Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the clock in the hall happened to strike, and on the clock Silvio was desired to descant for the satisfaction of the Cardinal. The task was executed to the astonishment of the party, and the great increase of Şilvio's reputation. The Duke of Ferrara, coming to Rome to congratulate Marcellus the Second on his being raised to the pontificate, was so charmed with the genius of Antoniano, that he carried him with him to Ferrara, and provided able masters to instruct him in all the sciences. He soon became acquainted with the literati of that city, and particularly with Ricci, whose letters concerning Silvio evince the warmest admiration and regard. It was at a féte champêtre given by Ricci, that Silvio displayed to most advantage his powers of extemporaneous versification, and we have the account of it from Ricci himself in a letter written to a friend of his, and to be found in his works :

“After dinner,” says Ricci, “Silvio sang and accompanied himself upon the lyre. He descanted upon the charms of social intercourse, and took'occasion to praise the beauty of my villa, and the excellent system of cultivation which prevailed around it. Observing one of my guests anxious to leave the table, and hurrying to a house not far distant where his mistress lived, I whispered the circumstance to Silvio, who touched upon the lover's impatience with such exquisite humour and expression, that we were all amused beyond description. After some little conversation, Silvio resumed his lyre and continued to versify upon indifferent subjects. While still singing, a nightingale, attracted by the sweetness of his lyre, perched on a tree near the house, and when Silvio discontinued, relieved his silence by the enchanting melody of its notes, and seemed as if it had come to contest the palm of music with the Improvisatore. Silvio took the hint, and accommodating his verses to the occasion, complimented the little warbler in a strain of elegance and simplicity, which extorted applause from the most insensible of his hearers.”

So far Ricci, whose testiinony some of our readers will be inclined to class with that of Matteo Bosso, and charitably suppose that the inspiration of the Improvisatori had communicated itself to their friends, and that when they wrote their accounts, they considered themselves entitled to the license of poetry.

The next Improvisatore of whom we have any detailed account, is Bernardino Perfetti, who was born at Sienna in 1680, and whether we consider the testimonies of his contemporaries, or the honours by which his talents were rewarded, seems to have surpassed any of his predeces

He was of a noble family and was educated with great care and attention. The old saying “Poeta nascitur, non fit," was strictly exemplified in him; for at the

age

of seven years he had composed some very passable sonnets and given proofs of his talents in improvisation, by occasional effusions, which, though not excellent, were still of a nature to create astonishment and admiration. About this time there lived at Sienna an Improvisatore named Benedetto Bindi, who enjoyed some local reputation, and was esteemed in that city for the elegance of his taste and the gracefulness of his elocution. On his recitations Perfetti was a constant attendant, and soon became enchanted with his art, and emulous of sharing the applause which he saw so lavishly bestowed. His first attempts were made in the presence of a few friends on whose judgment he could depend, and they unanimously advised the cultivation of a talent, the seeds of which appeared so plentifully sown by nature. On their recommendation he sat himself

