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commanded him to abstain for the future from the exhibition of pictures ; he
readily complied with this injunction, and by his prompt obedience obtained the
favour of the pontiff, who during the remainder of his life treated him with
distinguished kindness.

Ambrosii Traversarii Epint. lib. ii. ep. \\, xli.


After various other observations have been made on
the defects of the preachers of that time, Bartolomeo
remarks, that though luxury and avarice are the most
copious sources of vice, these failings are rarely reprehended
from the pulpit ; or if at any time they happen to become
the subject of clerical animadversion, they are treated in a
dry, jejune and ludicrous manner, without dignity of
thought or energy of expression. He therefore proposes
that the company then assembled should, in a friendly
conversation, enter into a discussion of the nature of these
vices. To this proposal Lusco assents, expressing, how-
ever, his opinion, that it will be advisable for them to
confine themselves to the subject of Avarice. While they
are arranging the order in which they are to deliver their
sentiments, they are joined by Andrew of Constantinople,
a man of great erudition, and the most respectable cha-
racter. After the interchange of the customary salutations,
the new guest is informed of the proposed subject of dis-
course, and Bartolomeo proceeds to utter an eloquent
invective against Avarice. This oration being ended,
Lusco replies in extenuation of that vice, and in the course
of his harangue reprobates the opposite error of luxury and
extravagance. Lusco's speech displays considerable inge-
nuity. The most striking passages which it contains are
levelled against the professors of the civil law, and against
the mendicant friars, both which descriptions of men are
treated with great severity. Alluding to the latter, Lusco
says, " Look through the whole city the market the
" streets the churches and if you can find any body
" who professes that he wishes for no more than a bare

CHAP. IV. 159

" sufficiency, depend upon it you have, found a prodigious
" rarity. Do not cite as instances in contradiction to my
" assertion, those slovenly hypocritical vagabonds, who,
" under the pretext of religion, get their living without
" labour, and make their pretended poverty and contempt
" of worldly things a most copious source of gain. A well
" constituted state will not encourage these lazy rogues, but
" it will prefer those citizens who are willing to work for
" the benefit of the human race."*

Andrew of Constantinople, in quality of moderator,
replies to Lusco, and points out the distinction which the
latter had artfully confounded, between a desire of the
good things of life, and Avarice. This desire, says he, if
moderate, is virtuous ; if immoderate, it degenerates into
covetousness, and becomes a vice. He then proceeds to
answer the arguments of Lusco in regular order. In the
course of his harangue he takes occasion to stigmatize the
avaricious disposition of sovereign princes, and of the
clergy ; and in conclusion he supports his opinion by
various quotations from the fathers and the ancient classic
authors. The remarks of Andrew meeting the approbation
of his auditors, the conference is closed.-f-

Poggii Opera, p. 13.

f- In the original sketch of this dialogue, Poggio had attributed the first
part of the attack on Avarice to Cincio, one of the apostolic secretaries ; but on
the admonition of Lusco, that as Cincio had the reputation of being a covetous
man, an invective against that vice would be out of character, if represented as
proceeding from him, he substituted in his place Bartolomeo di Montcpulciano.

100 CHAP. TV.

In the sentiments of disapprobation with which the
good taste of Poggio led him to regard the harangues of
the popular preachers of his time, he is supported by the
weighty suffrage of Tiraboschi. " Some of the sacred
" orators of the fifteenth century," says that judicious critic,
" are mentioned with praise, not merely by vulgar and
" unpolished, but also by the most cultivated writers.
" On the other hand, we have an opportunity of inspecting
" the discourses of these famed orators ; and generally
" speaking, we cannot see in them the shadow of that
" eloquence for which they are so highly commended. Let
" any one read the sermons of S. Bernardino da Siena,
" Fra Roberto da Lecce, B. Alberto da Sarteano, Fra
" Michele da Carcano, and of many others, who, as the
" writers of that age inform us, attracted whole cities and
<f provinces to hear them : and then judge whether they
" deserve the character of eloquent orations. They are
" generally nothing more than dry treatises on scholastic
" points, or on matters of theological morality, full of
" quotations of sacred and profane authors, where we see
" coupled together St. Augustine and Virgil, Chrysostom
" and Juvenal. The force of their eloquence consists in
" some exclamations, to which is sometimes joined a descrip-
" tion of the vices of the times, which would now excite

The defence of Avarice he assigned to Lusco, because Lusco being generous
even to extravagance, there was no reason to fear, lest the imputed patronage of
so selfish a passion, should be supposed to convey an implied impeachment of
his character.

