The Wives of Poets
THE subject which I propose to treat in these articles, The Wives of Poets, is one which might be dealt with from several points of view. There might be a biographical treatment, and this more or less affecting either mere matter of fact or an anecdotical method ; or a sentimental treatment; or a speculative or theoretic one. A writer might come ready prepared with some scheme into which he fitted all the details, well matching or ill matching, as so many illustrative examples. Now this is not what I propose to do. I propose to deal with our subject mainly in its biographical aspect; to collect together a number of facts, and present them in such order as I can ; and then to reconsider them, and draw from them whatever inference they shall seem to warrant. At the same time it should be understood that I do not regard the details as merely miscellaneous and unconnected : I gather and scan them with a certain object in view, but without any desire to make them subserve that object, — only to use them as a fair basis for a reasoned opinion.
Let me state what this object is. It has often been alleged, and with considerable strength of assertion, that poets are not well suited for married life ; that the very constitution of their minds predisposes them to disappointment and discontent if they commit the imprudence of matrimony ; and that, as a matter of fact, the married poets have very generally been unhappy family men. Their intellectual subtilty, their ideal aspirations, we are told, will not comport with the commonplace conditions of conjugal life ; they dream of goddesses, and they find their spouses to be not goddesses, but women, — and sometimes very ordinary women, too. But I will not define this opinion merely in my own words, but will quote from two authors who have given it a decided and efficient expression. The first of the two is Trelawny, in his interesting book. Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author ; and the second is Karl Elze, the writer of a valuable life of Byron in German, which has been translated into English. And now for Trelawny, who not only gives us his own opinion, but cites from Byron (in Don Juan), Shelley (in Epipsychidion), Milton (in Paradise Lost), and Shakespeare (in Antony and Cleopatra), in confirmation. He says : —
“ Poets, like priests, have hosts of communicants, and should be sworn to celibacy. A catalogue of the domestic grievances of the poets and their wives, from the omniscient Shakespeare and solemn Milton to scoffing Byron and the martyr Shelley, would show that men of imagination all compact are devoid of what women call domestic virtues ; that is, propriety of conduct and submission to the conventional customs of the time.
Byron says : —
Inform 11s truly, have they not henpecked you all ? ’
“ Shelley: —
The dreariest and the longest journey go.’
“ Milton: —
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning:
And of their vain contest appeared no end ! '
I would you had her spirit in such another.
The third o’ the world is yours; which with a snaffle
You may pace easy, but not such a wife ! ’ ”
So far Trelawny. Next Elze : —
“ Genius, living in its own ideal world, is not inclined to adapt itself to everyday life, or to tolerate its defects and annoyances ; and the poet, to whom Jove’s heaven ever stands open, discovers the incompatibility of the fetters and clogs of prosaic common life with his divine aspirations. Genius, in accordance with its nature, withdraws into its own inner life ; it tends to become self-sufficing and selfabsorbed, What other mind, compared with his own, could have value to Byron, or excite interest in him? These defects, to use the fine expression of Moore, are the shadow which genius casts. The fancy, too, of the poet or artist is a foundation far too loose for so solid a building as marriage, and Pegasus fastened to the yoke never becomes a useful plow-horse. In fact, almost all great poets, artists, or scholars have led a more or less unhappy domestic life, and it is an ascertained result of experience that no woman has been happy with a man of genius, nor, conversely, any woman unhappy because of the narrowness of her husband’s intellect. Moore mentions the cases of Dante, Petrarch, and Pope ; he might have added Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Burns, Mozart, Bürger, Goethe, and a hundred others.”
