Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[1] 'Nunquam in eodem statu permanserunt,' says Marco Foscari (as quoted above, p. 42 of his report). The flux of Florence struck a Venetian profoundly.

[2] The Gonfalonier Capponi put up a tablet on the Public Palace, in 1528, to this effect: 'Jesus Christus Rex Florentini Populi S.F. decreto electus.' This inscription is differently given. See Varchi, vol. i. p. 266; Segni, p. 46. Nothing is more significant of the difference between Venice and Florence than the political idealism implied in this religious consecration of the republic by statute. In my essay on 'Florence and the Medici' (Sketches and Studies in Italy) I have attempted to condense the internal history of the Republic and to analyze the state-craft of the Medici.

Throughout all these vicissitudes every form and phase of republican government was advocated, discussed, and put in practice by the Florentines. All the arts of factions, all the machinations of exiles, all the skill of demagogues, all the selfishness of party-leaders, all the learning of scholars, all the cupidity of subordinate officials, all the daring of conspirators, all the ingenuity of theorists, and all the malice of traitors, were brought successively or simultaneously into play by the burghers, who looked upon their State as something they might mold at will. One thing at least is clear amid so much apparent confusion, that Florence was living a vehemently active and self-conscious life, acknowledging no principle of stability in her constitution, but always stretching forward after that ideal Reggimento which was never realized.[1]

[1] In his 'Proemio' to the 'Trattato del Reggimento di Firenze, Guicciardini thus describes the desideratum: 'introdurre in Firenze un governo onesto, bene ordinato, e che veramente si potesse chiamare libero, il che dalla sua prima origine insino a oggi non e mai stato cittadino alcuno che abbia saputo o potuto fare.'

It is worth while to consider more in detail the different magistracies by which the government of Florence was conducted between the years of 1250 and 1531, and the gradual changes in the constitution which prepared the way for the Medicean tyranny.[1] It is only thus an accurate conception of the difference between the republican systems of Venice and of Florence can be gained. Before the date 1282, which may be fixed as the turning-point in Florentine history we hear of twelve Anziani, two chosen for each Sestiere of the city, acting in concert with a foreign Podesta, and a Captain of the People charged with military authority. At this time no distinction was made between nobles and plebeians; and the town, though Guelf, had not enacted rigorous laws against the Ghibelline families. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, however, important, changes were effected in the very elements of the commonwealth. The Anziani were superseded by the Priors of the Arts. Eight Priors, together with a new officer called the Gonfalonier of Justice, formed the Signoria, dwelling at public charge in the Palazzo and holding office only for two months.[2] No one who had not been matriculated into one of the Arti or commercial guilds could henceforth bear office in the state. At the same time severe measures, called Ordinanze della Giustizia, were passed, by which the nobles were for ever excluded from the government, and the Gonfalonier of Justice was appointed to maintain civil order by checking their pride and turbulence.[3] These modifications of the constitution, effected between 1282 and 1292, gave its peculiar character to the Florentine republic. Henceforward Florence was governed solely by merchants. Both Varchi and Machiavelli have recorded unfavorable opinions of the statute which reduced the republic of Florence to a commonwealth of shop-keepers.[4] But when we read these criticisms, we must bear in mind the internecine ferocity of party-strife at this period, and the discords to which a city divided between a territorial aristocracy and a commercial bourgeoisie was perpetually exposed. If anything could make the Ordinanze della Giustizia appear rational, it would be a cool perusal of the Chronicle of Matarazzo, which sets forth the wretched state of Perugia owing to the feuds of its patrician houses, the Oddi and the Baglioni.[5] Peace for the republic was not, however, secured by these strong measures. The factions of the Neri and Bianchi opened the fourteenth century with battles and proscriptions; and in 1323 the constitution had again to be modified. At this date the Signoria of eight Priors with the Gonfalonier of Justice, the College of the twelve Buonuomini, and the sixteen Gonfaloniers of the companies—called collectively i tre maggiori, or the three superior magistracies—were rendered eligible only to Guelf citizens of the age of thirty, who had qualified in one of the seven Arti Maggiori, and whose names were drawn by lot. This mode of election, the most democratic which it is possible to adopt, held good through all subsequent changes in the state. Its immediate object was to quiet discontent and to remove intrigue by opening the magistracies to all citizens alike. But, as Nardi has pointed out, it weakened the sense of responsibility in the burghers, who, when their names were once included in the bags kept for the purpose, felt sure of their election, and had no inducement to maintain a high standard of integrity. Sismondi also dates from this epoch the withdrawal of the Florentines from military service.[6] Nor, as the sequel shows, was the measure efficient as a check upon the personal ambition of encroaching party leaders. The Squittino and the Borse became instruments in the hands of the Medici for the consolidation of their tyranny.[7] By the end of the fourteenth century (about 1378)the Florentines had to meet a new difficulty. The Guelf citizens began to abuse the so-called Law of Admonition, by means of which the Ghibellines were excluded from the government. This law had formed an essential part of the measures of 1323. In the intervening half-century a new aristocracy, distinguished by the name of nobili popolani, had grown up and were now threatening the republic with a close oligarchy.[8] The discords which had previously raged between the people and the patricians were now transferred to this new aristocracy and the plebeians. It was found necessary to abolish the Admonition, which had been made a pretext of excluding all novi homines from the government, and to place the members of the inferior Arti on the same footing as those of the superior.[9] At this epoch the Medici, who neither belonged to the ancient aristocracy nor y the more distinguished houses of the nobili popolani, but rather to the so-called gente grassa or substantial tradesmen, first acquired importance. It was by a law of Salvestro de' Medici's in 1378 that the constitution received its final development in the direction of equality. Yet after all this leveling, and in the vehement efforts made by the proletariat on the occasion of the Ciompi outbreak, the exclusive nature of the Florentine republic was maintained. The franchise was never extended to more than the burghers, and the matter in debate was always virtually, who shall be allowed to rank as citizen upon the register? In fact, by using the pregnant words of Machiavelli, we may sum up the history of Florence to this point in one sentence: 'Di Firenze in prima si divisono intra loro i nobili, dipoi i nobili e il popolo, e in ultimo il popolo e la plebe; e molte volte occorse che una di queste parti rimasa superiore, si divise in due.'[10]

[1] I will place in an appendix (No. ii.) translations of Varchi, book iii. sections 20-22, and Nardi, book i. cap. 4, which give complete and clear accounts of the Florentine constitution after 1292.

[2] See Machiavelli, Ist. Fior. lib. ii. sect. II. The number of the Priors was first three, then six, and finally eight. Up to 1282 the city had been divided into Sestieri. It was then found convenient to divide it into quarters, and the numbers followed this alteration.

[3] Machiavelli, Ist. Fior. lib. ii. sect. 13, may be consulted for the history of Giano della Bella and his memorable ordinance. Dino Compagni's Chronicle contains the account of a contemporary.

[4] See Varchi, vol. i. p. 169; Mach. Ist. Fior. end of book ii.

[5] Archivio Storico, vol. xvi. See also the article 'Perugia,' in my Sketches in Italy and Greece.

[6] Vol. iii. p. 347.

[7] See App. ii. for the phrases 'Squittino' and 'Borse.'

[8] Of these new nobles the Albizzi and Ricci, deadly foes, were the most eminent. The former strove to exclude the Medici from the government.

[9] The number of the Arti varied at different times. Varchi treats of them as finally consisting of seven maggiori and fourteen minori.

[10] Proemio to Storia Fiorentina. 'In Florence the nobles first split up, then the nobles and the people, lastly the people and the multitude; and it often happened that when one of these parties got the upper hand, it divided into two camps.' For the meaning of Popolo see above, p. 55.

In the next generation the constitutional history of Florence exhibits a new phase. The equality which had been introduced into all classes of the commonwealth, combined with an absence of any state machinery like that of Venice, exposed Florence at this period to the encroachments of astute and selfish parvenus. The Medici, who had hitherto been nobodies, begin now to aspire to despotism. Partly by his remarkable talent for intrigue, partly by the clever use which he made of his vast wealth, and partly by espousing the plebeian cause, Cosimo de' Medici succeeded in monopolizing the government. It was the policy of the Medici to create a party dependent for pecuniary aid upon their riches, and attached to their interests by the closest ties of personal necessity. At the same time they showed consummate caution in the conduct of the state, and expended large sums on works of public utility. There was nothing mean in their ambition; and though posterity must condemn the arts by which they sought to sap the foundations of freedom in their native city, we are forced to acknowledge that they shared the noblest enthusiasms of their brilliant era. Little by little they advanced so far in the enslavement of Florence that the elections of all the magistrates, though still conducted by lot, were determined at their choice: the names of none but men devoted to their interests were admitted to the bags from which the candidates for office were selected, while proscriptive measures of various degrees of rigor excluded their enemies from participation in the government.[1] At length in 1480 the whole machinery of the republic was suspended by Lorenzo de' Medici in favor of the Board of Seventy, whom he nominated, and with whom, acting like a Privy Council, he administered the state.[2] It is clear that this revolution could never have been effected without a succession of coups d'etat. The instrument for their accomplishment lay ready to the hands of the Medicean party in the pernicious system of the Parlamento and Balia, by means of which the people, assembled from time to time in the public square, and intimidated by the reigning faction, intrusted full powers to a select committee nominated in private by the chiefs of the great house.[3] It is also clear that so much political roguery could not have been successful without an extensive demoralization of the upper rank of citizens. The Medici in effect bought and sold the honor of the public officials, lent money, jobbed posts of profit, and winked at peculation, until they had created a sufficient body of ames damnees, men who had everything to gain by a continuance of their corrupt authority. The party so formed, including even such distinguished citizens as the Guicciardini, Baccio Valori, and Francesco Vettori, proved the chief obstacle to the restoration of Florentine liberty in the sixteenth century.