Ambrosii Traversarii Opera, torn. ii. lib. xxv. epist. xliii.

(HAP. IV. 101

" the most immoderate laughter, but which then caused the
" audience to melt into tears."*


The friars whom Poggio satirizes with such severity in
his dialogue on Avarice, were a branch of the order of
Franciscans, who, on account of the extraordinary strictness
with which they professed to exercise their conventual dis-
cipline, were distinguished by the title of Fratres Obser-
vantice. The founder of this new subdivision of the eccle-
siastical order was the above-mentioned Bernardino, of
Siena, who appears by the testimony of Poggio to have
been a man of great virtue and of considerable talents.
Several of his disciples, however, who were not endued
either with his good principles or his abilities, emulous of
the reputation which he had acquired by preaching, began
also to harangue the people from the pulpit.

Of these self-constituted instructors Poggio has drawn
the following striking picture. " Inflated by the pretended
" inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they expound the sacred
" scriptures to the populace with such gross ignorance, that
" nothing can exceed their folly. I have often gone to hear
" them for the sake of amusement ; for they were in the
" habit of saying things, which would move to laughter

* Tiraloachi Storia della Letteratura Italiana, torn. vi. part 2d. p. 363.
Poggio has recorded a notable story of one of these indiscreet orators, who in
the fervour of a declamation against the vice of adultery, declared, that he had
such a detestation of that offence, that he had much rather commit the sin of
unchastity with ten virgins than with one married woman.

PoffffH Opera, p. 433.

162 CHAP. IV.

" the gravest and most phlegmatic man on the face of the
" earth. You might see them throwing themselves about
u asif they were ready to leap out of the pulpit; now
" raising their voices to the highest pitch of fury now
" sinking into a conciliatory whisper sometimes they beat
" the desk with their hands sometimes they laughed, and
" in the course of their babbling they assumed as many
" forms as Proteus. Indeed they are more like monkeys
" than preachers, and have no qualification for their profes-
" sion, except an unwearied pair of lungs."*

Though the impudence of these men, which was equal
to their folly, disgusted people of good sense, they had
numerous partizans and admirers among the populace.
Elated by their success, they arrogated to themselves consi-
derable consequence. Some of them, in the pride of their
hearts, scorned to hold inferior stations in the convents in
which they were established, and solicited the erection of
new monasteries, of which their ambition prompted them

* Appendix adFasciculum Rer. Expel, et Fug. p. 578. Poggio has com-
memorated in his Facetiae a mortifying explanation which one of these noisy
orators provoked by his overweening vanity. " A monk," says he, " preaching
" to the populace, made a most enormous and uncouth noise, by which a good
" woman, one of his auditors, was so much affected, that she burst into a
" flood of tears. The preacher, attributing her grief to remorse of conscience,
" excited within her by his eloquence, sent for her, and asked her why she was
" so piteously affected by his discourse. Holy father, answered the mourner, I
" am a poor widow, and was accustomed to maintain myself by the labour of
" an ass, which was left me by my late husband. But alas ! my poor beast is
" dead, and your preaching brought his braying so strongly to my recollection,
' that I could not restrain my grief."

Poggii Opera, p. 497-

CHAP. IV. 163

to expect to become the superiors. Scandalized by these
irregularities, the assertors of discipline summoned an
assembly of the brothers of the Franciscan order from every
province of Italy, for the purpose of remedying these evils,
which were likely to bring disgrace upon their fraternity.
This assembly, which consisted of eighty members, de-
creed, that a general chapter of their order should be held
on the ensuing feast of Pentecost that in the interim, six
only of the friars should be allowed to preach and that
no new convent should be erected for the accommodation
of the Franciscans, till the pleasure of the above-mentioned
general chapter should be known. The task of drawing up
these decrees was assigned to Poggio a task which it may
be presumed he undertook with pleasure, and executed with
fidelity. The mortified preachers and their partizans, ima-
gining that Poggio was not only the registrer, but the
author of these unwelcome restrictions, inveighed against
his conduct with great bitterness. Soon after the publica-
tion of the above-mentioned decree, Carlo Ricascolo, a
devout citizen of Florence, presented to the Fratres
ObservantitB a small estate pleasantly situated in the neigh-
bourhood of Arezzo. On this estate the friars immediately
began, in defiance of the prohibition so lately issued by
the heads of their order, to lay the foundation of a new
monastery. Poggio thought it his duty to represent this
act of contumacy to the pontiff, who immediately issued
orders to the bishop of Fiesole to put a stop to the prose-
cution of the building. This circumstance still farther
excited against Poggio the animosity of the indignant
ecclesiastics, who industriously vilified his character, repre-

