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Ariosto And Tasso
by [?]

It surprises one to find among the literary Italians the merits of Ariosto most keenly disputed: slaves to classical authority, they bend down to the majestic regularity of Tasso. Yet the father of Tasso, before his son had rivalled the romantic Ariosto, describes in a letter the effect of the “Orlando” on the people:–“There is no man of learning, no mechanic, no lad, no girl, no old man, who is satisfied to read the ‘Orlando Furioso’ once. This poem serves as the solace of the traveller, who fatigued on his journey deceives his lassitude by chanting some octaves of this poem. You may hear them sing these stanzas in the streets and in the fields every day.” One would have expected that Ariosto would have been the favourite of the people, and Tasso of the critics. But in Venice the gondoliers, and others, sing passages which are generally taken from Tasso, and rarely from Ariosto. A different fate, I imagined, would have attended the poet who has been distinguished by the epithet of “The Divine.” I have been told by an Italian man of letters, that this circumstance arose from the relation which Tasso’s poem bears to Turkish affairs; as many of the common people have passed into Turkey either by chance or by war. Besides, the long antipathy existing between the Venetians and the Turks gave additional force to the patriotic poetry of Tasso. We cannot boast of any similar poems. Thus it was that the people of Greece and Ionia sang the poems of Homer.

The Accademia della Crusca gave a public preference to Ariosto. This irritated certain critics, and none more than Chapelain, who could taste the regularity of Tasso, but not feel the “brave disorder” of Ariosto. He could not approve of those writers,

Who snatch a grace beyond the reach of art.

“I thank you,” he writes, “for the sonnet which your indignation dictated, at the Academy’s preference of Ariosto to Tasso. This judgment is overthrown by the confessions of many of the Cruscanti, my associates. It would be tedious to enter into its discussion; but it was passion and not equity that prompted that decision. We confess, that, as to what concerns invention and purity of language, Ariosto has eminently the advantage over Tasso; but majesty, pomp, numbers, and a style truly sublime, united to regularity of design, raise the latter so much above the other that no comparison can fairly exist.”

The decision of Chapelain is not unjust; though I did not know that Ariosto’s language was purer than Tasso’s.

Dr. Cocchi, the great Italian critic, compared “Ariosto’s poem to the richer kind of harlequin’s habit, made up of pieces of the very best silk, and of the liveliest colours. The parts of it are, many of them, more beautiful than in Tasso’s poem, but the whole in Tasso is without comparison more of a piece and better made.” The critic was extricating himself as safely as he could out of this critical dilemma; for the disputes were then so violent, that I think one of the disputants took to his bed, and was said to have died of Ariosto and Tasso.

It is the conceit of an Italian to give the name of April to Ariosto, because it is the season of flowers; and that of September to Tasso, which is that of fruits. Tiraboschi judiciously observes that no comparison ought to be made between these great rivals. It is comparing “Ovid’s Metamorphoses” with “Virgil’s AEneid;” they are quite different things. In his characters of the two poets, he distinguishes between a romantic poem and a regular epic. Their designs required distinct perfections. But an English reader is not enabled by the wretched versions of Hoole to echo the verse of La Fontaine, “JE CHERIS L’Arioste et J’ESTIME le Tasse.”

Boileau, some time before his death, was asked by a critic if he had repented of his celebrated decision concerning the merits of Tasso, which some Italians had compared with those of Virgil? Boileau had hurled his bolts at these violators of classical majesty. It is supposed that he was ignorant of the Italian language, but some expressions in his answer may induce us to think that he was not.