Leopardi had attained his majority on June 29th 1819; now in theory at least his own master, he resolved to run away from home.
He confided in no one, but wrote letters for his brother and father which they were to read after he had gone.
To Carlo Leopardi, Recanati
[Recanati; no date, but end of July 1819]
My dear Carlo. I am leaving here without having said anything to you, firstly so that you are not held responsible for my departure by anybody; and then because counsel helps an irresolute man, but can only harm one who is resolved: and I knew that you would disapprove my resolve, and place me in new difficulties by trying to dissuade me. I am weary of prudence, which could only lead us to the loss of our youth, a blessing one does not get back. I turn to boldness, and I shall see if I can draw greater advantage from that. Yet this is not a sudden decision; although made in the heat of feeling, I have allowed many days to pass while I pondered it; and I have never had cause to regret it. And so I am acting on it. It was all too clear that if we did not wish to remain forever in the state we loathed, we had better take this course of action; and all the time that has passed has been nothing but a mere delaying. There was no other way than this: a choice had to be made, and you know very well that the choice could not be in doubt. Now that the law makes me my own master, I did not wish to put off any longer what according to our principles had to be done. Two reasons were immediately responsible for my decision: the terrible ennui that resulted from the impossibility of studying, the only activity that could keep me in this town; and another reason that I do not wish to put into words, but which you can easily guess. And just imagine if this second reason – which, because of my mental and physical make-up, was capable of bringing me to the extreme of desperation, and made me take supreme pleasure in the idea of suicide – must not be capable of leading me to abandon myself blindly into fortune’s hands. Be well, my dear Carlo, and be happy on my account, because I am doing what I should have done a long time ago, and the only thing that can lead me to a life, if not content, at least more tranquil. And so if you love me, you must be glad: and if all I were to gain was to be completely unhappy, I would be satisfied, because you know that the middle way is not for us. I am taking my papers with me, but since it could happen that they might be examined, I don’t want to compromise myself, much less the people who have written to me, by carrying some which might be suspect. I have picked out all those of this sort, both mine and those of others (that is, letters written to me) and put them all together on the chest of drawers in our room. There are also some which I did not wish to bring because they were of no use to me. I entrust them to your care: look after them and defend them: you know that I have nothing more precious than the products of my mind and my heart, the only blessing nature has granted me. If letters some for me from Giordani, open them and answer them, and remember me to him, and inform him of my resolve. Brighenti is owed 8 paoli for Compagni’s Cronica, 3 paoli for Giordani’s Prose, and 16 baiocchi miscalculated on the money sent for the Eusebius. In total 1.36. See to it that he is repaid, and ask Paolina to forgive me if I’ve taken with me the 3 paoli she gave me for the Giordani, and the 16 baiocchi as just explained, hoping that she would not have denied her brother this last gift, if he had asked her. O how dearly I would like my example to serve to enlighten our parents about you and our other brothers and sister! Most assuredly I have some hope that you will be less unhappy than me. Adieu, remember me to Paolina and the others. Men’s opinion does not matter very much to me, but if an opportunity presents itself, defend me. Be fond of me forever; you can count on me until I die. When I find myself in a place where it is possible to give you news of me, I shall write to you. Adieu. Embrace this unlucky wretch. Depend upon it, you won’t be like this. O how much more deserving you are than me! What am I? A man quite worthless. I see and feel it most acutely, and this too has made me resolve to do what I am about to do, in order to escape from thinking about myself, which sickens me. For as long as I had self respect, I was more cautious; now that I despise myself, I find no other solace than to throw myself on chance, and seek out danger, as a thing of no value. Hand over the enclosed to my father. Ask his forgiveness, ask my mother’s forgiveness in my name. Do it from the heart, I beg you, and I do so too in spirit. It would have been better (humanly speaking) for them and for me if I had not been born, or if I had died a long time ago.
Thus has our misfortune decreed.
Adieu, dear Carlo, adieu.
 Damiani, op. cit., p. 161, suggests that this second reason may be his physical deformity and the humiliation of being known locally as ‘the Leopardi hunchback’ [il gobbo dei Leopardi]; see .
 The next letter.
This letter to his father was never seen by its intended recipient, because the attempt to escape from home was foiled; but it was not destroyed. The analysis of his father’s character and modus operandi is pitiless.
