The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol. 8 - The Later Renaissance: From Gutenberg To The Reformation
by Editor-in-Chief: Rossiter Johnson
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Now began the letting out of Swiss, Grisons, and Valaisians to foreign military service, by their governments. The first treaty of this nature was made by the King of France, 1479-1480, with the Confederates in Lucerne. Next the house of Austria hired mercenaries, 1499; the princes of Italy did the same, as did others afterward. Even the popes themselves wanted a lifeguard of Swiss; the first, 1503, was Pope Julius II, who was often engaged in war.

Switzerland suffered much from this course. Many a field remained untilled, many a plough stood still, because the husbandman had taken mercenary arms. And, if he returned alive, he brought back foreign diseases and vices, and corrupted the innocent by evil example, for he had acquired but little virtue in the wars. Only the sons of the patricians and council lords obtained captaincies, commands, and riches, by which they increased their influence and consideration in the land, and could oppress others. They prided themselves on the titles of nobility and decorations conferred by kings, and imagined these to be of value, and that they themselves were more than other Swiss.

When the kings perceived the cupidity and folly of the Swiss, they took advantage of them for their own profit, sent ambassadors into Switzerland, distributed presents, granted gratifications and pensions to their partisans in the councils, and for these the council lords became willing servants of foreign princes. Then one canton was French, another Milanese; one Venetian, another Spanish; but rarely was one Swiss. This redounded greatly to the shame of the Swiss. When the German Emperor and the King of France were, at the same time, canvassing the favor of the cantons and bargaining in competition for troops, so great was the contempt or insolence of the French ambassador at Bern, 1516, that he distributed the royal pensions to the lords by sound of trumpet. At Freiburg he poured out silver crowns upon the ground, and, while he heaped them up with a shovel, said to the bystanders, "Does not this silver jingle better than the Emperor's empty words?" So much had love of money debased the Swiss.

The twelve cantons, Appenzell being the only exception, were at one moment allied with Milan against France, at the next with France against Milan. Milan was rightly called the Schwyzer's grave. It was not unusual for Confederates to fight against Confederates on foreign soil, and to kill each other for hire. The ecclesiastical lord, Matthew Schinner, Bishop of Sion in Valais, a very deceitful man, helped greatly to occasion this. According as he was hired, he intrigued in Switzerland, sometimes for the King of France, sometimes against France for the Pope, who, in payment, even made him cardinal and ambassador to the Confederacy.

The mercenary wars of the Swiss upon foreign battle-fields were not wars for liberty or for honor; but these hirelings of princes maintained their reputation for valor even there. With the aid of several thousand Confederates, the King of France subjected the whole of Lombardy in the space of twenty days. But the expelled Duke of the country soon returned with five thousand Swiss, whom he had enlisted contrary to the will of the magistracy, to drive out the French. Then the King of France received twenty thousand men from the cantons with whom he was allied; maintained himself in Italy, and gave to the three cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, 1502-1503, the districts of Palenza, Riviera, and Bellenz. But, as soon as the King thought he could do without the Swiss, he paid them badly and irregularly. Cardinal Schinner, pleased at this, immediately shook a bag of gold, with fifty-three thousand guilders, in favor of the Pope and of Venice. At once, 1512, twenty thousand Swiss and Grisons crossed the high Alps and joined the Venetians against the French. The Grisons took possession of Valtelina, Chiavenna, and Bormio. They asserted that, a century before, an ejected duke of Milan had ceded these valleys to the bishopric of Coire. The Confederates of the twelve cantons subjected Lugano, Locarno, and Valmaggia. The French were driven out of Lombardy, and the young duke Maximilian Sforza, son of him who had been dispossessed by them, was reinstated in his father's inheritance at Milan. Victorious for him, the Confederates beat the French near Novara, June 6, 1513; two thousand Swiss fell, it is true, but ten thousand of the enemy. Still more murderous was the two-days' battle of Melegnano, September 14, 1515, in which barely ten thousand Swiss fought against fifty thousand French. They lost the battle-field, indeed, but not their honor. They sadly retreated to Milan, with their field-pieces on their backs, their wounded in the centre of their army. The enemy lost the flower of their troops, and called this action the "Battle of the Giants."

Then the King of France, Francis I, terrified by a victory which resembled a defeat, made, in the next year, a perpetual peace with the Confederates, and, by money and promises, persuaded some to furnish him with troops; the others, that they would allow no enrolling by his enemies. Thus the Confederates once more helped him against the Emperor and Pope and against Milan, and the King concluded a friendly alliance with them in 1521. During many years they shed their blood for him on the battle-fields of Italy, without good result, without advantage, except that the Confederacy stood godmother to his new-born son. Each canton sent to Paris, for the fete, a deputy with a baptismal present of fifty ducats. More agreeable to the King than this present was the promptitude with which the Swiss sent sixteen thousand of their troops to his assistance in Italy. However, as they had lost, April 20, 1522, three thousand men near Bicocca; as of nearly fifteen thousand who entered Lombardy, 1524, hardly four thousand came back; as, finally, in the battle near Pajia, February 24, 1525, in which the King himself became prisoner to the Emperor, the Swiss experienced a fresh loss of seven thousand men, they by degrees lost all taste for Italian wars.



It was the claim of Amerigo Vespucci that he accompanied four expeditions to the New World, and that he wrote a narrative of each voyage. According to Amerigo, the first expedition sailed from Spain in 1497; the second, of which his own account is here given, in 1499; both by order of King Ferdinand. Grave doubt has been thrown upon the first of these expeditions, the sole authority for which is Vespucci himself.

The name America was given to two continents in honor of this naval astronomer on the authority of an account of his travels published in 1507, in which he is represented as having reached the mainland in 1497. The justice of this naming has always been and still remains a matter of warm dispute among historical critics.

But at the age of almost fifty—he was born in Florence in 1451—Vespucci unquestionably promoted and made a voyage to the New World. In May, 1499, he sailed from Spain with Alonzo de Ojeda, who commanded four vessels. During the summer they explored the coast of Venezuela ("Little Venice"), a name first given by Ojeda to a gulf of the Caribbean Sea, on the shores of which were cabins built on piles over the water, reminding him of Venice in Italy. Ojeda, who was but little acquainted with navigation, entered upon this voyage more as a marauding enterprise than an expedition of discovery, and he gladly availed himself of Amerigo's scientific ability. Vespucci was also able to command the financial support of his wealthy acquaintances. It is said that many of the former sailors of Columbus shipped with this expedition.

The following account was written by Amerigo in a letter to Lorenzo Pier Francesco, of the Medici family of Florence, from whom Vespucci had held certain business commissions in Spain. Respecting this letter an Italian critic observes that "it is the most ancient known writing of Amerigo relating to his voyages to the New World, having been composed within a month after his return from his second voyage, and remaining buried in our archives for a long time. It is a precious monument, for without it we should have been left in ignorance of the great additions which he made to astronomical science. The most rigorous examination of this letter cannot bring to light the least circumstance proving anything for or against the accuracy of his first voyage. The diffidence with which he commences the matter is, however, a strong indication that he had previously written an account of his first voyage to the same Lorenzo de' Medici, to whom he addressed this communication."


It is a long time since I have written to your excellency, and for no other reason than that nothing has occurred to me worthy of being commemorated. This present fetter will inform you that about a month ago I arrived from the Indies, by the way of the great ocean, brought, by the grace of God, safely to this city of Seville. I think your excellency will be gratified to learn the result of my voyage, and the most surprising things which have been presented to my observation. If I am somewhat tedious, let my letter be read in your more idle hours, as fruit is eaten after the cloth is removed from the table. Your excellency will please to note that, commissioned by his highness the King of Spain, I set out with two small ships, on May 18, 1499, on a voyage of discovery to the southwest, by way of the great ocean, and steered my course along the coast of Africa, until I reached the Fortunate Islands, which are now called the Canaries. After having provided ourselves with all things necessary, first offering our prayers to God, we set sail from an island which is called Gomera, and, turning our prows southwardly, sailed twenty-four days with a fresh wind, without seeing any land.

At the end of these twenty-four days we came within sight of land, and found that we had sailed about thirteen hundred leagues, and were at that distance from the city of Cadiz, in a southwesterly direction. When we saw the land we gave thanks to God, and then launched our boats, and, with sixteen men, went to the shore, which we found thickly covered with trees, astonishing both on account of their size and their verdure, for they never lose their foliage. The sweet odor which they exhaled—for they are all aromatic—highly delighted us, and we were rejoiced in regaling our nostrils.

