Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
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At the same time it must not be forgotten that during this period the art and culture of the Renaissance were culminating. Filelfo was receiving the gold of Filippo Maria Visconti. Guarino of Verona was instructing the heir of Ferrara, and Vittorino da Feltre was educating the children of the Marquis of Mantua. Lionardo was delighting Milan with his music and his magic world of painting. Poliziano was pouring forth honeyed eloquence at Florence. Ficino was expounding Plato. Boiardo was singing the prelude to Ariosto's melodies at Ferrara. Pico della Mirandola was dreaming of a reconciliation of the Hebrew, Pagan, and Christian traditions. It is necessary to note these facts in passing; just as when we are surveying the history of letters and the arts, it becomes us to remember the crimes and the madness of the despots who patronized them. This was an age in which even the wildest and most perfidious of tyrants felt the ennobling influences and the sacred thirst of knowledge. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the Lord of Rimini, might be selected as a true type of the princes who united a romantic zeal for culture with the vices of barbarians.[1] The coins which bear the portraits of this man, together with the medallions carved in red Verona marble on his church at Rimini, show a narrow forehead, protuberant above bushy eyebrows, a long hooked nose, hollow cheeks, and petulant, passionate, compressed lips. The whole face seems ready to flash with sudden violence, to merge its self-control in a spasm of fury. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta killed three wives in succession, violated his daughter, and attempted the chastity of his own son. So much of him belongs to the mere savage. He caused the magnificent church of S. Francesco at Rimini to be raised by Leo Alberti in a manner more worthy of a Pagan Pantheon than of a Christian temple. He incrusted it with exquisite bas-reliefs in marble, the triumphs of the earliest Renaissance style, carved his own name and ensigns upon every scroll and frieze and point of vantage in the building, and dedicated a shrine there to his concubine—Divae Isottae Sacrum. So much of him belongs to the Neo-Pagan of the fifteenth century. He brought back from Greece the mortal remains of the philosopher Gemistos Plethon, buried them in a sarcophagus outside his church, and wrote upon the tomb this epigraph: 'These remains of Gemistus of Byzantium, chief of the sages of his day, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, son of Pandolfo, commander in the war against the king of the Turks in the Morea, induced by the mighty love with which he burns for men of learning, brought hither and placed within this chest. 1466.' He, the most fretful and turbulent of men, read books with patient care, and bore the contradictions of pedants in the course of long discussions on philosophy and arts and letters. So much of him belonged to the new spirit of the coming age, in which the zeal for erudition was a passion, and the spell of science was stronger than the charms of love. At the same time, as Condottiere, he displayed all the treasons, duplicities, cruelties, sacrileges, and tortuous policies to which the most accomplished villain of the age could have aspired.

[1] For a fuller account of him, see my 'Sketches in Italy and Greece,' article Rimini.

It would be easy, following in the steps of Tiraboschi, to describe the patronage awarded in the fifteenth century to men of letters by princes—the protection extended by Nicholas III. of Ferrara to Guarino and Aurispa—the brilliant promise of his son Leonello, who corresponded with Poggio, Filelfo, Guarino, Francesco Barbaro, and other scholars—the liberality of Duke Borso, whose purse was open to poor students. Or we might review the splendid culture of the court of Naples, where Alfonso committed the education of his terrible son Ferdinand to the care of Lorenzo Valla and Antonio Beccadelli.[1] More insight, however, into the nature of Italian despotism in all its phases may be gained by turning from Milan to Urbino, and by sketching a portrait of the good Duke Frederick.[2] The life of Frederick, Count of Montefeltro, created Duke of Urbino in 1474 by Pope Sixtus IV., covers the better part of the fifteenth century (b. 1422, d. 1482). A little corner of old Umbria lying between the Apennines and the Adriatic, Rimini and Ancona, formed his patrimony. Speaking roughly, the whole duchy was but forty miles square, and the larger portion consisted of bare hillsides and ruinous ravines. Yet this poor territory became the center of a splendid court. 'Federigo,' says his biographer, Muzio, 'maintained a suite so numerous and distinguished as to rival any royal household.' The chivalry of Italy flocked to Urbino in order to learn manners and the art of war from the most noble general of his day. 'His household,' we hear from Vespasiano, 'which consisted of 500 mouths entertained at his own cost, was governed less like a company of soldiers than a strict religious community. There was no gaming nor swearing, but the men conversed with the utmost sobriety.' In a list of the court officers we find forty-five counts of the duchy and of other states, seventeen gentlemen, five secretaries, four teachers of grammar, logic, and philosophy, fourteen clerks in public offices, five architects and engineers, five readers during meals, four transcribers of MSS. The library, collected by Vespasiano during fourteen years of assiduous labor, contained copies of all the Greek and Latin authors then discovered, the principal treatises on theology and church history, a complete series of Italian poets, historiographers, and commentators, various medical, mathematical, and legal works, essays on music, military tactics and the arts, together with such Hebrew books as were accessible to copyists. Every volume was bound in crimson and silver, and the whole collection cost upwards of 30,000 ducats. For the expenses of so large a household, and the maintenance of this fine library, not to mention a palace that was being built and churches that required adornment, the mere revenues of the duchy could not have sufficed. Federigo owed his wealth to his engagements as a general. Military service formed his trade. 'In 1453,' says Dennistoun, 'his war-pay from Alfonso of Naples exceeded 8,000 ducats a month, and for many years he had from him and his son an annual peace-pension of 6,000 in name of past services. At the close of his life, when captain-general of the Italian league, he drew in war 165,000 ducats of annual stipend, 45,000 being his own share; in peace, 65,000 in all.' As a Condottiere, Federigo was famous in this age of broken faith for his plain dealing and sincerity. Only one piece of questionable practice—the capture of Verucchio in 1462 by a forged letter pretending to come from Sigismondo Malatesta—stained his character for honesty. To his soldiers in the field he was considerate and generous; to his enemies compassionate and merciful.[3] 'In military science,' says Vespasiano, 'he was excelled by no commander of his time; uniting energy with judgment, he conquered by prudence as much as by force. The like wariness was observed in all his affairs; and in none of his many battles was he worsted. Nor may I omit the strict observance of good faith, wherein he never failed. All to whom he once gave his word, might testify to his inviolate performance of it.' The same biographer adds that 'he was singularly religious, and most observant of the Divine commands. No morning passed without his hearing mass upon his knees.'

[1] The Panormita; author, by the way, of the shameless 'Hermaphroditus.' This fact is significant. The moral sense was extinct when such a pupil was intrusted to such a tutor.

[2] For the following details I am principally indebted to 'The Memoirs of the Dukes of Urbino,' by James Dennistoun; 3 vols., Longmans, 1851. Vespasiano's Life of Duke Frederick (Vite di uomini illustri, pp. 72-112) is one of the most charming literary portraits extant. It has, moreover, all the value of a personal memoir, for Vespasiano had lived in close relation with the Duke as his librarian.

[3] See the testimony of Francesco di Giorgio; Dennistoun, vol. i. p. 259. The sack of Volterra was, however, a blot upon his humanity.

