Carlo Goldoni

AFTER Oliver Goldsmith, I do not know any figure in the history of literature that should take the gentle reader’s liking more than the Italian comic dramatist, Carlo Goldoni. These two charming writers are not unlike in certain particulars of their lives. They were both children of that easy-going eighteenth century, of the period before its griefs began with the French revolution, and as Irishman and Venetian they might very naturally have been allied in temperament; the American traveler is nowhere more vividly reminded of a certain class of adoptive fellow-citizens than in Venice. Moreover, they had both the vagabondizing instinct, and were æsthetic wanderers, Goldsmith all over Europe, and Goldoni up and down Italy, to die after many years’ self-exile in France. They were alike in their half education for the medical profession, and alike in abandoning that respectable science for the groves of Academe, not to say Bohemia; Goldoni, indeed, left the law and several other useful and grave employments for those shades, which are not haunts of flowery ease, after all. But these authors are even more alike in certain engaging qualities of mind than in their external circumstances. If the English essayist was vastly higher in the theory than in the conduct of life, poor Goldoni had his moral ideas, too, and tried to teach in his comedies purity, good faith, and other virtues which were foolishness to most of the world by whose favor he must live. He resembled Goldsmith in the amiability of his satire, the exquisite naturalness of his characterization, the simplicity of his literary motive; but he was no poet, though a genius, and he falls further below Goldsmith in this rather than in respect of the morality he taught.

Perhaps Doctor Goldsmith would have been but little pleased to be compared with the Venetian dramatist, if the comparison had been made in his life-time, for if he ever heard of Goldoni at all, it must have been in scornful terms from that Joseph Barretti who dwelt in London and consorted with Doctor Johnson, and had wielded upon his Italian brethren a Frusta Letteraria, or Literary Lash (as he called his ferocious critical papers), that drew blood: Barretti despised Goldoni for a farceur of low degree, not being able to see the truth and power of his comedies, and used to speak of him as “one Charles Goldoni.” Nevertheless, if the Venetian could have brought himself to leave the delights of Paris long enough to pay that visit to London which the Italian operatic company once desired of him, he might have met Goldmith; and then I am sure that the founder and master of the natural school of English fiction would have liked the inventor of realistic Italian comedy. At any rate Goldoni would have liked Goldsmith. The Spectator was the fashion at Venice as well as at London in Goldoni’s day; it had formed the taste for the kind of writing in which Goldsmith excelled, and The Citizen of the World would have found an intelligent admirer in a man who helplessly knew as much of the world as himself.

I wish with all my heart that these amiable authors were alike in having both written their memoirs. What a treasure would not the autobiography of Goldsmith be, written with the fullness and frankness of Goldoni’s ! What would we not give for such a picture of London life as Goldoni paints of Venetian life in the first half of the last century! I fancy the history of Goldsmith written by himself with the same gentleness and forgiving mildness and humorous selfsatire as Goldoni’s; more of these qualities it could not have; and I doubt if in the whole range of autobiography one can find anything of a cheerfuller sweetness. I have personally to be glad that his memoirs was one of the first books which fell into my hands when I went to live in Venice, and that I read it together with his comedies, so that the romantic city became early humanized to me through the life and labors of the kindly dramatist.

The “large and beautiful house” in which Goldoni says he was born, between the bridges of the Knuckle-Bone and the Honest Woman (the Venetian street nomenclature is much of it deliciously quaint), is still shown to strangers; and I have no doubt but at Chiozza, where much of his boyhood was passed, they could find you, for a very small sum, many palaces in which he lived. At any rate, when you visit that smaller and forlorner Venice1 twentyfive miles away in the lagoons, you cannot have a pleasanter association with it than the dramatist ’s memory. Goldoni will tell you that he was always returning to Chiozza from whatever misadventure he met with elsewhere, until he finally fled the lagoons to escape marriage with a young lady of that city to whom he had inadvertently betrothed himself. Here his mother remained, while his father tried to establish himself, at this city and that, in his profession of physician, and vainly placed his son at one school and another, and was always on the point of making his fortune. They were of a gay, improvident Modenese race, and from the time when Goldoni’s grandfather came to Venice and outshone all the patricians in the wasteful splendor of his villa on the Brenta, to the very last year of the dramatist’s life amid the early days of the French revolution, his career seems to have been providentially enriched by every strange experience that could fit into the hand of a comic author. What better fortune for a man destined to write comedy than that he should run away from school at Rimini, and come back by sea with a company of strolling players in their bark to Chiozza?

“My comedians were not Scarron’s company, but on the whole they presented a very amusing coup-d'œil: twelve persons, actors as well as actresses, a prompter, a machinist, a store-keeper, eight domestics, four chamber-maids, two nurses, children of every age, cats, dogs, monkeys, parrots, birds, pigeons, and a lamb. It was another Noah’s ark! The bark was very large and divided into a number of apartments. Every female had her little corner, with curtains. An excellent bed was fitted up for me beside the manager, and all of us were comfortable. The steward, who was at the same time cook and butler, rung a little bell, which was our signal for breakfast. On this, we all assembled in a sort of saloon in the middle of the vessel, above the chests, trunks, and packages. After breakfast, play was proposed till dinner should be ready. We played, laughed, joked, and gave ourselves up to all manner of tricks till the bell summoned us to dinner. Macaroni! Every one fell upon it, and three dishes were devoured. We had also alamode beef, cold fowl, a loin of veal, a dessert, and excellent wine. What a charming dinner! No cheer like a good appetite. We remained four hours at table. We played on different instruments, and sung a great deal. Alas! an adventure took place which interrupted the happiness of the society. A cat escaped from her cage, the favorite of the principal actress, who called on every one for assistance. She was briskly chased, but, being as wild as her mistress, she skipped, leaped about, and crept into every hole and corner. When she found herself at last rather warmly pursued, she climbed up the mast. Seeing the distress of Madame Clarice, a sailor sprang up after her, when the cat leaped into the sea, where she remained. Her mistress was in despair: she attempted to kill every animal within reach of her, and to throw her waiting-maid into the watery grave of her darling. We all took the part of the waiting-maid, and the quarrel became general. The manager made his appearance, laughed, rallied and caressed the afflicted lady. She at last began herself to laugh, and the cat was forgotten. The wind was unfavorable, and we remained three days at sea, always with the same amusements, the same pleasures, and the same appetite. We arrived on the fourth day at Chiozza.

