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CAT 105. Robert Hart after Raffaelle Morghen. Tasso. In The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography, vol. 3. London: William Mackenzie, 1863. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Torquato Tasso, Italian courtier and poet, 1544-1595. From the Imperial Dictionary: Tasso was born in Sorrento, near Naples. He published “Rinaldo,” a poem based on “the then popular romances of Charlemagne and his Paladins,” when he was only eighteen. Invited to the court of Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, to whose brother the poem was dedicated, he wrote Jerusalem Delivered, which he completed in 1575. Yet “a cloud of evils was gradually darkening around him.” In addition to “animosity shown by envious foes,” he lost the support of Duke Alfonso, who, because of Tasso’s “romantic affection for the duke’s sister Eleanora,” ordered him “shut up in the convent of Saint Francis” in “the belief that Tasso was was insane.” After the poet escaped, Alfonso arrested him again, this time sending him to “the hospital of St. Anne as a confirmed lunatic.” In 1581 the poet’s revised edition of Jerusalem Delivered was published in Parma. In 1586, “Alfonso released him from his cruel captivity” and “the remainder of his unfortunate life was spent in wandering to and fro.” Near the end of Tasso’s life Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini of Naples “obtained for him from the pope the promised honor of a solemn coronation in the capitol.” But Tasso was “seized with a serious illness” and “was conveyed at his own request to the monastery of St. Onofrio” in Rome, “where he expired on the day fixed for his coronation, April 25, 1595.” His works are numerous but “it is the well-known ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ which has mainly conferred upon him immortality” (3:825).

Melville was attentive to traces of Tasso’s life throughout his travel in Italy in 1857. On a day trip from Naples on March 22 he visited “Sorrento. Tasso’s house, hotel. Beauty of site on cliff overhanging sea &c.” In Rome on March 9 he visited “St. Onofrio, church & monastery, where Tasso expired.” In Ferrara on March 31, after seeing “the old palace of the ancient lords of Ferrara,” he visited “Tasso’s prison” in the hospital of St. Anne. It was “mere cider-cellar. Grated windows, but not strong. Byron’s name &c. Other scribblers” (NN J 104, 110, 117).

Melville’s journal entry on the “mere cider-cellar” was probably influenced by Valery’s short, spirited chapter on “Tasso’s Prison.” This was the only chapter on the court at Ferrara that Melville marked in Travels in Italy. With regard to Tasso’s confinement, Melville marked the passage in which Valery, after vising the site and conducting local research, ridiculed the idea that Tasso could have been confined to such a tiny, fragile space for a period of seven years. As for Byron’s own confinement in the supposed “prison,” Valery declares sardonically that Byron was himself “shut up” within it “at his own request; he staid there two hours, making violent gestures, striding about, striking his forehead, or with his head sunken on his chest, and his arms hanging down, according to the story of the porter who welcomed him.” With regard to Byron as a “scribbler,” Melville marked the passage in which Valery demonstrated that “Lamartine’s verses on Tasso” that Byron had written on the wall of the prison had been “badly mangled by the English poet” (Cowen 11: 339-40; Valery 231-32).

In his copy of Byron’s Childe Harold, which he read soon after returning from Italy, Melville marked the lines declaring:

Tasso is their glory and their shame;
Hark to his strain! and then survey his cell!
And see how dearly earned Torquato's fame,
And where Alfonso bade his poet dwell" (Cowen 4:15)

Melville elaborated on the relationship between Tasso and Alphonso with the long, wavy line he drew next to this passage in the copy of Madame de Staël’s Germany that he acquired in 1862: ”The morbid sensibility of Tasso is well known, as well as the polished rudeness of his protector Alphonso, who, professing the highest admiration for his writings, shut him up in a madhouse, as if that genius which springs from the soul were to be treated like the production of a mechanical talent, by valuing the work while despising the workman.” De Staël was commenting on Tasso, the verse play in iambic pentameter that Goethe completed in 1790, after his return from Italy (Staël-Holstein, 2:355; Cowen 11:92).

