Page images
PDF
EPUB

sides were immolated on the altar of despotism, much elevation of soul as myself, took no other re. and thus escaped from the galling yoke which op venge for my outrageous conduct, except preserv. pressed them. The place of their interment was ing for several years two handkerchiefs siained with easily recognised by its greater verdure, and by blood which had been bound round his head, and yielding more abundant crops than the barren and which he occasionally displayed to my view. It is unproductive soil in its immediate vicinity. On this necessary to be fully acquainted with the character occasion, I reflected, with sorrow, that slaves seem and manners of the Piedmontese, in order to com. everywhere only born to fertilize the soil on which prehend the mixture of ferocity and generosity dis. they vegetate.—Vol. i. pp. 196, 197.

played on both sides in this affair. After this he meets with a beautiful ass at discover the cause of this violent transport of rage.

" When at a more mature age, I endeavoured to Gottingen, and regrets that his indolence pre- I became convinced that the trivial circumstance vented him from availing himself of this which gave rise to it, was, so to speak, like the last excellent opportunity for writing some im- drop poured into a vessel ready io run over. My measurably facetious verses upon this ren- irascible temper, which must have been rendered counter of a German and an Italian ass, in so still more irritable by solitude and perpetual idlecelebrated an university !” After a hasty ex

ness, required only the slightest impulse to cause it

to burst forth. Besides, I never lifted a hand pedition to Spa, he again traverses Germany against a domestic, as that would have been putting and Holland, and returns to England in the them on a level with myself. Neither did I ever twenty-third year of his age; where he is employ a cane, nor any kind of weapon in order to speedily involved in some very distressing chastise them, though I frequently threw at them and discreditable adventures. He engages in any moveable that fell in my way, as many young an intrigue with an English lady of rank, and dare to 'affirm that I would have approved, and is challenged, and slightly wounded by her even esteemed the domestic who should on such husband. After this eclat, he consoles him- occasions have rendered me back the treatment he self with the thought of marrying the frail received, since I never punished them as a master, fair, with whom he is, as usual, most heroic- but only contended with them as one man witba ally in love; when he discovers, to his infi- another."-Vol. i. pp. 244—246. nite horror and consternation, that, previous At Lisbon he forms an acquaintance with a to her connection with him, she had been literary countryman of his own, and feels, for equally lavish of her favours to her husband's the first time of his life, a glow of admiration groom? whose jealous resentment had led on perusing some passages of Italian poetry. him to watch and expose this new infidelity. From this he returns to Spain, and, after After many struggles between shame, resent- lounging over the whole of that kingdom, rement, and unconquerable love, he at last tears turns through France to Italy, and arrives at himself from this sad sample of English vir- Turin in 1773. Here he endeavours to maintue, and makes his way to Holland, bursting tain the same unequal contest of dissipation with grief and indignation ; but without against ennui and conscious folly, and falls seeming to think that there was the slightest furiously in love, for the third time, with a occasion for any degree of contrition or self-woman of more than doubtful reputation, ten condemnation. From Holland he goes to years older than himself. Neither the inFrance, and from France to Spain-as idle, toxication of this passion, however, nor the and more oppressed with himself than ever daily exhibition of his twelve fine horses, -buying and caressing. Andalusian horses, could repress the shame and indignation and constantly ready to sink under the heavy which he felt at thus wasting his days in inburden of existence. At Madrid he has set glorious licentiousness; and his health was at down an extraordinary trait of the dangerous last seriously affected by those compunctious impetuosity of his temper. His faithful ser- visitings of his conscience. In 1774, while vant, in combing his hair one day, happened watching by his unworthy mistress in a fit of accidentally to give him pain by stretching sickness, he sketched out a few scenes of a one hair a little more than the rest, upon dramatić work in Italian, which was thrown which, without saying a word, he first seized aside and forgotten immediately on her rea candlestick, and felled him to the ground covery; and it was not till the year after, with a huge wound on his temple, and then that, after many struggles, he formed the resodrew his sword to despatch him, upon his lution of detaching himself from this degrad. offering to make some resistance. The sequel ing connection. The efforts which this cost of the story is somewhat more creditable to him, and the means he adopted to ensure his his magnanimity, than this part of it is to his own adherence his resolution, appear al self-command.

