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Title: A Manual of Italian Literature
Author: Cliffe, Francis Henry
Language: English
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_A Manual of_

_Italian Literature_






     II.   DANTE
     VI.   ARIOSTO
     XV.   ALFIERI
     XX.   MANZONI


_A Manual of_

_Italian Literature_



Whoever examines a map of Europe, and sees the position occupied by
Italy, must, even without knowledge of history, come to the conclusion
that a country situated in so central a position and favoured in so
many respects by Nature, cannot have failed to command an exalted
rank in the hierarchy of nations. But the most daring conjectures
would probably fall short of the brilliant reality. The rise and the
dominion of Rome would be regarded in a romance as too improbable for
the credulity of the simplest reader, but as a well-established fact in
the annals of mankind, it becomes a phenomenon of the most striking
importance and interest. That a solitary city should produce brave and
distinguished men, and even, aided by wealth and courage, establish
settlements in remote countries, is not wonderful; Carthage and Tyre
did so at an earlier period, Venice and Genoa did so in times nearer
the present; but that a solitary city should play a part reserved
apparently only for a great nation, should draw to itself, as in a
magic circle, all Italy, should conquer Gaul, Greece, Africa, Spain,
Britain, Asia Minor, and even threaten Persia and India, is indeed
marvellous. Nor were the conquests of Rome transient conflagrations
whose fury was soon exhausted; they were as durable as they were
brilliant, and the subjugated races speedily learned the language and
the manners of their masters. Only one nation, though politically
enslaved, remained intellectually free. Greece had produced poets so
sublime, philosophers so profound, historians so brilliant, that even
in the darkest hour of degradation, even when Memmius was despoiling
Corinth of the works of the greatest of statuaries, even when Sulla
was slaughtering the helpless inhabitants of Athens, she had the
satisfaction of seeing the master minds of Rome coming as humble
disciples to the sources of art and wisdom that took their origin only
on her soil.

Indeed, it is scarcely far-fetched to say that Greece was avenged
for her slavery by the not less complete slavery of Rome to her
intellectual supremacy. The Roman poets, dazzled by the brilliancy
of their Athenian prototypes, fancied that only by imitating, could
they hope to excel. A more unfortunate idea never took possession of a
nation. It destroyed everything in their writings that was spontaneous
and redolent of their native soil. Whatever is really endowed with
life and intrinsic value in their works, has had to struggle into
existence through the suffocating atmosphere of foreign fashions and
foreign trains of thought. This evil was apparent in other branches
of literature, but it was very far from injuring them as it injured
poetry. Virgil was assuredly one of the greatest poets that ever lived,
and yet how much of his poetry is second-hand, or, at best, adapted
from others. The adaptations are often executed with marvellous skill,
but this fact only enhances our regret that he should have made of his
_Æneid_ but an echo of Homer; and of his _Eclogues_ but a repetition of
Theocritus. His _Georgia,_ indeed, escaped being only a decoction from
Greek herbs, because in them he wrote of what he had actually seen and
experienced, and they are, in truth, his masterpiece. Indeed, if we
deduct the extraordinary beauty of the style, which is above praise,
what is there of great value in the _Eclogues,_ except some images of
rural beauty, and some outbursts of exquisite tenderness? Or in the
_Æneid,_ except those passages where he praises the greatness of Italy
and Rome, expatiates on his philosophy, and depicts with tenderness
and fire, such as no other ancient poet could command, the passion of
love? Better, far better, would it have been for him if he had never
heard of Homer, and had never studied Theocritus. This great poet
would then have been compelled to rely on his own resources, and would
have produced works, different it may be, but far more striking and
profound, than those we now possess.

The vigorous mind of Lucretius suffered but little from reliance on
Greek models. But this was partly owing to the nature of his subject.
A philosopher is assisted, his mind is enriched, by the speculations
of his predecessors; and the fact of his writing in verse is but an
accident which in no way detracts from the truth of this remark. His
strength of mind and matchless powers of description make his poem
one of the finest monuments in the Latin language. Catullus had so
much sweetness and tenderness, a cast of thought at once so fiery and
so natural, that even the study of the most laboured performances
of Alexandrian pedants could not rob him of his spontaneity and
freshness. With Horace the case is somewhat different. He was deeply
read in the poets of Greece, and that course of study is visible in
every line he wrote. But he had the wisdom to select as models only
the sublimest passages of the noblest writers, and he adapted what he
borrowed from them with such exquisite art to his Roman surroundings,
that we may well ask whether he did not positively gain by having
Pindar, Alcæus and Sappho constantly before him. Still, the result is
artificial in a high degree, and the emotions that greater poets really
feel, he too often only simulates.

If we except many tender passages from Tibullus, many picturesque
passages from Ovid, and many vigorous passages from Lucan, Roman
Poetry presents us for centuries with nothing but feeble echoes of
Greek models, and those models too often the pedantic and lifeless
productions of Alexandria. A genuine Roman Drama may be said never to
have existed. Plautus and Terence are but pale reflections of the Attic
comedies; the tragedies attributed to Seneca, the only specimens that
have come down to us of Roman Tragedy, are but clumsy imitations, or
rather travesties, of Sophocles and Euripides. In the declining ages
of Roman Literature, Claudian was the only poet who showed genuine
originality and freshness of thought, and he, strange to say, was an
Alexandrian by birth, to whom the Latin language was not natural, but

I know of no other instance of a great nation, victorious and dominant
over the whole civilised world, humbly sitting as a disciple at the
feet of one of her captives, and that not only for a short time,
but for the whole course of her intellectual development. Spain, in
the Sixteenth Century, borrowed many of her literary fashions from
Italy; England, in the Seventeenth Century, modelled her productions
in many respects on France, as did Germany somewhat later; but these
were merely transient fashions, not deep-rooted customs, and produced
no very lasting effect. Rome was alone, and has been since, in her
deference to a foreign model, nor can it be said in extenuation that
she had only the choice of having poetry on that model or no poetry at
all. She had plenty of indigenous material, and Niebuhr has well said
that the true poetry of Rome must be found in her history and in her
early legends rather than in the finished productions of her literary

This is all the more remarkable, as her greatness was such that it
could not fail to inspire even the least susceptible of minds. It made
itself felt from the shores of the Baltic to the Persian Gulf, and is
attested by ruins more substantial than the uninjured structures of
feebler races. Such was its inherent strength, that it withstood the
bloodiest civil wars and the most crushing despotism; nor is it easy
to surmise what could have undermined it, had not the immigration of
barbarian tribes from the mysterious and unexplored regions of the
North given shock after shock to that stately system, the work of so
many warriors and legislators. It may truly be said that the walls of
Rome fell at the blast of the Gothic trumpet.

When Constantine removed the seat of Empire to Constantinople, he broke
the spell that had for so many ages held the nations captive. The
partition of the Empire into East and West finished what the removal
began. Nor had Rome only the rivalry of Constantinople to dread. Milan,
and then Ravenna, became the scene of Imperial splendour ind the centre
of Imperial policy. Rome would, indeed, have been deserted but for her
Bishop, who was gradually establishing for himself and his successors a
dominion not less brilliant and more durable than that of the Cæsars.

When at last the old order of things had so completely collapsed
that the phantom Emperor was no longer allowed to retain his phantom
title, it must have been obvious to all thinking men that changes
so far reaching had come over Italy as to make it almost another
world. The invaders had mingled largely with the conquered nation,
inter-marriages were frequent; and it must, in justice to the
barbarians, be admitted that they rapidly assumed the manners, and,
indeed, the thoughts, of civilisation. If we compare the Court of
Theodoric to that of Honorius, or even to that of Valentinian III,
the superiority of the Gothic ruler in statesmanship, and even in
superficial attainments, is manifest. But wars and invasions desolated
the unhappy country. Belisarius defeated the Goths and regained Sicily
and the South of Italy for the Emperors of the East. Although the
Byzantine dominion was not of long duration, traces of its existence
may still be found in those regions by the curious. It must not be
forgotten that the Goths introduced new blood into the country, and
that every new invasion tended to modify, if not to alter, the national
character of the Peninsula.

But while Italy was suffering for ages from the invasions of the
Lombards, the Saracens, and the Normans, it must not be forgotten
that she was steadily increasing in wealth, until, in the Thirteenth
Century, she became the great money market of the world, and retained
that position until shortly after the discovery of America. Wealth
produced its usual effect of giving men ample leisure, and leisure
created the demand for intellectual and artistic gratifications.
Sicily was the favourite abode of the Emperor Frederick II, and at
his brilliant Court poets were encouraged and minstrels rewarded.
The Troubadours of Provence offered to Italy in noble verse that
chivalric spirit of gallantry and love so congenial to the taste of
the age. What the Italians so much admired, they naturally desired to
emulate. But in order to do so they required a language capable of
expressing thoughts with accuracy and adorning them with splendour.
It is no exaggeration to say that from the decadence of the Latin
language arose, not one tongue, but many dialects. These dialects were
fostered by the division of the Peninsula into many principalities,
townships, republics, and kingdoms. It was, therefore, incumbent upon
the Italians to combine from existing materials a literary language.
By a fortunate coincidence, the most gifted writers arose in Tuscany,
where the most promising of these dialects was spoken. Thus it happened
that the Tuscan idiom became the standard for literary composition. It
was felt, even by the least discerning, that the Latin language, no
longer the living property of the nation, was not suited to express the
inspirations of contemporary poets, however advantageously it might be
retained for legal, theological, and historical works.

At the end of the Thirteenth Century, GUINICELLI of Bologna and
CAVALCANTI of Florence gave greater finish and regularity, more
scholarly perfection, and more literary merit to that style of amorous
poetry which they, in common with their contemporaries, so greatly
admired in the Troubadours. Even in prose, valuable works were
produced. The _Chronicle_ of DINO COMPAGNI has many passages deserving
the highest praise. Those writers were worthy predecessors of the poet
who was to give the _Divine Comedy_ to the world, and first among the
moderns was to equal, if, indeed, he did not in some respects excel,
the greatest poets of antiquity.



DURANTE (a name afterwards called for shortness DANTE) was born in
Florence in the month of May, 1265, the son of Aldighiero Aldighieri
and Bella, his wife. "Of his ancestors, this much is evident through
the mists of a very nebulous antiquity," says Symonds, in his
_Introduction to the Study of Dante,_ "that they were well-placed
among the citizens of Florence, and it seems that their primitive name
was not Aldighieri, but Elisei. Tradition differs about the origin of
the Elisei. Some of Dante's biographers trace them to Roman colonists
of Florence in the time of Julius Cæsar. Others, and these are the
majority, derive them from one Eliseo, of the noble Roman house of
Frangipani, or bread-breakers--so called by reason of some eminent act
of public charity--who is said to have settled at Florence in the days
of Charlemagne, or soon after. In any case, the Elisei were honourable
in Florence, possessing castles in the country round and towered houses
in the city. They dwelt within the old Pomoerium, or primitive walled
circuit, in the Via degli Speziali, near the Mercato Vecchio; this
in itself was a sign of ancient blood. Dante prided himself upon his
descent from the purest blood of Florentine citizens. The change in
the name of Dante's family from Elisei to Aldighieri took place thus:
Cacciaguida degli Elisei, who was born in 1106, married Aldighiera
degli Aldigheri of Ferrara, and he had a son by her whom he called
Aldighiero. This son gave his Christian name to his descendants, whilst
a brother of Cacciaguida continued the line and name of the Elisei.
Cacciaguida followed Conrad III to the Crusades in 1147, was knighted
by him, and died, at the age of forty-two, in the Holy Land."

The poet introduces this ancestor in one of the finest passages of the

Dante was educated by BRUNETTO LATINI, the author of a curious poem,
entitled the _Tesoro,_ in which the germ of many thoughts of the
_Divine Comedy_ may be traced. He was subsequently placed by his
grateful pupil in the centre of Hell. Dante possessed a thorough
knowledge of the science of his day, and we may give his instructor
credit for having carefully developed the brilliant abilities of his
pupil. He is said to have studied music and to have shown decided
skill in painting.

His father died when he was nine or ten years of age. Shortly before
his death, he introduced his son to Folco Portinari, a rich citizen
of Florence, and to his daughter, Beatrice, who was his first, and
probably his only, love. Although but a child, he was struck by
her beauty. "Her dress on that day," he says, "was of a most noble
colour, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned as best
suited with her very tender age." Beatrice died when Dante was in his
twenty-sixth year, and the blow was so great that it was long before
he was comforted by philosophy and study. She became, in his mind, the
personification of everything great and noble. In the _Divine Comedy_
she appears as his guide from the summit of Purgatory to Paradise.

In 1292, he married Gemma Donati, by whom he had seven children. Thus,
it can hardly have been an unhappy marriage; but as she did not follow
him into exile, and as he never mentions her in any of his extant
letters, we may suppose there was no very ardent affection on either

The latter part of Dante's life was destined to be marked with many
sorrows and disasters. He was dragged into the vortex of faction and
civil war, and was wrecked with many less noteworthy mariners.

He was made Prior of Florence in 1300, and so eminent was he that
he was appointed one of the four ambassadors who were sent to Pope
Boniface Viii to complain of the French intervention under Charles of
Valois. Before they returned, Charles had entered Florence; Dante and
his companions were outlawed, his property was confiscated, his house
pillaged, and he never again was suffered to return to the city of his

Tradition says, and I think it is supported by the internal evidence
of the poem, that he wrote the first seven cantos of the _Inferno_ in
Florence before his exile, and that the beginning of the eighth canto:

    "Io dico, seguitando,"

is a proof that the poem was continued after having been laid aside
for a time, otherwise the word "seguitando" would be unnecessary to
the sense, and it is not in Dante's style to admit unnecessary words
into his lines. If this reasoning hold good, we can determine pretty
accurately the date of the _Divine Comedy._ The poet feigns that he
descended into the infernal regions on Good Friday of the year 1300;
his exile began in 1301; therefore, the latter part of 1300 very
probably saw him write the first seven cantos of the work. In the
sixth canto there is an allusion to his exile, and to the defeat of
his party; but that may have been inserted afterwards.

Cruel was the blow that fell upon him, doubly cruel after so many years
of prosperity and honour. He had to consort with unworthy companions;
he had to eat the bitter bread of dependence; he was severed from those
whom he loved most dearly; and, as he makes Cacciaguida foretell in
Paradise, "this was the first arrow with which the bow of exile struck

    "Tu lascerai ogni cosa diletta
    Più caramente; e questo è quello strale
    Che l'arco dell esilio pria saetta."

The reader may peruse in the seventeenth canto of the _Paradiso,_
his concise and pathetic account of the sorrows of his later years.
Clad in the form of prophecy, it constitutes one of the grandest
passages in the whole poem. Some letters, written during his exile,
are still extant and breathe a spirit so lofty that versification
alone is wanting to equal them to his sublimest inspirations. Amid all
the troubles of his eventful life, he still found leisure to study,
meditate, and write, and when he died in Ravenna in 1321, the first
great poem of modern times was completed.

"Many volumes have been written," says Carlyle, "by way of commentary
on Dante and his book; yet, on the whole, with no great result. His
biography is, as it were, irrecoverably lost for us. An unimportant,
wandering, sorrow-stricken man, not much note was taken of him while he
lived; and the most of that has vanished, in the long space that now
intervenes. It is five centuries since he ceased writing and living
here. After all commentaries, the Book itself is mainly what we know
of him. The Book, and one might add, that Portrait commonly attributed
to Giotto, which, looking on it, you cannot help inclining to think
genuine, whoever did it. To me it is a most touching face; perhaps
of all faces that I know, the most so. Lonely there, painted as on
vacancy, with the simple laurel wound round it; the deathless sorrow
and pain, the known victory which is also deathless; significant of
the whole history of Dante. I think it is the mournfullest face that
ever was painted from reality; an altogether tragic, heart-affecting
face. There is in it, as foundation of it, the softness, tenderness,
gentle affection as of a child; but all this is as if congealed into
sharp contradiction, into abnegation, isolation, proud, hopeless
pain. A soft, ethereal soul, looking out so stern, implacable, grim,
trenchant, as from imprisonment of thick-ribbed ice. Withal it is a
silent pain, too, a silent, scornful one; the lip is curled in a kind
of god-like disdain of the thing that is eating out his heart, as if
it were withal a mean insignificant thing, as if he whom it had power
to torture and strangle, were greater than it. The face of one wholly
in protest, and life-long unsurrendering battle against the world.
Affection all converted into indignation; slow, equable, silent, like
that of a god. The eye, too, it looks out as in a kind of _surprise,_ a
kind of inquiry, why the world was of such a sort? This is Dante, so he
looks, this 'voice of ten silent centuries,' and sing us his 'mystic,
unfathomable song.'"

Dante is one of those authors who concentrate all their greatness
in one stupendous work. The _Vita Nuova_ has many beauties, the
_Convito_ deserves to be read, the Latin Treatises offer numerous
points of interest, but it is only in the _Divina Commedia_ that he
rises to the height of his sublimity. He was singularly judicious,
both in the choice of his subject and in the form of his verse. The
Terza Rima carries the reader onwards in its progress, calmly, nobly,
irresistibly. Had the work been written in prose, it would not have
commanded the attention of future ages, so great is the embalming power
of verse. A fine prose work may be neglected in the course of ages; a
fine poetical work, never. Had the work been written in Latin verse, as
indeed it was begun, it would only be a study for the curious and not
a possession for all humanity.

The vivid power of Dante's imagination, the intense and rugged strength
of his thoughts, and the graphic realism with which he presents the
scenes of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven to his readers, are above praise
and can find no parallel in the works of other poets. Milton surpasses
him in sustained grandeur, but in picturesqueness the English poet does
not attempt to rival the Florentine.

Dante's Poem is so well known that it is needless to insist upon
particular beauties. All cultivated readers are familiar with them, if
not in the original, at least in translations. If any fault is to be
found in the poem, it is that it somewhat falls off; the _Purgatorio_
is not quite so fine as the _Inferno_; the _Paradiso,_ not quite
so fine as the _Purgatorio._ The poet sometimes has an unfortunate
tendency only to hint at the histories of the spirits he meets, so that
we are indebted to his commentators rather than to himself for stories
worthy to be chronicled in immortal verse. His style is not always
free from coarseness on the one hand, and from obscurity on the other.
But in so noble an achievement it would be mean to dwell on occasional
blemishes, instead of being grateful to the poet who has presented us
with a work, perhaps in many respects, the noblest production of the
human mind.

As a specimen of Dante's Poem, I quote the last canto of the _Inferno,_
in Cary's translation. The reader will notice the curious passage that
seems to prove that Dante was aware, four hundred years before Newton,
of the law of gravitation:


    "The banners of Hell's Monarch do come forth
    Towards us; therefore look," so spake my guide,
    "If thou discern him." As when breathes a cloud
    Heavy and dense, or when the shades of night
    Fall on our hemisphere, seems view'd from far
    A windmill, which the blast stirs briskly round,
    Such was the fabric then methought I saw.

    To shield me from the wind, forthwith I drew
    Behind my guide: no covert else was there.

    Now came I (and with fear I bid my strain
    Record the marvel) where the souls were all
    Whelmed underneath, transparent, as through glass
    Pellucid the frail stem. Some prone were laid,
    Others stood upright, this upon the soles,
    That on his head, a third with face to feet
    Arched like a bow. When to the point we came
    Whereat my guide was pleas'd that I should see
    The creature eminent in beauty once,
    He from before me stepp'd and made me pause.
    "Lo!" he exclaimed, "lo Dis! and lo the place
    Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with

    How frozen and how faint I then became,
    Ask me not, reader! for I write it not,
    Since words would fail to tell thee of my state.
    I was not dead nor living. Think thyself,
    If quick conception work in thee at all,
    How I did feel. That Emperor who sways
    The Realm of Sorrow, at mid breast from th' ice
    Stood forth; and I in stature am more like
    A giant, than the giants are his arms.
    Mark now how great that whole must be, which suits
    With such a part. If he were beautiful
    As he is hideous now, and yet did dare
    To scowl upon his Maker, well from him
    May all our misery flow. Oh what a sight!
    How passing strange it seem'd when I did spy
    Upon his head three faces: one in front
    Of hue vermilion, th' other two with this
    Midway each shoulder join'd and at the crest;
    The right 'twixt wan and yellow seem'd: the left
    To look on, such as come from whence old Nile
    Stoops to the lowlands. Under each shot forth
    Two mighty wings, enormous as became
    A bird so vast. Sails never such I saw
    Outstretch'd on the wide sea. No plumes had they,
    But were in texture like a bat, and these
    He flapp'd i' th' air, that from him issued still
    Three winds, wherewith Cocytus to its depth
    Was frozen. At six eyes he wept; the tears
    Adown three chins distill'd with bloody foam.
    At every mouth his teeth a sinner champ'd
    Bruis'd as with pond'rous engine, so that three
    Were in this guise tormented. But far more
    Than from that gnawing, was the foremost pang'd
    By the fierce rending, whence ofttimes the back
    Was stript of all its skin. "That upper spirit,
    Who hath worse punishment," so spake my guide,

    "Is Judas, he that hath his head within
    And plies the feet without. Of th' other two,
    Whose heads are under, from the murky jaw
    Who hangs, is Brutus: lo! how he doth writhe
    And speaks not! Th' other Cassius, that appears
    So large of limb. But night now re-ascends,
    And it is time for parting. All is seen."

    I clipp'd him round the neck, for so he bade;
    And noting time and place, he, when the wings
    Enough were op'd, caught fast the shaggy sides,
    And down from pile to pile descending stept
    Between the thick fell and the jagged ice.

    Soon as he reached the point whereat the thigh
    Upon the swelling of the haunches turns,
    My leader there with pain and struggling hard
    Turn'd round his head, where his feet stood before,
    And grappled at the fell, as one who mounts,
    That into hell methought we turned again.

    "Expect that by such stairs as these," thus spake
    The teacher, panting like a man forespent,
    "We must depart from evil so extreme."
    Then at a rocky opening issued forth,
    And placed me on a brink to sit, next join'd
    With wary step my side. I raised mine eyes,
    Believing that I Lucifer should see
    Where he was lately left, but saw him now
    With legs held upward. Let the grosser sort,
    Who see not what the point was I had pass'd,
    Bethink them if sore toil oppress'd me then.

    "Arise," my master cried, "upon thy feet.
    The way is long, and much uncouth the road;
    And now within one hour and half of noon
    The sun returns." It was no palace hall
    Lofty and luminous wherein we stood.
    But natural dungeon where ill footing was
    And scant supply of light. "Ere from th' abyss
    I sep'rate," thus when risen I began,
    "My guide! vouchsafe few words to set me free
    From error's thraldom. Where is now the ice?
    How standeth he in posture thus reversed?
    And how from eve to morn in space so brief
    Hath the sun made his transit?" He in few
    Thus answering spake: "Thou deemest thou art still
    On th' other side the centre, where I grasp'd
    Th' abhorred worm, that boreth through the world.
    Thou wast on th' other side so long as I
    Descended; when I turn'd, thou didst o'erpass
    That point, to which from every part is dragg'd
    All heavy substance. Thou art now arriv'd
    Under the hemisphere opposed to that,
    Which the great continent doth overspread,
    And underneath whose canopy expir'd
    The Man, that was born sinless, and so liv'd.
    Thy feet are planted on the smallest sphere,
    Whose other aspect is Judecca. Morn
    Here rises, when there evening sets: and he,
    Whose shaggy pile was scal'd, yet standeth fix'd,
    As at the first. On this part he fell down
    From heav'n; and th' earth, here prominent before,
    Through fear of him did veil her with the sea,
    And to our hemisphere retir'd. Perchance
    To shun him was the vacant space left here
    By what of firm land on this side appears,
    That sprang aloof." There is a place beneath,
    From Belzebub as distant, as extends
    The vaulted tomb, discover'd not by sight,
    But by the sound of brooklet, that descends
    This way along the hollow of a rock,
    Which, as it winds with no impetuous course,
    The wave hath eaten. By that hidden way
    My guide and I did enter, to return
    To the fair world: and heedless of repose
    We climb'd, he first, I following his steps,
    Till on our view the beauteous lights of heav'n
    Dawn'd through a circular opening in the cave.
    Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.



Unlike the life of Dante, of which so few particulars have come down
to us that our curiosity is rather excited than satisfied by the
information we possess, the life of PETRARCH is illustrated in its
minutest details by extracts from his works and correspondence.

Francesco Petrarca was born at Arezzo on the twentieth of July,
1304. His family originally came from the little village of Ancisa,
fifteen miles from Florence, but for many years his ancestors had been
settled in that city. His father, Pietro di Parenzo, was familiarly
called Petracco, in Latin, Petracchus, whence his son was designated
"Petracchi filius," and thus the poet evolved the more euphonious name
of Petrarca. His father was a Notary Public, and seems to have held
some responsible posts, but he belonged to the party of the "Bianchi,"
and was exiled in 1302 with Dante and many others. His property was
confiscated, and he never returned to the city of his birth. In 1313,
he went with his wife and children to Avignon, where the Popes then
held their court. He sent his children to the quieter neighbourhood
of Carpentras, and there, under an able master, Petrarch studied
Latin, and the acquaintance of the ancient writers kindled him in an
enthusiasm that only ended with his life. He was destined for the study
of the law, and in 1318 he went to Montpellier, and in 1322 to Bologna,
but he felt little inclination for this science, and on the death
of his father in 1326 he returned to Avignon and devoted himself to
literature and society.

His name is inseparably connected with that of Laura, and it was on
Good Friday of the year 1327 that he met her for the first time.

    "Era il giorno, ch'ai Sol si scoloraro
    Per la pietà del suo Fattore i rai,
    Quando i' fuipreso, e non me ne guardai,
    Che i he' vostr' occhi, Donna, mi legaro."
                                      SONNET 3.

From the researches of her descendant, the Abbé de Sade, there can be
no doubt that Laura was the wife of Hugo de Sade, and the daughter of
Audibert de Noves. She died in 1348 of the Black Death, which was then
devastating Europe, and her loss inspired the poet with some of his
noblest effusions. The attachment was perfectly platonic, nor does it
seem to have excited any adverse comments among his contemporaries,
for similar homage had been paid by poetry to beauty from the first
appearance of the Troubadours.

Petrarch was fortunate in acquiring the friendship and favour of some
of the most eminent men of his time. Jacopo Colonna, Bishop of Lombés,
invited him to his palace at the foot of the Pyrenees. He gratified
his intense desire to see the world by travelling through France and
Germany, and subsequently visiting many cities of Italy. In Rome he
was welcomed by Stefano Colonna, the head of that illustrious family,
but Rome was then deserted and lonely, and Petrarch soon returned to
the more brilliant circles of Avignon. He found a delicious retreat
fifteen miles from Avignon, at Vaucluse, a pleasant valley, watered by
the river Sorga. Here he produced some of his loveliest Italian poems,
and some of his most elaborate Latin compositions. So uncertain are
the vicissitudes of literary taste, and so little do even great poets
know where their real strength lies, that Petrarch treated his sonnets
and canzoni, to which alone he is indebted for his immortality, as the
amusement of his leisure hours, and devoted all his care and study to
those Latin works which are now read only by the curious. He composed
a ponderous epic poem in Latin hexameters, and gave it to the world
under the title of _Africa._ It procured for him an immense reputation.
The whole literary world read it with avidity, and all Europe resounded
with his praises. Paris and Rome simultaneously invited him to be
crowned with the laurel within their walls. He decided to accept the
invitation of Rome; but before the ceremony he went to Naples, where
he was received with enthusiasm by King Robert, who was so enraptured
with the _Africa_ that he begged it should be dedicated to himself.
This request the poet gladly granted, and he left for Rome laden with
signs of Royal favour. He was crowned in the Capitol by the Senator
Orso dell' Anguillara, on the 8th of April, 1341, and the laurel wreath
bestowed upon him he hung up as a votive offering in the Church of St.

Petrarch was one of those who succeed in everything; and, as if the
distinctions already showered upon him were not enough, he was, when
visiting Parma, invited to the Court by Azzo da Correggio, and within a
short time sent as his envoy to Clement VI at Avignon. He wrote a Latin
poem advising the Pope to return to Rome, and his Holiness, though
he did not take the advice, was so delighted with the poem that he
bestowed a valuable benefice on its author.

From the end of May, 1342, until September, 1343, Petrarch resided
chiefly at Vaucluse, with occasional visits to Avignon. He was occupied
writing his work, _De Contemptu Mundi,_ and studying Greek under
Barlaam, who was one of those emigrants from Greece willing to impart
their language to the few desirous of acquiring it. No more zealous
disciple could have been found than Petrarch. He spent large sums, like
his friend, Boccaccio, in collecting manuscripts, and he even copied
many rare works with his own hand. He seems to have been in possession
of some productions of classical writers, which were subsequently lost
during the interval between his death and the invention of printing.

When Rome rose against the tyranny of the noble houses, Colonna
and Orsini, and when Cola di Rienzi proclaimed himself the Tribune
of the People, Petrarch's imagination took fire, and he hailed the
deliverer in prose and verse. Cardinal Colonna was deeply offended at
his taking the part of one whom he regarded as a rebel and a traitor.
This diversity of opinion seems to have induced him to leave the Papal
Court, and for some years he resided in various towns of Italy. He was
in Parma, where he had just received a valuable benefice attached to
the Cathedral, when he heard of the death of his beloved Laura. The
blow was terrible, and he long refused to be comforted. But if he lost
his love, he gained a friend, for in the year of Jubilee, 1350, on his
way to Rome, he made the acquaintance of Boccaccio at Florence. This
was his first visit to the Tuscan city, and the Florentines offered
to restore his father's confiscated property, on condition that he
should lecture at their newly-founded University. But this he refused,
and nothing came of the offer. For many years he lived in Milan, the
favoured guest of the Visconti. There is a pretty story of Galleazzo
Visconti telling his little son in jest, at a brilliant entertainment
he was giving, to find out the wisest man present, and to bring him
forward. The child looked at the assembled company, and then went up to
Petrarch and led him to his father, to the admiration of all beholders.
"So clearly," says Schopenhauer, who quotes the anecdote, "does Nature
stamp the greatness of the mind on the countenance, that even a child
can perceive it."

Petrarch was sent by the Visconti to Prague, as envoy to the Emperor
Charles IV, and afterwards in the same capacity to King John of France.
He subsequently resided in Padua and Venice, and in 1370 he retired to
the village of Arqua, in the Euganean mountains, where he was destined
to pass the remainder of his days. He was found on the morning of the
18th of July, 1374, dead in his library, with his head resting on a

The host of imitators who, without a spark of Petrarch's genius,
mimicked his mannerisms for centuries, produced at last the inevitable
reaction, and of recent years many censors have insisted on his faults,
while ignoring his beauties. But Petrarch was assuredly one of the
greatest lyric poets that ever lived. The melody of his sonnets and the
splendour of his odes are unrivalled in the literature of his country,
nor did any Italian lyrist rise to an equal height until in the
Nineteenth Century Leopardi combined inspiration no less ardent with a
style more natural, simple and direct. Petrarch is one of those poets
who present nothing to their readers in a sharp and graphic style, but
everything involved in a rich haze of trope and metaphor. From this
tendency, it cannot be denied, he becomes occasionally artificial and
forced, but he is far more frequently soul-stirring and magnificent.
Unlike Dante, whose chief inspirers were hatred and indignation, he is
prompted by love and reverence: love for his country and for Laura, and
reverence for all that is noble and heroic. His sublime ode, _Spirto
gentil,_ addressed to Rienzi, rouses the spirit like a trumpet, even
after the lapse of so many centuries. How noble is the invocation to
the heroes of ancient Rome: "O grandi Scipioni! O fedel Bruto!" And
the conclusion is superb:

    "Sopra il monte Tarpeo, Canzon, vedrai,
    Un cavalier[1] ch' Italia tutta onora,
    Pensoso più d'altrui che di sè stesso.
    Digli: Un che non ti vide ancor da presso,
    Se non come per fama uom s'innamora,
    Dice che Roma ogni ora,
    Con gli occhi di dolor bagnati e molli
    Ti chier mercè da tutti sette i colli."

Magnificent is the Ode to Italy, _Italia Mia,_ and even superior, if
possible, is the poem addressed to Giacomo Colonna in favour of another
Crusade. Marvellous in their delicate beauty are the Odes addressed
to Laura, _In quella parte dov' Amor mi sprona,_ and, _Di pensier
in pensier, di monte in monte._ But to enumerate the poems in which
extraordinary beauties are to be found would be to enumerate nearly
the whole collection. The tenderness and fire, the melody and richness
of his style are equalled by no poet in any language unless it be by
Tennyson in his finest lyric effusions, especially in the _In Memoriam._

That Petrarch brought the Sonnet to the highest point of perfection is
universally allowed, and to those readers who wish to enter into the
details of the subject, I can recommend _The Sonnet, its origin and

Dante was altogether a man of the Middle Ages, dwelling upon the past,
and scarcely bestowing a thought upon the future; but Petrarch was in
many respects surprisingly modern, and both in his Latin Prose and in
his Italian Verse we can find many passages instinct with the fire of
hope and the belief in progress.

[Footnote 1: Rienzi.]



GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO was born in 1313 in Paris, the son of a Florentine
merchant and a French-woman. His father had property in the hamlet of
Certaldo, and the author always signed himself "Boccaccio da Certaldo."
He was destined, first for commerce, then for the study of the law,
but finding neither avocation congenial, he after his father's death,
devoted himself entirely to his favourite pursuits. He was honoured
with the favour of King Robert of Naples and with the love of the
King's daughter, Maria, whom he celebrates in his poems under the name
of Fiammetta. His zeal for the writers of antiquity was not inferior
to that of Petrarch. He sent for Leontius Pilatus to teach him Greek.
He devoted large sums to the purchase and reproduction of the works of
classical writers. He seems to have been an amiable and honourable
man, free alike from pride like that of Dante, and from vanity like
that of Petrarch. He repented in later years of the somewhat frivolous
character of many of his writings, took holy orders, and spent the
last days of his life at Certaldo. When Florence endowed a chair for
the explanation of the _Divine Comedy,_ Boccaccio was the first to
be appointed. He wrote a life of Dante and began a commentary on the
_Inferno,_ which, however, he did not live to finish, dying at Certaldo
on the 21st of December, 1375.

Boccaccio was a most fertile writer, both in Latin and in Italian. His
Latin works have but little merit and are vastly inferior to those of
Petrarch in strength and originality of thought. His Italian poems
are heavy and uninteresting, but he has the credit of inventing the
"Ottava Rima," the stanza in which Ariosto and Tasso subsequently
wrote their immortal epics. Praise-worthy as these works were for the
time in which they were written, he would not occupy a high position
in the literature of his country, had he not proved himself in other
productions to be the first great writer of Italian prose. His romantic
stories, _Il Filocopo, La Fiammetta, l'Admeto,_ are written in a
flowing and pleasing style; his _Life of Dante_ and _Commentary on the
Inferno_ are valuable for the information they impart, but the crowning
glory of his literary career is the collection of stories published
under the title of _Il Decamerone._

The terrible plague that swept over the earth in the middle of the
Thirteenth Century, known in history as the "Black Death,"[1] ravaged
Florence with peculiar malignity, and Boccaccio feigns that five
ladies and their cavaliers took refuge in a villa in the neighbourhood
and beguiled their leisure by telling stories to each other. Being a
collection of tales told by various characters, the _Decamerone_ bears
a certain resemblance to another memorable work of the Fourteenth
Century, Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales,_ but happier than his great
contemporary, Boccaccio lived to complete his design.

The work opens with a noble description of the Plague of Florence,
but this gloomy and terrible introduction gives no forecast of the
light, festive and occasionally indecorous character of many of the
tales. Others, however, are highly picturesque and even poetical,
and some have a special interest for English readers as being the
sources whence Shakespeare drew _All's Well that Ends Well,_ and
_Cymbeline,_--Dryden, _Theodore and Honoria_ and _Sigismonda and
Guiscardo,_ and Keats _Isabella, or the Pot of Basil._

Boccaccio had every quality of a great novelist. His style is varied,
flexible and animated, and his idiom is so purely Tuscan that it was
held up as a standard by the _Accademia della Crusca,_ and if any fault
can be found with it, it is that the copiousness of his vocabulary
sometimes leads him into florid and redundant amplifications. His
characters are drawn with considerable skill. His dialogue is
invariably natural and appropriate. His incidents, though sometimes
overstepping the limits of decorum, are ingenious and entertaining. The
work gives a brilliant panorama of the men and manners of Italy in the
Fourteenth Century.

No writer has derived more advantage from the admiration of other
writers than Boccaccio. Great poets are indebted to him for the plots
of some of their most successful works. Great painters have vied with
each other in illustrating the brilliant scenes of his _Decamerone._
Great philologians and grammarians have expressed their admiration for
the purity and elegance of his style. Brilliant as his services were
to the literature of his country, they have received a more than ample
measure of reward from the gratitude of posterity.

