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Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
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As Savonarola is now launched upon his vocation of prophecy, this is the right moment to describe his personal appearance and his style of preaching. We have abundant material for judging what his features were, and how they flashed beneath the storm of inspiration.[1] Fra Bartolommeo, one of his followers, painted a profile of him in the character of S. Peter Martyr. This shows all the benignity and grace of expression which his stern lineaments could assume. It is a picture of the sweet and gentle nature latent within the fiery arraigner of his nation at the bar of God. In contemporary medals the face appears hard, keen, uncompromising, beneath its heavy cowl. But the noblest portrait is an intaglio engraved by Giovanni della Corniole, now to be seen in the Uffizzi at Florence. Of this work Michael Angelo, himself a disciple of Savonarola, said that art could go no further. We are therefore justified in assuming that the engraver has not only represented faithfully the outline of Savonarola's face, but has also indicated his peculiar expression. A thick hood covers the whole head and shoulders. Beneath it can be traced the curve of a long and somewhat flat skull, rounded into extraordinary fullness at the base and side. From a deeply sunken eye-socket emerges, scarcely seen, but powerfully felt, the eye that blazed with lightning. The nose is strong, prominent, and aquiline, with wide nostrils, capable of terrible dilation under the stress of vehement emotion. The mouth has full, compressed, projecting lips. It is large, as if made for a torrent of eloquence: it is supplied with massive muscles, as if to move with energy and calculated force and utterance. The jawbone is hard and heavy; the cheekbone emergent: between the two the flesh is hollowed, not so much with the emaciation of monastic vigils as with the athletic exercise of wrestlings in the throes of prophecy. The face, on the whole, is ugly, but not repellent; and, in spite of its great strength, it shows signs of feminine sensibility. Like the faces of Cicero and Demosthenes, it seems the fit machine for oratory. But the furnaces hidden away behind that skull, beneath that cowl, have made it haggard with a fire not to be found in the serener features of the classic orators. Savonarola was a visionary and a monk. The discipline of the cloister left its trace upon him. The wings of dreams have winnowed and withered that cheek as they passed over it. The spirit of prayer quivers upon those eager lips. The color of Savonarola's flesh was brown: his nerves were exquisitely sensitive yet strong; like a network of wrought steel, elastic, easily overstrained, they recovered their tone and temper less by repose than by the evolution of fresh electricity. With Savonarola fasts were succeeded by trances, and trances by tempests of vehement improvization. From the midst of such profound debility that he could scarcely crawl up the pulpit steps, he would pass suddenly into the plenitude of power, filling the Dome of Florence with denunciations, sustaining his discourse by no mere trick of rhetoric that flows to waste upon the lips of shallow preachers, but marshaling the phalanx of embattled arguments and pointed illustrations, pouring his thought forth in columns of continuous flame, mingling figures of sublimest imagery with reasonings severest accuracy, at one time melting his audience tears, at another freezing them with terror, again quickening their souls with prayers and pleadings and blessings that had in them the sweetness of the very spirit of Christ. His sermons began with scholastic exposition; as they advanced, the ecstasy of inspiration fell upon the preacher, till the sympathies of the whole people of Florence gathered round him,[2] met and attained, as it were, to single consciousness in him. He then no longer restrained the impulse of his oratory, but became the mouthpiece of God, the interpreter to themselves of all that host. In a fiery crescendo, never flagging, never losing firmness of grasp or lucidity of vision, he ascended the altar steps of prophecy, and, standing like Moses on the mount between the thunders of God and the tabernacles of the plain, fulminated period after period of impassioned eloquence. The walls of the church re-echoed with sobs and wailings dominated by one ringing voice. The scribe to whom we owe the fragments of these sermons, at times breaks off with these words: 'Here I was so overcome with weeping that I could not go on.' Pico della Mirandola tells us that the mere sound of Savonarola's voice, startling the stillness of the Duomo, thronged through all its space with people, was like a clap of doom: a cold shiver ran through the marrow of his bones, the hairs of his head stood on end, as he listened. Another witness reports: 'These sermons caused such terror, alarm, sobbing, and tears that every one passed through the streets without speaking, more dead than alive.'

[1] Engravings of the several portraits may be seen in Harford's Life of Michael Angelo Buonarroti (Longmans, 1857 vol. i.), and also in Villari.

[2] Nardi, in his Istorie di Firenze (lib. ii. cap. 16), describes the crowd assembled in the Duomo to hear Savonarola preach: 'Per la moltitudine degli uditori non essendo quasi bastante la chiesa cattedrale di santa Maria del Fiore, ancora che molto grande e capace sia, fu necessario edificar dentro lungo i pareti di quella, dirempetto al pergamo, certi gradi di legname rilevati con ordine di sederi, a guisa di teatro, e cosi dalla parte di sopra all' entrata del coro e dalla parte di sotto in verso le porte della detta chiesa.'

Such was the preacher: and such was the effect of his oratory. The theme on which he loved to dwell was this. Repent! A judgment of God is at hand. A sword is suspended over you. Italy is doomed for her iniquity—for the sins of the Church, whose adulteries have filled the world—for the sins of the tyrants, who encourage crime and trample upon souls—for the sins of you people, you fathers and mothers, you young men, you maidens, you children that lisp blasphemy! Nor did Savonarola deal in generalities. He described in plain language every vice; he laid bare every abuse; so that a mirror was held up to the souls of his hearers, in which they saw their most secret faults appallingly portrayed and ringed around with fire. He entered with particularity into the details of the coming woes. One by one he enumerated the bloodshed, the ruin of cities, the trampling down of provinces, the passage of armies, the desolating wars that were about to fall on Italy.[1] You may read pages of his sermons which seem like vivid narratives of what afterwards took place in the sack of Prato, in the storming of Brescia, in the battle of the Ronco, in the cavern-massacre of Vicenza. No wonder that he stirred his audience to their center. The hell within them was revealed. The coming doom above them was made manifest. Ezekiel and Jeremiah were not more prophetic. John crying to a generation of vipers, 'Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' was not more weighty with the mission of authentic inspiration.

[1] Savonarola's whole view of the situation and of the perils of Italy was that of a prophet. He saw more clearly than other people what was inevitable. But his disciples and the vulgar believed implicitly in his prophetic gift in the narrower sense, that is, in his power to predict events, such as the deaths of Lorenzo and the King of Naples, the punishment of Charles VIII, in the loss of the dauphin, etc. Pico says: 'Savonarola could read the future as clearly as one sees the whole is greater than the part.' And there is no doubt that, as time went on, Savonarola came to believe himself that he possessed this faculty. After his trial and execution a very uncomfortable sense of doubt remained upon the minds of those who had been witnesses of his life-drama. Upon this topic Guicciardini, Stor. Fior., Op. Ined. vol. iii. p. 179; Nardi, Stor. Fior. lib. ii. caps. 16 and 36, may be read with advantage.

'I began'—Savonarola writes himself with reference to a course of sermons delivered in 1491—'I began publicly to expound the Revelation in our Church of S. Mark. During the course of the year I continued to develop to the Florentines these three propositions: That the Church would be renewed in our time; that before that renovation God would strike all Italy with a fearful chastisement; that these things would happen shortly.' It is by right of the foresight of a new age contained in these three famous so-called conclusions that Savonarola deserves to be named the Prophet of the Renaissance. He was no apostle of reform: it did not occur to him to reconstruct the creed, to dispute the discipline, or to criticise the authority of the Church. He was no founder of a new order: unlike his predecessors, Dominic and Francis, he never attempted to organize a society of saints or preachers; unlike his successors, Caraffa the Theatine and Loyola the Jesuit, he enrolled no militia for the defense of the faith, constructed no machinery for education. Starting with simple horror at the wickedness of the world, he had recourse to the old prophets. He steeped himself in Bible studies. He caught the language of Malachi and Jeremiah. He became convinced that for the wickedness of Italy a judgment was imminent. From that conclusion he rose upon the wings of faith to the belief that a new age would dawn. The originality of his intuition consisted in this, that while Italy was asleep, and no man trembled for the future, he alone felt that the stillness of the air was fraught with thunder, that its tranquillity was like that which precedes a tempest blown from the very nostrils of the God of Hosts.

To the astonishment of his hearers, and perhaps also of himself, his prophecies began to fulfill themselves. Within three years after his first sermon in S. Mark's, Charles VIII. had entered Italy, Lorenzo de' Medici was dead, and politicians no less than mystics felt that a new chapter had been opened in the book of the world's history. The Reform of the Church was also destined to follow. What Savonarola had foreseen, here too happened; but not in the way he would have wished, nor by the means he would have used. It is one thing to be a prophet in the sense of discerning the catastrophe to which circumstances must inevitably lead, another thing to trace beforehand the path which will be taken by the hurricanes that change the face of the world. Remaining in his soul a monk, attached by education and by natural sympathy to the past rather than the future, he felt in spite of himself the spirit of the coming age. Had he lived but one century earlier, we should not have called him prophet. It was the Renaissance which set the seal of truth upon his utterances. Yet in his vision of the world to be, he was like Balaam prophesying blindly of a star.

