Alessandro Manzoni - Opera Omnia >>  Biographical preface



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Written by Rev. J.F. Bingham
To enjoy, to understand the work of ALEXANDER MANZONI, of all other men, one needs particularly a certain definite conception of his unique personality as well as of the environment, domestic, political, literary, in the midst of which he moved and wrought. For in fact in the production of that extraordinary man who stands in the glory of Italian letters next after DANTE ALIGHIERI, appeared in a degree hard to parallel the united results of heredity, of education, of social, political, domestic conditions, underlaid certainly in magnificent measure, by that individual, inscrutable, native quality, "that divine spark independent of accidental circumstances," which in want of a more definitely descriptive name we call genius. Never were these causes, external and internal, more clearly marked, and never have they operated elsewhere more fully and powerfully, than in giving a Manzonian character and color to whatever followed the ceaseless activity of that inimitable pen.

"Great as a poet, equally great as a prose-writer, in thought, in feeling, in a sculpturesque style, he marked out deeply a new path in every kind of literature, historical, critical, philosophical, philological. His lyric poetry, his tragedies (in which he initiated reforms which are to-day the hinge of the modern drama), and the wonderful romance, I Promessi Sposi (a book of universal genius and unlimited learning), are monuments from which issue beams of light that penetrate every mind and every heart." (1)

The dignity of real aristocracy; the ever-present sentiment of independence coming down for a thousand years in the stock of rural nobility; unbending patriotism boiling in blood derived from ancestral veins a hundred times pierced in battles for freedom; the solidity of profound learning; acuteness developed in wrestling with the subtleties of the various philosophies; literary polish from association with Parisian letters and society; the perfected technique of every form and every school of poetry; unbounded inspirations of nature received in elegant country life; the genial politeness of a gentleman of the world; the amenities of sincere and intimate friendships; the tenderness of devoted family life; over all the invincible charity and optimism of the ardent Christian believer; and finally, a never satisfied industry of the file and a selfdepreciating criticism -- all these foundations and forces wrought mightily together and resulted in building that beautiful greatness which has made the name of ALEXANDER MANZONI, after that of DANTE ALIGHIERI, the most brilliant star in the galaxy of Italian letters.

The ancient noble family of MANZONI had for centuries been prominent in upper Lombardy. In 1710 they de.scended into the neighborhood of Lecco, on the margin of Lake Como, and established themselves in one of their ancient palatial villas called Caleotto. They had also a townhouse in Milan, where the father of the Poet, DON PIETRO MANZONI, met and won the hand of JULIA, a famed belle of that capital, a granddaughter of the Marquis GIAN SAVERIO (whose wife was a VISCONTI DA RHO), and the accomplished eldest daughter of CESARE BECCARIA, at that time the most illustrious literary character in Italy, author of the immortal treatise Of Crimes and their Punishments. (2) The daughter added to her dowry not only her bodily charms, but the intellect of her family and the accomplishments of the highest social culture of the times.

The first ten years of the married life of PIETRO and JULIA MANZONI were passed together at Caleotto, their palatial villa, amidst the enchanting environment of those Piedmontese lakes and mountains, during the summer and autumn, while in winter they came to their city-home to participate in the gaieties of the capital. Here on the 7th of March 1785, at No. 20 Via San Damiano, ALEXANDER MANZONI was born.

His infancy, and this only, was passed amidst the endearments of home; if we may call it so to be nursed and brought up as he was in a hamlet, three or four miles away, called La Costa [The Knoll], where no doubt he was often visited by his gay young mother. In his sixth year the little boy was sent to begin his studies in a college of Somaschi friars at Merate a few miles further along the shore of Lake Como. His childhood never again had the solace of family life.

Five years later, after the poorest of instruction there and having made little progress in learning he was passed on to another college of the Somaschi at Lugano. Not unlike his great contemporary, Sir Walter in the north, during those early years he was unsympathetic with the careless, stupid masters, and was rated among the bashful, stammering, contemplative dunces of the school. Here at Lugano he remained two years, finding happily one sympathetic master, FRANCESCO SOAVE, who was the first to discover the rare capacity of his precocious pupil.