Italy produced in the Fourteenth Century many other prose writers of
note, though none so eminent as Boccaccio.

First and foremost we must mention the invaluable _Chronicle_ of
GIOVANNI VILLANI. This historian rose in the service of the Florentine
Republic until he became Prior. He was one of the many victims of the
Black Death, and his unfinished work was continued by his brother
MATTEO, and this continuation was completed by Matteo's son, FILIPPO.
All these are quoted as classics by the Accademia della Crusca.
According to competent judges, Giovanni was the most brilliant, Matteo
the most noteworthy for the important events he narrates, and Filippo
remarkable rather for industry and research than for ability as a

The _Travels_ of MARCO POLO, a Venetian, were an inestimable
contribution to the knowledge of remote countries. For centuries he lay
very unjustly under the suspicion of falsehood and exaggeration, and
it was only at a comparatively recent date that his veracity, nay, his
scrupulous exactness, received a tardy vindication.

JACOPO PASSAVANTI, a Dominican. Friar, wrote a devotional book,
entitled, _Lo Specchio della Penitenza,_ written in prose so musical
and flowing as to be preferred by some to the prose of Boccaccio,
because Passavanti never indulges in the over-elaboration sometimes to
be detected in the pages of the _Decamerone._

GIOVANNI DA CATIGNANO known in the Calendar as the Blessed John of the
Cells, after a dissolute youth was converted by the ardent exhortations
of the Abbot of Vallombrosa, and in deep contrition ended his days as a
hermit. Some letters from this interesting penitent are extant, written
in a style so exquisitely Tuscan that they are quoted by the Accademia
della Crusca as models of propriety and elegance.

Another canonized celebrity, SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, is no less
remarkable for the beauty of her style than for the beauty of her

A Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, entitled _Fioretti di San
Francesco,_ has been highly praised for the freshness and simplicity
of the language. The piety or the modesty of the author induced him to
conceal his identity.

These religious writers, though treating of subjects so different,
almost equalled Boccaccio in perfection of style, but the two authors
who produced collections of stories somewhat similar to his, FRANCO
SACCHETTI and SER GIOVANNI FIORENTINO, were very far indeed from
approaching his mastery.

On reviewing the literary development of Italy in the Fourteenth
Century, we find that the language attained the fullest perfection
both in prose and verse, only the lighter kinds of poetry remaining
uncultivated. The appearance in one century of two such great poets as
Dante and Petrarch was quite phenomenal and threw a lustre over the age
which has attracted the whole world. But another fact, less universally
known, is equally worthy of attention, namely the extraordinary merit
of the prose writers of the period. It may well be doubted whether
any compositions in Italian prose of a later date exhibit the rare
qualities of those of the Fourteenth Century. Leopardi, indeed,
produced marvels of style, but they were the result of art and study,
whereas the writers of the Fourteenth Century display an ease and a
simplicity, a freshness and a graphic power, combined with the most
exquisite lightness and harmony in their phrases, that must ever
render them more admirable models than the artificial and laborious
productions of later ages.

[Footnote 1: For details on the subject of this most terrible
pestilence, probably the worst that ever afflicted humanity, we may
refer the reader to Father Gasquet's valuable and interesting work on
the subject.]



In striking contrast to the Fourteenth Century, the Fifteenth is
conspicuous for a great dearth of eminent authors. The same may be
noticed in the literary development of England. After the brilliant
apparition of Chaucer, more than a hundred years elapsed before an
eminent writer arose. This may be partly accounted for by the Civil
Wars which devastated the island and brought misery and anarchy in
their train. Widely different was the plight of Italy. There were wars
and disturbances, it is true, but the wealth of the country became more
enormous than ever, and great princes extended munificent patronage to
science and learning. But all intellectual energies were directed, not
to the cultivation of the Italian language, but to the study of the
writers of antiquity. Greek and Latin were alone held in estimation,
the vulgar tongue was contemptuously neglected.

The only eminent prose writer was FEO BELCARI, a Florentine
magistrate, who wrote the Lives of the Blessed Giovanni Colombini and
other Friars, and who reproduced the beauty and elegance of the best
authors of the Fourteenth Century. He died at an advanced age in 1484.

LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI was a universal genius. He distinguished himself
as painter, sculptor and architect, but his Italian writings would
hardly be of sufficient importance to mention, had not the dearth of
names in this barren century made historians of literature thankful for
any means of filling up the blank.

LEONARDO DA VINCI wrote a _Treatise on Painting,_ and he impressed upon
all artists the necessity of being original, and of not copying their
predecessors. It would have been well if the writers of the age had
laid this injunction to heart as well as the painters, for as years
advanced, the servile imitation of conventional forms became more and
more the bane of Italian literature.

PULCI is celebrated for his mock-heroic poem, the _Morgante Maggiore._
The giant Morgante is the hero, but we also make the acquaintance of
Orlando, Rinaldo, Charlemagne, and many other characters that appear in
the more famous poems of Bojardo and Ariosto. It was unfortunate for
Pulci that he had such great successors. He had abundance of wit and
originality, but he had neither the poetical imagination of Bojardo
nor the magic style of Ariosto, so that it is no cause for astonishment
that he fell into neglect.

MATTEO BOJARDO, Count of Scandiano, was born in 1430 and died in 1494.
He was favoured by nature and fortune; a soldier and a statesman, he
had every opportunity of enriching his mind with varied experiences,
nor can we say that those opportunities were neglected. His _Orlando
Innamorato,_ which he did not live to finish, long as it is, displays
great wealth of imagination and considerable creative power; but
unfortunately, his style is heavy and rough, and was completely
eclipsed by the extraordinary merits of Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso,_
which professes to be only a continuation of the earlier poem. Fifty
years later, Berni entirely re-wrote Bojardo's work and certainly
succeeded in giving it greater elegance, but he did not make it more
interesting to modern readers. In truth, the knights of the epic cycle
beginning with the _Morgante Maggiore_ and ending in the Eighteenth
Century with the _Ricciardetto,_ appear terribly uninteresting in the
present day, and it requires the picturesque and melodious style of a
really great poet like Ariosto to entice the reader through the account
of their numerous adventures.

The celebrated scholar, ANGELO POLIZIANO, shows a poetical mind in his
poems, and his _Orfeo_ may claim the credit of being the first dramatic
work of any literary value in the Italian language. It has many lyric
beauties and the choruses are spirited.[1]

His poem in Ottava Rima on a tournament given by Giniano de Medici,
was interrupted by the tragic death of his patron in the conspiracy
organised by the Pazzi family, nor was the loss of the remainder of the
poem the least deplorable consequence of that great crime. Politian
died in the prime of life in 1494. It is reasonable to suppose that if
his years had been prolonged, he might have enriched the literature of
his country with works of even greater beauty.

A poet of true tenderness and fire, but more remarkable for the
extraordinary perfection of his Latin poems than for any other
productions of his muse, was JACOPO SANNAZZARO, a Neapolitan. He
survived until the year 1530, but his Italian poems are the productions
of his youth. His _Arcadia,_ a pastoral romance in prose with poems
interspersed, acquired a great celebrity and undoubtedly served as
model to Sir Philip Sydney's work of the same name. It is tender and
graceful, but the extreme unreality of the Nymphs and Shepherds makes
it rather cloying to a modern taste. His Italian poems have not nearly
so much melody and fire as those he wrote in Latin, which are, indeed,
so perfect that they cannot be distinguished, as far as rhythm is
concerned, from those of Virgil himself.

These names practically exhaust the band of Italian writers of the
Fifteenth Century, truly a meagre list, and in striking contrast to the
countless painters who were an ornament to their country during the
same period.

[Footnote 1: The Chorus from the _Orfeo_--

    "Noi seguiamo, Bacco, te;
    Bacco, Bacco, evoè, evoè!"

is quoted by George Eliot in _Romola._]



The Sixteenth Century had not seen many years before the world was
presented with one of the most celebrated works in the Italian
Language, a poem destined to acquire a reputation hardly inferior to
that of Dante's great work, the _Orlando Furioso_ of ARIOSTO.

LUDOVICO ARIOSTO was born at Reggio in Lombardy on the eighth of
September, 1474. His father was attached to the Court of Ferrara, and
he himself entered the services of Cardinal Ippolito d'Esté, brother
to the Duke, but in what capacity is not accurately known. To the
Cardinal he dedicated his great work, but received no thanks for the
homage. He fell into complete disgrace by refusing to accompany his
patron to Hungary. He then tried his luck with the reigning Duke, who
was more generous than his kinsman, and who appointed the poet Governor
of Garfagnana, a remote province of the Duchy, infested by brigands.
He retained this post for three years, and brought the province into
such excellent order that he acquired the love and esteem of the whole

When he returned to Ferrara, he enjoyed the highest consideration and
favour of the Duke, who took great pleasure in the representation of
his comedies. He was clandestinely married to a Florentine lady, by
whom, however, he had no children. It is supposed that secrecy was
kept in order to preserve some ecclesiastical revenues assigned to his
share by the Cardinal. From previous connections he had two sons, on
whom the Duke conferred patents of legitimacy. His descendants acquired
considerable opulence, and became one of the first families of Ferrara.
His son Orazio made himself remarkable by declaring, when the question
of Torquato Tasso's superior genius roused the attention of Italy,
that both poets had their particular beauties, for which opinion he
was fiercely attacked by the zealots in his father's cause. In the
Eighteenth Century, a Marquis Ariosto was intimate with Voltaire at
Brussels. The last descendant of the poet, the Countess Ariosto, died
at Ferrara in 1878, at the age of ninety years.

Ariosto gives us in his Satires with rare candour a picture of his
mind and of the vicissitudes of his life. He was of a buoyant and
open disposition, fond of pleasure and susceptible to the attractions
of love, but faithful and sincere to his friends, and very generous
to his numerous brothers and sisters. Titian was among his friends,
and the great painter has preserved for us the features of the great
poet. Curious anecdotes are told of his absence of mind when plunged
in thought. Once he went through the streets of Ferrara in his
dressing-gown, and was not aware of his apparel until an acquaintance
accosted him and told him of the fact. He built himself a little house,
and placed a Latin inscription over the entrance, and when someone
remarked that it was very small for one who had described such splendid
edifices in his verses, he made answer that fabrics of the imagination
are erected with little, and those of stone and mortar, with great,
cost. His death, the result of indigestion, owing to the rapidity with
which he took his meals in order to return to his studies, took place
in 1533.

Fully to appreciate the genius of Ariosto we must understand the spirit
of his age, for in him were developed, more fully than in any other
writer of the period, the qualities, moral and intellectual, that gave
their stamp to the memorable epoch of the Renaissance. The taste, the
love of beauty, the classical simplicity, the vivid imagination, the
ethereal lightness of touch characterising the productions of the great
contemporary painters, are united in as high perfection in the verse of
Ariosto as on their canvas and frescoes. He had, with the merits of his
age, also its shortcomings: the want of moral elevation, the frivolity,
and the absence of religious enthusiasm.

He was, therefore, unfitted to be an heroic poet in the stiff old
conventional style, and it was not until he had tried and abandoned
many subjects chat he discovered himself to be something infinitely
more striking and original. At last he discovered in the subject that
inspired Pulci and Bojardo, an inexhaustible mine of poetry, and he
took up the thread of narrative where Bojardo's unfinished poem had
left it, and produced one of the greatest masterpieces in the whole
range of literature.

He is matchless in the ease and clearness of his style, which never
flags for one moment in the forty-six cantos of the work. He is said
to have written with the greatest care, and to have corrected much and
erased not a little. The stanza in the first canto:

    "La verginella è simile alla rosa,"

he wrote nine times before he was satisfied. Galileo confessed that he
owed the lucidity of his style to the assiduous study of Ariosto, but
accused him of introducing verses for the sake of the rhyme; but we may
pardon an occasional blemish in a work of such immense length.

He tells us himself that he saturated his mind with the spirit of the
Latin poets, especially with Catullus, and in his works we find the
urbanity of the Augustan age united to a strength and vivacity of
imagination unknown to the Romans. With great judgement he improved
on the hints they gave him, and the graceful manner in which he
occasionally introduces mythological allusions seems to have been
Milton's model when he did the same. Although he rates Virgil's
flattery of Augustus at its proper value when he says:

    "Non era cosi saggio e grande Augusto
    Come la tromba di Virgilio suona,
    E per avere in poesia buon gusto
    Le proscrizioni inique gli perdona,"

he cannot himself be acquitted of the charge of gross flattery to
the House of Este, without having even the excuse of Virgil, for
it is well known with how little applause his patrons received his
masterpiece. Some critics have asserted that he chose his subject
merely because he could introduce the character of Ruggiero, ancestor
to his patrons, but, fortunately for the glory of one of the greatest
of human minds, there is no reason to believe this libel. The subject
recommended itself by its own merits to the poet, as any candid reader,
after perusing the work, will confess. It is impossible to enter the
maze of incidents in the _Orlando Furioso_ without being bewildered,
astonished, dazzled, and lost in all the wonders conjured up by the
poet's fancy. His genius was essentially narrative (as is proved by his
comedies being so vastly inferior to his Epic), and his subject allowed
him to heap story on story, and to develop adventure out of adventure.

No finer compliment was ever paid by one poet to another, than by Byron
to Scott, when he called him the Northern Ariosto, and the Italian poet
the Southern Scott,

    "Who, like the Ariosto of the North, worth."
    Sang ladye-love and war, romance and knightly

It was not a mere compliment, but a very just parallel, and it would
be difficult to decide which of the two poets was the greater. Scott
had certainly more power of delineating character; but Ariosto had, if
not the richer, the more vivid imagination. If we take only Scott's
poetical works into consideration, Ariosto would have the advantage;
but if the prose romances of Scott are thrown into the balance, they
incline the scales in his favour. Both poets were, as Byron called
them, bards of chivalry, but Scott's chivalry was that of the soul,
and Ariosto's too often only that of the sword. Perhaps we may come to
a satisfactory conclusion by saying that Ariosto was the greater, and
Scott the nobler, poet.

Ariosto's rapidity of style is such that I know of no poem more concise
than this Epic, containing over forty thousand lines. One of his tricks
to arrest the attention, or to tantalize the curiosity of the reader,
is to break off a story in the middle, passing on to other incidents,
and concluding the interrupted episode in a later canto. The graceful
badinage with which he amuses us when the interest threatens to flag,
is most judiciously introduced, for such a subject treated with solemn
glumness and heavy pomp would become irksome in the extreme.

Every canto has an introduction, as ingenious in thought as it is
beautiful in expression. The most interesting Introduction is probably
that of the last canto, where he represents his contemporaries
congratulating him on the completion of so arduous a work; but others
deserve scarcely less praise; for instance, that on jealousy, and that
in which he enumerates the great painters of the age, amongst others,
Michael Angelo:

    "Quel che a par sculpe e colora,
    Michel, più che mortal, Angel divino."

The rapidity of his transitions is truly amazing. He whirls the
reader in two lines from one end of the world to the other. When we
are harassed and wearied by the breathless speed of his Pegasus, he
pauses, lavishing all the riches of his mind on a description or an
incident. Here he reveals himself the wonderful poet he is. The maiden
chained to a rock and about to be devoured by the sea-monster; Zerbino
and Isabella, Ginevra and Ariodante; above all, Alcina and her magic
garden; and, not inferior to any passage in the greatest poets, the
frenzy of Orlando: these are only a few of the wonderful passages that
place his Epic among the noblest productions of the human mind.

His style is, perhaps, if not the most lofty, yet the most perfect
of any Italian poet; it is so sweetly varied, so gracefully and
judiciously adorned with metaphors and tropes, so picturesque in
description, so vivid in narrative, so exquisitely graduated to impart
the suitable colouring to the poet's thoughts. Perhaps the only
quality it lacks, is the expression of deep emotion, which his joyous
and animated verse seldom attains. Nor can it be said that he ever
displays great depth of thought, so that we seek in vain in his works
for those marvellous flashes that irradiate the mystery of things. With
this want is connected the absence of striking individuality in many
of his characters; they are Knights and Saracens such as tradition
supplied. When he chooses, however, he can individualize his figures,
like Angelica, or Orlando and Alcina, with great success, and many
observations interspersed throughout the work, show keen insight into
human nature. Voltaire, an ardent admirer of this poet, said he had
more knowledge of the human heart than is to be found in all epics and
novels from Homer's _Iliad_ down to Richardson's _Pamela._ He regretted
Madame du Deffand had not learnt Italian in order to read so admirable
a poet. He says in one of his last poems:

    "Je relis l'Arioste ou même la Pucelle."

The _Pucelle,_ indeed, was written in emulation of the _Orlando
Furioso_ which it resembles no more than a statue of Silenus resembles
the Jupiter of Otricoli.

No one represented more truthfully the effect produced by Ariosto on
the mind than Leopardi in the following lines:

    "Nascevi ai dolci sogni intanto, e il primo
    Sole splendeati in vista,
    Cantor vago dell' arme e degl' amori,
    Che in età della nostra assai men trista
    Empièr la vita di felici errori,
    Nova speme d'Italia. O torri, O celle,
    O donne, O cavalieri,
    O giardini, O palagi! a voi pensando,
    In mille vane amenità si perde
    La mente mia."

Ariosto began his great poem in 1505, at the age of thirty-one, and
finished it in 1516; but the year before his death he published an
edition with countless alterations and improvements, and with six
additional cantos, and it is in the latter form that it has descended
to posterity. At his death he left five cantos of an unfinished epic,
entitled _Rinaldo Ardito,_ in which many characters of the _Orlando_
reappear; but the fragment is in a very imperfect state and by no means
approaches the beauty of the completed work.



The age of Ariosto is remarkable for the first appearance of blank
verse in the Italian language. The _Italia Liberata_ of TRISSINO, on
the subject of the victories of Belisarius over the Goths, is the
first work in that metre. Trissino thought himself a second Homer, and
his epic is full of injudicious imitations of the _Iliad._ The scene
between Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida is transferred to Justinian
and Theodora, in the Palace of Constantinople, with very voluptuous
amplifications More than with this ponderous epic, Trissino did his
country service by writing the first Italian tragedy, _Sofonisba,_ a
work containing passages almost worthy of Euripides. With a style less
languid and prosaic, Trissino might have achieved considerable success
in the drama.

The poet who came nearest to Ariosto in elegance of style, though
far indeed from possessing equal fire and genius, was FRANCESCO
BERNI, mentioned in a previous chapter, as having recast the _Orlando
Innamorato_ of Bojardo. He cannot have had a very original mind, or he
would not have submitted to the drudgery of re-writing, line for line,
the work of another man, when he might have been employed on poems of
his own; but he had plenty of vivacity and raciness, as his Satires and
Sonnets attest. So popular did they become, that light and comic poetry
came to be called after him, _Poesia Bernesca._ His end was more tragic
than his works. Unfortunately for himself, he lived in Florence in the
intimacy of the Medici family. A bitter feud arose between the Duke
Alexander and Cardinal Ippolito. The Duke endeavoured to bribe Berni to
poison the Cardinal, and on his refusing to be a party to so terrible
a crime, Alexander had him poisoned in his turn, lest he should reveal
the secret of his guilt.

LUIGI ALAMANNI was an indefatigable writer of poetry. He wrote two
enormous epics, _Giron il Cortese_ and the _Avarchide;_ but it would
require the musical diction of Ariosto to make such productions live;
and, unfortunately, Alamanni, though a scholarly and painstaking
writer, had nothing like Ariosto's powers of versification. The work
by which he is most honourably remembered is a didactic poem, _La
Coltivazione,_ on the same subject as the _Georgics._

GIOVANNI RUCELLAI, a nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was also
indebted to the Georgics for his poem, _Le Api_ (on Bees), in blank
verse, of which there is an excellent defence in the introductory
lines, quite the most original and pleasing passage in the poem.

Monsignor GIOVANNI DELLA CASA acquired an immense reputation in his
own age for his works in prose and verse, in Latin and Italian;
but as his merit consists exclusively in the finished style--his
thoughts not rising above conventionality--he has been neglected for
writers combining equal, if not greater, beauty of language with more
originality of thought.

ANNIBAL CARO rendered signal service to his country by giving it a
spirited translation of the _Æneid,_ and his works in prose and verse
are all characterised by vigour of style. He rose from a humble origin
to considerable wealth and prominence, and he became notorious by
reason of a bitter feud with a contemporary critic of the name of
CASTELVETRO. He had written a poem in praise of the House of Valois,
"Venite all'ombra de' gran gigli d'oro," and Castelvetro wrote a
sharp and acrimonious criticism upon it, to which he retorted in his
_Apologia_ with almost insane rancour. Castelvetro was not tardy in
replying, and Caro is suspected of having used all his influence to
ruin the career of his adversary. But it is painful to dwell upon these
ebullitions of spite, unfortunately too frequent in the annals of

CARDINAL BEMBO was a writer fastidiously elegant. He is reported to
have possessed forty portfolios, in the first of which he put the first
draft of his works; in the second, the second; and so on until the
fortieth revision reached the fortieth receptacle, after which alone
would he suffer the work to see the light. His productions are such as
might be expected from a man so minutely laborious. He is more intent
upon words than upon realities. His poetry is modelled on Petrarch, his
prose on Boccaccio. He wrote a _History of Venice_ in twelve books,
originally in Latin, translating it himself into Italian. A dialogue,
entitled _Gli Asolani,_ is interesting to English readers from its
similarity of title to Browning's _Asolando._ The name is taken from
Asolo, a spot on the mainland not far from Venice, whither he loved
to retire, as Browning did three hundred years later. His letters are
esteemed his best production, being less over-elaborated in style than
his other works. His Latin works are entirely modelled on those of

FRANCESCO GRAZZINI, surnamed IL LASCA, was a sort of inferior Berni
in his poems, but he is remarkable as one of the founders of the
Florentine Accademia della Crusca.

BERNARDINO ROTA, a Neapolitan, produced some really pathetic poems on
the death of his wife.

The Sixteenth Century was remarkable for three poetesses of
GAMBARA. VITTORIA COLONNA was the widow of the Marquis of Pescara, and
dedicates many of her verses to his memory. GASPARA STAMPA, a native of
Padua, was deeply in love with Collatino Collalto, and gave utterance
to her passion in numerous Sonnets, some of which rise to considerable
beauty and dignity. VERONICA GAMBARA, of Brescia, produced some noble
verses, especially the fine Sonnet in which she implores, in the name
of Christ, Charles V and Francis I, to put an end to their hostilities.

Although he lived until nearly the end of the century, we may for
convenience mention ANGELO DI COSTANZO in this chapter. He was born in
Naples, in 1507, of a wealthy and noble family, but in spite of his
wealth he had many sorrows. Don Pedro de Toledo, Viceroy of Naples,
banished him from the city of his birth. His first wife died in youth;
his second wife caused him much unhappiness by her misconduct; and to
complete his misfortunes, he lived to deplore the loss of his two
sons. He appealed in vain to be allowed to return to his home. His
petitions were rejected, and he died in grief and exile in 1591. Some
of his poems are eminently beautiful; his Sonnet on Virgil, "Quella
cetra gentil," is justly celebrated. In prose he wrote a history of
Naples, frequently reprinted.

On reviewing the poetry of this period, with the brilliant exception
of Ariosto, the result is, perhaps, a feeling of disappointment.
Certainly, the achievements are not commensurate with the undoubted
culture and intellect of the writers. There is nothing (always
excepting Ariosto) that has taken hold of the world's attention. How
different in this respect are the poets from the painters of the same
period! How obscure by the side of Michael Angelo, Raphael, Correggio,
Titian, Giorgione, Sebastian del Piombo, Tintoretto, and the whole
galaxy sparkling for ever in the heaven of Art! Some powerful minds,
such as Vida and Fracastoro, were diverted into the path of Latin
poetry; but I think the chief explanation of the inferiority of the
poets is their lack of really fine subjects; for how can a poet write
nobly if he has no adequate theme for his verse? Their amorous poetry
ran too much in the Petrarchan groove; their heroic poetry was too apt
to assume the form of ponderous epics, utterly unreadable without the
graces of Ariosto. Religious enthusiasm seems to have been remote from
their minds. Another generation had to arise before that fire was again
kindled on the shrine of Poetry.



NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI, the profoundest thinker and the keenest politician
of his century, was born in Florence on the third of May, 1469. In 1498
he was made Secretary of State of the Florentine Republic. But this
dignity was the cause of his subsequent adversity. When the Medici
family was restored to power in Florence, he was imprisoned, fined, and
even put to the torture. He profited by an amnesty issued by Leo X on
his accession, but he was relegated to poverty and obscurity. Impatient
of both, he curried favour with the reigning dynasty, but such was the
ill-luck that steadily pursued him through life, that no sooner had he
acquired a certain degree of favour than the Medici were again expelled
from Florence, and he, as one of their adherents, was regarded by the
triumphant party with suspicion and hostility. He did not long survive
the wreck of all his hopes, dying on the twenty-second of June, 1527.

In his generation, Italy had fallen on evil days. The invasion
of Charles VIII of France opened the flood-gates of a deluge of
disasters; and the devastations of the King were succeeded by the
crushing despotism of the Emperor. The immense wealth, accumulated
during centuries of prosperity, was rapidly melting away. The
Republic of Venice lost much of her trade owing to the rivalry of
Holland and Portugal, and the stream of commerce was directed from
the Adriatic by the discovery of the new passage to India round the
Cape of Good Hope. The reckless extravagance of Leo X exhausted the
Papal Treasury; a great religious schism cut off abundant supplies
from distant countries; and the terrible sack of Rome, with the
ruinous ransom demanded from Clement VII, completed, in the year of
Machiavelli's death, a long series of disasters. Freedom was crushed
by native tyrants and foreign oppressors. The present was ghastly with
innumerable wounds, the future looked blacker than the grave. What
wonder was it, therefore, that men sought refuge from such horrors
in every finesse that diplomacy could suggest? This is the true
explanation and the one excuse of Machiavelli's tortuous policy. He is
utterly unscrupulous, but it is the unscrupulousness of a patriot at
bay who has exhausted all other means of self-defence.

Still, it cannot be denied that Machiavelli is anything but a
sympathetic figure. We admire the keenness of his intellect as we
admire the keenness of a sharp-edged sword; but where is the love of
humanity, the enthusiasm for great ideals, the indignation of a noble
mind at the iniquities of an evil age? Wonderful is the penetration
of his remarks; unrivalled his insight; above praise the clearness
and precision of his thoughts. No historian has ever surpassed him in
unrolling a panorama of past events. No politician has ever laid down
more sagacious rules for attaining an object in view. No statesman has
ever discerned with a keener eye the symptoms of the times.

But if we ask what profit has been derived from the exertions of this
most acute and logical of minds, what is the answer? His name has
become a byeword as the symbol of a heartless intriguer, and his works
glare like a meteor of evil in the dark and troubled sky of his century.

Great praise is due to his _History of Florence._ In the first book,
with a concise lucidity which later historians have emulated without
surpassing, he surveys the events of ten centuries, and that noble
introduction is followed by a work which displays to the fullest
advantage the great powers of its author.

The _Discourses on the First Decade of Livy_ and _The Art of War_ both
treat of the same subject; the necessity of a freedom-loving nation to
attain and preserve a high standard of military efficiency. The system
of hiring venal condottieri had profoundly demoralised the forces of
Italy, indeed, it had paved the way for the invasion of France and the
dominion of Spain, and its effects were felt even to the middle of the
present century, for no other explanation suffices to account for the
submission of a nation with such a history as Italy to the oppression
of foreign garrisons. So clear-sighted a patriot as Machiavelli could
not fail to see the evil and to point out the remedy. His despatches
and correspondence are also invaluable for the history of his times.

But the work pre-eminently associated with his name is the treatise,
entitled _Il Principe,_ a manual for a ruler who desires to keep an
unsteady throne and to outwit unscrupulous enemies. He advocates, it is
true, a policy regardless of all mercy and morality in the pursuit of
its object; but injustice to Machiavelli, we must bear in mind what his
object was. He had seen his country desolated for years by cruel and
rapacious invaders, and he thought, most justly, that the only chance
of Italy against her enemies was the establishment of the dominion of
one powerful and politic prince over the whole Peninsula, and it was
to establish a standard of conduct for such a prince that he wrote his

His story, _Belphegor,_ and his plays, among which the _Mandragora_
stands pre-eminent, are witty and lively, but they frequently overstep
the limits of decorum. All his works are interspersed with innumerable
proofs of the keenness of his observation, and the style is clear and
forcible, but somewhat wanting in colour. He wrote a few poems, but
they are of no great value or interest.

Machiavelli is as undoubtedly the first prose writer of the age as
Ariosto is the first poet, Second to him as an historian, though at a
wide interval, we may place his friend and fellow-townsman, FRANCESCO
GUICCIARDINI, born in 1480, died in 1540. He studied law to such good
purpose at Florence, Ferrara and Padua, that at the early age of
twenty-two he was chosen to lecture on the Institutes of Justinian,
and at the age of thirty-one he was sent as Ambassador to Ferdinand of
Aragon, which post he occupied for two years. With the help of that
King, Julius the Second forced the Florentines to submit again to the
rule of the Medici family. Guicciardini was suspected by the friends
of liberty of having a hand in the negotiations between the Pope and
the King, and of being a tool of that ambitious dynasty. Such, in
truth, he proved himself; and harshness, rancour, and vindictiveness
characterised his conduct towards his political opponents. When Leo
X visited Florence in 1515, Guicciardini was sent by the Republic
to receive him at Cortona. No circumstance could have proved more
favourable to the historian's career. Leo X looked upon him with
the utmost favour, and nominated him to high and important offices,
which his successor, Adrian VI, continued, and to which Clement VII
subsequently added others. When the "Holy League," headed by the Duke
of Urbino, was formed against the Emperor Charles V, Guicciardini was
one of its leading spirits. But the Imperial arms prevailed; Clement
VII had to take refuge in the Castle of St. Angelo, and had the agony
of seeing Rome stormed and plundered under his very eyes. Atrocious
were the cruelties committed. St. Peter's itself was stained with
the blood of the slaughtered. Huge contributions were levied on the
citizens, and an enormous ransom exacted from the Pope. Seeing Clement,
himself a Medici, deprived of liberty and even in danger of his life,
the Florentines took to arms and expelled the obnoxious dynasty. But
the unexpected happened. The injured Pope and the tyrannical Emperor
became reconciled; and probably to atone for the atrocities committed
by his forces, Charles V lent effective aid to Alexander de Medici in
his endeavour to regain his lost dominion over Florence. Guicciardini
became the instrument of Alexander, a cruel and relentless tyrant, who
was subsequently assassinated by his kinsman Lorenzino. Guicciardini
was an active agent in the election of Cosimo I, and when he was
reproached for imposing another tyrant on his country, he answered that
the more princes were assassinated, the more would arise. But Cosimo
was ungrateful when Guicciardini demanded the reward of his services;
bitter disappointment was in store for him; he withdrew from public
affairs, and lived in retirement at Arcetri, where he died.

It was in the leisure hours of this retirement that he wrote the
history on which his literary reputation is founded. It embraces the
period from the invasion of Charles VIII to the year 1532. It is a
valuable and important work; but, as may be gathered from the details
of his life, the author shows no elevation or purity of mind. His view
of human nature is low; his estimate of his fellow-creatures harsh and
cynical. But if the colours are unpleasing, the picture is valuable,
and it would have been a great loss had it not been preserved for

Guicciardini is often heavy and prolix, and many ludicrous stories
have been told of the sufferings of those readers who conscientiously
plodded through the entire work. Thus it is related of the jocular
Governor of a Province, that he promised a free pardon to a convict if
he would read Guicciardini's History from the first page to the last.
The prisoner gladly embraced this opportunity of regaining his liberty.
He little knew the task that was imposed upon him. As he turned over
page after page of the ponderous tomes, a deadly weariness overpowered
him, until at last the endless details of the Siege of Pisa exhausted
his patience. "Take me back to the galleys," he exclaimed. "Rather that
than the misery of toiling through this awful book."

AGNOLO FIRENZUOLA was a good prose writer, out a very inferior poet;
indeed, so great is the contrast between the two classes of his works,
that it is difficult to believe that they can emanate from the same
pen. The most striking of his works is a _Dialogue on the Beauty of

PIER FRANCESCO GIAMBULLARI wrote a _History of Europe_ from the
accession of Charlemagne to the year 913. The history is unfinished,
the author dying in 1555. He was one of the founders of the Florentine
Accademia della Crusca. He has been highly praised for the dignity and
finish of his style. Vasari and CELLINI are names renowned in the
annals of Art, the former for his invaluable biographies of painters,
and the latter as a sculptor and a worker in gold and bronze. His
biography is a striking memorial of the man and the age.

BENEDETTO VARCHI had many qualities of an able historian, but as he was
in the pay of the Grand Duke Cosimo I, his independence may be more
than suspected.

In contrast to him, JACOPO NARDI was a bitter opponent of the Medici
family, and in his _History of Florence_ from 1494 to 1531 he paints
them in the blackest colours. So determined an adversary of the ruling
dynasty could not be suffered to remain in Florence. He was driven into
banishment, and took refuge in Venice, where he died after the middle
of the Century. As a biographer he distinguished himself by his life of
Antonio Giacomini.

The Sixteenth Century was fertile in historians, for we have to
chronicle the name of another in BERNARDO SEGNI. He wrote the _History
of Italy_ from 1527 to 1555, or three years before his death. Dealing
with contemporary events, he could not treat his subject with the
requisite independence, and living a quiet and studious life, it is
difficult to see how he could gather reliable information, or have
access to important documents.

VINCENZO BORGHINI was a laborious antiquarian, who wrote a book on the
_Origin of the City of Florence._

GIAMBATTISTA ADRIANI professed to continue Guicciardini's work in his
_History of his Own Times,_ but it is complete in itself, and has many
merits, both of style and subject. Adriani was celebrated in his day as
a public speaker, and his _Latin Orations_ were so much admired that
they were translated into Italian as soon as they were held. He died in

CAMILLO PORZIO who survived until 1603, wrote several historical
monographs concerning the Kingdom of Naples.

Skilful as they were in all the arts of composition, the writers of
the Sixteenth Century too frequently indulged in redundant prolixity.
Conscious of this defect, BERNARDO DAVANZATI determined to cultivate
the opposite quality of laconic conciseness. He was brilliantly
successful. He translated Tacitus, that great model of brevity, and
boasted that his rendering contained fewer words than the original
without sacrificing a particle of the sense. He wrote a book on the
Reformation in England, a Funeral Oration on Cosimo I, and several
treatises on finance and agriculture.

In reviewing the writers of this Epoch, we are struck with the
number and merit of the historians. The other Prose Writers appeal
but faintly to modern readers. With the exception of BALDASSARE
CASTIGLIONE, who, in his _Cortegiano_ gives us a pleasing picture
of the more refined circles of Italian society, and of Vasari and
Benvenuto Cellini, they do not disclose much of the manners and customs
of their age. No Boccaccio arose to portray for future times the men
and women of his day.

The stories of BANDELLO and of LUIGI DA PORTO have but little to
recommend them except the fact that they supplied Shakespeare with some
of his plots. Bandello, however, is by no means destitute of vivacity.
STRAPAROLA, the author of _Tredici Piacevoli Notti,_ and FIORENTINI,
the author of _Il Pecorone,_ also had the honour of furnishing hints to
the great dramatist. Too often it happens that the extreme prolixity of
the writers of the Sixteenth Century drowns their thoughts in an ocean
of words. It is strange that the great convulsion of the Reformation
did not produce any theological work written in the Italian language.
The controversies were all carried on in Latin, but even in Latin
nothing was produced in the Peninsula that is now remembered. Indeed,
the great Catholic reaction had the effect of making writers fearful
of giving offence. It restricted them more and more within academic
grooves, thus unhappily fostering that tendency to conventionality and
unreality which immersed Italian literature deeper and deeper into a
morass of mediocrity.



It is but seldom that poets are as romantic as their poems, or as
interesting as the offspring of their imagination. When, therefore,
a poet arises gifted with an interesting personality, the attention
he excites becomes universal. Such was the fate of TORQUATO TASSO. It
would not be altogether unjust to say that had he not suffered so many
misfortunes, his name would not be a household word, for the merit of
his poems hardly sustains the dignity of his renown.