Three years before visiting Italy, Melville had alluded to Tasso when Israel arrives in London in Israel Potter:  “Nor did ever the German forest, nor Tasso’s enchanted one, contain in its depths more things of horror than eventually were revealed in the secret clefts, gulfs, caves and dens of London” (NN IP 153). “Tasso’s enchanted one” is the forest in which the knight Rinaldo is imprisoned by the wily Armida in Jerusalem Delivered. Melville alludes to these two lovers more directly twenty years later in the “Night in Jericho” in Clarel:

Tasso's Armida, by Lot's sea
Where that enchantress, with sweet look
Of kindliest human sympathy,
Such webs about Rinaldo wove
That all the hero he forsook—
Lost in the perfidies of love—
Armida—starts at fancy's bid
Not less than Rahab, lass which hid,
The spies here in this Jercho. (NN C 2.16.80-88)

Melville's allusions to the religious element of Jerusalem Delivered begin very early in Clarel, in canto 3 of book 1, where the narrator imagines Godfrey and Baldwin (the nominal heroes of Tasso’s poem and actual crusaders who delivered Jerusalem to Christianity in the eleventh century) as they “rise . . . from their graves” next to the Christ’s tomb “and with beaming glaives / . . . watch and ward the urn they won” (1.3.177-81). The tribute to them deepens in the next canto (“Of the Crusaders”) when Melville alludes to Tasso’s account of how Godfrey and his fellow knights, when they first see the distant towers that mark “the Saviour’s Tomb” from afar, not only “doff the plume . . . and kneel in dust” but actually cry, their “crusader’s glance . . . blurred by tears” (1.4.3-6, 16-18). We do not currently know which edition of Jerusalem Delivered Melville consulted when writing Clarel, but Walter Bezanson showed in his notes for the NN edition that Tasso’s account of Godfrey and his fellow knights crying was easily at hand to Melville in his copy of Bartlett’s Walks (see CAT 20, 21, and 22), which prints this English-language translation from Tasso’s canto 3.7:

Each, at his Chief’s example, lays aside
His scarf and feathered casque, with every gay
And glittering ornament of knightly pride,
And barefoot treads the consecrated way.
Their thoughts, too, suited to their charged array,
Warm tears devout their eyes in showers diffuse,—
Tears, that the haughtiest temper might allay. (NN C p. 719)

Godfrey and Baldwin remain a presence throughout Melville’s poem. At Santa Saba, the “sanctified heirlooms” of the monastery are compared to “Godfrey’s sword and Baldwin’s spur / In treasury of the Sepulcher” (3.12.7-8). At “The Church of the Star” in Bethlehem, Melville recalls the image of the “mailed knights” who crowned Baldwin as king “While Godfrey’s requiem did ring” (4.13.71-75). Derwent notes that Franciscans “Have been custodians of the Tomb / And Manger, ever since the day / Of rescue under Godfrey’s plume / Long centuries ago” (4.14.58-63). But Melville in Clarel, like Tasso in his epic poem on the Holy Land, is richly attentive to Arabic as well as Christian traditions. In the canto “Of Tradition,” a few lines before “Abraham and Lot” are described as “Blanketed Bedouins of the plain,” Melville evokes a contrasting view of legendary Sodom from Tasso’s tale: “Voluptuous palaces expand, / From whose moon-lighted colonnade / Beckons Armida, deadly maid” (2.37.28-32).

Although the editors of The Imperial Dictionary strongly prefer Ariosto to Tasso, Tasso’s name and his characters appear much more often in Melville’s work. One reason for this may be a quality of mind attributed to Tasso by Anthony M. Esolen, a recent translator of Jerusalem Delivered: “Unlike Ariosto, [Tasso] is moved by the multiplicity of human opinion to an ever more energetic pursuit of the truth” (Tasso 4). Tasso, like Melville, is interested in “the intersympathy of creeds” in the Holy Land. Like Melville, he is interested in the complex intersection of race, culture, gender, and eros in vivid personalities. In Jerusalem Delivered, such complexities are embodied by Rinaldo and Tancredi among the male warriors and lovers and by Armida, Erminia, and Clorinda among the female lovers and warriors. Tasso’s willingness to be “labored and difficult” in style when the complexity of his characters requires it (rather than “easy and harmonious” in the words of The Imperial Dictionary for Ariosto) is another similarity with Melville. So is his willingness to rupture his continuous narrative with sudden and sometimes elaborate digressions. Corresponding to Melville’s surprisingly seamless comparisons of life in the Holy Land to that in the South Seas is the episode in which Tasso suddenly transports his characters from the Holy Land to terra incognita somewhere out in the Atlantic ocean. Melville would also have been drawn to Tasso’s literary pictorialism in depicting the internal as well as the external lives of his characters. Visual artists in Melville’s collection who were directly inspired by Tasso’s pictorialism to create art of their own included Titian, Poussin, Domenichino, Pietro da Cortona, Boucher, Meiris, and Van Dyke (Lee 12-21).

