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zeller, 1481, in 4/0.

7. Ejusdem, Facetiae cum LaureiUii ValUe facetiis moralibus et Fran-
cisci Petrarchae de Salibus viror. illus. ac facetiis libra, Paris, absque anni
et typography nomine sed circa, annum 1477, aut saltern 1478, excusa, 4/o.

422 CHAP. X.

This is by no means a surprising circumstance. Wit and
humour possess almost irresistible charms. The idle and
the dissipated are pleased with a sally of hilarity, which
gives a stimulus to their fancy ; and they who are habitu-
ated to study, or who are fatigued by the more weighty
concerns of life, are happy to enjoy an opportunity of
occasional relaxation. As a vehicle of sentiment, a book
may be considered as the representative of its author ; and
in a world of anxiety and trouble, he who is endued with
the happy talent of causing the wrinkle of care to give place
to the pleasing convulsion of mirth, will find few circles of
society in which he is not a welcome guest.

In the Facetiae Poggio aimed a most mischievous
tlirust at his old antagonist, Filelfo, by making him the hero
of a tale, the ridiculous oddity of which disturbs the steady
countenance of gravity itself, and causes the strictest
severity for a moment to smile at the indelicacy which it

8. Poggii Facetia, 1498, in 4to. sine loci aut typographi nomine. This
edition is not mentioned by De Bure, who closes his list with noticing the
following translations.

Les Faceties de Pogge translates de Latin en Francois. Paris, Bonfons,
1549, 4 to.

Les Comptes facetieux et joyeuses recreations du Page Florentin, trad,
du Latin en Franfois. Paris, Cousturier, 1605, in 16mo.

A neat and correct Latin edition of the Facetiae in two small pocket volumes
was published by a French emigrant in the year 1798. Of this edition the
following is the title.

Poggii Floreniini Facetiarum Libellus Unicus notulis Imitatores indi-
cantibus et nonnullis sive Lalinis, sive Gallicis Imitationibus illustralus,
simul ad fidem optimarum edilionum emendalus. Mileti, 1798.

CHAP. x.

condemns.* The war between these redoubted champions
was carried on till the year 1453, when they were reconciled
by the interposition of their common friend, Pietro Tom-

During Poggio's temporary residence at Terranuova,
he was one day visited by Benedetto Aretino, a civilian
of distinguished reputation ; by Niccolo di Foligni, a
physician of considerable eminence ;+ and by Carlo Aretino,
the chancellor of the Florentine republic. These guests
Poggio hospitably entertained in his villa; and from the
conversation which occurred after their repast, he col-
lected materials for a work which he dedicated, in the
year 1451, under the title of Historia disceptativa con-
vivialis, to the cardinal Prospero Colonna. This work
consists of three parts, the subject of the first of which is
not a little whimsical, namely Whether the master of a
feast ought to thank his guests for the honour of their
company, or whether the guests should express their gra-
titude to their host for his hospitality. The discussion of
this singular question does not afford any thing very inter-
esting. The second part contains the detail of a dispute
which took place between Niccolo di Foligni and Bene-
detto Aretino, on the comparative dignity of their re-
spective professions. Niccolo, pleading on behalf of the

Visio Francisci PhUelphi apud Poggii Opera, p. 456.
f Tonelli, vol. ii. p. 122, 123.

An eulogium of Cosmo de' Medici, written by Niccolo of Folipni, is prc-
erved in the Laurentian library. Afehi Vila Amb. Trav. torn. i. p. Ixxiii.

424 CHAP. X.

healing art, observes, that if antiquity can confer honour,
the practice of medicine existed in times so remote, that
its first professors are enrolled amongst the number of the
Gods. He also maintains, that the medical profession must
needs be more honourable than the profession of law,
since the doctrines of medicine are built upon the princi-
ples of science, whilst the maxims of law depend upon
caprice ; and that of course physicians are obliged to
qualify themselves for the discharge of their duty by
diligent researches into the fixed and established course of
nature ; whilst those who are esteemed learned in the law
confine their researches to their professional books. With
regard to the civil law in particular, he reminds Benedetto,
that there are few states which are regulated by its dictates ;
whereas the inhabitants of almost all the nations in the
world pay homage to the professors of the healing art, by
having recourse to their assistance. Niccolo having finished
his arguments, Benedetto undertakes the defence of legal
studies, and asserts the high antiquity of laws, which he
maintains must have existed before the practice of medicine,
since medicine could not have been reduced to a science
before the assemblage of men in civil communities, which
are held together by the bonds of law. He also maintains
the dignity of laws, as being the conclusions of reason,
and the support of society. Niccolo, in reply, denies that
the civil law is the result of the conclusions of reason, and
vilifies it as a crude collection of regulations, adopted to
suit the exigencies of the moment, without any reference
to natural law, which civilians do not study as a mass of
opinions and not a collection of truths. Impeaching the

