Dionysius Lardner.

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30th of December, 16'42. The families of both his
parents were noble ; his mother being the daughter of
Christofano Spini, one of the most distinguished families
of Tuscany. His father educated him with care, and
he attended the public schools of Florence. He gave
early token of his literary and poetic genius : his me-
mory was tenacious, and his industry indefatigable ;
while the seriousness of his disposition rendered re-
tirement and study natural and easy to him. Per-
ceiving his inclination for learning, his father sent him
to the university of Pisa, to fit him for pursuing the
legal profession. Filicaja attended the lectures of the
professors on this subject; yet he could not induce him-
self to bestow his whole time on the law, but applied
himself also to philosophy and theology, and to the im-
buing himself with a perfect knowledge of the Latin
and Italian languages. He was naturally inclined to
piety, and spent much of his time in prayer and devout
exercises. His habits were regulated by strict principles
of morality ; and so devoted was he to the cultivation of
his intellect, that he always rose two hours before dawn,
finding his mind clearer, and more capable of grappling
with the abstruse subjects of his contemplation, in the
early hours of morning.

While yet a student at Pisa, when on a visit to his
home during the vacation, he fell in love ; and his
poetic talent first developed itself in verses addressed
to the beautiful and noble girl who was the object of


his affection. She died soon after, and he lamented her
death in poetry ; but the exact moral discipline to which
he subjected his inclinations reproached him for giving
himself up to the influence of passion ; and he burnt all
his love poetry, and made a resolution, which he kept to
the end of his life, of dedicating his genius to the cele-
bration only of moral and sacred subjects.

After a residence of five years at Pisa, having taken
the degree of doctor of laws, he returned to Florence,
and was placed under Giovanni Federighi, a jurisconsult
of eminence, that he might add to his theoretical, a prac-
tical knowledge of law. At the age of thirty-two, he
married Anna, the daughter of the marchese Capponi.
Soon after his father died; and, freed from all restraint,
he followed the bent of his disposition, by retiring
into the country, where he spent the greater part of each
year in domestic retirement, devoting himself to the
education of his two sons.

Hitherto his poetic merits were unknown beyond the
limits of a small circle of friends ; but public events
called his genius to higher flights. The Turkish army
overrunning Hungary, laid siege to Vienna, and filled
Christendom with alarm. The enthusiastic piety of
Filicaja added to the natural disquietude inspired by such
a disaster; and while the fate of the war was in suspense,
and afterwards, when victory drove the infidels from the
gates of the capital of Austria, he poured out his terrors
and his exulting triumph in odes, which breathe a pure
and elevated lyric spirit.

At the time when he wrote, Italian poetry had re-
ceived a check from that unfortunate propensity men
have to shackle the free course of genius by rules and
precedent. There was a distinction made between the
poetic and prosaic style ; the former was founded upon
Petrarch, and it became a law to use no expressions but
such as had his authority. The language of Italian
verse was thus becoming, as it were, a dead idiom ; re-
peating itself, and incapable of any original expressions,

N 3


Filicaja disdained these shackles, and revivified his
poetic diction by transfusing into it many elevated and
energetic modes of speech, hitherto reserved for prose
only. Facility, dignity, and clearness are his charac-
teristics ; and the grandeur of his ideas gives force to the
originality of his expressions ; which, emanating spon-
taneously, as they did, from a mind full of his subject,
found an echo in the hearts of his readers.

His friends alone had hitherto been aware of his
talent; but the enthusiasm they felt on reading these
spirited odes led them to give copies ; and they got into
the hands of those princes who, as the leaders of the
armies against the Turks, were celebrated in them. One
of his finest odes he had addressed to John, king of
Poland; who acknowledged the honour in letters full of
praises and thanks. Christina, queen of Sweden, dis-
played in a more kind and liberal manner her admira-
tion : hearing that Filicaja had two sons, she insisted
upon providing for their education ; declaring that she
would bring them up as her own children. She showed
herself so generous, that the poet was accustomed to
say, that he could not look on his home and family
without perceiving the marks of her favour. While her
modesty was such, that she insisted that her bounty
should be kept a secret ; declaring she was ashamed it
should be known that she did so little for a man, whom she
esteemed so much ; and her benevolence remained un-
known till after her death. Filicaja's life was not, how-
ever, wholly prosperous : on the death of Christina,
he became involved in pecuniary embarrassments, and
he was attacked by a dangerous malady. He lost, also,
his eldest son, who, since the queen's death, had been
appointed page of honour to the grand duke of Tuscany.
The high opinion entertained of him by Cosmo III.
extricated him from a part of his difficulties. This
prince named him to the command of the city of Vol-
terra. Ancient feuds and old and almost irremediable
abuses of various kinds, afflicted the town ; and it re-