164 CHAP. IV.

senting him as an enemy of the Christian faith, and a
malignant persecutor of the true believers. Niccolo
Niccoli, with his usual impetuosity, gave credit to these
accusations, and wrote to Poggio a letter of remonstrance.
To this letter Poggio replied, first simply stating the facts
of the case, and then protesting that he was no enemy
either to religion or its professors " on the contrary,"
says he, " I make a point of behaving with the utmost
" reverence to those ecclesiastics who adorn their religion
" with virtuous conduct. But,' 1 proceeded he, " I have
" been so often deceived, so frequently disappointed in the
" good opinion which I had conceived of men, that I
" know not whom or what to believet There are so many
" wicked people, who conceal their vices by the sanctity
u of their looks, and the humility of their apparel, that
*' confidence is in a manner destroyed. In the pontifical
" court we have too many opportunities of becoming
" acquainted with iniquitous transactions, of which people
" in general are ignorant. I am not however surprised,"
says he in the conclusion of his letter, " that these friars
" should complain of their being prevented from establishing
" themselves in such a pleasant district. The excellence
" of our wine is a powerful allurement, both to strangers
" and to our own countrymen. Plato, who was no Christian,
" chose for the scite of his academy an unhealthy spot, in
" order that the mind might gain strength by the infirmity
" of the body. But these pretended followers of Christ
" act upon a different system. They select pleasant and
" voluptuous places they seek not solitude, but society
" they do not wish to promote the cultivation of the mind,
" but the pampering of the corporeal appetites.""

CHAP. IV. 105

These sarcasms were communicated by Niccolo to
Alberto da Sarteano,* a brother of the Franciscan order,
who was so much displeased by them, that he expostulated
with Poggio on the alleged impropriety of his conduct,
in a long letter, to which the latter replied in a grave strain
of irony, defending and confirming the remarks which had
been so copious a subject of animadversion. Towards the
conclusion of his letter, he bestowed upon his corres-
pondent the following seasonable advice. " Do you apply
u yourself to your preaching, and attend to your peculiar
" province. Leave the building of religious houses to
" others, and be assured, that wheresoever you are, there
" you may acceptably serve and worship God."

This letter to Alberto, Poggio enclosed in another,

Alberto derived the designation of Da Sarteano from a small town in
Tuscany, -where he was born, A. D. 1385. At an early age he enrolled himself
in the number of the conventuals, and afterwards joined the stricter order of
the Fratres Observantiee. In the year 1424 he went to Verona, where he
studied the Greek language under the instruction of Guarino Veronese. In the
following year he paid a visit to Francesco Barbaro, who was then governor of
Trivigi. Here he met with the famous preacher Bernardino, at whose instance
he undertook the popular employment of an itinerant preacher. In this capacity
he not only traversed a great part of Italy, but crossing the sea, he went to
preach the true gospel amongst the schismatics and infidels of Greece, Egypt,
Ethiopia, and Armenia. It was in consequence of his representations that the
patriarch of the last-mentioned province attended the council of Basil, when in
the name of his countrymen he submitted to the decisions of the Latin church.
Alberto closed a life of religious labours in the year 1450, at Milan, where he
wag interred in the church of St. Angelo. A collection of his works, consist-
ing principally of sermons and theological tracts, was published at Rome,
A. D. 188.

TiratxHfhi Storia della Letter. Ital. torn vi. p. 214, 215, -216.