Sixtus IV. had died and been succeeded by Innocent VIII. Innocent had given place to Alexander. The very nadir of the abyss had been reached. Then Savonarola saw a vision and heard a voice: Ecce gladius Domini super terram cito et velociter. The sword turned earthward; the air was darkened with fiery sleet and arrows; thunders rolled; the world was filled with pestilences, wars, famines. At another time he dreamed and looked toward Rome. From the Eternal City there rose a black cross, reaching to heaven, and on it was inscribed Crux irae Dei. Then too the skies were troubled; clouds rushed through the air discharging darts and fire and swords, and multitudes below were dying. These visions he published in sermons and in print. Pictures were made from them. They and the three conclusions went abroad through Italy. Again, Charles was preparing for his expedition. Savonarola took the Ark of Noah for his theme. The deluge was at hand; he bade his hearers enter the ship of refuge before the terrible and mighty nation came: 'O Italy! O Rome! I give you over to the hands of a people who will wipe you out from among the nations! I see them descending like lions. Pestilence comes marching hand in hand with war. The deaths will be so many that the buriers shall go through the streets crying out: Who hath dead, who hath dead? and one will bring his father, and another his son. O Rome! I cry again to you to repent, Repent, Venice! Milan, repent!' 'The prophets a hundred years ago proclaimed to you the flagellation of the Church. For five years I have been announcing it: and now again I cry to you. The Lord is full of wrath. The angels on their knees cry to Him: Strike, strike! The good sob and groan: We can no more. The orphans, the widows say: We are devoured, we cannot go on living. All the Church triumphant hath cried to Christ: Thou diedst in vain. It is heaven which is in combat. The saints of Italy, the angels, are leagued with the barbarians. Those who called them in have put the saddles to the horses. Italy is in confusion, saith the Lord; this time she shall be yours. And the Lord cometh above his saints, above the blessed ones who march in battle-array, who are drawn up in squadrons. Whither are they bound? S. Peter is for Rome, crying: To Rome, to Rome! and S. Paul and S. Gregory march, crying: To Rome! And behind them go the sword, the pestilence, the famine. S. John cries: Up, up, to Florence! And the plague follows him. S. Anthony cries: Ho for Lombardy! S. Mark cries: Haste we to the city that is throned upon the waters! And all the angels of heaven, sword in hand, and all the celestial consistory, march on unto this war.'

Then he speaks of his own fate: 'What shall be the end of our war, you ask? If this be a general question, I shall answer Victory! If you ask it of myself in particular, I answer, Death, or to be hewn in pieces. This is our faith, this is our guerdon, this is our reward! We ask for no more than this. But when you see me dead, be not then troubled. All those who have prophesied have suffered and been slain. To make my word prevail, there is needed the blood of many.'

These are the prophecies with which Savonarola anticipated the coming of a foreign conqueror. It is interesting to trace in his apostrophes the double feeling of the prophet. Desire for the advent of Charles as a Messiah, liberator, and purifier of the Church, contends with an instinctive horror of the barbarian. Savonarola, like Dante, like all Italian patriots, except only Machiavelli, who too late had been lessoned by bitter experience to put no trust in foreign princes, could not refrain from hoping even against hope that good might come from beyond the Alps. Yet when the foreigners appeared, he trembled at the violence they wrought upon the ancient liberties of Italy. Savonarola's chief shortcoming as a patriot consisted in this, that he strengthened the old folly of the Florentines in leaning upon strangers.[1] Had he taught the Italians to work out their self-regeneration from within, instead of preparing them to accept an alien's yoke, he would have won a far more lasting meed of fame. As it was, together with the passion for liberty which became a religion with his followers, he strove to revive the obsolete tactics of an earlier age, and bequeathed to Florence the weak policy of waiting upon France. This legacy bore bitter fruits in the next century. If it was the memory of the Friar which nerved the citizens of Florence to sustain the siege of 1528, the same memory bound them to seek aid from inconsequent Francis, and to hope that at the last moment a cohort of seraphim would defend their walls.[2]

[1] Segni, Ist. Fior. lib. i. p. 23, records a saying of Savonarola's, Gigli con gigli dover fiorire, as one of the causes of the obstinate French partiality of the Florentines in 1529.

[2] See Varchi, Segni, and Nardi, who agree on these points.

That Savonarola believed in his own prophecies there is no doubt. They were in fact, as I have already tried to show, a view of the political and moral situation of Italy, expressed with the force of profound religious conviction and based upon a theory of the divine government of the world. But now far he allowed himself to be guided by visions and by words uttered to his soul in trance, is a somewhat different question. It is just at this point that a man possessed of acute insight and trusting to the truth of his instincts may be tempted under strong devotional excitement to pass the border land which separates healthy intuition from hallucination. If Savonarola's studies of the Hebrew prophets inclined him to believe in dreams and revelations, yet on the other hand the strong logic of his intellect, trained in scholastic distinctions, taught him to mistrust the promptings of a power that spoke to him when he was somewhat more or less than his prosaic self. How could he be sure that the spirit came from God? We know for certain that he struggled against the impulse of divination and refused at times to obey it. But it overcame him. Like the Cassandra of AEschylus, he panted in the grasp of one mightier than himself. 'An inward fire,' he cried, 'consumes my bones and forces me to speak out' And again: 'I have, O Lord, burnt my wings of contemplation, and I have launched into a tempestuous sea, where I have found contrary winds in every quarter. I wished to reach a harbor, but could not find the way thither; I wished to lay me down, but could meet with no resting-place. I longed to be silent and to utter not a word. But the word of the Lord is in my heart; and if it does not come forth, it must consume the marrow of my bones. Thus, O Lord, if it be Thy will that I should navigate in deep waters, Thy will, be done.'

At another time he says: 'I remember well that upon one occasion, in the year 1491, when I was preaching in the Duomo, having composed my sermon entirely upon these visions, I determined to abstain from all allusion to them, and in future to adhere to this resolution. God is my witness that the whole of Saturday and the whole of the succeeding night I lay awake, and could see no other course, no other doctrine. At daybreak, worn out and depressed by the many hours I had lain awake, while I was praying I heard a voice that said to me: "Fool that thou art, dost thou not see that it is God's will that thou shouldst keep to the same path?" The consequence of which was that on the same day I preached a tremendous sermon.'

These passages leave upon the mind no doubt of Savonarola's sincerity. If he deceived others, he was himself the first to be deceived, and that too not before he had subjected himself to the most searching examination, seeking in vain to escape from the force which compelled him to play the part of prophet. Terrible, indeed, must have been the wrestlings and questionings of this strong-fibered intellect, alone and diffident, within the toils of ecstasy.

Returning to the details of Savonarola's biography, we find him still in Lombardy in 1486. After leaving Brescia he moved to Reggio, where he made the friendship of the famous Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. They continued intimate till the death of the latter in 1494; it was his nephew, Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola, who afterwards wrote the Life of Savonarola. From Reggio the friar went to Genoa; and by this time his fame as a prophet in the north of Lombardy was well established. Now came the turning-point in his life. Fourteen hundred and ninety is the date which determined his public action as a man of power in Italy. Lorenzo de' Medici, strangely enough, was the instrument of his recall in this year to Florence. Lorenzo, who, if he could have foreseen the future of his own family in Florence, would rather have stifled this monk's voice in his cowl, took pains to send for him and bring him to S. Mark's, the convent upon which his father had lavished so much wealth. He hoped to add luster to his capital by the preaching of the most eloquent friar in Italy. Clear-sighted as he was, he could not discern the flame of liberty which burned in Savonarola's soul. Savonarola, the democratic party leader, was a force in politics as incalculable beforehand as Ferrucci the hero. On August 1, 1490, the monk ascended the pulpit of S. Mark's, and delivered a tremendous sermon on a passage from the Apocalypse. On the eve of this commencement he is reported to have said: 'Tomorrow I shall begin to preach, and I shall preach for eight years.' The Florentines were greatly moved. Savonarola had to remove from the Church of S. Mark to the Duomo; and thus began the spiritual dictatorship which he exercised thenceforth without intermission till his death.