[1] What Machiavelli says (Ist. Fior. vii. 1) about the arts of Cosimo contains the essence of the policy by which the Medici rose. Compare v. 4 and vii. 4-6 for his character of Cosimo. Guicciardini (Op. Ined. vol. ii. p. 68) describes the use made of extraordinary taxation as a weapon of offense against his enemies, by Cosimo: 'uso le gravezze in luogo de' pugnali che communemente suole usare chi ha simili reggimenti nelle mani.' The Marchese Gino Capponi (Arch. Stor. vol. i. pp. 315-20) analyzes the whole Medicean policy in a critique of great ability.

[2] Guicciardini (Op. Ined. vol. ii. pp. 35-49) exposes the principle and the modus operandi of this Council of Seventy, by means of which Lorenzo controlled the election of the magistracies, diverted the public moneys to his own use, and made his will law in Florence. The councils which he superseded at this date were the Consiglio del Popolo and the Consiglio del Comune, about which see Nardi, lib i. cap. 4.

[3] For the operation of the Parlamento and Balia, see Varchi, vol. ii. p. 372; Segni, p. 199; Nardi, lib. vi. cap. 4. Segni says: 'The Parlamento is a meeting of the Florentine people on the Piazza of the Signory. When the Signory has taken its place to address the meeting, the piazza is guarded by armed men, and then the people are asked whether they wish to give absolute power (Balia) and authority to the citizens named, for their good. When the answer, yes, prompted partly by inclination and partly by compulsion, is returned, the Signory immediately retires into the palace. This is all that is meant by this parlamento, which thus gives away the full power of effecting a change in the state.' The description given by Marco Foscari, p. 44 (loc. cit. supr.) is to the same effect, but the Venetian exposes more clearly the despotic nature of the institution in the hands of the Medici. It is well known how hostile Savonarola was to an institution which had lent itself so easily to despotism. This couplet he inscribed on the walls of the Council Chamber, in 1495:—

'E sappi che chi vuol parlamento Vuol torti dalle mani il reggimento.'

Compare the proverb, 'Chi disse parlamento disse guastamento.'

This tyranny of a commercial family, swaying the republic without the title and with but little of the pomp of princes, subsisted until the hereditary presidency of the state was conferred upon Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Civita di Penna, in 1531. Cosimo his successor, obtained the rank of Grand Duke from Pius V. in 1569, and his son received the imperial sanction to the title in 1575. The re-establishment at two different periods of a free commonwealth upon the sounder basis of the Consiglio Grande (1494-1512 and 1527-30) formed but two episodes in the history of this masked but tenacious despotism. Had Savonarola's constitution been adopted in the thirteenth instead of at the end of the fifteenth century, the stability of Florence might have been secured. But at the latter date the roots of the Medicean influence were too widely intertwined with private interests, the jealousies of classes and of factions were too inveterate, for any large and wholesome form of popular government to be universally acceptable. Besides, the burghers had been reduced to a nerveless equality of servitude, in which ambition and avarice took the place of patriotism; while the corruption of morals, fostered by the Medici for the confirmation of their own authority, was so widely spread as to justify Segni, Varchi, Giannotti, Guicciardini, and Machiavelli in representing the Florentines as equally unable to maintain their liberty and to submit to control.

The historical vicissitudes of Florence were no less remarkable than the unity of Venice. If in Venice we can trace the permanent and corporate existence of a state superior to the individuals who composed it, Florence exhibits the personal activity and conscious effort of her citizens. Nowhere can the intricate relations of classes to the commonwealth be studied more minutely than in the annals of Florence. In no other city have opinions had greater value in determining historical events; and nowhere was the influence of character in men of mark more notable. In this agitated political atmosphere the wonderful Florentine intelligence, which Varchi celebrated as the special glory of the Tuscan soil, and which Vasari referred to something felicitous in Tuscan air, was sharpened to the finest edge.[1] Successive generations of practical and theoretical statesmen trained the race to reason upon government, and to regard politics as a science. Men of letters were at the same time also prominent in public affairs. When, for instance, the exiles of 1529 sued Duke Alessandro before Charles V. at Naples, Jacopo Nardi drew up their pleas, and Francesco Guicciardini rebutted them in the interest of his master. Machiavelli learned his philosophy at the Courts of France and Germany and in the camp of Cesare Borgia. Segni shared the anxieties of Nicolo Capponi, when the Gonfalonier was impeached for high treason to the state of Florence. This list might be extended almost indefinitely, with the object of proving the intimate connection which subsisted at Florence between the thinkers and the actors. No other European community of modern times has ever acquired so subtle a sense of its own political existence, has ever reasoned upon its past history so acutely, or has ever displayed so much ingenuity in attempting to control the future. Venice on the contrary owed but little to the creative genius of her citizens. In Venice the state was everything: the individual was almost nothing. We find but little reflection upon politics, and no speculative philosophy of history among the Venetians until the date of Trifone Gabrielli and Paruta. Their records are all positive and detailed. The generalizations and comparisons of the Florentines are absent; nor was it till a late date of the Renaissance that the Venetian history came to be written as a whole. It would seem as though the constitutional stability which formed the secret of the strength of Venice was also the source of comparative intellectual inertness. This contrast between the two republics displayed itself even in their art. Statues of Judith, the tyrannicide, and of David, the liberator of his country, adorned the squares and loggie of Florence. The painters of Venice represented their commonwealth as a beautiful queen receiving the homage of her subjects and the world. Florence had no mythus similar to that which made Venice the Bride of the Sea, and which justified the Doge in hailing Caterina Cornaro as daughter of S. Mark's (1471). It was in the personal courage and intelligence of individual heroes that the Florentines discovered the counterpart of their own spirit; whereas the Venetians personified their city as a whole, and paid their homage to the Genius of the State.

[1] Varchi, ix. 49; Vasari, xii. p. 158; Burckhardt, p. 270.

It is not merely fanciful to compare Athens, the city of self-conscious political activity, variable, cultivated, and ill-adapted by its very freedom for prolonged stability, with Florence; Sparta, firmly based upon an ancient constitution, indifferent to culture, and solid at the cost of some rigidity, with Venice. As in Greece the philosophers of Athens, especially Plato and Aristotle, wondered at the immobility of Sparta and idealized her institutions; so did the theorists of Florence, Savonarola, Giannotti, Guicciardini, look with envy at the state machinery which secured repose and liberty for Venice. The parallel between Venice and Sparta becomes still more remarkable when we inquire into the causes of their decay. Just as the Ephors, introduced at first as a safeguard to the constitution, by degrees extinguished the influence of the royal families, superseded the senate, and exercised a tyrannous control over every department of the state; so the Council of Ten, dangerous because of its vaguely defined dictatorial functions, reduced Venice to a despotism.[1] The gradual dwindling of the Venetian aristocracy, and the impoverishment of many noble families, which rendered votes in the Grand Council venal, and threw the power into the hands of a very limited oligarchy, complete the parallel.[2] One of the chief sources of decay both to Venice and to Sparta was that shortsighted policy which prevented the nobles from recruiting their ranks by the admission of new families. The system again of secret justice, the espionage, and the calculated terrorism, by means of which both the Spartan Ephoralty and the Venetian Council imposed their will upon the citizens, were stifling to the free life of a republic.[3] Venice in the end became demoralized in politics and profligate in private life. Her narrowing oligarchy watched the national degeneration with approval, knowing that it is easier to control a vitiated populace than to curb a nation habituated to the manly virtues.

[1] Aristotle terms the Spartan Ephoralty [Greek: isotyrannos]. Giannotti (vol-ii. p. 120) compares the Ten to dictators. We might bring the struggles of the Spartan kings with the Ephoralty into comparison with the attempts of the Doges Falieri and Foscari to make themselves the chiefs of the republic in more than name. Mueller, in his Dorians, observes that 'the Ephoralty was the moving element, the principle of change, in the Spartan constitution, and, in the end, the cause of its dissolution.' Sismondi remarks that the precautions which led to the creation of the Council of Ten 'denaturaient entierement la constitution de l'etat.'

[2] See what Aristotle in the Politics says about [Greek: oliganthropia], and the unequal distribution of property. As to the property of the Venetian nobles, see Sanudo, Vite dei Duchi, Murat. xxii. p. 1194, who mentions the benevolences of the richer families to the poor. They built houses for aristocratic paupers to live in free of rent.

[3] A curious passage in Plutarch's Life of Cleomenes (Clough's Translation, vol. iv. p. 474) exactly applies to the Venetian statecraft:—'They, the Spartans, worship Fear, not as they do supernatural powers which they dread, esteeming it hurtful, but thinking their polity is chiefly kept up by fear ... and therefore the Lacedaemonians placed the temple of Fear by the Syssitium of the Ephors, having raised that magistracy to almost regal authority.'

Between Athens and Florence the parallel is not so close. These two republics, however, resemble one another in the freedom and variety of their institutions. In Athens, as in Florence, there was constant change and a highly developed political consciousness. Eminent men played the same important part in both. In both the genius of individuals was even stronger than the character of the state. Again, as Athens displayed more of a Panhellenic feeling than any other Greek city, so Florence was invariably more alive to the interests of Italy at large than any other state of the peninsula. Florence, like Athens, was the center of culture for the nation. Like Athens, she give laws to her sister towns in language, in literature, in fine arts, poetry, philosophy, and history. Without Florence it is not probable that Italy would have taken the place of proud pre-eminence she held so long in Europe. Florence never attained to the material greatness of Athens, because her power, relatively to the rest of Italy, was slight, her factions were incessant, and her connection with the Papacy was a perpetual source of weakness. But many of the causes which ruined Athens were in full operation at Florence. First and foremost was the petulant and variable temper of a democracy, so well described by Plato, and so ably analyzed by Machiavelli. The want of agreement among the versatile Florentines, fertile in plans but incapable of concerted action, was a chief source of political debility. Varchi and Segni both relate how, in spite of wealth, ability, and formidable forces, the Florentine exiles under the guidance of Filippo Strozzi (1533-37) became the laughing-stock of Italy through their irresolution. The Venetian ambassadors agree in representing the burghers of Florence as timid from excess of intellectual mobility. And Dante, whose insight into national characteristics was of the keenest, has described in ever-memorable lines the temperament of his fickle city (Purg. vi. 135-51).