His father, BERNARDO, a native of Bergamo, was born in 1493, and died
in 1569. He was a writer in prose and verse, his chief work being the
_Amadigi,_ an epic of immense length, well and carefully written, but
without any spark of genius. He was attached to the Court of Ferrante
Sanseverino, Prince of Salerno, and when his master was driven out
of his dominions by the Emperor Charles V, he followed his fortunes,
leaving his wife, Properzia de' Rossi, and three children, the youngest
of whom was Torquato, born in 1544, to the care of her relatives.
His devotion to the fallen fortunes of the Prince of Salerno was the
cause of many of the sorrows of his illustrious son. His patrimony
was sequestrated, and when he died, he had nothing to leave to his
children. Nor was this the greatest of his trials. He never saw his
wife again, and when he wished to have her with him in Rome, she was
in a dying condition. All she could do, was to send him the little
Torquato, whose training was henceforth confided to the father's care.

The youth displayed as much love and more aptitude for poetical
composition. When he was eighteen, he published his epic, _Rinaldo,_ a
wonderfully mature work for so young a writer. Torquato Tasso was one
of those poets who produce their finest works in the earlier portion
of their career. The works by which alone he is remembered, were all
produced before his thirty-second year. His mind attained full mastery
over its powers at a very early period, and when, like the voice of
a singer, it lost its freshness, it also lost its charm. Corneille
and Tennyson resemble him in this peculiarity of producing their
masterpieces in comparative youth, but in their case, the division
between the two periods is not quite so marked as in his. Corneille
produced no really great drama after _La Mort de Pompée,_ but some
of his later tragedies have occasional flashes of his early fire.
Tennyson gave no memorable creation to the world after _Maud,_ but his
_Idylls of the King_ offer some poetical details, and a few lyrics are
not devoid of that perfection which characterised his previous poems.
But Tasso produced absolutely nothing that could, by any stretch of
indulgence, be said to add to his renown after the publication of
the _Gerusalemme Liberata._ On the contrary, he rather injured his
reputation by yielding to the cavils of his detractors, and re-writing
his great work under the title of _Gerusalemme Conquistata,_ and
producing an epic so feeble and lifeless that it immediately sank into
utter neglect.

Precocious as he was in the manifestation of brilliant genius, his
father was anxious that such powers should be cultivated to the utmost,
and Torquato was sent to study law at Padua. But the law was little
to his taste. His _Rinaldo_ procured him immense renown, and he found
it more agreeable to bask in the sunshine of the brilliant society
that courted him in the dawn of his celebrity, than to spend laborious
hours in the pursuit of a dry and distasteful science. No poet at so
early an age ever had so brilliant a prospect of renown and fortune
before him. But the very extent of the admiration he excited laid the
foundations of the terrible disasters that were to overtake him ere
many years had elapsed.

Cardinal Luigi of Este, attracted by his brilliant reputation, offered
him a post in his household and an introduction to the Court of
Ferrara. The dazzling offer was accepted by the poet; but the kindness
of the Cardinal had results more fatal than could have attended the
machinations of his bitterest enemies.

At first all went well. Tasso produced a favourable impression upon
the Duke Alfonso and upon his two sisters, Lucrezia and Eleonora. He
accompanied the Cardinal on a mission to the Court of Charles IX of
France, and after a year's sojourn in Paris, where he was fêted by the
leading authors, including Ronsard, then at the height of his fame,
he returned to Ferrara to receive new proofs of the favour of the
Duke. But the more he rose in the estimation of his master, the more
he excited the jealousy of those who were equally ambitious but less
successful. There is, indeed, no truth in the popular legend of his
love for the Princess Eleanora. The object of his affections appears
to have been a lady of the Court, Leonora Scandiano. The poet Guarini
was also in love with this lady, and bitter hostility resulted from
the rivalry of the two poets. The malignant envy of his opponents
was excited by the brilliant success of his pastoral play, _Aminta,_
produced in 1573. So much was that poem talked of, that the Princess
Lucrezia, who had meanwhile married the Duke of Urbino, sent for Tasso
to read it to her at Pesaro. So pleased was she both with the work and
the writer, that she invited him to pass the summer at her palace of
Castel Durante. The exquisite beauty of the gardens and the grounds is
said to have been in his mind when he described the gardens of Armida
in the _Gerusalemme._

This was the happiest time of Tasso's life. He was honoured with the
favour of the highest in the land, and with the admiration of the whole
of Italy. He was congenially employed on the completion of the great
epic which was to make his name immortal. Never was a poet placed in a
more brilliant position, nor more apparently certain of a splendid and
triumphant career.

But the seeds of evil were already sown, and the mischief soon became
apparent. He completed the _Gerusalemme_ in 1575, and from that moment
his peace of mind was gone. Whether he overworked himself in that great
task, or whether he had secret causes of annoyance and humiliation, of
which his biographers know nothing, it is difficult to conjecture, but
from that period his temper seems to have become morbidly suspicious
and irritable. He was painfully sensitive to criticism, and he harassed
himself and others by perpetually altering and correcting passages to
which objection had been taken. When at last the poem was published,
which was not until some time after its completion, it was attacked by
the Accademia della Crusca with considerable harshness and unfairness.
The great fault found by the Academy was that the idiom was not always
purely Tuscan. The very first line of the first Canto was singled out
for censure:

    "Canto l'arme pietose e il Capitano."

The poet uses the word "pietose" in the sense of 'pious," whereas the
Academy contended that it could never mean anything but "compassionate."

Tasso was not only worried by these minute quibbles, but he was also
haunted by the dreadful apprehension that his religious orthodoxy
might be impugned, and he himself applied to the Fathers of the Holy
Inquisition for an examination and a vindication. In vain the Fathers
assured him with unanimous cordiality that such a process was utterly
superfluous, and that the purity of his faith had never for a moment
been held in doubt; he still professed himself dissatisfied, and he
long continued to torment himself with religious scruples.

The Duke of Ferrara, doubtless highly gratified at the success of the
masterpiece of his Court Poet, appointed Tasso his private secretary
when that post became vacant through the death of Giambattista Pigna
in 1577. Probably the arduous duties and the heavy responsibilities of
this appointment weighed him down with a fresh load of anxiety, and he
may have felt that he had become more than ever the object of malice
and envy; whatever the cause, excitability verging on frenzy, and
suspicion verging on madness betrayed themselves more and more in his
speech and actions. He fancied, perhaps not without reason, that some
of his letters had been intercepted; he firmly believed, though with
less foundation, that there was a plot to poison him. He had also the
annoyance, peculiarly galling to an author, of knowing that spurious
copies of his great epic were being circulated throughout Italy, full
of mistakes and interpolated passages.

All these causes of uneasiness culminated in frightful violence in
the month of June of that fatal year. One evening in the apartments
of the Princess Lucrezia, and even in her presence, he drew a dagger
and stabbed a manservant whom he suspected of being concerned in the
robbery of some missing documents. He was arrested, and the Duke
ordered him to be kept a close prisoner. When released from captivity,
he was so excited with grief and indignation, that all observers
pronounced him mad. He took refuge in a Franciscan Monastery; but when
the Duke refused to receive his letters, he dreaded the effects of his
master's anger, and fled from Ferrara in a pitiable condition, without
his manuscripts, without sufficient clothes, and without a particle
of money. He seems actually to have begged his way from Ferrara to
Sorrento, near Naples, where his sister was married to Marzio Sersale.
It would be difficult to find a more picturesque episode in the life
of any poet than that of Tasso presenting himself to his sister in the
garb of a mendicant. She received the unhappy wanderer with hospitality
and affection, welcomed him in her house, and when he was sufficiently
recovered from the fatigues of mind and body to discuss his affairs,
gave him the sensible advice never to return to the Court of Ferrara.

Unhappily, this advice was rejected; but to be perfectly just in our
estimate of Tasso's conduct, we must bear in mind the position of men
of letters of the Sixteenth Century in Italy. The complete absence of
copyright law made it impossible for even the most popular writer to
derive emolument from his books, for as soon as they acquired any
popularity, they were shamelessly pirated all over the Peninsula.
Enormously popular as they were, even during their lifetime, it does
not appear that either Ariosto or Tasso ever profited to the extent
of even one scudo by the sale of their poems. Thus a writer, unless
he possessed ample means, or held some lucrative office, was entirely
dependent for his bread on the fickle favour of the great. Tasso,
in consequence of the reverses experienced by his father and the
sequestration of his property, was absolutely devoid of anything he
could call his own, and owed even the barest necessaries of life to the
bounty of the Prince whom his violent conduct had, it must be admitted,
justly offended. Great as his reputation was, he might well doubt
whether any other sovereign in Italy would extend to him even a quarter
of similar favour after the reckless and violent conduct of which he
had been guilty.

Whatever may have been his motives, he wrote again and again to Alfonso
and the Princesses for pardon for his errors and for permission to
return. Eleonora alone answered him, and her reply was not encouraging.
The mortification of being repulsed was doubtless intolerable to his
proud spirit. He deserted Sorrento and the sister whose affection he
should have valued above all the favours of princes. He went straight
to Ferrara, but the doors of the Palace were barred against him, and to
add to his afflictions, the Duke refused to allow his manuscripts to
be given up to him. He was lonely and destitute, and the bitterness of
his fall was intensified by the jeers of those who, on the very spot of
his disgrace, had envied him the brilliancy of his triumph. Without a
morsel of bread to eat, or a roof under which to take shelter, he sold
some valuable trinkets which had been given to him in happier days by
the Princess Lucrezia, and with the proceeds he made his way through
Mantua and Padua to Venice.

In these towns he seems to have been received with the consideration
due to his poetical renown; but still the painful question as to where
he should find a permanent home occurred to him in moments of anxiety
and gloom. Strange to say, help came to him from an unexpected quarter.
The Duke of Urbino's marriage with the Princess Lucrezia had turned out
most unhappily, and the couple were now separated. It probably occurred
to the Duke that the best way of annoying the House of Este would be
to show favour to the poet who had been expelled from Ferrara in such
deep disgrace, and Tasso owed to rancour and resentment that temporary
respite from misfortune which he might have implored in vain from
esteem and humanity.

The Duke in time wearied of the capricious and irritable poet, and
Tasso found it expedient to remove to Turin. He received no countenance
from the House of Savoy, and again his evil star led him to the Court
of Ferrara.

In the month of February, 1579, he returned to Ferrara when it was
at its gayest, on the occasion of the Duke's marriage to Margherita
Gonzaga, daughter of the Duke of Mantua. But Tasso was looked upon
with aversion as an intruder. He wearied those who did not want to see
him with long stories of his grievances, and with bitter invectives at
princely ingratitude. These invectives waxed fiercer, until, after a
culmination of insane violence, the Duke's patience was exhausted, and
he had the unhappy poet arrested and thrown into a cell in the madhouse
of Ferrara.

Here Tasso languished for more than seven years, until July, 1586.
The most zealous admirers of the poet cannot deny that he brought
this terrible catastrophe upon himself. The Duke cannot be blamed for
having ordered his incarceration; indeed, in the frenzied condition
of his mind at the time of arrest, it was probably the best thing that
could have happened to him. If not placed under restraint, he might
have done himself an injury, or he might even have attacked others.
If he had been held in captivity for some weeks, or even months, until
the paroxysm of his frenzy had spent itself, the Duke would not have
incurred the odium which subsequently blackened his memory. But the
peculiar hardship of Tasso's imprisonment was its long duration. A
short period of restraint might actually have been beneficial, but
seven years of gloomy captivity aggravated the malady which they were
intended to cure, and it is no wonder that the patient subsided from
wild excitability into sullen despair.

It is due to his gaolers to say that he was not treated with the
inhumanity popularly supposed. Visitors were admitted into his
presence, he was allowed occasionally to take walks in the town of
Ferrara and the neighbourhood; his manuscripts were restored to him; he
was at liberty to receive the letters of his friends, and to beguile
with composition the weary hours of captivity. But still the galling
fact remained that he was a prisoner, and a mind naturally prone to
melancholy was still more darkened by contrasting the stern reality
with the brilliant hopes fostered by the triumphs of his youth. He
wrote to many of the nobles and princes of Italy, imploring them to use
their influence to obtain his release. These letters do not seem to
have been either intercepted or delayed. Strong representations were
undoubtedly made to the Court of Ferrara to obtain the liberation of
one so gifted and so unfortunate. Unhappily for his credit and honour,
Alfonso proved inflexible, and what was originally salutary discipline
became at last detestable tyranny.

Many different opinions were expressed as to whether Tasso was really
insane. Montaigne, who was travelling in Italy at the time of his
incarceration, visited him in his cell and left a pitiable description
of the apathetic misery in which he found him, as if his powers of
endurance were exhausted by suffering, and nothing but the stupor of
despair remained. Others pointed to the poems, the essays, the letters
he wrote in captivity, and asked in indignant tones whether the author
of compositions so pregnant with thought and so perfect in diction
could possibly be insane? Peculiar, he undoubtedly was; but he had
expiated his errors by severe suffering, and was it not reasonable
to suppose that he had learnt a salutary lesson, and would not, if
restored to freedom, repeat the regrettable follies of the past?

This consideration, doubtless, after the lapse of so many years,
inclined Alfonso to clemency, and when his brother-in-law, Vincenzo
Gonzaga, interceded for the luckless poet, he did not meet with the
harsh refusal given to others, but was able to boast that he alone of
so many petitioners had obtained Tasso's release.

The door of the cell where the author of the _Gerusalemme_ had
languished for so many years was opened, and he was free to go wherever
he liked. As may be imagined, he was cured of his wish to figure at
the Court of Ferrara, and he left the inhospitable dominions, never to

Vincenzo Gonzaga took him to Mantua, where he passed the time
immediately following his release. But the ire-action, after so long
a period of wretchedness, was too trying for his enfeebled frame.
He forsook the brilliant circles of Mantua for a quieter retreat at
Bergamo with some of his relatives. Here he finished his tragedy of
_Torrismondo,_ begun many years previously, but thrown aside, at first
because he was engaged on the arduous task of his great epic, and then
because his own life drifted into a tragedy far transcending the mimic
sorrows of the stage.

At Bergamo, he learned that his liberator, Vincenzo Gonzaga, had
succeeded to the Duchy of Mantua. Something of his old hope of
courtly success revived in the wounded heart of Torquato. He left his
provincial abode and hurried to the palace of his benefactor to lay
the dedication of _Torrismondo_ at his feet. He doubtless indulged
in dreams of rich appointments and gratifying distinctions. But,
alas! Vincenzo, kind and humane to the captive, seems to have turned
a deaf ear to the courtier. Tasso had an unfortunate knack of making
his presence irksome to his patrons. His ever keen sense of injury
was stung to the quick by the Duke's neglect, and he lost no time in
leaving Mantua to repair to Rome. But here new mortifications awaited
him. Cardinal Scipio Gonzaga lodged him in his Palace, but was neither
cordial nor gracious. Probably the dread that his insanity might burst
out again, made people desirous of keeping him at a distance. Sixtus
the Fifth, who then occupied the Papal Chair, took no interest in
literature, and did not show him any attention, and the example of the
Pope was followed by the Society of the capital.

He left Rome with even greater disappointment than he had felt in
leaving Mantua. He hurried to Naples, where he had no cause to complain
of the reception that awaited him, for he was overwhelmed with
demonstrations of admiration and affection. But sorrow, captivity,
and anguish of mind had done their evil work; he was but the wreck of
himself, and he could no more endure the sweetness of praise than the
bitterness of neglect. He fled from the kindness of the Neapolitans and
flitted from place to place in a weary pilgrimage, without happiness
and without repose. The wonder is, in his destitute condition, where
the money came from to enable him to travel. His mind and his health
were in a wretched condition. Distrustful and melancholy, he repelled
even those who most admired his genius and pitied his misfortunes, and
his ever-ready sense of injury magnified the slightest offence into
bitter unkindness. But in spite of agonising thoughts and disturbing
peregrinations, his pen never rested. He completed the _Gerusalemme
Conquistata,_ that unfortunate "improvement" on his masterpiece,
which is never mentioned but to be regretted; he wrote a long poem in
blank verse on the Creation, and dialogues and essays in abundance
and letters innumerable. Indeed, he was throughout his life an
indefatigable correspondent, and he seemed never to doubt that the
outpourings of his mind about his wrongs and grievances would be as
interesting to the recipients as to himself. Some of these letters are
noble and affecting, but too many betray a mind sore and festering from
constant brooding over his calamities. But in the presence of such
misfortune, we can only pity, we cannot condemn.

Great though his errors were, and wayward as was his temper, he was a
man of whom his country had reason to be proud, and it is pleasing to
be able to narrate that he was destined to receive a tardy recognition
for all the works with which he had enriched the literature of Italy.
Cardinal Aldobrandini had been raised to the Papal Chair and had
assumed the name of Clement VIII, and he and his nephews were anxious
to signalise his Pontificate by reviving the Coronation of Petrarch
in the Capitol in favour of a poet not less illustrious and more
unfortunate. Accordingly, Tasso was summoned to Rome, and he was met
outside the gates by an immense concourse of people and a brilliant
galaxy of Cardinals, Prelates, and Nobles. But his frame was worn out,
and the excitement of this great reception hardly infused sufficient
animation to conceal from the bystanders the rapid approach of death.
He was lodged in a noble suite of apartments in the Vatican; the poet
who for so many years had been doomed to a madman's cell, found himself
an honoured guest in the Palace of the Popes.

But the state and ceremony with which he was surrounded were more than
his ebbing strength could bear. Religious feelings had always held
powerful sway over his sensitive mind, and now, when he felt his end
drawing near, he retired to the Monastery of Sant' Onofrio, situated
on an eminence outside the town. Here, in prayer and meditation, he
devoutly awaited release from all his sorrows. The monks tended him
with care and assiduity; but it is recorded of him that his old
suspicions revived by fits and starts, and on one occasion he made his
attendant swallow the medicine he was directed to take in order to have
ocular proof that it was not poisoned.

Worn out by his many sufferings, he passed away peacefully on the
twenty-fifth of April, 1595, the day before he was to receive the
laurel in the Capitol. But he probably did not regret that death
prevented him from enjoying this symbol of greatness. As Leopardi,
himself no less familiar with sorrow, beautifully says:

                       "Morte domanda
    Chi nostro mal conobbe, e non ghirlanda."

There is a peculiar fitness in the circumstance that a poet, so singled
out for misfortune, was not destined to wear the wreath of a conqueror.
Peaceful after so much agitation, calm after such bitter resentment,
he sank to rest in that secluded monastery, and for thirteen years he
lay in the Church adjoining the quiet cloisters without a stone to mark
his resting-place, until Cardinal Bonifazio Bevilacqua raised a noble
monument to his memory, which may still be seen by the visitor who
wends his way to Sant' Onofrio to pay the tribute of a sigh to so much
glory linked to so much misfortune.

Tasso was tall and active; his countenance was handsome, though in
later years much clouded by melancholy. In his younger days he was an
expert swordsman, and skilled in all bodily exercises.

The vicissitudes of his life afford such picturesque material for
narration and description that we cannot wonder that it became a
favourite theme with poets and biographers. The noble play of Goethe is
familiar to all lovers of poetry. Of his biographers the earliest was
Manso, a Neapolitan nobleman, who had the singular fortune of being, in
the course of his long life, the friend of three renowned epic poets,
of Tasso himself, of Marino, and of the greatest of all, Milton, whose
acquaintance he made during the travels of the English poet in Italy.
Tasso mentions him in the _Gerusalemme Conquistata_:

    "Fra cavalier magnanimi e cortesi
    Risplende il Manso."

Marino did not leave his praises unsung, and Milton addressed him in
one of his finest Latin poems. He must have had striking qualities
to endear him to men so eminent and so different; but his biography,
probably because it was the first, gave rise to many legends which have
been repeated down to the present day. He seems to have been somewhat
credulous, and to have relied too much on the statements made to him
by Tasso himself, without distrusting his informant's wild and heated

The Abbé Serassi, in his biography published in 1785, did what Manso
had neglected to do. He sifted the evidence and examined the documents;
and gave to the world a picture much nearer the truth than had yet been
presented; but it was reserved for the indefatigable labours of Angelo
Solerti to produce a really exhaustive history of the poet.

It must be confessed that in turning from Tasso's life, so full of
passion and romance, to his poetry, we experience a certain sense of
disappointment. Had he not been so striking an object of sympathy and
interest, it may be doubted whether his works would have arrested quite
so much attention as they actually did. Considering the varied panorama
of life that had been unfolded before him and the mental sufferings he
underwent, he does not sound those depths of impassioned meditation
that might be expected. What traces there are of them, will be found
rather in his letters than in his poems. This fact is very strange
and points to the limitations of his talent. He had materials in his
life sufficient to inspire him with great lyric poems, and yet we find
nothing in his odes, sonnets and madrigals to compare to the finest
passages of Petrarch, or of Leopardi, or even of Filicaia. None of his
shorter poems impress themselves indelibly on the reader: none glow
with the intensity of lyric fire.

Not being able to give him the title of a great lyric poet, we proceed
to enquire whether he was a great epic or a great dramatic poet.

His narrative poems are four in number; the _Rinaldo,_ the _Gerusalemme
Liberata,_ the _Gerusalemme Conquistata,_ and the _Sette Giornate
del Mondo Creato,_ a long work in blank verse on the subject of the
Creation. His _Rinaldo_ is remarkable because it was written in such
early youth; his _Gerusalemme Conquistata_ was admitted even by his
admirers to be an utter failure. It has only one striking passage,
a prophecy of evil to the house of Bourbon, which seems clearly to
foretell the crimes and horrors of the French Revolution, and which
deserves to rank among poetical prophecies next to the celebrated
prediction of the discovery of America in the tragedy of _Medea_
attributed to Seneca. The _Sette Giornate_ furnished some hints to
Milton when he came to the description of the Creation of the World in
_Paradise Lost._ It has, however, no intrinsic merit to recommend it,
being heavy and uninteresting to the last degree. These three poems
had hardly vitality enough to keep them alive until the close of the
Century in which they were written, and to modern readers they are
quite dead. And yet the subjects were of sufficient interest to afford
brilliant opportunities of displaying the powers of a great writer. We
cannot help asking the question, can he be a great poet who allowed
such brilliant opportunities to escape?

His pastoral play, _Aminta,_ has much sweetness and freshness of style;
his tragedy, _Torrismondo,_ has some touches that lead us to think
that under happier circumstances and with a mind less pre-occupied with
his own distresses, he might have become a fine dramatist; but the
shepherds and nymphs of the _Aminta_ seem vapid and mawkish to readers
of the present day; and the _Torrismondo_ has not that convincing power
that a tragedy ought to possess.

In all these works, lyric, epic, and dramatic, Tasso's style, though
sweet and flowing in the earlier productions, is strangely devoid of
originality, and, therefore, of colour; and no writer was more deeply
imbued with the conventional phraseology of the poetry of his age.
Thought and style are alike devoid of those vivid touches that command
admiration and ensure immortality. We are left under the impression
that the poet is not fixing all his powers of mind on his verse, and
that his attention is largely engaged elsewhere. This absence of full
power is the only trace in his poems of the disordered state of his
mind. Many poets, whose sanity has never been questioned, have passages
far more morbid and eccentric than any that can be found in Tasso's
pages. He never indulges in wild flights of fancy, the order of his
thoughts is lucidity itself; and there are no incoherent and very few
exaggerated metaphors. On the contrary, they would rather gain by a
little more irregularity. They are so logically thought out as to
become occasionally almost exasperating.

Thus it will be seen that his claims to rank as a great poet rest
entirely on the _Gerusalemme Liberata._

In considering that celebrated poem, the first thought that must
occur to the reader is the extremely happy choice of the subject. It
was unhackneyed; it was picturesque; it was noble. We cannot help
feeling that Ariosto is sometimes dragged down by the frivolous
stories he tells; we cannot help feeling that Tasso is sustained and
inspired by the magnificent episodes it is his duty to narrate. He is
rather too fond of imitating passages from Homer and Virgil, but such
imitation was universal in his day, and in his case it is skilfully
executed. The Oriental colouring of the scenes laid in Palestine and
Syria is, perhaps, not very vivid, but it is quite as vivid as his
contemporaries expected. On the whole it would be harsh to deny that
he has done justice to his subject, and in one respect he deserves the
highest praise: he imparts a human interest and an air of reality to
his characters that cannot be too highly extolled. Ariosto often treats
his characters merely as puppets, and is himself the first to laugh at
them. Very different is the attitude of Tasso towards his creations.
He believes in them with unshaken sincerity, and he loves them because
he believes in them. Erminia, Sophronia, Armida, Rinaldo, Goffredo,
Tancredi, all stand before us in the life, moving and breathing. As
Goethe says, in his play on the subject of Tasso:

    "Es sind nicht Schatten die der Wahn erzeugte;
    Ich weiss es, sie sind ewig, denn sie sind.

    ["They are not shadows by illusion made;
    I know they live for ever, for they live."]

This great quality undoubtedly explains the universal popularity of the
_Gerusalemme._ That poem even penetrated to classes of the community to
whom, as a rule, literary poets appeal in vain. Detached passages were
set to music, and sung by the people like ballads. For two centuries
the gondoliers beguiled their work with the musical stanzas of the
unhappy poet. Who does not remember Byron's lines?--

    "In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
    And silent rows the songless gondolier."

When they first began to be neglected is not recorded. They seem only
to have been handed down orally. Alterations would inevitably creep in,
and losing their accuracy, they lost also their charm.

Writing in the same stanza as Ariosto, Tasso could not fail to resemble
him in some respects. They are both clear, rapid, and musical. But the
style of the earlier poet is richer, stronger, more original, and,
I think, in spite of an occasional want of tenderness, more truly
poetical. Tasso too often indulges in conventions and common-places,
hence he becomes feeble and unimpressive. To give samples of the two
poets, I will quote a passage from each.


_A ship of the enemy approaches incautiously the fleet of Charlemagne._

    "Quivi il nocchier, eh' ancor non s'era accorto
    Degl' inimici, entrò con la galea,
    Lasciando molte miglia addietro il porto
    D'Algieri, ove calar prima volea,
    Per un vento gagliardo ch' era sorto,
    E spinto oltre il dover la poppa avea.
    Venir tra i suoi credette, e in loco fido,
    Come vien Progne al suo loquace nido.

    Ma come poi l'imperiale augello,
    I gigli d'oro, e i pardi vide appresso,
    Restò pallido in faccia, come quello
    Che 'l piede incauto d'improvviso ha messo
    Sopra 'l serpente venenoso e fello,
    Dal pigro sonno in mezzo l'erbe oppresso;
    Che spaventato e smorto si ritira,
    Fuggendo quel ch'è pien di tosco e d'ira."

    _"ORLANDO FURIOSO,"_ c. xxxìx, st. 31 ani 32.


_The Saracens hearing from the walls of Jerusalem the chorus of the
Crusaders in the distance._

    "Colà s'invia l'esercito canoro,
    E ne suonan le valli ime e profonde,
    E gli alti colli e le spelonche loro;
    E da ben mille parti Eco risponde;
    E quasi par che boschereccio coro
    Fra quegli antri si celi e quelle fronde,
    Si chiaramente replicar s'udia
    Or di Cristo il gran nome, or di Maria.

    D'in sulle mura ad ammirar frattanto
    Cheti si stanno e attoniti i Pagani
    Que' tardi avvolgimenti, e l'umil canto,
    E l'insolite pompe e i riti estrani.
    Poi che cessò dello spettacol santo
    La novitate, i miseri profani
    Alzâr le strida; e di bestemmie e d'onte
    Mugì il torrente e la gran valle e 'l monte."

    "_GERUSALEMME LIBERATA_," c. xv, st. 11 ani 12.

Tasso's style has a pathetic air which is very taking at first sight;
but when we examine it minutely, we find certain weaknesses which
cannot be detected in the style of Ariosto. The magnificent passage
from the _Orlando Furioso_ is without a flaw and could not be improved.
The same cannot be said of the stanzas from the _Gerusalemme,_ musical
as they are. We may be sure that Ariosto would never have been guilty
of the feeble repetition of the feeble epithet, _"gran nome, gran

It is owing to his pathos that Tasso loses so much less in translation
than Ariosto. All the renderings of the _Orlando Furioso_ that I have
seen, are somewhat colourless, even the Elizabethan translation of
Harrington, and even the careful and accurate translation of Rose. The
German translations of Griess and Donner are as admirable as they can
possibly be, considering the great difficulties of the task, but even
they do not quite succeed in reproducing the exquisite flexibility
of Ariosto's style. Tasso, in many respects the most unfortunate of
poets, was singularly lucky in the translators who introduced him to
foreign nations. He has been translated into many languages with signal
success, and with remarkably little loss of spirit and beauty. The
earliest English rendering, that of Fairfax, is the best. It is not
always scrupulously accurate, but it is delightfully fresh, vigorous,
and musical. I will subjoin one of the most successful passages which
will give the reader a favourable idea of the skill of Fairfax, and
of the thoughts and conceptions of the illustrious Italian poet,
illustrious in spite of the shortcomings which occasionally detract
from his qualities.

_The Christian Knights in search of Rinaldo, find him in the enchanted
Palace of Armida._



    The palace great is builded rich and round,
      And in the centre of the inmost hold
    There lies a garden sweet on fertile ground,
      Fairer than that where grew the trees of gold.
    The cunning sprites had buildings reared around,
      With doors and entries false a thousandfold.
    A labyrinth they made that fortress brave,
    Like Daedal's prison or Porsenna's grave.


    The Knights passed through the castle's largest gate.
      (Though round about a hundred ports there shine),
    The door leaves framed of carved silver plate
      Upon their golden hinges turn and twine;
    They stayed to view this work of wit and state,
      The workmanship excelled the substance fine,
    For all the shapes in that rich metal wrought,
    Save speech, of living bodies wanted nought.


    Alcides there sat telling tales, and spun
      Among the feeble troups of damsels mild;
    (He that the fiery gates of Hell had won,
      And Heaven upheld); false love stood by and smiled.
    Armed with his club, fair Iole forth run,
      His club with blood of monsters foul denied;
    And on her back his lion's skin had she,
    Too rough a bark for such a tender tree.


    Beyond was made a sea, whose azure flood
      The hoary froth crushed from the surges blue,
    Wherein two navies great well-rangéd stood
      Of warlike ships, fire from their arms out flew;
    The waters burnt about their vessels good,
      Such flames the gold therein enchased threw;
    Cæsar his Romans hence, the Asian Kings
    Thence Anthony and Indian Princes, brings;


    The Cyclads seemed to swim amid the main,
      And hill 'gainst hill, and mount 'gainst mountain smote;
    With such great fury met those armies twain,
      Here burnt a ship, there sank a bark or boat;
    Here darts and wildfire flew, there drowned or slain
      Of Princes dead the bodies fleet and float;
    Here Cæsar wins, and yonder conquered been
    The eastern ships, there fled the Egyptian Queen.


    Antonius eke himself to flight betook,
      The Empire lost to which he would aspire;
    Yet fled not he, nor flight for fear forsook,
      But followed her, drawn on by fond desire.
    Well might you see, within his troubled look,
      Strive and contend love, courage, shame and ire;
    Oft looked he back, oft gazed he on the fight,
    But oftener on his mistress and her flight.


    Then in the secret creeks of fruitful Nile,
    Cast in her lap he would sad Death await.
    And in the pleasure of her lovely smile
    Sweeten the bitter stroke of cursed Fate.
    All this did art with curious hand compile
    In the rich metal of that princely gate.
    The Knights these stories viewed, first and last;
    Which seen, they forward pressed, and in they passed.


    As through his channel crook'd Meander glides
      With turns and twines, and rolls now to and fro,
    Whose streams run forth there to the salt sea-sides,
      Here back return, and to their spring-ward go;
    Such crooked paths, such ways this palace hides;
      Yet all the maze their map described so
    That through the labyrinth they go in fine
    As Theseus did by Ariadne's line.


    When they had passed all those troubled ways,
      The garden sweet spread forth her green to shew;
    The moving crystal from the fountains plays,
      Fair trees, high plants, strange herbs, and flowers new,
    Sun-shiny hills, dales hid from Phœbus' rays,
      Groves, arbours, mossy caves at orice they view;
    And that which beauty most, most wonder brought,
    Nowhere appeared the art which all this wrought.


    So with the rude, the polished mingled was,
      That natural seemed all, and every part.
    Nature would craft in counterfeiting pass,
      And imitate her imitator art.
    Mild was the air, the clouds were clear as glass,
      The trees no whirlwind felt nor tempest's smart,
    But ere their fruit drop off, the blossom comes,
    This springs, that falls, that ripeneth, and this blooms.


    The leaves upon the self-same bough did hide,
      Beside the young, the old and ripened fig.
    Here fruit was green, there ripe with vermeil side,
      The apples new and old grew on one twig.
    The fruitful vine her arms spread high and wide,
      That bended underneath their clusters big;
    The grapes were tender here, hard, young and sour,
    There, purple, ripe and nectar sweet forth pour.


    The joyous birds, hid under greenwood shade,
    Sung many notes on every branch and bough;
    The wind that in the leaves and waters played,
    With murmur sweet now sang, and whistled now;
    Ceased the birds, the wind loud answer made,
    And while they sang, it rumbled soft and low;
    Thus, were it hap or cunning, chance or art,
    The wind in this strange music bore his part.


    With party-coloured plumes and purple bill
      A wondrous bird among the rest there flew,
    That in plain speech sung lovelays loud and shrill,
      Her leden[1] was like human language true;
    So much she talked, and with such wit and skill
      That strange it seemed how much good she knew;
    Her feathered fellows all stood hushed to hear,
    Dumb was the wind, the waters silent were.


    "The gently-budding rose (quoth she) behold,
      The first scent peeping forth with virgin beams,
    Half ope, half shut, her beauties doth upfold
      In their dear leaves, and less seen fairer seems;
    And after, spreads them forth more broad and bold,
      Then languisheth and dies in last extremes;
    Nor seems the same that decked bed and bower
    Of many a lady late and paramour;


    "So in the passing of a day doth pass
      The bud and blossom of the life of man,
    Nor e'er doth flourish more, but like the gratis
      Cut down, becometh withered, pale and wan;
    Oh, gather then the rose while time thou has:
      Short is the day, done when it scant began;
    Gather the rose of love which yet thou may'st;
    Loving be loved; embracing, be embraced."


    She ceased; and as approving all she spoke,
      The choir of birds their heavenly tune renew;
    The turtles sighed, and sighs with kisses broke;
      The fowls to shades unseen by pairs withdrew;
    It seemed the laurel chaste and stubborn oak,
      And all the gentle trees on earth that grew,
    It seemed the land, the sea and heaven above
    All breathed out fancy sweet and sighed out love.


    Through all this music rare and strong consent
      Of strange allurements, sweet 'bove mean and measure,
    Severe, firm, constant, still the Knights forth went,
      Hardening their hearts 'gainst false, enticing pleasure;
    'Twixt leaf and leaf their sight before they sent,
      And after crept themselves at ease and leisure
    Till they beheld the Queen sit with their knight
    Beside the lake, shaded with boughs from sight.

           *       *       *       *       *


    The twain that hidden in the bushes, were,
    Before the Prince in glittering arms appear.


    As the fierce steed for age withdrawn from war,
      Wherein the glorious beast had always won,
    That in vile rest, from fright sequestered far,
      Feeds with the mares at large, his service done:
    If arms he sees or hears the trumpet's jar,
      He neigheth loud, and thither fast doth run,
    And wisheth on his back the armed knight,
    Longing for jousts, for tournaments and fight:


    So fared Rinaldo when the glorious light
      Of their bright harness glistered in his eyes;
    His noble spirit awaked at that sight.
      His blood began to warm, his heart to rise;
    Though drunk with ease, devoid of wonted might,
      On sleep till then his weakened virtue lies.
    Ubaldo forward stepped and to him held
    Of diamonds clear that pure and precious shield.


    Upon the targe his looks amazed he bent,
      And therein all his wanton habit spied,
    His civet, balm, and perfumes redolent,
      How from his locks they smoked and mantle wide
    His sword that many a Pagan stout had shent,[2]
      Bewrapped with flowers, hung idly by his side,
    So nicely decked that it seemed the knight
    Wore it for fashion sake, but not for fight.


    As when from sleep and idle dreams abrayed[3]
      A man awaked calls home his wits again,
    So in beholding his attire he played,
      But yet to view himself could not sustain;
    His looks he downward cast and nought he said,
      Grieved, shamèd, sad, he would have diéd fain;
    And oft he wished the earth or ocean wide
    Would swallow him, and so his errors hide.


    Ubaldo took the time, and thus began--
      "All Europe now, and Asia be in war
    And all that Christ adore and fame have won
      In battaille strong, in Syria fighting are;
    But thee alone, Bertoldo's noble son,
      This little corner keeps, exiled far
    From all the world, buried in sloth and shame,
    A carpet champion for a wanton dame!


    "What letharge hath in drowsiness append[4]
      Thy courage thus? What sloth doth thee infect?
    Up! up! Our camp and Godfrey for thee send,
      Thee fortune, praise and victory expect;
    Come fatal champion; bring to happy end
      This enterprise begun, and all that sect
    (Which oft thou shaken hast) to earth full low
    With thy sharp brand strike down, kill, overthrow."


