Dionysius Lardner.

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could not enter into the mystery of " the real presence,"
according to the Roman interpretation of the true and
simple scripture doctrine of " the communion of the body
and the blood of Christ," yet. impressed with awe by
the pomp of the spectacle, and elevated almost to trans-
port by sympathy of devotion with the surrounding
multitude, he received the symbol, according to his own
ingenuous account, with cc a certain indescribable and
unwonted satisfaction." This circumstance deserves
particular mention, because, assuredly, by such a course
of domestic and school discipline the boy was trained
up in what he understood to be genuine piety, and of
which, through after life, he became a zealous professor,
however lax on some other subjects his writings, and


even his actions, may have been. In the latter respect,
however, he was countenanced by the licentious man-
ners of the age,, and especially of that class of society,
refined and exalted as it was,, in which his lot was cast,
but in which he was rather entertained as a guest than
recognised as a member of the privileged order. His
father, in one of his letters to his mother, says, " It
is of the utmost importance to impress, with all your
influence and authority, upon the infantine mind the
name, the love, and the fear of God, that the child may
learn to love and honour Him from whom he has re-
ceived, not life only, but all the benefits and mercies of
providence and grace, which can render man happy in
this world, and blessed in that which is to come." In
the same letter he says, " I condemn those who beat
their children, not less than if they should dare to lay
hands on the image of God."

It was after the expatriated party to whom Bernardo
belonged had planned an attack upon Naples, by the
combined fleets of France and Turkey, which miscar-
ried in a miserable piratical descent upon the neighbour-
ing coast, and a disgraceful re-embarkment, that Portia
and her daughter were received into a convent, and
Torquato was sent to his father at Rome ; who, an
exile, on a bed of sickness, and in deep poverty, was
solacing himself, amidst his misfortunes, with preparing
a volume of his Rime for the press, and unweariedly
labouring to complete his Amadigi. In " the eternal
city," young Tasso prosecuted his studies with indefati-
gable assiduity, and having for companion a cousin of
his own name, Christofero Tasso, a lad of indolent
habits and slow capacity. He, by his example and in-
fluence, for a while happily stimulated the latter to
become a worthy competitor of himself ; but he soon
growing tired in the course, Torquato left him, and
every rival beside, far behind in every learned and
liberal accomplishment.

In 1556 Portia died, at Naples, never having seen
her husband since his original proscription. Her illness

TASSO. 109

was so brief and so violent,, that Bernardo doubted
whether it was poison or a broken heart that had cut
her off in the prime of her years, most of which,
however, had been so melancholy, since her happiness
first seemed consummated by her union with the man
of her choice, and in the children of their love, that
there needed no auxiliary, in this instance, for Nature to
do her work in the shape of death. Meanwhile Ber-
nardo, not being permitted to return to Naples, was
compelled, by the stress of hard circumstances, to leave
his daughter in the hands of those whom he had but
too much reason to call her enemies, though the nearest
of kin to her deceased mother. These probably from
motives of rapacity, though political rancour may have
added its malignity to the cold venom of avarice - - in-
stituted a process against young Torquato, to disinherit
him, under a pretence which a fiend incarnate (had
such a wanderer from the abyss of lost spirits been
permitted to darken the earth with his shadow) might
have blushed to advance in a court of justice, that,
having followed his miserable parent to Rome, the boy
(at ten years of age !) had made himself partaker of
his father's imputed treason, and thereby righteously
exposed himself to the same penalties of exile and con-
fiscation. The issue of this iniquitous proceeding does
not appear, except it may be gathered from the fact,
that the uncles contrived to withhold Torquato 's portion
of his mother's dowry from him till the last year of his
life: and, further to secure the control, at least, of the
property by themselves, they married her daughter
Cornelia, who, at fifteen years, had grown up into a
beauty, to a gentleman of Sorrento, of narrow fortune,
but honourable birth, in spite of the protestations of
her father, whose ambition had destined her for a higher
and more wealthy alliance ; his hopes and his plans
being even a day's march beyond his power of over-
taking them by performance. There is extant a letter
written on this occasion by Torquato (probably at the
dictation of his father) to Signora Vittoria Colonna, in


