William Shepherd.

The life of Poggio Bracciolini online

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

siastic was murdered by one of his own domestics, who was
tempted to perpetrate this execrable deed by the hope of
plundering his master's hoarded treasures. When the
assassin imagined that he had accomplished his purpose, he
left the chamber, where the cardinal lay weltering in his

* Matteo Palmerio was a Florentine citizen, descended from an illustrious
family. Passing through the different gradations of civic honours, he was at
length called to fill the highest offices of the state. He was an elegant scholar,
and composed many works, amongst which the most distinguished was an Italian
poem in terza rims, entitled Cilia di vita. This poem, in which are recounted
the adventures of a human soul, which the author supposes to have been liberated
from the prison of the body, was condemned by the inquisition as heretical.

Zetio Diss, Voss. torn. i. p. 100 et seq.

t Poggii Opera, p. SB 131.

454 CHAP. XT.

blood, and called aloud for assistance. The relations and
servants of Angelotto immediately crowded into the apart-
ment accompanied by the murderer, who, affecting to be
overwhelmed with grief, took his station at the window.
He was, however, not a little startled on observing, that
in his trepidation he had not completely effected his wicked
intentions. The cardinal still breathed, and, though
unable to speak, he pointed to the assassin. The villain
endeavoured to divert the attention of the bye-standers
from the true meaning of this sign, by exclaiming, " See !
" he intimates that the murderer came into the house
" through this window." This ingenious interpretation of
his dying master's gestures did not, however, avert from
him the punishment due to his crime. He was arrested
and tried, and after having made a full confession of his
guilt, he expiated his offence by the forfeit of his life.*

Soon after the publication of his dialogue De Miser-id
humance conditionis, Poggio transmitted to Cosmo dc'
Medici a version of Lucian's Ass, on which he had bestowed
a few of his days of leisure. By the circulation of this
version he wished to establish a point of literary history,
which seems to have been till then unknown, namely, that
Apuleius was indebted to Lucian for the stamina of his
Asimts Aureus. It is a sufficient proof of the merit of
Poggio's translation of Lucian's romance, that Bourdaloue
lias adopted it in his edition of the works of that entertain-
ing author.

, torn. ii. p. 162.

c HAP. XI.


The last literary production which exercised the talents
of Poggio was the History of Florence, a work for the com-
position of which he was peculiarly well qualified, not only
by his skill in the Latin language, but also on account of
the means of information which were afforded to him by the
office which he held in the administration of the civil affairs
of the Florentine republic. This history, which is divided
into eight books, comprehends a most important and in-
teresting portion of the annals of Tuscan independence,
embracing the events in which the Florentines bore a share,
from the period of the first war which they waged with
Giovanni Visconti, in the year 1350, to the peace of
Naples, which took place in 1455. It has been justly
observed, that in his Historia Florentine,, Poggio aims at
higher praise than that of a mere chronicler of facts, and
that he enlivens his narrative by the graces of oratory. In
imitation of the ancient historians, he frequently explains
the causes and the secret springs of actions, by the medium
of deliberative speeches, which he imputes to the principal
actors in the scenes which he describes. His statement of
facts is clear and precise ; in the delineation of character,
which is an important and difficult part of the duty of the
historian, he evinces penetration of judgment and skill in
discrimination. Though the extent of territory to the
history of which his narration is confined be circumscribed
by very narrow limits, his work is by no means destitute
of the interest which arises from the description of pro-
tracted sieges, bold achievements, and bloody encounters.
He has been accused of suffering his partiality to his native
country to betray him into occasional palliations of the

456 CHAP. xi.

injustice of his fellow-citizens, and into false imputations
against their enemies- This accusation has been briefly
couched in the following epigram, written by the celebrated

" Dum patriam laudat, damnat dum Poggius hostem,
" Nee malus est civis, nee bonus historicus."

It may, however, be remarked, that supposing this accu-
sation to be supported by unequivocal evidence, the advocate
of Poggio might plead in his excuse the general frailty of
human nature, which renders it almost impossible for a man
to divest himself of an overweening affection for the land of
his nativity. But it must be observed, that the impeach-
ment in question is founded upon a very few passages in the
History of Florence, and that it comes from a suspicious
quarter from the citizens of those states, the political con-
duct of which Poggio marks with disapprobation.

