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respect to the future. In a letter to one of his English
friends, Nicholas Bilston, Archdeacon of Winchester, he
thus expresses himself on the subject of his marriage.

" Our epistolary intercourse, my dear father, has by
" my omission been too long suspended. Do not, however,
" impute my silence to forgetfulness of the obligations which
" your goodness has conferred upon me; for I can assure you
" that a sense of your kindness is impressed upon my mind
" in indelible characters. The fact is, that till lately, no
" event has occurred in my history of sufficient importance
" to constitute the subject of a letter. But I have now to
" announce to you a most important change in my situa-
" tion a change, of which I hasten to give you the
" earliest intelligence, in full confidence that you will
" participate in my joys. You know that I have been
" hitherto uncertain what course of life to pursue, and that
" I have long hesitated whether to adopt the secular or the
" clerical character. To the ecclesiastical profession, how-
" ever, I must confess that I never felt any inclination.
" In this dubious state of mind, I arrived at a period when
" it was absolutely requisite for me to fix upon some settled
" plan for the regulation of my future conduct. Deter-
" mining, therefore, not to spend the remainder of my days
" in unsocial solitude, I resolved to marry ; and though
w now declining into the vale of years, I have ventured to
" enter into the matrimonial union with a young lady of
" great beauty, and possessed of all the accomplishments

284 CHAP. VII.

" which arc proper for her sex. You will perhaps say,
" that I ought to have taken this step at an earlier period.
" I confess it : but, as the old proverb says, * better late
"than never;' and you must remember that philosophers
" assure us, that ' Sera nunquam est ad bonos mores
" via.' I might, indeed, have changed my condition
" many years ago ; but in that case I should not have
" obtained my present spouse, a partner in all respects
" suited to my manners and disposition, in whose agreeable
" converse I find a solace for all my anxieties and cares.
" So richly is she endowed with virtues, that she gratifies
t( my most sanguine wishes. This circumstance is the
" source of the greatest comfort to me ; and I return
" thanks to God, who, having continually been propitious
" to me, ' has loved me even to the end, 1 and has bestowed
" upon me more than I could have wished. Well knowing
11 your regard for me, and duly sensible of the value of
" your friendship, I have thought it my duty to acquaint
" you with my present circumstances, and to make you a
" partaker in my pleasure. Farewell."

This letter, which bears the date of the sixth of
February, 1436, was written in the course of that halcyon
period, during the continuance of which the fetters of
matrimony are usually entwined with flowers, and unmixed
pleasure is supposed to be the almost certain portion of the
newly united pair. In the strictness of investigation, there-
fore, it cannot be admitted as evidence of the happiness
which Poggio enjoyed in the married state. Hymeneal
transports, however ardent, are proverbially fleeting ; and

CHAP. vii. 285

many a matrimonial union which has commenced in affec-
tion, has been found productive of disgust. From various
detached passages, however, which occur in his future cor-
respondence with his friends, it appears that Poggio was not
disappointed in his hopes of conjugal felicity, and that his
connexion with Vaggia was a source of comfort to his
declining years.

On the eighteenth of April, [A. D. 1436.] Eugenius
quitted Florence, and transferred the pontifical court to
Bologna, whither he was accompanied by Poggio, who
soon after his arrival there, detailed his further experience
of the joys of wedded love in the following letter to the
cardinal of St. Angelo.

u You have frequently, most reverend father, exhorted
" me, both in conversation and by letter, to adopt some set-
" tied course of life. I have at length followed your advice.
" Two plans were proposed to my consideration : to enter
" into the priesthood, or to pursue some secular concern
*' To the ecclesiastical profession I always entertained an
" invincible objection I disliked solitude ; and therefore,
" being determined to enter upon civil life, I turned my mind
" to matrimony. I do not deny that the clerical life is
" by many esteemed more peaceable and tranquil than that
" which I have chosen. It is, indeed, generally regarded
" as free from care, and as allowing the greatest scope to
" ease and self-indulgence. The opulence which it promises
" to confer is also a powerful motive to impel men to the
" adoption of it a much more powerful one, indeed, than