While a boy, Federigo had been educated in the school of Vittorino da Feltre at Mantua. Gian Francesco Gonzaga invited that eminent scholar to his court in 1425 for the education of his sons and daughter, assembling round him subordinate teachers in grammar, mathematics, music, painting, dancing, riding, and all noble exercises. The system supervised by Vittorino included not only the acquisition of scholarship, but also training in manly sports and the cultivation of the moral character. Many of the noblest Italians were his pupils. Ghiberto da Correggio, Battista Pallavicini, Taddeo Manfredi of Faenza, Gabbriello da Cremona, Francesco da Castiglione, Niccolo Perrotti, together with the Count of Montefeltro, lived in Vittorino's house, associating with the poorer students whom the benevolent philosopher instructed for the love of learning. Ambrogio Camaldolese in a letter to Niccolo Niccoli gives this animated picture of the Mantuan school: 'I went again to visit Vittorino and to see his Greek books. He came to meet me with the children of the prince, two sons and a daughter of seven years. The eldest boy is eleven, the younger five. There are also other children of about ten, sons of nobles, as well as other pupils. He teaches them Greek, and they can write that language well. I saw a translation from Saint Chrysostom made by one of them which pleased me much.' And again a few years later: 'He brought me Giovanni Lucido, son of the Marquis, a boy of about fourteen, whom he has educated, and who then recited two hundred lines composed by him upon the shows with which the Emperor was received in Mantua. The verses were most beautiful, but the sweetness and elegance of his recitation made them still more graceful. He also showed me two propositions added by him to Euclid, which prove how eminent he promises to be in mathematical studies. There was also a little daughter of the Marquis, of about ten, who writes Greek beautifully; and many other pupils, some of noble birth, attended them.' The medal struck by Pisanello in honor of Vittorino da Feltre bears the ensign of a pelican feeding her young from a wound in her own breast—a symbol of the master's self-sacrifice.[1] I hope to return in the second volume of this work to Vittorino. It is enough here to remark that in this good school the Duke of Urbino acquired that solid culture which distinguished him through life. In after years, when the cares of his numerous engagements fell thick upon him, we hear from Vespasiano that he still prosecuted his studies, reading Aristotle's Ethics, Politics, and Physics, listening to the works of S. Thomas Aquinas and Scotus read aloud, perusing at one time the Greek fathers and at another the Latin historians.[2] How profitably he spent his day at Urbino may be gathered from this account of his biographer: 'He was on horseback at daybreak with four or six mounted attendants and not more, and with one or two foot servants unarmed. He would ride out three or four miles, and be back again when the rest of his court rose from bed. After dismounting, he heard mass. Then he went into a garden open at all sides, and gave audience to those who listed until dinner-time. At table, all the doors were open; any man could enter where his lordship was; for he never ate except with a full hall. According to the season he had books read out as follows—in Lent, spiritual works; at other times, the history of Livy; all in Latin. His food was plain; he took no comfits, and drank no wine, except drinks of pomegranate, cherry, or apples.' After dinner he heard causes, and gave sentence in the Latin tongue. Then he would visit the nuns of Santa Chiara or watch the young men of Urbino at their games, using the courtesy of perfect freedom with his subjects. His reputation as a patron of the arts and of learning was widely spread. 'To hear him converse with a sculptor,' says Vespasiano, 'you would have thought he was a master of the craft. In painting, too, he displayed the most acute judgment; and as he could not find among the Italians worthy masters of oil colors, he sent to Flanders for one, who painted for him the philosophers and poets and doctors of the Church. He also brought from Flanders masters in the art of tapestry.' Pontano, Ficino, and Poggio dedicated works of importance to his name; and Pirro Perrotti, in the preface to his uncle's 'Cornucopia,' draws a quaint picture of the reception which so learned a book was sure to meet with at Urbino.[3] But Frederick was not merely an accomplished prince. Concurrent testimony proves that he remained a good husband and a constant friend throughout his life, that he controlled his natural quickness of temper, and subdued the sensual appetites which in that age of lax morality he might have indulged without reproach. In his relations to his subjects he showed what a paternal monarch should be, conversing familiarly with the citizens of Urbino, accosting them with head uncovered, inquiring into the necessities of the poorer artisans, relieving the destitute, dowering orphan girls, and helping distressed shopkeepers with loans. Numerous anecdotes are told which illustrate his consideration for his old servants, and his anxiety for the welfare and good order of his state. At a time when the Pope and the King of Naples were making money by monopolies of corn, the Duke of Urbino filled his granaries from Apulia, and sold bread during a year of scarcity at a cheap rate to his poor subjects. Nor would he allow his officers to prosecute the indigent for debts incurred by such purchases. He used to say: 'I am not a merchant; it is enough to have saved my people from hunger.' We must remember that this excellent prince had a direct interest in maintaining the prosperity and good-will of his duchy. His profession was warfare, and the district of Urbino supplied him with his best troops. Yet this should not diminish the respect due to the foresight and benevolence of a Condottiere who knew how to carry on his calling with humanity and generosity. Federigo wore the Order of the Garter, which Henry VII. conferred on him, the Neapolitan Order of the Ermine, and the Papal decorations of the Rose, the Hat, the Sword. He served three pontiffs, two kings of Naples, and two dukes of Milan. The Republic of Florence and more than one Italian League appointed him their general in the field. If his military career was less brilliant than that of the two Sforzas, Piccinino, or Carmagnuola, he avoided the crimes to which ambition led some of these men and the rocks on which they struck. At his death he transmitted a flourishing duchy, a cultivated court, a renowned name, and the leadership of the Italian League to his son Guidobaldo.

[1] Prendilacqua, the biographer of Vittorino, says that he died so poor that his funeral expenses had to be defrayed.

[2] Pius II. in his Commentaries gives an interesting account of the conversations concerning the tactics of the ancients which he held with Frederick, in 1461, in the neighborhood of Tivoli.

[3] The preface to the original edition of the 'Cornucopia' is worth reading for the lively impression which it conveys of Federigo's personality: 'Admirabitur in te divinam illam corporis proceritatem, membrorum robur eximium, venerandam oris dignitatem, aetatis maturam gravitatem, divinam quandam majestatem cum humanitate conjunctam, totum praeterea talem qualem esse oportebat eum principem quem nuper pontifex maximus et universus senatus omnium rerum suarum et totius ecclesiastici imperii ducem moderatoremque constituit.'

The young Duke, whose court, described by Castiglione, may be said to have set the model of good breeding to all Europe, began life under the happiest auspices. From his tutor Odasio of Padua we hear that even in boyhood he cared only for study and for manly sports. His memory was so retentive that he could repeat whole treatises by heart after the lapse of ten or fifteen years, nor did he ever forget what he had resolved to retain. In the Latin and Greek languages he became an accomplished scholar,[1] and while he appreciated the poets, he showed peculiar aptitude for philosophy and history. But his development was precocious. His zeal for learning and the excessive ardor with which he devoted himself to physical exercises undermined his constitution. He became an invalid and died childless, after exhibiting to his court for many years an example of patience in sickness and of dignified cheerfulness under the restraints of enforced inaction. His wife, Elizabetta Gonzaga, one of the most famous women of her age, was no less a pattern of noble conduct and serene contentment.

Such were the two last princes of the Montefeltro dynasty.[2] It is necessary to bear their virtues in mind while dwelling on the characteristics of Italian despotism in the fifteenth century. The Duchy of Urbino, both as an established dynasty not founded upon violence, and also as a center of really humane culture, formed, it is true, an exception to the rule of Italian tyrannies: yet, if we omitted this state from our calculation, confining our attention to the extravagant iniquities of the Borgia family, or to the eccentricities of the Visconti, or to the dark crimes of the court of Naples, we should gain a false notion of the many-sided character of Italy, in which at that time vices and virtues were so strangely blended. We must never forget that the same society which produced a Filippo Maria Visconti, a Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a Sigismondo Malatesta, a Ferdinand of Aragon, gave birth also to a Lorenzo de' Medici and a Federigo da Montefeltro. It is only by studying the lives of all these men in combination that we can obtain a correct conception of the manifold personality, the mingled polish and barbarism, of the Italian Renaissance.

[1] It is not easy to say what a panegyrist of that period intended by 'a complete knowledge of Greek,' or 'fluent Greek writing,' in a Prince. I suspect, however, that we ought not to understand by these phrases anything like a real familiarity with Greek literature, but rather such superficial knowledge as would enable a reader of Latin books to understand allusions and quotations. Poliziano, it may be remarked, thought it worth while to flatter Guidobaldo in a Greek epigram.

[2] After Guidobaldo's death the duchy was continued by the Della Rovere family, one of whom, Giovanni, Prefect of Rome and nephew of Sixtus IV., married the Duke's sister Giovanna in 1474.

Some more detailed account of Baldassare Castiglione's treatise Il Cortegiano will form a fitting conclusion to this Chapter on the Despots. It is true that his book was written later than the period we have been considering,[1] and he describes court life in its most graceful aspect. Yet all the antecedent history of the past two centuries had been gradually producing the conditions under which his courtier flourished; and the Italian of the Renaissance, as he appeared to the rest of Europe, was such a gentleman as he depicts. For the historian his book is of equal value in its own department with the Principe of Machiavelli, the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, and the Diary of Burchard.

[1] It was written in 1514, and first published in folio by the Aldi of Venice in 1528. We find an English translation so early as 1561 by Thomas Hoby. At this time it was in the hands of all the gentlefolk of Europe. It is interesting to compare the 'Cortegiano' with Della Casa's 'Galateo,' published in 1558. The 'Galateo' professes to be a guide for gentlemen in social intercourse, and the minute rules laid down would satisfy the most exacting purist of the present century. In manners and their ethical analysis we have certainly gained nothing during the last three centuries. The principle upon which these precepts of conduct are founded is not etiquette or fashion, but respect for the sensibilities of others. It would be difficult to compose a more philosophical treatise on the lesser duties imposed upon us by the conditions of society—such minute matters as the proper way to blow the nose or use the napkin, being referred to the one rule of acting so as to cause no inconvenience to our neighbors.

