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Torquato Tasso and his Biographers

  • William W. Ireland (a1)

While at Belriguardo Tasso wrote a letter to the Cardinal, who directed the Inquisition at Rome complaining that the Inquisitor at Bologna had made too little of his confessions, and that he had granted him absolution rather as to a lunatic than to a heretic. He actually proposed to come to Home to be accused in serious form. and not only did Torquato suspect his friends of denouncing him to the Inquisition, but he also accused them of heretical opinions, perhaps founded on some expressions they had used in familiar conversation. The Duke of Ferrara had, indeed, reason not only to be annoyed, but even to be seriously alarmed, for, though the Inquisitor at Bologna took a sensible view of Tasso's revelations, it was by no means certain that the Inquisition at Borne should look upon the matter in the same light. To a shrewd man who took Tasso's whole conduct into consideration he might seem deranged; but the poet possessed a wonderful power of vivid letter writing, and could make his fancies wear plausible shapes. Then the Duke's own mother was known to have been a favourer of the doctrines of Calvin, and some of the taint of heresy might be supposed to cling to Alfonso himself. He had enemies at Rome, and nothing is more credulous of evil reports than hatred. Perhaps they might favour the accusations in the hope of dispossessing him of his principality and causing it to revert to the Papal States, as was actually done after his death. About the same time Torquato wrote to his friend Gonzaga, “Either I am not only of a melancholy humour, but as it were mad, or I am too cruelly persecuted.” After ten days' stay at Belriguardo Alfonso sent Tasso back to Ferrara to be treated by his own physician. According to the pathology of the times melancholy was owing to humours rising to the brain. To expel these purgatives were the proper remedy. The poet was far from being submissive to treatment, and if the doctors did him no good they could always defend themselves by saying that their patient did not carry out their prescriptions. Tasso was kindly received at the convent of the Franciscans at Ferrara, which he repaid by accusations founded upon his ever-brooding suspicions. At another time he avowed his intention of becoming a brother of the Order.

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Solerti, , Vita, Vol. i., Cap. XVI., p. 309.

Black, , Vol. ii., p. 78, tells us that J. Eliot in his Orthœpeia Gallica, printed in 1593, speaking of our poet, says, “This youth fell mad for the love of an Italian lass descended of a great house, when I was in Italy.” A similar report was made by Bartolomeo del Bene, a Florentine residing at the Court of Henry III. of France. Solerti, Vol. i., p. 378.

Essai∗, Liv. ii., Chap. xii.

See the two letters of John Baptist Laderchi in Solerti, Vita, Vol ii., p. 217.

Solerti argues, Vita, Vol. i., p. 613, that the story of Tasso's accompanying the Marquis of Villa to Bisacia and the particulars given in the text with other picturesque incidents, are but a romantic invention of Mango's. Roncoroni, citing the same passages, briefly says that he does not Consider that Solerti has proved his point (Genio e Pazzia in T. Tasso, p. 48). Out of respect for the learned biographer I give my reasons for upholding the veracity of Manso. Solerti informs us that Modestino affirmed that Manso was never feudal lord of Bisacia, and cited legal documents to that effect. Moreover it appears from letters of Tasso dated Naples that he was in that city on the 6th and 16th of September, on the 24th and 31st of October, and on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 14th and 24th of November. We know, however, that Manso's right to be lord of Bisacia was the subject of a contested law suit, and Solerti himself observes that some of Tasso's letters to the Marquis were directed to Bisacia, and in the title of his Poesie Nomiche Manso is styled Signor della Città di Bisacia e di Pianca. The same title is given to him in the frontispiece of Manso's Vita di Torquato Tasso, dedicated to the Duke of Urbino, and published with license at Venice in 1621, while Manso was still alive. The claim of Tasso to have a spirit with whom he held converse is made in other passages of his prose and poetical works. Respecting the date of Tasso's visit to Bisacia, which is fixed by Serassi as occupying the whole of October and part of November (up to the 8th), the time is not definitely stated in Manso's Vita (see pp. 138144 and 195–196). We gather that it was towards the end of the autumn of 1588, and that it did not last long (per non multi giorni); thus it may have occupied the days between the 10th and 24th November. Besides, people sometimes date their letters from the place where they have a fixed address, especially if they only expect to stay a short time at the place whence they are writing.

Manso, , Vita, p. 231.

Fui da bocca di lui medesimo rassicurato, che dal tempo del suo ritegno in Sant’ Anna, ch’ avene negli anni trentacinque della sua vita, e sedici avanti la morte, egli interamente fù casto.—Manso, , Vita, p. 265.

He writes in one of his letters: Non avendo l'animo inclinato a le nozze, ed essendo quasi inabile al matrimonio, e di debole diventato impotente, penso a gli onori ecclesiastici.—Solerti, , Vol. i., p. 584.

Manso, , p. 230.

Hallam, , Literature of Europe, Vol. ii., Chap. VII., Sect. I.

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Torquato Tasso and his Biographers

  • William W. Ireland (a1)
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