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fame. But he unfortunately indulged, to the latest period of
his life, that bitterness of resentment, and that intem-
perance of language, which disgraced his strictures on
Francesco Filelfo. When he quitted the Roman chancery
he did not depart in peace with all his colleagues. At the

440 CHAP. XI.

time of his removal to Florence he was engaged in the
violence of literary hostility against the celebrated Lorenzo
Valla. In Lorenzo he had to contend with a champion of
no inferior fame a champion whose dexterity in contro-
versy had been increased by frequent exercise. This zealous
disputant was the son of a doctor of civil law, and was
born at Rome towards the end of the fourteenth century.*
He was educated in his native city, and when he had at-
tained the age of twenty-four years he offered himself as a
candidate for the office of apostolic secretary, which, as he
himself asserts, he was prevented from obtaining by the
intrigues of Poggio.^ Quitting Rome in consequence of
his disappointment, he repaired to Piacenza for the pur-
pose of receiving an inheritance which had devolved to him
on the recent death of his grandfather and his uncle.^
From Piacenza he removed to Pa via, in the university of
which city he for some time read lectures on rhetoric.
The history of the transactions in which he was engaged

* Tiraboschi Sloria delta letter. Hal. torn. vi. p. ii. p. 303. If credit may
be given to Valla's own assertion, his introduction into the world was announced
in a supernatural manner. He boasts in bis Antidotus, p. 191, that his mother
being ignorant that she was pregnant, was apprized of that circumstance by the
interposition of an oracle, which informed her that she would be brought to
bed of a son, and gave particular directions with respect to her offspring's name.
It might have been reasonably conjectured that this oracle was some experienced
matron ; but by the subsequent part of Valla's narration, it seems that the
important admonition in question proceeded from one of the saints.

f Valla Antidotus in Poffffium, p. 200.

^ Ibid, p. 201.

Valla; Antidotus in Poffffium, p. 201.

CHAP. XI. 441

immediately after his removal from Pavia is involved in
considerable obscurity. But it is clearly ascertained, that
about the year 1435 he was honoured by the patronage of
Alfonso, king of Naples, whom he appears to have accom-
panied in his warlike expeditions. Soon after the trans-
lation of the pontifical court from Florence to Rome in the
year 1443, Valla returned to his native city. His residence
in Rome was not, however, of long continuance. About
the time of the dissolution of the council of Florence, he
had written a treatise to prove the erroncousncss of the
commonly received opinion, that the city of Rome had
been presented to the sovereign pontiffs by the emperor
Constantine.* The officious malice of some fiery zealots
having apprized Eugenius IV. of the nature and object of
this treatise, the wrath of that pontiff was kindled against
its author, who, being obliged to fly from the rage of reli-
gious bigotry, took refuge in Naples, where he was kindly
received by his royal protector.

During his residence in Naples, Valla delivered public
lectures on eloquence, which were attended by crowded
audiences. But the imprudence of his zeal in the correc-
tion of vulgar errors in matters of theological belief again
involved him in dangers and difficulties. He appears to
have possessed that superiority of intellect above his con-
temporaries, which, when united to a warm temper and a
propensity to disputation, never fails to draw down upon

* This treatise is printed in the first volume of the Fasciculus Her. expel,

3 L

442 CHAP. XI.

the inquisitive the hatred of fanaticism. In the pride of
superior knowledge, he provoked the indignation of the
bishop of Majorca, by asserting that the pretended letter of
Christ to Abgarus was a forgery.* In aggravation of this
heresy, he had moreover derided the assertion of a preach-
ing friar, who had inculcated upon his audience the com-
monly received notion, that the formulary of faith, generally
known by the name of the apostles 1 creed, was the joint
composition of those first heralds of salvation.-}- The free-
dom with which he descanted upon these delicate topics of
dispute exposed him to the utmost peril. His enemies
publicly arraigned him before a spiritual tribunal, where he
underwent a strict examination ; and it is very probable,
that had not Alfonso interposed the royal authority on his
behalf, not even a recantation of his imputed errors would
have saved him from the severe punishment which the atro-
city of religious bigotry has allotted to those who deviate
from the narrow line of orthodox faith.J

Theology was not the only subject of investigation
which involved Valla in altercation and strife. Literary
jealousy kindled the flame of hostility between him and
Beccatelli, whom he attacked in a violent invective.
With Bartolomeo Facio also he maintained a controversy,

# VallcB Antidotus, p. 210.
f Ibid, p. 211.

See the account given of this transaction by Valla in his Antidotm, p. 218.
Poggio, towards the conclusion of his third invective, asserts, that A 'alia was on
this occasion subjected to the discipline of the scourge, and narrates the manner
and form of his punishment with great minuteness.

