ePub 版



THE poetic temperament is consanguineous in all the poets, and hence in passing from one to another one is always noticing some sign of kinship. Tasso reminds us of certain traits of both Gray and Byron; the classical scholarship of the one and the Mediterranean quality of the other ally them to the Italian, and the melancholy which in one was an elegy of the churchyard and in the other an elegy of nations, becomes in Tasso an elegy of life itself; moreover, there was in Tasso's personality an irritable self-consciousness that recalls Byron's egoistical sensitiveness. In another way Tasso so exceeded Gray in power, and Byron in charm, that he seems out of their class; and he has always been in men's memories so signal an example of the misfortune that attends the poets as to seem almost solitary in his miseries.

He was by his nature exposed to every acute feeling; and his education was such as to increase his peril, and make his sorrow sure. He was the son of a distinguished poet, of noble family, and born at Sorrento; his memory still haunts the place, but his residence there was brief, and his life is associated rather with the north of Italy, whence his family came from a town near Venice. Still a child, he was separated from his mother, his father being in trouble and a wanderer, and he never saw her afterward; it is probable that she was poisoned. He joined his father, and was educated at the court of Urbino,

and the Universities of Padua and Bologna. He was an extraordinarily precocious child, and while still at Sorrento had been given into the hands of the Jesuit fathers, who impressed upon him that religiousness which so deeply marked him and was the cause of much of his suffering. He took his first communion at the age of nine; he recited original verses and speeches at the age of ten; and while yet but eighteen, he published a considerable poem, "Rinaldo," which immediately gave him great reputation in Italy, and determined his


He entered the service of the Duke of Ferrara, with whose name his biography is most closely joined. His life is obscure with mysteries that time has not cleared away. He was a favorite of the Duke; yet in the height of his fame, the Duke put him in prison and kept him there for over seven years, in spite of protests and petitions from princes and prelates and other persons of importance. It was long supposed that the reason was Tasso's devotion to the Duke's sister, who was his friend and the lady of his sonnets. The weight of opinion now is that, whatever concurring causes there may have been, Tasso's own condition and conduct gave sufficient excuse for restraint. He had within him the germs of insanity, and with every year they seem to have shown more violent manifestation. He was full of suspicion and resentments, and repeatedly had left his patron suddenly and gone to others, only to return again; he had hallucinations also; and, as time went on, he saw and conversed with spirits; sometimes it was his worldly or literary affairs, sometimes his religious fears that were the motives and subjects of this mental disturbance; the Duke said that he kept Tasso confined in order to cure

him. He was allowed full liberty of correspondence, and was seen by friends and visitors. Montaigne so saw him the poet being asleep apparently and shown by his jailer. Tasso's letters are full of details and terrible complaints; but how much of what he wrote may he not have fancied? The facts are insoluble. Some ascribe his madness to his love, some to his religious education. At all events the care of the insane was then but a poor sort of medicine, and prisons in those days were places of negligence, filth, and sickness. If only a small part of what Tasso relates of his confinement is true, it is enough to justify the pity that he has always received. It is singular, if there were no other reason for the Duke's conduct than the poet's mental state, that he should so obstinately have refused to let him go into the care of other princes and courts who were anxious to receive and aid him. At last he was released; and after that time he lived mainly at Naples and Rome, where he died at the age of fifty years, just before he was to be publicly crowned with laurel in the Capitol.

It does not appear that, except for a few outbursts of violence, his insanity was such as to interfere with the usual action of his intellectual powers as a scholar and a poet; the higher faculties were left untouched, while his sense of fact was subject to delusion. His young friend, Manso, was a witness of a conversation at Naples between Tasso and the spirit with whom he talked; both voices, says Manso, were Tasso's, though he did not seem aware of it. Such was Tasso's madness an overexcitement of genius; in consequence he passed much of his life in prison or in wanderings from city to city in Italy, often with much hardship, but oftener treated with kindness and great honor, except that at Ferrara

the fact of his fame and his favor in the earlier years exposed him to the jealous persecution natural to a small court. He was a man very masculine in appearance, uncommonly tall, broad-shouldered, grave in demeanor, of the blond type, with blue eyes, well-exercised in the use of arms. He stammered, and seldom laughed, and was slow in talk. But this portrait from his last years, and the pale sunken cheeks and worn look, which are also mentioned, belong rather to the victim of life than to the young poet who wrote the great Italian epic, "Jerusalem Delivered."

Tasso was a voluminous writer. His works fill thirtythree large volumes; but his fame is comprised within the limits of this epic, and of another small pastoral drama, "Aminta," which is related to his genius somewhat as "Hero and Leander" is to Marlowe. Apart from the brutal miseries of his life, the true and unavoidable tragedy of it lay in a conflict which took place within his own nature. He was a poet with the qualities of one; but his temperament was developed in a double way. On the one hand it was an artistic nature grounded in scholarship, not unlike Gray in that respect; on the other hand it was a religious nature grounded in the asceticism and exaltation of the Jesuit training of his precocious childhood. The two natures were contradictory; and in the lifelong struggle between them, reflected in his literary work, the religious nature finally triumphed. In his last years he rewrote his epic, and left out its charm in obedience to his conscience; but fortunately the original version was already in the hands of the world, and the later one is now completely forgotten.

He had chosen his subject and sketched out parts, at

« 上一頁繼續 »