William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

. (page 24 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 24 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


highest civil honours on those who had served their country,



ii Opera, p. 64 83.



CHAP. viii. 345

even by dishonourable means. In reply to the animadver-
sions of Gregorio, Poggio expressed his wish that he had
communicated his dialogue to him previously to its publi-
cation, declaring that he would with the utmost readiness
have altered or expunged any objectionable passage which
might have been pointed out to him. At the same time he
endeavoured to palliate the offence which he had committed
against the dignity of the Venetian aristocracy, by observ-
ing, that he had adopted the word factio merely to express
the idea of a class or party of men, in which innocent or
indifferent sense it was used by the best Latin authors.
As to the second cause of displeasure, he protested that he
had made the obnoxious assertion in question upon what he
conceived to be good authority, and that he was persuaded
that the Venetians had sometimes conferred the honours
of nobility upon men of equivocal character. " You ask
" me," continued he, " to quote some instance of the
" occurrence of this circumstance. Believe me, if I
" recollected any I would rather acknowledge myself in an
" error, than defend my cause at the expense of any one's
" good name. I wish my lucubrations to be favourably
" received by the public. On this account it is much more
" my interest to praise than to condemn. I therefore beg
<( that you will freely correct my mistakes, and do not fear
" exciting my displeasure. I esteem myself greatly indebted
" to you for that kindness which prompts you to be watch-
f ful over my honour, and zealous to prevent me from
" giving unnecessary offence. Nor must I forget to express
" the sense which I feel of the modesty and urbanity which
" render your letter the clear expression of the mildness

2 Y



346



CHAP. VIII.



" and gentleness of your manners. Florence, April 8th,
" 1440."*

By introducing Lorenzo de 1 Medici as an interlocutor
in this dialogue, Poggio no doubt intended to preserve to
distant times the memory of the familiar terms on which
he had lived with one of the most illustrious citizens of
Florence.

Lorenzo did not long survive the publication of this
testimony of esteem. On the twenty-third of September,
1440, he paid the great debt of nature. In him Poggio
was at once deprived of a father, a brother, and a friend
of one who was always ready to sympathize in his cares,
and to assist him in his distresses.^ Whilst Lorenzo lived
he was free from anxiety with regard to pecuniary affairs,
as in his liberality he constantly found the most copious
resources in the hour of need, By the death of this
generous benefactor, he was deeply affected ; and as soon
as his grief would permit him to collect his scattered
thoughts, he hastened to celebrate the virtues of his
deceased friend, in an eulogium on his character, which



* Poffffi* Opera, p. 225 328. Besides Gregorio Corriario, two other
Venetian scholars, Pietro Tommasi and Lauro Querini, expressed their dis-
pleasure at the manner in which Poggio had treated the Venetian patricians in
his dialogue De Nobilitate ; the former in a letter addressed to Poggio the
latter, not only by a letter, hut also in an express treatise on the same subject.
To the former Poggio returned a civil reply the latter, who seems to have been
an ill-tempered man, he treated with contempt. Ton. Tr. vol. ii. p. 42.

t Popffii Opera, #. 278.



CHAP. VIII. 347

he addressed to Carlo Aretino. From this effusion of
affectionate esteem, we learn that Lorenzo was endued with
the elegance of taste, the liberality of spirit, and the
urbanity of manners, which for so long a period distin-
guished all the branches of his renowned family. His
kinsmen no doubt deemed his memory highly honoured by
the respectful attendance of Eugenius IV. at his funeral
obsequies.* But they were probably little aware, that the
duteous zeal of an humble secretary would be more con-
ducive to the diffusion and the permanence of his fame,
than the splendour of a pontifical procession, or the gran-
deur of monumental memorials.

* Poggii Opera, p. 285.



CHAP. IX.



WAR between the Florentines and the duke of Milan
Treachery and death of Vitelleschi The duke of
Milan makes peace with the Florentines Death of
Niccolo d'Este Character of his successor, Lionello
Correspondence between Lionello and Poggio Remarks
on the price of books Eugenius endeavours to drive
Sforxa from the Marca d' Ancona He quits Flo-
rence Death of Nicolao Albergato, cardinal of Santa
Croce Poggio's funeral eulogium on the cardinal
Memoirs of Tommaso da Sarzana Poggio dedicates
to Tommaso his dialogue On the Unhappiness of
princes Analysis of that dialogue Death of Leo-
nardo Aretino Funeral honours paid to Leonardo
Gianoxxo Manettfs oration on that occasion Poggio 's
eulogium on Leonardo Character of Leonardo Ac-
count of Leonardos successor, Carlo Marsuppini
Death of cardinal Julian Poggio^s eulogium on the
cardinal.