CHAP. xi. 443

in the course of which he manifested the utmost bitterness
of spirit.*

When Nicolas V. had ascended the papal throne,
Valla received from that liberally-minded pontiff an invi-
tation to fix his residence in Rome. He accordingly
repaired to the pontifical court, where he was honourably
received, arid employed in translating the Greek authors
into the Latin tongue.j- Soon after his arrival in Rome,
the following circumstance gave rise to the irreconcilable
enmity which took place between him and Poggio. A
Catalonian nobleman, a pupil of Valla, happened to be
possessed of a copy of Poggio's epistles. This book having
fallen into Poggio^s hands, he observed on its margin
several annotations, pointing out alleged barbarisms in his
style. Fired with indignation at this attack upon his
Latinity, and precipitately concluding that the author of
these criticisms could be no other than Valla himself, whose
Libri Elegantiarum Linguae Latinos had gained him the
reputation of an acute grammarian, he had immediate
recourse to his accustomed mode of revenge, and assailed
the supposed delinquent in a fierce invective. In this work

* Valla's invective against Beccatelli and Facio is divided into four books,
and occupies fifty-two pages of the edition of his works, published by Asccnsius
in folio, an. 1528.

f Valla triumphantly boasts, (Antidofus, p. 167 ) that Nicolas V. presented
to him with his own hand five hundred gold crowns as a remuneration for his
Latin version of Thucydides. This version was printed by Henry Stephens, in bis
edition of that author, in the preface to which he complains of Valla's inaccuracy
and inelegance of style. That this complaint is just, abundant proof may be
found in Stephens'* marginal corrections of Valla's translation.


he accused Valla of the most offensive arrogance, which, as
he asserted, was manifested in his animadversions on the
style of the best classic authors. Poggio then proceeded to
examine and to defend the passages which had been noted
with reprobation in the young Catalonian's copy of his
epistles. Collecting courage as he proceeded, he arraigned
at the bar of critical justice several forms of expression
which occur in Valla's Elegantice. Alluding to Valla's
transactions in the court of Naples, he impeached him of
heresy both in religion and philosophy, and concluded his
strictures by the sketch of a ridiculous triumphal procession,
which, as he asserted, would well befit the vanity and folly
of his antagonist.*

In the course of a little time after the publication of
this invective, Valla addressed to Nicolas V. an answer to
it, under the title of Antidotus in Poggium. In the intro-
duction to this defence of himself, he asserted, that Poggio
had been stimulated to attack him by envy of the favour-
able reception which his Elegantix had received from the
public. Adverting to the advanced age of his opponent,
he addressed to him a long and grave admonition on the
acerbity of his language- After a sufficient quantity of
additional preliminary observations, Valla proceeded to
rebut the charge which Poggio had brought against him.
He asserted, that the critic who had given such offence
to the irritable secretary was the above-mentioned Catalo-
nian nobleman, who, taking umbrage at an expression

* Poggii Opera, p. 188205.

CHAP. XI. 445

derogatory to the taste of his countrymen, which occurred
in one of Peggie's epistles, had avenged himself by making
some cursory strictures on his style.* By shewing that the
criticisms in question by no means agreed with the principles
inculcated in his Elegantice, and by other internal evidence,
Valla proved almost to demonstration, that he himself had
no part in the animadversions which had excited so much
animosity. Having thus repelled the imputation of a
wanton and insidious aggression, he proceeded to shew,
that he had not abstained from criticising the works of
Poggio on account of their freedom from faults, by enter-
ing upon a most minute and rigid examination of their
phraseology ; an examination in which he gave ample proof
how acute is the eye of enmity, and how peculiarly well
qualified a rival is to discover the errors of his competitor.

