Verdi did not feel the death of Alessandro Manzoni any less keenly because Manzoni was a very old man. It was a grievous blow. He had long had a reverence, almost amounting to idolatry, for the eminent Italian novelist and poet. He had admired him from a distance and, when a meeting was finally arranged, he was moved to the depths.
'How shall I describe the extraordinary, indefi nable sensation I felt in the presence of your "saint"?', he wrote to Countess Clarina Maff ei. 'I would have gone down on my knees if one could worship men'. Earlier, he had tried to explain what it was he felt about him. Manzoni, he said, had written 'not only the greatest book of our time but one of the greatest books that the human mind has produced [I Promessi Sposi ('The Betrothed')]. It's not just a book, it's a consolation to humanity. I was 16 when I fi rst read it. Since then … if anything my experience of men has made me admire it all the more – because it's a true book … Oh, if artists could but understand that "true", there would be no more composers of the future or composers of the past, no puristic, realistic or idealistic painters, no poets classic or romantic, but true poets, true painters, true composers'.