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This is a poem of remarkable interest, addressed to the most distinguished, in some respects, of all the Italians with whom Milton became personally acquainted during his Italian journey, viz. the Neapolitan, Giovanni Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, and Lord of Bisaccio and Panca.
Manso was born in 1561, three years before Shakespeare ; and his long life had been spent chiefly in such occupations as the political condition of Naples and Southern Italy, then subject to the Spaniards and governed by Viceroys from Madrid, permitted to a wealthy and high-minded native of those parts. The cultivation of philosophy, art, and poetry for himself, and the encouragement of these pursuits in others, and of a life of at least pleasant sociability where political independence was denied, had been his business and delight. His life had been identified with the history of Italian Literature for half a century. No Italian of note during that period but Manso had known; few but had known and been indebted to Manso. Above all, he had been the friend, the bosom friend, of the two greatest poets of Italy in his generation, Tasso and Marini. -Tasso, in the strange madness that came over him in his manhood, clouding his beautiful mind, but leaving it still capable of the noblest poetry, had been led, in his wanderings over Italy, to Manso's door at Naples (1588). Manso, then in his twenty-eighth year, while Tasso was in his forty-fifth, had received the illustrious unfortunate, had kept him in his splendid villa at Naples and in his country.house at Bisaccio, had tended him in his fits of gloom, and soothed him in those moments when the frenzy was at its strongest, and the air around him was full of visions and voices, and he would call on Manso to look and listen. Thus had grown up a friendship which lasted with Tasso's life. Twice again he had been Manso's guest; it was in Manso's house, in one of those visits, that he completed his Gerusalemme Conquistata, in one of the books of which he introduces Manso's name; in his Dialogue on Friendship Manso is one of the speakers, and it is dedicated to Manso and entitled Il Manso; and there are other recognitions of their intimacy in sonnets of Tasso addressed to Manso. On Tasso's deathbed in Rome
(1595) he spoke of Manso; a picture of Tasso which Manso had painted was bequeathed back to him; and it was Manso that, some years afterwards, caused the well-known inscription "Torquati Tassi Ossa" to be cut on Tasso's tomb. In 1619 there had been published at Naples a Life of Tasso, without Manso's name, but known to be his, and containing an affectionate collection of personal details respecting the poet. It was a popular book in Italy, and had been several times reprinted. Hardly less intimate than Manso's friendship with his illustrious senior, Tasso, had been his friendship with his junior, Marini (born 1569), Tasso's most celebrated successor in Poetry, though a corruption of Italian taste in Poetry is traced now to his sweet and sensuous genius. Marini, a Neapolitan by birth, but, like Tasso, much of a wanderer, had also been a frequent guest at Manso's villa, had been protected by him, and served in many ways; and, when Marini died in 1625, two years after the publication of his Adone, the charge of his burial and of erecting his monument was left to Manso. It was understood that Manso was preparing a biography of Marini similar to that he had written of Tasso.- -And now, with all these recollections of the past circling round him, the Marquis Manso, verging on eighty years of age, was living on at Naples, the most venerable man in the city, and indeed the most conspicuous private patron of Art and Literature in all Italy. In the society of Naples he was supreme. He had founded there a club or academy, called the Oziosi ("The Idlers"), of which he was president, and the meetings of which were held in his house; and there was another institution of his foundation, called the College Dei Nobili, the purpose of which was the education of the young Neapolitan nobles in manly arts and exercises. In the meetings of these institutions the old nobleman would be gay as the youngest present, joining even in their frolics. A certain high moral chivalry, however, for which he had been known from his youth, regulated his behaviour, and gave a dignity even to his humours in company. Also he was punctiliously scrupulous in matters of religion, and a most pious and orthodox son of the Church.
Milton's introduction to Manso, as he tells us himself (Defensio Secunda), was through a certain Eremite Friar, who was his companion in his journey from Rome to Naples
in November 1638. The Marquis appears to have taken a great liking to the young Englishman, and to have been particularly gracious to him. "As long as I staid at Naples," says Milton, "I found him truly most friendly to me, he himself acting as my guide through the different parts of the city and the palace of the Viceroy, and coming himself more than once to my inn to visit me; and at my going away he seriously excused himself to me in that, though he wished extremely to have shown me much greater attention, he had not been able to do so in that city, because I would not be more close in the matter of Religion." In the two Latin lines of compliment given by Manso to Milton, and included by Milton among the Testimonies prefixed to his Latin Poems, there is a hint at this Protestantism of Milton as the only fault he had in the old man's eyes. "Were but your creed like your mind, form, grace, face, and morals, then you would not be Anglic only, but, in faith, Angelic," says the old man, reviving in Milton's favour the play upon the words Anglus and Angelus attributed in the legend to Pope Gregory when he beheld the English youths in the Roman slavemarket and grieved that such comely youths should be Pagans. But Milton carried away with him another token of Manso's regard. He describes distinctly in his Epitaphium Damonis two cups which Manso had given him as a keepsake, carved round or painted by Manso himself with two designs, the one of an oriental subject, the other of a subject from classic mythology.
