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The usual lot of buffoons was at length that of poor Querno. The applause of one moment was often effaced by the insults of the next; and we are told that some pointed witticisms did, on one occasion, so irritate the feelings of his patron, as to earn for the protege very violent marks of his displeasure. An additional mortification was provided for him in the great superiority of Marone, and between the caprice of the Pontiff and the occasional outrages of his company, he retired from Court in disgust.
Giraldi, from whom this account is principally taken, mentions other poets of the same description, who, like Querno, were introduced to Leo in the hope of establishing their own fortunes upon the gratification of their patron, and like him, instead of favour or patronage, received nothing but mockery and derision. Among these he particularly names one Giovanni Giraldi, who for his absurd libels upon poetry was fre«piently publicly whipped by order of his Holiness—a species of despotism, which, happily for many poets of the present day, has now become obsolete. Baraballo, Abated a Gaeta, is likewise more famous for his inordinate vanity and ludicrous conceit than for any real merit. He seems to have been one of those ennuyeur, whom Moliere describes—
Au palais, aux cours, au jardins, au table
At any rate he carried his stupid vanity so far as to compare his improvisations to the sonnets of Petrarch, and actually claimed the honour which that poet had received, of being crowned in the Capitol. This idea opened a fine prospect of amusement to Leo and his Court; his pretensions were acknowledged by acclamation, and it was arranged that his coronation should take place upon the festival of St. Cosmus arid Damian. The Pope was so enchanted with the ludicrous anticipation of Baraballo's self-complacency, and of his utter insensibility to the real nature of the part he had to play, and of the applause he was to receive, that he determined to give every possible eclat to the farce, and assemble all Rome to witness the ridiculous exhibition. Baraballo, too, within sight of the very summit of his ambition, resolved that the ceremony should proceed with the utmost magnificence, and this inclination received every encouragement from the courtiers, who naturally concluded that the more pageantry surrounded him the greater was their dupe. It happened about this time that a very large elephant had been presented to Leo by the King of Portugal, and it was suggested and finally agreed, that the elephant should convey the Improvisatore to the Capitol. On the appointed day the " Eternal City" was on the alert to catch a glimpse of the procession; every avenue to the Vatican was crowded to suffocation; elegantly dressed females, the rank and beauty of Rome, of course, decorated the windows, and the air resounded with vivas, and shouts in honour of Baraballo. He himself was betimes at the palace, from whence the cortege was to proceed, and was feasting upon the honour that awaited him, when a deputation was announced from Gaeta, where the friends of the Abate enjoyed some consideration. The deputation was admitted to the presence of Baraballo, who received them in the costume which was worn by the triumphant generals of ancient Rome. He was clad in a garment of purple, embroidered with gold, and surrounded by facetious wags, who were loading him with congratulatory mockeries. Baraballo, elated by this new mark of attention, had begun in pompous verse to express his acknowledgments to his fellow-citizens of Gaeta, for the interest they took in his good fortune, when they interrupted him by earnest entreaties not to dishonour his family and stamp ludicrous notoriety upon his birthplace, by exposing himself to the jests and ribaldry of Rome. This unexpected rebuff, instead of cooling the ardour of Baraballo, only roused him to exertion. He burst into a violent paroxysm of rage, vented in impromptu verse the most violent imprecations upon the deputation, which he accused of mean and sordid jealousy at the distinction he had reached, and leaving them abruptly and in anger, mounted his elephant amid the suppressed giggle of the Court and acclamations of the populace. He had not, however, proceeded very far, before some misgivings overtook him of the honorary character of the proceeding: the jibes of the people became at length too unequivocal to be mistaken—he saw through the doubh-entendre or the insincerity of every fresh compliment he received, and by the time he had arrived at the I'onte S. Angelo, he had become excessively impatient, and had given his attendants several indications that their fulsome flattery was offensive. Shame and mortification still chained him to his seat, and had not an impediment occurred where it was not expected, this extravagant pantomime must have been consummated. Luckily, however, for the Abate, further than the Ponte S. Angelo the elephant would not move. It seemed to have conspired with the Nine Sisters to prevent the profanation of an honour, until then only enjoyed by their darling votaries, and nothing could induce it to proceed. It was soon understood that another conveyance would be supplied to complete the burlesque; but in the midst of the hurry Baraballo had disappeared, and having doffed his triumphant robes, sneaked to his lodging. From the failure and exposure of the two last-mentioned Improvisatori, it will appear that mere versification, without intrinsic merit, was not sufficient to procure applause, either from the learned or the vulgar. No poet was considered to have attained perfection in the art, until he was able to treat with accuracy and precision the theme appointed for his amplification. Music, too, that twin sister of Poetry, in its primitive unsubdued existence, was the inseparable companion of extemporaneous recitations, and the mere effusion of verses was held a very mediocre performance unless enhanced by the charms of song and the sweet notes of the lyre. But some instances are recorded of Improvisatori, who, to this varied and extensive accomplishment, added profound learning and erudition. Towards the end of the fifteenth century flourished Bernardo Accolti, son of Bendetto, secretary of the Republic of Florence, and a celebrated historian. He was a native of Arezzo, and from his extraordinary talent in improvisation obtained the name of " l'unico Aretino." It is to be regretted that little of the poetry of the Improvisatori of his age has been preserved by historians; but in the absence of such testimonies of ability, the suffrages of their contemporaries must be admitted as evidence, and the proficiency of Bernardo will not be doubted when supported by the authority of Ariosto, who, speaking of him in his 46th Canto, says—
"11 cavalier che tra lor viene e-ch'elle
Cassio da Narni is not less flattering in his testimony of Accolti:—
"Vedevasi poi 1' unico Aretino
Un nuovo Orfeo, con la citra al collo
All' improviso un stil tanto divino
Che invidia gli ebbe non pochi anni Apollo."