This, then, is the point I wish to ascertain, — whether the general view of the matter taken by Trelawny and Elze is or is not a fair deduction from an adequate amount of evidence ; and indeed I may say that thinking over the passage from Trelawny was my main incentive to attempting the subject at all. To put the thing to the proof, I know of no better means than to take as many married poets as I conveniently can, and inquire, one by one, whether the records show the man to have been a happy or unhappy husband, and what sort of a person his wife was, and what his own marital conduct, and, if unliappy, why he was unhappy. I take only a certain number of the good poets, be it understood, including all those mentioned by Trelawny and Elze, except Petrarch and Pope, who never were married, and Mozart, who was a musician ; the bad ones, as I would rather not read their poetry, so I lay no stress upon their matrimonial fortunes, fair or foul. But, of the good poets, I have not at all attempted to pick and choose such as might subserve one or other theory, but I take them as they happen to come, and look without parti pris into their domestic interiors.
I shall arrange my poets according to their nationality, and then in order of date, ending with our own English authors ; and I shall give a few biographical particulars in each case, and as many details as I can cull and as my space allows regarding the wives and the mutual relation of wife and husband. After coming to the end of these several cases. I shall see whether any and what general conclusion can be formed, and shall ask my reader’s attention to the results. I must of course be very brief about many points which would properly invite amplification; otherwise I should never, in the course of a few magazinearticles, get to the end of my rather extensive and multiform subject matter. Among the poets of antiquity I am aware of only two who can be cited in the present inquiry, — one Greek and one Latin. Of the others, some are known not to have been married, and as to such as were married I know of no apposite details.
The Grecian poet is the great tragedian Euripides, born of Athenian parentage in Salamis towards 480 B. C., — perhaps on the very day (September 23d) when the ever-memorable battle of Salamis cleared the seas of the invading fleet of the Persian despot Xerxes. He is said to have written his first tragedy at the age of eighteen, and he exhibited plays up to the seventy-third year of his life, which terminated two years afterwards, in 406. Euripides nas been numbered in the ranks of the matrimonial unfortunates, — not only his first wife, it is alleged, but also his second, having played him false. Modern criticism, however, has scrutinized the grounds of these assertions, and finds them very defective, — so defective that we are left wholly in doubt as to the facts ; and when in doubt the only safe and candid course is to confess that we know not how the truth really stood. The old story was that Euripides married a certain Chœrilla ; that her unfaithfulness induced him to write the tragedy of Hippolytus, wherein the incestuous passion of Phædra for the youthful hero reflects disgrace upon the female sex; and that he proceeded to divorce Choerilla. But looking to the dates, we find that Hippolytus was acted in the year 428; that Euripides was still, to all appearance, domesticated with Chœrilla, fourteen years later, in 414 ; and that at this later date she must have been fifty years of age, or thereabouts, and hardly likely to go astray. After Chrilla he is said to have espoused Melitto, who intrigued with one Cephisophon ; and the chagrin hence accruing to Euripides, aggravated by the gibes which comic poets vented against him, induced him, we are told, at the advanced age of seventy-two, to abandon Athens for the court of King Archelaus of Macedon. But here again we are encountered by an awkward fact, namely, that the tragedian continued up to the date of his death on good terms with Cephisophon. And so we must either whitewash the tarnished reputations of both the wives of Euripides, or confess that the circumstances are too mysterious to be reconciled, or, which comes to much the same thing, simply suspend our judgment. One other alternative statement only tends further to confuse us, namely, that he had two wives at once. But under all this smoke there may not improbably have been some fire : in other words, Euripides may have been a not particularly happy husband. His own character has been much canvassed. Some say that he was profligate and a confirmed misogynist; but the former allegation appears to be a mere calumny, and the latter is more than disputable. According to others, he was a serious and unmirthful man ; which we may believe without attributing to him anything amiss. His detractors say that lie was at last killed by some women, when going out at night to keep a criminal assignation ; perhaps his age, seventy-four or seventy-five, may be deemed a sufficient answer to this imputation. The ordinary account of his death sounds legendary, and yet it is generally accepted as true. Two rival poets, Arrhidæus and Cratinus, are branded to eternal infamy as having set the dogs of King Archelaus upon the aged tragedian, and by these brute auxiliaries of hellish envy he is reputed to have been torn to death.
