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chamber in which he slept; notwithstanding the remonstrance of the Spaniards, who pointed out to me the absurdity of putting vengeance in the power of a man whom I had so much irritated. I said even aloud to Elias, who was already in bed, that he might kill me if he was so inclined during the night; and that I justly merited such a fate. But this brave man, who possessed as much elevation of soul as myself, took no other revenge for my outrageous conduct, except preserving for several years two handkerchiefs stained with blood which had been bound round his head, and which he occasionally dis#. to my view. It is necessary to be ully acquainted with the character and manners of the Piedmontese, in order to comprehend the mixture of ferocity and generosity displayed on both sides in this alt. “When at a more mature age, I endeavoured to discover the cause of this violent transport of rage, I became convinced that the trivial circumstance which gave rise to it, was, so to speak, like the last drop poured into a vessel ready to run over. My irascible temper, which must have been rendered still more irritable by solitude and perpetual idleness, required only the slightest impulse to cause it to burst forth. Besides, I never lifted a hand against a domestick, as that would have been putting them on a level with myself. Neither did I ever employ a cane, nor any kind of weapon in order to chastise them, though 1 frequently threw at them any moveable that fell in my way, as many young people do, during the first ebullitions of anger; yet I dare to affirm that 1 would have approved, and even esteemed the domestick who should on such occasions have rendered me back the treatment he received, since I never punished them as a master, but only contended with them as one Inan with another.” I, 244–6.
At Lisbon he forms an acquaintance with a literary countryman of his own, and feels, for the first time of his life, a glow of admiration on perusing some passages of Italian poetry. From this he returns to Spain, and after lounging over the whole of that kingdom, returns through France to Italy, and arrives at Turin in 1773. Here he endeavours to maintain the same unequal contest of dissipation against ennui and conscious folly, and falls
furiously in love, for the third time, with a woman of more than doubtful reputation, ten years older than himself. Neither the intoxication of this passion, however, nor the daily exhibition of his twelve fine horses, could repress the shame and indignation which he felt at thus wasting his days in inglorious licentiousness; and his health was at last seriously affected by those compunctious visitings of his conscience. In 1774, while watching by his unworthy mistress in a fit of sickness, he sketched out a few scenes of a dramatical work in Italian, which was thrown aside and forgotten immediately on her recovery; and it was not till the year after, that, after many struggles, he formed the resolution of detaching himself from this degrading connexion. The efforts which this cost him, and the means he adopted to ensure his own adherence to his resolution, appear altogether wild and extravagant to our northern imagination. In the first place, he had himself lashed with strong cords to his elbow chair, to prevent him from rushing into the presence of the siren; and, in the next place, he cut off his hair, in order to make it impossible for him to appear with decency in any society. The first fifteen days, he assures us, he spent entirely “ in uttering the most frightful groans and lamentations,” and the next in riding furiously through all the solitary places in the neighbourhood. At last, however, this frenzy of grief began to subside; and, most fortunately for the world and the
author, gave place to a passion for
literature, which absorbed the powers of this fiery spirit during the greater part of his future existence. The perusal of a wretched tragedy on the story of Cleopatra, and the striking resemblance he thought he discovercq between his own case and that of Antony, first inspired him with the resolution of attempting a dramatick piece on the same
subject; and, after encountering the most extreme difficulty from his utter ignorance of poetical diction, and of pure Italian, he at last hammered out a tragedy, which was represented with tolerable success in 1775. From this moment his whole heart was devoted to dramatick poetry; and literary glory became the idol of his imagination.