286 CHAP. VII.

" any considerations of a religious or moral nature. For
" what numbers are there whose inquiry is directed after
" wealthy benefices rather than after the rule of an upright
" life. It is deemed honourable amongst mortals to excel
" others in pomp, to be flattered and courted by the multi-
" tude, to abound in riches, which procure that outward
a splendour which is generally thought to constitute dignity.
" And it is deemed still more honourable to obtain these ad-
" vantages without labour, and in a short time. Hence the
" clergy, springing like mushrooms in an hour, are rapidly
" advanced to the highest dignities. Thus it very frequent-
" ly happens, that you are obliged to venerate as a God, a
" man whom you have been accustomed to despise as a
" mean, abject, ignoble, and ill-bred character. By one
" word of the pontiff, the ignorant become, in the estima-
" tion of the vulgar, learned ; the stupid wise ; the un-
" instructed accomplished though at the same time the
" real character of the men is precisely the same as it was
" before.

" In addition to these considerations, I was well aware
" how important is the dignified office of an ecclesiastic ;
" and what a weight of responsibility rests upon those who,
" by accepting benefices, undertake the spiritual guidance
" of their fellow men ; and I was deterred from entering
" upon the clerical functions by the strictness of the precepts
" which are inculcated by the ancient doctors of the church.
" For when I was informed by these most holy men, whose
" works I had perused, to what uses the wealth of the
" church ought to be appropriated that he who does not

CHAP. vii. 287

" work, ought not to eat and that the labourer in spiritual
" things ought to be content with food and raiment ; and
" when I was conscious that I was unfit for the discharge of
" clerical duties ; and when I knew that I could obtain
" food and raiment by other, though certainly more
" laborious means ; I thought it advisable not indeed to
" contemn the former pursuit, but to adopt the latter,
" which seemed more suitable to my disposition. That
" warfare is, I must confess, better and more illustrious
" in which men can attain to a greater pitch of merit,
" provided they conduct themselves according to the rules
" of religion and their office. But after maturely exa-
" mining my own strength and ability, I was afraid of
" engaging in a field, in which I should incur the almost
" certain danger of basely yielding to the adversary, or of
" falling in the combat, to the hazard of my soul.

" Being determined therefore to employ myself in
" secular concerns, in forming my matrimonial engagement,
" I adopted those principles which have obtained the appro-
" bation of the wise and learned. For in the choice of a
" wife, I was not influenced by riches, which render the
" generality of men blind to their true interests nor was
'* I prompted by a wish to rise to civil honours, or to
" strengthen my interest with the great. These are objects
" of earnest desire to the multitude at large. But I was
" influenced by different motives. In looking out for a
" partner for life, I looked for honour, probity, virtue,
" which the wisest of men have declared to be the most
" ample dower which a parent can bestow upon his child.

288 CHAP. VII.

" Being, then, well acquainted with the excellent disposi-
" tions, the modesty, and the other characteristic virtues of
" a certain young lady of noble family, who had not yet
" completed her eighteenth year, on her I fixed my choice.
" The exemplariness of this lady's manners was acknow-
" ledged by every body who was acquainted with her ; and
" the excellence of her character I esteemed her most
" striking recommendation. Such indeed is her beauty,
" that I cannot but occasionally reflect with seriousness on
" the disparity of our years however, as I knew that from
" her tender youth, she had been educated in such a man-
" ner, that she had a still greater share of good principles
" and of modesty, than of comeliness and grace of person,
" I determined to make her my own. Nor have I repented
" of my resolution. For so much does she daily rise in my
" esteem, that I continually give thanks to God, who, in
" former times has always blessed me with more than, on
ff account of my sins, I could possibly deserve ; and in
" bestowing upon me so excellent a wife, has so bountifully
" provided for my comfort and satisfaction, that there is
" nothing that I can wish for in addition to his present
u mercies.

" Our friend Zucharo was accustomed to say, when he
" wished to commend some exquisitely dressed dish, that
" it was so delicately seasoned that the least alteration in its
" composition would spoil it. So say I of my wife. There
* fc is nothing which I wish to be added to her character, nor
" any thing which I wish to be taken away from it.

