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many minute points of information for those who are satisfied with nothing less than the knowledge of
in which the poet was born, suckled, sent to school, matriculated, and admitted to University honours. But these trifling omissions are scarcely subjects of regret. With the worthy biographer we may leave Ugo Foscolo, as to these matters, in the same obscurity that involves Homer, Dante, and Shakspeare.
Pecchio, however, incapable of that confined notion that has made the Italians anxious to impose a falsehood on the world, and to prove that Foscolo was by birth an Italian, clearly shows that he was born in Septinsular Greece, and in the island of Zante. The biographer also proves, with a most agreeable mixture of raillery and high sentiment, that Ugo Foscolo was the son of the surgeon of a man-of-war, in the service of the Venetian Republic, and not the descendant of a noble family, in whose veins flowed
which many have been as anxious to prove as that he was an Italian born
"As if," says Pecchio, "the author of Jacopo Ortis were a chamberlain of the court: it has been attempted to forge a genealogical parchment, for him, as though he had been a candidate for the honours of a Teutonic Knight or the Order of Malta!"
"The quarters of literary men exist in their volumes. Nobility is certainly an advantage; but genius shines by itself and alone."
Born at Zante, which island with its neighbours then belonged to the tyrannical Venetian Republic, in the year 1778 the poet seems to have been carried, while yet a child, to Venice, where he received his primary instruction in some obscure school. At a more advanced age, he repaired to the University of Padua, where he had the advantage of the instruction of the celebrated Abate Cesarotti, who was there Professor of the Hebrew language and the Greek. In Cesarotti, Foscolo found an invaluable master, one who had freed himself from the pedantry, the narrow prejudices, and "prescritte norme" of his age and country, and had invigorated Italian poetry by a fusion of the ideas and styles of England and France, and by an abandonment of the over-copied tre-centisti.
On the completion of his studies, Ugo Foscolo hesitated for some time whether he should not enter the Catholic Church. His biographer rejoices that he did not, saying with reason, "For what a pretty priest or monk would he have made, with his violence of passion, his unbridled disposition!" But instead of making his first appearance to the world in a pulpit, he made it on the stage, producing his tragedy of "Tieste" in 1797, when in his nineteenth year. This tragedy was performed at Venice, in the theatre of Sant' Angelo for nine nights consecutively, and applauded most enthusiastically by crowded audiences. But the applause seems to have
arisen from a sympathy for the author and his youth. "Tieste" has never been reproduced; and, frankly speaking, as Pecchio always speaks, it scarcely merits more than the oblivion into which it has fallen.
Foscolo's career, which was to be throughout a most stormy one, commenced in stormy times. The little and divided Italian States were crouching under French Republicans, or trembling at the coming shadow of Napoleon's might. The Oligarchy of Venice, ever jealous, was now prodigal of the use of what Pecchio calls its hundred-eyed and hundred-eared police. After the first representation of his tragedy, which contained certain political allusions not to the taste of the ruling powers, he was advised by his mother to absent himself for some time from Venice, to avoid persecution. Only a few months after, the proud Oligarchy of a thousand years was thrown to the earth. Venice," the ancient Queen of the Adriatic, who had gradually become a mummy, with royal mantle and crown, that at the first touch unrobes itself and falls to dust," was, by a process of treachery and iniquity on one side, and imbecility on the other, seized by the French, those crusaders for liberty, and transferred to Austria, a power which Count Pecchio, who has no obligations to it, designates "as the shark that devours each falling European state."
"Qualunque sia governo, al porco piace
But the ardent Ugo Foscolo had none of the apathy of Casti's pig, and he abandoned the isles of Venice, the country of his father, his own by rights and adoption, and I believe never returned to it.
In his well-known novel of "Jacopo Ortis," the Italian Werther, much of which appears to have been written shortly after his expatriation, though the whole was not published until 1802, he poured forth his indignant soul, in words that did more than burn.
