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admirers who declared that as a poet he was superior to
Dante and Petrarch, but he had the true feeling of a poet
and an astonishing versatility which enabled him to attain
excellence in very diverse branches of the poet's art. His
artistic culture can scarcely be called in question. The
man who was not so much the patron as the friend of
Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Michelangelo, the man whose
collection of antiques in the San Marco Gardens was the
school of art to Florence was something more than a
posturing dilettante.

It is true that any estimate of Lorenzo's character is
based not so much on fact as on feeling. There was
much about him which all good men must condemn, but
there was as much and more which exercises a fascina-
tion over some temperaments while rousing violent
antagonism in others. His personality has overshadowed
the conditions under which he held sway, and critics
who charge him with being the enslaver of Florence for-
get to ask the question : At what time in her history
was Florence in truth free? Lorenzo did not impose a
despotism upon the State. He inherited it. The rule
of a single man had become a necessity in Florence, but
the position of a single ruler was unrecognized. It is
this fact which explains the constant exercise of artifice,
intrigue and wire-pulling which we find in Lorenzo's
government. " In his rule there was one great flaw.
This was not tyranny, nor corruption, nor any fault for
which he was responsible, but the want of a constitu-
tional position corresponding to his power." To supply
this want he resorted to many dubious devices. He


cannot perhaps be wholly acquitted of the charge that he
debauched the Florentines by shows and spectacles in
order to blind them to their loss of independence or to
reconcile them to its loss. But if it be admitted that a
despotism was necessary it is difficult to see by what
other means than those adopted by Lorenzo it could
have been enforced. Far-reaching problems of govern-
ment and intricate questions affecting the destinies not
of Florence only but of Italy were constantly presented
to his mind for solution. Their solution depended upon
delicate negotiations and an uncontrolled power to de-
cide. He needed a free hand, and so long as he got it
he was not scrupulous as to the means whereby he
secured it. It is not difficult to see the antagonism, tacit
or expressed, which would necessarily arise between two
such men as Lorenzo and Savonarola. The monk inter-
mingled politics with his preaching, but had not a really
strong grasp upon the political situation. He saw what
was immediately before his eyes, an insidious despot as
he deemed Lorenzo usurping the place of ancient freedom.
Without concerning himself with the causes which had
produced this situation or with the further question as to
how far the situation corresponded to the needs of the
times, he denounced the usurper. Lorenzo, on his part,
when he thought of Savonarola at all, would think of him
with contempt mingled with annoyance, contempt for
an over-ambitious friar who would insist upon meddling
with matters which he did not understand, annoyance
that the nature of the measures, which he deemed neces-
sary to secure a free hand for the conduct of affairs,
should be too openly disclosed before the eyes of the

It would, however, be unfair to Savonarola to represent
his antagonism to Lorenzo as resulting merely from pre-


judice and an incapacity to understand the conditions of
Lorenzo's ascendancy. The lofty disdain with which
Roscoe, in his life of Lorenzo, dismisses Savonarola from
his pages shows an inability to comprehend either the
significance of the Prate's work or the extent of the
influence which he exercised in his own day, and indeed
still continues to exercise. In attributing to Lorenzo
personally the loss of liberty in Florence, Savonarola may
have been narrow and unfair, his ideal of a theocratic
State may have been visionary and unpractical, yet, as a
reformer of morals, he was not far wrong in regarding
the government of the Medici as the chief obstacle in his
way, and in identifying Lorenzo with the moral depravity
of Florence.

It was the aim of Savonarola to impress upon the
Florentines that righteousness exalteth a nation, and to
urge on each individual the paramount duty of single-
minded devotion to the service of God. Whatever piety
Lorenzo had was the private emotion of an individual
disengaged from the practical conduct of politics and
public life. The piety of Savonarola was wholly practical,
incapable of being detached for a moment from civic and
social duty. The objects of Lorenzo were often incom-
patible with scrupulous rectitude. Savonarola worked
to set up the rule of Christ over the city. The antagon-
ism of the two men is to be found, therefore, in their
antagonistic conceptions as to the functions of govern-
ment, nor is the conflict of ideas which they respectively
represented even yet finally determined.