Lorenzo soon began to resent the influence of this uncompromising monk, who, not content with moral exhortations, confidently predicted the coming of a foreign conqueror, the fall of the Magnificent, the peril of the Pope, and the ruin of the King of Naples. Yet it was no longer easy to suppress the preacher. Very early in his Florentine career Savonarola had proved himself to be fully as great an administrator as an orator. The Convent of San Marco dominated by his personal authority, had made him Prior in 1491, and he was already engaged in a thorough reform of all the Dominican monasteries of Tuscany. It was usual for the Priors elect of S. Mark to pay a complimentary visit to the Medici, their patrons. Savonarola, thinking this a worldly and unseemly custom, omitted to observe it. Lorenzo, noticing the discourtesy, is reported to have said, with a smile: 'See now! here is a stranger who has come into my house, and will not deign to visit me.' He forgot that Savonarola looked upon his convent as a house of God. At the same time the prince made overtures of goodwill to the Prior, frequently attended his services, and dropped gold into the alms-box of S. Mark's. Savonarola took no notice of him, and handed his florins over to the poor of the city. Then Lorenzo stirred up Fra Mariano da Genezzano, Savonarola's old rival, against him; but the clever rhetorician was no longer a match for the full-grown athlete of inspired eloquence. Da Genezzano was forced to leave Florence in angry discomfiture. With such unbending haughtiness did Savonarola already dare to brave the powers that be. He had recognized the oppressor of liberty, the corrupter of morality, the opponent of true religion, in Lorenzo. He hated him as a tyrant. He would not give him the right hand of friendship or the salute of civility. In the same spirit he afterwards denounced Alexander, scorned his excommunication, and plotted with the kings of Christendom for the convening of a Council. Lorenzo, however, was a man of supreme insight into character, and knew how to value his antagonist. Therefore, when the hour for dying came, and when, true child of the Renaissance that he was, he felt the need of sacraments and absolution, he sent for Savonarola, saying that he was the only honest friar he knew. The magnanimity of the Medici was only equaled by the firmness of the monk. Standing by the bedside of the dying man, who had confessed his sins, Savonarola said: 'Three things are required of you: to have a full and lively faith in God's mercy; to restore what you have unjustly gained; to give back liberty to Florence.' Lorenzo assented readily to the two first requisitions. At the third he turned his face in silence to the wall. He must indeed have felt that to demand and promise this was easier than to carry it into effect. Savonarola left him without absolution. Lorenzo died.[1]

[1] It is just to observe that great doubt has been thrown on the facts above related concerning Lorenzo's death. Poliziano, who was with Lorenzo during his last illness, does not mention them in his letter to Jacobus Antiquarius (xv. Kal. Jun. 1492). But Burlmacchi, Pico, Barsanti, Razzi, and others of the Frate's party, agree in the story. What Poliziano wrote was that Savonarola confessed Lorenzo and retired without volunteering the blessing. Razzi says the interview between Savonarola and Lorenzo took place without witnesses; Pico and Burlamacchi relate the event as they heard of it from the lips of Savonarola. We have therefore to judge between the testimony of Poliziano, who held no communication with the friar, and the veracity of several narrators, biassed indeed by hostility toward the Medici, but in direct intercourse with the only man who could tell the exact truth of what passed—the confessor, Savonarola, who had been alone with Lorenzo. Villari, after sifting the evidence, arrives at the conclusion that we may believe Burlamacchi. The Baron Reumont, in his recent Life of Lorenzo, vol. ii. p. 590, gives some solid reasons for accepting this conclusion with caution, and Gino Capponi expresses a distinct disbelief in Burlamacchi's narration.

The third point insisted upon by the friar, Restore liberty to Florence, not only broke the peace of the dying prince, but it also afterwards for ever ruled the conduct of Savonarola. From this time his life is that of a statesman no less than of a preacher. What Lorenzo refused, or was indeed upon his deathbed quite unable to perform, the monk determined to achieve. Henceforth he became the champion of popular liberty in the pulpit. Feeling that in the people alone lay any hope of regeneration for Italy, he made it the work of his whole life to give the strength and sanction of religion to republican freedom. This work he sealed with martyrdom. The spirit of the creed which he bequeathed to his partisans in Florence was political no less than pious. Whether Savonarola was right to embark upon the perilous sea of statecraft cannot now be questioned. What prophet of Israel from Samuel to Isaiah was not the maker and destroyer of kings and constitutions? When we call him by their title, we mean to say that he, like them, controlled by spiritual force the fortunes of his people. Whether he sought it or not, this role of politician was thrust upon him by the course of events: nor was the history of Italian cities deficient in precedents of similar functions assumed by preaching friars.[1]

[1] It is enough to allude to Arnold of Brescia in Rome, to Fra Bussolari in Pavia, ami to John of Vicenza. Sec Appendix iv.

To Lorenzo succeeded the incompetent Piero de' Medici, who surrendered the fortresses of Tuscany to the French army. While Savonarola was prophesying a sword, a scourge, a deluge, Charles VIII. rode at the head of his knighthood into Florence. The city was leaderless, unused to liberty. Who but the monk who had predicted the invasion should now attempt to control it? Who but he whose voice alone had power to assemble and to sway the Florentines should now direct them? His administrative faculty in a narrow sphere had been proved by his reform of the Dominican Convents. His divine mission was authenticated by the arrival of the French. The Lord had raised him up to act as well as to utter. He felt this: the people felt it. He was not the man to refuse responsibility.

During the years of 1493 and 1494, when Florence together with Italy was in imminent peril, the voice of Savonarola never ceased to ring. His sermons on the psalm 'Quam bonus' and on the Ark of Noah are among the most stupendous triumphs of his eloquence. From his pulpit beneath the somber dome of Brunelleschi he kept pouring forth words of power to resuscitate the free spirit of his Florentines. In 1495, when the Medici had been expelled and the French army had gone upon its way to Naples, Savonarola was called upon to reconstitute the state. He bade the people abandon their old system of Parlamenti and Balia, and establish a Grand Council after the Venetian type.[1] This institution, which seemed to the Florentines the best they had ever adopted, might be regarded by the historian as only one among their many experiments in constitution-making, if Savonarola had not stamped it with his peculiar genius by announcing that Christ was to be considered the Head of the State.[2] This step at once gave a theocratic bias to the government, which determined all the acts of the monk's administration. Not content with political organization, too impatient to await the growth of good manners from sound institutions, he set about a moral and religious reformation. Pomps, vanities, and vices were to be abandoned. Immediately the women and the young men threw aside their silks and fine attire. The Carnival songs ceased. Hymns and processions took the place of obscene choruses and pagan triumphs. The laws were remodeled in the same severe and abrupt spirit. Usury was abolished. Whatever Savonarola ordained, Florence executed. By the magic of his influence the city for a moment assumed a new aspect. It seemed as though the old austerity which Dante and Villani praised were about to return without the factious hate and pride that ruined medaeival Tuscany. In everything done by Savonarola at this epoch there was a strange combination of political sagacity with monastic zeal. Neither Guicciardini nor Machiavelli, writing years afterwards, when Savonarola had fallen and Florence was again enslaved, could propose anything wiser than his Consiglio Grande. Yet the fierce revivalism advocated by the friar—the bonfire of Lorenzo di Credi's and Fra Bartolommeo's pictures, of MSS, of Boccaccio and classic poets, and of all those fineries which a Venetian Jew is said to have valued in one heap at 22,000 florins—the recitation of such Bacchanalian songs as this—

Never was there so sweet a gladness, Joy of so pure and strong a fashion, As with zeal and love and passion Thus to embrace Christ's holy madness! Cry with me, cry as I now cry, Madness, madness, holy madness!

—the procession of boys and girls through the streets, shaming their elders into hypocritical piety, and breeding in their own hearts the intolerable priggishness of premature pietism—could not bring forth excellent and solid fruits. The change was far too violent. The temper of the race was not prepared for it. It clashed too rudely with Renaissance culture. It outraged the sense of propriety in the more moderate citizens, and roused to vindictive fury the worst passions of the self-indulgent and the worldly. A reaction was inevitable.[3]

[1] This change was certainly wrought out by the influence of the friar and approved by him. Segni, lib. i. p. 15, speaks clearly on the point, and says that the friar for this service to the city 'debbe esser messo tra buoni datori di leggi, e debbe essere amato e onorato da' Fiorentini non altrimenti che Numa dai Romani e Solone dagli Ateniesi e Licurgo da' Lacedemoni.' The evil of the old system was that the Parlamento, which consisted of the citizens assembled in the Piazza, was exposed to intimidation, and had no proper initiative, while the Balia, or select body, to whom they then intrusted plenipotentiary authority, was always the faction for the moment uppermost. For the mode of working the Parlamento and Balia, see Segni, p. 199; Nardi, lib. vi. cap. 4; Varchi, vol. ii. p. 372. Savonarola inscribed this octave stanza on the wall of the Consiglio Grande:

'Se questo popolar consiglio e certo Governo, popol, de la tua cittate Conservi, che da Dio t'e stato offerto, In pace starai sempre e libertate: Tien dunque l'occhio della mente aperto, Che molte insidie ognor ti fien parate; E sappi che chi vuol far parlamento Vuol torti dalle mani il reggimento.'

[2] See Varchi, vol. i. p. 169. Niccolo Capponi, in 1527, returning to the policy of Savonarola, caused the Florentines to elect Christ for their king, and inscribed upon the door of the Palazzo Pubblico:—

Y.H.S. CHRISTUS REX FLORENTINI POPULI S.P. DECRETO ELECTUS.

[3] The position of the Puritan leaders in England was somewhat similar to Savonarola's. But they had at the end of a long war, the majority of the nation with them. Besides, the English temperament was more adapted to Puritanism than the Italian, nor were the manifestations of piety prescribed by Parliament so extravagant. And yet even in England a reaction took place under the Restoration.

