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Ariosto And Tasso
by [?]

“I have so little changed my opinion, that, on a re-perusal lately of Tasso, I was sorry that I had not more amply explained myself on this subject in some of my reflections on ‘Longinus.’ I should have begun by acknowledging that Tasso had a sublime genius, of great compass, with happy dispositions for the higher poetry. But when I came to the use he made of his talents, I should have shown that judicious discernment rarely prevailed in his works. That in the greater portion of his narrations he attached himself to the agreeable, oftener than to the just. That his descriptions are almost always overcharged with superfluous ornaments. That in painting the strongest passions, and in the midst of the agitations they excite, frequently he degenerates into witticisms, which abruptly destroy the pathetic. That he abounds with images of too florid a kind; affected turns; conceits and frivolous thoughts; which, far from being adapted to his Jerusalem, could hardly be supportable in his ‘Aminta.’ So that all this, opposed to the gravity, the sobriety, the majesty of Virgil, what is it but tinsel compared with gold?”

The merits of Tasso seem here precisely discriminated; and this criticism must be valuable to the lovers of poetry. The errors of Tasso were national.

In Venice the gondoliers know by heart long passages from Ariosto and Tasso, and often chant them with a peculiar melody. Goldoni, in his life, notices the gondolier returning with him to the city: “He turned the prow of the gondola towards the city, singing all the way the twenty-sixth stanza of the sixteenth canto of the Jerusalem Delivered.” The late Mr. Barry once chanted to me a passage of Tasso in the manner of the gondoliers; and I have listened to such from one who in his youth had himself been a gondolier. An anonymous gentleman has greatly obliged me with his account of the recitation of these poets by the gondoliers of Venice.

There are always two concerned, who alternately sing the strophes. We know the melody eventually by Rousseau, to whose songs it is printed; it has properly no melodious movement, and is a sort of medium between the canto fermo and the canto figurato; it approaches to the former by recitativical declamation, and to the latter by passages and course, by which one syllable is detained and embellished.

I entered a gondola by moonlight: one singer placed himself forwards, and the other aft, and thus proceeded to Saint Giorgio. One began the song: when he had ended his strophe the other took up the lay, and so continued the song alternately. Throughout the whole of it, the same notes invariably returned; but, according to the subject matter of the strophe, they laid a greater or a smaller stress, sometimes on one, and sometimes on another note, and indeed changed the enunciation of the whole strophe, as the object of the poem altered.

On the whole, however, their sounds were hoarse and screaming: they seemed, in the manner of all rude uncivilised men, to make the excellency of their singing consist in the force of their voice: one seemed desirous of conquering the other by the strength of his lungs, and so far from receiving delight from this scene (shut up as I was in the box of the gondola), I found myself in a very unpleasant situation.

My companion, to whom I communicated this circumstance, being very desirous to keep up the credit of his countrymen, assured me that this singing was very delightful when heard at a distance. Accordingly we got out upon the shore, leaving one of the singers in the gondola, while the other went to the distance of some hundred paces. They now began to sing against one another; and I kept walking up and down between them both, so as always to leave him who was to begin his part. I frequently stood still, and hearkened to the one and to the other.