1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pellico, Silvio

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PELLICO, SILVIO (1788-1854), Italian dramatist, was born at Saluzzo in Piedmont on the 24th of June 1788, the earlier portion of his life being passed at Pinerolo and Turin under the tuition of a priest named Manavella. At the age of ten he composed a tragedy under the inspiration of Caesarotti's translation of the Ossianic poems. On the marriage of his twin sister Rosina with a maternal cousin at Lyons he went to reside in that city, devoting himself during four years to the study of French literature. He returned in 1810 to Milan, where he became professor of French in the Collegio degli Orfani Militari. His tragedy Francesca da Rimini, was brought out with success by Carlotta Marchionni at Milan in 1818. Its publication was followed by that of the tragedy Eufemio da Messina, but the representation of the latter was forbidden. Pellico had in the meantime continued his work as tutor, first to the unfortunate son of Count Briche, and then to the two sons of Count Porro Lambertenghi. He threw himself heartily into an attempt to weaken the hold of the Austrian despotism by indirect educational means. Of the powerful literary executive which gathered about Counts Porro and Confalonieri, Pellico was the able secretary — the management of the Conciliatore, which appeared in 1818 as the organ of the association, resting largely upon him. But the paper, under the censorship of the Austrian officials, ran for a year only, and the society itself was broken up by the government. In October 1820 Pellico was arrested on the charge of carbonarism and conveyed to the Santa Margherita prison. After his removal to the Piombi at Venice in February 1821, he composed several Cantiche and the tragedies Ester d'Engaddi and Iginia d'Asti. The sentence of death pronounced on him in February 1822 was finally commuted to fifteen years carcere duro, and in the following April he was placed in the Spielberg at Brünn. His chief work during this part of his imprisonment was the tragedy Leoniero da Dertona, for the preservation of which he was compelled to rely on his memory. After his release in 1830 he commenced the publication of his prison compositions, of which the Ester was played at Turin in 1831, but immediately suppressed. In 1832 appeared his Gismonda da Mendrizio, Erodiade and the Leoniero, under the title of Tre nuovi tragedie, and in the same year the work which gave him his European fame, Le Mie prigioni, an account of his sufferings in prison. The last gained him the friendship of the Marchesa di Barolo, the reformer of the Turin prisons, and in 1834 he accepted from her a yearly pension of 1200 francs. His tragedy Tommaso Moro had been published in 1833, his most important subsequent publication being the Opere inedite in 1837. On the decease of his parents in 1838 he was received into the Casa Barolo, where he remained till his death, assisting the marchesa in her charities, and writing chiefly upon religious themes. Of these works the best known is the Dei Doveri degli uomini, a series of trite maxims which do honour to his piety rather than to his critical judgment. A fragmentary biography of the marchesa by Pellico was published in Italian and English after her death. He died on the 31st of January 1854, and was buried in the Campo Santo at Turin. His writings are defective in virility and breadth of thought, and his tragedies display neither the insight into character nor the constructive power of a great dramatist. It is in the simple narrative and naïve egotism of Le Mie prigioni that he has established his strongest claim to remembrance, winning fame by his misfortunes rather than by his genius.

See Piero Maroncelli, Addizioni alle mie prigioni (Paris, 1834); the biographies by Latour; Gabriele Rosselli; Didier, Revue des deux mondes (September 1842); De Loménie, Galerie des contemp. illustr. iv. (1842); Chiala (Turin, 1852); Nollet-Fabert (1854); Giorgio Briano (1854); Bourdon (1868); Rivieri (1899-1901).