In entering upon this new and arduous career, he soon discovered that greater sacrifices were required of him than he had hitherto offered to any of the former objects of his idolatry. The defects of his education, and his long habits of indolence and inattention to every thing connected with letters, imposed upon him far more than the ordinary labour of a literary apprenticeship. Having never been accustomed to the use of the pure Tuscan, and being obliged to speak French during so many years of travelling, he found himself shamefully deficient in the knowledge of that beautiful language, in which he proposed to enter his claims to immortality; and began, therefore, a course of the most careful and critical reading of the great authors who had ‘adorned it. Dante and Petrarca were his great models of purity; and, next to them, Ariosto and Tasso; in which four writers, he gives it as his opinion, that there is to be found the perfection of every style, except that fitted for dramatick poetry; of which, he more than insinuates, that his own writings are the only existing example. In order to acquire a perfect knowledge and command of their divine language, he not only made many long visits to Tuscany, but absolutely interdicted himself the use of every other sort of reading, and abjured for ever that French literature which he seems to have always regarded with a mixture of envy and disdain. To make amends for this, he went resolutely back to the rudiments of his Latin; and read
over all the classicks in that Ianguage with a most patient and laborious attention. He likewise committed to memory many thousand lines from the authors he proposed to imitate; and sought, with the greatest assiduity, the acquaintance of all the scholars and criticks that came in his way; pestering them with continual queries, and with requesting their opinion upon the infinite quantity of bad verses which he continued to compose, by way of exercise. His two or three first tragedies he composed entirely in French prose; and afterwards translated, with infinite labour, into Italian verse. His whole process of composition, indeed, was very systematical and laborious; and the distinct account he has left of it, is not among the least curious passages in these volumes.
“I ought here to explain to the reader what is meant by the terms conceive, develop, and put into verse, which so frequently occur in the course of this work. All my tragedies, so to speak, have been composed three times. By this method, I at least avoided the errour of too much haste, which should always be carefully guarded against in such productions, since, if they are ill-conceived at first, it is a fault not easily remedied. By the term conceive, is to be understood the distributing of the subject into acts and scenes, fixing the number of the personages, and tracing, in two pages of prose, a summary of the plot. By developing, I mean the writing dialogues in prose for the different scenes indicated in this rude sketch, without rejecting a single thought; and with as much enthusiasm as possible, without embarrassing myself with the style or composition. By versifying, in short, must be understood, not only converting this prose into verse, but also curtailing the exuberances of the style, selecting the best thoughts, and clothing them in poetick language. After these three operations, I proceed, like other authors, to polish, correct, and amend. But if the conception or development of the piece be imperfect, or erroneous, the superadded labour will never produce a good tragedy. In this way did I execute the whole of my dramatick works, beginning with Philippe, and I am convinced that this constituted more than two thirds of the labour. If, on reperusing the manuscript, after a sufficient period had been suffered to elapse, in order that I might forget the original distribution of the scenes, I felt myself assailed by such a crowd of ideas and emotions as compelled me, so to speak, to take up my pen, I concluded that my sketch was worthy of being unfolded; but if, on the contrary, I felt not an enthusiasm equal at least to what I had experienced on conceiving the design, I either changed my plan, or threw the papers into the fire. As soon as I became satisfied that my first idea was perfect, I expanded it with the greatest rapidity, frequently writing two acts a day, and seldom less than one; so that in six days my tragedy was—I will not say jinished, but created. “In this manner, without any other judge than my own feelings, I have only finished those, the sketches of which I had written with energy and enthusiasm; or, if I have finished any other, I have at least never taken the trouble to clothe them in verse. This was the case with Charles I. which I began to write in French prose, immediately after finishing Philippe. When I had reached to about the middle of the third act, my heart and my hand became so benumbed, that I found it impossible to hold my pen. The same thing happened in regard to Romeo and Juliet, the whole of which I nearly expanded, though with much labour to myself, and at long intervals. On reperusing this sketch, I found my enthusiasm so much repressed, that, transported with rage against myself, I could proceed no further, but threw my work into the fire.” II. p. 48—51.