t JIAP. x. 425

general character of the professors of law, he accuses them
of an inordinate thirst for gain, which leads them to nourish
strife, to prolong discord by the tediousness of legal
proceedings, and to pride themselves on their success in
patronizing a bad cause. Benedetto, roused by these
pointed reflections, observes, that it ill becomes a physician
to treat with severity the characters of the professors of
law ; " for," says he, " what is more notorious than the
" folly of many of your brethren, who kill more than
" they cure, and build their art upon experiments made
" at the risk of their wretched patients ? The errors of
" lawyers are of trivial consequence, in comparison with
" those of physicians. Our unskilfulness empties the
" purses of our clients, but your mistakes endanger the
" lives of those who employ you. We cause somebody
*' to be the gainer, whilst you both rob a man of his life,
" and defraud his surviving relations of the amount of your
" fees. Whilst we may possibly occasion the loss of a legacy,
"or an inheritance, you disturb the peace of nations by
" slaying kings and princes. And let me ask, what dignity
*' is there in your profession ? You are called in to visit a
" patient you examine his natural discharges, M'rinkle
" your brows, and assume a countenance of uncommon
" gravity, in order to persuade the bye-standers, that he
"is in a very critical situation. Then you feel his pulse,
" in order to ascertain the powers of nature. After this
" you hold a consultation, and write your prescription, in
" the composition of which you are not guided by any
" fixed rules, as is plain from the different receipts which
*' are in the same case recommended by different practi-

3 i

436 CHAP. X.

" tioners. If your potion happen by chance to be followed
" by good symptoms, you extol the cure as a marvellous effect
" of art ; but if it does any mischief, all the blame is laid
" on the poor patient. I will relate to you a curious
" circumstance which happened to one Angelo, a bishop
" of Arezzo. This ecclesiastic being afflicted by a very
" dangerous disorder, was told by his physicians, that if
" he would not take the potions which they prescribed, he
" would run the risk of losing his life. He for some time
" positively refused to take their nauseous draughts, but
tc was at length persuaded by his friends to conform to the
tf instructions of his doctors. The physicians then sent him
" a number of phials, all of which he emptied into a certain
" utensil, which was deposited under his bed. In the morn-
" ing the physicians paid him another visit, and finding him
" almost free from his fever, intimated to him, that they
" hoped he was convinced of his folly in having so long
ff refused to follow their prescriptions. To this remark he
" replied the effect of your medicines is indeed mar-
(f vellous, for by merely putting them under my bed I
" have recovered my health. If I had swallowed them, no
" doubt I should have become immortal. 1 "* After the nar-
ration of this anecdote, Benedetto proceeds to enlarge upon
the utility of laws, which he maintains to have been the
foundation of the dignity of states and empires. This posi-
tion is denied by Niccolo, who asserts, that the dominions
of monarchs and republics have constantly been extended

* The reader of Joe Miller will remember that this story has, in its descent
to modern times, received divers improvements.

CHAP. X. 427

Jby power, which is so incompatible witli law, that the power-
ful and mighty universally despise all legal obligations, which
are binding only on the poor and humble.

In the third part of the Historia disceptativa convi-
vialis Poggio discusses the question, whether the Latin
language was universally spoken by the Romans, or whether
the learned made use of a language different from that of
the vulgar. Poggio maintains, in opposition to the opinion
of his deceased friend, Leonardo Aretino,* and others, that
the language used by the well-educated Romans was the
vernacular language of their country, and that it differed
from that of the lower classes in no other respect, than as
the language of the well-educated in every country is more
elegant and polished than that of the inferior orders of the
community. In defence of his opinion, he quotes a con-
siderable number of curious passages from the Roman
historians and rhetoricians, which clearly prove his point,
and evince his profound acquaintance with Latin literature.

