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29th June 1798. He was of noble birth, equally on the side of his father and mother. Provided with a tutor at an early age, he soon left him far behind in knowledge ; and when only eight years old, he discarded the Greek grammar he had hitherto used, and deliberately set himself the task of reading in chronological order the Greek authors of his father's library. It was due to his own industry, and his father's care, that later he acquired a perfect acquaintance with classical literature. In 1810 he received his first tonsure, in token of his dedication to the Church; but this early promise was not destined to be fulfilled. Before he was eighteen years of age Leopardi had attained recognised distinction for the amount and matter of his erudition. The mere catalogue of his writings—chiefly philological—by that time is of sufficient length to excite wonder, and their natur is still more surprising. Latin commentaries and classical annotations were apparently child's play to him. Writing in 1815 to the Roman scholar Cancellieri, who had noticed one of these classical productions, Leopardi says: “I see myself secured to posterity in your writings. Commerce with the learned is not only useful, but necessary for me.' He was only seventeen when he completed a task which represented the sum of all his early study. This was an “ Essay on the Popular Errors of the Ancients," of considerable length (first published posthumously), in the course of which he cites more than four hundred authors, ancient and modern. A single extract will suffice to show

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that his youthful powers of expression were as precocious as his learning, though his judgment was doubtless at fault. He thus reviews the wisdom of the Greeks:

“The philosophy of the ancients was the science of differences; and their academies were the seats of confusion and disorder. Aristotle condemned what Plato had taught. Socrates mocked Antisthenes; and Zeno scandalised Epicurus. Pythagoreans, Platonians, Peripatetics, Stoics, Cynics, Epicureans, Sceptics, Cyrenaics, Megarics, Eclectics scuffled with and ridiculed one another; while the truly wise laughed at them all. The people, left to themselves during this hubbub, were not idle, but laboured silently to increase the vast mound of human errors.”

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He ends this Essay with a eulogy of the Christian religion : "To live in the true Church is the only way to combat superstition.” Shortly afterwards, increasing knowledge, which Goethe has called “the antipodes of faith,” enabled him to perceive that Roman Catholicism, the antidote which he then prescribed for superstition, was itself full charged with the poison he sought to destroy

In 1817 Leopardi made acquaintance by letter with Pietro Giordani, one of the leading literary men of the day, and a man of varied experience and knowledge. In his first letter Leopardi opens his heart to his new friend :

“I have very greatly, perhaps immoderately, yearned for glory ... I burn with love for Italy, and thank Heaven that I am an Italian. If I live, I will live for literature; for aught else, I would not live if I could."

(21st March 1817.)

A month later, from the same source we are able to discern traces of that characteristic of Leopardi's temperament which by certain critics is thought to explain his philosophy. Writing to Giordani, he expatiates on the discomforts of Recanati and its climate ; and proceeds :

“Added to all this is the obstinate, black, and barbarous melancholy which devours and destroys me, which is nourished by study, and yet increases when I forego study. I have in past times had much experience of that sweet sadness which generates fine sentiments, and which, better than joy, may be said to resemble the twilight; but my condition now is like an eternal and horrible night. A poison saps my powers of body and mind.”

In the same letter he gives his opinion on the relative nature of prose and poetry.

“Poetry requires infinite study and application, and its art is so profound, that the more you advance in proficiency, so much the further does perfection seem to recede. .. To be a good prose writer first, and a poet later, seems to me to be contrary to nature, which first creates the poet, and then by the cooling operation of age concedes the maturity and tranquillity necessary for prose.”

(30th April 1817.) The correspondence between Leopardi and Giordani lasted for five years, and it is from their published letters that we are able to form the best possible estimate of Leopardi's character and aspirations. His own letters serve as the index of his physical and mental state. In them we trace the gradual failure of his health, the growth of sombreness in his disposition, and the change which his religious convictions underwent. During his twentieth

year he suffered severely in mind and body. Forced to lay aside his studies, he was constantly a prey to ennui, with all its attendant discomforts. He thus writes to Giordani of his condition, in August 1817:

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“My ill-health makes me unhappy, because I am not a philosopher who is careless of life, and because I am compelled to stand aloof from my beloved studies. Another thing that makes me unhappy, is thought. I believe you know, but I hope you have not experienced, how thought can crucify and martyrise any one who thinks somewhat differently from others. I have for a long time suffered such torments, simply because thought has always had me entirely in its power; and it will kill me unless I change my condition. Solitude is not made for those who burn and are consumed in themselves.”

(Ist August 1817.)

His mental activity was numbed by his physical incapacity; the two combined reduced him to a state of despair. There is a noble fortitude in the following words of another letter addressed to Giordani:

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I have for a long time firmly believed that I must die within two or three years, because I have so ruined myself by seven years of immoderate and incessant study. . . I am conscious that my life cannot be other than unhappy, yet I am not frightened ; and if I could in any way be useful, I would endeavour to bear my condition without losing heart. I have passed years so full of bitterness, that it seems impossible for worse to succeed them; nevertheless I will not despair even if my sufferings do increase ... I am born for endurance.”

(2d March 1818.) Leopardi was now of age, and at the time of life when man's aspirations are keenest. He had repeatedly tried to induce his father to let him go forth into the world, and take his place in the school of intellect; but all his endeavours were in vain. Though seconded by Giordani, who some months before had become personally acquainted with his young correspondent during a visit of a few days to Casa Leopardi, the Count was resolute in refusing to grant his son permission to leave Recanati. Giacomo, driven to desperation, conceived a plan by which he hoped to fulfil his desire in spite of the paternal prohibition. The following extract from the Count's diary furnishes the gist of the matter, and also gives us some small insight into his own character :

“Giacomo, wishing to leave the country, and seeing that I was opposed to his doing so, thought to obtain my consent by a trick. He requested Count Broglio to procure a passport for Milan, so that I might be alarmed on hearing of it, and thus let him go. I knew about it, because Solari wrote unwittingly to Antici, wishing Giacomo a pleasant journey. I immediately asked Broglio to send me the passport, which he did with an accompanying letter. I showed all to my son, and deposited the passport in an open cupboard, telling him he could take it at his leisure. So all ended.”

Thus the plot failed, and Giacomo was constrained to resign himself, as best he could, to a


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