« ZurückWeiter »
The result of study and cultivation was never more conspicuous than in the example of Parihi. It had all the appearance, and produced all the effect of genius: and yet hia was, doubtless, one of those minds rather capable of culture, than naturally fruitful. The soil might have brought forth none but barren plants, had not care, and labour, and patience, qualified it to receive the seed, and Hupply the nourishment of the richest productions.
The Milanese nobles did not dare to revenge themselves openly for the boldness of Parini. There is a story current of an attempt to assassinate him, but this, perhaps, is an invention suggested by the ancient manners of Italy.
His enemies took another course. The emoluments of hia professorship amounted only to 3000 francs, a little more than one hundred pounds a year. Leopold II., on a visit to Milan, was struck with the physiognomy of an old man, lame, and moving slowly along, but with an air of dignity. He asked his name, and being told that it was Parini, ordered the municipal council to increase his pension sufficiently to enable him to keep a small carriage. But the verbal command of a foreign monarch is seldom strictly obeyed in distant provinces, where the nobles have an interest or a will distinct from their duty. Parini continued without any other prop than his stick. The poet whom the Milanese pointed out to strangers as the pride and glory of their city, was often pushed into the dirt, and was repeatedly near being run over by the carriages, in streets where there is no pavement for foot passengers.
In an ode, which he calls the Caduta, the Fall, he describes the accidents which happened to him in rainy and foggy days; and although this production is not in the first rank of his poetry, it can never be perused without delight, nor be quoted without exciting our admiration a1 the profound pathos, the honest pride, and the philosoph} with which it abounds.
The French, on their arrival in Italy, soon understood the active part which the literary classes had played in the revolution. They employed many of these individuals, and amongst others Parini, who found himself all at once amongst the chiefs of the republican government, with no other qualification or capital for such an elevation, than what was derived from a love of liberty, a habit of speaking the truth, an unbending character, and a total disregard of all selfish interests. He felt the embarrassment of his situation, and having often spoken harshly to the French generals, it was not difficult for him to obtain permission to retire, after a few weeks of thankless employment. His name and his integrity commanded respect, and the opposition of a whole life against the nobles, made him regarded by all the lower classes as the great *partizan of the democracy. This influence was not lost even when he opposed the follies of the populace. They still show a square at Milan, opposite to the great theatre, which was one day filled by a large mob of idle fellows, who ran about crying, "Long life to Ihe Bepublic—death to the Aristocrats I" Parini issued from a coffee-house and exclaimed, "Viva la Republica —e morte a nessuno; Canaglia stolta 1" The crowd instantly dispersed. Whatever may be the honours acquired by poetry in England, we cannot form an idea of the influence enjoyed by a man who has obtained a great literary reputation in a country where the largest portion of the people cannot read. He is listened to with a sort of religious obedience.
The circles at Milan were afraid of every word that might drop from Parini, and he now and then abused his acknowledged ascendancy. But his intolerance never extended to his friends: with them he was indulgent to the last degree, and his severity was laid aside for a sort of infantine joviality. He was pleased with the company of those young people who were distinguished by the fire, the frankness, and the e'tourderie of their age: but he was incensed somewhat extravagantly against those who either affected, or were naturally inclined to, gravity. He was complaisant and affable to strangers who came, even without introduction, to visit him; but if they unfortunately ventured to praise him, they did not escape without a reprimand, and found his door shut against them ever afterwards.
His philosophy, strengthened as it was hy the useful alliance of disease and age, did not, however, defend him against the attacks of love; and the odes written towards the end of his life, are sufficient proof that he never looked upon female charms with impunity. He confesses this truth, and perhaps has adopted the safest course to avoid ridicule, by declaring openly, that his good genius, which had preserved him from the tortures of ambition and avarice, had still left him accessible to the soft torment of the most tender and most disinterested of all the passions.*
Those high-born dames who were often the objects of his affection and of his poetry, were much flattered by his preference, and forgave him all that he had said of their husbands and of their Cavalieri Serventi. With these he never made peace. And although he was an inmate in many great houses, he stayed not a moment after he saw that he was required to submit to condescensions incompatible with his principles, and unbecoming his character. After all that has been said of the liberality of the great, it is clear that the precedence granted to genius does not commence during the lifetime even of the most fortunate writer. It was by a noble perseverance that Parini, indigent, unknown, imperfect, and perpetually boasting of his paternal plough, succeeded so far as to make himself respected by those powerful classes whose vices he decried; and maintained the dignity of his character and calling in a country where flattery, common as it is elsewhere, is found more base and abject amongst the men of letters than in the other orders, where the poets are very often the buffoons of their society, and where the tutors of boys of rank are confounded with the domestics of the family. At the time that almost all the Italian rhymesters, an innumerable class, were dedicating
* See the two most celebrated odes, II Messaggio and II Pericolo.
their canzoni and their sonnets to their respective patrons, Parini refused to recite a single verse at the table of any great man.*
He is to be exactly recognised in the portrait which he has given of himself.
"Me, non nato a percotere
He preserved his dignity and his poverty, the strength of his mind and the powers of his genius, to his seventieth year. He had been employed a few days in projecting some verses,J and one morning he dictated them to a friend. Having read them over, he said that he was satisfled with them, and begged his friend to get them printed. He then retired into his bedchamber, and, in half an hour afterwards, expired.
The life of this author has been written by himself. His tragedies have been criticised in every European language. There still remain some notices on his death, and some opinions on his other works, which may be new to the English reader.
His connexion with the Countess of Albany is known to all the world, but no one is acquainted with the secret of that long intercourse. If they were ever married, Alfieri and the Countess took as much pains to conceal that fact, as is usually bestowed upon its publicity. Truth might have been spoken on the tomb of the poet, but even there we only find that Louisa, Countess of Albany, was his only
* See the ode entitled ' La Recita de' Vcrsi.' t See his ode ' La Vita Rustica.'
j It is the last copy of verses at page 44 of the second volume of Farini's works.
lore—" quam unice dilexit."—A church, perhaps, was not the place to boast of such a passion; but after every consideration we may conclude, that the Abate Caluso, who wrote the epitaph, and received the last sighs of AMeri, knew, and did not choose to tell, that his friend was never married to the widow of Charles Edward Stuart— "Tacendo clamat"—his silence is eloquent.
Alfieri, in the languor of a protracted agony, which the presence of Caluso assisted him to support, received the last visit of a priest, who came to confess him, with an affability for which he was not distinguished in the days of his health: but he said to him, "Have the kindness to look in to-morrow; I trust that death will wait for twenty-four hours." The ecclesiastic returned the next day. Alfieri was sitting in his arni-chair, and said, "At present, I fancy I have but a few minutes to spare:" and turning towards the Abbe, entreated him to bring the Countess to him. No sooner did he see her than he stretched forth his hand, saying, "Clasp my hand, my dear friend, I die." *
The religious opinions of Alfieri cannot be collected from his writings. His tragedies contain here and there a sarcasm against the Popes, and in his fugitive pieces may be found some epigrams against the monastic orders, but more particularly against the cardinals. Not a word, however, has ever escaped him against the Christian doctrines. It is only upon close inspection that we find, in a treatise on tyranny, that auricular confession, and the indissolubility of marriage, have contributed to the enslavement of Italy. His latter years were divided between a haughty irascibility and a deep melancholy, which afflicted him by turns, to a degree which rendered him scarcely accountable for his actions. Alfieri was then not unfrequently seen in the churches from vespers to sunset, sitting motionless, and apparently wrapt up in listening to the psalms of the monks, as they chanted them from behind the skreen of
Stringetemi, cara amica! la mano, io muojo.