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CONJUGAL POETRY, CONTINUED.
Half a century later, we find the name of an Italian poetess, as interesting as our Clotilde de Surville, and far more illustrious. Vittoria Colonna was not thrown, with all her eminent gifts and captivating graces, among a rude people in a rude age; but all favourable influences, of time and circumstances, and fortune, conspired, with native talent, to make her as celebrated as she was truly admirable. She was the wife of that Marquis of Pescara, who has earned himself a name in the busiest and blood. iest page of history :-of ihat Pescara who commanded the armies of Charles the fifth in Italy, and won the battle of Pavia, where Francis the First was taken prisoner. But great as was Pescara as a statesman and a military commander, he is far more interesting as the husband of Vittoria Colonna, and the laurels he reaped in the battlefield, are perishable and worthless, compared to those which his admirable wife wreathed around his brow. So thought Ariosto; who tells us, that if Alexander envied Achilles the fame he had acquired in the songs of Homer, how much more had he envied Pescara se strains in which his gifted consort had exalted his fame above that of all contemporary heroes ? and not only rendered herself immortal;
Col dolce stil, di che il miglior non odo,
He prefers her to Artemisia, for a reason rather quaintly expressed,
Che por sotterra un uom, trarlo di sopra, So much more praise it is, to raise a man above the earth, than to bury him under it.” He compares her successively to all the famed heroines of Greece and Rome, to Laodamia, to Portia, to Arria, to Argia, to Evadne,who died with or for their husbands; and concludes,
Quanto onore a Vittoria è più dovuto
Malgrado delle parche, e della morte. * In fact, at a period when Italy could boast of a constellation of female talent, such as never before or since adorned any one country at the same time, and besides a number of women accomplished in languages, philosophy, and the abstruser branches of learning, reckoned sixty poetesses, nearly contemporary, there was not one to be compared with Vittoria Colonna-herself the theme of song; and upon whom her enthusiastic countrymen have lavished all ihe high-sounding superlatives of a language, so rich in expressive and sonorous epithets, that it seems to multiply fame and magnify praise. We find Vittoria designated in Italian biography, as Diva, divina, maravig. liosa, eletissima, illustrissima, virtuosissima, dottissima, castissima, gloriosissima, &c.
But immortality on earth, as in heaven, must be purchased at a certain price; and Vittoria, rich in all the gifts which heaven, and nature, and fortune combined, ever la vished on one of her sex, paid for her celebrity with her happiness: for thus it has ever been, and must ever be, in this world of ours, “où les plus belles choses ont le pire destin."
Her descent was illustrious on both sides. She was the daughter of the Grand Constable Fabrizio Colonna, and of Anna di Montefeltro, daughter of the Duke of Urbino, and
* Orlando Furioso, canto 37.
was born about 1490. At four years old she was destined to seal the friendship which existed between her own family and that of d'Avalo, by a union with the young Count d'Avalo, afterwards Marquis of Pescara, who was exactly her own age. Such infant marriages are contracted at a fearful risk; yet, if auspicious, the habit of loving from an early age, and the feeling of settled appropriation, prevent the affections from wandering, and plant a mutual happiness upon a foundation much surer ihan that of fancy or impulse. It was so in this instance,
Conforme era l' etate
Ma 'l pensier più conforme. Vittoria, from her childish years, displayed the most extraordinary talents, combined with all the personal charms and sweet proprieties more characteristic of her sex. When not more than fifteen or sixteen, she was already distinguished among her countrywomen, and sought even by sovereign princes. The Duke of Savoy and the Duke of Braganza made overtures to obtain her hand; the Pope himself interfered in behalf of one of these princes; but both were rejected. Vittoria, accustomed to consider herself as the destined bride of young d'Avalo, cultivated for him alone those talents and graces which others admired and coveted, and resolved to wait till her youthful lover was old enough to demand the ratification of their infant vows. She says of herself,
Appena avcan gli spirti intera vita,
Quando il mio cor proscrisse ogn' altro oggetto. Pescara had not the studious habits or literary talents of his betrothed bride; but his beauty of person, his martial accomplishments, and his brave and noble nature, were precisely calculated to impress her poetical imagination, as contrasted with her own gentler and more contemplative character, He loved her too with the most enthusiastic adoration; he even prevailed on their mutual parents to anticipate the period fixed for their nuptials; and at the age of seventeen they were solemnly united.
