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Leonora received these poetical declarations from Tasso—whether she saw and encourraged his passion from the beginning, or only perceived it when it was too late, can never be known. That she returned it I have no doubt. Not openly, of course, for that would have been fatal to both; but in secret, by something in her voice or look-a tone meant only for his ear, a glance imperceptible to all but him—there were a thousand ways of showing him that he was dear, as every lover divines. It was necessary that they should exercise the greatest caution, and they did so, for their love remained unsuspected for years; indeed, that of Leonora was never suspected, for she died and made no sign. Tasso was equally discreet, for he not only addressed the sonnets which he wrote to her to other ladies, but paid his court to them with a great show of reality. There were two ladies in Ferrara with whom he was supposed to be in love-Laura Peperara, and Lucretia Bendidio. He met the former at Mantua, about a year before he entered the service of Cardinal Luigi; the latter, I believe, was a native of Ferrara, where she was celebrated for her beauty and accomplishments. She had two poets in her train, Pigna, the Duke's secretary, and Guarini, the author of “Pastor Fido.” Tasso entered the lists (possibly at the suggestion of Leonora), and undertook on her account to support at the Academy, against every disputant, fifty amorous Theses or Conclusions. The trial, which lasted three days, redounded to his credit for ingenuity and learning.
The marriage of the Princess Lucretia to the Duke of Urbino, in the spring of 1570, and her subsequent departure from Ferrara, made a blank in the life of Leonora, into which Tasso insensibly glided. He read his great epic, “ JERUSALEM DELIVERED,” to her as it was composed, for the benefit of her advice and criticism, and wrote her a great number of sonnets, canzones, and madrigals. He was assiduous in his attentions till autumn, when he was obliged to quit Ferrara, and accompany Cardinal Luigi to France. A difficulty with his Eminence while in that country, led him to return to Ferrara, and enter the service of Duke Alphonso. He was allowed a pension of fifteen crowns of gold a month, and exempted from any particular duty, that he might have leisure to attend to his studies. He set himself diligently to the completion of his epic, polishing what he had already written, and adding many new episodes. Growing at length weary of his application, he resolved to rest his mind on a new theme; and taking advantage of a visit of the Duke to Rome, he composed in two months his celebrated pastoral, “AMINTA.” It was represented on the Duke's return, in the spring of 1573, and greeted with unbounded applause. Its reputation reached the ears of the Duchess of Urbino, who invited Tasso to her palace at Pesaro, to read it to her. The intrigues of his enemies during his absence from Ferrara embittered his mind, and laid the foundation of that singular suspicion which ever after marked his character. We are ignorant of the means they employed against him, but they must have been powerful ones, for they seem for a time to have prejudiced the mind of Leonora. They may have discovered, or at least guessed, the secret of his love. That one of the most active and talented of them, Guarini, did so, is evident from the paper war which ensued between him and Tasso. Tasso opened the campaign with an angry madrigal, addressed to Leonora, whose preference for Guarini, who had somehow insinuated himself into her good graces, was extremely distasteful to him. Guarini answered with another, assuming to speak the language of Leonora, and told him that his love and hate were alike indifferent to her. Whether he wrote this by her authority, or volunteered it, because he thought it would please her and annoy Tasso, cannot be ascertained. Indeed, the whole affair is shrouded in obscurity. That it pained Tasso exceedingly, is evident from the following extract from a letter, which he wrote Leonora from Casteldurante, where he spent the summer of 1573, with the Duchess of Urbino: “I have not written to your highness for so many months, rather from want of subject than of will, since now that an occasion, however small, presents itself for paying my respects, it is not neglected. I send your highness, then, a sonnet, which may be allowed to recall me to your memory, inasmuch as it seems to me I promised to send you everything new of mine. It will not be found at all to resemble those beautiful ones your highness is now accustomed oftentimes to hear, but is as poor in wit and art as I am in fortune; nor in my present state can anything better be expected of me. I send it, however, trusting that, whether good or bad, it will have the effect I desire. But, that you may not deem me so vacant of thought as to give love a place in my bosom, know that it was not written for myself (or perhaps it might have been better), but at the request of a poor lover, who, being for a while in anger with his lady, and now unable to hold out longer, is obliged to surrender and beg for mercy.” That Tasso himself was the poor lover, and Leonora the lady alluded to, it does not require much penetration to discover.
