« PreviousContinue »
Non è di scudo, e il suo lontano ei gitta.
Penso (risponde) a la Città del Regno
Io procura de la fatal ruina. Soliman defends himself to the last with dignity and self-devotion. He is fearless in adversity: his dominions are conquered, but he will yet try to defend the religion of his forefathers, and to avenge the faithful soldiers who perished before him in the field of battle. Tasso describes him alone and wounded. He has no hope but in his sword, and no consolation but in the recollection of his glory. He goes up in secret towards Jerusalem and treads upon the corpses of his friends.
Si fè negli occhi allor torbido, e scuro,
E scorrer lieti i Franchi; e i petti, e i volti
Sospiro dal profondo. In the chronicles and legends of the middle ages Goffredo appears as a saint. Tasso has availed himself of this attribute, and created a religious hero: Livy and Plutarch give the outlines of this character ; but no poet, not even Virgil, has ever delineated it with equal grandeur. Godfrey is invested with all the noble qualities which are worthy of the leader of the chivalry of Christendom. He solicits not the authority which his fellow-warriors are eager to bestow; and he rules but to guide them onwards in the path of pure and virtuous honour. Wise in the camp and valiant in the field, his eager yet prudent courage is excited not for the sake of victory, but for the fulfilment of his vow. The glare of military glory does not delude him, whilst he combats to deliver the sacred tomb: and amidst the turmoil of human passions and the bloodshed of incessant warfare, nought can disturb the sacred calmness of his mind, still wrapt in holy contemplation. The real Rinaldo of history was a knight, but not of high emprise,' allied to the family of Este, who is said to have fought in the holy wars. Tasso rescued him from oblivion. Rinaldo was to become the fated hero of the Gerusalemme, and yet Tasso has failed to sustain bim in the epopée. Rinaldo combines the characters of Achilles and Ruggiero. We cannot participate in the partiality which the poet bears towards him, and we see too clearly the endeavours which are made for the purpose of exalting him. Loyalty towards the princes of Ferrara did not ensure their gratitude. The grandfather and the uncle would not even thank Ariosto for his prophecies and praises ; and the grandchildren repaid Tasso by disgrace, poverty, and the dungeon. Tancred became the effective hero of the Gerusalemme. Tasso wished to reproduce the image of a true knight of ancient Italy, and he found the original of the portrait in his own heart. The scene of a lover who kills his beloved could not be devoid of interest, but the event is developed with unequalled dignity and pathos ; nor could it have been described thus but by one possessing Tasso's elevated mind, and one who had grieved like him. His heroines are rather seducing than affecting, and he has depicted them rather from fancy than from the life. Erminia is perhaps solitary exception. In fact, Tasso, whose morals were singularly pure, had only a visionary acquaintance with womankind : in his imagination, the woman whom he loved became a deity. Ariosto, who had more experience, knew the nature of women a great deal better. Hence in the Orlando Furioso all the female characters are commanded by their passions. Love exalts them into virtue; scorn impels them to vice, and in either case they proceed to extremes; yet they are consistent in extravagance and impetuosity. But in the Gerusalemme, the tricking jilt Armida loves most violently and most sentimentally. The virtuous Sofronia has no heart: when she is placed with Olindo on the fatal pile which is to consume both, she will not console him by confessing that she loves him. Clorinda, who is susceptible of no passion except the love of military fame, is represented as inspiring the most tender affection. Yet the genius of Tasso triumphs over his conceptions. The death of Clorinda is deeply pathetic; and the pastoral tenderness of Erminia awakens all our sympathies: she becomes the prisoner of Tancred, and she loves him. He, generously, as he supposes, refuses to retain the orphan princess in captivity, and she returns to Jerusalem where she finds no friend but King Aladin, who had been in alliance with her father. When she hears that Tancred has received a dangerous wound, she leaves the city in the dead of the night. In exploring her way, she stops on a hill which overlooks the encampment of the Italian army, and the moon is shining on the tents.
