though, as she was unable to
see, a nobler Alfieri, wider-minded, warmer-hearted, born in a nobler
civilization and destined to give to Italy a nobler example, the pattern
for her Leopardi, than Alfieri had been able to give)--the Countess of
Albany received Foscolo well. His letters are full of allusions to the
hours which he spent seated at the little round table in Mme. d'Albany's
drawing-room, opposite to the "Muse" newly bought of Canova, narrating
to her his many and tangled love affairs; love affairs in which he left
his heart on all the briars, and in which, however, by an instinct which
shows the very nobleness of his nature, he seems to have been impelled
rather towards women whom he must love sincerely and unhappily, than
towards Marchesa di Prié and Lady Ligonier, like Alfieri; love affairs
in which, alas, there was also a good dose of the vanity of a poet and a
notorious beau. Mme. d'Albany, as we have seen, loved gossip; and, being
a kind, helpful woman, she also sincerely liked becoming the confidant
of other folk's woes. She took a real affection for this strange
Foscolo. Foscolo, in return, ill, sore of heart, solitary, gradually
got to love this gentle, sympathising Countess with a sort of filial
devotion, but a filial devotion into which there entered also somewhat
of the feeling of a wounded man towards his nurse, of the feeling of a
devout man towards his Madonna.

His letters are full of this feeling: "My friend and not the friend of
my good fortune," he writes to Mme. d'Albany in 1813, "I seem to have
left home, mother, friends, and almost the person dearest to my heart in
leaving Florence." Again, "I had in you, _mia Signora_, a friend and a
mother; a person, in short, such as no name can express, but such as
sufficed to console me in the miseries which are perhaps incurable
and interminable." Her letters are a real ray of sunlight in his
gloomy life, they are "so full of graciousness, and condescension and
benevolence and love. I venture to use this last word, because I feel
the sentiment which it expresses in myself towards you."

His health, his work, his money-matters, his love-affairs, were all
getting into a more and more lamentable condition, in which Mme.
d'Albany's sympathy came as a blessing, when the catastrophes of
1814 and 1815, which to Italy meant the commencement of a state of
degradation and misery much more intolerable and hopeless than any
previous one, came and drowned the various bitternesses of poor
Foscolo's life in a sea of bitterness. "Italy," wrote Foscolo to Mme.
d'Albany in 1814, "is a corpse; and a corpse which must not be touched
if the stench thereof is not to be made more horrible. And yet I see
certain crazy creatures fantasticating ways of bringing her to life; for
myself, I should wish her to be buried with myself, and overwhelmed by
the seas, or that some new Phaeton should precipitate upon her the
flaming heavens, so that the ashes should be scattered to the four
winds, and that the nations coming and to come should forget the infamy
of our times. Amen."

How strongly we feel in this outburst that, despite his despair, or
perhaps on account of it, Foscolo is himself one of those "crazy
creatures fantasticating ways of bringing Italy to life!" But the
Countess did not understand; she could conceive liking Bonaparte and
serving him, or liking the Restoration and serving it; but to love an
abstract Italy which did not yet exist, to hate equally all those who
deprived it of freedom, that was not within her comprehension. And as
she could not comprehend this feeling, the mainspring of Foscolo's soul,
so she could understand of Foscolo only the slighter, meaner things: his
troubles and intrigues, his loves and quarrels. The moment came when the
grief of miscomprehension was revealed to poor Foscolo; when he saw
how little he was understood by this woman whom he loved as a mother.
Foscolo had refused, latterly, to serve Napoleon; he refused, also,
to serve the Austrians. Hated for his independent ways both by the
Bonapartists and the reactionists, surrounded by spies, he was forced
to quit Italy never to return. He wrote to explain his motives to Mme.
d'Albany. Mme. d'Albany wrote back in a way which showed that she
believed the assertions of Foscolo's enemies; that she ascribed to
cowardice, to meanness, to a base desire to make himself conspicuous,
the self-inflicted exile which he had taken upon him: a letter which the
editor of Foscolo's correspondence describes to us in one
word--unworthy.

