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ing calumnies, as he soon found, and went to the ex-
tent of opening his coffers and rifling his manu-
scripts. This stung him to the quick ; he assailed one
in sharp terms, words led to blows, and blows to a
cowardly assault, which Tasso warded off trium-
phantly by his skill of fence, routing his enemies and
drawing down on them Alfonso's vengeance.

But a deeper vexation came upon him at finding
his poem, which he had kept back from publication
and revised and re-revised to make perfect, was sur-
reptitiously printing in various parts of Italy. Of
course this shook all his hope, not only of legitimate
profit, but of legitimate honor, if his own child was
to be ousted by b^astards. The duke, at his request,
appealed to all Italian governments to have these
spurious editions suppressed, and his brother-in-law,
the Duke of Urbino, invited him to Modena and did
everything possible to honor, flatter, and soothe him.

But his sensitive nature was fast giving way under
these assaults. He began to imagine greater inju-


ries than he had received— that he had been ac-
cused of treason and of heresy ; and under this delu-
sion he ran at one of his enemies with a drawn
sword in the chamber of the duchess. This invasion
of all the proprieties led to his being put in ward,
but apparently without unkindness. The duke
scouted the charge of disloyalty, and the chief in-
quisitor that of heresy. But Tasso continued to ap-
peal to his illustrious friends against his enemies,
until, worn out by his importunities, they ordered
him to stop writing to them. This course, which
might have answered with some men, only added to
Tasso 's misery; he fancied the world was leagued
against him, and he fled from Ferrara without money,
and leaving his writings behind.

Much of his after life is a story of aimless
wanderings. He first sought an asylum with his
sister, who was well married at Naples, and who,
though long parted from him, greeted him most
cordially. Her care soon restored him, but as his
health and spirits returned he began to think he
was hasty in leaving Ferrara. He went back to
Rome and, against every friend's advice, began so-
liciting permission to return. It was at last granted,
but with the condition that Tasso should recognize
his melancholy humor and be under the care of
the court physician. He agreed to everything, and


returned. He was received with courtesy, but his
manuscripts were not restored to him, and every
application for an interview with the princesses for
their recovery was repulsed. His patience gave way.
He again left Ferrara, and wandered to city after
city, almost everywhere welcomed not only with kind-
ness, but with honor, even by sovereigns. He re-
ceived many most flattering offers of a home, but the
magnet of Ferrara was too strong, and he persisted in
returning there on the eve of the duke's second mar-
riage. He was not expected; he was not wanted; he
was shut out from the duke and his sisters, mocked
by the courtiers, and, as he believed, slighted by his
friends. He broke out into the most violent curses
against the ungrateful house to which he had sacri-
ficed his peace and his brains. These came to Al-
fonso 's ears, and he had Tasso put under strict guard,
in a cellar room of a pauper madhouse.

Tasso was fairly stupefied at first by this outra-
geous treatment, but soon, being apparently allowed
the free use of his pen, he poured out his sorrows
to his friends and his prayers to the duke in odes
that would have moved the heart of a hyena. But
nothing could soften Alfonso's resentment, whatever
its cause. In vain Tasso 's release and liberty were
begged for by the most illustrious supplicants, with
the emperor at their head. Misfortune succeeded


misfortune. His great work was published pirati-
cally under protection of the Republic of Venice
from mutilated copies. Leonora died without permit-
ting that man to kiss her hand who had let his life
be ruined for the mere chance of being in her pres-
ence. And for seven years his prison remained closed,
though his quarters were gradually improved from
the vile dungeon of his first confinement. Some gal-
lant friends, disgusted at the piracy of his poem,
obtained authentic manuscripts and published it cor-
rectly. It was again and again reprinted, and all
Europe rang with his fame ; but he derived no profit.
His mind and body began to weaken, and, as too
often happens, incarceration under a charge of mad-
ness went near to make him mad. At length Alfonso
relented, a relenting as mysterious as his resentment,
and Tasso went free. He passed the rest of his life
in various cities, chiefly Naples, and recovered much
of his health and spirits. He composed another cru-
sading epic, "Jerusalem Conquered," which he pre-
ferred to the former; but posterity has not agreed
with him. At Naples he found a cultivated and
faithful friend in the poet Manso, who, forty years
after, related to Milton the tale of his friend Tasso.
He was repeatedly urged to visit Rome, but, like Vir-
gil before him, clung to Naples as healthier. At
length, in November, 1593, the Sacred College offered


him the laurel crown which none had borne since
Petrarch. He accepted the offer, but the ceremony-
was postponed till April, 1595 ; and just before the
day set he died, on the 25th, in the convent of St.
Onofrio, where he is buried.

