Dionysius Lardner.

Eminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) online

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her father, the poet felt that fidelity and gratitude alike
forbade him to change masters during her adversity.
His naturally sensitive mind was strongly agitated by
the various success of the empress queen's arms. His
susceptibility of disposition did not allow him to regard
the course of events with a stoical eye ; and to the dis-
quietude he suffered is attributed the bad state of health
into which he fell after the year 1745, when he was
forty-seven years of age. His malady was chiefly
nervous ; hysterical affections, and a rush of blood to
the head, were brought on by the slightest mental exer-
tion, followed by a total temporary inability to write, or
even to think : he was thus obliged entirely to suspend
his poetic labours; and when he forced himself to them,
they bear the mark of a falling off in his powers. It
cannot be doubted that this unfortunate state was brought
on in a great degree by climate. He was a native of
Rome, and, till the age of thirty-two, had resided con-
stantly in the south of Italy. What a dreary contrast
did Vienna present to the enchanting land in which
he passed his youth ! The clear skies, the perpetual sum-
mer, the cheerful feelings produced by the habits of a
southern life, were injuriously changed for the gloom
of the freezing north. The very precautions which the
natives take to protect themselves from cold during the
interminable winters, the stoves, closed windows, and
consequent want of fresh air and healthy exercise,, being


in diametrical opposition to the more hardy habits
of southern nations,, are injurious to the health and
spirits of those who are accustomed to regard the
'' skiey influences" as friendly instead of inimical to
their comfort and well-being. Metastasio never left
Germany after he first entered it. A part of his occu-
pation, in the sequel, became the teaching the arch-
duchesses, daughters of Maria Teresa, Italian : this
was an office he felt that he could not desert, with any
grace, even for a limited number of months. The
kindness of the empress in yielding to the total suspen-
sion of all theatrical composition on his part, forced on
him by ill health, bound him yet more devotedly to her.
As he grew older, he became a man of habit, and conse-
quently averse to travelling. It is impossible, however,
not to believe, that if he had varied his residence in
Germany by occasional visits to his native country, the
disease under which he laboured, which embittered
though it did not shorten existence, would have been
dissipated and cured.

Metastasio's life, we are told, is only to be found in
his letters, yet these detail no event ; one of them con-
tains, indeed, an offer of marriage to a lady, whose name
is omitted : it is well written, and with considerable
delicacy of sentiment ; but, as he had no acquaintance
with the object, and aspired to her alliance on account
of her character, and his friendship for her father, his
feelings could not be very deeply interested. Many of
his letters are addressed to his brother, and they display
a warm interest for his family. After the death of Ma -
rianna, the management of his affairs in Italy devolved on
his relatives, and many are taken up with directions and
advice. Leopold, and the rest of Metastasio's family,
fell into the common error of supposing, that since he
was in favour at court, the greatest prosperity would
flow in upon him. The poet endeavoured to undeceive
him : " Princes and their satellites,' 3 he writes, " have
neither the will nor power to confer benefits correspond-
ent to the notions people are pleased to form. I do


not know what definition merit bears among them ; and
I religiously abstain from inquiring, placing it among
those mysteries which are beyond, though not contrary
to, our understanding. Following these principles, I do
all that is enough to prevent my feeling remorse for sins
of omission ; but I never allow hope to interfere in the
guidance of my cautious line of conduct. It is a long
time since I have ceased to be the dupe of hope, and
it would be shameful to become such at our age. Expect
less, therefore, on my account, and you will find the
scales more even. This letter speaks more freely than
any other, as I write only for you, and among other
earthly goods, I desire for you the most useful of all,
a clear perception, if not of ah 1 , of the greater part of
those innumerable errors, contracted through our lamen-
table education, and our intercourse with fools."

These sentiments did not float merely on the surface
of Metastasio's mind, he made them the guides of bis
actions. As he says, gratitude and duty regulated his
conduct, but no servile hunting after greater benefits
mingled with the deference he manifested towards those
in power. He acted on the defensive in his intercourse
with courts, with such consistency of purpose, that he
refused the honours chiefly valued there, and declined
the various orders, and the title of count, which the
emperor Charles VI. had offered to bestow on him.

