« VorigeDoorgaan »
It is astonishing that the surpassing merits of Goldoni are known only to so few, ranking as ne certainly does among the greatest comic writers, not only of his own era, but of all preceding and subsequent periods ; distinguished, too, not only as a great composer, but as the reformer of that species of composition in which he excelled. This is the more remarkable, if we reflect that his Memoirs, written by himself, form one of the most instructive and delightful romances which was ever penned. To give a brief account of Goldoni, and to notice a few of his compositions, is the object of the present essay.
In the year 1707, in the fairy city of Venice, the Gran Goldoni, as the Italians love to call him, first saw the light of day,
His family were originally from Modena. His grandfather, Charles Goldoni, was a student in the college of Parma, where he was fortunate enough to form an acquaintance with two noble Venetians, through whose agency he obtained a lucrative and honourable appointment in their own country. Charles Goldoni was twice married. His second wife was of the Salvieni family. Her sister was united to his son, Julius Goldoni, and became the mother of the comedian.
Brought up, by his grandfather, in gaiety and pleasure of every description,----moving in scenes of the most regal luxury,-living in a world of artificial splendour, and surrounded with all the enchantments of sound, sense, and sight,—no wonder that the young Goldoni so early learnt to sympathize with “ the heart of smiles," and became so passionately enamoured of the glittering shew."
On the death of his grandfather, the family affairs became so deeply deranged, that Julius Goldoni was compelled to apply himself to the profession of medicine, in order to meet his pecuniary difficulties. Accordingly he studied in the College de la Sapienzia, and served his apprenticeship in the Hospital del Santo Spirito, and subsequently became an excellent and fashionable physician.
Meanwhile, Carlo was left entirely to himself. The usual sports of children had no attractions for him. He passed most of his time in his father's library; and as comedy was his favourite reading, he employed all his leisure moments in the perusal of the works of such comic authors as it contained. Among these, Acognini had the preference. At eight years of age, Goldoni wrote his first comedy. None are so unwilling to believe in a man's genius, as his own friends and relations. Accordingly, a god-father, “a lawyer richer in gold than in knowledge," positively refused to believe in the authorship. However, it was proved, beyond all doubt, that Goldoni had really written it; and then, of course, every body was astonished, every body was delighted
Goldoni, after studying "humanity," under the Jesuits, at Perugia, was next placed under the care of the Dominicans, at Rimini, where he had to devote his time to the study of philosophy.- Philosophy, in the eyes of Goldoni, was neither " charming nor divine,” but, on the contrary, remarkably "harsh and crabbed.” On the first opportunity,
as may be supposed, he left Rimini, with a company of actors, with whom he had made acquaintance. They were going to Chiozza. His mother lived at Chiozza; what an excellent excuse for leaving Rimini! An escape was accordingly effected, Goldoni having first written to M. Battaglini, a friend of his father's, to inform him of the measure he was about to take. He easily reconciled his mother to this step, but anticipated a more formidable meeting with his father. Their interview, however, proved quite the reverse: but Goldoni shall speak for himself :
“I came forward, trembling : "Ah, father!' • How, sir! How do you happen to be here ?'
Father, - you have been told. Yes, I have been told that, in spite of remonstrances and good advice, and in opposition to every one, you have had the insolence to quit Rimini abruptly.' • What should I have done at Rimini, father? It was lost time for me.' • How lost time? Is the study of philosophy lost time?' "Ah! the scholastic philosophy, the syllogisms, the enthyme. mas, the sophisms, the negos, propos, and concedos,—do you remember them, father?' (He could not avoid displaying a slight movement of the lips, which indicated his desire to laugh; I was shrewd enough to perceive it, and I took courage.) Ah, father,' I added, “teach me the philosophy of man, - sound moral philosophy, and experimental natural philosophy.' Come, come; how did you arrive here ? ' . By sea.' • With whom?' • With a company of players.' •Players!'
• They are very respectable people, father. • What is the name of the manager?' • He is Florindo on the stage, and they call him Florindo de Maccaroni “Oh, I know him ; he is a worthy man : he acted Don Giovanni, in the Festino di Pietra ; he thought proper to eat the maccaroni belonging to harlequin, and that's the way he came by that surname.' "I assure you, father, that this company • Where is the company gone to ?'
• It is here. • Here!' • Yes, father. • Do they act here ?' · Yes, father. 'I shall go to see them.' • And I also, father. - You rascal ! what is the name of the principal actress ?' · Clarice.' Oh, Clarice ! excellent-ugly, but very clever.' • Father
"I must go to thank them.' . And I, father?' · Wretch!'