In return for Manso's distich and his cups, or possibly before receiving them, and in mere acknowledgment of Manso's great courtesy generally, Milton, before leaving Naples (Jan. 1638-9), sent to Manso the hundred hexameter lines now under notice. They are a very graceful acknowledgment indeed. There is one passage, of information and compliment finely blended, which may have told Manso more about the stranger than he already knew, and roused his curiosity. It is the passage beginning "O mihi si mea sors" at line 78, and containing the first published hint by Milton of his contemplated Arthurian Epic, or poem from British legendary History. The passage is worth reading, not only on this account, but also for its pathos and eloquence. Manso must have admired it, and may have thought of the young Englishman sometimes through the next few years,
and wondered what he was doing in his native land. news of Milton, however, in Poetry at least, can hardly have reached Manso before his death. He died at Naples, at the age of eighty-four, in 1645, the very year when Milton's first edition of his Poems was published.
In the Introductions to the Elegia Prima and the Elegia Sexta the story of Milton's friendship with the half-Italian youth Charles Diodati has been brought down to the end of the year 1629. Since then there had been no interruption of the friendship, but rather a strengthening of it by new ties as the two friends grew older. Two Latin letters of Milton to Diodati, both written in September 1637, and now printed among Milton's Epistola Familiares, are the best information we have as to the mutual position of the two friends at that date, when Milton was near his thirtieth year, and Diodati close on the same age. Diodati, it appears from those letters, had finished his medical education, and was in practice somewhere in the north of England; near Chester, it has been supposed, but that is only a guess from the fact that he had been in that neighbourhood in 1626, the date of the Elegia Prima. Milton, on the other hand, was mainly at Horton, but sometimes in London; whence, indeed, his two letters are written. They are full of gossip and affection. "How is it with you, pray?" asks Milton in the first, dated Sept. 2. "Are you in good health? Are there in those parts any learned folks or so with whom you can willingly associate and chat, as we were wont together? When do you return? How long do you intend to dwell among those hyperboreans?" Again, in the second, dated Sept. 23, Diodati having replied in the meanwhile, and there having been the usual excuses on both sides for laziness in letterwriting: "Your probity writes with me in your stead and indites true letters on my inmost heart; your blamelessness of morals writes to me, and your love of the good; your genius also, by no means a common one, writes to me, and commends you to me more and more. Know that it is impossible for me not to love men like you." There is added some talk about Milton's doings. He is thinking, he
says, of taking chambers in London, in one of the Inns of Court, having begun to find Horton inconvenient. He has been engaged in a continuous course of historical reading, and has reached the medieval period. Could Diodati lend him the History of Venice by Justiniani? And what is Diodati doing? Is he crowing over his medical dignity? Is he troubling himself too much with family matters? Unless this stepmotherly war is very bad indeed, worse than Dacian or Sarmatian, may not one hope to see him soon in winter quarters in London? (Nisi bellum hoc novercale vel Dacico vel Sarmatico infestius sit, debebis profecto maturare, ut ad nos saltem in hiberna concedas.) The meaning is that Diodati had recently received a stepmother, by his father's second marriage in his sixty-fourth year, and was not much pleased with the acquisition.
Seven months after Milton had written these letters to Diodati, he went abroad on his Italian journey (April 1638). It is very possible that he and Diodati may have met in the interval, and talked over the intended tour. Diodati, as half an Italian, and acquainted with the Italian traditions and connections of his family, may have had hints to give to Milton for his use abroad, or even letters of introduction. At all events, we find Milton, while abroad, thinking much of Diodati. He mentions expressly in his Defensio Secunda that, in the second two months he spent at Florence (March and April 1639), he found time for an excursion of “a few days" to Lucca, about forty miles distant; and I suspect that his main motive in the excursion was to see the town whence the Diodati family had derived their origin. Then, again, in one of the Five Italian Love Sonnets, written, as is generally believed, in the north of Italy, towards the end of Milton's Italian tour, we find Diodati directly addressed, and, as it were, taken, though absent, into his friend's confidence in the sudden love-incident that had befallen him. I feel sure that Milton talked of Diodati, his half-Italian friend at home, to the various groups of Italian wits and literati in the midst of whom he found himself in the different Italian cities he visited, and especially to his acquaintances of the Florentine group, Gaddi, Dati, Frescobaldi, Coltellini, Chimentelli, Francini, and others. It is not a matter of fancy either, but of actual information by Milton himself, that, while he was enjoying the society of these Italian