106 CHAP. IV.

which he addressed to Ambrogio Traversari. To the
learned monk of Camaldoli he could venture to write, even
upon this delicate subject, with all the freedom of jocu-
larity. " I cannot help thinking," says he, " that the
" benevolence of many persons is too great, who prefer the
" public good to their private interest ; and who, through
" their anxiety for the salvation of others, lose their own
" souls. I could wish that these men would retire to
" woods and deserts, where they might attain to the per-
" fection of holy living, rather than settle in such pleasant
<k places, in which they run such risk of falling into tempta-
" tion. Your favourite St. Jerome says, that it is better
" and safer to be in a situation where it is impossible to err,
" than even to escape from imminent danger. I am afraid
" some people have too much confidence in their own forti-
" tude. But I have done. Let every one bear his own
" burden. Farewell, and pray that your friend Poggio may
" amend his ways."*

The lenient influence of time did not abate the dislike
and contempt which Poggio entertained for those ecclesias-
tics who adopted the religious habit as a convenient cloak
for the concealment of indolence or luxury ; and who, by
the mere appearance of extraordinary sanctity, endeavoured
to attain those worldly honours which they affected to des-
pise. When he was declined into the vale of years, he
attacked those pests of society in a dialogue on Hypocrisy,

* Ambrosii Travcrsarii Epist. p. 978, 979, 1019, 1125. Poygii Opera,
p. 317, 318, 319.

CHAP. IV. 167

a composition which abounds in the keen sarcasms of po-
lished wit, and in acute observations on the human cha-
racter. It is no doubt on account of the boldness with
which he inveighs against the evil practices of pretenders
to uncommon strictness in the observance of religious
duties, that the editors of his works have suppressed this
dialogue, which has been preserved and circulated by the
industrious zeal of protestantism.* The freedom with
which he therein speaks of the vices, not merely of indivi-
duals, but of whole classes of religious hypocrites, is truly
astonishing. The following remonstrance against the folly
and wickedness of the monastic life savours more of the
eighteenth, than of the fifteenth century, and is drawn up
in the spirit of a Gallic occonomiste, rather than in the
style of a secretary to the sovereign pontiff. " I do not
" wish to scrutinize into the secret life of these coenobites,
" which is known only to God. I will not inquire whether
" they are sober or otherwise ; whether they are chaste or
" unchaste ; whether they employ their time in study, or
" waste it in idleness ; whether they are the prey of envy ;
" and whether they are continually hunting after prefer-
" ment. It is not sufficient that they keep within doors,

* It is printed in the Appendix to the Fasciculus Herum Expetendarum et
Fuffiendarum ; a collection of fugitive tracts, intended to display the errors of
the church of Rome.

This collection, which was first published at Cologne, A. D. 1535, by
Orthuinus Gratius, of Deventer, was republished, with considerable additions,
by Edward Brown, at London, A. D. 1689, at which period the avowed predi-
lection of James II. for the Roman Catholic doctrines had given alarm to the
zealous Protestants of England.

168 CHAP. iv.

" oppressed with a load of garments, and do no public and
" open mischief. Let me ask, of what utility are they to
" the faith, and what advantage do they confer on the
" public ? I cannot find that they do any thing but sing
" like grasshoppers, and I cannot help thinking they are
" too liberally paid for the mere exercise of their lungs.
" But they extol their labours as a kind of Herculean task,
" because they rise in the night to chant the praises of God.
" This is no doubt an extraordinary proof of merit, that
" they sit up to exercise themselves in psalmody. What
" would they say if they rose to go to the plough, like
" farmers, exposed to the wind and rain, with bare feet,
" and with their bodies thinly clad ? In such a case no
" doubt the Deity could not possibly requite them for their
u toil and sufferings. But it may be said, there are many
" worthy men amongst them. I acknowledge it. It would
" be a lamentable thing indeed, should there be no good
" men in so vast a multitude. But the majority of them
" are idle, hypocritical, and destitute of virtue. How
" many do you think enter upon the religious life through a
" desire to amend their morals ? You can recount very
" few who do not assume the habit on account of some
" extraneous cause. They dedicate, not their minds, but
" their bodies to devotional exercises. Many adopt the
" monastic garb on account of the imbecility of their
" spirits, which prevents them from exerting themselves to
" gain an honest livelihood. Some, when they have spent
" their property in extravagance, enter into religious houses,
" because they think that they shall there find a rich pas-
" ture ; others are induced to hide in these abodes the

t'HAP. IV. 169

" infamy which they have contracted by their ignorance, and
" by their dissolute and abandoned course of life."

