Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

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comparisons, and that delightful conviction that it was
not only for the benefit of the carissima patria, but for
his own eternal fame and glory, that he continued page
by page and day by day, furnishes us with a picture
characteristically Venetian, inspired by the finest
instincts of his race. He was no meek recluse or
humble scribe, but a statesman fully capable of hold-
ing his own, and with no small confidence in his own
opinion; yet the glory of Venice is his motive above
all others, and the building up of the fame of the city
for whose benefit he would die a thousand times, as
he says, and for whose honor he continues day after
day and year after year his endless and tardily acknowl-
edged toils. Would it have damped his zeal, we wonder,
could he have foreseen that his unexampled work should
drop into oblivion, after historians such as the best
informed of doges, Marco Foscarini, knowing next to
nothing of him till suddenly a lucky and delighted
student fell upon those great volumes in the Austrian
Library; and all at once, after three centuries and
more, old Venice sprang to light under the hand of her
old chronicler, and Marino Sanudo with all his pictures,
his knickknacks, his brown rolls of manuscript and dusty
volumes round him, regained, as was his right, the first
place among Venetian historians one of the most notable
figures of the mediaeval world.

Sanudo died in 1539, at the age of seventy-three, poor,
as would seem from his will, in which, though he has
several properties to bequeath, he has to commit the
payment of his faithful servants, especially a certain
Anna of Padua, who had nursed and cared for him for
twenty years ("who is much my creditor, for I have
not had the means to pay her, though she has never
failed in her service "), to his executors as the first thing
to be done, primo et ante omnium, after the sale of his
effects. But he would seem to have had anticipations
of a satisfactory conclusion to his affairs, since he orders
for himself a marble sepulcher, to be erected in the
Church of S. Zaccaria, with the following inscription:






Some time afterward, however, the old man, perhaps
losing heart, finding his books and his curiosities less
thought of than he had hoped, gives up the marble
sarcophagus so dear to his age, and bids them bury him
where he falls, either at S. Zaccaria with his fathers, or
at S. Francisco della Vigna where his mother lies, he no
longer cares which; but he still clings to his epitaph,
the eterna memoria with which he had comforted himself
through all his toils. Alas! it has been with his bodily
remains as for three centuries with those of his mind
and spirit. No one knows where the historian lies. His
house, with his stemma, the arms of the Ca' Sanudo, still
Stands in the parish of S. Giacomo dell' Orio, behind the
Fondaco dei Turchi, an ancient house, once divided into
three for the use of the different branches of an important
family, now fallen out of all knowledge of the race, and
long left without even a stone to commemorate Marino-
Sanudo's name. This neglect has now been remedied,
not by Venice, but by the loving care of Mr. Rawdon
Brown, the first interpreter and biographer of this long-
forgotten name. The municipality of Venice is fond
of placing Lapide on every point of vantage, but the
anxious exhortations of our countryman did not succeed
in inducing the then authorities to give this tribute to
their illustrious historian.

Since that period, however, his place in his beloved city
has been fully established, and it is pleasant to think that
it was an Englishman who was the first to claim everlast-
ing remembrance, the reward which he desired above all
others, for the name of Marino Sanudo^ of all the his-
torians of Vciilce the greatest, the most unwearied, and
the best.