Had Valla in his Antidotus restrained himself within
the limits of self-defence, he would have gained the praise
due to the exercise of the virtue of forbearance : had he pro-
ceeded no farther in offensive operations than to impugn the
style of his opponent, he would have been justified in the
opinion of mankind in general, as exercising the right of
retaliation. But by attacking the moral character of

* The passage which thus irritated the feeling of the Cataloniaii nobleman
occurs in Poggio's epistle to Andrcolo Ciiugtiuiuno, in which he remarks, upon
the assertion of Francesco di Pistoia, that some Catalans had stolen a marble
statue which he had in charge to deliver to Poggio : " in quo ut conjicio mani-
" feste mcntitus fuit. Non cnirn maruioris bculpti Cathalani cupidi Bunt, scd
u auri ct gcrvorum quibus ad reinigium uUntur."

Pogyii Opera, p. 329.

446 CHAP. xi.

Poggio,* he imprudently roused in the fiery bosom of his
adversary the fierceness of implacable resentment, and
provoked him to open wide the flood-gates of abuse. In a
second invective Poggio maintained, that if it were true
that the Catalonian youth wrote the remarks which were the
subject of his complaint, he wrote them under the direction
of Valla. Indignantly repelling the charge of envy, he
remarked, that so notorious a fool as Valla, the object of
contempt to all the learned men of Italy, could not possibly
excite that passion. After noticing the imprudence of his
antagonist in provoking an inquiry into his own moral cha-
racter, he proceeded circumstantially to relate divers anec-
dotes, which tended to fix upon Valla the complicated guilt
of forgery ,-f- theft, ebriety, and every species of lewdness.

* This attack on Peggie's moral character occurs in the proemium to the
Antidotus, and is couched in the following atrocious terms. " Ostendam itaquc
" cum quasi alterum Regulum, malum quidem virum, non quod libidinosus ac
" prope libidinis professor, non quod adulter atque adeo alienarum uxorum
" pracreptor, noil quod vinolentus semper ac potius temulentus, non quod fal-
" sarius et quidem convictus, non quod avarus, sacrilegus, pcrjurus, corruptor,
" spurcus, aliaque quae extra nostrum causam sunt, scd quatenus ad causam
" nostrum facit, quod manifestarius calumniator." Antidotus, p. 8.

f- He asserted, that during Valla's residence at Pavia, he forged a receipt
in order to evade the payment of a sum of money which he had borrowed,
and that by way of punishment for this offence, he was exposed to public view
with a mitre of paper upon his head. Poggio, in his relation of this anecdote,
made use of the following ironical expression. " Falsum chirographum cum
" scripsisses, accusatus, convictus, damnatus, ante tempus legitimum absque
" ulla dispensatione episcopus factus es." This witticism of Poggio's betrayed
Monsieur L'Enfant into a very ridiculous error. " On trouve ici," says he, in
gravely commenting on this passage, " une particularity assez curieuse dc la
" vie de Laurent Valla. C'cst qu'ayant e'te" ordonne" Eveque a Pavie avant
" 1'age et sans dispense, il quitta de lui meine la mitre, et la deposa, en attend-

CHAP. xi. 447


Recurring to the charge of heresy, he referred to various
passages in Valla's writings, which contained sentiments
contradictory to the orthodox faith. In fine, he arraigned
the supposed infidel before an imaginary tribunal, which
he represented as without mercy condemning him to the
infernal regions.

In reply to this second attack, Valla renewed and
maintained his protestation, that he had not been the
aggressor in the present contest. In contradiction to
Poggio's assertion, that he was an object of dislike to the
scholars of Italy, he quoted several complimentary epistles
which he had on various occasions received from men
distinguished by their learning. He also exposed the
disingenuousness of his adversary, who had branded him
with the imputation of heresy, on the ground of certain
sentiments, which did indeed occur in his works, but
which he had advanced, not in his own character, but in
that of an Epicurean philosopher, whom he had introduced
as an interlocutor in a dialogue. As to the scandalous
stories which Poggio had related to the disparagement
of his good name, he solemnly asserted, that the greater
part of them had not the least foundation in truth, and
that the remainder were gross and wilful misrepresentations

" ant dans le palais episcopal, ou ellc e"toit encore. Je rapportcrai ses paroles
" en Latin qui sont fort embrouilldes." Pogyiana, torn, i. p. 212. On this
statement of L' Enfant, Rccanati, in his Osservazioni, p. Ill, makes the
following dry remark. " Non credo pero, che 1'autore della Poggiana, quando
" pure fosse Cattolico, vorrehbe csscre fatto Vescovo in qucsta foggia, come
" Poggio dice che il Valla lo sia stato."