quired all the influence which Filicaja obtained by his
justice, his benevolence, and urbanity to put an end to
these evils. Volterra enjoyed tranquillity and plenty
under his direction; trade and the arts flourished; and this
venerable city was restored to a portion of its former
splendour : he thus became so dear to the citizens, that
they twice petitioned the grand duke to continue him in
the government. Their request was accorded; and when,
at last, he was recalled, he carried with him the uni-
versal regret.

On his removal from Voiterra, he was, for two years,
governor of Pisa, a situation of high trust. On his
return to Florence, he filled several law offices of great
power and emolument. He was popular and beloved
throughout : equitable, but benevolent ; diligent and
conscientious, his virtues were adorned by his pleasing
and affable manners. His piety caused him to devote
much of his leisure to devotional exercises ; and his taste
led him to cultivate poetry. His industrious habits en-
abled him to compose a great deal when his time was
otherwise much taken up by his public duties. He wrote
much in Latin, a small portion only of which has been
published ; and it displays a deep knowledge and com-
mand of that language. He employed himself also in
correcting and adding to his Italian poetry. He was a
severe critic on his own works ; and yet, mistrusting his
judgment, he submitted them to the further censorship
of four selected friends. He was much beloved, as well
as admired, by all who knew him ; and belonged to the
Delia Crusca academy, and to the Arcadian, of both
of which he was the brightest ornament. His last work
was an ' ' Ode to the Virgin," which occupied him but a
few days before his death. Filicaja was not only devout,
but a rigid catholic. One of the acts of his life pre-
vious to entering on a new career, had been a pilgrimage
to Loretto ; and, in his dying moments, a picture of the
Virgin excited his pious and poetic thoughts. There is
great spirit and sweetness in this ode, in which he recurs

N 4


to the love of his earlier days; and how, on losing the
object, he transferred his devotion, entire and for ever,
to the mother of his Saviour.

AVhile thus employed, he was seized by an inflam-
mation of his lungs. His religious faith supported him
in his sufferings, and did not forsake him to the last.
He died on the 24th of September, 1107, at the age of
sixty-five. He was buried in his family tomb in the
church of San Piero, at Florence.



1693 1782.

METASTASIO was of obscure origin. He owed his pros-
perity, in the first place, to the talents with which
nature had endowed him ; and, in the second, to singular
good fortune ; while his amiable disposition and excel-
lent character gave a scope to the course of felicitous
circumstances; which, among men of genius,is frequently
checked by their impetuosity and thoughtlessness, or by
the proud sense of independence attendant upon their
organisation. The name of the poet's father was Felice
Trapassi, a citizen of Assisi. His poverty had forced
him to enter into the Corsican regiment of the pope ;
and he added to his slender means by acting as copyist.
He married Francesca Galasti, of Bologna ; by whom he
had two sons and two daughters. Later in life, he
saved money enough to enter into partnership in a shop
of I'arte bianca, a sort of chandler, where maccaroni,
oil, and other culinary materials, are sold. His younger
son, Pietro, was born at Rome, on the 13th of January,
1698. The child gave early indications of genius ; and
his father resolved to bestow on him the best education
in his power; and placed him, at a very early age, with
a watchmaker, that he might learn a respectable art.

But the boy was born to pursue a nobler career. He
was already a poet; and, when only ten years old, at-
tracted an audience in his father's shop by his talents
as improvisatore. It happened, one summer evening,
that Vincenzo Gravina, a celebrated jurisconsult, and
renowned for his learning and love of letters, was walk-
ing with the poet Lorenzini in the streets of Rome.