We rowed along the shore in the boats, to see if we could find any suitable place for landing, but, after toiling from morning till night, we found no way or passage which we could enter and disembark. We were prevented from doing so by the lowness of the land, and by its being so densely covered with trees. We concluded, therefore, to return to the ships, and make an attempt to land in some other spot.

We observed one remarkable circumstance in these seas.

It was that at fifteen leagues from the land we found the water fresh like that of a river, and we filled all our empty casks with it. Having returned to our ships, we raised anchor and set sail, turning our prows southwardly, as it was my intention to see whether I could sail around a point of land which Ptolemy calls the Cape of Cattegara, which is near the Great Bay. In my opinion it was not far from it, according to the degrees of latitude and longitude, which will be stated hereafter. Sailing in a southerly direction along the coast, we saw two large rivers issuing from the land, one running from west to east, and being four leagues in width, which is sixteen miles; the other ran from south to north, and was three leagues wide. I think that these two rivers, by reason of their magnitude, caused the freshness of the water in the adjoining sea. Seeing that the coast was invariably low, we determined to enter one of these rivers with the boats, and ascend it till we either found a suitable landing-place or an inhabited village.

Having prepared our boats, and put in provision for four days, with twenty men well armed, we entered the river, and rowed nearly two days, making a distance of about eighteen leagues. We attempted to land in many places by the way, but found the low land still continuing, and so thickly covered with trees that a bird could scarcely fly through them. While thus navigating the river, we saw very certain indications that the inland parts of the country were inhabited; nevertheless, as our vessels remained in a dangerous place in case an adverse wind should arise, we concluded, at the end of two days, to return.

Here we saw an immense number of birds, of various forms and colors; a great number of parrots, and so many varieties of them that it caused us great astonishment. Some were crimson-colored, others of variegated green and lemon, others entirely green, and others, again, that were black and flesh-colored. Oh! the song of other species of birds, also, was so sweet and so melodious, as we heard it among the trees, that we often lingered, listening to their charming music. The trees, too, were so beautiful and smelled so sweetly that we almost imagined ourselves in a terrestrial paradise; yet not one of those trees, or the fruit of them, was similar to the trees or fruit in our part of the world. On our way back we saw many people, of various descriptions, fishing in the river.

Having arrived at our ships, we raised anchor and set sail, still continuing in a southerly direction, and standing off to sea about forty leagues. While sailing on this course, we encountered a current which ran from southeast to northwest; so great was it, and ran so furiously, that we were put into great fear, and were exposed to great peril. The current was so strong that the Strait of Gibraltar and that of the Faro of Messina appeared to us like mere stagnant water in comparison with it. We could scarcely make any headway against it, though we had the wind fresh and fair. Seeing that we made no progress, or but very little, and the danger to which we were exposed, we determined to turn our prows to the northwest.

As I know, if I remember right, that your excellency understands something of cosmography, I intend to describe to you our progress in our navigation, by the latitude and longitude. We sailed so far to the south that we entered the torrid zone and penetrated the circle of Cancer. You may rest assured that for a few days, while sailing through the torrid zone, we saw four shadows of the sun, as the sun appeared in the zenith to us at midday. I would say that the sun, being in our meridian, gave us no shadow; but this I was enabled many times to demonstrate to all the company, and took their testimony of the fact. This I did on account of the ignorance of the common people, who do not know that the sun moves through its circle of the zodiac. At one time I saw our shadow to the south, at another to the north, at another to the west, and at another to the east, and sometimes, for an hour or two of the day, we had no shadow at all.

We sailed so far south in the torrid zone that we found ourselves under the equinoctial line, and had both poles at the edge of the horizon. Having passed the line, and sailed six degrees to the south of it, we lost sight of the north star altogether, and even the stars of Ursa Minor, or, to speak better, the guardians which revolve about the firmament, were scarcely seen. Very desirous of being the author who should designate the other polar star of the firmament, I lost, many a time, my night's sleep while contemplating the movement of the stars around the southern pole, in order to ascertain which had the least motion, and which might be nearest to the firmament; but I was not able to accomplish it with such bad nights as I had, and such instruments as I used, which were the quadrant and astrolabe. I could not distinguish a star which had less than ten degrees of motion around the firmament; so that I was not satisfied within myself to name any particular one for the pole of the meridian, on account of the large revolution which they all made around the firmament.

While I was arriving at this conclusion as the result of my investigations, I recollected a verse of our poet Dante, which may be found in the first chapter of his Purgatory, where he imagines he is leaving this hemisphere to repair to the other, and, attempting to describe the antarctic pole, says:

"I turned to the right hand and fixed my mind On the other pole, and saw four stars Not seen before, since the time of our first parents: Joyous appeared the heavens for their glory. Oh, northern lands are widowed Since deprived of such a sight."

It appears to me that the poet wished to describe in these verses, by the four stars, the pole of the other firmament, and I have little doubt, even now, that what he says may be true. I observed four stars in the figure of an almond, which had but little motion, and if God gives me life and health I hope to go again into that hemisphere, and not to return without observing the pole. In conclusion, I would remark that we extended our navigation so far south that our difference of latitude from the city of Cadiz was sixty degrees and a half, because, at that city, the pole is elevated thirty-five degrees and a half, and we had passed six degrees beyond the equinoctial line. Let this suffice as to our latitude. You must observe that this our navigation was in the months of July, August, and September, when, as you know, the sun is longest above the horizon in our hemisphere, and describes the greatest arch in the day and the least in the night. On the contrary, while we were at the equinoctial line, or near it, within four to six degrees, the difference between the day and the night was not perceptible. They were of equal length, or very nearly so.

As to the longitude, I would say that I found so much difficulty in discovering it that I had to labor very hard to ascertain the distance I had made by means of longitude. I found nothing better, at last, than to watch the opposition of the planets during the night, and especially that of the moon, with the other planets, because the moon is swifter in her course than any other of the heavenly bodies. I compared my observations with the almanac of Giovanni da Monteregio, which was composed for the meridian of the city of Ferrara, verifying them with the calculations in the tables of King Alfonso, and, afterward, with the many observations I had myself made one night with another.

On August 23, 1499—when the moon was in conjunction with Mars, which, according to the almanac, was to take place at midnight, or half an hour after—I found that when the moon rose to the horizon, an hour and a half after the sun had set, the planet had passed in that part of the east. I observed that the moon was about a degree and some minutes farther east than Mars, and at midnight she was five degrees and a half farther east, a little more or less. So that, making the proportion, if twenty-four hours are equal to three hundred and sixty degrees, what are five hours and a half equal to? I found the result to be eighty-two degrees and a half, which was equal to my longitude from the meridian of the city of Cadiz, then giving to every degree sixteen leagues and two-thirds, which is five thousand four hundred sixty-six miles and two-thirds. The reason why I give sixteen leagues to each degree is because, according to Tolomeo and Alfagrano, the earth turns twenty-four thousand miles, which is equal to six thousand leagues, which, being divided by three hundred sixty degrees, gives to each degree sixteen leagues and two-thirds. This calculation I certified many times conjointly with the pilots, and found it true and good.

It appears to me, most excellent Lorenzo, that by this voyage most of those philosophers are controverted who say that the torrid zone cannot be inhabited on account of the great heat. I have found the case to be quite the contrary. I have found that the air is fresher and more temperate in that region than beyond it, and that the inhabitants are also more numerous here than they are in the other zones, for reasons which will be given below. Thus it is certain that practice is of more value than theory.

Thus far I have related the navigation I accomplished in the south and west. It now remains for me to inform you of the appearance of the country we discovered, the nature of the inhabitants, and their customs, the animals we saw, and of many other things worthy of remembrance which fell under my observation. After we turned our course to the north, the first land we found to be inhabited was an island at ten degrees distant from the equinoctial line. When we arrived at it we saw on the sea-shore a great many people, who stood looking at us with astonishment. We anchored within about a mile of the land, fitted out the boats, and twenty-two men, well armed, made for land. The people, when they saw us landing, and perceived that we were different from themselves—because they have no beard and wear no clothing of any description, being also of a different color, they being brown and we white—began to be afraid of us, and all ran into the woods. With great exertion, by means of signs, we reassured them and negotiated with them. We found that they were of a race called cannibals, the greater part or all of whom live on human flesh.