“ I had not the address of my mother’s lodgings, but I had not long to inquire. Madame Goldoni and her sister wore a head-dress; they were in the rich class, and known by everybody. I requested the manager to accompany me: he very readily consented, and announced himself on his arrival. I remained in the ante-chamber. ‘ Madam,’ said he to my mother, ‘ I come from Rimini; I have news from your son.’ ‘ How does my son?’ ‘Very well, madam.’ ‘Is he content with his situation?’ ‘Not remarkably so, madam. He suffers a great deal.’ ‘ From what ? ’ ‘ From

being so far from his tender mother.’ ‘ Poor child! I wish I had him beside me.’ (All this was heard by me, and my heart beat within me.) ‘ Madam,’ continued the manager, ' I offered to bring him with me.’ ‘ Why, then, did you not?’ ‘Would you have been pleased? ’ ' Undoubtedly.’ * But his

studies?’ ‘His studies! Could he not return? Besides, masters are everywhere to be had.’ ‘Then you would willingly see him?’ ‘With the greatest joy.’ ‘ Here he is, then, madam.’ On this he opened the door, and I made my entrance. I threw myself at my mother’s feet, who cordially embraced me; neither of us could speak for our tears. The actor, accustomed to scenes of this nature, after passing some agreeable compliments, took his leave of my mother and departed; I remained with her, and frankly owned the folly I had committed. She scolded me one moment and caressed me the next, and we were quite pleased with each other.”

From the college of Pavia, where his father afterwards placed him, Goldoni, in pursuance of his adventurous destiny, having written a lampoon on the principal families of the city, was expelled. He tells us how he was instantly smitten with shame and remorse, and sixty years later, when he writes his memoirs, he is still on his knees to such of the good people as have so long survived the wrong he did them. But in the mean time, there was that Dominican friar who accompanied him home, — that friar who confessed him and took all his little money from him in penance, and then fell asleep amidst the tale of his remaining sins, a friar forever precious to the imagination ! And there was the picturesque and melodramatic family dismay when he reached home: his father’s wrath, his mother’s tears! It is all like a chapter of Gil Blas.

“In the evening I was sent for to supper,” says Goldoni, in recounting the story of his journey home by boat, “ but refused to go. A few minutes afterwards, I heard the words ‘ Deo gratias ’ pronounced in a pathetic tone by an unknown voice. It was still tolerably light; and, on looking through a crevice of the door, I observed a monk, who was addressing himself to me. I opened, and let him in. He was a Dominican of Palermo, the brother of a famous Jesuit, highly celebrated as a preacher; and he had embarked that day at Piacenza, and like myself was bound for Chiozza. He knew my story, the master having revealed everything to him; and he came to offer me the temporal and spiritual consolation which his vocation entitled him to bestow upon me, and which my situation seemed to require. He displayed a great deal of sensibility and fervency in his discourse: I saw him shed tears; at least, I saw him apply his handkerchief to his eyes. I was touched with this, and abandoned myself to his mercy.

“ The master sent to inform us that they were waiting for us. The reverend father was by no means disposed to lose his collation, but seeing me full of compunction he begged the master to have the goodness to wait a moment. Then, turning towards me, he embraced me, and with tears in his eyes pointed out to me the dangers of my situation, and showed me that the infernal enemy might take possession of me and plunge me into an eternal abyss. I have already hinted that I was subject to fits of hypochondriacal vapors, and I was then in a most deplorable situation. My exorcist, perceiving this, proposed confession to me. I threw myself at his feet. ‘ God be praised!’ said he. ‘Yes, my dear child, prepare yourself till my return;’ and he then went and supped without me. I remained on my knees and began a conscientious examination of myself. In half an hour the father returned with a wax-light in his hand, and seated himself on my trunk. I delivered my confiteor, and went through my general confession with the requisite humility and contrition. It was necessary to exhibit signs of repentance; and the first point was to make reparation for the injury done by me to the families against whom I had directed my satire. But how was this to be done at present? ‘ Till you are enabled to retract your calumnies,’ said the reverend father, ‘ you can only propitiate the wrath of God by means of alms; for alms-giving is the first meritorious work which effaces sin.’ ‘ Yes, father,’ said I to him, ' I shall bestow them.’ ‘ By no means,’ he replied; ‘ the sacrifice must be instantly made.’

‘ But I have only thirty paoli.’ ' Very well, child; in foregoing the money which we possess we have as much merit as if we gave more.’ I drew forth my thirty paoli and requested my confessor to take the charge of distributing them to the poor. This he willingly acceded to, and then he gave me absolution. I wished to continue still longer, having some things to say which I had forgotten; but the reverend father began to doze, and his eyes closed every moment. He told me to keep myself quiet, and he took me by the hand, gave me his benediction, and hurried away to his bed.