Aura spira da voi che mi ricrea
Raccogliete me dunque, e in voi si trove
Nel mansueto mio dolce signore.'* The Aminta of Tasso possesses an indescribable charm. Its delicacy and pathos proceeded from his inmost soul. Guarini bas given a lively and amplified iinitation of this pastoral in his well known Pastor Fido : common readers are better pleased with the copy than with the original; but all competent judges (even including Tasso's Italian critics) value the Aninta as a matchless specimen of Italian poetry. We must except an English critic, who considered the Aminta as trash; but this learned gentleman dealt his contempt with wonderful impartiality, for he despised Milton's Lycidas and the Odes of Gray and Pindar. Such sentences are usually pronounced with oracular gravity; and, like all oracles, they are venerated by half their hearers, and laughed at by the other half. The sonnets of Tasso are only inferior to those of Petrarch; and his odes deserve much more attention than has hitherto been bestowed upon them. Two of them are singularly affecting. He addressed one to the Princesses of Ferrara, from his prison. He began the other when he fled without hope, and without a friend, nor had ever the courage to terminate the fragment.+
Tasso composed many philosophical essays, several of which are in dialogue. He gave this form to his disquisitions for the purpose of testifying his admiration of Plato, and also in conformity to the literary fashion of the age. mentative productions, his prose is florid yet majestic. His style is clear; his diction is pure; his thoughts are new and profound; and his mode of reasoning is close and logical.. Tasso is worthy of being placed by the side of Dante and Milton. Like them, his erudition was unbounded, bis character was dignified; and he adhered to literature in despight of every misfortune which
• Beholding then the campe (quoth she) O faire
When first I was the Prince Tancredie's thrall.' Fairfax. + We cannot consult the lyrical works of Tasso. The first ode begins figlie di Renata;' and the secondo gran Padre Appenino.'
In these argu
can afflict human nature. Disease and poverty, and the malignity of his persecutors, all tended to shorten his days. He died at the age of fifty-one. If we were not assured of this fact, the number and variety of his writings would induce us to suppose that he had enjoyed a long and tranquil life: but he found no friend and no resource except his pen. His feelings were too intense, and his intellectual labours too incessant. He knew the sorrows which he was bringing down upon his own head, when he composed the Aminta; he was then in his thirtieth year. He was aware that the world would consider him as a madman. • Aye,' said he, speaking of himself, under the name of Tirsi, . He wanders in the woods-he is distracted because his heart is consumed by firem they pity him, and yet they laugh at him; but if they laugh at his actions, they will not dare to ridicule his writings.' In his letters to his friends, he repeats, 'solitude is my most dangerous enemy: Meditating upon religion, he often drew inferences which terrified him, and then he would hasten to the Inquisitor and denounce himself, and humbly crave absolution. The rank of his mistress inspired him with awe. The ideas which he had formed respecting the exalted virtue of the female sex were unearthly and unnatural; he therefore withered away beneath the influence of hopeless love; nor did he find a remedy either in experience or in despair. Conscious of his superior excellence, and honestly proud of his noble birth, he was incessantly fretted and galled by poverty and dependance. Pur son gentilhuomo,' he exclaims with sorrowful indignation, in a letter written after he had been villanously treated by the orders of the duke. In great minds, the desire of attaining perfection is at once inherent and injurious; and he was always wrestling with his own spirit. Tasso kept up a voluminous correspondence with the learned of his age. He solicited their advice; and in these communications he unguardedly indicated many of the grounds of the evil judgments which were afterwards passed upon his poem. He would not submit to the whims and caprices of his literary contemporaries: they attacked him in return with the very weapons which he had placed in their hands; and not confining their attacks to his immortal poem, they goaded him to the quick. In all things he was too unsuspicious and unguarded; and his candour was repaid by malice and treachery. At length, in his old age, his sufferings convinced him of the necessity of caution, and then he became more unhappy than before; for he could not live without confidence and friendship. Tasso never learnt to sustain contempt: this was another ceaseless source of misery to him. He dreaded lest his passions should gain the mastery; he was ever anxious to curb his impetuous imagination; and he cherished a fierce and devouring flame in the in
most recesses of his soul. Thus also the fire of his fancy is concentrated in his veins : its glow is not always visible, and yet we feel a genial unextinguishable warmth.
Tasso thought that he had written only for the erudite. He died, ---and they were earnestly contesting the merits of his poem, and they yet continue the wordy war. But during two centuries the verses of the bard of Palestine have cheered the humble toils of the peasant and the fisherman, and the gondolier.
Not many years ago we met a gang of galley-slaves near Leghorn, who
• Chain'd down at sea beneath the bitter thong,
To the hard bench and heavy oar so long,' Rogers. were returning at night-fall from their labours. They were chained two and two, and as they passed slowly along the shore, they sang the Litany with sorrowful devotion, but in the verses in which Tasso has clothed the prayer of praises and supplication chaunted by the army of the Crusaders when proceeding to battle.
Nè s' udian trombe o suoni altri feroci ;
E ne suonan le valli ime e profonde,