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185, the dialogue entitled “Dubbio Sciolto" (Rime, vol. i. p. 119), and the sonnets numbered 258 and 259. Tasso meets this false friend in the countyard of the ducal palace in Ferrara, upbraids him with his treachery, and, infuriated by the cynical coolness of his betrayer, strikes him on the face. A duel ensues, in which Tasso (who was a fine swordsman) is manifestly getting the best of it, when two brothers of his adversary come up: All three attack Tasso, who valorously defends himself, and in the midst of a great tumult the combatants are finally separated by the populace. It does not appear that any immediate punishment was inflicted on Tasso, but on the 17th of June in the following year (1577) he was arrested on the accusation of having drawn a dagger on a servant in the apartments of the Duchess of Urbino. He was imprisoned in a room of the palace looking upon the interior courtyard. But after about ten days confinement he was not only liberated, but the Duke carried him with him on a visit to uis ducal villa of Belriguardo, where Tasso passed nearly a fortnight in the intimate companionship of his sovereign. But now mark the change, sudden and terrible as a clap of thunder from a serene sky. On July 11 Tasso is sent back under guard to Ferrara, where he is shut up in the monastery of San Francesco, and declared by the duke's secretary to be a confirmed maniac! (pazzo spacciato.) Now, it is to be particularly observed that up to that 17th of June, on which day he was arrested for threatening the servant (as it is said), no hint or suspicion appears to have been rife that Torquato Tasso was not completely sane. He walked, as Tennyson phrases it, “ with his head in a cloud of poisonous flies,” but not even the fertility in lying of envious courtiers had as yet invented the accusation of madness against him. No; this is only launched after the fortnight spent in intimate seclusion with Duke Alfonso at Belriguardo. The explanation given of this strange fact by Rosini reposes upon a mass of ovidence which neither time nor space permit us to examine here. Told with brevity and inevitable completeness, it is this : that the duke, being still doubtful as to the truth of the accusations against Tasso (which accusations were simply that he had not only loved the Princess Eleonora, but aspired and desired to be loved by her in return, and had written yerses strongly implying that he was so), was determined to examine into the matter for himself; that for this purpose, and under the guise of sovereign grace and favour, he carried Tasso with him to a retired country house, and there subjected the unhappy poet to a kind of moral torture or question, as appears very clearly from the lines addressed by Tasso about this time to the spirit of Alfonso's father, the great Duke Hercules :
Alma grande d’Alcide, io so che miri
Trar da me cerca onde con me s'adiri. (Great soul of Alcides, I know thou dost behold the harsh rigour of thy royal scion, who with unusual arts, and acts, and words, seeks to draw from me that which inflames his wrath against me.) That, having satisfied himself as to the existence of the poet's presumptuous passion, Alfonso propos d to him, as the only method by which he could escape drawing worse evils on himself-and, what was infinitely more important in Alfonso d'Este's eyes, avoid raising any scandal against the Princess Eleonora-to feign madness ! Extraordinary and incredible as such a theory appears at first sight, there are nevertheless a hundred circumstances, and a hundred passages in the writings of the unhaį py poet, which tend strongly to confirm its being the true one. Perhaps the most remarkable of all these occurs in the famous letter addressed by Tasso to the Duke of Urbino. In this he says that, in order to regain the duke's (Alfonso's) good graces, he did not think ït shameful to be the third with Brutus and Solon.” Now, of Solon Plutarch relates that he deliberated to feign himself out of his senses, and his servants spread the report throughout the city that he had gone mad; and Brutus is represented by Livy, er industria facius ad imitationcm stultitia. Surely this is very striking and remarkable! And what follows in Tasso's letter is not less so. He says :— “I hoped thus by this confession of madness to open so large a road to the benevolence of the duke, as that, with time, the opportunity should not fail me of undeceiving him and others—if any others there were who held so false and unmerited an opinion of me.” Under what conceivable circumstance could it open a way to the benevolence of the duke for Tasso to confess himself mad, save on the hypothesis that the duke desired him to appear so!