sors.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

down to a regular course of study, and convinced of the necessity of informing himself upon every subject, he resolved to be ignorant of nothing which he had time or opportunity to learn. The Abbé Fabroni says, that in his time there were several who declared that they never knew him to hesitate on a single subject, and particularly mentions an occasion, on which he elucidated a very intricate and difficult theological question, in extemporaneous verse, in so masterly a manner as to extort applause from many very eminent divines who were present. During his recitals he seemed transported by a supernatural energy; his gesture was so violent and his agitation so strong, as to leave him in a state of languor and exhaustion, from which he was with difficulty recovered. He could seldom conclude an argument without seeking refreshment in cooling draughts; and after an extraordinary effort sleep was for some nights a stranger to his pillow. Most Improvisatori consider it absolutely necessary to recite their effusions with a certain degree of rapidity, but with Perfetti words crowded so thick as to render it hardly possible for the person who accompanied on the guitar to follow him. The honour which had been almost miraculously rescued from pollution by Baraballo, was reserved for Perfetti, and the examination which preceded his coronation, furnished abundant evidence of the extent of his acquirements. He had gone to Rome in the suite of the Princess Violante of Bavaria, during the pontificate of Benedict the Fourteenth. This Pope, by no means an enthusiastic admirer of poetry himself, had received from all quarters so many assurances of the powers of Perfetti, that he resolved to subject him to a public examination. The questions appointed for this contest were confined to no particular science, but embraced a wide range in theology, physics, mathematics, jurisprudence, morals, poetry, medicine, &c. on all of which subjects he dilated in extemporaneous verse with such wonderful accuracy and ease, that it was unanimously decreed by the judges, who were sworn to well and truly try the Improvisatore, “ Cæteras a Perfectio semper omnes illo autem die se ipsum a sese superatum." On the day appointed for the coronation, Perfetti seated in a magnificent chariot, drawn by six beautiful horses, and accompanied by an immense concourse of spectators, proceeded to the Capitol. He was received there by Maria Frangapani, senator of Rome, and president on this occasion, who, on placing the laurel-wreath upon his head, addressed him in the following words :-“Eximium hoc poeticæ laudis decus quod tuo capiti impono sub felicissimis auspiciis, D. N. Benedictæ Papæ 14, Eques egregie, sit publici non minus erga te studii argumentum quam obsequentissimi animi erga amplissimam et plane regiam benevolentiam quâ decoraris.” The title of Roman Citizen was on this occasion conferred upon Perfetti; he was permitted to bear in addition to his family arms a crown of laurel; medals bearing his effigy were distributed at Rome, and the citizens of Sienna sent a deputation to compliment him and thank his Holiness for the honours he had received But in the midst of so great a reputation, nothing was so remarkable as the unexampled modesty of Perfetti, who, though he enjoyed the highest distinction, never suffered a word to escape his lips indicative of a consciousness of superiority. On one occasion being complimented in the most flattering terms on his talent by Clement the

XIth, he is said to have replied. “ Hoc quicquid est Dei munus est qui ut Balaam jumentam loquentem fecit, ita me poetam facere voluit; haud multum possumus, beatissime pater, in his gloriari quæ ab alio accepimus." This accomplished poet was carried off by an apopletic fit in 1747. All ranks of people crowded to his funeral, and over his tomb a large wreath of laurel was suspended.

Francesco Quasbrio, in his “ Storia d'ogni Poesia," mentions several ladies distinguished for their talents in extemporaneous versification; as, Cecilia Micheli, Giovanni de Santi, Barbara di Corregio; of whom, however, he informs us of little but their names. But the most celebrated of all the Improvisatrici was, Maria Maddalena Fernandez, a native of Pistoia, born in the year 1740. In her infancy she gave the most unequivocal marks of uncommon genius, and at seventeen her acquirements in natural and moral philosophy were very extensive. At twenty she began to display that talent for extempore composition, by which she afterwards acquired so much celebrity. She married a Signor Morelli, a gentleman of Leghorn, but her conduct after marriage became extremely licentious, which however does not seem to have diminished the estimation in which she was held. The Emperor Francis I. offered her the place of female poet-laureat at his Court, which she accepted, and went to Vienna in 1765. At Vienna she wrote an epic poem

and some volumes of lyric poetry, both of which she dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresa. She attracted the enthusiastic admiration of Metastasio, and very much propagated the taste for Italian poetry in the Austrian capital. In 1771, she settled at Rome, became a member “dell' Academia degl' Arcadi” under the name of " Corilla Olimpica," and for several years continued to charm the inhabitants of that city by her talents in improvisation. When Pius the VIth was raised to the Pontificate, he determined that she should be solemnly crowned, and an account of the ceremony may be found in a small work printed at Parma in 1779. Twelve members of the Arcadi were selected to pronounce upon the merits of this tenth Muse, and three several days were allotted for the public exhibition of her poetical powers. The subjects on which she was expected to improvisare, were Sacred History, Metaphysics, Epic Poetry, Legislation, Eloquence, Mythology, and the Fine Arts. Among the examiners, appear a prince, an archbishop, the Pope's physician, abati, avocati, all of high rank in criticism and letters. These successively appointed subjects required, besides a readiness in all the measures of Italian poetry, reading and knowledge of almost every kind; and in every trial she acquitted herself to the astonishment and satisfaction of all the principal residents at Rome, among whom was his late Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. Innumerable sonnets, canzoni, canzonette, terza rima, ottavu, &c. written upon this occasion, will be found in the narrative above referred to, of enthusiastic homage paid to female genius and acquirements. This renowned lady was no less

The Italian title of this Narrative is “ Atti della solenne Coronazione tutta in Campidoglio della insigne poetissa D'oa Maria Maddalena Fernandez Morelli, Pistoise, tra gli Arcadi, Corilla Olimpica,” published at Parma by Bodoni, 1779.