The applause which Accolti received at the Court of Urban and afterwards of Leo the Tenth, was almost without example. When it was understood that he was going to recite, the shops in the neighbourhood were closed, crowds assembled to listen to him, and cardinals, ambassadors, and the most distinguished literati of Rome, were regular attendants. Pietro Bembo, in a letter to the Cardinal of St. Maria, 19th April 1516, furnishes other instances of this poet's ability, and throws some light upon his amours. He says he had lately heard from Accolti, who was still very assiduous in his attentions to a young lady with whom he had long been enamoured, that when he wrote he had the most encouraging prospect of success, for that she had desired him, when he next came, not to forget his lyre, and he doubted not that by its assistance he should be able to describe his passion in such glowing colours as would overcome the hesitation of his mistress. This certainly was turning the talent of improvisation to some account, but from the silence of Bembo it would appear, in this instance, that it was not successful.
The Conte Mazzuchelli, in his account of the lmprovisatori of this age, makes particular mention of Aurelio Brandolini. He was the son of Matteo di Giorgio Brandolini, of a noble Florentine family, and when very young was afflicted with a defluxion in his eyes terminating in total blindness—a misfortune which acquired for him the name of Lippus, and which he beautifully deplores in a sonnet written when very young to Lorenzo de' Medici.
Risguarda alia mia cucaadolcscenza,
The fame of Aurelio's extraordinary talent soon reached the ears of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, who at that time was making every exertion to attract men of letters, and particularly Italians, to his court. By this prince he was prevailed upon to leave Italy, and he seems to have enjoyed some lucrative employment in the University of Buda, founded by that prince. After the death of Matthias, he returned to Florence, and entered into the religious order of the Augustines, in which he became a distinguished preacher. Although blind, many cities in Italy witnessed the display of his talents from the pulpit, and the numerous testimonies of his contemporaries furnish abundant evidence of his success. His talent, however, in extemporaneous versification obtained for him a much greater celebrity than his oratorical powers, and from the account which Matteo Bosso sends of him from Verona to one Girolamo Campagnola, a citizen of Padua, he seems to have possessed the power of treating the most intricate and difficult subjects with consummate ability.
"If I might be allowed the expression, (says Bosso), he yields not on the lute to Amph'ton or Apollo. Certainly he is superior to the most celebrated poets: their productions are the result of much labour and meditation, while m his recitations music and composition unite in instantaneous combination. It would be difficult for you to conceive the fertility of his imagination, the retentiveness of his memory, or the extraordinary felicity with which he adjusts the most elegant language to his beautiful conceptions. We read of Cyrus that he was able to recite the name of every soldier in his army; of Cmeas, that the day after his arrival at Rome, ambassador from King Pyrrhus, he addressed by their own names all the senators and equestrians of that city j of Mithridates, that he spoke the language of twenty-two nations under his dominion: but surely all this bears no comparison to the wonderful powers of Brandolini. Before an immense concourse of the nobles and learned men, he versified with his lute in his hand upon every subject, and in every species of poetic metre which might be proposed. Being at length requested to celebrate the illustrious men to whom this city has given birth, he without a moment's hesitation and without pause or interruption, sang the praises of Catullus, Comelius Nepos, and Pliny the Ancient, the pride and glory of Verona. But what is still more surprising, he ran over the natural history of Pliny, dividing it into thirty-seven books, and without passing over a single chapter or omitting any fact worthy of observation."
