Pagina:Baretti - Prefazioni e polemiche.djvu/142



Among other striking instances of the people ’s veneration for him, Ariosto had one of a very particular nature. The duke, his master, had sent him governor of the Garfagnana, a province on the Appenine, whose inhabitants, seizing the opportunity of the general turbulencies that over-ran Italy at that time, paid but little obedience to their sovereign. Ariosto took his residence in a fortified castle, from wliich it was imprudent to step out without guards, as the whole neighbourhood was swarming with out-laws, smugglers and banditti, who, after having committed the most enormous excesses ali around, retired for shelter against justice amidst those rocks and cliffs. Ariosto one morning happened to take a walk without the castle in his night-gown, and in a fit of thought forgot himself so mach that, step after step, he found himself very far from his habitation, and surrounded on a sudden by a troop of those desperados, who certainly would have ili used and perhaps murdered him, had not his face been known by one of the gang, who informing his comrades that this was signor Ariosto, the chief of the banditti addressed him with intrepid gallantry, and told him that since he was the author of the Orlando furioso, he might be sure none of the company would injure him, but would see him, on the contrary, safe back to the castle; and so they did, entertaining him ali along the way with the various excellencies they had discovered in his poem and bestowing upon it the most rapturous praises, a very rare proof of the irresistible powers of poetry, and a noble comment on the fables of Orpheus and Amphion, who drew wild beasts and raised walls with the enchanting sound of their lyres.

It would take too much room to expatiate on each particular excellence or defect of this poem, or to fíx the degree of contempt the French critics in general have deserved, whenever they spoke of Ariosto. Those wretched judges of epic poetry have had the good luck of being constantly absurd, whenever they spoke either in praise or blame of messer Lodovico; and the pitiful decisions they have uttered, whenever they have compared our Orlando to our Gerusalemme, prove their perfect