Passing by Trapassi's shop, he was attracted by the
childish voice of the juvenile poet, who was in the act
of reciting extempore verses. He joined the audience;
and, being perceived by Pietro, the little fellow intro-
duced some stanzas in his praise into his effusion. Gra-
vina, charmed by his talent and prepossessing appearance,
offered him money, which the child refused. The lawyer
continued to question him, and was so satisfied by the
propriety and spirit of his answers, that he immediately
proposed to adopt him as his son ; promising to give
him a good education, and to facilitate his career in the
same profession as himself. No objection could be raised
to so generous and beneficent an offer. The boy was
not to be taken from his native town, nor were his duties
towards his parents to be interfered with.

One of Gravina's first acts was to change his adopted
son's, name from the ignoble one of Trapassi to the
better sounding appellation of Metastasio, which was a
sort of translation of his paternal name into Greek.
Gravina did not delay to cultivate the boy's understand-
ing, so as to fit him for a literary career. Being an
idolater of ancient learning, his first care was to initiate
his pupil in the languages of the writers of Greece and
Rome, and then to imbue him with a knowledge of
their works. Metastasio showed himself an apt scholar:
at the age of fourteen he wrote a tragedy, which, in a
letter written in after years, he freely criticised. " My
tragedy of f Giustino,'" he says, " was written at the age
of fourteen, when the authority of my illustrious master
did not permit me to diverge from a religious imitation
of the Greek models ; and when my own inexperience
prevented me from discerning the gold from the lead
in those mines whose treasures were but just opened to
me." The tragedy, written thus in strict imitation, is
necessarily frigid; nor does the language bear the stamp
of the ease and grace which so distinguished Metastasio's
after writings.

He still continued to improvisare verses in company.
This attractive art renders the person who exercises it


the object of so much interest and admiration, that it is
to be wondered that any one who has once practised it,
can ever give it up. The act of reciting the poetry that
flows immediately to the lips is peculiarly animating : the
declaimer warms, as he proceeds, with his own success ;
while the throng of words and ideas that present them-
selves, light up the eyes, and give an air of almost super-
natural intelligence and fire to the countenance and
person. The audience at first curious, then pleased,
and, at last, carried away by enthusiastic delight feel
an admiration, and bestow plaudits, which, perhaps,
no other display of human talent is capable of exciting.
The youth, the harmonious voice, and agreeable person
of Metastasio added to the charm : yet, fortunately, he
gave up the exercise of his power before it had unfitted
him for more arduous compositions. He gives an ac-
count of his success, and his quitting the practice, in a
subsequent letter to^Algarotti. " I do not deny," he
writes, " that a natural talent for harmony and rhythm
displayed itself in me earlier than is usually the case ;
that is, when I was about ten years of age. This strange
phenomenon so dazzled my great master, Gravina, that
he selected me as soil worthy to be cultivated by so
celebrated 'a man. Until I was sixteen, he brought me
forward to improvisare verses on any given subject; and
Rolli, Vanini, and Perfetti, then men of mature years,
were my rivals. Many people tried to write down our
effusions while we extemporised, but with no success ;
for, besides that they were no adepts in short-hand, it
was necessary to deceive us cleverly, otherwise the mere
suspicion of such an operation would have dried up my
vein. This occupation soon became burdensome and in-
jurious to me ; burdensome, because I was perpetually
obliged, by invitations which could not be refused, to
task myself every day, and sometimes twice a day,
now to gratify some lady's whim, now to satisfy the
curiosity of some high-born fool, and now to fill up a
blank in some grand assembly, losing thus miserably
the greater part of the time necessary for my studies.


It was injurious, because my weak and uncertain health
suffered. It was perceptible to every one that the
agitation attendant on this exercise of the mind, used to
inflame my countenance and heat my head, while my
hands and extremities became icy cold. Gravina con-
sequently exerted his authority to prohibit me from
making extempore verses, a prohibition which, from
the age of sixteen, I have never infringed, and to which
I believe that I owe the remnant of reasonable and con-
nected ideas that are to be found in my writings." He
goes on to state the evils that result to the intellect per-
petually bent on so exciting a proceeding ; when the poet,,
instead of selecting and arranging his thoughts, and then
using measure and rhyme as obedient executors of his
designs, is obliged to employ the small time allowed
him in collecting words, in which he afterwards clothes
the ideas best fitted to these words, even though foreign
to his theme : thus the former seeks at his ease for a
dress fitted to his subject; while the latter, in haste and
disturbance, must find a subject fitted to his dress.