Meanwhile the strong wine of prophecy intoxicated Savonarola. His fiery temperament, strained to the utmost by the dead weight of Florentine affairs that pressed upon him, became more irritable day by day. Vision succeeded vision; trance followed upon trance; agonies of dejection were suddenly transformed into outbursts of magnificent and soul-sustaining enthusiasm. It was no wonder if, passing as he had done from the discipline of the cloister to the dictatorship of a republic, he should make extravagant mistakes. The tension of this abnormal situation in the city grew to be excessive, and cool thinkers predicted that Savonarola's position would become untenable. Parties began to form and gather to a head. The followers of the monk, by far the largest section of the people, received the name of Piagnoni or Frateschi. The friends of the Medici, few at first and cautious, were called Bigi. The opponents of Savonarola and of the Medici, who hated his theocracy, but desired to see an oligarchy and not a tyranny in Florence, were known as the Arrabbiati.

The discontent which germinated in Florence displayed itself in Rome. Alexander found it intolerable to be assailed as Antichrist by a monk who had made himself master of the chief Italian republic. At first he used his arts of blandishment and honeyed words in order to lure Savonarola to Rome. The friar refused to quit Florence. Then Alexander suspended him from preaching. Savonarola obeyed, but wrote at the same time to Charles VIII. denouncing his indolence and calling upon him to reform the Church. At the request of the Florentine Republic, though still suffering from the Pope's interdict, he then resumed his preaching. Alexander sought next to corrupt the man he could not intimidate. To the suggestion that a Cardinal's hat might be offered him, Savonarola replied that he preferred the red crown of martyrdom. Ascending the pulpit of the Duomo in 1496, he preached the most fiery of all his Lenten courses. Of this series of orations Milman writes: 'His triumphal career began with the Advent of 1494 on Haggai and the Psalms. But it is in the Careme of 1496 on Amos and Zechariah that the preacher girds himself to his full strength, when he had attained his full authority, and could not but be conscious that there was a deep and dangerous rebellion brooding in the hearts of the hostile factions at Florence, and when already ominous rumors began to be heard from Rome. He that would know the power, the daring, the oratory of Savonarola, must study this volume.'[1]

[1] These sermons were printed from the notes taken by Lorenzo Violi in one volume at Venice, 1534.

Very terrific indeed are the denunciations contained in these discourses—denunciations fulminated without disguise against the Pope and priests of Rome, against the Medici, against the Florentines themselves, in whom the traces of rebellion were beginning to appear. Mingled with these vehement invectives, couched in Savonarola's most impassioned style and heightened by his most impressive imagery, are political harangues and polemical arguments against the Pope. The position assumed by the friar in his war with Rome was not a strong one, and the reasoning by which he supported it was marked by curious self-deception mingled with apparent efforts to deceive his audience. He had not the audacious originality of Luther. He never went to the length of braving Alexander by burning his bulls and by denying the authority of popes in general. Not daring to break all connection with the Holy See, he was driven to quibble about the distinction between the office and the man, assuming a hazardous attitude of obedience to the Church whose head and chief he daily outraged. At the same time he took no pains to enlist the sympathies of the Italian princes, many of whom might presumably have been hostile to the Pope, on his side of the quarrel. All the tyrants came in for a share of his prophetic indignation. Lodovico Sforza, the lord of Mirandola, and Piero de' Medici felt themselves specially aggrieved, and kept urging Alexander to extinguish this source of scandal to established governments. Against so great and powerful a host one man could not stand alone. Savonarola's position became daily more dangerous in Florence. The merchants, excommunicated by the Pope and thus exposed to pillage in foreign markets, grumbled at the friar who spoiled their trade. The ban of interdiction lay upon the city, where the sacraments could no longer be administered or the dead be buried with the rites of Christians. Meanwhile a band of high-spirited and profligate young men, called Compagnacci, used every occasion to insult and interrupt him. At last in March 1498 his staunch friends, the Signory, or supreme executive of Florence, suspended him from preaching in the Duomo. Even the populace were weary of the protracted quarrel with the Holy See: nor could any but his own fanatical adherents anticipate the wars which threatened the state, with equanimity.

Savonarola himself felt that the supreme hour was come. One more resource was left; to that he would now betake himself: he could afterwards but die. This last step was the convening of a general council.[1] Accordingly he addressed letters to all the European potentates. One of these, inscribed to Charles VIII., was dispatched, intercepted, and conveyed to Alexander. He wrote also to the Pope and warned him of his purpose. The termination of that epistle is noteworthy: 'I can thus have no longer any hope in your Holiness, but must turn to Christ alone, who chooses the weak of this world to confound the strong lions among the perverse generations. He will assist me to prove and sustain, in the face of the world, the holiness of the work for the sake of which I so greatly suffer: and He will inflict a just punishment on those who persecute me and would impede its progress. As for myself, I seek no earthly glory, but long eagerly for death. May your Holiness no longer delay but look to your salvation.'

[1] This scheme was by no means utterly unpractical. The Borgia had only just escaped deposition in 1495 by the gift of a Cardinal's hat to the Bishop of S. Malo. He was hated no less than feared through the length and breadth of Italy. But Savonarola had allowed the favorable moment to pass by.

But while girding on his armor for this singlehanded combat with the Primate of Christendom and the Princes of Italy, the martyrdom to which Savonarola now looked forward fell upon him. Growing yearly more confident in his visions and more willing to admit his supernatural powers, he had imperceptibly prepared the pit which finally ingulfed him. Often had he professed his readiness to prove his vocation by fire. Now came the moment when this defiance to an ordeal was answered.[1] A Franciscan of Apulia offered to meet him in the flames and see whether he were of God or not. Fra Domenico, Savonarola's devoted friend, took up the gauntlet and proposed himself as champion. The furnace was prepared: both monks stood ready to enter it: all Florence was assembled in the Piazza to witness what should happen. Various obstacles, however, arose; and after waiting a whole day for the friar's triumph, the people had to retire to their homes under a pelting shower of rain, unsatisfied, and with a dreary sense that after all their prophet was but a mere man. The Compagnacci got the upper hand. S. Mark's convent was besieged. Savonarola was led to prison, never to issue till the day of his execution by the rope and faggot. We may draw a veil over those last weeks. Little indeed is known about them, except that in his cell the Friar composed his meditations on the the 31st and 51st Psalms, the latter of which was published in Germany with a preface by Luther in 1573. Of the rest we hear only of prolonged torture before stupid and malignant judges, of falsified evidence and of contradictory confessions. What he really said and chose to stand by, what he retracted, what he shrieked out in the delirium of the rack, and what was falsely imputed to him, no one now can settle.[2] Though the spirit was strong, the flesh was weak; he had the will but not the nerve to be a martyr. At ten o'clock on the 23d of May 1498 he was led forth together with brother Salvestro, the confidant of his visions, and brother Domenico, his champion in the affair of the ordeal, to a stage prepared in the Piazza.[3] These two men were hanged first. Savonarola was left till the last. As the hangman tied the rope round his neck, a voice from the crowd shouted: 'Prophet, now is the time to perform a miracle!' The Bishop of Vasona, who conducted the execution, stripped his friar's frock from him, and said, 'I separate thee from the Church militant and triumphant.' Savonarola, firm and combative even at the point of death, replied, 'Militant yes: triumphant, no: that is not yours.' The last words he uttered were, 'The Lord has suffered as much for me.' Then the noose was tightened round his neck. The fire beneath was lighted. The flames did not reach his body while life was in it; but those who gazed intently thought they saw the right hand give the sign of benediction. A little child afterwards saw his heart still whole among the ashes cast into the Arno; and almost to this day flowers have been placed every morning of the 23d of May upon the slab of the Piazza where his body fell.

[1] There seems to be no doubt that this Ordeal by Fire was finally got up by the Compagnacci with the sanction of the Signory, who were anxious to relieve themselves by any means of Savonarola. The Franciscan chosen to enter the flames together with Fra Domenico was a certain Giuliano Rondinelli. Nardi calls him Andrea Rondinelli.

[2] Nardi, lib. ii. vol. i. p. 128, treats the whole matter of Savonarola's confessions under torture with good sense. He says: 'Avendo domandato il frate quello che diceva e affermava delle sue esamine fatte infino a quel di, rispose, che cio ch' egli aveva ne' tempi passati detto e predetto era la pura verita, e che quello di che s'era ridetto e aveva ritratto, era tutto falso e era seguito per il dolor grande e per la paura che egli aveva de' tormenti, e che di nuovo si ridirebbe e ritratterebbe tante volte, quante ci fusse di nuovo tormentato, percio che si conosceva molto debole e inconstante nel sopportare i supplicii.' Burchard, in his Diary, reports the childish, foul, malignant gossip current in Rome. This may be read in the 'Preuves et Observations' appended to the Memoirs of De Comines, vol. v. p. 512. See the Marchese Gino Capponi's Storia della Firenze (tom. ii. pp. 248-51) for a critical analysis of the depositions falsely ascribed to Savonarola.

[3] There is a curious old picture in the Pinacoteca of Perugia which represents the burning of the three friars. The whole Piazza della Signoria is shown, with the houses of the fifteenth century, and without the statues which afterwards adorned it. The spectator fronts the Palazzo, and has to his extreme right the Loggia de' Lanzi. The center of the square is occupied by a great circular pile of billets and fagots, to which a wooden bridge of scaffolding leads from the left angle of the Polazzo. From the middle of the pile rises a pole, to which the bodies of the friars in their white clothes are suspended. Sta Maria del Fiore, the Badia tower, and the distant hills above Fiesole complete a scene which is no doubt accurate in detail.

