William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

. (page 27 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 27 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" honours. Let me also entreat you, most holy father,
" not to forget your ancient friends, of which number I
" profess myself to be one. You well know that friendship
" originates in a similarity of studies, and in the joint
" cultivation of virtuous principles. Though the attain-
" ment of high authority by one of the parties is wont to
" separate those who have been united by the bonds of
" mutual affection, yet he ought more especially to retain
" his kind regard for his former associates, who does not
" seek for friends amongst those who can promote his
" interests, but amongst the virtuous. Forget not then
" to minister to the necessities of your ancient companions.
" Become the protector of men of genius, and cause the
" liberal arts to raise their drooping heads. You see that
" literature is neglected, whilst men apply themselves to
" those studies which convert strife into f a source of gain.
" Small is the number of those who are inspired with the
" love of science, and in an age in which ambition and

CHAP. x. 395

" wealth are more highly esteemed than virtue and probity,
" they are regarded as inglorious and ignoble. From you
" alone, most holy father, we expect a remedy for these
" evils for you alone is reserved the honour of restoring
" the dignity of literature, and of providing for the welfare
'* of the learned." After a brief enumeration of the
advantages which would accrue to the pontiff from his
encouragement of men of letters, Poggio adverted to his
own situation and circumstances in the following terms.
" I am now a veteran soldier of the Roman court, in which
" I have resided for the space of forty years, and certainly
" with less emolument than might have been justly expect-
" ed by one who is not entirely destitute of virtue and
" of learning. It is now time for me to be discharged
" from the service, and to dedicate the remainder of my
" old age to bodily rest and to mental employment. But
" if, most holy father, I do not obtain the means of an
" honourable retirement from your benevolence, I know
" not to whose favour and assistance I can lay a claim. 11 *

So far was Nicolas V. from being offended by the
freedom with which Poggio in this oration reminded him
of his duty, that he testified his esteem for his monitor by
conferring upon him very liberal presents. So noble indeed
was the munificence of the pontiff, that Poggio declared,
that in consequence of the generosity of this enlightened
Maecenas, he regarded himself as at length reconciled to

* Poggii Opera, p- 28729'.?.

396 CHAP. x.

fortune. * The genial warmth of the sunshine of pros-
perity did not, however, cause Poggio to relax in his
mental exertions. On the contrary, the prospect of ho-
nour and profit, and the spirit of emulation excited by the
success of his learned competitors, stimulated him, not-
withstanding the advanced period of life to which he had
now attained, to pursue his studies with renewed assi-
duity. He had for a long space of time been occasionally
employed in collecting materials for a Dialogue On the
Vicissitudes of Fortune. These materials he now began
to arrange, and having finished and carefully corrected
his work, he submitted it to the public inspection, [A.D.
1447.J under the patronage of the pontiff, to whom he
respectfully inscribed it by a dedicatory epistle. In this
address he descanted on the utility of history, and pointed
out the moral tendency of his Dialogue, which, by demon-
strating the instability of human things, would repress the
confidence of pride and the aspiring views of ambition.
He remarked, that the subject of the work which he now
presented to his patron was nearly allied to that of the
Dialogue On the Unhappiness of Princes, which he had
formerly dedicated to him, and that it consequently had
a peculiar claim to his protection. He moreover reminded
his illustrious friend, that though in his ecclesiastical capa-
city he might be regarded as beyond the reach of misfortune,
yet as the sovereigns of the temporal dominions of the
church, the pontiffs themselves are not exempted from the

* " Optimi sanctissimiquc viri Nicolai quinti sumnii pontificis beneficentia
" id effecit, ut jam querelae temporum sint prsetereundae, utque in gratiam
" aliquando cum fortua videar rediisse." Poffffii Opera, p. 32.