In the opening of his 'Cortegiano' Castiglione introduces us to the court of Urbino—refined, chivalrous, witty, cultivated, gentle—confessedly the purest and most elevated court in Italy. He brings together the Duchess Elizabetta Gonzaga; Emilia Pia, wife of Antonio da Montefeltro, whose wit is as keen and active as that of Shakespeare's Beatrice; Pietro Bembo, the Ciceronian dictator of letters in the sixteenth century; Bernardo Bibbiena, Berni's patron, the author of 'Calandra,' whose portrait by Raphael in the Pitti enables us to estimate his innate love of humor; Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, of whom the marble effigy by Michael Angelo still guards the tomb in San Lorenzo; together with other knights and gentlemen less known to fame—two Genoese Fregosi, Gasparo Pallavicini, Lodovico, Count of Canossa, Cesare Gonzaga, l' Unico Aretino, and Fra Serafino the humorist. These ladies and gentlemen hold discourse together, as was the custom of Urbino, in the drawing-room of the duchess during four consecutive evenings. The theme of their conversation is the Perfect Courtier. What must that man be who deserves the name of Cortegiano, and how must he conduct himself? The subject of discussion carries us at once into a bygone age. No one asks now what makes the perfect courtier; but in Italy of the Renaissance, owing to the changes from republican to despotic forms of government which we have traced in the foregoing pages, the question was one of the most serious importance. Culture and good breeding, the amenities of intercourse, the pleasures of the intellect, scarcely existed outside the sphere of courts; for one effect of the Revival of Learning had been to make the acquisition of polite knowledge difficult, and the proletariat was less cultivated then than in the age of Dante. Men of ambition who desired to acquire a reputation whether as soldiers or as poets, as politicians or as orators, came to court and served their chosen prince in war or at the council-table, or even in humbler offices of state. To be able, therefore, to conduct himself with dignity, to know how to win the favor of his master and to secure the good-will of his peers, to retain his personal honor and to make himself respected without being hated, to inspire admiration and to avoid envy, to outshine all honorable rivals in physical exercises and the craft of arms, to maintain a credable equipage and retinue, to be instructed in the arts of polite intercourse, to converse with ease and wit, to be at home alike in the tilting-yard, the banquet-hall, the boudoir, and the council-chamber, to understand diplomacy, to live before the world and yet to keep a fitting privacy and distance,—these and a hundred other matters were the climax and perfection of the culture of a gentleman. Courts being now the only centers in which it was possible for a man of birth and talents to shine, it followed that the perfect courtier and the perfect gentleman were synonymous terms. Castiglione's treatise may therefore be called an essay on the character of the true gentleman as he appeared in Italy. Eliminating all qualities that are special to any art or calling, he defines those essential characteristics which were requisite for social excellence in the sixteenth century. It is curious to observe how unchangeable are the laws of real politeness and refinement. Castiglione's courtier is, with one or two points of immaterial difference, a modern gentleman, such as all men of education at the present day would wish to be.

The first requisite in the ideal courtier is that he must be noble. The Count of Canossa, who proposed the subject of debate, lays down this as an axiom. Gaspar Pallavicino denies the necessity[1] But after a lively discussion, his opinion is overruled, on the ground that, although the gentle virtues may be found among people of obscure origin, yet a man who intends to be a courtier must start with the prestige of noble birth. Next he must be skillful in the use of weapons and courageous in the battle-field. He is not, however, bound to have the special science of a general, nor must he in times of peace profess unique devotion to the art of war: that would argue a coarseness of nature or vainglory. Again, he must excel in all manly sports and exercises, so as, if possible, to beat the actual professors of each game, or feat of skill on their own ground. Yet here also he should avoid mere habits of display, which are unworthy of a man who aspires to be a gentleman and not an athlete. Another indispensable quality is gracefulness in all he does and says. In order to secure this elegance, he must beware of every form of affectation: 'Let him shun affectation, as though it were a most perilous rock; and let him seek in everything a certain carelessness, to hide his art, and show that what he says or does comes from him without effort or deliberation.' This vice of affectation in all its kinds, and the ways of avoiding it, are discussed with a delicacy of insight which would do credit to a Chesterfield of the present century, sending forth his son into society for the first time. Castiglione goes so far as to condemn the pedantry of far-fetched words and the coxcombry of elaborate costumes, as dangerous forms of affectation. His courtier must speak and write with force and freedom. He need not be a purist in his use of language, but may use such foreign phrases and modern idioms as are current in good society, aiming only at simplicity and clearness. He must add to excellence in arms polite culture in letters and sound scholarship, avoiding that barbarism of the French, who think it impossible to be a good soldier and an accomplished student at the same time. Yet his learning should be always held in reserve, to give brilliancy and flavor to his wit, and not brought forth for merely erudite parade. He must have a practical acquaintance with music and dancing; it would be well for him to sing and touch various stringed and keyed instruments, so as to relax his own spirits and to make himself agreeable to ladies. If he can compose verses and sing them to his own accompaniment, so much the better. Finally, he ought to understand the arts of painting and sculpture; for criticism, even though a man be neither poet nor artist, is an elegant accomplishment. Such are the principal qualities of the Cortegiano.

[1] Italy, earlier than any other European nation, developed theoretical democracy. Dante had defined true nobility to consist of personal excellence in a man or in his ancestors; he also called 'nobilta' sister of 'filosofia.' Poggio in his 'Dialogue De Nobilitate,' into which he introduces Niccolo Niccoli and Lorenzo de' Medici (Cosimo's brother), decides that only merit constitutes true nobility. Hawking and hunting are far less noble occupations than agriculture; descent from a long line of historic criminals is no honor. French and English castle-life, and the robber-knighthood of Germany, he argues, are barbarous. Lorenzo pleads the authority of Aristotle in favor of noble blood; Poggio contests the passage quoted, and shows the superiority of the Latin word 'nobilitas' (distinction) over the Greek term [Greek: eugeneia] (good birth). The several kinds of aristocracy in Italy are then discussed. In Naples the nobles despise business and idle their time away. In Rome they manage their estates. In Venice and Genoa they engage in commerce. In Florence they either take to mercantile pursuits or live upon the produce of their land in idleness. The whole way of looking at the subject betrays a liberal and scientific spirit, wholly free from prejudice. Machiavelli ('Discorsi,' i. 55) is very severe on the aristocracy, whom he defines as 'those who live in idleness on the produce of their estates, without applying themselves to agriculture or to any other useful occupation.' He points out that the Venetian nobles are not properly so called, since they are merchants. The different districts of Italy had widely different conceptions of nobility. Naples was always aristocratic, owing to its connection with France and Spain. Ferrara maintained the chivalry of courts. Those states, on the other hand, which had been democratized, like Florence, by republican customs, or like Milan, by despotism, set less value on birth than on talent and wealth. It was not until the age of the Spanish ascendency (latter half of sixteenth century) that Cosimo I. withdrew the young Florentines from their mercantile pursuits and enrolled them in his order of S. Stephen, and that the patricians of Genoa carried daggers inscribed 'for the chastisement of villeins.'

The precepts which are laid down for the use of his acquirements and his general conduct, resolve themselves into a strong recommendation of tact and caution. The courtier must study the nature of his prince, and show the greatest delicacy in approaching him, so as to secure his favor, and to avoid wearying him with importunities. In tendering his advice he must be modest; but he should make a point of never sacrificing his own liberty of judgment. To obey his master in dishonorable things would be a derogation from his dignity; and if he discovers any meanness in the character of the prince, it is better to quit his service.[1] A courtier must be careful to create beforehand a favorable opinion of himself in places he intends to visit. Much stress is laid upon his choice of clothes and the equipment of his servants. In these respects he should aim at combining individuality with simplicity, so as to produce an impression of novelty without extravagance or eccentricity. He must be very cautious in his friendships, selecting his associates with care, and admitting only one or two to intimacy.

[1] From many passages in the 'Cortegiano' it is clear that Castiglione is painting the character of an independent gentleman, to whom self-culture in all humane excellence is of far more importance than the acquisition of the art of pleasing. Circumstances made the life of courts the best obtainable; but there is no trace of French 'oeil-de-boeuf' servility.

In connection with the general subject of tact and taste, the Cardinal Bibbiena introduces an elaborate discussion of the different sorts of jokes, which proves the high value attached in Italy to all displays of wit. It appears that even practical jokes were not considered in bad taste, but that irreverence and grossness were tabooed as boorish. Mere obscenity is especially condemned, though it must be admitted that many jests approved of at that time would now appear intolerable. But the essential point to be aimed at then, as now, was the promotion of mirth by cleverness, and not by mere tricks and clumsy inventions.