    This said, the noble infant stood a space
      Confused, speechless, senseless, ill, ashamed,
    But when that shame to just disdain gave place,
      To fierce disdain, from courage sprung untamed,
    Another redness blushèd through his face,
      Whence worthy anger shone, displeasure flamed;
    His nice attire in scorn he rent and tore,
    For of his bondage vile that witness bore;


    That done he hastèd from the charmed fort,
      And through the maze passed with his searchers twain.
    Armida of her mount and chiefest port
      Wondered to find the furious keeper slain;
    Awhile she feared, but she knew in short
      That her dear lord was fled; then saw she plain
    (Ah! woeful sight!) how from her gates the man
    In haste and fear, in wrath and anger ran.

[Footnote 1: Leden--_language._]

[Footnote 2: Shent--_Iniured._]

[Footnote 3: Abrayed--_Awaked._]

[Footnote 4: Append--_Tied-up._]



The Annals of Italy during the Seventeenth Century were not signalised
by disasters as terrible as those of the Sixteenth Century. The country
was not desolated by the invasion of foreign conquerors. Rome was
not sacked for a second time. Florence was not convulsed with civil
dissensions. But the nation was sick at heart, and the tyranny of her
rulers gave only the choice of submission or death. Lombardy, Naples
and Sicily were groaning under the iron yoke of Spain. The petty
sovereigns ruled with irresponsible despotism over their dominions.
Venice and Genoa boasted that they were free; but the freedom of Venice
consisted in the rule of a suspicious oligarchy, guiltless, indeed,
of wanton oppression, but upholding its rule by merciless punishment
of the slightest disaffection. The Papal States were exhausted in
their endeavour to minister to the splendour of the families of a
rapid succession of Popes, for never was nepotism more rampant than
in the Seventeenth Century, and the illustrious houses of Rome, the
Aldobrandini, the Borghese, the Pamphili, the Barberini, the Chigi, the
Altieri, the Odescalchi, the Albani, date their greatness from that
epoch. The Catholic reaction subsequent to the Reformation established
a rigid code of theology, from which it was fatal to dissent. Leo X had
underrated the importance of the Reformation, but his successors made
up for the error by exercising unceasing vigilance over their spiritual
subjects. The only rising in favour of freedom was that of Masaniello
in Naples, which was rather a riot than a rebellion. Still, some great
minds pined for happier things, and the finest flashes of poetry in the
Century were kindled by the fire of patriotism.

It has always been the policy of despots to supply their subjects with
plenty of amusements. Accordingly we find in the Seventeenth Century
records of gorgeous pageants and brilliant theatrical entertainments,
and the already waning wealth of the nation was further exhausted by
reckless prodigality of governments and individuals. Italian Opera
took its origin early in the Century, and RINUCCINI was the first
Librettist. The theatre more and more engaged the attention of
writers, but nothing remarkable was produced, with the exception,
perhaps, of the tragedies of CARDINAL DELFINO, Patriarch of Aquilea,
which present here and there touches worthy of a fine poet. The
death-scene of his _Cleopatra_ bears a striking resemblance to the
corresponding scene in _Anthony and Cleopatra,_ although he doubtless
never so much as heard of Shakespeare's name.

BATTISTA GUARINI, who died in 1612, was pre-eminent, by reason of his
_Pastor Fido,_ among writers of Pastoral Plays; but these insipid and
unreal creations have no attraction for modern readers. The _Pastor
Fido_ is a work of much skill and ingenuity; but it is tainted with
that fondness for quibbles and conceits which disfigures so much of the
literature of the Seventeenth Century, not only in Italy, but also in
other countries. If Italy had her Marino, Spain had her Gongora, France
her Benserade, and England her Lyly, Donne, and Cowley. It is curious
to remark how a literary fashion spreads from one country to another,
and in that age of scanty travel and difficult communication, it is
doubly curious. Thus, in the early part of the Nineteenth Century,
Byronism became a universal epidemic.

The love of far-fetched conceits originated in the latter half of the
Sixteenth Century. We see much of it in Shakespeare's early comedies,
and the traces of it in Tasso gave ground to Boileau one hundred years
later to sneer at those who preferred "the tinsel of Tasso to the gold
of Virgil."

    "A Racan, à Malherbe, préférer Théophile,
    Et le clinquant du Tasse à tout l'or de Virgile."

It is, however, unjust to blame Tasso for an inordinate profusion of
conceits. He presents some, it is true, but they are almost always
ingenious and imaginative, and not so far-fetched as to be unnatural.

The poet who really set the fashion of fantastic ingenuity, was
GIAMBATTISTA MARINO (or MARINI, for both forms of the name seem to
have been used by his contemporaries), a Neapolitan, born in 1569,
died in 1625. His chief work is the _Adone_ an epic poem in twenty
enormous cantos on the loves of Venus and Adonis. If it were not for
its appalling length, the poem would have much to recommend it. He also
wrote other epics, not quite so voluminous: _La Gerusalemme Distrutta,
La Strage degl' Innocenti,_ on the Massacre of the Innocents, and
numerous lyric effusions. When he was at Turin, he had a vulgar dispute
with a rival poet of the name of Murtola, and numerous satires and
pasquinades were the result. Murtola was so incensed at the biting
sarcasms of Marino, that he waylaid him one evening and fired a
pistol. The shot killed, not Marino, but a favourite courtier of the
Duke of Savoy, who was walking with the poet. Murtola was thrown into
a dungeon, but Marino interceded for his fallen rival, and it is a
curious illustration of the absolute power of the Princes of those
days, that all proceedings against Murtola were stopped, and he was
granted a free pardon. Marino had reason to regret his intercession for
so unworthy an object. Murtola accidentally discovered a copy of verses
written by Marino many years previously, reflecting on the Duke. He
lost no time in forwarding them to the Duke, who was so incensed that
he would doubtless have inflicted upon Marino the punishment from which
he had saved the treacherous Murtola, had not Marino prudently taken
refuge in flight.

He repaired to Paris, where he was enthusiastically received, and
Marie de Medici, the second wife of Henry IV, and Regent during the
minority of Louis XIII, gave him a large pension and many other tokens
of Royal favour. He enjoyed full leisure to complete his _Adone,_ and
when it was published in 1623, it fully satisfied the expectations
of his admirers. He returned to his native city of Naples, where a
magnificent ovation awaited him. He did not, however, live long to
enjoy his triumph, and Italy had to mourn his loss in 1625.

Marino exactly hit the taste of his contemporaries, and the praises
lavished upon him are almost incredible in their exaggeration. The poet
Claudio Achillini wrote to him from Bologna: "There is not a doubt
in my mind that you are the greatest poet the world has ever seen."
Cardinal Bentivoglio, one of the most brilliant intellects of the age,
addressed him in terms hardly less rapturous.

There must assuredly have been something remarkable in Marino's works
to produce such a dazzling effect on his contemporaries.

In early youth Marino formed a theory that a poet in order to succeed
ought to astonish his readers. In every line he wrote, it was his
object to excite astonishment. He fully succeeded. The most ingenious
thoughts, the most dazzling metaphors, the most vivid descriptions, are
crowded together in his pages to such an extent that it is impossible
to deny that he was prodigally gifted by Nature with some of the rarest
attributes of thought and imagination. But his works present no human
interest, no patriotic fire, and no religious inspiration. They are
fantastic and unreal, but then they do not pretend to be anything else.
His imagination presented him with an inexhaustible succession of
brilliant and striking images, and provided they glittered and sparkled
in his verse, he was careless whether they were true to nature or
consistent with each other. He is a delightful poet to read in detached
passages when the mind wants to indulge in the refreshing vagaries of
fancy. He is very even in his style; possessing consummate mastery
over his language, the most elaborate difficulties of rhyme and metre
present no obstacles to him. I do not think that he is in any respect
inferior to Spenser in strength of poetical inspiration, and he is
certainly less heavy and slow. But the subject of his principal work
is frivolous, and it is, in truth, a mere bubble of the imagination,
made to expand, glitter, and burst. But for that purpose it is much
too long. Heroic thoughts alone should assume heroic proportions. Even
in Ariosto, we have the same effect too often. Much more so in the
_Adone._ Marino had nothing of the classical simplicity of Ariosto.
He probably disdained it as insipid. But high seasoning involves
rapid satiety, and the mind derives no nourishment from condiments so
artificial. This circumstance alone solves the problem why Marino has
fallen into such neglect. Take each stanza of his poems and consider it
separately, and it appears a marvel of fancy, ingenuity, and musical
diction. But take his productions as a whole, and it cannot be denied
that they are wanting in sustained interest, in human pathos, and in
philosophic intention. Indeed, he had nothing of a philosopher. No
great problems occupy his mind; no sublime aspirations raise him above
sublunary things. He spends the wealth of his intellect, not on noble
monuments, but on filigree trinkets. Hence, probably, his popularity.
His contemporaries did not want to be shaken with tempestuous
sublimity, or led to an abyss of profound meditation. They wanted to
be lulled into voluptuous repose by a singer skilful enough to delight
their fancy with strains sufficiently beautiful to compensate the
absence of higher qualities, and yet not too elevated to soar beyond
the range of the limited horizon to which they confined themselves.
Hence Marino's brilliant success. But he sacrificed to immediate
popularity the admiration and gratitude of future ages, which with his
prodigal gifts of song and imagination he might possibly have acquired.

As a sample of Marino's style, I subjoin the beautiful opening stanza
of the seventh canto of the _Adone._

    "Musica e Poesia son due sorelle,
    Ristoratrici delle afflitte genti,
    De' rei pensier le torbide procelle
    Con liete rime a serenar possenti.
    Non ha di queste il mondo arti più belle,
    O più salubri all' affannate menti,
    Nè cor la Scizia ha barbaro cotanto,
    Se non è tigre, a cui non piaccia il canto."

As Marino aspired to be the first epic poet of his age, GABRIELLO
CHIABRERA, of Savona, aspired to be its first lyric poet, and he
took Pindar for his model. He obtained much applause, but it may be
doubted whether he was quite so successful as his contemporary. He
has nothing like Marino's teeming wealth of imagination, and his more
ambitious Odes are often turgid and heavy. On the other hand, it must
be allowed that his most successful passages are splendid and sonorous.
The _Adone_ is the best of the long-winded Italian epics with the
exception of the two unapproachable masterpieces, the _Orlando Furioso_
and the _Gerusalemme Liberata._ But it cannot be said that Chiabrera
comes as near to Petrarch as Marino does to his two illustrious
predecessors. He is full of those hackneyed mythological allusions
which encumbered poetry up to the end of the Eighteenth Century, nor
has he the excuse of indulging in them for the purpose of conjuring
up gorgeous and romantic visions. His powers of description are but
slight, a remarkable circumstance, as his powers of versification were
beyond doubt very extensive. Some of his lighter poems are gay and
vivacious, and he wrote a series of epitaphs known to English readers
by Wordsworth's noble translation. Not often did Chiabrera indulge in a
strain so natural and impassioned as the following:

    "Not without heavy grief of heart did he
    On whom the duty fell (for at that time
    The father sojourned in a distant land)
    Deposit in the hollow of this tomb
    A brother's child most tenderly beloved!
    Francesco was the name the youth had borne,
    Pozzobonelli his illustrious house;
    And when beneath this stone the corse was laid,
    The eyes of all Savona streamed with tears.
    Alas! the twentieth April of his life
    Had scarcely flowered; and at this early time
    By genuine virtue he inspired a hope
    That greatly cheered his country; to his kin
    He promised comfort; and the flattering thoughts
    His friends had in their fondness entertained,
    He suffered not to languish or decay.
    Now is there not great reason to break forth
    Into a passionate lament? O Soul!
    Short while a Pilgrim in our nether world,
    Do thou enjoy the calm empyreal air;
    And round this earthly tomb let roses rise,
    An everlasting spring! in memory
    Of that delightful fragrance which was once
    From thy mild manners quietly exhaled."

The following epitaph on an Admiral is also fine:

    "There never breathed a man who, when his life
    Was closing, might not of that life relate
    Toils long and hard. The warrior will report
    Of wounds, and bright swords flashing in the field,
    And blast of trumpets. He who hath been doomed
    To bow his forehead in the Courts of Kings
    Will tell of fraud and never-ceasing hate,
    Envy and heart-inquietude, derived
    From intricate cabals of treacherous friends.
    I, who on shipboard lived from earliest youth,
    Could represent the countenance horrible
    Of the vexed waters, and the indignant rage
    Of Auster and Bootes. Fifty years
    Over the well-steered galleys did I rule.
    From huge Pelorus to the Atlantic pillars,
    Rises no mountain to mine eyes unknown;
    And the broad gulfs I traversed oft and oft.
    Of every cloud which in the heavens might stir
    I knew the force; and hence the rough sea's pride
    Availed not to my Vessel's overthrow.
    What noble pomp and frequent have not I
    On regal decks beheld! yet in the end
    I learned that one poor moment can suffice
    To equalise the lofty and the low.
    We sail the sea of life--a Calm one finds,
    And one a Tempest--and, the voyage o'er,
    Death is the quiet haven of us all.
    If more of my condition ye would know,
    Savona was my birthplace, and I sprang
    Of noble parents; seventy years and three
    Lived I--then yielded to a slow desease."

A poet who may not have equalled Chiabrera in the general excellence of
his work, but who far surpassed him in sudden and brilliant flashes of
inspiration, was VINCENZIO DA FILICAIA, a Florentine, born in 1642,
died in 1707.[1] A few of his very finest verses are so renowned, that
when we turn to an edition of his complete works, we are disagreeably
surprised to find that the bulk of his poetry is far from coming up
to his most striking passages. He is often conventional and turgid,
sometimes heavy and awkward. He has not Chiabrera's technical skill,
nor has he the vivacity of lighter poets. Hallam complained of a want
of sunshine in his verse, and in truth his elegies are occasionally
doleful where they ought to be tragic. The man seems to have been
greater than his works; but when a chord of his lyre touches his heart,
he breaks forth into song so noble and impassioned that he fully
deserves to be acclaimed the greatest Italian poet in the Seventeenth
Century. First and foremost stands his celebrated Sonnet on Italy,
especially the four opening lines:

    "Italia! Italia! O tu cui feo la sorte
    Dono infelice di bellezza, ond'hai
    Funesta dote d'infiniti guai
    Che in fronte scritti per gran doglia porte."

But there is something heavy and slow in the continuation and

Superior in general excellence, though not possessing the inimitable
pathos of the passage just quoted, is the sonnet beginning:

    "Dov'è, Italia, il tuo braccio? e a che ti servi
    Tu dell' altrui? non è, s'io scorgo il vero,
    Da chi t'offende, il difensor men fero,
    Ambo nemici son, ambo fur servi."

Another sonnet on the same subject opens very impressively:

    "Vanno a un termine sol, con passi eguali,
    Del verno, Italia, e di tua vita l'ore;
    Nè ancor sai quante di sua man lavore
    A tuo danno il Destin saette e strali."

So does a fourth:

    "Sono, Italia, per te discordia e morte
    In due nomi una cosa; e a si gran male
    Un mal s'aggiunge non minor, che frale
    Non se' abbastanza, nè abbastanza forte."

Christina, Queen of Sweden, took up her residence in Rome after her
abdication, and delighted in attracting a brilliant circle to her
Court. Filicaia does not seem to have left his native city, but she
extended her patronage to his sons, and he celebrated her munificence
in many odes, and wrote a noble Sonnet on her death. In one of his
poems he exhorts Rome to rejoice in Christina's presence:

    "Non lungi là dal gelido Boöte
    Sorse indi a poco imperiosa Stella,
    Ma fausta si, che se mentir non vuoi,
    Dire a ragion tu puoi:
    Antica Roma, a par di te son bella."

Filicaia received immense praise and universal renown for a series
of Odes on the Liberation of Vienna from the Turks by John Sobiesky,
King of Poland, in 1683. No lyric poems in the Italian language are
more universally known. They are undoubtedly splendid and effective
compositions. They inspired Wordsworth with the following Sonnet:

    'Oh, for a kindling touch from that pure flame
    Which ministered, erewhile, to a sacrifice
    Of gratitude, beneath Italian skies,
    In words like these: 'Up, Voice of Song! proclaim
    'Thy saintly rapture with celestial aim;
    'For lo! the Imperial City stands released
    'From bondage threatened by the embattled East,
    'And Christendom respires, from guilt and shame
    'Redeemed, from miserable fear set free
    'By one day's feat, one mighty victory.
    'Chant the deliverer's praise in every tongue;
    'The Cross shall spread, the Crescent hath waxed dim,
    'He conquering, as in joyful Heaven is sung;
    'He conquering through God, and God through Him.'"

The poems rise to the occasion, but at times they are more rhetorical
than poetical, and the constant apostrophes to God to wake up from His
sleep are not in the best taste. Filicaia unfortunately devotes almost
as much eulogy to the ungrateful Leopold as to the heroic Sobiesky, and
the grovelling adulation with which he addresses Royal and Imperial
personages, detracts from the loftiness of the whole.

Filicaia was remarkable for tenderness. One of the finest of his
sonnets is on Divine Providence:

    "Qual madre i figli con pietoso affetto,"

in which thought and pathos are blended with admirable art. Some of
his sonnets are strikingly ingenious. Very beautiful is that on the
earth-quake of Sicily, in 1683:

    "Quì pur foste, o Città; nè in voi quì resta
    Testimon di voi stesse un sasso solo,
    In cui si scriva: Quì s'aperse il suolo,
    Qui fu Catania, e Siracusa è questa!"

Very beautiful are some of his religious verses:

    "Avess' io scritto meno, e assai più pianto;
    E stil men terso avessi, alma più bella,
    Men chiaro ingegno, e cor più puro e santo!"

The final impression left by Filicaia's poems is that he was a great
nature rather than a perfect poet, and that it is owing to the
loftiness of his spirit rather than to the mastery of his art, that his
pages, too often cumbrous and conventional, are irradiated with flashes
so brilliant and striking that they leave an indelible impression on
the reader and place the poet on a pedestal more lofty and honourable
than many writers, gifted with keener wit and more vivid imagination,
can ever hope to ascend.

As Chiabrera took Pindar for his model, so did FULVIO TESTI endeavour
to appear in the character of an Italian Horace. And, in truth, he
had many qualities to justify his undertaking the task. He has wit,
ingenuity, clear and pointed expression, and a mind genuinely poetical.
He seems to have developed early, and some of his best pieces were
written before he was twenty-five. He dedicated an edition of his poems
to Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, and thereby incurred the wrath of
the Spanish Governor of Lombardy, and had to take refuge in flight.
The Duke of Modena became his patron and gave him a pension, and his
successor, Francis I, was even more favourable to the poet, and took
him in his suite to Madrid in 1638, when Philip IV of Spain conferred
upon him a lucrative office. Testi resembled Ariosto in being made
Governor of the Province of Garfagnana, and Tasso in exciting the most
intense hatred and jealousy. For some unexplained reason, he was
arrested early in 1646 and thrown into prison, where he met his death
on the twenty-eighth of August. It is suspected that he was executed
within the precincts of the prison, but nothing certain is known; all
is suspicion and mystery. If he has not left anything very memorable,
his poems are at least spirited and elegant, and, unlike many of his
contemporaries, he is never dull and ponderous. Some of his letters are
witty and vivacious.

The great painter, SALVATOR ROSA, often amused his leisure with writing
verses, and if his attention had not been so strongly directed to
the sister art of painting, he might have achieved notable success
in poetry. Some of his ballads are spontaneous and natural, and his
satires show genuine powers of observation and ridicule. That on the
painters of his day is, perhaps, the best, and is well worth reading.

Another satirist of merit was BENEDETTO MENZINI. Like Filicaia, he
enjoyed the patronage of Christina of Sweden. Never, since the terrible
catastrophe of the sack of Rome under Clement VII, did the Eternal
City present such a magnificent aspect as in the latter part of the
Seventeenth Century. The stately days of Leo X seemed to be revived.
Alexander VII signalised his Pontificate by extraordinary splendour.
The colonnade enclosing the square before St. Peter's was erected by
Bernini in his reign. Christina vied with the Pope in the magnificence
of her Court. The Ambassadors to the Vatican endeavoured to out-shine
each other in pomp and luxury. If Menzini who lived in the heart of
this splendid society, did not transfer more than a dim reflection of
its brilliancy to his pages, he writes at least as a man who has seen
and observed much, and he is neither a pedant nor an empty declaimer.
He wrote an Art of Poetry--in verse, almost as good as that written in
France at the same period by Boileau. His sonnets and serious poems are
much more conventional. He was a good Latinist, but the great series of
Italian writers of Latin poems closed with the sparkling epigrams of
the brothers Amaltei.

Another lyric poet attracted to Rome by the liberality of the Queen
of Sweden was ALESSANDRO GUIDI. He found a patron not only in that
Princess, but also, early in the Eighteenth Century, in Pope Clement
XI, whose Latin homilies he turned into Italian verse. Previous writers
had, in the composition of their Odes, observed the most rigid rules
of metre and rhyme. The same stanza, the same order of rhymes, was
maintained throughout each poem. Guidi, whether from want of skill, or
from indolence, or from love of originality, was thé first to discard
this iron regularity, and to write Odes in irregular stanzas, even
occasionally leaving verses without giving them a succeeding rhyme.
This was followed at intervals by other writers, until it culminated
in the boundless freedom of Leopardi, who, in his last productions,
introduces rhymes so sparingly as to make his metre little more than
a modification of blank verse. After Leopardi's imitators had tired
the public ear with their slipshod effusions, a reaction set in,
and regular stanzas are now more than ever in favour, the long and
elaborate stanzas of Filicaia being, however, neglected for the lighter
and more pointed quatrains.

By this license, strongly censured at the time, Guidi undoubtedly
gained greater freedom of movement, and he is never obliged to force
his thoughts and twist his phrases. But it cannot be said that his
conceptions are more natural and unconventional than those of his
predecessors. He has no great glow of imagination, no rainbow hues
of fancy, no depth of thought, nor has he any powers of pathos or
tenderness. But he is always tasteful and scholarly, and his works are
perfectly free from any taint of coarseness or vulgarity.

ALESSANDRO MARCHETTI was remarkable rather for his magnificent
translation of Lucretius than for any of his original productions. The
book was considered in Italy of a tendency too dangerous to be allowed
to pass the censorship, and it had to be printed in London and smuggled
surreptitiously into the country of its origin.

FRANCESCO REDI wrote one very celebrated work, _Bacco in Toscana,_ a
dithyramb, full of fire and enthusiasm, a species of poem of which
there are few examples in the Italian language. He was a physician by
profession, and greatly advanced the science of his time. He died in

CARLO MARIA MAGGI wrote some pleasing poems in the Milanese dialect,
and some of his Sonnets addressed to Italy have the patriotic fire so
much extolled in Filicaia.

FELICE ZAPPI and FAUSTINA MARATTI, his wife, wrote some noble and
spirited Sonnets. One by Zappi on the Moses of Michael Angelo, has most
striking beauty and originality.

The Seventeenth Century was not rich in comic poets. The versifiers of
the age are mostly distinguished by a rather monotonous seriousness.
Two poets, however, are remarkable for their comic inventions, LORENZO

The former, a Florentine, was painter as well as poet. He wrote a
burlesque poem in Ottava Rima called the _Malmantile._ It is valued
as a storehouse of Tuscan phrase, and is, indeed, so full of the slang
of the Mercato Vecchio as to be almost unintelligible to Italians
themselves, much more to foreigners, without the copious annotations of
the commentators.

ALESSANDRO TASSONI was a native of Modena, born in 1565, died in
1635. He distinguished himself as a Commentator on Petrarch, but more
especially by his mock-heroic poem, _La Secchia Rapita,_ which may be
translated _The Rape of the Bucket._ Like so many other writers of
the day, he passed his life in the service of Cardinals md Princes,
and he suffered much from the caprice of his masters and the envy
of his rivals. But he ended his days peacefully as a pensioner of
Francis I, Duke of Modena. His principal work, _La Secchia Rapita,_ has
much ingenuity of thought to recommend it, but his style is somewhat
deficient in colour, and his subject is not very interesting in itself,
nor is it made so by its author. Misled by the similarity of the names,
Dickens, in his _Pictures from Italy,_ attributes the _Secchia Rapita_
to Tasso. Among mock-heroic poems of modern times, Boileau's _Lutrin_
may be said to be slightly inferior to the _Secchia Rapita,_ but Pope's
_Rape of the Lock_ and Leopardi's _Paralipomeni_ vastly superior, both
in brilliancy of thought and perfection of style.

In comparing the poetry of the Seventeenth Century with that of the
Sixteenth, we are struck by the curious fact that its authors have
a more old-fashioned air than their predecessors. This is partly to
be-accounted for by their search for ingenious conceits, which prevents
them from being as flowing and natural as the contemporaries of Ariosto
and Tasso. Their style, too, is more cumbrous. They are fonder of
long and complicated periods than the poets of the Sixteenth Century.
But they have many compensating qualities. Their very fault of being
too artificial in thought and imagery argues the possession of no
little imagination and fertility. A man cannot pervert into strange
and fantastic forms his thoughts and conceptions without being at
considerable pains to do so. None of these writers spare themselves
any trouble, and they often choose the most difficult metres which
the language can present. Their great defect is conventionality of
phraseology, which began with Tasso and only ended in the Nineteenth
Century with Monti. They bedeck themselves with the rags of Ancient
Mythology, and do not seem for a moment to suspect that they would
look much better in unborrowed garments. Instead of talking of the
wind, they talk of Boreas. Instead of mentioning the sea, they mention
Neptune and Thetis. All this makes even the best of them unnatural and
pedantic to a degree, and it is only in their very finest passages that
they are enjoyable to the modern reader. The intense love for Classical
Antiquity had died out with the Renaissance, and the allusions to the
Gods of Greece and Rome were but the outcome of habit and convention.
Instead of adorning their works, these allusions positively make them
dry, for it is only Marino who uses them as they should be used: for
the display of brilliant pageants of description and imagery. He
conjures up a fairyland of his own as Keats did two hundred years later.

[Footnote 1: Lord Somers was a great admirer of Filicaia. See Lord
Campbell's _Lives of the Chancellors,_ and Macaulay's _History._]



In enumerating the Prose Writers of the Seventeenth Century, we are
confronted with the illustrious name of GALILEO GALILEI, which will
continue to be remembered as long as Science is cultivated.

This celebrated man was born at Pisa in 1564, and died at Arcetri, near
Florence, in 1642. He was Professor of Mathematics at the University
of Pisa, and there would be absolutely nothing of note to tell of his
life, had he not happened to come into collision with the Inquisition,
for maintaining, or rather for his method of maintaining, that the
earth revolved round the sun. He was cited to appear before the
Tribunal of the Inquisition, but when he arrived in Rome he was treated
with consideration, and even with distinction. His place of arrest was
the magnificent palace of the Tuscan Ambassador, near the Trinità de'
Monti. But it will be more satisfactory to quote his own statement in a
letter to a priest of his acquaintance, Father Vincenzo Renieri.

"From a youth upwards," he writes, "I meditated the composition of
a Dialogue on the Two Systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus. My chief
inducement was to explain the ebb and flow of the tides by the movement
of the earth. That which first acquainted Rome with my opinions on the
movement of the earth was a long dissertation which I addressed to
Cardinal Orsini, and then I was denounced as a scandalous and impudent
writer. After the publication of my Dialogues, I was summoned to Rome
by the Congregation of the Holy Office I arrived in Rome on the tenth
of February, 1633, and was confined to the delightful palace of the
Tuscan Ambassador on the Trinità de' Monti. Next day I was visited by
Father Lancio, Commissary of the Holy Inquisition. He took me with him
in his carriage. On the way he asked me numerous questions. He was most
zealous in his endeavour to make me repair the scandal I had given to
the whole of Italy by maintaining the shocking doctrine that the earth
revolved round the sun. To all my arguments, drawn from physics and
mathematics, he answered in the words of Scripture: '_Terra autem in
æternum stabit, quia Terra autem in æternum stat._' Occupied in this
conversation, we arrived at the Palace of the Holy Office, situated
to the west of the magnificent Church of St. Peter. I was immediately
presented by the Commissary to Monsignor Vitrici, the Assessor. Two
Dominican Monks were with him. They politely requested me to produce
my arguments before the full Congregation, so that in case I should
be condemned my defence might be heard. The following Thursday I was
presented to the Congregation. I produced my proofs, but unhappily
they were not appreciated, and all my endeavours failed to make them
acceptable. They zealously endeavoured to convince me of the scandal I
had given, and the passage of Scripture was always quoted as a proof of
my guilt. I remembered opportunely an argument drawn from Scripture.
I alleged it, but with little success. I said that it appeared to me
that there were passages in the Bible worded in accordance with the
popular views of Astronomy current in antiquity, and that the passage
which was quoted against me might be conceived in that spirit. I added
that in the Book of Job, chapter xxxvii, v. 18, it is said that the
heavens are as if they were made of metal and bronze. Elihu it is who
utters these words. Thus we clearly see that he speaks according to
the system of Ptolemy, and that system has been proved to be absurd by
modern philosophy and common sense. If, therefore, so much stress is
laid on Joshua stopping the sun, we ought also to consider that passage
where it is said that the heavens are composed of so many skies like
mirrors. The inference seemed to me to be perfectly logical. Still, it
was always slurred over, and I could extract no reply except a shrug of
the shoulders, the usual refuge of those who have made up their minds,
and who are deaf to argument from excess of prejudice.

"Finally, I was obliged, as a good Catholic, to retract my opinion,
and my Dialogue was placed on the Index of forbidden books. After
five months I received permission to leave Rome. Florence was then
visited by the Plague, and as the place of my arrest, I was sent, as
a great favour, to the abode of the dearest friend I had at Siena,
the Archbishop Piccolomini. His company gave me so much pleasure and
contributed so much to my peace of mind, that I resumed my studies,
and after another five months, when the Plague had lost its virulence
in Florence, I was, by the kindness of his Holiness the Pope, allowed
to exchange the confinement of that house for the liberty of a country
retreat which I so vastly enjoy. Towards the beginning of December of
this year, 1633, I returned to the Villa of Belriguardo, and then to
Arcetri, where I am now, enjoying salubrious air in the neighbourhood
of my cherished Florence."

This letter, dated Arcetri, December, 1633, gives a plain unvarnished
account of what took place. It is obvious, from the expressions used
by Galileo, that he thought he was let off with considerable leniency.
We cannot fail to agree with him when we think of Bruno and Vanini,
who, not long before, had been burnt alive by the same Tribunal, and of
Campanella, confined in a dungeon for twenty-seven years.

Thus we see that there is no truth in the popular legend that he was
put to the torture, and there is probably as little in the anecdote
that on rising to his feet after his retractation, he exclaimed,
_"Eppur si muove!"_ Doubtless, if he had uttered those words, he would
have paid heavily for his temerity.

In his retirement at Arcetri he was at liberty to continue unmolested
those researches which have made his name immortal. His invention
of the telescope revealed to him many wonders of the Heavens. He
discovered the Satellites of Jupiter and the Ring of Saturn, although
he did not realise the annular nature of the latter object, a triumph
reserved for Huyghens. He observed the spots on the Sun and the
Mountains of the Moon. His researches in Chemistry enhanced his renown
with many memorable results.

Nor was it only as a man of science that he claimed the admiration of
the world. As a writer, he stands foremost in his age. His prose is
clear, unaffected, graceful, and occasionally eloquent and impressive.
His scientific treatises are models of lucidity. He himself, when
praised for that quality, attributed it in a large measure to his
constant perusal of the works of Ariosto. Clearness, indeed, is the
especial merit of that great poet. In his youth he wrote an essay
to prove the superiority of Ariosto to Tasso. He said Tasso gave us
words, and Ariosto, realities. This assertion may be somewhat sweeping,
but it has a foundation of truth. Still, he admitted that Tasso had
many qualities that please the reader, and that it was only the sharp
scrutiny of criticism which he could not sustain.

The works of Galileo are not very voluminous. First and foremost
in importance, comes the _Dialogue on the Two Systems of Ptolemy
and Copernicus._ His _Saggiatore_ is hardly less important. His
_Problems_ contain descriptions of many experiments, and his Letters
are as remarkable for wit and vivacity as for strength and boldness
of thought. His Essay on the comparative merits of Ariosto and Tasso
has already been mentioned. He took great delight in poetry, and we
are assured by his biographers that he knew by heart many passages
from Virgil, Ovid, Horace, and the Tragedies attributed to Seneca. In
Italian, he derived the greatest pleasure from Ariosto, and next to
him, from Petrarch and Berni. Dante is not mentioned, but it would be
extraordinary if the most profound and graphic of all poets did not
appeal to him, although the vagaries of taste are incalculable. It must
be remembered that in the Seventeenth Century the appreciation of Dante
had sunk to its lowest ebb.

Among those who signed the decree condemning the errors of the
illustrious Galileo, was Cardinal GUIDO BENTIVOGLIO, who, in spite
of that unfortunate circumstance, deserves honourable mention as an
historian and writer of Memoirs. He was employed as Nuncio by several
Popes in Flanders and in France. Gregory XV raised him to the Roman
purple, and when the Conclave met in 1644, after the death of Urban
VIII, there is every reason to believe that he would have been elected
Pope, had he not fallen ill and died on the seventeenth of September.
There is a magnificent portrait of him by Vandyke at Bologna.

He had many qualities of an able, though not of a great, writer. He had
the advantage of seeing and observing much, and the impress of his
experience is discernible in all he wrote. Ranke extols his Memoirs
as giving an attractive picture of his age, and, in truth, he is one
of the few authors, not of French nationality, who approach in merit
the great memoir-writers of France. He also wrote an account of his
missions as Nuncio, numerous Letters, and a History of the War of
Independence of the Netherlands against the despotism of Spain. The
_History_ is a readable and spirited narrative, and the historian is
seldom prejudiced or bitter. Having himself lived so long in Flanders,
he is able to give graphic descriptions of the localities he mentions.
Ambrosoli censures his style for its monotony, but I cannot say I ever
detected that defect. On the contrary, it seems to me to be as flowing
and animated as can be desired. A writer on historical subjects cannot
be expected to indulge in the fanciful digressions of novelists or
essayists. If Bentivoglio had lived to be Pope, he would doubtless have
distinguished his Pontificate in a manner worthy of his abilities.

A greater historian than Bentivoglio appeared in DAVILA, a native of
Padua. In his youth he served in the French army, and then in that
of the Republic of Venice. He was of noble origin, and his ancestors
occupied the post of Grand Constable of the Island of Cyprus when it
was still under the dominion of Venice. They had the privilege of
taking their seat next to the Doge when they appeared in the Grand
Council, and this privilege was accorded to Davila himself, in such
high esteem was he held. In 1630, he published his _History of the
Civil Wars of France,_ the work to which he is indebted for his
literary fame. He was appointed in the following year Commandant of
the garrison of Crema, but on his way from Venice to that town he was
foully murdered in a village named San Michele.

Davila was a man of action rather than of letters, and it is therefore
not surprising if his style is less purely Tuscan than that of
more elegant scholars. But he had great strength of thought, keen
penetration, and no contemptible knowledge of affairs. These qualities,
added to the interesting events he narrates, secured great attention
and applause for his work. He has, however, some defects. He is not
always very skilful in presenting vivid pictures to the imagination and
he sometimes Italianizes the names of persons and places until they
become hardly recognisable. Thus Elboeuf is metamorphosed into Ellebove.

FRA PAOLO SARPI obtained immense reputation, especially in Protestant
countries, for his _History of the Council of Trent_ and his bitter
pamphlets against the Court of the Vatican. In the great contest
between the Republic of Venice and Pope Paul V, he took the part of
his native city with intrepidity not unalloyed by ferocity. He was
undoubtedly a man of great abilities, but his abilities were sharpened
by his rancour and malignity.

Another historian of the Council of Trent, but one who regarded it from
the point of view of the Papal party, was Cardinal SFORZA PALLAVICINO,
one of the most brilliant men that ever entered the Society of Jesus.
He was so amiable and benevolent that Pope Alexander VII used to say of
him "Il Cardinal Pallavicino é tutto amore." He died in 1667. His works
comprise, besides the _History of the Council of Trent,_ a _Treatise
on Christian Perfection,_ an _Essay on Style_ and a _Biography of
Alexander VII._ All these works are remarkable for distinction of
style, although he sometimes indulges too much in pointed antitheses.
He was very unlike Davila in the care and polish he bestowed upon his

Another Jesuit, DANIEL BARTOLI, wrote the _History of his Order_ and
the _Lives of Eminent Jesuits_ in a style little short of perfection.
He has indeed been accused of elaborating his phrases until they
ceased to be natural; and yet in spite of his elaboration, he had his
cavillers who pointed out idioms of doubtful correctness, and said
_Questo non si può dire, (this cannot be said.)_ He replied to them in
a witty pamphlet: _The Right and Wrong of the Non Si Può._ "A clever
work," says Fontanini; "but the Author's cleverness would have been
better displayed in avoiding the errors than in defending them with
obstinate ingenuity."