In the same dialogue Poggio recounts several instances
of artful priests abusing the confidence of auricular confes-
sion, for the indulgence of their licentious appetites. He
also mentions, with due reprobation, a set of fanatical pro-
fligates, who propagating and acting upon the doctrine, that
those who were in a state of grace were made perfect, and
could not possibly commit sin, had lately debauched a con-
siderable number of women in the city of Venice.

In modern times, enthusiasts have the audacity, whilst
they make a public acknowledgment of gross violations of
the duties of morality, to proclaim their confidence, that
their sins are forgiven, and to declare their firm persuasion,
that whatever may be the complexion of their future con-
duct, they cannot forfeit the favour of the Almighty.
Though it would be unjust to charge these men with an
imitation of the actions of the sanctimonious Venetians,
whose vile deeds are recorded by Poggio, certain it is, that
their principles, if carried into practice, would grant a
license even to these flagrant acts of wickedness. Thus, in
the wide circle of immorality, there is a point, where the
extreme of enthusiasm and the extreme of libertinism meet
together. When reason is shaken from her throne, the
passions make even Religion herself the promoter and the
instrument of vice.


EUGENIUS IV. raised to the pontificate His per-
secution of the Colonnas He offends the duke of
Milan /// success of the pontifical army in Ger-
many Poggio foresees the disasters of the papal
troops His consolatory letter to cardinal Julian
Julian's answer Poggio's reply Angelotto, car-
dinal of St. Mark Meeting and proceedings of
the council of Basil Poggio attempts to persuade
Julian to desert the council Violent proceedings
of that assembly against the pontiff- The ecclesi-
astical states invaded by Francesco Sforza and
Niccolo Fortebraccio Poggio again attempts to
gain Julian over to the interests of the pontiff-
Eugenius accedes to the wishes of the council In-
surrection in Rome Flight of Eugenius Poggio
taken captive, and obliged to ransom himself by
a sum of money He repairs to Florence.


the death of Martin V., Gabriello de' Condolmieri,
a Venetian, of an ancient, though not of a noble family,
was elevated to the pontifical dignity. During his residence
in his native country, Gabriello had not obtained any high
ecclesiastical honours: but being persuaded to repair to
Rome under the protection of a nephew of his countryman
Gregory XII., he so skilfully insinuated himself into the
good graces of that pontiff, that by his favour he was pro-
moted to the lucrative office of treasurer of the holy see ;
and successively advanced to the episcopal throne of Siena,
and to the dignity of Cardinal of St. Clement. Having
conducted himself with singular spirit and steadiness in the
execution of various important commissions with which he
was entrusted by Gregory XII. and his successors, he daily
increased his reputation ; and on the vacancy of the pon-
tifical chair, occasioned by the demise of Martin V., he was
raised, by the vote of the conclave, to the summit of eccle-
siastical preferment. [March 3rd. A. D. 1431.] On this
occasion, in compliance with the established custom, he
changed his name, and assumed the appellation of Euge-
nius IV.*

Muratori Annali, ton. ix. p. \\1.-Plal\na, p. 402.

174 CHAP. v.

During the course of the fifteenth century, the peace
of most of the cities of Italy was continually disturbed by
the intrigues of rival families, who disputed with each other
the distribution of municipal honours, and the possession of
civic power. On the accession of Eugenius, the contentions
of the Colonnas and the Orsini, who had long presided at
the head of opposite factions, still gave rise to disorder and
tumult in Rome. The new pontiff had no sooner ascended
the chair of St. Peter, than the chiefs of the latter family
directed his attention to the great wealth which their com-
petitors had amassed, in consequence of the partiality
which his predecessor had shewn towards his kinsmen, in
the distribution of the honours and emoluments which were
at the disposal of the head of the church- On an inquiry
being made into the conduct of the Colonnas, it was found
that, not contented with the sum which they had gained
from the munificence of their uncle, they had taken pos-
session of the public treasure, which he had appropriated
to the liquidation of the expenses of an expedition against
the Turks, and had also conveyed away several jewels, and
much furniture belonging to the pontifical palace. Being
therefore determined to take legal proceedings against the
principal offenders, Eugenius ordered Stefano Colonna,
the general of the church, to arrest Oddo Piccio, Vice-cham-

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 12 of 31)