ST. ONOFRIO AND TASSO

Such were the dark clouds that, after a brief gleam of the brightest prosperity, hung over the early years of Torquato Tasso. Deprived of the care of a father who followed from court to court the varied fortunes of his benefactor, and in the company of a mother worse than widowed, dependent upon the cold and niggardly charity of friends who were either too timid or superstitious to oppose the patron of the Inquisition, the child grew up in melancholy solitude, like an etiolated plant that has been deprived of the sunshine. The original sadness and sensitiveness of his disposition was much increased by the family misfortunes. In his seventh year he was sent to a school in the neighbourhood, opened by the Jesuits, who were at this time beginning to exert a powerful influence upon society, principally on account of their zeal in the cause of education. At this school he remained for three years, acquiring a wonderful knowledge of Latin and Greek, and manifesting such enthusiasm in his studies that he rose long before day-break, and was so impatient to get to school that his mother was often obliged to send him away in the dark with a lantern. Here he showed the first symptoms of his genius for poetry and rhetoric, and gave public testimony to the deep religious feeling which he inherited from his parents, and which had been so carefully cultivated by his ecclesiastical masters, by joining the communion of the Church. In his tenth year his father left the court of Henry III. of France, and settled in Rome, where he had apartments assigned him in the immense palace of Cardinal Hippolito of the house of Ferrara. These apartments were furnished as handsomely as his impoverished resources allowed, in the hope that he might have his wife and children to live with him. But in spite of all his efforts and entreaties his wife was not allowed by her brothers to rejoin him; while his own position as an outlaw made it impossible for him to enter the kingdom of Naples to rescue her. The only concession he could get from the authorities was permission for her to enter with her daughter Cornelia as pensioners among the nuns in the convent of San Festo; and no sooner was this step taken than her friends openly seized her dowry, on the plea that it would otherwise belong to the convent, as her husband's outlawry cancelled his claims to it. Her boy, of course, could not enter the convent with her; he was therefore sent to his father in Rome. The separation between mother and son, we are told, was most affecting. To her it was the climax of her trials; and, bowed down beneath the weight of her accumulated sufferings, she fell an easy victim to an attack of fever, which, in the short space of twenty-four hours, ended her wretched life. Upon Tasso the parting from a mother whom he was never to see again, and whose personal qualities and grievous trials had greatly endeared her to him, produced an impression which even the great troubles of his after life could never efface.