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Soon after the publication of his epistles, he received the
melancholy intelligence of the death of this his earliest and
steadiest friend. He was acutely sensible of the serious loss
which he had sustained by this event, which took place on
the 23rd of January, 1437 ; and in the ardour of his affec-
tion, he waited with patience for the publication of some

" sem," by which he is mentioned in a letter from Poggio to Niccolo Niccoli, it
should seem that he was not much known, even to his contemporaries, the cir-
cumstance of Poggio's inscribing to him a volume of his compositions affords
reasonable grounds for a supposition that he was a man of learning, and of a
respectable character. This supposition is confirmed by the respectful manner in
which Poggio, in the following letter, thanks him for the offer of his friendship,
and the assurance of his esteem.

" I have long maintained a most pleasant intercourse with my friend Scipio,
" of Ferrara, a man, whose learning and liberal manners lay an irresistible
" claim to my esteem and love. We often spend our leisure time in conversing
" together on various subjects, and particularly on the characters of learned
" and eloquent men. Of this number he assures me that you are one. He
" informs me, that you are not only devoted to literature, winch circumstance
" is of itself a great recommendation, but, what is of the greatest weight,
" that your manners are most amiable, and that you are endowed with the
" most attractive virtues. He moreover says, that you are very much attached
" to me. This is a piece of intelligence which, I must confess, affords me the
" sincercst pleasure ; for there is nothing, my dear Francesco, which I
" have more at heart, than to gain the esteem and good will of my fellow
*' mortals. You are sensible that he who is favoured with the affection of his
" acquaintance, especially of those who are dignified by their virtues, is truly
" rich, and possesses a source of sincere enjoyment. I therefore most heartily
" embrace your proffered friendship, from which I trust I shall derive both
" pleasure and honour. Be assured of this, that I shall do my utmost endea-
" vour to confirm, by my conduct, those friendly sentiments which you have
" voluntarily conceived on my behalf. Farewell."

Poggii Opera, p. 307.

CHAP. VII. 209

tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased, which he
thought might justly be demanded from the multitude of
learned men, on whom the numerous favours which they had
received from the hands of Niccolo imposed an imperious
obligation to celebrate his virtues.* In this expectation he
was disappointed. The scholars of Florence were, perhaps,
of opinion, that panegyrics on the living were more pro-
ductive of profit than encomiums on the dead. Offended
by their tardiness, Poggio resolved, notwithstanding the
urgency and variety of his occupations, to rescue the name
of his friend from oblivion. He accordingly composed and
published a funeral eulogium on Niccolo Niccoli ; being
determined, as he said in a letter to Feltrino Boiardo, to
merit, at least, the praise which is due to the faithful dis-
charge of the offices of friendship.-f*

In his funeral oration on Niccolo, Poggio, adopting the
character of the orator appointed to address the public on
the occasion of his obsequies, introduced the eulogy of his
deceased friend by the following exordium.

" If, citizens of Florence ! it had been consistent with
" the dignity of the Latin muses personally to address you
" on the present occasion, they would not have delegated
" this office to another they would themselves, in the
" most copious and ornamented language, have celebrated
" the virtues of their most excellent and praise-worthy child.

" Pogffii Epislolo! Ivii. p. 273.
t Ibid.

300 CHAP. VII.

" But since those whose transcendent majesty prevents them
" from exhibiting themselves to the eyes of the public, com-
" mission their representatives to appear on their behalf
" though I know that there are many in this assembly,
" whose learning, whose genius, and whose oratorical abili-
" ties are far superior to mine, I have ventured to claim
11 your attention not with a view of precluding the more
*' enlightened efforts of others ; but in hopes that, whilst I
" thus discharge the imperious duties of friendship, ray
" humble exertions may lead the way to more splendid
" specimens of eloquence. And should ray powers fall far
" short of the merits of the deceased should I be unable
" to pay a tribute of respect in any degree adequate to the
<f services which I have received from him, you will, I trust,
u pardon me, not merely in consideration of the mediocrity
" of my talents, but also in consideration of the multitude
" of the virtues of our departed friend. Abilities far supe-
ft rior to any which I possess are requisite to execute the
" task of enumerating, in the brief space of time which is
" usually allotted to these occasions, the numerous excellent
" qualities of the deceased. But why do I say deceased ?
" Niccolo undoubtedly lives, and will for ever live. He
" will be held in everlasting remembrance in the minds of
" men, and he enjoys that immortality, which alone is
" deserving of the name of life. We firmly believe, that
" his pure soul, freed from every corporeal stain, no longer
"''obnoxious to the contagion of sin, has been at once ex-
" alted into heaven. For he was a man of the most upright
" conduct, endued with singular modesty, during every
" period of his mortal existence. Connecting the study of

