Dionysius Lardner.

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

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tore his own heart. His best compositions, on the
contrary, seem to emanate from an impassioned but

* " Con elle (le Grazie)

Qui dov' io canto Galileo sedea

a spiar 1' astr<?

Delia loro regina, e il desviava
Col notturno rumor 1' acqua remota
Che sotto ai pioppi della riva d' Arno
Furtiva e argentea gli volava alguardo,
Qui a lui 1' Alba, la Luna eil Sol mostrava
Gareggianti di tinte, or le serene
Nubi sulle cerulee Alpe sedente

Ora il piano che alle tirrene

Nereidi, immensa di citta e di selve
Scena e di templi e d' arator beati,
Or cento colli, onde Appenin corona
D' ulivi e d'antri, e di marmoree ville
L' elegante citt&, dove con Flora
Le Grazie ban seiti, e amabile idioma.'


brooding spirit, nursed in soft melancholy and elegant
and fanciful reverie. As we have before mentioned, he
was purely a didactic writer ; but perhaps no modern
poet ever displayed so much harmony, grace, and truth
of description. \\'c have not the fantastic imagery nor
the fire of Monti ; neither the storms of the deep, nor
the thunders of the sky ; but an inland landscape, where
the balmy air broods over waving forest and murmuring
stream, and the heart of man reposing seems to take

" In that sweet mood where pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind."

1813. When the result of his Russian invasion shook
-Etat. Napoleon's throne, Foscolo returned to Milan. Public
3j< events were undergoing a vast change. Napoleon, de-
feated by his own ambition, retired to what seemed to
him the narrow circle of France, and appeared for a
while to stand at bay, while a universal attack w r as
made on him. His authority, every where shaken,
tottered in Italy. The English, who had assisted so
gloriously in the emancipation of Spain, sent emissaries
to Italy, to invite the people to throw off the French
yoke. It would have been of no avail to have invited
them to exchange servitude under France for that under
Austria, and the words liberty and national independ-
ence were pronounced as a spell to rouse them. Lord
William Bentinck published a manifesto calling on
them to assert their freedom ; he conjured the soldiers
to vindicate their country's rights, and to acquire for it
that liberty which Spain, Portugal, and Holland reaped
from the fall of Napoleon. His voice found an echo
in every heart. We are told that " the name of inde-
pendence w r as on the lips of all ; nor at any crisis of any
nation in the world were so much ardour and unanimity
shown, as by the Italians at this moment."* While
thus the allies tried to win the Italians to their side,
the treaty of Fontainebleau and the abdication of the
French emperor placed the peninsula at their feet. The

* Storiad' Italia, scritta da Carlo Botta.


viceroy of Italy, prince Eugene, crossed the Alps ; the
south of Italy fell into the hands of its old rulers; while
Milan, left to itself, assembled a senate to discuss a
new form of government. The point disputed was,
whether prince Eugene or a prince of the house of
Austria should preside over them ; hut they fancied
that their independence was secure under the one or
the other. The latter proposition carried the day; for
when the senate, recording the virtues of the viceroy,
was about to solicit the allies to set him over them, a
vast multitude surrounded their house, composed of
every class nobles, commonalty, artificers, rich and
p 0or even, women of rank joined in the tumult crying
out for the independence of their country, and " No vice-
roy ! No France ! " A placard went about, saying,
f< Spain and Germany have cast away the yoke of
France from their necks Italy must imitate them;"
while magistrates and people called aloud, ce We will
have electoral colleges, and no Eugene." The senate
fled the people, roused to violence, rushed to destroy
the partisans of the French, and the unfortunate Prini
was torn to pieces. Liberty (alas ! blood-stained)
seemed to win the day ; but it was a mock victory.
The electoral colleges were convened, and they created
a regency ; it was decreed that the allies should be
solicited to grant the independence of the kingdom, and
a free constitution with an Austrian but independent
prince at its head. Legates were sent to the emperor
Francis, at Paris, with these demands. He replied,
that he also was Italian that his soldiers had con-
quered Lombardy, and that the answer would be given
at Milan. The Austrians entered Milan on the 28th
of April. Bellegarde took possession of it in the name
of Austria on the 23d of May. The kingdom of Italy
was at an end ; its independence was crushed and ex-
changed for an ignominious and cruel servitude.*