Thus died Savonarola: and immediately he became a saint. His sermons and other works were universally distributed. Medals in his honor were struck. Raphael painted him among the Doctors of the Church in the Camera della Segnatura of the Vatican. The Church, with strange inconsistency, proposed to canonize the man whom she had burned as a contumacious heretic and a corrupter of the people. This canonization never took place: but many Dominican Churches used a special office with his name and in his honor.[1] A legend similar to that of S. Francis in its wealth of mythical details embalmed the memory of even the smallest details of his life. But, above all, he lived in the hearts of the Florentines. For many years to come his name was the watchword of their freedom; his prophecies sustained their spirit during the siege of 1528;[2] and it was only by returning to his policy that Niccolo Capponi and Francesco Carducci ruled the people through those troublous times. The political action of Savonarola forms but a short episode in the history of Florence. His moral revival belongs to the history of popular enthusiasm. His philosophical and theological writings are chiefly interesting to the student of post-medaeival scholasticism. His attitude as a monastic leader of the populace, attempting to play the old game whereby the factious warfare of a previous age had been suspended by appeals to piety, and politicians had looked for aid outside the nation, was anachronistic. But his prophecy, his insight into the coming of a new era for the Church and for Italy, is a main fact in the psychology of the Renaissance.

[1] Officio del Savonarola, with preface by Cesare Guasti. Firenze, 1863.

[2] Guicciardini, in his Ricordt, No. i., refers the incredible obstinacy of the Florentines at this period in hoping against all hope and reason to Savonarola: 'questa ostinazione ha causata in gran parte a fede di non potere perire, secondo le predicazioni di Fra Jeronirno da Ferrara.'



CHAPTER X.

CHARLES VIII.

The Italian States confront the Great Nations of Europe—Policy of Louis XI. of France—Character of Charles VIII.—Preparations for the Invasion of Italy—Position of Lodovico Sforza—Diplomatic Difficulties in Italy after the Death of Lorenzo de' Medici—Weakness of the Republics—II Moro—The year 1494—Alfonso of Naples—Inefficiency of the Allies to cope with France—Charles at Lyons is stirred up to the Invasion of Italy by Giuliano della Rovere—Charles at Asti and Pavia—Murder of Gian Galeazzo Sforza—Mistrust in the French Army—Rapallo and Fivizzano—The Entrance into Tuscany—Part played by Piero de' Medici—Charles at Pisa—His Entrance into Florence—Piero Capponi—The March on Rome—Entry into Rome—Panic of Alexander VI.—The March on Naples—The Spanish Dynasty: Alfonso and Ferdinand—Alfonso II. escapes to Sicily—Ferdinand II. takes Refuge in Ischia—Charles at Naples—The League against the French—De Comines at Venice—Charles makes his Retreat by Rome, Siena, Pisa, and Pontremoli—The Battle of Fornovo—Charles reaches Asti and returns to France—Italy becomes the Prize to be fought for by France, Spain, and Germany—Importance of the Expedition of Charles VIII.

One of the chief features of the Renaissance was the appearance for the first time on the stage of history of full-formed and colossal nations. France, Spain, Austria, and England are now to measure their strength. Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, even Rome, are destined in the period that is opening for Europe to play but secondary parts. Italy, incapable of coping with these great powers, will become the mere arena of their contests, the object of their spoliations. Yet the Italians themselves were far from being conscious of this change. Accustomed through three centuries to a system of diplomacy and intrigue among their own small states, they still thought more of the balance of power within the peninsula than of the means to be adopted for repelling foreign force. Their petty jealousies kept them disunited at an epoch when the best chance of national freedom lay in a federation. Firmly linked together in one league, or subject to a single prince, the Italians might not only have met their foes on equal ground, but even have taken a foremost place among the modern nations.[1] Instead of that, their princes were foolish enough to think that they could set France, Germany, or Spain in motion for the attainment of selfish objects within the narrow sphere of Italian politics, forgetting the disproportion between these huge monarchies and a single city like Florence, a mere province like the Milanese. It was just possible for Lorenzo de' Medici to secure the tranquillity of Italy by combining the Houses of Sforza and of Aragon with the Papal See in the chains of the same interested policy with the Commonwealth of Florence. It was ridiculous of Lodovico Sforza to fancy that he could bring the French into the game of peninsular intrigue without irrevocably ruining its artificial equilibrium. The first sign of the alteration about to take place in European history was the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII. This holiday excursion of a hairbrained youth was as transient as a border-foray on a large scale. The so-called conquest was only less sudden than the subsequent loss of Italy by the French. Yet the tornado which swept the peninsula from north to south, and returned upon its path from south to north within the space of a few months, left ineffaceable traces on the country which it traversed, and changed the whole complexion of the politics of Europe.

[1] Read, however, Sismondi's able argument against the view that Italy, united as a single nation under a sovereign, would have been better off, vol. vii. p. 298 et seq. He is of opinion that her only chance lay in a Confederation. See chapter ii. above, for a discussion of this chance.

The invasion of Italy had been long prepared in the counsels of Louis XI. After spending his lifetime in the consolidation of the French monarchy, he constructed an inheritance of further empire for his successors by dictating to the old King Rene of Anjou (1474) and to the Count of Maine (1481) the two wills by which the pretensions of the House of Anjou to the Crown of Naples were transmitted to the royal family of France.[1] On the death of Louis, Charles VIII. became King in 1483. He was then aged only thirteen, and was still governed by his elder sister, Anne de Beaujeu.[2] It was not until 1492 that he actually took the reins of the kingdom into his own hands. This year, we may remark, is one of the most memorable dates in history. In 1492 Columbus discovered America: in 1492 Roderigo Borgia was made Pope: in 1492 Spain became a nation by the conquest of Granada. Each of these events was no less fruitful of consequences to Italy than was the accession of Charles VIII. The discovery of America, followed in another six years by Vasco de' Gama's exploration of the Indian seas, diverted the commerce of the world into new channels; Alexander VI. made the Reformation and the Northern Schism certainties; the consolidation of Spain prepared a way for the autocracy of Charles V. Thus the commercial, the spiritual, and the political scepter fell in this one year from the grasp of the Italians.

[1] Sismondi, vol. vi. p. 285. The Appendix of Pieces Justificatives to Philip de Comines' Memoirs contains the will of Rene King of Sicily, Count of Provence, dated July 22, 1474, by which he constitutes his nephew, Charles of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, Count of Maine, his heir-in-chief; as well as the will of Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, Count of Provence, dated December 10, 1481, by which he makes Louis XI. his heir, naming Charles the Dauphin next in succession.

[2] Her husband was a cadet of the House of Bourbon.

Both Philip de Comines and Guicciardini have described the appearance and the character of the prince who was destined to play a part so prominent, so pregnant of results, and yet so trivial in the affairs of Europe. Providence, it would seem, deigns frequently to use for the most momentous purposes some pantaloon or puppet, environing with special protection and with the prayers and aspirations of whole peoples a mere manikin. Such a puppet was Charles. 'From infancy he had been weak in constitution and subject to illness. His stature was short, and his face very ugly, if you except the dignity and vigor of his glance. His limbs were so disproportioned that he had less the appearance of a man than of a monster. Not only was he ignorant of liberal arts, but he hardly knew his letters. Though eager to rule, he was in truth made for anything but that; for while surrounded by dependents, he exercised no authority over them and preserved no kind of majesty. Hating business and fatigue, he displayed in such matters as he took in hand a want of prudence and of judgment. His desire for glory sprang rather from impulse than from reason. His liberality was inconsiderate, immoderate, promiscuous. When he displayed inflexibility of purpose, it was more often an ill-founded obstinacy than firmness, and that which many people called his goodness of nature rather deserved the name of coldness and feebleness of spirit.' This is Guicciardini's portrait. De Comines is more brief: 'The king was young, a fledgling from the nest; provided neither with money nor with good sense; weak, willful, and surrounded by foolish counselors.'

These foolish counselors, or, as Guicciardini calls them, 'men of low estate, body-servants for the most part of the king,' were headed by Stephen de Vesc, who had been raised from the post of the king's valet de chambre to be the Seneschal de Beaucaire, and by William Briconnet, formerly a merchant, now Bishop of S. Malo. These men had everything to gain by an undertaking which would flatter the vanity of their master, and draw him into still closer relations with themselves. Consequently, when the Count of Belgioioso arrived at the French Court from Milan, urging the king to press his claims on Naples, and promising him a free entrance into Italy through the province of Lombardy and the port of Genoa, he found ready listeners. Anne de Beaujeu in vain opposed the scheme. The splendor and novelty of the proposal to conquer such a realm as Italy inflamed the imagination of Charles, the cupidity of his courtiers, the ambition of de Vesc and Briconnet. In order to assure his situation at home, Charles concluded treaties with the neighboring great powers. He bought peace with Henry VII. of England by the payment of large sums of money. The Emperor Maximilian, whose resentment he had aroused by sending back his daughter Margaret after breaking his promise to marry her, and by taking to wife Anne of Brittany, who was already engaged to the Austrian, had to be appeased by the cession of provinces. Ferdinand of Spain received as the price of his neutrality the strong places of the Pyrenees which formed the key to France upon that side. Having thus secured tranquillity at home by ruinous concessions, Charles was free to turn his attention to Italy. He began by concentrating stores and ships on the southern ports of Marseilles and Genoa; then he moved downward with his army, to Lyons, in 1494.

