No one would score many points in a game of Humiliation if they confessed they had not read Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. As his translator John Hoole put it in 1763, 'Of all Authors, so familiarly known by name to the generality of English readers as Tasso, perhaps there is none whose works have been so little read.' Hoole did much to change that: his translation - staid, Drydenical, but always moving and sometimes a thing of beauty - was a blockbuster which went through ten editions. By the mid to late 19th century anyone in England who read, read Tasso. Scarcely a decade went by without either another edition of Hoole or a new verse translation. There were versions by parsons, librarians and retired sea captains; there were versions in blank verse, in couplets, in Spenserian stanzas. And then they dried up. Now the word is that Tasso is dull, that he is Ariosto in corsets, a slave to the Inquisition, a servile Neoclassicist, a beastly Papal imperialist swine, an obsessive madman who savaged the best bits of the liberata in order to make the tediously well regulated, sexless orthodoxy renamed Gerusalemme conquistata, and who recognised what was best in himself only for long enough to write it down and then cross it out.
LRB 22 February 2001 | PDF Download