He was next transferred, being now thirteen, to the college Longone, called then Nobles' College [Collegio de' Nobili] belonging to the Barnabite fathers, in Milan, but at the time, under stress of political affairs, holding its sessions at Castellazzo dei Barzi, a villa belonging to the College, near Magenta. While here at Longone, before completing his fifteenth year, already familiar with the classic verse of PARINI, his first master whom he used to call the Divine, the grandson of CESARE BECCARIA, having just finished reading the Bassvilliana of ViNCENZO MONTI of which he was still aflame, was presented to this great Poet then at the height of his powers and his fame. MONTI, 26 years his senior, was charmed with the precocious youth (3) and the neophyte returned the sentiment by an admiration little short of adoration.

Leaving, soon after, this College-villa, he made a short stay in the home of two maiden aunts, one of them an ex-nun, who were living in the suburbs of Milan. From there he passed to a residence at the University of Pavia. After less than two years of university life and without taking any degree, at the age of sixteen, he returned permanently to Milan, finishing thus his public studies except attending noted lectures of PIETRO SIGNOVELLI on dramatic poetry at Brera, the Jesuit college at Milan.

During the next five years which included a visit of some months in Venice, he lived in the house of his father in Milan and for a time was an habitué of the ridotto [theater-parlor] della Scala where he spent much time in gaming. One evening he was surprised there by MONTI the demi-god of his imagination when at college. The Poet who admired his genius approached and said to him: "If you go on in this way, fine verses we shall make in the future." (4) The young man was startled, the Lombardian mettle of his ancestry flashed into an Alfierian resolve, he renounced gaming at once and forever. From now on his devotion to private study (like that of the youthful MILTON almost 200 years before in the seclusion of his father's house in the suburbs of London), became intense and his acquisitions, like those of his English prototype, prodigious, sweeping through the whole field of Latin and Italian authors. During this period he produced much various poetry never printed by him, but published years after his death, in it, though juvenilia, were found intrinsic values beyond the mere curiosity of postuma of so renowned a name.

The home, however, had been desolated by the departure of the wife and mother, even since the time of the first sending away of the child to the college of the Somaschi friars; which act probably was a result of that breach. It is certain that a legal separation of the parents had been executed and the mother ever afterward wrote her name JULIA BECCARIA. In connection with some confusion and uncertainties it is known that she went immediately to live on terms of intimate domesticity with Count CARLO IMBONATI, in Paris. It has been claimed that he was a distant relation. It is certain that he was a neighbor of the MANZONI in Milan, a man of literary tastes, an unbounded admirer of the accomplished Signora, often or always present at her social functions, about fifty years of age and in delicate health. The intimacy continued unbroken till his death some fifteen years later. By his will she inherited, after some legacies, his entire estate. Her conduct caused great contemporary scandal; and the child never met IMBONATI in life, seeing his body for the first time when assisting the stricken mother in transporting it to Milan for burial, being then in his twentieth year.

If not a justification of the conduct of the wife and mother, there is to be noted as a certain palliation in the eyes of the world, the necessary incompatibility in taste and temper between a proud, untamed, domineering lord from the Lombard mountains, already nearly sixty years old, and a delicate, vain, indulged young beauty, of princely stock, daughter of a marquis who was also the most illustrious savant of his time, herself one of the most intellectual and accomplished ladies in the upper society of the world. Receiving, also, naturally, distinguishing attentions on every side in the highest circles of culture and of fashion, which her husband, if less civilized not less haughty, would not easily brook, the inevitable and unbearable bitterness and battles in the household are easy to be imagined.

Then, when she fled from husband and child, it was to the sympathetic home of 'cousin' Carlo (at how many removes I do not know), but who was able and desirous to provide her with every physical comfort and every intellectual and social advantage; with a home where she would be a prized accession to his solitude; and where there never need be, as there never was any just ground for, a suspicion of scandal over their pure and dignified personal relations. Nevertheless, there was mystery and there was suspicion of evil.

One thing more must be noted, namely, that the affections of the son, though so widely and so long separated from her, were drawn out more obviously, at least, toward the mother, than toward the father, who as is assumed, cared for his childhood and in whose house he found the home of his adolescence. While there is no ground for supposing any degree of infidelity toward the latter, it is certain that he adored the former; and there is no evidence that he faulted her doings whether in regard to himself or to any other.