CHAP. IX.



AT has been already observed, that from the tenor of
Poggio's answer to the complimentary letter of the duke
of Milan, he appears not to have given implicit credit to
that prince's professions of friendship for the Florentine
republic, and that he evidently expected that the restless
ambition of Filippo would again kindle the flames of war.
Events justified his prognostications. In the year 1439,
the administrators of the Tuscan government were so much
alarmed by the success of Piccinino, who had invaded the
Venetian territories at the head of the Milanese army, that
they renewed their alliance with their ancient friends, to
whose assistance they sent a considerable body of troops,
under the command of Francesco Sforza. The duke of
Milan, with the view of compelling the Tuscans to with-
draw their forces from Lombardy, directed Piccinino to
make an incursion into the territories of Florence. Pic-
cinino accordingly marched through Romagna, and made
himself master of several places in the district of Casentino.
The duke of Milan expected to have derived considerable
assistance in the invasion of the Tuscan territories from
Vitelleschi, with whom he had for some time carried on a
secret correspondence, and who had, through hatred of the
Florentines, engaged to support Piccinino with a powerful



352 CHAP. IX.

body of troops. But the secrecy with which this intrigue
had been conducted did not elude the vigilance of the
administrators of the Tuscan government. They for-
tunately intercepted certain letters addressed by the duke
to Vitelleschi, which revealed the particulars of the con-
spiracy. These letters they communicated to the pontiff,
who gave immediate orders for the arrest of the perfidious
patriarch. As Vitelleschi was then at Rome, the execu-
tion of this commission was entrusted to Antonio Rido,
the commandant of the castle of St. Angelo. According
to the instructions of Eugenius, Vitelleschi was suddenly
surrounded by a troop of horse, as he was passing the
bridge of St. Angelo, on his way to join the forces which
he had destined for the assistance of Piccinino. He was
no sooner aware of his danger, than he boldly drew his
sword, and endeavoured to cut his way through the soldiers
who were sent to secure him. In the conflict he was
wounded in the neck, and growing faint with loss of blood,
he was overpowered and carried as a prisoner into the castle.
On the twentieth day of his confinement he died, as some
say of his wounds, according to the report of others, of
poison. By whatever means he came to his end, so
atrocious were the cruelties which he had committed during
the days of his power, that his death occasioned universal
joy, and was regarded by thousands as a signal instance of
divine retribution.*



* Poggii Hisioria Flor. p. 339. Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 185.
Lorenzo Valla, hi his Antidotus, charges Poggio with the infamous villany of
forging the commission, by virtue of which Vitelleschi was arrested ; and asserts,



CHAP. ix. 353

Piccinino being by this event deprived of all hope of
assistance was obliged to depend upon his own exertions.
In these circumstances he was not dispirited. The successes
which he had experienced in the commencement of the
campaign led him to entertain sanguine hopes of crushing
the Tuscan republic. But his confidence prepared the way
for his discomfiture and disgrace. His rash reliance on the
valour and discipline of his troops tempting him to engage
the Florentine army under very disadvantageous circum-
stances, he experienced a total defeat on the twenty-ninth
of June, 1440.* Nor did better success attend the arms of
the duke of Milan in Lombardy. His forces were put to
the rout by Francesco Sforza, on the banks of the river
Oglio. Disheartened by these losses, Filippo was disposed
to an accommodation ; and by the mediation of Sforza,
peace was again concluded between that prince and his
allied enemies in the autumn of the year 1441. *f-

In the preceding year, Niccolo d'Este, marquis of
Ferrara, had assiduously endeavoured to bring about this
desirable event ; and though his mediation was unsuccessful,

that he was protected from the punishment due to his crime, by the power of the
statesmen who had bribed him to commit so atrocious a deed. It is not, however,
very probable, that any interest could have screened from punishment a secre-
tary who stood convicted of so heinous an offence as counterfeiting the signature
of a sovereign prince, for the purpose of committing murder : still less, that a
subordinate officer who had taken such a wicked liberty, should have been
continued in his place. Laurenlii Valla Antidotus in Poygium, p. 199.