.f? -.-ntt-

The discussion of the comparative dignity of the pro-
fessions of medicine and civil law naturally led to satirical
remarks on the part of the respective interlocutors, on the
abuse of those two branches of science ; and the perusal of
this dialogue will serve to shew that its author was fully
competent to expose the pompous ignorances of empirics,
and to display the detriment which arises to society from

* See a long and elaborate letter of Leonardo's on this subject in the collec-
tion of epistles published by Menus, Lib. vi. ep. x.

428 CHAP. X.

those most mischievous of knaves, the unprincipled prac-
titioners of the law. It must also be allowed, that the enu-
meration which Benedetto Aretino and Niccolo di Foglini
set forth of the merits of their respective professions,
forcibly inculcates the benefits which accrue to mankind
from the study of medicine and of jurisprudence, and the
true principles upon which those studies ought to be con-
ducted.* The following letter, which Poggio addressed to
his friend Benedetto, in the year 1436, demonstrates, that
the result of his serious meditations had convinced him that
*%. legal practice was not only compatible with moral rectitude,
but was most likely to be productive of gain when regulated
by the dictates of integrity.


" I have been highly gratified, my dear Benedetto, by
" your kind letter ; and I cannot but admire the versatility

^ ^ff r^f. *

fl of your genius, who have united to the most profound
"knowledge of the civil law, an s elegance and grace of
'* expression, which entitles you, in my opinion, to as high
" a rank in the school of rhetoric, as you hold among the
" professors of the science of jurisprudence. It is indeed a
" proof of an extraordinary capacity, and of a wonderful
" proficiency in letters, to have successfully cultivated two
" departments of knowledge, the cultivation of each of

* It appears from the introduction to the second part of the Hisloria dis-
cept. conviv. ( Poggii Opera, p. 37 ) that Poggio wrote two treatises, the
one in commendation of the art of medicine, and the other in praise of the
science of law. A MS. copy of the treatise in laudemlegum is preserved in
the Laurentian library. Bandini Cataloyus, torn. ii. p. 408.


" which is attended with no small degree of difficulty.
" The acquisition of the knowledge of the civil law is a
" work of immense labour, on account of the discordance
" of sentiments which occurs amongst those who have
" treated upon this subject, but still more on account of the
" almost endless volumes written by commentators, which
" distract the minds of their readers by the difference of
" opinions which they contain, and weary them by the
" prolixity of their style. Far from imbibing the neatness
" and elegance of the old lawyers, these commentators, by
" their perplexity and minute distinctions, shut up the
" road to truth. The difficulty of attaining the graces of
" eloquence is evinced by the fact, that in all ages truly
" eloquent writers are very few in number. When therefore
" I see you endowed with both these accomplishments, I
" congratulate you on your having bestowed your labour on
" pursuits which will confer upon you both honour and
" emolument. For your knowledge of the law will bestow
" upon you riches, which are the necessary support of
" human life ; and the study of polite letters will be highly
" ornamental to you, and will tend to improve and display
" to the best advantage your legal talents.

" I would wish you to avoid the common error of
" too many legal practitioners, who, for the sake of
" money, wrest the law to the purposes of injustice.
** It has, indeed, always happened, that the bad have been
" more in number than the good, and the old proverb
" justly says, that excellence is of rare occurrence. Almost
" all law students, when they enter upon their profession, are



a stimulated by a love of gain ; and by making gain the

" object of their unremitted pursuit, they acquire a habit

" of appreciating the merits of a cause, not according to

" the rules of equity, but according to the probability of

" profit. When there is no prospect of emolument, justice

" is disregarded, and the richer client is considered as having

" the better cause. As many tradesmen imagine, that they

" can make no profit without telling falsehoods in commen-

" dation of their commodities, so the generality of men

" learned in the law think they shall never prosper in the

" world if they scruple to subvert justice by perjury, and

" equity by sophisms. Acting on these principles, they do

" not endeavour to investigate the true nature of a cause,

" but at all hazards try to promote the views of the party

" who engages their services by a fee. But I am persuaded

" that you, who are by your excellent disposition instigated

" no less by a love of virtue than by a passion for literature,

" will act upon different principles, and will esteem nothing

" lawful which is dishonourable. I would not, however, tie

" you down by the strictness of that philosophy which,

" making happiness to consist in virtue alone, inculcates a

" contempt for worldly emoluments ; for those who enter

tf upon civil life will find the want of many comforts. In-

" deed there have been more lovers than despisers of riches

" amongst philosophers themselves ; and the advice of those

" who exhort us quietly to submit to poverty is rather to

" be praised than followed ; for it is truly melancholy to

" depend upon the assistance of others. But you have no

" reason to fear that by being honest you will become poor.