“ We were still eight days longer on our passage; I wished to confess myself every day, but I had no more money for penitence. I arrived, trembling, at Chiozza, with my confessor, who under took to bring about a reconciliation between me and my relations. My father was at Venice on business; my mother saw me coming, and received me with tears, for the almoner of the college had not failed to inform my family of the particulars of my conduct. The reverend father had but little difficulty in touching the heart, of a tender mother; she possessed ability and firmness, and, turning towards the Dominican, by whom she was fatigued, ‘ My reverend father,’ said she, ‘ if my son had committed a knavish action, I would never have consented to see him more; but he has been guilty of a piece of imprudence, and I pardon him.’

“ My traveling companion would have wished that my father had been at home to present him to the prior of St. Dominic. There was something under this which I could not well comprehend. My mother told him that she expected my father in the course of the day, at which the reverend father appeared satisfied, and without any ceremony he invited himself to dine with us. While we were at table my father arrived, and I rose and shut myself in the adjoining room. On my father’s entrance he perceived a large cowl. ‘ This is a stranger,’ said my mother, ‘who demanded hospitality.’ ‘ But this other plate — this other chair ’ — It was no longer possible to be silent respecting me; my mother wept; the monk harangued; he did not forget the parable of the prodigal son. My father was good-natured, and very fond of me; in short, I was sent for, and at last restored to favor.”

Goldoni was still very young, and he had a very good heart; he had been cajoled into his satire by some malicious fellow-students, and the lesson that humanity is above literature came to him mercifully early. He was thereafter the founder of a school that ennobled satire by depersonalizing it. As regarded his dramatic career, his expulsion from college was an advantage. It made him the companion of his father in his medical practice at Chiozza, where he saw a strange and instructive side of life; and later he was his father’s fellow-traveler on a journey into Germany and a long sojourn in the Friuli, where he constantly enriched himself with curious experiences, whatever were his father’s gains.

There must have been large numbers of Italians in the eighteenth century who did not enjoy themselves, but wherever you find them in memoirs they seem to be having the best of times: eating, drinking, singing, gaming, masking, making love right and left; there is apparently no end to their pleasures. This is the impression of Italian life that remains in one’s mind from Goldoni’s recollections of his light-hearted youth. They have theatricals in all the houses where he visits; and he who began manager in his childhood with a puppet-show is naturally turned to dramatic account in those cheerful palaces. Wherever he goes, now with his father, or later, when he passes from one city to another on his own changing occasions, he has nothing to do but to amuse and to be amused. If it is in the Venetian dependencies, he calls upon the patrician governor, and stays at least two weeks with him; if it is in distant countries like Milan, or Modena, or Parma, he is the guest of the Serenest Republic’s envoy, — an envoy with no more to do than an American minister, except to be gay, to be profuse, to be elegant, to ornament society, and to patronize the bowing and obsequious arts. What a charming epoch! Life is everywhere a party of pleasure. There is a certain journey of Goldoni’s (in one of his college vacations), down the Po and over the lagoon to Chiozza, which strikes one even at this distance of time and space with intolerable envy: ten young gentlemen and their servants, in a luxuriously appointed barge, drifting idly down the current, and nowise concerned about arriving anywhere. They all, save Goldoni, play upon some instrument, and he who cannot play can rhyme the incidents of the voyage. The peasants forsake their fields and flocks as the happy voyagers pass, and crowd the banks of the stream; when the enchanted barge halts at night near some town, the citizens throng it with invitations to every sort of gayety; the nobles from their villas send hospitably to arrest the wanderers; it is a long progress of delight, under skies forever blue, among shores forever green. Ah, to have been young and rich and well - born in that day!

Or to have been a Venetian officeholder in times when the government was the affair of the rich and amiable patrician families who had the taste to choose such friends as young Goldoni, and to make their work agreeable to them! The reader must go to his autobiography for the account of the prolonged picnic of young gentlemen and ladies who followed the chancellor’s coadjutor, Goldoni, into the woods of Feltre to stay the depredations upon the government timber. The expedition proved almost fatal to Goldoni’s peace; for he tells you how he fell in love with one of the young ladies, and how “ curiously ” he reasoned himself out of the imprudence of making her his wife by considering, Italian-like, that if the fatigues of the journey had so great effect upon her she would fade and age early, and so leave him to despair!

It is hard to realize that all such junketing goes on amidst pretty continual fighting. Spaniards and Austrians and Frenchmen are always down there in Italy cutting one another’s throats, and every now and then interrupting with a siege or a battle the Italian party of pleasure. The Italians take the interruption as philosophically as they can, and as soon as the dead are buried and the fires put out go on with their amusements as before. Of course a man predestined to write comedy must often be taken at a disadvantage by these wars, and Goldoni’s memoirs owe some of their most entertaining chapters to his misadventures among combatants with whom personally and nationally he was at peace. The republic of Venice had long maintained her neutrality (though her territory was violated at will by the belligerents) amidst the ever-renewed hostilities of the barbarians who fought out their quarrels on Italian ground, and she did not meddle with that brief war which the Cardinal Fleury and the Emperor Charles VI. set going between them about the Pragmatic Sanction and the election of the Polish king in 1729. It all resulted in the succession of Maria Theresa to the imperial throne, in the establishment of the Spanish Bourbons in Naples, and the house of Lorraine in Tuscany; but in the mean time Goldoni, being a Venetian, had not even the tempered interest in the war of those Italians whom its event was to give this master or that. One fine morning, being now attached to the Venetian embassy in Milan, he is roused by his servant with the news that the city is in the hands of the Sardinians, who have joined the Freach and Spanish side. This is annoying to a gentleman who has already so far entered upon a literary career as to have written an unsuccessful opera (there is nothing more Gil-Blaslike than his account of how the singers laugh it to scorn 2), but Goldoni is above everything cheerful, and he retires uncomplainingly with the embassy to Crema, to be out of the way of the bombardment of the Milanese citadel; and from Crema he shortly afterwards goes to Parma, where, standing on the city wall, he witnesses the once famous battle of that name. The next day he sees the dead, twenty thousand men, stripped naked over night, and strewn in infinite shapes of mutilation and horror over the field; and, having by this time resigned his office under the Venetian envoy, he gladly quits Parma for the territories of the republic.