Much of this instability was due to the fact that Florentine, like Athenian, intelligence was overdeveloped. It passed into mere cleverness, and overreached itself. Next we may note the tyranny which both republics exercised over cities that had once been free. Athens created a despotic empire instead of forming an Ionian Confederation. Florence reduced Pisa to the most miserable servitude, rendered herself odious to Arezzo and Volterra, and never rested from attempts upon the liberties of Lucca and Siena. All these states, which as a Tuscan federation should have been her strength in the hour of need, took the first opportunity of throwing off her yoke and helping her enemies. What Florence spent in recapturing Pisa, after the passage of Charles VIII. in 1494, is incalculable. And no sooner was she in difficulties during the siege of 1329, than both Arezzo and Pisa declared for her foes.

It will not do to push historical parallels too far, interesting as it may be to note a repetition of the same phenomena at distant periods and under varying conditions of society. At the same time, to observe fundamental points of divergence is no less profitable. Many of the peculiarities of Greek history are attributable to the fact that a Greek commonwealth consisted of citizens living in idleness, supported by their slaves, and bound to the state by military service and by the performance of civic duties. The distinctive mark of both Venice and Florence, on the other hand, was that their citizens were traders. The Venetians carried on the commerce of the Levant; the Florentines were manufacturers and bankers: the one town sent her sons forth on the seas to barter and exchange; the other was full of speculators, calculating rates of interest and discount, and contracting with princes for the conduct of expensive wars. The mercantile character of these Italian republics is so essential to their history that it will not be out of place to enlarge a little on the topic. We have seen that the Florentines rendered commerce a condition of burghership. Giannotti, writing the life of one of the chief patriots of the republic,[1] says: 'Egli stette a bottega, come fanno la maggior parte de' nostri, cosi nobili come ignobili.' To quote instances in a matter so clear and obvious would be superfluous: else I might show how Bardi and Peruzzi, Strozzi, Medici, Pitti, and Pazzi, while they ranked with princes at the Courts of France, or Rome, or Naples, were money-lenders, mortgagees and bill-discounters in every great city of Europe. The Palle of the Medici, which emboss the gorgeous ceilings of the Cathedral of Pisa, still swing above the pawnbroker's shop in London. And though great families like the Rothschilds in the most recent days have successfully asserted the aristocracy of wealth acquired by usury, it still remains a surprising fact that the daughter of the mediaeval bankers should have given a monarch to the French in the sixteenth century.

[1] Sulle azioni del Ferruccio, vol. i. p. 44. The report of Marco Foscari on the state of Florence, already quoted more than once, contains a curious aristocratic comment upon the shop-life of illustrious Florentine citizens. See Appendix ii. Even Piero de' Medici refused a Neapolitan fief on the ground that he was a tradesman.

A very lively picture of the modes of life and the habits of mind peculiar to the Italian burgher may be gained by the perusal of Agnolo Pandolfini's treatise, Del Governo della Famiglia. This essay should be read side by side with Castiglione's Cortegiano, by all who wish to understand the private life of the Italians in the age of the Renaissance.[1] Pandolfini lived at the time of the war of Florence with Filippo Visconti the exile, and the return of Cosimo de' Medici. He was employed by the republic on important missions, and his substance was so great that, on occasion of extraordinary aids, his contributions stood third or fourth upon the list. In the Councils of the Republic he always advocated peace, and in particular he spoke against Impresa di Lucca. As age advanced, he retired from public affairs, and devoted himself to study, religious exercises, and country excursions. He possessed a beautiful villa at Signa, notable for the splendor of its maintenance in all points which befit a gentleman. There he had the honor on various occasions of entertaining Pope Eugenius, King Rene, Francesco Sforza, and the Marchese Piccinino. His sons lived with him, and spent much of their spare time in hawking and the chase. They were three, Carlo, who rose to great dignity in the republic, Giannozzo, still more eminent as a public man, and Pandolfo, who died young. His wife, one of the Strozzi, died while Agnolo was between thirty and forty; but he never married again. He was a great friend of Lionardo Aretino, who published nothing without his approval. He lived to be upwards of eighty-five, and died in 1446. These facts sufficiently indicate what sort of man was the supposed author of the "Essay on the Family," proving, as they do, that he passed his leisure among princes and scholars, and that he played some part in the public affairs of the State of Florence. Yet his view of human life is wholly bourgeois, though by no means ignoble. In his conception, the first of all virtues is thrift, which should regulate the use not only of money, but of all the gifts of nature and of fortune. The proper economy of the mind involves liberal studies, courteous manners, honest conduct, and religion.[2] The right use of the body implies keeping it in good health by continence, exercise and diet.[3] The thrift of time consists in being never idle. Agnolo's sons, who are represented as talking with their father in this dialogue, ask him, in relation to the gifts of fortune, whether he thinks the honors of the State desirable. This question introduces a long and vehement invective against the life of a professional statesman, as of necessity fraudulent, mendacious, egotistic, cruel.[4] The private man of middle station is really happiest; and only a sense of patriotism should induce him, not seeking but when sought, to serve the State in public office. The really dear possessions of a man are his family, his wealth, his good repute, and his friendships. In order to be successful in the conduct of the family, a man must choose a large and healthy house, where the whole of his offspring—children and grandchildren, may live together. He must own an estate which will supply him with corn, wine, oil, wood, fowls, in fact with all the necessaries of life, so that he may not need to buy much. The main food of the family will be bread and wine. The discussion of the utility of the farm leads Agnolo to praise the pleasure and profit to be derived from life in the Villa. But at the same time a town-house has to be maintained; and it is here that the sons of the family should be educated, so that they may learn caution, and avoid vice by knowing its ugliness. In order to meet expenses, some trade must be followed, silk or wool manufacture being preferred; and in this the whole family should join, the head distributing work of various kinds to his children, as he deems most fitting, and always employing them rather than strangers. Thus we get the three great elements of the Florentine citizen's life: the casa, or town-house, the villa, or country-farm, and the bottega, or place of business. What follows is principally concerned with the details of economy. Expenses are of two sorts: necessary, for the repair of the house, the maintenance of the farm, the stocking of the shop; and unnecessary, for plate, house decoration, horses, grand clothes, entertainments. On this topic Agnolo inveighs with severity against household parasites, bravi, and dissolute dependents.[5] A little further on he indulges in another diatribe against great nobles, i signori, from whom he would have his sons keep clear at any cost.[6] It is the animosity of the industrious burgher for the haughty, pleasure-loving, idle, careless man of blood and high estate. In the bourgeois household described by Pandolfini no one can be indolent. The men have to work outside and collect wealth, the women to stay at home and preserve it. The character of a good housewife is sketched very minutely. Pandolfini describes how, when he was first married, he took his wife over the house, and gave up to her care all its contents. Then he went into their bedroom, and made her kneel with him before Madonna, and prayed God to give them wealth, friends, and male children. After that he told her that honesty would be her great charm in his eyes, as well as her chief virtue, and advised her to forego the use of paints and cosmetics. Much sound advice follows as to the respective positions of the master and the mistress in the household, the superintendence of domestics, and the right ordering of the most insignificant matters. The quality of the dress which will beseem the children of an honored citizen on various occasions, the pocket money of the boys, the food of the common table, are all discussed with some minuteness: and the wife is made to feel that she must learn to be neither jealous nor curious about concerns which her husband finds it expedient to keep private.

[1] I ought to state that Pandolfini is at least a century earlier in date than Casliglione, and that he represents a more primitive condition of society. The facts I have mentioned about his life are given on the authority of Vespasiano da Bisticci. The references are made to the Milanese edition of 1802. It must also be added that there are strong reasons for assigning the treatise in question to Leo Battista Alberti. As it professes, however, to give a picture of Pandolfini's family, I have adhered to the old title. But the whole question of the authorship of the Famiglia will be fully discussed in the last section of my book, which deals with Italian literature. Personally. I accept the theory of Alberti's authorship.

[2] A beautiful description of the religious temper, p. 74.

[3] What Pandolfini says about the beauty of the body is worthy of a Greek: what he says about exercise might have been written by an Englishman, p. 77.

[4] Pp. 82-89 are very important as showing how low the art of politics had sunk in Italy.

[5] P. 125.

[6] P. 175.

The charm of a treatise like that of Pandolfini on the family evaporates as soon as we try to make a summary of its contents. Enough, however, has been quoted to show the thoroughly bourgeois tone which prevailed among the citizens of Florence in the fifteenth century.[1] Very important results were the natural issue of this commercial spirit in the State. Talking of the Ordinanze di Giustizia, Varchi observes: 'While they removed in part the civil discords of Florence, they almost entirely extinguished all nobility of feeling in the Florentines, and tended as much to diminish the power and haughtiness of the city as to abate the insolence of the patriciate.'[2] A little further on he says: 'Hence may all prudent men see how ill-ordered in all things, save only in the Grand Council, has been the commonwealth of Florence; seeing that, to speak of nought else, that kind of men who in a wisely constituted republic ought not to fulfill any magistracy whatever, the merchants and artisans of all sorts, are in Florence alone capable of taking office, to the exclusion of all others.' Machiavelli, less wordy but far more emphatic than Varchi, says of the same revolution: 'This caused the abandonment by Florence not only of arms, but of all nobility of soul.'[3] The most notable consequence of the mercantile temper of the republics was the ruinous system of mercenary warfare, with all its attendant evils of ambitious captains of adventure, irresponsible soldiery, and mock campaigns, adopted by the free Italian States. It is true that even if the Italians had maintained their national militias in full force, they might not have been able to resist the shock of France and Spain any better than the armies of Thebes, Sparta, and Athens averted the Macedonian hegemony. But they would at least have run a better chance, and not perhaps have perished so ignobly through the treason of an Alfonso d'Este (1527), of a Marquis of Pescara (1525), of a Duke of Urbino (1527), and of a Malatesta Baglioni (1530).[4] Machiavelli, in a weighty passage at the end of the first book of his Florentine History, sums up the various causes which contributed to the disuse of national arms among the Italians of the Renaissance. The fear of the despot for his subjects, the priest-rule of the Church, the jealousy of Venice for her own nobles, and the commercial sluggishness of the Florentine burghers, caused each and all of these powers, otherwise so different, to intrust their armies to paid captains. 'Di questi adunque oziosi principi e di queste vilissime armi sara piena la mia istoria,' is the contemptuous phrase with which he winds up his analysis.[5]

[1] Varchi (book x. cap. 69) quotes a Florentine proverb: 'Chiunque non sta a bottega e ladro.' See above, p. 239.