In bringing this chapter on Italian Despotism in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to a conclusion, it will be well to cast a backward glance over the ground which has been traversed. A great internal change took place and was accomplished during this period. The free burghs which flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, gave place to tyrannies, illegal for the most part in their origin, and maintained by force. In the absence of dynastic right, violence and craft were instruments by means of which the despots founded and preserved their power. Yet the sentiments of the Italians at large were not unfavorable to the growth of principalities. On the contrary, the forces which move society, the inner instinct of the nation, and the laws of progress and development, tended year by year more surely to the consolidation of despotisms. City after city lost its faculty for self-government, until at last Florence, so long the center of political freedom, fell beneath the yoke of her merchant princes. It is difficult for the historian not to feel either a monarchical or a republican bias. Yet this internal and gradual revolution in the states of Italy may be regarded neither as a matter for exultation in the cause of sovereignty, nor for lamentation over the decay of liberty. It was but part of an inevitable process which the Italians shared, according to the peculiarities of their condition, in common with the rest of Europe.

In tracing the history of the Visconti and the Sforzas our attention has been naturally directed to the private and political vices of the despot. As a contrast to so much violence and treachery, we have studied the character of one of the best princes produced in this period. Yet it must be borne in mind that the Duke of Urbino was far less representative of his class than Francesco Sforza, and that the aims and notions of Gian Galeazzo Visconti formed the ideal to which an Italian prince of spirit, if he had the opportunity, aspired. The history of art and literature in this period belongs to another branch of the inquiry; and a separate chapter must be devoted to the consideration of political morality as theorized by the Italians at the end of these two centuries of intrigue. But having insisted on the violence and vices of the tyrants, it seemed necessary to close the review of their age by describing the Italian nobleman as court-life made him. Castiglione shows him at the very best: the darker shadows of the picture are omitted; the requirements of the most finished culture and the tone of the purest society in Italy are depicted with the elegance of a scholar and the taste of a true gentleman. The fact remains that the various influences at work in Italy during the age of the despots had rendered the conception of this ideal possible. Nowhere else in Europe could a portrait of so much dignity and sweetness, combining the courage of a soldier with the learning of a student and the accomplishments of an artist, the liberality of freedom with the courtesies of service, have been painted from the life and been recognized as the model which all members of polite society should imitate. Nobler characters and more heroic virtues might have been produced by the Italian commonwealths if they had continued to enjoy their ancient freedom of self-government. Meanwhile we must render this justice to Italian despotism, that beneath its shadow was developed the type of the modern gentleman.



The different Physiognomies of the Italian Republics—The Similarity of their Character as Municipalities—The Rights of Citizenship—Causes of Disturbance in the Commonwealths—Belief in the Plasticity of Constitutions—Example of Genoa—Savonarola's Constitution—Machiavelli's Discourse to Leo X.—Complexity of Interests and Factions—Example of Siena—Small Size of Italian Cities—Mutual Mistrust and Jealousy of the Commonwealths—The notable Exception of Venice—Constitution of Venice—Her wise System of Government—Contrast of Florentine Vicissitudes—The Magistracies of Florence—Balia and Parlamento—The Arts of the Medici—Comparison of Venice and Florence in respect to Intellectual Activity and Mobility—Parallels between Greece and Italy—Essential Differences—The Mercantile Character of Italian Burghs—The 'Trattato del Governo della Famiglia'—The Bourgeois Tone of Florence, and the Ideal of a Burgher—Mercenary Arms.

The despotisms of Italy present the spectacle of states founded upon force, controlled and molded by the will of princes, whose object in each case has been to maintain usurped power by means of mercenary arms and to deprive the people of political activity. Thus the Italian principalities, however they may differ in their origin, the character of their administration, or their relation to Church and Empire, all tend to one type. The egotism of the despot, conscious of his selfish aims and deliberate in their execution, formed the motive principle in all alike.

The republics on the contrary are distinguished by strongly marked characteristics. The history of each is the history of the development of certain specific qualities, which modified the type of municipal organization common to them all. Their differences consist chiefly in the varying forms which institutions of a radically similar design assumed, and also in those peculiar local conditions which made the Venetians Levant merchants, the Perugians captains of adventure, the Genoese admirals and pirates, the Florentines bankers, and so forth. Each commonwealth contracted a certain physiognomy through the prolonged action of external circumstances and by the maintenance of some political predilection. Thus Siena, excluded from maritime commerce by its situation, remained, broadly speaking, faithful to the Ghibelline party; while Perugia at the distance of a few miles, equally debarred from mercantile expansion, maintained the Guelf cause with pertinacity. The annals of the one city record a long succession of complicated party quarrels, throughout the course of which the State continued free; the Guelf leanings of the other exposed it to the gradual encroachment of the Popes, while its civic independence was imperiled and enfeebled by the contests of a few noble families. Lucca and Pistoja in like manner are strongly contrasted, the latter persisting in a state of feud and faction which delivered it bound hand and foot to Florence, the former after many vicissitudes attaining internal quiet under the dominion of a narrow oligarchy.

But while recognizing these differences, which manifest themselves partly in what may be described as national characteristics, and partly in constitutional varieties, we may trace one course of historical progression in all except Venice. This is what natural philosophers might call the morphology of Italian commonwealths. To begin with, the Italian republics were all municipalities. That is, like the Greek states, they consisted of a small body of burghers, who alone had the privileges of government, together with a larger population, who, though they paid taxes and shared the commercial and social advantages of the city had no voice in its administration. Citizenship was hereditary in those families by whom it had been once acquired, each republic having its own criterion of the right, and guarding it jealously against the encroachments of non-qualified persons. In Florence, for example, the burgher must belong to one of the Arts.[1] In Venice his name must be inscribed upon the Golden Book. The rivalries to which this system of municipal government gave rise were a chief source of internal weakness to the commonwealths. Nor did the burghers see far enough or philosophically enough to recruit their numbers by a continuous admission of new members from the wealthy but unfranchised citizens.[2] This alone could have saved them from the death by dwindling and decay to which they were exposed. The Italian conception of citizenship may be set forth in the words of one of their acutest critics, Donato Giannotti, who writes concerning the electors in a state:[3] 'Non dico tutti gli abitanti della terra, ma tutti quelli che hanno grado; cioe che hanno acquistato, o eglino o gli antichi loro, faculta d'ottenere i magistrate; e in somma che sono participes imperandi et parendi.' No Italian had any notion of representative government in our sense of the term. The problem was always how to put the administration of the state most conveniently into the hands of the fittest among those who were qualified as burghers, and how to give each burgher his due share in the government; not how to select men delegated from the whole population. The wisest among their philosophical politicians sought to establish a mixed constitution, which should combine the advantages of principality, aristocracy, and democracy. Starting with the fact that the eligible burghers numbered some 5,000, and with the assumption that among these the larger portion would be content with freedom and a voice in the administration, while a certain body were ambitious of honorable distinctions, and a few aspired to the pomp of titular presidency, they thought that these several desires might be satisfied and reconciled in a republic composed of a general assembly of the citizens, a select Senate, and a Doge. In these theories the influence of Aristotelian studies[4] and the example of Venice are apparent. At the same time it is noticeable that no account whatever is taken of the remaining 95,000 who contributed their wealth and industry to the prosperity of the city.[5] The theory of the State rests upon no abstract principle like that of the divine right of the Empire, which determined Dante's speculation in the Middle Ages, or that of the divine right of kings, with which we Englishmen were made familiar in the seventeenth century, or that again of the rights of men, on which the democracies of France and America were founded. The right contemplated by the Italian politicians is that of the burghers to rule the commonwealth for their advantage. As a matter of fact, Venice was the only Italian republic which maintained this kind of oligarchy with success through centuries of internal tranquillity. The rest were exposed to a series of revolutions which ended at last in their enslavement.

[1] Villari, Life of Savonarola, vol. i. p. 259, may be consulted concerning the further distinction of Benefiziati, Statuali, Aggravezzati, at Florence. See also Varchi, vol. i. pp. 165-70. Consult Appendix ii.

[2] It must be mentioned that a provision for admitting deserving individuals to citizenship formed part of the Florentine Constitution of 1495. The principle was not, however, recognized at large by the republics.

[3] On the Government of Siena (vol. i. p. 351 of his collected works): 'I say not all the inhabitants of the state, but all those who have rank; that is, who have acquired, either in their own persons or through their ancestors, the right of taking magistracy, in short those who are participes imperandi et parendi.' What has already been said in Chapter II. about the origin of the Italian Republics will explain this definition of burghership.