" On the contrary, by acting up to the principles of in-

CHAP. X. 431

" tegrity, you will surpass others in wealth as well as in
" dignity. It will in the end be found much more profitable
" to have the reputation of honesty and justice, than that
" of skilfulness and craft. Virtue is valued even by the
" vicious, and extorts commendation from those who are
" unwilling to obey her precepts. It is impossible, in the
" nature of things, that he who has established a reputa-
" tion for uprightness should not excel others in honour, in
" authority, and in emoluments. I would wish you, there-
" fore, in the first place, to persevere in the practice of
" virtue, then to apply yourself with all diligence to the
" study of the law, and lastly, to add to these accomplish-
" ments the graces of polite learning. If you adopt this
" plan, you will not be doomed to struggle against the in-
" conveniences of an humble station, but you will rise
" through the intermediate degrees of dignity to the highest
" stations of honour." *

* Poffgii Epistolae Ivii. episl. xlvii.


DEATH of Carlo Aretino Poggio is chosen chancellor
of the Florentine republic, and one of the Priori dcgli
arti War between the Florentines and the king of
Naples Peace of Lodi Death of Nicolas V. Quar-
rel between Poggio and Lorenzo Valla Poggio 's dia-
logue de Miseria humance conditionis Murder of
Angelotto, cardinal of St. Mark Poggio' s translation
of Lucian's Ass His history of Florence His
death His character Brief account of his children.

3 K


v/N the twenty-fourth of April, 1453, a vacancy, was
occasioned in the chancellorship of the Tuscan republic,
by the death of Carlo Aretino.* In this conjuncture the
long established literary reputation of Poggio, and the
predominant interest of the house of Medici, concurred,
without any canvassing or intriguing on his part, in direct-
ing to him the choice of his fellow-citizens, and he was
elected to the office which had been in succession so ably
filled by two of his most intimate friends. The prospect
of the distinguished honours which awaited him in his
native province did not, however, so entirely occupy his
mind, as to render him insensible of the sacrifice which
he made in quitting the Roman chancery, in which he had
held situations of confidence and dignity for the space of
fifty-one years. His heart was depressed with sorrow when
he bade farewell to the pontiff, from whose kindness he
had uniformly experienced the most friendly indulgence.
Amongst the associates of his literary and official labours,
there were moreover some chosen companions of his hours
of relaxation, whose pleasing converse he could not forego

* Tiraboschi Storia della Letter. Hal. torn. vi. part 2d, p. 329.

CHAP. xi.

without yielding to the emotions of grief. But in Florence
also he had been from his early years accustomed to enjoy
the pleasures of friendship ; and the sentiments of patriot-
ism concurred with the voice of ambition in prompting
him to obey the call of his country. In addition to these
motives, he was prompted to accept this lucrative employ-
ment by a sense of the duty which he owed to his family,
for whose welfare, as he himself says, he deemed himself
bound to sacrifice his own ease and liberty. He therefore
quitted the city of Rome in the month of June, 1453 ;
and having removed his family to the Tuscan capital, where
he was received with a welcome which he compares to that
experienced by Cicero on his return from exile, he applied
himself with his wonted diligence to the duties of his new

He had not long resided in Florence before he
received an additional testimony of the esteem of his fellow-
citizens, in being elected into the number of the Priori
degli arti* or presidents of the trading companies, the
establishment of which was happily calculated to secure the
preservation of good order, and to defend from infringe-
ment the political privileges of the pcople.-f-

On his arrival in Florence, Poggio found his country-

* See Ton. Tr. torn ii. p. 138.