CHAP. x. 397

common lot of mortality ; and expressed his persuasion,
that by becoming acquainted with the distresses of his pre-
decessors, he would learn the salutary lesson of caution.*

The opening of the Dialogue On the Vicissitudes of
Fortune is singularly grand and interesting. It exhibits
Poggio and his confidential associate, Antonio Lusco,
fatigued by the inspection of the remains of Roman mag-
nificence, reposing themselves amidst the venerable ruins of
the capitol, which building commands a prospect of almost
the whole extent of the city. After Antonio has gazed for
a few minutes upon the waste of years, he exclaims with
a sigh, " How unlike, Poggio ! is this capitol to that which
" Maro sung, as

" Chang'd from horrid thorn to glittering gold."
" The gold has now disappeared, and thorns and briers
" resume their reign- When I consider our present situ-
" ation, I cannot but remember how Caius Marius, the
" pillar of the Roman republic, when he was banished
" from his country, landed in Africa, and seated himself
" amidst the ruins of Carthage, where he meditated upon
" the fate of that city, and could not determine whether
" he himself or the rival of Rome afforded a more strik-
' ing spectacle of the instability of human things. But
" with respect to the devastation of Rome, there is no-
" thing to which it can be compared. The calamity
" which has befallen the mistress of the world exceeds
" in magnitude every misfortune recorded in the annals

* Poggii Hist, de Variet. Fort. p. 1, 2,3.

398 CHAP. x.

" of history. It is a truly lamentable circumstance, that
" this city, which formerly produced so many illustrious
" heroes and commanders, the parent of such signal vir-
" tues, the nurse of arts, the inventress of military dis-
" cipline, the pattern of sanctity, the establisher of laws,
" the protectress of good morals, the queen of the nations,
te should now, by the injustice of fortune, not only be
" stripped of her dignity, but should also be doomed to
" the most wretched servitude , and should become so
" deformed and abject, as to exhibit no traces of her former
" grandeur, except what are to be found in her ruins."*
These observations lead Poggio to remark, how wonderfully
few are the vestiges of ancient art which remain in the
extensive precincts of Rome. Of these vestiges he gives a
complete and interesting catalogue, which affords a very
minute account of the appearance of the ruins of Rome in
the fifteenth century. At the close of this enumeration,
Lusco resumes his reflections on the mutability of Fortune,
on which Poggio inquires of his friend what he means by
that term. In answer to this question, Lusco gives the
Aristotelian definition of Fortune, describing it as an acci-
dental cause, and says, that those circumstances happen
by Fortune which happen to man contrary to his design and
intention. To this definition he observes that Aquinas
accedes. Poggio, remarking that we speak of the good
fortune of Alexander or Csesar, though they laid plans to
accomplish what they effected, objects to the foregoing
definition, in the place of which Antonio substitutes

* Poggii Hist, de Variet. Fort. 6, 7.

CHAP. x. 399

another, which attributes events that are commonly esteemed
fortuitous to the over-ruling providence of God. After this
preliminary conversation, Poggio proceeds briefly to recount
some ancient examples of the mutability of fortune, and then
describes the astonishing success of the arms of Tamerlane,
and the calamities of Bajazet. He then requests Antonio
to detail some of the more modern instances of a calamitous
reverse of circumstances. With this request Lusco complies,
and the instances which he recounts occupy the whole of
the second book of the Dialogue, in which various changes
which had taken place in different parts of Europe, and
particularly in Italy, from the year 1377 to the period of the
death of Martin V. are narrated with great perspicuity and
elegance. The third book comprises an entertaining epi-
tome of the history of Italy during the pontificate of
Eugenius IV. The fourth book is not strictly relevant to
the subject of this dialogue, and ought to be considered as
a separate and detached composition- It contains an
account of Persia and India, which Poggio collected from
the narrative of Niccolo Conti, a Venetian, who in the
course of a peregrination of twenty-five years, had pene-
trated into the regions situated beyond the Ganges. This
bold adventurer having, during his residence in Arabia,
been obliged to abjure the Christian faith, immediately after
his return to Italy repaired to the pontifical court to solicit
from Eugenius IV. the remission of his sin of apostacy.
On this occasion Poggio procured from him an account of
his route, and of his observations on the manners, customs,
and natural history of the eastern nations. This account
he digested into a narrative, which will be found not a little

400 CHAP. X.

amusing by the modern inquirer, and must have excited an
extraordinary degree of attention at the time of its pub-

The Dialogue On the Vicissitudes of Fortune is the
most interesting of the works of Poggio. It inculcates
maxims of sublime philosophy, enforced by a detail of
splendid and striking events. The account which it con-
tains of the changes which took place in Italy at the end
of the fourteenth, and at the commencement of the fif-
teenth centuries, presents a succinct and clear view of the
politics of that period ; and the journey of the Venetian
traveller merits the attentive perusal of the curious inquirer
into the history of man-*