Such is a very, very imperfect "sketch of the sad-
dest life of mingled glory and sorrow that ever befell
one of the world's most brilliant sons. Strength,
beauty, genius, purity, honor came to this. Tasso's
early romance is only known to biographers, and is
hard to get; his tragedy, his second epic, and his
poem on the seven days of creation have had hardly
a larger fame. The "Aminta" I shall consider later.
Many of his minor poems show abundant genius, and
are instinct with that sensibility which ruled his life.
But his solid fame rests on the ''Jerusalem Deliv-
ered," which makes him, with Dante, Petrarch, and
Ariosto, complete the band of what his country fondly
calls "the four Italian poets."

The "Jerusalem Delivered" is a true epic poem.
It relates how the crusading princes, under Godfrey
de Bouillon, took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1099.
It is in twenty cantos and in eight-lined metre. The
persons are Godfrey and the other Christian princes
and knights, opposed to the vassal king of Jerusalem,
the Sultan of Nicaea, Argantes the soldier of fortune,
and Clorinda the Amazon. Both sides are reenforced


by supernatural and, indeed, superhuman allies. The
Prince of Darkness, whom Tasso calls Pluto, sets in
motion an army of demons who, operating, some
directly with the elements and some through the sor-
cerer Ismeno, impede the Crusaders in many ways,
particularly by throwing a spell over the forest
whence the timber for siege purposes is to come ; and
a further ally is found in a Syrian princess called
Armida, who, by irresistible powers of attraction,
allures some of the bravest knights into an enchanted
fortress. To counteract these foes, angelic aid is
not lacking, the Heavenly Father himself sending
Michael to repel the demons.

The principal Christian chiefs are historical ; but
Rinaldo of Este, the supposed ancestor of Tasso 's
benefactor, who put him in a madhouse to cure him
of melancholy, is quite imaginary. He is the destined
champion, who, when scarcely out of boyhood, sur-
passes all older men, but unfortunately kills a brother
knight in a fit of passion, and goes into voluntary
exile. Here he is found by Armida, who, designing
to kill him, falls desperately in love and carries him ^
off to a magic paradise in the Canaries, whence he is
rescued to cut down the enchanted forest, force the
siege to a triumphant end, and convert Armida to

The first thought suggested by this poem is its com-


pleteness. It is worked out with a beginning, middle,
and an end. All the episodes are strictly subservient to
the main action. Even the flight of the love-sick Er-
minia to a shepherd's hut turns out in the end to have
a deep influence at a critical moment. Every person
has his part to play, every scene belongs to its right
act. When one considers some of the most striking
poems in literature, the '' - Eneid," the ''Orlando
Innamorato," the "Squire's Tale," the "Faerie
Queene, " "Paradise Lost," "Faust,"— some having
no true ending, others a disappointing and others a
languid one, it is a satisfaction to find in moderate
compass a real whole, where nothing is superfluous
and nothing is dull. For he must be hard indeed to
please who cannot be deeply interested in the story,
the incidents, the episodes, the descriptions, and the
characters of Tasso's poem. There is no falling off,
as too many find is the case with Virgil and Milton;
there is none of the tediousness which makes it all
but impossible to finish Berni and Spenser, and makes
it far pleasanter to read Ariosto by bits than entire;
the interest, never languid, rises as steadily to the
last as in the divine Homer.

Especially is Tasso most attractive by his discrim-
ination of character. I have tried to defend Ariosto
from the charge of sameness in this matter; but his
lively sketches are nothing to the living portraits of


Tasso, all standing out like those of Shakespeare and
Sir Walter Scott, always true to themselves, not
merely by always saying the same thing, but with a
living personality which again recalls Homer, The
Christian heroes, Godfrey, Tancred, Raymond, Eu-
stace; the pagans, the Soldan, Argantes, Adrastus,
Altamore; the ladies, Clorinda, Erminia, Armida,
—they are discriminated with the most delicate
touches, and though their occupations and places must
needs lie within a narrow compass, each is himself and
no other. Perhaps the invincible champion Rinaldo is
the least real, although Tasso has robbed the his-
torical Tancred of some of his best traits to adorn
his hero. And nearly allied to the variety of char-
acters is the variety of incident. One goes through
the endless stories of the romancists as one does with
Sir Thomas Malory, and finds the same battles and
the same sorceries occurring and recurring and
copied. Tasso copies ; he draws freely on other
writers, especially Virgil ; but the variety and play
of his incidents is very lively and agreeable.