It is from passages such as these, interspersed in his
letters, that we can collect the peculiar character of the
man his difference from others and the mechanism
of being that rendered .him the individual that he was.
Such, Dr. Johnson remarks, is the true end of biography,
and he recommends the bringing forward of minute^
yet characteristic details, as essential to this style of
history ; to follow which precept has been the aim and
desire of the writer of these pages.

In other letters Metastasio writes concerning his
works, and explains his views in the developement of
his dramas ; but he never makes himself the subject-
matter without an apology. " Never in my life/' he


writes on one occasion, " did I before write so much
concerning myself. I perceive this at the end of my
letter, and blush, not because I feel myself guilty of too
great self-love, but because I shall appear so to you.
Remember that few people distrust themselves to a fault,
as I do ; and in communicating to you the perfection
which I desire to attain, I do not fancy that I am
exempt from those defects, to which human nature and
my own weakness expose me."

All his letters to his brother express the most earnest
and affectionate interest. It is the more necessary to
mention this, as one of the calumnies propagated against
him was, an aversion to render service to his relatives.
" You know," he writes to his brother, " that your
honour and welfare have always been the objects of my
solicitude, and that I never proposed to myself any
reward, except the agreeable consciousness that my en-
deavours to introduce you and sustain you in the career
of letters, have not failed of success ; if you think that
you owe me any gratitude, pay it by increasing my
self-satisfaction on this account. You can never show
yourself more generous to me than by meriting that
esteem which begins to be your due."

On the death of their father he writes with great
feeling : ce The loss of our poor father did not sur-
prise, while it filled me with the liveliest grief. I
measure your sorrow by my own. I feel that it will
require time to render me reasonable. I thank you for
your fraternal kindness in the midst of your affliction.
Dear brother, you now fill the place of a father in his
stead : do it worthily, and if there is any thing that I
can do to comfort you, demand it from me without
reserve : your consolation will produce mine. My poor
sisters ! how lost they will feel themselves ! take care
of them, dear Leopold : reflect how much fewer sup-
ports they have than we against the assaults of passion,
especially of that feeling which is derived from the
most sacred of nature's laws. Adieu. If I have always


loved you, consider how tins affection is augmented by
the loss of him who possessed before so large a propor-
tion of it. Let yours increase also."

His brother distinguished himself afterwards by some
writings in favour of religion ; and it appears that he
even had the design of writing the poet's Life. Metas-
tasio, while he praised Leopold for occupying himself in
a praiseworthy manner, advised him against publishing
controversial arguments, which would occasion him to
be attacked by the cleverest men of Europe ; and which,
doubtless, were not stamped with that talent which
could insure success. Metastasio, while deprecating the
spread of unbelief occasioned by the French philo-
sophers of those days, yet joined with the throng in
fearing their attacks, and in flattering Voltaire, show-
ing in how great awe he stood of the enmity and sarcasm
of that wonderful man. It is supposed that Leopold
died in 1770, after which date no more letters appear
addressed to him.

One of the principal correspondents of Metastasio,
and to whom his most agreeable letters are addressed, is
Farinelli. The poet and the singer were nearly of
the same age ; both began their career at Naples at the
same time ; which causes Metastasio to give his friend
the affectionate appellation of his twin. Both met with
immediate and complete success ; and they formed a
friendship, which the letters of the poet prove to have
been maintained on his side with sentiments of the
warmest affection, and the most active wish to render
service. After having met with the greatest applause in
the various theatres of Europe, Farinelli was invited to
Spain, in 1737, where his voice had the peculiar effect of
calming and solacing the accesses of malady to which the
king, Philip V., w r as subject. On this account he was re-
tained at the Spanish court, a large income was settled on
him, and he never sang again on the public stage, being,
to please the Spanish notions of etiquette, made cavalier
of the orders of St. Jago and Calatrava, that he might be


considered of rank sufficient to attend the private hours
of the monarch. Philip V. died in 1746, but Farinelli
continued in equal favour with his successor. His
prosperity continued till the accession of Charles II I.,
in 17&>, when he was ordered to quit Spain, and, with
singular cruelty, not permitted to make choice of an
abode. At last, Bologna was prescribed to him as the
place that would best please the Spanish monarch,
we are not told for what reason, except that Farinelli
was as a foreigner in that city, and cut off from all
personal intercourse with his friends.

