Dionysius Lardner.

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

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and situation, but to operatic rules ; how he had given
airs of passion and interest to secondary personages, and
curtailed the first of what they considered their just
proportion. The count would have gone on to find
more fault, but Goldoni begged him to take no more
trouble, and took his leave. He returned, mortified and
miserable, to his inn. His first impulse was to burn his
unlucky opera. The waiter asked him if he would sup.
"No/' he replied, " no supper, only a good fire."
While this was making, he looked over his poor
Cf Amalassunta :" it appeared to him very beautiful, and
worthy of a better fate : the actors were in fault, not


it. Yet, after all his pains, his hopes were fallen ; and,
in a fit of desperation, he cast it on the flaming brands,
glad to see it burn, and busy in collecting all the frag-
ments, that none might escape destruction. While thus
employed, he began to recollect that no disaster which had
yet happened to him, had ever caused him to go to
bed supperless. He recalled the waiter, ordered his re-
past, ate it with a good appetite, and went to bed to
sleep till morning. It is no wonder that love could exer-
cise so little power over so well-regulated an appetite!

The next morning he was obliged to reflect seriously
on his desperate situation, and be paid Signer Bartolini,
the Venetian resident, a visit, that he might consult
with him. He asked for a private interview, and it
was granted; and then he related the occurrences of
the previous evening, the impertinent criticisms of the
actors, and the decisive judgment passed by count Prata,
and ended by declaring that he was totally at a loss
what to do. Bartolini laughed at his recital, and asked
to see the opera. " The opera ? " cried Goldoni, e( I have
not got it ! " " Where is it, then ? " cc I burnt it; and
with it my hopes, my possessions, and my whole fortune."
The minister laughed still more at this denouement, and
ended by offering him the situation of gentleman in his
palace, with a good suite of rooms. Goldoni now found
that he had gained by his loss: without doubt, as he
declares himself, he was a lucky man, and it was his
own fault whenever he fell into misfortune. Yet he did
this so frequently, that the best part of his luck was
that cheerful buoyant disposition which never allowed
him to be overwhelmed by adversity, and an integrity
that always kept him from any dishonourable scrape.

"Amalassunta" was burnt, but Goldoni' s predilection
for theatricals continued as strong as ever. There arrived
at Milan a singular man, named Buonafede Vitali, who
had talents and knowledge enough to practise as a re-
gular physician, but who preferred strolling as a mounte-
bank, under the name of the Anonymous. Asa part of
the paraphernalia of his trade, he had with him a com-

Q 3


pany of comedians. Goldoni sought out this man, who
availed himself of his protection, to obtain leave for his
company to act on the Milanese theatre. There were
several good actors among them, but their representa-
tions were made on the old Italian plan. Goldoni was
particularly scandalised by a travestie of the story of
"Bdisarius," given out as a tragedy; and, to prevent the
future degradation of historical names and sentiments,
he promised to write a tragedy on the subject, but was
interrupted by events of greater moment.

The king of Sardinia allying himself with France
against the Austrians, in the war of 1733, he sent an
army of 15,000 men, to which was added some French
troops, to occupy Milan. That city being too wide in
circuit for defence, it was forced to receive the soldiers ;
who immediately entered on the siege of the citadel.
On this event, the Venetian resident was ordered by his
government to quit Milan, and to take up his abode at
Crema : he had before quarrelled with his secretary,
and he took this opportunity to dismiss him, and to in-
stall Goldoni in his place. He was now fully employed,
and his situation was at once honourable and lucrative ;
but soon after he lost the good graces of the minister,
though not from any fault of his own. His brother
had quitted the Venetian service, and, seeking employ-
ment, visited him at Crema. He introduced him to the
governor, who gave him the situation of gentleman of
his chamber, formerly occupied by Goldoni ; but both
were violent and irritable, and they did not agree. The
resident dismissed his gentleman, and no longer re-
garded Goldoni with the same favour as heretofore.
They had a quarrel; Goldoni asked for his dismission, and
set out for Modena, where his mother was residing.