Our Latin poet is Lucretius, — Titus Lucretius Carus, — the author of the austere philosophic poem De Rerum Natura, or On the Nature of Things; epicurean in its physical and moral doctrines, expounding the Infinite of Anaximander and the Atoms of Democritus ; one of those monumental works which bridge the centuries across, and form the wonder of the last as of the first generation of students. There is a curious old tradition about Lucretius and his wife which our Tennyson has made the occasion of an eloquent poem ; and I am content to go astray with Tennyson, if astray it is. The tradition is this : that Lucilia, the wife of Lucretius, being piqued at the philosophical abstraction of her husband, and possessed with jealous imaginings, gave him a love potion, in the hope of recalling his affection to herself; but the potion unhinged his reason, and henceforth he had only intervals of calm sense. At last, in a fit of frenzy, he killed himself, aged only forty-three the day of his death, in the year B. C. 52, being the very day when Virgil assumed the adult toga. Tennyson, on the scent of a moral purpose, gives a rather different turn to this story : his Lucretius, beset by carnal ideas under the influence of the potion, and hence lowered in his own eyes, stabs himself in an interval of sanity. This is very nearly all that we know about the career of Lucretius, either as a married man or otherwise ; and even this we are far from believing. The story is a legend. — an unauthenticated legend, — which, even in the most credulous mood, one does not seriously allow to pass muster as a fact.
We now stride from the antique to the mediaeval world, but remain still in Italy. I shall speak of two Italian poets, — Dante and A1fieri.
Dante Alighieri, one of the most vast minds and of the greatest poets that ever lived, — of all poets whatsoever certainly the most intense and awful,— was born in Florence on May 14, 1265, and died an exile in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. At the age of nine, if we may trust his own account, supplemented by some nearly contemporary writers, — but it has often been questioned whether the statements are to be construed literally or symbolically,— he fell deeply in love with a girl of much the same age, Beatrice Portiuari. She, however, at the age of twenty-one, married another man, Timon de’ Bardi, and less than three years afterwards, June, 1290, she died, leaving Dante in an anguish of grief. His friends, seeing his excessive misery, pressed him to marry, and after a contest he yielded, in 1292; the lady selected being Gemma de’ Donati, a daughter of Manetto and a connection of Corso de’ Donati, the latter of whom eventually became one of Dante’s bitterest political enemies. The family was of the most ancient and important in Florence,.and Dante himself was of correspondingly high birth. There is considerable controversy as to Dante’s lot in married life. No one brings any grave charge against Gemma, but it is said (and Boccaccio, the most important of the poet’s early biographers, is our chief authority for these statements) that she had a harsh, vehement temper, and would have her husband account to her for every sigh which he heaved, and interfered with his studying and doing what he liked ; and in especial Boccaccio affirms that Dante, when once divided from her by political storms, would never either go where she was, or suffer that she should come where he was. This leads us to a few details regarding his public career.
Dante was one of the six priori, or chief magistrates, of Florence for two months in the year 1300. The great contest of that age was between the Ghibellines and Guelfs, or partisans respectively of the holy Roman Empire and of the Pope. Florence was entirely Guelf; but in our poet’s time she was vexed with a subdivision between the so-called Black party and White party, — the Blacks being Guelfs of the extremer kind, and the Whites Guelfs of a milder and more tolerant tone. Dante and the other priori of his day saw fit to banish the heads of both these factions from Florence ; but after a time the Whites were recalled, while the Blacks remained in exile, and the poet, though then no longer in office, was thought to have connived at this measure. Party spirit ran high. Corso Donati, the kinsman of Gemma, returned to Florence in arms; Dante, with many others, was heavily fined and banished, and in March, 1302, he was actually sentenced to be burned alive if he returned. His is houses had already been fired, and Ins lands laid waste. The proud and illustrious exile, who now took part with the Ghibelline cause, might at one time have gone home, if he would have consented to humble himself and do public penance ; but this lie loftily refused, and during his nineteen years’ residue of life he remained a banished man, roaming from city to city as necessity and party interests dictated. In exile he wrote the great majority of his Divine Comedy.