After the death of IMBONATI, whom he assisted his mother to bury at Brusuglio, one of the Imbonati villas three miles out from Milan, the good son, in gentle sympathy for her sorrow, returned with her to Paris and for her solacement wrote and published at Paris a memorial poem unrhymed of 250 lines [To Julia Beccaria on the Death of Carlo Imbonati] in which with great sweetness of affection, nobility of sentiment, purity and beauty of language and an ingenious novelty of ideas, the young poet built a veiled but effective and immortal monument to the high character of her friend, where occur such lines as:
Eager as he who seeks a treasure-trove.
  Am I to speak the virtues out to thee
Whose temple was the chaste and guileless breast
  Of him thou weepest
It does not appear in the editions of his poems published by himself for reasons possibly other than literary; but it has not gone without notice and esteem among the great critics, of whom FOSCOLO in particular has praised and cited it in a note to his own famous Sepulchres.

His life in the wonderful salons of Paris into which his brilliant mother introduced him were an inestimable advantage to young MANZONI in a literary point of view, revealing and opening to him a new and inspiring intellectual world. At the Maisonette, the parlors of the widow Condorcet and in Auteuil, those of Madame Cabanis, the shy and lymphatic but intensely impressible youth was brought into effective contact with the most cultivated and most interesting men of the century. The dearest, closest, most helpful friend of his whole life, the not anti-religious, intensely philitalian and enormously learned CLAUDE CHARLES FAURIEL he found there; but he found there also an elect crowd of eminent and brilliant disciples of VOLTAIRE among whom his mother, 'on whose head had long ago been laid the hands of the Patriarch of Fernay,' found her congenial place; poets, like PONCE DENIS LEBRUN, the French Pindar, whose thrilling and lofty lyrics of patriotism offered to condone for low and selfish ideas of honor; philosophers, like COUNT DE VOLNEY whose learning and brightness made his atheism almost tolerable; the great Jacobite GARAT, elegant and eloquent defender and promoter of Robespierre; the 'sensual' philosophers, CABANIS, DESTUTT DE TRACY, MAINE DE BIRAU and a multitude of lesser stars, but still vigorous, acute, plausible pronmlgators of those various philosophies, all fundamentally irreligious, which at that period were absorbing the attention of every mind and bearing along even the calmest thinkers in their impetuous currents.

While the ideas of the philosophers astonished him in their novelty and aroused him by their boldness; and the example of the labors and the successes of the reigning poets filled him with admiration; and all taken together was a needed and an effective spur for redoubling his ardor in the study of the great writers and in the cultivation especially of poetry; yet the subtle philosophy, superficially infidel and profoundly sensual, of these learned men was not and could not be doing otherwise than infiltrating their carnal scepticism into the ideas and opinions of the now swiftly developing youth and extinguishing in his impressive soul the light of Christian faith.

Two years later, residing still with his mother in Paris but having come to Genoa on an errand of business and being at the moment visiting in Turin, lie heard of the mortal illness of his father and flew to his bedside in Milan, arriving however too late to receive the dying octogenarian's latest breath. By this occurrence, on the 17th of March, 1807, being now just past twenty-two, he came into the possession of his patrimony; and by business relative to this was detained in Milan a part of the ensuing summer. The Imbonati town-house had been sold three years before to a Protestant banker from Geneva of the name of Blondel, whose eldest daughter, HENRIETTA [Enrichetta Luigia] then twelve years old, had caught the eye of the young Lombard nobleman.

New proximity and leisure caused the acquaintance to be renewed and before this visit was over, she now in her sixteenth year became his promessa sposa. (5)

He was now in circumstances open to settling in life and his disposition and temperament were very much so disposed. He had had while in his teens two serious love affairs, both rather intense but both innocent and abortive; one with a Genoese older than he, to whom under the name of 'Angelic Lucy' he wrote verses, which was broken off by the influence of his family; the other with a Venetian girl, during the brief visit of the just enfranchised collegian to the seductive city of the isles. This time the lady was unsympathetic, treated the beardless poet as a boy and sent him home to his studies.

