I still feel a very great satisfaction when I find myself alone in a street, without a tutor by my side

From Iris Origo’s Leopardi: A Study in Solitude (my page numbers are from the original printing, though there is a recent reprint by Pushkin Press).  Vignettes of Giacomo Leopardi’s father, whose own autobiography – surprisingly still in print, blessed be small Italian publishers – I’m now trying to obtain of a copy of.

…And a few days later Napoleon himself rode through [Recanati], on his way to Rome.  He rode hastily, Conte Monaldo related, surrounded by guards with their hands on the trigger of their muskets, and all the population turned out to see him. “But I”, wrote the Count, “refused to approach the window, thinking it too great an honour for such a villain, that an honest man should rise to see him pass.” (pg4)


…When barely eighteen, he assumed, as head of the family, the complete management of the whole property – yet he was still forbidden by his mother to go out of the house, unless accompanied by his preceptor.  This restriction, although not unusual in families such as his, was particularly galling to Monaldo. “To this day,” he wrote in his Memoirs, “although I am the father of twelve children (living and dead), a magistrate of the city, and forty-eight years of age, I still feel a very great satisfaction when I find myself alone in a street, without a tutor by my side.” (pg5)


Conte Monaldo himself, when he required a little pocket-money [from his wife, who controlled the purse strings], was forced to resort to subterfuge; he would plot with the bailiff, to sell a barrel of wine or a sack of wheat behind his wife’s back, or he would take to her two books from his own library, saying that he needed a few scudi to pay for them. “Thus,” he remarked, “I used to steal from myself.”

It must be added that often these subterfuges were practised by Conte Monaldo in the cause of charity: the cloister, for instance, of the monastery of the Minori Osservanti was built entirely at his expense, but, to avoid his wife’s vigilance, the building materials had to be carried there at night.  And the story is even told that on one winter’s evening, on being accosted by a half-naked beggar, the Count retired into the shadow of a doorway, took off his trousers, gave them to the wretched man – and thus, wrapping himself in his cloak, made his way home. (pg14-15)

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