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Silvio Pellico

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Italian author and patriot, born at Saluzzio, Italy, 24 June, 1788; died at Turin 31 Jan., 1854. His father was a government employee and Silvio spent his youth in different places in Italy, making also a four-years' sojourn in Lyons. At the age of twenty he was in Milan, where he made the acquaintance of several of the best Italian writers, among whom were Monti, Foscolo, and Manzoni. Here he taught French in a school, conducted by the Government, for soldiers' orphans, and when the Austrian authorities deprived him of this post, he served as a private tutor in different families, especially in that of Count Luigi Porro Lambertenghi, one of the leading opponents of Austrian dominion in the land. Lambertenghi founded in 1819 the periodical "Il Conciliatore", which, as a literary organ, voiced the doctrines of the Romantic writers as opposed to those of the Classicist school, and, as a political organ, combatted all foreign domination in Italy. Pellico played an important part in the editing of this periodical. In 1820, with a fellow-worker, Pietro Maroncelli, he incurred suspicion as a member of the Carbonari, and, having been arrested by order of the Austrians, was imprisoned first in the Piombi at Venice and next in the dungeon of San Michele di Murano. After a perfunctory trial he and Maroncelli were condemned to death, but this penalty was soon commuted into one of imprisonment with hard labour, and they were taken to the fortress of Spielberg in Moravia. After eight years of incarceration and much suffering, Pellico was released (1830). During the remainder of his life, broken down by the hardships of imprisonment, he remained entirely aloof from politics, and preferred a life of seclusion.

Pellico is not one of the great Italian authors of the nineteenth century; yet he is one who has endeared himself permanently to the Italian heart by a single document, his prison diary, "Le mie Prigioni". In this work, which rapidly became popular and passed into foreign languages, he relates in simple and unaffected prose his experiences and emotions during the whole period of his confinement. There is no tone of bitterness in his manner; his attitude throughout is that of the genuinely devout and resigned Catholic, and he records with infinite detail and often with profoundly pathetic effect his daily experience in his various prisons. His little account of the spider which he trained to eat from his hand is one of the best remembered passages of modern Italian prose. The very gentleness and homeliness of its narrative made his "Prigioni" the favourite that it is, and well has it been said that the book did more harm to Austria than any defeat on the field of battle. His other writings are: "Liriche", full of religious devotion and patriotic fervour; "Cantiche" or "Novelle poetiche" romantic in inspiration and concerned with medieval life and manners; twelve tragedies; the "Doveri degli uomini", a prose compilation of precepts and example, intended to teach right living to the young; his copious correspondence ("Epistolario"), and a prose version of Byron's "Manfred". Only eight of the tragedies have been published, the most famous of which, "Francesca da Rimini ", dealing with the Dantesque tradition, was performed successfully in 1818; it engaged at once the attention of Byron and he translated it into English. The "Francesca" ranks next in importance among his works to the "Prigioni".


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