During the year following the death of his father he consummated his union (6) with the beautiful and lovely girl who became truly his 'Angelic Lucy', the supreme comfort of his existence, the wise mother of his many children, the safe counselor and supporting companion in the trying crises of his later life. The Catholic clergy having refused 'the marriage in church' to a Protestant, the nuptials were blessed at the house of the father of the bride (once the Imbonati town-house) by the then young Protestant pastor, afterward famous professor, JOHN KASPER ORELLI. The new husband almost immediately conducted his girl-wife to the home of his mother in Paris, who warmly welcomed her new daughter; and from that day on the two ladies lived their happy lives lovingly together under the same roof, in the midst of an evergrowing flock of little ones. (7)

During the years that intervened between his leaving the colleges of the Somaschi friars and of the Barnabites, where the education, however imperfect otherwise, was profoundly religious, the solitary and desultory life of the young poet in Milan had relapsed into a careless worldliness and disregard of religious duties. Still further, under the influence of that three years of Parisian life and association, even that indifference was left behind. The foundations of faith in his soul were shaken. The structure of Christian belief which his whole previous education had aimed at rearing was tottering to its fall.

In such a state of mind in which, religion of any creed is held in slight esteem, he was the more ready to take a Protestant wife and in the Protestant fashion, yet most happily in her, who in his own words, (8) "together with the affections of wife and the wisdom of mother preserved a virgin soul," he found a moral force and a religious result which he least of all expected. The serious conversation and pure and earnest life of this most lovely woman respect and love of whom was ever more and still more absorbing the profoundest sentiments of his soul, struck a note within him which sounded in painful dissonance with the tones of unbelieving mockery in which their Parisian life was drowned. His mind became ill at rest in indifference, much less in unbelief. This uneasiness was steadily increased, also, by the conversation of two devoted priests, (9) who often visited the young couple and believed that the careless life of the husband operated to restrain the wife -- a thing, not only, which they, naturally, so much deplored, but which appealed to the judgment and fine sensibility of the husband; and he became much disturbed over it, though the bonds of incredulity (10) were very unyielding in his tough Lombard constitution; and literary and fashionable popularity bore upon him there with a tide which it was, perhaps, harder yet for him to stem.

Meanwhile the wife was not at ease in her thoughts. She listened gladly to the instructive conversations of the clerical friends at once respectful, gentle and persuasive. What conversations on the subject she may have ventured with her apparently careless husband, if any, we cannot know. But the step for her had difficulties, required renunciations external and internal and the unused months passed by.

However there came a day that brought with it a crisis for her. She became suddenly conscious that an event (11) in the history of her life was approaching which could neither be evaded nor postponed. Yet according to the teaching of the Church of her companion, according to his own professed belief so far as he had any, and that of the people great and small by whom she was surrounded, he was not a husband. How could she bear to bring into the world a doubtful child? And what if she should not survive the event? What a name she would carry down, what an indelible spot she would leave on the fame and fortune of the life innocent of her fault!

Besides, earnest and devout that she was in the religion according to which she had been trained and finding in the new faith no impediment but rather ample scope and every encouragement for the exercise of all the sentiments and virtues of holy living, the differences of creed and the language of worship, -- great and tremendous as they indeed seemed to her when standing on the printed page, or even when falling from the lips of their clergy-friends, yet being in their nature mysterious and uncertain, (12) -- these differences seemed to her to be things, after all, not greatly to concern the spiritual trust, love and obedience of her humble woman-heart yearning toward her Savior-God and striving honestly to fulfil the duties of her lot. Among these reflections, especially were ringing in her soul the words of the Apostle: "What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?" (13)

Finally, no little thing was the helpfulness she found in the churches themselves, the glorious temples of the Faith -- a visit to which in their awful beauty and soft, sweet, peaceful solemnity, was itself an inspiration, an elevation, a strong solace -- not to speak of the heavenly, soul-stirring music when the rites were progressing. This and much more in comparison with the bareness of the Protestant sanctuaries, the slender externals of worship and indeed the infrequency of functions there -- standing feeble to comfort and sustain the hungering and thirsting and desponding soul in combat with the noise and vanity and folly which fill the days in the world outside. The apparent Protestant deficiency could be rebutted, it could, no doubt, be explained away, but all the same the comparison remained a mighty conscious gain on the one hand and on the other a mighty loss in the very quarter where she needed her strongest consolations.