The country through which he passed on his way'was
the seat of war ; robbers took occasion of the unsettled
state of the country, and the roads were unsafe : Gol-
doni was the sufferer ; the little carriage in which he
travelled was attacked by five men, who robbed him of
his money, watch, and effects, while he escaped across


the country, glad to preserve the clothes he had on. After
running a long way, he came to an avenue of trees, by
\vhich flowed a rivulet. He drank of its w r aters in the
hollow of his hand,, and then, fatigued in body,, but more
composed in mind, he proceeded quietly along the avenue,
till he encountered some peasants, to whom he related
his misfortune, and who in return told him that there
were a set of outlaws who took advantage of the war to
attack not only travellers, but gentlemen's seats and cot-
tages ; while a number of men of some wealth near, who
had formed themselves into a company to purchase the
spoils of war, became their accomplices by becoming the
purchasers of the stolen goods. " Such," exclaims Gol-
doni, (C are the miseries of war, which fall alike upon
friends and enemies, and ruin the innocent ! " The sun
was now declining, and the peasants offered Goldoni a
part of their supper, of which, notwithstanding his dis-
aster, he partook with appetite. They then guided him
to a village, and recommended him to the care of the
curate, who received him hospitably. To him he re-
lated his adventures, making his manuscript tragedy of
" Belisarius," then in his pocket, the principal hero of
the tale. He was invited to read it. The curate, two
abbes, and the servants of the house, were his audience;
and they all applauded it with enthusiasm. The offers
and kindness of these good simple-hearted people filled
Goldoni with gratitude. Unwilling, however, to burden
them with his maintenance, he hastened to take leave ;
the curate lent him his horse, and sent his servant with
him to defray the expenses of the day's journey to

From Brescia, Goldoni proceeded to Verona. He was
in a deplorable situation ; he only possessed a few
sequins, lent him by an adventurer whom he met by ac-
cident at Brescia ; but with ef Belisarius" in his pocket, he
did not fear the enmity of fortune, and ' ' Belisarius " did
not prove so false a friend as l< Amalassunta." When at
Verona, he went to the celebrated amphitheatre, a por-
tion of which was arranged as a theatre, and here a

Q 4


drama was about to be performed. To his infinite
joy,, he discovered in the principal actor a man who had
formed one in the companions of the mountebank at
Milan, and for whom he had promised to write " Beli-
sarius." He instantly went behind the scenes, and was
welcomed with joy. He was on the moment installed
poet to the company. "Belisarius" was read, approved,
and the parts distributed. In the month of September
they proceeded to Venice. Goldoni was presented to
the proprietor of the theatre, who received him with
kindness. On the 24th of November, 1?34, he being
then twenty-seven years of age, ' ' Belisarius " was acted,
and met with the most complete success. All actors in
Italy are strollers, and looked upon with a good deal of
contempt. Goldoni might have been expected to regret
the exchange he had made from the honourable pro-
fession of an advocate, for that of poet to a theatre ;
but his light heart and easy temper were not to be
afflicted by trifles of this nature, and the talent that
perpetually impelled him to take interest in theatricals,
prevented him from feeling degraded by his association
with the professors of the art : and their existence and
all its vicissitudes bear another aspect under a sunny sky,
and amidst a laughter-loving people, unspoilt by pride.
Goldoni had much of the spirit of Gil Bias in his dis-
position, and possessed in his own person all the talent
which belongs, not to the hero of that book, but its author.
Several pieces, operas, and interludes of his were brought
out ; and in the spring he accompanied the actors to
Padua and to Friuli, where, leaving them, he returned
to Venice to see his mother, who had arrived there from
Modena. His success as an author, and the talent he
displayed, raised him in the estimation of his fellow-
citizens. His relations crowded around him; and he re-
paid their kindness by relating his adventures to his
old uncles and aunts, making those laugh, who had
never laughed before. In September the actors re-
turned to Venice, and he recommenced his labours,
which were not all literary, but interspersed by those

GOLDON," 233

occasioned by the jealousy of the actors, or rather of the
actresses. After the winter season had passed, he con-
sented to accompany the manager to Genoa and Flo-
rence, and was glad, without expense, to visit two of
the most celebrated cities of Italy.

He was delighted with the aspect of Genoa ; and the
first good fortune that happened to him, was to gain
200 crowns in the lottery ; the second, to marry a girl,
cc who," he tells us, " was beautiful, virtuous, and
prudent, and who, after all he had suffered from the
treachery of women, reconciled him to the sex."