* Peggie's narrative of the discoveries made by Niccolo Conti was translated
into the Portuguese language, by the command of Emanuel I. king of Portugal.
From the Portuguese version, an Italian translation was made by Giambattista
Ramusio, who inserted it in the first volume of his collection of voyages and
travels, printed in folio at Venice, in the year 1588. A small portion of the
first hook of the dialogue De Varietate Fortuna, containing the description of
the ruins of Rome, is printed in the Basil edition of the works of Poggio. A
manuscript copy of the entire dialogue was discovered in the library of the
cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, nephew of pope Alexander VIII., by Lionardo Adami
da Bolsena. who began to prepare it for the. press. Lionardo having died before
he had finished the transcript of the first book, the execution of his design waa
completed by the Abate Domenico Giorgi da Rovigo, who finished the transcript
of the dialogue, illustrated it with notes, and subjoined to it fifty-seven of
Poggio's epistles, which had not yet seen the light. Under the superintendence
of the Abate Oliva, the work thus prepared was printed at Paris, in 4to., an.
1723, by Coustellier.

Zeno Diss. Voss. torn. i. p. 40. Domlnici Georgii Prtefatio ad Poggii
Hist, de Variet. Fort.

OHM'. X. 401

Soon after the publication of the Dialogue On the
Vicissitudes of Fortune, Poggio gave a striking proof of
the confidence with which he relied on the protection of the
pontiff, by publishing a Dialogue On Hypocrisy. The
astonishing boldness with which he lashes the follies and
vices of the clergy in this composition has been already
noticed. Had he ventured to advance the sentiments which
it contains in the days of Eugenius, he would in all pro-
bability have expiated his temerity by the forfeiture of his
life. The predecessor of Nicolas felt little veneration for
learning, and he united in his character the restlessness of
ambition, and the rigour of religious austerity. As the
manners of a court universally take their complexion from
those of the sovereign, the retinue of Eugenius was crowded
with ecclesiastics who assiduously endeavoured to rise to
preferment by assuming a sanctity of deportment which they
well knew to be the ready passport to the favour of the
pontiff. These men, who attempted to disguise their pride
under the garb of humility, and who, whilst they made a
public profession of excessive piety, secretly indulged them-
selves in the grossest debauchery, Poggio had long re-
garded with contempt and indignation ; and in his Dialogue
On Hypocrisy he attacked them with all the severity of
sarcastic wit. This dialogue he inscribed to one of his
friends, named Francesco Accolti, of Arezzo, a celebrated
lawyer, to whom he observed in his prefatory address,
that as he had formerly endeavoured to display the despic-
able nature of Avarice, he had lately undertaken to describe,
in its true colours, Hypocrisy, a vice of a much more odious
complexion. He also intimated to Francesco, that he -was

3 F

402 CHAP. X.

fully apprized, that by the publication of the work which
he then transmitted to him, he should give very great
offence ; but at the same time he sarcastically remarked, that
they who complained of the severity of his animadversions
would virtually acknowledge themselves guilty of the crime
which it was his intention to hold up to general reprobation.

In the introductory part of the dialogue we are in-
formed, that Poggio was accustomed to take frequent
journeys to Florence ; on which occasions his first visit was
generally paid to Carlo Aretino : that the last time he had
an opportunity of paying his respects to that eminent
scholar, he found him in his library engaged in reading
Plato's Politia ; and that after the customary interchange
of civilities, Carlo, inquiring into the state of the Roman
court, asked him whether it was as much frequented by
hypocrites as it formerly was, during the pontificate of
Eugenius. To this inquiry Poggio answered, that the
reign of hypocrites was come to an end. Carlo rejoicing
in this information, uttered a vehement philippic against
hypocrisy, which, he observed, was more severely reproved
by Jesus Christ than any other vice. Displaying its evil
consequences, he remarked, that hypocrisy tends to destroy
confidence between man and man, and to throw suspicion
on virtue itself.