Your excellency may rest assured of this fact. They do not eat one another, but, navigating with certain barks which they call 'canoes,' they bring their prey from the neighboring islands or countries inhabited by those who are enemies or of a different tribe from their own. They never eat any women, unless they consider them outcasts. These things we verified in many places where we found similar people. We often saw the bones and heads of those who had been eaten, and they who had made the repast admitted the fact, and said that their enemies always stood in much greater fear on that account.

Still they are a people of gentle disposition and beautiful stature. They go entirely naked, and the arms which they carry are bows and arrows and shields. They are a people of great activity and much courage. They are very excellent marksmen. In fine, we held much intercourse with them, and they took us to one of their villages, about two leagues inland, and gave us our breakfast. They gave whatever was asked of them, though I think more through fear than affection; and after having been with them all one day, we returned to the ships, still remaining on friendly terms with them.

We sailed along the coast of this island, and saw by the seashore another large village of the same tribe. We landed in the boats, and found they were waiting for us, all loaded with provisions, and they gave us enough to make a very good breakfast, according to their ideas of dishes. Seeing they were such kind people, and treated us so well, we dared not take anything from them, and made sail till we arrived at a gulf which is called the Gulf of Paria. We anchored opposite the mouth of a great river, which causes the water of this gulf to be fresh, and saw a large village close to the sea. We were surprised at the great number of people who were seen there. They were without arms, and seemed peaceably disposed. We went ashore with the boats, and they received us with great friendship, and took us to their houses, where they had made very good preparations for breakfast. Here they gave us three sorts of wine to drink, not of the juice of the grape, but made of fruits, like beer, and they were excellent. Here, also, we ate many fresh acorns, a most royal fruit. They gave us many other fruits, all different from ours and of very good flavor, the flavor and odor of all being aromatic.

They gave us some small pearls and eleven large ones, and they told us by signs that if we would wait some days they would go and fish for them and bring us many of them. We did not wish to be detained, so with many parrots of various colors, and in good friendship, we parted from them. From these people we learned that those of the before-mentioned island were cannibals and ate human flesh. We issued from this gulf and sailed along the coast, seeing continually great numbers of people, and when we were so disposed we treated with them, and they gave us everything we asked of them. They all go as naked as they were born, without being ashamed. If all were to be related concerning the little shame they have, it would be bordering on impropriety; therefore it is better to suppress it.

After having sailed about four hundred leagues continually along the coast, we concluded that this land was a continent, which might be bounded by the eastern parts of Asia, this being the commencement of the western part of the continent, because it happened often that we saw divers animals, such as lions, stags, goats, wild hogs, rabbits, and other land animals which are not found in islands, but only on the mainland. Going inland one day with twenty men, we saw a serpent which was about twenty-four feet in length, and as large in girth as myself. We were very much afraid of it, and the sight of it caused us to return immediately to the sea. I oftentimes saw many very ferocious animals and serpents.

Thus sailing along the coast, we discovered every day a great number of people, speaking various languages. When we had navigated four hundred leagues along the coast we began to find people who did not wish for our friendship, but stood waiting for us with arms, which were bows and arrows, and with some other arms which they use. When we went to the shore in our boats, they disputed our landing in such a manner that we were obliged to fight with them. At the end of the battle they found that they had the worst of it, for, as they were naked, we always made great slaughter. Many times not more than sixteen of us fought with two thousand of them, and in the end defeated them, killing many and robbing their houses.

One day we saw a great many people, all posted in battle array to prevent our landing. We fitted out twenty-six men, well armed, and covered the boats, on account of the arrows which were shot at us, and which always wounded some of us before we landed. After they had hindered us as long as they could, we leaped on shore, and fought a hard battle with them. The reason why they had so much courage and fought with such great exertion against us was that they did not know what kind of a weapon the sword was, or how it cuts. While thus engaged in combat, so great was the multitude of people who charged upon us, throwing at us such a cloud of arrows, that we could not withstand the assault, and, nearly abandoning the hope of life, we turned our backs and ran to the boats. While thus disheartened and flying, one of our sailors, a Portuguese, a man of fifty-five years of age, who had remained to guard the boat, seeing the danger we were in, jumped on shore, and with a loud voice called out to us, "Children! turn your faces to your enemies, and God will give you the victory!" Throwing himself on his knees, he made a prayer, and then rushed furiously upon the Indians, and we all joined with him, wounded as we were. On that, they turned their backs to us and began to flee, and finally we routed them and killed one hundred fifty. We burned their houses also, at least one hundred eighty in number. Then, as we were badly wounded and weary, we returned to the ships, and went into a harbor to recruit, where we stayed twenty days, solely that the physician might cure us. All escaped except one, who was wounded in the left breast.

After being cured, we recommenced our navigation, and, through the same cause, we often were obliged to fight with a great many people, and always had the victory over them. Thus continuing our voyage, we came upon an island, fifteen leagues distant from the mainland. As at our arrival we saw no collection of people, the island appearing favorably, we determined to attempt it, and eleven of us landed. We found a path, in which we walked nearly two leagues inland, and came to a village of about twelve houses, in which there were only seven women, who were so large that there was not one among them who was not a span and a half taller than myself. When they saw us, they were very much frightened, and the principal one among them, who was certainly a discreet woman, led us by signs into a house, and had refreshments prepared for us.

We saw such large women that were about determining to carry off two young ones, about fifteen years of age, and make a present of them to their king, as they were, without doubt, creatures whose stature was above that of common men. While we were debating this subject, thirty-six men entered the house where we were drinking; they were of such large stature that each one was taller when upon his knees than I when standing erect. In fact, they were of the stature of giants in their size and in the proportion of their bodies, which corresponded well with their height. Each of the women appeared a Pantasilea, and the men Antei. When they came in, some of our own number were so frightened that they did not consider themselves safe. They had bows and arrows, and very large clubs made in the form of swords. Seeing that we were of small stature, they began to converse with us, in order to learn who we were and from what parts we came. We gave them fair words, for the sake of peace, and said that we were going to see the world. Finally, we held it to be our wisest course to part from them without questioning in our turn; so returned by the same path in which we had come, they accompanying us quite to the sea, till we went on board the ships.

Nearly half the trees of this island are dye-wood, as good as that of the East. We went from this island to another in the vicinity, at ten leagues' distance, and found a very large village, the houses of which were built over the sea, like Venice, with much ingenuity. While we were struck with admiration at this circumstance, we determined to go and see them; and as we went to their houses, they attempted to prevent our entering. They found out at last the manner in which the sword cuts, and thought it best to let us enter. We found their houses filled with the finest cotton, and the beams of their dwellings were made of dye-wood. We took a quantity of their cotton and some dye-wood and returned to the ships.

Your excellency must know that in all parts where we landed we found a great quantity of cotton, and the country filled with cotton-trees, so that all the vessels in the world might be loaded in these parts with cotton and dye-wood.

At length we sailed three hundred leagues farther along the coast, constantly finding savage but brave people, and very often fighting with them and vanquishing them. We found seven different languages among them, each of which was not understood by those who spoke the others. It is said there are not more than seventy-seven languages in the world, but I say there are more than a thousand, as there are more than forty which I have heard myself.

After having sailed along this coast seven hundred leagues or more, besides visiting numerous islands, our ships became greatly sea-worn and leaked badly, so that we could hardly keep them free with two pumps going. The men also were much fatigued and the provisions growing short. We were then, according to the decision of the pilots, within a hundred twenty leagues of an island called Hispaniola, discovered by the admiral Columbus six years before. We determined to proceed to it, and, as it was inhabited by Christians, to repair our ships there, allow the men a little repose, and recruit our stock of provisions; because from this island to Castile there are three hundred leagues of ocean, without any land intervening.