[2] Varchi, vol. i. p. 168; compare vol. ii. p. 87, however.

[3] Ist. Fior. lib. ii. end. Aristotle's contempt for the [Greek: technitai] emerges in these comments of the doctrinaires.

[4] To multiply the instances of fraud and treason on the part of Italian condottieri would be easy. I have only mentioned the notable examples which fall within a critical period of five years. The Marquis of Pescara betrayed to Charles V. the league for the liberation of Italy, which he had joined at Milan. The Duke of Ferrara received and victualed Bourbon's (then Frundsberg's) army on its way to sack Rome, because he spited the Pope, and wanted to seize Modena for himself. The Duke of Urbino, wishing to punish Clement VII. for personal injuries, omitted to relieve Rome when it was being plundered by the Lutherans, though he held the commission of the Italian League. Malatesta Baglioni sold Florence, which he had undertaken to defend, to the Imperial army under the Prince of Orange.

[5] 'With the records of these indolent princes and most abject armaments, my history will, therefore, be filled.' Compare the following passage in a letter from Machiavelli to Francesco Guicciardini (Op. vol. x. p. 255): 'Comincio ora a scrivere di nuovo, e mi sfogo accusando i principi, che hanno fatto ogni cosa per condurci qui.'



Florence, the City of Intelligence—Cupidity, Curiosity, and the Love of Beauty—Florentine Historical Literature—Philosophical Study of History—Ricordano Malespini—Florentine History compared with the Chronicles of other Italian Towns—The Villani—The Date 1300—Statistics—Dante's Political Essays and Pamphlets—Dino Compagni—Latin Histories of Florence in Fifteenth Century—Lionardo Bruni and Poggio Bracciolini—The Historians of the First Half of the Sixteenth Century—Men of Action and Men of Letters: the Doctrinaires—Florence between 1494 and 1537—Varchi, Segni, Nardi, Pitti, Nerli, Guicciardini—The Political Importance of these Writers—The Last Years of Florentine Independence, and the Siege of 1529—State of Parties—Filippo Strozzi—Different Views of Florentine Weakness taken by the Historians—Their Literary Qualities—Francesco Guicciardini and Niccolo Machiavelli—Scientific Statists—Discord between Life and Literature—The Biography of Guicciardini—His 'Istoria d'Italia,' 'Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze,' 'Storia Fiorentina,' 'Ricordi'—Biography of Machiavelli—His Scheme of a National Militia—Dedication of 'The Prince'—Political Ethics of the Italian Renaissance—The Discorsi—The Seven Books on the Art of War and the 'History of Florence.'

Florence was essentially the city of intelligence in modern times. Other nations have surpassed the Italians in their genius—the quality which gave a superhuman power of insight to Shakespeare and an universal sympathy to Goethe. But nowhere else except at Athens has the whole population of a city been so permeated with ideas, so highly intellectual by nature, so keen in perception, so witty and so subtle, as at Florence. The fine and delicate spirit of the Italians existed in quintessence among the Florentines. And of this superiority not only they but the inhabitants also of Rome and Lombardy and Naples, were conscious. Boniface VIII., when he received the ambassadors of the Christian powers in Rome on the occasion of the Jubilee in 1300, observed that all of them were citizens of Florence. The witticism which he is said to have uttered, i Fiorentini essere il quinto elemento, 'that the men of Florence form a fifth element,' passed into a proverb. The primacy of the Florentines in literature, the fine arts, law, scholarship, philosophy, and science was acknowledged throughout Italy.

When the struggle for existence has been successfully terminated, and the mere instinct of self-preservation no longer absorbs the activities of a people, then the three chief motive forces of civilization begin to operate. These are cupidity, or the desire of wealth and all that it procures; curiosity, or the desire to discover new facts about the world and man; and the love of beauty, which is the parent of all art. Commerce, philosophy, science, scholarship, sculpture, architecture, painting, music, poetry, are the products of these ruling impulses—everything in fact which gives a higher value to the life of man. Different nations have been swayed by these passions in different degrees. The artistic faculty, which owes its energy to the love of beauty, has been denied to some; the philosophic faculty, which starts with curiosity, to others; and some again have shown but little capacity for amassing wealth by industry or calculation. It is rare to find a whole nation possessed of all in an equal measure of perfection. Such, however, were the Florentines.[1] The mere sight of the city and her monuments would suffice to prove this. But we are not reduced to the necessity of divining what Florence was by the inspection of her churches, palaces, and pictures. That marvelous intelligence which was her pride, burned brightly in a long series of historians and annalists, who have handed down to us the biography of the city in volumes as remarkable for penetrative acumen as for definite delineation and dramatic interest. We possess picture-galleries of pages in which the great men of Florence live again and seem to breathe and move, epics of the commonwealth's vicissitudes from her earliest commencement, detailed tragedies and highly finished episodes, studies of separate characters, and idylls detached from the main current of her story. The whole mass of this historical literature is instinct with the spirit of criticism and vital with experience. The writers have been either actors or spectators of the drama. Trained in the study of antiquity, as well as in the council-chambers of the republic and in the courts of foreign princes, they survey the matter of their histories from a lofty vantage ground, fortifying their speculative conclusions by practical knowledge and purifying their judgment of contemporary events with the philosophy of the past. Owing to this rare mixture of qualities, the Florentines deserve to be styled the discoverers of the historic method for the modern world. They first perceived that it is unprofitable to study the history of a state in isolation, that not wars and treaties only, but the internal vicissitudes of the commonwealth, form the real subject matter of inquiry,[2] and that the smallest details, biographical, economical, or topographical, may have the greatest value. While the rest of Europe was ignorant of statistics, and little apt to pierce below the surface of events to the secret springs of conduct, in Florence a body of scientific historians had gradually been formed, who recognized the necessity of basing their investigations upon a diligent study of public records, state-papers, and notes of contemporary observers.[3] The same men prepared themselves for the task of criticism by a profound study of ethical and political philosophy in the works of Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and Tacitus.[4] They examined the methods of classical historians, and compared the annals of Greece, Rome, and Palestine with the chronicles of their own country. They attempted to divine the genius and to characterize the special qualities of the nations, cities, and individuals of whom they had to treat.[5] At the same time they spared no pains in seeking out persons possessed of accurate knowledge in every branch of inquiry that came beneath their notice, so that their treatises have the freshness of original documents and the charm of personal memoirs. Much, as I have elsewhere noted, was due to the peculiarly restless temper of the Florentines, speculative, variable, unquiet in their politics. The very qualities which exposed the commonwealth to revolutions, developed the intelligence of her historians; her want of stability was the price she paid for intellectual versatility and acuteness unrivaled in modern times. '"O ingenia magis acria quam matura," said Petrarch, and with truth, about the wits of the Florentines; for it is their property by nature to have more of liveliness and acumen than of maturity or gravity.'[6]

[1] Since the Greeks, no people have combined curiosity and the love of beauty, the scientific and the artistic sense, in the same proportions as the Florentines.

[2] See Machiavelli's critique of Lionardo d'Arezzo and Messer Poggio, in the Proemio to his Florentine History. His own conception of history, as the attempt to delineate the very spirit of a nation, is highly philosophical.

[3] The high sense of the requirements of scientific history attained by the Italians is shown by what Giovio relates of Gian Galeazzo's archives (Vita di Gio. Galeazzo, p. 107). After describing these, he adds: 'talche, chi volesse scrivere un' historia giusta non potrebbe desiderare altronde ne piu abbondante ne piu certa materia; perciocche da questi libri facilissimamente si traggono le cagioni delle guerre, i consigli, e i successi dell' imprese.' The Proemio to Varchi's Storie Fiorentine (vol. i. pp. 42-44), which gives an account of his preparatory labors, is an unconscious treatise on the model historian. Accuracy, patience, love of truth, sincerity in criticism, and laborious research, have all their proper place assigned to them. Compare Guicciardini, Ricordi, No. cxliii., for sound remarks upon the historian's duty of collecting the statistics of his own age and country.

[4] The prefaces to Giannotti's critiques of Florence and of Venice show how thoroughly his mind had been imbued with the Politics of Aristotle. Varchi acknowledges the direct influence of Polybius and Tacitus. Livy is Machiavelli's favorite.

[5] On this point the Relazioni of Italian ambassadors are invaluable. What dryly philosophical compendia are the notes of Machiavelli upon the French Court and Cesare Borgia! How astute are the Venetian letters on the opinions and qualities of the Roman Prelates!

[6] Guicc. Ricordi, cciii. Op. Ined. vol. i. p. 229.

The year 1300 marks the first development of historical research in Florence. Two great writers, Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Villani, at this epoch pursued different lines of study, which determined the future of this branch of literature for the Italians. It is not uncharacteristic of Florentine genius that while the chief city of Tuscany was deficient in historians of her achievements before the date which I have mentioned, her first essays in historiography should have been monumental and standard-making for the rest of Italy. Just as the great burghs of Lombardy attained municipal independence somewhat earlier than those of Tuscany, so the historic sense developed itself in the valley of the Po at a period when the valley of the Arno had no chronicler. Sire Raul and Ottone Morena, the annalists of Milan, Fra Salimbene, the sagacious and comprehensive historian of Parma, Rolandino, to whom we owe the chronicle of Ezzelino and the tragedy of the Trevisan Marches, have no rivals south of the Apennines in the thirteenth century. Even the Chronicle of the Malespini family, written in the vulgar tongue from the beginning of the world to the year 1281, which occupies 146 volumes of Muratori's Collection, and which used to be the pride of Tuscan antiquarians, has recently been shown to be in all probability a compilation based upon the Annals of Villani.[1] This makes the clear emergence of a scientific sense for history in the year 1300 at Florence all the more remarkable. In order to estimate the high quality of the work achieved by the Villani it is only necessary to turn the pages of some early chronicles of sister cities which still breathe the spirit of unintelligent mediaeval industry, before the method of history had been critically apprehended. The naivete of these records may be appreciated by the following extracts. A Roman writes[2]: 'I Lodovico Bonconte Monaldeschi was born in Orvieto, and was brought up in the city of Rome, where I have resided. I was born in the year 1327, in the month of June, at the time when the Emperor Lodovico came. Now I wish to relate the whole history of my age, seeing that I lived one hundred and fifteen years without illness, except that when I was born I fainted, and I died of old age, and remained in bed twelve months on end.' Burigozzo's Chronicle of Milan, again, concludes with these words:[3] 'As you will see in the Annals of my son, inasmuch as the death which has overtaken me prevents my writing more.' Chronicles conceived and written in this spirit are diaries of events, repertories of strange stories, and old wives' tales, without a deep sense of personal responsibility, devoid alike of criticism and artistic unity. Very different is the character of the historical literature which starts into being in Florence at the opening of the fourteenth century.