Still the anxious months moved on, a daughter was born to them, (14) and remained unchurched, unbaptized. Meantime the status of the mother and child and the visibly prayful life of the former ever more and still more agitated the thoughts of the apparently careless husband and father. It was in these circumstances that sauntering one day through the streets of Paris without aim and with mind greatly disturbed by reflections on this subject he was seized by a sudden illness. The feeling was new, strange, alarming. Finding himself at its door, he stepped into the church of St. Rock, for rest and quiet. No sooner had he passed through the portal, as he himself afterward narrated to a friend, (15) than he was profoundly impressed by the atmosphere of devotion that surrounded him. Solemn recollections of the long neglected temple came over him and he felt an irresistible 'desire to pray and to believe.' He advanced to the high altar and kneeled there to pray, for the first time in many years. In a spasm of distress he cried out in his soul: "O God, if Thou hast an existence, reveal Thyself to me!" This petition he repeated over and over uncounted times, during the long space (he knew not how long), that he remained kneeling there. When at last he rose from his bewilderment and left the church, his mind was at rest, the faith of his childhood was reestablished; he returned home with a soul full of peace; (16) new resolutions for life were settled; most surprising to him of all, he returned to find the partner of his existence more than ready to join him in the new departure and to meet the utmost of his wishes which till now he had hesitated to propose.

At last arrived for them the most momentous day in all their henceforth perfectly united and most happy lives. On the 15th of February, 1810 (the 3d anniversary of the Protestant nuptials), in the private chapel of the minister of foreign affairs of the then Kingdom of Italy (17) resident at Paris, with most solemn ceremony, abjuring the Protestant religion, HENRIETTA was received into the bosom of the Catholic Church; and on her head were laid the hands of the Archbishop of Paris. This solemn rite was followed by another which in her heart of hearts was, perhaps, of livelier interest still. On the same day, at the same chancel, with the Catholic rite (the Sacrament as they now accepted it) of Matrimony, the two were sealed into a legitimate and indelible union by the sacred benediction of the Church, performed by the rector of the parish of the Madeleine.

Three months later, May 22d, 1810, their firstborn, now seventeen months unchristianized, was baptized with the name JULIA CLAUDIA in the arms of CLAUDE CHARLES FAURIEL, their great friend, already illustrious for his immortal books, an intense lover of Italian letters, later professor at the Sorbonne, bound to the rising poet of Italy in a fraternal intimacy which neither distance nor time, but death alone could dissolve, more than forty years then in the future. (18)

The reconsecration of the married pair into a new spiritual union in the same cherished faith, in which as years went on child after child a numerous flock came to be baptized, proved a supreme mutual joy and to the Poet with his peculiarly domestic temperament a very real element of strength as he matured in literary perfection and intellectual power. But in his case, also, as so often happens in a world of misunderstandings, injustice and conflict, the great happiness that flowed into his household and into his own heart from obedience to the dictates at once of his conscience and his affections cost him a great price.

On the material side, the conversion of the wife ruptured the friendly relations with her Protestant kindred. The husband was bitterly accused of influencing her conduct by means and motives which were tantamount to forcing her into the Catholic communion. The result of the paternal rage appears to have been a diminution, if not the entire loss of her dowry; which again seems to have been one of several unfortunate factors in bringing on later a financial stringency in the domestic affairs of the Poet, which necessitated parting with his dearly loved Caleotto and grew at last into an anxiety and distress that appealed to the generosity of his sovereign and of his fellow-countrymen.

On the intellectual side, also, the accruing deprivation was painful and mortifying but it may probably be said that this was a loss which proved to be for him a gain to lose. The salons which had been a quickening center of his intellectual life and an ever-springing source of new literary inspirations, now and henceforth were no longer congenial to his heart nor invigorating to his intellect. On the contrary, the atmosphere which prevailed there, of classic mythology, of unclean sensuality, of revolutionary and murderous jacobinism, now that he had come to the light of a lofty faith, the sentiments of a pure spirituality, and the peaceful environment of a gentle and generous Christian life, was to him painful, deadening, intolerable.

Nor were these revulsions wholly on his part. With the change in his sentiments and especially with his public ecclesiastical acts the manner of his reception at the salons was altered. By some he was bitterly blamed, by some courteously avoided, by some treated with officious contempt, by too few by unchanged and generous behavior. As a result, in great measure, of this state of things, two months after the baptism of his child, he gladly returned (and now permanently) to Milan. Four years later (1814), he bought the modest house (still preserved as a museum), at the corner of Via Morone, No. 1, and the Piazza Belgiojoso, No. 3, (19) where, in alternation with his Imbonati suburban villa of Brusuglio, he ever afterwards resided. (20)

The date of this permanent return to Milan the Poet always regarded as the most interesting and important epoch, the dividing of ways, in his whole literary career. It was nothing less than his abandonment of the "horizons of pagan mythology" for the fields of Christian ethics, a conversion from "classicism" to "romanticism" so-called, in which he was to be in Italy the unrivaled exponent and master. Like ST. PAUL on the plains of Damascus, he was arrested by a heavenly light in the heathen salons of Paris, and being "not disobedient to the heavenly vision," became the mighty apostle and leader in developing among his fellow countrymen the new doctrines which were already faintly rising like a new dawn over the German horizon and beginning to glimmer in northern Italy.