His acquaintance began in the true Italian style :
he saw her at an opposite window, and, pleased with her
appearance, saluted her. She curtsied, and hastily with-
drew^ nor again presenting herself at the window. His
curiosity was thus excited ; he made enquiries, and
learnt that her father's name was Corrio ; that he was a
notary, with a large family and small fortune. He con-
trived to make acquaintance, and within a month
asked permission to marry his daughter. The affair was
soon concluded : he was married in July ; and, omitting
the promised visit to Florence, returned to Venice at the
beginning of September.

Hitherto Goldoni's pieces had been rifaccimenti of old
dramas. " Griselda," " Don Giovanni," and " Rinaldo di
Mont' Albano," were melodramas or tragedies, written
in the old style. But at this time, finding that the
company of actors at Venice, through various changes,
had become one of great excellence, he began to think
the time arrived when he might enter on the reform of
the Italian theatre, which he had long meditated : he
commenced writing comedies of character, which are
the genuine source of the dramatic merit, following the
example of Moliere, who had surpassed all ancient
models, and even now stands alone, as the first comic
writer in the world. " "Was I wrong," he asks, " in
presuming to enter upon such an undertaking ? for my
natural bent leading me to write comedies, excellence
in the art was the proper aim of my endeavours."


The old comedy in Italy was on a singular system :
there were four masks on which all the farcical in-
cidents turned. Pantaloon, a Venetian merchant, who
was the father of the heroine ; a garrulous, kind-hearted
old gentleman. The doctor, a Bolognese, also an old
man, whose learning was opposed to Pantaloon's sim-
plicity : and two Bergamese servants, Brighella and
Harlequin. Brighella, a clever rogue ; Harlequin, a
greedy gimpleton ; his many- coloured clothes symbol-
ising the poverty that forced a patched garment. The
actors who filled these respective parts seldom played
any others. It required ready wit and cleverness ; for
the plot only being sketched, and the scenes indicated,
the dialogue was left to their own invention. Of
course, no great refinement could be expected : practical
tricks and broad jokes were sure to command the
laughter and applause of the audience ; while, there
being in the Italian character something peculiarly
adapted to extempore exercises of the intellect, and a
vivacity that renders them good actors, many people
regarded this rude but amusing effort at drama, as some-
thing at once so national and so genuine, as rendered it
preferable to the studied productions of the closet.
Goldoni, on the contrary, saw farce take place of comedy,
and the whole action and conduct of the piece often
sacrificed to the petulance of a favourite mask ; while no
real sentimental interest, nor any comic incident out of
the common routine, could be introduced. He pro-
ceeded, however, slowly in the reform he meditated. At
first writing only the more serious portions of his plays ;
then the parts of the masks themselves, and only after
some time, and at intervals, dispensing with them alto-
gether. Nor, at the time of which we are writing, did
he bring out any of his best dramas ; though those
which he did produce were eminently successful.

To add to the respectability, and, as he hoped, to the
emoluments of his situation, the relations of his wife
obtained for him the Genoese consulship at Venice.
This office, however, turned out more honourable than


lucrative : no salary attended it, and the fees did not
amount to more than 100 crowns a year. To do the
republic he served honour, he had taken a better house
and increased his number of servants, and found him-
self considerably embarrassed. To add to these annoy-
ances, his income from Modena failed him ; and he came
to a resolution to make a journey., with the triple object
of bringing out a comedy with a part for a favourite
actress at Bologna, to solicit a salary at Genoa, and
to look after his possessions at Modena : the first object
failed before he set out, through the sudden death of
the actress, while an unexpected disaster rendered the
two latter even more imperative than before. His bro-
ther, who was out of employ, introduced to him a Ra-
gusan of agreeable and gentlemanly manners. He as-
serted that he w r as sent on the secret service of raising a
regiment of 2000 men for his state. He showed his
commission as colonel, offered a company to Goldoni's
brother, and the office of auditor, or judge, to the author.
Goldoni, always easy-tempered and credulous, though a
little frightened by the danger incurred if the Venetian
state should come to suspect these proceedings, was soon
talked over, and, on an alleged emergency, lent the man
a large sum of money. The fellow was an adventurer :
he ran off with the money, and left Goldoni so dis-
agreeably implicated by his tricks, that he judged that
his only resource was to quit Venice on the instant.
The Ragusan had disappeared on the 15th of Sep-
tember, and on the 18th of the same month Goldoni
and his wife embarked for Bologna.

