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scepticism ; but he dwelt with fond anticipation upon the

*Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. In. Poggii Epist. dial, a Ton. lorn. i.
p. 258.

f Poggii Opera, p. 321.


Ibid, p. 329.

CHAP. VII. 269

pleasure which he should experience on the arrival of the
busts ; and he instantly assigned to each of his expected
guests their proper stations in his villa. " Minerva," says
he in a letter to Niccolo Niccoli, " will not, I trust, think
" herself improperly situated beneath my roof I will
" place her in my library. I am sure Bacchus will find
" himself at home in my house ; for if any place is his
" appropriated residence, that place is my native district,
" where he is held in peculiar honour. As to Juno, she
" shall retaliate the infidelities of her straying husband by
" becoming my mistress. 11 *

The busts in question arrived in safety at the place of
their destination ;"f* but Francesco alleged that the statue
had been stolen out of the ship in which he returned from
Greece.}: Poggio strongly suspected that the plunderer who
had deprived him of this portion of his expected treasure
was no other than Francesco himself. In this suspicion he
was confirmed by his subsequent conduct. For this faith-

* Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. lii. liii.

f From an expression which Poggio uses in a letter on the subject of
Francesco's conduct, addressed ta Andreolo Giustiniano, it should seem, either
that the busts did not answer the expectation which he had formed concerning
the cxquisiteness of their workmanship, or that he suspected that Francesco
had substituted inferior pieces of sculpture, in the place of those destined for
him by Suffretus. The following is the expression in question. " Cum Suf-
" fretus quidem Rhodius ei consignasset tria capita marmorea, et signuiu inte-
" grum duorum fere cubitorum, qu Franciscus se ad me allaturum promisit,
u capita queedam dedit, signo autem me fraudavit," &c. Perhaps, however,
qusedam is, by an error of the press, substituted for quidem.

Poggii Opera, p. 329.



less agent having been afterwards commissioned by Andrc-
olo Giustiniano, a Genoese of considerable learning, to
convey to Poggio some antique busts, disposed of this
valuable deposit to Cosmo de' Medici. Poggio did not
tamely bear this injury, but inveighed against the dishon-
esty of the Pistoian with great bitterness in a letter which
he addressed to Giustiniano.* From this letter it appears,
that in addition to his groups of ancient statues, Poggio
had adorned his villa by a collection of antique coins and
gems. To these pursuits he was instigated, not merely
by the desire of illustrating the classic authors by a
reference to works of ancient art, but also by an enthusi-
astic admiration of the sculptured wonders, the productions
of men endowed with superlative talents, who, rising from
individual to general nature, combined in their imaginations,
and embodied with their plastic hands, those finished forms
which, as it were, fill the mind of the spectator, and raise
him to the exalted idea of perfection. -f- On this subject
he thus expressed himself in a letter to Francesco di Pistoia.
" I am struck with awe by the genius of the artist, when
" I see the powers of nature herself represented in marble.
" Different men are visited by different diseases. My
" infirmity is an admiration of the works of excellent

Poggii Opera, p. 329.

t The admirer of ancient art will find the principles, the observance of which
led to the perfection to which it was carried by the Greeks, clearly and forcibly
explained in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth pages of Mr. Puseli's
Lectures on Painting. Of this work it may be asserted, that hardly any
composition in the English language comprehends an equal quantity of thought
in the same compass of expression. Almost every sentence which it contains
is a theme of reflection, a text, pregnant with the most useful instruction.

CHAP. VII. 271

" sculptors : for I cannot but be affected with astonishment
" by the skill of the man who gives to inanimate substance
" the expression of animation. 1 "*

Whilst Poggio was thus occupied in adorning his
rural residence, he received a letter from one of his corres-
pondents named Scipio, of Ferrara, who requested him to
give him his opinion upon the question, whether Caesar or
Scipio Africanus were the greater man. The discussion of
subjects of this description may give scope to a display of
historical knowledge ; but it is seldom productive of much
utility. It is, perhaps, a proper exercise for youth ; but
it is hardly worthy of the exertion of talents matured by
age. In compliance, however, with the wishes of his friend,
Poggio drew up an elaborate comparison between the two
eminent men in question, in the course of which he entered
much in detail into the history of their respective actions.
After this induction of particulars, he compressed his
arguments into a general statement of his opinion, that the
youth of Scipio was distinguished by the purest morals,
whilst the early years of Caesar were rendered infamous by
his vices ; that the former, inspired with the spirit of patri-
otism, by his splendid military achievements rescued his
country from destruction ; and that the latter, prompted by
ambition, too successfully exerted his extraordinary talents
to effect the subversion of the commonwealth that conse-
quently, whilst Scipio was by no means inferior to Caesar
in the fame of his military exploits, he was greatly his

Poggii Epiat. Ivii. p. 181.

