Dionysius Lardner.

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exhorted him to remain. He drew up a defence for
him, and by a judicious distribution of bribes, succeeded

F 4


in obtaining his acquittal ; and Florence was again sub-
jected to his yoke.

Two years after, Alexander was murdered by Loren-
zino de' Medici, who considered that he had a better
right to be considered the head of the family. But
this act, undertaken without the participation of any ac-
complice, was not followed by the results that might have
been anticipated. Lorenzino, frightened by his very suc-
cess, fled the city, and his cousin Cosmo was raised to the
supreme power, and afterwards named grand duke of
Tuscany. Guicciardini assisted materially in his eleva-
tion, and hoped to be real chief of the state, while the
other held the nominal rank. But Cosmo was of a crafty,
cold, and ungrateful disposition, and treated his benefactor
with such neglect, that he withdrew himself from public-
life, and retired to his country seat at Montici, in the
neighbourhood of Florence.

From this time he occupied himself wholly in the
composition of his history. It is a fine monument of
his genius and industry. It commences with the in-
vasion of Italy by Charles VIII._, and goes down to the
exaltation of Cosmo. The fault attributed to him as
an author is prolixity, and to this he must plead guilty.
He dwells with the most tiresome and earnest minute-
ness on the most trivial incidents ; and the taking of an
insignificant castle, followed by no important results, is
attended by the same diffuseness and exactitude of de-
tail as events of the greatest magnitude. But no his-
torian surpasses Guicciardini when the subject is worthy
of his pen. His animated descriptions of battles, the
chances of war, and conduct of princes and leaders;
his delineations of character, and masterly views of
the course of events, all claim the highest admiration.
The orations, which he intersperses, have been cavilled
at, but they are eloquent, full of dignified exhortation,
or sagacious reasoning. His account of the rise and
formation of the temporal power of the popes excited
great censure in catholic countries ; and throughout
he is accused of showing himself the enemy of the Ho-


man church. It is true, that the pages of no other his-
torian afford such convincing proofs of the pernicious
effects resulting from the union of spiritual supremacy
and temporal possessions. His powerful character of
the infamous pope Borgia ; his description of the fiery
vehemence of Julius II. ; his unveiling of the faults of
Leo X., and the exposure he makes of the mistakes and
weakness of Clement VII., present the very men and
times to our eyes, and form as it were a school in
which to study the philosophy of history. We perceive
no partiality till the last few pages, which record the
downfall of the republic of Florence. His language is,
in the eyes of Italian critics, nearly pure ; it is forcible,
without being concise ; and the clearness and majesty of
the expressions in his best passages carry the reader
along with him.

Guicciardini was solicited by pcpe Paul III. to leave
his retreat, and to enter again on public life, but he re-
fused. The disappointment of his ambitious views on
the exaltation of Cosmo, and the duke's ingratitude,
struck him to the heart. He did not live to complete
his history, and died on the 27th of May, 1540, in the
fifty-eighth year of his age. He expressly ordered that
his funeral should be unattended by any pomp ; and
his directions were so strictly followed, that for some
time no stone even commemorated the spot of his

Little is known of his private life. His letters have
all perished, except a few addressed to Machiavelli,
They are lively in their style, and very friendly. He
had no son, and seven daughters, and wrote to the
secretary to ask his advice in settling them in marriage.
Machiavelli advised his applying to the pope for a
dowry; counselling him by all means to marry the
eldest well, as the others would follow her example ;
and he quotes a passage from Dante, referring to a
duke of Provence, " who had three daughters and each a
queen. And the cause of this thing, was Romeo, a
poor wandering man," who had advised the duke to be


unsparing in his dowry to his eldest daughter, so to
command a splendid alliance, as the best means to
advance her sisters also. He gave her half his duchy,
and she married the king of France. Guicciardini in
reply says, " You have set me on ransacking Romagna
for a copy of Dante, and at last I have found one." But
he was too high-spirited to apply for a gift from the pope.

Guicciardini was tall and of commanding aspect ; rather
squarely made, and not handsome ; but robust, and with
an animated, intelligent countenance. He was ambitious,
and even haughty, so that he could endure neither con-
tradiction nor advice. Prudence, industry, sagacity,
and a penetrating understanding, recommended him to
his employers ; and he was frequently entrusted with
carrying on and correcting the correspondence of the
pope and other princes.