448 CHAP. XI.

of facts ;* and in the true spirit of retaliation, lie narrated
concerning Poggio a number of anecdotes equally scan-
dalous, and in all probability equally false, as those of
the circulation of which he himself complained. On the
publication of this second part of the Antidotus, Poggio,
returning to the charge, annoyed his foe in a third invec-
tive, in which, pursuing the idea of Valla^s having been
condemned to the infernal regions, he accounted for his
appearance on earth, by informing his readers, that on the
culprit's arrival in hell, a council of demons was summoned
to decide upon his case ; and that in consideration of the
essential wickedness of his character, they had permitted
him, after solemnly swearing allegiance to Satan, to return
to earth for the purpose of gratifying his malevolent dis-
positions, by effecting the perdition of others. -f-

Before Valla had seen this narration of his transactions
in the kingdom of darkness, he was provoked, by the ac-
count which he had received of its tenor, to prosecute his
criticisms on Peggie's phraseology. These criticisms stimu-

* To enter into the particulars of Peggie's charges and Valla's defence
would be a most disgusting task. The following circumstance is, however, too
curious to be passed over without notice. Poggio reprobating the incontinence
of his adversary, accused him of debauching his sister's maid-servant. In reply
to this accusation, Valla did not deny the fact ; but with wonderful ingenuity
thus converted it into a proof of his principled chastity. " Itaque cum non-
" nulli meorum propinquorum me virginem, Bive frigidioris naturte, et ob id
" non idoncum conjugio arbitrarentur, quorum unus erat vir sororis, quodam-
" mode experiri cupiebant. Volui itaque eis ostendere, id quod facercm, non
" vitium csse corporis, sod animi virtutcm." Antidolus, p. 222.

t Poggii Opera, p. 234242.

CHAP. XI. Ill)

latcd Poggio to renew hostilities in a fourth and a fifth
invective. The former of these compositions has not yet
been committed to the press. The latter abounds in those
flowers of eloquence, of which specimens perhaps more than
sufficiently ample have been already presented to the reader.

The heat of altercation between Poggio and Valla
was inflamed by the interference of Niccolo Perotti, a
pupil of the latter, who attacked Poggio with great viru-
lence. Poggio was not tardy in replying to this new
antagonist. If we may judge of the nature of his invective
against Perotti, by a short extract from it, which occurs in
Bandings catalogue of the manuscripts of the Laurentian
library, it was not at all inferior in acrimony to his other
compositions of a similar nature.* A friendly and sensible
letter of adinonitiqn, which Francesco Filelfo addressed to
the belligerent parties, exhorting them to consult for their
own dignity, by ceasing to persecute each other with
obloquy, is a memorable instance how much easier it is to
give wholesome advice than to set a good example.^

* liandini Catalogue.

f- Filel/i Opera, p. 75. Ou the death of the duke of Milan, Filelfo had
experienced considerable inconvenience, in consequence of the war between
Francesco Sforza and the Milanese. In the course of this contest he wavered
between the two parties ; but the success of Sforza at length attached him to the
interests of that enterprising chieftain. Soon after the elevation of Nicolas V. to
the pontificate, Filelfo was invited by Alfonso, king of Naples, to present to him
in person a copy of his satires. On his way to Naples he passed through Home,
where he paid his respects to the pontiff, who endeavoured, but in vain, to retain
him in his service by the promise of a liberal stipend. On his arrival at the
Neapolitan capital, he was received with great kindness by Alfonso, at whose

3 M

450 CHAP. XI.

The foregoing traits of the history of literature prove,
that we must receive with some grains of allowance the
doctrine of the amiable Ovid, when he asserts that,

" Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
" Emollit mores nee sinit esse feros."

It is indeed a most lamentable truth, that few quarrels
are more violent or implacable than those which are excited
by the jealousy of literary rivalship, and that the bitterest
vituperative language on record occurs in the controversial
writings of distinguished scholars. Several causes concur