However, Torquato, either finding himself unable to keep up the ignoble comedy, or fearing that even the reputation of madness might not avail to secure him from worse treatment, fled from the Monastery of San Francesco a few days after his incarceration there, namely, on July 20, 1577. He departed alone and on foot, and at length, after a journey made in the midst of unspeakable trouble of mind and hard. ships of body, he reached Rome, where he remained a short time in the house of his old friend and tutor, Maurizio Cattaneo. But here anxie. ties and suspicions continued to torment him. He seems to have been haunted by the fear of being poisoned. Nor, when we remembe the frequent instances in which this sovereign receipt for getting rid of a dangerous foe or a troublesome friend had been applied in Italy, can we set down Tasso's fear as the mere figment of a diseased brain. The poet's heart turned longingly towards the home of his childhood, and towards his sister Cornelia, sole survivor of his family. But the decree of the Neapolitan government, which pronounced him and his father rebels, had never been repealed, and his paternal estates were still confiscated. Tasso was an outlaw in his native land. Nevertheless, the longiug to revisit Sorrento and to see his sister became irresistible, and he resolved to gratify it without revealing his purpose to any one. Having gone on a pleasure excursion to Frascati, he set off thence on foot, secretly, and quite alone, to make the
romantic journey which has been so often celebrated by pen and pencil
We can fancy we see the solitary figure traversing a lonely path at the foot of the mountains, towards Villetri, as the summer evening closes in. Behind him are the rugged hills mantled in purple shadow, home and cradle of the great Latin people whose story has filled every gorge and crowned every peak of them with immortal memories. In front stretches the mysterious and quiet Campagna towards the unquiet and mysterious sea. On the horizon Rome sits brooding on her seven hills, but the great dome of St. Peter's does not yet loom in supreme majesty above the city. It is still unfinished, the drum of the cupola alone being as yet completed. The soil is strewn with colossal fragments of a colossal past; mighty receptacles of dead ashes and living waters, the tombs and aqueducts glimmer white through the brief southern twilight. All is still, silent, forlorn; only at intervals some savage buffalo raises his sullen front from the coarse herbage at the unwonted sound of a footstep, or a wild bird flutters with swift scared flight across the wanderer's path. Infinite sadness on the vast dim plain, infinite sadness in the poet's heart-poor weary human heart, turning from the cruel glitter of courts and the vain glories of public praise, with a sick yearning for love, and truth, and peace!
Near Velletri, Tasso changed clothes with a shepherd, in whose canethatched hut he passed the night, and next morning prirsued his journey. After four days of toilsome travel he reached Gaeta, nearly spent with fatigue, and here, by good chance, he found a bark of Sor. rento about to return to that port without touching at Naples. In company with a number of humble passengers-peasants, fishermen, and the like-he embarked in her, and after a prosperous voyage, sailing all night upon the calm summer sea, he reached Sorrento and landed there at sunrise. He went at once to his sister's house. She had married, the reader will remember, Marzio Sersale, a noble cavalier of Sorrento, and was now a widow with two sons. Torquato found her alone, and, feigning to be a messenger from her brother, gave her so lamentable an account of his state and his fortunes that the poor woman, overcome with grief and agitation, swooned away.
If Tasso's object had been to ascertain his sister's true sentiments towards him, he had certainly attained it. He hastened to reassure her as soon as she recovered consciousness, and by degrees revealed himself as the long-absent brother whom she so tenderly loved, and told her all the particulars of his flight from Ferrara, and its cause. He conjured her to keep his presence in Sorrento secret, and she promised to obey him, only making an exception in favour of her sons, Antonio and Alessandro, to whom she confided that the poorly-clad and wretched-looking messenger was no other than their illustrious uncle, with whose fame all Europe was ringing. To the world she gave out that a cousin of hers from Bergamo was come to visit her.
And now fortune, weary of tormenting her victim, allowed Torquato to
enjoy three months of peace and rest amidst the devoted affection of his family and the exquisite beauties of that lovely spot. His two nephews were his constant companions in many an excursion in the neighbourhood, and from the lips of the eldest of them, Antonio, the Marchese Manso gathered the foregoing particulars of Tasso's flight and arrival at Sorrento, which he records in his biography of the poet. But Tasso had not been there above three months before there arrived missives urging him to return to the Court of Ferrara. He himself states distinctly that Madonna Eleonora wrote to persuade him to go back. But for å time he resisted, although his passion for the princess was by no means quenched even by the “heroic" method (as Italian doctors phrase it) taken by Duke Alfonso to cure him of any over-weening attachment to the house of Este. He caused his sister Cornelia to reply to the princess's letter for him, imploring her Highness to permit her to retain her brother with her yet a while after so long an absence, and appealing to her Highness's compassion in moving terms. Tasso himself also wrote to the Duke and Duchess of Ferrara, and to Lucrezia Duchess of Urbino, in the same sense, none of these great personages answering his letters except Madonna Eleonora, who wrote again, urging, nay, commanding him, in the most peremptory terms, to return to her brother's court. This fact, it will at once be perceived, is very important, inasmuch as it proves that there was great anxiety at the Court of Ferrara to get Tasso into their power again; and also that an appeal from Eleonora was deemed the most efficacious means for attaining that object-as, in fact, it proved to be. Tasso could not resist the influence of the princess. But at the moment of setting out from Sorrento he said to his sister, that "he was going to submit himself to a voluntary imprisonment.” A remarkable phrase, all the circumstances considered! He reached Rome early in the spring of 1578, and there fell sick of a tertian fever, of which he was not yet wholly cured when he set out again in company with the Cavaliere Gualengo (ambassador of Duke Alfonso in Rome), and finally arrived in Ferrara about the end of March, or a little later.