In seven days we arrived at this island, where we stayed two months. Here we refitted our ships and obtained our supply of provisions. We afterward concluded to go to northern parts, where we discovered more than a thousand islands, the greater part of them being inhabited. The people were without clothing, timid, and ignorant, and we did whatever we wished to do with them. This last portion of our discoveries was very dangerous to our navigation, on account of the shoals which we found thereabout. In several instances we came near being lost. We sailed in this sea two hundred leagues directly north, until our people had become worn down with fatigue, through having been already nearly a year at sea. Their allowance was only six ounces of bread for eating, and but three small measures of water for drinking, per diem. And as the ships became dangerous to navigate with much longer, they remonstrated, saying that they wished to return to their homes in Castile, and not to tempt fortune and the sea any more. Whereupon we concluded to take some prisoners as slaves, and, loading the ships with them, to return at once to Spain. Going, therefore, to certain islands, we possessed ourselves by force of two hundred thirty-two, and steered our course for Castile. In sixty-seven days we crossed the ocean and arrived at the islands of the Azores, which belong to the King of Portugal and are three hundred leagues distant from Cadiz. Here, having taken in our refreshments, we sailed for Castile, but the wind was contrary and we were obliged to go to the Canary Islands, from there to the island of Madeira, and thence to Cadiz.

We were absent thirteen months on this voyage, exposing ourselves to awful dangers, and discovering a very large country of Asia and a great many islands, the largest part of them inhabited. According to the calculations I have several times made with the compass, we have sailed about five thousand leagues. To conclude, we passed the equinoctial line six and a half degrees to the south, and afterward turned to the north, which we penetrated so far that the north star was at an elevation of thirty-five degrees and a half above our horizon. To the west we sailed eighty-four degrees distant from the meridian of the city and port of Cadiz. We discovered immense regions, saw a vast number of people, all naked and speaking various languages. On the land we saw numerous wild animals, various kinds of birds, and an infinite number of trees, all aromatic. We brought home pearls in their growing state, and gold in the grain; we brought two stones, one of emerald color and the other of amethyst, which was very hard, and at least a half a span long and three fingers thick. The sovereigns esteem them most highly, and have preserved them among their jewels. We brought also a piece of crystal, which some jewellers say is beryl, and, according to what the Indians told us, they had a great quantity of the same; we brought fourteen flesh-colored pearls, with which the Queen was highly delighted; we brought many other stones which appeared beautiful to us, but of all these we did not bring a large quantity, as we were continually busied in our navigation, and did not tarry long in any place.

When we arrived at Cadiz we sold many slaves, finding two hundred remaining to us; the others, completing the number of two hundred thirty-two, having died at sea. After deducting the expense of transportation, we gained only about five hundred ducats, which, having to be divided into fifty-five parts, made each share very small. However, we contented ourselves with life, and rendered thanks to God that, during the whole voyage, out of fifty-seven Christian men, which was our number, only two had died, they having been killed by Indians.

I have had two quartan agues since my return, but I hope, by the favor of God, to be well soon, and they do not continue long now, and are without chills. I have passed over many things worthy of remembrance, in order not to be more tedious than I can help, all which are reserved for the pen and in the memory.

They are fitting out three ships for me here, that I may go on a new voyage of discovery; and I think they will be ready by the middle of September. May it please our Lord to give me health and a good voyage, as I hope again to bring very great news and discover the island of Trapodana, which is between the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Ganges. Afterward I intend to return to my country and seek repose in the days of my old age. I have resolved, most excellent Lorenzo, that, as I have thus given you an account by letter of what has occurred to me, to send you two plans and descriptions of the world, made and arranged by my own hand skill. There will be a map on a plane surface, and the other a view of the world in spherical form, which I intend to send you by sea, in the care of one Francesco Lotti, a Florentine, who is here. I think you will be pleased with them, particularly with the globe, as I made one not long since for these sovereigns, and they esteem it highly. I could have wished to have come with them personally, but my new departure for making other discoveries will not allow me that pleasure. There are not wanting in your city persons who understand the figure of the world, and who may, perhaps, correct something in it. Nevertheless, whatever may be pointed out for me to correct, let them wait till I come, as it may be that I shall defend myself and prove my accuracy.

I suppose your excellency has learned the news brought by the fleet which the King of Portugal sent two years ago to make discoveries on the coast of Guinea. I do not call such a voyage as that one of discovery, but only a visit to discovered lands; because, as you will see by the map, their navigation was continually within sight of land, and they sailed round the whole southern part of Africa, which is proceeding by a way spoken of by all cosmographical authors. It is true that the navigation has been very profitable, which is a matter of great consideration in this kingdom, where inordinate covetousness reigns. I understand that they passed from the Red Sea and extended their voyage into the Persian Gulf to a city called Calicut, situated between the Persian Gulf and the river Indus. More lately the King of Portugal has received from sea twelve ships very richly laden, and he has sent them again to those parts, where they will certainly do a profitable business if they arrive safely.

May our Lord preserve and increase the exalted state of your noble excellency as I desire. July 18, 1500.

Your excellency's humble servant, AMERIGO VESPUCCI.


A.D. 1502


The commencement of the sixteenth century found Italy suffering from the foreign interference of France and Spain. The chief Italian states at this period were the kingdom of Naples, the Papal States, the duchy of Milan, and the republics of Venice, Florence, and Genoa. Ferdinand V of Aragon and Louis XII of France, who had hereditary claims through his grandmother Valentina Visconti, had concluded a secret and perfidious treaty for the partition of the kingdom of Naples, the effects of which Frederick II, the King, vainly sought to avert. They conquered Naples in 1501, but disagreed over the division of the spoil, and, the French army being defeated by the Spanish on the Garigliano in 1503, Spanish influence soon after became dominant in Italy.

In the march of the French army on Naples in 1501, the French commander had for lieutenant Caesar Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, whose career furnishes a vivid illustration of the internal conditions of Italy at this period. Borgia, who had resigned from the cardinalate conferred on him by his father, had been created Duke of Valentinois by the King of France, had married the daughter of the King of Navarre, and was invested with the duchy of Romagna by his father in 1501.

By force and treachery he reduced the cities of Romagna, which were ruled by feudatories of the papal see, and, with the assistance of his relations, endeavored to found an independent hereditary power in Central Italy.

The contemporaneous account of these events, by the celebrated Niccolo Machiavelli, possesses a fascinating interest, which is greatly enhanced by the fact that Machiavelli himself was a participant in the events of which he writes.

A Florentine by birth, Machiavelli was sent by his fellow-citizens, in 1502, on a mission to Borgia, who had just returned from a visit to the King of France in Lombardy. During Borgia's absence, friends and former colleagues, alarmed at his ambition and cruelty, had entered into a league with his enemies, and invited the Florentines to join them. The Florentines refused, but sent Machiavelli to make professions of friendship and offers of assistance to the Duke, and at the same time to watch his movements, to discover his real intentions, and endeavor to obtain something in return for their friendship. Borgia, who had the reputation of being the closest man of his age, had to deal with a negotiator who, though young, was a match for him, and the account of the mission is very curious; there was deep dissimulation on both sides.

Machiavelli returned to Florence in January, 1503, after three eventful months passed in the court and camp of Borgia.

The treatise The Prince has been described as "a display of cool, judicious, scientific atrocity on the part of Caesar Borgia (Duke Valentino), which seemed rather to belong to a fiend than to the most depraved of men. Principles which the most hardened ruffian would scarcely hint to his most trusted accomplice, or avow without the disguise of some palliating sophism even to his own mind, are professed without the slightest circumlocution, and assumed as the fundamental axioms of all political science."

On being reproved for the maxims contained in the work, Machiavelli replied, "If I taught princes how to tyrannize, I also taught the people how to destroy them"; and in these words posterity has vindicated the reputation of the talented Italian statesman and author.

Those who from a private station have ascended to the dignity of princes, by the favor of fortune alone, meet with few difficulties in their progress, but encounter many in maintaining themselves on the throne. Obstructed by no impediments during their journey, they soar to a great height, but all the difficulties arise after they are quietly seated. These princes are chiefly such as acquire their dominions by money or by favor. Such were the men whom Darius placed in Greece, in the cities of Ionia and of the Hellespont, whom, for their own security and glory, he raised to the rank of sovereigns.