IN the end of the fifteenth century, when all the arts
were coming to their climax, notwithstanding the echoes
of war and contention that were never silent, and in the
midst of which the republic had often hard ado to hold
her own, Venice suddenly became the chief center of
literary effort in Italy, or we might say, at that moment,
in the world. Her comparative seclusion from actual
personal danger, defended as she was like England by
something much more like a "silver streak" than our
stormy Channel, had long made the city a haven of
peace, such as Petrarch found it, for men of letters; and
the freedom of speech, of which that poet experienced
both the good and evil, naturally attracted many to
whom literary communion and controversy were the
chief pleasures in life. It was not, however, from any of
her native literati that the new impulse came. A certain
Theobaldo Manucci, or Mannutio familiarly addressed,
as is still common in Italy, as Messer or Ser Aldo born
at the little town of Bassiano near Rome, and con-
sequently calling himself Romano, had been for some
time connected with the family of the Pii, princes of
Carpi, as tutor. The dates are confused and the in-
formation uncertain at this period of his career. One of
his earlier biographers, Manni, introduces Aide's former
pupil as a man able to enter into literary discussions and
take a part in the origination of great plans, whereas
Renouard, the accomplished author of the " Annales de
ITmprimerie des Aides," speaks of Alberto as a boy, pre-
cocious, as was not unusual to the time, but still in
extreme youth, when the new turn was given to his
preceptor's thoughts. The natural conclusion from the
facts would be that, having completed his educational
work at Carpi, Aldo had gone to Ferrara to continue his
studies in Greek, and when driven away by the siege of
that city had taken refuge with Count Giovanni Pico at



Mirandola, and from thence, in company with that young
and brilliant scholar, had returned to his former home
and pupil where there ensued much consultation and
many plans in the intervals of the learned talk between
these philosophers, as to what the poor man of letters
was now to do for his own living and the furtherance of
knowledge in Italy. Probably the want of text-books,
the difficulty of obtaining books of any kind, the incor-
rectness of those that could be procured, the need of
grammars, dictionaries, and all the tools of learning,
which would be doubly apparent if the young Alberto,
heir of the house, was then in the midst of his educa-
tion, led the conversation of the elders to this subject.
Count Pico was one of the best scholars of his time, very
precocious as a boy and in his maturity still holding
learning to be most excellent; and Messer Aldo was well
aware of all the practical disadvantages with which the
acquisition of knowledge was surrounded, having been
himself badly trained in the rules of an old-fashioned
"Doctrinale," "a stupid and obscure book written in
barbarous verse." Their talk at last would seem to have
culminated in a distinct plan. Aldo was no enterprising
tradesman or speculator bent on money-making. But
his educational work would seem to have been brought
to a temporary pause, and in the learned leisure of the
little principality, in the fine company of the princely
scholars who could both understand and help, some lurk-
ing desires and hopes no doubt sprang into being. To fill
the world with the best of books, free from the blemishes
of incorrect transcription, or the print which was
scarcely more trustworthy what a fine occupation, better
far than the finest influence upon the mind of one pupil,
however illustrious! The scheme would grow, and one
detail after another would be added in the conversation,
which must have become more and more interesting as
this now exciting project shaped itself. We can hardly
imagine that the noble house in which the scheme origi-
nated, and the brilliant visitor under whose auspices it
was formed, did not promise substantial aid in an under-
taking which the learned tutor had naturally no power
of carrying out by himself; and when all the other pre-
liminaries were settled, Venice was fixed upon as the
fit place for the enterprise. Pico was a Florentine, Aldo


a Roman, but there seems to have existed no doubt in
their minds as to the best center for this great scheme.

The date of Aide's settlement in Venice is uncertain, like
many other facts in this obscure beginning. His first pub-
lication appeared in 1494, and it was in 1482 that he left
Ferrara to take shelter in the house of the Pii. It would
seem probable that he reached Venice soon after the later
date, since, in his applications to the Senate for the exclu-
sive use of certain forms of type, he describes himself as for
many years an inhabitant of the city. Manni concludes
that he must have been there toward 1488, or rather that his
preparations for the establishment of his Stamperia origi-
nated about that time. He did not however begin at
once with this project, but established himself in Venice
as a reader or lecturer on the classical tongues; " reading
and interpreting in public for the benefit of the noble and
studious youth of the city the most renowned Greek and
Latin writers, collating and correcting those manuscripts
which it was his intention to print." He drew around
him, while engaged in this course of literature, all that was
learned in Venice. Senators, students, priests, whoever
loved learning, were attracted by his already well-known
fame as a fine scholar, and by the report of the still
greater undertaking on which he was bent when a favor-
able moment should arise. No doubt Aldo had been
furnished by his patrons with the best of introductions,
and friends and brethren flocked about him, so many that
they formed themselves into a distinct society the
Neacademia of Aldo a collection of eager scholars all
ready to help, all conscious of the great need, and what
we should call in modern parlance the wonderful opening
for a great and successful effort. Sabellico, the learned
and eloquent historian, with whose new work Venice was
ringing; Sanudo, our beloved chronicler, then beginning
his life-long work; Bembo, the future cardinal, already
one of the fashionable semi-priests of society, holding a
canonicate; the future historian who wrote no history,
Andrea Navagero, but he in his very earliest youth;
another cardinal, Leandro, then a barefooted friar; all
crowded about the new classical teacher. The enthu-
siasm with which he was received seems to have exceeded
even the ordinary welcome accorded in that age of
literary freemasonry to every man who had any new light