An eminent preacher and divine of the age was FATHER PAUL SEGNERI
whose books of devotion are still used in Catholic countries. He, too,
was a Jesuit, but his style is not quite so good as that of his two
predecessors. It is occasionally too pompous and declamatory; but he
had a fertile and vigorous mind and preached and wrote from his heart.

Another writer, less orthodox, but more celebrated, was GIORDANO
BRUNO. His works, however, although published on the threshold of the
Seventeenth Century, were conceived and written in the Sixteenth. He
was burnt alive for his heresies in the year 1601. For some years
he took refuge in England, and it would have been well for his
prosperity had he stayed there. In these days of greater latitude of
speculation, there appears to be little in his works to bring down
upon him so terrible a penalty, but the provocation hardly given by
the works, seems to have been afforded by the author. He was irritable
and vainglorious, and he knew neither prudence nor discretion. His
great treatise, _Della Causa, Principio ed Uno,_ is an exposition of
Pantheism, but his vague reveries have little foundation in science to
recommend them. He also wrote a Comedy, rather more indelicate than
should emanate from the pen of a philosopher.

CAMPANELLA, a somewhat kindred spirit, though without the latent
Atheism of Giordano Bruno, was a Dominican Friar, a native of Cosenza.
He was suspected of disaffection, perhaps of heresy, and was cooped
up for twenty-seven years in a narrow dungeon. He beguiled his weary
captivity by writing long philosophical works. They are, however, all
in Latin,[1] and therefore do not come within the scope of this volume.
I mention them as a sign of the revival of the long dormant spirit
of science and speculation. Campanella wrote in defence of Galileo's
theory of the rotation of the earth round the sun. Campanella obtained
his liberty in 1629 and retired to France, where he met with some
kindness from Cardinal Richelieu.

The first Edition of the celebrated _Dictionary of the Accademia della
Crusca_ was published in 1613. It is curious that with the universal
attention it aroused, it did not raise the standard of taste and
scholarship, for truth to tell, the average run of inferior writers
produced works incredibly bad.

There was a dearth of really good writers of stories in prose in the
Seventeenth Century. The _Stories_ of CELIO MALASPINI are racy and
amusing, and give a graphic idea of the manners and customs of the
early part of the Century, but they are often indelicate and have
few graces of style to recommend them. TRAJANO BOCCALINI wrote some
vivacious political and literary squibs which had a wide circulation in
an age long before the introduction of newspapers, where alone writings
on such ephemeral topics now appear.

Florence could boast of a select band of philosophers, MAGALOTTI,
VIVIANI, REDI and DATI, but their influence does not seem to have
extended beyond Tuscany. AUTON MARIA SALVINI was a laborious grammarian
and one of the chief compilers of the Dictionary above named.

Probably the most eminent man of letters of the last ten years of the
Seventeenth Century was CRESCIMBENI, the historian of Italian poetry,
and the founder of the Arcadian Academy, still flourishing in Rome.
He was a writer of great talent and judgment, and he was more alive
than his contemporaries to the evils resulting from the exaggerated
metaphors and wild hyperboles introduced by the followers of Marino. He
looked out for a perfect model of poetry, and he found it in the works
of Angelo di Costanzo, and certainly that writer's equable sweetness
and refinement are unruffled by tempestuous passion or towering
sublimity. Crescimbeni might, we think, with greater propriety have
selected Dante, Petrarch, and Ariosto to reform the degraded taste of
the age; but still, the beauties of Costanzo are of a high order, and
the recommendation bore good fruit.

If it cannot be said of any writer of the Seventeenth Century that he
rises to the highest pinnacle of Art, yet, on a review of the whole
period, there remains an impression of much ingenuity and much vigour
of thought.

[Footnote 1: His poems, chiefly Sonnets, are in Italian.]



The precepts of Crescimbeni bore good fruit, and both prose and poetry
gradually freed themselves from the faults of taste so obvious in the
preceding generation. Verse became lighter and more flowing, although
there was, unhappily, no diminution of conventional phraseology or
of mythological allusion. The comic poets were numerous and gifted.
But, on the other hand, there was less seriousness and perhaps less
originality. The influence of French Literature began to prevail, and
it has not been shaken off even to the present day. The tyranny of
governments was not quite so oppressive. Public opinion began to revolt
against the most flagrant abuses, and a succession of enlightened
sovereigns and statesmen carried into practice the enlightened
philanthropy of Voltaire and the sentimental philanthrophy of
Rousseau. Indeed, all over Europe, there was a desire, in the second
half of the Eighteenth Century, to promote the welfare of the people,
such as was never evinced in the age of Davila or of Filicaia. Louis
XVI and Turgot in France, Charles III and Aranda in Spain, Pombal in
Portugal, the Grand Duke Leopold in Tuscany, were all zealous in the
cause of humanity and enlightenment. It seemed even to acute observers
that a golden age was awaiting the human race. Unhappily, the horrors
and crimes of the French Revolution rudely dispelled these pleasing
visions and produced a reaction, the effects of which threw back the
progress of humanity for many generations. It is heart-breaking to
think how different the development of Europe might have been, had the
extreme section of the French Republicans been kept in subordination
and had Roland guided the destinies of France instead of Robespierre.

The conquests of Napoleon completed what the Reign of Terror had begun.
Old abuses were swept away, but only to make way for tyranny more
hopeless and relentless. The loss of life and treasure was enormous,
and the decline in the wealth of Italy became more conspicuous than

Authors fared somewhat badly during this century. Princes, probably
following the example of the frivolous Court of Louis XV, no longer
even pretended to encourage science and literature. We hear of no poet
receiving even the precarious and capricious patronage bestowed upon
Tasso and Ariosto. Metastasio was the only poet who basked in the
sunshine of Royal favour, and he owed his prosperity to the Court of
Vienna, and not to the Court of Sardinia, or of Naples. The patronage
of the great was withdrawn, and that of the public had hardly begun.
Thus writers, unless possessed of ample means, had bitter struggles
with poverty and obscurity. Some, like Muratori and Parini, entered the
Church and became monks or abbés. Others, like Baretti and Algarotti,
sought their fortune in foreign lands. The impudent piracy of books,
and the unauthorised performance of plays deprived even popular authors
of the reward of their labours. Goldoni, after spending many years in
producing comedies that deserved and obtained applause, was glad to
find an asylum in France as reader of Italian to the three daughters of
Louis XV.

The great merit of the Eighteenth Century, in Italy as elsewhere, was
its light-heartedness and humanity; the great defect, its materialism
and frivolity. Indeed, it would be hard to conceive a more enervating
atmosphere than surrounded many Italian poets, especially in the
earlier part of the Century; and unhappily, the numerous literary
Academies, instituted all over the Peninsula, instead of arresting
the evil, positively aggravated it, as they devoted their attention,
with few exceptions, to subjects and thoughts of the most trifling
description. This frivolity is not wholly absent even from the works of
Metastasio, one of the most delightful poets that Italy ever produced.



PIETRO TRAPASSI was born in Rome on the third of January, 1698. His
parents were of humble origin, and he was apprenticed to a goldsmith.
He was gifted by nature with a musical voice, and he soon attracted
attention, not only by repeating the verses of others, but by
improvising verses of his own. A literary man of those days, Gian
Vincenzo Gravina, was among those who were interested in the infant
prodigy, and so high an opinion did he form of the youth's natural
abilities, that he decided to educate him and to start him in life.
Never did a benefactor bestow his kindness on a worthier object.
Gravina changed the boy's name from Trapassi to METASTASIO, and not
only taught him Greek and Latin, but also introduced him to the study
of the law, in which he himself was a proficient. In his will, he left
his protégé fifteen thousand scudi, that he might have leisure to
cultivate his intellectual gifts.

Unfortunately, Metastasio was but young, and his sudden accession to
fortune turned his head. The fifteen thousand scudi were soon spent
in the company of friends who deserted him the moment they discovered
that he was no longer able to entertain them as before. He awoke from
his dream of prosperity, and found himself solitary and neglected in
the vast wilderness of Rome. To add to his misfortunes, Pope Clement XI
had become prejudiced against him by the extravagance of his conduct.
He saw that there was no opening for him in Rome, and he determined to
fall back upon his legal knowledge and to enter the office of a notary
at Naples.

Italian Opera was beginning its brilliant career at that epoch, and
Metastasio had, when in Rome, written a drama for music which had
obtained much applause. A Neapolitan manager, on the look out for
a libretto, heard that the young Roman poet was in the town, and
commissioned him to write a work for his theatre. Metastasio produced
_Gli Orti Esperidi._ It was brilliantly successful. The celebrated
singer, Marianna Bulgarelli, surnamed "La Romanina," appeared as Venus,
and a life-long friendship was begun between her and the poet. His next
work, _Didom Abbandonata,_ was an even greater triumph, and, wonderful
for chose days, the poet derived handsome pecuniary profit from his
success. He was able in time to pay off his debts and to return to
Rome. Here he took Holy Orders, and was henceforth known as the Abbé

The Emperor Charles VI was a passionate lover of music, and kept not
only an Italian company in Vienna, but also an Italian poet to write
the words of the operas which his favourite composers received orders
to set to music. The poet was entitled "Poeta Cesareo," and enjoyed a
liberal stipend. The post was occupied by Apostolo Zeno, a Venetian,
who, on retiring by reason of advancing years, recommended the
brilliant Metastasio as his successor. Accordingly, in 1730, Metastasio
set out for Vienna, and although he lived for fifty-two years longer,
he never returned to his native country.

His old friend, Marianna Bulgarelli, died some years after he had gone
to Austria, and she left him a large part of her considerable fortune.
But he refused to accept it, as he was of opinion that it ought to have
gone to her husband, to whom, accordingly, it was handed over.

Metastasio is the only writer of librettos whose works have risen to
the dignity of a classic. Indeed, they are still remembered when the
composers who set them to music have sunk into oblivion. Some of his
dramas seem to have been used by several composers in succession, and
one, _La Clemenza di Tito,_ produced in Vienna for the first time with
the music of Caldara on the fourth of November, 1734, was many years
afterwards used by the illustrious Mozart.

The highest favour of the Imperial family was bestowed upon Metastasio
during the reign of Charles VI, and was continued by the Empress Maria
Theresa and her son, Joseph II. It was only natural that he should feel
the most intense loyalty in return, and when the House of Hapsburg
suffered cruel reverses in the War of the Austrian Succession, and
later on, in the Seven Years' War, he sympathised acutely with his
Imperial mistress.

Alfieri tells us in his _Memoirs_ that he might have had an
introduction to Metastasio during his stay in Vienna, but that he saw
him one day in the park at Schönbrunn making the customary obeisance to
Maria Theresa with an air of such cheerful adulation, that he conceived
the most supreme contempt for so servile a poet. But surely this is
carrying independence to the verge of churlishness. If Metastasio had
not reason to show his gratitude, who had? And the most ardent opponent
of tyranny must own that Maria Theresa had qualities that give her
a lofty rank among the monarchs, not only of her own century, but of
those past and to come.

Metastasio lived in uninterrupted prosperity in Vienna for half a
century, and when he died on the twelfth of April, 1782, he was
universally regretted in the country of his adoption and in that of his
birth. He amassed a handsome fortune of one hundred thousand florins,
which he left to the family of the Councillor Martinez, with whom he
had resided since he first came to Vienna.

The popularity of Metastasio's works during his lifetime was unbounded.
He is of all Italian poets the easiest for a foreigner to understand.
In consideration for the composers, he only selected those words that
most readily lent themselves to the purpose of singing. Thus his
vocabulary is somewhat limited, and he has a tendency to repeat the
same imagery. The construction of his phrases is simplicity itself, and
he offers no obscure passages for the reader to solve. He is neither
very profound nor very picturesque; he is essentially musical. But he
had a beautiful mind, and his tenderness and pathos have the qualities
of freshness and purity. The dialogue of his dramas, though musical
in versification, is not striking in substance, but every character
of importance, before leaving the stage, or at the end of an act,
is given a song, and it is by virtue of these glorious songs that
Metastasio continues to charm us even at the present day. They are so
musical that they positively sing themselves. They are so clear and
pointed in expression, that they easily impress themselves upon the
memory. He takes his plots from Ancient History and from Mythology,
and for his Oratorios, from the Bible. The local colouring is not
always very vivid, and we see too often the powdered hair and the red
heels of the age of Rococo. But the stories have plenty of spirit
and human interest, and if heroes like Titus and Cæsar sigh too much
in the manner of love-lorn swains, they do so in lines so melodious
that pardon cannot be withheld. An exquisite selection could be made
from the songs in Metastasio's operas, in which we find thoughts
tender, beautiful and ingenious, expressed in language delightfully
spontaneous, fresh and emphatic. The meaning is so linked with the
music of the verse, and that music is so peculiar to the Italian
language, that the subtle charm of the original would evaporate in

I will quote a few of the finest.

In the _Didone Abbandonata,_ Dido charges her sister Selene, who
herself is in love with Æneas, to assure him that she will ever love
him. Selene leaves the stage after singing the following song. The
passages in brackets are supposed to be asides:

    Dirò che fida sei,
    Su la mia fè riposa;
    Sarò per te pietosa;
    (Per me crudel sarò.)

    Sapranno i labbri miei
    Scoprirgli il tuo desio.
    (Ma la mia pena, oh Dio!
    Come nasconderò?)

Dido vindicates her Royal dignity:

    Son regina, e sono amante;
    E l' impero io sola voglio
    Del mio soglio e del mio cor.

    Darmi legge in van pretende
    Chi l' arbitrio a me contende
    Della gloria e dell' amor.

Selene says that every lover fancies that beauty alone makes him
fall in love; but it is not beauty, it is a fond desire that rises
unexpectedly, that delights us, and we know not why:

    Ogni amator suppone
    Che della sua ferita
    Sia la beltà cagione,
    Ma la beltà non è.

    È un bel desio, che nasce
    Allor che men s'aspetta;
    Si sente che diletta,
    Ma non si sa perchè.

In the _Artaserse,_ Mandane implores of Arbace not to forget her, as
she will not forget him:

    Conservati fedele;
    Pensa ch' io resto e peno;
    E qualche volta almeno
    Ricordati di me.

    Ch' io per virtù d'amore,
    Parlando col mio core,
    Ragionerò con te.

In the Oratorio of _Gioas,_ Ismaele says that the race of David is not
exterminated as was supposed, and compares it to a flower that revives
from a languishing condition, and to a torch giving out new light when
it seemed to be dying:

    Pianta così, che pare
    Estinta, inaridita,
    Torna più bella in vita
    Talvolta a germogliar.

    Face così talora,
    Che par che manchi e mora,
    Di maggior lume adorna
    Ritorna a scintillar.

In the _Olimpiade,_ Argene, disguised as a Shepherdess, sings with a
Chorus of Maidens the praises of the forest:


    Oh care selve, oh cara
    Felice libertà!


    Qui se un piacer si gode,
    Parte non v'ha la frode,
    Ma lo condisce a gara
    Amore e fedeltà.


    Oh care selve, oh cara
    Felice libertà!


    Qui poco ognun possiede,
    E ricco ognun si crede;
    Ne, più bramando, impara
    Che cosa è povertà.


    Oh care selve, oh cara
    Felice libertà!


    Senza custode o mura
    La pace è qui sicura,
    Che l'altrui voglia avara
    Onde allettar non ha.


    Oh care selve, oh cara
    Felice libertà!

Megacle declares that as he followed his friend in prosperity, so will
he stand by him in adversity:

    Lo seguitai felice
    Quand' era il ciel sereno;
    Alle tempeste in seno
    Voglio seguirlo ancor.

    Come dell' oro il foco
    Scopre le masse impure,
    Scoprono le sventure
    De' falsi amici il cor.

Aminta compares himself in his misfortune to a ship-wrecked mariner who
gives up all hope and abandons himself to his fate:

    Son qual per mare ignoto
    Naufrago passegiero,
    Già con la morte a nuoto
    Ridotto a contrastar.

    Ora un sostegno, ed ora
    Perde una stella; al fine
    Perde la speme ancora,
    E s' abbandona al mar.

The Chorus and Semi-chorus implore Jove to pardon a sacrilege:


    I tuoi strali, terror de mortali,
    Ah! sospendi, gran padre de Numi,
    Ah! deponi, gran Nume de' re.

    _Parte del Coro._

    Fumi il tempio del sangue d'un empio
    Che oltraggiò con insano furore,
    Sommo Giove, un imago di te.


    I tuoi strali, terror de' mortali,
    Ah! sospendi, gran padre de' Numi,
    Ah! deponi, gran Nume de' re.

    _Parte del Coro._

    L'onde chete del pallido Lete
    L'empio varchi; ma il nostro timore,
    Ma il suo fallo portando con se.


    I tuoi strali, terror de' mortali,
    Ah! sospendi, gran padre de' Numi,
    Ah! deponi, gran Nume de' re.

In the Opera of _Demofoonte_ Dircea declares her constancy to Timante:

    In te spero, o sposo amato,
    Fido a te la sorte mia;
    E per te, qualunque sia,
    Sempre cara a me sarà.

    Pur che a me nel morir mio
    Il piacer non sia negato
    Di vantar che tua son io,
    Il morir mi piacerà.

Creusa contrasts the happiness of primitive ages with the artificiality
of the present:

    Felice età dell' oro,
    Bella innocenza antica,
    Quando al piacer nemica
    Non era la virtù!

    Dal fasto e dal decoro
    Noi ci troviamo oppressi;
    E ci formiam noi stessi
    La nostra servitù.

In the _Isola Disabitata,_ Costanza deplores her forsaken condition:

    Se non piange un' infelice,
    Da' viventi separata,
    Dallo sposo abbandonata,
    Dimmi, oh Dio, chi piangerà?

    Chi può dir ch'io pianga a torto,
    Se nè men sperar mi lice
    Questo misero conforto
    D'ottener l' altrui pietà?

In the _Clemenza di Tito,_ Titus declares that if he cannot reign by
love, he will not reign by fear:

    Se al impero, amici Dei!
    Necessario è un cor severo,
    O togliete a me l' impero,
    O a me date un altro cor.

    Se la fe de' regni miei
    Con l' amor non assicuro,
    D'una fede io non mi curo
    Che sia frutto del timor.

The Chorus declares that it is not to be wondered at that the Gods
protect a Prince as noble as themselves:

    Che del Ciel, che degli Dei
    Tu il pensier, l'amor tu sei,
    Grand' eroe, nel giro angusto
    Si mostrò di questo dì.

    Ma cagion di meraviglia
    Non è già, felice Augusto,
    Che gli Dei chi lor somiglia
    Custodiscano così.

In the _Temistocle,_ Rossane admits that she is distracted by jealousy:

    Basta dir ch' io sono amante,
    Per saper che ho già nel petto
    Questo barbaro sospetto,
    Che avvelena ogni piacer;

    Che ha cent' occhi, e pur travede,
    Che il mal finge, il ben non crede;
    Che dipinge nel sembiante
    I deliri del pensier.

Serse declares that silence is more eloquent than words:

    Quando parto, e non rispondo,
    Si comprendermi pur sai,
    Tutto dico il mio pensier.

    Il silenzio è ancor facondo,
    E talor si spiega assai
    Chi risponde col tacer.

Temistocle fears no tortures, and is proud of dying:

    Serberò fra ceppi ancora
    Questa fronte ognor serena;
    E la colpa, e non la pena,
    Che può farmi impallidir.

    Reo son io; convien ch' io mora,
    Se la fede error s'appella;
    Ma per colpa così bella
    Son superbo di morir.

It is a law of nature that we feel for that sorrow which we have felt

    È legge di natura
    Che a compatir ci move
    Chi prova una sventura
    Che noi provammo ancor;

    O sia che amore in noi
    La somiglianza accenda;
    O sia che più s'intenda
    Nel suo l'altrui dolor.

A noble prisoner feels himself superior to his cruel oppressor:

    Guardami prima in volto,
    Anima vile, e poi
    Giudica pur di noi
    Il vincitor qual è.

    Tu libero e disciolto,
    Sei di pallor dipinto;
    Io di catene avvinto,
    Sento pietà di te.

Adoration of Divinity:

    Te solo adoro,
    Mente infinita,
    Fonte di vita,
    Di verità;

    In cui si move,
    Da cui dipende
    Quanto comprende

A faithless friend will never make a faithful lover:

    Avran le serpi, O cara,
    Con le colombe il nido,
    Quando un amico infido
    Fido amator sarà.

    Nell' anime innocenti,
    Varie non son fra loro
    Le limpide sorgenti
    D'Amore e d'amistà.

If the sorrows of everybody could be known, how few would be envied:

    Se a ciascun l'interno affanno
    Si vedesse in fronte scritto,
    Quanti mai ch' invidia fanno,
    Ci farebbero pietà!

    Si vedria che i lor nemici
    Hanno in seno; e si riduce
    Nel parere a noi felici
    Ogni lor felicità.

The age of gold still lives in the hearts of the innocent:

    Ah! ritorna, età dell'oro,
    Alla terra abbandonata,
    Se non fosti immaginata
    Nel sognar felicità.

    Non è ver; quel dolce stato
    Non fuggì, non fu sognato;
    Ben lo sente ogn' innocente
    Nella sua tranquillità.



If the Eighteenth Century was frivolous and luxurious, it was also
picturesque and elegant. The age of Dresden china, the age of Watteau
and Liotard in painting, must also have left its impress of refined
gaiety on poetry. We find that impress in the satires of Pope, in the
lighter poems of Voltaire, and in the musical verse of Parini.

GIUSEPPE PARINI was born of humble parents at Bosisio, a hamlet in the
district of Milan, near the lake of Pusiano, on the twenty-second of
May, 1729. He was educated in Milan at the Arcimboldi Gymnasium, under
the direction of the Barnabite Fathers. He showed marked ability and
strong inclination for literature. But he had his parents to support,
and necessity forced him to become a law-writer. This occupation
furnished him with the means of studying Theology, and he entered the
priesthood. In 1752 he published his first volume of poems, which,
immature as it was, contained sufficient elements of promise to gain
for him many friends and admirers, and he was elected a member of the
Academy of the Trasformati of Milan and of the Arcadia of Rome.

Still, he was in great distress, and he was compelled by poverty to
become a tutor in private families, and when his father died, he sold
the bit of land that came to him in order to supply his mother with
the necessaries of life. But, in spite of misfortune, his ambition was
not dormant, and he determined that nothing from his pen should see
the light until it was brought to the utmost height of perfection. He
conceived the plan of his great work, _Il Giorno,_ and the first part,
entitled _Il Mattino,_ was published in 1763, and the second part,
entitled _Meriggio,_ two years later.

Count Firmian, the Austrian Governor of Lombardy, was induced by
Parini's reputation to entrust him with the editorship of an official
Gazette, and later on gave him the post of Professor of Literature at
the Palatine School at Milan, and after the suppression of the Jesuits
he was appointed in the same capacity at the College of the Brera.
These appointments made his circumstances a little more comfortable,
but his health gradually deteriorated. An affection of the muscles of
the legs seems to have deprived him of che free use of his limbs, and
it became so much worse with years, that he ended by being hardly able
to walk at all. To add to his misfortunes, his spirit was independent,
and his judgment on men and books sharp and even acrimonious. Thus
he made many enemies, and when Count Firmian died, he lost his
appointments just at the time when he wanted support for his declining
years. His sight failed him from overstudy, and at last death came to
him as a release on the fifteenth of August, 1799.

His fame as a great poet rests entirely on _Giorno._ The third part,
_Il Vespro,_ and the fourth, _La Notte,_ were not published until after
his decease. Although the work occupied him for nearly forty years, it
remained incomplete after all, a few lines being wanted to conclude _La
Notte._ He was one of those poets who write and re-write their works
until they reach the last point of elaboration. His mind was not very
fertile, and when a thought occurred to him, it was too precious to be
dismissed until it had been adorned with all the resources of his art.

That art, at its best, is brilliantly successful. His blank verse
attained a perfection which had never yet been witnessed in the
Italian language. Indeed, his blank verse is immeasurably superior
to his rhymes. His sonnets and odes are hardly preferable to the
better class of similar productions in his day, but the moment he
returns to blank verse, he regains all the powers of his mind and
is seen to the greatest advantage. The only defect of his style is
that it occasionally becomes stiff and heavy, probably the result
of over-elaboration. Its peculiar merit is its picturesqueness. It
is impossible to read fifteen or twenty consecutive lines in his
compositions without coming across a picture which a painter might
reproduce on his canvas.

This quality of picturesqueness is peculiarly observable in his best
work _Il Giorno,_ a mock-heroic poem in blank verse, describing a
day in the life of a Milanese nobleman. It must have had some truth
as a satire of manners, for one leader of Milanese Society, Prince
Belgiojoso, was so struck with the resemblance of its hero to himself,
that he hired some ruffians to waylay the author one evening and beat
him severely.

Parini's experiences as a tutor in noble families do not appear to
have been very happy, and his bile was excited against a class which,
even at its best, is apt to be frivolous and self-indulgent. The great
merit of the poem is its picturesqueness and its originality; the great
defect, its monotony of style, though not of thought or imagery. It
is all on one note, that of elaborate irony. He pretends to venerate
profoundly things which he most utterly despises. The difficulty of
sustaining this tone is often painfully apparent. Another defect is
that the poem, unlike the _Rape of the Lock,_ offers no connected
story. It accompanies the hero from the morning toilet to the midnight
ball. Never leaving this one character, a certain monotony is the
result, which the author has modified, though not removed, by a few
happy digressions. If the irony were not always so obviously insisted
upon, it would be at once more effective and more artistic.

As a sample of Parini's style, we may quote the exquisite passage
from the first part of the _Giorno,_ where the hero, after taking his
snuff-box, adorns himself with his rings, his watches (for in the
age of Parini it was the fashion to wear two of everything), and the
crystal locket containing the portrait of his love.

    "Ecco a molti colori oro distinto,
    Ecco nobil testuggine, su cui
    Voluttuosi immagini lo sguardo
    Invitan degli eroi. Copia squisita
    Di fumido Rapè quivi è serbata,
    E di Spagna oleoso, onde lontana,
    Pur come suol fastidioso insetto,
    Da te fugga la noia. Ecco che smaglia,
    Cupido a te di circondar le dita,
    Vivo splendor di preziosa anella.
    Ami la pietra ove si stanno ignude
    Sculte le Grazie, e che il giudeo ti fece
    Creder opra d' Argivi, allor ch'ei chiese
    Tanto tesoro, e d' erudito il nome
    Ti compartì, prostrandosi a tuoi piedi?
    Vuoi tu i lieti rubini? O più t' aggrada
    Sceglier quest' oggi l'indico adamante
    Là dove il lusso incantata costrinse
    La fatica e il sudor di cento buoi
    Che pria vagando per le tue campagne
    Faccean sotto a i lor piè nascere i beni?
    Prendi o tutti o qual vuoi; ma l'aureo cerchio
    Che sculto intorno è d'amorosi motti
    Ognor teco si vegga, il minor dito
    Prémati alquanto, e sovvenir ti faccia
    Dell' altrui fida sposa a cui se' caro.
    Vengane alfin de gli oriuoi gemmati,
    Venga il duplice pondo; e a te dell' óro
    Che al alte imprese dispensar conviene
    Faccia rigida prova. Ohimè che vago
    Arsenal minutissimo di cose
    Ciondola quindi e ripercosso insieme
    Molce con soavissimo tintinno!
    Ma v' hai tu il meglio? Ah sì; che i miei precetti
    Sagace prevenisti. Ecco risplende,
    Chiuso in breve cristallo, il dolce pegno
    Di fortunato amor: lunge, o profani!
    Chè a voi tant 'oltre penetrar non lice."

This is a style chiselled and finished to the last degree of
perfection; but it is somewhat wanting in ease, and its stiffness is
perceptible even in this quotation, much more in the extent of the
whole poem. Parini was somewhat deficient in tenderness, and that want
casts a dryness over portions of his work.

In this lack of tenderness he was very unlike Pope, with whom he had
otherwise many points of resemblance. Both were poets of the highly
elaborate civilization of their century. Both were intensely satirical
by nature. Both lived in cities, Pope seldom deserting London and its
neighbourhood, Parini seldom being seen beyond the precincts of Milan.
Both suffered from delicate health and deformity. Both were intensely
admired by their contemporaries, and regarded as masters of the Art
of Poetry. Pope, however, was singularly prosperous in the course of
his life, and Parini singularly unfortunate. The Italian poet had a
mind far less fiery and impetuous. He was also far less prolific and
versatile. Pope produced eight or ten masterpieces, each of which alone
would perpetuate his fame; Parini only one. Pope's mind often seems
as it were on fire, so ardent and brilliant are the emanations of his
genius. The light of Parini's verse is softer and mellower, and if he
does not dazzle us with the blinding splendour of Pope at his best,
he fills the ear with musical lines, and gratifies the imagination by
conjuring up pictures, finished like the finest miniatures, infinitely
pleasing and precious to a cultivated taste.



Italy had produced splendid epics, noble lyrics and spirited satires,
but up to the middle of the Eighteenth Century she had not produced a
single tragedy which could be placed beside the tragic masterpieces of
other nations. At last, in 1749, at Asti in Piedmont, the poet was born
who was destined in a certain measure to supply the want.

VITTORIO ALFIERI was born of noble and wealthy parents. His father
died soon after his birth, and his mother married again and survived
until 1792. He has left us in his Autobiography a complete picture
of his life and times. His relatives looked down upon learning and
science, and he was taught to feel thankful that he had no need to
study. He learnt a little Latin and a good deal of French, and that was
practically all that he took away with him from college. He entered
the Piedmontese Army, but he found the routine of military duties
so irksome that he asked and obtained leave from the King to travel
in foreign countries. He was presented to Louis XV at Versailles and
to Frederick the Great at Potsdam. He visited Sweden and Russia,
Holland and England, Spain and Portugal. He liked the Dutch and the
English best, and found in their countries the beneficial effects of
that liberty which he loved and to which he consecrated the fruits of
his genius. The development of his intellectual powers was, however,
phenomenally slow. He had practically forgotten his own language and
had to acquire it all over again. He was gifted with a fiery and
impetuous nature and intense vigour of thought, but the fertility of
his imagination was not commensurate with his other powers, Thus he had
to wait until study and observation had furnished him with sufficient
materials to enable him to write. This is the true explanation of the
torpid condition of his intellect for so many years.

A lady of Turin to whom he was much attached, fell dangerously
ill, and whilst he was sitting with her during the tedious hours
of convalescence, his eye fell upon some tapestries in her room,
representing the history of Anthony and Cleopatra. It occurred to him
that a fine tragedy could be written on the subject of their loves,
and he endeavoured to make the attempt. He liked the occupation, and
his ambitious spirit was fired by the hope that he might at last prove
to the world that Italy could produce a great tragic poet as well as
Greece, France, and England. He persevered, and by dint of labour and
study he overcame the difficulties of his task, not the least of which
was his inability to express himself in his native language, so that
he was at first obliged to write down his ideas in French, then to
translate them into Italian prose, and finally to alter the prose until
it became verse. His heroic industry was crowned with a measure of
success, and if he did not become an Italian Shakespeare or Sophocles,
he enjoys, at least, the distinction of being the first Italian writer
of tragedies who deserves serious consideration from the literary

His ample wealth enabled him to indulge in pleasures and pursuits
which often diverted his attention from his poetical labours. He was
especially fond of riding and horses, and he made several pilgrimages
to England to replenish his stud. English literature does not seem to
have occupied much of his attention. In his Autobiography he mentions
the works of Pope, and he says that he looked into Shakespeare and
became fully aware of his faults. It would have been well if he had
been equally alive to his beauties, and if he could have caught a
reflection of their rainbow hues to irradiate his own statuesque

In later years he made the acquaintance of Louisa Stolberg, Countess
of Albany, wife of Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and she took
refuge with him from the brutality of her drunken husband. They went
together to Paris, and there he published his tragedies in four
volumes, in 1789. They remained in Paris, convulsed as it was with the
frenzy of the Great Revolution, up to the very last moment compatible
with safety; and in 1792 they returned to Italy, just in time to escape
the massacres of September. They took up their abode in Florence, where
he amused himself with learning Greek and translating some of the
tragedies of Euripides. He died in 1803, and the Countess of Albany had
a magnificent monument by Canova erected to his memory in the Church of
Santa Croce.

Alfieri was a fertile writer, as was to be expected from the unwearied
industry which was one of his most salient characteristics. He
wrote numerous poems and satires, nearly thirty tragedies, several
comedies, translations from the Greek and Latin, political tracts,
and his Autobiography. His fame rests entirely on his Tragedies, his
Autobiography, and, I think, his Satires, some of which are very
racy and original, especially the piece descriptive of his travels
in foreign countries. His Autobiography gives us a vivid picture of
the Italy of the Eighteenth Century, of its torpor and frivolity. He
reveals himself with a complete absence of reserve, and his Life is
the only work in which he gives us vivid descriptions, all his other
productions being rather colourless from the lack of descriptions.

Want of colour is, indeed, the great defect of his poetry, as well as
of his prose. He had little eye for the beauties of Nature, and less
for the beauties of Art. He has nothing of the sweetness of Metastasio;
he has none of the exquisite details of Parini. Indeed, the details of
his works are singularly devoid of charm. To do them justice, we must
consider them as a whole, and not dwell on detached passages.

The best of his Tragedies, to my mind, is one of the earliest, the
_Filippo,_ on the subject of Philip the Second of Spain and Don Carlos.
One of the most striking passages in Alfieri is the laconic dialogue,
terrible in its fierce abruptness, between Philip and his confidant
Gomez, after they have overheard the interview between the lovers.

    _Filippo--_ Udisti?
    _Gomez--_           Udii.
    _Filippo--_               Vedesti?
    _Gomez--_                          Io vidi.
    _Filippo--_                       Oh rabbia!
                          Dunque il sospetto?...
    _Gomez--_                     E' omai certezza.
    _Filippo--_                        E inulto
                          Filippo è ancor?
    _Gomez--_                     Pensa...
    _Filippo--_                      Pensai ... Mi segui.

Nothing could be more spirited and effective, and had Alfieri often
written like that, very few tragic poets would have surpassed him. But
unfortunately, he is seldom seen to such advantage, and his inability
to cast the charm of imagination over his works makes them dry and
stony. He is a strict adherent of the French school in so far as
scrupulous observation of the three unities of time, place, and action
is concerned. But unlike the French dramatists, freedom, and not love,
is the mainspring of his tragedies. He brings as few actors on the
stage as possible. Some of his tragedies have only four characters.
It would be impossible for even the most skilful dramatist to make so
few persons fill up five acts without monotony and repetition, and
unfortunately Alfieri is anything but a skilful dramatist. His powers
of construction are but slight, and in many of his plays it is curious
to observe that the first act and the last are by far the best, the
three intervening acts being filled up with conversations that do not
greatly advance the action. He had, however, some power of delineating
character and some power of expressing passion, and his blank verse
has often a stern and rugged ring, impressive in its noble severity.
Thus it happens that some of his creations have proved effective in
the hands of great actors. Ristori achieved a brilliant triumph in his
_Mirra._ Salvini often appeared in _Saul_ and _Timoleon._ His _Saul_
has been extolled above all his other works, but I think _Virginia,_
the _Congiura de' Pazzi,_ and _Filippo_ are quite as fine. The
_Antigone_ and the _Agamemnon_ are terribly dry and colourless compared
to the creations of Æschylus and Sophocles. The _Abele,_ on the subject
of Cain and Abel, endeavours to enchant the reader with lyrical beauty,
but the poet's want of imagination is more painfully apparent than ever.

The great qualities of the poet are vigour of thought and tenacity of
purpose, thus he is seen to the greatest advantage in those plays that
deal with the aspirations of freedom and the downfall of tyrants. But,
unfortunately, these subjects do not admit of much variety, and when we
have read four or five of Alfieri's tragedies, we have practically read
them all. In perusing his plays, we have the impression as if we were
standing in a temple, bare and stern, adorned with only a few statues.
But, assuredly, the rigid grandeur of Alfieri's genius is better and
more worthy of praise and honour, than the meretricious ornaments of
too many of his contemporaries. He sounds an heroic note, and arouses
his hearers to noble deed and to magnanimous desire. There is nothing
low, nothing vile, in his works. He bids us ascend, not grovel. Every
line in his Tragedies was written with the desire of inspiring freedom
and patriotism. He hated oppression and he loved justice, and for that
he deserves honour and glory, and for that his Tragedies will ever hold
their own in the annals of literature, even though their creator does
not give us characters as human and varied as those of Shakespeare, or
compositions as perfect and splendid as those of Sophocles.