Such were the emperors who from a private station arrived at the empire by corrupting the soldiery. They sustained their elevation only by the pleasure and fortune of those who advanced them, two foundations equally uncertain and insecure. They had neither the experience nor the power necessary to maintain their position. For, unless men possess superior genius or courage, how can they know in what manner to govern others who have themselves always been accustomed to a private station? Deficient in knowledge, they will be equally destitute of power for want of troops on whose attachment and fidelity they can depend. Besides, those states which have suddenly risen, like other things in nature of premature and rapid growth, do not take sufficient root in the minds of men, but they must fall with the first stroke of adversity; unless the princes themselves—so unexpectedly exalted—possess such superior talents that they can discover at once the means of preserving their good-fortune, and afterward maintain it by having recourse to the same measures which others had adopted before them.

To adduce instances of supreme power attained by good-fortune and superior talent, I may refer to two examples which have happened in our own time, viz., Francis Sforza and Caesar Borgia. The former, by lawful means and by his great abilities, raised himself from a private station to the dukedom of Milan, and maintained with but little difficulty what had cost him so much trouble to acquire. Caesar Borgia, Duke of Valentinois—commonly called the duke of Valentino—on the other hand, attained a sovereignty by the good-fortune of his father, which he lost soon after his father's decease; though he exerted his utmost endeavors, and employed every means that skill or prudence could suggest, to retain those states which he had acquired by the arms and good-fortune of another. For, though a good foundation may not have been laid before a man arrives at dominion, it may possibly be accomplished afterward by a ruler of superior mind; yet this can only be effected with much difficulty to the architect and danger to the edifice. If therefore we examine the whole conduct of Borgia, we shall see how firm a foundation he had laid for future greatness. This examination will not be superfluous—for I know no better lesson for the instruction of a prince than is afforded by the actions and example of the Duke—for, if the measures he adopted did not succeed, it was not his fault, but rather owing to the extreme perversity of fortune. Pope Alexander VI, wishing to give his son a sovereignty in Italy, had not only present but future difficulties to contend with. In the first place, he saw no means of making him sovereign of any state independent of the Church; and, if he should endeavor to dismember the ecclesiastical state, he knew that the Duke of Milan and the Venetians would never consent to it, because Faenza and Rimini were already under the protection of the latter; and the armies of Italy, from whom he might expect material service, were in the hands of those who had the most reason to apprehend the aggrandizement of the papal power, such as the Orsini, the Colonni, and their partisans.

It was consequently necessary to dissolve these connections and to throw the Italian states into confusion in order to secure the sovereignty of a part. This was easy to accomplish. The Venetians, influenced by motives of their own, had determined to invite the French into Italy. The Pope made no opposition to their design; he even favored it by consenting to annul the first marriage of Louis XII, who therefore marched into Italy with the aid of the Venetians and the consent of Alexander. He was no sooner at Milan than the Pope availed himself of his assistance to overrun Romagna, which he acquired by the reputation of his alliance with the King of France.

The Duke, having thus acquired Romagna, and weakened the Colonni, wished at the same time to preserve and increase his own principality; but there were two obstacles in his way. The first arose from his own people, upon whom he could not depend, the other from the designs of the French. He feared that the Orsini, of whose aid he had availed himself, might fail at the critical moment, and not only prevent his further acquisitions, but even deprive him of those he had made. And he had reason to apprehend the same conduct on the part of France, and was convinced of the trifling reliance he could place on the Orsini; for after the reduction of Faenza, when he made an attack upon Bologna, they manifested an evident want of activity. As to the King, his intentions were easily discerned; for when he had conquered the duchy of Urbino, and was about to make an irruption into Tuscany, the King obliged him to desist from the enterprise. The Duke determined, therefore, neither to depend on fortune nor on the arms of another prince. He began by weakening the party of the Orsini and the Colonni at Rome, by corrupting all the persons of distinction who adhered to them, either by bribes, appointments, or commands suited to their respective qualities, so that in a few months a complete revolution was effected in their attachment, and they all came over to the Duke.

Having thus humbled the Colonni, he only waited an opportunity for destroying the Orsini. It was not long before one offered, of which he did not fail to avail himself. The Orsini, perceiving too late that the power of the Duke and the Church must be established upon their ruin, called a council of their friends at Magione, in Perugia, to concert measures of prevention. The consequence of their deliberations was the revolt of Urbino, the disturbances of Romagna, and the infinite dangers which threatened the Duke on every side, and which he finally surmounted by the aid of the French. His affairs once reestablished, he grew weary of relying on France and other foreign allies, and he resolved for the future to rely alone on artifice and dissimulation—a course in which he so well succeeded that the Orsini were reconciled to him through the intervention of Signor Paolo, whom he had gained over to his interests by all manner of rich presents and friendly offices. And this man, being deceived himself, so far prevailed on the credulity of the rest that they attended the Duke at an interview at Sinigaglia, where they were all put to death. Having thus exterminated the chiefs, and converted their partisans into his friends, the Duke laid the solid foundations of his power. He made himself master of all Romagna and the duchy of Urbino, and gained the affection of the inhabitants—particularly the former—by giving them a prospect of the advantages they might hope to enjoy from his government. As this latter circumstance is remarkable and worthy of imitation, I cannot suffer it to pass unnoticed.

After the Duke had possessed himself of Romagna, he found it had been governed by a number of petty princes, more addicted to the spoliation than the government of their subjects, and whose political weakness rather served to create popular disturbances than to secure the blessings of peace. The country was infested with robbers, torn by factions, and a prey to all the horrors of civil commotions. He found that, to establish tranquillity, order, and obedience, a vigorous government was necessary. With this view, he appointed Ramiro d'Orco governor, a cruel but active man, to whom he gave the greatest latitude of power. He very soon appeased the disturbances, united all parties, and acquired the renown of restoring the whole country to peace.

The Duke soon deemed it no longer necessary to continue so rigorous and odious a system. He therefore erected in the midst of the province a court of civil judicature, with a worthy and upright magistrate to preside over it, where every city had its respective advocate. He was aware that the severities of Ramiro had excited some hatred against him, and resolved to clear himself from all reproach in the minds of the people, and to gain their affection by showing them that the cruelties which had been committed did not originate with him, but solely in the ferocious disposition of his minister. Taking advantage of the discontent, he caused Ramiro to be massacred one morning in the market-place, and his body exposed upon a gibbet, with a cutlass near it stained with blood. The horror of this spectacle satisfied the resentment of the people and petrified them at once with terror and astonishment.

The Duke had now delivered himself in a great measure from present enemies, and taken effectual means to secure himself by employing against them arms of his own, putting it out of the power of his neighbors to annoy him. To secure and increase his acquisitions, he had nothing to fear from anyone but the French. He well knew that the King of France, who had at last perceived his error, would oppose his further aggrandizement. He resolved, in the first place, to form new connections and alliances, and adopted a system of prevarication with France, as plainly appeared when their army was employed in Naples against the Spaniards who had laid siege to Gaeta. His design was to fortify himself against them, and he would certainly have succeeded if Alexander VI had lived a little longer. Such were the methods he took to guard against present dangers.

Against those which were more remote—as he had reason to fear that the new pope would be inimical to him and seek to deprive him of what had been bestowed on him by his predecessor—he designed to have made four different provisions: In the first place, by utterly destroying the families of all those nobles whom he had deprived of their states, so that the future pope might not reestablish them; secondly, by attaching to his interests all the gentry of Rome, in order, by their means, to control the power of the Pope; thirdly, by securing a majority in the college of cardinals; fourthly and lastly, by acquiring so much power, during the lifetime of his father, that he might be enabled of himself to resist the first attack of the enemy. Three of these designs he had effected before the death of Alexander, and had made every necessary arrangement for availing himself of the fourth. He had put to death almost all the nobles whom he had despoiled, and had gained over all the Roman gentry; his party was the strongest in the college of cardinals; and, for a further augmentation of his power, he designed to have made himself master of Tuscany. He was already master of Perugia and Piombino, and had taken Pisa under his protection, of which he soon afterward took actual possession. His cautious policy with regard to the French was no longer necessary, as they had been driven from the kingdom of Naples by the Spaniards, and both of these people were under the necessity of courting his friendship. Lucca and Sienna presently submitted to him, either from fear or hatred of the Florentines. The latter were then unable to defend themselves; and, if this had been the case at the time of Alexander's death, the Duke's power and reputation would have been so great that he might have sustained his dignity without any dependence on fortune or the support of others.