After the detail of this conversation, Poggio intro-
duces as a third interlocutor, Jeronimo Aretino, Abbot
of Santa Fiore, an ecclesiastic of considerable learning
and of unblemished manners, who is represented as un-

CHAP. X. 403

expcctcdly pciying a visit to Carlo. On the arrival of
Jeronimo, Poggio observes, tliat as this respectable dig-
nitary had spent so large a portion of his days amongst
the clergy, he must be well qualified to detail the cha-
racteristics of hypocrisy. This task, however, Jeronimo
declines, as being an invidious one, and attended with
no small degree of danger. But at the solicitation of his
friends, and under the assurance of secrecy, he proceeds
to advert to the derivation of the word hypocrite, which
he defines as a term used to express the idea of a man
who, for the promotion of some evil purpose, pretends
to be what he is not. This definition he observes, in-
cludes not merely pretenders to extraordinary sanctity,
but impostors of every species. Carlo, however, wishes
to limit the meaning of the term to religious deceivers,
whom he thus describes. " They who assume the appear-
*' ance of uncommon sanctimoniousness who walk the
" street with squalid countenances, in thread-bare garments,
*' and with naked feet who affect to despise money
" who are continually talking about Jesus Christ who
" wish to be esteemed virtuous, whilst their deeds do not
*' correspond with their outward appearance who se-
'* duce foolish women who quit their cloisters, and tra-
" vel up and down the country in quest of fame who
" make an ostentatious display of abstinence who de-
" ceive and defraud these men, I think may be justly
" denominated hypocrites." After this description of the
character of a hypocrite, Poggio proposes the question,
whether men who are thus guilty of imposture are not
less dangerous to society than those who openly profess to



despise the obligations of morality ; since whatever vices
hypocrites may privately practise, they inculcate upon
others the principles of virtue, and endeavour to palliate
their very crimes by attributing the commission of them
to good motives. This last remark gives Carlo occasion
to detail several scandalous anecdotes of certain ecclesi-
astics, who, under the cloak of religious austerity, had in-
dulged themselves in the most abominable gratification of
their appetites. In the sequel of his speech, Carlo utters
an eloquent invective against the ambition of the clergy
who then frequented the Roman court. Poggio, concur-
ring wjth him in sentiment, attacks the popular preachers of
that time. He next animadverts upon the begging friars,
the confessors, and the ecclesiastics \vho pretend to an
extraordinary degree of temperance and maceration of the
flesh. In speaking of this last description of hypocrites,
he relates an anecdote of an Augustine friar, who under-
took to subsist for eight days upon the holy wafer used in
the Eucharist, and who actually quitted his cell at the
end of the prescribed term in perfectly good health, and
without the least diminution of his corpulency. This
impostor gained great celebrity by his apparently miracu-
lous abstinence ; but after the lapse of some years it was
discovered, that in spite of the vigilance of his guards, he
had conveyed into his apartment a quantity of bread sa-
turated with wine, which he had injected into his large
leathern girdle, and that he had moreover provided him-
self with candles composed of sugar, slightly coated over
with wax, which afforded him a plentiful supply of nou-
rishment. When Poggio has finished his remarks, Carlo


attacks the Fratres Observantiee ; and the remainder of
the dialogue is occupied by strictures on the character and
conduct of several individuals, who. during the time of
Poggio's residence in the Roman court, had distinguished
themselves by the gravity of their demeanour, and by the
sanctity of their religious profession.*

The talent of sarcastic wit which Poggio displayed
in this dialogue, and in his invectives against Francesco
Filelfo, in all probability caused Nicolas V. to delegate
to him the task of drawing up a philippic against Amedaeus
of Savoy, who, under the title of Felix, persisted in
claiming the honours of the pontificate. On the death of
Eugenius, this antipope had endeavoured, by proceeding
to the election of cardinals, and by the mission of embas-
sadors to several of the Christian powers, to vindicate his
rights, as the only legitimate successor of St. Peter. (
Nicolas, naturally watching the conduct of his competitor
with a jealous eye, not only aimed at his devoted head the
thunders of the church, but threatened to deprive him of
the sovereignty of Savoy, which he destined as the reward
of Charles, king of France, whom he solicited to assist
him in the subjugation of the pertinacious schismatic.*

* Fasciculus Rer. Expel, el Fugiend. lorn. ii. p. 570583. An edition of
Leonardo Aretino and Poggio's dialogues on Hypocrisy was published by
Hieronymus Sincerus Lotharingus, ex typograghia Anissoni&, Lugduni, 1679,
IM 16 mo.

f- Poffffii Opera, p. 159.

J Muralori Annali, ioni. ix. p. 417.

