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which any one is unfit to serve well. Because if he is not subject to
each of these conditions, he proceeds in his service always with
fatigue and trouble, and but seldom continues in it. If he is not
obedient, he never serves except as in his wisdom he thinks fit, and
when he wills; which is rather the service of a friend than of a
servant. Hence, to escape this disorder, this commentary is fit, which
is made as a servant to the under-written Songs, in order to be
subject to these, and to each separate command of theirs. It must be
conscious of the wants of its lord, and obedient to him, which
dispositions would be all wanting to it if it were a Latin servant,
not a native, since the songs are all in the language of our people.
For, in the first place, if it had been a Latin servant he would be
not a subject but a sovereign, in nobility, in virtue, and in beauty;
in nobility, because the Latin is perpetual and incorruptible; the
language of the vulgar is unstable and corruptible. Hence we see in
the ancient writings of the Latin Comedies and Tragedies that they
cannot change, being the same Latin that we now have; this happens not
with our native tongue, which, being home-made, changes at pleasure.
Hence we see in the cities of Italy, if we will look carefully back
fifty years from the present time, many words to have become extinct,
and to have been born, and to have been altered. But if a little time
transforms them thus, a longer time changes them more. So that I say
that, if those who departed from this life a thousand years ago should
come back to their cities, they would believe those cities to be
inhabited by a strange people, who speak a tongue discordant from
their own. On this subject I will speak elsewhere more completely in a
book which I intend to write, God willing, on the "Language of the

Again, the Latin was not subject, but sovereign, through virtue. Each
thing has virtue in its nature, which does that to which it is
ordained; and the better it does it so much the more virtue it has:
hence we call that man virtuous who lives a life contemplative or
active, doing that for which he is best fitted; we ascribe his virtue
to the horse that runs swiftly and much, to which end he is ordained:
we see virtue of a sword that cuts through hard things well, since it
has been made to do so. Thus speech, which is ordained to express
human thought, has virtue when it does that; and most virtue is in the
speech which does it most. Hence, forasmuch as the Latin reveals many
things conceived in the mind which the vulgar tongue cannot express,
even as those know who have the use of either language, its virtue is
far greater than that of the vulgar tongue.

Again, it was not subject, but sovereign, because of its beauty. That
thing man calls beautiful whose parts are duly proportionate, because
beauty results from their harmony; hence, man appears to be beautiful
when his limbs are duly proportioned; and we call a song beautiful
when the voices in it, according to the rule of art, are in harmony
with each other. Hence, that language is most beautiful in which the
words most fitly correspond, and this they do more in the Latin than
in the present Language of the People, since the beautiful vulgar
tongue follows use, and the Latin, Art. Hence, one concedes it to be
more beautiful, more virtuous and more noble. And so one concludes, as
first proposed; that is, that the Latin Commentary would have been the
Sovereign, not the Subject, of the Songs.


Having shown how the present Commentary could not have been the
subject of Songs written in our native tongue, if it had been in the
Latin, it remains to show how it could not have been capable or
obedient to those Songs; and then it will be shown how, to avoid
unsuitable disorder, it was needful to speak in the native tongue.

