Torquato Tasso, an Italian poet, son of the preceding, born in Sorrento, March 11, 1544, died in Rome, April 25, 1595. He received his first education at Naples, and studied in Rome, Urbino, Venice, Padua, and Bologna. In 1562 he wrote his charming romantic poem Rinaldo, and about the same time began to prepare his epic on the delivery of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon. In 1565 he went to Ferrara as a gentleman in the suite of Cardinal d'Este, whose brother, the duke Alfonso II., received Tasso with great distinction. His grave and melancholy beauty, eloquence, and varied accomplishments enlisted general admiration, and endeared him to the duke's sisters Lucrezia, the future duchess of Urbino, and Eleonora, who became known as the special object of his adoration. After about a year's residence with the cardinal in Paris, where Charles IX., Catharine de' Medici, and the French poets showed him marked attentions, he became estranged from his patron, and, mainly through the influence of the princesses, was in 1572 formally attached to the court of Ferrara, with a salary but without specific duties.
His celebrated pastoral drama Aminta was performed in 1573 with great splendor at the court, and afterward at Urbino. In 1575 he completed his great epic poem under the title of Il Goffredo, which was afterward changed to Gernsalemme liberata. The duke, Eleonora, and Lucrezia (who had separated from her husband) gave him new evidences of their regard, and would hardly permit him to leave them. Yet in November, 1575, he went to Rome to submit his epic to Soipione Gonzaga, and received an invitation to enter the service of the Medici family, which he ultimately declined; but the hostility between the Medici and Estes made him ever afterward believe that the duke had taken umbrage at his negotiation with them, although on his return to Ferrara ho was received with the wonted cordiality. He was now living in perpetual fear of his enemies, whose numbers had increased with his fame, and of emissaries of the inquisition, although that tribunal had absolved him from the charge of heresy to which he had long fancied himself liable on account of some passages in the Gerusalemme. At length he found his correspondence intercepted, and had a violent altercation with a deceitful friend who had purloined his private papers, with a view, he suspected, of giving the duke evidence of his relations with Eleonora, and he was charged with referring to his love for her in the episode of Sofronia and Olindo in his epic.
But the duke expressed no other feeling about him excepting an anxiety for the restoration of his mind, which he regarded, or feigned to regard, as diseased. Even after a murderous assault said to have been committed by Tasso in one of his frantic fits upon Lucrezia's servant, the duke released him after a brief confinement and permitted him to retire to a convent (June, 1577), where he was to remain till the restoration of his health. Tasso, however, fled in July to Sorrento, and reached his sister Cornelia's house in the disguise of a shepherd and in a wretched condition. Having regained his health, he became anxious to return, and at the instance of his friends the cardinals Albano and Gonzaga, the duke permitted him do so on condition of his putting himself under medical treatment. New indignities awaited him at Ferrara (February, 1578), despite the friendly disposition of Eleonora. He failed to recover his manuscripts, and, shunned by everybody, he fled again from city to city, everywhere regarded as a maniac.
At the court of Urbino he had a short interval of rest, but his apprehensions of danger drove him to Turin. Here he was befriended by Eleonora's brother the marquis d'Este, and might have lived in peace; but he hastened back to Ferrara in the vain hope that the celebration of the duke's third marriage with a princess of Mantua (early in 1579) would prove auspicious for a reconciliation. He was not permitted to see any member of the ducal family, and the courtiers and lackeys insulted him so grossly that he broke out in vehement denunciations, and was committed to the hospital of Santa Anna. Here he was surrounded by maniacs of the worst description, and treated with a harshness which excited the pity of Montaigne and other visitors. A garbled publication of the Gerusalemme in 1580 was followed in 1581 by genuine editions, which had a prodigious circulation, and gave such a prestige to his name that his situation was slightly improved, and many of his admirers availed themselves of the easier access to his cell. The death of Eleonora in 1581, which Lucrezia thought would make the duke relent, had no such effect; and while fortunes were made by the sale of his epic, Tasso lingered in prison.
He was not released until July, 1586, and only after repeated appeals from the most influential quarters and after his health had reached its lowest ebb, and then solely on condition of remaining in charge of Duke William of Mantua, who showed him much kindness. After William's death he made in 1587 ineffectual attempts to better his fortunes in Rome, and in 1588 to recover his patrimony at Naples. For the rest of his life he almost continually travelled from Naples to Rome and from Rome to Naples, enjoying in the latter city his residence at the monastery of Mount Olivet; but he was finally obliged to live in a charitable asylum at Rome until the grand duke of Tuscany came to his rescue and invited him to visit Florence (1590). Here, as everywhere else, he received distinguished though empty honors. In a subsequent journey to Rome, the famous brigand Sciarra refrained from molesting him and his travelling companions, and showed great deference for his genius. In 1593 appeared his Gerusalemme conquistata, a remodelled form of his first epic, to which he alone regarded it as superior. It was dedicated to Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, who thereupon induced Pope Clement VIII. to crown Tasso in the capitol.
He reached the Vatican on Nov. 10, 1594, but after a relapse of his fever he was taken at his request to the monastery of St. Onofrio, on the Janiculum, where he died before the time assigned for his coronation. - The tribulations of the poet, the peculiar condition of his mind, his relations with the princess Eleonora, and the duke's proceedings against him, have given rise to many conflicting statements, and thrown a pathetic halo over his life and genius. Goethe has made him the hero of a celebrated drama; Hallam regarded him as superior to Virgil in grace, though inferior in vigor; Ranke and other eminent scholars have written on him extensively; Lamartine has called him " the crusader of poetry;" and Friedrich Schlegel places him above Ariosto on account of his melodious versification and picturesque and impassioned delineations of love. The academy della Crusca, however, bitterly contested at the time Tasso's superiority over Ariosto. The most complete of the early genuine editions of the epic appeared at Parma (4to, 1581), and the most correctly printed among the latest editions is that of Padua (3 vols. 24mo, 1827-8). It has been translated into most Italian dialects and into Latin, repeatedly into English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Russian, and in 1875 into modern Greek. The best translation into English is by Edward Fairfax (London, 1600; latest American ed., New York, 1855); and the most recent English version is by Sir J. K. James (2 vols., 1865). The Gerusalemme has cast Tasso's other works into the shade, although his Rime or lyrical poems are unsurpassed in their descriptions of disappointed love, and the choruses in his otherwise unsuccessful tragedy Torrismondo are remarkable for pathetic sweetness.
His prose dialogues, moral treatises, and other minor works are also entitled to more attention than they have received. The most complete edition of his works is by Rosini (33 vols., Pisa, 1821-32). A good select edition appeared at Milan (5 vols., 1823-'5). His principal biographers in Italian are his friend Manso (Naples, 1619) and Serassi, whose work is the most complete (Rome, 1785; new ed., Florence, 1858); and in English, Black (2 vols. 4to, Edinburgh, 1810) and R. Milman (2 vols., London, 1850). See also "Conjectures and Researches concerning the Love, Madness, and Imprisonment of Torquato Tasso," by Richard Henry Wilde (2 vols. 12mo, New York, 1842); Sulla causa finora ignota delle sventure di Tasso, by Capponi (2 vols., Florence, 1840-'46); a complete chronological edition of his correspondence, by C. Guasti (5 vols., 1852-'5); and Degli amove e della prigione di Tasso, by L. Cibrario (Turin, 1862).