Patron or Tyrant, as the changing mood
Of petty power impelled, of those who wore
The wreath which Dante's brow alone had worn before.
And Tasso is their glory and their shame—
- [It is a fact that Tasso was an involuntary inmate of the Hospital of Sant' Anna at Ferrara for seven years and four months—from March, 1579, to July, 1586—but the causes, the character, and the place of his imprisonment have been subjects of legend and misrepresentation. It has long been known and acknowledged (see Hobhouse's Historical Illustrations, 1818, pp. 5-31) that a real or feigned passion for Duke Alphonso's sister, Leonora d'Este, was not the cause or occasion of his detention, and that the famous cell or dungeon ("nine paces by six, and about seven high") was not "the original place of the poet's confinement." It was, as Shelley says (see his letter to Peacock, November 7, 1818), "a very decent dungeon;" but it was not Tasso's. The setting of the story was admitted to be legendary, but the story itself, that a poet was shut up in a madhouse because a vindictive magnate resented his love of independence and impatience of courtly servitude, was questioned, only to be reasserted as historical. The publication of Tasso's letters by Guasti, in 1853, a review of Tasso's character and career in Symonds's Renaissance in Italy, and, more recently, Signor Angelo Solerti's monumental work, Vita di Torquato Tasso (1895), which draws largely upon the letters of contemporaries, the accounts of the ducal court, and other documentary evidence, have in a great measure exonerated the duke at the expense of the unhappy poet himself. Briefly, Tasso's intrigues with rival powers—the Medici at Florence, the papal court, and the Holy Office at Bologna—aroused the alarm and suspicion of the duke, whilst his general demeanour and his outbursts of violence and temper compelled, rather than afforded, a pretext for his confinement. Before his final and fatal return to Ferrara, he had been duly warned
Alphonso II. (d. 1597), who first befriended and afterwards, on the score of lunacy, imprisoned Tasso in the Hospital of Sant' Anna (1579-86).]