Never were misfortunes more blithely narrated than those which beset him on this journey. He is first of all things an author, and amidst these scenes of violence and carnage he has been industriously contriving a play: his Belisarius, which he carries with him in his pocket, and which he reads aloud to his traveling companion, a young abbé of literary taste, as they drive along in their carriage through a country infested by camp followers, deserters from either host, and desperadoes of every sort. Suddenly brigands appear and stop at once the carriage and the reading of Belisarius; the literary gentlemen are glad to escape with but their lives. Towards night-fall, Goldoni encounters some kindly peasants at work in the field; they take pity on him, give him to eat and drink, and bring him to their good curé in the village. The curé is a man of culture; Goldoni mentions his play, the curé makes him a little dinner, and he reads his blessed Belisarius (which has remained safe from the rapacity of the brigands) to his host and two other applausive abbés! What is adversity after all, then? A matter of individual temperament, of race?

Goldoni repairs to Venice, and he does not again quit that soft and safe retreat for ten years, during which he establishes his fame. But at the end of that time his destiny takes him into the fighting once more: his old friends, the Frenchmen, the Sardinians, the Spaniards, the Austrians, are all at it as usual, this time about the right of Maria Theresa to reign in the dominions of her father. They are all civil to the pleasant dramatist, however, and treat him handsomely when he gets into trouble, He duly turns his adventures to account in comedy, and in his memoirs he narrates them with unfailing enjoyment of their absurdity.

Goldoni, indeed, would not have been the cunning worker in human nature that he was, if he had not seen his own errors and their consequences with an impartial eye. Somewhere in his comedies you will find every one of them used, with more or less disguise, — usually less. He knew quite well that he was himself an amusing character, but for all that he recognized his serious obligations to the race, and he kept a much livelier conscience, literary and moral, than most people of his world. Certain things, as gaming and intriguing, he was forced practically to blink in himself as well as others, such being the fashion of his age; but he wrote comedies in which the career of the gambler was painted in its true colors, and he helped ridicule the cavalier servente out of existence. He seems to have been tenderly attached to his wife, who returned his love with interest; in a society devoured by debts he abhorred debt, and amidst envies, backbitings, and jealousies of every kind he kept a heart uncorroded by hatred and full of generous friendship.

He was curiously limited in his satirical scope. In Venice he could not paint a dissolute or wicked noble, or indeed put upon the stage a Venetian noble of any sort; his nobles, therefore, were ostensibly of the inferior, titled sort from the mainland. He might not so much as name a convent in comedy; any young lady immured in a nunnery must be mentioned as being “ at the house of an aunt ; ” and of course the vices and follies of the clergy were sacred from his touch. He drew his characters from the citizen class chiefly, but often with great effect from the lowest of the people. Within the bounds set him he painted the Venice of his time so gracefully, so vividly, so truly, with so much more of the local human nature than of the mere manners of the age, that his plays mirror in wonderful degree the Venice of our own day.

No author ever wrote more purposely and directly for the theatre than Goldoni; in this, at least, he was Shakespearian. He may be said to have always known the stage; his acquaintance with players began when he ran away from school with the strollers from Rimini, and it continued all his life. When he began seriously to write comedy, it was for a company of which he actually formed a part, and he studied his actors and kept them as constantly in view as the persons of his drama. His observation was from the world at large; when he had discovered or imagined a character, he trained his players to his own conception of it. Often he wrote a part especially for some comedian; sometimes he portrayed the characters of his actors in the play, and he knew how to avenge himself for their obstinacies, caprices, and jealousies by good-natured satire of their recognizable qualities.

His material lay in himself and everywhere about him in that Venice which he knew so well. There his genius seemed to prosper most; although he wrote brilliant plays elsewhere, and lived to give the French stage a comedy that had a prompt and (as those things go) enduring success, Venice was the scene of his greatest triumphs. There for many years he continued to produce one play after another with almost uninterrupted good fortune, while elsewhere his inspiration was fitful and uncertain. The best of his hundred and fifty comedies are those in the soft speech of the lagoons; the next best are those Italian plays of which the scene is laid in Venice.

They are simple affairs as to plot, but their movement is very spirited. The dialogue is always brisk, with a droll, natural, sarcastic humor in it that smacks of the popular life; it is rarely witty, — perhaps there is not a memorably witty passage in all his plays; there is no eloquence, and not often anything like pathos, though now and then amidst the prevailing good spirits of his comedy there are touches of real tenderness. His art is extremely good; the plays are well contrived. There are few long speeches; the soliloquies and the asides are few; there are seldom explanations or narrative statements; the sympathetic spectator is briefly possessed of the situation by the dialogue; the rest is left to his patience, which is never heavily taxed, and to his curiosity, which is duly piqued. I find the same sort of pleasure in reading Goldoni’s comedies as in seeing them played; though in reading, the baldness of the morality is, of course, more apparent. One ought not to smile at this morality, however, without remembering the age, the religion, and the race to which it was addressed: to these some very elementary principles might have seemed novel.