The gods and goddesses, the myths and legends, the whole artificial workmanship of classic antiquity and especially the sterile and feeble modern imitation of it, in misconceived and misapplied 'regularities' and rules, (22) to the domination of which genius in France had been for ages and was still in bondage, MANZONI abandoned once and forever on the day when he abandoned, from a disgust at once religious, literary and civic, those sensuous heathen salons. He once and but once had on his soul the mythologic sin of creating Urania; but it was the work of still earlier yearsand it was never repeated. "Strong in Latin and in Italian studies, with his god-like intellect, he went on steadily giving out such products in lyrics, in tragedy, in romance, that he was himself taken up among the greater gods in literature. It was no history of Coelum, of Saturn, of Jove;, it was a crowding together of the Immortals themselves to make room for him in the sky." (23)

For more than sixty years that plain, almost dilapidated dwelling at "No. 3," and the lovely country-seat of Brusuglio, constituted the worldrenowed home of modest content, peace, and domestic joy and a meeting-place of high-toned intellect never before equaled in Italy; whence issued into the sight of his admiring countrymen a slow but steady stream of learned and judicious treatises, of poetry for naturalness and perfection unmatched, and above all, that world-startling romance which has no other companion in the literature of Italy than the masterpiece of DANTE ALIGHIERI.

With other heredities so obvious and so strong, curious, indeed, was the absence in him of the historic violent, choleric character of his ancestors. (24) The temper of ALEXANDER MANZONI on the contrary, was mild and generous to a degree. So much so that he shunned contentions of every sort and in important instances yielded to wrong rather than enforce his rights in the courts. Notably among other instances, when his masterpiece was plagiarized in the illustrated edition of 1840, and his loss on this account exceeded 40,000 lire, he bore it quietly without bringing suit. Absorbed in his intellectual labor and study, his affairs also were too much neglected. As early as 1818, less than ten years after coming to his patrimony, through the dishonesty of a too carelessly supervised agent, when called upon to pay for his mother the legacies required by the Imbonati Will, he found himself compelled with great regret to part with the ancestral villa Caleotto, the endeared home of his infancy. Notwithstanding however the distressful sacrifice, the lofty sentiment of the nobleman's heart forbade to press his dependents for the well-nigh impossible payment of their enormous arrears. On the contrary, at so great cost to himself, he not only gave to each and all a free discharge, but in their need gave up to them his half of the standing crops in the field.

One hereditary trait however for which he was adored by his fellow countrymen remained fixed and eminent in his character -- the love of liberty and the hatred of tyranny. It is reported of him that in boyhood at the school of the Somaschi friars he always wrote 'king,' 'emperor,' 'pope' with small initials and underwent punishment rather than begin these names with a capital letter. His profound hostility to the cruel domination of Austria over his country and his lively sympathy with the patriots who, in the first half of the last century, resisted unto blood and lifelong imprisonment, were not secrets. The library of the house No. 1 Via Morone often witnessed the presence of such men as CONFALONIERI, PELLICO, BORSIERI, all afterward buried in the dungeons of the Spielberg while the author of Il Cinque Maggio was writing his masterpieces undisturbed by the Austrian police. "I remember," says his biographer, GIULIO CARCANO, "being there once with MANZONI, baron FREECHI, GROSSI, Marquis VISCONTI and others, when the Poet exclaimed laughing: 'I declare I am ashamed of presuming to be among you, I who have never been in arrest.'"