The first four years after their marriage were chiefly spent in a delightful retreat in the island of Ischia, where
Pescara had a palace and domain. Here, far from the world, and devoted to each other, and to the most elegant pursuits, they seem to have revelled in such bliss as poets fancy and romancers seign. Hence the frequent allusions to the island of Ischia, in Vittoria's later poems, as a spot beloved by her husband, and the scene of their youthful happiness. One thing alone was wanting to complete this happiness: Heaven denied them children. She laments this disappointment in the 22d Sonnet, where she says, that “since she may not be the mother of sons, who shall inherit their father's glory, yet she will at least, by uniting her name with his in verse, become the mother of his illustrious deeds and lofty fame."
Pescara, whose active and martial genius led him to take a conspicuous part in the wars which then agitated Italy, at length quitted his wife to join the army of the Emperor. Vittoria, with tears, resigned him to his duty. On his departure she presented him with many tokens of love, and among the rest, with a banner, and a dressing. gown richly embroidered; on the latter she had worked with her own hand, in silken characters, the motto, “ Nunquam minus otiosus quang cum otiosus erat."* She also presented him with some branches of palm, “ In segno di felice augurio;" but her bright anticipations were at first cruelly disappointed. Pescara, then in his twenty-second year, commanded as general of cavalry at the battle of Ravenna, where he was taken prisoner, and detained at Milan. While in confinement, he amused bis solitude by showing his Vittoria that he had not forgotten their mutual studies and early happiness at Ischia. He composed an essay or dialogue on Love, which he addressed to her ; and which, we are told, was remarkable for its eloquence and spirit as a composition, as well as for the most hightoned delicacy of sentiment. He was not liberated lill ihe following year.
Vittoria had taken for her devise, such was the fashion of the day, a little Cupid within a circle formed by a serpent, with the motto, “Quem peperit virtus prudentia servet amorem,”—“ The love which virtue inspired, discre
. “Never less idle than when idle."
tion shall guard;" and during her husband's absence, she lived in retirement, principally in her loved retreat in the island of Ischia, devoting her time to literature, and to the composition of those beautiful Sonnets in which she celebrated the exploits and virtues of her husband. He, whenever his military or political duties allowed of a short absence from the theatre of war, flew to rejoin her; and these short and delicious meetings, and the continual dangers to which he was exposed, seem to have kept alive, through many long years, all the romance and fervour of their early love. In the 79th Sonnet, Vittoria so beautifully alludes to one of these meetings, that I am tempted to extract it, in preference to others better known, and by many esteemed superior as compositions.
Qui fece il mio bel sol a noi ritorno,
Di Regie spoglie carco, e ricche prede;
Di mille glorie allor cinto d'intorno,
E d'onor vero, alla più altiera sede
Vinto da prieghi miei, poi mi mostrava
Le belle cicatrici, e 'l tempo, e 'l modo
Quanta pena or mi da, gioja mi dava ;
E in questo, e in quel pensier, piangendo godo
Tra poche dolci, e assai lagrime amare. This description of her husband returning, loaded with spoils and honours;-of her fond admiration, mingled with a feminine awe of his warlike demeanour;-of his yielding, half reluctant, to her tender entreaties, and showing her the wounds he had received in battle ;-then the bitter thoughts of his danger and absence, mingling with, and interrupting these delicious recollections of happiness, are all as true to feeling as they are beautiful in poetry.
After a short career of glory, Pescara was at length appointed commander-in-chief of the Imperial armies, and gained the memorable battle of Pavia. Feared by his