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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
My First Venture in Romance
By Massimo Taparelli d’Azeglio (1798–1866)
 
From ‘My Recollections’

WHILE striving to acquire a good artistic position in my new residence, I had still continued to work at my ‘Fieramosca,’ which was now almost completed. Letters were at that time represented at Milan by Manzoni, Grossi, Torti, Pompeo Litta, etc. The memories of the period of Monti, Parini, Foscolo, Porta, Pellico, Verri, Beccaria, were still fresh; and however much the living literary and scientific men might be inclined to lead a secluded life, intrenched in their own houses, with the shyness of people who disliked much intercourse with the world, yet by a little tact those who wished for their company could overcome their reserve. As Manzoni’s son-in-law, I found myself naturally brought into contact with them. I knew them all; but Grossi and I became particularly intimate, and our close and uninterrupted friendship lasted until the day of his but too premature death. I longed to show my work to him, and especially to Manzoni, and ask their advice; but fear this time, not artistic but literary, had again caught hold of me. Still, a resolve was necessary, and was taken at last. I disclosed my secret, imploring forbearance and advice, but no indulgence. I wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I preferred the blame of a couple of trusted friends to that of the public. Both seemed to have expected something a great deal worse than what they heard, to judge by their startled but also approving countenances, when my novel was read to them. Manzoni remarked with a smile, “We literary men have a strange profession indeed—any one can take it up in a day. Here is Massimo: the whim of writing a novel seizes him, and upon my word he does not do badly, after all!”  1
  This high approbation inspired me with leonine courage, and I set to work again in earnest, so that in 1833 the work was ready for publication. On thinking it over now, it strikes me that I was guilty of great impertinence in thus bringing out and publishing with undaunted assurance my little novel among all those literary big-wigs; I who had never done or written anything before. But it was successful; and this is an answer to every objection.  2
  The day I carried my bundle of manuscript to San Pietro all’ Orto, and, as Berni expresses it,—
                  “—ritrovato
Un che di stampar opere lavora,
Dissi, Stampami questa alla malora!”
                (—having
Discovered one, a publisher by trade,
‘Print me this book, bad luck to it!’ I said.)
I was in a still greater funk than on the two previous occasions. But I had yet to experience the worst I ever felt in the whole course of my life, and that was on the day of publication; when I went out in the morning, and read my illustrious name placarded in large letters on the street walls! I felt blinded by a thousand sparks. Now indeed alea jacta erat, and my fleet was burnt to ashes.
  3
  This great fear of the public may, with good-will, be taken for modesty; but I hold that at bottom it is downright vanity. Of course I am speaking of people endowed with a sufficient dose of talent and common-sense; with fools, on the contrary, vanity takes the shape of impudent self-confidence. Hence all the daily published amount of nonsense; which would convey a strange idea of us to Europe, if it were not our good fortune that Italian is not much understood abroad. As regards our internal affairs, the two excesses are almost equally noxious. In Parliament, for instance, the first, those of the timidly vain genus, might give their opinion a little oftener with general advantage; while if the others, the impudently vain, were not always brawling, discussions would be more brief and rational, and public business better and more quickly dispatched. The same reflection applies to other branches—to journalism, literature, society, etc.; for vanity is the bad weed which chokes up our political field; and as it is a plant of hardy growth, blooming among us all the year round, it is just as well to be on our guard.  4
  Timid vanity was terribly at work within me the day ‘Fieramosca’ was published. For the first twenty-four hours it was impossible to learn anything; for even the most zealous require at least a day to form some idea of a book. Next morning, on first going out, I encountered a friend of mine, a young fellow then and now a man of mature age, who has never had a suspicion of the cruel blow he unconsciously dealt me. I met him in Piazza San Fedele, where I lived; and after a few words, he said, “By the by, I hear you have published a novel. Well done!” and then talked away about something quite different with the utmost heedlessness. Not a drop of blood was left in my veins, and I said to myself, “Mercy on me! I am done for: not even a word is said about my poor ‘Fieramosca!’” It seemed incredible that he, who belonged to a very numerous family, connected with the best society of the town, should have heard nothing, if the slightest notice had been taken of it. As he was besides an excellent fellow and a friend, it seemed equally incredible that if a word had been said and heard, he should not have repeated it to me. Therefore, it was a failure; the worst of failures, that of silence. With a bitter feeling at heart, I hardly knew where I went; but this feeling soon changed, and the bitterness was superseded by quite an opposite sensation.  5
  ‘Fieramosca’ succeeded, and succeeded so well that I felt abasourdi, as the French express it; indeed, I could say “Je n’aurais jamais cru être si fort savant.” My success went on in an increasing ratio: it passed from the papers and from the masculine half to the feminine half of society; it found its way to the studios and the stage. I became the vade-mecum of every prima-donna and tenor, the hidden treat of school-girls; I penetrated between the pillow and the mattress of college, boys, of the military academy cadet; and my apotheosis reached such a height that some newspapers asserted it to be Manzoni’s work. It is superfluous to add that only the ignorant could entertain such an idea; those who were better informed would never have made such a blunder.  6
  My aim, as I said, was to take the initiative in the slow work of the regeneration of national character. I had no wish but to awaken high and noble sentiments in Italian hearts; and if all the literary men in the world had assembled to condemn me in virtue of strict rules, I should not have cared a jot, if, in defiance of all existing rules, I succeeded in inflaming the heart of one single individual. And I will also add, who can say that what causes durable emotion is unorthodox? It may be at variance with some rules and in harmony with others; and those which move hearts and captivate intellects do not appear to me to be the worst.  7
 
 
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