I say that Latin would not have been a capable servant for my Lord the
Vernacular, for this reason. The servant is required chiefly to know
two things perfectly: the one is the nature of his lord, because there
are lords of such an asinine nature that they command the opposite of
that which they desire; and there are others who, without speaking,
wish to be understood and served; and there are others who will not
let the servant move to do that which is needful, unless they have
ordered it. And because these variations are in men, I do not intend
in the present work to show, for the digression would be enlarged too
much, except as I speak in general, that such men as these are beasts,
as it were, to whom reason is of little worth. Wherefore, if the
servant know not the nature of his lord, it is evident that he cannot
serve him perfectly. The other thing is, that it is requisite for the
servant to know also the friends of his lord; for otherwise he could
not honour them, nor serve them, and thus he would not serve his lord
perfectly: forasmuch as the friends are the parts of a whole, as it
were, because their whole is one wish or its opposite. Neither would
the Latin Commentary have had such knowledge of those things as the
vulgar tongue itself has. That the Latin cannot be acquainted with the
Vulgar Tongue and with its friends, is thus proved. He who knows
anything in general knows not that thing perfectly; even as he who
knows from afar off one animal, knows not that animal perfectly,
because he knows not if it be a dog, a wolf, or a he-goat. The Latin
knows the Vulgar tongue in general, but not separately; for if it
should know it separately it would know all the Vulgar Tongues,
because it is not right that it should know one more than the other;
and thus, what man soever might possess the complete knowledge of the
Latin tongue, the use of that knowledge would show him all
distinctions of the Vulgar. But this is not so, for one used to the
Latin does not distinguish, if he be a native of Italy, the vulgar
tongue of Provence from the German, nor can the German distinguish the
vulgar Italian tongue from that of Provence: hence, it is evident that
the Latin is not cognizant of the Vulgar. Again, it is not cognizant
of its friends, because it is impossible to know the friends without
knowing the principal; hence, if the Latin does not know the Vulgar,
as it is proved above, it is impossible for it to know its friends.
Again, without conversation or familiarity, it is impossible to know
men; and the Latin has no conversation with so many in any language as
the Vulgar has, to which all are friends, and consequently cannot know
the friends of the Vulgar.

And this, that it would be possible to say, is no contradiction; that
the Latin does converse with some friends of the Vulgar: but since it
is not familiar with all, it is not perfectly acquainted with its
friends, whereas perfect knowledge is required, and not defective.


Having proved that the Latin Commentary could not have been a capable
servant, I will tell how it could not have been an obedient one. He is
obedient who has the good disposition which is called obedience. True
obedience must have three things, without which it cannot be: it
should be sweet, and not bitter; entirely under control, and not
impulsive; with due measure, and not excessive; which three things it
was impossible for the Latin Commentary to have; and, therefore, it
was impossible for it to be obedient. That to the Latin it would have
been impossible, as is said, is evident by such an argument as this:
each thing which proceeds by an inverse order is laborious, and
consequently is bitter, and not sweet; even as to sleep by day and to
wake by night, and to go backwards and not forwards. For the subject
to command the sovereign, is to proceed in the inverse order; because
the direct order is, for the sovereign to command the subject; and
thus it is bitter, and not sweet; and because to the bitter command it
is impossible to give sweet obedience, it is impossible, when the
subject commands, for the obedience of the sovereign to be sweet.
Hence if the Latin is the sovereign of the Vulgar Tongue, as is shown
above by many reasons, and the Songs, which are in place of
commanders, are in the Vulgar Tongue, it is impossible for the
argument to be sweet. Then is obedience entirely commanded, and in no
way spontaneous, when that which the obedient man does, he would not
have done of his own will, either in whole or in part, without
commandment. And, therefore, if it might be commanded to me to carry
two long robes upon my back, and if without commandment I should carry
one, I say that my obedience is not entirely commanded, but is in part
spontaneous; and such would have been that of the Latin Commentary,
and consequently it would not have been obedience entirely commanded.
What such might have been appears by this, that the Latin, without the
command of this Lord, the Vernacular, would have expounded many parts
of his argument (and it does expound, as he who searches well the
books written in Latin may perceive), which the Vulgar Tongue does

Again, obedience is within bounds, and not excessive, when it goes to
the limit of the command, and no further; as Individual Nature is
obedient to Universal Nature when she makes thirty-two teeth in the
man, and no more and no less; and when she makes five fingers on the
hand, and no more and no less; and the man is obedient to Justice when
he does that which the Law commands, and no more and no less.

