Thursday, April 13, 2006

Manuscripts of Tasso

Rome: December 1833.—I have just picked up a very interesting account of some late discovered books and manuscripts belonging to Tasso. I copy the memorandum written for me by Mr. Horner, to whom these papers were shown by the Conte Alberti:

‘When Tasso was imprisoned, his manuscripts were all seized and put into the hands of Guarini, the author of the "Pastor Fido," and then minister of state of Alfonzo, Duke of Ferrara, He was shortly afterwards sent on an embassy from Alfonzo to the Court of Florence, and failing in the object of his mission, was subsequently dismissed. Still, either designedly or by accident, he retained the manuscripts which the death of Tasso had rendered comparatively unimportant to Alfonzo, and on the death of Guarini they were inherited by his son Alessandro Guarini, from whom they passed into the hands of Carlo Tomaso Strozzi. They were purchased from him by a person of the name of Foppi or Foppo, and finally came into the possession of the Falconieri family at Borne. With their descendants the MSS. remained till the Conte Alberti, hearing that these books existed and were but lightly appreciated by their owner, became the purchaser of them, at a very small price.

The Conte Alberti being in reduced circumstances, and finding the inconvenience under a despotic government of being the possessor of manuscripts, by which he had been already led into very unpleasant situations, he has offered these for sale to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. After having subjected them to the most rigid scrutiny, which has satisfied him as to the authenticity of these papers, Leopold has made the liberal offer of 1,000l., the bargain, however, has not yet been closed, and I imagine that, were a larger sum offered from any other quarter, Conte Alberti is at liberty to take it.

'I myself saw only three of the books; one of them was a compilation of sonnets all written upon scraps of paper, backs of letters, &c. &c. incorrect, but abounding in beauties, and interesting as portraying the progress of the poet's passion for Leonora, and also clearly establishing the fact of his only feigning madness in obedience to the commands of Alfonso, who wished thus to screen the reputation of his sister. There may be about 100 sonnets. I also saw the "Laborinto d'Amore" given to the poet by Leonora, in a cover embroidered by her own hand in allegorical devices. It is in very good preservation, and in the first leaf is a sonnet written by Tasso, which alludes to this circumstance. The third was a Virgil, full of marginal notes written by him. I believe there are many other books rendered interesting by the annotations of Tasso, which are to be sold with the rest; among them, I know, is a treatise by Aristotle on the " Art of War," from which the poet has evidently derived as much knowledge of military tactics as was necessary for the composition of his " Gerusalemme." There is also either a part or the whole of that poem in the author's handwriting as it was originally composed, not as he afterwards gave it to the public.'

Thus far Mr. Horner wrote for me to send to England, in hopes of procuring a better bargain, not only for Conte Alberti, but for the world. He told me that Leopold is supposed to be so jealous of the reputation of his predecessors, or more probably so deeply imbued with the Austrian fear of giving publicity to invectives against princes, even when so many centuries have covered their ashes, that he has absolutely prohibited the publication of any of these books. Conte Alberti says he should be sorry that they should go out of Italy; but he fears they may be as effectually buried in the private library of the Grand Duke as they have been in that of the Falconieri. If he could but be assured that they will be deposited in the Lawrentian Library, where the public might have access to them, he would be satisfied.*

Editor’s note
*Alberti’s collection eventually turned out to be composed of some of the most curious literary forgeries on record. Only a part of the first volume which he brought out was genuine. All the rest have been declared by competent authority to be spurious. His pretended miniature of the Princess Leonora was fiscovered to be a copy of a miniature of a lady of the noble family of Trotti. The complete detection took place in 1843, in the course of an action brought by a bookseller of Ancona to whom part of the MS. Had been sold.

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