Alexander VI died five years after he had first unsheathed his sword. He left his son nothing firmly established but the single state of Romagna. All his other conquests were absolutely visionary, as he was not only enclosed between two hostile and powerful armies, but was himself attacked by a mortal disease. The Duke, however, possessed so much ability and courage, was so well acquainted with the arts either of gaining or ruining others as it suited his purpose, and so strong were the foundations he had laid in that short space of time, that if he had either been in health or not distressed by those two hostile armies, he would have surmounted every difficulty.

As a proof of the soundness of the foundation he had laid, Romagna continued faithful to him and was firm to his interest for above a month afterward. Although the Baglioni, the Vitelli, and the Ursini all came to Rome at that time, yet—half dead as he was—they feared to attempt anything against him. If he could not elect a pope of his own choice, he was at least able to prevent the election of one unfriendly to his interests. If he had been in health when Alexander died, he would have succeeded in all his designs; for he said, the very day that Julius II was elected, that he had foreseen every obstacle which could arise on the death of his father, and had prepared adequate remedies, but that he could not foresee that at the time of his father's death his own life would be in such imminent hazard.[1]

Upon a thorough review of the Duke's conduct and actions, I cannot reproach him with having omitted any precaution; and I feel that he merits being proposed as a model to all who by fortune or foreign arms succeed in acquiring sovereignty. For as he had a great spirit and vast designs, he could not have acted otherwise in his circumstances; and if he miscarried in them, it was solely owing to the sudden death of his father, and the illness with which he was himself attacked. Whoever, therefore, would secure himself in a new principality against the attempts of enemies, and finds it necessary to gain friends; to surmount obstacles by force of cunning; to make himself beloved and feared by the people, respected and obeyed by the soldiery; to destroy all those who can or may oppose his designs; to promulgate new laws in substitution of old ones; to be severe, indulgent, magnanimous, and liberal; to disband an army on which he cannot rely, and raise another in its stead; to preserve the friendship of kings and princes, so that they may be ever prompt to oblige and fearful to offend—such a one, I say, cannot have a better or more recent model for his imitation than is afforded by the conduct of Borgia.

One thing blamable in his actions occurred on the election of Julius II to the pontificate. He could not nominate the prelate whom he wished, but he had it in his power to exclude anyone whom he disliked. He ought therefore never to have consented to the election of one of those cardinals whom he had formerly injured, and who might have reason to fear him after his election; for mankind injure others from motives either of hatred or fear. Among others whom he had injured were St. Peter ad Vincula Colonna, St. George, and Ascanius. All the other candidates for the pontificate had cause to fear him except the Cardinal of Rouen and the Spanish cardinals—the latter were united to him by family connections—and the Cardinal d'Amboise, who was too powerfully supported by France to have reason to fear him.

The Duke ought by all means to have procured the election of a Spaniard, or, in case of failure, should have consented to the proposal of the Archbishop of Rouen, but on no account to the nomination of St. Peter ad Vincula. It is an error to think that new obligations will extinguish the memory of former injuries in the minds of great men. The Duke therefore in this election committed a fault which proved the occasion of his utter ruin[2].

[Footnote 1: On August 18, 1503, he and his father drank, by mistake, a poison which they had presumably prepared for one of their guests. The father died, and Borgia's life was for a time in extreme danger.]

[Footnote:2 Within thirteen months he lost all his sovereignties, and was imprisoned, but escaped to Spain, where he was killed in the attack on Viana in 1507.]



A.D. 1508


In the history of the Renaissance the revival of art adds a new glory to that of letters, and among the masters of that revival there is none greater than Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and heroic man. He was descended from an ancient but not distinguished Florentine family, and was born at Caprese, Italy, March 6, 1475. In 1488 he was apprenticed to the painter Ghirlandajo. He studied antique marbles in the garden of San Marco, where he was discovered by Lorenzo de' Medici, who in 1489 took him into his palace. There the young student remained until his patron's death (1492), improving the great opportunities presented to him. The Mask of a Faun was sculptured during this time.

Before the expulsion of the Medici he went to Bologna, and there executed several works. Returning to Florence in 1495, he was called next year to Rome, where he lived till 1501, producing works which displayed his extraordinary genius, the most important of them being the Pieta di San Pietro (1498). Again returning to Florence, he carved his first David from an immense block of Carrara marble. In 1505 he was summoned again to Rome, by Pope Julius II, to design his tomb, and this work occupied Michelangelo, from time to time, throughout the remainder of his life. He was forced—probably through the intrigues of Bramante, his rival in architecture—to leave Rome, and once more (1506) returned to Florence. In the intervals between all these dates he produced many of his masterpieces.

From this period the historian follows Michelangelo through an important stage of his active career, showing how "the hand that rounded Peter's dome," and created so many other of the greatest works of art, toiled on with patient heroism, in spite of hinderances almost incredible. The painting of the Sistine Chapel, upon which his fame so largely rests, is here described in language that reveals the manhood no less clearly than the artistic genius of Michelangelo.

In 1508 Michelangelo returned to Rome and resumed his labors on the mausoleum. He had soon again to abandon them. Bramante had persuaded the Pope that it was unlucky to have his tomb erected, but advised him to employ Michelangelo in painting the chapel built by his uncle Sixtus IV. It was, in effect, in the beginning of this year that he commenced this gigantic decoration, which was destined to be his most splendid work. We shall see the resistance he first opposed to Julius' desire, and the ardor with which he undertook and the rapidity with which he accomplished the work, once he made up his mind to accept it; but first, since, at the period we have come to, most of the statues which now adorn the tomb of Julius II at San Pietro in Vinculo, and those more numerous that belonged to the original project, but which have been dispersed, were blocked out or finished, I wish to give, in order not to return to the subject, a general idea of this monument, to show what, from reduction to reduction, the original design has become, and what annoyances it occasioned its author.

The original magnificent design remained unmodified until 1513; but on Julius' death, his testamentary executors, the Cardinals Santiquatro and Aginense and the Duke of Urbino, reduced to six the number of statues that were to form the decoration, and reduced from ten thousand to six thousand ducats the sum to be employed on it.

From 1513 to 1521 Leo X, who cared less to complete his predecessor's monument than to endow his native city, Florence, with the works of the great artist, employed Michelangelo almost exclusively in building the facade and sacristy of San Lorenzo. During the short, austere pontificate of Adrian VI, Michelangelo again devoted himself to the sculptures of the monument, but under Clement VII he had again to abandon them in order to execute in Florence the projects of Leo X, which the new Pope had adopted. Toward 1531 the Duke of Urbino at last obtained permission for Michelangelo to suspend the works at San Lorenzo in order to finish the tomb so long since begun. Nevertheless it does not appear that he was allowed much time to devote to it. At last, on the death of Clement VII, he thought he had regained his liberty, and could, after such long involuntary delay, fulfil his engagements; but hardly was Paul III installed than he sent for him, gave him the most cordial reception, and begged him to consecrate his talents to his service. Michelangelo replied that it was impossible; he was bound by treaty to terminate the mausoleum of Julius II Paul flew into a rage and said: "Thirty years have I desired this, and now that I am pope I am not to be allowed to satisfy it! I shall tear up this contract. I mean that you shall obey me." The Duke of Urbino loudly complained, openly accusing Michelangelo of want of good faith.

The sculptor, not knowing which way to turn, besought the Pope to allow him to complete the work he was pledged to. He formed the wildest projects in order to escape the amicable compulsion of Paul, among others that of retiring to Carrara, where he had passed some tranquil years among the mountains of marble. The Pontiff, to put an end to all these discussions, issued a brief, dated September 18, 1537, wherein he declared Michelangelo, his heirs and successors, released from all obligations resulting from the different contracts entered into on the subject of the monument. This fashion of terminating things could not satisfy the Duke of Urbino nor relieve Michelangelo. The negotiations were again resumed, and it ended in their agreement that the monument should be raised in the form in which we now see it in the Church of San Pietro in Vinculo, and should be composed of the statue of "Moses" executed entirely by the hand of Michelangelo; of two figures personifying "Active Life" and "Contemplative Life," which were already much advanced, but were to be finished by Rafaello de Monte Lupo; of two other statues by this master—a "Madonna," after a model by Michelangelo, and the figure of "Julius," by Maso del Bosco.