The last six books of his history are considered
unfinished. No portion of it was published till some
years after his death, and then the passages considered
injurious to papacy were omitted. A complete edition
was first printed at Basle ; but, even in this, the ob-
jectionable passages appeared under the disguise of
Latin. His first idea had been to write only memoirs
of his own life ; and it was by the advice of Nardi, it is
said, that he enlarged his plan into a history of Italy
during his own times.




IT would be giving a very faint idea of the state of
Italian literature, or even of the lives led by the learned
men of those times, if all mention were omitted of the
women who distinguished themselves in literature. No
slur was cast by the Italians on feminine accomplish-
ments. Where abstruse learning was a fashion among
men, they were glad to find in their friends of the other
sex, minds educated to share their pursuits and applaud
their success. In those days learning was a sort of
wealth ; men got as much as they could, and women,
of course, were led to acquire a portion of such a valu-
able possession.

The list of women who aspired to literary fame in
Italy is very long. Even in Petrarch's time, the
daughter of a professor of Bologna, gave lectures in
the university behind a veil, which has been supposed
was used to hide her beauty, and which at least is a
beautiful trait of modesty, where a young girl was
willing to impart her knowledge to the studious, but
shrunk from meeting the public gaze. The mother of
Lorenzo de' Medici is celebrated for her sacred poems,
and her patronage of literature. Ippolita Sforza,
daughter of the duke Francesco, and married to Alfonso
II., king of Naples, was learned in Greek and many other
languages. A manuscript copy of a translation of Tully's
de Senectute is preserved of hers at Rome, and marked
as having been written in her youth ; and two of her
Latin orations are to be seen in the Ambrosian Library
at Milan. Alessandra Scala, to whom Politian was


attached,, wrote Greek verses, which have been printed,
appended to the Latin poetry of her learned lover.
There was an Isotta of Padua, whose letters are models
of elegance, and who composed various poems of merit.
The noble house of Este boasted of a learned princess.
Bianca d' Este has been celebrated by one of the Strozzi
in Latin verses ; he speaks of her Greek and Latin
compositions with great praise. Damigella Torella, we
are told, was numbered among the most distinguished
women of her time. She was profoundly versed in the
learned languages, particularly in Greek j she was an
admirable musician, and as beautiful as she was wise.
Cassandra Fedele, however, excelled all her sex in her
acquirements. She was of a noble family, originally of
Milan; born at Venice in 1465: she was,, by her father's
desire, instructed in all the abstruse studies Greek,
Latin, philosophy, and music with such success, that
even in girlhood she was the admiration of all the
learned men of the age. There is a letter from Politian
to her, which praises her Latin letters, not only for
their cleverness and elegance of style, but "for the
girlish and maiden simplicity" which adorned them.
'' I have read also," he says, " your learned and elo-
quent oration, which is harmonious, dignified, and full
of talent. I am told that you are versed in philosophy
and dialectics, that you entangle others by the most
serious difficulties, and make all plain yourself with ad-
mirable ease and while every one loads you with praise,
you are gentle and humble." This kind of knowledge
would not suit these days : but those were times when
men tried to puzzle themselves by scholastic learning,
and when the noble Pico della Mirandola took pleasure
in disputing on nine hundred questions. Isabella of
Spain, Louis XII. of France, and pope Leo X. all
warmly solicited Cassandra to take up her abode at their
several courts. She showed willingness to accept the
queen's invitation ; but the Venetian republic set so
high a value upon her, that they would not permit her
to leave their state. She married Mapelli, a physician^


who was sent to Candia by the republic, and Cassandra
accompanied him. She became a widow late in life,
and lived to extreme old age. She was elected when
ninety years old to be the superior of a religious house
in Venice ; and died at the age of one hundred and two.

This list might easily be much enlarged ; but we
have no space for further dilation ; and therefore turn
from names less illustrious, to Vittoria Colonna, the
woman of all others who conferred, by her virtues,
talents, and beauty, honour on her sex.