command he was crowned with laurel in the midst of the camp. From Naples
he returned to Milan, where he received the afflicting intelligence, that at the
sack of Constantinople by the Turks, Manfredina Doria, his mother-in-law,
and two of her daughters had been carried away captives. It is an astonishing
instance of the power of song, that he procured their redemption by an ode
addressed to Mahomet II. la the year 1454, he was reconciled to Cosmo do'
Medici, by whose son Pietro he was treated with distinguished regard. During
the life of Francesco Sforza, Filelfo was enabled, by the munificence of that
prince, to live in a state of splendor which was very congenial to his dispositions ;
but on the death of that generous patron he received from his successor, Galeazzo
Maria, little more than empty promises. In consequence of the pressure of
distress, he undertook at the age of seventy-two to read lectures on Aristotle.
After sustaining a variety of afflictions in consequence of the distracted state into
which Milan was thrown by the death of Galeazzo, he received from Lorenzo do'
Medici an invitation to read lectures on the Greek language at Florence. This
invitation he gladly accepted, and at the advanced age of eighty-three he repaired
to the Tuscan capital, for the purpose of resuming the task of public instruction.
The fatigues of his journey however overpowered the strength of his constitution,
and soon after his arrival in Florence be closed a life of assiduous study, and
of almost ceaseless turbulence.

For an elaborate history of Filelfo, see Memoires de FAcademie des In-
scriptions, torn. x.

CHAP. XI. 451

in producing this unhappy effect. It is of the very essence
of extraordinary talents to advance to extremes. In men
whose ardent minds glow with the temperature of genius,
whether the flame be kindled by the scintillation of love or
of enmity, it burns with impetuous fiuy. The existence of
many scholars, and the happiness of the great majority of
the cultivators of literature, depend upon the estimation in
which they arc held by the public. Any assertion or insinu-
ation, therefore, derogatory to their talents or acquirements,
they consider as a dangerous infringement upon their dearest
interests, which the strong principle of self-preservation
urges them to resent. The objects upon which we employ
a considerable portion of our time and labour acquire in our
estimation an undue degree of importance. Hence it
happens, that too many scholars, imagining that all valu-
able knowledge centers in some single subject of study to
which they have exclusively devoted their attention, indulge
the spirit of pride, and arrogantly claim from the public a
degree of deference, which is by no means due to the most
successful cultivator of any single department of science or
of literature. And in the literary, as well as in the com-
mercial world, undue demands are resentfully resisted ; and
amongst scholars, as amongst men of the world, pride pro-
duces discord. Learned men are also too frequently sur-
rounded by officious friends, whose ignorant enthusiasm of
attachment betrays them into a kind of idolatry, which is
productive of the most mischievous consequences to its
object. They who are accustomed to meet with a blind and
ready acquiescence in their opinions, in the obsequious
circle of their partizans, become impatient of contradiction,


and give way to the impulse of anger, when any one pre-
sumes to put their dogmas to the test of unreserved examin-
ation. The flame of resentment is fanned by the foolish
partiality by which it was originally kindled ; and the
noblest energies of some mighty mind are perverted to the
maintenance of strife, and the infliction of pain. The
operation of these causes produces many striking proofs,
that learning and wisdom are by no means identical, and
that the interpreter of the sublimest morals may become the
miserable victim of the meanest passions which rankle in
the human breast.

In the inaugural oration which Poggio addressed to
Nicolas V. he intimated, that it was his earnest desire to
dedicate his declining years to literary pursuits. This was
not a mere profession. Availing himself of the considerate
kindness of the heads of the Florentine republic, who, in
consideration of the respect due to his advanced age and to
his literary acquirements, excused him from any other task
than a general superintendence of the business of his office,
he continued to prosecute his studies with his accustomed
ardour.* The first fruits of his lucubrations after his final
settlement in the Tuscan capital appeared in a dialogue,
De Miser id humanee conditionis, or, on the wretched-
ness incident to humanity, which he dedicated to Sigis-
mundo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, and commander in
chief of the Florentine forces. In this dialogue. Poggio
proposed to relate the substance of a conversation which

* Ton. Tr. torn. ii. p. 181.

CHAP. xi. 453

took place between the accomplished Matteo Palmerio,*
Cosmo de' Medici, and himself, in consequence of the
serious reflections which occurred to some of Cosmo's
guests, on the intelligence of the capture of Constantinople
by the Turks. Almost every species of distress which
awaits the sons of men passes in review in the course of
this work. Here the dark side of human life is industri-
ously displayed, and the serious lessons of humility and
self-discipline are inculcated in a feeling and forcible manner.
But even in this grave disquisition, Poggio could not
refrain from exercising his wonted severity upon the ascetics
and coenobites, who had so often smarted under the mer-
ciless lashes of his satire.-f-

This dialogue contains a record of the miserable end
of Angelotto, cardinal of St. Mark. This avaricious eccle-

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 30 of 31)