Two or three years were passed in these bewitching studies; and, during this time, nine or ten tragedies, at the least, were in a considerable state of forwardness. In 1778, the study of Machiavel revived all that early zeal for liberty, which he had imbibed from the perusal of Plutarch; and he composed with great rapidity his two books of
“La Tiranide;” perhaps the most nervous and eloquent of all his prose compositions. About the same period, his poetical studies experienced a still more serious interruption, from the commencement of his attachment to the countess of Albany, the wife of the late pretender; an attachment that continued to sooth or to agitate all the remaining part of his existence. This lady, who was by birth a princess of the house of Stalburg, was then in her twenty fifth year, and resided with her illmatched husband at Florence. Her beauty and accomplishments made, from the first," a powerful impres. sion on the inflammable heart of Alfieri, guarded as it now was with the love of glory and of literature; and the loftiness of his character, and the ardour of his admiration, soon excited corresponding sentiments in her, who had suffered for some time from the ill temper and gross vices of her superannuated husband. Though the author takes the trouble to assure us that “ their intimacy never exceeded the strictest limits of honour,” it is not difficult to understand, that it should have aggravated the ill humour of the old husband; which increased, it seems, so much, that the lady was at last forced to abandon his society, and to take refuge with his brother, the cardinal York, at Rome. To this place Alfieri speedily followed her; and remained there, divided between love and study, for upwards of two years, when her holy guardian becoming scandalized at their intimacy, it was thought necessary for her reputation, that they should separate. The effects of this separation he has himself described in the following short passage.
* His first introduction to her, we have been informed, was in the great gallery of Florence; a circumstance which led him to signalize his admiration by an extraordinary act of gallantry. As they stopped to examine the picture of Charles XII. of Sweden, the countess observed, that the singular uniform in which that prince is usually painted, appeared to her extremely becoming. Nothing, more was said at the time; but, in two days after, Alfieri appeared in the streets in the exact costume of that warlike sovereign, to the utter consternation of all the peaceful inhabitants.
“For two years I remained incapable of any kind of study whatever, so different was my present forlorn state from the happiness I enjoyed during my late residence in Rome; there the Villa Strozzi, near to the warm baths of Dioclesian, afforded me a delightful retreat, where I passed my mornings in study, only riding for an hour or two through the vast solitudes which, in the neighbourhood of Rome, invite to melancholy, meditation, and poetry. In the evening I proceeded to the city, and found a relaxation from study in the society of her who constituted the charm of my existence; and contented and happy, I returned to my solitude, never at a later hour than eleven o’clock. It was impossible to find, in the circuit of a great city, an abode more cheerful, more retired—or better suited to my taste, my character and my pursuits. Delightful spot! the remembrance of which I shall ever cherish, and which through life I shall long to revisit.” II. p. 121, 122.
Previously to this time, his extreme love of independence, and his desire to be constantly with the mistress of his affections, had induced him to take the very romantick step of resigning his whole property to his sister, reserving to himself merely an annuity of 14,000 livres, or little more than 500l. As this transference was made with the sanction of the king, who was very well pleased on the whole, to get rid of so republican a subject, it was understood on both sides, as a tacit compact of expatriation; so that upon his removal from Rome, he had no house or fixed residence to repair to. In this desolate and unsettled state, his passion for horses revived with additional fury; and he undertook a voyage to longland, for the sole purpose of purchasing a number of those noble animals; and devoted eight months “to the study of noble heads, fine necks, and well turned buttocks, without once opening a book, or pursuing any literary avocation.” In London he purchased fourteen horses, in relation to the number of his tragedies and this whimsical relation frequently presenting itself to his imagination, he would say to himself with a smile