Another quality that gives Tasso 's work a peculiar
charm is its delicacy and elevation of tone, I do not
mean the loftiness that belongs to Dante and Milton :
I mean that elevation which spurns everything foul
and sordid, or even equivocal, as a stain on poetic
beauty. I do not see how the warmest admirers of


Dante get over the repulsive matter so rife in the
"Inferno" and too frequent in the " Purgatorio. "
It is all very manly to call a spade a spade, but it
need not give place to a dung-fork. Nor can it be
overlooked that Ariosto, like his master Boccaccio,
nay, like our own Chaucer, likes to talk about
what had better be unsaid. But Tasso drew from
Virgil, who drew it from Sophocles, an aversion,
not in the least that of a prig or a prude, but sim-
ply of a good man, to what is unseemly in word or

And with Tasso, as with his master, this purity
arises from profound religious feeling. The Crusade
is the enterprise of men who fought that the spot
where the Lord Jesus lay should be no longer in the
hands of those who disown him. Tasso writes as they
fought— as the servant of God the Father Almighty,
and his Church; and any one of any name who does
not feel that impulse had better not read the ''Jerusa-
lem Delivered." "Paradise Regained" and "Pil-
grim's Progress" are not more surely the work of
a Christian, and none but a Christian, than this poem.
This spirit is incarnate in his chief hero, Godfrey de
Bouillon, and never had an epic a nobler hero. To
the gallantry and forethought of Henry V, to the
self-sacrifice of Hector and the wisdom and patience
of Ulysses, he adds the character of a prince whose


only thoughts are for the people of God who have
made him leader in a holy war.

There is no want of manliness in Tasso's poem;
but there must seem to many readers a superfluity
of what the Italian calls tenerezza, almost amounting
to morhidezza. Tasso, like so many of his country-
men, was deeply under the influence of Petrarch,
and it is hard to find in him a trace of Dante. He
not only gives a large part of his poem to episodes
of love, but he is like his own hero Tancred in the
catalogue of princes:

Then Tancred comes; none braver in the fight,

Except RinaMo, on that army 's roll,
Fairer in all his bearing to the sight,

More lofty or intrepid in his soul.
If any shade of fault can make less bright

Such boast, 't is only love 's insane control.
Love in the midst of arms from brief sight born.
Nursed by distress, and gathering force from scorn.

Not more surely does Milton's self -sustained and
defiant loftiness stiffen the whole of "Paradise Lost,"
of "Samson Agonistes," and even of "Comus," than
Tasso's passionate craving for affection softens,
and to some readers weakens, his epic.

The verse of Tasso is eminently noble as well as
melodious. In the latter quality it certainly is not
superior to Petrarch, and possibly not to the best of
Berni or Ariosto, but it has the grand epic march.



which would have been out of place with either of
these poets. It has much of the dignity combined
with beauty which belongs to Raphael's finest paint-
ings, like the "Sermon at Athens" or the "Chastise-
ment of Heliodorus. " The poem is in the highest de-
gree interesting, beautiful, touching, and noble.

I take part of the celebrated description of Olindo
and Sophronia from Fairfax, the Elizabethan trans-
lator; whose performance, once undervalued, now
seems to me overvalued. First, his love is described :

Sophronia she, Olindo, hight the youth.
Both of one town, both in one faith were taught;

She fair, he full of bashfulness and truth.

Hoped little, longed for much, and asked for naught:

He durst not speak, by suit to purchase ruth.

She saw not, marked not, wist not what he sought :

Thus loved, thus served he long, but not regarded.

Unseen, unmarked, unpitied, unrewarded.

An image of the Virgin has been conveyed to a
mosque, and thence stolen. Sophronia avows the
theft, and is bound to the stake. Olindo comes for-
ward and takes the blame: the king orders both to
be burned.

About the pile of fagots, sticks, and hay
The bellows raised the newly kindled flame.

When thus Olindo, in a doleful lay,

Begun too late his bootless plaints to frame:
"Be these the bonds? Is this the hop'd-for day
Should join me to this long-desired dame?