celebrated for her personal than her poetical charms. Her taste and talent as a musician, were likewise conspicuous. She sang her own poetry to simple tunes, and often accompanied herself on the violin, which she rested on her lap. At Florence, in 1770, she was accompanied on that instrument by Nardini, the well-known pupil of Tartini. Towards the close of 1780, she left Rome with the intention of passing the remainder of her days in retirement at Florence, nor did she practise her art much longer, conscious that youth and beauty had added charms to her performance which she could no longer hope to create. She died at Florence in 1800. Our readers may be here tempted to complain, that we have confined ourselves to a general account of the lives of the Improvisatori, and of the honours and reputation they have enjoyed, without giving any specimens of their productions. A little consideration, however, will convince them, that even were their poems of a nature to withstand the keen glance of deliberate criticism, the rapidity with which they are uttered would prevent the possibility of their collection. Poured forth at the impulse of the moment, and under the influence of an excitement over which the will can have but little control, the distinguishing characters of extempore compositions are rather bold and nervous figures, than correctness or precision. The very attempt to subject them to any but metrical restriction would require an intensity and coolness of consideration which is quite foreign to the spirit of an Improvisatore. The few who have aspired to immortality by giving stability to their imaginations, have uniformly failed in the attempt; but most of them have prudently abstained from the hazardous enterprize of publication. Improvisation is a talent rather natural than acquired, and is by no means so common in Italy as has been supposed. Among the peasantry, indeed, who breathed the pure and animating atmosphere of the north of Italy, before the ravages of the late war and the brutifying influence of German dulness had destroyed the energies of that interesting people, Improvisatori of merit might frequently be met; and it was no uncommon incident to a journey through Piedmont or the Venetian States to be overtaken by one who sang the legends of his native hills. But now-a-days these enlivening historians, the very soul of whose poetry was a wildness like that of their mountain breezes, have been hushed by the Austrian authorities, who fear that in the fervour of their own emotions, they might be led to contrast the happiness which their traditionary tales pourtray, with the oppression under which

Yoked with the brutes and fettered to the soil, they are now condemned to consume.

A

AN HORATJAN ODE TO THE YACHT OF A GREAT CIVIC

CHARACTER,*
Recently returned from the Mediterranean.

-tu, nisi ventis
Debes ludibrium, cave,
Nuper sollicitum que mihi tedium,
Nunc desiderium, curaque non levis. HOR.

IMMORTAL bark! once more I hail
From Blackwall-shore thy well-known sail,

As at the Gunt I stand,
And see thee in thy vent'rous pride
Float, like a porpoise on the tide,

Toward the civic strand.
Safe hast thou brought to Ramnsgate Pier
Thy precious freight, from danger clear,

And horrors of the sea !
Audacious vessel ! Walcheren
Long since confessed thy prowess,—when

Thou sail'dst with Castlereagh : 1
When his great expedition, plann'd
Against Mynheer's mephitic land,

His genius proved and skill
In statesmanlike affairs—and now
Far to the South thy daring prow

Achieves fresh triumphs still.
And thou hast cross'd the dangerous bay,
Bold ship! that sailors call Biscay,

Unfathomably deep;
Where navies roll from left to right,
Till cooks can keep no fires alight,

And nothing do but sleep.
Old Elliot's rock thou anchor'dst by,
Where sons of Spanish liberty

Had fled, with want afflicted :
And some believed thy chest profound
Relieved them with a thousand pound,

Until 'twas contradicted.
For Malta spread thy daring sail,
Undaunted by the Libyan gale,

Its breath with red heat blended;
Thou dared'st the Corsair's bloody flag,
Nor saw'st thy noble ardour lag,

Till turtle was expended.

The writer was shewn a vessel said to be the modern “ Argo." His informant might have been mistakeu, but it is enough that the poet had faith as to the identity. † The Gun Tavern.

A voyage famous in a parody on “Black-eyed Susan," said to have been written by the Rev. S.S.

§ Pound for the rhime's sake-this donation was stated in the newspapers, an afterwards contradicted. It might have been best answered by a line o Mr. Canning's parody on Dr. Southey's Sapphics—"I give thee sixpence ?" &c. &c. Vide Anti-jacobin Review for the rest of that excellent jeu d'esprit.

« ZurückWeiter »