Neither would the Latin have done this, but it would have sinned not
only in the defect, and not only in the excess, but in each one; and
thus its obedience would not have been within due limit, but
intemperate, and consequently it would not have been obedient. That
the Latin would not have been the executor of the commandment of his
Lord, and that neither would he have been a usurper, one can easily
prove. This Lord, namely, these Songs, to which this Commentary is
ordained for their servant, commands and desires that they shall be
explained to all those whose mind is so far intelligent that when they
hear speech they can understand, and when they speak they can be
understood. And no one doubts, that if the Songs should command by
word of mouth, this would be their commandment. But the Latin would
not have explained them, except to the learned men: and so that the
rest could not have understood. Hence, forasmuch as the number of
unlearned men who desire to understand those Songs may be far greater
than the learned, it follows that it could not have fulfilled its
commandment so well as the Native Tongue, which is understood both by
the Learned and the Unlearned. Again, the Latin would have explained
them to people of another language, as to the Germans, to the English,
and to others; and here it would have exceeded their commandment. For
against their will, speaking freely, I say, their meaning would be
explained there where they could not convey it in all their beauty.

And, therefore, let each one know, that nothing which is harmonized by
the bond of the Muse can be translated from its own language into
another, without breaking all its sweetness and harmony. And this is
the reason why Homer was not translated from Greek into Latin, like
the other writings that we have of the Greeks. And this is the reason
why the verses of the Psalms are without sweetness of music and
harmony; for they were translated from Hebrew into Greek, and from
Greek into Latin, and in the first translation all that sweetness

And, thus is concluded that which was proposed in the beginning of the
chapter immediately before this.


Since it is proved by sufficient reasons that, in order to avoid
unsuitable confusion, it would be right that the above-named Songs be
opened and explained by a Commentary in our Native Tongue and not in
the Latin, I intend to show again how a ready Liberality makes me
select this way and leave the other. It is possible, then, to perceive
a ready Liberality in three things, which go with this Native Tongue,
and which would not have gone with the Latin. The first is to give to
many; the second is to give useful things; the third is to give the
gift without being asked for it.

For to give to and to assist one person is good; but to give to and to
assist many is ready goodness, inasmuch as it has a similitude to the
good gifts of God, who is the Benefactor of the Universe. And again,
to give to many is impossible without giving to one, forasmuch as one
is included in many. But to give to one may be good without giving to
many, because he who assists many does good to one and to the other;
he who assists one does good to one only: hence, we see the imposers
of the laws, especially if they are for the common good, hold the eyes
fixed whilst compiling these laws. Again, to give useless things to
the receiver is also a good, inasmuch as he who gives, shows himself
at least to be a friend; but it is not a perfect good, and therefore
it is not ready: as if a knight should give to a doctor a shield, and
as if the doctor should give to a knight the written aphorisms of
Hippocrates, or rather the technics of Galen; because the wise men say
that "the face of the gift ought to be similar to that of the
receiver," that is, that it be suitable to him, and that it be useful;
and therein it is called ready liberality in him who thus
discriminates in giving.

But forasmuch as moral discourses usually create a desire to see their
origin, in this chapter I intend briefly to demonstrate four reasons
why of necessity the gift (in order that it be ready liberality)
should be useful to him who receives. Firstly, because virtue must be
cheerful and not sad in every action: hence, if the gift be not
cheerful in the giving and in the receiving, in it there is not
perfect nor ready virtue. And this joy can spring only from the
utility, which resides in the giver through the giving, and which
comes to the receiver through the receiving. In the giver, then, there
must be the foresight, in doing this, that on his part there shall
remain the benefit of an inherent virtue which is above all other
advantages; and that to the receiver come the benefit of the use of
the thing given. Thus the one and the other will be cheerful, and
consequently it will be a ready liberality, that is, a liberality both
prompt and well considered.