At this point we are called to consider the affairs of Italy, which led the Sforza to invite his dangerous ally. Lorenzo de' Medici during his lifetime had maintained a balance of power between the several states by his treaties with the Courts of Milan, Naples, and Ferrara. When he died, Piero at once showed signs of departure from his father's policy. The son and husband of Orsini,[1] he embraced the feudal pride and traditional partialities of the great Roman house who had always been devoted to the cause of Naples. The suspicions of Lodovico Sforza were not unreasonably aroused by noticing that the tyrant of Florence inclined to the alliance of King Ferdinand rather than to his own friendship. At this same time Alfonso, the Duke of Calabria, heir to the throne of Naples, was pressing the rights of his son-in-law, Gian Galeazzo Sforza, on the attention of Italy, complaining loudly that his uncle Lodovico ought no longer to withhold from him the reins of government.[2] Gian Galcazzo was in fact the legitimate successor of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who had been murdered in Santo Stefano in 1476. After this assassination Madonna Bona of Savoy and Cecco Simonetta, who had administered the Duchy as grand vizier during three reigns extending over a period of half a century, governed Milan as regents for the young Duke. But Lodovico, feeling himself powerful enough to assume the tyranny, beheaded Simonetta at Pavia in 1480, and caused Madonna Bona, the Duke's mother, on the pretext of her immorality, to quit the regency. Thus he took the affairs of Milan into his own hands, confined his nephew in an honorable prison, and acted in a way to make it clear that he intended thenceforth to be Duke in fact.[3] It was the bad conscience inseparable from this usurpation which made him mistrust the princes of the house of Aragon, whose rights in Isabella, wife of the young Duke, were set at nought by him. The same uneasy sense of wrong inclined him to look with dread upon the friendship of the Medici for the ruling family of Naples.

[1] His mother Clarice and his wife Alfonsina were both of them Orsini. Guicciardini, in his 'Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze' (Op. Ined. vol. ii. p. 46), says of him: 'sendo nato di madre forestiera, era imbastardito in lui il sangue Fiorentino, e degenerato in costumi esterni, e troppo insolenti e altieri al nostro vivere.' Piero, nevertheless, refused to accept estates from King Alfonso which would have made him a Baron and feudatory of Naples. See Arch. Stor. vol. i. p. 347.

[2] The young Duke was aged twenty-four in 1493.

[3] Lodovico had taken measures for cloaking his usurpation with the show of legitimate right. He betrothed his niece Bianca Maria, in 1494, to the Emperor Maximilian, with a dower of 400,000 ducats, receiving in return an investiture of the Duchy, which, however, he kept secret.

While affairs were in this state, and as yet no open disturbance in Lorenzo's balance of power had taken place, Alexander VI. was elected to the Papacy. It was usual for the princes and cities of Italy to compliment the Pope with embassies on his assumption of the tiara; and Lodovico suggested that the representatives of Milan, Florence, Ferrara, and Naples should enter Rome together in a body. The foolish vanity of Piero, who wanted to display the splendor of his own equipage without rivals, induced him to refuse this proposal, and led to a similar refusal on the part of Ferdinand. This trivial circumstance confirmed the suspicions of Lodovico, who, naturally subtle and intriguing, thought that he discerned a deep political design in what was really little more than the personal conceit of a broad-shouldered simpleton.[1] He already foresaw that the old system of alliances established by Lorenzo must be abandoned. Another slight incident contributed to throw the affairs of Italy into confusion by causing a rupture between Rome and Naples. Lorenzo, by the marriage of his daughter to Franceschetto Cibo, had contrived to engage Innocent VIII. in the scheme of policy which he framed for Florence, Naples, Milan, and Ferrara. But on the accession of Alexander, Franceschetto Cibo determined to get rid of Anguillara, Cervetri, and other fiefs, which he had taken with his father's connivance from the Church. He found a purchaser in Virginio Orsini. Alexander complained that the sale was an infringement of his rights. Ferdinand supported the title of the Orsini to his new acquisitions. This alienated the Pope from the King of Naples, and made him willing to join with Milan and Venice in a new league formed in 1493.

[1] Piero de' Medici was what the French call a bel homme, and little more. He was tall, muscular, and well-made, the best player at pallone in Italy, a good horseman, fluent and agreeable in conversation, and excessively vain of these advantages.

Thus the old equilibrium was destroyed, and fresh combinations between the disunited powers of Italy took place. Lodovico, however, dared not trust his new friends. Venice had too long hankered after Milan to be depended upon for real support; and Alexander was known to be in treaty for a matrimonial alliance between his son Geoffrey and Donna Sancia of Aragon. Lodovico was therefore alone, without a firm ally in Italy, and with a manifestly fraudulent title to maintain. At this juncture he turned his eyes towards France; while his father-in-law, the Duke of Ferrara, who secretly hated him, and who selfishly hoped to secure his own advantage in the general confusion which he anticipated, urged him to this fatal course. Alexander at the same time, wishing to frighten the princes of Naples into a conclusion of the projected marriage, followed the lead of Lodovico, and showed himself at this moment not averse to a French invasion.

It was in this way that the private cupidities and spites of princes brought woe on Italy: Lodovico's determination to secure himself in the usurped Duchy of Milan, Ercole d' Este's concealed hatred, and Alexander's unholy eagerness to aggrandize his bastards, were the vile and trivial causes of an event which, however inevitable, ought to have been as long as possible deferred by all true patriots in Italy. But in Italy there was no zeal for freedom left, no honor among princes, no virtue in the Church. Italy, which in the thirteenth century numbered 1,800,000 citizens—that is, members of free cities, exercising the franchise in the government of their own states—could show in the fifteenth only about 18,000 such burghers:[1] and these in Venice were subject to the tyranny of the Council of Ten, in Florence had been enervated by the Medici, in Siena were reduced by party feuds and vulgar despotism to political imbecility. Amid all the splendors of revived literature and art, of gorgeous courts and refined societies, this indeed was the right moment for the Dominican visionary to publish his prophecies, and for the hunchback puppet of destiny to fulfill them. Guicciardini deplores, not without reason, the bitter sarcasm of fate which imposed upon his country the insult of such a conqueror as Charles. He might with equal justice have pointed out in Lodovico Sforza the actor of a tragi-comic part upon the stage of Italy. Lodovico, called II Moro, not, as the great historian asserts, because he was of dark complexion, but because he had adopted the mulberry-tree for his device,[2] was in himself an epitome of all the qualities which for the last two centuries had contributed to the degradation of Italy in the persons of the despots. Gifted originally with good abilities, he had so accustomed himself to petty intrigues that he was now incapable of taking a straightforward step in any direction. While he boasted himself the Son of Fortune and listened with complacency to a foolish rhyme that ran: God only and the Moor foreknow the future safe and sure, he never acted without blundering, and lived to end his days in the intolerable tedium of imprisonment at Loches. He was a thoughtful and painstaking ruler; yet he so far failed to win the affection of his subjects that they tossed up their caps for joy at the first chance of getting rid of him. He disliked bloodshed; but the judicial murder of Simonetta, and the arts by which he forced his nephew into an early grave, have left an ineffaceable stain upon his memory. His court was adorned by the presence of Lionardo da Vinci; but at the same time it was so corrupt that, as Corio tells us,[3] fathers sold their daughters, brothers their sisters, and husbands their wives there. In a word Lodovico, in spite of his boasted prudence, wrought the ruin of Italy and himself by his tortuous policy, and contributed by his private crimes and dissolute style of living no little to the general depravity of his country.[4]

[1] This is Sismondi's calculation (vol. vii. p. 305). It must be taken as a rough one. Still students who have weighed the facts presented in Ferrari's Rivoluzioni d' Italia will not think the estimate exaggerated. In the municipal and civil wars, free burghs were extinguished by the score.

[2] See Varchi, vol. i. p. 49. Also the Elogia of Paulus Jovius, who remarks that the complexion of Lodovico was fair. His surname, however, provoked puns. Me had, for example, a picture painted, in which Italy, dressed like a queen, is having her robe brushed by a Moorish page. A motto ran beneath, Per Italia nettar d' ogni bruttura. He adopted the mulberry because Pliny called it the most prudent of all trees, inasmuch as it waits till winter is well over to put forth its leaves, and Lodovico piqued himself on his sagacity in choosing the right moment for action.

[3] L' Historia di Milano, Vinegia, 1554, p. 448: 'A quella (scola di Venere) per ogni canto vi si convenivan bellissimi giovani. I padri vi concedevano le figliuole, i mariti le mogliere, i fratelli le sorelle; e per sifatto modo senz' alcun riguardo molti concorreano all' amoroso ballo, che cosa stupendissima era riputata per qualunque l' intendeva.'

[4] Guicciardini, Storia d' Italia, lib. iii. p. 35, sums up the character of Lodovico with masterly completeness.