Their journey was full of " many accidents of flood 1741.
and field." The melancholy and thoughtfulness oc
casioned by his disaster vanished under the influence of
his happy temperament ; and his wife was even better
skilled than he in that best philosophy which makes light
of worldly misfortunes. On their arrival at Bologna, he
was surrounded by the directors of theatres, who asked
for comedies. He gave them three, and wrote another
on the subject of the Ragusan swindler, in which he


comforted himself, and dissipated the rest of his re-
grets, hy representing to the life all the actors in that
too real drama. This task concluded, he was about to
proceed to Modena, when he heard that the duke was
absent at the Spanish camp at Rimini, and that his
best chance of pursuing his claims was to accompany
Ferramonti, a celebrated pantaloon, to the latter town ;
where, in default of justice being done him by his so-
vereign, he might have a further resource in the com-
pany of actors to which this comedian belonged. This
latter staff turned out the stoutest of the two : the duke
changed the conversation when Goldoni mentioned his
claims on the ducal bank ; but as long as the carnival
lasted, he supplied the actors with dramas, and lived a
comfortable life at Rimini. At length it became ne-
cessary to depart for Genoa. The armies which then
occupied the country rendered it impossible to get
horses ; and he and some other travellers agreed to em-
bark for Pesaro. The sea was high, the passengers
suffered : weary of their sea voyage, they disembarked
half way, at Cattolica, and, leaving their effects to the
care of servants, proceeded in a cart to Pesaro.

A new misfortune here awaited him. The Spanish
army had changed quarters, and were replaced by their
enemies, the Austrians. The soldiers entered Cattolica,
and seized on the boat, the servants, and the effects of the
unlucky passengers. All was lost : trunks and band-
boxes, dresses and jewels, were the spoil of the ravagers :
even the signora Goldoni was moved by so overwhelming
a calamity : but some remedy was to be found. Goldoni
resolved to apply in person to the Austrian officers for
the restitution of his property ; and his wife, with great
cheerfulness, prepared to accompany him. Pesaro is
ten miles distant from Cattolica : with great difficulty
they hired a carriage to take them. The vetturino was
very averse to the job, but showed no signs of discon-
tent. When three miles from Pesaro, the pair alighted
to walk a short distance ; and the cunning fellow, seizing
the opportunity, turned his horses' heads, and gallopped


back to Pesaro, leaving them in the middle of the road.
No house, no living heing was to be seen ; the inha-
bitants had fled on the arrival of the armies. Signora
Goldoni began to cry. " Courage !" said the husband ;
ee it is but six miles to Cattolica : we are young and
strong ; it will not do to turn back; let us walk on." The
journey was not, however, an easy one ; the road was
crossed by several torrents, and the bridges were broken.
Goldoni carried his wife over the swollen streams ; but
they had been obliged to make a circuit in search of a
ford, and found themselves fatigued beyond measure. At
length they arrived at the first advanced post of the
Austrians. Goldoni presented the passport with which
he came provided, and they were conducted to the com-
manding officer. The colonel at first took them for t\vo
wandering pedestrians ; but, reading the passport, he
made them sit down, and, looking kindly on them, said :
" What, are you signer Goldoni ? " " Alas ! Yes," re-
plied the other. " Author of ( Belisarius? '" " I am
indeed." " And this lady is the signora Goldoni ?"
" She is the last good I possess in the world." " I hear
you came on foot." ' ' Alas ! sir, you heard the truth."
Goldoni now explained the nature of his expedition,
and the officer reassured him : he restored his luggage,
and liberated his servant, and, happy in the recovery of
their property, Goldoni and his wife returned to Rimini.
After spending some weeks happily in this town, he
set out on a tour through Tuscany, meaning to proceed
afterwards to Genoa. He visited Florence, Siena, Vol-
tevra, and then arrived at Pisa. While walking about
to see the (f liens" of this town, he passed by a palace, and,
perceiving that a great concourse of people were entering
its gates, he looked through, and saw a large court, and
the company all seated in a circle round. He asked a ser-
vant in livery, who waited, what the occasion was of so
large an assembly. " That assembly," replied the man,
(f is a colony of the Arcadians of Rome, called the Al-
phean colony ; that is, the colony of Alpheus, a celebrated
river of Greece, which flows near the ancient Pisa of


