William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

. (page 26 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 26 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


At his outset in life, Leonardo had to struggle with the
embarrassments incident to a very contracted fortune, and
was compelled by necessity to practise the strictest economy.
By the liberality of John XXII. however, he acquired an
increase of property which eventually became the foundation
of a very ample fortune. As man is the slave of habit, he
retained, in the midst of abundance, the attention to the
minutiae of expence which was a duty imperiously incum-
bent upon him in the days of his poverty ; and his prudent
exactitude sometimes approached the confines of avarice.*
He was also impatient in his temper, and too apt to take
ofience.-f* The following anecdote however shews, that if

* Poggii Oratio Funebris in obitu Leonardi Aretini, apud Mehi edilio-
nem Leonardi Epistolarum, torn. i. p. cxxii.
t Ibid.

CHAP. ix. 377

he was easily excited to anger, he had the good sense to be
soon convinced of his error, and the ingenuousness of spirit
to confess it. Having engaged in a literary discussion with
Gianozzo Manetti, he was so exasperated by observing that
the bye-standers thought him worsted in argument, that
he vented his spleen in outrageous expressions against his
antagonist. On the following morning, however, by break
of day, he went to the house of Gianozzo, who expressed
his surprise, that a person of Leonardo's dignity should
condescend to honour him so far as to pay him an unsolicited
visit. On this Leonardo requested that Gianozzo would
favour him with a private conference. Gianozzo accordingly
attended him to the banks of the Arno, when Leonardo
thus apologized for the warmth of his temper. " Yesterday
** I did you great injustice ; but I soon began to suffer
" punishment for my offence ; for I have not closed my
** eyes during the whole night ; and I could not rest till I
" had made you a confession of my fault."* The man who
by the voluntary acknowledgment of an error could thus
frankly throw himself upon the generosity of one whom he
had offended, must have possessed in his own mind a fund
of honour and probity. The failings of Leonardo were
indeed amply counterbalanced by his strict integrity, his
guarded temperance, his faithful discharge of his public
duties, and his zeal in the cause of literature. This being
the case, it was with justice that Poggio prided himself
upon the intimate friendship which subsisted between

* Janotii Manetti Vita a Naldo, apud Muratori Rer. Italic- Script,
torn. xxx. p. S33, 534.

3 c

878 CHAP. ix.

himself and this truly respectable character a friendship
which was not once interrupted during the varied trans-
actions of a period of forty-four years.

The remains of Leonardo were interred in the church
of Santa Croce. On a marble monument erected to his
memory the following inscription is still legible.





Leonardo was succeeded in the chancellorship of the
Florentine republic by Carlo Marsuppini, more commonly
known by the surname of Aretino, a scholar no less dis-
tinguished by his literary acquirements than by the dignity
of his family. Carlo was the son of Gregorio Marsuppini,
a nobleman of Arezzo, doctor of laws, and secretary to
Charles VI., king of France, by whom he was appointed
to the government of Genoa. Educated under the auspices
of John of Ravenna, he attained to such a proficiency in
learning, that in delivering lectures on rhetoric be became
the successful rival of Filelfo in the university of Florence.
His literary reputation recommended him to the notice of
Eugenius IV., who, in the year 1441, conferred upon him
the office of apostolic secretary. This office he continued
to hold till the voice of his fellow-citizens summoned him
to the discharge of more important duties.* The friendly

* Tiraboschi Storia della Letter. Jtal. torn. vi. p. ii. p. 328, 329.

CHAP. IX. 379

intercourse which had taken place between him and Poggio,
in consequence of their being natives of the same place,
had been strengthened by their common hostility against
Francesco Filelfo. Nor was it interrupted by their separa-
tion. Whenever Poggio found leisure to visit the Tuscan
capital, he experienced a welcome reception from his ancient
associate, in whose instructive converse he found the most
pleasing relaxation from the toils of his office, and from
the wearisomeness occasionally attendant upon the diligent
prosecution of literary studies.*

Whilst Poggio was lamenting the irreparable loss
which he had sustained by the death of Leonardo Aretino,
he received intelligence of the sad catastrophe of his old
friend and correspondent, Julian, cardinal of St. Angelo.
This zealous churchman, who had been dispatched into
Hungary, vested with the office of pontifical legate, had
heard with indignation that Ladislaus VI., king of that
country, had concluded a truce for ten years with Amurath,
emperor of the Turks ; and strenuously insisting upon the
detestable doctrine, that no faith is to be kept with infidels,
he had persuaded the Hungarian monarch treacherously to
attack the Mussulmans, who, in reliance on the treaty
which had been so lately concluded, had withdrawn their
forces into Asia. Justly irritated by this act of perfidy,
the Turks rushed to arms, and gave battle to the Hun-
garians at Varna, a town in Bulgaria. The issue of the

.* See the introduction to Poggio' dialogue on Hypocrisy, in the Fasciculus
Rer. Erpet. et. Fug. torn. ii. p. 571.