CHAP. VII, 280

" I must now tell you the reason why I have been
" so late in writing to yon on this subject. It is a com-
" mon observation, that there are few if any married
" men who do not become weary of their wives in the
" course of a year. The pontiff has allowed me six
" months for my period of probation. The fifth month
" is now expired ; and my wife daily grows upon my
C( esteem, and is daily more agreeable to me, and more
" compliant with my wishes. Forming a conjecture as to
" the future from my experience of the past, I am inspired
" by a confident expectation that I shall never repent of
" having formed this connexion. I trust also that God will
" continue to me his favour. For if he was propitious to
" me when I strayed from the path of moral rectitude, I
" may reasonably hope, that since I have entered upon the
" right way he will shower down his blessings upon me with
" a still more liberal hand. But whatever may happen in the
" course of the changes which take place in this sublunary
" world, I shall never repent of having acted uprightly. I
" wished to communicate this intelligence to you, my dear
" friend, in order that you might rejoice in my joy. I am
" sensible that the gravity of your wisdom might claim a
" more weighty subject of correspondence : but the wisest
" of men occasionally indulge themselves with a little relaxa-
" tion from serious pursuits. This relaxation I trust you
" will experience in the perusal of my present epistle.""*

Guarino Veronese embraced the occasion of Poggio's

* Poygii Epislola Ivii. epitt. sxxvii.

2 p

290 CHAP. VII.

marriage to renew the friendly intercourse with him which
had been unhappily suspended in consequence of their late
dispute. He addressed him on this joyful occasion in a
congratulatory letter, to which Poggio replied with the most
cordial frankness. u In your epistle," said he," " which I
" received by the kindness of Francesco of Ferrara, I
" recognize my friend Guarino, who was formerly inferior
" to no one in the testimonies of his affection towards me.
" I am happy to find, that though your ability in maintain-
" ing the intercourse of friendship may have been suspen-
" ded, it is not lost. I also am the same that I ever was
" your most faithful friend. Be assured that my regard for
" you has not suffered the least diminution. A difference
" of opinion can never justify a breach of friendship. Our
" late contention, in which we engaged for the purpose of
" exercising our abilities in the bestowing of praise and the
" infliction of censure, was highly commendable. The
" great men of antiquity adopted different sides of the
" question in the senate and at the bar, without the least
" infringement of the duties of friendship. It would in-
" deed redound to our disgrace, if the similarity of our
" studies, which is usually the firmest bond of union,
" should dissolve that pleasing connection which has sub-
te sisted for so long a space of time. The learned and
" justly renowned Francesco Barbaro, during his late visit to
" Florence, intimated to me his suspicions, that my friendly
" regard for you was somewhat diminished. I told him
" that his suspicions were entirely groundless ; that my
" esteem for you was so far from being diminished, that it
" was increased I also promised to write to you. This

CHAP. VII. 201

" promise I should certainly have immediately fulfilled, had
" I not been prevented by the press of business occasioned
" by the departure of the pontiff.

" Accept my thanks for your kind congratulation on
" the late change in my condition. I hope I shall find it
" productive of perpetual comfort and pleasure. For since,
" as Flaccus says, the virtue of parents is a great dowry,
" I have had this alone in view, and have overlooked riches
" and other recommendations, which the generality of men
" regard as indispensably requisite to the happiness of the
" married state. Petronius Arbiter asserts, that wisdom
" and beauty are rarely allied but by the favour of heaven,
" I am united to a wife, who, though she has not yet com-
" pleted her eighteenth year, and is distinguished by her
" beauty, is yet more virtuous than she is fair, and.compre-
" hends in her character all the graces which adorn the
" female sex. I trust, therefore, that I have made a pro-
" vision of comfort for my future years, though some of
" my friends say that I am beginning a new art, at the time
" when I ought to be quitting it. But it is never too late
" to do what is right and honest : and as good poets take
" especial pains in polishing the last act of their play, I am
" resolved to dedicate the remainder of my days to purity of
" conduct. 1 '*

At this time, the Florentines and the Venetians, being
at war with the Duke of Milan, had engaged as their ally

* Poffffii Opera, p. 355.