272 CHAP. VII.

superior in virtue, which alone constitutes the character of
a truly great man.*

This dissertation on the comparative merits of Csesar
and Scipio is ingenious and interesting ; and in the pro-
nunciation of his decision, Poggio was certainly guided
by the principles of sound morality. It might reasonably
have been expected, that an inquiry into the character of
two illustrious ancients would be productive of nothing but
amusement and instruction ; and little did Poggio imagine
that any of his contemporaries would be inflamed with
resentment by the freedom of his strictures upon the
accomplished vanquisher of Roman liberty. But his
treatise falling into the hands of Guarino Veronese, who
at this time filled the professor's chair in the university of
Ferrara, that renowned preceptor, either actuated by in-
tolerant zeal in defence of the reputation of Csesar, or
influenced by a desire of paying his court to Leonello
d'Este, who had frequently declared himself an admirer
of the dictator's character, composed a long answer to the
inquiry of Poggio. The spirit and style of this com-
position were by no means compatible with the friendly
sentiments which Guarino professed to entertain with regard
to his antagonist. In a kind of preface which he prefixed
to it, he contemptuously bestowed upon Poggio the
appellation of Csesaromastix, and asserted, that in his
attack upon the character of Csesar, he was rather auda-

ii Opera, p. 357, # *eq.

CHAP. VII. 273

cioiis than brave.* Poggio was much displeased by this
provocation, and lost no tirae in replying to the unexpected
strictures of the Ferrarese professor. In this instance,
however, he had the discretion to restrain his anger within
due bounds. Avoiding as much as possible any altercation
with Guarino, he addressed himself to Francesco Barbaro,
in a long epistle, in which he dilated his original arguments,
and confirmed them by ample authorities. In the introduc-
tion to this letter, he complained in a manly strain of
dignity of the conduct of Guarino, who had wantonly
wounded his feelings, by intermixing personal reflections in
the discussion of a literary question, on which all scholars
were equally entitled to unlimited freedom of opinion. In
this defence of his sentiments, Poggio exhibited much
learning and acuteness, and evinced the skill of a practised
disputant. As Guarino did not prosecute the discussion of
this subject, it may be presumed that he felt due compunc-
tion for the breach of friendship into which he had been
inadvertently betrayed, and that, overpowered by the
superior abilities of his opponent, he shrunk from a renewal
of the combat. Guarino was not the only person whose
displeasure was excited by the preference given by Poggio
to Scfpio over Caesar. Another scholar of that age ad-
dressed a letter to Leonardo Aretino, in the course of
which, in vindicating the fair fame of the Dictator, he
characterizes his censor as a rash and foolish writer. To
this second antagonist, however, who from his initials C. A.
is supposed to have been Cyriac of Ancona, Poggio did

* Poggii Opera, p. 36B.

2 N

274 CHAP. vn.

not condescend to make a formal reply, but contented him-
self with ridiculing him in a letter addressed to their com-
mon friend Leonardo.*

Soon after the termination of this controversy, Pog-
gio happily lost the remembrance of the uneasiness oc-
casioned by the mutual recrimination of polemic disquisi-
tions, in the tender assiduities of honourable courtship.
As he was now arrived at the advanced age of fifty-five, the
intemperate heat of his passions was allayed, and the re-
monstrances of his friend, the cardinal of St. Angelo, on
the subject of his unlicensed amours, began to make an
impression on his mind. He was also weary of the un-
settled state in which he had hitherto lived, and sighed
for the participation of those pure domestic comforts,
which heighten the pleasures, and alleviate the sorrows of
human life. He accordingly sought amongst the Tuscan
ladies for a partner of his future fortunes. The object of
his research he found in Vaggia, the daughter of Ghino
Manente de 1 Bondelmonti, a lady of a wealthy and honour-
able family, to whom he was united in the latter end of the
month of December, 1435.-J* From a memorandum inserted
in a diary kept by Manente, it appears, that he gave Poggio
together with his daughter the sum of six hundred florins^
as a marriage portion. Pecuniary affairs do not, however,
appear to have occupied much of the attention of the bride-

* See note to Tonellfs translation, vol. i. p. 2t>4.
1" Poffff" vita a Recanatio, p. xiv.