380 CHAP. IX.

day was most disastrous to the Christians. Ladislaus fell
in the battle, his forces were routed, and a body of the
fugitives, in the course of their flight, overtaking the
unfortunate Julian, whose pernicious counsels they con-
sidered as the original cause of their present calamities,
fell upon him, and despatched him with a multitude of

The prejudices which Poggio entertained against the
professors of Mohamedism, or the partiality of his friend-
ship for the cardinal, rendered him insensible of the atrocity
of the crime by which that turbulent ecclesiastic had pro-
voked his fate. From the fragments of an oration which
he composed on the occasion of the funeral of Julian, and
which are preserved by Mehus in his life of Ambrogio
Traversari,-f- he seems to have considered his character as
a subject of unqualified praise. The birth of Julian was
obscure. He prosecuted his studies, first at Perugia, after-
wards at Bologna, and lastly at Padua. When his educa-
tion was finished, he entered into the household of the
cardinal of Piacenza, in whose suite he travelled into Bohe-
mia, where he signalized himself by his acuteness in theolo-
gical disputation, and by the assiduity of his labours for the
conversion of heretics. On his return to Italy, Martin V.
rewarded his zeal in the defence of the orthodox faith, by
appointing him to the office of auditor of the chamber.
He was afterwards sent in quality of nuncio into France

* IS Enfant Histoire de la guerre des Hussites et du Conseil de Basle.
f Mehi Vila Ambrosii Travcrsarii, p. orccxix. ccccxx. ccecxxi.


and England. Making mention of his residence in the
latter country, Poggio asserts that he did there what no one
had ever ventured to do before him : in a numerous assem-
bly of prelates, he uttered a vehement invective against the
statutes which had been enacted in the parliament, with a
view of restraining the authority of the court of Rome, and
admonished his auditors to yield obedience to the pope,
rather than to the laws of their country : " a proceeding,"
says Poggio, " attended with great peril in a land the
" inhabitants of which were not accustomed to such bold-
*' ness. " This temerity procured Julian the gift of a
cardinal's hat, which was bestowed upon him by Martin V.,
immediately on his return from England.* His second
mission into Bohemia, his pertinacity in summoning and
presiding over the council of Basil, and his conversion to
the interests of Eugenius, have already passed in review in
the course of the present work.

The steady forbearance of Julian in refusing to enrich
himself by the acceptance of presents, which Poggio records
with enthusiastic applause, is a legitimate subject of com-
mendationbut his zeal in the course of proselytism is an
indication of a narrow mind ; and the treachery which sig-
nalized the last official act of his life fixes on his memory an
indelible stain. So base indeed was his conduct on this
occasion, that his miserable end may be pointed out as an
instance of the signal vengeance which awaits the perfidious
violators of solemn treaties.

Mehi Vita Ambros. Trovers, ut tupra.


SFORZA deprived of the Marco, d'Ancona Death of
Eugenius IV. Tommaso da Sarxana is elected to the
pontificate, and assumes the name of Nicolas V.
State of Italy on the accession of Nicolas V. Ex-
emplary conduct of that pontiff- Poggio's inaugural
address to Nicolas V. His dialogues on the Vicissi-
tudes of Fortune, and on Hypocrisy His invective
against the Antipope Felix His translation of Xeno-
phon's CryopcBdia, and of Diodorus Siculus His
quarrels with George of Trebisond, and Tommaso da
Rieti Celebration of the Jubilee Publication of
Poggio's Facetice Renewal of hostilities between
Poggio and Filelfo Their reconciliation Poggio's
Historia disceptativa convivialis His letter on the
study of Law.