together wild and extravagant to our norther. “I was shocked at the brutal excess of passion imaginations. In the first place, he had himainto which I had fallen. Though Elias was some self lashed with strong cords to his elbow what calmed, he still appeared to retain a certain chair, to prevent him from rushing into the display towards him the smallest distrusi. Two he entirely cut off his hair, in order to make degree of resentment; yet I was not disposed to presence of the syren; and, in the next place, hours after his wound was dressed I went to bed, it impossible for him to appear with decency ment and he chamber in which he slept; notwith in any society! The first fifteen days, he standing the remonstrance of the Spaniards, who assures us, he spent entirely“ in uttering the pointed out to me the absurdity of putting ven. most frightful groans and lamentations," and geance in the power of a man whom I had so much the next in riding furiously through all the Irritated. I said even aloud to Elias, who was al. solitary places in the neighbourhood. At last inclined, during the night ; and that I jusily nierited however, this frenzy of grief began to sub. such a fate. But this brave man, who possessed as I side; and, most fortunately for the world and the author, gave place to a passion for litera- | in verse. This was the case with Charles I., which ture, which absorbed the powers of this fiery ! began to write in French prose, immediately after spirit during the greater part of his future ex- the middle of the third act, my heart and my hand istence. The perusal of a wretched tragedy became so benumbed, that I found it impossible to on the story of Cleopatra, and the striking re- hold my pen. The same thing happened in regard semblance he thought he discovered between 10 Romeo and Juliet, the whole of which I nearly. his own case and that of Antony, first inspired expanded, though with much labour to myself, and him with the resolution of attempting a dra- at long intervals. On reperusing this sketch, I matic piece on the same subject; and, after found my enthusiasm so much lowered that, tralisencountering the most extreme difficulty from further, but threw my work into the fire."-Vol. ii. his utter ignorance of poetical diction, and of effected their escape from it, and established | it appears, that he was carried off by an in. themselves, with a diminished income, at his flammatory or gouty attack in his bowels, beloved Florence. Here, with his usual im- which put a period to his existence after a petuosity, he gave vent to his anti-revolution- few days' illness, in the month of October ary feelings, by composing an apology for 1803. We have since learned, that the pubLouis XVI., and a short satirical view of the lication of his posthumous works, which had French excesses, which he entitled “The been begun by the Countess of Albany at Antigallican.” He then took to acting his Milan, has been stopped by the French govown plays; and, for two or three years, this ernment; and that several of the manuscripts new passion seduced him in a good degree have, by the same authority, been committed from literature. In 1795, however, he tried to the flames. his hand in some satirical productions; and We have not a great deal to add to this began, with much zeal, to reperuse and trans- copious and extraordinary narrative. Many late various passages from the Latin classics. of the peculiarities of Alfieri may be safely Latin naturally led to Greek; and, in the referred to the accident of his birth, and the forty-ninth year of his age, he set seriously to errors of his education. His ennui, arrogance, the study of this language. Two whole years and dissipation, are not very unlike those of did this ardent genius dedicate to solitary many spoiled youths of condition; nor is there drudgery, without being able to master the any thing very extraordinary in his subsesubject he had undertaken. At last, by dint quent application to study, or the turn of his of perseverance and incredible labour, he be first political opinions. The peculiar nature of gan to understand a little of the easier authors; his pursuits, and the character of his literary and, by the time he had completed his fiftieth productions, afford more curious matter for year, succeeded in interpreting a considerable speculation. part of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Homer. In reflecting on the peculiar misery which The perasal of Sophocles, in the following Alfieri and some other eminent persons are year, impelled him to compose his last trage- recorded to have endured, while their minds dy of Alceste in 1798. In the end of this were withheld from any worthy occupation, year,

pp. 48–51. pure Italian, he at last hammered out a tragedy, which was represented with tolerable bewitching studies; and, during this time,

Two or three years were passed in these success in 1775. From this moment his whole nine or ten tragedies, at least, were in a conheart was devoted to dramatic poetry; and literary glory became the idol of his imagi- study of Machiavel revived all that early zeal

siderable state of forwardness. In 1778, the nation.