I beg your pardon.' Well, well, for this time.'
About this time, the Marquis Goldoni expressed a wish to take the poet under his protection. Accordingly, after a brief period devoted to the law under M. Indrie, he became a collegian in Pavia. In his third year he was expelled. The friendship of the marquis excited the envy of his comrades, and they determined to effect his ruin. “ The town” in Pavia were sworn enemies to “the gown.” During the vacation, the townsmen had agreed, that any lady who received visits from a student, should never have proposals made to her by a townsman. The collegians vowed vengeance, and those to whom Goldoni was principally obnoxious, “got up a row,” in the hope of implicating him in it, and so compassing their object. Goldoni, however, was too wary. They next persuaded him to write a satire on the people of Pavia, and were mean enough to disclose the authorship. Twelve families cried for vengeance, and the poet was sacrificed. Poor Goldoni ! he was terribly mortified, but like a wise man he soon
got over it. The petty tyranny of the “budge doctors of the Stoic fur ” could have but little influence on his glorious spirit. Poor fools! they thought to mortify him, and he laughed at them.
After this, our hero obtained an appointment at Chiozza, as Adjunct to the Coadjutor of the criminal Chancellor, an officer ranking next to the Podestà or Governour, and employed in the administration of the criminal law. There was more of honour than of profit in this situation, and more of pleasure than either. On leaving Chiozza, he proceeded to Padua, in order to take a doctor's degree. In the examination, he acquitted himself with the greatest eclat, and very shortly practised as advocate in Venice. Here his usual ill-luck attended him. An unfortunate amour obliged him to leave his country, and to “quit his friends, his love, his hopes, and his profession." From Venice he proceeded to Bergamo, where he was kindly received by Bonfadini, the late Podestà of Chiozza. On leaving Bergamo, he was furnished by the Governour's lady with a letter of introduction and recommendation to Bartolini, the Venetian Envoy at Milan. It was the time of the Carnival. There was an opera at Milan ; the principal actor was Caffariello ; the principal danseuse, Madame Grossatesta, the wife of the Director of the Ballets. Goldoni was acquainted with them. All impatience to present bis “ Amalasonte,” a lyrical drama which he had composed at Venice, and from which he hoped to reap both honour and profit, he waited one evening on Madame Grossatesta, who kept open house. She, as well as her husband, were enchanted with the project, and congratulated him on its certain success. The drama was to be read that evening. Poor Goldoni ! another disappointment awaited him. But again he shall speak for himself:
“ The company continued to increase: Caffariello made his appearance, saw and recognised me; saluted me with the tone of Alexander, and took his place beside the mistress of the house. A few minutes afterwards, Count Prata, one of the directors of the theatre, the most skilled in every thing relative to the drama, was announced. Madame Grossatesta introduced me to the Count, and spoke to him of my opera, and he undertook to propose me to the Assembly of Directors; but it would afford him infinite pleasure, he said, to know something of the work,
-a wish in which he was joined by my country woman. I wanted nothing so much as an opportunity of reading it. A small table and a candle were brought towards us, round which we all seated ourselves, and I began to read. I announced the title of • Amalasonte. Caffariello sung the word · Amalasonte;' it was long, and seemed ridiculous to him. Every body laughed but myself: the lady scolded, and the nightingale was silent. I read over the names of the characters, of which there were nine in the piece. Here a small, shrill voice, which proceeded from an old castrato, who sung in the chorusses, and who mewed like a cat, cried out, • Too many, too many; there are at least two characters too many.' I saw that I was by no means at my ease, and wished to give over reading. M. Prata imposed silence on this insolent fellow, who had not the merit of Caffariello to excuse him, and turning to me, observed, "It is true, sir, there are not usually more than six or seven characters in a drama; but when a work is deserving of it, we willingly put ourselves to the expense of two actors. Have the goodness,' he added, “to continue the reading, if you please.' I resumed my reading. Act first, scene first. Clodesile and Arpagon. Here M. Caffariello again asked me the name of the first soprano in my opera. “Sir,' said I, it is Clodesile.' •What!' said he, you open the scene with the principal actor, and make him appear while the audience enter, seat themselves, and make a noise! Truly, sir, I am not your man.' (What patience!) M. Prata here interposed. Let us see,' said he, whether the scene is interesting.' I read the first scene, and while I was repeating my verses, a little insignificant wretch drew a paper from his pocket, and went to the harpsichord to recite an air in his part. The mistress of the house was obliged to make me excuses without intermission. M. Prata took me by the hand, and conducted me into a dressingcloset at a considerable distance from the room.