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 186.
-J- Muratori Annali, lorn. ix. p. 199.

2 z



354 CHAP. IX.

his friendly interposition served to confirm the honourable
character which he had so long sustained that of the pro-
moter of peace. In such estimation did the duke of Milan
hold this virtuous prince, that he invited him to his capital,
and entrusted him with the government of his extensive
dominions. This mark of confidence was universally re-
garded as a prelude to the nomination of Niccolo to the
ducal throne of Milan ; but the hopes which the friends of
virtue entertained of witnessing the happy effects resulting
from his advancement were destroyed by his death, which
took place on the 26th of December, 1441.

The sorrow experienced by the subjects of Niccolo, in
consequence of this event, was considerably alleviated by
their observation of the extraordinary good qualities of
Lionello, his successor. In the contemplation of the purity
of morals, the solidity of judgment, and the benevolence
of heart, which adorned the character of this exemplary
youth, they forgot the illegitimacy of his birth ; and when,
prompted by an enthusiastic respect for his virtues, they joy-
fully hailed him as their sovereign, their choice was approved
by the suffrages of all the scholars of Italy. Lionello was
indeed the favourite theme of the applause of the learned.
He not only encouraged the ardour, but participated in the
studies of the cultivators of the liberal arts. Under the
auspices of Guarino Veronese, he had acquired a profound
knowledge of classical literature, which enabled him ac-
curately to appreciate the merits of the candidates for
literary fame. The promotion of Lionello to the sovereignty
of Ferrara was highly gratifying to the feelings of Pog-



CHAP. ix. 335

gio. Several years previously to this event, he had been
induced by the fame of the elegance of taste which dis-
tinguished Lionello's juvenile compositions, to address to
him a letter, in which he highly commended his love of
literature, and strenuously exhorted him diligently to pursue
those studies which he had so happily begun.* The request
which he made to this illustrious student to prosecute an in-
quiry after the lost decads of Livy has been already noticed.
The homage which Poggio paid to the talents of Lionello
gave rise to an epistolary intercourse, the remaining frag-
ments of which afford a striking specimen of the unreserved
friendship and liberal familiarity which a community of
studies sometimes produces between persons who occupy
very distant stations in the ranks of society. The freedom
with which Lionello permitted his learned correspondent to
communicate to him his opinions, is conspicuous in a letter
addressed by Poggio to Guarino Veronese, requesting him
to inform their patron of the surprize and concern which he
had experienced on receiving the intelligence of his having
bestowed some distinguished honours on an unworthy can-
didate, -f* Of the character of this candidate Poggio gave
his sentiments in the following letter to Lionello himself,
which is interesting on account of the information which it
contains with respect to the value of books at this period.

" A few days ago there occurred in the chamber of his
" holiness a discourse on the subject of Jerome's epistles.

" Poygii Opera, p. 344.

f Poggii E pis tolas Ivii. ep. liv.



350



CHAP. IX.



" Happening to be present on this occasion, I observed,

" that I had in my possession two very handsome volumes

" of those epistles ; on -which one of the company remarked,

" that he had offered me eighty florins for them, but could

" not obtain them at that price. To this I replied, that the

" cardinal of St. Xystus had often importuned me to let

" him have the volumes in question, for which he would

" willingly pay me one hundred florins, and think himself

" obliged by the bargain ; and that I should in all proba-

" bility have sold the books at that price, had I not been

" prevented by Niccolo Niccoli, who with his accustomed

" moroseness declared, that by so doing, I should give an

" indication of a sordid and abject mind^ On this our

f( friend Aurispa said, that you very earnestly wished to

" add these epistles to your collection, and desired me to

" sell them to you, assuring me that you would cheerfully

" pay any price which I should fix upon them. With some

" reluctance I complied with his request, and I write to

" inform you, that I am willing to part with the books for

if the price which has been already offered for them, namely,

" one hundred ducats. It remains for you therefore to de-

" termine whether you will purchase them at that price. It

" is a matter of indifference to me what your determination

" may be ; for I do not part with the volumes with a view

" of raising money, but merely through a desire of obliging

" you. This however I will say, that no person in Italy

" possesses in the same compass a larger or a more correct

" collection of epistles than those which are contained in

" these two volumes.