for liberty which he had imbibed from the In entering upon this new and arduous career, he soon discovered that greater sacrifices perusal of Plutarch; and he composed with were required of him than he had hitherto great rapidity his two books of "La Tiranide; offered to any of the former objects of his perhaps the most nervous and eloquent of idolatry. The defects of his education, and

all his prose compositions. About the same his long habits of indolence and inattention to period, his poetical studies experienced a still every thing connected with letters, imposed ment of his attachment to the Countess of

more serious interruption, from the commenceupon him far more than the ordinary labour of a literary apprenticeship. Having never

Albany, the wife of the late Pretender;-an

attachment that continued to soothe or to been accustomed to the use of the pure Tusan, and being obliged to speak French during this lady, who was by birth a princess of the

agitate all the remaining part of his existence. so many years of travelling, he found himself house of 'Stolberg, was then in her twenty, shamefully deficient in the knowledge of that fifth year, and resided with her ill-matched Jeautiful language, in which he proposed to husband at Florence. Her beauty and acenter his claims to immortality; and began, therefore, a course of the most careful and complishments made, from the first, * a pow. critical reading of the great authors who had erful impression on the inflammable heart of adorned it. Dante and Petrarca were his Alfieri, guarded as it now was with the love

of glory and of literature; and the loftiness great models of purity; and, next to them, of his character, and the ardour of his admiAriosto and Tasso; in which four writers, he

ration, soon excited corresponding sentiments gives it as his opinion, that there is to be in her

, who had suffered for some time from found the perfection of every style, except the illtemper and gross vices of her superthat fitted for dramatic poetry—of which, he more than insinuates, that his own writings the trouble to assure us that “their intimacy

annuated husband. Though the author takes are the only existing example. In order to never exceeded the strictest limits of honour, acquire a perfect knowledge and command it is not difficult to understand, that it should of their divine language, he not only made have aggravated the ill-humour of the old many long visits to Tuscany, but absolutely husband, which increased, it seems, so much, interdicted himself the use of every other that the lady was at last forced to abandon sort of reading, and abjured for ever that his society, and to take refuge with his brother, French literature which he seems to have the Cardinal York, at Rome. To this place always regarded with a mixture of envy and Alfieri speedily followed her; and remained disdain. To make amends for this, he went there, divided between love and study, for resolutely back to the rudiments of his Latin; upwards of two years; when her holy guarand read over all the classics in that language dian becoming scandalized at their intimacy, with a most patient and laborious attention. He likewise committed to memory many thou- that they should separate. The effects of

it was thought necessary for her reputation, sand lines from the authors he proposed to this separation he has himself described in imitate ; and sought, with the greatest assi- the following short, but eloquent passage. duity, the acquaintance of all the scholars and critics that came in his way,-pestering them “For two years I remained incapable of any with continual queries, and with requesting kind of study whatever, so different was my prestheir opinion upon the infinite quantity of bad verses which he continued to compose by way formed, was in the great gallery of Florence : -

* His first introduction to her, we have been inof exercise. His two or three first tragedies circumstance which led him to signalize his admirahe composed entirely in French prose; and tion by an extraordinary act of gallantry: As they afterwards translated, with infinite labour, into stopped to examine the picture of Charles XII. of Italian verse.

Sweden, the Countess observed, that the singular

uniform in which that prince is usually painted, ap“In this manner, without any other judge than peared to her exrremely becoming. Nothing more my own feelings, I have only finished those, the was said at the time; bui, in two days after, Alfieri sketches of which I had written with energy and appeared in the streets in the exact costume of that enthusiasm ; or, if I have finished any other, I warlike sovereign.-to the utter consternation of have at least never taken the trouble to clothe them | all the peaceful inhabitants.