I do not know how often Molière is still played in France, but in Italy, and especially in Venice, Goldoni has his regular seasons, and holds his place upon the stage as firmly as Shakespeare, with whom he is not otherwise comparable; he was, as I have said, no poet. All his countrymen are agreed as to the vast, the unique value of his theatre in their literature. “ To say Goldoni is to say Italian comedy,” writes Torelli in a paper on the dramatist in his Passaggi e Profili. “ The severe critic who, in speaking of the gifts of this famous man, would hold him to strict account for his many defects cannot dispute the common voice which has pronounced the Venetian humorist the father and the restorer of comedy. Goldoni, like all illustrious authors, has had his impassioned detractors, his impassioned apologists: they have fought over his fame, for and against; they have discussed the marvelous subtlety of his dialogue and the poverty of his diction. But the true judges of Goldoni were not the detractors, nor the apologists, nor the commentators, nor the libelers; his true judges were the people in the pit, the spectators surprised by the truth of the characters which he had studied from life, and struck hv the aptness of the sallies and replies, which they had felt stirring in their own minds before the persons of the play had uttered them. The worth of Goldoni consists in the material truth, so to speak, of his action, apparently expressed as it comes to hand, but really sought out with study and artifice.” The praise of Emiliani-Giudici is as cordial and as just, if not so subtle: “ No one painted better than he the life that served him for a model, taught morality with urbaner satire, invented dramatic situations with greater art, showed greater fertility. Cesarotti, a fervent admirer of French literature, compares him to Molière, and declares that if Goldoni had had more leisure for study, and could have meditated and finished his productions with more affectionate care, he might have boasted a greater number of masterpieces, and have been the first comic dramatist of the world. . . . Goldoni himself laments the fate that forced him to work at such a breakneck rate. In one year he promised and composed sixteen comedies. Nearly all his productions, therefore, lack that final touch by which a writer frees his work from the inevitable redundancies of the first sketch, gives the material greater significance, balances the larger and the lesser parts, and achieves for it beauty and symmetry as a whole.” I am bound to say that I have not myself felt in Goldoni that want of finish here deplored, except a certain tendency to tameness and coldness in the conclusion of some of his plays. Neither should I agree with Cantù in much of the censure which he mingles with his praise: “Full of that spirit of observation and imitation which seizes and portrays life, he reveals character not in phrases and reflections, but in situations and in contrasts; and not character strained and exaggerated, but mixed and average as we see it in society. He obeys his own knowledge of life rather than the requirements of art, but his observation was limited to the lower classes, whence he drew trivial persons. . . . Gondoliers, servants, dancers, parasites, adventurers, cicisbei, usurers, misers, husbands and wives of the populace, he depicts with marvelous fidelity . . . but not the patricians in their refined corruption, nothing that ennobles sentiment or elevates the mind. He neglected his diction, and when he did not use his native dialect he fell into an incorrect, common, and pleading-lawyer’s Italian; he sins in useless scenes, prolix discourses, scurrilous allusions; yet no one surpasses him in the management of dialogue, in the naturalness of his characters, in the simplicity of his style.”

One can hardly blame Goldoni for not embroiling himself with the government by attacking the Venetian nobles, and if he preferred to paint the common life about him he was right to do so; in matters of art one must do what one likes if one would do well. As for the style, it is so much better to he graphic and simple than to be irreproachable that even the Italian world, which really suffers from an inelegance of speech, easily forgives Goldoni’s negligent diction; the foreigner does not feel it. To elevate the mind or ennoble the sentiments is not quite the comic dramatist’s business; on the other hand, Goldoni never pandered to a vicious taste, in morals or æsthetics. His comedies are pure in surprising degree when one thinks of the contemporary English stage and romance; they may be read, for the most part, with as little offense as so many novels of Dickens. Now and then he girds himself up to attack some social abuse, like the cicisbeo system, by which every fashionable, wife had her conventional adorer, recognized in that quality by the world and tolerated by the husband. It was a silly usage, but not so often wicked as might be thought. Parini’s satire lashed the poor cicisbei in Lombardy, while Goldoni laughed at them in Venice; but it must have cost the dramatist more to be virtuous against them, for he was a social creature, liking best to please every one, and fond of the gay and fine world. He gently complains of the enmities his ridicule of the cicisbei excited against him.

The reader of his memoirs will be interested and perhaps amused to find Goldoni defending the Protestants from the insult offered them in a dramatic lampoon upon himself, and actually procuring its suppression on the ground of its offensiveness to the ambassadors of many friendly powers resident in Venice, where indeed foreign Protestantism had enjoyed perfect immunity ever since the times of Luther. But it is really not fair to judge this sweet and kindly spirit as a moralist or a reformer of any sort except in his own proper world of comedy. Here he was bold, strenuous, and untiring, and he succeeded in firmly establishing the Italian comic drama against the popular taste and the power of the vested interests.

Of course there were Italians who wrote true comedy before Goldoni: there were Ariosto and Machiavelli, to name no others, but their plays were not played, and there was no body of national comedy at all answering to that of the French or English. There were imitators of the French and imitators of the Spanish schools of comedy, and there was a sort of comic spectacle, full of supernatural prodigies and fanciful extravagances, which was in high favor. But the national spirit found expression chiefly in the so-called comedy of art, which had the strongest hold upon the popular affection; and this Goldoni supplanted by the sort of conquest which seems to compromise and even to concede; with the French and Spanish schools, with the spectacular drama, he never pretended to make terms.