At the commencement of these changes Foscolo
remained unmoved. He pursued his studies in silence

* Carlo Botta.


and seclusion, and seemed to forget the political crisi>
among his literary occupations. But when Napoleon
fell, he sided with the independents against the French
party ; though at the same time he gave proof of his
courage and humanity by exerting himself vigorously,
though vainly, to save the unfortunate Prini. At the
same time he resumed his military duties ; and when
the regency was established, he was promoted to the
rank of capo squad/rone, or colonel. To the last he
took an active part in asserting the liberty of his
country. When the Austrian soldiers entered Milan,
the city submitted peacefully, but not silently. Six
thousand soldiers of the civic guard assembled, and, in
presence of the occupying army, placed in the hands of
the English general, Macfarlane, an address which they
begged might be laid before the allies, claiming national
independence and a constitution. Foscolo drew up this
address. We are told that it was brief, energetic, and
dignified*; a precious monument of the author's pa-

But Foscolo was not allowed to reap any good from
his firm adherence to the cause of liberty. The Aus-
trians looked on him with suspicious eyes, and he was
not popular among his countrymen. He had quarrelled
with Monti, and had many enemies. He saw no mode
of maintaining himself: he foresaw that he should be
persecuted, and perhaps entered into plots for the sub-
version of government. At this moment, some member
of the Austrian government, knowing the benefit that
would accrue to their cause if they could win Foscolo
as a writer, asked him to furnish a plan for a public
journal. He consented, refusing at the same time to
write in it ; but this slender act of civility was tortured
into one of apostacy by his enemies, and too late he
found that he had given room to calumny. Pecchio
relates a conversation w r hich he had with him, which,
if he did not suspect Foscolo of treason to his country,
was unkindly carried on by him. They met without

* Pecchio.


the eastern gate of the city, and Foscolo walked on for
some time without speaking. At length he suddenly
addressed his companion, saying, ' e You, who are ac-
customed to speak the truth both to friends and enemies,
tell me what is said of me in public." Pecchio replied,
" If you continue your intercourse with Austrians, your
enemies will assert that you are their spy." This
answer was as a thunderbolt to Foscolo his counte-
nance darkened he quickened his steps, and said no
more. The next day, without taking leave of any one,
without passport, and without money, he set out in
disguise for Switzerland. Whether his proud heart
rebelled against continuing any longer among his sus-
picious countrymen, or whether, as some said, he was
implicated in a plot among the soldiers, which was just
then discovered, or whether, hopeless and sick at heart,
he yearned for new scenes and a new life ; whatever
his motive was, he became henceforth a voluntary
exile, and, leaving friends and country, began an untried
career ; adding one more to the number of unfortunate
wanderers whom political changes had driven from
their homes abroad on the earth.

At first Foscolo took refuge in Switzerland, and
remained for two years in the city of Zurigo. He
did little during that interval, except publish a sort of
unintelligible Latin satire, called " Dydymi Clerici Pro-
phetee Minimi Hypercalypseos, Liber singularis ;" which
is written in imitation of the prophecies of the Bible,
and satirises Paradisi and others who enjoyed offices
in the fallen kingdom of Italy.* Without a key it is
impossible to understand it alluding, as it does, to
people little known, and to facts still more obscure;
and when understood is not praised, even by his
countrymen, who might be supposed to take some
interest in a personal satire on men with whom they
were acquainted.

Foscolo found tranquillity at Zurigo ; and his dis-
position, not being inclined to intrigue, would have
permitted him to remain there in peace; but he was

VOL. n. ' c c


poor, and obliged to seek a country where he could
turn his talents to some account. England, the rrf'uLn
of exiles, was the place to which he repaired. Thin
were liberal men there, who, ashamed of the part
which the country had permitted lord Castlereagh to
play, in sacrificing to despotism the very men whose
desire of freedom he had sought to excite, readily
and generously welcomed the victims of our foreign
secretary's cruel policy. Foscolo, on his arrival,
was visited by the most distinguished men of the
country ; the Whig party received him with open
arms, and he made one of the circle assembled at
Holland House. He was treated with ah 1 the cordiality
considered due to a man of integrity and a patriot,
banished by a foreign despot, and refusing to become
the pensioner of the oppressors of his country ; while,
at the same time, he met with the mingled respect and
curiosity which an author of acknowledged talents ex-
cites : and even lord Sidmouth, armed with the terrors
of the alien act, assured him that he should remain
unmolested during his sojourn,