Dante and Gemma had a family of seven. He did not need to feel any anxiety about the material interests of his wife, for her connections were of the triumphant faction; and she succeeded in saving a part of his property as dowry, and used it discreetly for herself and her children. In the scantiness of records of events and the impossibility of judging of motives beyond a certain point, these facts must give us pause before we conclude that the husband and wife remained apart voluntarily, because of dislike or indifference on either side or on both ; for it is clear that there were strong family interests pleading with Gemma to continue in Florence. Nevertheless, after all that can be urged on her behalf, both in this matter and generally, the profoundest Dantesque scholar of our day, Karl Witte, adheres to the opinion, and has lately expressed it in an elaborate paper, that the complaints against her are true, and that the poet was really unhappy in his married life.
Dante was of middle stature, long face, aquiline nose, large eyes, projecting under jaw, dark complexion, hair black and curled, — his expression that of profound thoughtfulness chastened by fierce fortune, with a fixed, sad severity; his gait was composed, his garb decorous, his manners grave and sedate, his address courteous, though reserved, and not free from haughtiness and caustic rigidity when he liked. He was temperate, and had the absence of mind incidental to constant study. Of Gemma I cannot give any portrait. Dante, it is generally considered, never once mentioned her in his writings; although, indeed, there is one rather long section of his autobiographic love story, the Vita Nuova, in which he refers to a certain “ lady of the window,” who used to gaze upon him with deep sympathy during his passions of grief for the dead Beatrice, and it has sometimes been thought that this was Gemma de’ Donati. He speaks of her as “ a gentle lady, young and very beautiful, looking very pitifully, so that all pity seemed to be summed up in her.” As the houses of the Alighieri and the Donati faced in the rear, there is the more plausibility in supposing that this lady who eyed Dante from a window may have been Gemma. Certain it is, however, that Dante, in one of the most abstruse of his writings, declares the lady in question to have been a very impersonal personage, namely, Philosophy; but whether this symbolical interpretation entirely excluded some natural one as well is a question which must be left to those most diverse-minded of mortals, the Dantesque commentators.
On the chance that the lady of the window may have been Gemma de’ Donati, I give, in the translation made by my brother, one of the sonnets to her contained in the Vita Nuova : —
Into thy countenance immediately,
Awhile a gone when thou beheldst in me
The sickness only hidden grief can bring;
And then I knew thou wast considering
How abject and forlorn my life must be.
And I became afraid that thou shouldst see
My weeping, and account it a base thing.
Therefore, I went out from thee; feeling now
The tears were straightway loosened at my heart
Beneath thine eyes’ compassionate control.
And afterwards I said within my soul:
‘Lo! with this lady dwells the counterpart
Of the same love who holds me weeping now.’ ”
There is nothing to show that Dante was in any way unfaithful to his marriage vow so long as he lived with his wife ; but he is stated to have been of a very amorous temperament, and evidence exists—I will not say conclusive evidence — that after his exile he had some love affairs with other ladies. As many as five have been named, and careful inquirers are inclined to assent at any rate to two,— Gentucca, a noble Lucchese lady, who afterwards married one of the Altelminelli family, and the Montanina (mountain damsel) of Casentino.
Let me add that two of Dante’s sons were among the earliest of his commentators ; that a daughter, Beatrice, became a nun in Ravenna; and that his direct line was extinct in 1509, but the blood of Dante and Gemma still runs in the Marquises Serego Alighieri of Verona.