The comedy of art was simply the outline of an action supplied to the players. The characters in every plot were drawn from the same stock: Pantalone, Arlecchino, Brighella, Truffaldino, Il Dottore, Colombina, Corallina, and other inferior masks, and the dialogue was the inspiration of the actors; it was very good or very bad according to their ability, and it could not have been possible to a race with less genius for improvisation than the Italians. Some of these masks were of vast antiquity, like Pantaloon and Harlequin; the others dated back three or four centuries. Arlecchino, Brighella, Truffaldino, Corallina, and Colombina are always servants or people of low degree; they have severally their conventional trails of slyness and stupidity, as immutable as the dresses or masks in which they appear. Arlecchino and Brighella are by immemorial attribution natives of Bergamo, and speak the quaint dialect of their city; they are both rogues, but the former is usually the prey of the latter. Colombina and Corallina are equally wicked jades, and are almost convertible characters. They “ know the defects of women in general, and of their mistress in particular. Colombina or Corallina, whichever it is, is from eighteen to twenty-five years of age. She is pretty just short of wounding the vanity of her mistress; she knows by heart the swoons, vapors, caprices, tastes, of the lady whom she has the advantage to serve. When she comes into her chamber in the morning and hears the call, ‘ My dear Colombina!’ she instantly foresees a day of convulsive attacks, emotional prostration, of tears, and of confidences. If the lady is old, Corallina makes fun of her behind her back, and flatters her to her face; tells the whole neighborhood of her artificial pretenses, her unspeakable follies. If she is young, she aids her with embassies, with advice; or else — and then the case is terrible — she opposes her in everything, and makes her really unhappy.”

Pantalone dei Bisognosi is always a Venetian merchant; he wears the dress and the long beard of his class and city in the Middle Ages. He is true, just, punctiliously honest; a wise head and a soft heart ; usually his son is a reprobate, and costs him much anxiety and money before he turns from his evil ways at the end of the comedy.

Il Dottore Bacchettone is of the learned city of Bergamo; he is dressed in black and has a great wine stain on his face. Generally it is his business in the Goldonian comedy to be the friend and correspondent of Pantalone, and the father of the lover or heroine of the play.

Goldoni wrote some hundred and fifty comedies, and in quite half of them, I think, these standard characters appear. Every company had actors and actresses identified with the parts, and it was the dramatist ’s difficult task to preserve enough of the traditional to keep them recognizably the same, while constantly inflecting and varying them to give novelty to the action and meet the exigency of the plot. He was obliged to adopt the masks while supplying a complete play instead of the outline of the comedy of art, which he was seeking to supplant in the popular affections. His success was slow and fitful. From time to time he was forced to give his players outlines; even so late as his sojourn in Paris, we find him supplying these skeleton dramas to the Italian company with which he was connected. But without doubt it was Goldoni who extinguished the comedy of art, and created for the Italians not only a real comedy, but the taste to enjoy it, though the impulse in that direction had been given from time to time long before his day, and once by the good San Carlo Borromeo, a saint who scarcely needed canonization. One Flaminio Scala,” writes Torelli, “head of a company of players, following the example of the ancient art, began to give his pieces unity and form; he began to write out notes and take them into the theatre, showing the plot of the action, and explaining what each actor should do upon the scene, the idea by which he should be guided in improvising, and of what nature the buffooneries of Harlequin should be. Scala was praised to the skies, and proclaimed illustrious by all Milan. The times were rather shameless: this brave company, seeing themselves every day higher in favor with the Milanese, loosed the rein of modesty and let their tongues wag at will. San Carlo Borromeo called them before him, and having thoroughly rebuked them all, especially Harlequin, forbade them to play anything more without first submitting the action to the censorship. ‘ But if we should happen to improvise something!’ cried Scala, meekly. ‘Write out the play first, and you will avoid that,’ replied the archbishop. And perhaps from this point began the abolition of the comedy of art, and the regular comedy had more studious followers.”

Nevertheless, the honor is Goldoni’s of having created the regular comedy without losing the charm of the old, for there is a very great charm in the constant recurrence of the familiar faces of Pantalone, Arlecchino, Brighella, Truffaldino, Colombina, and Corallina in the perpetually varied action aud circumstance of his plays. When once you have entered into their spirit, it is delightful to find that the lover is always Florindo, and that his mistress is always Rosaura; it is like meeting those people whom some novelists have the fancy of making reappear through all their fictions, and there is a sort of convenience in it for the lazy imagination. I do not mean to say that all of Goldoni’s comedies are restricted in their range of character to these personages; great numbers of them entirely depart from the tradition which these keep in view; but I own that I like best those which follow the old comedy of art with respect to their dramatis personæ, though I must own also that I do not quite know why.

Goethe, writing from Venice in 1786, describes the performance of one of the best of the Goldonian comedies dealing with the popular life, —a comedy which is still sure to be played at least once every winter in Venice: —

“ Yesterday, at the theatre of St. Luke, was performed Le Baruffe - Chiozotte, which I should interpret the Frays and Feuds of Chiozza. The dramatis personæ are principally seafaring people, inhabitants of Chiozza, with their wives, sisters, and daughters. The usual noisy demonstrations of such sort of people in their good or ill luck, — their dealings one with another, their vehemence, but goodness of heart, commonplace remarks and unaffected manners, their naive wit and humor, — all this was excellently imitated. The piece, moreover, is Goldoni’s, and as I had been only the day before in the place itself, and as the tones and manners of the sailors and people of the sea-port still echoed in my ears and floated before my eyes, it delighted me very much; and although I did not understand a single allusion, I was, nevertheless, on the whole, able to follow it pretty well. I will now give you the plan of the piece: it opens with the females of Chiozza sitting, as usual, on the strand before their cabins, spinning, mending nets, sewing, or making lace; a youth passes by and notices one of them with a more friendly greeting than the rest. Immediately the joking begins, and observes no bounds. Becoming tarter and tarter, and growing ill-tempered, it soon bursts out into reproaches; abuse vies with abuse; in the midst of all one dame, more vehement than the rest, bounces out with the truth; and now an endless din of scolding, railing, and screaming; there is no lack of more decided outrage, and at last the peace officers are compelled to interfere.