“Thou hast gained a horse by each tragedy " Truly, the noble author must have been far gone in love, when he gave way to such innocent deliration. He conducted his fourteen friends, however, with much judgment across the Alps; and gained great glory and notoriety at Sienna, from their daily procession through the streets, and the feats of dexterity he exhibited in riding and driving them. In the mean time, he had printed twelve of his tragedies, and imbibed a sovereign contempt for such of his countrymen as pretended to find them harsh, obscure, or affectedly sententious. In 1784, after an absence of more than two years, he rejoined his mistress at Baden in Alsace: and during a stay of two months with her, sketched out three new tragedies. On his return to Italy, he took up his abode for a short time at Pisa; where in a fit of indignation at the faults of Pliny’s panegyrick on Trajan, he composed in five days that animated and eloquent piece of the same name, which alone, of all his works which have fallen into our hands, has left on our minds the impression of ardent and flowing eloquence. His rage for liberty likewise prompted him to compose several odes on the subject of American independence, and several miscellaneous productions of a similar character: at last, 1786, he is permitted to take up his permanent abode with his mistress, whom he rejoins at Alsace, and never afterwards abandons. In the course of the following year, they make a journey to Paris, with which he is nearly as much dissatisfied as on his former visit, and makes arrangements with Didot for printing his tragedies in a superb form. In 1788, however, he resolves upon making a complete edition of his whole works at Kehl; and submits, for the accommodation of his fair friend, to take up his residence at Paris. There they receive intelligence of the death of her husband, which seems, however, to make no change in their way of life; and there he continues busily employed in correcting his various works for publication, till the year 1790, when the first part of these memoirs closes with anticipations of misery from the progress of the revolution, and professions of devoted attachment to the companion whom time had only rendered more dear and respected. The supplementary part bears date in May 1803; but a few months prior to the death of the author, and brings down his history, though in a more summary manner, to that period. He seems to have lived in much uneasiness and fear in Paris, after the commencement of the revolution: from all approbation or even toleration of which tragick farce, as he terms it, he exculpates himself with much earnestness and solemnity; but having vested the greater part of his fortune in that country, he could not conveniently abandon it. In 1791, he and his companion made a short visit to England, with which he was less pleased than on any former occasion; the damp giving him a disposition to gout, and the late hours interfering with his habits of study. The most remarkable incident in this journey occurred at its termination. As he was passing along the quay at Dover, in his way to the packetboat, he caught a glimpse of the bewitching woman on whose account he had suffered so much, in his former visit to this country nearly twenty years ago. She still looked beautiful, he says, and bestowed on him one of those enchanting smiles which convinced him that he was recognised. Unable to control his emotion, he rushed instantly aboard —hid himself below, and did not venture to look up till he was landed on the opposite shore. From Calais he addressed a letter to her of kind inquiry, and offers of service; and received an answer, which, on Vol. Iv. - . D
account of the singular tone of candour and magnanimity which it exhibits, he has subjoined in the appendix. It is undoubtedly a very remarkable production, and shows both a strength of mind and a kindness of disposition which seem worthy of a happier fortune. In the end of 1792, the increasing fury of the revolution rendered Paris no longer a place of safety for foreigners of high birth; and Alfieri and his countess with some difficulty effected their escape from it, and established themselves, with a diminished income, at his beloved Florence. Here, with his usual impetuosity, he gave vent to his antirevolutionary feelings, by composing an apology for Louis XVI. and a short, satirical view of the French excesses, which he entitled “ the Antigallican.” He then took to acting his own plays; and, for two or three years, this new passion seduced him in a good degree from literature. In 1795, however, he tried his hand in some satirical productions; and began with much zeal to reperuse and translate various passages from the Latin classicks. Latin naturally led to Greek; and, in the forty-ninth year of his age, he set seriously to the study of this language. Two whole years did this ardent genius dedicate to solitary drudgery, without being able to master the subject he had undertaken. At last, by dint of perseverance and incredible labour, he began to understand a little of the easier authors; and, by the time he had completed his fiftieth year, succeeded in interpreting a considerable part of Herodotus, Thucydides and Homer. The perusal of Sophocles, in the following year, impelled him to compose his last tragedy of Alceste in 1798. In the end of this year, the progress of the French armies threatened to violate the tranquillity of his Tuscan retreat; and, in the spring following, upon the occupation of Florence, he and his friend retired