The annihilation of an ancient state, like Venice, is, fortunately, not a frequent spectacle. It was never obliterated from the deep, passionate mind of Foscolo, whose after feelings and views were essentially influenced by this great political crisis. He tore himself from his mother, and from his second mother-his country, with that ferocious ire of Dante :
"Quando ramingo dalla patria e caldo
and in a hopeless search of that repose he was never to know, he went and settled himself for a while in Tuscany, the part of Italy which is still, as it long has been, the best governed, the most civilized, and in every respect the mildest to live in. But its amenities were thrown away on the impetuous Foscolo, whose soul courted tempests. "He was, besides, born," says Pecchio, "one of those unhappy mortals more ingenious in the art of self-tormenting, than in that of self-consoling." He left the Etrurian Athens-Florence, after a few weeks,
and repaired to Milan, the capital of the new-born Cisalpine Republic, that puppet which amused the Italians for a while, but whose strings were pulled by the French, and which never did acquire, and, from its nature, never could have acquired consistence and vitality. this vortex of movement and intrigue; in this scene of classico-political farces and parades, where French soldiers and Italian citizens played off the parts of ancient Rome and Athens; in this overthrow of all that was old, and jumble of all that was new, Foscolo continued for a considerable time. He obtained the friendship of the poet Parini, who was then closing a long and unspotted life, and he fell most violently in love with a young lady, a Roman, whose beauty and accomplishments Count Pecchio, who knew her, describes, as I have heard many others describe them, in terms the most enthusiastic.
"If there was nothing moderate in the whole character of Foscolo," says his amiable biographer, "how could he be moderate, in the always immoderate passion of love. I, who saw him enamoured many years after this first passion, when the furnace of his heart was no longer so scorching, saw him even then an object of terror to some, of laughter to others. In those brief eruptions he became mute, frowning, sad, gazing with the pupils of his eyes widely distended, and fixed motionless, like those of a madman; and if he broke that terrible taciturnity, it was only to mutter some sentences about suicide, or to repeat, for the hundredth time, as though it had been a rosary,' certain verses allusive to his state. I can, therefore, well imagine, in this first inflammation of his heart, that he must have been little less than a roaring lion of the forest. It appears that this love of his was returned, but that it remained unsatisfied on account of circumstances that opposed its honourable gratification. He made an ostentation of never speaking of it, but how could he make good this assumption of delicacy, when he made it the subject of a romance? (Jacopo Ortis.') The circumstances or occurrences of the tale were feigned, but very easy to trace. Woe to the fair lady who expects prudence and discretion from a poet-lover! He will be secret, impenetrable with all his friends, except with the public. Either in a sonnet, or in a poem, or in a tragedy, he will pour out his ardours, and that not only to his contemporaries, but also to future centuries! Thus did Foscolo."
The poet, who was himself, for all his life, a slave to the darkest visitations of hypochondriasis, a malady of his family, lost, shortly after this passion, or, as Pecchio expresses it, "nel triennio republicano," his elder brother, who, it appears, committed suicide. A sonnet of some beauty records this sad event; but on the affairs of his family Foscolo always was silent or mysterious, in the whole course of his life rarely mentioning any relative save his good, kind mother, and never alluding to another brother, until from the condition of a common soldier he had risen to the rank of captain of dragoons, and the army, which was then the world to Italy as to France, had admired and applauded his courage on the field. This brother, Giulio Foscolo, was well known to Ugo's biographer. "We grew up youths together," says Pecchio; "I esteemed him, and always loved him. He must now be in some Austrian regiment, confined in some muddy village of Hungary or Transylvania." Rather a curious situation altogether for the brother of the Austrian-hater Ugo Foscolo, the author of the " Sepolcri" and the orations to Buonaparte at the Congress of Lyons!
The Italians, who from the beginning of the seventeenth century
had been entirely excluded from the exercise of arms, and condemned to the most effeminate modes of life, were now suddenly propelled into the military career by their friends the French Republicans, who stood in need of their services. In the new Cisalpine Republic the martial ardour was extreme; it invaded even the breast of the poet, and Foscolo enrolled himself and soon obtained the rank of an officer. The first operations of war, however, that he was destined to witness were those of a retreat, for in 1799, when Buonaparte, who had conquered Italy, was absent in Egypt, the Austro-Russian armies drove the French everywhere before them-blotted out the Cisalpine Republic with the same ease and with as little remorse as the scenepainter daubs over his canvass to paint another scene upon it, and, to use a favourite term of the contra-revolutionists, repristinated every thing in Italy.
Foscolo then retreated with the French to Genoa, and during the long and dreadful siege of that place, so admirably defended by Massena, he found time in the midst of his duties as soldier and orator, (for he was brimfull of the Republicanisms of the period, and accustomed to harangue the Genoese in their popular assemblies,) to compose an admirable, prophetic letter to Buonaparte on his accession to the Consulate, and to write a very mythological ode on Madama Pallavicina's being thrown from horseback on the sea-shore, which locality of necessity exacted that he should compare the fair Genoese to Venus!