About Dante Alighieri everybody knows something ; but English-speaking people in general do not know much about my next Italian poet, the Count Vittorio Alfieri, the most famous tragedian of his country. He was born at Asti, in Piedmont, in January, 1749, of a noble and wealthy family; was in youth impetuous, unscholarly, a rapid and somewhat extensive traveler, and extraordinarily fond of horses; he was a man of gallantry, and had some curious love adventures, more particularly in English high life. He began writing drama towards 1773, but did not publish anything till 1781 : altogether he composed, besides other works, twenty-four tragedies, remarkable for severe dignity and passionate laconism. All the incidents connected with his marriage are of uncommon interest; and as he wrote a detailed autobiography, an admirable book, we know a great deal about them.
A very small German sovereign, the last reigning prince of Stolberg-Gedern, had a cousin, Louisa Maria Caroline, born in 1753, who at the age of nineteen, having theretofore been a canoness, married no less a personage than Charles Edward Stuart, whom we call the young Pretender, but who, in the eyes of his adherents, the men of the ’45, was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. At this time, 1772, bonny Prince Charlie, the hero of Waverley, was aged fiftytwo, and was a confirmed drunkard. He Soon treated his consort, commonly known as the Countess of Albany, with brutish indifference, and at times with brutal violence. The marriage was a childless one. In 1776, Alfieri met this royal lady for the first time in Florence, and in the autumn of 1777 he was presented to her in her own house, and very soon fell in love with her, —a love, he says, of the mind as well as heart, which incited him to increased intellectual exertion. In 1780, resolved to bear her husband’s outrages no longer, the countess quitted him; and in May, 1781, she settled in Rome, keeping up a handsome establishment, for which she had ample means. Alfieri was with her in Rome, but not in the same house ; their intimacy, however, caused some scandal, and in subsequent years, from 1784 till 1788, they joined company in Colmar and in Paris, always dwelling apart, and at times separated for some months, during which he wrote her very long and ardent letters. It was towards February, 1788, in Paris, that the countess received the news that her husband had died in Rome. She was genuinely distressed, Alfieri says; adding that “ no artifice ever entered into that most candid and most unmatchable disposition.” From this time forth they were completely united.
Whether the tie which had undoubtedly already for some while existed between Alfieri and the Countess of Albany was ever confirmed by an actual marriage is a question not yet solved by any positive evidence ; but it is generally assumed that this was so, and as no motive is apparent for the contrary we may reasonably accept it as a fact. It would seem that no two people could be happier together than they. No stripling in the fervor of a first love for an unattainable beauty could write of her more enthusiastically than did this highly distinguished author and man of society of his countess,— “ my lady,” as he invariably terms her, — when he had attained the age of about forty-one and she of thirty-seven, and again when, shortly before his death, at the age of fifty-four, he completed his autobiography. He speaks of “ a sweet fire in her very black eyes, coupled (which is rare) with an exceedingly white skin and blonde hair ; ” of her “golden temper ” and her many other excellences, including a knowledge of languages and literature sufficient to enable her husbandlover to talk to her of all his work. In 1791, when chance had led to his reencountering one of his early flames, a lady who partly by his means had forfeited an eminent place in English society, he narrated the whole affair to the Countess of Albany, and he remarks, — a crucial point, indeed, to test a married couple’s happiness, — “ Between us there was never any feigning, nor mistrust, nor disesteem, nor bickering.” He composed in her honor many sonnets and other pieces ; and he wrote her epitaph along with his own, in Latin, terming her “ preëminent in birth, beauty, character, incomparable candor of soul ; beloved by Vittorio Alfieri beyond all things, and by him constantly held and served as a mortal deity.” They lie buried together in the famous church of Santa Croce in Florence, under a monument for which the countess commissioned Canova : Alfieri having died in October, 1803, of gout telling upon a constitution lowered by continual application and the most sparing diet, and she having, after many years, followed him to the tomb in January, 1824. She had continued dwelling in Florence, in active intercourse with persons of distinction in literature, art, and society ; and the praises which her husband had lavished upon her were generally, however faintly, echoed by others. There is some idea, but it remains only a conjecture, that, many years after Alfieri’s death, she married a French historical painter named Fabre, who was, at all events, left her general legatee.