“The second act opens with the court of justice. In the absence of the podestà (who as a noble could not lawfully be brought upon the stage) the actuarius presides. He orders the women to be brought before him one by one. This gives rise to an interesting scene. It happens that this official personage is himself enamored of the first of the combatants who is brought before him. Only too happy to have an opportunity of speaking with her alone, instead of hearing what she has to say on the matter in question, he makes her a declaration of love. In the midst of it a second woman, who is herself in love with the actuary, in a fit of jealousy rushes in, and with her the suspicious lover of the first damsel, who is followed by all the rest; and now the same demon of confusion riots in the court as a little before had set at loggerheads the people of the harbor. In the third act the fun gets more and more boisterous, and the whole ends with a hasty and poor dénoûment. The happiest thought, however, of the whole piece is a character who is thus drawn: an old sailor, who from the hardships he has been exposed to from his childhood trembles and falters in all his limbs, and even in his very organs of speech, is brought on the scene to serve as a foil to this restless, screaming, and jabbering crew. Before he can utter a word, he has to make a long preparation by a slow twitching of his lips and an assistant motion of his hands and arms; at last he blurts out what his thoughts are on the matter in dispute. But as he can only manage to do this in very short sentences, he acquires thereby a sort of laconic gravity, so that all he utters sounds like an adage or maxim; and in this way a happy contrast is afforded to the wild and passionate exclamations of the other personages.

“But, even as it was, I never witnessed anything like the noisy delight the people evinced at seeing themselves and their mates represented with such truth of nature. It was one continued laugh and tumultuous shout of exultation from beginning to end. . . . Great praise is due to the author, who out of nothing has here created the most amusing divertissement. However, he never could have done it with any other people than his own merry and light-hearted countrymen.”

There could be no better analysis of a Goldonian play than this, nor more satisfactory testimony to the favor the dramatist enjoyed among his own people. Yet it is said that Goldoni was at last glad to quit Venice because of the displeasures he suffered from the success of a rival dramatist, Carlo Gozzi. This writer carried to the last excess the principle of the spectacular drama, which Goldoni abhorred, and his popularity must have been sorely vexatious; but our author, who is commonly very frank about his motives, does not hint at any such reason for his expatriation. Those were the grand and courtly times when a prince, having a fancy for this or that artist, could send through his ambassador and “ demand ” him of his native government. From time to time members of Goldoni’s company were demanded by foreign powers; at last he was himself demanded of the republic by the king of France. Quite the same, of course, he was master to stay at home if he liked, but he preferred to accede to the demand and to go for two years to the great city, then as now the centre of artistic aspiration, whither his fame had preceded him. He lived in Paris the rest of his days. He often thought of returning to Venice, but as often was helpless to tear himself from the delights of Paris: the charms of Parisian society, the quick and constant succession of novelties in science, literature, and art, the exquisite playing at the theatres—all, in a word, that could allure a man of fine taste and light temperament. Of light temperament Goldoni undoubtedly was, and as such he was a true son of his century. It is amusing, in his memoirs, to observe how unconscious he is of any brooding change which was to involve the destinies of the agreeable great folk with whom his lot was cast: the princesses whom he taught Italian, the king whom he was brought to Paris to amuse, the elegant court of which he modestly formed a part. He laments the death of the cold-hearted debauchee Louis XV. as if he had been really the well beloved of his people; he devoutly rejoices over the nuptials of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, and the birth of their children, as if the kingship were to go on forever; and he makes no sign, amidst his comments on French society, of any knowledge of an impending and very imminent French revolution. It must be owned that republicans have always taken very kindly to foreign monarchs: the Swiss have been the stay of several tottering despots; the Americans were the most loathsome admirers and flatterers of the Second Emperor. Poor Goldoni was in raptures — that is the truth — with French royalty and all that belonged to it, and probably no man in France was more astonished when the revolution swept everything of that sort away. He had a pension of four thousand francs from the king, which went with the other pensions when the civil list was abolished, and so Goldoni fell into extreme poverty, and sickness followed upon his deprivations. Then the poet Chénier rose one day in the convention, and making these facts known asked the restitution of Goldoni’s pension, which was voted by a great majority; and an annuity of twelve hundred francs was continued to his widow after his death, which took place five years later, when he was eighty-six years old.

