Alfieri, Victor

, an eminent Italian poet of the last century, was born at Asti, in Piedmont, Jan. 17, 1749, of an ancient family, and sent for education to Turin, where he was principally under the care of the count Benoit Alfred, his father’s cousin. His progress, however, was for some time very slow, partly owing to bad health, and partly to temper; and when his tutor died, he left the academy at the age of sixteen, almost as ignorant as he entered it, and without having acquired a taste for any thingbut riding. His next passion was for travelling, in which he appeared to have no-other object than moving from one place to another. In less than two years he visited a great part of Italy, Paris, England, Holland, and returned to Piedmont, without having sought to know any thing, to study any thing, or to gratify any curiosity. His second tour was yet more extensive and more rapid: in eighteen months he travelled through Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Prussia, and returning through the Spa and Holland, went again to England. During this second visit to London, he engaged in affairs of gallantry, and discovered many oddities of behaviour, but in neither of his visits did he give himself the trouble to learn the language. After remaining in London seven months, he returned, with the utmost expedition, by Holland, France, Spain, and | Portugal, and arrived at Turin, May 5, 1772. A violent attachment to a lady of quality of this place engrossed his mind for two years, but had the happy effect of first inspiring him with a taste for poetry and poetical composition. After some imperfect attempts, he wrote a sort of tragedy, called “Cleopatra,” which he procured to be acted at Turin, June 16, 1775, with a small piece “The Poets,” by way of farce, in which the author endeavoured to turn his own tragedy into ridicule. The success of these two pieces, although confined to only two representations, decided Alfieri to become an author, and proved the commencement of a new life. At this time, he knew French very imperfectly, scarcely any thing of Italian, and nothing of Latin. The French he determined to forget altogether, but to cultivate Italian and Latin, and study the best authors in both. The study, accordingly, of the Latin and the pure Tuscan languages, and of dramatic composition, upon a new plan of his own invention, occupied all his time, and gave employment to that activity and sprightliness of mind and fancy which had hitherto been dissipated on trifles. His first two tragedies were “Philip II.” and “Polinice;” and these were followed at short intervals, by “Antigone,” “Agamemnon,” &c. to the amount of fourteen, within less than seven years; and within the same space, he wrote several pieces in prose and verse, a translation of Sallust, “A Treatise on Tyranny,” “Etruria avenged,” in four cantos, and five “Odes” on the American revolution. He afterwards recommenced his travels, and added to his collection of tragedies, “Agis,” “Sophonisba,” “Brutus I.” “Brutus II.” and others. Although he had a dislike to France, he came thither to print his theatre, and with him the lady of his affections, the princess of Schomberg, the wife of the last prince of the house of Stuart, who, when set at liberty by the death of her husband, bestowed her hand on Alfieri. On his arrival in France, he found that nation ripe for a revolution, to the principles of which he was at first inclined, and expressed his opinion very freely in “Parigi Shastigliato,” an ode on the taking of the Bastille; but the horrors of revolutionary phrenzy which followed, induced him to disavow publicly the principles which he had professed, and he resolved to lose the property that he had acquired in France, rather than to appear to maintain them any longer. Accordingly he left France ia August 1792, and the following year, his property in | the funds was confiscated, and his furniture, papers, and books sequestered and sold at Paris. In 1794, he published a declaration in the gazette of Tuscany, in which he avowed some of the works left behind him, and disavowed others which he thought might be found among his papers, or altered without his consent, and published as his. Among the latter was his “Etruria avenged,” and the “Treatise on Tyranny” above mentioned; but it is certain that he had caused an edition of these and some other pieces of the same stamp to be published at Kell, about the time he arrived in France, and now disavowed them merely because he had changed his opinions. From this time, ruminating on the unjust treatment he had received at Paris, he never ceased to express his contempt of the French nation in what he wrote, but he resumed his pen and his studies with more eagerness than ever. At the age of forty-eight he began the study of Greek, and continued it with his usual ardour, and the rest of his life was employed in making translations from that language, and in writing comedies, tragedies, and satires. His incessant labours at length brought on a complaint of which he died at Florence (where he had resided from the time of his leaving France), Oct. 8, 1803, and was interred in the church of St. Croix, where his widow erected a splendid monument to his memory, executed by Canova, between the tombs of Machiavel and Michael Angelo. The inscription was written by himself, and is as flattering as his life, written also by himself, and published at Paris, 1809, and in English at London, 1810, 2 vols. His posthumous works, in 13 volumes, were published in 1804, at Florence, although with London on the title: they consist of a number of translations, and some original dramas in a singular taste, and not very likely to be adopted as models. A French translation of his dramatic works was published at Paris, 1802, 4 vols. 8vo. Petitot, the translator, has added some judicious reflexions on the forms given to the Italian tragedy by Alfieri, and notwithstanding its weak parts, this collection is a mine which some new authors have frequently worked. His lofty expression, or attempt at expression, and his anxious search for forcible thoughts, sometimes render him obscure; and he appears to have encumbered his genius with more designs than it could execute. Of his personal character, various accounts have been given. In his “Life,” he is sufficiently favourable to himself; but there are few traits | in his character that are not rather objects of warning than of imitation. From his youth he appears to have been the slave of passion and temper, averse to the restraints of a well-regulated mind, and consequently many of his opinions, whether good or bad, were hastily conceived, and hastily abandoned. 1


Biog. Universelle.—Biog. Moderne.—Life by himself, 1810.