Vittoria Colonna was the daughter of Fabrizio Co-
lonna, grand constable of the kingdom of Naples, and
of Anna di Montefeltro, daughter of Frederic duke of
Urbino. She was born at Marino, a castle belonging to
her family, about the year 1490. At the infantine age
of four she was betrothed to Ferdinando Francesco
d' Avolos, marquess of Pescara, who was not older than
his baby bride. She was educated with the most sedu-
lous care, and was sought in marriage by various
princes but that fidelity of disposition which was her
beautiful characteristic through life, prevented her from
breaking her contract with her young lover. They were
married at the age of seventeen. He competed with
her in talents and accomplishments. They loved each
other with the utmost tenderness, and lived for four
years succeeding to their marriage, in solitude, in the
island of Ischia, where Pescara had a palace.

But this happiness was of short duration ; at the
time when Julius II. leagued all Italy against Louis
XII., the marquess of Pescara joined the army of the
emperor. Vittoria was full of chivalric feelings ; her
enthusiasm, as well as her tenderness, were gratified by
the occupation of embroidering banners for her hero,
who, at the early age of one-and-twenty, was made
general of cavalry at the battle of Ravenna. That
disastrous day was adverse to him. He was taken
prisoner and sent to Milan, where he remained a year,
and wrote a dialogue on love, addressed to his wife, in
a dedication in which he laments that he can no longer


visit her as he was used, whenever the duties of his
station permitted his absence. As a kind of answer to
this testimony of his affection, Vittoria designed an
emblem Cupid within a circle, formed by a serpent,
with the motto " Quern peperit virtus, prudentia servet
amorem" "May prudence preserve the love, which
originated in virtue."

After the French were driven from Italy, that un-
happy country enjoyed a short interval of peace,
interrupted by the invasion of Francis I. Pescara was
present at the battle of Pavia, and distinguished himself
by his intrepidity, and mainly contributed to the success
of the emperor's arms. He was not rewarded as he
deserved, and the opposite or French party thought that
his consequent discontent afforded an opening for a
reconciliation with them. Geronimo Morone was em-
ployed by them to seduce him from his fidelity to
Charles V. He was offered the kingdom of Naples as
a reward, and every argument was used that might have
most weight ; the honour he would acquire by driving
the barbarous nations from Italy, and the favours which
the pope and other princes would shower upon him.
These were, however, but specious reasonings. Pescara
lent too ready an ear to them ; but Vittoria at once de-
tected their fallacy, and the disgrace that would befall
her husband if he abandoned his imperial master. She
wrote him a letter full of ean*st persuasion to refuse
the dazzling offers of Morone. She spoke of the glory
acquired by fidelity and unblemished honour, as far
outweighing any that a crown could bestow, saying, that
for herself, she desired to be called the wife, not of a
king, but of that great and glorious soldier, whose valour
and generosity of soul had vanquished the greatest kings.
Pescara's conduct on this occasion is wholly unworthy
of the precepts of his admirable wife. He continued
faithful to the emperor, but acted the base part of a
spy and informer : by his means Morone's designs were
betrayed, and he was thrown into prison. There is no
doubt that the high-minded Vittoria continued to the


last entirely ignorant of this ignoble action ; and praised
her husband for having listened to her exhortations, and
rejected a crown.

But while the marquess was acting so as to cast an
eternal stigma on his honour, death was at hand to
terminate every ambitious project. His many wounds,
and the fatigues he had endured during the long wars,
had so shaken his health, that neither his good consti-
tution nor the skill of physicians were any longer able
to afford relief. While preparing to die, he desired to
take leave of his wife, and sent for her to join him at
Milan ; but when he found that he should not survive
long enough to see her, he sent for his cousin, the
marchese del Vasto, and recommended Vittoria to him
with the warmest affection. Vittoria, on hearing of her
husband's illness, had left Naples to join him. She
passed through Rome, where she was received with the
greatest honours, but on arriving at Viterbo, she received
intelligence of Pescara's death : her grief caused her
to forget her religious resignation and fortitude ; its
excess overwhelmed her with tears and the bitterest