which the lad bitterly complains against the cruelty of
his uncles in forcing this match upon his sister ; and
implores her interference to prevent the entailment of
poverty and disgrace upon the young Cornelia., by such
a sacrifice of her person and property to the mercenary
views of her relatives. " It is hard/' says the reputed
writer, " to lose one's fortune; but the degradation of
blood is much harder to bear. My poor old father has
only us two ; and, since fortune has robbed him of his
property, and of a wife whom he loved as his own soul,
suffer not rapacity to deprive him of his beloved daugh-
ter, in whose bosom he hoped to finish tranquilly the
few last years of his old age. We have no friends at
Naples ; our relations are our enemies, and, on account
of the circumstances of my father's situation, every one
fears to take us by the hand." These stern but tender
sentiments, wrung in the agony of heart-sickness from
the father, were written, not only by the hand of the
son upon the paper of the epistle, but on his own heart,
and became identified with his personal feelings through
life. Though he never suffered the escutcheon of his
family to be blemished by a humbling connection, yet he
paid dearly, both in his affections and in his pride, to pre-
serve it ; and, if the tradition of his love for a princess
of the house of Este be founded in truth, he must have
felt that he was himself, in that case, playing the part
of (( some poor gentleman," whose alliance would be a
degradation of the most ancient blood of Italy. Both
the father and the son, in the sequel, were recon-
ciled first for Cornelia's sake, and afterwards for his
own to her husband ; who proved a worthy and kind
consort, with whom she lived happily, though not long,
and by whom she had several children.

In a letter addressed by Bernardo to his daughter, while
she was yet a girl, occurs the following affecting day-
dreams of the comforts of old age which he hoped to re-
alise in her filial attentions. After exhorting her to mind
her lessons, and promising ir clue time to provide a


husband worthy of her, with whom she should live near
himself, he thus fondly adverts to that closing scene of a
troubled life,, to which many a sufferer like him, to the last
moment, looked on as a forlorn hope forlorn, yet in-
expressibly soothing, and cherished even in the heart of
despair : " Sweet and tranquil to me will be old age,
when I shall see (as I hope it may be the will of God)
myself perpetuated in your little ones, with my very
features impictured on their countenances. Death will
then appear to me less terrible, when, beholding you in
honour and in peace, enjoying the love of your husband,
and the delights derived from the affections of your
children, you shall close with pale hands these eyes of
mine. And surely it is due to a dear father to receive
the last kisses, the last tears, and every other pious and
tender office, from a dutiful and loving daughter."

Fresh commotions in Italy rendering Rome an unsafe
sojourn for the homeless Bernardo, he removed his son
and his nephew to Bergamo, and fled himself to Ra-
venna, with two shirts and his Amadigi yet uncompleted;
as destitute as his contemporary Camoens, when he es-
caped from shipwreck with his Lusiad in one hand^
and with the other buffeting the waves thus saving
at once his life and his immortality ! On as troubled a
sea, by land, as any breadth of water between Lisbon
and Canton, not excepting that round the Cape of
Storms, Bernardo was tossed to and fro throughout
Italy; and continued to the last as poor, yet as sanguine,
as the only genius that Portugal had hitherto produced^
and proved itself unworthy to give birth to another by
its neglect, if not its ingratitude and inhumanity, to that
one. But here a gleam of sunshine broke upon Ber-
nardo, amidst the darkness of his flight from Rome.
The duke of Urbino invited him to Pesaro, and afforded
him a welcome but temporary asylum there from the
persecution of his enemies, and the pressure of indi-
gence a retreat, indeed, which he himself acknow-
ledged was such as might give inspiration to any poet,


and where he, himself, in quiet and amidst that comfort
to which lie had lately been a stranger, might complete
his long poem.