CHAP, ix. 357

" Your friend, the knight of Ricti, when he came to
" this town some time ago to gratify his love of ostentation
" (for he wished his folly to be known to every body) told
" a certain citizen of Ferrara, that you had shewn him the
" letter which I wrote concerning him to Guarino. I do not
" think that this is the fact ; but I wish you would inform
" me whether in this matter he adheres to his usual practice
" of lying. On his departure hence he told some persons
" that he was going to visit his uncle ; to others he asserted,
" that you had nominated him your ambassador at Florence.
" He would think himself undone were he to utter any thing
" but falsehood. He must needs be full of truth ; for no
" truth ever passes through his lips. 1 '*

Lionello transmitted to Poggio the hundred ducats, at
which he appreciated his copy of the epistles of Jerome.
He intimated to him, however, that some of the learned
men of Ferrara thought the price an extravagant one ; and
he desired that it might be understood, that in acceding to
the terms proposed by his correspondent, he intended to
make him a present of the excess above the real value of
the book. In reply to these observations, Poggio main-
tained the correctness of his estimation, in opposition to
the judgment of the Ferrarese connoisseurs, which he treated
with great contempt ; and humorously observed, that he
thankfully accepted the gift mentioned by Lionello, not
on account of its intrinsic value, but as an earnest of future
munificence ; " for, 11 said he, " it is the custom of worthy

* Poggii Epislolas Ivii. p. 282.



358 CHAP. ix.

" princes, such as you are, to persevere in what they have
" well begun/ 1 *

If the ducat be estimated at ten shillings English
money, the epistles of Jerome were purchased by Lionello
at the expense of fifty pounds sterling.-f From the history
of Filelfo it appears, that at this time the salary of a public
professor of literature rarely exceeded four hundred ducats ;
so that the price of a couple of volumes absorbed one-
fourth of the sum which was deemed an adequate annual
recompence for the services of a man of consummate learn-
ing. The exhibition of these facts will demonstrate the
difficulties which obstructed the paths of learning in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It will also tend to
make the modern scholar sensible of the tribute of gratitude
which he owes to the inventor of the typographic art.

It was not without considerable reluctance that Euge-
nius had yielded to Francesco Sforza the dominion of the
Marca d' Ancona ; and he had long waited with impatience
for the occurrence of some favourable opportunity to wrest
from that chieftain the territory which he had so unwillingly
conceded to him. In the year 1442, he flattered himself
that he should be enabled .to accomplish this object of his
earnest desire- Regnier of Anjou being then closely

* Poggii Epistolee Ivii. p. 284.

f According to the tables of the relative value of money at different
periods, the volume above mentioned may he said to have cost Lionello 250 01
300 sterling Ton. Tr. vol. ii. p. 54.



CHAP. ix. 359

besieged in the city of Naples by Alfonso of Arragon,
had solicited the assistance of Sforza, who dispatched a
body of troops to make a diversion in his favour. Eugenius
taking advantage of this conjuncture, formally deprived
Sforza of the office of Gonfaloniere of the holy see, which
he bestowed on his rival Piccinino. In obedience to the
orders of his new sovereign, Piccinino immediately invaded
the Marca, and made himself master of the city of Todi.
This incursion compelled Sforza to withdraw from Naples
the forces which he had destined to the relief of Regnicr,
who after the loss of his capital was compelled to quit Italy,
and to retire into Provence.* Eugenius seeing Alfonso
thus firmly established on the Neapolitan throne, not only
agreed to terms of pacification with him, but endeavoured
to procure his assistance in depriving their common enemy
of the dominion of the Marca. The Florentines, who had
constantly entertained very friendly dispositions towards
Sforza, openly interposed to counteract the measures which
Eugenius had adopted to expel their favourite general from
the territories of the church. This political difference gave
rise to a coolness between Eugenius and the administrators
of the Tuscan government, in consequence of which the
pontiff determined to quit the city of Florence, and to
repair to Rome. He accordingly set out on his journey on
the seventh of March, 1443, and on the ensuing day he
arrived at Siena, in which city he continued to reside till
the month of September.*!'

* Muralori Annali, torn. ix. p. 195, 196.
f Mur atari Annali, torn. ix. p. 198.