Three reasons, at least, for this immunity are obvious. First of all, the tone and temper of his writing, whether moral, civic or political, even the lyrics which reflect with an irresistible meaning a censure on the political situation, are like the man himself, of a gentle, lovely, lofty Christian character. The domineering power would sooner ignore them, than acknowledge the sting by involuntary blushes before the condemnation of the civilized world. Then his feeble condition of body, his shy avoidance of strenuous society and pushing activity rendered absurd the thought of his overt action in connection with any revolutionary unions or treasonable projects which were then the terror of the unpopular government. Finally, when he arrived at a place in the admiration and love of the nation and of the world second only to that of DANTE ALIGHIERI, it was no longer safe and no government dared to molest his peaceful, glorious life.

It is also true that he took no active part in any public affairs though his social position placed and held him during his whole life in the very center of those patriotic struggles with which he intensely sympathized and which to his unbounded joy eventuated in the union and independence of Italy. Like GOETHE under similar conditions in Germany, he was by some faulted for this constant 'dwelling in the upper skies' of thought and sentiment when tyranny and the opportunity were trumpeting for hard, vulgar earthly blows to drive off the oppressor and free the fatherland. Leaving apart the consideration of the incompatibility between a supreme spiritual capacity refined by the culture of the most exalted and generous sentiments and by a consummate literary taste, and the coarse excitement, the brutal fury, the murderous uproar and the hellish disorders and wickednesses of actual warfare, his untrustworthy physical constitution liable to frequent and unexpected attacks of vertigo and of fainting- so that he could never go in the street unattended; a constitutional bashfulness which unnerved him in the presence of a crowd or even of individual strangers; and finally a natural hesitancy of speech and a stammering which was often so exaggerated by the mortification of it as to render him practically speechless -- all this should seem worthily and wisely to confine his energies to his pen -- and such a pen as he only could wield!

No man was ever less solicitous of honors for himself and to no man were these more eagerly and abundantly offered by his adoring fellowcountrymen. He used none of his hereditary titles. He declined all civic offices, (25) orders and emoluments, save near the end of his life (1860), in attestation of his satisfaction and joy at the consummation of his life-long desire and hope for the unification of Italy, he accepted from King Victor Emmanuel the nomination of SENATOR OF THE KINGDOM "for eminent services rendered to the fatherland." The capital was then at Turin. Three times only was his venerable figure seen in the senate-chamber. He was present in June, 1860, to give his oath of allegiance to the new sovereign; in February, 1861, to take part in the vote which proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy; in December, 1864, his 8oth year, in inclement weather, he risked the hundred mile journey to vote for the transfer of the capital from Turin to Florence, which was to mean but a brief stop on the road to Rome and implied the fall of the temporal power of the popes, the goal of Italian unity. He never was in Rome, but he lived to see the day when the prophecy was fulfilled which fifty years before in the Adelchi he put in the mouth of Desiderio:
. . . . That for which in vain
Our fathers sighed, has been preserved
For us; Rome shall be ours
. . . .
Unable from the infirmities of age, increased by the loss of so many of his dear ones, (26) to be present at the sessions of the first Parliament there, he was honored with the citizenship of the city on the 28th of June, 1872. On the 22d of the following May, six weeks after the death of his idolized son PIETRO, in the early evening, in his life-long home in Via Morone, he quietly breathed his last, at the great age of eighty-eight years, two months and fifteen days. The body was deposited in the place of honor in the Famedio, (27) with august solemnities in which all Italy participated, the Sovereign being represented by Humbert, then prince royal. For the funeral Mass on the first anniversary of his death, GIUSEPPE VERDI wrote the immortal Requiem which bears the Poet's great name.


(1) F. Orlando.

(2) Dei Delitti e delle Pene. "One of the most effectively useful books that have ever been written, an honor to Italian thought and of which it may be said, as of the writings of MACHIAVELLI and of GALILEO, that it does honor to the Italian speech." - A. D'ANCONA.

(3) Already at fifteen, not to speak of translations from Virgil and Horace and minor things, the author of an epic poem of four cantos in the triple rhyme of Dante's Comedy entitled The Triumph of Liberty [Il Trionfo della Libertà] published 75 years later among his postuma.

(4) "Se andate avanti così, bei versi che faremo in avenire."

(5) September, 1807.

(6) February 6, 1808.

(7) The children by this lady were nine, all of whom lived to maturity.

(8) In his dedication to her of the Adelchi; in which tragedy, in the character of the heroine, ERMENGARDA, [rejected wife of Charlemagne] drawing inspiration from his own most lovely and virtuous HENRIETTA, he has produced one of the most powerful and artistic figures anywhere to be found in the poetry or literature of the world.