Amid this general perturbation of the old political order the year 1494, marked in its first month by the death of King Ferdinand, began—'a year,' to quote from Guicciardini, 'the most unfortunate for Italy, the very first in truth of our disastrous years, since it opened the door to numberless and horrible calamities, in which it may be said that a great portion of the world has subsequently shared.' The expectation and uneasiness of the whole nation were proportioned to the magnitude of the coming change. On every side the invasion of the French was regarded with that sort of fascination which a very new and exciting event is wont to inspire. In one mood the Italians were inclined to hail Charles as a general pacificator and restorer of old liberties.[1] Savonarola had preached of him as the flagellum Dei, the minister appointed to regenerate the Church and purify the font of spiritual life in the peninsula. In another frame of mind they shuddered to think what the advent of the barbarians—so the French were called—might bring upon them. It was universally agreed that Lodovico by his invitation had done no more than bring down, as it were, by a breath the avalanche which had been long impending. 'Not only the preparations made by land and sea, but also the consent of the heavens and of men, announced the woes in store for Italy. Those who pretend either by art or divine inspiration to the knowledge of the future, proclaimed unanimously that greater and more frequent changes, occurrences more strange and awful than had for many centuries been seen in any part of the world, were at hand.' After enumerating divers signs and portents, such as the passing day after day in the region round Arezzo of innumerable armed men mounted on gigantic horses with a hideous din of drums and trumpets, the great historian resumes: 'These things filled the people with incredible fear; for, long before, they had been terrified by the reputation of the power of the French and of their fierceness, seeing that histories are full of their deeds—how they had already overrun the whole of Italy, sacked the city of Rome with fire and sword, subdued many provinces of Asia, and at one time or another smitten with their arms all quarters of the world.'

[1] This was the strictly popular as opposed to the aristocratic feeling. The common folk, eager for novelty and smarting under the bad rule of monsters like the Aragonese princes, expected in Charles VIII. a Messiah, and cried 'Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.' See passages quoted in a note below.

Among all the potentates of Italy, Alfonso of Naples had the most to dread; for against him the invasion was specially directed. No time was to be lost. He assembled his allies at Vicovaro near Tivoli in July and explained to them his theory of resistance. The allies were Florence, Rome, Bologna, and all the minor powers of Romagna.[1] For once the southern and the middle states of Italy were united against a common foe. After Alfonso, Alexander felt himself in greatest peril, for he dreaded the assembly of a Council which might depose him from the throne he had bought by simony. So strong was his terror that he had already sent ambassadors to the Sultan imploring him for aid against the Most Christian King, and had entreated Ferdinand the Catholic, instead of undertaking a crusade against the Turk, to employ his arms in opposition to the French. But Bajazet was too far off to be of use; and Ferdinand was prudent. It remained for the allies to repel the invader by their unassisted force. This might have been done if Alfonso's plan had been adhered to. He designed sending a fleet, under his brother Don Federigo, to Genoa, and holding with his own troops the passes of the Apennines to the North, while Piero de' Medici undertook to guard the entrances to Tuscany on the side of Lunigiana. The Duke of Calabria meanwhile was to raise Gian Galeazzo's standard in Lombardy. But that absolute agreement which is necessary in the execution of a scheme so bold and comprehensive was impossible in Italy. The Pope insisted that attention should first be paid to the Colonnesi—Prospero and Fabrizio being secret friends of France, and their castles offering a desirable booty. Alfonso, therefore, determined to occupy the confines of the Roman territory on the side of the Abruzzi, while he sent his son, with the generals Giovan Jacopo da Trivulzi and the Count of Pitigliano, into Lombardy. They never advanced beyond Cesena, where the troops of the Sforza, in conjunction with the French, held them at bay. The fleet under Don Federigo sailed too late to effect the desired rising in Genoa. The French, forewarned, had thrown 2,000 Swiss under the Baily of Dijon and the Duke of Orleans into the city, and the Neapolitan admiral fell back upon Leghorn. The forces of the league were further enfeebled and divided by the necessity of leaving Virginio Orsini to check the Colonnesi in the neighborhood of Rome. How utterly Piero de' Medici by his folly and defection ruined what remained of the plan will be seen in the sequel. This sluggishness in action and dismemberment of forces—this total inability to strike a sudden blow—sealed beforehand the success of Charles. Alfonso, a tyrant afraid of his own subjects, Alexander, a Pope who had bought the tiara to the disgust of Christendom, Piero, conscious that his policy was disapproved by the Florentines, together with a parcel of egotistical petty despots, were not the men to save a nation. Italy was conquered, not by the French king, but by the vices of her own leaders. The whole history of Charles's expedition is one narrative of headlong rashness triumphing over difficulties and dangers which only the discord of tyrants and the disorganization of peoples rendered harmless. The Ate of the gods had descended upon Italy, as though to justify the common belief that the expedition of Charles was divinely sustained and guided.[2]

[1] Venice remained neutral. She had refused to side with Charles, on the pretext that the fear of the Turk kept her engaged. She declined to join the league of Alfonso by saying it was mad to save others at the risk of drawing the war into your own territory. Nothing is more striking than the want of patriotic sentiment or generous concurrence to a common end in Italy at this time. Florence, by temper and tradition favorable to France, had been drawn into the league by Piero de' Medici, whose sympathies were firm for the Aragonese princes.

[2] This, of course, was Savonarola's prophecy. But both Guicciardini and De Comities use invariably the same language. The phrase Dieu monstroit conduire l'entreprise frequently recurs in the Memoirs of De Comines.

While Alfonso and Alexander were providing for their safety in the South, Charles remained at Lyons, still uncertain whether he should enter Italy by sea or land, or indeed whether he should enter it at all. Having advanced so far as the Rhone valley, he felt satisfied with his achievement and indulged himself in a long bout of tournaments and pastimes. Besides, the want of money, which was to be his chief embarrassment throughout the expedition, had already made itself felt.[1] It was an Italian who at length roused him to make good his purpose against Italy—Giuliano della Rovere,[2] the haughty nephew of Sixtus, the implacable foe of Alexander, whom he was destined to succeed in course of time upon the Papal throne. Burning to punish the Marrano, or apostate Moor, as he called Alexander, Giuliano stirred the king with taunts and menaces until Charles felt he could delay his march no longer. When once the French army got under weigh, it moved rapidly. Leaving Vienne on August 23, 1494, 3,600 men at arms, the flower of the French chivalry, 6,000 Breton archers, 6,000 crossbowmen, 8,000 Gascon infantry, 8,000 Swiss and German lances, crossed the Mont Genevre, debouched on Susa, passed through Turin, and entered Asti on September 19.[3] Neither Piedmont nor Montferrat stirred to resist them. Yet at almost any point upon the route they might have been at least delayed by hardy mountaineers until the commissariat of so large a force had proved an insurmountable difficulty. But before this hunchback conqueror with the big head and little legs, the valleys had been exalted and the rough places had been made plain. The princes whose interest it might have been to throw obstacles in the way of Charles were but children. The Duke of Savoy was only twelve years old, the Marquis of Montferrat fourteen; their mothers and guardians made terms with the French king, and opened their territories to his armies.

[1] 'La despense de ces navires estoit fort grande, et suis d'advis qu'elle cousta trois cens mille francs, et si ne servit de rien, et y alla tout l'argent contant que le Roy peut finer de ses finances: car comme j'ay dit, il n'estoit point pourveu ne de sens, ne d'argent, oy d'autre chose necessaire a telle entreprise, et si en vint bien a bout, moyennant la grace de Dieu, qui clairement le donna ainsi a cognoistre.' De Comines, lib. vii.

[2] Guicciardini calls him on this occasion 'fatale instrumento e allora e prima e poi de' mali d' Italia.' Lib. i. cap. 3.

[3] I have followed the calculation of Sismondi (vol. vii. p. 383), to which should be added perhaps another 10,000 in all attached to the artillery, and 2,000 for sappers, miners, carpenters, etc. See Dennistoun, Dukes of Urbino, vol. i. p. 433, for a detailed list of Charles's armaments by land and sea.

At Asti Charles was met by Lodovico Sforza and his father-in-law, Ercole d' Este. The whole of that Milanese Court which Corio describes[1] followed in their train. It was the policy of the Italian princes to entrap their conqueror with courtesies, and to entangle in silken meshes the barbarian they dreaded. What had happened already at Lyons, what was going to repeat itself at Naples, took place at Asti. The French king lost his heart to ladies, and confused his policy by promises made to Delilahs in the ballroom. At Asti he fell ill of the small-pox, but after a short time he recovered his health, and proceeded to Pavia. Here a serious entanglement of interests arose. Charles was bound by treaties and engagements to Lodovico and his proud wife Beatrice d' Este; the very object of his expedition was to dethrone Alfonso and to assume the crown of Naples; yet at Pavia he had to endure the pathetic spectacle of his forlorn cousin[2] the young Giovanni Galeazzo Sforza in prison, and to hear the piteous pleadings of the beautiful Isabella of Aragon. Nursed in chivalrous traditions, incapable of resisting a woman's tears, what was Charles to do, when this princess in distress, the wife of his first cousin, the victim of his friend Lodovico, the sister of his foe Alfonso, fell at his feet and besought him to have mercy on her husband, on her brother, on herself? The situation was indeed enough to move a stouter heart than that of the feeble young king. For the moment Charles returned evasive answers to his petitioners; but the trouble of his soul was manifest, and no sooner had he set forth on his way to Piacenza than the Moor resolved to remove the cause of further vacillation. Sending to Pavia, Lodovico had his nephew poisoned.[3] When the news of Gian Galeazzo's death reached the French camp, it spread terror and imbittered the mistrust which was already springing up between the frank cavaliers and the plausible Italians with whom they had to deal.

