Pagina:Baretti - Prefazioni e polemiche.djvu/120



a player, and dedicateci to Mary de Medicis, queen of France. The subject of the play was the fall of man; the actors God, the devils, the angels, Adam, Ève, the serpent, death, and the seven mortai sins. That topic so improper for a drama (continues Voltaire) but so suitable to the absurd genius of the Italian stage, as it was at that time, was handled in a manner entirely comformable to the extravagance of the design. The scene opens with a chorus of angels and a cherubin thus speaks for the rest: «Let the rain-bow be the fiddle-stick of the fíddle of the heavens; let the planets be the notes of our music; let time beat carefully the measure and the winds make the sharps, etc.» Thus the play begins and every scene rises above the first in profusion of impertinence. Milton pierced through the absurdity of that performance to the hidden majesty of the subject, which being altogether unfit for the stage, yet might be for the genius of Milton, and for his only, the foundation of an epic poem. He took from that rídiculous trifle the first hint of the noblest work which human imagination hath ever attempted, and which he executed more than twenty years after.»

I know not upon what foundation it is, that Voltaire assures US that the taste of the Italian stage in the time of Milton was so bad as to relish the comedy he mentions. If he had read the life, or even the writings of Milton himself, he would bave perceived by them that Florence, when that poet travelled through Italy, was full of learned men; and if he had the least notion of the Fiorentine people, he would bave spoken with less contempt of them. But setting this aside, how can he so positively affirm that Milton took the first hint of Paradise lost from the above-mentioned absurd comedy of Andreine? I bave some doubts of his veracity and really suspect the existence of the play and its author. Yet to drop this extravagant anecdote, suffer me to say that to me it seems ridiculous that such a man as Milton could bave raked among the rubbish of Andreine (if such a man ever existed) so bright a jewel as the Paradise lost. Milton understood the Italian authors so well and was so