Is this the fire alike should burn our hearts?

Ah! hard reward for lover's kind desarts!


"Far other flames and bonds kind lovers prove,
But thus our fortune casts the hapless die ;

Death hath exchanged again his shafts with love,
And Cupid thus lets borrowed arrows fly.

O Hymen, say, what fury doth thee move
To lend thy lamps to light a tragedy?

Yet this contents me, that I die for thee,

Thy flames, not mine, my death and torment be.

"Yet happy were my death, my ending blest,
My torments easy, full of sweet delight,

If this I could obtain, that, breast to breast,
Thy bosom might receive my yielded sprite;

And thine with it, in heaven 's pure clothing drest.
Through clearest skies might take united flight."

Thus he complained, whom gently she reproved.

And sweetly spake him thus, that so her loved :

"Far other plaints, dear friend, tears and laments.
The time, the place, and our estate require;

Think on thy sins, whom man 's old foe presents
Before that judge that quites each soul his hire;

For his name suffer, for no pain torments

Him, whose just prayers to his throne aspire;

Behold the heavens, thither thine eyesight bend,

Thy looks, sighs, tears, for intercessors send."

From Godfrey's reply to the envoys of the Egyp-
tian caliph :

It was not then ambition 's greedy sway

That spurred and guided us to take these arms: —

Far from our breast may God in heaveu convey
So foul a plague, if in us lurk its harms!

Nor suffer that it taint us and decay

With poison sweet, that murders while it charms;

But his own hand, that stubborn hearts alone

Pierces and softens, and converts from stone.


This hath inspired us, this hath been our guide,
Saved from all danger and from each distress;

This hath the hills laid low, the rivers dried,
Made summer 's heat and frost of winter less ;

The raging ocean floods availed to chide.

To bind and loose the tempest 's haughtiness ;

This hath the lofty walls o 'erthrown and burned,

This hath the armed battalions slain and spurned.

Hence doth our daring, hence our hope arise,
Not from our mortal valor, frail and weak;

Not from our navy, nor from what supplies
The Frankish might, or empire of the Greek;

While this forsakes us never, never flies,
"We are not anxious for aught else to seek;

Who knows how that defends, and how it saves,

No other succor for his peril craves.

But if it shall deprive us of its aid,

By our own sin, or from some cause unseen,

What look we for but that our limbs be laid
Where once the limbs of God have buried been?

Die we may here, not grudging or afraid;
Die we may here, not unavenged, I ween;

No cause of mirth to Asia be our doom.

Nor tears of ours attend us to the tomb.

A picture of the infernal council :

Straightway the dwellers in the eternal gloom
Call with hoarse sound the clarion of hell;

The broad black caverns tremble at the boom,
And the blind air reechoes to the yell;

Ne'er from the sky with such a crack of doom
The bolt of thunder on the nations fell.

Nor did the trembling earth e 'er feel such shocks

That in her teeming womb the vapor locks.


In varied bands from all the realms beneath
Their gods are flocking to the lofty doors,

Oh, from their forms uncouth what horrors breathe!
What death, what terror from their eyeballs pours!

Some human brows with snaky locks enwreathe,
And stamp with hoofs of beast the burning floors;

While round their backs enormous tails are twined,

That like a scourge now fold and now unwind.

Of these a part to left and part to right

Go to their seats before their monarch dread;

Central doth Pluto sit, and in his right
Upholds his sceptre ponderous and red;

No ocean cliff so tall, nor Alpine height,
Not Calpe lifts itself, nor Atlas' head.

But by his side would trifling hills appear,

So his great brow and great horns doth he rear.

Dread majesty on his fierce mien impressed
Augments the terrors of his mighty gaze;

Bed are his eyes and shot with venomed pest,
Gleaming as with a baleful comet 's blaze.

Covering his chin, and down his shaggy breast,
Thick and unkempt his beard its length displays ;

And in the semblance of a yawning flood

Opens his mouth defiled with sable blood.

Armida's fascinations:

Each art the lady plies whereby to win
Some other slave of love within her snare.

Nor keeps with all, or aye, the selfsame mien,
But changes oft her movements and her air.

Now self-contained her modest look is seen,
Now seems again ■v\ath eager glance to dare;

Her scourge on those, her bridle lays on these,

As each in passion slow or prompt she seea.


The drought in the crusading camp :

In heaven extinguished is each kindly star,
And cruel orbs exert on high their spell

Whence influence rains that shapes and seals to mar
The air with character malign and fell.

