Dionysius Lardner.

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

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at Chiozza till his return ; and she consented.

Carlo, meanwhile, remained at Rimini. He did not
like his master, who, bigotted to rules and systems,
wearied him to death : he escaped from him, to read
Plautus, Terence, Aristophanes, and the fragments of
Menander; and soon the incarnate spirit of drama
arriving at Rimini, he was wholly turned from his
absiruser studies. A company of actors made their
appearance, and Goldoni became familiar with them :
he went behind the scenes ; joined in their parties of
pleasure ; and they, being all Venetians, were happy to
find a countryman. One Friday it was announced that
they were leaving Rimini, and that a boat was engaged
to carry them to Chiozza. " To Chiozza ! " said Carlo,
<f My mother is at Chiozza \" <c Come with us, then,"
cried the director. "Yes, come with us," cried the
whole company, e( come in our boat ; you will have a
pleasant passage ; it will cost you nothing : we shall
laugh, dance, and sing, and be as happy as the day is
long." A boy of fourteen could scarcely resist so
strong a temptation. His master refused leave, and
the friends of his family interfered with objections.
There was but one resource : Carlo put two shirts in
his pocket, and hurried to hide himself in the boat. It
made sail, and he was on his way to Chiozza. The
light-hearted rambling life of strolling comedians was
alluring beyond measure to a mirthful lad, who loved
plays better than any thing in the world. The com-
pany consisted of twelve, besides scene-shifters, me-
chanists, and prompters ; there were eight men servants,
and four women, two nurses, a quantity of children,
dogs, cats, apes, parrots, birds, pigeons, and a lamb.
The prima donna was ugly, clever, and cross ; the sui-
cidical drowning of her cat diversified the time ; and,
after a prosperous and merry voyage, the whole cargo,
with the exception of poor puss, arrived safe at Chiozza.


The signora Goldoni received her son with a mixture
of gladness and scolding, which evinced no violent dis.
approbation of his truant disposition ; but he himself
began to regret it, and to reflect seriously on the con-
sequences, when he read a letter just received from his
father. Business had taken Goldoni from Modena to
Pavia. The governor of Pavia was named the marchese
di Goldoni- Vidoni. On hearing of the arrival of a
namesake in his town, he sent for him, and invited him
to dinner. The governor belonged to one of the best
families of Cremona ; but he considered that Cremona
and Modena were not far distant from each other, and
he had the whim of finding out and assisting a poor re-
lation : he promised to get a presentation for Carlo
to a college of the university of Pavia, and the father
gladly consented to accept it. He set out to seek his
son with this news, and found him sooner than he ex-
pected, and was by no means pleased at a scrape
which promised little for his future steadiness ; but
Carlo was penitent, and Goldoni Cloved actors, and was
acquainted with several of this very company in question :
so, good easy man ! he forgave the runaway, and accom-
panied him to thank the companions of his voyage.

Goldoni's fame as a physician had spread to Chiozza,
and he found it worth his while to establish him-


self, and to enter upon practice there : while wait-
ing for the presentation for the university of Pavia, he
resolved to initiate his son in the rudiments of a pro-
fession which he intended him hereafter to pursue. He
did not put him to the more difficult part of the medical
science ; but made him accompany him in his visits to
his patients, as the easiest mode of giving him a super-
ficial knowledge. Carlo did not like this plan, though
he was forced to submit. But passive obedience of will
does not conquer the mind : with all his gaiety, the
youth was subject to fits of hypochondria and low spirits,
and under the paternal discipline he lost his appetite,
and grew thin and serious. His mother easily ex-


tracted from him the cause of his dejection, and sought
to bring a remedy. She represented to her husband,
that the patronage of the marchese Goldoni could be of
no possible service to their son in a medical career ;
while, on the contrary, if they brought him up to the
bar, a senator of Milan could without difficulty open
to him the road of fortune. She advised his going to
study under an uncle at Venice, proposing to accompany
him herself, and to stay with him till his removal to
Pavia. Goldoni resisted for a long time, but at last he
became aware that her representations were reasonable :
poor Carlo listened to the discussion with tearful eyes
and a beating heart ; and his indisposition vanished as
soon as his father's consent was given. Four days after,
he and his mother set out for Venice. They were
kindly received by signor Paolo Indric, who had mar-
ried his father's sister ; and Carlo found his home with
him perfectly delightful. ' The study of law was in-
finitely to be preferred to his father's medical initiation
at Chiozza ; he fulfilled his duties with exactitude, and
his uncle was satisfied with him.