292 CHAP. VII.

Giovan Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua ; and
whilst hostilities were carrying on between the above men-
tioned parties, the eldest son of the Marquis, being an
ardent admirer of the character of Niccolo Piccinino, who
held a station of distinction in the Milanese army, had
secretly quitted his father's house, and had entered into the
service of the Duke for the purpose of studying the art of
war under the auspices of that celebrated Condottiere. Gon-
zaga was so much irritated by this conduct of his son, that
he disinherited him, as being, by a species of desertion,
guilty of a capital crime. The young prince, whilst this
judgment hung suspended over his head, having been
ordered by Piccinino to guard with a body of troops the
lines by which the town of Barga was beleaguered by the
Milanese forces, was wounded and taken prisoner in a
battle which he fought with Francesco Sforza, one of the
commanders in the pay of the Florentine republic. The
repentant run-away having, on his recovery, taken service
under Sforza, and thus rejoined the standard of his native
country, applied to his father for forgiveness of his fault.
But he solicited for pardon in vain. Gonzaga, either
indulging the natural severity of his disposition, or fearing
to excite the jealousy of the Venetians, should he pass
over so heinous a crime, turned a deaf ear to the suit of the
youthful warrior, and sternly refused to mitigate the doom
which he had pronounced upon him.

Deeply affected by this incident, Poggio, who was then
with the pontifical court at Bologna, wrote to the Marquis
a long and elaborate letter, in which he pleaded, with a zeal

CHAP. vir. 293

enlightened by the principles of humanity, for an extension
of mercy to the juvenile offender. In this eloquent composi-
tion, after an appropriate introduction, in which he touched
upon the difficulty of the task of regulating human conduct
according to contingent circumstances, and the necessity of
due reflection for the proper discharge of moral duties,
Poggio reminded the Marquis, that, learned and prudent
as he was justly accounted, yet as a sovereign he was liable
to be led astray by his passions, which were likely to be
fostered rather than restrained by the applause of interested
flatterers, whose constant object it is to prevent the voice of
reason from approaching the ears of men invested with
power. This remark he aptly illustrated by a reference to
the history of Augustus Caesar, who, having repented of
the severity with which he had treated his delinquent
daughter Julia, exclaimed in the bitterness of his feelings,
that he should not have conducted himself towards her
with so much harshness, had Marcus Agrippa and Mecsenas
been still living, who alone of his courtiers dared freely
to tell him the truth.

Poggio then proceeds, in the character of an honest
adviser, to represent to the Marquis, that it is the opinion
of the most competent judges of the actions of princes,
that the punishment, which he professes to be determined
to inflict on his son, is more severe than just. The delin-
quency of the prince involved no stain upon his honour.
On the contrary, it was occasioned by an excess of generous
feeling. Why, then, should he be subjected to a penalty
befitting a traitorous conspirator, or a fratricide? The

294 CHAP. VII.

Marquis may perhaps imagine that the example of Brutus
and that of Manlius Torquatus may be pleaded in defence
of his obduracy, but he begs him to remember that those
illustrious Romans did not avenge with the fatal axe their
own wrongs, but those of the republic. Becoming animated
as he proceeds in the discussion of his subject, Poggio,
quitting the apologetic style, pronounces an eulogium on
the young Gonzaga, who, instead of devoting himself like
a Sybarite to the pleasures and the pastimes of a court,
had, in pursuit of glory, encountered the perils and the
fatigues of war. Then, relating another anecdote of the
secorfd of the Roman emperors, who, being consulted by
Titus Arrius, as to the punishment which he should inflict
on his son, who had been guilty of plotting against his life,
had given it as his opinion, that the offender should be
banished, rather than put to death, he maintains that the
same principle which prompted Augustus to award a
mitigated penalty against a young man convicted of so
atrocious a crime as meditated parricide, should induce the
Marquis to treat with lenity the juvenile indiscretion of his
son. Then appealing to the remorse and penitence of the
prince, he urges the offended father to receive the returning
prodigal with kindness ; and, descending from the flights
of eloquence to the plain level of prudential consideration, he
concludes his letter by admonishing the Marquis, that if
he should persevere in his design of disinheriting his eldest
born son, that son had proved by his late conduct that he
was too high spirited to submit to the threatened indig-
nity, and that, however submissive he might be during his
father's life, the death of the Marquis would be the signal

CHAP. VII. 295

of a civil war, which would lay waste the Mantuan territory,
and which would only terminate with the shameful victory
of one of his children over the other, or with the ruin of