"States cannot be governed by Paternosters." It
was a special part of Savonarola's mission to protest
against this dictum, to insist that States can be properly
governed only by Paternosters — in other words, that one
ethical standard, and one alone, must apply equally to the


conduct of the public and the private man. It is scarcely
too much to say that Savonarola's whole position was based
upon this contention. "If you want to make good laws
first reconcile yourselves to the laws of God, since all
good laws depend on the Eternal Law, and to observe
that the Grace of the Holy Spirit must be sought." ^
His Tractate on the Regiment and Government of Flor-
ence is nothing else but an amplification of this text that
the individual practice of the highest Christian life (ottimo
vivere christiano) is rendered easy or difificult in accord-
ance with the character of the government. No form of
government, in Savonarola's opinion, was more fatal to
the purity of individual conduct than a tyranny, and the
subtle analysis of such a form of government which he
gives in the Tractate leaves no doubt that by a tyranny
he means nothing else than such a form of government as
the Medici had established in Florence.

Thus on general principles Lorenzo and Savonarola
stood fundamentally and inevitably opposed, and though
as private individuals each may have found much to
admire in the qualities of the other, as public men it was
inevitable that they should come into collision.

The exact circumstances however in which collision
occurred are not easy to determine, for the statements even
of contemporary chroniclers have to be weighed in relation
to their predilections. It is to be remembered that
Savonarola and Lorenzo were, both of them, men capable
of arousing intense devotion and intense antipathy, pas-

1 Eighth Sermon on " Haggai, 7 Dec, 1494, which also contains the
following passage : " E non e vero quello che dicono i pazzi e cattivi, che
lo Stato non si regge coi paternostri. Questo e detto di tisanni, e non di
veri principi." See also thirteenth Sermon on Haggai, 14 Dec, 1494,
where he again combats the proposition, and cites Moses, Joshua, Gideon,
and especially Christ Himself who founded His State on no other


sions which respectively find expression in the chroniclers
of their times. Even from admitted facts it is possible for
partisans to draw diametrically opposite conclusions.
Where the facts are doubtful or in conflict the element
of personal feeling must very largely influence the point
of view.

Thus it is stated that scarcely was Savonarola's Lenten
course of sermons ended than he was invited to preach be-
fore the Signoria on the Wednesday of Easter week, 1491,
an opportunity which he used to inveigh strongly
against the tyranny of Lorenzo's government. The
rough draft, in Savonarola's handwriting, of a sermon
commenting in general terms upon the evils of a tyranny,
is certainly extant, and modern biographers of the Friar
accept it as having been preached on that occasion.^ If
this be so, it is noteworthy that a Signoria which, by
hypothesis, was completely subservient to Lorenzo should
have invited a prominent opponent of Lorenzo's system
to preach before it, and should have listened, apparently
without protest, to a denunciation of that system. " I
must tell you " — he is reported to have said — " that all
the evil and all the good of the City depend upon its
Head. Great therefore is his responsibility even for
small sins, since, if he followed the right path, the whole
city would be sanctified. . . . Tyrants are incorrigible
because they are proud, because they love flattery, and
because they will not restore ill-gotten gains . . . they
corrupt voters, and farm out the taxes to aggravate the
burdens of the people."

The incident, if it occurred, is as much an example of
Lorenzo's magnanimity as of Savonarola's boldness. It

^ e.g. Villari. Neither Cinozzi nor Filipepi, nor Guicciadini make any
allusion to any sermon preached at this time before the Signoria by its