[4] It would be very interesting to trace in detail the influence of Aristotle's Politics upon the practical and theoretical statists of the Renaissance. The whole of Giannotti's works; the discourses of de' Pazzi, Vettori, Acciaiuoli, and the two Guicciardini on the State of Florence (Arch. St. It. vol. i.); and Machiavelli's Discorso sul Reggimento di Firenze, addressed to Leo X., illustrate in general the working of Aristotelian ideas. At Florence, in 1495, Savonarola urged his Constitution on the burghers by appeals to Aristotle's doctrine and to the example of Venice [see Segni, p. 15, and compare the speeches of Pagolo Antonio Soderini and Guido Antonio Vespucci, in Guicciardini's Istoria d' Italia, vol. ii. p. 155 of Rosini's edition, on the same occasion]. Segni, p. 86, mentions a speech of Pier Filippo Pandolfini, the arguments of which, he says, were drawn from Aristotle and illustrated by Florentine history. The Italian doctrinaires seem to have imagined that, by clever manipulation of existing institutions, they could construct a state similar to that called [Greek: politeia] by Aristotle, in which all sections of the community should be fairly represented. Venice, meanwhile, was a practical instance of the possible prosperity of such a constitution with a strong oligarchical complexion.

[5] These numbers, 100,000 for the population, and 5,000 for the burghers, are stated roundly. In Florence, when the Consiglio Maggiore was opened in 1495, it was found that the Florentines altogether numbered about 90,000, while the qualified burghers were not more than 3,200. In 1581 the population of Venice numbered 134,890, whereof 1,843 were adult patricians [see below, p. 209].

Intolerant of foreign rule, and blinded by the theoretical supremacy of the Empire to the need of looking beyond its own municipal institutions, each city in the twelfth century sought to introduce such a system into the already existing machinery of the burgh as should secure its independence and place the government in the hands of its citizens. But the passing of bad laws, or the non-observance of wise regulations, or, again, the passions of individuals and parties, soon disturbed the equilibrium established in these little communities. Desire for more power than their due prompted one section of the burghers to violence. The love of independence, or simple insubordination, drove another portion to resistance. Matters were further complicated by resident or neighboring nobles. Then followed the wars of factions, proscriptions, and exiles. Having banished their rivals, the party in power for the time being remodeled the institutions of the republic to suit their own particular interest. Meanwhile the opposition in exile fomented every element of discontent within the city, which this short-sighted policy was sure to foster. Sudden revolutions were the result, attended in most cases by massacres consequent upon the victorious return of the outlaws. To the action of these peccant humors—umori is the word applied by the elder Florentine historians to the troubles attendant upon factions—must be added the jealousy of neighboring cities, the cupidity of intriguing princes, the partisanship of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the treason and the egotism of mercenary generals, and the false foreign policy which led the Italians to rely for aid on France or Germany or Spain. Little by little, under the prolonged action of these disturbing forces, each republic in turn became weaker, more confused in policy, more mistrustful of itself and its own citizens, more subdivided into petty but ineradicable factions, until at last it fell a prey either to some foreign potentate, or to the Church, or else to an ambitious family among its members. The small scale of the Italian commonwealths, taken singly, favored rapid change, and gave an undue value to distinguished wealth or unscrupulous ability among the burghers. The oscillation between democracy and aristocracy and back again, the repetition of exhausting discords, and the demoralizing influences of occasional despotism, so broke the spirit of each commonwealth that in the end the citizens forgot their ancient zeal for liberty, and were glad to accept tyranny for the sake of the protection it professed to extend to life and property.

To these vicissitudes all the republics of Italy, with the exception of Venice, were subject. In like manner, they shared in common the belief that constitutions could be made at will, that the commonwealth was something plastic, capable of taking the complexion and the form impressed upon it by speculative politicians. So firmly rooted was this conviction, and so highly self-conscious had the statesmen of Italy become, partly by the experience of their shifting history, and partly by their study of antiquity, that the idea of the State as something possessed of organic vitality can scarcely be said to have existed among them. The principle of gradual growth, which gives its value, for example, to the English Constitution, was not recognized by the Italians. Nor again had their past history taught them the necessity, so well defined and recognized by the Greek statesmen, of maintaining a fixed character at any cost in republics, which, in spite of their small scale, aspired to permanence.[1] The most violent and arbitrary changes which the speculative faculty of a theorist could contrive, or which the prejudices of a party could impose, seemed to them not only possible but natural.

[1] The value of the [Greek: ethos] was not wholly unrecognized by political theorists. Giannotti (vol. i. p. 160, and vol. ii. p. 13), for example translates it by the word 'temperamento.'

A very notable instance of this tendency to treat the State as a plastic product of political ingenuity, is afforded by the annals of Genoa. After suffering for centuries from the vicissitudes common to all Italian free cities—discords between the Guelf and Ghibelline factions, between the nobles and the people, between the enfranchised citizens and the proletariat—after submitting to the rule of foreign masters, especially of France and Milan, and after being torn in pieces by the rival houses of Adorni and Fregosi, the Genoese at last received liberty from the hands of Andrea Doria in 1528. They then proceeded to form a new Constitution for the protection of their freedom; and in order to destroy the memory of the old parties which had caused their ruin, they obliterated all their family names with the exception of twenty, under one or other of which the whole body of citizens were bound to enroll themselves.[1] This was nothing less than an attempt to create new gentes by effacing the distinctions established by nature and tradition. To parallel a scheme so artificial in its method, we must go back to the history of Sicyon and the changes wrought in the Dorian tribes by Cleisthenes.

[1] See Varchi, St. F. lib. vii. cap. 3.

Short of such violent expedients as these, the whole history of towns like Florence reveals a succession of similar attempts. When, for example, the Medici had been expelled in 1494, the Florentines found themselves without a working constitution, and proceeded to frame one. The matter was at first referred to two eminent jurists, Guido Antonio Vespucci and Paolo Antonio Soderini, who argued for and against the establishment of a Grand Council on the Venetian model, before the Signory in the Palazzo. At this juncture Savonarola in his sermon for the third Sunday in Advent[1] suggested that each of the sixteen Companies should form a plan, that these should be submitted to the Gonfaloniers, who should choose the four best, and that from these four the Signory should select the most perfect. At the same time he pronounced himself in favor of an imitation of the Venetian Consiglio Grande. His scheme, as is well known, was adopted.[2] Running through the whole political writings of the Florentine philosophers and historians, we find the same belief in artificial and arbitrary alterations of the state. Machiavelli pronounces his opinion that, in spite of the corruption of Florence, a wise legislator might effect her salvation.[3] Skill alone was needed. There lay the wax; the scientific artist had only to set to his hand and model it.

[1] December 12, 1494.

[2] Segni (pp. 15, 16) says that Savonarola deserved to be honored for this Constitution by the Florentines no less than Numa by the Romans. Varchi (vol. i. p. 169) judges the Consiglio Grande to have been the only good institution ever adopted by the Florentines. We may compare Giannotti (Sopra la Repubblica di Siena p. 346) for a similar opinion. Guicciardini, both in the Storia d' Italia and the Storia di Firenze, gives to Savonarola the whole credit of having passed this Constitution. Nardi and Pitti might be cited to the same effect. None of these critics doubt for a moment that what was theoretically best ought to have been found practically feasible.

[3] St. Fior. lib. iii. 1. 'Firenze a quel grado e pervenuta che facilmente da uno savio dator di leggi potrebbe essere in qualunque forma di governo riordinata.'

This is the dominant thought which pervades his treatise on the right ordering of the State of Florence addressed to Leo X.[1] A more consummate piece of political mechanism than that devised by Machiavelli in this essay can hardly be imagined. It is like a clock with separate actions for hours, minutes, seconds, and the revolutions of the moon and planets. All the complicated interest of parties and classes in the state, the traditional pre-eminence of the Medicean family, the rights of the Church, and the relation of Florence to foreign powers, have been carefully considered and provided for. The defect of this consummate work of art is that it remained a mere machine, devised to meet the exigencies of the moment, and powerless against such perturbations as the characters and passions of living men must introduce into the working of a Commonwealth. Had Florence been a colony established in a new country with no neighbors but savages, or had it been an institution protected from without against the cupidity of selfish rivals, then such a constitution might have been imposed on it with profit. But to expect that a city dominated by ancient prejudices, connected by a thousand subtle ties not only with the rest of Italy but also with the states of Europe, and rotten to the core in many of its most important members, could be restored to pristine vigor by a doctrinaire however able, was chimerical. The course of events contradicted this vain expectation. Meanwhile a few clear-headed and positive observers were dimly conscious of the instability of merely speculative constitution-making. Varchi, in a weighty passage on the defects of the Florentine republic, points out that its weakness arose partly from the violence of factions, but also in a great measure from the implicit faith reposed in doctors of the law.[2] The history of the Florentine Constitution, he says, is the history of changes effected by successions of mutually hostile parties, each in its own interest subverting the work of its predecessor, and each in turn relying on the theories of jurists, who without practical genius for politics make arbitrary rules for the control of state-affairs. Yet even Varchi shares the prevailing conviction that the proper method is first to excogitate a perfect political system, and then to impress that like a stamp upon the material of the commonwealth. His criticism is directed against lawyers, not against philosophers and practical diplomatists.