To Monaldo Leopardi, Recanati
[Recanati; no date, but end of July1819]
Signor Padre. Although when you learn what I have done you may think this page unworthy of being read, at any event I hope in your kindness you will not refuse to hear the first and last words of a son who has always loved you, and loves you, and is infinitely grieved that he must cause you displeasure. You know me, and you know what my conduct has been up to now; and perhaps, if you were to put aside all local considerations, you will see that in the whole of Italy, and I am tempted to say the whole of Europe, no other young man will be found who, in my situation, even at a much younger age, perhaps with intellectual gifts decidedly inferior to mine, has used half the prudence, abstention from every youthful pleasure, obedience and submission to his parents that I have. For all that you may have a poor opinion of those few talents heaven has granted me, you cannot entirely refuse to trust those estimable and famous men who have made my acquaintance and formed the opinion of me that you know, and which it is not for me to repeat. You are not unaware that all those who have heard about me, even those who are perfectly in agreement with your principles, have judged that I must turn out to be something quite out of the ordinary, were I to be given those means which, in the present state of the world, and at all other times, have been indispensable in enabling a young man who gave even modest hopes for himself to come to something. It was amazing how anyone who made my acquaintance even fleetingly unfailingly expressed astonishment that I should still be living in this city, and how you alone among all of them were of the opposite opinion, and persisted in it immovably. Certainly you are not unaware that not just in any city that is at all lively, but in this very city, there is practically no young man of 17 years of age whose parents do not aim to find him a position of the kind best suited to him: not to mention the freedom all those in my position have at that age; barely a third as much freedom was granted me at 21 years of age. But leaving that aside, although – if I am not mistaken – I had given proofs of myself that were sufficiently rare and precocious, yet it was only much beyond the usual age that I began to reveal my wish that you should make provision for my destiny, and the welfare of my future life in the way suggested by what everyone was saying. I saw several families in this very city, much (indeed incomparably) less well off than ours, and I knew of countless other families from other parts as well, which in response to some glimmering of intelligence perceived in some young family member, did not hesitate to make the heaviest sacrifices in order to find him a position that enabled him to use his talents to advantage. Although many people thought my intellect gave forth somewhat more than a glimmer, you nonetheless judged me unworthy that a father should make sacrifices for me, and you did not think that the welfare of my present and future life justified any alteration to your family plan. I saw relatives of mine toy with the positions they obtained from the sovereign, and, hoping that they would be able to take steps to some effect on my behalf as well, I asked that at the least I should be found some livelihood suited to my circumstances, without my family having to support me as a consequence. I was laughed at, and you did not think that your connections, in a word your efforts, should even be employed to find a decent position for your son. I was well aware of the plans you had for us, and of how, to safeguard the happiness of a thing I do not know, but I hear called home and family, you demanded of us two the sacrifice not of possessions nor of attentions, but of our inclinations, our youth, our whole life. As I was certain that you would never manage to get this from Carlo or from me, there remained no thinking to be done about these plans, and I could not be guided by them in any way. You knew as well the very wretched life I led because of the terrible depressions of spirit, and the torments of a new kind that my strange imagination caused me, and you could not be unaware of what was more than obvious: that is, that there was absolutely no other remedy for this, and for my health which was very visibly suffering because of it, and had done so since my wretched constitution was formed – no other remedy than powerful distractions, and everything which in Recanati could never be found. Yet in spite of this you left a man of my character for so many years either to wear himself away in deadly studies or bury himself in the most terrible ennui and, in consequence, melancholy, which resulted from the necessary solitude, and from a life with nothing to occupy him, as especially in these last few months. It did not take me long to realize that any possible or imaginable reason was quite powerless to make you change your mind, and that the extraordinary inflexibility of your character, masked by constant dissembling and the appearance of giving in, was such as to leave not the faintest shadow of hope. All of this, and my reflections on the nature of men, persuaded me that although I lacked everything, I must put my trust in myself alone. And now that the law has made me my own master, I had no wish to put off any longer taking charge of my own fate. I know that man’s happiness consists in being content, and therefore it will be easier for me to be happy begging than amidst all the material comforts I may enjoy in this place. I hate the base prudence which chills us and binds us and makes us incapable of any great action, and reduces us to being like animals who calmly attend to preserving this unhappy life with no other thought. I know I shall be thought mad, as I know that all great men have had that reputation. And since the career of almost every man of great genius has begun from desperation, so I am not dismayed that mine should begin like this. I would rather be unhappy than insignificant, rather suffer than be bored, all the more so because tedium, which causes me deadly depressions of spirit, harms me much more than any physical discomfort. Fathers usually judge their sons more favourably than other people, but you contrariwise judge us more unfavourably than anyone else, and therefore you have never believed that we were born for anything great: perhaps you do not recognise any greatness other than what can be measured by arithmetic and the rules of geometry. But as for that, many people are of a different opinion; and as for us, since despairing of oneself can only be harmful, I have never believed that I was made to live and die like my forebears.
Having given you such reasons as I have been able to for my decision, it remains for me to ask your forgiveness for the upset I am causing you with this letter and what I am taking with me. If my health had been less uncertain I would rather have gone begging from house to house than touch a bean of yours. But being as weak as I am, and as I can no longer hope for anything from you –going by the statements you have deliberately and casually come out with on this subject more than once – I have been obliged to behave in the way I have done, in order not to expose myself to the certainty of dying of hardship on the road on the second day. I am supremely sorry for it, and this is the only thing that troubles me in my decision, thinking that I am causing you displeasure; I know your great goodness of heart, and the trouble you have taken to make us live satisfied in our situation. I am grateful for it from the bottom of my soul, and I infinitely regret that I may seem infected by the vice I detest almost above all others, that is ingratitude. Difference of principles alone, which could not be overcome in any way, and which must necessarily lead me either to die here of desperation or to take the step I am now taking, has been the cause of my misfortune. Heaven for our punishment decreed that the only young people in this city who had thoughts that went somewhat beyond Recanati should be yours, as a test of your patience, and that the only father who considered these sons a misfortune should be ours. What comforts me is the thought that this is the last trouble I cause you, and that it serves to free you from the continual irritation of my presence, and from the many other inconveniences which my person has brought upon you, and would bring upon you much more in the future. Dear Father, if you allow me to call you by this name, I go down on my knees to beg you to forgive this creature unhappy by nature and by circumstances. I would like my unhappiness to have been mine alone, and no one else to have had to suffer for it, and so I hope it will be from now on. If fate ever makes me master of anything, my first thought will be to give back what necessity now compels me to avail myself of. The last favour I ask of you is this: if ever the memory of this son who has always revered and loved you returns to you, do not spurn it as hateful, and do not curse it; and if destiny has not decreed that you feel able to praise him, do not refuse to grant him that compassion which is not denied even to wrongdoers.
 On Count Monaldo’s piano di famiglia and its effects on family life, see E. Gioanola’s Leopardi, La malinconia, Milano 1995, ch. 2.
 This is the essence of the quarrel between father and son, repeated in the next letter.
 A small sum of money.
Click here to return to Leopardi.