exhibits Lorenzo as genuinely interested in this gifted
and unconventional Friar, and desirous of affording him
the fullest and most weighty opportunity of expressing
his views to the Government itself Yet there can be no
doubt that, while finding much to admire in Savonarola,
Lorenzo was of opinion that in much which fell from
him in the pulpit he was travelling outside his proper
sphere. What precisely it was in Savonarola's sermons
to which Lorenzo took exception is not easy to determine,
but it is most improbable that he resented them on the
ground that they were personal to himself and his govern-
ment. Guicciardini expressly states that while such
preaching was not pleasing to Lorenzo, yet it did not
"touch him to the quick". Cinozzi declares that the
objection was to the novel style adopted by Savonarola
in his sermons at S. Marco on the Apocalypse. The
Friar's denunciations and prophecies struck Lorenzo as be-
ing in bad taste, and likely moreover to stir up dissension
in the city. Nor w^as Savonarola himself blind to this
possibility. Probabilities favour the view that it was his
sensationalism, not his strictures on Lorenzo and his
government, which it seemed desirable to check. About
Savonarola's political opinions Lorenzo cared little.
Moreover in 1491 the Friar had not yet attained a
position of any real importance in Florence. Still the
political effects of his propaganda might prove disturbing
to civil order. A friendly hint to this effect might not
be amiss, and such a hint was probably given.

The story of a visit paid to him, at Lorenzo's instiga-
tion, by a deputation of five principal citizens, who came
to request him " not to preach such things " was told by
Savonarola himself in his last sermon, preached on 18
March, 1498. "You remember," he said, "in the begin-
ning, when I began to preach these things (I will put it


more clearly — in the time of Lorenzo dei Medici), there
came to me five of your principal citizens who then held
sway in the city, four of whom are still alive. They gave
me a warning, as from themselves, that I should not speak
these things. In reply I said to them among other things,
' You say you are not sent to me, but I say that you are.
Go and tell Lorenzo to repent of his sins, for God will
punish him and his. Let him repent I say and know
this — that I am a foreigner, and he a citizen, nay the
first in this city. Yet I have to stay here and he has to
depart. It is I who have to stay, not he."

There is a temptation to suppose that this sermon of
1498 is the original source from which the story takes its
being. If so, it was related seven years after the event
coloured by all the glow and glamour of the events which
those seven years had witnessed. In that interval of time
Lorenzo had died, the House of Medici had fallen, Sa-
vonarola had risen from the comparative obscurity of his
Priorate of S, Marco to the most prominent position
in the State. A story told long afterwards, fitting so
well to accomplished facts, must necessarily be received
with caution. There is, however, strong evidence for the
belief that the story as Savonarola told it corresponds
fairly accurately to the actual facts, Cinozzi who was
present on the occasion of this sermon declares that two
of the five deputies were themselves present, and that he
saw them, as Savonarola spoke, nodding to the congrega-
tion in token that all which he said was true. Cinozzi is
careful to say, however, that he was not himself indebted
to the sermon for his knowledge of the facts, for he had
been made acquainted with them on the very day on
which the deputation waited on the Friar. We have,
moreover, in addition to the assertions of Savonarolist
enthusiasts, such as Cinozzi and Filipepi, the sober


testimony of Guicciardini that such a deputation was
sent, though he omits all the picturesque detail. Guic-
ciardini is an unimpeachable witness. The story there-
fore, as told by Savonarola, may, in its main outlines, be
implicitly accepted, but Guicciardini is a witness not
only to fact but to motive. He expressly states that it
was no part of Lorenzo's purpose to prohibit the Friar's
preaching, nor to exclude him from the city, seeing that
perhaps he held Savonarola in some reverence as a man
of good life, and that he had not forgotten the un-
popularity which he had incurred a few years before in
banishing from the city the great revivalist preacher St.
Bernardino of Feltre.

Savonarola himself makes an allusion to the case of
St. Bernardino in a letter of this year (lO March, 1491)
written to his friend and coadjutor Fra Domenico da
Pescia. Perhaps the same fate, he says, is in store for
him. The reference, however, seems to be inspired by a
vague premonition of coming trouble rather than by any
specific threat on the part of the ruling powers. For the
letter almost certainly precedes the visit of the deputation,
seeing that the writer, while noting the contrarieties which
meet him, is chiefly concerned to urge on Domenico
" not to be discouraged that so kw in this city come to
my preaching ". Clearly he had not yet become a power,
and the Government, we may be sure, would not think
it worth while to move against the Friar until his popu-
larity had made him a possible source of danger or disquiet.