On withdrawing his pupil from the exercise of this
fascinating art, Gravina became aware that his educa-
tion could not be carried on with success amidst the
pleasures and idleness of his life at Rome ; and he sent
him to study under his cousin Camporese, who lived
near the ancient Cortona, a town of Magna Graecia,
famous in antiquity for its schools of philosophy.
Metastasio was very happy at this period of his life ;
and, in a letter written at an advanced age, he recurs
to it with yearning fondness. (< Of how many dear
and pleasing ideas, my friend," he writes to Don
Sa verio Mattei, " you have awakened the recollection,
by causing me to go over in my thoughts the happy
time I spent, not less usefully than delightfully, between
boyhood and adolescence, in Magna Grsecia. 1 saw
again as if they were present all those objects which
pleased me so much at that time. Again I inhabited the
little chamber, in which the sound of the breakers of the
neighbouring sea so often lulled me into the sweetest


sleep ; and, by force of my imagination. I revisited in
my boat the shores of neighbouring Scalea ; and the
names and aspects of many places recurred to me, before
forgotten. I heard again the venerable voice of the re-
nowned philosopher Camporese ; who, stooping to in-
struct one so young, led me, as it were, by the hand among
the vortexes of the then reigning Descartes, of whom he
was a strenuous advocate, and attracted my boyish curi-
osity, by showing me in wax, as if in a game, how globules
were formed from atoms, and filling me with admira-
tion of the bewitching experiments of philosophy. It
seems to me as if I again saw him labouring to per-
suade me that his dog was formed upon the same
principle as a watch ; and that the trinal dimension is a
sufficient definition of solid bodies. And I behold him
smile, when, having kept me long plunged in a dark
reverie, by forcing me to doubt of every thing, he per-
ceived that I breathed again, on his assertion, ' I think,
therefore, I am ;' the invincible proof of a certainty which
I had despaired of ever again attaining." Camporese
died, unfortunately, in the midst of these studies, and
Metastasio returned to Rome.

It was soon after his lot to lose his adopted father, II 1S *
Gravina. He expresses, both in letters written at the OQ
time, and in after years, his deep grief on the death of
his benefactor. Gravina kept his word, of considering
him as his son ; and, Avith the exception of a legacy to
his mother, left him heir to all that he possessed, to the
amount of about fifteen thousand crowns. Finding
himself thus independent, and even rich in his own
eyes, Metastasio gave himself up to the study of poetry.
Hitherto the rules of Gravina had limited his reading :
now he emerged into freedom ; and, having been before
allowed only to peruse Ariosto, among the Italians, he
read the ec Jerusalem Delivered" for the first time, He
was enchanted by the order and majesty of a single
action, conducted with art, and terminated with dignity.
The grandeur of the style, the vivid colouring and fervid
imagination of Tasso, transported him with delight.


Ovid was also an especial favourite; and it is recorded
that he regarded Marini with an approbation which that
poet, indeed, deserves, but of which, as the original cor-
rupter of the Italian style, and the leader of the dege-
nerate Seicentisti, he is usually deprived.

Unfortunately, independence and youthful thoughtless-
ness led Metastasio into other deviations from Gravina's
lessons, less praiseworthy than reading Tasso. The
poet was warm-hearted, hospitable, and gay. He was
surrounded by companions ready to share the pleasures
and luxuries which his money procured ; while he
believed his future prospects secured by the promises he
received from influential protectors. Two years had not
passed before he was undeceived. He had squandered
the greater part of his fortune; he had made many
enemies, and his friends fell off. With a firmness
worthy of his education, he stopped short of actual ruin ;
and, disgusted with the society of Rome, and the treat-
ment he had suffered, he changed, on a sudden, his whole
plan of life, following up his new designs with zeal and