Secondly, because virtue ought always to move things forwards and
upwards. For even as it would be a blameable action to make a spade of
a beautiful sword, or to make a fair basin of a lovely lute; so it is
wrong to move anything from a place where it may be useful, and to
carry it into a place where it may be less useful. And since it is
blameable to work in vain, it is wrong not merely to put the thing in
a place where it may be less useful, but even in a place where it may
be equally useful. Hence, in order that the changing of the place of a
thing may be laudable, it must always be for the better, because it
ought to be especially praiseworthy; and this the gift cannot be, if
by transformation it become not more precious. Nor can it become more
precious, if it be not more useful to the receiver than to the giver.
Wherefore, one concludes that the gift must be useful to him who
receives it, in order that it may be in itself ready liberality.

Thirdly, because the exercise of the virtue of itself ought to be the
acquirer of friends. For our life has need of these, and the end of
virtue is to make life happy. But that the gift may make the receiver
a friend, it must be useful to him, because utility stamps on the
memory the image of the gift, which is the food of friendship, and the
firmer the impression, so much the greater is the utility; hence,
Martino was wont to say, "Never will fade from my mind the gift
Giovanni made me." Wherefore, in order that in the gift there may be
its virtue, which is Liberality, and that it may be ready, it must be
useful to him who receives it.

Finally, since the act of virtue should be free, not forced, it is
free action, when a person goes willingly to any place; which is shown
by his keeping the face turned thitherward; it is forced action, when
he goes against his will; which is shown by his not looking cheerfully
towards the place whither he goes: and thus the gift looks towards its
appointed place when it addresses itself to the need of the receiver.
And since it cannot address itself to that need except it be useful,
it follows, in order that it may be with free action, that the virtue
be free, and that the gift go freely to its object, which is the
receiver; and consequently the gift must be to the utility of the
receiver, in order that there may be a prompt and reasonable
Liberality therein.

The third respect in which one can observe a ready Liberality, is
giving unasked; because, to give what is asked, is, on one side, not
virtue, but traffic; for, the receiver buys, although the giver may
not sell; and so Seneca says "that nothing is purchased more dearly
than that whereon prayers are expended." Hence, in order that in the
gift there be ready Liberality, and that one may perceive that to be
in it, there must be freedom from each act of traffic, and the gift
must be unasked. Wherefore that which is besought costs us so dear, I
do not mean to argue now, because it will be fully discussed in the
last treatise of this book.


A Latin Commentary would be wanting in all the three above-mentioned
conditions, which must concur, in order that in the benefit conferred
there may be ready Liberality; and our Mother Tongue possesses all, as
it is possible to show thus manifestly. The Latin would not have
served many; for if we recall to memory that which is discoursed of
above, the learned men, without the Italian tongue, could not have had
this service. And those who know Latin, if we wish to see clearly who
they are, we shall find that, out of a thousand one only would have
been reasonably served by it, because they would not have received it,
so prompt are they to avarice, which removes them from each nobility
of soul that especially desires this food. And to the shame of them, I
say that they ought not to be called learned men: because they do not
acquire knowledge for the use of it, but forasmuch as they gain money
or dignity thereby; even as one ought not to call him a harper who
keeps a harp in his house to be lent out for a price, and not to use
it for its music.

Returning, then, to the principal proposition, I say that one can see
clearly how the Latin would have given its good gift to few, but the
Mother Tongue will serve many. For the willingness of heart which
awaits this service, is in those who, through misuse of the world,
have left Literature to men who have made of her a harlot; and these
nobles are princes, barons, knights, and many other noble people, not
only men, but women, whose language is that of the people and
unlearned. Again, the Latin would not have been giver of a useful
gift, as the Mother Tongue will be; forasmuch as nothing is useful
except inasmuch as it is used; nor is there a perfect existence with
inactive goodness. Even so of gold, and pearls, and other treasures
which are subterranean, those which are in the hand of the miser are
in a lower place than is the earth wherein the treasure was concealed.
The gift truly of this Commentary is the explanation of the Songs, for
whose service it is made. It seeks especially to lead men to wisdom
and to virtue, as will be seen by the process of this treatise. This
design those only could have in use in whom true nobility is sown,
after the manner that will be described in the fourth treatise; and
these are almost all men of the people, as those are noble which in
this chapter are named above. And there is no contradiction, though
some learned man may be amongst them; for, as says my Master Aristotle
in the first book of the Ethics, "One swallow does not make the
Spring." It is, then, evident that the Mother Tongue will give the
useful thing where Latin would not have given it. Again, the Mother
Tongue will give that gift unasked, which the Latin would not have
given, because it will give itself in form of a Commentary which never
was asked for by any person. But this one cannot say of the Latin,
which for Commentary and for Expositions to many writings has often
been in request, as one can perceive clearly in the opening of many a