“ The Count, having requested me to seat myself, sat down beside me, and endeavoured to pacify me, telling me not to mind the misconduct of a set of giddy fools. He requested me to read my drama to himself alone, that he might be able to form a judgment of it, and to give me his sincere opinion. I was very well pleased with this act of complaisance, for which I returned him my thanks, and began the reading of my piece. He listened with attention and patience; and on the conclusion of the reading, gave me the result of his attention and judgment, nearly in the following words :
“ It appears to me that you have tolerably well studied the poetics of Aristotle and Horace, and that you have written your piece according to the principles of tragedy. You do not seem to be aware, that a musical drama is an imperfect work, subject to rules and customs ; destitute of common sense, I am willing to allow, but which still require to be literally followed. Were you in France, you might take more pains to please the public, but here you must begin by pleasing the actors and actresses; you must satisfy the musical composer; you must consult the scene-painter :-every department has its rules, and it would be treason against the drama to dare to infringe on them.
6. Listen, then,' he continued ; •I shall point out to you a few of those rules which are immutable, and with which you do not seem to be acquainted. The three principal personages of the drama ought to sing five airs each; two in the first act, two in the second, and one in the third. The second actress and the second soprano can only have three, and the inferior characters must be satisfied with a single air each, or two at the most. The author of the words must furnish the musician with the different shades which form the chiaroscuro of music; and take care that two pathetic airs do not succeed one another. He must distribute, with the same precaution, the bravura airs, the airs of action, the inferior airs, and the minuets and rondeaus. He must, above all things, avoid giving impassioned airs or rondeaus to inferior characters; these poor devils must be satisfied with what they get, and every opportunity of distinguishing themselves is denied them.'
“ M. Prata would have gone on, but I interrupted him. • You have told me enough, sir,' said I to him; do not take the trouble of enlarging farther on the subject.' I again returned him my
thanks, and took leave."
Goldoni was somewhat melancholy at first, but he soon recovered his spirits. On returning to his hotel, he burnt his drama, ordered a good supper-ate and drank- went to bed, and enjoyed a sound sleep.
The next morning he called on Barsolini, and told him the result of the preceding evening. The minister laughed, and after a short conversation, offered Goldoni the office of Gentleman of his Chamber, which he accepted. The theatre was now opened through his endeavours, and his first published production was represented here with considerable success. It is an interlude for two voices, with the title of the “ Venetian Gondolier."
The war of Don Carlos now broke out, A.D. 1733. The king of Sardinia, who favoured the cause of Carlos, had united his forces with those of France and Spain against the house of Austria. One morning the Savoyards surprised the city; and Milan being incapable of defence, the keys were delivered over to the general. The minister in consequence was ordered to Crema, and Goldoni was directed to proceed thither. The Envoy took advantage of this opportunity to dismiss his secretary, whom he greatly disliked, and conferred the office which he had held on Goldoni.
At Crema, Goldoni was of infinite service, but in consequence of a misunderstanding with the minister, he tendered his resignation, which was accepted. After a series of adventures, he arrived at Verona, where his “ Belissarius' was first represented, and with signal success. Here too he composed “Rosimonda," a tragedy, “La Birba," an interlude, “La Pupilla," also an interlude, and “Griseeda,” a tragedy. We next find him at Genoa, where he married the daughter of M. Cenio, a notary of the College, and one of the four notaries of the Bank of St. George. She was pretty, gentle, fascinating, and prudent, and Goldoni declares himself fully indemnified, in possessing her, for all that he had suffered at the hands of other women. He now returned to Venice with his wife, whom he introduced to his mother and aunt. In the paradise of home, he found ample recompense for years of toil and disappointment and change.
" It was a charming family," he says; "all was peace and harmony, and I was the happiest man in the world.” In truth, he might well be so; with a beautiful and fond wife, a gentle and affectionate mother, health and competence, how could it be otherwise ? All dear and holy compliances were his; all the pieties and sweetnesses of love,—all the hues and colours of kindness. Happy, happy Goldoni !
About this time died Count Tuo, the Genoese Consul at Venice; and, through the successful application of his wife's relations, Goldoni was appointed to succeed him. He continued, notwithstanding, to compose for the theatre, and was pre-eminently fortunate in all that he undertook. An exception, however, to this general good luck soon occurred, A Ragusan, who had deceived his brother by fair, but false promises, was introduced by him to Goldoni, and, under the pretext of levying forces for some foreign service, prevailed on him to ad.. vance him a large sum of money. The Ragusan escaped: pursuit was useless. Sad and heavy-hearted, Goldoni with his wife embarked for Bologna, Sept. 8, 1741. From Bologna he proceeded to Rimini, and