A little time somewhat destroyed the illusion which
first adorned his name. The English are very ready to
receive any one as a lion, but not fond of fostering
intimacies with any whose habits and manners do not
perfectly assimilate with their own. The vehement
gestures, wild looks, and loud voice of the Italian,
were all in contradiction to the etiquette of English
society ; and no foreigner is capable of perceiving
any thing but dulness and ice in the mild, high-bred,
and unpretending manners of the aristocracy of this
country. The English enjoy society in their own
way ; and there is a charm to us in the perfect
liberty each one enjoys no one encroaching, or being
encroached upon. But the sensitiveness which leads us
to give freedom to others, renders us jealous of any
assumption of it on their part. Foscolo had no real
hold on the society of which he made a part, except
through his talents, and the respect his independence


and integrity commanded : but respect is a cold feeling.,
and can be indulged while we keep the object of it at a
distance. His talents ceased to amuse, joined as they
were to pride, to vehemence, and to habits which
would not alter, but could not please.

Foscolo ceased to be a lion; and he retired to the
neighbourhood of St. John's Wood, near the Regent's
Park ; and, surrounding himself by his books, and
visited by a few friends, he led a life at once retired
and eccentric. When Pecchio visited his friend in this
retreat, in 1822, he was struck by the apparent deso-
lation of the spot (South Bank) in which his house was
situated; and at the same time by the appearance of
three lovely sisters, who were the household servants of
the poet, named by his visiters the three Graces ;
in allusion at once to their beauty and Foscolo's poem.*
He supported himself chiefly by writing in the Quar-
terly Review ; and we owe to this mode of exercising
his pen one of the most delightful of his productions,
the ee Essays on Petrarch." These are four in number:
on the Love of Petrarch, on his Poetry, on his Cha-
racter, and a Parallel between him and Dante. On
the whole, we are almost inclined to say that Foscolo
scarcely does justice to the generous, amiable, and
faithful lover of Laura. The pride and unbending
disposition of Dante were more in accordance with his
own character. But the discrimination, the taste, and
enthusiasm of these Essays render them one of the
most delightful books in the world. The volume in
which they are collected is enriched, also, by several of
lady Dacre's translations from Petrarch, which are
unequalled for fidelity and grace; preserving the
spirit and feeling of the original, and yet arraying
them in flowing and melodious English verse.

* It was on account of one of these Graces that Foscolo believed himself
obliged to challenge one Graham, an American. When they met in the
field, the poet received, but did not return, his adversary's fire, and the
affair terminated without a reconciliation. Graham was at that time a re-
porter to a newspaper, and had served Foscolo as translator of his works.
He afterwards got into difficulties, committed a forgery, and was obliged
to leave this country. Soon after, he fell in a duel in America.

c c 2

i.i 1 1:1: \i;v AM> - IK\ i n n MKN.

Foscolo published also a translation of the third book
of the Iliad; and hi.-, tragedy of " Rjcciarda." Though
founded on a story of the middle ages, there is no more
interest in this last drama than his preceding ones:
the feelings and situations are forced and unnatural.
Fraternal hatred is the mainspring of the plot: Guelfo
detests his half-brother, Averardo ; and, on the death of
their father Tancred, goes to war with him, to deprive
him of his portion of their common heritage. As a
further mark of hate, he betroths his daughter Ricci-
arda to Guido, the son of Averardo, merely to discover
whether she loves her cousin or not ; and, finding that
she does, separates them with violent denunciations,
and resolves to marry her to another. The drama opens
while the brothers are at war. On account of the
unfortunate unities which force the author to bring all
the persons together in one place, however improbable
it may be that they should there meet the poet causes
Guido to leave his father's camp, and to secrete himself
in Guelfo's palace, for the sake of watching over
Ricciarda's safety, whose life he imagines to be menaced
by her father. The action chiefly turns on Averardo
first sending a friend, and then coming himself in dis-
guise, to induce Guido to return to him ; in Guelfo's de-
nunciations against his daughter ; and in scenes between
the lovers. At length Averardo assaults and enters his
brother's palace ; and Guelfo, finding himself defeated,
first kiUs Ri'cciarda, to prevent her marrying Guido, and
then stabs himself; while Guido swears that he will
soon follow his mistress to the tomb. The only beauty
of the tragedy consists in the character of Ricciarda,
her struggles between filial piety and love, her obedi-
ence to her father, and her devotion to her lover.
But the whole is conceived in one unvaried tone of hate
and unhappy love of meditated murder and suicide.
You neither perceive the end that the author has in
view, nor that there can be any end except by their all
dying. Foscolo dedicated this tragedy to lord William
Russell. His politics naturally brought him into con-