* Poggii vita a Recanatio, p. xiv.

CHAP. VII. 275

groom, whose gallantry led him to dwell with happy pride
upon the most valuable of all dowries the beauty and virtues
of his spouse. Previously to his taking the decisive step of
matrimony, Poggio deliberately weighed the probable advan-
tages and disadvantages which might arise from the disparity
of the ages of himself and Vaggia, who had not yet seen
eighteen summers. The result of his cogitations on this
interesting topic he set forth in a Latin dialogue on the
question " An seni sit uxor ducenda" which he publish-
ed soon after his marriage. This dialogue, to which was
originally prefixed a dedicatory epistle from its author to
Cosmo de' Medici, is represented as having taken place
at a dinner given by Poggio, on occasion of his entering
into the holy state, to his friends Niccolo Niccoli and Carlo
Aretino. The former of these guests, in the freedom of
conversation over his wine, declares, with his habitual blunt-
ness, that nothing but insanity could have induced the
founder of the feast, by encumbering himself with matri-
monial duties, to undertake a burden which wisdom would
avoid at any period of life, but which must be particularly
grievous to one, like Poggio, far advanced in years. In
reply to this sally of caustic humour Poggio protests that
his experience of matrimony by no means vindicates
Niccolo's opinion of that state, from which he has hitherto
derived nothing but satisfaction. Niccolo avers that he
hears with pleasure tliis declaration, to which he politely
professes to give full credence ; but he at the same time
maintains, that, regarding the case of his friend as an
exception to a general rale, he cannot, abstractedly speak-
ing, applaud the wisdom of a man, who, at the age of fifty-

270 ni.vp. vii.

five, enters upon a course of life quite alien from his former
habits. He then proceeds, in the style of an advocate
arguing on one side of a question, to enumerate all possible
suppositions as to defects in the character of the object of
an old man's choice as a partner for the remainder of his
life. She may be peevish and morose She may be intem-
perate, immodest, idle and sluttish If she is a maiden
and young, it will be found on trial that the levity of youth
will not harmonize with the gravity of advanced years If
she be a widow, there is great hazard lest she should en-
tertain vivid recollections of the pleasures which she enjoyed
in her connexion with her former spouse recollections
which will by no means operate to the advantage of her
present husband. As to the entering into an union with an
aged woman, this would be of course the feeble propping
and sustaining the feeble it would be a proceeding pro-
ductive of nothing but a doubling of infirmity and dis-
comfort. For a literary man to enter into a connexion
which must trespass upon that time which should be devoted
to the cultivation of his mind were folly indeed to all
which considerations must be added this most important
one, that if a man who marries late in life becomes the
father of children, he cannot expect to live to see the com-
pletion of that education which he hopes may imbue his
offspring with that useful knowledge and with those virtuous
dispositions which are requisite to secure their success in the
world. At his death, then, he will be oppressed by the
painful reflection, that he must leave the objects of his fond
solicitude to the discretion of guardians, who have been
found in so many instances to be careless or unfaithful in

(HAP. VII. 277

the discharge of their important trust. " I am aware," says
Niccolo at the termination of his speech, u that in some
cases circumstances may be different from what I have repre-
sented them as likely to be. You, Poggio, for instance, are
fortunate if what you tell us of your matrimonial experience
is true but yet I always have been, and still am, of opinion,
that safe counsels are to be preferred to hazardous ones."