The next event of consequence in the life of Tasso (I pass over his poetical labors, as not essential to an understanding of his love for Leonora), was the opening of his apartments with false keys, in the autumn of 1576. The person who was guilty of this treachery was named Maddalo, but in what relation he stood to Tasso has never been settled. Some of Tasso's biographers say that he was a servant, others that he was a notary of his acquaintance; but the earliest of them, Manso, declares that he was a friend with whom he had everything in common, even to his very thoughts, and from whom he had not altogether concealed the secret of his loves." He entered Tasso's apartments during a visit of the latter to Modena, and opened a box, or chest, in which he kept his private papers. Tasso discovered his baseness on his return, and meeting him in the palace court-yard, taxed him with it; but instead of apologizing, or attempting to clear himself of the charge, the villain gave him the lie. Tasso struck him in the face. He did not resent the blow at the time, but slunk away and collected his three brothers, and then waylaid the poet as he was walking alone in the piazza of the palace. They attacked him suddenly from behind, but he wheeled about, and drawing his sword, soon put them to flight.
This circumstance troubled Tasso greatly-why, we can only conjecture. There must have been more in it than meets the eye-more than the mere rummaging of a box of letters from his friends--or it would not have unsettled his mind, as it did. Maddalo must have obtained some secret connected with Leonora, some proof of Tasso's love, and possibly of hers, which, if divulged, would ruin both. Could it have been her letters to him? I suspect so. And what strengthens this suspicion in my mind is, that immediately after the rupture with Maddalo, Tasso visited Leonora at Consaldoli. The ostensible object of this visit was to divert his melancholy, but its real object, I am persuaded, was to concert measures for their safety, in case their love should come to the knowledge of the Duke.
We reach now one of the saddest periods of Tasso's life-a period which perplexes all his biographers, as well, indeed, it may. I mean the beginning of his insanity, for that he was, or feigned to be, insane, shortly after his visit to Leonora, there can be no doubt. He was in a pitiable state of mind, depressed, melancholy, restless. He fancied that he had been denounced to the Inquisition; that he had been accused of treachery to the Duke; that his enemies were seeking to poison him : there was no end to his phantasies. On the evening of the 17th of June, 1577, he drew his dagger on a domestic in the apartments of the Duchess of Urbino. He was arrested and imprisoned, not so much for the offence, which the Duke was willing to overlook, as because he seemed to need restraint. He petitioned to be released, declaring that he was not mad, though he feared he should be, if he were compelled to remain in confinement; above all, he begged to be restored to his apartments. The Duke granted his request, and sent the ablest physicians to attend him. Their prescriptions, or his recovered freedom, appeared to calm him, and he accompanied the Duke to his beautiful villa at Belriguardo, but relapsing in a few days, he was sent back to Ferrara, and confined in the convent of Saint Francis. He contrived to escape on the 20th of July, and, disguised as a shepherd, took his way to the kingdom of Naples. On arriving at Sorrento he sought out the dwelling of his sister Cornelia, and presented himself to her as a messenger from her brother Tasso, whose life, he said, was in danger, and who implored her assistance. He told his story so pathetically that she fainted, whereupon he threw off his disguise, and revealed himself, being fully satisfied of her affection. He remained at Sorrento until his health began to improve, when he was seized with a desire to return to Ferrara. He wrote to the Duke, asking to be restored to his favour, and to the possession of his books and manuscripts, and to the Duchess of Urbino and the Princess Leonora, urging them to second his request with their influence. Leonora alone replied, and in such terms as showed that she could not help him. This, however, did not discourage him, but rather increased his determination to return. He departed from Sorrento in November, in defiance of the advice of his friends, and on arriving at Rome proceeded at once to the house of the Duke's agent. Still harping on his manuscripts and the Duke's favour, he persuaded Cardinal Albano to write to Alphonso on his behalf. Six weeks passed before an answer was received, and then it was anything but satisfactory. Alphonso said nothing about restoring Tasso to his favour, or what little he did say was too vague to mean anything, but he promised to send his manuscripts. Tasso waited a month or two patiently, and the manuscripts being still withheld, made up his mind to return to Ferrara at all hazards. He was influenced in this decision, Manso says, by the letters which he received from Leonora. The Duke consented to his return on certain conditions, viz. : that he would admit that his suspicions of persecution had no other origin than his melancholy whims: that he would promise to be quiet and submissive; and, above all, that he would be doctored for his infirmity. “If he thinks to make disturbance and use such expressions as he has done heretofore, we mean not to call him to account, but if he will not allow himself to be cured, to expel him immediately from our dominions, with orders never to return.” Tasso accepted these conditions, and started for Ferrara in March or April, 1578. His reception was courteous but cool. The Duke admitted him to his presence as formerly, but did not restore his manuscripts, and took no interest in his poetry. On the
contrary, it seemed to offend him. “ It was his wish,” Tasso afterwards wrote to the Duke of Urbino, “ that I should aspire to no praise of genius or fame in letters, but that amid ease, luxury, and pleasure, I should lead an effeminate, idle, and slothful life.” The Duke and his creatures were ashamed to clothe this degrading wish in words, so they communicated it to Tasso by signs, which he feigned not to understand.
