ST. ONOFRIO AND TASSO

During ten months of enthusiastic work he produced his first great poem, which, considering his age—for he was then only in his eighteenth year—and the short time occupied in its composition, is one of the most remarkable efforts of genius. He called his poem Rinaldo, after the name of the knight whose romantic adventures it celebrates—not the Rinaldo of the Gerusalemme Liberata, but the Paladin of whom so much is said in the poems of Boiardo and Ariosto,—and dedicated it to Cardinal Lewis of Este, then one of the most distinguished patrons of literature in Italy. It contains a beautiful allusion to his father's genius as the source of his own inspiration. It abounds in the supernatural incidents and personified abstractions characteristic of the romantic school of poetry; and though Galileo said of it that it reminded him of a picture formed of inlaid work, rather than of a painting in oil, it has nevertheless a unity of plot, a sustained interest, and a uniform elevation of style, which distinguishes it from all the poetry of the period. Our own Spenser has imbibed the spirit of some of its most beautiful passages; and several striking coincidences between his Faerie Queen and the Rinaldo can be traced, particularly in the account of the lion tamed by Clarillo, and the well-known incident of Una and the lion in Spenser. The poem of Rinaldo will always be read with interest, as it strikes the keynote of Tasso's great epic, the Gerusalemme Liberata, many of the finest fictions of which were adopted with very little modification from the earlier work. His letter asking his father's permission to publish it came at a very inopportune moment. Bernardo was smarting just then under the disappointments connected with the reception of his own poem, the Amadigi. It produced little impression upon the general public; the copies which he distributed among the Italian nobles procured him nothing but conventional thanks and polite praise; while the magnificent edition which he prepared specially for presentation to Philip II. of Spain, in the hope that he might thereby be induced to interest himself in the restoration of his wife's property at Naples, was not even acknowledged. Wounded thus in his deepest sensibilities, and bewailing the misfortunes of his literary career, we need not wonder that he should have sent a reply peremptorily commanding his son to give up poetry and stick to the law. The young poet in his distress sought the intervention of some of his father's literary friends, and through their mediation the destiny of Torquato Tasso and of Italian poetry was accomplished, and the poem of Rinaldo was given to the world through the renowned press of the Franceschi of Venice. No sooner was it published than it achieved an extraordinary success, for Cervantes had not yet made this class of fiction for ever ridiculous.

Notwithstanding that the public were surfeited with romantic poetry, the merits of this new work, constructed upon different principles and carried out in an original style, were such that the literary schools were carried by storm, and the young Tasso, or Tassino, as he was now called to distinguish him from his father, at once leapt into fame. So great was his reputation, that the newly-restored University of Bologna invited him to reside there, so that it might share in the distinction conferred by his name. In this magnificent seat of learning he remained, enjoying the advantage of literary intercourse with the great scholars who then occupied the chairs of the University, until the publication of some anonymous pasquinades, reflecting severely upon the leading inhabitants, of which he was falsely supposed to be the author. In his absence the Government officials visited his rooms and seized his papers. The sensitive poet regarded this suspicion as a stain upon his honour, and the outrage he never forgave. Shaking the dust from his shoes, he departed from Bologna, and for some time led an unsettled life, enjoying the generous hospitality of the nobles whose names he had celebrated in his Rinaldo. Returning at length to Padua, where he engaged in the study of Aristotle and Plato, and delivered three discourses on Heroic Poetry in the Academia degli Eterei, or the Ethereals—in which he developed the whole theory of his poetical design—which were afterwards published, the office of Laureate at the court of Ferrara was offered to him by Cardinal Lewis of Este, to whom, as I have said, he had dedicated his Rinaldo.