[1] The language of this treatise is noteworthy. After discoursing on the differences between republics and principalities, and showing that Florence is more suited to the former, and Milan to the latter, form of government, he says: 'Ma perche fare principato dove starebbe bene repubblica,' etc. ... 'si perche Firenze e subietto attissimo di pigliare questa forma,' etc. The phrases in italics show how thoroughly Machiavelli regarded the commonwealth as plastic. We may compare the whole of Guicciardini's elaborate essay 'Del Reggimento di Firenze' (Op. Ined. vol. ii.), as well as the 'Discourses' addressed by Alessandro de' Pazzi, Francesco Vettori, Ruberto Acciaiuoli, Francesco Guicciardini, and Luigi Guicciardini, to the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, on the settlement of the Florentine Constitution in 1522 (Arch. Stor. vol. i.). Not one of these men doubted that his nostrum would effect the cure of the republic undermined by slow consumption.

[2] St. Fior. lib. vi. cap. 4; vol. i. p. 294.

In this sense and to this extent were the republics of Italy the products of constructive skill; and great was the political sagacity educed among the Italians by this state of things. The citizens reflected on the past, compared their institutions with those of neighboring states, studied antiquity, and applied the whole of their intelligence to the one aim of giving a certain defined form to the commonwealth. Prejudice and passion distorted their schemes, and each successive modification of the government was apt to have a merely temporary object. Thus the republics, as I have already hinted, lacked that safeguard which the Greek states gained by clinging each to its own character. The Greeks were no less self-conscious in their political practice and philosophy; but after the age of the Nomothetae, when they had experienced nearly every phase through which a commonwealth can pass, they recognized the importance of maintaining the traditional character of their constitutions inviolate. Sparta adhered with singular tenacity to the code of Lycurgus; and the Athenians, while they advanced from step to step in the development of a democracy, were bent on realizing the ideal they had set before them.

Religion, which in Greece, owing to its local and genealogical character, was favorable to this stability, proved in Italy one of the most potent causes of disorder. The Greek city grew up under the protection of a local deity, whose blood had been transmitted in many instances to the chief families of the burgh. This ancestral god gave independence and autonomy to the State; and when the Nomothetes appeared, he was understood to have interpreted and formulated the inherent law that animated the body politic. Thus the commonwealth was a divinely founded and divinely directed organism, self-sufficing, with no dependence upon foreign sanction, with no question of its right. The Italian cities, on the contrary, derived their law from the common jus of the Imperial system, their religion from the common font of Christianity. They could not forget their origin, wrung with difficulty from existing institutions which preceded them and which still remained ascendant in the world of civilized humanity. The self-reliant autonomy of a Greek state, owing allegiance only to its protective deity and its inherent Nomos, had no parallel in Italy outside Venice. All the other republics were conscious of dependence on external power, and regarded themselves as ab initio artificial rather than natural creations.

Long before a true constitutional complexion had been given to any Italian State but Venice, parties had sprung up, and taken such firm root that the subsequent history of the republics was the record of their factions. To this point I have already alluded; but it is too important to be passed by without further illustration. The great division of Guelf and Ghibelline introduced a vital discord into each section of the people, by establishing two antagonistic theories respecting the right of supreme government. Then followed subordinate quarrels of the nobles with the townsfolk, schisms between the wealthier and poorer burghers, jealousies of the artisans and merchants, and factions for one or other eminent family. These different elements of discord succeed each other with astonishing rapidity; and as each gives place to another, it leaves a portion of its mischief rankling in the body politic, until last there remains no possibility of self-government.[1] The history of Florence, or Genoa, or Pistoja would supply us with ample illustrations of each of these obstacles to the formation of a solid political temperament. But Siena furnishes perhaps the best example of the extent to which such feuds could disturb a state. The way in which this city conducted its government for a long course of years, justified Varchi in calling it 'a jumble, so to speak, and chaos of republics, rather than a well-ordered and disciplined commonwealth.'[2] The discords of Siena were wholly internal. They proceeded from the wrangling of five successive factions, or Monti, as the people of Siena called them. The first of these was termed the Monte de' Nobili; for Siena, like all Italian free burghs, had originally been controlled by certain noble families, who formed the people and excluded the other citizens from offices of state. In course of time the plebeians acquired wealth, and the nobles split into parties among themselves. To such a pitch were the quarrels of these nobles carried, that at last they found it impossible to conduct the government, and agreed to relinquish it for a season to nine plebeian families chosen from among the richest and most influential. This gave rise to the Monte de' Nove, who were supposed to hold the city in commission for the nobles, while the latter devoted themselves to the prosecution of their private animosities. Weakened by feuds, the patricians fell a prey to their own creatures, the Monte de' Nove, who in their turn ruled Siena like oligarchs, refusing to give up the power which had been intrusted to them. In time, however, their insolence became insufferable. The populace rebelled, deposed the Nove, and invested with supreme authority twelve other families of mixed origin. The Monte de' Dodici, created after this fashion, ran nearly the same course as their predecessors, except that they appear to have administered the city equitably. Getting tired of this form of government, the people next superseded them by sixteen men, chosen from the dregs of the plebeians, who assumed the title of Riformatori. This new Monte de' Sedici or de' Riformatori showed much integrity in their management of affairs, but, as is the wont of red republicans, they were not averse to bloodshed. Their cruelty caused the people, with the help of the surviving patrician houses, together with the Nove and the Dodici, to rise and shake them off. The last governing body formed in this diabolical five-part fugue of crazy statecraft received the name of Monte del Popolo, because it included all who were then eligible to the Great Council of the State. Yet the factions of the elder Monti still survived; and to what extent they had absorbed the population may be gathered from the fact that, on the defeat of the Riformatori, 4,500 of the Sienese were exiled. It must be borne in mind that with the creation of each new Monte a new party formed itself in the city, and the traditions of these parties were handed down from generation to generation. At last, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, Pandolfo Petrucci, who belonged to the Monte de' Nove, made himself in reality, if not in name, the master of Siena, and the Duke of Florence, later on in the same century extended his dominion over the republic.[3] There is something almost grotesque in the bare recital of these successive factions; yet we must remember that beneath their dry names they conceal all elements of class and party discord.

[1] Machiavelli, in spite of his love of freedom, says (St. Fior. lib. vii. 1): 'Coloro che sperano che una repubblica possa essere unita assai di questa speranza s'ingannano.'

[2] Vol. i. pp. 324-30. See, too, Segni, p. 213, and Giannotti, vol. i. p. 341. De Comines describes Siena thus: 'La ville est de tout temps en partialite, et se gouverne plus follement que ville d'Italie.'

[3] Siena capitulated, in 1555, to the Spanish troops, who resigned it to Duke Cosmo I. in 1557.

What rendered the growth of parties still more pernicious, as already mentioned, was the smallness of Italian republics. Varchi reckoned 10,000 fuochi in Florence, 50,000 bocche of seculars, and 20,000 bocche of religious. According to Zuccagni Orlandini there were 90,000 Florentines in 1495, of whom only 3,200 were burghers. Venice, according to Giannotti, counted at about the same period 20,000 fuochi, each of which supplied the state with two men fit to bear arms. These calculations, though obviously rough and based upon no accurate returns, show that a republic of 100,000 souls, of whom 5,000 should be citizens, would have taken distinguished rank among Italian cities.[1] In a state of this size, divided by feuds of every kind, from the highest political antagonism down to the meanest personal antipathy, changes were very easily effected. The slightest disturbance of the equilibrium in any quarter made itself felt throughout the city.[2] The opinions of each burgher were known and calculated. Individuals, by their wealth, their power of aiding or of suppressing poorer citizens, and the force of their personal ability, acquired a perilous importance. At Florence the political balance was so nicely adjusted that the ringing of the great bell in the Palazzo meant a revolution, and to raise the cry of Palle in the streets was tantamount to an outbreak in the Medicean interest. To call aloud Popolo e liberta was nothing less than riot punishable by law. Segni tells how Jacopino Alamanni, having used these words near the statue of David on the Piazza in a personal quarrel, was beheaded for it the same day.[3] The secession of three or four families from one faction to another altered the political situation of a whole republic, and led perhaps to the exile of a sixth part of the enfranchised population.[4] After this would follow the intrigues of the outlaws eager to return, including negotiations with lukewarm party-leaders in the city, alliances with hostile states, and contracts which compromised the future conduct of the commonwealth in the interest of a few revengeful citizens. The biographies of such men as Cosimo de' Medici the elder and Filippo Strozzi throw the strongest light upon these delicacies and complexities of party politics in Florence.