Grows the injurious heat, and near and far
More fatally its fires their force impel;

To evil day succeeds more evil night,

And worse behind it ever has in sight.

No more the sun doth rise, save flecked with stain
Of bloody vapor round him and below,

That on his forehead may be read too plain
The sad foreboding of a day of woe;

Nor ever sets but threat of equal pain.
If he return the crimson patches show,

And sharpen all the tortures felt before,

With certain fear of tortures yet in store.

And while his rays are pouring from on high,
Wherever mortal casts his gaze around,

Yellow he sees the leaves, the flowers are dry,
The thirsty herbage withers on the ground;

The earth is cleft, the sinking waters fly.

And everything by heavenly wrath is bound;

The barren clouds that float along the air

In guise of flames alone themselves declare.

The heaven as furnace black is seen to scorch.
With naught that on the eye relief may shed;

The western breeze is silent in his porch.
And every motion of the air is dead.

Only there blows, and seems a fiery torch.

The wind that from the Moorish sands hath sped,

Which burdensome to breast and throat alike

Once and again with heavy blows doth strike.


Nor doth the night afford more grateful shade,

But with the sun 's dread heat she seems impressed ;

With darts of fire and comets ' trail o 'erlaid,
And all in burning fringe her mantle dressed.

Nor is the chary moon 'a due tribute paid,
As feeble succor to the earth distrest

Her dewy drops; and every herb and flower

Demands in rain its own reviving shower.

From restless nights is exiled blessed sleep.
And languid men their souls have vainly nursed

With hope to lose themselves in slumber deep;
But yet the crown of all their plagues is thirst:

If ever any saw 'twixt verdant shores

The liquid silver of a gentle lake
Or living water 's flood, that headlong pours

From mount, or gentler course through meads doth take.
He conjures up the vision, and restores,

And for his very torment food doth make;
For the cool tender image that he frames
Parches and burns and sets his thoughts in flames.

Behold the members of the warrior stout,

Whom never travel over longest way,
Nor iron load that he ne'er moved without.

Nor steel for slaughter levelled could dismay,
Now by the heat all parched and melted out.

Prostrate upon themselves a burden weigh,
And in the veins there burns a hidden power
That gnaws away and kills them hour by hour.

Spent is the steed, so fierce before; the blade
That was his chosen food he loathes to see;

Staggers his feeble foot; his neck that played
Before so proud is hanging helplessly;

No memory of the prowess he displayed
Or prize or glory stirs his lethargy;

The spoils, the trappings once in triumph borne

Like some vile burden, all his hate and scorn.


Spent is the faithful dog, and all his care
For his dear home and for his master sunk;

Stretched out he lies, and for new breath of air
Forever pants to cool his burning trunk;

But though a breath of wind did nature spare
Where from the heated heart relief had drunk,

Or little rest or none therefrom it drew,

So thick and foul the source from whence it blew.

The following is from Spenser's adaptation in the
''Faerie Queene":

The whiles some one did chaunt this lovely lay;
"Ah! See, whoso fayre thing doest faine to see,
In springing floure the image of thy day!
Ah! See the virgin rose, how sweetly she
Doth first peep forth with bashful modestie
That fairer seems, the lesse ye see her may!
Lo ! See soon after how more bold and free

Her bared bosom she doth broad display!

Lo! See soone after how she fades and falls away!

" So passeth, in the passing of a day,

Of mortal life the leafe, the bud, the floure;
Nor more doth florish after first decay.
That earst was sought to deck both bed and boure
Of many a lady, and many a paramoure;
Gather therefore the rose whilest yet is prime,
For soone comes age that will her pride defloure;
Gather the rose of love whilest yet is time,
While loving thou mayst loved be with equal crime."

Tancred's combat with Argantes:

"Yield thee, brave man; acknowledge that by me
Comes thy defeat, or if thou choose, by Fate;
I ask no triumph and no spoil from thee.
No reckoning for myself or price await";


Beyond his wont the pagan fierce to see

Rouses and gathers all his rage and hate;
Eeplies : ' ' Thou of thy powers darest vaunt
And darest Argantes as a coward taunt?

' ' Avail thee of thy luck ; I fear thee not,
Nor let thy foolishness unpunished lie";

So like a dying brand that makes more hot
The flames that issue brighter as they die,

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Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 7 of 15)