Meanwhile he enjoyed his residence at Venice. " Oh !
la triste ville que Venice ! ' Madame de Genlis ex-
claimed, on entering the sea-paved city. Scarcely any
but a French person would echo her exclamation j and
we, who people the palaces and bridges with the shades
of Othello, Desdemona, Pierre, and Belvidera, find a
peculiar charm in its strange and beautiful appearance.
There is something charming to the imagination in the
wide-spread lagunes, in the palaces rising from the
waves, the sea that flows through the streets, and the
sombre-looking but luxurious gondolas : no picture, no
description, can convey an idea of Venice, that is, of
the impression made by its singular aspect, and the
modes and machinery of daily life dissimilar to those
of every other city in the world. The young Goldoni,
as a native, yet returning to it after so long an absence,
was enchanted by the novelty of all he saw. His stay,
however, was short; the presentation to a College at


Pavia arrived : he was forced to quit Venice ; and, after
a hurried visit to Chiozza to join his father, they set out


1 723. O n arriving at Milan, several obstacles presented them-
JEtat. selves to impede his entrance into the university, which,
16. being under clerical jurisdiction, required a number of
attestations and documents, with which the travellers
were wholly unprovided, and which could only be obtained
at Venice. Signora Goldoni hastened thither to get them,
while the father and son enjoyed themselves at Milan,
hospitably entertained by their kind and noble soi-disant
relation ; till, the necessary papers having arrived, they
pursued their way to Pavia, and Goldoni left his son at
his college.

The university of Pavia was on a more expensive and
luxurious footing than is usual in Italy, and dissi-
pation and liberty were the order of the day. The
students were regarded in the town like officers in gar-
rison : the men hated, and the women welcomed them ;
while the studies principally followed up were dancing,
fencing, music, and games of hazard : the latter were
prohibited, and, therefore, the more sought after. Carlo's
youth, gaiety, and Venetian dialect pleased generally ;
and he easily suffered himself to be seduced from study
to pleasure.

His success caused him to make many enemies among
his fellow-students, augmented by the distinction derived
from the kindness of the marchese Goldoni ; still he
passed two years happily enough, returning to Chiozza
during the vacations, and spending his time between
unforced studies and pleasant society. But misfortune
was at hand to blight his happiness. The time ap-
proached when he was to take his degree ; and this very
moment was seized upon by his college enemies to en-
sure his disgrace. He had been admitted into the
university at sixteen : the legal age was eighteen. He
was a boy among men, and an easy prey. A serious
quarrel arose between the inhabitants of Pavia and the
students : four among the latter, who had conspired to


ruin poor Carlo, persuaded him to revenge himself and
his comrades by a satire. The verses ol which he
was the author attacked and insulted many families :
his four false friends dispersed them and hetrayed him :
the outcry was prodigious ; and, despite every exertion
made by his protectors, Goldoni was expelled. The
youth repented very bitterly at once his imprudence
and the easiness of his disposition. Shame and regret
overwhelmed him, and the idea of his parents' re-
proaches filled him with terror. To escape these he
meditated plans of flight, resolving to seek his fortunes
at Rome. It appeared of slight import to him that
he should go on foot without money or resources, so
that he could fly from those who were justly offended.
This idea was frustrated by the vigilance of those
about him : he was sent back to his family under the
especial care of the master of the boat, who never lost
sight of him ; and a good monk, "who was a passenger
with him, comforted him by his pious but kind ad-
monitions. His mother's affection -and his father's
easiness of nature led them to pardon his fault, from
which he had suffered severely enough. A few -days
after he accompanied his father to Friuli. Goldoni
exercised his profession as physician at Udine, and
Carlo studied the law under an eminent advocate ; after
a short time, the former proceeded to Gorizia, to the
house of count Landieri, lieutenant-general of the army
of the emperor Charles VI. The count was ill,, and
having heard of the skill of Goldoni, sent for him.
Carlo, left behind at Udine, got into several youthful
scrapes, very little to his credit : he found himself de-
ceived and betrayed; and, fearing a dangerous termination,
he hurried away, and found his father at Vispack, where
count Landieri had a mansion. They jremained there
for some months, till the count was convalescent, hos-
pitably entertained, and very happy. A dramatic puppet-
show was got up, which exercised the theatrical talents
of Carlo ; and afterwards he made a tour to Laubeck,
Gratz, and Trieste, with the count's secretary. On his