P"ar from entertaining any personal animosity against
Savonarola Lorenzo seems to have had, as Guicciardini
hints, a sincere admiration for him as a man, and to
have been desirous of living on friendly terms with him.
Though the Convent of S. Marco was so closely identified
with the Medici House, Lorenzo is not reported to have


offered any opposition to Savonarola's election as Prior
of that convent in July. The election may indeed have
been in part due to the influence brought to bear upon
Lorenzo by Pico della Mirandola, his own near friend, and
already an adherent of the Friar. Lorenzo certainly
seems to have expected that the newly elected Prior of
what was practically a Medicean convent would, upon
his appointment, show the customary civilities to the
Medici representative. Savonarola, however, studiously
neglected to call upon Lorenzo or to recognize him in
any way in connexion either with S. Marco or with his
own election as Prior. He declared that he owed his
election to God and to Him alone would he proffer

Lorenzo on his part frequently courted an audience
by going to San Marco to hear Mass and by walking in
the convent gardens. He would not, however, formally
ask for an interview, nor would Savonarola, unasked,
volunteer one. When Lorenzo endeavoured to propitiate
the Prior with rich gifts offered to the convent, Savona-
rola's allusion to the watch-dog, whose duty it w'as to
bark and ward off robbers, not to be bribed to silence by
a bone cast to it, seems sufficiently to mark the spirit in
which these overtures were received.

A further example of Lorenzo's supposed hostility to
the Prior of S. Marco is found by Savonarolist biographers
in a sermon, preached probably on Ascension Day, 1491,
by Fra Mariano della Barba, prior of the Augustinian
Convent of S. Gallo. The preacher chose for his text
the verse, " It is not yours to know the times and the
seasons," and took the occasion to enforce the grave re-
sponsibility which rested on those who laid claims to
prophetic powers, and the gra\'e dangers which such pre-
tensions might involve for those who accepted them.


It is said that Fra Mariano was directly incited to
preach such a sermon by Lorenzo, who was himself pre-
sent together with Pico della Mirandola, Poliziano and the
flower of the Medicean Court. Cinozzi, who tells us that
he too was there, refers to the sermon as being too un-
measured in its strictures upon Savonarola. As for him-
self, he says, it had the effect of inclining him to the side
of Savonarola, for up to that time he had rather been
favourable to Fra Mariano and the point of view which
he represented. A similar effect, says Cinozzi, was pro-
duced by the sermon on Pico della Mirandola.

All this may be true and yet no discredit need neces-
sarily attach to Lorenzo in the matter. It is certain that
he strongly disapproved of Savonarola's prophetic sen-
sationalism. It is true that he was a close friend of Fra
Mariano and a munificent supporter of his convent.
There is no suggestion that Mariano did not genuinely
entertain the convictions which he expressed. What
can be more natural than that he should have preached
as he did, or more likely than that Lorenzo should
have approved, and, if necessary, suggested such a dis-
course ?

It is to be remembered that those biographers of
Savonarola who speak with most authority as being
nearest to the events write with an express and avowed
purpose to exhibit any opposition to Savonarola as proof
positive of bad faith and treachery to the cause of good,
Filipepi, indeed, in his Chronicle, is chiefly concerned to
show the terrible fate which ultimately overtook those
who in any way opposed the Friar.

Some of Filipepi's examples are so absurd and childish
that none of them can be viewed without suspicion, and
the account given both by him and Cinozzi of the ulti-
mate fate of Mariano shows more of the prejudice of the


miracle-monger than of the truth which should inspire
the historian.

We must go to other sources to discover that Fra
Mariano was a scholar and a gentleman ; a man who
rose to the great position of general of the Augustinian
Order, a man moreover who though strongly disapproving
of the sensational element in Savonarola's mission, yet
entertained a great respect for Savonarola as a man,
visited him at S. Marco in order to express his apprecia-
tion of much that Savonarola was doing, invited him to
sing High Mass at S. Gallo on an occasion of special
ceremony, an invitation which Savonarola accepted in the
spirit in which it was offered.

The two men undoubtedly represented opposing schools
of style and thought, but there is no reason to suppose
that their opposition assumed the form of personal en-
mity, nor that the public expression of their differences
was prompted by the subterranean intrigues of Lorenzo
dei Medici.