On the surrender of Genoa in 1800, the poet was transported with the rest of the garrison, on board of English ships, to France. This time his exile from Italy was short. Buonaparte crossed the Alps by Mount Saint Bernard, gained the battle of Marengo, once more entered Milan, passed his hand again over the obsequious, passive scene of her politics, and restored pro tempore the Cisalpine Republic. Foscolo soon followed the conqueror, (who, as Pecchio observes, always conquered in Italy,) published in Milan his romance, a novelty for his country, and da capo fell most desperately in love with a Milanese dama, more beautiful even than his Roman, a most accomplished coquette, whose heart, as he said in after years, was all made of brains, and who, to add to the interest a poet's idol must inspire, was the daughter of the fair and complacent Marchesina F, whom our own Sterne met on the staircase of a palace at Milan.
In 1802, Foscolo published his oration to Buonaparte for the Congress of Lyons, a curious compound of pedantry and plain sense, of eulogium and criticism, of admiration for the ambitious Napoleon, and of love for true, ancient, naked Republicanism.
At this time the poet enjoyed an influence and a popularity in the highest societies altogether extraordinary, considering his want of birth, connexions, patrons, and fortune, and his capricious, violent, and generally unamiable manner of comporting himself in company. Some of these defects increased under the inacerbation of disappointment and years; but even at this period Pecchio describes him as a man, who in some countries, spite of his genius, would not have been tolerated in society for a day-would have been fortunate had he escaped the strait-waistcoat and the lunatic asylum. As if the passion of love was not passion enough, Foscolo was, at this time, dread
fully addicted to gambling. His biographer, in few but impressive words, describes this madness.
"Movement and passions are the aliment of ardent souls. Foscolo, as I have said, from his profound, intense study of the Greek and Roman classics, would plunge at once into the sea of dissipation. The ancients from the academy passed to the palestra. The palestra of Foscolo were the theatre and the gamingtable. After having meditated on the scholiast of Homer, on the interpretations of Callimachus, on Tacitus, he would break out from his house towards midnight, to try his luck at play, in the ridotto of the Della Scala Theatre. Vehement in every thing, he sought to do violence on fortune. With a handful of louis d'ors, he would go and attack at Faro, a mountain of gold, as at times a company of soldiers will attempt to take a fortress by assault. Fortune now and then smiled on him. At times he would return to his home with a heap of gold. The next day, a new scene would rise for his life. He ordered clothes, bought horses, changed his residence, and lodged himself in a gilded apartment. But all this luxury would then disappear like a dream. Fortune turned her back on him, and Faro speedily retook all that it had given him. No matter! He would sell every thing, retire to some obscure corner of Milan, and immerse himself in study, not quitting his lodgings for many days together."
Count Pecchio will not undertake to decide whether Foscolo was more fortunate in love than in gambling; but after correctly showing the ardent ambition of the fair Italians for applause if not glory, and that a poet must have peculiar claims on them, he paints a portrait of the man which is by no means captivating.
"He was of middling stature, and of rather a strong and muscular make. He had thick, rough, reddish, curling hair, which rendered more energetic his poetic estro, and more horrible his tristful silence and his flashes of rage. His eyes were grey, small, deep sunk, quick and sparkling. His complexion was sandy, his nose and chin were regular, his lips thin and projecting like a snout; a thick beard most copiously covered his jaws and chin, he following in this particular the precept of Casti :
'Pelo, pelo! vi vuol pelo e non pelle
Per far fortuna e innamorar le belle.'
'Beard-beard and whisker! not your delicate skin
But this snout, this exuberant hair, this colour, a quick, restless motion of the eyes, with the progress of years, gave him at times a resemblance to that being that forms as it were a link between man and the animal creation."
The first time I saw Foscolo was when years had strengthened this resemblance, and it struck me at once. Mr. Murray, of Albemarlestreet, has a portrait of the man (and it is like what he was!) which a very few touches of the pencil might convert into the beast. But indeed even in earlier years his appearance suggested the odious comparison, for the making of which he fought a duel at Milan, (a pistol duel, and none of your scratching small-sword businesses,) with an honest Dane, whom he nearly sent into the other world. Foscolo, however, vain as he was, was perfectly aware he was no Antinous in beauty, and he correctly describes the irregularities of his person as well as of his character, in a sonnet in imitation of one in which Alfieri painted his own portrait.
It was during one of his seclusions at Milan, produced by bad luck at play and by poverty, but cheered by the Muses, that he published a translation of the hymn of Callimachus on the locks of Be