From that time this illustrious lady never ceased to
spend every faculty of her soul in lamenting her lost
husband. They had been married seventeen years, but
had no child ; she gave herself up entirely to sorrow ;
and her faithful heart, incapable of a second attachment
to replace one which had begun with her life, cherished
only the image of her past happiness, and the hope of
its renewal in another life. Her active mind could not
repose tranquilly on its misery ; she continued to culti-
vate it, so to render it more worthy of Pescara, and she
exercised and amused it by the many sonnets she wrote
in his honour. An Italian author has named her
second only to Petrarch. Her verses are full of tender-
ness, of absorbing passion, of truth and life. They fail
in poetic fancy ; and yet, so much does the reader sym-
pathise in the intense and fond sorrows of this ex-
traordinary woman, that none can criticise,, while all are


touched by her laments. The best poem in her volume
has been attributed to Ariosto, I do not know on what
authority ; but if written by her, has that elegance of
style and concentration of expression, which characterises
true poetry. It begins with the affecting exclamation,
" I am indeed her you loved ! Behold how bitter and
eating grief has changed me ! Scarcely could you
recognise me by my voice. On your departure, that
charm which you called beauty, and of which I was
proud, since it was dear to you, left my cheeks, my
eyes, my hair ! Yet, ah ! how can I live, when I
remember that the impious tomb and envious dust con-
taminates and destroys thy dear and beautiful limbs ! '
These verses may in their original be very justly com-
pared in pathos and grace to Petrarch :

Io sono, io son ben dessa ! or vedi come

M' ha cangiata il dolor fiero ed atroce

Oh' a fatica la voce

Pub di me'dar la conoscenza vera.

Lassa ! ch' al tuo partir parti veloce

Dalle guancie, dagli occhi, e dalle chiome

Ouesta a cui davi come

Tu di beltade, ed io n' andava altera,

Che me '1 credea, perche in tal pregio t' era.

Com' e ch' io viva, quando mi rimembra,
Ch' empio sepolcro, e invidiosa polve
Contamina e dissolve
La delicate alabastrine membra ?

For seven years she gave up her whole heart to sor-
row. Her relations, thinking her too young at the age
of thirty-five to continue unmarried, pressed her to
accept one of the many offers of marriage which she
received. But, wedded as all her thoughts had been
since her earliest infancy to one object, she felt uncon-
querably averse to any second nuptials. She lived in
retirement either at Ischia or Naples, dedicating herself
wholly to memory. Her active mind, refusing to find
comfort in any sublunary blessing, had recourse to reli-
gion for consolation. She now employed herself in
writing sacred poetry, and her enthusiastic disposition
led her to project a pilgrimage to Jerusalem ; but the
marchese del Vasto opposed her putting it into execution.

She now left Naples on a tour to the north of Italy,


and visited Lucca and Ferrara. She afterwards took up
her residence at Rome, and became the intimate friend
of the cardinals Bembo, Contarini, and Pole, and various
distinguished prelates. A love of yet greater retirement
induced her a few years after to retreat to a convent at
Orvieto ; from whence she removed, after a short time,
to the convent of Santa Caterina, at Viterbo. Our
countryman, cardinal Pole, resided in this town, and an
intimate friendship subsisted between him and Vittoria.
There is a resemblance in their characters that renders
this intercourse interesting; they were both single-
minded, enthusiastic, and noble. Vittoria added feminine
tenderness to these qualities, while religious fervour
formed a bond of sympathy between them. The com-
panions of cardinal Pole were Flaminio and Pietro Car-
nescecchi : the latter having afterwards become a pro-
testant, doubts have been raised concerning the orthodoxy
of Vittoria ; but there is every evidence that she never
fell off from her adherence to the catholic church.

A short time before her death she returned to Rome,
and took up her abode in the Palazzo Cesarini ; where
she died, in the year 1547., at the age of fifty-seven.
During her last moments her attached friend, Michael
Angelo, stood beside her. He was considerably her
junior, and looked up to her as something superior to
human nature, and entitled to his most fervent admir-
ation. He has written many sonnets in her praise ; and
there is extant a letter, in which he states how he stood
beside her lifeless remains, and kissed her cold hand,
lamenting afterwards that the overwhelming grief and
awe of the moment, had. prevented him from pressing
hsr lips for the first and last time.

This almost divine woman was held by her con-
temporaries in enthusiastic veneration. Her name is
always accompanied by glowing praises and expressions
of heartfelt respect. Ariosto joined with all Italy in
celebrating her virtues and talents, and has addressed
several stanzas to her in his Orlando Furioso.