Brandolini's erudition, combined with his wonderful facility in displaying it, had rendered his name famous throughout Italy, and his acquaintance was courted by the most learned men and greatest princes of his age. At the express solicitation of that prince, he lived for some time at the Court of Ferdinand the Second, King of Naples, which city he afterwards left, and on his return to Rome, died of the plague in 1497.
The account which Bosso gives of Brandolini appears, indeed, to border on romance ; and had we not indisputable proofs, in the writings, of that poet, of his extensive learning and acquirements it would be difficult to believe so marvellous a tale. But to affect incredulity at this point and still proceed to the history of the next Improvisator? would be trifling with our readers.
Silvio Antoniano was born at Rome, in 1540, of an ohscure family of Abruzzo. He made rapid progress in the studies which the scantiness of his parents' means enabled him to pursue, and at ten years of age could make verses upon any subject proposed; which, though pronounced impromptu, were not surpassed by poems of more elaborate preparation. On one occasion, at the table of the Cardinal of Pisa, Alexander Farnese taking a nosegay presented it to Silvio, desiring him to transfer it to him among the company, who, in his opinion, was most likely to be Pope. The youth, with a handsome eulogium, presented it to the Cardinal of Medicis. This Cardinal, who did afterwards actually become pope, under the title of Pius IV. was inclined to be displeased, supposing the whole a premeditated contrivance to amuse the company at his expense. The guests protested against this misinterpretation of the occurrence; and as the Cardinal still continued incredulous on the subject of the youth's ability, they requested him to make the experiment himself, and propose a subject for Silvio's amplification. Strada tells us, that while considering what theme to propose. the clock in the hall happened to strike, and on the clock Silvio was desired to descant for the satisfaction of the Cardinal. The task was executed to the astonishment of the party, and the great increase of Silvio's reputation. The Duke of Ferrara, coming to Rome to congratulate Marcellus the Second on his being raised to the pontificate, was so charmed with the genius of Antoniano, that he carried him with him to Ferrara, and provided able masters to instruct him in all the sciences. He soon became acquainted with the literati of that city, and particularly with Ricci, whose letters concerning Silvio evince the warmest admiration and regard. It was at a fete champitre given by Ricci, that Silvio displayed to most advantage his powers of extemporaneous versification, and we have the account of it from Ricci himself in a letter written to a friend of his, and to be found in his works :—
"After dinner," says Ricci, " Silvio sang and accompanied himself upon the lyre. He descanted upon the charms of social intercourse, and took occasion to praise the beauty of my villa, and the excellent system of cultivation which prevailed around it. Observing one of my guests anxious to leave the table, and hurrying to a house not far distant where his mistress lived, I whispered the circumstance to Silvio, who touched upon the lover's impatience with such exquisite humour and expression, that we were all amused beyond description. After some little conversation, Silvio resumed his lyre and continued to versify upon indifferent subjects. While still singing, a nightingale, attracted by the sweetness of his lyre, perched on a tree near the house, and when Silvio discontinued, relieved his silence by the enchanting melody of its notes, and seemed as if it had come to contest the palm of music with the Improvisatore. Silvio took the hint, and accommodating his verses to the occasion, complimented the little warbler in a strain of elegance and simplicity, which extorted applause from the most insensible of his hearers."
So far Ricci, whose testimony some of our readers will be inclined to class with that of Matteo Bosso, and charitably suppose that the inspiration of the Improvisatori had communicated itself to their friends, and that when they wrote their accounts, they considered themselves entitled to the license of poetry.
The next Improvisatore of whom we have any detailed account, is Bernardino Perfetti, who was born at Sienna in 1680, and whether we consider the testimonies of his contemporaries, or the honours by which his talents were rewarded, seems to have surpassed any of his predecessors. He was of a noble family and was educated with great care and attention. The old saying "Poeta nascitur, non fit," was strictly exemplified in him; for at the age of seven years he had composed some very passable sonnets and given proofs of his talents in improvisation, by occasional effusions, which, though not excellent, were still of a nature to create astonishment and admiration. About this time there lived at Sienna an Improvisatore named Benedetto Bindi, who enjoyed some local reputation, and was esteemed in that city for the elegance of his taste and the gracefulness of his elocution. On his recitations Perfetti was a constant attendant, and soon became enchanted with his art, and emulous of sharing the applause which he saw so lavishly bestowed. His first attempts were made in the presence of a few friends on whose judgment he could depend, and they unanimously advised the cultivation of a talent, the seeds of which appeared so plentifully sown by nature. On their recommendation he sat himself