An interesting volume might be formed out of Me-
tastasio's letters to the singer. They are full of enthu-
siastic friendship ; now dwelling on alterations made to
operas for the peculiar benefit of Farinelli, now on
more personal topics. Metastasio's days were clouded
by ill health, and his genius impaired through the same
cause ; but it did not check the overflow of his kind
heart, nor injure the happy influence of his contented
disposition. It is difficult, however, to select passages,
since the interest consists in the openness, friendship,
and warmth of the whole, and mere isolated extracts
would be devoid of attraction. The whole correspond-
ence is replete with frank exhibitions of the writer's,
mind, and the style is remarkable for its vivacity as well
as elegance.

With the exception of his physical sufferings, which
were rather annoying than painful, and that sensibility of
character which could not fail to checquer his life with
a thousand various emotions, Metastasio's latter years
was singularly prosperous, and perfectly monotonous.
A few weeks spent each autumn in Moravia was his
only change. The empress kindly excused him from
forcing his powers to compose new dramas, and his
occupation principally consisted in the easy task of
instructing the archduchesses in Italian. When the
empress Maria Theresa died, the emperor Joseph II.
continued to him his protection ; and the esteem and



even affection in which he was held at the imperial
court prevented the death of his benefactress from in-
juring his fortunes, or disturbing his repose.

He filled, however, a place in the public eye which
exposed him to a good deal of trouble. As the first
Italian poet of the day, each minor aspirant to the laurel
sent their verses for his criticism, or rather approval.
He has been accused of lavishing praise without mo-
deration or judgment. It is difficult for one author not
to flatter other authors, since severity of criticism will be
attributed to envy or ill-humour; and, besides, the Italian
genius is singularly inclined to superlative panegyric. But
it may be remarked that, though Metastasio gilds the pill,
he never fails, particularly to his friends, to point out
the weak points of their works, and to bestow sagacious
and valuable observations.

When Dr. Burney visited Vienna in 1772, Metastasio
was an old man ; and his life, uninterrupted by any
events, flowed on in one unbroken and quiet stream.
a He lives," writes the doctor, ce with the most me-
chanical regularity, which he suffers none to disturb.
He has not dined from home these thirty years. He
studies from eight o'clock in the morning till noon.
Then he is visited by his acquaintance. He dines at
two ; and at five receives his most intimate friends. At
nine, in summer, he goes out in his carriage, pays visits,
and sometimes plays at ombre. He returns at ten
o'clock, sups, and goes to bed before eleven. In con-
versation he is constantly cheerful ; fanciful, playful,
and sometimes poetical ; never sarcastic or disputatious ;
totally devoid of curiosity concerning the public news or
private scandal in circulation ; the morality of his sen-
timents resembles that of his life. In confidence with
few, but polite to all, his affection to his countrymen
is great, and extends to ecclesiastics, painters, musicians,
poets, and ministers from the Italian states, w r ho are all
sure of his kindness and good offices. I was no less
astonished than delighted to find him look so well ;


he does not seem more than fifty years of age. There
is painted on his countenance the genius,, goodness,
propriety, and benevolence, which characterise his
writings. I could not keep my eyes off his face, it was
so pleasing and worthy of contemplation."

He thus spent in ease and peace the last years of his
life. It has been said that, like Dr. Johnson, he had a
great aversion to any allusion being made to death in
conversation, and carefully avoided all lugubrious sub-
jects. He continued to live with his friend Martinetz,
whose daughter, Marianne, being educated by Gluck,
became a celebrated musician ; and in this family he
met with that respect, attachment, and attention that
rendered old age easy.