The three great writers whose works we have just examined, tower above
their contemporaries at an immeasurable height. Still, many able poems
were produced, and many authors are worthy of mention.

The first of these in point of time is EUSTACHIO MANFREDI, of Bologna,
who died in 1739. He was a mathematician and an astronomer, and he
added poetry to his other accomplishments. He was in love with a lady
of the name of Giulia Vandi, but she became a nun, and she was as much
lost to him as if they had been severed by death. He expressed his
sorrow in many sonnets and odes. He laboured sedulously to do justice
to his noble subject, but he had not the magic gift of genius which
alone confers immortality. His lines are not particularly melodious,
and though everything is good, nothing is enchanting.

NICCOLÒ FORTIGUERRA occupied many high posts in the Roman Curia. He
rose to great dignities, but it is said that he wished to rise higher,
and that his death in 1736 was caused by grief at not being made a
Cardinal. He amused his leisure hours with the composition of poetry,
and he gained the distinction of being the last poet to produce a long
epic in the style of Ariosto. This poem, called the _Ricciardetto,_
although the last in point of time, is by no means the last in point of
merit. He had a truly poetical mind and a genial disposition, and there
is a pleasing gaiety about his work that only wants to be expressed in
a style more rich and vigorous to achieve absolute greatness. It is
said that he made a wager that he would write his epic in as many days
as it contained cantos, and that he won his bet. The cantos are so long
that it is scarcely credible that he could have written each in a day.
Pope Clement XII took great interest in the work, and probably that
interest inspired the poet with the ambition of being raised to the
Roman purple. He published the _Ricciardetto_ under the pseudonym of

CARLO INNOCENZO FRUGONI was born in Genoa in 1692, and died at Parma
as Court Poet in 1768. _Frugonian_ poetry has become a bye-word to
indicate abundance of so-called eloquence, poverty of thought, and
cheap and hackneyed imagery. But Frugoni himself was by no means
a man devoid of talent. He had wit, he had imagination, he had
fertility. But he was without austerity of judgment. Whatever he wrote
delighted him, and he thought it would delight his readers. He did
.not stop to correct or to condense. He gave everything with perfect
self-satisfaction to the world. His verse is often most flowing and
musical, such as Metastasio might have written in his boyhood. He is
successful in his sonnets, chiefly because the strict symmetry of
that kind of composition prevents him from indulging in his favourite
foible of prolixity. Some of his lyric poems have fancy and elegance
to recommend them, but these good qualities are drowned in an ocean
of verbiage. He delighted in blank verse, and one of his funniest
compositions in that metre is entitled _L'Ombra di Pope,_ written
on the birth of a son of Lord Holderness, British Ambassador to the
Venetian Republic. The Ghost of Pope, in answer to Frugoni's prayers,
arises and prophecies the future of the noble infant and sings the
praises of its lovely mother. After paying many compliments to
Frugoni's poetical talents the ghost finally vanishes at break of day.

ALFONSO VARANO was a more earnest and impassioned spirit than Frugoni,
and he deserves the credit of having, both by precept and example,
drawn attention to the neglected beauties of Dante. His principal work
is his _Book of Visions,_ written in the metre of Dante and redolent
of his style. Varano resolutely discarded the hackneyed mythological
allusions that disfigure the works of his contemporaries. He is
strictly Christian, and he endeavours to be medieval. But he has hardly
sufficient foundation to go upon, his Visions are about nothing in
particular, and his style is not sufficiently flexible and picturesque
to delight readers who cannot help being reminded of Dante.

The Marquis GIAMBATTISTA SPOLVERINI, of Verona, born in 1695, died
in 1763, is remarkable for one extremely well-written poem in blank
verse on the cultivation of rice. The subject, as may be imagined, had
not previously been treated in poetry, and the author made himself
complete master of the technicalities of his theme. He devoted himself
to the perusal of the great models of poetry, and to writing verses
himself in order to acquire the necessary flexibility of style. He
laboured for many years over the details of the one work by which he
hoped to be remembered, and at last, in the memorable year 1758, he
gave _La Coltivazione del Riso_ to the world. But, alas! the world
paid no heed to the slender volume and went its way as usual. Deep was
the mortification of Spolverini. He could not realise that a poem so
important to himself, should appear so insignificant to the public. His
health and spirits gave way, and he died, unnoticed and unlamented, in
1763. The utter neglect of his contemporaries was neither discerning
nor creditable, and later years did justice to the numerous, though
unobtrusive, beauties of the poem. He has the merit, rare in his age,
of going straight to life and nature, and what he observes he is able
to record in spirited verse. But the subject does not appeal to the
general reader, and hence probably the utter indifference with which it
was received.[1]

GIAMBATTISTA PASTORINI, a native of Genoa, wrote a noble sonnet on the
city of his birth.

TOMMASO CRUDELI wrote some pretty fables. He languished for years in
the dungeons of the Inquisition, and died at the age of forty-two in

PAOLO ROLLI is remarkable for having translated _Paradise Lost_ into
Italian. He lived for many years as teacher of Italian in London where
he seems to have been well received. He returned to Italy in 1747 and
chose Todi in Umbria as his residence, where he died twenty years later
aged eighty.

Cassiani of Modena, produced some spirited Sonnets; so did ONOFRIO
MINZONI of Ferrara, and PROSPERO MANARA may be mentioned for the same

PIGNOTTI and BERTOLA were good fabulists, and Bertola enjoyed the
further distinction of being the first to introduce German Literature
into Italy.

Some of LUDOVICO SAVIOLI'S poems are musical in diction, but no poet of
the age revels more in the threadbare mythology of poetasters.

GIAN CARLO PASSERONI wrote a burlesque _Life of Cicero_ in one
hundred and one Cantos and in Ottava Rima, full of comic digressions,
by no means without wit and sprightliness, but quite spoilt by the
preposterous length to which the poem is spun out. His career bears
much similarity to that of Parini. Like the greater poet, he was a
priest, he lived in Milan, and he suffered many privations owing to
poverty. He seems to have carried not only disinterestedness, but utter
indifference to his affairs, to a culpable extent.

The ABBE CASTI was another poet who spoilt his wit by his prolixity.
He wrote the _Animali Parlanti_ and a collection of stories in verse,
less poetical and more indelicate than the prose of Boccaccio, and
finally a bitter satire on Catherine the Second of Russia. He had wit
in abundance and a coarse and ready style. His feuds with rival poets
were frequent and bitter, and Parini wrote some stinging verses against
him. In spite of his disreputable character he was nominated by the
Court of Vienna "Poeta Cesareo" after Metastasio's death, and the
appointment caused universal surprise and reprobation. After Casti the
post was discontinued. He died in Paris in 1503.

GIOVANNI FANTONI was an elegant, but somewhat conventional, imitator
of Horace. At the outbreak of the French Revolution, he nearly lost
his reason from excessive zeal for liberty, and his advanced opinions
brought down upon him many persecutions.

LORENZO MASCHERONI, a mathematician and a man of science, is remarkable
for a pleasing poem called _L'Invito a Lesbia Cidonia._ A lady of
Bergamo, the Countess Paolina Secco Suardo Grismondi, was known in the
Arcadian Academy as "Lesbia Cidonia." She was invited to visit Rome
when Mascheroni wished her to come to Pavia where he was living, and he
tried to induce her to do so by writing his poem full of descriptions
of the beauties of Pavia and of the treasures of its Museum. This
pleasing and original poem was much admired in its day. Mascheroni
wrote other poems in Italian and Latin, but nothing to equal this
little masterpiece. He was born in 1750 at Castagnetta, a small village
near Bergamo, and died in 1800 in Paris, whither he had retired during
the political storms that convulsed his country.

In reviewing the poetry of the Eighteenth Century the most striking
fact is the remarkable advance in the art of writing blank verse.
Spolverini, Parini and Alfieri produced works in that metre more
masterly than those of former ages. These poets know how to vary their
cadences, how to sustain the melody, how to produce an impressive
close; and if Spolverini is at times a trifle prolix and Parini a
trifle heavy, Alfieri skilfully Avoids both faults, and as far as
rhythm is concerned, his verse is absolutely perfect; but only his
blank verse; his rhymes, like those of Parini, are vastly inferior and
not nearly so gratifying to the ear.

[Footnote 1: The work was dedicated to Elizabeth Farnese, widow of
Philip V of Spain. The fact of her accepting the dedication must
have given it some importance in the eyes of the world. Ambrosoli is
my authority for its cold reception. A copy of the second edition,
published 1764, is in my possession. The editor says the poem was
received with universal admiration, but perhaps his motive was to
induce the public by that statement to buy his edition. Probably the
fact of the author's death, as is so often the case, drew attention to
his poem.]



The Prose Writers of the Eighteenth Century need not detain us long,
for with the exception of the Comedies of Goldoni, few works have any
sort of vitality. Some authors, especially writers of Memoirs, wrote in
French, like Casanova and Goldoni himself, whose Autobiography is in
that language. Indeed, for some years, the danger seemed to be imminent
that French would be as much used as Latin had been in former ages.

GOLDONI is a delightful writer, and some of his best comedies still
keep the stage. Those who have read Goldsmith's _Good-natured Man_ and
_She Stoops to Conquer,_ can form an accurate idea of what Goldoni was.
There is the same geniality, the same broad humour, the same light,
but effective delineation of character, and the same sparkling and
ingenious dialogue. If Goldoni has a fault, it is that his plots are
sometimes too thin, and that his comedies occasionally betray the
haste in which they were written. A few of his plays are in verse,
and some are in the Venetian dialect in which he is always racy and
spirited. He was a very fertile writer, and if many of his works are
inferior to his best, they all bear testimony to the fertility and
originality of his mind, and he deserves to be celebrated as the best
writer of comedy that his country has produced.

The performance of Goldoni's Comedies may still be witnessed with
pleasure, and his masterpiece, _La Locandiera,_ has recently been
seen in London with the celebrated Eleonora Duse as Mirandolina. The
character of the heroine and the art with which she keeps her forward
lovers at bay, are admirably conceived. _Il Burbero Benefico_ is
hardly inferior. It deals with a man who, under a rough surface, hides
a tender heart.[1] _Le Donne Curiose_ has many amusing situations,
brought about by the prying curiosity of some women. _Il Poeta
Fanatico,_ gives a laughable idea of the third-rate literary academies
of his day, and the character of the poet who is always at a loss for
a rhyme, is amusingly drawn. _La Famiglia dell' Antiquario,_ offers a
ludicrous exposure of the gullibility of collectors and amateurs who
have neither taste nor knowledge. _Le Smanie per la Villeggiatura_
takes for its theme the passion of Venetian families for spending some
months of the year in villas on the mainland. _L'Impresario_ has some
delightfully comic scenes between an Operatic Manager and his company.
_L'Avaro_ treats the same topic as Molière in one of his comedies,
and with hardly less success. _Il Ventaglio_ is ingenious in plot and
vivacious in dialogue. _I Rusteghi, Le Baruffe Chiozzotte, Sior Todero
Brontolon,_ and several other Comedies, are in the Venetian dialect,
in which he is quite it home, and in which he shows a vivacity and
originality worthy of all praise. As his works contain nothing immoral
or in any way indelicate they have always been in use at educational
establishments for theatricals in those classes where Italian is
taught. Goldoni is neither a philosophical nor a very profound writer,
but he is delightfully vivacious, and there is hardly one of his
comedies that the reader would not like to peruse a second time.

The brothers GASPARO and CARLO GOZZI were Venetians, like Goldoni,
but they were his rivals, and not his friends. Gasparo was a good
literary essayist, and he wrote the _Osservatore,_ a sort of imitation
of Addison's _Spectator._ He also defended Dante against Bettinelli's
attacks. Carlo produced some fantastic and imaginative plays, one
of which Schiller adapted for the German Stage, under the title of
_Turandot, Princess of China._ He has plenty of imagination, but his
poetical talents are hardly powerful enough to give adequate expression
to his really brilliant and original ideas.

A very different writer from these vivacious Venetians was the learned
MURATORI, for many years Librarian to the Duke of Modena. He was a man
of immense erudition and indefatigable industry. His works in Latin
and Italian fill more than one hundred volumes. His _Annali d'Italia_
constitute his most valuable work. He also wrote a treatise, _Della
Perfetta Poesia._ He died in 1750.

SAVERIO BETTINELLI, a Jesuit, may, perhaps, be taken as the most
perfect embodiment of the Italian literary man of the Eighteenth
Century. He had the light and easy style, the narrow canons of taste
and judgement, and the humane and benevolent spirit that characterised
his contemporaries. Although a Priest, he was a correspondent of
Voltaire, and the Italian Jesuit joined with the French Philosopher in
condemning the extravagant conceptions of those dreadful barbarians,
Dante and Shakespeare. In Dante he could discover absolutely no merit,
and he wrote long essays to convert his countrymen to his views. As
a poet, he is not without fluency and elegance, qualities which are
also conspicuous in his prose, which may still be read with pleasure,
though hardly with profit. His Tragedies appear very poor by the side
of those of Alfieri. He had plenty of learning and some acuteness, and
the tone of his mind is eminently judicious, but he could hardly rise
to the appreciation of conceptions greater than his own, and the shrine
at which he worshipped was that of academic elegance and delicate
refinement. He was inspired with genuine patriotism which led him to
write not only his chief historical work, _Risorgimento d'Italia,_ but
also some of his most spirited poems. His death took place in 1808, at
the great age of ninety.

ANTONIO MAGLIABECCHI was one of the greatest marvels of erudition
that ever lived. He was a goldsmith by trade, but his heart was in
his books, and through the patronage of Michael Ermini, Librarian to
Cardinal Medici, he obtained access to a library extensive enough to
quench even his thirst for knowledge. When his friend Ermini died, he
became his successor as Librarian. All day long he locked himself up
in his house, reading from morning till night, and only after dark did
he open his door, and then only to admit men of taste and learning in
order to indulge in erudite conversation. His habits were almost those
of a hermit. He wore an old coat which served him as an apparel by day
and a blanket by night. A straw-bottomed chair acted as table for his
frugal meals, and another chair, hardly more comfortable, was his bed
in which he sat up at night reading, reading, reading until he fell
asleep from sheer fatigue. The marvel is that such industry, coupled
with such privations, did not undermine his health, but we hear nothing
of injurious results. He was very kind and benevolent in character,
always ready to assist the inquiring with his knowledge and the needy
with his money. He died in 1714. He was a Florentine by birth, and
he left his library to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and also a sum of
money, the interest of which was to be used for the purpose of making
valuable additions to the volumes already collected. This library is
still open to the public in Florence. Magliabecchi both by precept and
example, gave an impetus to learning and research, but he did not offer
to the world any works of his own, contenting himself with editing
the lucubrations of others. Although he never travelled, he was well
acquainted, by catalogues and descriptions, with the libraries of other
cities. There is an anecdote of an acquaintance asking him how many
copies were known to be extant of a book noted for its rarity. "Only
three," was Magliabecchi's reply. "One belongs to me; one is in the
Vatican, and the third at Constantinople in the library of the Grand
Turk; you will find it in the third room, on the bottom shelf to the
right as you enter, where it is the seventh volume."

A noble family of Verona, the Maffei, gave two eminent men to the
Italy of the Eighteenth Century. The Marquis ALESSANDRO MAFFEI entered
the services of the Elector of Bavaria, and rose to be Field Marshal.
He was instrumental in gaining the great victory over the Turks at
Belgrade in 1717. He died in Munich in 1730, and left _Memoirs_ which
are both well-written and valuable as illustrating the history of
his times. His brother, SCIPIONE MAFFEI, was born on the first of
June, 1675. Scipione entered the Army and served under his brother
during the War of the Spanish Succession. His first work was a book
against the practice of duelling. When he returned to his native city,
he published a literary journal in conjunction with Apostolo Zeno
and Vallisnieri. He wrote a comedy, _La Ceremonia,_ and a tragedy,
_Merope,_ which became widely celebrated throughout Europe as the
prototype of Voltaire's tragedy on the same subject. Voltaire dedicated
his _Merope_ to Maffei, but he was in reality jealous of the reputation
the Italian work had acquired, and under a thin disguise he published
letters laying bare its foibles and defects. The task was not very
difficult, for Maffei's _Merope,_ beyond the fact of emanating from the
pen of an elegant scholar, has little to recommend it. The characters
are not very vividly drawn, and the blank verse is rather languid
and unimpressive. His best and most enduring work is the _Verona
Illustrata,_ a magnificent contribution to the history of his native
town. He died in 1755.

The Jesuit TIRABOSCHI produced a voluminous _History of Literature_ and
his work has both judgement and research to give it permanent value.

The humanitarian tendencies of the Eighteenth Century found an eloquent
exponent in the Marquis BECCARIA, a native of Milan. From a youth he
was inclined to the study of Philosophy, and he was much influenced
in his intellectual development by the contemporary French writers,
especially by Montesquieu. The first work with which he appeared
before the public was a pamphlet on the state of the Currency. In
conjunction with some friends, he published a journal called _Il
Caffé_ which advocated the humane and enlightened principles to which
he was devoted. But the great work by which he is remembered is the
treatise _Dei Delitti e delle Pene,_ published in 1764. In this book he
ventured to proclaim the doctrine that the penalty should not exceed
the offence. Barbarous sentences were passed in that age, not only in
Italy, but all over the world, for misdemeanours which do not call for
greater rigour than a few months' imprisonment. Criminals were broken
on the wheel, prisoners were tortured on the rack. All these frightful
abuses were attacked by Beccaria with the eloquence of burning
indignation, and he had the satisfaction of finding an abundant harvest
follow the sowing of the seed. Torture was abolished in France shortly
after the accession of Louis XVI, and even in the worst excesses of
the Reign of Terror nobody dared to suggest its revival. Many judicial
murders were committed, but none of the victims were tortured. It is
frightful to think what atrocities might have been perpetrated if that
odious and irrational practice had still been in force. Beccaria died
in 1793.

GAETANO FILANGIERI resembled Beccaria in his ambition to improve the
laws, and his great work, _La Scienza della Legislazione,_ obtained
an immense reputation for its author. He was the scion of a noble
Neapolitan family, and the Minister Tannucci showed some inclination to
carry out his ideas. But he died when he was only thirty-six in 1788.
Perhaps he was fortunate in not living to see the evil times in store
for his country.

FRANCESCO ALGAROTTI may be described as a sort of diluted Bettinelli,
but he had the merit of introducing Foreign writers to the Italian
public and of spreading the knowledge of Italian in Foreign countries.
Frederick the Great, who took delight in patronising the literature
of every nation except his own, received Algarotti hospitably at
Potsdam and conferred upon him the title of Count. He was a most
fertile writer and he took pleasure, not only in literary criticism,
but also in scientific investigation, and he was the first to make the
discoveries of Newton familiar in the Peninsula. His poems make but a
faint impression upon the modern reader, but they were such as the age
of Frugoni admired. In character he was discreet and amiable, hence his
personal popularity. His health gradually failed him and he died of
consumption at Pisa, in 1764, at the age of 51. Frederick the Great had
a handsome monument erected to his memory.

ANTONIO COCCHI was a fertile writer on scientific and miscellaneous
subjects, but it is the melancholy fate of scientific writers to be
superseded by their successors, however well they may have written. He
was born in 1695, and died in 1758.

GIROLAMO TAGLIAZUCCHI was Professor of Greek at the University of
Turin, and did much to spread the study of good literature.

GIOVENALE SACCHI, a Barnabite Monk, wrote books on music, dancing,
and poetry in a style of great purity and elegance. He was, however,
charged by the more austere spirits of his Order with devoting his
attention to subjects too frivolous and profane, and he had to endure
many persecutions. He died in 1789.

ANTONIO CESARI, a Priest of the Oratory, was born at Verona on the
sixteenth of January, 1760. He was an ardent admirer of the prose
writers of the Fourteenth Century, and it was his constant endeavour
to purify the Italian language from the Frenchified idioms it had
contracted in his day. Unlike Bettinelli, he was a devoted adherent of
Dante, and he wrote a book to point out his beauties, but he dwells
more upon the merits of the poet's style than upon the grandeur of his
conceptions. Cesari was a good translator, and he was particularly
successful in his rendering of the Comedies of Terence. In all his
works we find a deep and fervent spirit of patriotism, a fore-runner of
the wave of independence and devotion to their fatherland that swept
over the Italians of the Century that must now engage our attention.

[Footnote 1: _Burbero Benefico_ was originally written in French and
afterwards translated into Italian.]



The tremendous cataclysm of the French Revolution produced vibrations
and convulsions throughout the civilized world, nor is it a subject of
surprise that Italy responded more vehemently than any other country
to the voice of France. In its inception, the French Revolution was,
undoubtedly, a necessity, and not an evil. Nobody can tax Necker,
Mirabeau, and the Girondins with any other desire than the amelioration
of France and of humanity. But when, owing to the utter inability
of the leading statesmen to control the legislative assemblies they
had convened, the direction of affairs slipped out of their hands
into those of men to the last degree vindictive and unscrupulous,
and when the great movement became stained with crimes so appalling
and atrocities so inhuman as to find no parallel in history, it
is no wonder that the Sovereigns of Europe combined to stamp out
a devastating conflagration. But an event which no sagacity could
foresee, destroyed all their plans and made them powerless even in
their own dominions. One of the greatest generals the world has ever
seen, rose to supreme power in France, and the Sovereigns who hoped to
overawe Robespierre had in time to tremble before Napoleon. If, after
the Peace of Amiens, the great soldier had known how to moderate his
ambition, Europe might have been spared many sorrows and calamities;
but unhappily, he did not rest content with the glory he had acquired;
he soared in hope to universal dominion, and Europe was convulsed for
more than a decade with struggles such as the world has never yet
witnessed, and the loss of blood and treasure was immense. At last
he was defeated, but not until he had practically defeated himself;
for the greatest generals of his opponents were powerless against him
for many years, and they only prevailed when he had exhausted the
resources at his disposal. He fell from power never to rise again, and
the triumphant Allies inaugurated a reaction, the effects of which
were felt throughout the Nineteenth Century. The demons returned to
their dwellings, and the second habitation was worse than the first.
The one great Bastille had indeed been pulled down, but each country
had innumerable little Bastilles of its own. Austria seized Venice and
recovered Lombardy, and the mild and philanthropic rule of Firmian
was replaced by the iron despotism of Metternich. In Naples the
philanthropy of Filangieri had to make way for the ferocity of Bomba.
But the nations had tasted liberty, and the old spirit of submission,
more or less unwilling, had died out for ever. Secret societies sprang
up all over the Peninsula, and the Carbonari continued what the
Philosophers had begun. The old clemency of Joseph II and Leopold II
was replaced by angry suspicion and ruthless severity. Men of stainless
character were suspected of disaffection and subjected to rigours
which should be reserved only for the worst of criminals. Shameless
tyranny aroused the indignation of an enlightened age, and a dynasty,
remarkable for the politic and steadfast character of its Princes, with
rare sagacity took advantage of the situation to achieve at once the
liberation of Italy and its own supremacy in the Peninsula. The House
of Savoy triumphed, not only over the Vatican and the Bourbons, but
also over Mazzini and Garibaldi and their visionary and enthusiastic

It is not for the literary historian to enter into the details of
that great struggle. But one remark must be made. No statesmen were
more thoroughly imbued than Victor Emmanuel and Cavour with the
conviction of the folly committed by those victorious factions who
make martyrs of their political opponents. If Charles I had not been
beheaded, Charles II would probably never have ascended the throne
of his ancestors. If Louis XVI had not been guillotined, Louis XVIII
would probably never have been able to return to France. If Napoleon
had not shed the blood of the Due d'Enghien, he would probably never
have aroused the relentless enmity of his opponents. These examples
seem always to have been present to the minds of the Councillors of the
House of Savoy. And, in truth, if they had made a Louis XVI of the King
of Naples, if they had made a Marie Antoinette of his Queen, if they
had made a Boniface VIII of Pius IX, such a reaction would have swept
over the Peninsula as would have destroyed the fruits of the labours
of two generations of patriots. Fortunately for Italy and themselves,
they knew how to use their victory with moderation. Doubtless there
were some fierce and vindictive spirits who would have clamoured for
a Reign of Terror if they had dared; but they were firmly kept in
check, and the country is now reaping the benefit of the policy or of
the humanity of its liberators. Disappointments there have undoubtedly
been, especially is the grinding weight of taxation to be deplored
that is requisite to keep up a huge Army and a powerful Navy; but
the discontented spirits who clamour for a return to the old state
of things, are so few and far between, that they can be treated with
contemptuous forbearance. Such symptoms of reaction as may appear,
are so mild as to be positively beneficial in keeping up a spirit of
criticism and control over the Executive, which would else, owing
to the easy-going character of the populace, be allowed to slumber.
Indeed, it may be laid down as an axiom, that the more light-hearted
a nation is, the greater is its liability to acquiesce, perhaps
unconsciously, in the misgovernment of its rulers.

The Eighteenth Century was remarkable for the paucity of eminent Prose
Writers; the Nineteenth Century, on the contrary, can show a brilliant
array of philosophers, historians, and novelists; and it would probably
be more extensive had not the rapid development of journalistic
enterprise drawn many able men to the daily Press, who would in former
ages have devoted themselves to the writing of books. Their articles
in newspapers ind magazines perished after the day of appearance, with
the exception of those rare cases where a writer, or his friends,
made a collection to be published in book form. Thus, many keen and
powerful minds laboured for the enlightenment of their generation,
but no record remains of their productions. The unbounded popularity
of fiction caused greater attention to be bestowed on that branch of
Literature, and memorable works were given to the world. For nearly
seventy years the chief inspirer was patriotism, as was only natural
in the Century that witnessed the liberation of the Peninsula from
foreign oppression. The Literature of England and Germany began to be
studied, and the romantic movement introduced an entirely new style of
subject and treatment. The old conventions of mythological allusions
are at last consigned to merited oblivion, and we find poets expressing
themselves in a direct and natural manner. The former timidity of
philosophical and religious speculation is exchanged for boundless
liberty, often coupled with intense hatred of Christianity. Strong
originality marks the writers of the Nineteenth Century, but that
originality is often purchased at the price of harmonious development
and serenity of mind. They have reason to envy the intellectual
complacency of Ariosto and Metastasio. This discord of the mind is more
marked in Leopardi than in any other writer, although he was almost
the first to display it. In truth, the Nineteenth Century was for
Italy a period of transition. The old forms of thought, as well as the
old forms of government, were gradually overcome and destroyed, and
perhaps it would be premature to say what definite form they are likely
to assume. One thing is certain; the old methods can never be revived,
and the efforts of pedants to infuse new life into their effete
decrepitude can only result in ignominious failure. Self-reliance and
originality must be the watch-words of the future, and it is gratifying
to observe that the best and most promising of the younger generation
of writers are, consciously or unconsciously, opening out new forms
of art and fresh vistas of ideas. That some mistakes have been made,
cannot be denied. Extreme realism has claimed its victims in Italy as
elsewhere. From excessive desire to be exact, some writers have ceased
to be natural. In their endeavour to avoid superstition, other writers
have advocated gross and vulgar materialism. Some have shewn repulsive
want of decency; others, utter disregard for beauty and purity of
style. There has been a tendency to indulge in glaring, tawdry effects,
from which the Eighteenth Century was commendably free. But, on the
whole, it would be unjust to deny that the Nineteenth Century offers a
striking panorama of stirring events and great and memorable authors.



It is not often that a writer towers so immeasurably above his
contemporaries, that we can point him out, without fear of
contradiction, as the greatest of his century. We can, however,
unhesitatingly do so in the case of Leopardi. The works to which he
owes his immortality are, indeed, few in number and short in extent,
but their perfection gives them a dignity which more voluminous
productions might emulate in vain.

GIACOMO LEOPARDI was born at Recanati, a town of the March of Ancona,
on the 29th of June, 1798, the eldest son of Count Monaldo Leopardi
and Adelaide, his wife, daughter of the Marquis Antici. He had three
brothers, Carlo, Luigi, and Pierfrancesco, and one sister, Paolina.
His father was a man of literary tastes and had a magnificent library,
in which the future poet quenched his thirst for knowledge with as
much ardour as did Magliabecchi, in a former age, in the library of
Cardinal Medici. He soon outstripped in learning the priests who were
entrusted with his education. His eager and independent mind spurned
direction and disdained moderation. He acquired many languages, and
he soon endeavoured to put on paper the result of his studies. Some
of his injudicious admirers tried to make an infant prodigy of him,
and the stimulus of vanity was added to his passion for knowledge. He
toiled day after day in his intellectual quarry, with no relaxation
except the absolute necessities of food and sleep. The result may be
imagined. His sight failed him from the merciless strain put upon it
by reading till late hours of night, often by a flickering candle
burnt down to its socket. His spine became curved from constantly
bending over the huge folios that formed the staple of his reading.
His lungs craved in vain for dilation in his cramped chest and for the
freshness of the open air. His nerves gave way, his food failed to
nourish him, and his strength at last collapsed so completely that he
could neither read nor write, nor even think or speak. From the age of
sixteen to twenty-one the mischief was done. The duty of his parents
was plain. They should from the beginning have sternly forbidden the
overwork, and have compelled him to take requisite exercise and
rational amusement. Unhappily, they seem rather to have encouraged the
overwork, and actually to have discountenanced all amusement and all
intercourse with the outer world. They cannot be acquitted of grave
errors of judgment, but it would be harsh to charge them with cruelty.
Monaldo was devotedly attached to his children, but it would have been
better if he had sent them to school and college, where they would have
knocked about with companions of their own age, instead of being left
to solitary brooding with their minds preying upon themselves. They
would then have returned home, fresh and buoyant, and happy to be again
with their parents.

Monaldo had been extravagant in his youth, his estates were
considerably encumbered; motives of economy probably made him rejoice
that his children were actually learning more at home than could be
expected from pupils of the most famous seminaries. In later life,
whilst willing and happy to keep them in a handsome style in his
ancestral home at Recanati, he found it impossible to supply them with
sufficient funds to live in Rome or Florence or Naples in the style to
which they had always been accustomed. Therefore, he strongly opposed
their desire to see the world. He was perfectly contented with his own
surroundings, and he neither understood nor sympathised with Giacomo's
longing to widen his sphere of experience.

Painful misunderstandings were the result. Giacomo, owing to the
utter prostration into which he had fallen, was obliged to remain a
whole year without reading or writing, and he was thrown back upon
his melancholy thoughts. He had already received sufficient praise to
fire his youthful ambition and he chafed at the bondage in which he
was kept. Pietro Giordani was the first literary man of eminence whose
acquaintance he made, and long letters passed between the friends,
letters full of admiration on the part of Giordani, full of impatience
and despair on the part of Leopardi. That he exaggerated the horrors
of his condition cannot for a moment be doubted. Many youths would
have been thankful to take his place in a handsome and dignified home;
but then few youths could possibly have been tormented by such bitter
melancholy and such overweening ambition.

At last a desperate resolve occurred to him. Permission to leave home
was denied him; he would act on his own responsibility and take refuge
in flight. He made preparations for secret departure, and wrote a long
letter to his father explaining the motives of his desperate measure.
Happily, the insane project was abandoned, but the letter was preserved
by his brother Carlo, and it is deeply to be regretted that it was
published some years ago. Far better would it have been to draw a veil
across the eccentricities of a great mind and the misunderstandings
between natures noble and upright, but painfully divergent in thought
and action. However, the letter exists and must be dealt with. There is
nothing discreditable in it either to the poet or to his father, but
much that is inexpressibly painful.

The letter was written in the month of July, 1819. He begins by saying
with perfect sincerity that he always loved his father, that he always
would love him, and that he deeply grieved at being the cause of giving
him pain. "You know me," he continues, "and you know what my conduct
has been up to now. You will see that in all Italy, and I may say in
all Europe, no other person of my rank and even younger than I am, and
perhaps with intellectual gifts inferior to mine, could be found who
would show one-half of the circumspection, abstinence from all the
pleasures of youth, obedience and submission to his parents that I have
shown. However poor your opinion may be of the few talents that Heaven
has bestowed upon me, you cannot altogether refuse to credit the many
estimable and famous men who have passed the judgement upon me which
you know and which it is not for me to repeat. It was the marvel of
everybody who knew me that I should still be buried in this town, and
that you alone should be of an opposite opinion, and should inflexibly
persist therein. It is certainly not unknown to you, that there is not
a youth of barely seventeen years of age who is not taken in hand by
his parents to be placed in a position for his future advantage. I say
nothing about the liberty accorded to all young people of that age in
our position in life--liberty of which not one-third was accorded to
me at the age of twenty-one. It was only recently that I began to ask
you to provide for my future in the manner indicated by the opinion of
all who knew me. I noticed several families of this town, probably less
well off than we are, making heavy sacrifices in order to start their
sons in life, however faint the indications of promising talent might

"Many people were of opinion that my intellect showed much more than
a faint indication; but you were of opinion that I was quite unworthy
of a father's solicitude or of any sacrifice on his part, nor did you
think that my present or future welfare was of sufficient importance
for you to make any alteration in your domestic arrangements.

"I saw my parents make light of the posts which they obtained for
others from the Sovereign Pontiff, and hoping that they would take
the same trouble for me, I asked that at least some means of living
might be obtained that would enable me to live in a manner suitable to
my position without being a drag upon my family. I was answered with
derision, and you did not think that your influence should be used
to obtain a decent competence for your son. I was well aware of the
projects you were forming for us, and how, to secure the prosperity of
what you call our '_house_' and _'family,'_ you exacted from Carlo and
from me the sacrifice of our inclinations, of our youth, and of our
whole life. Being quite certain that neither Carlo nor I would ever
humour you in that, I could not possibly entertain the idea of those
projects. You know only too well the most wretched life I have led
through the effects of my horrible melancholy, and the torments I have
endured from my strange imagination. You cannot have been blind to the
fact that there was no other remedy for my suffering health since I
fell into this wretched debility, but powerful distractions, and, in
short, everything that could not be had in Recanati.

"In spite of all this, you suffered a man of my character, either to
consume the remnant of his strength in suicidal studies, or to bury
himself in the most terrible ennui with its attendant melancholy. These
evils were aggravated by the surrounding solitude, and by the empty
and unoccupied tenour of my life, especially in the last months.

"It did not take me long to find that no arguments could move you, and
that the extraordinary firmness of your character, disguised under
a mild exterior, was such that I could not entertain even a shadow
of hope. All these circumstances and my reflections on human nature
persuaded me that I should rely upon nobody but myself, although I was
destitute of everything. And now that by law I am my own master, I will
no longer delay to take upon myself the load of my destiny. I know that
human felicity consists in contentment, and that I could more easily be
happy begging for bread like a mendicant, than surrounded in this abode
by all the material luxuries it may present. I hate that vile prudence
that freezes and binds us and makes us incapable of every great action,
reducing us to the level of the animals who apply themselves placidly
to the preservation of this unhappy life without any other thought.
I know that I shall be held to be insane, as all great men have been
held before me. And even as the career of almost every great genius has
begun with despair, I am not dismayed at mine beginning so too. I would
rather be unhappy than obscure; I would rather suffer than languish
in miserable ennui which to me is the fruitful mother of deadly
melancholy and black thoughts of wretchedness, more agonising than all
discomforts of the body. Parents, as a rule, judge their children more
favourably than others, but you, on the contrary, judge your children
more harshly, and therefore you never would believe that we were born
for anything great; perhaps no greatness appeals to you that cannot be
measured with geometrical precision.

"Having, to the best of my ability, given you my reasons for the step
I am about to take, it only remains for me to ask your pardon for the
distress it may cause you. If my health were less uncertain, I would
rather beg from house to house that touch a pin that belonged to you.
But feeble as I am, and hopeless of getting anything from you, I
have been obliged, in order not to die on the road, to take what is
absolutely necessary for my existence. I am deeply grieved, and it
almost makes me waver in my resolution when I think of the sorrow I
shall cause you, knowing your kindness of heart and all your endeavours
to make us contented with our lot. For those endeavours I am grateful
from the bottom of my heart, and it is agony to me to think that I
shall appear infected with the vice of ingratitude which I abhor more
than anything else. Only the difference in our principles which was in
no way to be overcome, and which would necessarily end either in my
dying here of desperation, or in my taking to flight as I am doing,
has been the cause of all my unhappiness. It has pleased Heaven for
our punishment that the only young men in this town who had thoughts
above the ordinary level of Recanati, should be born to you to try
your patience and that the only father who looked upon such sons as a
misfortune, should be allotted to us. That which consoles me is the
thought that this is the last annoyance I give you, and that it will
free you from my unwelcome presence. My dear father, if you will allow
me to call you by that name, I kneel down before you, and pray you to
pardon one so unhappy by nature and by circumstances. I would that my
unhappiness were my exclusive property and that nobody might share it
with me, and so I trust it will be in the future. If fortune ever makes
me the possessor of anything my first thought shall be to replace what
I have now taken from you. The last favour that I ask of you is that
if ever you recall to your memory your wretched son who has always
venerated and loved you, you will not curse him; and that if you cannot
praise him, you will, at least, bestow upon him that compassion which
is granted even to malefactors."