[1] See Paul Scheffer-Boichorst, Florentiner Studien, Leipzig, 1874, Carl Hegel, in his defense of Compagni, Die Chronik des Dino Compagni, Versuch einer Rettung, Leipzig, 1875, admits the proof of spuriousness. See the preface, p. v. The point, however, is still disputed by Florentine scholars of high authority. Gino Capponi, in his Storia della Repubblica di Firenze (vol. i. Appendix, final note), observes that while the Villani are popular in tone the Malespini Chronicle is feudal. Adolfo Bartoli (Storia della Lett. It. vol. iii. p. 155) treats the question as still open. The custom of preserving brief fasti in the archives of great houses rendered such compilations as the Malespini Chronicle is now supposed to have been both easy and attractive. The Christian name Ricordano given to the first Malespini annalist does not exist. It has been suggested that it is due to a misreading of an initial sentence, Ricordano i Malespini.

[2] Muratori, vol. xii. p. 529.

[3] Arch. Stor. vol. iii. p. 552. Both Monaldeschi and Burigozzo appear to mention their own death. The probability is that their annals, as we have them, have been freely dealt with by transcribers or continuators adopting the historic 'I' after the decease of the titular authors.

Giovanni Villani relates how, having visited Rome on the occasion of the Jubilee, when 200,000 pilgrims crowded the streets of the Eternal City, he was moved in the depth of his soul by the spectacle of the ruins of the discrowned mistress of the world.[1] 'When I saw the great and ancient monuments of Rome, and read the histories and the great deeds of the Romans, written by Virgil, and by Sallust, and by Lucan, and by Livy, and by Valerius, and Orosius, and other masters of history, who related small as well as great things of the acts and doings of the Romans, I took style and manner from them, though, as a learner, I was not worthy of so vast a work.' Like our own Gibbon, musing upon the steps of Ara Celi, within sight of the Capitol, and within hearing of the monks at prayer, he felt the genius loci stir him with a mixture of astonishment and pathos. Then 'reflecting that our city of Florence, the daughter and the creature of Rome, was in the ascendant toward great achievements, while Rome was on the wane, I thought it seemly to relate in this new Chronicle all the doings and the origins of the town of Florence, as far as I could collect and discover them, and to continue the acts of the Florentines and the other notable things of the world in brief onwards so long as it shall be God's pleasure, hoping in whom by His grace I have done the work rather than by my poor knowledge; and therefore in the year 1300, when I returned from Rome, I began to compile this book, to the reverence of God and Saint John and the praise of this our city Florence.' The key-note is struck in these passages. Admiration for the past mingles with prescience of the future. The artist and the patriot awake together in Villani at the sight of Rome and the thought of Florence.

[1] Lib. viii. cap. 36.

The result of this visit to Rome in 1300 was the Chronicle which Giovanni Villani carried in twelve books down to the year 1346. In 1348 he died of the plague, and his work was continued on the same plan by his brother Matteo. Matteo in his turn died of plague in 1362, and left the Chronicle to his son Filippo, who brought it down to the year 1365. Of the three Villani, Giovanni is the greatest, both as a master of style and as an historical artist. Matteo is valuable for the general reflections which form exordia to the eleven books that bear his name. Filippo was more of a rhetorician. He is known as the public lecturer upon the Divine Comedy, and as the author of some interesting but meager lives of eminent Florentines, his predecessors or contemporaries.

The Chronicle of the Villani is a treasure-house of clear and accurate delineations rather than of profound analysis. Not only does it embrace the whole affairs of Europe in annals which leave little to be desired in precision of detail and brevity of statement; but, what is more to our present purpose, it conveys a lively picture of the internal condition of the Florentines and the statistics of the city in the fourteenth century. We learn, for example, that the ordinary revenues of Florence amounted to about 300,000 golden florins,[1] levied chiefly by way of taxes—90,200 proceeding from the octroi, 58,300 from the retail wine trade, 14,450 from the salt duties, and so on through the various imposts, each of which is carefully calculated. Then we are informed concerning the ordinary expenditure of the Commune—15,240 lire for the podesta and his establishment, 5,880 lire for the Captain of the people and his train, 3,600 for the maintenance of the Signory in the Palazzo, and so on down to a sum of 2,400 for the food of the lions, for candles, torches, and bonfires. The amount spent publicly in almsgiving; the salaries of ambassadors and governors; the cost of maintaining the state armory; the pay of the night-watch; the money spent upon the yearly games when the palio was run; the wages of the city trumpeters; and so forth, are all accurately reckoned. In fact the ordinary Budget of the Commune is set forth. The rate of extraordinary expenses during war-time is estimated on the scale of sums voted by the Florentines to carry on the war with Martino della Scala in 1338. At that time they contributed 25,000 florins monthly to Venice, maintained full garrisons in the fortresses of the republic, and paid as well for upwards of 1,000 men at arms. In order that a correct notion of these balance-sheets may be obtained, Villani is careful to give particulars about the value of the florin and the lira, and the number of florins coined yearly. In describing the condition of Florence at this period, he computes the number of citizens capable of bearing arms, between the ages fifteen and seventy, at 25,000; the population of the city at 90,000, not counting the monastic communities, nor including the strangers, who are estimated at about 15,000. The country districts belonging to Florence add 80,000 to this calculation. It is further noticed that the excess of male births over female was between 300 and 500 yearly in Florence, that from 8,000 to 10,000 boys and girls learned to read; that there were six schools, in which from 10,000 to 12,000 children learned arithmetic; and four high schools, in which from 550 to 600 learned grammar and logic. Then follows a list of the religious houses and churches: among the charitable institutions are reckoned 30 hospitals capable of receiving more than 1,000 sick people. Here too it may be mentioned that Villani reckons the beggars of Florence at 17,000, with the addition of 4,000 paupers and sick persons and religious mendicants.[2] These mendicants were not all Florentines, but received relief from the city charities. The big wool factories are numbered at upwards of two hundred; and it is calculated that from sixty to eighty thousand pieces of cloth were turned out yearly, to the value in all of about 1,200,000 florins. More than 30,000 persons lived by this industry. The calimala factories, where foreign cloths were manufactured into fine materials, numbered about twenty. These imported some 10,000 pieces of cloth yearly, to the value of 300,000 florins. The exchange offices are estimated at about eighty in number. The fortunes made in Florence by trade and by banking were colossal for those days. Villani tells us that the great houses of the Bardi and Peruzzi lent to our King Edward III. more than 1,365,000 golden florins.[3] 'And mark this,' he continues, 'that these moneys were chiefly the property of persons who had given it to them on deposit.' This debt was to have been recovered out of the wool revenues and other income of the English; in fact, the Bardi and Peruzzi had negotiated a national loan, by which they hoped to gain a superb percentage on their capital. The speculation, however, proved unfortunate; and the two houses would have failed, but for their enormous possessions in Tuscany. We hear, for example, of the Bardi buying the villages of Vernia and Mangona in 1337.[4] As it was, their credit received a shock from which it never thoroughly recovered; and a little later on, in 1342, after the ruinous wars with the La Scala family and Pisa, and after the loss of Lucca, they finally stopped payment and declared themselves bankrupt.[5] The shock communicated by this failure to the whole commerce of Christendom is well described by Villani.[6] The enormous wealth amassed by Florentine citizens in commerce may be still better imagined when we remember that the Medici, between the years 1434 and 1471, spent some 663,755 golden florins upon alms and public works, of which 400,000 were supplied by Cosimo alone. But to return to Villani; not content with the statistics which I have already extracted, he proceeds to calculate how many bushels of wheat, hogsheads of wine, and head of cattle were consumed in Florence by the year and the week.[7] We are even told that in the month of July 1280, 40,000 loads of melons entered the gate of San Friano and were sold in the city. Nor are the manners and the costume of the Florentines neglected: the severe and decent dress of the citizens in the good old times (about 1260) is contrasted with the new-fangled fashions introduced by the French in 1342.[8] In addition to all this miscellaneous information may be mentioned what we learn from Matteo Villani concerning the foundation of the Monte or Public Funds of Florence in the year 1345,[9] as well as the remarkable essay upon the economical and other consequences of the plague of 1348, which forms the prelude to his continuation of his brother's Chronicle.[10]

[1] xi. 62.

[2] x. 162.

[3] xi. 88.

[4] xi. 74. On this occasion a law was passed forbidding citizens to become lords of districts within the territory of Florence.

[5] xi. 38.

[6] xi. 88.

[7] xi, 94.

[8] vi. 69; xii. 4.

[9] iii. 106.

[10] i. 1-8.

In his survey of the results of the Black Death, Matteo notices not only the diminution of the population, but the alteration in public morality, the displacement of property, the increase in prices, the diminution of labor, and the multiplication of lawsuits, which were the consequences direct or indirect of the frightful mortality. Among the details which he has supplied upon these topics deserve to be commemorated the enormous bequests to public charities in Florence—350,000 florins to the Society of Orsammichele, 25,000 to the Compagnia della Misericordia, and 25,000 to the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. The poorer population had been almost utterly destroyed by the plague; so that these funds were for the most part wasted, misapplied, and preyed upon by mal-administrators.[1] The foundation of the University of Florence is also mentioned as one of the extraordinary consequences of this calamity.