[1] It may be worth while to compare the accurate return of the Venetian population in 1581 furnished by Yriarte (Vie d'un Patricien de Venise, p. 96). The whole number of the inhabitants was 134,600. Of these 1,843 were adult patricians; 4,309 women and children of the patrician class; Cittadini of all ages and both sexes, 3,553; monks, nuns, and priests, 3,969; Jews, 1,043; beggars, 187.

[2] We might mention, as famous instances, the Neri and Bianchi factions introduced into Pistoja in 1296 by a quarrel of the Cancellieri family, the dismemberment of Florence in 1215 by a feud between the Buondelmonti and Amidei, the tragedy of Imelda Lambertazzi, which upset Bologna in 1273, the student riot which nearly delivered Bologna into the hands of Romeo de' Pepoli in 1321, the whole action of the Strozzi family at the period of the extinction of Florentine liberty, the petty jealousies of the Cerchi and Donati detailed by Dino Compagni, in 1294.

[3] Segni, St. Fior. p. 53.

[4] As an instance, take what Marco Foscari reported in 1527 to the Venetian Senate respecting the parties in Florence (Rel. Ven. serie ii. vol. i. p. 70). The Compagnacci, one of the three great parties, only numbered 800 persons.

In addition to the evils of internal factions we must reckon all the sources of mutual mistrust to which the republics were exposed. As the Italians had no notion of representative government, so they never conceived a confederation. The thirst for autonomy in each state was as great as of old among the cities of Greece. To be independent of a sister republic, though such freedom were bought at the price of the tyranny of a native family was the first object of every commonwealth. At the same time this passion for independence was only equaled by the greed of foreign usurpation. The second object of each republic was to extend its power at the expense of its neighbors. As Pisa swallowed Amalfi, so Genoa destroyed Pisa, and Venice did her best to cripple Genoa. Florence obliterated the rival burgh of Semifonte, and Milan twice reduced Piacenza to a wilderness. The notion that the great maritime powers of Italy or the leading cities of Lombardy should permanently co-operate for a common purpose was never for a moment entertained. Such leagues as were formed were understood to be temporary. When their immediate object had been gained, the members returned to their initial rivalries. Milan, when, on the occasion of Filippo Maria Visconti's death, she had a chance of freedom, refused to recognize the liberties of the Lombard cities, and fell a prey to Francesco Sforza. Florence, under the pernicious policy of Cosimo de' Medici, helped to enslave Milan and Bologna instead of entering into a republican league against their common foes, the tyrants. Pisa, Arezzo, and the other subject cities of Tuscany were treated by her with such selfish harshness that they proved her chiefest peril in the hour of need.[1] Competition in commerce increased the mutual hatred of the free burghs. States like Venice, Florence, Pisa, Genoa, depending for their existence upon mercantile wealth, and governed by men of business, took every opportunity they could of ruining a rival in the market. So mean and narrow was the spirit of Italian policy that no one accounted it unpatriotic or dishonorable for Florence to suck the very life out of Pisa, or for Venice to strangle a competitor so dangerous as Genoa.

[1] See the instructions furnished to Averardo dei Medici, quoted by Von Reumont in his Life of Lorenzo, vol. ii. p. 122, German edition.

Thus the jealousy of state against state, of party against party, and of family against family, held Italy in perpetual disunion; while diplomatic habits were contracted which rendered the adoption of any simple policy impossible. When the time came for the Italians to cope with the great nations of Europe, the republics of Venice, Genoa, Milan, Florence ought to have been leagued together and supported by the weight of the Papal authority. They might then have stood against the world. Instead of that, these cities presented nothing but mutual rancors, hostilities, and jealousies to the common enemy. Moreover, the Italians were so used to petty intrigues and to a system of balance of power within the peninsula, that they could not comprehend the magnitude of the impending danger. It was difficult for a politician of the Renaissance, accustomed to the small theater of Italian diplomacy, schooled in the traditions of Lorenzo de' Medici, swayed in his calculations by the old pretensions of Pope and Emperor, dominated by the dread of Venice, Milan, and Naples, and as yet but dimly conscious of the true force of France or Spain, to conceive that absolutely the only chance of Italy lay in union at any cost and under any form. Machiavelli indeed seems too late to have discerned this truth. But he had been lessoned by events, which rendered the realization of his cherished schemes impossible; nor, could he find a Prince powerful enough to attempt his Utopia. Of the Republics he had abandoned all hope.

To the laws which governed the other republics of Italy, Venice offered in many respects a notable exception. Divided from the rest of Italy by the lagoons, and directed by her commerce to the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, Venice took no part in the factions which rent the rest of the peninsula, and had comparatively little to fear from foreign invasion. Her attitude was one of proud and almost scornful isolation. In the Lombard Wars of Independence she remained neutral, and her name does not appear among the Signataries to the Peace of Constance. Both the Papacy and the Empire recognized her independence. Her true policy consisted in consolidating her maritime empire and holding aloof from the affairs of Italy. As long as she adhered to this course, she remained the envy and the admiration of the rest of Europe.[1] It was only when she sought to extend her hold upon the mainland that she aroused the animosity of the Italian powers, and had to bear the brunt of the League of Cambray alone.[2] Her selfish prudence had been a source of dread long before this epoch: when she became aggressive, she was recognized as a common and intolerable enemy.

[1] De Comines, in his Memoirs of the Reign of Charles VIII. (tom. ii. p, 69), draws a striking picture of the impression made upon his mind by the good government of the state of Venice. This may be compared with what he says of the folly of Siena.

[2] See Mach. 1st. Fior. lib. i. 'Avendo loro con il tempo occupata Padova, Vicenza, Trevigi, e dipoi Verona, Bergamo e Brescia, e nel Reame e in Romagna molte citta, cacciati dalla cupidita del dominare vennero in tanta opinione di potenza, che non solamente ai principi Italiani ma ai Re oltramontani erano in terrore. Onde congiurati quelli contra di loro, in un giorno fu tolto loro quello stato che si avevano in molti anni con infiniti spendii guadagnato. E benche ne abbino in questi ultimi tempi racquistato parte, non avendo racquistata ne la riputazione, ne le forze, a discrezione d'altri, come tutti gli altri principi Italiani vivono.' It was Francesco Foscari who first to any important extent led the republic astray from its old policy. He meddled in Italian affairs, and sought to encroach upon the mainland. For this, and for the undue popularity he acquired thereby, the Council of Ten subjected him and his son Jacopo to the most frightfully protracted martyrdom that a relentless oligarchy has ever inflicted [1445-57].