No kindlier creature seems ever to have lived, and he had traits of genuine modesty that made him truly lovable. He never would suffer himself to be compared with Molière; he meekly bowed down before French geniuses whom the world has ceased, if not to adore, at least to hear of; when the great Count Alfieri calls upon him he is almost overpowered by the honor the noble tragic author does a greater man. Nothing can be sweeter than the courage with which he goes to Diderot (who, having plagiarized one of Goldoni’s comedies, spoke ill of his talent) and compels his detractor to be his personal friend. He seems to have kept his temper throughout his trials and vexations in Venice with actors, managers, patrons, and spectators; if ever he retaliates it is by some satire which they join him in enjoying. A very curious chapter of these troubles is that relating to the printing of his plays, a right which the manager, Medebac, pretended to forbid him, and which he was forced to assert by smuggling into Venice an edition printed in Florence. But all that part of his autobiography relating to his life in Italy is full of the quaintest and most varied experience, and it makes a whole dead world live again: a world of small ducal and princely courts; of alien camps in the midst of a patient and peaceful country; of strange little local jealousies and ambitions; of fantastic and conventional culture fostered by a thousand and one academies or literary societies (Goldoni was himself a shepherd of that famous Arcadia3 which was the first of these); of a restricted and frivolous intellectual life wasting itself in idle disputations and trivial brilliancy; of a social morality amusingly perverted, and yet not so bad as it would seem to a wiser condition of things, though foolishly bad, without doubt. In this world the philosophies and heresies of transalpine Europe seem to have no root; it is as devout as it is gay; the church directs its culture as well as its conscience, — one might almost say its vices as well as its pleasures, so much are the clergy and the whole religious profession in and of that world.

When Goldoni gets to France his autobiography is no longer so charming. His delightful spirit indeed remains unchanged, but it does not deal with such delightful material. He sets down much concerning Paris that does not interest, and as I have hinted he omits almost everything that touches the grand social and intellectual movement of the time. Perhaps as a foreigner attached to the court he could not see this ; but be felt too deeply the greatness and fascination of the French world ever to leave it for his native land. He was full of wonder at its variety, its mental liveliness, and its eagerness for every sort of novelty, and the closing chapters of his memoirs are hardly more than a chronicle of such marvels as ballooning, walking on water, and other semi-scientific inventions. He has much to say of the journals of Paris, but not much of value, and he does not seem to have considered their great number and activity as the prophecy of another age and another order of things. For Goldoni, apparently, the eighteenth century was to last forever.

W. D. Howells.

  1. “ Chiozza is eight leagues from Venice, and built on piles like the capital. It is computed to contain forty thousand souls, all of the lower order, —fishermen, sailors, and women who make a coarse lace, in which a considerable trade is carried on ; there are very few individuals above the vulgar. Every person is ranged there in one of two classes, — the rich or the poor : those who wear a wig and cloak are the rich : and the others, who have only a cap and capotto, are the poor ; and yet it frequently happens that the latter possess four times more wealth than the others.”— Goldoni’s Memoirs.
  2. “ I was eager to present my piece, and to have it read. We were then in the very time of the Carnival. There was an opera at Milan, and I was acquainted with Caffariello, the principal actor, and also with the director and composer of the ballets, and his wife (Madame Grossatesta), who was the principal dancer. I thought it would look becoming and be of advantage for me to be presented to the directors of the Milan theatre by known individuals. On a Friday, a day of relaxation throughout almost all Italy, I waited in the evening on Madame Grossatesta, who kept an open house, where the actors, actresses, and dancers of the opera usually assembled. This excellent dancer, who was my country-woman, and whom I knew at Venice, received me with the utmost politeness ; and her husband, a clever and well-informed Modenese, had a dispute with his wife respecting my country, in which he very gallantly maintained that by descent mine was the same as his own. It was still early, and as we were almost alone, I took advantage of that circumstance to announce my project to them. They were enchanted with it, and promised to introduce me, and they congratulated me beforehand on the reception of my work.
  3. “ The company continued to increase ; Caffariello made his appearance, saw and recognized me, saluted me with the tone of an Alexander, and took his place beside the mistress of the house. A few minutes afterwards, Count Prata, one of the direct ors of the theatre, the most skilled in everything relative to the drama, was announced. Madame Grossatesta introduced me to the count, and spoke to him of my opera, and he undertook to propose me to the assembly of directors; but it would afford him infinite pleasure, he said, to know something of my work, a wish in which he was joined by my country-woman. I wanted nothing so much as an opportunity of reading it. A small table and a candle were brought towards us, round which we all seated ourselves, and I began to read. I announced the title of Amalasonte. Caffariello sung the word Amalasonte ; it was long, and seemed ridiculous to him. Everybody laughed but myself; the lady scolded, and the nightingale was silent. I read over the names of the characters, of which there were nine in the piece. Here a small, shrill voice, which proceeded from an old castrato who sung in the choruses, and who mewed like a cat, cried out, ‘ Too many, too many ; there are at least two characters too many.’ I saw that I was by no means at my ease, and wished to give over my reading. M. Prata imposed silence on this insolent fellow, who had not the merit of Caffariello to excuse him, and, turning to me, observed, ‘ It is true, sir, there are usually not more than six or seven characters in a drama ; but when a work is deserving of it, we willingly put ourselves to the expense of two actors. Have the goodness,’ he added,’to continue the reading, if you please.’
  4. “ I resumed my reading. Act first, scene first, Clodesile and Arpagon. Here M. Caffariello again asked me the name of the first soprano in my opera. ‘ Sir,’ said I, ‘it is Clodesile.' ' What! ' said he, ‘you open the scene with the principal actor, and make him appear while everybody enter, seat themselves, and make a noise. Truly, sir, I am not your man.’ (What patience !) M, Prata here interposed : ' Let us see,’ said he, ' whether the scene is interesting.’ I read the first scene, and while I was repeating my verses, a little insignificant wretch drew a paper from his pocket, and went to the harpsichord to recite an air in his part. The mistress of the house was obliged to make me excuses without intermission.'’
  5. See Atlantic Monthly, vol. xxix. page 84, Some Arcadian Shepherds.