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Of Suppressors And Dilapidators Of Manuscripts
by [?]

Manuscripts are suppressed or destroyed from motives which require to be noticed. Plagiarists, at least, have the merit of preservation: they may blush at their artifices, and deserve the pillory, but their practices do not incur the capital crime of felony. Serassi, the writer of the curious Life of Tasso, was guilty of an extraordinary suppression in his zeal for the poet’s memory. The story remains to be told, for it is but little known.

Galileo, in early life, was a lecturer at the university of Pisa: delighting in poetical studies, he was then more of a critic than a philosopher, and had Ariosto by heart. This great man caught the literary mania which broke out about his time, when the Cruscans so absurdly began their “Controversie Tassesche,” and raised up two poetical factions, which infected the Italians with a national fever. Tasso and Ariosto were perpetually weighed and outweighed against each other; Galileo wrote annotations on Tasso, stanza after stanza, and without reserve, treating the majestic bard with a severity which must have thrown the Tassoists into an agony. Our critic lent his manuscript to Jacopo Mazzoni, who, probably being a disguised Tassoist, by some accountable means contrived that the manuscript should be absolutely lost!–to the deep regret of the author and all the Ariostoists. The philosopher descended to his grave–not without occasional groans–nor without exulting reminiscences of the blows he had in his youth inflicted on the great rival of Ariosto–and the rumour of such a work long floated on tradition! Two centuries had nearly elapsed, when Serassi, employed on his elaborate Life of Tasso, among his uninterrupted researches in the public libraries of Rome, discovered a miscellaneous volume, in which, on a cursory examination, he found deposited the lost manuscript of Galileo! It was a shock from which, perhaps, the zealous biographer of Tasso never fairly recovered; the awful name of Galileo sanctioned the asperity of critical decision, and more particularly the severe remarks on the language, a subject on which the Italians are so morbidly delicate, and so trivially grave. Serassi’s conduct on this occasion was at once political, timorous, and cunning. Gladly would he have annihilated the original, but this was impossible! It was some consolation that the manuscript was totally unknown–for having got mixed with others, it had accidentally been passed over, and not entered into the catalogue; his own diligent eye only had detected its existence. “Nessuno fin ora sa, fuori di me, se vi sia, ne dove sia, e cosi non potra darsi alia luce,” etc. But in the true spirit of a collector, avaricious of all things connected with his pursuits, Serassi cautiously, but completely, transcribed the precious manuscript, with an intention, according to his memorandum, to unravel all its sophistry. However, although the Abbate never wanted leisure, he persevered in his silence; yet he often trembled lest some future explorer of manuscripts might be found as sharpsighted as himself. He was so cautious as not even to venture to note down the library where the manuscript was to be found, and to this day no one appears to have fallen on the volume! On the death of Serassi, his papers came to the hands of the Duke of Ceri, a lover of literature; the transcript of the yet undiscovered original was then revealed! and this secret history of the manuscript was drawn from a note on the title-page written by Serassi himself. To satisfy the urgent curiosity of the literati, these annotations on Tasso by Galileo were published in 1793. Here is a work, which, from its earliest stage, much pains had been taken to suppress; but Serassi’s collecting passion inducing him to preserve what he himself so much wished should never appear, finally occasioned its publication! It adds one evidence to the many which prove that such sinister practices have been frequently used by the historians of a party, poetic or politic.