return to Vispack, lie and his father set off on their
journey home, the latter having happily effected the
cure of his patient, who rewarded him handsomely for
his trouble. " We arrived at Chiozza," said Goldoni,
" and were received as a fond mother receives a son,
and a wife a beloved husband, after a long absence. I
was delighted to see again a virtuous mother who was
tenderly attached to inc. After having been deceived
and betrayed, I needed the consolation of being loved.
This, indeed, was another species of attachment, but,
until I felt a virtuous and engrossing passion, my mother's
love formed my greatest happiness." Soon after his ar-
rival at Chiozza, his father received a letter from a cousin
at Modena, to inform him that the duke of that state had
revived an ancient decree, which forbade the possessor of
any landed property within it, to absent himself without
an express permission from the sovereign, which it was
very expensive to obtain. This relation added, that his
best course would be to send his son to Modena, which
would satisfy the law, and he might there pursue his
legal studies. The advice was followed, and the youth
sent to Modena.

He went by water ; and the master of the boat was a
very religious man : each evening he invited the pas-
sengers to join him in prayers. AVhen Goldoni arrived
at Modena, this man, whose name was Bastia, asked
him where he meant to lodge, and, learning that he had
his lodgings to seek, asked him to select his house as
his place of abode : and, with the assent of his cousin,
who had been the cause of his journey, Goldoni agreed
to the proposal. He found that the family of Bastia
was equally devout with himself ; father, sons, and
daughters, all were given up to pious exercises. No
great amusement could be derived from their society ;
but, as they were respectable people, and lived in concord,
Goldoni was satisfied and happy under their roof. He
grew as religiously inclined as themselves, while, as is
often thecase in youth, this sentimentwas accompanied by
feelings of despondency and even terror. One day he hap-


pened to pass through the puhlic square while an un-
fortunate churchman was doing puhlic penance for his
conduct towards a female penitent. The sight struck him
in the most painful manner : he brought it home to his
own heart; he thought of his past life, his expulsion
from college, his adventures in Friuli: the world seemed
beset with multiplied dangers, and there was no refuge
from them, except in total retirement. He wrote to his
parents to express a part of these feelings, and to declare
his resolve of entering the order of Capuchin monks.
His parents acted on this occasion with prudence : they
were both, especially his mother, pious, but without
bigotry. They wrote in answer, that he should do ex-
actly as he pleased, but in the mean time entreated him
to return to them without delay. He immediately
obeyed : he was received with caresses, and no oppo-
sition was made to his project. His father proposed to
take him to Venice, and he refused with that boldness
which the fancy of acting in immediate obedience to
God, alone inspires ; but, on being told that he was to
be introduced to the guardian of the Capuchins, he con.
sented. They went to Venice, visited their relations
and friends, dining with one and supping with another :
he was even tricked into going to the theatre. His low
spirits and ascetic vocation vanished insensibly, and he
returned to Chiozza cured of every wish to shut himself
up in a cloister.

It became matter of anxiety to know what to do with
him. His brother, an adventurous, gallant youth, had
entered the army, and was in garrison. But Carlo was
nothing; the plaything of fortune, all the expense gone
to on his account had been of no avail ; the only resource
seemed to be to obtain an employment under govern-
ment ; and, at the moment when it appeared impossible
to succeed in so doing, one presented itself to them.
The republic of Venice governed the towns under their
dominion through an officer called a podesta, who had
under him a chancellor, or criminal judge, who wa&
assisted in his duties by a vice-chancellor, or^ as he was


called, a coadjutor ; and where there was much to do,
this officer also had an assistant. These places were
more or less lucrative, but were always desirable, since
they included the privilege of dining at the governor's
table, and making one of his society. The father of
Goldoni was intimately acquainted with the governor of
Chiozza, and with the judge, and through their means
Carlo was employed to assist the coadjutor.