tact with what was then the opposition party ; and this
alliance was drawn closer when the exiles of Parga
applied to him to draw up the petition to he presented to
parliament. He assented gladly, and wrote four hundred
pages without avail ; former treaties preventing the En-
glish from interference in behalf of the Pargiotes.

Foscolo found difficulty in obtaining the means of
life, and lady Dacre in particular interested herself in
pointing out some method by which he might turn his
talents to account. She proposed, and zealously pro-
moted, the course of lectures on Italian literature which
Foscolo delivered in 182,3. Mr. Stewart Rose was
another of his real and anxious friends ; and Foscolo's
acknowledged talents, and the interest excited by his
exile, facilitated their endeavours. His lectures were
numerously attended, and brought him a thousand
pounds ; a small sum, if on it he was to found a suf-
ficient income to maintain him for the rest of his life ;
a large one to an Italian, accustomed to look on a few
hundred crowns as riches. And thus it was that the
success that attended his undertaking was, in the end,
fruitful of annoyance and disaster. The poet's head
was turned he fancied his treasure inexhaustible, and
he set about spending it with as much knowledge as a
child would have had of its real quantity and value.
He built a house, furnished it expensively, and adorned
it with all those luxuries that cost largely and are of
least intrinsic value. His entrance hall was adorned
by statues, and he had a conservatory filled with the
rarest flowers ; while the three Graces still waited on
him, and did not contribute to the economy of his
household. As ah 1 the houses in the suburb of St.
John's Wood, which he continued to inhabit, are dis-
tinguished by a name, he, to the no small puzzle of the
common people, christened his Digamma Cottage ; in
commemoration of a literary victory which he believed
achieved by his ee Essay on the Digamma." e: I went
to see him," Pecchio writes, " on my return from Spain,
in August, 1823. I found him inhabiting a new house,

c c 3


surrounded by all the luxury of a financier suddi-nl)
In-come rich. 1 was astonishi-d, and could not account for
this sort of theatrical change ; it appeared to me a dream.
I thought to myself, I 'go Foscolo has followed in the
steps of doctor Faustus, and has entered into some
compact with the fiend Mephistopheles. He certainly
displays good taste ; and if he be not rich, he deserves
to be so ; and if all I see is not a vision, he deserves
that it should be real. But too truly it was a vision :
little or nothing of what I saw was paid for ; it was
the palace of king Theodore, tapestried with promises
to pay. His destiny w r as similar to that of him of
whom Young says

" A man who builds, and wants wherewith to pay,
Provides a home from which to run away." *

Poor Foscolo too soon paid the penalty of his inex-
plicable want of common sense ; he became pressed by
his creditors, his goods were seized, and he, threatened
by arrests, w r as obliged to leave his villa, which so
resembled a castle in the air, and to hide in a lodging
in an obscure corner of London. He was now r obliged
to provide for his daily necessities by writing articles
for various reviews and magazines. The merit and
success of his " Essays on Petrarch" suggested to Mr.
Pickering, a London bookseller, the idea of an edition of
Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Tasso, with preliminary
notices and critical notes by Foscolo. The offer was
tolerably liberal, being 600/. for the whole work, if
completed in two years. But even now Foscolo was
ruined by another mistake. Had he provided Essays
similar to the admired ones already written, adding a
few critical and historical observations, it had been well ;
he would have produced, at no great cost to himself, a
popular work that had repaid the bookseller for his
speculation. But Foscolo had already given token of a
predilection for verbal and minute criticism. His pre-
fatory notice to Boccaccio consisted of a critical history
of editions, totally uninteresting to the general reader,

Pecchio, Vita di Ugo Foscolo.


and of no value except to book collectors. The com-
mentary on Dante is somewhat less confined in its
topics ; and, with great subtlety and talent, he compares
various readings, and gives reasons for his own selection.
But even in this his observations are almost entirely
grammatical and verbal, though interspersed by others
of great acuteness on the meaning and intentions of
Dante. Still his work, altogether, bore no similarity to
his delightful Essays, which portray the character, spirit,
and history of Petrarch and Dante in so new and at-
tractive a manner.