His last letter was written to Farinelli. He com-
plains of the " dreadful season," and says, that he
" cannot find a friend or acquaintance who does not
complain of ill health." " We are all equally obliged,"
he writes, " to have recourse to resignation. My neigh-
bour prays for me, and I pray for my neighbour ; and
we all are wishing better health to our afflicted friends.
My complaints obstinately defend their posts, and I my

This letter is dated in March, 1782, and was written
but a short time before he died. Though advanced to
the age of eighty-four, his death was unexpected, as
the vigour of his constitution, and his vivacity and un-
broken powers, promised several years more of life ; nor
did his nervous indispositions threaten dissolution, for
they neither interfered with his sleep nor appetite, nor
the enjoyment he both conferred and received in his
domestic circle. A fever, attended with weakness and
loss of speech, and lethargy, carried him off after an
illness of only twelve days. He died tranquilly, and
without pain, on the 12th of April, 1782. He left the
family of Martinetz his heirs to considerable wealth ;
his property consisting of about 130,000 florins, in ad-
dition to many valuables presented to him by sovereign

p 2


princes. He was sincerely regretted at Vienna ; and
Martinetz struck a medal in his honour. Nor was he
forgotten in his native country ; and the various literary
academies of Italy vied with each other in offering
poetic testimonials of veneration to his worth and



THE life of Goldoni, written by himself, is, as well as
his comedies, a school, not of crabbed philosophy, but
of Italian manners, in their gayest, lightest guise. At a
time when it is hoped that a change is taking place in
the system of society in that country, resulting in a
great degree from the concourse of English, it is in-
teresting to observe what they were anterior to the French
revolution, and to remark the state of the Italians before
they awoke to the sense of their oppression, or, rather,
while oppression was in exercise only of the first of its
effects the demoralisation of its victim, before the
second stage of its influence, that of producing a noble
and impatient disdain of servitude.

Carlo Goldoni was born at Venice, in the year 1 707*
in a large and good house, situated between the bridge
of Nomboli and that of Donna Onesta. The Vene-
tians, who, when on land, spend their lives in running
up and down the bridges that cross the canals, make
them the chief land-marks of their directions. The
family of Goldoni came originally from Modena. His
grandfather, while studying at Parma, formed an in-
timacy with two Venetian nobles, who persuaded him
to accompany them to Venice; and the death of his
father rendering him soon after independent, he esta-
blished himself in the native city of his friends. He
had an employment under government, and was suf-
ficiently rich, but not at all economical. He loved the
arama ; comedies were played in his own house ; the
most celebrated actors and singers were at his orders;
and he was for ever surrounded by a concourse of the-
atrical people. His son had married a lady of the

P b


Salvioni family, and resided with his father. Carlo
was born in the midst of all the bustle and hilarity at-
tendant on a predilection for actors and acting : his
first pleasures were derived from plays ; his first recol-
lections were of histrionic gaiety ; and his future life re-
tained the colouring imparted by the amusements of his
early years.

He was the delight of the family. His mother de-
voted herself to his education, and his father to his
amusement. He made a puppet theatre for him, and,
with two or three friends, drew the cords and acted
plays to the boy's infinite delight. But a change soon
came over this holiday life. His grandfather died, in
1712, from the effects of a cold, caught at an assembly.
His extravagance had dissipated his fortune ; and, from
abundance and luxury, the family fell into the narrowest
circumstances. The prospects of the father of Goldoni
were dark. He had no employment and no profession,
and his inherited property was all sold or mortgaged.
In the midst of this distress, his wife gave birth to a
son : this added to the solicitude of the father ; but,
unwilling to be the prey of useless gnawing cares, he
set out on a visit to Rome, for the sake of diverting his
thoughts. His wife remained at home with her sister,
and two sons. The second, never a favourite, was put
out to nurse ; and she devoted herself to Carlo. He was
gentle, obedient, and quiet. At the age of four he could
read and write and say his catechism ; on which they
gave him a tutor. He grew to love books, and made
progress in grammar, geography, and arithmetic; but
the old instinct survived, and plays were his favourite
reading. There were a good many in his father's li-
brary : he pored over them at his leisure hours, copied
the passages that pleased him most ; and, incited by a
noble hardihood, at the age of eight, wrote a comedy.
Some laughed at it ; his mother scolded and kissed him
at the same time ; while others insisted that it was too
clever to have been written by a child of his age, and
that his tutor must have helped him.