And thus it is evident that a ready Liberality moved me to use the
Mother Tongue rather than Latin.


He greatly needs excuse who, at a feast so noble in its provisions,
and so honourable in its guests, sets bread of barley, not of wheaten
flour: and evident must be the reason which can make a man depart from
that which has long been the custom of others, as the use of Latin in
writing a Commentary. And, therefore, he would make the reason
evident; for the end of new things is not certain, because experience
of them has never been had before: hence, the ways used and observed
are estimated both in process and in the end.

Reason, therefore, is moved to command that man should diligently look
about him when he enters a new path, saying, "that, in deliberating
about new things, that reason must be clear which can make a man
depart from an old custom." Let no one marvel, then, if the digression
touching my apology be long; but, as is necessary, let him bear its
length with patience.

Continuing it, I say that, since it has been shown how, in order to
avoid unsuitable confusion and from readiness of liberality, I fixed
on the Commentary in the Mother Tongue and left the Latin, the order
of the entire apology requires that I now prove how I attached myself
to that through the natural love for my native tongue, which is the
third and last reason which moved me to this. I say that natural love
moves the lover principally to three things: the one is to exalt the
loved object, the second is to be jealous thereof, the third is to
defend it, as each one sees constantly to happen; and these three
things made me adopt it, that is, our Mother Tongue, which naturally
and accidentally I love and have loved.

I was moved in the first place to exalt it. And that I do exalt it may
be seen by this reason: it happens that it is possible to magnify
things in many conditions of greatness, and nothing makes so great as
the greatness of that goodness which is the mother and preserver of
all other forms of greatness. And no greater goodness can a man have
than that of virtuous action, which is his own goodness, by which the
greatness of true dignity and of true honour, of true power, of true
riches, of true friends, of true and pure renown, are acquired and
preserved: and this greatness I give to this friend, inasmuch as that
which he had of goodness in latent power and hidden, I cause him to
have in action and revealed in its own operation, which is to declare

Secondly, I was moved by jealousy of it. The jealousy of the friend
makes a man anxious to secure lasting provision; wherefore, thinking
that, from the desire to understand these Songs, some unlearned man
would have translated the Latin Commentary into the Mother Tongue; and
fearing that the Mother Tongue might have been employed by some one
who would have made it seem ugly, as he did who translated the Latin
of the "Ethics," I endeavoured to employ it, trusting in myself more
than in any other. Again, I was moved to defend it from its numerous
accusers, who depreciate it and commend others, especially the Langue
d'Oc, saying, that the latter is more beautiful and better than this,
therein deviating from the truth. For by this Commentary the great
excellence of our common Lingua di Si will appear, since through it,
most lofty and most original ideas may be as fitly, sufficiently, and
easily expressed as if it were by the Latin itself, which cannot show
its virtue in things rhymed because of accidental ornaments which are
connected therewith - that is, the rhyme and the rhythm, or the
regulated measure; as it is with the beauty of a lady when the
splendour of the jewels and of the garments excite more admiration
than she herself. He, therefore, who wishes to judge well of a lady
looks at her when she is alone and her natural beauty is with her,
free from all accidental ornament. So it will be with this Commentary,
in which will be seen the facility of the syllables, the propriety of
the conditions, and the sweet orations which are made in our Mother
Tongue, which a good observer will perceive to be full of most sweet

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