Unfortunately, intense labour was required for a work
so little alluring or profitable ; and Foscolo spent months
collating, consulting, and emending : producing, in the
end, a work to be read with tedium and fatigue. While
thus diligently occupied, and at the same time harassed
by many cares, ill lodged, and full of chagrin and mor-
tification, he fell ill. He grew thin, and a tendency to
dropsy manifested itself ; the consequence of an affection
of the liver, from which he had long suffered. A few
friends visited him ; and, dividing his time between
them and his literary labours, he never left the house.
Yet his work did not advance. He and his bookseller
were at cross purposes. Mr. Pickering desired a popular
and saleable publication, which he supposed would cost
not much more time than the author's celebrated articles
in the reviews. Foscolo wished to immortalise himself
by a work of labour and erudition, which should be-
come a text book and authoritv to all who hereafter


read or wrote upon the poets in question.

Anxieties thus grew upon him. Economy, and a
desire for tranquillity and better air, induced him to
leave London ; and he hired a small house at Turnham
Green. Here the last months of his life were spent
A few friends visited him : some of these were English ;
but they consisted mostly of the exiles driven from the
south of Europe by the ill success of the attempted
revolutions of 1820-21. The canon Riego was one
among them, who attached himself warmly to Foscolo.,


admiring his independence and consistency. Meanwhile
his disease gained ground, and it became publicly known
that small hopes were entertained for bis recovery.
This announcement excited universal sympathy ; and
his rich or noble English friends, who, from incom-
patibility of manners and character, had fallen from
him, came forward to offer assistance. The friends
around him declined receiving more than fifty pounds
to meet the exigencies of the moment ; and even this
supply was concealed from Foscolo, whose pride would
have been deeply and uselessly mortified by the sense
of pecuniary obligation. Money, indeed, was not the
only kindness proffered : lord Holland sent wine, the
duke of Devonshire, game ; but the kindness and ser-
vices most deeply felt, were those of the canon Riego,
who spared no trouble to assist and comfort his dying
friend. Foscolo was sensible of his friendship, but
feared that it might become officious ; and he wrote to
him, thanking him warmly, but entreating him to do
no more. " I beg of you," he writes, " and it is my
most earnest prayer, that you do not inform any one,
man or woman, of my situation, for the purpose of
obtaining assistance. I make this fervent request, be-
cause I heard of something of the kind from miss
Florida. But your kindness on this point would only
cruelly torture my heart, increase the sufferings of my
mind, and the*' sickness of my body."

He lingered two months after this, letter. On the
day of his death he was visited by his noble country-
man, count Capo d'Istria, who, passing through London
to assume the presidentship of Greece, paid the homage
of a visit to the most renowned author of modern
Greece. Foscolo was now in a state of torpor, and
unconscious of the honour done him.

To the last he was patient, submissive to his medical
attendants, and courageous ; commenting on the in-
evitable advances of death with fortitude and calmness.
He died on the 10th of October, 1827. His funeral
was private and modest ; his remains were followed to


the grave by five friends, and they were buried in the
neighbouring churchyard of Chiswick, where, a little to
the left of the church, amidst a crowd of tombstones, is
to be found one, inscribed simply :


Obiit xiv. Die Septembris,

A.D. 1827.

^Etatis 52.*

The character of Foscolo, and his literary merits,
may be gathered from the foregoing biography. Con-
sistency was among his most prominent virtues, for his
writings and actions were in strict accordance one
with the other. He always rose superior to the blows
of fortune, and preserved his independence in the midst
of the disasters brought on him, either by the mis-
fortunes of his country or his own imprudences.

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 33 of 34)