t Recanati Vita Poggii, p. xvii xix. The trading companies of Florence
seem to have hecn constituted in tlie same manner as those into which the citizens
of Londou are at this day subdivided.



men involved in the embarrassments and distresses incident
to a state of war. Soon after Francesco Sforza had made
himself master of the city of Milan, he had been attacked
by the united forces of the Venetians and the king of
Naples. The Florentines being invited to join in the
alliance against him, had, at the instance of Cosmo
de 1 Medici, not only refused to take any share in the
confederacy, but had sent a body of troops to his assistance.
Irritated by this conduct, the Venetians and the Neapo-
litan king expelled from their respective dominions all the
Tuscans who happened to reside there for the purposes of
commerce. This insult was the forerunner of hostilities,
which were commenced in the year 1451 by the king of
Naples, who sent his son Fcrdinando, at the head of an
army of twelve thousand men, to invade the Tuscan terri-
tories. The Neapolitan forces made themselves masters
of a few unimportant towns, but they were prevented by
the vigilance of their adversaries from gaining any signal
or permanent advantage. The war was for some time
carried on in a languid manner, till the Florentines and
the duke of Milan having procured the assistance of
Charles VII., king of France, the Venetians, after sus-
taining great reverses of fortune, were inclined to an
accommodation ; and without the concurrence of the king
of Naples, they entered into a negotiation with their
enemies, which was happily terminated at Lodi on the
ninth of April, 1454, by the signature of a treaty of peace.
Alfonso was greatly irritated by the defection of his allies,
and for some time obstinately persisted in refusing to
listen to pacific overtures. But on the twenty-sixth of

438 CHAP. xi.

January, 1455, he was persuaded to accede to the treaty of
Lodi by the earnest solicitation of Nicolas V.*

The intelligence of this happy event diffused a beam
of cheerfulness over the latter days of that benevolent
pontiff, who had for a long space of time struggled with
a complication of painful disorders. In the midst of his
sufferings, however, he did not remit his endeavours to
promote the welfare of Christendom. He was busily
employed in making preparations to send succour to the
Greeks, who were sinking beneath the power of the Turks,
when he terminated his career of glory on the 24th of
March, 1455.f

Nicolas V. was one of the brightest ornaments of the
pontifical throne. In the exercise of authority over the
ecclesiastical dominions he exhibited a happy union of the
virtues of gentleness and firmness. Purely disinterested
in his views, he did not lavish upon his relatives the wealth
which the prudent administration of his finances poured
into his coffers ; but appropriated the revenues of the

* Muratori Annal'i, lorn. ix. p. 456.

f- Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 456. It may be mentioned as a striking
instance of the liberty which was granted by personages of the most exalted
eminence to scholars of celebrity in the fifteenth century, that Poggio at various
times addressed letters to his patron, cardinal Beaufort, to prince John Corrinus,
Waiwode of Hungary, to the duke of Viseo, brother to Edward, king of Portu-
gal, and also to Alfonso, king of Naples, exhorting them to active exertions
against the Turks, who at this time threatened to overrun some of the finest
countries of Europe. These letters still exist in the Riccardi MS. Ton. Tr.
torn. ii. p. 140.

CHAP. xi. 439

church to the promotion of its dignity. The gorgeous
solemnity which graced his performance of religious rites
evinced his attention to decorum and the grandeur of his taste.
In the superb edifices which were erected under his auspices,
the admiring spectator beheld the revival of ancient magnifi-
cence. As the founder of the Vatican library he claims the
homage of the lovers of classic literature. His court was
the resort of the learned, who found in him a discriminating
patron, and a generous benefactor. It was the subject of
general regret, that the brief term of his pontificate pre-
vented the maturing of the mighty plans which he had
conceived for the encouragement of the liberal arts. When
his lifeless remains were consigned to the grave, the friends
of peace lamented the premature fate of a pontiff, who had
assiduously laboured to secure the tranquillity of Italy ; and
they who were sensible of the charms of enlightened piety
regretted the loss of a true father of the faithful, who
had dedicated his splendid talents to the promotion of the
temporal as well as the spiritual welfare of the Christian

Had Poggio by his intercourse with Nicolas V. im-
bibed a portion of the meekness of spirit which influenced
the conduct of that amiable patron of literature, he would
have provided for his present comfort and for his future

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 29 of 31)