When Poggio, smiling at these remarks of Niccolo, is
preparing to reply to them, he is interrupted by his friend
Carlo, who begs from him permission to undertake the
management of the cause of the aged gentlemen who
become the votaries of Hymen ; and, this being granted to
him, he begins his speech by making a personal attack upon
Niccolo, who, he alleges, has declined to enter into the
married state by an unreasonable timidity of spirit, and an
unaccommodating austerity of temper. But if all men were
to follow his example, they would manifestly act in dis-
obedience to the first law of nature, which provides for the
continued propagation of the human species, and they would
moreover grossly neglect the duty which they owe to the
state to which they belong, which demands from them that
succession of virtuous citizens by whom alone its rights and
liberties can be maintained. As to the cares and avocations
of matrimony breaking in upon literary occupations, Carlo
reminds his adversary that this was not the case with Plato,
with Aristotle, with Theophratus, Cato the elder, Cicero,
and many others of the ancients distinguished by the extent
of their learning. Matrimony also, which Niccolo has
vilified as a species of servitude, preserves a man from that
licentiousness of conduct which is the worst kind of slavery

278 CHAP. VII.

in which he can be enthralled. Moreover, if any elderly
man be united to a young woman, his wisdom will be a
guide to her inexperience his prudence will teach her to
restrain her appetites, and his example will in every case
afford her instruction and encouragement in the regulation
of her conduct in life.

On Niccolo's appealing with a smile to the experience
of Carlo himself, and asking him whether he has not known
old men who have been more foolish than boys, and whether
people of this description are not very unsafe guides in the
discharge of moral and political duties, the latter replies
that he pleads not on the behalf of foolish people of any
age ; but that he is ready to assert as a general principle,
that the matrimonial union is singularly well adapted to pro-
mote the happiness of an elderly man. Young folks, he
says, are unable to regulate themselves ; much less are they
qualified to govern others. What, then, will be the con-
sequence of an union of two parties, each of which is totally
inexperienced in the management of human affairs, but the
pressure of poverty, and its attendant train of miseries ?
But the man who is ripe in years will support the weakness
of his wife, and instruct her ignorance in the ordering of
their domestic concerns, and will abate in her the effer-
vescence of passion by the inculcation of the lessons of

Enlarging on these ideas, and more particularly an-
alyzing Niccolo's objections to the marriage of men ad-
vanced in years, Carlo boldly maintains, that it is expedient
for a person of this description not only to marry, but also to

CHAP. VII. 279

marry a young woman, whom he may mold like wax to his
will. As to sensual indulgences whilst so many examples are
seen of the total abstinence from them which is practised in
convents and nunneries, why should any doubt be enter-
tained, that a well-instructed female will cheerfully submit
to that restricted enjoyment of them which circumstances
may demand from her ? As to the little likelihood of an
aged parent living to see his offspring settled in the world,
Carlo demurs to the fact, and asserts that longevity is fully
as likely to follow upon the temperance of mature age as
upon the careless dissoluteness of youth. " But granting,"
says he, " that the remaining years of an old man are few in
number, will he not, nevertheless, derive the greatest
pleasure from his children, whom it will be a gratification to
him to train to good manners, at a period when they are
much more disposed to revere their parent, and to obey
him, than they are likely to be when growing strength and
self-confidence shall have rendered them more independent
of parental controul ?"

Fortifying his doctrine by the test of facts, Carlo
appeals, in proof of the soundness of the principles which
he is maintaining, not only to the domestic history of Cato
the Elder and of Cicero, but stjll more especially to that of
Galeazzo Malatesta, who, having married a young wife in
the seventy-fourth year of his age, left behind him at his
death four sons, who became the most illustrious men of all
Italy, and one of whom, Carlo, was no less celebrated for
his literary accomplishments than for his prowess in war.
" These illustrious characters," says he, " were, indeed,