408 CHAP. x.

Eagerly taking up the quarrel of his master, Poggio attack,
ed the offender in a long invective. A few extracts from
this composition will demonstrate, that in the impartiality
of his acrimony, he did not treat the ducal hermit of
Ripaille with more lenity than he had shewn to the humble
professor of rhetoric.

In his exordium he says, " I cannot suppress the grief
" which I feel when I see another Cerberus, whom we
" thought to have been lulled asleep, newly roused from the
" infernal regions to the disturbance of religion, and the
** destruction of the church. For what true believer is
" not deeply affected with sorrow, when he beholds a
" rapacious wolf, who was formerly fed on the blood of the
" faithful, now putting on the semblance of a lamb, for
" the purpose of invading, under the guise of humility,
" the peace of the church, which he has in vain attacked
" by open violence. Who is there that does not lament
" that a golden calf, set up by an assembly of abandoned
" men, to the disgrace of the faith, in contempt of Christ
" and his doctrine, should, under the pretence of peace,
" endeavour by his envoys and letters to pervert the minds
" of faithful and upright princes from the true belief?
" Who would not call upon God to punish such hypocrisy,
"such villany, such baseness? Who would not detest
" the perverter of the faith, the enemy of religion, the
" author of schism, the high-priest of malignity ? This
" is the issue of his affected sanctity of manners, his
" relinquishment of the world, his solitary retirement, in
" which he pretended to dedicate himself to the service


" of God for the purpose of shamefully demonstrating his
" infidelity; in which he arrayed himself in humble apparel,
" in order that he might afterwards, like a roaring lion seek-
" ing whom he might devour, destroy all religion, excite
" a schism, and rend the unseamed garment of Christ."

Having thus put in a railing accusation against Ame-
doeus, Poggio proceeded to utter a philippic against the
members of the council of Basil, who had attempted to raise
him to the pontificate. " I wonder," says he, " that any
" one is so void of understanding as to believe, that any
" thing good could proceed from that sink of iniquity,
" the synagogue of Basil. Is there any one so foolish as
" to imagine, that this conventicle of reprobates could pro-
" -duce any thing but a monstrous birth, or that it has any
" authority to ordain the meanest priest, much less to
" create a pontiff, except the authority which it may have
" derived from the devil and his followers ? For who,"
says he, " is ignorant of the character of that tumultuary
" band of most debauched men ? Who does not know
" what sort of people, how nefarious, how abandoned,
" how wicked, were assembled in that sink of iniquity ?
" apostates, fornicators, ravishers, deserters, men convicted
(t of the most shameful crimes, blasphemers, rebels against
" God and their superiors."

From such an assembly as this, Poggio observed, that
nothing salutary could proceed, since a bad tree can never
bring forth wholesome fruit. After ridiculing the steps
which Amedseus had taken to establish his authority, and

408 CHAP. X.

charging him with endeavouring to promote his own interest
by the arts of corruption, he reminded him that he was
now deserted by the few partizans who had formerly espoused
his cause, and that all the princes of Christendom had
declared themselves in favour of Nicolas. " Since this is
*' the case," continued he, " what have you left but empty
"hopes? Why then do you trouble kings and princes?
" why do you continue to weary their ears, and to tempt
" them by your evil practices ? why do you call all people
" your sons, when nobody acknowledges you as a father ?
" Awake from your long slumber, and consider that you
" were once a Christian. Return to that Saviour whom
' you have renounced. Peter, the chief of the apostles,
" once denied his Lord, and obtained pardon by a con-
" fession of his crime. Imitate his contrition, and acknow-
" ledge that you have sinned against the Lord. No longer
" wish to deceive yourself or the people of Christ. Confess
" that you are what you are. Resume your ancient man-
u ners and your former life : enter upon a train of thought
" worthy of a good man : return into favour with God,
" and gain the good will of men : cast off the burthen of
" conscience which must of necessity weigh heavy upon you
" day and night : begin to be wise in your old age : lay
" aside foreign ornaments, and divest yourself with a good
" grace of the honours which you have so basely seized :
" consult for your reputation, your honour, and the dignity
" of your hoary hairs. Consider for a moment what men
" say and think of you. All the world execrates the
" schism, and you the sower and instigator of it. Wash
" away then this stain, this disgrace to your family. Suffer

CHAP. X. 400

*' not posterity to abhor you as the origin of strife. If you
" contemn the judgment of men, if you despise infamy,

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 27 of 31)