Torquato for a little time was pleasantly situated at
Bergamo, in the family of his cousin and fellow-student,
where, being a boy of exceedingly prepossessing appear-
ance, amiable disposition, and manifestly brilliant ta-
lents, he was much noticed and even caressed by many
of the principal persons in the neighbourhood. Ber-
nardo, however, anxious to have him under his own eye
and direction, soon reclaimed him. At Pesaro, Tor-
quato, as might be expected, won attention from the
whole circle of his father's acquaintance ; and the duke
d'Urbino himself was so delighted with his graceful
modesty and rare accomplishments, that he introduced
him to his own son as a suitable companion in his
studies and his pleasures. The young noble of fortune
at once became attached to the young noble of genius,
and a friendship, so natural to kindred minds early as-
sociated the dawn of affection preceding the day-star
of passion in the order of Providence speedily sprang
up, and amidst all the splendour of station which
through life distinguished the one, and the sufferings
by adversity which were the subsequent lot of the other,
was never forsworn or forgotten by either. And well
was the lustre, so transiently shed by the prince, in the
court of his father, upon the humble son of the exile
there, imperishably reflected upon himself, in after
years, even from the dungeons of Ferrara, by the glory
of the author of " Gerusalemme Liberata."

Bernardo having at length put the finishing stroke to
his Amadigi, looked to the munificence of the king of
France ,and the prince of Salerno for the means of
printing it. In these reliances he was disappointed ;
and it appears that his patron, the prince, was himself
so impoverished, that the pension to the poet of 300
crowns (a poor compensation for all his services and
sacrifices) was about this time withdrawn. So utterly
perished were Bernardo's resources, in this extremity,

TASSO. 113

that, according to his own lamentable statement, had
it not been for the bounty of the duke d'Urbino, he
must have been almost reduced to the necessity of beg-
ging bread for himself and his son. The duke libe-
rally supplied him, not with bread only for himself and
his son, but presented him with 300 ducats, to which
were added a hundred gold crowns by the cardinal de
Tournon. Hereupon he repaired to Venice, to pub-
lish his work. Being received with great respect by
the literary characters of that city, then eminent for
noble arts as well as victorious arms and prosperous
commerce, he was adopted by them, and made secre-
tary to their academy. To this office was annexed a
salary so considerable, that, with his wonted improvi-
dence, he immediately established himself in a hand-
some house, sumptuously furnished, and adorned with
what seems to have been his delight, rich tapestry, the
poetry of the needle and the shuttle, and which at best
is but to painting what painting itself sometimes is to
nature a copy reminding the spectator of an original,
of which one of the greatest merits of the imitation
is the difficulty overcome in achieving it.

Bernardo's vicissitudes would present a touching but
melancholy contrast to those of Gil Bias of Santillane,
if written in a style of seriousness and sympathy with
what is most sacred in suffering, and trying in hope
deferred, equal to the pungent humour and heartless
indifference to what is (c virtuosest, discreetest, best,"
in the characteristic adventures of that gay footman of
fortune. But such transitions as both Bernardo and
Torquato experienced, strange as they seem to us, were
events of common occurrence, arising out of the state
of society in the petty principalities and common-
wealths of Italy in the middle ages, and long after the
revival of learning, when those who followed the pro-
fession of letters were too often dependent for the means
of subsistence upon the precarious patronage of haughty
nobles and ostentatious ecclesiastics. The part which
Torquato had to bear in the diversities of circumstance,



scene, and company, into which he was thrown with
his parent, was too well calculated to cherish and con-
firm all his natural aspirings ; while those patrician
sentiments, which had been instilled into him from his
cradle, amidst poverty, ignominy, and all the wretched-
ness of ephemeral favour, ever sustained in him a lofty
self-esteem, on the ground of honourable birth, the
consciousness of innate genius, and the pride of ac-
quired learning, to which had been carefully added
those gentlemanly accomplishments which rendered him
a fit companion for people of the highest rank in an
age of extraordinary display of personal conduct and
ceremonial bearing. Tasso, in addition to his peculiar
advantages, excelled in all these conventional ones,
except in self-control that especially which dege-
nerates into servility for (though the most exquisite
flatterer in the world, as thousands of panegyrical verses
prove him to have been) he never learned the meaner,
but more profitable, art of being a court-minion.