Alfieri was an honorable man and constant friend; proud, irascible ; a great hater of the French, especially after he had been disappointed in the course of the French Revolution, and had suffered some considerable personal troubles therein; tall, thin, pallid, with red hair and a very powerful voice ; a contemner of money, an aristocrat, and a republican. “ By none despised unless it were by himself ” is the haughty phrase which he embodied in his own epitaph.
Thus far of the Italian poets, and next of the Spanish. Here again I shall take two, and these contemporaries in the greatest period of Spanish literature, — Cervantes and Lope de Vega.
Cervantes as the author of Don Quixote is known to all; as a poet to few of us. He was, however, a poet of very considerable note in his time and country, and still is so, with a difference of degree, to his compatriots. He wrote some twenty or thirty plays, of which only two, along with some comedies and interludes, still survive, — the Numancia and the Trato de Argel, or Algerine Dealings. The former, on the memorable siege of Numancia by the Romans, has a stern, heroic terribleness which makes it very impressive, though not in like measure poetic. There was also, near the end of his life, the Journey to Parnassus, a semi-burlesque poem, which is accounted his most decided success in the form of verse ; likewise other works which I need not here mention.
That the Numancia tragedy should be heroic is no wonder; for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, born at Alcalá de Henares, in New Castile, in the autumn of 1547, of a dignified if not noble family in straitened circumstances, was as genuine a hero as ever breathed, — as genuine as his own Don Quixote (and that is saying a good deal), without having so loud buzzing a bee in his bonnet. At the age of twenty-three he became a private soldier; fought splendidly against the Turks in the glorious sea-fight of Lepanto, and there had his left hand maimed for life; was in 1575 captured at sea by the Moors, and kept five years a slave in Algiers, displaying the most noble powers of endurance, enterprise, and self-sacrifice in the interest of his fellow-captives. At last a large ransom was paid for him, and he returned to soldiering and eventually to authorship. Subordinate official government, neglect, poverty, and temporary imprisonment, made Cervantes one of the most illstarred of literary geniuses ; he met all his trials with rare sweetness and buoyancy of spirit. One of the few defects attributed to him is a habit of unthrift and restlessness. At last, in 1603, when he was fifty-five years of age, he brought out his Don Quixote, Part I., and in 1615 Part II. Both were received with transcendent applause, and the work obtained more readers than any other which had appeared since the invention of printing. Yet—an almost unaccountable instance of ill-luck — he made little by it. Still poverty-stricken, he died in Madrid of dropsy, on April 23, 1616, — not properly the same day, though it is generally spoken of as the same, on which Shakespeare expired.
In December, 1584, Cervantes had married a young lady (as it has been said) “of apparently very limited fortune and unlimited respectability,” — Doña Catalina de Palacios Salazar y Vozmediano,—living in Esquivias, near Madrid. His prose pastoral of Galatea, published in the preceding year, is interspersed with lyrics inspired by his love for this lady, who is indeed the Galatea of the story, and himself the Elisio. From a pastoral no real knowledge of anybody is to be gathered ; and of Doña Catalina next to nothing is known otherwise. It is surmised that the couple lived at first upon her dowry. In 1603 they were dwelling in Valladolid : he drudging at the humblest literary employments, and she eking out their income by needlework, in which she was assisted by a natural daughter of her husband and by three other ladies of the family,— all housed together. One of these ladies, with Doña Catalina herself, assumed the habit of St. Francis in 1609, thus binding themselves to certain acts of piety. The daughter, Isabel, who shared all her father’s troubles and was the object of his deep affection, had been borne to him by a noble Portuguese lady about two years before his marriage; there were no children by his wife. About four years before the death of Cervantes Isabel became a nun ; and five months after he was laid in his grave a license was granted to his widow and executrix to print for her own benefit his last romance, The Sorrows of Persiles and Sigismunda, — probably the only property he had to leave her. Of her person I find no description, nor anything beyond a general inference that the pair were mutually helpful and attached. Cervantes was a man of ordinary stature, stammering speech, and aquiline features, with a small mouth and chestnut hair.
