Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 1 >> Albani to Alligator >> Alfieri_P1


life, french, love, married, charles, florence, period, holland, tragedies and countess

Page: 1 2

ALFIERI, Vittorio, Italian tragic poet: b. Asti, Piedmont, 17 Jan. 1749, of parents, as he tells us in his (Autobiography,' "noble, well-to do and honest"; d. Florence, 18 Oct. 1803. The (Vita di Vittorio Alfieri da Asti scritta da esso> ("Life of Vittorio Alfieri written by himself") furnishes the material for any sketch of his life and is in itself a remarkable work, not infrequently mentioned with the like notable autobiographies of Cellini and Goldoni. Alfieri divides his biography into four parts, character izing each of them summarily and aptly: Infancy (nine years of vegetation); Childhood (eight years of non-education) • Youth (10 years of travel and dissipation) ; Manhood (30 and more years of composition, transla tion and study). His parents were Antonio Alfieri and Monica Maillard de Tournon, of Savoy origin as the surnames indicate. In early infancy Alfieri lost his father and was entrusted to the care of an uncle, but lived with his mother, who in the following years was twice married. In 1758, when nine years of age, following the period of "vegetation," Alfieri entered the Academy of Turin, where his "non-education," consisting largely of routine and the pursuit of an unprofitable cur riculum duly impressed him with the worth lessness of much that passes for academic cul ture. It was here, however, that he made his first poetical effort, a sonnet imitated from the verse of the only poets with whom he was acquainted, having, moreover, read them fur tively, Ariosto and Metastasio. In 1763, when Alfieri was 14 years old, his uncle died, be queathing him property and leaving him in control of his father's large fortune and estate. He could now satisfy some of his longings, one of which, his love of horses, amounted to a passion, "the third passion of his soul." After his eight years of "non-education" in the Turin Academy, in 1766 he served for a short period as a standard-bearer in the regiment at Asti and then entered upon his period of youth, or "10 years of travels and dissipation." His first travels (1766-68) were through Italy, France, England and Holland. He appears to have become dissatisfied with Paris, con tracting a dislike for France and its people which became accentuated later on and to which he gave vent in his (Misogallo' ("Anti Gallicana). It was in Holland that he had one of his serious love affairs with a married lady. He next traveled (1769-71) through Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Prus sia, Holland and England. He was obliged to leave England on account of another love affair with a married lady, attended with seri ous consequetices. He resumed his travels (1771-72) through Holland, France, Spain and Portugal, making the acquaintance in the latter country of the Abbe Tommaso de Caluso, whose friendship he retained through out his life. Upon his return to Turin he led an idle life (1772-74) given up to temporal pleasures and to a third infatuation. It was during this period that in order to beguile the weariness of his lady-love, who was ill, he sketched a scene of a tragedy which later on was developed into a five-act play, his first, and which, per fected, was performed in the Carignano Thea tre in 1775. The tragedy was favorably re

ceived and gave Alfieri, now in his 27th year, his life's desire, which he immediately under took to carry out, to become a tragic poet. To accomplish his end he must needs make over his entire education; so he set to work with all of his extraordinary will and passion ate effort. He had been used to the French language for literary purposes and wrote his two next tragedies, 'Filippo> and (Pofinite,' in French prose. Upon trying to turn them into Italian he found his knowledge of the Tuscan idiom was far from adequate. He resolved to forget his French and to steep his brain in the best Italian models. For this purpose he went to Florence, thinking in and speaking and writing continually the Floren tine idiom. In order to become entirely un trammelled he donated to his sister, the Countess Cumiana, almost his entire property, reserving simply enough upon which to live at his ease. It was in 1777 while in Florence that his last and most celebrated love affair, which lasted throughout the remainder of his life, materialized, a love which he calls "a worthy love," his attachment to the Countess of Albany, a daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, Prince of Stolberg-Geldern, and the wife of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Pretender to the English throne. With her Alfieri lived after her separation from Charles, and made his home with her in various places. There is no proof that they were ever married. To the inspiration of the Countess of Albany the 14 tragedies published between 1777 and 1783 are largely due: (Filippo II' ; and (Bruto secondo.> An English translation, by Charles Lloyd, of the tragedies. appeared in London, 1815 and 1821. The French Revolu tion of 1792 brought disaster to both the Coun tess and Alfieri, the former losing her pension of 60,000 francs bestowed upon the wife of Charles Edward by the French government, and the latter nearly all his worldly goods, comprising the greater part of the com plete •editions of his tragedies published by Didot. This unfortunate occurrence served to augment his hatred of everything French. The last years of Alfieri were spent quietly in Florence, engaged in literary work. At the age of 48, he began the study of Greek in order to read Homer in the original, as Petrarch and Boccaccio had already done before him. Com forted and encouraged by the Countess, he worked hard to the very end of his life, shortened by overexertion.

Page: 1 2