While he was thus pursuing his studies with in
defatigable application, he was not less diligent in
cultivating those talents, which had given such ex-
traordinary signs of power within him. It is stated
that while, for the latter purpose, he was reading
with intense devotion the poets both of old Italy and
new, as well as the relics of the nobler bards of an-
cient Greece, like most of his countrymen, (perhaps,
from secret nationality of feeling,) he preferred the
Latins to these, and among the Latins Virgil beyond
every other bore the palm in his youthful imagination.
In fact he grew so enamoured of the graces and excel-
lences of the ^Eneid, that his own epic became just
such a work as, it might be presumed, Virgil himself
would have composed in the same age, and under the
same influences, as Tasso lived ; while, on the other
hand, had their births been exchanged, Tasso might
have been the glory of the court of Augustus, and
flourished then in splendour amidst the greatest and
most intellectual society of men of talents that were

TASSO. 115

ever contemporary, instead of being an almoner, an
exile, a prisoner, beholden for food and raiment, in his
best estate, to the bounty or rather to the parsimony
of " the Great Vulgar " of Italy in the sixteenth cen-
tury, whose names are more illustrious from having
been connected with his, than for any record of them-
selves or their ancestors, which could render their
families illustrious beyond the little boundaries of their
domains. This supposition, in reference to Virgil and
Tasso, may be deemed impertinent j hazardous it cer-
tainly is, and once would have been deemed heretical by
the idolaters of the Roman poet. Though this is not
precisely the place, yet, in a discursive memoir like the
present, it may be allowable, to remark upon a line of
Boileau, which has done more injury to the reputation
of Tasso than all the splenetic criticisms of Sperone,
and the verbal persecutions of the Delia Cruscans.
Ridiculing the bad taste of certain personages who
haunt courts, and from their rank and assurance are
permitted to judge as foolishly as they please of the
merits of authors with impunity, he says (and in a
note gives a special instance of such aristocratic wrong-
headness*) that these will prefer (C a Malherlte, The-
vphile" " Theophile to Malherbe,"

" Et le clinquant du Tasse a tout 1'or de Virgile ;"
" And Tasso's tinsel to all Virgil's gold."

This flippant antithesis, which, from its sparkling am-
biguity, might itself be quoted as a specimen of sheer
11 tinsel" (clinquant}, amounts to no more than that
there are " fools/' as the satirist calls them, who prefer
what is false in Tasso to what is true in Virgil ; but
that the whole, the half, or even a tenth of the " Ge-
rusalemme Liberata," of which he himself speaks else-
where with sufficient commendation, is composed of
" clinquant," without a greatly overbalancing weight of
gold even in its worst parts, he has not dared to affirm,
though by a pitiful insinuation, not less unworthy of

* See note, page 117.

i 2


the author than unjust to the object, he has had the
left-handed luck to fix a stigma to that effect upon the
fair fame of one, in comparison with whose magnificent
creations of thought his own finely elaborated produc-
tions are but as " French wire" to " solid bullion."
The feeble confirmation of Boileau's equivocal sentence,
by the elegant but prejudiced Addison, is of little weight.
The critic, who, in tracing Milton's obligations to some
of his great forerunners, acknowledges that among these
he might have included Tasso, but that he does not
deem him " a sufficient voucher/' could be but very im-
perfectly acquainted with the authority which he af-
fected to disparage, but which the poet of " Paradise
Lost" held in very different estimation. Try Boileau,
when he attempts a strain of heroics, as in the " Ode on
the taking of Namur," or Addison, in his celebrated
" Campaign," by any page that may be first opened in
all Tasso's multifarious compositions in verse, and the
' white plume" on the crest of Louis XIV., which
the court poet mistook for a star, and the destroying
" angel," which the court critics of queen Anne's reign
hailed as descending from " the highest heaven of in-
vention," and the feather metamorphosis, in the first
instance, will be pronounced a puerile and pedantic
conceit; and the "angel," in the second, a piece
of commonplace machinery, w'hich scarcely escapes the
charge of profaneness in its main attribute. Marl-
borough, a mortal man, burning to avenge his country's
wrongs, may well be imagined as slaughtering, with
terrible delight, the thousands and tens of thousands of
her enemies ; but that an angel should be e( pleased"
(as the cold and heartless phrase is) in executing judg-
ments upon unresisting victims of divine wrath (right-
eous as the vengeance may be) is utterly inconceivable;
nor can the poet shelter himself under the doubtful
interpretation of the context,

" Pleased the Almighty's orders to perform,

Rides on the whirlwind and directs the storm,"

because the first, last, and only impression upon the read-

TASSO. 11?

er's mind will be, that the destroyer is " pleased" with
the destruction, though the Almighty himself declares
that <l He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
Both these passages might have escaped carping cri-
ticism; hut, when Boileau and Addison mislead the
public to believe that Tasso's writings are " all tinsel,"
it is fair to show that their own are not " all gold."