[1] Matteo Villani expressly excepts the Hospital of S. Maria Nuova, which seems to have been well managed.

The whole work of the Villani remains a monument, unique in mediaeval literature, of statistical patience and economical sagacity, proving how far in advance of the other European nations were the Italians at this period.[1] Dante's aim is wholly different. Of statistics and of historical detail we gain but little from his prose works. His mind was that of a philosopher who generalizes, and of a poet who seizes salient characteristics, not that of an annalist who aims at scrupulous fidelity in his account of facts. I need not do more than mention here the concise and vivid portraits, which he has sketched in the Divine Comedy, of all the chief cities of Italy; but in his treatise 'De Monarchia' we possess the first attempt at political speculation, the first essay in constitutional philosophy, to which the literature of modern Europe gave birth; while his letters addressed to the princes of Italy, the cardinals, the emperor and the republic of Florence, are in like manner the first instances of political pamphlets setting forth a rationalized and consistent system of the rights and duties of nations. In the 'De Monarchia' Dante bases a theory of universal government upon a definite conception of the nature and the destinies of humanity. Amid the anarchy and discord of Italy, where selfishness was everywhere predominant, and where the factions of the Papacy and Empire were but cloaks for party strife, Dante endeavors to bring his countrymen back to a sublime ideal of a single monarchy, a true imperium, distinct from the priestly authority of the Church, but not hostile to it,—nay, rather seeking sanction from Christ's Vicar upon earth and affording protection to the Holy See, as deriving its own right from the same Divine source. Political science in this essay takes rank as an independent branch of philosophy, and the points which Dante seeks to establish are supported by arguments implying much historical knowledge, though quaintly scholastic in their application. The Epistles contain the same thoughts: peace, mutual respect, and obedience to a common head, the duty of the chief to his subordinates and of the governed to their lord, are urged with no less force, but in a more familiar style and with direct allusion to the events which called each letter forth. They are in fact political brochures addressed by a thinker from his solitude to the chief actors in the drama of history around him. Nor would it here be right to omit some notice of the essay 'De Vulgari Eloquio,' which, considering the date of its appearance, is no less original and indicative of a new spirit in the world than the treatise 'De Monarchia.' It is an attempt to write the history of Italian as a member of the Romance Languages, to discuss the qualities of its several dialects, and to prove the advantages to be gained by the formation of a common literary tongue for Italy. Though Dante was of course devoid of what we now call comparative philology, and had but little knowledge of the first beginnings of the languages which he discusses, yet it is not more than the truth to say that this essay applies the true method of critical analysis for the first time to the subject, and is the first attempt to reason scientifically upon the origin and nature of a modern language.

[1] We must remember that our own annalists, Holinshed and Stow, were later by two centuries than the Villani.

While discussing the historical work of Dante and the Villani, it is impossible that another famous Florentine should not occur to our recollection, whose name has long been connected with the civic contests that resulted in the exile of Italy's greatest poet from his native city. Yet it is not easy for a foreign critic to deal with the question of Dino Compagni's Chronicle—a question which for years has divided Italian students into two camps, which has produced a voluminous literature of its own, and which still remains undecided. The point at issue is by no means insignificant. While one party contends that we have in this Chronicle the veracious record of an eye-witness, the other asserts that it is the impudent fabrication of a later century, composed on hints furnished by Dante, and obscure documents of the Compagni family, and expressed in language that has little of the fourteenth century. The one regards it as a faithful narrative, deficient only in minor details of accuracy. The other stigmatizes it as a wholly untrustworthy forgery, and calls attention to numberless mistakes, confusions, misconceptions, and misrepresentations of events, which place its genuineness beyond the pale of possibility. After a careful consideration of Scheffer's, Fanfani's, Gino Capponi's, and Isidoro del Lungo's arguments, it seems to me clearly established that the Chronicle of Dino Compagni can no longer be regarded as a perfectly genuine document of fourteenth-century literature. In the form in which we now possess it, we are rather obliged to regard it as a rifacimento of some authentic history, compiled during the course of the fifteenth century in a prose which bears traces of the post-Boccaccian style of composition.[1] Yet the authority of Dino Compagni has long been such, and such is still the literary value of the monograph which bears his name, that it would be impertinent to dismiss the 'Chronicle' unceremoniously as a mere fiction. I propose, therefore, first to give an account of the book on its professed merits, and then to discuss, as briefly as I can, the question of its authenticity.

[1] The first critic to call Compagni's authenticity in question was Pietro Fanfani, in an article of Il Pievano Arlotto, 1858. The cause was taken up, shortly after this date, by an abler German authority, P. Scheffer-Boichorst. The works which I have studied on this subject are, 1. Florentiner Studien, von P. Scheffer-Boichorst, Leipzig, Hirzel, 1874. 2. Dino Compagni vendicato dalla Calunnia di Scrittore della Cronica, di Pietro Fanfani, Milano, Carrara, 1875. 3. Die Chronik des Dino Compagni, Versuch einer Rettung, von Dr. Carl Hegel, Leipzig, Hirzel, 1875. 4. Die Chronik des Dino Compagni, Kritik der Hegelschen Schrift, von P. Scheffer-Boichorst, Leipzig, Hirzel, 1875. 5. The note appended to Gino Capponi's Storia della Repubblica di Firenze. 6. Dino Compagni e la sua Chronica, per Isidoro del Lungo, Firenze, Le Mornier. Unluckily, the last-named work, though it consists already of two bulky volumes in large 8vo, is not yet complete; and the part which will treat of the question of authorship and MS. authority has not appeared.

The year 1300, which Dante chose for the date of his descent with Virgil to the nether world, and which marked the beginning of Villani's 'Chronicle,' is also mentioned by Dino Compagni in the first sentence of the preface to his work. 'The recollections of ancient histories,' he says, 'have a long while stirred my mind to writing the perilous and ill-fated events, which the noble city, daughter of Rome, has suffered many years, and especially at the time of the jubilee in the year 1300.' Dino Compagni, whose 'Chronicle' embraces the period between 1280 and 1312, took the popular side in the struggles of 1282, sat as Prior in 1289, and in 1301, and was chosen Gonfalonier of Justice in 1293. He was therefore a prominent actor in the drama of those troublous times. He died in 1324, two years and four months after the date of Dante's death, and was buried in the church of Santa Trinita. He was a man of the same stamp as Dante;[1] burning with love for his country, but still more a lover of the truth; severe in judgment, but beyond suspicion of mere partisanship; brief in utterance, but weighty with personal experience, profound conviction, prophetic intensity of feeling, sincerity, and justice. As a historian, he narrowed his labors to the field of one small but highly finished picture. He undertook to narrate the civic quarrels of his times, and to show how the commonwealth of Florence was brought to ruin by the selfishness of her own citizens; nor can his 'Chronicle,' although it is by no means a masterpiece of historical accuracy or of lucid arrangement, be surpassed for the liveliness of its delineation, the graphic clearness of its characters, the earnestness of its patriotic spirit, and the acute analysis which lays bare the political situation of a republic torn by factions, during the memorable period which embraced the revolution of Giano della Bella and the struggles of the Neri and Bianchi. The comparison of Dino Compagni with any contemporary annalist in Italy shows that here again, in these pages, a new spirit has arisen. Muratori, proud to print them for the first time in 1726, put them on a level with the 'Commentaries of Caesar'; Giordani welcomed their author as a second Sallust. The political sagacity and scientific penetration, possessed in so high a degree by the Florentines, appear in full maturity. Compagni's 'Chronicle' heads a long list of similar monographs, unique in the literature of a single city.[2]

[1] The apostrophes to the citizens of Florence at large, and the imprecations on some of the worst offenders among the party-leaders (especially in book ii. on the occasion of the calamities of 1301) are conceived and uttered in the style of Dante.

[2] Among these I may here mention Gino Capponi's history of the Ciompi Rebellion, Giovanni Cavalcanti's memoirs of the period between 1420 and 1452, Leo Battista Alberti's narrative of Porcari's attempt upon the life of Nicholas V., Vespasiano's 'Biographies,' and Poliziano's 'Essay on the Pazzi Conspiracy.' Gino Capponi, born about 1350, was Prior in 1396, and Gonfalonier of Justice in 1401 and 1418; he died in 1421. Giovanni Cavalcanti was a zealous admirer of Cosimo de' Medici; he composed his 'Chronicle' in the prison of the Stinche, where he was unjustly incarcerated for a debt to the Commune of Florence. Vespasiano da Bisticci contributed a series of most valuable portraits to the literature of Italy: all the great men of his time are there delineated with a simplicity that is the sign of absolute sincerity, Poliziano was present at the murder of Giuliano de' Medici in the Florentine Duomo. The historians of the sixteenth century will be noticed together further on.