Goldoni was not of a noble and enterprising disposi-
tion, but he possessed great integrity, and that habit of
scrupulously examining his own motives, and those of
others, which makes a part of the nature of one whose
bent it was to enter into and describe character. On
this occasion he was earnest to do his duty, and inter-
ested to observe the variety of human action and motive,
which presented themselves to his enquiry in the ex-
ercise of his office as assistant to the criminal judge.
He acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his supe-
riors ; and, when the governor of Chiozza w r as changed,
and the chancellor was appointed to go to Feltri, the
latter offered Goldoni the place of coadjutor, which was
eagerly accepted.

Feltri is at a distance of 180 miles from Venice, high
up among the mountains, whose snows besiege it during
the winter, and block up the streets and houses. Gol-
doni found plenty of amusement here, for there was a
company of comedians ; and he also fell in love. He
assures us that this was his first passion, and a sincere
one ; but the future writer of comedies had not that ten-
derness and passion of soul which creates a profound
and engrossing attachment. He made parties of pleasure
for the lovely girl, who returned his affection, and got
up a tragedy for her amusement, which did not amuse
her at all ; for, too bashful to act herself, with all the
delicacy of love, she was pained at witnessing her lover's
familiar conduct with other women. (( Poor girl I" ex-
claims Goldoni, with naivete; " she loved me tenderly
and sincerely, and I loved her with all my heart ; and
I may say that she was the first person for whom I felt


a sincere attachment. She was desirous of marrying
me ; and would have become my wife, but for some
considerations which prevented my proposing for her."
These considerations were a notion he formed that her
beauty was of a delicate, evanescent species, and that
she would soon fade and become old, while he remained
in the pride of youth. Such was the force of his first
passion, that it was at once overcome by selfish fore-
sight, and the habit, innate in him, of dissecting the
materials of life, despoiling them of their sunny gloss,
and handling the most frail, yet precious, among them
with a roughness that iron and rock could not have
resisted. This dry, analytical spirit is very apparent
in his comedies : he dignifies it with the name of mo-
rality and honour ; but its root is often in coldness and
tameness of feeling and fancy.

On his return from Feltri his father had accepted a
medical situation at Bagnacavallo, a town of Romagna,
near Ravenna. Carlo joined him ; but, after a short
time, the elder Goldoni fell ill of a malignant fever,
and died in the month of March, 1731, when his son
was four and twenty years of age. He was sincerely
lamented by his wife and son, who wept together over
their loss. As soon as the funeral was over, Goldoni
accompanied the widow to Venice, and established her
with her sister at the house of a relation. She was
most anxious to have her son resident with her, and her
persuasions, and those of other friends, induced him to
yield, and to enter on the profession of barrister at
Venice. The profession of advocate at Venice was ex-
ceedingly honourable ; the first men of the city prac-
tised it : but there were 240 registered barristers, and
few among them rose to eminence ; the rest spent their
time in running after briefs. Goldoni, however, was of
a sanguine disposition, and did not doubt that he should
rank among the most celebrated pleaders at the bar. He
calculated how much could be gained, and found that a
barrister might make an income of 2000/. a year, a
large fortune at Venice, which at that time, before it



fell under the Austrians, whose aim is to ruin it by the
imposition of a vexatious taxation, was one of the cheapest
places in the world. It is true that the beginning of a
forensic career is in all countries trying to the patience ;
and, while Goldoni indulged in castles in the air with
regard to future eminence, he spent his time attending the
courts without a brief, or in waiting for clients, who did
not appear: still he might hope for better success than
the major part of his brethren of the robe, since, during
the first six months of his being at the bar, he carried
on and won a cause ; but his destiny concurred with
tke genius still unformed and dormant within him to
draw him another way.

At the very moment of triumph on gaining his suit,
and w r hen he might fairly hope for an influx of clients,
an incident occurred to destroy his prospects, causing
him to form the resolution to quit Venice.