" These signs," he wrote, “still continuing on their part, though not on mine, I attempted to speak to the Duchess, and Madame Leonora, but found audience always denied me; and many times, without necessity or respect, I was forbidden by the porters to enter their apartments. I sought to talk to the Duke about it, but he abhorred the subject; I spoke to his confessor, but in vain.” He fled again from Ferrara, and wandered to Padua, Mantua, and Venice, and finally to Pesaro and Turin. From the latter place he wrote to Cardinal Albano, and entreated him to use his influence with the Duke, “that his highness may be content, not only to restore my books, writings, and other trifles, but to give me also some hundreds of crowns, that I may finish the work begun under his protection.” The Cardinal wrote, and “his highness" being in good humor, for he was about to marry Margherita Gonzaga, daughter of Duke William of Mantua, consented that Tasso should come back, provided he would allow himself to be cured. He arrived at Ferrara on the 21st of February, 1579, and sought an audience of the Duke, but he was too busy to receive lim, being entirely taken up with the ceremonies of his marriage. He turned his steps to the apartments of the Duchess of Urbino and the Princess Leonora, where a similar disappointment awaited him. The ministers and courtiers treated him with rudeness and inhumanity. No habitation had been assigned him, and he was obliged to seek temporary lodgings, now in one place, and now in another. He bore up under this neglect and indignity till the middle of March, when he was confined in the Hospital of Saint Anne, as a lunatic. The pretended cause of his confinement was abusive and injurious language towards the Duke and the whole house of Este; the probable cause, the discovery of his love for the Princess Leonora. My reasons for this supposition are various. First, the sagacity of the Duke, who must by this time have discovered the true cause of Tasso's persistent returns to Ferrara-an unconquerable desire to be near the person of Leonora; and, second, the length of Tasso's imprisonment-over seven years ---a punishment utterly disproportioned to his supposed offence. My third reason is a tradition current in the days of Muratori, who heard it from Francesco Caretta, of Modena, an élève of Alessandro Tassoni, one of Tasso's contemporaries. It is to this effect: Tasso was one day at court near Alphonso and his sisters, and having occasion to come closer to the Princess Leonora, for the purpose of replying to some question which she had asked him, was so transported on the sudden by a more than poetical enthusiasm, that he kissed her. Whereupon the Duke, like a wise prince, turned to his courtiers, and said, “See what a heavy misfortune has befallen a great genius, who in a moment has become mad.” This, the tradition says, was the cause of Tasso's imprisonment in the Hospital of Saint Anne.
I shall not pursue the subject further, having already made this note much longer than I intended, but refer the reader to Mr. Wilde's interesting work on THE LOVE, MADNESS AND IMPRISONMENT OF TORQUATO Tasso," where he will find it treated at length. An extract from the manuscript History of Ferrara, and I have done:
“On the 10th of February, 1581, died Madame Leonora, daughter of Duke Hercules II., who preferred a life of celibacy.”
The accompanying portrait of Leonora is based on a medal of the time.
If Love his captive bind with ties so dear,
How sweet to be in amorous tangles caught !
If such the food to snare my freedom brought,
The chilling ice that warmth like mine has wrought !
Sweet, too, each painful unimparted thought!
And constant wail of blow that deadly smote.
If death-to death I would my days devote.
I see the anchored bark with streamers gay,
The beckoning pilot, and unruffled tide,
The south and stormy north their fury hide,
Others who to their flattery dared confide,
And late when stars were bright sailed forth in pride,
The whitening beach, and spirits hovering round:
But 'mid the Sirens, may my bones be found !