Aulis.' Goldoni asked if he might make one of the
audience, and the servant ushered him to a seat. After
a variety of pieces of poetry had been read, he sent the
servant round to ask if a stranger might be permitted to
recite ; and, on being answered in the affirmative, he re-
peated an old sonnet of his, which, with a little alter-
ation, seemed extemporised a propos for the occasion.
The Pisans, charmed at once by the jcompliment and the
talent of the stranger, crowded round him. He made
many acquaintances, was invited to their houses, and their
cordial kindness seemed at one time to change the whole
tenour of his life for ever. For, invited and pressed by
them, and promised protection and patronage, he became
a pleader once again, and for three years practised at the
Pisan bar. Briefs flowed in, clients were numerous,
all were satisfied, and Goldoni, content with his lot, ab-
jured the theatre. He was too well known to be without
temptations to break his resolution : actors wrote to him
for plays, and he tried to refuse, and then, yielding to
the desire, he wrote pieces for them in hours borrowed
from sleep, and gave his days entire to his profession.
Still law and the drama contended for him, and his heart
was with the latter, though he tried to turn his back on
her, and to devote himself to her rival. But he lost
the game. A manager, named Mendebac, arrived at
Pisa with a company. Goldoni went to see the repre-
sentations. They acted his comedy of f< La Donna di
Garbo/' which he considered his best piece : he had
written it for a favourite actress ; but she died, arid he
had never seen it acted. The wife of the manager was
young, beautiful, and a good performer, and she took the
part of the Donna di Garbo. It is difficult exactly to
translate, in one word, this expression : as used by the
Tuscans it means, the worthy woman the woman
whose conduct is upright and estimable. The heroine
of the piece, however, deserves more the name of
the cunning than the worthy; and her chief merit
consists in her success. Rosaura is the daughter of
a lace -maker of Pa via ; and her mother's house beino;


frequented by many of the students and professors of
the university, she acquires a good deal of the scholastic
pedantry of the schools. She is seduced by a student, who
deserts her ; on which, for the sake of revenge, she gets
herself introduced as a servant into the house of his father,
where, by pleasing every body, and adapting herself to
their humours, and by great display of learning, she hopes
to force her lover into a marriage, and succeeds. This is
by no means one of the best of Goldoni's comedies, but it
pleased on the stage ; and on this occasion the principal
part being filled up by the wife of the manager, who was
a clever actress, it met with the greatest approbation.
Goldoni, w r armed by success, enticed by the offers of the
manager, and drawn on by the instinctive bent of his
disposition, suddenly resolved to leave Pisa and the pro-
fession which he was pursuing with so much advantage,
and returning to Venice, to enter again on the task
of writing comedies for its theatre. Such a determin-
ation was sufficiently strange and imprudent ; but Gol-
doni's love for his art was such, that he never regretted
the sacrifice he made ; on the contrary, being now
wholly devoted to the drama, his enthusiasm rose, and,
filled with projects for its reform, he worked with an
ardour, which was rewarded by success, and which in-
spired his best pieces.

It is, perhaps, difficult for a person who has never
visited Italy to enter with zest into all the merits of
Goldoni. His perfect fidelity to nature, the ease of his
dialogue, and the dramatic effect of his pieces, can only
be entirely appreciated in the representation. The best
of them have often a slight plot, but the interest is kept
ah' ve by the variety of the dialogue. It was only slowly,
however, that he proceeded to the reform of the Italian
comedy ; the substitution of natural incident for violent
and forced situations, and the higher properties of
comedy for the mere burlesque of farce. Obliged to
bring out his plays in quick succession, they are, of
course, unequal, and did not meet always with the same
approbation. Unfortunately, his first season ended with a


piece which had no success. The company for which
he wrote, had to contend with others, longer established
in the city; and, at the end of the carnival, these circum-
stances combined to afford a dreary prospect for the fol-
lowing year. At this moment Goldoni stepped forward

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 34)