to throw upon the problems of knowledge. And while
he expounded and instructed, the work of preparation
for still more important labors went on. It is evident
that he made himself fully known, and even became an
object of general curiosity; one of the personages to be
visited by all that were on the surface of Venetian society,
and that the whole of Venice was interested and enter-
tained by the idea of the new undertaking. Foreign
printers had already made Venice the scene of their
operations, the Englishman Jenson and the Teutons
from Spires having begun twenty or thirty years before
to print Venezia on the title-pages of their less ambitious
volumes. But Aldo was no mere printer, nor was his
work for profit alone. It was a labor of love, an enter-
prise of the highest public importance, and as such com-
mended itself to all who cared for education or the
humanities, or who had any desire to be considered as
members or disciples of that highest and most cultured
class of men of letters, who were the pride and glory of
the age.

The house of Aldus is still to be seen in the corner of
the Campo di San Agostino, not far from the beautiful
Scuola di S. Giovanni Evangelista, which every stranger
visits. It was a spot already remarkable in the history
of Venice, though the ruins of the house of that great
Cavaliere, Bajamonte Tiepole, must have disappeared
before Aldus brought his peaceful trade to this retired
and quiet place far enough off from the centers of
Venetian life to be left in peace, one would have thought.
But that this was not the case, and that his house was
already a great center of common interest, is evident
from one of the dedicatory epistles to an early work
addressed to Andrea Navagero, in which Aldus complains
with humorous seriousness of the many interruptions
from troublesome visitors or correspondents to which he
was subject. Letters from learned men, he says, arrive
in such multitudes that, were he to answer them all, it
would occupy him night and day. Still more importunate
were those who came to see him, to inquire into his work:

Some from friendship, some from interest, the greater part because
they have nothing to do for then " Let us go," they say, " to Aldo's."
They come in crowds and sit gaping :

" Non missura cutem, nisi plena cruoris hirudo."


I do not speak of those who come to read to me either poems or prose,
generally rough and unpolished, for publication, for I defend myself
from these by giving no answer or else a very brief one, which I hope
nobody will take in ill part, since it is done, not from pride or scorn, but
because all my leisure is taken up in printing books of established fame.
As for those who come for no reason, we make bold to admonish them in
classical words in a sort of edict placed over our door : " WHOEVER YOU
ARE, Aldo requests you, if you want anything, ask it in few words and
depart, unless, like Hercules, you come to lend the aid of your shoulders
to the weary Atlas. Here will always be found in that case something
for you to do, however many you may be."

This affords us a whimsical picture of one of the com-
monest grievances of busy persons, especially in lit-
erature. No doubt the idlers who said to each other
"Let us go to Aide's" considered themselves to be
showing honor to literature, as well as establishing their
own right to consideration, when they went all that long
way from the gayeties of the Piazza or the lively bottegas
and animation of the Rialto to the busy workshops in
that retired and distant Campo, where it might be their
fortune to rub shoulders with young Bembo steeped in
Greek, or get into the way of Sanudo, or be told sharply
to ask no questions by Aldo himself; let us hope they
were eventually frightened off by the writing over the
door. The suggestion, however, that they should help in
the work was no form of speech, for Aide's companions
and friends not only surrounded him with sympathy and
intelligent encouragement, but diligently worked with
him; giving him the benefit of their varied studies and
critical experience collating manuscripts and revising
proofs with a patience and continuous labor of which the
modern printer, even in face of the most illegible " copy,"
could form no idea. For the manuscripts from which
they printed were in almost all instances incorrect and
often imperfect, and to develop a pure text from the
careless or fragmentary transcripts which had perhaps
come mechanically through the hands of ignorant scribes
taking from each what was best, and filling up the
gaps was a work which required great caution and
patience, as well as intelligence and some critical power.