(9) The abbot Eustachio Degola of Genoa and Henri Gregoire a Frenchman

(10) In 1806 he wrote from Paris to his friend PAGANI: 'I prefer the natural indifference of the French who leave you to go about your own business, to the cruel zeal of our people who take possession of you and wish to care for your soul and to drive into your body their own manner of thinking; as if one who has a head, a heart, two legs, and a stomach, and walks alone, could not dispose of himself, and of all that is in him, at his own pleasure.'

(11) Compare stanza viii of The Pentecost.

(12) E. g. The solemnity of the Mass; the status of the Blessed Virgin; the infallibility of the Pope; the Immaculate Conception; the continuance of miracles; the authority of tradition; etc., etc.

(13) I Cor. vii, 16.

(14) JULIA, b. Dec., 1808, m. MASSIMO D'AZEGLIO, 1831, d. 1834.


(16) Compare stanza x of The Pentecost.

(17) Regno Italico.

(18) FAURIEL paid MANZONI a long visit, remaining in Italy from October, 1823, till November, 1825, during which he assisted the author who was then meditating I Promessi Sposi.

(19) Confusion has arisen in connection with these numbers. The Manzoni home is a corner house and has two entrances, one in Via Morone bearing the number i, the other in Piazza Belgiojoso bearing the number 3. The latter entrance was made by MANZONI in 1862 (but never used by him), because this side of the house had been rented for a Bank. MANZONI always entered by the Morone street door; yet the commemorative tablet has been put (I know not why), on the door of No. 3, which may have led some to believe, erroneously, that this was the door used by MANZONI.

(20) In 1819, in search of relaxation and health, and now taking with him his whole family (there were then five children), MANZONI revisited Paris and his friend FAURIEL, remaining there, but without physical benefit, about 10 months. In 1827, he visited Florence with his whole family, including, then, mother, wife, 7 children, and servants, a company of 15 souls, arriving there at the end of August and returning arly in October. A principal reason of this visit was the promotion of his knowledge and practice of the Tuscan dialect by oral intercourse with his illustrious friends CAPPONI, NICOLINI, LEOPARDI and a score more of distinguished habitués of the Library Vieusseux where he was always welcomed with joy and reverence. Of this visit he humorously said that he "came there to rinse his rags in the water of the Arno." Another considerable visit to Tuscany was made in 1856, and a few shorter ones later.

(22) See the Letters of MANZONI to Fauriel, and to Sainte-Beuve, passim.


(24) The ancient feudal family bore an historic character in Lombardy quite the opposite of subserviency to superiors, or of gentleness to inferiors. A significant couplet, it is traditionary, used to be heard echoing among those Alpine valleys:

"Poverna's torrent in winter season,
And the Manzoni know not reason."

(25) His means having become much narrowed by the payment of the Imbonati legacies; by needed repairs on the Imbonati villa of Brusuglio: by losses through the plagiarism in cheap editions of his unprotected works in all parts of Italy; by the expenses of his large family (of children, mostly daughters to be supported in the decencies of their stations and dowered); by his life-long generosity to his innumerable friends (among whom was THOMAS GROSSI, who lived in his house for fifteen years); he accepted the royal offer of an annual pension of 12,000 lire.

(26) His wife, HENRIETTA BLONDEL, died in 18338 blow from which MANZONI never fully recovered. His mother followed in 1841. Before 1856, he had buried four of HENRIETTA'S six daughters, all married but one who was already awaiting marriage. In 1837, he took in second marriage TERESA BORRI, 20 years old, widow of Count STEFANO STAMPA, to whom she had been married at 18; who brought with her a little son. [From this time on MANZONI divided the autumn months between the stay at Brusuglio and the Villa di Lesa, the Stampa country-seat on the lake Maggiore. Here as the years went on the young STAMPA to whom the villa belonged surrounded the stepfather with the most affectionate and reverent attentions. - CÁRCANO.] In 1861, Signora TERESA died. After her death, his eldest and greatly loved son PIETRO returned with his family to No. 1 Via Morone, and affectionately cared for the declining years of his illustrious parent. Suddenly, in 1873, PIETRO died under the eyes of his father and the shock was too much for the remaining strength of the octogenarian Poet.

(27) TEMPLE OF GLORY in the Cemetery (Cimitero monumentale) of Milan.


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