360 CHAP. IX.

V,

Soon after the pontiff's arrival in Siena, his court was
deprived of an illustrious member, by the death of Nicolao
Albergato, cardinal of Santa Croce.* In this event Poggio
was deeply interested, as that eminent ecclesiastic, who was
distinguished by his liberal patronage of learned men, had
long honoured him with his affectionate esteem. In grate-
ful respect for the memory of his deceased friend, Poggio
undertook to record his virtues in a funeral eulogium.
From this document it appears, that Nicolao Albergato
was a native of Bologna, the descendant of an honourable
family. At an early age he dedicated himself to the
study of the civil law, in which he made a considerable
proficiency. But when he had attained to years of
maturity, his religious zeal induced him to bid farewell
to the cares of the world, and to enter into the monastic
fraternity of the Carthusians. So exemplary was his
observance of the severe rules of this strict order, that,
soon after his admission into it, he was appointed to the
office of superior. The fame of his austerity, his prudence
and discretion, having reached his native place, on the
occurrence of a vacancy in the episcopal throne of Bologna,
his fellow citizens unanimously invited him to preside over
their spiritual affairs. It was not without considerable
reluctance that he undertook this arduous office, by the
discharge of the duties of which he, however, confirmed
and increased his reputation. Exerting his utmost endea-
vours to restrain the licentiousness of the clergy, he studi-
ously set his brethren an example of the most decorous

* Muratori Her. Italic. Script, lorn. vi. p. D15.



CHAP. IX. N 301

correctness of manners, and of the utmost purity of moral
conduct- His charity was diffusive, but discriminating.
He assiduously sought for the children of distress, who
were induced by the ingenuous emotions of shame to hide
their poverty in uncomplaining retirement, and he secretly
relieved their wants. His patriarchal virtues attracted the
notice of Martin V., who without any solicitation on his
part raised him to the dignity of cardinal. After his
advancement to this high honour, he was employed by that
pontiff and by his successor Eugenius IV. in various nego-
tiations of the greatest importance, in the conduct of
which he evinced a degree of skill in the transaction of
business, which would have done honour to one who had
been from his early youth versed in the active concerns of
life. His latter years were years of pain, occasioned by
the pangs of an excruciating disease, which he bore with
the most exemplary patience, and from which he was
relieved by the welcome hand of death, in the sixty-eighth
year of his age-*

Had the cardinal of Santa Croce been rendered illus-
trious by no other circumstance, his patronage of Tommaso
da Sarzana, who under the appellation of Nicolas V. be-
came one of the brightest ornaments of the pontificate, would
have been in itself sufficient to secure to him the praises of
posterity. Tommaso was the son of Bartolomeo del Paren-



* Poggii Opera, p. 261 269. The disease of which he died was the
stone. Poggio asserts, that after his death, a calculus of the weight of a pound
was extracted from his bladder.

8 A



362 y. CHAP. IX.

tucelli, a professor of arts and of medicine in the city of
Pisa. His mother Andreola was a native of Sarzana. He
had scarcely attained to the age of seven years, when he
experienced an irreparable misfortune in the death of his
father. In consequence of this event Andreola removed
from Pisa to Sarzana, where she soon consoled herself for
the loss of Bartolomeo, in the arms of a second husband.
This new connexion was rendered unhappy by the illiberality
of her spouse, who looked upon his step-son with a jealous
eye, and embittered the days of the unoffending youth, by the
harshness of his behaviour towards him. This unfortunate
circumstance rendered Andreola very anxious concerning
the future destination of her son, which, however, she
flattered herself was at length fixed by supernatural inter-
position. When Tommaso was about ten years of age he
was seized by the plague, by which dreadful malady he was
soon reduced to the last extremity. Exhausted with fatigue,
occasioned by her unremitting attendance upon her favourite
child, Andreola sunk into a disturbed slumber, during the
continuance of which an angel seemed to appear before her,
and to promise that the object of her care should recover
from his disease, if she would promise to dedicate to the
priesthood the life which, for this high purpose alone, the
mercy of God would vouchsafe to spare. Waking from her
dream, Andreola made a solemn vow that she would fulfil
the direction of the heavenly messenger and her child
recovered. In pursuance of her sacred engagement, when
Tommaso had attained the age of twelve years, she sent
him to commence his studies at Bologna. The rigid morose-
ness of her husband, however, would not permit her to



CHAP. IX. 303

furnish the youthful student with any means of supporting



Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 24 of 31)