This letter came upon Foscolo like a thunder-clap. "So thus," he wrote
to the Countess in August 1815, "generosity and justice are banished
even from nobler souls. Your letter, Signora Contessa, grieves me, and
confers upon me, at the same time, two advantages: it diminishes
suddenly the perpetual nostalgia which I have felt for Florence, and it
affords me an occasion to try my strength of spirit.... My hatred for
the tyranny with which Bonaparte was oppressing Italy does not imply
that I should love the house of Austria. The difference for me was
that I hoped that Bonaparte's ambition might bring about, if not the
independence of Italy, at least such magnanimous deeds as might raise
the Italians; whereas the regular government of Austria precludes all
such hopes. I should be mad and infamous if I desired for Italy, which
requires peace at any price, new disorders and slaughterings; but I
should consider myself madder still and more infamous if, having despised
to serve the foreigner who has fallen, I should accept to serve the
foreigner who has succeeded.... But if your accusation of inconstancy is
unjust, your accusation that I want to '_passer pour original_' is
actually offensive and mocking."

Later, in his solitary wanderings, Foscolo's heart seems to have melted
towards his former friend; he wrote her one or two letters, conciliating,
friendly, but how different from the former ones! The Countess of
Albany, whom he had loved and trusted, was dead; the woman who remained
was dear to him as a mere relic of that dead ideal.

Such is the story of Mme. d'Albany's friendship for two of the noblest
spirits, Sismondi and Foscolo, of their day; the noblest, the one in his
pure austerity, the other in his magnanimous passionateness, that ever
crossed the path of the beloved of Alfieri.



CHAPTER XX.

SANTA CROCE.


With her other friends, who gave less of their own heart and asked less
of hers, Mme. d'Albany was more fortunate. She contrived to connect
herself by correspondence with the most eminent men and women of the
most different views and tempers; she made her salon in Florence, as M.
St. René Taillandier has observed, a sort of adjunct to the cosmopolitan
salon of Mme. de Staël at Coppet. Her efforts in so doing were crowned
with the very highest success. In 1809 Napoleon requested Mme. d'Albany
to leave Florence for Paris, where, he added with a mixture of brutality
and sarcasm, she might indulge her love of art in the new galleries of
the Louvre, and where her social talents could no longer spread
dissatisfaction with his government, as was the case in Italy.

The one year's residence in Paris, which Napoleon's jealous meddlesomeness
forced upon her, was, in itself, a very enjoyable time, spent with the
friends whom she had left in '93, and with a whole host of new ones whom
she had made since. She returned to Florence with a larger number of
devoted correspondents than ever; her salon became more and more brilliant;
and when, after Waterloo, the whole English world of politics, fashion,
and letters poured on to the Continent, her house became, as Sismondi
said, the wall on which all the most brilliant figures of the great
magic lantern were projected.

Thus, seeing crowds of the most distinguished and delightful people,
receiving piles of the most interesting and adoring letters, happy,
self-satisfied, Mme. d'Albany grew into an old woman. Every evening
until ten, the rooms of the Casa Alfieri were thrown open; the servants
in the Stuart liveries ushered in the guests, the tea was served in
those famous services emblazoned with the royal arms of England. The
Countess had not yet abandoned her regal pretensions; for all her
condescending cordiality towards the elect, she could assume airs of
social superiority which some folk scarcely brooked, and she was
evidently pleased when, half in earnest, Mme. de Staël addressed her as
"My dear Sovereign," "My dear Queen," and even when that vulgar woman of
genius, Lady Morgan, made a buffoonish scene about the "dead usurper,"
on the death of George III. But Mme. d'Albany herself was getting to
look and talk less and less like a queen, either the Queen of Great
Britain or the Queen of Hearts; she was fat, squat, snub, dressed with
an eternal red shawl (now the property of an intimate friend of mine),
in a dress extremely suggestive of an old house-keeper. She was, when
not doing the queen, cordial, cheerful in manner, loving to have
children about her, to spoil them with cakes and see them romp and
dance; free and easy, cynical, Rabelaisian, if I may use the expression,
as such mongrel Frenchwomen are apt to grow with years; the nick-name
which she gave to a member of a family where the tradition of her and
her ways still persists, reveals a wealth of coarse fun which is rather
strange in a woman who was once the Beatrice or Laura of a poet. She was
active, mentally and bodily, never giving up her multifarious reading,
her letter-writing; never foregoing her invariable morning walk, in a
big bonnet and the legendary red shawl, down the Lung Arno and into the
Cascine.