The arguments against the authenticity of Dino Compagni's 'Chronicle' may be arranged in three groups. The first concerns the man himself. It is urged that, with the exception of his offices as Prior and Gonfalonier, we have no evidence of his political activity, beyond what is furnished by the disputed 'Chronicle.' According to his own account, Dino played a part of the first importance in the complicated events of 1280-1312. Yet he is not mentioned by Giovanni Villani, by Filippo Vallani, or by Dante. There is no record of his death, except a MS. note in the Magliabecchian Codex of his 'Chronicle' of the date 1514.[1] He is known in literature as the author of a few lyrics and an oration to Pope John XXII., the style of which is so rough and mediaeval as to make it incredible that the same writer should have composed the masterly paragraphs of the 'Chronicle.'[2] The second group of arguments affects the substance of the 'Chronicle' itself. Though Dino was Prior when Charles of Valois entered Florence, he records that event under the date of Sunday the fourth of November, whereas Charles arrived on the first of November, and the first Sunday of the month was the fifth. He differs from the concurrent testimony of other historians in making the affianced bride of Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti a Giantruffetti instead of an Amidei, and the Bishop of Arezzo a Pazzi instead of an Ubertini. He reckons the Arti at twenty-four, whereas they numbered twenty-one. He places the Coronation of Henry VII. in August, instead of in June, 1312. He seems to refer to the Palace of the Signory, which could not have been built at the date in question. He asserts that a member of the Benivieni family was killed by one of the Galligai, whereas the murderer was of the blood of the Galli. He represents himself as having been the first Gonfalonier of Justice who destroyed the houses of rebellious nobles, while Baldo de' Ruffoli, who held the office before him, had previously carried out the Ordinances. Speaking of Guido Cavalcanti about the year 1300, he calls him 'uno giovane gentile'; and yet Guido had married the daughter of Farinata degli Uberti in 1266, and certainly did not survive 1300 more than a few months. The peace with Pisa, which was concluded during Compagni's tenure of the Gonfalonierate, is not mentioned, though this must have been one of the most important public events with which he was concerned. Chronology is hopelessly and inextricably confused; while inaccuracies and difficulties of the kind described abound on every page of the 'Chronicle,' rendering the labor of its last commentator and defender one of no small difficulty. The third group of arguments assails the language of the 'Chronicle' and its MS. authority. Fanfani, who showed more zeal than courtesy in his destructive criticism, undertook to prove that Dino's style in general is not distinguished for the 'purity, simplicity, and propriety' of the trecento[3]; that it abounds in expressions of a later period, such as armata for oste, marciare for andare, accio for acciocche, onde for affinche; that numerous imitations of Dante can be traced in it; and that to an acute student of early Italian prose its palpable quattrocentismo is only slightly veiled by a persistent affectation of fourteenth-century archaism. This argument from style seems the strongest that can be brought against the genuineness of the 'Chronicle'; for while it is possible that Dino may have made innumerable blunders about the events in which he took a part, it is incredible that he should have anticipated the growth of Italian by at least a century. Yet judges no less competent than Fanfani in this matter of style, and far more trustworthy as witnesses, Vincenzo Nannucci, Gino Capponi, Isidoro del Lungo, are of opinion that Dino's 'Chronicle' is a masterpiece of Italian fourteenth-century prose; and till Italian experts are agreed, foreign critics must suspend their judgment. The analysis of style receives a different development from Scheffer-Boichorst. In his last essay he undertakes to show that many passages of the 'Chronicle,' especially the important one which refers to the Ordinamenti della Giustizia, have been borrowed from Villani.[4] This critical weapon is difficult to handle, for it almost always cuts both ways. Yet the German historian has made out an undoubtedly good case by proving Villani's language closer to the original Ordinamenti than Compagni's. With regard to MS. authority, the codices of Dino's 'Chronicle' extant in Italy are all of them derived from a MS. transcribed by Noferi Busini and given by him to Giovanni Mazzuoli, surnamed Lo Stradino, who was a member of the Florentine Academy and a greedy collector of antiquities. This MS. bears the date 1514. The recent origin of this parent codex, and the questionable character of Lo Stradino, gave rise to not unreasonable suspicions. Fanfani roundly asserted that the 'Chronicle' must have been fabricated as a hoax upon the uncritical antiquary, since it suddenly appeared without a pedigree, at a moment when such forgeries were not uncommon. Scheffer-Boichorst, in his most recent pamphlet, committed himself to the opinion that either Lo Stradino himself, nicknamed Cronaca Scorretta by his Florentine cronies, or one of his contemporaries, was the forger.[5] An Italian impugner of the 'Chronicle,' Giusto Grion of Verona, declared for Antonfrancesco Doni as the fabricator.[6] These hypotheses, however, are, to say the least, unlucky for their suggestors, and really serve to weaken rather than to strengthen the destructive line of argument. There exists an elder codex of which Fanfani and his followers were ignorant. It is a MS. of perhaps the middle of the fifteenth century, which was purchased for the Ashburnham Library in 1846. This MS. has been minutely described by Professor Paul Meyer; and Isidoro del Lungo publishes a fac-simile specimen of one of its pages.[7] By some unaccountable negligence this latest and most determined defender of Compagni has failed to examine the MS. with his own eyes.

[1] This is Isidoro del Lungo's Codex A. The note occurs also in the Ashburnham MS. which Del Lungo refers to the fifteenth century.

[2] On this point it is worth mentioning that some good critics refer the poems to an elder Dino Compagni, who sat as Ancient in 1251. See the discussion of this question, as also of the authorship of the Intelligenza, claimed by Isidoro del Lungo for the writer of the 'Chronicle,' in Borgognini's Essays (Scritti Vari, Bologna, Romagnoli, 1877, vol. i.). With regard to the oration to Pope John XXII. date 1326, it must be noted that this performance was first printed by Anton Francesco Doni in 1547, and that its genuineness may be disputed. See Carl Hegel, op. cit. pp. 18-22.

[3] The most important of Fanfani's numerous essays on the Compagni controversy, together with minor notes by his supporters, are collected in the book quoted above, Note to p. 241. Fanfani exceeds all bounds of decency in the language he uses, and in his arrogant claims to be considered an unique judge of fourteenth-century style. These claims he bases in some measure upon the fact that he deceived the Della Crusca by a forgery of his own making, which was actually accepted for the Archivio Storico. See op. cit. p. 181.

[4] Die Chronik, etc., pp. 53-57.

[5] Die Chronik, etc., p. 39.

[6] See Hegel's op. cit. p. 6.

[7] See Del Lungo, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 19-23, and fac-simile, to face p. 1. This MS. was bought by G. Libri from the Pucci family in 1840, and sold to Lord Ashburnham. Del Lungo identifies it with a MS. which Braccio Compagni in the seventeenth century spoke of as 'la copia piu antica, appresso il Signor senatore Pandolfini.'

Thus stands the question of Dino Compagni's 'Chronicle.' The defenders of its authenticity, forced to admit Compagni's glaring inaccuracies, fall back upon arguments deduced from the internal spirit of the author, from the difficulties of fabricating a personal narrative instinct with the spirit of the fourteenth century, from the hypotheses of a copyist's errors or of a thorough-going literary process of rewriting at a later date, from the absence of any positive evidence of forgery, and from general considerations affecting the validity of destructive criticism. One thing has been clearly proved in the course of the controversy, that the book can have but little historical value when not corroborated. Still there is a wide gap between inaccuracy and willful fabrication. Until the best judges of Italian style are agreed that the 'Chronicle' could not have been written in the second decade of the fourteenth century, the arguments adduced from an examination of the facts recorded in it are not strong enough to demonstrate a forgery. There is the further question of cui bono? which in all problems of literary forgery must first receive some probable solution. What proof is there that the vanity or the cupidity of any parties was satisfied by its production? A book exists in a MS. of about 1450, acquires some notice in a MS. of 1514, but is not published to the world until 1726. Supposing it to have been a forgery, the labor of concocting it must have been enormous. With all its defects, the 'Chronicle' would still remain a masterpiece of historical research, imagination, sympathy with bygone modes of feeling, dramatic vigor, and antiquarian command of language. But who profited by that labor? Not the author of the forgery, since he was dead or buried more than two centuries before his fabrication became famous. Not the Compagni family; for there is no evidence to show that they had piqued themselves upon being the depositaries of their ancestors masterpiece, nor did they make any effort, at a period when the printing-press was very active, to give this jewel of their archives to the public. If it be objected that, on the hypothesis of genuineness, the MS. of the 'Chronicle' must have been divulged before the beginning of the sixteenth century, we can adduce two plausible answers. In the first place, Dino was the partisan of a conquered cause; and his family had nothing to gain by publishing an acrimonious political pamphlet during the triumph of his antagonists. In the second place, MSS. of even greater literary importance disappeared in the course of the fourteenth century, to be reproduced when their subjects again excited interest in the literary world. The history of Dante's treatise De Vulgari Eloquio is a case in point. With regard to style, no foreigner can pretend to be a competent judge. Reading the celebrated description of Florence at the opening of Dino's 'Chronicle,' I seem indeed, for my own part, to discern a post-Boccaccian artificiality of phrase. Still there is nothing to render it impossible that the 'Chronicle,' as we possess it, in the texts of 1450(?) and 1514, may be a rifacimento of an elder and simpler work. In that section of my history which deals with Italian literature of the fifteenth century, I shall have occasion to show that such remodeling of ancient texts to suit the fashion of the time was by no means unfrequent. The curious discrepancies between the Trattato della Famiglia as written by Alberti and as ascribed to Pandolfini can only be explained upon the hypothesis of such rifacimento. If the historical inaccuracies in which the 'Chronicle' abounds are adduced as convincing proof of its fabrication, it may be replied that the author of so masterly a romance would naturally have been anxious to preserve a strict accordance with documents of acknowledged validity. Consequently, these very blunders might not unreasonably be used to combat the hypothesis of deliberate forgery. It is remarkable, in this connection, that only one meager reference is made to Dante by the Chronicler, who, had he been a literary forger, would scarcely have omitted to enlarge upon this theme. Without, therefore, venturing to express a decided opinion on a question which still divides the most competent Italian judges, I see no reason to despair of the problem being ultimately solved in a way less unfavorable to Dino Compagni than Scheffer-Boichorst and Fanfani would approve of. Considered as the fifteenth century rifacimento of an elder document, the 'Chronicle' would lose its historical authority, but would still remain an interesting monument of Florentine literature, and would certainly not deserve the unqualified names of 'forgery' and 'fabrication' that have been unhesitatingly showered upon it.[1]

[1] It is to be hoped that the completion of Del Lungo's work may put an end to the Compagni controversy, either by a solid vindication of the 'Chronicle,' or by so weak a defense as to render further partisanship impossible. So far as his book has hitherto appeared, it contains no signs of an ultimate triumph. The weightiest point contained in it is the discovery of the Ashburnham MS. If Del Lungo fails to prove his position, we shall be left to choose between Scheffer-Boichorst's absolute skepticism or the modified view adopted by me in the text.