BATTISTA GUARIXI was descended from a family illus-
trious for its literary merits. One of his ancestors,
known as Guarino of Verona, was conspicuous among
the restorers of learning of the fifteenth century ; and
his descendants emulated his labours. Battista was born
at Ferrara, in 153?. His mother was Orsolina, the
daughter of count Baldassare Machiavelli. We are
nearly in ignorance with regard to any of the circum-
stances of the early youth of Guarini. He studied at
Pisa and Padua, and visited Rome while very young.
On his return to Ferrara, he gave lectures on Aristotle
in the university. He was made professor of belies
lettres. and was already known to his friends as a poet.
He married young, Taddea Bendedei, of a noble Fer-
rarese family.

But Guarini was not contented with a life of literary
jabour, and preferred the distinction of a court to poetic
fame. There is a letter of his, dated 1565, which gives
token that he had already made the paltry ambition of
serving a prince the aim of his life. This letter is
written to a friend at Pisa, who had asked his advice on
the subject of whether he should enter on the service of
his sovereign. Guarini establishes the doctrine, that in
private life a man is as far from tranquillity as in
public ; he is equally pursued by envy and pride, with-
out the compensation he might find in courtly favour.
In his own person he acted on these ideas, and reaped
the usual harvest of disappointment and mortification.
His wishes were, however, at first gratified. He was


sent, by the duke Alfonso, to Venice, about this very
time, to congratulate the new doge, Pietro Loredano ;
and, his oration being printed, he acquired a reputation
for talent and learning. He was for some time resident
at Turin, as ambassador to Emanuel Philibert, duke of
Savoy. In 1571, he was sent to Rome, to pay homage
to Gregory XIII., who had succeeded to Pius V. He
arrived in the evening, after a hasty journey, and passed
the night in composing his speech, which he delivered
the next morning in consistory. Two years afterwards,
the duke sent him to Poland, to congratulate Henry of
Vaiois on his accession to the throne. On his return,
he was named counsellor and secretary of state. After
an interval, he was a second time sent to Poland, on a
mission of the highest importance. Henry of Vaiois
succeeded to the crown of France, and Alfonso was de-
sirous of being chosen in his room to the Polish throne.
Guarini was sent to negotiate his election. He felt the
weight and responsibility of his errand fall heavily on
him. His letter to his wife during the journey has
been several times quoted, but it is too interesting to be
omitted here. It is dated from Warsaw, November 25.
1575, and is as follows :

" This which you read is my letter and not my
letter ; it is mine, for I dictate it, it is not mine,
because I do not write it. But you must not so much
grieve that I have not a hand to write with, as rejoice
that I have a tongue to recount that which, from vain
compassion or negligence, another might conceal. I know
you must have been complaining of my clilatoriness in
writing, but I shall find no difficulty in excusing my-
self, since the cause has been worse than the effect :
and, instead of lamenting my silence, you may thank
God that you at last hear from me. I set out, as you
know, more in the fashion of a courier than an ambas-
sador ; and it would have been well if my body alone
had laboured, while my mind reposed. But the hand
used by day to whip on my horses, was put to service
at night in turning over papers. Thus, formerly, I ar-

G 2


rived at Rome in the evening by post, and the next day
presented myself at the consistory. Nature gave way
under the double fatigue of body and mind, especially
as I travelled by the road that passes through Saravalle
and Ampez, which is inexpressibly disagreeable and
incommodious, as well from the rudeness of the in-
habitants as the state of the country ; the want of
horses, scarcity of provisions, and, in short, of every
necessary of life ; so that, on my arrival at Hala, I fell
ill of a fever, in spite of which I hurried on to Vienna.
I leave you to imagine what I suffered from fever,
weariness, and thirst: unable to procure remedies or
medical treatment; cast upon bad lodgings, bad food,
and into beds that smothered me with their feathers ;
devoid of all those conveniences and comforts which are
necessary to the sick. My malady increased, and my
strength grew less ; and every thing, except wine, became
distasteful to me, so that I had small hopes of life, and
turned with disgust even from the few days I expected
to live. While I navigated the Danube, we were nearly

Online LibraryDionysius LardnerEminent literary and scientific men of Italy, Spain, and Portugal .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 34)