Such was Louise of Stolberg, Countess of Albany, widow of Prince Charles
Edward, widow, in a sense, of the poet Vittorio Alfieri; and such, at
the age of seventy-two, did death overtake her, on the 29th January
1824. Her property she bequeathed to Fabre whom a false rumour had
called her husband; and Fabre left it jointly to his native town of
Montpellier, and to his friend the Cavaliere Emilio Santarelli, who
still lives and recollects Mme. d'Albany.

The famous epitaph, composed by Alfieri for himself, had been mangled by
Mme. d'Albany and those who helped her and Canova in devising his tomb;
the companion epitaph, the one in which Alfieri described the Countess
as buried next to him, was also mangled in its adaptation to a tomb
erected in Santa Croce, entirely separate from Alfieri's. On that
monument of Mme. d'Albany, in the chapel where moulder the frescoes of
Masolino, there is not a word of that sentence of Alfieri's about the
dead woman having been to him dearer and more respected than any other
human thing. Mme. d'Albany had changed into quite another being between
1803 and 1824; the friend of Sismondi, of Foscolo, of Mme. de Staël, the
worldly friend of many friends, seemed to have no connection with the
lady who had wept for Alfieri in the convent at Rome, who had borne
with all Alfieri's misanthropic furies after the Revolution, any more
than with the delicate intellectual girl whom Charles Edward had nearly
done to death in his drunken jealousy. So, on the whole, Fabre, and
whosoever assisted Fabre, was right in concocting a new epitaph.

But to us, who have followed the career--whose lesson is that of the
meanness which lurks in noble things, the nobility which lurks in mean
ones--of this woman from her inauspicious wedding-day to the placid day
of her death, to us Louise of Stolberg, Countess of Albany, Queen of
Great Britain, France, and Ireland, will remain, for all blame we
may give her and her times, a figure to remember and reflect upon,
principally because of those suppressed words of her epitaph: "_A
Victorio Alferio ultra res omnes dilecta, et quasi mortale numen ab
ipso constanter habita et observata._"



FOOTNOTES

 1: I have purposely quoted, almost textually, the account given by
    Ewald, lest I should be accused of following Alfieri's vague version.

 2: The chief sources for this account are Mann's despatches and the
   _Mémoires_ of Louis Dutens. Alfieri gives no details.



 _UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME_

 THE ENCHANTED WOODS
 and other Essays on the Genius of Place

 HORTUS VITÆ, or the Hanging Gardens.
 Moralising Essays

 THE SPIRIT OF ROME.
 Leaves from a Diary

 HAUNTINGS: Fantastic Tales
 Second Edition

 THE SENTIMENTAL TRAVELLER.
 Notes on Places

 GENIUS LOCI. Second Edition

 POPE JACYNTH. Second Edition

 LIMBO; and Other Essays;
 to which is now added
 ARIADNE IN MANTUA.
 Second Edition

 RENAISSANCE FANCIES AND STUDIES.
 Second Edition

 ALTHEA.
 Second Edition

 VANITAS: Polite stories.
 Second Edition

 LAURUS NOBILIS:
 Chapters on Art and Life



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Contemporary spellings have generally been retained even where
inconsistent. Missing Punctuation has been silently added, and a few
obvious spelling errors have been corrected. The information about
further volumes by the author has been moved to the end.

The following additional changes have been made to the text:

 Tales of a Century (1 instance)      Tales of the Century

 No sadder way (...) can              No sadder way (...) can
 well be imagined that landing        well be imagined than landing

 has not mad him younger              has not made him younger

 probably sown in the swaddling       probably sewn in the swaddling
 clothes                              clothes

 cavaliere servante                   cavaliere servente

 behaving in the way in which         behaving in the way of which
 he approved                          he approved

 what glory could he hope             what glory could he hope for
 among all these monkeys              among all these monkeys





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