280 CHAP. vii.

" virtuous by nature ; but they were not a little indebted
" for the renown which they obtained in their maturer years,
" to the instructions which they received in their early
" youth from their father. The wise exhortations of an
" aged parent have, in my opinion,' 1 continues he, " great
" efficacy in the right training of children a greater
" efficacy, indeed, than if they fell from the lips of persons
'* of unripe years for it is to advanced age that we look
" for gravity and experience." After enlarging on this
topic, Carlo draws from his reasonings the conclusion, that
both on public and on private grounds, it is expedient that
elderly men should quit the slate of celibacy, and that they
should marry youthful wives. " It is," he observes, " an
" unspeakable advantage in life, for a man to have a partner
" to whom, as to a second self, he may communicate his
" counsels and his joys, and who, by sympathizing in, may
* mitigate his sorrows. Nor is it to be doubted," says he,
" that a wife of this description will continue to love her
u husband as long as he loves her, and as long as he
" maintains towards her that fidelity which is too often
" violated by the impetuosity of youthful appetite." He
then proceeds to controvert in their order the other positions
of Niccolo, who, however, is by no means converted from
his original opinions on the subject matter of the debate ;
but closes the conference, by charging Carlo with uttering
the sentiments which he has propounded merely for the sake
of flattering their host, in return for the good dinner which
he has given to his friends ; and by characteristically pro-
fessing that he will look to himself, and take care. not to
suffer by imitating the follies of others.

CHAP. VII. . 281

This dialogue on the question An seni sit uaeor
ducenda is one of the most ingenious of Peggie's com-
positions. It evinces its author's intimate acquaintance with
life and manners ; and at the same time, in the lucidness
of its arrangement and the dexterity of its argumentation,
it exhibits a specimen of no common rhetorical powers.
In the course of the conversation between the interlocutors
Poggio indulges in the liveliness of fancy ; but he never
transgresses the bounds of decorum. On the contrary,
though he introduces into the discussion some slippery
topics, he touches upon them with great delicacy ; and it
may be stated, greatly to his honour, that, in the character
of the advocate of matrimony, he treats the female sex with
marked respect, and represents woman not only as gifted
with great acuteness of intellect, but also as endowed with
dispositions which incline her, as a rational being, to listen
with deference to the lessons of wisdom and virtue. To
which may be added, that the diction of this dialogue is
singularly correct, and that it evinces, on the part of its
author, a familiar acquaintance with the phraseology of

This dialogue was, for upwards of three centuries, buried in the repositories
of Manuscripts which are stored up in a few public libraries on the continent of
Europe. In the year 1802, the author of this work was fortunate enough to find
in the then Bibliolheque Nationale, now BMiothlque du Roi, at Paris, a very
legible manuscript copy of it, which he carefully transcribed ; and soon after
his return home he printed a very small impression of it for distribution among
his literary friends. A copy of this impression having been sent by him to the
late Dr. Parr, that eminent scholar urged him to reprint and publish it, with a
few necessary corrections. The wish of Parr was complied with, and the
Dialogue was brought out in the year 1807, with a Latin preface and a Latin

282 CHAP. VII.

Peggie's resolution to correct the irregularity of his
conduct, and to enter into the state of lawful wedlock,
most certainly merited high commendation. It is to be
hoped, however, that he experienced the keenest remorse
of self-accusation for his former licentiousness, when he
found that the commencement of his reformation was to be
signalized by an act of extreme unkindness. In order to
prepare the way for his marriage, he was obliged to dismiss
a mistress who had borne him twelve sons and two daughters.
What distressing embarrassments crowd the train of vice;
and how powerfully are the benevolent feelings excited on
the side of virtue, when we see the object of licentious
passion, after a connexion of many years, in circumstances
which seem to imply on her part fidelity to her seducer,
at length abandoned by him, and sent forth, perhaps in
poverty certainly in agonizing mental distress to encoun-
ter the taunts of public scorn.*

If, however, we may give credit to Peggie's account of
the state of his feelings on his entrance upon his new con-
dedication to the late Mr. Roscoe. In the year 1823, the Signer Pecchioli
published at Florence a new edition of it, which is enriched with various
readings from a MS. in the Riccardi library.

In the first edition of the work it was stated that Poggio, on his marriage,
not only parted with his mistress, but also deprived four of his illegitimate
children, who were then living, of an inheritance which he had secured to them
by a Bull of legitimacy. This statement, however, rests only on the authority
of Valla, the bitter personal enemy of Poggio, and it has been satisfactorily
proved by the Cavaliere Tonelli (Ton. Tr. vol. i. p. 266.,) that this imputation
is of the number of those calumnies in which the scholars of the fifteenth
century were, in their contests with each other, so apt to indulge.


nexion, his felicity was not interrupted by any painful
reflections on the past, or by any uneasy forebodings with

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 19 of 31)