ent forlorn state from the happiness I enjoyed | prompted him to compose several odes on the
during my late residence in Rome :-here the Villa subject of American independence, and seve.
Strozzi near to the warm baths of Dioclesian, af. ral miscellaneous productions of a similar
forded me a delighiful retreat, where I passed my
mornings in study, only riding for an hour or two character:—at last, in 1786, he is permitted
ihrough the vast solitudes which, in the neighbour- to take up his permanent abode with his mis-
hood of Rome, invite to melancholy, meditation, tress, whom he rejoins at Alsace, and never
and poetry. In the evening, I proceeded to the afterwards abandons. In the course of the
cily, and found a relaxation from study in the so following year, they make a journey to Paris,
ciety of her who constituted the charm of my ex with which
istence; and, contented and happy, I returned to

nearly as much dissatisfied my solitude, never at a later hour than eleven as on his former visit, —and makes arrangeo'clock. It was impossible to find, in the circuit ments with Didot for printing his tragedies in of a great city, an abode more cheerful, more re- a superb form. In 1788, however, he resolves tired, - or better suited to my taste, my character, upon making a complete edition of his whole and my pursuits. Delightful spot ! he remem: works at Kehl; and submits, for the accombrance of which I shall ever cherish, and which modation of his fair friend, to take up his through life I shall long to revisit.” – Vol. ii. pp. residence at Paris. There they receive in121, 122.

telligence of the death of her husband, Previously to this time, his extreme love of which seems, however, to make no change in independence, and his desire to be constantly their way of life;—and there he continues with the mistress of his affections, had in- busily employed in correcting his various duced him to take the very romantic step of works for publication, till the year 1790, when resigning his whole property to his sister; the first part of these memoirs closes with reserving to himself merely an annuity of anticipations of misery from the progress of 14,000 livres, or little more than 5001. As the revolution, and professions of devoted at. this transference was made with the sanction tachment to the companion whom time had of the King, who was very well pleased, on only rendered more dear and respected. the whole, to get rid of só republican a sub- The supplementary part bears date in May ject, it was understood, upon both sides, as a 1803—but a few months prior to the death of tacit compact of expatriation; so that, upon the author,—and brings down his history, his removal from Rome, he had no house or though in a more summary manner, to that fixed residence to repair to. In this desolate period. He seems to have lived in much unand unsettled state, his passion for horses re- easiness and fear in Paris, after the comvived with additional fury; and he undertook mencement of the revolution; from all approa voyage to England, for the sole purpose of bation, or even toleration of which tragic purchasing a number of those noble animals; farce, as he terms it, he exculpates himself and devoted eight months “ to the study of with much earnestness and solemnity; but, noble heads, fine necks, and well-turned but having vested the greater part of his fortune tocks, without once opening a book or pursuing in that country, he could not conveniently any literary avocation." In London, he pur- abandon it. In 1791, he and his companion chased fourteen horses,-in relation to the made a short visit to England, with which he number of his tragedies !--and this whimsical was less pleased than on any former occasion, relation frequently presenting itself to his —the damp giving him a disposition to gout, imagination, he would say to himself with a and the late hours interfering with his habits smile—“Thou hast gained a horse by each of study. The most remarkable incident in tragedy !”—Truly the poble author must have this journey, occurred at its termination. As been far gone in love, when he gave way to he was passing along the quay at Dover, on such innocent deliration.—He conducted his his way to the packet-boat, he caught a fourteen friends, however, with much judg- glimpse of the bewitching woman on whose ment across the Alps; and gained great glory account he had suffered so much, in his forand notoriety at Sienna, from their daily pro- mer visit to this country nearly twenty years cession through the streets, and the feats of before! She still looked beautiful, he says, dexterity he exhibited in riding and driving and bestowed on him one of those enchanting them.

smiles which convinced him that he was reIn the mean time, he had printed twelve cognised. Unable to control his emotion, he of his tragedies; and imbibed a sovereign rushed instantly aboard-hid himself below contempt for such of his countrymen as pre- -and did not venture to look up till he was tended to find them harsh, obscure, or affect- landed on the opposite shore. From Calais edly sententious. In 1784, after an absence he addressed a letter to her of kind inquiry of more than two years, he rejoined his mis- and offers of service; and received an answer tress at Baden in Alsace; and, during a stay which, on account of the singular tone of canof two months with her, sketched out three dour and magnanimity which it exhibits, he new tragedies. On his return to Italy, he has subjoined in the appendix. It is untook up his abode for a short time at Pisa,- doubtedly a very remarkable production, and where, in a fit of indignation at the faults of shows both a strength of mind and a kindness Pliny's Panegyric on Trajan, he composed in of disposition which seem worthy of a nappier five days that animated and eloquent piece fortune. of the same name, which alone, of all his In the end of 1792, the increasing fury of works have fallen into our hands, has left on the revolution rendered Paris no longer a place our minds the impression of ardent and flow- of safety for foreigners of high birth; and ing eloquence. His rage for liberty likewise Alfieri and his countess with some difficulty

