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Torquato Tasso and his Biographers

  • W. W. Ireland

When one compares the few details left as about the life of Shakspere with the wealth of materials for writing the biography of Tasso we might suppose that there would be little doubt about the main facts in the life of the great Italian poet. Nevertheless some of the most important passages in his life have been the subject of controversy for the last 300 years. These questions especially regarded the treatment Tasso met with from the ducal family of Este, and unless we understand these relations correctly, we may totally misconceive the character of the poet and all the later events of his life. It seems strange that such questions have remained so long undecided; but biographers and critics are often much better acquainted with books and texts and languages than with human nature. A fine illustration of this is furnished by the Life of Tasso † by the Rev. Mr. Milman. Here we may refer the reader to a paper in this Journal of January, 1877. The author, whose initials are A. C. M., though his study of the life of Tasso had apparently gone no further than a perusal of Milman's book, was able to show many of the errors into which the biographer had fallen. In truth Mr. Milman, although he took up the traditional view that Tasso was the victim of vindictive persecution by the Machiavelian Duke of Ferrara, yet was too candid to repress a number of facts which, in the eyes of an able psychologist, showed that his whole treatment of the life of Tasso was founded upon a complete misconception or ignorance of the ordinary symptoms of mental derangement.

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Angelo Solerti, , “Vita di Torquato Tasso.” Turin and Rome, 1895 (3 volumes octavo). “Luigi, Lucrezia e Leonora D'$Este, Studi di Guiseppe Campori e Angelo Solerti.” Turin, 1888. Angelo Solerti, “Ferrara e la Corte Estense nella seconda metà del Secolo Decimosesto. I Discorsi di Annibale Romei, Gentiluomo Ferrarese.” Città di Castello, 1891. “Opere Minore in Versi di Torquato Tasso,” Edizione Critica a cura di Angelo Solerti. Bologna, 1891 (2 volumes). Pier de Nolhac e Angelo Solerti, “Il Viaggio in Italia di Enrico III. re di Francia e le Feste a Venezia, Ferrara, Mantova e Torino.” Turin, 1890. “Genio e Pazzia in Torquato Tasso.” Luigi Roncoroni. Turin, 1896.

“The Life of Torquato Tasso,” by the Rev. R. Milman. London, 1850.

“The Life of Torquato Tasso, with an historical and critical account of his writings,” by John Black, in 2 volumes. Edinburgh and London, 1810.

The person and appearance of Tasso are described in great detail by his friend Manso; see “Vita di Torquato Tasso scritta da Gio Battista Manso, Napolitano,” Venice, 1621, p. 236. Solerti reproduces many of his portraits. Some of them, especially those from Bergamo, have little resemblance to the others. It is difficult to get Manso's description to agree with some traits in the portraits. Here are some particulars which are not included in the description above. The head was large and prominent at the base and at the occiput, but in the middle rather depressed at the temples than round. The forehead was large and square. As Tasso got older he lost much of his hair, becoming almost bald. The mouth was rather large, the teeth white, large and thick, and the chin square. There was a looseness in his motions and carriage which disappointed expectation, but his countenance and expression had an air of majesty.

“La Vita di Torquato Tasso,” scritta dall'Abate Pierantonio Serassi. Roma, 1785.

Vol. i., pp. 247–9.

Manso's account (“Vita,” p. 73), which seems to me a probable one, is contradicted by Serassi (“Vita del Tasso,” Lib. ii., p. 235), who publishes the fragment of a letter from Tasso about the affray. Solerti (“Vita,” Vol. i., p. 239) reduces it to an attempt on the brothers to cudgel Tasso. It is, however, clear from the action of the Duke and the flight of the brothers that the affair was of some importance.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
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  • EISSN: 2514-9946
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Torquato Tasso and his Biographers

  • W. W. Ireland
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