(HAP. VII. 301

" polite learning with that of the sacred scriptures, he
" ascended from knowledge to practice, and rendered his
" literary pursuits subservient to the regulation of his moral
'* conduct. In order that you may become more particularly
" acquainted with his character, permit me to enter a little
" at large upon the subject of his studies and learning, his
" moral qualities, and the uprightness of his conversation.
" For the contemplation of the example of excellent men
" is a powerful incitement to an imitation of their virtues."

Pursuing the method thus pointed out, Poggio pro-
ceeded to give an account of the education and early
pursuits of his friend, and made honourable mention of
the good services which he had rendered to the cause of
literature. He next entered into a particular detail of his
virtuous dispositions, celebrating, with appropriate praise,
his prudence, his benevolence, his fortitude, his contempt
of wealth, and the gravity of his manners. At length,
mentioning the serenity with which he met his dissolution,
he thus concluded. " Oh fatal day ! bitter indeed to us ;
" but to him the happy termination of evils. At thy
*' destiny, Niccolo, (for I will once more address our
" departed friend) at thy destiny I rejoice, for thou
" inhabitest the abodes of the pious, and art entered into
*' the mansions of' eternal rest. It is for myself I grieve
" on my own account I lament this fatal day, which has
" deprived me of thy delightful converse, of thy tender
'< affection, which has robbed me of the fruit of my studies,
" which has torn from me him whom I regarded as my
" friend and father, to whom I was accustomed freely to

302 CHAP. VII.

" communicate my cares, my thoughts, my every word
" and deed. Justly is this day to be lamented by me,
" in which I have lost the consolation of my sorrows, the
" alleviation of my griefs, and the firmest support of my
" labours. No longer shall I be permitted to converse
" with thee, to ask thy advice, to rely upon thy friendly
" exertions. This consolation I will, however, retain ;
u I will recall the memory of past times, and whilst I
" imbibe the vital air, I will dwell on thy sweet remem-
" brance, and embrace thee in idea. The image of my
" friend shall be perpetually present to my eyes ; and since
" alas ! he is numbered amongst the silent dead, in the
" celebration of his virtues I will testify the gratitude
u which I feel for the numerous acts of kindness which I
" have experienced from him during his life."*

The generality of scholars are not, perhaps, aware of
the debt of gratitude which they owe to Niccolo Niccoli.
If, however, they derive pleasure and improvement from
the perusal of the classic authors of Greece and Rome,
they ought to hold him in respectful remembrance ; for to
his liberality and to his industry, the recovery and diffu-
sion of many of the writings of the ancients may be justly
ascribed. His pecuniary assistance enabled Poggio to
support the expenses which he incurred iri the course of his
researches after neglected manuscripts ; his assiduous dili-
gence in transcribing the works of the luminaries of Grecian
and Roman literature multiplied the copies of those exem-

* Poggii Opera, p. 270277.

<:HAP. VH. 303

plars of true taste.* In the acquisition of books, he set
no bounds to his expenses ; and the inconsiderateness of
the zeal with which he added to the stores of his library
sometimes reduced him to the verge of poverty.^ His
researches after the memorials of ancient genius were not
confined to manuscripts. Inspired by a love of the arts,
Ije eagerly availed himself of every opportunity which
occurred, of purchasing antique statues, coins and gems.
So extensive was his collection of these interesting relics of
past magnificence, that Poggio asserts in his funeral oration,
that it .exceeded the aggregate amount of all other collec-
tions of the same kind.J He did not, like a literary miser,
morosely brood over the treasures of his library and his
cabinet in unsocial selfishness. His doors were always
open to the learned, and to those who entertained a desire
to improve their understanding by study. The ingenuous
youths who wished to gain access to the fountains of
knowledge found in Niccolo a protector and a guide.
Extending his patronage of literature beyond the period of
his mortal existence, by his last will he bequeathed his
library, which consisted of upwards of eight hundred
volumes, to the use of the public.

* See note on chap. iii. of this work,
f Poggii Opera, p. 274.

* " Delectabatur admodum tabulis et signis ac variis ccelaturis priscorum
" more. Plura enim prope solus atque exquisitiora habebat quam caeteri fere
" omne."