Such is the very abridged history of this monument, which was not entirely completed till 1550, after having caused for nearly half a century real torment to Buonarroti. The Duke of Urbino was not satisfied, neither was Michelangelo. The figures, originally intended to form part of a colossal whole under the great roof of St. Peter's, appear too large for the place they now occupy. The importance of the statue of "Moses" misleads the mind, suggesting the idea that the monument itself is raised to the memory of the Hebrew legislator, rather than to that of the warrior-pope. At all events, in this statue is centred the principal, we may say the unique, interest of the tomb. This prodigious work must be in the memory of all. Amid the masterpieces of ancient and modern sculpture the "Moses" remains ever unparalleled, a type, not irreproachable, but the most striking, of a new art. I do not speak of the consummate science which Michelangelo displays in the modelling of this statue; the Greeks were learned in another fashion, but were so equally with him. Whence comes it, nevertheless, that in spite of bizarreries needless to defend or to deny, and although this austere figure is far from attaining or pretending to the serene and tranquil beauty which the ancients regarded as the supreme term of art, whence is it that it produces upon the most prejudiced mind an irresistible impression? It is that it is more than human, that it lifts the soul into a world of feelings and ideas of which the ancients knew less than we do. Their voluptuous art, in deifying the human form, held down thought to earth. The "Moses" of Michelangelo beheld God, heard that voice of thunder, and bears the terrible impress of what he saw and heard on Mount Sinai: his profound eye is scrutinizing the mysteries he vaguely sees in his prophetic dreams. Is it the Moses of the Bible? I cannot say. Is it in this way Praxiteles and Phidias would have represented Lycurgus and Solon? We may deny it boldly. The legislators in their hands would have been the embodiment of law; they would have represented an abstraction in a form whose harmonious beauty nothing could alter. Moses is not merely the legislator of a people. Not thought alone dwells beneath this powerful brow; he feels, he suffers, he lives in a moral world which Jehovah has opened to him, and, although above humanity, is a man.

On his return to Rome in 1508, Michelangelo had found Julius II not cooled toward him, but preoccupied by new projects. The Pope made no allusion to his monument, and was absorbed in the reconstruction of St. Peter's, which he had confided to Bramante. Raphael was beginning at the same time the frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura; and two biographers of Michelangelo, whose testimony, it is true, on this point may be suspected, agree in saying that the architect of St. Peter's, jealous of the superiority of the Florentine sculptor, fearing lest he should discover the mistakes committed in his recent constructions, and the malversations of which perhaps he was not innocent, advised the Pope to confide to him the painting of the ceiling of the chapel built by Sixtus IV, hoping to compromise and ruin him by engaging him in works of which he had no experience.

Julius adopted the idea, sent for Michelangelo, and ordered him to begin forthwith. Buonarroti had had no practice in fresco-painting since his student days under Ghirlandajo. He knew that the painting of a ceiling was not an easy matter. He pleaded every excuse, proposed that the commission should be given to Raphael, saying that for his part, being but a sculptor, he could not succeed. The Pope was inflexible, and Michelangelo began the ceiling on May 10, 1508, the most prodigious monument perhaps that ever sprang from the human mind.

Julius had ordered Bramante to construct the necessary scaffoldings, but the latter did it in so inefficient a manner that Michelangelo was obliged to dispense with his assistance, and construct the whole machinery himself. He had sent for some of his fellow-students from Florence, not, as Vasari, by some strange aberration, states, because he was ignorant of fresco-painting, since all the artists of the time understood it, and the pupil of Ghirlandajo had himself practised it, but because his fellow-students had had more experience in it, and he wished to be helped in a work of this importance. He was, however, so dissatisfied with their work that he effaced all that they did, and, without any assistance, if we are to believe his biographer, even grinding his own colors, he shut himself up in the chapel, beginning at dawn, quitting at nightfall, often sleeping in his clothes on the scaffolding, allowing himself but a slight repast at the end of the day, and letting no one see the works he had begun.

Hardly had he set to work when unforeseen difficulties presented themselves, which were on the point of making him relinquish the whole thing. The colors, while still fresh, were covered with a mist, the cause of which he was unable to discover. Utterly discouraged, he went to the Pope and said: "I forewarned your holiness that painting was not my art; all I have done is lost, and, if you do not believe me, order someone to come and see it." Julius sent San Gallo, who saw that the accident was caused by the quality of the time, and that Michelangelo had made his plaster too wet. Buonarroti, after this, proceeded with the utmost ardor, and in the space of twenty months, without further accident, finished the first half.

The mystery with which Michelangelo surrounded himself keenly excited public curiosity. In spite of the painter's objection, Julius frequently visited him in the chapel, and notwithstanding his great age ascended the ladder, Michelangelo extending a hand that he might with safety reach the platform. He grew impatient; he was eager that all Rome should share his admiration. It was in vain that Michelangelo objected that all the machinery would have to be reconstructed, that half the ceiling was not completed; the Pope would listen to nothing, and the chapel was accordingly opened to the public on the morning of November 1, 1509. Julius was the first to arrive before the dust occasioned by the taking down of the scaffolding was laid, and celebrated mass there the same day.

The success was immense. Bramante, seeing that his evil intentions, far from succeeding, had only served to add to the glory of Michelangelo, who had come triumphant out of the trap he had laid for him, besought the Pope to permit Raphael to paint the other half of the chapel. Notwithstanding the affection he bore his architect, Julius adhered to his resolution, and Michelangelo resumed, after a brief interruption, the painting of the ceiling; but rumors of these cabals reached him. They troubled him, and he complained to the Pope of Bramante's conduct. It is probable that the coolness which always existed between Raphael and Michelangelo dates from this period.

The second part of the ceiling, by much the most considerable, was finished in 1512. It is difficult to explain how Vasari, confusing the dates, and appearing to apply to the whole what referred only to the first part, could have stated that this immense work was completed in the space of twenty months. If anything could astonish, it is that Michelangelo was able in four years to accomplish so gigantic a work. It is needless, for the purpose of exciting our admiration, to endeavor to persuade us that it was done in a space of time materially insufficient.

Such was the impatience of Julius that again he nearly quarrelled with Michelangelo. The latter, requiring to go to Florence on business, went to the Pope for money. "When do you mean to finish my chapel?" said the Pope. "As soon as I can," answered Michelangelo. "'As soon as I can! as soon as I can!'" replied the irascible Pontiff; "I'll have you flung off your scaffoldings;" and he touched him with his stick. Michelangelo went home, set his affairs in order, and was on the point of leaving, when the Pope sent him his favorite Accursio with his apology and five hundred ducats.

This time, again, Michelangelo was unable to finish his work as completely as he would have wished. He desired to retouch certain portions; but, seeing the inconvenience of reerecting the scaffoldings, he determined to do nothing more, saying that what was wanting to his figures was not of importance. "You should put a little gold on them," said the Pope; "my chapel will look very poor." "The people I have painted there," answered Michelangelo, "were poor." Accordingly nothing was changed.

These paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine transcend all description. How give an idea of these countless sublime figures to those who have not trembled and turned pale in this awful temple? The immense superiority of Michelangelo is manifest in this chapel itself, where are paintings of Ghirlandajo, of Signorelli, which pale near those of the Florentine as the light of a lamp does in the light of the sun. Raphael painted about the same time, and under the influence of what he had seen in the Sistine, his admirable "Sibyls of the Pace"; but compare them! He also no doubt attained in some of his works—the "St. Paul" of the cartoon, the "Vision of Ezekiel," the "Virgin" of the Dresden Museum—the summit of sublime art; but that which is the exception with Sanzio is the rule with the great Buonarroti. Michelangelo lived in a superhuman world, and his daring, unexpected conceptions are so beyond and outside the habitual thoughts of men that they repel by their very elevation, and are far from fascinating all minds as do the wonderful and charming creations of the painter of Urbino.

It is necessary, however, to combat the widespread opinion that Michelangelo understood only the extreme feelings, and could express these only by violent and exaggerated movements. All agree that his figures possess the highest qualities of art—invention, sublimity of style, breadth and science in the drawing, appropriateness and fitness of color, and this character, so striking in the ceiling of the Sistine that it is not of the painter that the paintings make you think, that looking at it you say to yourself, "This tragic heaven must have come thus all peopled with its gigantic forms"; and it is by an effort of the mind only we are brought to think of the creator of this sublime work. But it is denied that he understood grace, young and innocent beauty, the forms which express the tender and delicate feelings, those which the divine pencil of Raphael so admirably represented. I own that he took little heed of the pleasurable aspect of things; his austere genius was at ease only in grave thoughts; but I do not agree that he was always a stranger to gentle beauty, to feminine beauty in particular. I shall not cite the "Virgin" of the London Academy, nor in another order the admirable "Captive" of the Louvre Museum; but, without quitting the Sistine, could we dream of anything more marvellously beautiful than his "Adam" awaking for the first time to light? or more chaste, more graceful, more touching than his young "Eve" leaning toward her Creator, and breathing in through her half-opened lips the divine breath that is giving her life?