AT has been already observed, that in the year 1443
Eugenius earnestly solicited the king of Naples to assist
him in expelling Francesco Sforza from the ecclesiastical
territories, the possession of which constituted such a
formidable accession to his power. In compliance with the
wishes of the pontiff, Alfonso advanced at the head of a
considerable army into the Marca d'Ancona, almost the
whole of which district he in a short space of time restored
to the dominion of the church.* [A. D. 1444.] In the
course of the ensuing spring, however, Sforza invaded the
disputed territory with such vigour and military, skill, that
he once more compelled the pontiff to confer upon him
the feudal sovereignty of all its cities, except Osimo,
Recanati, Fabriano, and Ancona.-f- But in the year 1445,
Eugenius, having secured the assistance of the duke of
Milan and of the king of Naples, again violated his
solemn engagements, and declared war against his vassal.
The perfidy of the pontiff was at length crowned with suc-
cess ; for by the joint efforts of the allied powers, Sforza
was dispossessed of the whole extent of the Marca, except

- " Murralori Annali, torn. ix. p. 402.
t Ibid, p. -106.

3 D

386 CHAP. x.

the city of Jesi.* Thus had Eugenius the satisfaction of
reducing all the territories belonging to the church ; Jesi
and Bologna being the only cities of the ecclesiastical states
which refused to acknowledge his authority. He did not
long enjoy the fruit of his anxious deliberations and strenu-
ous exertions. In the commencement of the year 1447
he was seized by a distemper which soon assumed a most
serious aspect. In this extremity he continued to manifest
that undaunted resolution which was a distinguishing feature
of his character, and struggled against his last enemy with
all the vigour of an unyielding spirit. His attendants
witnessed his fortitude with the highest admiration, and
for a time flattered themselves that the strength of his con-
stitution would baffle the power of his disease. When his
friends had at length lost all hope of his recovery, the arch-
bishop of Florence gave him intimation of their opinion
by preparing to administer to him the rites which are
appointed by the Catholic church for the comfort of the
dying. But the pontiff indignantly commanded him to
forbear his officious interposition. " I am not yet, 1 ' said
he, " reduced to the last extremity I will apprize you
" when my time is come."" This promise he fulfilled, and in
a manner which evinced the intrepidity and even cheerful-
ness with which he foresaw his approaching dissolution.
" My friends," said he to the attendant ecclesiastics, dur-
ing a pause which occurred in the reading of morning
prayers, " when the holy office is finished I will tell you a
" story.*' The devotional exercise being ended, he was

* Muratori Annali, torn. is. p. 410, 412.

CHAP. X. 3S7

reminded of his promise, on which he thus addressed his
assembled household. " A certain Athenian once came
" forth into the street, and in the midst of a large con-
" course of people made the following proclamation. If
" any one wishes . to hang himself on my fig-tree, let him
" make haste, for I am going to cut it down. In like
" manner," said the pontiff, " if my friends wish to solicit
" from me any favours, they must not delay, for I am sen-
" sible that the hour of my departure draws near." The
pries in waiting having informed him that they were going
to offer solemn prayers for his recovery " Pray rather,"
said he, " that the Lord's will may be done ; for we often
*' petition for that which is not conducive to our good."
When he was conscious of the near approach of death, he
piously participated in the customary ceremonies, and then
caused himself to be raised from his bed and conveyed to
the chair of St. Peter, where he breathed his last on the
twenty-third day of February, 1447.*

The funeral eulogium of the deceased pontiff was
pronounced by Toinmaso da Sarzana, who had lately been
promoted by his favour to the bishopric of Bologna, and
to the dignity of cardinal. The acquisition of this honour
prepared the way for the exaltation of Tommaso to the
summit of ecclesiastical preferment. On the sixth of March

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 416. The foregoing particulars of the last
illness and death of Eugcnius were collected partly from a narrative of those
events by ./Eneas Sylvius, which is preserved in the third vol. of Muratori'*
Rer. Italic. Script, p. ii. p. 890, and partly from the diary of one of the pon-
tiffs chamberlains, which occurs in p. 902 of the same volume.