[ocr errors]

the progress of the French armies threat- we have sometimes been tempted to conened to violate the tranquillity of his Tuscan clude, that to suffer deeply from ennui is an retreat! and, in the spring following, upon indication of superior intellect; and that it is the occupation of Florence, he and his friend only to minds destined for higher attainments retired to a small habitation in the country. that the want of an object is a source of real From this asylum, however, they returned so affliction. Upon a little reflection, however, precipitately on the retreat of the enemy, we are disposed to doubt of the soundness of that they were surprised by them on their this opinion; and really cannot permit all the second invasion of Tuscany in 1800; but had shallow coxcombs who languish under the more to suffer, it appears, from the importu- burden of existence, to take themselves, on nate civility, than from the outrages of the our authority, for spell-bound geniuses. The conquerors. The French general, it seems, most powerful stream, indeed, will stagnate was a man of letters, and made several at the most deeply, and will burst out to more tempts to be introduced to Alfieri. When wild devastation when obstructed in its peaceevasion became impossible, the latter made ful course; but the weakly current is, upon the following haughty but guarded reply to the whole, most liable to obstruction ; and will his warlike admirer :

mantle and rot at least as dismally as its bet“If the general, in his official capacity, com- ters. The innumerable blockheads, in short, mands his presence, Victor Alfieri, who never re- who betake themselves to suicide, dramsists constituted authority of any kind, will imme drinking, or dozing in dirty nightcaps, will not diately hasten to obey the order; but if, on the allow us to suppose that there is any real contrary, he requests an interview only as a private connection between ennui and talent; or that individual, Altieri begs leave to observe, that being of a very retired iurn of mind, he wishes not to fellows who are fit for nothing but mending form any new acquaintance; and therefore entreats shoes, may not be very miserable if they are the French general to hold him excused."-Vol. ii. unfortunately raised above their proper occupp. 286, 287.

pation. Under these disastrous circumstances, he If it does frequently happen that extraorwas suddenly seized with the desire of sig- dinary and vigorous exertions are found to nalizing himself in a new field of exertion ; follow this heavy slumber of the faculties, and sketched out no fewer than six comedies the phenomenon, we think, may be explained at once, which were nearly finished before without giving any countenance to the supthe end'of 1802. His health, during this year, position, that vigorous faculties are most liable was considerably weakened by repeated at- to such an obscuration. In the first place, the tacks of irregular gout and inflammatory af- relief and delight of exertion must act with fections; and the memoir concludes with the more than usual force upon a mind which has description of a collar and medal which he suffered from the want of it; and will be apt had invented, as the badge of “the order of to be pushed further than in cases where the Homer,'' which, in his late sprung ardour for exertion has been more regular. The chief Greek literature, he had founded and en cause, however, of the signal success which dowed. Annexed to this ecord is a sort of has sometimes attended those who have been postscript, addressed, by his friend the Abbé rescued from ennui, we really believe to be Caluso, to ibe Countess of Albany; from which their ignorance of the difficulties they have

cessors.