Savonarola very naturally took an early opportunity
of replying to Fra Mariano, basing his discourse on the
same text. Of this sermon only a fragment has sur-
vived, but in the opinion of his partisans Savonarola
gained a signal triumph in this oratorical duel.

It may be noted that w^hatever measures were taken
by Lorenzo against the Friar they were all by way of
influence and persuasion, not of force. It may be claimed
for Lorenzo, assuming him to have been seriously offended,
that he showed some magnanimity in refraining, when
all the power of the State was in his hands, from the
use of force and even from any violent or arbitrary
exercise of influence. It cannot be doubted that as a
private citizen Lorenzo could appreciate the work of
Savonarola and could find much in his character to admire.


They were not men who were ever likely to agree, but
they could probably, in a private sphere, have agreed to
differ with courtesy and respect. It was from their posi-
tion as public men that a collision, if it occurred, was
likely to arise. But when in 1492 Lorenzo was seized
by a mortal illness, it was consonant with his nature that
he should forget any public wrongs which he might believe
himself to have suffered at Savonarola's hands, and should
remember only the austere virtue and single-minded de-
votion of the Prior of San Marco. He therefore gave
orders that Fra Hieronymo, as Savonarola was called,
should be summoned " as being a man fearless and in-
capable of being made to swerve from truth by blandish-
ments or any other arts ". When Savonarola is said to
have raised objections against obeying the call on the
ground that he was unfitted for Lorenzo's purposes, he
was overruled by .assurances conveyed from the dying
man that he was willing to fulfil any demands which
might be made. Whether or no Savonarola at first ob-
jected it is certain that in the end he came to the villa
Careggi, where Lorenzo was lying, and was admitted to
the sick chamber. What transpired in the interview be-
tween the two men remains the subject of controversy.
The story runs that Lorenzo began by confessing certain
sins committed in his capacity as prince and statesman,
and that Savonarola insisted upon the mercy of God on
which Lorenzo might count on three conditions. These
were that Lorenzo should have a great and living faith
in God's mercy ; that he should restore, or cause to be
restored, his ill-gotten gains ; and that he should give
back liberty to Florence. Lorenzo signified assent to the
first two conditions as they were propounded. On hear-
ing the third he turned away his face and said nothing.
Savonarola left him unabsolved.


The contemporary authorities for this version of the
interview are so numerous, so unanimous and so specific,
that great weight naturally attaches to their evidence.
Such evidence is alone of any value, for it is obvious that
no subsequent relations can have any weight of their
own ; they are merely repetitions of what the original
authorities have stated. The question resolves itself into
the amount of credence which is to be given to these
witnesses. One of them, Cinozzi, declares that he had
the account from the lips of Fra Silvestro, who suffered
death in company with Savonarola six years later, one of
the Friar's most devoted adherents, co-partner with Sa-
vonarola in visions and revelations, and one who may be
supposed to have learned the facts from Savonarola him-
self Another authority — the '' Biografia Latina" — gives
Fra Domenico together with Fra Silvestro as jointly re-
sponsible for the truth of the story. On the credibility
of these two witnesses therefore the truth or falsehood
of the version largely depends. In view of the independent
confessions made by these two men at the time of their
trial, and in view of the charges made by Fra Silvestro
against Savonarola himself in the matter of the visions,
it is not unfair to say that their testimony must be received
with caution.

It is clear that none of those who relate thus cir-
cumstantially what took place between Savonarola and
Lorenzo were actually present at the interview. But
when Savonarola entered the room Angelo Poliziano was
present, and he has left us a minute account of the details
of Lorenzo's illness and death. He says nothing what-
ever about the three conditions propounded by Fra
Hieronymo, and yet he was, to say the least, in as good
a position to know the facts as any one else. If Poliziano
was actually present at the interview he heard what took


place ; if he was not, then the facts must have come from
Savonarola himself, and it is scarcely credible that he
would have violated the secrets of the confessional. It
may be urged that as Lorenzo had already received the
last sacraments before Savonarola's arrival, and made his
confession to a priest, his interview with Fra Hieronymo
was not officially a confession, and that the Friar therefore

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Online LibraryE. L. S. (Edward Lee Stuart) HorsburghGirolamo Savonarola → online text (page 6 of 23)