Poggii Opera, p. 276.


304 CHAP. VII.

It does not appear that he was the author of any
literary work, except a short treatise on the orthography of
the Latin language, in which he attempted to settle various
disputed points on this subject, by the authority of ancient
inscriptions.* One of his contemporaries'!- attributes his
literary silence to the fastidiousness of his taste, which led
him to form in his own mind a standard of excellence, to
which he despaired of attaining in the practice of Latin
composition. Leonardo Aretino, in the irritation of his
mind, occasioned by his unfortunate quarrel with Niccolo,
ascribed his declining to appear in the republic of letters, in
the character of an author, to his utter ignorance of the Latin
language, j But this is undoubtedly one of those calum-
nies in which the scholars of that age indulged their
spleen, without feeling the slightest compunction of con-
science. To say nothing of the commendations of the
literary acquirements of Niccolo, which occur in the
writings of his learned contemporaries, his ample library
may be regarded as an evidence of his scholarship. In

* Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. Ixii.

+ Gianozzo Manetti, who wrote memoirs of Niccolo Niccoli, which are
printed from a Vatican MS. in Mehus's life of Ambrogio Traversari, p. Ixvi. et
seq. " Raro tamen," says Gianozzo, " vel numquam, latine loquendi, latineve
" scribendi onus suscipere voluit, ea de causa abductus, ut arbritror, quod quum
" nihil ab eo nisi plenum et perfectum probaretur, neque orationes, neque scripta
" sua sibi ipsi omni ex parte, ceu in aliis hominibus exigebat, satisfactura
" videbantur." The testimony of Poggio may be adduced in confirmation of
Gianozzo's assertion. " Cum enim nihil nisi politum ac perfectum probaret,
'' nequaquam sibi ipsi ejus scripta satisfacere videbantur."

Poggii Opera, p. 274.

Mehi Vita Ambrosii Traversarii, p. Ixi.

i HAP. VII. 305

modern times, the possession of an extensive and valu-
able collection of books is not of itself a certain proof
of learning. But when it is considered that Niccolo had
himself transcribed many of the volumes which adorned the
shelves of his library, and that in the copies which he made
of the Roman classics he divided the respective subjects
into chapters, and prefixed to these divisions an abstract of
their contents what reason can there be to entertain doubts
of his literary abilities ? Several of the ancient writings
recovered by Poggio abounded in errors, which Niccolo cor-
rected in his transcripts ; and he was accustomed to settle the
text of the Latin authors by the comparison of various
manuscripts. The execution of this task required consider-
able learning, and in its performance he appears in the
venerable character of the parent of the useful art of verbal

Restricting himself to the discharge of the higher

* " Illud quoque animadvertendum cst Nicolaum Nicolum vcluti parentcm
" fuisse artis critic*, quse auctorcs veteres distinguit emendatque. Nam quum
" eos auctores ex vetustissimis codicibus exscriberet, qui suo potissimum consilio,
" aliorum vero opera inventi sunt, non soluni a mendis quibus obsiti erant ex-
" purgavit, sed etiam distinxit capitibusque locupletavit. Testis sit Lucretius,
" qui in Cod. Chart. Bibliothecae Mediceo-Laurentianae adservatur. In hoc
" enim codice manu Nicolai Niccoli diligentissime scripto aliquot libris capitula
' ; praefixa a Niccolo sunt. Teates duodecim Comcediae Plauti noviter eodem
" Meculo repertae, Niccolique nostri manu in Cod. Chartaceo Bibliothecae Mar-
" cianae ut supra diximus exarata. Has cnim quum descripsisset ex vetnatissimo
" Codice Jordani Cardinalis Uraini ex Germania Romam advecto, quern men-
" dosissimum judicavit Poggius, carum tamcn exemplum a Niccolo nostro
" confectum panels mendis, usque levissimis deturpatum et."

Mehi VitaAmbrosii Traversarii, p. I.