The first work published by Aldus, true to his original
purpose, was the Greek grammar of Constantine Lascaris,
conveyed to him, as he states in his preface, by Bembo
and another young man of family and culture, "now


studying at Padua." Bembo, it is well known, had spent
several years in Sicily with Lascaris studying Greek, so
that it would seem natural that he should be the means
of communication between the author and publisher.
This is the first work with a date, according to the care-
ful Renouard, which came from the new press. A small
volume of poetry, but without date, the " Musaeus," com-
petes with this book for the honor of being the first pub-
lished by Aldus; but it would not seem very easy to
settle the question, and the reader will not expect any
bibliographical details in this place. The work went on
slowly; the first two years producing only five books, one
of which was Aristotle the first edition ever attempted
in the original Greek. In this great undertaking Aldus
had the assistance of two editors, Alexander Bondino
and Scipione Fortiguerra, scholars well known in their
time, one calling himself Agathemeron, the other Cartero-
maco, according to their fantastic fashion, and both now
entirely unknown by either appellation. It was dedicated
to Alberto Pio of Carpi, the young prince with whom
and whose training the new enterprise was so much con-
nected. It is not to be supposed that publishing of this
elaborate kind, so slow, so elaborately revised, so difficult
to produce, could have paid even its own expenses, at
least at the beginning. It is true that the printer had a
monopoly of the Greek, which he was the first to intro-
duce to the world. No competing editions pressed his
Aristotle; he had the limited yet tolerably extensive
market for this new and splendid work would be
emphatically, in the climax of Renaissance enthusiasm
and ambition, one which no prince who respected him-
self, no cardinal given to letters, or noble dilettante
could be content without in his own hands. And the
poor scholars who worked in his studio, some of them
lodging under his roof, with instancabili confronti de' codici
mtgliori, collation of innumerable manuscripts according
to the careful "judgment of the best men in the city,
accomplished not only in both the classical languages
but in the soundest erudition " would probably have
but small pay for their laborious toils. But under the
most favorable circumstances the aid of his wealthy
patrons was, no doubt, indispensable to Aldo in the
beginning of his career.



Bembo, it is well knov.

ii Lascaris studying Greek, so
seem natural that he should be the means
: between the author and publisher,
with a date, according to the care-
ioh came from the new press. A small
try, but without date, the "Musaeus, "corn-
is book for the honor of being the first pub-
Uis; but it would not seem very easy to
the question, and the reader will not expect any
Dibliographical details in this place. The work went on
slowly; the first two years producing only five books, one
of which was Aristotle the first edition ever attempted
in the original Greek. In this great undertaking Aldus
had the assistance of tvr nder Bondino

and Scipione Fortigu-: - , well known in their

time, one calling himsc ; Cartero-

maco, ac to their t<, .md both now

entirely u itherapp; . ; was dedicated

to A tog; p, AZETTA( DUCAL PALACE, SAN MARcdth whom
and wnose training the ne. Much con-

nected. It is not to be suppo^ ig of this

elaborate kind, so slow, so tjvised, so difficult

to produce, could have p - .-. Menses, at

least at the beginning. It is t: ':ad a

- of the Greek, w!
duce to the world. No comp< -
Aristotle; he had the limite*:

this new and spit ;k would be

cmph in the climax of Renaissatv

rion, one which no prince who respected him-
no cardinal given to letters, or noble dilettante
could be content without in his own hands. And the
poor worked in his studio, some of them

lodgiu his roof, with instancabili confronti dc* codici

of innumerable manuscripts according
to the ca adgment of the best men in the city,