Torquato's mind now feeling strength, and gaining
confidence to undertake things beyond his years, he
diligently gave his days and nights, in the intervals of
severer exercises, to reading and meditating upon the
works of his great Italian predecessors, that he might
form, after their models, a style of verse and manner
of composition which should rival theirs, and yet be all
his own. Unconsciously, it is probable, at first, but
gradually as he grew up, through an undefined period,
he conceived, and, before he reached the age of eighteen,
had executed, what Dr. Black calls ' ' the most wonderful
work that ever was written by man," when the youth
of the author, and the short time in which it was com-
posed ten months, it is reported are taken into the
account. The " Joan of Arc," by our illustrious coun-
tryman, Southey, produced in a less compass of time,
and at an age not much more advanced than Tasso's,
may fairly be put in competition with the ee Rinaldo,"
without disparagement to either. Nothing connected
with the existence of man, in this mysterious world, at
once living within and beyond himself, exceeds, either
in purity or intensity, the delight of youth when framing
poetry at first according to the extent of new-formed
powers, and anticipating poetry to come, when years
shall have matured his faculties, and his wings, after
their first moulting, shall have acquired full vigour of

* It is curious and provoking to observe in how momentary and con-
temptible a circumstance originated this enduring injury to the reputation
of one of the greatest poets by one of the greatest critics. In a note to the
clause in Satire IX., Boileau says, " Un homme de qualite fit un jour ce
beau jugement en ma presence." So, because " a fool of quality " (" un sot
de qualitt," as he words it in the verse) once happened to say, in the
hearing of a wit, that he preferred the " fterusalemme " to the " /Eneid,"
"all Europe" has been made to " ring from side to side," fora century
and a half, with the clinquant of Tasso against the gold of Virgil. .

i 3


plume to bear him " with no middle flight" above the
Aonian mount, while he pursues

" Things unattcmptcd yet in prose or rhyme."

Among real " curiosities of literature" there yet re-
main copies of Dante and Petrarch, with marginal notes
in Torquato's handwriting, which prove with what
microscopic minuteness he examined and studied the
productions of those masters of that language, to which
he himself was destined to give consummate grace as
well as power of expression the strength of Dante,
modified from the muscular proportions of Hercules to
those of the fine-limbed Apollo, the delicacy of Pe-
trarch veiled, like the Medicean Venus, in the mantle
of Minerva. It may here be noticed, that Tasso was
no more an expert penman than a fluent speaker ; his
manuscripts, according to his own acknowledgment,
being very indifferently recommended either by the
fashion of the letters, or the correctness of the spelling.
The numberless erasures, interpolations, and new read-
ings, with which many of his best works, preserved in
the library of the house of Este, are disfigured to the
eye, are interesting marks of that process of elaboration
by which he slowly but as effectually brought out all
the hidden beauty of his thoughts, as though they had
been suddenly conceived and perfectly expressed in the
ardour of inspiration.

During their residence at Venice, Torquato was much
employed by his father in transcribing his own multi-
tudinous poems and letters, as well as in preparing for
the press the enormous length of the " Amadigi." By
this exercise the son himself became daily more fa-
miliarised with the means and artifices by which those
who excel others in the productions of their genius,
form their peculiar style according to their peculiar
standard of intellect, and identify their whole cast of
thinking with their whole structure of language. To
put a passage of an eloquent author to the nicest test of
touch (if the expression may be allowed for the inter-


course of mind with mind, in the communication and
reception of ideas splendidly conceived and felicitously
bodied forth by the one, and by degrees only appre-
hended by the other,) to put to the nicest test of touch,
as it were, any eloquent passage of poet or orator, let
the admirer copy it out at length, and he will find that
the progress of mind, hand, and eye, going all together,

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 34)