.- \\

30(5 CHAP. VII.

duties of benevolence, iu the conferring of important
favours, Niccolo unfortunately neglected those lesser offices
of good will, which, though apparently trifling when con-
sidered individually, have in the aggregate a considerable
influence upon the comfort and happiness of human life.
He was prone to anger, quick in finding fault, and prompt
in giving utterance to his resentful feelings.* United with
such a disposition, the possession of the dangerous faculty
of sarcastic wit was to Niccolo a most serious misfortune ;-f
as it too frequently betrayed him into that provoking
intemperance of speech which called into exercise the
forbearance of his friends, and excited the bitter enmity of
those whose pride or passion would not permit them
occasionally to give way to his sallies of peevishness. In
consequence of the indulgence of his ill humour, the
honour which accrued to him from his exertions to induce
Manuel Crysoloras and Guarino Veronese to instruct the
ingenuous youth of Florence in the Greek language, is
tarnished by his quarrels with those eminent scholars,
which, it is alleged, caused them to quit the Tuscan
capital in disgust. But if he was impetuous in his passion,
he was open to a conviction of his error, and listened with
patience to the admonitions of friendship. Those who
were intimately acquainted with his character pardoned his
occasional fits of moroseness, in consideration of the intrin-
sic generosity of his heart. Niccolo was of a middling

* Gianotli Manettii Vita Nlcolai Nicoli, apud Mehi Vilam Ambros.
Trovers, p. Ixxvi.

f Ibid, p. Ixxvii.

CHAP. VII. 307

stature, inclined to corpulency, and in his countenance
there appeared a happy mixture of cheerfulness and gravity.
His bodily senses were remarkably acute, and he had cul-
tivated them to a degree of fastidiousness.* He was
splendid in his dress ; but this was the extent of his luxury.
His hall was not crowded by a numerous retinue of servants.
Contented with the ministration of Benvenuta alone, he
did not profess to astonish and gratify his visitors by the
magnificence of sumptuous banquets ; but in his instructive
conversation, and in the perusal of the classic volumes
which adorned his library, his literary friends enjoyed that
feast of reason which they could not meet with in more
superb abodes.

These and the following particulars are collected from a life of Niccolo
Niccoli, written by Gianozzo Manetti, and composing part of a volume, De
Illustribus Longcevis, dedicated by him to Lodovico Gusman, governor of
the province of Calatrava. In proof of the delicacy of Niccolo's feelings,
Gianozzo assures his reader of the wonderful fact, that he disliked the braying
of an ass, the grating of a saw, and the squeaking of a mouse caught in a
trap. " Ncque rudentem asinum, neque secantem serrain, neque muscipulam
" vagicntem scutire audircve poterat."

Mehi Vita Amlros. Trovers, p. Ixxvii. .
. t


PROCEEDINGS of the council of Basil against Euge-
nius The pontiff transfers the council to Florence,
and afterwards to Ferrara Alfonso of Arragon hos-
tile to Eugenius Opening of the council of Ferrara
The deputies of the Greek church repair to that city
Reconciliation of the Latin and Greek churches
BeccatellV s Hermaphroditus solemnly censured
Brief account of Beccatelli Poggufs letter of reproof
to Beccatelli on the publication of the Hermaphro-
ditus Eugenius deposed by the council of Basil
Amedeus, duke of Savoy, elected as pope by that synod
Cardinal Julian joins the party of Eugenius
Ambrogio Traversari friendly to Eugenius Ambrogio's
death and character Birth of Poggirfs eldest son
Letter of Cincio on that occasion Curious corres-
pondence between Poggio and the duke of Milan
Continuance of the quarrel between Poggio and Fi-
lelfo Poggio's dialogue on Nobility His correspond-
ence with Gregorio Corriario in defence of that
dialogue Death of Lorenzo de 1 Medici Poggio's
funeral eulogium on Lorenzo.


W HILST the pontiff was guarding his interests in Italy,
the council of Basil was studiously employed in driving
him to extremity. The decrees of that assembly, whereby
the payment of annates into the pontifical treasury was
prohibited, and the positive restrictions which it had im-
posed upon the head of the church in the distribution of the
temporal powers and honours attached to the holy see, com-
pelled Eugenius to adopt decisive measures. Setting the
council at defiance, he continued to levy the taxes upon
ecclesiastical promotions, which had been so expressly con-
demned as simoniacal, and deprived of their benefices all
those who, in compliance with its requisitions, refused to
pay the sums which he demanded as his due. In the con-
tinuance of his nearest relatives in places of power and
trust, he evinced a similar contempt of the ordinances of
the synod. Irritated by these acts of contumacy, the
assembled fathers, on the thirty-first day of July, 1437,
formally impeached the pontiff as obstinately impeding the
desired reformation of the church as violating the ecclesias-
tical constitutions as guilty of the scandalous offence of
selling benefices to the highest bidder, and bestowing them
on unworthy candidates, in compliance with the desire of
powerful men. After reciting these and various other