Such, abridged in a few passages, is the memorable letter which
reveals the troubles of Leopardi's mind. It is a curious medley of
wounded vanity, of imaginary wrongs and of genuine grievances. It is
passing strange that Leopardi should have been so anxious about his
future. He was his father's eldest son, and as such, heir to ample, if
somewhat encumbered, estates. I think he mistook his own feelings, and
what he thought solicitude for his livelihood, was in reality the agony
of unsatisfied ambition. The fatal mistake that his father made was to
coop up so ardent and aspiring a young man in the restricted routine
of a somewhat cloistral home. Monaldo and Adelaide had a genuine fear
of their children becoming contaminated by undesirable associates; and
to avert this evil, neither the poet nor his brothers were allowed
to go out unaccompanied. The young prisoners naturally resented this
surveillance, especially Leopardi who, at a time when his literary
renown was spreading all over Italy, was still under the restrictions
of the nursery. "Everybody treats me as a child," he writes, "except
my parents who treat me as a baby." No wonder that flight had its
romance and its attractions; but where would he have gone to if he had
run away? Doubtless, the utter inability to answer this question made
him abandon the idea. Carlo and Paolina noticed something peculiar in
his demeanour; they watched him, and we may safely assume that their
affection extorted from him his secret, that he showed them the letter
intended for his father and that they persuaded him to abandon the
wild and desperate scheme. It would have been well if the letter had
been burnt, and the whole unhappy episode consigned to oblivion. It
makes the poet appear wild and visionary and the father a more obdurate
tyrant than he really was. He utterly failed to enter into the ideas of
his illustrious son, and posterity has censured him with a harshness he
was far from deserving.

Leopardi abandoned the idea of flight and resigned himself as best he
could to the melancholy life he was compelled to lead. His home was
dull, but it was not, it could not have been, the Hell upon earth that
Montefredini, one of his biographers, would have us believe. There was
no domestic discord; not a trace of strife is discernible. The style
of living in Monaldo's house was handsome and even luxurious, but
neither his father nor his mother seem to have encouraged visitors or
to have entertained as might be expected from their rank. Of Leopardi's
acquaintance with Pietro Giordani they were undoubtedly apprehensive.
Giordani, although a Priest, had the reputation of being a freethinker
at heart, and they trembled lest he should infect the poet with his
opinions. It is even suspected that many letters between the friends
were intercepted. But others not only reached their destination, but
have been preserved and published, and they now form a noble memorial
of confidence and friendship. Leopardi was able at intervals to devote
himself to his favourite pursuit of literature and he published some
of his earlier poems; but their patriotic character frightened the
apprehensive Monaldo. He was afraid his son would be regarded as a
sympathiser with the Carbonari, and Leopardi had to distribute the
copies surreptitiously and to speak of them as little as possible.

He was abandoning his labours in the field of Classical Antiquity and
turning his attention to original and stirring themes, full of life and
actuality. But, unhappily, the more his intellect expanded, the more
his health deteriorated. The blackest melancholy never left him, and it
became daily intensified by his persistent habits of introspection. He
complains in a letter to Giordani of utter weakness of his whole body
and especially of the nerves. We hear nothing of doctors being called
in to arrest the evil, nor does the patient himself seem to have asked
for them. Things were allowed to drift until it was too late. "I am
lying," he says in one of his letters to Giordani, "under a mountain of
sorrows, and not a ray of hope can be seen." "I speak from my heart
and I do not pretend," he exclaims. The great poet is already a great

In 1821 the tone of his letters became a trifle more cheerful and he
was interested in the engagement of his sister Paolina, and he wrote
a poem on her marriage. But the negotiations were broken off and the
wedding never took place.

Conscious of the immense reputation he already possessed of vast
erudition, his parents formed the hope that he would embrace the
ecclesiastical career and rise to high dignities in the Roman Curia.
When at last their consent was obtained for his departure from home
in the hope that change would benefit his shattered nerves, it was to
Rome that he was sent, doubtless with the desire that he should make
acquaintances useful to him in the future. He resided with his maternal
uncle, the Marquis Carlo Antici. But no sooner had he arrived in Rome
than he regretted Recanati, and it became apparent that wherever he
went, one of his most striking oddities was an intense horror of his
place of residence, an utter loathing which he neither moderated
nor concealed. If he called Recanati a dungeon, he called Rome a
gigantic sepulchre. His shattered nerves could ill bear the concourse
of people around him, and he saw in society, not its vivacity and
animation, but its frivolity and emptiness. For the literary men of
Rome he entertained immeasurable contempt. He despised them for their
devotion to Antiquarian minutiæ. But this reproach came with ill-grace
from Leopardi, who had himself devoted years of laborious study, who
had even squandered the precious possession of health in laborious
elucidation of grammatical and philological problems, hardly more
important than the coins and inscriptions of Roman Antiquarians.

He made, however, some agreeable acquaintances, pre-eminent among whom
was the historian Niebuhr, at that time Prussian Ambassador to the
Vatican. Niebuhr conceived the most intense admiration for his genius
and spoke of him in the highest terms to Cardinal Consalvi, Secretary
of State to Pius VII. The Cardinal offered him the prospect of
valuable preferment, but only on condition that he should embrace the
ecclesiastical career. To this, however, Leopardi offered invincible
repugnance. Neither his own interests nor the persuasion of friends
could induce him to yield. Pius VII died in 1823, and Consalvi retired
from the direction of public affairs. So favourable an opportunity
never returned. Niebuhr offered Leopardi an appointment in Prussia,
but he refused, dreading the long journey and the severe climate of
Berlin. Great as his reputation was, no other opening offered itself.
It is curious to reflect on the vicissitudes of literary fame. Leopardi
is now valued for his lyric poems and for his dialogues and thoughts
in prose; but his laborious studies in philology, studies to which he
sacrificed health and happiness, are rapidly sinking into oblivion.
When he first went to Rome, he had hardly written a line of that
which has conferred immortality upon him. All the esteem he enjoyed
was lavished upon him for the fruits of his juvenile industry. The
grammarian who could solve the most difficult passages in the ancient
writers of Greece and Rome, who was as well versed in the Talmud as in
the Bible, who knew the obscurest Italian writers of the Fourteenth
Century as intimately as his contempories knew Petrarch, was valued
and extolled; the melodious poet and the profound philosopher was not
ignored or despised, because he was not even suspected to exist.

In 1823, after five months sojourn in Rome, he returned to Recanati.
He had seen the world he so longed to explore, and disenchantment
was the result. His health was not improved, on the contrary, it was
rather injured, by the inevitable exertions of travel, sight-seeing and
society. He remained at Recanati for two years, and during part of this
period he was occupied in publishing a volume of poems. They were well
received, but they were published secretly, without the knowledge of
his parents. The passion for overwork did not desert him even after the
warning already given to him by his shattered health. "I work day and
night as much as my strength will allow. When I break down, I walk up
and down my room daily for months." He would have done better to walk
up and down in the open air.

Having seen so much in Rome of the incompetence and frivolity of
literary people, he despaired of finding due appreciation for the
elaborate finish which it was his ambition to bestow upon his
productions and without which he did not care to write. But still his
ambitious spirit commanded him to persevere, and among the signs of
encouragement he received was the homage paid him by Niebuhr of the
dedication of one of his works. When Niebuhr left Rome he enjoined upon
his successor Bunsen to value the great merit of Leopardi, and Bunsen
proved himself the poet's friend through life.

In 1825 he received an offer from the Milanese publisher Stella to
superintend an edition of the complete works of Cicero and to reside
with him while the sheets were passing through the press. He gladly
accepted. He set out for Milan in July, staying at Bologna for a month
to avoid the fatigue of travelling during the great heat. Bologna was
one of the few places that he really liked. He enjoyed the company of
Giordani and other friends, and he was loth to part with them. When he
reached Milan, he pined to return to Bologna; everything seemed to him
repulsive and even hostile; he made no friends; his duties with regard
to the edition of Cicero seemed to him intolerably irksome; and he even
disliked the gaieties of Milan, gaieties in which he was at times too
unwell and at other times too melancholy to join.

"He carried with him his misfortune wherever he went," says Ambrosoli,
who met him at this epoch; "and he could not remain happy for long in
any place. He could not obtain any suitable post in Italy, and out
of Italy he would not accept one. When in 1825 he came to Milan to
stay some months with the publisher Stella, he was already an object
of compassion, so young, and with such a reputation for genius and
learning, and yet visibly hastening to his end. In his conversation,
as well as in his writings, he was so simple, so remote from any
ostentation, that few might suspect that he was an extraordinary
man; but by degrees the flashes of his wit and the treasures of his
knowledge revealed the powers within him."

At last he carried out his intention of returning to Bologna, but
the second visit was not so pleasant as the first. When the winter
came, it was bitterly cold, and his health suffered in proportion.
He would willingly have returned to Milan, but he did not receive
another invitation. He was occupied with a Commentary on Petrarch, a
labour which he did not undertake very readily, but which was pressed
upon him by Stella. It was a great success, and Stella had reason to
congratulate himself upon his acumen in getting the work done by so
gifted a writer. He entrusted Leopardi with the editing of a selection
from the best works of the best authors, and this task was still
occupying him when he returned to Recanati, in November, 1826.

It would appear that during his sojourn at Bologna he had not been
insensible to the attractions of love; but love could be for him
nothing but a source of torment; and as his first return home was
signalised by the wreck of hope, so was his second by the blighting of
affection. He seemed, like the hero of the _Pilgrim's Progress,_ to be
writhing in the grasp of Giant Despair; and from the day of his arrival
to that of his departure, in the following April, he was not once seen
in the streets of Recanati.

He sought a remedy for his sorrows by returning to Bologna, but in
vain; and on the 20th of June, 1827, he removed to Florence where he
enjoyed the society of Giordani; but an acute inflammation of the
eyes confined him to the house and long prevented him from inspecting
the treasures of art that overflow the Tuscan city. At this epoch he
published his _Operette Morali,_ a series of dialogues and essays,
offering, according to the best critics of his country, the most
perfect specimen of prose in the Italian language.

In the autumn he somewhat recovered, and wishing to continue the
improvement, he avoided the cold of Florence by wintering at Pisa.
Florence, as a residence, he did not like, but with Pisa he was
enchanted. The improvement, however, was but slight, and his nerves
were in such a weak state that any sort of application or study was out
of the question. In April, 1828, he was able to apply himself again
to composition, and he seemed to be reviving, when the death of his
brother Luigi afflicted him profoundly. From June to November he was
again at Florence, but his yearning for home made itself felt after the
recent bereavement.

He started on the 12th of November for Recanati in the company of a
young man afterwards known to fame as Vincenzo Gioberti. He found his
birthplace darkened by the shadow of death, which seemed to him the
herald of his own. His former gloom returned, but in a more terrible
shape; he saw only annihilation before him; and he took the last
glance of life in his superb _Ricordanze,_ the most richly coloured,
the most deeply pathetic, the most unfathomably profound of all his

In 1830, his Florentine friends, wishing to have him once more in
their midst, urged his return to their city. Accordingly, in May he
took leave of his family, little thinking he should never see them
again. It would be curious to enquire what made him so wretched when
at home, and yet, when absent, always longing to be there. His brother
Carlo said many years later to Prospero Viani, the editor of his
correspondence, that none of his poems written elsewhere had the beauty
of those composed at Recanati; and when Viani mentioned the _Ginestra,_
Carlo replied that in substance even the _Ginestra_ was conceived
at Recanati. Some biographers say the _Risorgimento_ was written at
Pisa; but Ranieri, who was probably well-informed, says it was written
at Recanati, and this assertion is, I think, borne out by internal
evidence. The _Canto Notturno_ seems also to have been written in his
birthplace. Thus, Carlo's statement would be correct. It is observable
that the poems subsequent to the _Canto Notturno,_ with the exception
of _Aspasia_ and the little poem _To Himself,_ have an air of languor,
foreign to his earlier productions. This languor is perceptible even
in the sublime _Ginestra,_ and it is not absent from passages of
the _Pensiero Dominante, Amore e Morte,_ and the long, mock-heroic
_Paralipomeni._ The repose, sepulchral as it may have seemed to him,
of Recanati, and the exquisite beauty of its scenery, bordered in the
distance by the blue waters of the Adriatic, were conducive to the
exercise of the imagination. Nor must we forget that he spoke of other
places (except Pisa and Bologna) with equal bitterness. The climate
seems really to have worked havoc on his delicate frame. He allowed its
inhabitants only one merit, that of speaking Italian with purity and

His stay in Florence, which extended from May, 1830, to October of
the following year, was made memorable by the publication of another
edition of his Poems, with many pieces added and with a dedicatory
epistle to his Tuscan friends. At this period, he made the acquaintance
of Ranieri, a Neapolitan with literary talents, who was to be his
intimate friend and future biographer.

In October, 1831, he suddenly vanished from Florence and appeared
in Rome, why, none could tell. He wrote to his brother Carlo on the
subject, begging him not to ask for the details of a long romance,
full of pain and anguish. It has been conjectured that he fixed his
affections upon an unworthy object and was bitterly undeceived.
Whatever the circumstances may have been, it is certain that in Rome
his mental misery, always great, rose to an intolerable height, and
that for a time he harboured thoughts of self-destruction. But the
strength of his character overcame the strength of his affliction, and
he gradually softened to a serener mood. At this time the Florentine
Accademia della Crusca elected him a member, a worthy tribute to his
genius and eloquence. After five months sojourn in Rome, he returned to
Florence, where he fell so dangerously ill that the rumour was spread
of his decease. The doctors urged him to try a milder climate, and in
September, 1833, he set out for Naples, accompanied by Ranieri.

In Naples and its vicinity the remainder of his life was destined to be

The natural beauties of the surrounding country were delightful to
one so appreciative of their charm. His health improved after a time,
and he was able to display the riches of his intellect by writing the
_Paralipomeni,_ many detached thoughts in prose, like the _Pensées_
of Pascal and the _Maxims_ of La Rochefoucauld; and above all, his
philosophic and immortal poem, the _Ginestra,_ of which it may be said
that had he written nothing else his fame would be perpetuated by that
production alone.

In March, 1836, he who had formerly sighed so deeply for death and
who had invoked it in such exquisite verse, felt so greatly improved
in health that he imagined he had many years before him. But this was
only the last flickering of the flame before it went out for ever. The
Cholera was raging in 1837, and the prospect of falling a victim to
a mysterious and terrible disease, filled him with horror. The great
German poet Platen who had resided in Naples previous to his departure
for Sicily, where he died, was the first to instil him with alarm on
the subject.

Leopardi was thoroughly unhappy, and his strange aversion to the places
where he lived revived with unreasonable violence. He wrote of Naples
as a den of barbarous African savagery. He yearned for home and pined
for his family, and the last letter he sent to his father (three weeks
before his decease), was full of plans for returning to Recanati as
soon as his infirmities and the Quarantine would allow. He had not been
able to write his letters for some years, owing to failing sight, and
was obliged to dictate them to an amanuensis.

"If I escape from the Cholera," he says in this letter which was to
be his last, "and as soon as my health allows, I will do my utmost to
rejoin you, whatever time of year it may be; because I must hasten,
persuaded as I am that the term prescribed by God to my days, cannot
now be distant. My physical sufferings, incessant and incurable, have
in course of time attained such a degree that they cannot get worse,
and I hope that when at last the feeble resistance of my dying body
is exhausted, they may conduct me to that eternal rest which I pray
for daily, not from heroism, but from the intensity of the agonies I

His earthly sorrows were indeed drawing to a close, and he died
suddenly at Capo di Monte, when preparing to go out for a drive, at
five o'clock in the afternoon on the fourteenth of June, 1837, aged
thirty-nine years all but a fortnight. "His body," says Ranieri, "saved
as by a miracle from the common and confused burial place enforced by
the Cholera regulations, was interred in the suburban Church of San
Vitale on the road of Pozzuoli, where a plain slab indicates his memory
to the visitor." He was slight and short of stature, somewhat bent and
very pale, with a large forehead and blue eyes, an aquiline nose and
refined features, a soft voice and a most attractive smile. His father
survived him ten years; his mother, twenty years; his sister Paolina,
thirty-two years; and his brother Carlo, nearly forty-one years. His
youngest brother, Pierfrancesco, who died in 1851, also at the age of
thirty-eight, was alone destined to continue the family. Carlo was
twice married, but had only one daughter, who died young, by his first
wife. I am indebted to the kindness of the Count and Countess Leopardi
for several interesting works relating to the poet.

Mr. Charles Edwardes has translated with great skill Leopardi's Prose
Works; I have translated his Poems, so that readers who may not be
acquainted with Italian, can now obtain an idea of his philosophy and
of his poetry. Equally as a thinker and as a poet, he is distinguished
by depth. As a Prose writer, he bears a striking resemblance to Pascal.
In both there is the same gloomy power of imagination, the same method
of profound meditation, and the same intensity of pessimism. As a poet
he displays the most marvellous variety of thought and of expression.
His mock-heroic poem, entitled _Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia,_
is, as the name indicates, a sort of continuation of the Greek Poem
describing the War of the Frogs and the Rats. The subject is wretchedly
chosen and it is obvious that the narrative serves only to introduce
the digressions, and it is in these digressions that the poet's
brilliant imagination and felicity of style are displayed. Indeed,
in the style alone can the work be said to have any merit. It is the
longest of his poetical productions, and it is greatly to be regretted
that he did not bestow the labour wasted on so frivolous a subject
upon a theme worthier of his genius. Still, there are some fine
passages, as, for instance, a most poetical description of Night, of
which I subjoin a translation:

    "The star of Venus in the Heavens high
      Appeared before the other stars or moon;
    Silent was all; no breath was heard, no cry,
      Unless the murmur of a far lagoon,
    And buzzing gnats who from the forest fly
      When veiling shades replace the glare of noon;
    The lovely face of Hesperus serene
    Was in the lake in pure reflection seen.

The poem also offers an exquisite description of the Cuckoo, which may
be compared to Wordsworth's poem on the same subject:

    In fragrant May, when love and life are bound
      In closer links, we hear the Cuckoo far,
    Mysterious bird, who in the woods profound
      Gives vent to sighs that almost human are,
    Who, like a ghost nocturnal, all around
      Deludes the shepherd following from afar;
    Nor long is heard the voice: it wanes and dies,
    Though born in Spring, when Summer heats arise."

But Leopardi's universal renown is founded upon the forty-one poems and
fragments of poems published under the collective title of _Canti._
Thirty-four of the pieces are complete and original poems, seven are
either fragments or translations.

We find in reading Petrarch's Odes and Sonnets a certain sameness,
whence it is difficult to keep the greater number of the poems distinct
from each other in the memory, beautiful though they may be. The same
cannot be said of Leopardi's _Canti._ There each poem has a distinct
individuality of its own, and makes an indelible impression upon the
reader. I will quote a few of the finest, and will begin with one of
his most admired masterpieces in which, under the disguise of Sappho
before taking the fatal leap from the promontory of Leucadia, he
deplores his own physical afflictions.


    (_Ultimo Canto di Saffo_).

      Thou peaceful night, thou chaste and silver ray
      Of the declining Moon; and thou, arising
      Amid the quiet forest on the rocks,
      Herald of day; O cherished and endeared,
      Whilst Fate and Doom were to my knowledge closed,
      Objects of sight! No lovely land or sky
      Doth longer gladden my despairing mood.
      By unaccustomed joy we are revived
      When o'er the liquid spaces of the Heavens
      And o'er the fields alarmed doth wildly whirl
      The tempest of the winds, and when the car,
      The ponderous car of Jove, above our heads
      Thundering, divides the heavy air obscure.
      O'er mountain peaks and o'er abysses deep
      We love to float amid the swiftest clouds;
      We love the terror of the herds dispersed,
      The streams that flood the plain,
    And the victorious, thunderous fury of the main.

      Fair is thy sight, O sky divine, and fair
      Art thou, O dewy Earth! Alas! of all
      This beauty infinite, no slightest part
      To wretched Sappho did the Gods or Fate
      Inexorable give. Unto thy reign
      Superb, O Nature, an unwelcome guest
      And a disprized adorer doth my heart
      And do mine eyes implore thy lovely forms;
      But all in vain. The sunny land around
      Smiles not for me, nor from ethereal gates
      The blush of early dawn; not me the songs
      Of brilliant-feathered birds, not me the trees
      Salute with murmuring leaves; and where in shade
      Of drooping willows doth a liquid stream
      Display its pure and crystal course, from my
      Advancing foot the soft and flowing waves
      Withdrawing with affright,
    Disdainfully it takes through flowery dell its flight.

      What fault so great, what guiltiness so dire
      Did blight me ere my birth, that adverse grew
      To me the brow of fortune and the sky?
      How did I sin, a child, when ignorant
      Of wickedness is life, that from that time
      Despoiled of youth and of its fairest flowers,
      The cruel Fates wove with relentless wrath
      The web of my existence? Reckless words
      Rise on thy lips; the events that are to be,
      A secret council guides. Secret is all,
      Our agony excepted. We were born,
      Neglected race, for tears; the reason lies
      Amid the Gods on high. Oh cares and hopes
      Of early years! To beauty did the Sire,
      To glorious beauty an eternal reign
      Give o'er this human kind; for warlike deed,
      For learned lyre or song,
    In unadornèd shape, no charms to fame belong.

      Ah! let us die. The unworthy garb divested,
      The naked soul will take to Dis its flight
      And expiate the cruel fault of blind
      Dispensers of our lot. And thou for whom
      Long love in vain, long faith and fruitless rage
      Of unappeased desire assailed my heart,
      Live happily, if happily on earth
      A mortal yet hath lived. Not me did Jove
      Sprinkle with the delightful liquor from
      The niggard urn, since of my childhood died
      The dreams and fond delusions. The glad days
      Of our existence are the first to fly;
      And then disease and age approach, and last,
      The shade of frigid Death. Behold! of all
      The palms I hoped for and the errors sweet,
      Hades remains; and the transcendant mind
      Sinks to the Stygian shore
    Where sable Night doth reign, and silence evermore.


    I always loved this solitary hill
    And this green hedge that hides on every side
    The last and dim horizon from our view.
    But as I sit and gaze, a never-ending
    Space far beyond it and unearthly silence
    And deepest quiet in my thought I picture,
    And as with terror is my heart o'ercast
    With wondrous awe. And whilst I hear the wind
    Amid the green leaves rustling, I compare
    That silence infinite unto this sound,
    And to my mind eternity occurs
    And all the vanished ages, and the present
    Whose sound doth meet mine ear. And so in this
    Immensity my thought is drifted on,
    And to be wrecked on such a sea is sweet.

    To SYLVIA.

    Sylvia, rememberest thou
    Yet that sweet time of thine abode on earth,
    When beauty graced thy brow
    And fired thine eyes so radiant and so gay,
    And thou, so joyous, yet of pensive mood,
    Didst pass on youth's fair way?

        The chambers calm and still,
    The sunny paths around,
    Did to thy song resound,
    When thou, upon thy handiwork intent,
    Wast seated, full of joy
    At the fair future where thy hopes were bound.
    It was the fragrant month of flowery May,
    And thus went by thy day.

        I, leaving oft behind
    The labours and the vigils of my mind
    That did my life consume
    And of my being far the best entomb,
    Bade from the casement of my father's house
    Mine ears give heed unto thy silver song
    And to thy rapid hand
    That swept with skill the spinning thread along;
    I watched the sky serene,
    The radiant paths and flowers,
    And here the sea, the mountain there, expand.

        What thoughts divinely sweet,
    What hopes, O Sylvia! and what souls were ours!
    In what guise did we meet
    Our destiny and life?
    When I remember such aspiring flown,
    Fierce pain invades my soul
    Which nothing can console
    And my misfortune I again bemoan.
    O Nature, void of ruth!
    Why not give some return
    For those fair promises? Why full of fraud
    Thy wretched offspring spurn?

        Thou, ere the herbs by Winter were destroyed,
    Led to the grave by an unknown disease,
    Did'st perish, tender blossom. Thy life's flower
    Was not by thee enjoyed;
    Nor heard, thy heart to please,
    The admiration of thy raven hair
    Or of the enamoured glances of thine eyes;
    Nor thy companions in the festive hour
    Spoke of the raptures of impassioned love
    Or of its burning sighs.

        Ere long my hope as well
    Was dead and gone. By cruel Fate's decree
    Was youthfulness denied
    Unto my years. Ah me!
    How art thou past for aye,
    Thou dear companion of my earlier day,
    My hope so much bewailed!
    Is this the world? Are these
    The joys, the loves, the labours and the deeds
    Whereof so often we together spoke?
    Is this the doom to which mankind proceeds?
    When dark reality before thee lay
    Revealed, thou sankest, and thy dying hand
    Pointed to death, a figure of cold gloom,
    And to a distant tomb.


    The storm hath passed away; the birds rejoice;
    I hear the feathered songsters tune their notes
    As they again come forth. Behold! the sky
    Serenely breaks through regions of the West
    Beyond the mountain-ridge; the country round
    Emerges from the shadows, and below,
    Within the vale, the river clearly shines.

        Each heart rejoices; everywhere the sound
    Of life revives and the accustomed work;
    The artizan to see the liquid sky,
    With tools in hand and singing as he comes,
    Before the door of his abode appears;
    The maiden with her pitcher issues forth
    To seize the waters of the recent rain,
    And he who traffics in the flowers and herbs
    Of Mother Earth, his daily cry renews
    In roads and lanes as he again proceeds.
    See how the Sun returns! See how he smiles
    Upon the hills and houses! Busy hands
    Are opening windows and withdrawing screens
    From balconies and ample terraces;
    And from the street where lively traffic runs
    The tinkling bells in silver distance sound;
    The wheels revolve as now the traveller
    His lengthy journey on the road resumes.

    Each heart rejoices. When is life so sweet,
    So welcome, as it now appears to all?
    When with like joy doth man to studies bend,
    To work return, or to new actions rise?
    When doth he less remember all his ills?
    Ah, truly, Pleasure is the child of Woe;
    Joy, idle Joy, the fruit of recent Fear
    Which roused with terror of immediate death
    The heart of him who most abhorred this life;
    And thus the nations in a torment long,
    Cold, silent, withered with expectant fear,
    Shuddered and trembled, seeing from Heaven's gate
    The angry Powers in serried order march,
    The clouds, the winds, the shafts of living fire,
    To our annihilation and despair.

        Oh bounteous Nature! these thy present are,
    These are the joys on mortals thou doth shower;
    To escape from pain is happiness on earth.
    Sorrows thou pourest with abundant hand;
    Pain rises freely from a fertile seed;
    The little pleasure that from endless woe
    As by a miracle receives its birth,
    Is held a mighty gain. Our human race
    Dear to the eternal Rulers of the sky!
    Ah! blest enough and fortunate indeed
    Art thou if pain brief respite gives to thee
    To breathe and live; favoured beyond compare
    Art thou if cured of every grief by Death.


    From copse and glade the maiden takes her way
    When in the west the setting sun reposes;
    She gathered flowers; her slender fingers bear
    A fragrant wealth of violets and roses,
    And with their beauty she will deck her hair,
    Her lovely bosom with their leaves entwine;
    Such is her wont on every festive day.
    The aged matron sits upon the steps
    And with her neighbours turns the spinning wheel,
    Facing the heavens where the rays decline;
    And she recalls the years,
    The happy years when on the festive day
    It was her wont her beauty to array,
    And when amidst her lovers and compeers
    In youth's effulgent pride
    Her rapid feet through mazy dance did glide.

    The sky already darkens, and serene
    The azure vault its loveliness reveals;
    From hill and tower a lengthened shadow steals
    In silvery whiteness of the crescent moon.
    We hear the distant bell
    Of festive morrow tell;
    To weary hearts how generous a boon!
    The happy children in the open space
    In dancing numbers throng
    With game and jest and song;
    And to his quiet home and simple fare
    The labourer doth repair
    And whistles as he goes,
    Glad of the morrow that shall bring repose.

        Then, when no other light around is seen,
    No other sound or stir,
    We hear the hammer strike,
    The grating saw of busy carpenter;
    He is about and doing, so unlike
    His quiet neighbours; his nocturnal lamp
    With helpful light the darkened workshop fills,
    And he makes haste his business to complete
    Ere break of dawn the heavenly regions greet.

        This of the seven is the happiest day,
    With hope and joyaunce gay;
    To-morrow grief and care
    The unwelcome hours will in their progress bear;
    To-morrow one and all
    In thought their wonted labours will recall.

        O merry youth! Thy time of life so gay
    Is like a joyous and delightful day,
    A day clear and serene
    That doth the approaching festival precede
    Of thy fair life. Rejoice! Divine indeed
    Is this fair day, I ween.
    I'll say no more; but when it comes to thee,
    Thy festival, may it not evil be.


    Again at times appeareth to my thought
    Thy semblance, O Aspasia! either flashing
    Across my path amid the haunts of men
    In other forms; or 'mid deserted fields
    When shines the sun or tranquil host of stars,
    As by the sweetest harmony awoke,
    Arising in my soul which seems once more
    To yield unto that vision all superb,
    How much adored, O Heaven! of yore how fully
    The joyaunce and the halo of my life!
    I never meet the perfume of the gardens
    Or of the flowers that cities may display,
    Without beholding thee as thou appearedst
    Upon that day when in thy splendid rooms
    Which gave the perfume of the sweetest flowers
    Of recent Spring, arrayed in robes that bore
    The violet's hue, first thine angelic form
    Did meet my gaze as thou, reclining, layest
    On strange, white furs, and deep, voluptuous charm
    Seemed to be thine, whilst thou, a skilled enchantress
    Of loving hearts, upon the rosy lips
    Of thy fair children many a fervent kiss
    Imprintedst, bending down to them thy neck
    Of snowy beauty, and with lovely hand
    Their guileless forms, unconscious of thy wile,
    Clasping unto thy bosom, so desired,
    Though hidden. To the vision of my soul
    Another sky and more entrancing world
    And radiance as from Heaven were revealed.
    Thus in my heart, though not unarmed, thy power
    infixed the arrow which I wounded bore
    Until that day when the revolving earth
    A second time her yearly course fulfilled.

        A ray divine unto my thought appeared,
    Lady, thy beauty. Similar effects
    Beauty and music's harmony produce,
    Revealing both the mysteries sublime
    Of unknown Eden. Thence the loving soul,
    Though injured in his love, adores the birth
    Of his fond mind, the amorous idea
    That doth include Olympus in its range,
    And seems in face, in manner and in speech
    Like unto her whom the enchanted lover
    Fancies alone to cherish and admire.
    Not her, but that sweet image, he doth clasp
    Even in the raptures of a fond embrace.
    At last his error and the objects changed
    Perceiving, wrath invades him, and he oft
    Wrongly accuses her he thought he loved.
    The mind of woman to that lofty height
    Rarely ascends, and what her charms inspire
    She little thinks and seldom understands.
    So frail a mind can harbour no such thought.
    In vain doth man, deluded by the light
    Of those enthralling eyes, indulge in hope;
    In vain he asks for deep and hidden thoughts,
    Transcending mortal ken, of her to whom
    Hath Nature's law a lesser rank assigned,
    For as her form less strength than man's received,
    So too her mind less energy and depth.
        Nor thou as yet what inspirations vast
    Within my thought thy loveliness aroused,
    Aspasia, could'st conceive. Thou little knowest
    What love unmeasured and what woes intense,
    What frenzy wild and feelings without name,
    Thou didst within me move, nor shall the time
    Appear when thou canst know it. Equally
    The skilled performer ignorant remains
    Of what with hand or voice he doth arouse
    Within his hearers. That Aspasia now
    Is dead, whom I so worshipped. She lies low
    For evermore, once idol of my life;
    Unless at times, a cherished shade, she rises,
    Ere long to vanish. Thou art still alive,
    Not merely lovely, but of such perfection
    That, as I think, thou dost eclipse the rest.
    But now the ardour, born of thee, is spent;
    Because I loved not thee, but that fair goddess
    Who had her dwelling in me, now her grave.
    Her long I worshipped, and so was I pleased
    By her celestial loveliness, that I,
    Even from the first full conscious and aware
    Of what thou art, so wily and so false,
    Beholding in thine eyes the light of hers,
    Fondly pursued thee while she lived in me;
    Not dazzled or deluded, but induced
    By the enjoyment of that sweet resemblance,
    A long and bitter slavery to bear.

        Now boast, for well thou may'st. Say that alone
    Of all thy sex art thou to whom I bent
    My haughty head, to whom I gladly gave
    My heart in homage. Say that thou wert first
    (And last, I truly hope), to see mine eyes'
    Imploring gaze, and me before thee stand
    Timid and fearful (as I write, I burn
    With wrath and shame); me of myself deprived,
    Each look of thine, each gesture and each word
    Observing meekly; at thy haughty freaks
    Pale and subdued; then radiant with delight
    At any sign of favour, changing hue
    At every glance of thine. The charm is gone;
    And with it shattered, falls the heavy yoke,
    Whence I rejoice. Though weariness be with me,
    Yet after such delirium and long thraldom
    Gladly my freedorh I again embrace
    And my unshackled mind. For if a life
    Void of affections and of errors sweet,
    Be like a starless night in winter's depth,
    Revenge sufficient and sufficient balm
    It is to me that here upon the grass
    Leisurely lying and unmoved, I gaze
    On sky, earth, ocean, and serenely smile.



    Such was on earth thy form,
    But the unpitying storm
    Of Death resolved thy beauty into dust.
    Dumb witness of the flight of ages here,
    This image of thy perished loveliness
    Stands all unmoved, as though it held in trust
    The guardianship of memory and pain,
    Above the ashes that alone remain
    Of those sweet charms that did thy being bless.
    That tender gaze, thrilling as though with fear
    The eyes it pierced, as now it seems to do;
    Those lips, abundant with the wealth of pleasure;
    That neck, encircled by desire's fond arms;
    That hand, Love's richest treasure,
    Which when it clasped, responsive pressure knew;
    And that fair bosom whose celestial charms
    Gave those who saw a wan and pallid hue
    From the excess of their adoring passion:
    Once were as lovely as these sculptures fashion;
    But all that now is left on earth of thee
    Is dust and ashes which we may not see;
    Thy monument to ages that ensue
    Conceals the mournful vision from our view.
        Thus Fate doth touch and crumble into dust
    Whatever must unto our minds appear
    Image of Heaven most precious and most dear.
    Oh mystery eternal of the world!
    Now fount and treasure of stupendous thought,
    Beauty appears in majesty sublime,
    Even as a Queen in regal robes empearled,
    And seems on earth a heavenly splendour brought
    From fairer realms beyond the bounds of time;
    She seems to give us hope
    Of fates that can with mortal sorrow cope,
    Of happier homes and planets more divine
    Where golden splendours shine;
    But on the morrow, feeble though the blow
    Which struck her so that she declines and dies,
    Dreadful to see and abject in our eyes
    Becomes that peerless beauty which before
    Seemed like the Seraphs who in Heaven adore
    The radiant throne of the celestial Sire;
    And all the wondrous dreams she did inspire
    Their colours lose and wane
    And in our yielding souls no longer reign.
        Strange, infinite desires
    And visionary fires
    Doth wondrous music in our fancy wake,
    And we then take through a delightful sea
    A wondrous voyage far
    Like some undaunted sailor of the deep;
    But if a discord crush
    Our spirit's rapturous rush,
    The spell is broken and our souls are free
    A lonely vigil unrelieved to keep:
    So slight a break that solemn bliss can mar.
        O Nature, say, if thou art wholly vile,
    If dust and ashes symbolise thy being,
    How canst thou be so lofty and far-seeing?
    And if thou art so fair
    That sacred dreams thy children can beguile
    With art and wisdom, their appointed share,
    Why by a cause so slight
    Are all thy fond aspirings put to flight?

_Exquisite is the picture in_ "LA VITA SOLITARIA" _of silent

        At times I seat me in a lonely spot,
    Upon a hill, or by a calm lake's bank,
    Fringed and adorned with flowers taciturn.
    There, when full mid-day heat informs the sky,
    His peaceful image doth the sun depict,
    And to the air moves neither leaf nor herb,
    And neither ruffling wave nor cricket shrill,
    Nor birds disporting in the boughs above,
    Nor fluttering butterfly, nor voice nor step,
    Afar or near, can sight or hearing find.
    Those shores are held in deepest quietude:
    Whence I the world and even myself forget,
    Seated unmoved; and it appears to me
    My body is released, no longer worn
    With soul or feeling, and its old repose
    Is blended with the silence all around.