accomplis both the classical languages

but in thr :>tion" would probably have

but small pa> 'borious toils. But under the

mpst favorable cii - the aid of his wealthy

patrons was, no pensable to Aldo in the

beginning of his


Nor was the costly work of editing his only expense.
From the time when the scholar took up the new trade
of printer, it is evident that a new ambition rose within
him; not only the best text, but the best type occupied
his mind. The Lascaris, Renouard tells us, was printed
in " caractere Latin un peu bizarre " of which scarcely any
further use was made. For some time indeed each suc-
cessive volume would seem to have been printed in
another and another form of type, successive essays to
find the best; which is another proof of the anxiety of
Aldus that his work should be perfect. Not content
with the ordinary Roman character with which Jenson in
Venice and the other printers had already found relief
from the ponderous dignity of the Black Letter, he set
himself to invent a new type. The tradition is that the
elegant handwriting of Petrarch, so fine and clear, was
the model chosen for this invention, which was received
with enthusiasm at the moment. It was founded by
Francesco of Bologna, and called at first Aldino, after
its inventor, and then Italic. No one who knows or
possesses books in this graceful and beautiful type will
doubt that it is the prettiest of all print; but after a
little study of these beautiful pages, without the break of
relief or a single paragraph, all flowing on line after line-,
the reader will probably succumb half blinded and wholly
confused, and return with pleasure to the honest every-
day letters, round and simple, of the Roman type. A
copy of the "Cortigiano," one of the best known of
old Italian books, lies before us at this moment, with
the delicate Aldine mark, the anchor and dolphin, on the
title-page. Nothing could be more appropriate to the
long, unending dialogue and delightful, artificial flow of
superfine sentiment and courtly talk, than the charming
minute and graceful run of the letters, corsivo, like a
piece of the most beautiful penmanship. No reader could
possibly wish to read the "Cortigiano" straight through,
at one or a dozen readings; but were the subject one of
livelier interest, or its appeal to the heart or intellect a
deeper one, the head would soon ache and the eyes swim
over those delightful pages. In the enthusiasm of inven-
tion Aldus himself describes his new type as "of the
greatest beauty, such as was never done before," and
appeals to the Signoria of Venice to secure to him for


ten years the sole right to use it kindly indicating to
the authorities, at the same time, the penalty which he
would like to see attached to any breach of the privilege.

I supplicate that for ten years no other should be allowed to print in
cursive letters of any sort in the dominion of your Serenity, nor to sell
books printed in other countries in any part of the said dominion, under
pain to whoever breaks this law of forfeiting the books and paying a
fine of two hundred ducats for each offense ; which fine shall be divided
into three parts, one for the officer who shall convict, another for the
Pieth, the third for the informer ; and that the accusation be made before
any officer of this most excellent city before whom the informer may

Aldus secured his privilege from a committee (if we
may use so modern a word) of councilors, among whom
is found the name of a Sanudo, cousin of our Marino,
who himself, according to a note in his diary, seems to
have prepared the necessary decree. But the essential
over-delicacy of the type was its destruction. It con-
tinued in use for a number of years, during which many
books were printed in it: but after that period dropped
into the occasional usage for emphasis or distinction
which we still retain though our modern Italics, no
doubt the natural successors and descendants of the
invention of Aldus, are much more commonplace and not
nearly so beautiful.

It is pretty to know, however, that the first Italian book
published in this romantic and charming form was the
poems of Petrarch, " Le Cose Volgari di Messer Franceso
Petrarcha," edited with great care by Bembo, "who,"
writes a gentleman of Pavia to the illustrious lady, Isa-
bella, Duchess of Mantua, " has printed the Petrarch from
a copy of the verses written in Petrarch's own hand,
which I have held in mine, and which belongs to a
Paduan. It is esteemed so much that it has been fol-
lowed letter by letter in the printing, with the greatest
diligence." The book is described on the title-page as
" taken from the handwriting of the Poet," and not only

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 34 of 35)