He had fallen in love with a lady at Venice, who,
though forty years of age, was as fair and beautiful as a
girl. She was rich and unmarried : the affection was
mutual, and he already looked forward to their union,
when the attentions of a noble awakening the ambition
of the lady, she jilted him for his patrician rival. This
lady had a married sister with two daughters, one de-
formed and the other ugly, but not without attraction ;
she had beautiful eyes, a laughing countenance, and
graceful, fascinating manners. She had often deprived
her beautiful aunt of lovers, and inspired her w r ith
jealousy. She tried to win Goldoni from her; and, on
her tergiversation, vengeance induced him to make the
niece an offer. Her mother entered into her plans, and
the contract of marriage was drawn up and signed ;
but when the moment came to fulfil it, a variety of
doubts presented themselves to Goldoni's mind. He
was himself in debt, and several years must pass before
he could hope to make an income at the bar. The
mother of his promised bride was wholly unable to fulfil
the conditions of the marriage contract, and he found
that he should be burdened with the expense of his
wife's family. He consulted his mother, and his own


sense of prudence : he had become very much in love'
but, in his light heart, every motive and impulsi
was stronger than the strongest affection : frightened ai
the prospect before him, he made a sudden determin-
ation; paid his debts, threw up his profession, and
quitted Venice ; leaving a letter for the unfortunate
girl's mother, attributing to her his sudden departure,
and promising to return if she would fulfil the con-
ditions of the contract. He received no answer.

Again he was thrown on the world, and all his
prospects of future subsistence were centred in a
tragedy, called ( ' Amalassunta/' which he had written
in his leisure hours. It has been mentioned how,
born amidst theatricals, his early pleasures had all
been derived from plays. When he first went to Pavia,
he had studied the ancient drama ; and, finding that
Italy had no theatre, he had already conceived the idea
of bestowing one on her, on a more enlarged plan,
more intricate as to plot, and more diversified as to
character, than those of Plautus and Terence. In the
course of his youth, to get up a play was his chief plea-
sure ; and now, with " Amalassunta" in his pocket, he
felt sure that his fortune would be made at Milan, at
the theatre of which city he intended to offer it ; and,
with this expectation, his happy disposition caused him
easily to forget prospects, friends, love, and disappoint-
ments, all but his mother ; while the pleasure of free-
dom easily consoled him for the loss of his bride.

Poor and almost friendless, the first piece of good
fortune that happened to him was finding at Bergamo
the noble who had been governor at Chiozza when he
was vice-chancellor. He presented himself at his pa-
lace, and was kindly received. The governor perceiving
that he was depressed in spirits, enquired the cause :
and Goldoni confessed that he was penniless : his kind
protector offered him his purse and a home at his
house. Goldoni contented himself with borrowing ter.
sequins, and, in lieu of the latter offer, asked for
letters of introduction at Milan, which were instantly

Q 2


given him. These served him in good stead in that
capital. The Venetian resident received him kindly.,
asked the object of his journey, and, when Goldoni had
recounted his adventure, offered to lend him money,
which was declined.

" Amalassunta" was the anchor of his hope, and he lost
no time in seeking the actors and directors of the theatre.
He paid a visit to the first ballerina, whom he had for-
merly known, and offered to read his opera to her circle
of actors, and musicians, and theatrical patrons. His offer
was accepted : he took the manuscript from his pocket,
and commenced " Amalassunta ! " The chief actor,
Caffariello, began to object, in the first place, to so long
and ridiculous a name. Every one joined in the laugh
thus raised, except the poor author, who went on to read
the list of dramatis persons. New censure followed
the too great number of persons introduced ; and, when
it was found that the opera commenced by a scene be-
tween the two principal actors, he was told that that
would never do : the chief singers would never consent
to begin during all the bustle of the first entrance of the
audience. The criticisms multiplied as he went on, till
a kind amateur, count Prata, took him by the hand,
and, leading him into another room, asked him to read
the opera to him alone. Poor Goldoni consented, and
the whole piece was gone through. When finished, the
count pointed out its defects, not with regard to plot

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 19 of 34)