he was by the unanimous voice of the conclave invested with
the pontifical purple, on which occasion he assumed the name
of Nicolas V. His biographer^ Gianozzo Manetti, asserts,
that his advancement to this high dignity was prognosticated
to him in the following manner. When the conclave was
assembled for the purpose of filling the vacancy which had
just occurred in the chair of St. Peter, and Tommaso was
sleeping at dead of night in the small chamber allotted to
him on that occasion, he dreamt that Eugenius appeared
before him arrayed in his pontifical robes, of which he
divested himself, and commanded him to put them on ;
and that on his refusal to comply with this requisition,
the deceased pontiff violently enforced his obedience, and
invested him with all the insignia of papal authority.
Gianozzo seems to intimate, that in this dream there was
something prseternatural. But a slight acquaintance with
the constitution of the human mind would have convinced
him, that there is nothing miraculous in the circumstance
of a cardinal's dreaming that his brows are encircled with
the tiara.*

On his elevation to the chair of St. Peter, Nicolas
found the temporalities of the holy see in a lamentable
state of disorder. The military enterprizes of Eugenius

* The unlettered Shakspeare was much better versed in the natural history
of ecclesiastics than the learned Gianozzo.

" Sometimes she cometh with a tythe-pig's tail,
" Tickling the parson as he lies asleep ;
" Then dreams he of another benefice."

CHAP. x.

had exhausted the pontifical treasury ; the anarchy to which
the long absence of that pontiff from his capital had given
rise in the ecclesiastical territories, had impeded the collec-
tion of the public revenues ; and the schism occasioned by
the intemperance of the council of Basil had impaired the
spiritual authority of the church.* Whilst the unpropi-
tious circumstances which thus attended the commencement
of his pontificate affected the mind of Nicolas with well-
founded anxiety, his uneasiness was encreased by the con-
templation of the distracted state of Italy. The Venetians
and the duke of Milan were engaged in an obstinate and
bloody contest, which spread devastation through the fertile
provinces of Lombardy. Alfonso, king of Naples, having
been instigated by Eugenius to declare war against the
Florentines, had marched on his way to the Tuscan frontier
as far as Tivoli, where his army lay encamped at the time
of that pontiff's death.-f Justly apprehensive lest the
collision of interests which occurs in a period of general
warfare should disturb the peace of the pontifical dominions,
Nicolas found himself surrounded by difficulties which
called into full exercise the extraordinary abilities which
he had cultivated with such successful industry. His first
object was to remedy the confusion which prevailed in the
ecclesiastical states. This object he speedily accomplished
by a prudent choice of magistrates, by the establishment
of a well-regulated system of internal economy, and by

Jannotii Manetti Vita Nicolai V. apud Muratori Rer. Italic. Script.
torn. iii. p. 921.

f Muratori Annali, torn. Ix. p. 417-

390 CHAP. X.

the mildness of a lenient administration of government.
At the price of thirty-five thousand florins of gold he
purchased from Francesco Sforza the possession of the city
of Jesi.* The inhabitants of Bologna, influenced by the
remembrance of the benevolence which shone conspicuous
in his character, whilst he exercised amongst them the
episcopal functions, sacrificed their independence to their
gratitude, and voluntarily submitted to his authority.*!*
The endeavours of Nicolas to inspire the other potentates
of Italy with the ardent desire of peace which influenced
his own actions were not crowned with equally prompt
success. Alfonso proceeded on his march to the Florentine
state, which he continued to harrass for the space of three
years, at the end of which period he agreed to terms of
pacification. The death of Filippo Maria, duke of Milan,
which event took place on the thirteenth of August, 1447,J
exposed his dominions to all the miseries of civil discord.
Whilst the king of Naples asserted his title to the ducal
crown by virtue of a pretended will, said to have been
executed by Filippo during his last illness, Charles, duke
of Orleans, maintained his own claim to the inheritance of
the sovereignty of the Milanese, in right of his wife, Val-
entina Visconti, daughter of the late duke, who had died
without male issue. As the son-in-law of Filippo, Fran-
cesco Sforza also deemed himself justified in aspiring to the
throne of Milan. In the mean time the inhabitants of

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 417.
. 425.

Ibid, p. 420.