312 CHAP. vin.

heads of accusation against him, they summoned Eugenius
to appear and answer for himself within the space of sixty
days, under pain of incurring such penalties as the council,
in case of his refusing to comply with its requisitions,
should think fit to impose upon him.*

Far from being intimidated by these menaces, Euge-
nius, in full consistory held at Bologna, issued a bull,
whereby he transferred the council from Basil to Florence.
On the twenty-sixth day of September, the fathers of Basil,
by a formal act, declared this proceeding of the pontiff null
and void ;} and on the first of October they again sum-
moned Eugenius to appear and plead to the charges which
had been exhibited against him ; and on his failing to ap-
pear, either in person or by proxy, they pronounced him
contumacious, and unanimously decreed that he should be
proceeded against accordingly. The pontiff having issued
a second bull, summoning the representatives of the Chris-
tian community to Ferrara, for the purpose of effecting an
union between the Latin and the Greek churches, the coun-
cil, on the twelfth of October, prohibited all ecclesiastics,
under pain of excommunication, from yielding obedience to
the mandate of their spiritual sovereign.

* Concil. torn. xxx. p. 212 217. The orthodoxy of the editor of the acts
of the councils has induced him to attach the following marginal observation to
the decree which thus levelled the thunder of the rebels of Basil at the sacred
head of the pontiff " Multa in hac synodo sparsim habentur quae pontifici et
ejus auctoritati derogant, quzc sunt caute legenda."

-f- toncif. torn. xxx. p. 22], 222.
IM, p. 226, et seq.
Ibid, p. 232, etseq.

( HAP. VIII. 313

In the prosecution of these violent measures, the
council was encouraged by Alfonso of Arragon. This
prince was highly incensed against Eugenius, who had not
only refused to bestow upon him the investiture of the
kingdom of Naples, but had supported the claim of his
competitor, the duke of Anjou, by sending Vitelleschi to
his assistance at the head of a considerable army. Though
the warlike patriarch did not conduct this expedition with
his wonted success, the pontiff had, by thus imprudently
interfering in the affairs of the kingdom of Naples, given
great offence to the Arragonese monarch, who was naturally
impelled to countenance the proceedings of an assembly
which was labouring to repress the power of his adversary.*

The intrigues of Alfonso did not, however, deter
Eugenius from maintaining his spiritual authority. On the
eighth day of January, 1438, the council of Ferrara was,
according to the tenor of his bull, opened with the cus-
tomary solemnities. -f- When a sufficient number of the
ecclesiastics were assembled to give dignity and authority
to the proceedings of this new synod, he left Bologna, and
repaired in person to Ferrara, at which city he arrived on
the twenty-seventh day of January .+

The reconciliation of the Latin and Greek churches

had, for many centuries, been a subject of earnest desire

* Muratori Auna/i, torn. ix. p. 16 1, 170.

f Labbe Condi, torn. xiii. p. 876.

: Muratori Her. Italic. Script, torn- iii. p. 870.

2 s


to the zealous advocates for an uniformity of faith amongst
Christians. Whilst the Greeks possessed the shadow of
independence, their acuteness in disputation was by no means
inferior to the polemic ability of their antagonists ; and
they strenuously persisted in maintaining the dogmas in
which they differed from the creed of their Latin brethren.
But terror frequently produces docility. The emperor
John Palseologus II. alarmed by the growing power of the
Turks, which threatened his dominions with devastation
and ruin, was induced to hope, that if he could by a
personal conference accommodate his religious differences
with the representatives of the Latin church, the European
powers might be persuaded to lend him effectual assistance
against the hostile attacks of the common enemy of the
Christian name. When the members of the council of
Basil were apprised of the conciliatory disposition of the
Grecian monarch, they immediately issued a decree, where-
by they engaged to pay the expenses which he should incur
on his voyage to Italy, and during his residence in that
country ; and moreover undertook to maintain seven hun-
dred persons of his retinue, including the ecclesiastics
whom he might select to participate in their deliberations.*
When Eugenius had determined to hold a counter synod at
Ferrara, he was well aware that the Greeks would add
considerable weight to the assembly which they should
resolve to countenance by their presence- He accordingly
sent a sufficient number of galleys to transport Palseologus
and his attendants, and, at the same time, transmitted to

* Condi, lorn. xxx. p. 1 89-

CHAP. vin. 315

the Grecian monarch a considerable sum of money to
enable him to make his appearance in Italy with a degree
of splendour suitable to his exalted station. Palaeologus,

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 21 of 31)