What is the meaning of this terrible work? What means this long evolution of human destiny? Why did these two beings that we see beautiful and happy in the beginning, why did they people the earth with this ardent, restless, at once gigantic and powerless race? Ah! Greece would have made this ceiling an Olympus, inhabited by happy and divine men! Michelangelo put there great unhappy beings, and this painful poem of humanity is truer than the wondrous fictions of ancient poetry and art. "Michelangelo," says Condivi, "especially admired Dante. He also devoted himself earnestly to the reading of the Scriptures and the writings of Savonarola, for whom he had always great affection, having preserved in his mind the memory of his powerful voice." Besides, the country of the great Florentine, the glorious Italy of the Renaissance, was in a state of dissolution. Such studies, such reminiscences, such and so sad realities, may explain the visions that passed through the mind of the great artist during the four years of almost complete solitude he passed in the Sistine. The precise meaning of these compositions will probably never be known, but so long as men exist they will, as is the object of art, attract minds toward the dim world of the ideal.

The year that followed the opening of the Sistine, and which preceded the death of Julius, appears, as do the first two of Leo X's pontificate, to have been the happiest and calmest of Michelangelo's life. The old Pope loved him, "showing him," says Condivi, "attentions he showed no other of those who approached him." He honored his probity, and even that independence of character of which he himself had more than once had experience; Michelangelo, on his side, forgave him his frequent outbursts of impetuosity, that were ever atoned for by prompt and complete acknowledgment.

Michelangelo's sight, greatly enfeebled by this persistent work of four years, compelled him to take almost absolute repose. "The necessity he was under," says Vasari, "during this period of work of keeping his eyes turned upward, had so weakened his sight that for several months after he could not look at a drawing nor read a letter without raising it above his head." He enjoyed an uncontested glory in this interval of semirepose which followed his great effort. It is probable that his thoughts were now concentrated upon the sepulchral monument of his patron, the works for which he had been forced to postpone. But Leo X had other views. He was all-powerful in Florence, where, by the aid of Julius and the League of Cambray, he had reinstated his family in 1512; he now wished to endow his native city with monuments which, by recalling to the vanquished citizens of this glorious republic the magnificence of their early patrons, might help them to forget the institutions they had lost for the second time. The Church of San Lorenzo, built by Brunelleschi, where several members of his family were buried, had not been completed; he now determined to have the facade constructed. Several artists, among others San Gallo, the two Sanzovino, and Raphael, sent in plans for this important work, but Michelangelo's was preferred, and in 1515 he went to Carrara to order the necessary marbles.

Leo did not leave him there long in quiet. Being informed that at Serrayezza, in the highest part of the mountains of Pietra Santa on the Florentine territory, there was marble equal in quality to that of Carrara, he ordered Michelangelo to go to Pietra Santa and work these quarries. In vain the latter pointed out the enormous expense of opening them, of cutting roads through the mountains, and making the marshes passable, besides the inferior quality of the marble. Leo would not listen. Michelangelo set out, made the roads, raised the marbles, remained from 1516 to 1521 in this desert, and the four years he passed there, in the full force of his age and genius, resulted in the transport of five columns, four of which remained on the seashore, and the fifth of which lies still useless and buried among the rubbish of the piazza of San Lorenzo.

Without meaning to contest the debt which the arts owe Leo X, there are certain reservations that we must make on this score. A man of letters, of amiable manners, astute, somewhat of a mischief-maker, ever fluctuating between France and the Emperor, ever on the watch to provide for his family, and, to redeem these defects, having neither heroism nor the undoubted though mistaken love that Julius II bore to Italy, his political career cannot, I think, be defended. He had the merit of being the patron of Raphael, whose facile, flexible character pleased him, and who, thanks to his protection, marked every instant of his short life by some chef d'oeuvre. It must not be forgotten that it was by the most extravagant largesses, by making a traffic of everything, that he encouraged the pleiad of artists who shed such glory upon his name. His obstinacy in employing Michelangelo for so many years, in spite of his reluctance and entreaties, on a work which his own fickleness and the war in Lombardy ought to have made him abandon, has, there can be no doubt, deprived us of some admirable works. But for it Michelangelo would have finished the tomb of Julius II, and we should now possess a gigantic monument that would, no doubt, have rivalled the grandest works of ancient statuary.

A few words of Condivi's show the grief and discouragement which the capriciousness of Leo, and the inutility of the work the master was employed on, caused Michelangelo. "On his return to Florence he found Leo's ardor entirely cooled. He continued a long time weighed down by grief, unable to do anything, having hitherto, to his great displeasure, been driven from one project to another." It was, however, about this period (1520) that Leo ordered the tombs of his brother Giuliano and his nephew Lorenzo, for the sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo, which were not executed till ten years later; also plans for the library for the reception of the valuable manuscripts collected from Cosmo and Lorenzo the Magnificent, and which had been dispersed during the troubles of 1494. He was at Florence when the Academy of Santa Maria Novella, of which he was a member, proposed to have transported from Ravenna to Florence the ashes of Dante, and addressed the noble supplication to the Pope which has been preserved by Gore, signed by the most illustrious names of the time, and among others that of Michelangelo, with this addition: "I, Michelangelo, sculptor, also beseech your holiness, and offer myself to execute a suitable monument for the divine poet in some fitting part of the city." Leo did not receive this project favorably, and it was abandoned.

The statue "The Christ on the Cross," that had been ordered by Antonio Matelli, and which is now in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, was, it is probable, executed during Michelangelo's rare visits to Rome under Leo's pontificate. His discouragement had become such that he had it finished and put up, at the end of 1521, by a Florentine sculptor of the name of Federigo Frizzi. The statue of "Christ," one of the most finished, and displaying most knowledge, that issued from the hands of Michelangelo, is far, to my mind, from equalling other works of the great sculptor. Yet it was the rapidly acquired celebrity of the work terminated by Federigo Frizzi that decided Francis I on sending Primaticio to Italy, commissioning him to make a cast of the "Christ" of the Minerva, and to ask Michelangelo to execute a statue for him; also to deliver to him the flattering letter preserved in the valuable collection at Lille.

Leo X died on December 1, 1521, a year after Raphael. His successor, the humble and austere Adrian VI, knew nothing about pictures, except those of Van Eyck and Albert Duerer. His simple manners formed a striking contrast to the ostentatious habits of Leo. During his pontificate, all the great works were stopped at Rome and slackened at Florence. While Michelangelo was obscurely working at the library of San Lorenzo, the great age of art was drawing to its close; Raphael and Leonardo were dead, and their pupils were already hurrying on to a rapid decadence.

Characters were beginning to decline at the same time that talent did, and Michelangelo, who, as it were, opened this grand era, was destined to survive alone, like those lofty summits that first receive the morning light, and which are still lit up while all around has grown obscure and night is already profound.


A.D. 1513


Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish soldier and discoverer of the Pacific Ocean, was born in 1475, and died near Darien, the scene of his principal achievement, probably in 1517. Unfairly charged with conspiracy, after rendering great services to his country, he was beheaded just as he was completing preparations to explore the "South Sea," as he named the ocean which he had discovered.

He first went to Darien from Espanola (Haiti) in 1510, promoted a settlement, and was made its alcalde. In 1512 Pasamonte, king's treasurer at Santo Domingo, commissioned him as governor. Balboa undertook many explorations, and was usually on friendly terms with the Indians, who told him of a great sea lying to the south, and of a country (Peru) rich in gold, far down the coast. He set out from Darien September 1, 1513, to discover the great sea and the country of which he thus heard. He had conquered the Indian king Careta, whose friendship he gained and whose daughter he married. He went by sea to his father-in-law's territory, and taking with him some of the King's Indians he moved into the territory of the cacique Ponca, an enemy of Careta.

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