[1] See above, p. 548.

[2] The mothers of Charles VIII. and Gian Galeazzo were sisters, princesses of Savoy.

[3] Sismondi does not discuss the fact minutely, but he inclines to believe that Gian Galeazzo was murdered. Michelet raises a doubt about it, though the evidence is such as he would have accepted without question in the case of a Borgia. Guicciardini, who recounts the whole matter at length, says that all Italy believed the Duke had been murdered, and quotes Teodoro da Pavia, one of the royal physicians, who attested to having seen clear signs of a slow poison in the young man. Pontano, de Prudentia, lib. 4, repeats the accusation. Guicciardini only doubts Lodovico's motives. He inclines to think the murder had been planned long before, and that Charles was invited into Italy in order that Lodovico might have a good opportunity for effecting it, while at the same time he had taken care to get the investiture of the Duchy from the Emperor ready against the event.

What was this beautiful land in the midst of which they found themselves, a land whose marble palaces were thronged with cut-throats in disguise, whose princes poisoned while they smiled, whose luxuriant meadows concealed fever, whose ladies carried disease upon their lips? To the captains and the soldiery of France, Italy already appeared a splendid and fascinating Circe, arrayed with charms, surrounded with illusions, hiding behind perfumed thickets her victims changed to brutes, and building the couch of her seduction on the bones of murdered men. Yet she was so beautiful that, halt as they might for a moment and gaze back with yearning on the Alps that they had crossed, they found themselves unable to resist her smile. Forward they must march through the garden of enchantment, henceforth taking the precaution to walk with drawn sword, and, like Orlando in Morgana's park, to stuff their casques with roses that they might not hear the siren's voice too clearly. It was thus that Italy began the part she played through the Renaissance for the people of the North. The White Devil of Italy is the title of one of Webster's best tragedies. A white Devil, a radiant daughter of sin and death, holding in her hands the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and tempting the nations to eat: this is how Italy struck the fancy of the men of the sixteenth century. She was feminine, and they were virile; but she could teach and they must learn. She gave them pleasure; they brought force. The fruit of her embraces with the nations was the spirit of modern culture, the genius of the age in which we live.

Two terrible calamities warned the Italians with what new enemies they had to deal. Twice at the commencement of the invasion did the French use the sword which they had drawn to intimidate the sorceress. These terror-striking examples were the massacres of the inhabitants of Rapallo on the Genoese Riviera, and of Fivizzano in Lunigiana. Soldiers and burghers, even prisoners and wounded men in the hospitals, were butchered, first by the Swiss and German guards, and afterwards by the French, who would not be outdone by them in energy. It was thus that the Italians, after a century of bloodless battles and parade campaigning, learned a new art of war, and witnessed the first act of those Apocalyptic tragedies which were destined to drown the peninsula with French, Spanish, German, Swiss, and native blood.

Meanwhile the French host had reached Parma, traversing, all through the golden autumn weather, those plains where mulberry and elm are married by festoons of vines above a billowy expanse of maize and corn. From Parma, placed beneath the northern spurs of the Apennines, to Sarzana, on the western coast of Italy, where the marbles of Carrara build their barrier against the Tyrrhene Sea, there leads a winding barren mountain pass. Charles took this route with his army, and arrived in the beginning of November before the walls of Sarzana. Meanwhile we may well ask what Piero de' Medici had been doing, and how he had fulfilled his engagement with Alfonso. He had undertaken, it will be remembered, to hold the passes of the Apennines upon this side. To have embarrassed the French troops among those limestone mountains, thinly forested with pine and chestnut-trees, and guarded here and there with ancient fortresses, would have been a matter of no difficulty. With like advantages 2,000 Swiss troops during their wars of independence would have laughed to scorn the whole forces of Burgundy and Austria. But Piero, a feeble and false tyrant, preoccupied with Florentine factions, afraid of Lucca, and disinclined to push forward into the territory of the Sforza, had as yet done nothing when the news arrived that Sarzana was on the point of capitulation. In this moment of peril he rode as fast as horses could carry him to the French camp, besought an interview with Charles, and then and there delivered up to him the keys of Sarzana and its citadel, together with those of Pietra Santa, Librafratta, Pisa, and Leghorn. Any one who has followed the sea-coast between Pisa and Sarzana can appreciate the enormous value of these concessions to the invader. They relieved him of the difficulty of forcing his way along a narrow belt of land, which is hemmed in on one side by the sea and on the other by the highest and most abrupt mountain range in Italy. To have done this in the teeth of a resisting army and beneath the walls of hostile castles would have been all but impossible. As it was, Piero cut the Gordian knot by his incredible cowardice, and for himself gained only ruin and dishonor. Charles, the foe against whom he had plotted with Alfonso and Alexander, laughed in his face and marched at once into Pisa. The Florentines, whom he had hitherto engaged in ah unpopular policy, now rose in fury, expelled him from the city, sacked his palace, and erased from their memory the name of Medici except for execration. The unsuccessful tyrant, who had proved a traitor to his allies, to his country, and to himself, saved his life by flying first to Bologna and thence to Venice, where he remained in a sort of polite captivity—safe, but a slave, until the Doge and his council saw which way affairs would tend.

On the 9th of November Florence after a tyranny of fifty years, and Pisa after the servitude of a century, recovered their liberties and were able to reconstitute republican governments. But the situation of the two states was very different. The Florentines had never lost the name of liberty, which in Italy at that period meant less the freedom of the inhabitants to exercise self-government than the independence of the city in relation to its neighbors. The Pisans on the other hand had been reduced to subjection by Florence: their civic life had been stifled, their pride wounded in the tenderest point of honor, their population decimated by proscription and exile. The great sin of Florence was the enslavement of Pisa: and Pisa in this moment of anarchy burned to obliterate her shame with bloodshed. The French, understanding none of the niceties of Italian politics, and ignorant that in giving freedom to Pisa they were robbing Florence of her rights, looked on with wonder at the citizens who tossed the lion of the tyrant town into the Arno and took up arms against its officers. It is sad to witness this last spasm of the long-suppressed passion for liberty in the Pisans, while we know how soon they were reduced again to slavery by the selfish sister state, herself too thoroughly corrupt for liberty. The part of Charles, who espoused the cause of the Pisans with blundering carelessness, pretended to protect the new republic, and then abandoned it a few months later to its fate, provokes nothing but the languid contempt which all his acts inspire.

After the flight of Piero and the proclamation of Pisan liberty the King of France was hailed as saviour of the free Italian towns. Charles received a magnificent address from Savonarola, who proceeded to Pisa, and harangued him as the chosen vessel of the Lord and the deliverer of the Church from anarchy. At the same time the friar conveyed to the French king a courteous invitation from the Florentine republic to enter their city and enjoy their hospitality. Charles, after upsetting Piero de' Medici with the nonchalance of a horseman in the tilting yard, and restoring the freedom of Pisa for a caprice, remained as devoid of policy and indifferent to the part assigned him by the prophet as he was before. He rode, armed at all points, into Florence on November 17, and took up his residence in the palace of the Medici. Then he informed the elders of the city that he had come as conqueror and not as guest, and that he intended to reserve to himself the disposition of the state.

It was a dramatic moment. Florence, with the Arno flowing through her midst, and the hills around her gray with olive-trees, was then even more lovely than we see her now. The whole circuit of her walls remained, nor had their crown of towers been leveled yet to make resistance of invading force more easy Brunelleschi's dome and Giotto's tower and Arnolfo's Palazzo and the Loggie of Orcagna gave distinction to her streets and squares. Her churches were splendid with frescoes in their bloom, and with painted glass, over which as yet the injury of but a few brief years had passed. Her palaces, that are as strong as castles, overflowed with a population cultivated, polished, elegant, refined, and haughty. This Florence, the city of scholars, artists, intellectual sybarites, and citizens in whom the blood of the old factions beat, found herself suddenly possessed as a prey of war by flaunting Gauls in their outlandish finery, plumed Germans, kilted Celts, and particolored Swiss. On the other hand these barbarians awoke in a terrestrial paradise of natural and aesthetic beauty. Which of us who has enjoyed the late gleams of autumn in Valdarno, but can picture to himself the revelation of the inner meaning of the world, incomprehensible yet soul-subduing, which then first dawned upon the Breton bowmen and the bulls of Uri? Their impulse no doubt was to pillage and possess the wealth before them, as a child pulls to pieces the wonderful flower that has surprised it on some mountain meadow. But in the very rudeness of desire they paid a homage to the new-found loveliness of which they had not dreamed before.

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