From the step-son of fortune we pass to her spoiled child, — from Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra to Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, or Lope de Vega, as he is commonly called, who was born in Madrid of a noble but not wealthy family, in 1562, fifteen years later than the author of Don Quixote. Apart from his literary work he led a sufficiently active life : spent some time in travel; served as a soldier in the Spanish Armada, — Invincible, so called ; married twice ; was private secretary to the Duke of Alva and the Count of Lemos; entered holy orders as a priest and honorary member of the brotherhood of St. Francis ; showed hot religious zeal; and amassed great riches, and spent them largely, being a man both of display and of charity. But all this is as nothing to his literary labors, in comparison with which the labors of Hercules would hardly seem exhausting. Suppose a man, in something less than seventy-three years of life, — the span allotted to Lope, — were to write a million verses ; would my reader think that a large number? I should,—a barely credible number. But Lope is said to have written and printed 21,300,000, among which are included 1800 plays actually performed on the stage. This is the estimate of a panegyrist, and must, I suppose, be rejected as an absolute impossibility. But it is certain that he wrote comedies, tragicomedies, tragedies, sacred dramas, epics, and verse of every other sort, besides a mass of prose : 518 of his plays are still extant in print, and several of them continue to be acted ; of his epics, one is a continuation of the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto (he wrote this when shipped in the Armada), and another, named La Diagontea, is on the death of Sir Francis Drake, the bête noire of all Spaniards. He himself says he had written more than 1500 plays, 100 of them being done in as many days. With such miraculous facility, it cannot he expected that the compositions should be of a profound or monumental character, taken individually ; flowing abundance and the faculty of treating any and every story dramatically are the generally admitted merits. Lope was, and indeed he deserved to be, enormously popular : he wrote for popularity, conscious that he had it in him to do something of a more solid and permanent kind. He was rightly called “ the prodigy of nature,” and his name became such a synonym for excellence that his contemporaries would speak of a Lope diamond, a Lope afternoon, and so on. In personal character he is said to have been kindly and vivacious : we cannot conceive of his being otherwise, any more than we could imagine a fertile soil which brings forth hundred fold to look as if it were arid and grudging. He had a firm, well moulded countenance, with dark eyes, large, slightly aquiline nose, and very short upper lip, — discerning, clear-headed.
As I have said, Lope de Vega was twice married. In early youth he wedded Dona Isabel de Urbino, a lady of rank. He loved her tenderly, but had to quit her in consequence of a duel, returning to his family and his native Madrid after some years. He had not been back long when his wife died, and his joining the Armada, which was in 1588, is said to have been prompted by his wish to escape the pain of memory. His second nuptials, at the age of twenty-eight, were with Doña Juana de Guardia, a Madrid lady ; with her also he was happy. She died after ten years or so of wedded life, following to the grave a son on whom the poet doted, and leaving behind her two daughters. As he had sought to assuage his first grief in the clash of arms, so he retreated from the second into the ecclesiastical life. After the statistics I have given of his poems, I need not say that he still continued writing when he had entered the priesthood. His Autos Sacramentales, or sacred dramas, number at least four hundred. Such, in scanty outline, was the father of the Spanish drama, and the most prodigal and colossal of all examples of literary productiveness.
We will next take the French poets, four of them, — all men of the seventeenth century.
