1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

R. T., "Tasso and Leigh" Imperial Magazine 3 (August 1821) 696-98.



Scene — Kentish Town.

TASSO. My name is Tasso: I have the honour to kiss your Majesty's hand.

LEIGH. God bless me — so you shall. [Starting up.] Have you read Rimini and Foliage — and — but do you read in the other world?

TASSO. Certainly! and copy and steal from one another too — but my business is with your Majesty in this. As the republic of letters is, fortunately for your majesty, converted into an absolute government, I come to submit the propriety of your bestowing all your royal attention to the preservation of a just equilibrium and preservation of your subjects, without intermeddling in foreign affairs, which (with your Majesty's leave) are really above your royal capacity. Your Majesty's late invasion of the Parnassus of Italy, is quite unprecedented, and against all the rules of literary warfare, the rights of poets, and the common sense of mankind.

LEIGH. Perfectly astonished — perfectly astonished, I assure you. I have been just complimented by John Keats, Esq. and our renowned Barry, upon the infinite delicacy and skill which I have exercised upon your poor Amintas. Yes, and I'll translate the Jerusalem too.

TASSO. Now heaven forbid — you would not so far be mine enemy. And let me persuade your Majesty, that you would not herein be consulting your royal reputation. Consider, that in literature and the arts, it is preferable to be "great in little things, rather than little in great attempts." You therefore shewed some judgment in choosing my Amintas instead of Godfrey. The former was merely a "jeu d'esprit," of which I never thought much, and not a little dashed with conceit, which I presume made your majesty in love with it. You have preserved my concetti very faithfully I see, and wherever you could, without flagrant violation of the text, introduced no little of your own. As to the "Jerusalem delivered," let me beseech your Majesty to abandon the design. The reed and the trumpet are very different instruments on which to play. I could forgive Fairfax — but Hoole, and another unmerciful wretch, a namesake and a poetic relation of your Majesty's, I suppose, has given England, once the land of poets, a very "pretty idea" of me indeed.

LEIGH. That's just the reason I wish to make a version of the Jerusalem myself. They really have not done you common justice, my dear fellow. [We observe, he addresses Lord Byron in a similar style.]

TASSO. May all the powers of impudence reward you! As to your modern school of scribbling, my trust in heaven is, that it will at last write itself down. Under all the vexations of a wandering and a wretched life, I consoled myself with the prospect of future justice, and, perhaps, lasting fame: but, alas, you are now all doing what you can to blast the few laurels that would have sat bright and lovely on my brow. O, how have Ariosto, and poor Tasso, provoked the malignant spirit with which you have pursued us! By what faults have we merited the approbation and cruel persecution with which you translate and metamorphize us! While, on the other hand,

To be dispraised of such were no small praise.

Expose, attack, revile, and vilify us as you will — we will not complain; — but spare us, we beseech you, the honours of your friendship and alliance — and your translations with your names staring the public in the face with our own. Dante, though in purgatory, murmurs revenge for the fallen honours of Rimini, whose story, of deep and sacred memory, you have so wantonly parodied, converting one of the most bright and beautiful episodes of our prince of poets, into the amour of a groom and a chambermaid — so flippant and trashy is the language in which it is conveyed — unequalled by any thing except Billingsgate, or the Fancy. The disciples of your slang school are also at work; but Apollo, though "of long suffering" with the race of blockheads, is not to be tempted for ever — beware the fate of Marsyas, lest he repeat the punishment, and

Tear the calf-skin from your recreant limbs.
SHAKSPEARE.

For myself, I will only pray that your works may survive, for the benefit of whole posterities — of grocers and cheesemongers of other times. I am afraid it is in vain that I entreat you to desist; I suppose you will still continue to torture our souls. — [Casting a look of lordly, but quiet reproach upon Leigh, and murmuring, "he will print it," the hapless shade departed. Leigh pondered for a moment, and then turning towards his manuscript with a smile of complacency, — "Yes, I will print it."]