to encounter, and that inexperience which impression of his general character; nor have makes them venture on undertakings which we been able to find, in the whole of these more prudent calculators would decline. We confessions, a single trait of kindness of heart, have already noticed, more than once, the or generous philanthropy, to place in the baleffect of early study and familiarity with the ance against so many indications of selfishbest models in repressing emulation by de- ness and violence. There are proofs enough, spair; and have endeavoured, upon this prin- indeed, of a firm, elevated, and manly spirit; ciple, to explain why so many original authors but small appearance of any thing gentle, or have been in a great degree without educa- even, in a moral sense, of any thing very relion. Now, a youth spent in lassitude and spectable. In his admiration, in short, of the dissipation leads neces

cessarily to a manhood of worthies of antiquity, he appears to have ignorance and inexperience; and has all the copied their harshness and indelicacy at least advantages, as well as the inconveniences, of as faithfully as their loftiness of character; such a situation. If any inward feeling of and, at the same time, to have combined with strength, ambition, or other extraordinary im- it all the licentiousness and presumption of a pulse, therefore, prompt such a person to at- modern Italian noble. tempt any thing arduous, it is likely that he We have been somewhat perplexed with will

go about it with all that rash and vehe- his politics. After speaking as we have seen, ment courage which results from unconscious of the mild government of the kings of Sarness of the obstacles that are to be overcome; dinia, -after adding that, “when he had read and it is needless to say how often success is Plutarch and visited England, he felt the most ensured by this confident and fortunate auda- unsurmountable repugnance at marrying, or city. Thus Alfieri, in the outset of his literary having his children born at Turin,”-after recareer, ran his head against dramatic poetry, cording that a monarch is a master, and a almost before he knew what was meant either subject a slave,--and that he shed tears of by poetry or the drama; and dashed out a mingled grief and rage at having been born tragedy while but imperfectly acquainted in such a state as Piedmont;"—after all this with the language in which he was writing, -after giving up his estates to escape from and utterly ignorant either of the rules that this bondage, and after writing his books on had been delivered, or the models which had the Tiranide, and his odes on American libbeen created by the genius of his great prede- erty,—we really were prepared to find him

Had he been trained up from his taking the popular side, at the outset at least early youth in fearful veneration for hese of the French Revolution, and exulting in the rules and these models, it is certain that he downfal of one of those hateful despotisms, would have resisted the impulse which led against the whole system of which he had him to place himself, with so little prepara- previously inveighed with no extraordinary tion, within their danger; and most probable moderation. Instead of this, hovever, we that he would never have thought himself find him abusing the revolutionists, and exqualified to answer the test they required of tolling their opponents with all the zeal of a him. In giving way, however, to this pro- professed antijacobin,-writing an eulogium pensity, with all the thoughtless freedom and on the dethroned monarch like Mr. Pybus, vehemence which had characterised his other and an Antigallican like Peter Porcupine. indulgences, he found himself suddenly em- Now, we are certainly very far from saying, barked in an unexpected undertaking, and in that a true friend of liberty might not exesight of unexpected distinction. The success crate the proceedings of the French revoluhe had obtained with so little knowledge of tionists; but a professed hater of royalty the subject, tempted him to acquire what was might have felt more indulgence for the new wanting to deserve it; and justified hopes and republic; such a crazy zealot for liberty, as stimulated exertions which earlier reflection Alfieri showed himself in Italy, both by his would, in all probability, have for ever pre-writings and his conduct, might well have vented.

been carried away by that promise of emanThe morality of Alfieri seems to have been cipation to France, which deluded sounder at least as relaxed as that of the degenerate heads than his in all the countries of Europe. nobles, whom in all other things he professed There are two keys, we think, in the work to reprobate and despise. He confesses, with before us, to this apparent inconsistency. out the slightest appearance of contrition, that Alfieri, with all his abhorrence of tyrants, his general intercourse with women was pro-was, in his heart, a great lover of aristocracy; fligate in the extreme; and has detailed the and, he had a great spite and antipathy at particulars of three several intrigues with the French nation, collectively and individ. married women, without once appearing to ually. imagine that they could require any apology Though professedly a republican, it is easy or expiation. On the contrary, while record- to see, that the republic he wanted was one ing the deplorable consequences of one of on the Roman model, where there were them, he observes, with great composure, Patricians as well as Plebeians, and where a that it was distressing to him to contemplaté man of great talents had even a good chance a degradation, of which he had," though in- of being one day appointed Dictator. He did nocently," been the occasion. The general not admire kings indeed, -because he did not arrogance of his manners, too, and the occa- happen to be bom one, and because they rional brutality of his conduct towards his were the only beings to whom he was born inferiors, are far from giving us an amiable inferior: but he had the utmost veneration

« PreviousContinue »