Melville’s engraved portrait of Tasso, like that of Ariosto, was created by Robert Hart in England the early 1860s after the original engraving that Raffaelle Morghen had created after a drawing by Pietro Ermini a half-century earlier in Italy. Frederick Halsey’s account of the early proofs and states of Morghen’s Tasso preserved at the British Museum in London reveal that Morgan had begun the engraving with an “outline etching” of the central figure, with “the background, the laurel leaves, and the fur on the coat somewhat worked with the graver.” In the next proof, the “background, hair, wreath, and beard” were “finished,” with “the face, neck, head, fur, and left breast partly engraved, but unfinished.” After two more proofs, the image was “lacking the pointing only on the face, hand, and right sleeve.” Five more states of this print at the British Museum show the steps in which the letters below the image were added, with the names Ermini and Morghen followed by that of the original publisher, Luigi Baroli (Halsey no. 161).

I have so far found no record of the steps—or the method—by which Robert Hunt achieved the 1863 reproduction of Morghen’s 1807 Tasso engraving. Morghen (1758-1833) was a student of Volpato in Rome, where he learned to combine etching and engraving, later “reinforced with drypoint” to achieve “almost photographic engravings” (Chappell, 22:113). Robert Hunt (fl. 1835-1861) was an English portrait and figure engraver who engraved six of the portraits in The Imperial Dictionary “Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge” (Hunnisett 62). That Society had also sponsored Hart’s engraved portrait of the Italian astronomer Galileo (1564-1642) after a painting at Trinity College, Cambridge. The Galileo engraving was published by Charles Knight, the driving force behind the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. That Society in the 1830s and 1840s had published Charles Knight’s Penny Magazine and Penny Cyclopedia. That Society’s “Superintendance” of Hart’s engraved portraits of Ariosto and Tasso, imprinted at the lower edge of the prints that Melville acquired some time after 1863, would have reminded Melville of the summer of 1849, when Melville was drawing heavily on both the Penny Magazine and the Penny Cyclopedia when writing both Redburn and White-Jacket before sailing to England in October on the voyage that introduced him personally to the leading publishing firms and picture galleries of London (Sealts, Melville’s Reading, 48-50).

In addition to visiting the publishing firms of John Murray, Henry Bohn, and Richard Bentley in hopes of finding a publisher for the manuscript of White Jacket—and visiting the National Gallery, the Vernon Gallery, the Dulwich Gallery, Hampton Court, and the private gallery of Samuel Rogers to savor authentic Old Master paintings face-to-face for the first time—Melville had the pleasure of attending several “Paradise of Bachelors” dinners that John Murray arranged for the young American toward the end of December. Melville in his journal entry for December 23 identified several of those who had joined Murray and himself in a “party of eight” at the Erechtheum Club the night before. Among the companions with whom Melville had “a glorious time” until nearly midnight were Charles Leslie, the Royal Academy painter; Richard Ford, “the Spanish Traveller” and author of the Murray Guidebook to Spain; Peter Cunningham, “the London Antiquarian & author of the London Guide published by Murray”; and Charles Knight, “the author of London Illustrated & the Publisher of the Penny Cyclopedia & concerned in most of the great popular publications of the day” (NN J 46).

Melville’s journal entry about this one evening in with Murray, Leslie, Ford, Cunningham, and Knight in 1849, combined with his acquisition of Hart’s engravings after Morghen’s portraits of Ariosto and Tasso “superintended” by Knight’s Society sometime after 1863, show how intimately Melville’s personal experience of Hazlitt’s “books, pictures, and the face of nature” as a young novelist and traveler in the 1840s and early 1850s related to his experience of those same pleasures as a middle-aged Customs House inspector who wrote poems and collected prints in his spare time from the late 1860s until the day he died.