Pierre Corneille — the great Corneille, as his countrymen call him, not undeservedly — was born at Rouen, in June, 1606, his father being a lawyer and official, ennobled during the poet’s youth. The son was also a lawyer, but did next to nothing in his profession. His first drama, Melite, was produced when he was aged twenty-three ; two years afterwards came his early masterpiece, The Cid, the success of which was altogether vast and unprecedented ; then in later years Les Horaces, Polyeucte, and several others ; the latest of high celebrity was the Œdipus, written at the age of fifty-three; others succeeded, testifying to declining powers. In 1663 Corneille was pensioned by the king, Louis XIV., with two thousand livres per annum, — an amount which was not always punctually paid, and in these intervals the poet was not well off. He died in Paris in September, 1684. A stern magnanimity, a stress of lofty character which lapses into the bombastic if it overshoots the heroic, mark the great but very unequal genius of Corneille.
The details of his courtship and married life are pretty well known to us. Love is said to have been his first inspirer to the drama. A friend of his, who was paying his addresses to a young lady, introduced Corneille to her, and she soon showed a preference for the new-comer. This led him to write his first play, Mélite, which deals with a similar incident, and found favor with the public. If I understand the narrators aright, this was the same lady whom he afterwards married, — Mademoiselle Marie de Lampérière. daughter of the lieutenant-general des Andelys, in Normandy. In this case the engagement must have been a decidedly long one, for Mélite was written in 1629, and the marriage did not take place till about 1640. The lady’s father did not approve of having Corneille as a son-in-law. The young dramatist was at first one of the so-called “ Five Poets ” of the all-powerful Cardinal de Richelieu ; their business being to work up into plays the ideas which the cardinal threw out, but for the execution of which he had neither the leisure nor perhaps the faculty. Corneille did not altogether please Richelieu in this employ, and he ceased to be one of the five poets towards 1637. Richelieu however, continued to allow him five hundred crowns a year, and also befriended him in his suit; for it is said that the poet having called on the cardinal, one day, sadder than usual, and being asked whether he was writing anything, he replied that be was too much harassed by love, being passionately enamored of Mademoiselle de Lampérière, whose father would not let him have her ; and Richelieu thereupon sent for the father to Paris. He attended, in no small trepidation at receiving so sudden and mysterious a summons from the terrible minister ; and, on hearing what it was all about, was only too glad to consent to the match, and so return to his province. The lady’s dowry was trifling, and the patrimony of Corneille the like. Married, and in course of time the father of six children, the dramatist found all his pleasure in his family ; and, allowing for a melancholic temperament in the man, gruff manners, quick selfesteem without the anodyne of vanity, and a great inaptitude for business affairs, he seems to have had a substantially happy home. Of his brusquerie and indifference we have the anecdote that Corneille having engaged one of his daughters to a suitor whose money matters went amiss, the young man called on him one day, explaining that unfortunate circumstances compelled him to break off the match, and the poet replied, “ Pray speak about it to my wife, without interrupting me. I know nothing about such affairs.” He lived in the same household, practically speaking, with his brother, Thomas Corneille, also a poet of recognized, though inferior merit. Their harmonious bonhomie was conspicuous. Thomas, twenty years younger than Pierre, was married to a sister of Pierre’s wife, also twenty years younger than that lady. They had the same number of children, and they held all things so much in common that, in twenty-five years of joint marriage, they never partitioned the properties of their wives; and this was done only after the death of Pierre, who lived without expense and died without goods. His family is still extant. One of his daughters was an ancestress of the too celebrated Charlotte Corday, and the philosopher Fontenelle was his nephew.
This writer has given us some valuable details about his illustrious relative. “ Corneille,” he says, “ was somewhat tall and stout; his air very simple and very ordinary; always negligent, and unconcerned about appearances. His visage was sufficiently agreeable : nose large, mouth fine, eyes full of fire. He spoke but little. He was in essentials very easy to live with ; a good husband, good relative, tender, and full of kindliness. His temperament was somewhat inclinable to love, never to libertinism, and seldom to powerful attachments. His spirit was lofty and independent; no suppleness, no finessing.” And to this let me add the terse phrase of the mighty Napoleon : “ If Corneille were alive, I would make him a prince.”
William M. Rossetti.