A series of disappointments and mortifications awaited him here. The duke appeared to treat him with cool contempt; he was denied access to him and to the princesses; and not only so, but was frequently repulsed by the servants with insolence and indignities. But the real key of the enigma is contained in the following passage from the previously quoted letter to the Duke of Urbino :- He" (the duke) “would fain have had me aspire to no praise of intellect, to no fame of letters, and that amidst ease and comfort and pleasures I should lead a soft and luxurious life, passing, like an exile, from honour, from Parnassus, the Lyceum, and the Academy, to the school of Epicurus, and especially to ihat part of his school which neither Virgil, nor Catullus, nor Horace, nor Lucretius himself ever frequented.” In a word, the duke having declared him mad, insisted that he should continue to pass for such, on pain not only of losing his sovereign favour but of being severely pun.
ished. There is no other explanation of these words. Tasso's original claim to the duke's favour was his genius; and his genius only. The duke had invited him to his court, and had shown him honour there, solely bi cause he was acknowledged to be a man of such eminence that his fame would shed a new lustre even on the illustrious house of Este. The greater the poet, the greater the patron! And now this same Drike Alfonso desires to stifle Tasso's genius, to smother his writings, to drag him from Parnassus down to “ Epicurus' sty.” He is to lead a merely animal life, well-fed, well-clothed, well-lodged, and all that the good duke asks in return is the sacrifice of his genius, his fame, his heart
, liis mind, and his soul! Unreasonable and irritable poet! Will it be believed that Tiss found the bargain intolerable, and once more fled from his benefactor?
He fled to Mantua, to Venice, to Urbino, to Piedmont, wandering from court to court, and finding mostly but cold comfort; for, as he piteously says in the often-quoted letter to the Duke of Urbino, "interest and the desire to be pleasing to princes shut the door against compassion.” An exception must be made to this statement in favour of Charles Emanuel, Prince of Piedmont, who received Tasso with the honours due to his merit, and offered him the same brilliant position that he had enjoyed at first at the court of Ferrara, if he would enter his service. But it was not to be. Alfonso spared no effort to recover the fugitive. He sent a gentleman after him to Pesaro to persuade him to go back, and other temp. tations were not wanting. In an ode addressed to the Princesses of Fer. rara, the poet says himself that he was "deluded” by false promises. But the main accomplice in seconding the duke's desire was in Tasso's own breast—his unconquerable passion for Eleonora, and yearning to see her again. In brief, despite the “strong dissuasions” of the Prince of Piedmont and other gentlemen, Tasso returned once more to fatal Ferrara on February 21, 1579, and two days after was arrested on a charge of having uttered “ false, insane, and audacious words against the duke,” and imprisoned in the madhouse of St. Anna.
And here the unhappy poet remained for seven years ; seven years of misery such as few human beings have been subjected to. Despite what has been said in mitigation of the horrors of his imprisonment, it is but too clear that it was hard and cruel and harsh beyond measure. Tasso's own words on this subject are, alas ! too explicit to be mistaken. Heartrending, in truth, are the terms in which he laments and complains to the deaf ears of his former patrons. To the Duchess Marguerita Gonzaga, third wife of Alfonso, he speaks of making his “gloomy cell” resound with weeping. In a letter to Gonzaga he says that, “oppressed by the weight of so many afflictions, he has abandoned all thought of glory and honour ; ” that “tormented by thirst, he envies even the condition of the brutes who can freely quench theirs at rivers and fountains :" and that “the horror of his state is aggravated by the squalor of his hair and beard and clothes, and the sordidness and filth which he sees around him.” Still more horrible are certain phrases which occur in