The two chief Florentine historians of the fifteenth century are Lionardo Bruni of Arezzo, and Poggio Bracciolini, each of whom, in his capacity of Chancellor to the Republic, undertook to write the annals of the people of Florence from the earliest date to his own time. Lionardo Aretino wrote down to the year 1404, and Poggio Bracciolini to the year 1455. Their histories are composed in Latin, and savor much of the pedantic spirit of the age in which they were projected.[1] Both of them deserve the criticism of Machiavelli, that they filled their pages too exclusively with the wars and foreign affairs in which Florence was engaged, failing to perceive that the true object of the historian is to set forth the life of a commonwealth as a continuous whole, to draw the portrait of a state with due regard to its especial physiognomy.[2] To this critique we may add that both Lionardo and Poggio were led astray by the false taste of the earlier Renaissance. Their admiration for Livy and the pedantic proprieties of a labored Latinism made them pay more attention to rhetoric than to the substance of their work.[3] We meet with frigid imitations and bombastic generalities, where concise details and graphic touches would have been acceptable. In short, these works are rather studies of style in an age when the greatest stylists were but bunglers and beginners, than valuable histories. The Italians of the fifteenth century, striving to rival Cicero and Livy, succeeded only in becoming lifeless shadows of the past. History dictated under the inspiration of pedantic scholarship, and with the object of reproducing an obsolete style, by men of letters who had played no prominent part in the Commonwealth,[4] cannot pretend to the vigor and the freshness that we admire so much in the writings of men like the Villani, Gino Capponi, Giovanni Cavalcanti, and many others. Yet even after making these deductions, it may be asserted with truth that no city of Italy at this period of the Renaissance, except Florence, could boast historiographers so competent. Vespasiano at the close of his biography of Poggio estimates their labor in sentences which deserve to be remembered: 'Among the other singular obligations which the city of Florence owes to Messer Lionardo and to Messer Poggio, is this, that except the Roman Commonwealth no republic or free state in Italy has been so distinguished as the town of Florence, in having had two such notable writers to record its doings as Messer Lionardo and Messer Poggio; for up to the time of their histories everything was in the greatest obscurity. If the republic of Venice, which can show so many wise citizens, had the deeds which they have done by sea and land committed to writing, it would be far more illustrious even than it is now. And Galeazzo Maria, and Filippo Maria, and all the Visconti—their actions would also be more famous than they are. Nay, there is not any republic that ought not to give every reward to writers who should commemorate its doings. We see at Florence that from the foundation of the city to the days of Messer Lionardo and Messer Poggio there was no record of anything that the Florentines had done, in Latin, or history devoted to themselves. Messer Poggio follows after Messer Lionardo, and writes like him in Latin. Giovanni Villani, too, wrote an universal history in the vulgar tongue of whatsoever happened in every place, and introduces the affairs of Florence as they happened. The same did Messer Filippo Villani, following after Giovanni Villani. These are they alone who have distinguished Florence by the histories that they have written.'[5] The pride of the citizen and a just sense of the value of history, together with sound remarks upon Venice and Milan, mingle curiously in this passage with the pedantry of a fifteenth-century scholar.

[1] Poggio's Historia Populi Florentini is given in the XXth volume of Muratori's collection. Lionardo's Istoria Fiorentina, translated into Italian by Donato Acciajuoli, has been published by Le Monnier (Firenze, 1861). The high praise which Ugo Foscolo bestowed upon the latter seems due to a want of familiarity.

[2] See the preface to the History of Florence, by Machiavelli.

[3] Lionardo Bruni, for example, complains in the preface to his history that it is impossible to accommodate the rude names of his personages to a polished style.

[4] Both Poggio and Lionardo began life as Papal secretaries; the latter was not made a citizen of Florence till late in his career.

[5] Vite di Uomini Illustri. Barbera, 1859; p. 425.

The historians of the first half of the sixteenth century are a race apart. Three generations of pedantic erudition and of courtly or scholastic trifling had separated the men of letters from the men of action, and had made literature a thing of curiosity. Three generations of the masked Medicean despotism had destroyed the reality of freedom in Florence, and had corrupted her citizens to the core. Yet, strange to say, it was at the end of the fifteenth century that the genius of the thirteenth revived. Italian literature was cultivated for its own sake under the auspices of Lorenzo de' Medici. The year 1494 marks the resurrection of the spirit of old liberty beneath the trumpet-blast of Savonarola's oratory. Amid the universal corruption of public morals, from the depth of sloth and servitude, when the reality of liberty was lost, when fate and fortune had combined to render constitutional reconstruction impossible for the shattered republics of Italy, the intellect of the Florentines displayed itself with more than its old vigor in a series of the most brilliant political writers who have ever illustrated one short but eventful period in the life of a single nation. That period is marked by the years 1494 and 1537. It embraces the two final efforts of the Florentines to shake off the Medicean yoke, the disastrous siege at the end of which they fell a prey to the selfishness of their own party-leaders, the persecution of Savonarola by Pope Alexander, the Church-rule of Popes Leo and Clement, the extinction of the elder branch of the Medici in its two bastards (Ippolito, poisoned by his brother Alessandro, and Alessandro poignarded by his cousin Lorenzino), and the final eclipse of liberty beneath the Spain-appointed dynasty of the younger Medicean line in Duke Cosimo. The names of the historians of this period are Niccolo Machiavelli, Jacopo Nardi, Francesco Guicciardini, Filippo Nerli, Donato Giannotti, Benedetto Varchi, Bernardo Segni, and Jacopo Pitti.[1] In these men the mental qualities which we admire in the Villani, Dante, and Compagni reappear, combined, indeed, in different proportions, tempered with the new philosophy and scholarship of the Renaissance, and permeated with quite another morality. In the interval of two centuries freedom has been lost. It is only the desire for freedom that survives. But that, after the apathy of the fifteenth century, is still a passion. The rectitude of instinct and the intense convictions of the earlier age have been exchanged for a scientific clairvoyance, a 'stoic-epicurean acceptance' of the facts of vitiated civilization, which in men like Guicciardini and Machiavelli is absolutely appalling. Nearly all the authors of this period bear a double face. They write one set of memoirs for the public, and another set for their own delectation. In their inmost souls they burn with the zeal for liberty: yet they sell their abilities to the highest bidder—to Popes whom they despise, and to Dukes whom they revile in private. What makes the literary labors of these historians doubly interesting is that they were carried on for the most part independently; for though they lived at the same time, and in some cases held familiar conversation with each other, they gave expression to different shades of political opinion, and their histories remained in manuscript till some time after their death.[2] The student of the Renaissance has, therefore the advantage of comparing and confronting a whole band of independent witnesses to the same events. Beside their own deliberate criticism of the drama in which all played some part as actors or spectators, we can use the not less important testimony they afford unconsciously, according to the bias of private or political interest by which they are severally swayed.

[1] The dates of these historians are as follows:—

BORN. DIED. Machiavelli 1469 1527 Nardi 1476 1556 Guicciardini 1482 1540 Nerli 1485 1536 Giannotti 1492 1572 Varchi 1502 1565 Segni 1504 1558 Pitti 1519 1589

[2] Varchi, it is true, had Nardi's History of Florence and Guicciardini's History of Italy before him while he was compiling his History of Florence. But Segni and Nerli were given for the first time to the press in the last century; Pitti in 1842, and Guicciardini's History of Florence in 1859.

The Storia Fiorentina of Varchi extends from the year 1527 to the year 1538; that of Segni from 1527 to 1555; that of Nardi from 1494 to 1552; that of Pitti from 1494 to 1529; that of Nerli from 1494 to 1537; that of Guicciardini from 1420 to 1509. The prefatory chapters, which in most cases introduce the special subject of each history, contain a series of retrospective surveys over the whole history of Florence extremely valuable for the detailed information they contain, as well as for the critical judgments of men whose acumen had been sharpened to the utmost by their practical participation in politics. It will not, perhaps, be superfluous to indicate the different parts played by these historians in the events of their own time. Guicciardini, it is well known, had governed Bologna and Romagna for the Medicean Popes. He too was instrumental in placing Duke Cosimo at the head of the republic in 1536. At Naples, in 1535, he pleaded the cause of Duke Alessandro against the exiles before Charles V. Nardi on this occasion acted as secretary and advocate for Filippo Strozzi and the exiles; his own history was composed in exile at Venice, where he died. Segni was nephew of the Gonfalonier Capponi, and shared the anxieties of the moderate liberals during the siege of Florence. Pitti was a member of the great house who contested the leadership of the republic with the Medici in the fifteenth century; his zeal for the popular party and his hatred of the Palleschi may still perhaps be tinctured with ancestral animosity. Giannotti, in whose critique of the Florentine republic we trace a spirit no less democratic than Pitti's, was also an actor in the events of the siege, and afterwards appeared among the exiles. In the attempt made by the Cardinal Salviati (1537) to reconcile Duke Cosimo and the adherents of Filippo Strozzi, Giannotti was chosen as the spokesman for the latter. He wrote and died in exile at Venice. Nerli again took part in the events of those troublous times, but on the wrong side, by mixing himself up with the exiles and acting as a spy upon their projects. All the authors I have mentioned were citizens of Florence, and some of them were members of her most illustrious families. Varchi, in whom the flame of Florentine patriotism burns brightest, and who is by far the most copious annalist of the period, was a native of Montevarchi. Yet, as often happens, he was more Florentine than the Florentines; and of the events which he describes, he had for the most part been witness. Duke Cosimo employed him to write the history; it is a credit both to the prince and to the author that its chapters should be full of criticisms so outspoken, and of aspirations after liberty so vehement. On the very first page of his preface Varchi dares to write these words respecting Florence—'divenne, dico, di stato piuttosto corrotto e licenzioso, tirannide, che di sana e moderata repubblica, principato';[1] in which he deals blame with impartial justice all round. It must, however, be remembered that at the time when Varchi wrote, the younger branch of the Medici were firmly established on the throne of Florence. Between this branch and the elder line there had always been a coldness. Moreover, all parties had agreed to accept the duchy as a divinely appointed instrument for rescuing the city from her factions and reducing her to tranquillity.[2]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12     Next Part
Home - Random Browse