_Very noble is the conclusion of the_ "EPISTLE TO COUNT CARLO PEPOLI":--

    Thou lovest song and poets charm thy mind;
    Thy task it is that rarest gift to find,
    That beauty of the soul, amid mankind
    So seldom seen, so fugitive and frail,
    That we its absence rather than its loss bewail.
        Thrice happy he who never lost the flame
    Of rich imagination when he came
    To the autumnal tinting of his years,
    In whom the freshness of the heart appears
    For ever pure and tender! Blessed he
    Whom Nature still in holy liberty
    Preserves and keeps that he may deck her brow
    With all the treasures that his thoughts allow.
    Such be the gift by Heaven on thee conferred!
    May sacred Poesy by thee be heard
    When snowy age hath marked thee as her own
    And on thy head her silvery signs are shown.

    I feel in me all blest illusions wane
    That did my youth and dawn of life sustain;
    I loved them much, and to the bitter end
    I shall with tears their fond remembrance tend.
    When comes the time that frozen quite and hard
    My soul shall be, nor in the Heavens starred
    The clustering splendours give my spirit joy,
    My wondering thought in vague surmise employ;
    Nor sunny hills and lonely places smile,
    Nor warbling birds with early notes beguile
    My weary heart; nor, sailing in the sky,
    The queenly Moon be welcome to mine eye;
    When Art and Nature shall to me be dumb,
    And tender feelings like a stranger come:
    Then other lore, though less endeared, I'll choose
    That I the sense of bitter life may lose.
    My weary mind the wonders shall embrace
    That scholars seek and questioning sages trace,
    The bitter truth and dark reality,
    The goal of life that we so dimly see;
    Why brought to light and why surcharged with woe
    The countless generations here below;
    What Fate and Nature have for us in store;
    What laws ordain, what guides direct us o'er
    The perilous gulfs of Nature and of Time;
    These be the fountains of my thought sublime,
    The lofty theme of many a pensive rhyme.
        Thus I shall live; unhappy though it be,
    There are some charms in sad reality.
    But if my song unwelcome be or strange,
    I shall not grieve; for in its boundless range
    My spirit hath outsoared the love of Fame;
    She is a goddess only in her name;
    Than Fate and Love that rule our humankind
    So vaguely, so unwisely, she is far more blind.

These extracts will enable the reader to form an idea of the power
of thought and depth of feeling that characterise Leopardi's Poems,
although the beauty of his diction may not be reproduced in all its
purity and sweetness. Never was there a poet who knew how to handle
the Italian language with greater skill, or to give it more enchanting
melody or more varied cadences. If he has a fault, it is that he is
sometimes too indifferent to ornament, and that his simplicity now
and then degenerates into poverty and bareness. But when we remember
what Italian poetry had become in his time, how artificial, how
overladen with meretricious ornaments, we shall think him worthy of
praise, rather than deserving of censure. His earlier poems are the
most ornate, and it was only by degrees that he attained that crystal
clearness of style for which we find no parallel in the Italian
language. His frequent use of a capricious succession of rhymed and
unrhymed lines allows him to develop his thoughts with perfect freedom;
indeed, so easy is the metre, that were it not for his happy selection
of words and exquisite variety of cadence, it would border dangerously
on the slipshod; indeed, it does so in the works of his imitators, and
of recent years it has been, probably for that reason, abandoned by
poets in favour of systems more rigid and perhaps more epigrammatic.

Leopardi had every characteristic of a great lyric poet. If his
pessimism is sometimes too pronounced for many readers, it must be
admitted that the evils of life are sufficiently numerous to justify
his elegies; and he atones for any excess of gloom by the most
exquisite pictures of nature and of love. The world appears more
beautiful, though more terribly and darkly beautiful, in his poems than
in reality. He has a rare power of musical diction which delights the
ear even in his most melancholy passages. Indeed, the secret of his
power lies in the unique and exquisite contrast between the gloom and
bitterness of his thoughts and the sweetness and radiant beauty of his

He has also the rare power of concentrating in a few lines a whole
world of thought and emotion. Thus, in the _Risorgimento_:

    "Meco ritorna a vivere
    La piaggia, il bosco, il monte;
    Parla al mio core il fonte,
    Meco favella il mar.

In the poem _To Sylvia_ quoted above, he calls her "his hope so much
bewailed," "mia lacrimata speme." In the _Ricordanze_ he calls Nerina
"his eternal sigh." Numerous other instances could be adduced. Take,
for example, the lovely passage in the _Canto Notturno,_ where the
shepherd apostrophizes the Moon:

    "Pur tu, solinga, eterna peregrina,
    Che si pensosa sei, tu forse intendi,
    Questo viver terreno,
    Il patir nostro, il sospirar, che sia;
    Che sia questo morir, questo supremo
    Scolorar del sembiante,
    E perir della terra, e venir meno
    Ad ogni usata, amante compagnia."

His pathos and tenderness, expressed in language of the most perfect
purity and sweetness, and adorned with the rainbow hues of his vivid
imagination, produce an effect more poetical than words can describe.
I know of no lyric poet who keeps the mind of his reader under a more
potent spell. Others, like Horace and Alfred de Musset, may be more
entertaining, others, again, like Keats and Shelley, may delight us
with airier and more brilliant flights of fancy, but Leopardi leads us
to the brink of abysses and shows us their unfathomable depth.

He always writes from his heart, a rare quality, for we may find
twenty poets who write from the head for one who writes from the
heart. He never attempts a task for which he is unfitted. His powers
of reasoning in verse are very great, but his argument never becomes
unpoetical, never becomes dryly didactic. If his works have a fault,
it is that now and then the poems have a tendency to fall off towards
the end, and in his later works there is a certain languor of style,
probably the result of ill-health. He is a great master of blank verse,
and only in one of the poems in that metre, the _Palinodia,_ does he
become heavy and prolix. Sometimes, when he is not sustained by any
great thought, his extreme simplicity degenerates into poverty. Very
few poets could venture to be as simple as Leopardi.

His works have the effect of growing upon the reader. The second
perusal pleases better than the first, and the more they are read, the
more they are admired. In quantity of verse produced, he is surpassed
by many writers; but in quality, by none.

His prose works, like his poems, are few in number and short in
dimension. They comprise dialogues (a form of which he was very fond),
a few essays, and over one hundred detached fragmentary thoughts. They
make only a small volume of most unimposing bulk, but the beauties of
thought and style are so great that many critics have extolled them
as the most perfect production of Italian prose. They all set forth
his pessimism and his melancholy, but with so much art and variety,
that while they convince us of the world's misery, they also enchant
us with its beauty. Leopardi made a profound study of the great prose
writers of the Fourteenth Century, and he alone succeeds in reproducing
to perfection the freshness and harmony of their style. Some passages
are so magnificent that they cry out aloud to be put into verse. In his
prose we find less of his heart (that wonderful heart that embraced the
whole world in its sympathy) and more of the vivacity of his fancy than
in his verse.

His _Operette Morali,_ as his Prose Works were not very appropriately
entitled, did not receive that cordial welcome which their
extraordinary beauties should have commanded. In his youth he was
extolled up to the skies for his laborious erudition, but when he
offered the public works of real originality and value, both in prose
and verse, his gift was appreciated only by very gradual degrees. This
may be partly explained by the fact that a great wave of Utilitarianism
was passing over the country, a tendency against which he exclaims
in a letter written to Giordani from Florence in 1828. "I am weary,"
he says, "of the haughty contempt which people here profess for the
beautiful and for literature, especially as I do not think that the
summit of human wisdom consists in the knowledge of politics and of
statistics. On the contrary, when I consider philosophically the utter
uselessness of the endeavours to obtain perfection of governments and
happiness of nations, even from the days of Solon to our own, I cannot
help smiling at this mania for political and legislative schemes and
calculations, and I humbly ask how the happiness of nations can be
obtained without the happiness of individuals? We are condemned to
unhappiness by Nature, and not by our fellow-creatures or by Fate;
and to console us for this inevitable unhappiness, I think nothing
is better than the study of the beautiful, the cultivation of che
affections, the flights of imagination, and the pleasures of our
illusions. Therefore, I consider that all that pleases the mind is
useful beyond ordinary things of use, and that literature is more truly
useful than all those dry subjects which, even if they fulfilled their
objects, would little help the true felicity of human beings, who are
individuals, and not masses; but when do they really fulfil their
objects?. . . . . . I hold (and not accidentally) that human society
has inborn and necessary principles of imperfection, and that its
condition can be more or less bad, but never perfect. From every point
of view, to deprive men of that which is most delightful to the mind,
appears to me the infliction of a real injury upon the human race."

These words may be taken to heart at the present day as much as at the
time when they were written. There are far too many people ready to cry
down the pursuits of art and poetry, and it would be well to answer
them with these arguments of one of the most powerful and original
intellects that the human race has ever produced.



ALESSANDRO MANZONI, the most popular writer of the first half of the
Nineteenth Century, was born at Milan on the seventh of March, 1785.
His mother was the daughter of Beccaria, whose philanthropic endeavours
to abolish the worst abuses of criminal procedure have received
recognition in a previous chapter. He received his education from the
Fathers of the Somaschi Order, and in 1805 he accompanied his mother to
Paris. There he had the advantage of mixing with the most brilliant and
intellectual Society that France could produce. At that epoch he seems
first to have attempted composition, and a poem he wrote on the death
of a friend obtained sufficient encomiums to encourage him in further

In 1808 he returned to Italy and married Mademoiselle Blondel, daughter
of a banker of Geneva.

She was a Protestant, but soon joined the Church of Rome, and ere long
filled her husband, who had hitherto been indifferent to religion,
with the fervour that animated her soul. As in Paris, so in Milan,
he enjoyed the society of those most eminent for their intellectual
powers, and he was a frequent visitor in Monti's house. Silvio Pellico
and Tommaso Grossi were among his friends, and Luigi Tosi, afterwards
Bishop of Pavia, did much to confirm him in the ardent piety instilled
by his wife. Winter and Spring he passed in Milan, Summer and Autumn at
a beautiful villa of his at Brusiglio, four miles out of the town.

In 1812 he began writing his Sacred Hymns, and if they do not rise
above a spirited, though somewhat conventional, piety, they are
nevertheless an enormous advance on the mythological platitudes that
formed so long the staple of Italian poetry.

In 1819, he finished his tragedy, _Il Conte di Carmagnola,_ which had
occupied him for more than three years. Manzoni entirely abandoned the
trammels of the unities of time and place to which Alfieri rigidly
adhered; his play has consequently much of the picturesqueness and
variety of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans; and it is distinguished by
that thoroughness of historical study which marked everything he wrote;
but on the other hand, it must be admitted that he is not inspired by
the genuine spirit of tragedy in nearly so high a degree as Alfieri,
nor has he his predecessor's remarkable gift of writing sonorous and
impressive blank verse. His verse is clear and flowing, but rather
wanting in colour. His characters say what they ought to say, but they
do not say it in a striking manner. Even more than for its merits as a
play, it deserves to be read for the accurate picture it presents of
the Venice of the Fifteenth Century.

In 1820 he wrote the most spirited verses he ever produced, _Il Quinto
Maggio,_ a poem on the death of Napoleon, full of fire and originality.

In 1822 he published his tragedy _Adelchi._ As _Carmagnola_ gave a
picture of the Oligarchy of Venice, so does _Adelchi_ give us a picture
of the rule of the Lombard Kings. It is written with as much care as
its predecessor, and with more fire ind energy. But even here he is far
indeed from displaying Alfieri's mastery over blank verse. Appended to
this tragedy we find a long and valuable essay on the Lombards in Italy.

Manzoni contemplated a third tragedy. It was to have been on the
subject of Spartacus, but not more was written than an introductory

These works procured a high reputation for the poet, a reputation
which became even European when he published in 1826 his celebrated
historical romance, _I Promessi Sposi--The Betrothed._ No prose work
in the Italian language has been received with greater enthusiasm in
foreign countries than this. Translations appeared in every European
language; edition after edition was called for, both of the original
and of the renderings. The daily papers teemed with laudatory notices;
the author was overwhelmed with tokens of esteem and admiration, and
his countrymen hailed in him with rapture an Italian Scott.

His reputation reached its zenith in 1830. But if his admirers expected
that he would display the fertility of his Caledonian prototype, they
were doomed to disappointment. He was renowned as the writer of two
able tragedies, of one of the most brilliant lyrics in any language,
and of the most successful novel that Italy had ever produced. He
was rich and comfortable, two strong incentives to indolence. He had
acquired fame so great that it would be impossible to add to it; what
need was there for him to labour and toil in producing works that
could not by any possibility approach the marvellous success of their
predecessors? Accordingly, we find that Manzoni wrote but little after
the appearance of the _Promessi Sposi,_ and that little is not of great
importance. In his _Storia della Colonna Infame,_ he protests, like a
true descendant of Beccaria, against the horrors of the rack; in his
_Morale Cottolica,_ he displays considerable powers of observation and
of argument.

He had numerous children, but many of them predeceased him. His eldest
daughter married Massimo d'Azeglio.

After the Italian victories of 1859, he was elected a member of the
Senate assembled at Turin, but he only attended its debates on two
occasions, probably owing to advancing age. He was offered high
dignities and the medals of many Orders; but he refused them all, and
lived in simple retirement, sufficiently distinguished by his renown,
and by the esteem accorded to his amiable and benevolent character. He
died on the 22nd of May, 1873, and Milan accompanied her poet to the
grave with magnificent obsequies.

Turning from the man to his works, we find both his prose and his
poetry characterized by a noble spirit of repose. There is nothing
stormy or angry in his writings, for there was nothing to disturb or
to embitter his mind. He resemble Goethe in the cloudless serenity of
his intellect, though he may not equal him in the rarer attributes
of genius. It was probably this very repose that militated against
his success as a dramatist, for if they did not present so faithful a
picture of an historical epoch, his two tragedies would hardly deserve
the attention they received.

This happy peace of mind enabled him to reproduce very clearly what he
observed and imagined. It is, therefore, no cause for wonder that when
he devoted the powers of his mind to the production of an historical
novel, he should have given a masterpiece to the world. The story is
interesting. We follow the vicissitudes of the lovers with breathless
attention. The subject is well fitted to the author's powers. He
writes of localities among which he lived, and of times, the history
of which he had profoundly studied. The descriptions never fail to be
vivid and accurate, and the skill with which he masses together great
events cannot be too highly extolled. Nothing could be finer than the
description of the plague of Milan, and of the popular disturbances.
Nor is he less admirable in the delineation of character. The portrait
of the Friar would be alone sufficient to show his mastery in that
line. The style has its beauties, but even in this most successful
work of the Nineteenth Century we notice the same peculiarities as in
his dramas; the characters say what they ought to say, but they do not
always say it in a striking manner. Little as he resembled Leopardi,
he was like him in a certain indifference to ornament which sometimes
degenerates into poverty.

In reading Manzoni's works we become aware how much the romantic
movement benefited literature. A new life is infused into prose and
poetry; fresh thoughts arise in the writer's mind, and the wretched
conventionalities of phraseology are done away with for ever.

Above praise though the _Promessi Sposi_ may be, it is not possible
to extol Manzoni very highly as a poet. With the exception of the
magnificent _Cinque Maggio,_ his lyrics do not glow with vivid
fire, nor do they haunt the reader with their melody. The extremely
comfortable circumstances of the poet's life prevented him from being
torn with passion and harrowed by despair. His genius had nothing wild
or impetuous about it to spur him on to a passionate outpour of song.
Nor had he the gaiety of convivial, or the acrimony of satirical,
verse. Therefore, it is not strange that he has left us nothing quite
worthy of his renown in the lyric line, always excepting the poem on
the death of Napoleon.

His powers of versification are not very remarkable. He is deficient
in the delicate cadences of a truly great poet. His blank verse has
a tendency to become flat. His rhymes are stronger, but the metre,
though effective, is not modulated and varied with the consummate
skill that can alone satisfy a cultivated ear. But all his poems are
the emanation of a truly noble mind, and if we search the pages of
Manzoni, whether in his prose or in his verse, for lofty thoughts and
elevating influence, we can truly say that we never search in vain.



A work hardly inferior in popularity to the _Promessi Sposi_ was _Le
Mie Prigioni,_ an account of all that he suffered in Austrian prisons,

The author of this celebrated book was born at Saluzzo, in Piedmont, in
1788. He spent his youth in France, but shortly after he came of age,
he returned to Italy and settled in Milan. He supported himself for a
while as a tutor, and then as a journalist. He wrote several tragedies,
the best of which is _Francesca da Rimini,_ and a spirited translation
of Byron's _Manfred._

In conjunction with a few friends, he published a paper, _Il
Conciliatore._ Some articles excited the displeasure of the Austrian
Government, and the paper was forbidden to appear. The disturbances
in Piedmont in 1820 aroused the fears of the Authorities, and he was
arrested with some of his companions and taken to Venice, where he was
first of all confined in the "Piombi" in the Doge's Palace, and then in
the prison on the Island of San Michele. He and his confederates were
sentenced to death, but the capital sentence was commuted to fifteen
years imprisonment in a fortress for Pellico and twenty years for his
friend Maroncelli. Both victims were removed in 1822 to the Spielberg,
near Brunn, in Moravia, and confined in subterranean dungeons. They
were treated with the utmost rigour. Heavy manacles were fastened
to their limbs; coarse and scanty fare alone was provided for them.
Pellico's health was never strong, and it broke down utterly under such
rigorous treatment. He fell dangerously ill, and a certain relaxation
was made in order to save his life. But no sooner was he on the way to
recovery, than the former severities were revived and even aggravated.
He was no longer allowed to beguile his wretched captivity with reading
and writing, and all that he could do was to brood in his wretched
dungeon over his sorrows and to wonder whether he would live until the
day appointed for his release. His wounded spirit took refuge in the
consolations of a somewhat mystic piety. In later years the demand for
a United Italy brought the patriots into collision with the Papacy,
whose adherence to the claim of temporal power for the Pope was
inflexibly maintained, and the collision resulted in bitter hostility
to Christianity; but for at least the first forty years of the
Century nearly every patriot was a fervent Catholic, whose religious
enthusiasm was fostered by the romantic movement, with its attendant
love and veneration for the Middle Ages. Pellico was emphatically the
incarnation of this type of patriot. He looked upon all free thought
with horror, and any doubts as to the tenets of his Church never seem
to have entered his mind. His cruel captivity made him cling all the
closer to the promises of the Church to her faithful, and after his
liberation his frame of mind continued the same.

That liberation came sooner than was expected. Pellico and his friend
Maroncelli were released on the first of August, 1830.

Count Pralormo, Envoy of the Court of Turin to Vienna, interceded
frequently for the unhappy poet, and it was probably in a large measure
owing to him that Pellico was released so soon. The Revolution of July
broke out on the very day the Emperor Francis signed the order for the
release. It was considered a fortunate circumstance for the prisoners
that the order was signed before the Emperor had heard of this event,
or he might not have been so inclined to clemency.

The prisoners were conducted under escort to Vienna, but Silvio was
in so feeble a state of health that the exertion of travelling threw
him on a sick bed. He tells us that on his recovery he was taken drives
and excursions, and one day, when he and Maroncelli were walking in the
park at Schönbrunn, the approach of the Emperor was announced, and he
and his companion were ordered to go aside lest his Majesty should be
depressed by the sight of their pale and emaciated faces.

When Pellico was allowed to return to Italy, he took refuge at Turin
with his sister. He beguiled his time by writing _Le Mie Prigioni_ and
numerous tragedies and poems; but his health was quite ruined by the
hardships he had endured, and he languished in much suffering. He died
unmarried in 1854.

Why Silvio Pellico was treated with such rigour and cruelty by the
Austrian Government is inexplicable, for he was the very reverse of a
dangerous and turbulent spirit. Even his imprisonment did not rouse him
to frenzy, and _Le Mie Prigioni_ is less an outpouring of wrath than a
chronicle of all the tears he shed. Indeed, it would have been better
for his fame as an author if he had possessed something of the cruel
indignation that devoured the heart of Swift. His works are tender and
pensive, but they are sadly in want of fire. He gives us mild elegies
when we expect passionate invectives.

It was hard to suffer so much, but had he suffered less, he would not
now be remembered among the authors of his country. A pure and noble
spirit he would always have been, but his star would not have shone
with sufficient brilliancy to be distinguishable from the galaxy around

"After writing twelve tragedies," he tells us, "eight of which alone
have been published, I ceased to write for the stage, as I felt that I
had not sufficient resources to enable me to depict a great variety of
characters. In my youth I had a wild hope that I might in time occupy
a place not distant from Alfieri, but with years I awoke from that
illusion in spite of the applause that was lavished upon me. Now I take
pleasure only in lyric and narrative poetry, in which I admit that I
do not rise to any great height; but those branches of poetry have a
strong attraction for me; I love to make of them the instruments to
express my sentiments, and especially my religious emotions. I often
feel the want of praying, as it were, in verse; and thus I produce
sometimes an ode, sometimes an elegy, in which I pour out my heart
to God, and that suffices to give me back my spiritual serenity. I
should like to see poets arise greater than myself, that they might
increase the number of sacred compositions, diffusing the love of God
and of virtue, and elevating their intellect and that of their fellow
creatures, with the holy union of noble thoughts and fervent religion.
We have a few such poets, but very limited in number, and too often
the divinest of arts is dedicated to frivolous, or what is worse, to
despicable subjects."

These words give a clear idea of the spirit in which he wrote, and
it cannot be denied that he comes up to his noble conception, even
though a certain want of fire prevents him from occupying a high
rank in Italian literature. His two best tragedies are _Francesca da
Rimini_ and _Thomas More._ In both he rises to considerable dignity,
and nothing better can be found out of Alfieri. His _Francesca_ was
produced by the celebrated actress Carlotta Marchionni with brilliant

His lyric poems are a mirror of his tender and pensive soul, but the
fatal want of fire is more apparent than in his tragedies which are
sustained by the interest of the story.

Far and away the most important of his works is _Le Mie Prigioni,_
the record of his weary years of cruel captivity. The book was a
prodigious success, and was read wherever freedom was loved and
tyranny detested. No literary production of the age was more welcome
to Italian patriots, because it furnished them with so forcible a
justification for rising against their oppressors. Indeed, the marvel
is that a nation like the Italian bore the yoke of foreign invaders
so long. Italy was not like Poland, without natural frontiers to act
as a barrier against the aggression of powerful neighbours. Nor was
she, like Poland, distracted by internal faction and discord. Why,
therefore, did she submit so long? The only answer, in my opinion, is
that the system in the Middle Ages of hiring venal condottieri and
their followers to fight their battles demoralised the Italians until
they failed to realise their own inherent strength. When once the
nation resolved to be free, the task was not so stupendously difficult.
It was a fortunate circumstance for Italy that neither Spain nor
Austria ever attempted to effect settlements of their own subjects
on her soil, as England did in Ireland and as Russia is now doing in
Poland. Thus, when the hour of freedom struck, the Italians had only to
overcome hostile garrisons, they had not to uproot a settled population.

The style of Silvio Pellico is eminently clear and direct, and his work
is on that account a great favourite with foreigners beginning the
study of the language. He has considerable powers of description, and
he succeeds admirably in reproducing the colouring and the atmosphere
of the scenes he went through. He is occasionally too sentimental,
and the tears he sheds are out of all proportion to the fortitude he
displays. But a great wave of sentimentality was passing over Italy at
that time, and it was perhaps wanted to bring men back to nature after
the artificiality of the past.

His gaolers seem to have been as kind to him as they dared; but the
rules of the prison were terribly rigorous, and they were not relaxed
for Silvio and his confederates, blameless though their characters were
known to be. Maroncelli had to submit to the amputation of a leg owing
to the mortification resulting from the friction of his heavy fetters,
and Pellico himself was prostrated by illness from his excessive
hardships, so that for a while his life was in danger, and great
indeed would have been the loss to Literature had a fatal termination
prevented him from leaving to posterity the record of a cruel captivity
and of a lofty and unsullied patriotism.



The most conspicuous, though not in reality the most eminent, of the
Italian poets in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, was VINCENZO
MONTI. The inexhaustible fluency of his verses attracted universal
attention, and even Leopardi worshipped at his shrine. But he was
only an idol, not a divinity. The feet of clay soon became apparent.
He veered round with shameless apostacy from one political party to
another. Beginning his career by flattering Pius VI, he continued it by
extolling the French invaders, and concluded it by grovelling before
the Austrian tyrants. He wrote odes without enthusiasm, and tragedies
without dignity, and he translated Homer without knowing sufficient
Greek to read the original. An epigram was suggested for his portrait:

    "Questo è Monti, poeta e cavaliero,
    Gran traduttor dei traduttor d'Omero."

But it would be unjust to deny that he had great flexibility of style
and full command over all the resources of the language. He is always
elegant and flowing, and his works, such as they are, never sin against
the canons of good taste. Perhaps the most pleasing of his shorter
poems is a very beautiful sonnet on the portrait of his daughter.

A far more masterful and daring spirit was UGO FOSCOLO. His poem _I
Sepolcri_ attracted universal attention, but it can hardly be said
that the promise of this poem was fulfilled by later works. He had
brilliant gifts, but he was inclined to fritter them away on learned
trifles. As a prose writer he exercised a wider influence. His _Lettere
di Jacopo Ortis,_ were to Italy much what Goethe's _Werther_ was to
Germany. He was an admirable critic, and his essays on Dante, Petrarch
and Boccaccio are valuable even at the present day. He took refuge in
England, and some of his best articles were written in English, being
subsequently translated into his mother-tongue. He died at Turnham
Green, near London, in 1827.

MELCHIORRE CESAROTTI translated Macpherson's _Ossian,_ and was a
powerful promoter of the romantic movement.

IPPOLITO PINDEMONTE wrote many poems distinguished by a gentle
pensiveness, and he translated the _Odyssey_ with considerable success.

GIOVANNI BERCHET of Milan, contributed largely by his verses to kindle
the fire of patriotism, but vigorous and stirring though they be, they
have hardly sufficient finish and delicacy to rank as works of art.

GIUSEPPE GIUSTI was a satirist of amazing raciness and originality. He
attacked the tyrannical Governments of his day, and he knew neither
fear nor discretion. Those who can form an idea of what Mr. Gilbert's
inexhaustible powers of grotesque versification would produce if
directed towards political satire, may conceive what Giusti's poems
are. He died of consumption in 1850.

FELICE BELLOTTI, of Milan, rendered noble services to the literature of
his country by his magnificent translation of the _Lusiad_ of Camoens,
the _Argonautica_ of Apollonius Rhodius, and the tragedies of Æschylus,
Sophocles and Euripides.

GIAMBATTISTA NICOLINI was the author of numerous tragedies, but his
tendencies were as much political as poetical, and his poetry suffers
in consequence.

JACOPO VITTORELLI was musical and flowing in his verse, and some of his
best lines are worthy of the pen of Metastasio.

The poems of GIUSEPPE PUZZONE have a tender sentimentality that is both
moving and pleasing,

GIUSEPPE BORGHI translated Pindar, and wrote poems of his own with
considerable fire and originality.

LUIGI CARRER, a Venetian, had the merit of opening up new sources of
ideas in his poems, and he has much pathos and command of language.

GABRIELE ROSSETTI, the father of a celebrated family, was inspired by
patriotism in almost everything he wrote. Some of his patriotic hymns
have inimitable fire and energy. He took refuge in England, where he
died in 1854.

The poems of ALEARDO ALEARDI are remarkable for strength of
imagination, but his powers of execution are not considerable.

GIOSUE CARDUCCI ranks very high among the poets of the Nineteenth
Century, but his endeavours to revive the mythology of which the world
had become utterly weary were not very judicious, although in his case
they were redeemed by great learning and much force of imagination. He
tried to introduce the metres of Horace into Italian, but the result is
not very musical.

ENRICO PANZACCHI is a true poet, and his imagery is always graceful and
in good taste.

The same cannot be said of OLINDO GUERRINI who, under the pseudonym of
LORENZO STECHETTI, published poems remarkable for freshness and melody
of style, but also, unhappily, for coarseness and indecency. He is very
successful in the art of making the verses sing; they really come from
the heart of the poet and go straight to the heart of the reader.

The Sicilian RAPISARDI produced some fine works, among others a long
poem on the afflictions of Job. It is full of imagination, but it would
be difficult to conceive a more unnecessary work; the book of Job is so
sublime in itself that any reproduction, not a literal translation, is
either a dilution or a "gilding of refinéd gold."

GIOVANNI PRATI had great powers of thought and genuine inspiration. His
_Armando_ is a very noble work, but it is somewhat wanting in skilful
construction, and in everything he wrote his beauties are rather heaped
together than skilfully displayed.

PIETRO COSSA produced some tragedies very unlike those of Alfieri,
full of crude colours and startling contrasts, by which he obtained an
immense vogue, but it is doubtful whether they will stand the test of

ADA NEGRI, of Milan, has published some lyrics full of the most
extraordinary fire and brilliancy, and if she continues as she has
begun, she cannot fail to produce something great.

The ABBE ZANELLA has published poems which have been much admired. He
is reported to be the favourite poet of Leo XIII.

Madame RACHELE BOTTI BINDA has written numerous poems, characterised
by strength and originality of thought; indeed, it is delightful to
find in almost all the poets enumerated in this chapter that the
old sameness and conventionality have utterly disappeared and that
freshness and versatility are everywhere apparent. This circumstance
cannot fail to be of good augury for the future and to infuse new life
into a literature which was sadly in need of freshness of thought and
unconventionality of style. If some writers have been indelicate and
others inartistic, these are faults that are immediately seen and
easily avoided, and in view of the greater interest and appreciation
bestowed by the public of late years on poetry, there is every reason
to hope that the next century will witness the appearance of poets in
no respect unworthy of the Country of Dante and Ariosto.



Pre-eminent among the historians of the Nineteenth Century are CESARE
BALBO and CESARE CANTU. They were both indefatigably laborious and they
both devoted themselves to the elucidation of the history of their
native land. MANIN'S _History of Venice_ has research and minuteness of
detail without wearisome prolixity to recommend it.

TOMMASO GROSSI was highly successful with his historical romance _Marco
Visconti,_ but he has a tendency to become very tearful and sentimental.

The plays of ALBERTO NOTA procured considerable reputation for their
author, but they are not quite amusing enough for comedies and not
quite Strong enough for dramas, so that they have fallen into neglect
in spite of their delicacy and refinement. The Italian Stage in this
Century depended too much on French importations, as did the average
fiction of the day. Even at the present time, the poorest rubbish of
the Boulevards has a better chance of attracting attention than the
best works of indigenous authors. Extreme concessions have been made of
late years to vulgar realism, but it cannot be denied that realism has
called forth life-like characters and accurate descriptions. MATILDE
SERAO has been particularly successful as a novelist.

But the most brilliant novelist of the present day is undoubtedly
GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO. His poems are well-conceived, though not
particularly musical in diction, but as a novelist he is quite the
first. He excels in descriptions. Nowhere else can such word-painting
be found, with the possible exception of the books of travel of EDMONDO
DE AMICIS. TULLIO GIORDANA has written a most interesting monograph on
Gabriele d'Annunzio's _Trionfo della Morte,_ but perhaps the best works
he has produced as yet are _Il Piacere_ and _Giovanni Episcopo._ He
is not always particularly happy in his choice of subjects; but if he
exercises discretion in that respect, there is no saying to what height
he may not in future ascend.

In Italy, as elsewhere, the extreme popularity of the novel has
overshadowed every other branch of literature. To enumerate the various
authors and their works would be like counting the sands of the
sea-shore and the stars of the Heavens, suffice it to observe that
everywhere skill and ingenuity are manifest, and if some authors become
repulsive from excess of realism, others, and those the most recent,
have, in emulation of Gabriele d'Annunzio, thrown over their realism
the garb of fancy and imagination, thus presenting a happy augury for
the future.



In this History of Italian Literature I have endeavoured, to the best
of my ability, to trace its progress and development. That it has
progressed, cannot, I think, be denied. Poetry has freed itself from
conventionality. Prose has given birth to works which former ages
could not even have conceived. Compare the magnificent creations of
Gabriele d'Annunzio to the stories of Bandello and the _Novelline_ of
MASACCIO. The advance is prodigious. Much, however, remains to be done.
Italy has not yet given the world a philosopher so profound as Kant or
Schopenhauer, or a tragic poet so great as Sophocles or Shakespeare.
There is still room for an Italian Burns, for a really original and
striking poet in dialect. The Sicilian GIOVANNI MELI is, perhaps, the
nearest approach to such a writer, indeed, he is the most genuine poet
that Sicily has ever produced. There is every reason to hope that the
free and united Italy of the present will see writers as brilliant as
those of the enslaved and divided Italy of the past.




    Alamanni, Luigi
    Alexander VII, Pope
    Amaltei, the Brothers
    Amicis, Edmondo de
    Annunzio, Gabriele d'


    Balbo, Cesare
    Bartoli, Daniele
    Bembo, Cardinal
    Bentivoglio, Cardinal
    Berchet, Giovanni
    Berni, Francesco
    Bevilacqua, Cardinal
    Boccaccio, Giovanni
    Boccalini, Trajano
    Boniface VIII, Pope
    Borghi, Giuseppe
    Botti Binda, Madame Rachele
    Bruno, Giordano
    Byron, Lord


    Campbell, Lord
    Cantù, Cesare
    Caro, Annibal
    Carducci, Giosuè
    Carrer, Luigi
    Casa, Monsignor G. della
    Castiglione, Baldassarre
    Catherine, Saint, of Siena
    Cattignano, Giovanni, da
    Cesari, Antonio
    Cesarotti, Melchiorre
    Chiabrera, Gabriele
    Christina, Queen of Sweden
    Clement VII, Pope
    Clement VIII, Pope
    Clement XI, Pope
    Clement XII, Pope
    Colonna, Vittoria
    Compagni, Dino
    Cossa, Pietro
    Costanzo, Angelo di
    Crudeli, Tommaso


    Delfino, Cardinal
    Duse, Eleonora


    Edwardes, Charles
    Eleonora, Princess of Ferrara


    Fortiguerra, Niccolò
    Foscolo, Ugo
    Frederick the Great


    Galilei, Galileo
    Gambara, Veronica
    Giordana, Tullio
    Giordani, Pietro
    Giusti, Giuseppe
    Goldoni, Carlo
    Gozzi, Carlo
    Gozzi, Gasparo
    Grossi, Tommaso
    Guarnii, Battista
    Guerrini, Olindo
    Guidi, Alessandro


    Holderness, Lord


    Julius II, Pope


    Keats, John


    Latini, Brunetto
    Leo X, Pope
    Leo XIII, Pope
    Lippi, Lorenzo


    Macaulay, Lord
    Maffei, Alessandro
    Maffei, Scipione
    Maggi, Carlo Maria
    Magliabecchi, Antonio
    Malaspini, Celio
    Manfredi, Eustachio
    Manzoni, Alessandro
    Marchionni, Carlotta
    Maroncelli, Pietro
    Meli, Giovanni


    Nardi, Jacopo
    Negri, Ada
    Nota, Alberto


    Pallavicino, Cardinal
    Panzacchi, Enrico
    Parini, Giuseppe
    Passavanti, Jacopo
    Passeroni, Gian Carlo
    Pellico, Silvio
    Pindemonte, Ippolito
    Pius VI, Pope
    Pius VII, Pope
    Pius IX, Pope
    Pope, Alexander
    Prati, Giovanni
    Poliziano, Angelo da
    Polo, Marco
    Porzio, Camillo


    Redi, Francesco
    Rolli, Paolo
    Rosa, Salvator
    Rossetti, Gabriele
    Rota, Bernardino


    Sacchetti, Franco
    Salvini (Actor)
    Salvini (Grammarian)
    Sarpi, Fra Paolo
    Savioli, Ludovico
    Segneri, Father Paul
    Segni, Bernardo
    Serao, Matilde
    Serrassi, Abbé
    Sixtus V, Pope
    Solerti, Angelo
    Somers, Lord
    Spolverini, Marquis
    Stampa, Gaspara
    Stella (Publisher)


    Tasso, Bernardo
    Tasso, Torquato
    Tassoni, Alessandro
    Testi, Fulvio


    Varano, Alfonso
    Varchi, Benedetto
    Viani, Prospero
    Victor Emmanuel
    Villani, Filippo
    Villani, Giovanni
    Villani, Matteo
    Vinci, Leonardo da
    Visconti, Galleazzo




    Zanella, Abbé
    Zappi, Faustina, daughter of the painter, Carlo Maratta
    Zappi, Felice, husband of Faustina

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