Meanwhile his father, instead of returning after a
short visit, remained four years at Rome. He had a
rich friend there, who received him cordially, lodged
him in his own house, and introduced him to Lancisi,
physician and private attendant to Clement XI. He at-
tached himself warmly to Goldoni, who was clever and
agreeable, and sought to advance himself. Lancisi ad-
vised him to study medicine. The advice was taken.
After attending lectures and hospitals for four /years at
Rome, he took his doctor's degree ; and his patron sent
him to Perugia to exercise his profession. He became
in vogue in this town : if he were not the best phy-
sician in the world,, he was an agreeable man, and
quickly gained the esteem and friendship of the first
families. Thus fortunately situated, he resolved to
have his son with him. He does not appear to have
thought of inviting his wife also ; and the mother and
child were separated, to the deep grief of the former.
Carlo quitted Venice for the first time, in a felucca.
He disembarked at the mouth of the Marecchia, 'and
it was proposed that he should continue his journey
on horseback. Carlo had never seen a horse except at
a distance : he was frightened when placed on the saddle,
confused when told to hold reins and whip ; but, as the
novelty wore off, he made acquaintance with this new
and strange animal, and fed him with his own hands.

On arriving at Perugia he was placed at school. His
first trial by the masters, for the purpose of judging
what progress he had made in Latin, was infelicitous ;
he became the ridicule of his companions ; his masters
conceived a slight opinion of his abilities ; his father was
in despair, and Carlo fell ill from mortification. The
holidays drew near, when it was usual for the scholars
to present a Latin composition, as a specimen of their
powers, on which their advancement to a higher class
was determined upon. Carlo had no hope of any such
promotion. The day came : the master gave out the
theme ; the pupils wrote. The boy summoned all his
powers; he thought of his honour, his father, his

p 4


mother ; he saw his companions look at him and laugh ;
rage and shame animated him to redoubled exertions ;
he felt his memory clear his thoughts free : he finished,
sealed, and delivered his paper before any of his com-
rades. Eight days after, the school was assembled the
decision announced: Goldoni had the first place his
translation was without a fault. He now received com-
pliments on all sides, and his father was desirous of re-
warding him. He was aware of his love for theatricals,
and shared it. He assembled a company of young
actors in his own house, and erected a theatre. A play
was got up, in which Goldoni took the part of prima
donna, and was much applauded ; but his father told
him that, though not devoid of talent, he would never
make a good actor, and after experience proved the jus-
tice of his decision.

The signora Goldoni bore her husband's absence very
philosophically ; but she could not consent to continue
separated from her son : she entreated her husband to
return ; and, on his refusal, removed herself to Perugia.
But, accustomed to the soft air of Venice, the climate
of that city, placed on the summit of a hill, and sur-
rounded by mountains, disagreed with her : other cir-
cumstances tended to disgust her husband with Perugia ;
and, as soon as Carlo had finished his course of education
at the school, they resolved to return to Venice. Passing
through Rimini in their way, they were received kindly
by a friend, who persuaded them to leave Carlo for the
sake of his pursuing his studies under a celebrated pro-
fessor. His parents embarked for Chiozza. Chiozza
is a town twenty-five miles from Venice, built, like that
city, upon piles in the midst of the sea ; it contains
40,000 inhabitants ; the population were divided be-
tween rich and poor ; the rich wore a wig and a cloak ; the
poor, a cap and a capote. These last, who were fishermen
and sailors, while their wives fabricated lace, had often
more money than many individuals of the class named
rich. The signora Goldoni took a liking to this place ;
and her husband was averse to return to Venice till


his circumstances should have become more easy. To
further this end, he was obliged to make a journey to
Modena : he proposed to his wife to establish herself

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 34)