CHAP. X, 391

that city, rejecting the pretensions of all the competitors,
declared for independence, and instituted a republican
form of government. The infant commonwealth was, how-
ever, doomed to struggle with unconquerable difficulties.
Whilst it was harrassed by the Venetians, its strength was
enfeebled by the anarchy of faction. After suffering a
variety of calamities in the course of a protracted siege,
the inhabitants of Milan were, in the year 1450, compelled
by famine to open their gates to Sforza, who on the twenty-
fifth of March, solemnly assumed the ducal diadem.*

In the midst of these hostile operations, Nicolas had
the prudence and the skill to observe a strict neutrality, and
thus to secure to the ecclesiastical territories the blessings of
public tranquillity. In the contemplation of the growing
prosperity of his subjects the pontiff found an ample reward
for his anxious endeavours to promote their welfare. The
flourishing state of his finances, the consequence of his cul-
tivation of the arts of peace, was also a source of con-
siderable satisfaction to him, as it furnished him with the
means of gratifying his passion for the encouragement of
learning- Fostered by his patronage, the scholars of Italy
no longer had reason to complain that they were doomed to
obscurity and contempt. Nicolas invited to his court all
those who were distinguished by their proficiency in ancient
literature ; and whilst he afforded them full scope for the
exertion of their talents, he requited their labours by liberal

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 441.

392 CHAT. X.

Poggio did not neglect to take advantage of the rising
tide of fortune. Eugenius IV. was the seventh pontiff in
whose service he had continued to hold the office of apostolic
secretary, without being promoted to any of the superior
departments of the Roman chancery. His objections to the
ecclesiastical life had indeed shut against him one of the
avenues to preferment ; and the negligence of his patrons,
or the confused state of the temporalities attached to the
holy see, had hitherto prevented him from receiving any
recompense for his labours at all adequate to his own esti-
mate of their value.* But when Nicolas V. had ascended
the pontifical throne, his prospects were brightened by the
hope of spending the remainder of his days in the comforts
of independence, if not in affluence. In order that he
might not be wanting to the prosecution of his own in-
terests, he resolved to testify his respectful attachment to
the newly-created pontiff, by addressing to him a congratu-
latory oration. On this occasion, however, he could not
but recollect that not many years had elapsed since he had
dedicated to his friend his dialogue De Infelicitate Prin-
cipum ; and he was sensible that it was absolutely necessary
to preserve in his address to Nicolas V. some degree of
consistency with the principles which he had formerly endea-
voured to sanction by the patronage of Tommaso da Sar-
zana. In the exordium of this oration, therefore, he pro-
fessed that he could not conscientiously congratulate the
pontiff on his being summoned to undergo immense labour
of body, and to exert continual activity of mind. " For,"

* Poffffii Opera, p. 32.


said he, " if you arc determined to guide the vessel of St.
" Peter properly, and according to the precepts of God,
" you will not be able to indulge yourself in the least re-
" laxation, or to give yourself up, as you have been accus-
" tomed to do, to the joys of friendship and of literature.
" You must live according to the pleasure of others, and
" you must give up your own ease, in order to promote the
" welfare of the Christian community. You are placed as
" a sentinel to watch for the safety of all, and you are
" doomed from henceforth never to know the blessings of
" repose." After enlarging on these topics, Poggio declared
that he would not run the risk of incurring the imputation
of flattery, by detailing the virtues which adorned the cha-
racter of his holiness. " What then," continued he, " can I
" say ? In treating on this subject, upon what circumstances
" can I enlarge ? I answer, that they who are raised to
" the pontifical dignity may be properly addressed in terms
" of admonition and exhortation. 1 ' 1 Proceeding in pursuance
of this principle to enumerate the good qualities which
ought to confer lustre on the pontifical throne, he reminded
the father of the faithful, that it was incumbent upon him
to be just, merciful, beneficent, courteous, and humble.
He warned him to beware of sycophants and deceitful
detractors, who frequently betray the best of princes into
dangerous errors ; and finally, he exhorted him never to
sell for money those honours and sources of emolument
which ought to be appropriated as the meed of virtue.
Having enlarged as much as prudence would permit upon
the head of admonition, Poggio thus skilfully introduced
an eulogium on the virtues of his patron. " But in this

3 E

394 CHAP. x.

" address, most holy father ! I labour under peculiar
ft difficulties ; for my knowledge of your singular and
" transcendent virtues deprives me of the most copious
" subjects of discourse. For what room is there for the
" administration of exhortation or admonition to you, who
" are entitled by your wisdom to admonish others ?" After
a long detail of the good qualities of the pontiff, the orator
thus proceeded. " I may justly, and without imputation
" of flattery, call upon you to imitate yourself to remein-
" ber by what arts and by what practices you have reached
" this high dignity, and to persevere in that line of conduct
" which has led you to the attainment of such illustrious

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 26 of 31)