The external security of Venice was equaled by her internal repose. Owing to continued freedom from party quarrels, the Venetians were able to pursue a consistent course of constitutional development. They in fact alone of the Italian cities established and preserved the character of their state. Having originally founded a republic under the presidency of a Doge, who combined the offices of general and judge, and ruled in concert with a representative council of the chief citizens (697-1172), the Venetians by degrees caused this form of government to assume a strictly oligarchical character. They began by limiting the authority of the Doge, who, though elected for life, was in 1032 forbidden to associate his son in the supreme office of the state. In 1172 the election of the Doge was transferred from the people to the Grand Council, who, as a co-opting body, tended to become a close aristocracy. In 1179 the Ducal power was still further restricted by the creation of a senate called the Quarantia for the administration of justice; while in 1229 the Senate of the Pregadi, interposed between the Doge and the Grand Council, became an integral part of the constitution. To this latter Senate were assigned all deliberations upon peace and war, the voting of supplies, the confirmation of laws. Both the Quarantia and the Pregadi were elected by the Consiglio Grande, which by this time had become the virtual sovereign of the State of Venice. It is not necessary here to mention the further checks imposed upon the power of the Doges by the institution of officials named Correttori and Inquisitori, whose special business it was to see that the coronation oaths were duly observed, or by the regulations which prevented the supreme magistrate from taking any important action except in concert with carefully selected colleagues. Enough has been said to show that the constitution of Venice was a pyramid resting upon the basis of the Grand Council and rising to an ornamented apex, through the Senate, and the College, in the Doge. But in adopting this old simile—originally the happy thought of Donato Giannotti, it is said[1]—we must not forget that the vital force of the Grand Council was felt throughout the whole of this elaborate system, and that the same individuals were constantly appearing in different capacities. It is this which makes the great event of the years 1297-1319 so all-important for the future destinies of Venice. At this period the Grand Council was restricted to a certain number of noble families who had henceforth the hereditary right to belong to it. Every descendant of a member of the Grand Council could take his seat there at the age of twenty-five; and no new families, except upon the most extraordinary occasions, were admitted to this privilege.[2] By the Closing of the Grand Council, as the ordinances of this crisis were termed, the administration of Venice was vested for perpetuity in the hands of a few great houses. The final completion was given to the oligarchy in 1311 by the establishment of the celebrated Council of Ten,[3] who exercised a supervision over all the magistracies, constituted the Supreme Court of judicature, and ended by controlling the whole foreign and internal policy of Venice. The changes which I have thus briefly indicated are not to be regarded as violent alterations in the constitution, but rather as successive steps in its development. Even the Council of Ten, which seems at first sight the most tyrannous state-engine ever devised for the enslavement of a nation, was in reality a natural climax to the evolution which had been consistently advancing since the year 1172. Created originally during the troublous times which succeeded the closing of the Grand Council, for the express purpose of curbing unruly nobles and preventing the emergence of conspirators like Tiepolo, the Council of Ten were specially designed to act as a check upon the several orders in the state and to preserve its oligarchical character inviolate. They were elected by the Consiglio Grande, and at the expiration of their office were liable to render strict account of all that they had done. Nor was this magistracy coveted by the Venetian nobles. On the contrary, so burdensome were its duties, and so great was the odium which from time to time the Ten incurred in the discharge of their functions, that it was not always found easy to fill up their vacancies. A law had even to be passed that the Ten had not completed their magistracy before their successors were appointed.[4] They may therefore be regarded as a select committee of the citizens, who voluntarily delegated dictatorial powers to this small body in order to maintain their own ascendency, to centralize the conduct of important affairs, to preserve secrecy in the administration of the republic, and to avoid the criticism to which the more public government of states like Florence was exposed.[5] The weakness of this portion of the state machinery was this: created with ill-defined and almost unlimited authority,[6] designed to supersede the other public functionaries on occasions of great moment, and composed of men whose ability placed them in the very first rank of citizens, the Ten could scarcely fail, as time advanced, to become a permanently oppressive power—a despotism within the bosom of an oligarchy. Thus in the whole mechanism of the state of Venice we trace the action of a permanent aristocracy tolerating, with a view to its own supremacy, an amount of magisterial control which in certain cases, like that of the two Foscari, amounted to the sternest tyranny. By submitting to the Council of Ten the nobility of Venice secured its hold upon the people and preserved unity in its policy.

[1] Vol. ii. of his works, p. 37. On p. 29 he describes the population of Venice as divided into 'Popolari,' or plebeians, exercising small industries, and so forth: 'Cittadini,' or the middle class, born in the state, and of more importance than the plebeians; 'Gentiluomini,' or masters of Venice by sea and land, about 3,000 in number, corresponding to the burghers of Florence. What he says about the Constitution refers solely to this upper class. The elaborate work of M. Yriarte, La Vie d'un Patricien de Venise an Seizieme Siecle, Paris, 1874, contains a complete analysis of the Venetian state-machine. See in particular what he says about the helplessness of the Doges, ch. xiii. 'Rex in foro, senator in curia, captivus in aula,' was a current phrase which expressed the contrast between their dignity of parade and real servitude. They had no personal freedom, and were always ruined by office. It was necessary to pass a law compelling the Doge elect to accept the onerous distinction thrust upon him. The Venetian oligarchs argued that it was good that one man should die for the people.

[2] See Giannotti, vol. ii. p. 55, for the mention of fifteen, admitted on the occasion of Baiamonte Tiepolo's conspiracy, and of thirty ennobled during the Genoese war.

[3] The actual number of this Council was seventeen, for the Ten associated with the Signoria, which consisted of the Doge and six Counselors.

[4] Giannotti, vol. ii. p. 123.

[5] The diplomatic difficulties of a popular government, a 'governo largo,' as opposed to a 'governo stretto,' are set forth with great acumen by Guicciardini, Op. Ined. vol. ii. p. 84. Cf. vol. iii. p. 272.

[6] 'e la sua autorita pari a quella del Consiglio de' Pregati e di utta la citta,' says Giannotti, vol. ii. p. 120.

No state has ever exercised a greater spell of fascination over its citizens than Venice. Of treason against the Republic there was little. Against the decrees of the Council, arbitrary though they might be, no one sought to rebel. The Venetian bowed in silence and obeyed, knowing that all his actions were watched, that his government had long arms in foreign lands, and that to arouse revolt in a body of burghers so thoroughly controlled by common interests, would be impossible. Further security the Venetians gained by their mild and beneficent administration of subject cities, and by the prosperity in which their population flourished. When, during the war of the League of Cambray, Venice gave liberty to her towns upon the mainland, they voluntarily returned to her allegiance. At home, the inhabitants of the lagoons, who had never seen a hostile army at their gates, and whose taxes were light in comparison with those of the rest of Italy, regarded the nobles as the authors of their unexampled happiness. Meanwhile, these nobles were merchants. Idleness was unknown in Venice. Instead of excogitating new constitutions or planning vengeance against hereditary foes the Venetian attended to his commerce on the sea, swayed distant provinces, watched the interests of the state in foreign cities, and fought the naval battles of the republic. It was the custom of Venice to employ her patricians only on the sea as admirals, and never to intrust her armies to the generalship of burghers. This policy had undoubtedly its wisdom; for by these means the nobles had no opportunity of intriguing on a large scale in Italian affairs, and never found the chance of growing dangerously powerful abroad. But it pledged the State to that system of paid condottieri and mercenary troops, jealously watched and scarcely ever trustworthy, which proved nearly as ruinous to Venice as it did to Florence.

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that which is presented by Florence to Venice. While Venice pursued one consistent course of gradual growth, and seemed immovable, Florence remained in perpetual flux, and altered as the strength of factions or of party-leaders varied.[1] When the strife of Guelfs and Ghibellines, Neri, and Bianchi, had exhausted her in the fourteenth century, she submitted for a while to the indirect ascendency of the kings of Naples, who were recognized as Chiefs of the Guelf Party. Thence she passed for a few months into the hands of a despot in the person of the Duke of Athens (1342-43). After the confirmation of her republican liberty, followed a contest between the proletariat and the middle classes (Ciompi 1378). During the fifteenth century she was kept continually disturbed by the rivalry of her great merchant families. The rule of the Albizzi, who fought the Visconti and extended the Florentine territory by numerous conquests, was virtually the despotism of a close oligarchy. This phase of her career was terminated by the rise of the Medici, who guided her affairs with a show of constitutional equity for four generations. In 1494, this state of things was violently shaken. The Florentines expelled the Medici, who had begun to throw off their mask and to assume the airs of sovereignty; then they reconstituted their Commonwealth as nearly as they could upon the model of Venice, and to this new form of government Savonarola gave a quasi-theocratic complexion by naming Christ the king of Florence.[2] But the internal elements of the discord were too potent for the maintenance of this regime. The Medici were recalled; and this time Florence fell under the shadow of Church-rule, being controlled by Leo X. and Clement VII., through the hands of prelates whom they made the guardians and advisers of their nephews. In 1527 a final effort for liberty shed undying luster on the noblest of Italian cities. The sack of Rome had paralyzed the Pope. His family were compelled to quit the Medicean palace. The Grand Council was restored: a Gonfalonier was elected; Florence suffered the hardships of her memorable siege. At the end of her trials, menaced alike by Pope and Emperor, who shook hands over her prostrate corpse, betrayed by her general, the infamous Malatesta Baglioni, and sold by her own selfish citizens, she had to submit to the hereditary sovereignty of the Medici. It was in vain that Lorenzino of that house pretended to play Brutus and murdered his cousin the Duke Alessandro in 1536. Cosimo succeeded in the same year, and won the title of Grand Duke, which he transmitted to a line of semi-Austrian princes.

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