" There lived at Naples," says his biographer,
Venanzio, c< a rough incult lawyer, called Castagnola,
covered with rust and dust, and an enemy to every
thing that was not allied to forensic struggles and tur-
moils." Wishing to place a barrier between his will
and his inclinations, Metastasio went to Naples, and
chose this man for his master, believing that his asperity
and detestation of poetry would serve to guard him
against having again recourse to an art towards which
nature impelled him. For nearly two years he submitted
to the control of Castagnola, and devoted himself to the
severest study. But he was well known at Naples, and
his talents were appreciated. He was perpetually so-
licited to compose epithalamiums, theatrical pieces, and
occasional verses. He resisted the temptation as long
as he could : at last, commanded by the viceroy, he
consented to write a drama, to celebrate the birthday
of the empress Elizabeth Christina, wife of Charles VI.


He, however, obtained a promise of secrecy, and hoped
to conceal his crime from his master. To accomplish
this, he was obliged to steal for his work the hours
usually devoted to sleep ; but his natural vein, checked
for some time, flowed with such felicity, that he
accomplished his task before the appointed time. The
ec Orti Esperidi" charmed his august employer, who be-
stowed on it the highest praise, and presented the
author with a purse containing two hundred ducats.

The success of this interlude on the stage confirmed
the judgment of the viceroy. It was admirably set to
music, and the decorations were most splendid. All
Naples flocked to the representation all Naples re-
sounded with its praises, and every one was eager to
thank and applaud the author. But Metastasio, reluct-
ant to quit his legal studies, shrank from the censures of
his master, and continued to preserve the concealment
he had at first adopted : he even angrily denied the
charge when he was accused of being the writer, and
put enquiry to fault ; till at last the discovery was
made by the prima donna, Marianna Bulgarelli, usually
called La Romanina,, from her native city. She had
received the greatest applause in the character of Venus,
in this drama ; and her gratitude and admiration made
her eager to learn to whom she owed her success. De-
spite all his efforts, she discovered that Metastasio was
the author, and she lost no time in spreading the report
throughout Naples.

Castagnola was highly indignant. He treated his
pupil with severity and disdain ; while, on the other
hand, the Romanina used every argument to inspire him
with self-confidence, and to induce him to follow the
career for which he was formed by nature. He consented
at last : he quitted the angry lawyer, who refused even
to listen to his farewell ; and, at the earnest invitation of
his new friend, took up his abode at her house.
Marianna Bulgarelli had a society around her of dis-
tinguished men and accomplished artists, and among
these Metastasio found every encouragement to pursue


his new career. He studied the science of music under
Porpora, the first composer of tlie day, and acquired ; t
knowledge of the art which greatly assisted the melody
of his verses ; so that, he tells us, he never wrote any
lyrical poetry without imagining an accompaniment at
the same time, which regulated its cadences and modu-
lated the sounds. His natural inclination led him to
desire to write tragedies ; but, on reflection, he found
that it was not sufficient that tragedies should be
written, if there were no actors to represent them, nor
an audience which could take interest in the represent-
ation. His association with musical people, and a
prima donna, led him to consider the opera as the
natural drama of Italy. Operatic dramas owed their
origin to Florence, the birthplace of so much that is
great and admirable, and were first brought forward in
1594. After that time they fell into disrepute, till
Apostolo Zeno, choosing in ancient mythology and his-
tory the groundwork of his plots, brought out pieces that
acquired great popularity. To this species of com-
position Metastasio accordingly turned his thoughts.
Marianna encouraged him to proceed ; and, when he
received the commission to furnish the Neapolitan
theatre with an opera for the carnival of 1724-, she
suggested the subject of " Didone Abbandonata," or the
desertion of Dido. In this, she filled the part of the
unfortunate queen ; and her dignity, pathos, and mu-
sical powers imparted an attraction to the piece, which
filled the audience with enthusiasm, while her heart
warmed with gratitude towards the poet, w r hose admi-
rable conception and execution gave a scope to her
talents, before denied to them. The reputation of Dido
spread through Italy : during the carnival of the follow-
ing year, it was acted at Venice, la Ptomanina being still
engaged to fill the principal part. Metastasio accompa-

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