When Poggio had finished the composition of this
letter, he in the first instance consigned it to the care of
Vittorino da Feltre, a scholar of high reputation, who then
held the confidential office of preceptor to the sons of
Gonzaga, requesting him to watch for some favourable
moment for presenting it to his patron. This very pre-
caution should seem to intimate, that Poggio felt a latent
consciousness that the liberty which he was taking in
assuming the office of a monitor, might possibly not be
very acceptable to the distinguished personage to whom his
admonition was addressed. And yet, such was the pride
of scholarship in the fifteenth century, that when, at the
end of two months, his letter was returned to him by
Vittorino, with an intimation that Gonzaga declined
receiving it, Poggio addressed a second letter to the
unrelenting father, protesting that he had been influenced,
in requesting his attention to wholesome lessons of advice,
not by any selfish motives, but by his zeal for the welfare
of a sovereign prince, from whom he unequivocally declared
that he thought himself entitled, in consideration of his
good offices, to a return of gratitude rather than of con-
tempt. At the same time he wrote to Vittorino, expostu-
lating with him for the want of zeal, which he had evinced
with regard to the commission with which he had entrusted
him ; and understanding that Carlo Brognolo, an intimate

296 CHAP. vii.

acquaintance of his, resident at the Mantuan court, had
endeavoured to induce the Marquis to excuse the liberty
which he taken in writing to him, he wrote to him also,
thanking him for his friendly intentions ; but at the same
time protesting, that he had only addressed the sovereign
of Mantua by letter in the manner in which, had an opportu-
nity presented itself, he would have addressed him personally,
namely, in a style and tone becoming the citizen of a free

There is reason to believe that the displeasure felt by
the Mantuan prince against the officioiis scribe was not
deeply rooted or of long duration ; for it appears that Gon-
zaga, having come to Ferrara when the council was assem-
bled in that city in the year 1438, took occasion, in the
presence of a numerous audience, to speak of Poggio in
terms of respect arid praise, for which honour the latter ten-
dered to his Highness, by letter, his grateful thanks.*

The Jiterary reputation of Poggio now began to be
very extensively diffused, and his writings became an object
of frequent inquiry among the learned. Several eminent
scholars had been so much gratified by the perusal of some
of his letters, which had accidentally fallen into their hands,
that they earnestly requested him to publish a collection of
them. This request could not but be highly gratifying to

* The correspondence above referred to, which was first brought into public
notice by the Cavaliere Tonelli, ( Ton. Tr. vol. i. p. 276 283 > is to be found
in the Riccardi and the Hafod manuscripts.

CHAP. VII. 297

his feelings, and he readily took the requisite steps to com-
ply with it. He accordingly desired Niccolo Niccoli, with
whom, as being his most intimate friend, he had maintained
a constant correspondence, to select from his papers such of
his letters as were likely to reflect lustre on his character ;
and he was engaged in arranging and correcting the materials
for a small volume, at the time when the pontifical court
was transferred from Florence to Bologna. On resuming
his task in the latter city, he found that Niccolo had neglected
to transmit to him various letters which he had addressed
to him from France and Germany, and which he thought
would be peculiarly interesting to the public, as they con-
tained an account of his successful exertions in search of the
lost writers of antiquity. Niccolo was not so active as Pog-
gio could have wished in procuring for him these necessary
documents. The letters in question were in all probability
dispersed in the hands of various persons, and of course he
would experience some delay and difficulty in collecting
them. In fact they were never recovered by Poggio, who
completed from the materials which he had in his^own pos-
session a volume* of his epistles, which he submitted to the
inspection of the public, dedicating it to the Canonico
Francesco Marescalco of Ferrara.-f' A copy of this volume
is preserved amongst the manuscripts of the Riccardi
library in Florence.^:

* Ton. Tr. vol i. p. 284, Note.

\-Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. xxxiii.

Though no literary works of Francesco Marescalco have descended to
posterity, and though from the designation of " Frauciscum quondam Ferrarien-

2 Q

298 CHAP. VII.

The transmission of his letters was one of his last acts
of friendship which Poggio requested from Niccolo Niccoli.

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 20 of 31)