Poggio's History of Florence was translated into
Italian by his son, Jacopo. This version, being committed
to the press, for a long space of time superseded the
original, which was confined to the precincts of the Medi-
cean library till the year 1715, at which period Giovanni
Battista Recanati, a noble Venetian, published it in a
splendid form, and enriched it with judicious notes, and
with a life of Poggio, the accuracy of which causes the
student of literary history to lament its brevity.*

* Poggio's History of Florence, as edited by Recanati, has been republished in
the magnificent historical collections of Gnevius and Muratori.

CHAP. XI. 457

The consideration of the great extent of the History of
Florence places in a striking point of view the industry and
courage of its author, who, in defiance of the infirmities of
old age, possessed the energy of mind to meditate, and the
diligence to execute, a work of such magnitude. Before,
however, it had received the last polish, the earthly labours
of Poggio were terminated by his death. This event oc-
curred on the 30th of October, 1459. On the second of
November ensuing his remains were interred Avith solemn
magnificence in the church of Santa Croce, in Florence.

The respect which the administrators of the Tuscan
government entertained for the virtues of Poggio, induced
them readily to comply with the pious wishes of his sons,*

By his wife, Poggio had five sons ; Pietro Paulo, Giovanni Battist*,
Jacopo, Giovanni Francesco, and Filippo. Pietro Paulo was born in the year
U38. He entered into the fraternity of the Dominicans, and was promoted to
the honourable office of Prior of Santa Maria ad Minervam, in Rome, which
office he held till the time of his death, which happened September 6th. 1464.

Giovanni Battista, who was born in the year 1439, took the degree of doctor
of civil and canon law, and attained the several dignities of Canonico of Flo-
rence, and of Arezzo, Rector of the Lateran church, Acolyte of the pontiff,
and assistant clerk of the chamber. He composed in the Latin language th
lives of Niccolo Piccinino, and Dominico Capranica, cardinal of Finniano.
He died anno 1570. *

Jacopo, born anno 1441, wai the only one of Poggio'ssons who did not en,
ter into the ecclesiastical profession. He was a scholar of distinguished accom-
plishments. His Italian translation of his father's History of Florence, and of
his Latin version of the Cyropaedia, have already been noticed. He also trans-
lated into Italian the lives of four of the Roman emperors. Nor did he confine
his literary exertions to translations. He composed a commentary on Petrarca'i
Triumph of Fame, which he dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici ; a treatise on the


4t>8 CHAl'. XI.

who requested permission to deposit his portrait, painted by
Antonio Pollaiuolo, in a public hall denominated the Pro-
consolo. His fellow-citizens also testified their grateful
sense of the honour which his great accomplishments had
reflected on his country, by erecting a statue to his memory,
on the front of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore.*

It was with justice that the Florentines held the name
of Poggio in respectful remembrance. Inspired by a zealous
love of his country, he had constantly prided himself upon

origin of the War between the English and the French ; and the life of Filippo
Scolario, vulgarly called Pipo Spano. Entering into the service of cardinal
Riario, he was involved in the guilt of the Pazzi conspiracy, and was of the
number of the criminals who were suspended from the windows of the town hall
of Florence, in the year 1478.

Giovanni Francesco, who was born anno 1447, after holding the offices of
Canonico of Florence, and Rector of the Lateran church, went to Rome, where
be became chamberlain of the pontiff, and abbreviater of the apostolic epistles.
He was highly esteemed by Leo X., who appointed him his secretary, in the en-
joyment of which office he died at Rome, July 25th, 1 522, and was buried in
the church of St. Gregory, where there still exists a monument erected to hi

Filippo was born anno 1450. When he had attained the twentieth year of
his age he was created Canonico of Florence. But quitting the ecclesiastical
life, he married a lady of an illustrious family, by whom he had three daughters.

Besides these five sons, Poggio had a daughter, named Lucretia, who married
into the family of the Buondelmonti. Ton. Tr. torn. ii. p. 169.

* The fate of this statue was somewhat remarkable. In consequence of
certain alterations made in the facade of the church of Santa Maria, in the year
1560, by Francesco, Grand duke of Tuscany, it was removed to another part of
that edifice, where it uow composes one of the group of the twelve apostles.

Recanatl Vita Poggii, p. xxxiv.

CHAP. XI. 4.59

the honour of being a citizen of a free state, and he
neglected no opportunity which presented itself of increasing
and displaying the glory of the Tuscan republic. And this
end he most effectually promoted by the splendour of his
own accomplishments. He so faithfully improved the
advantages which he enjoyed in the course of his education
in the Florentine university, that amongst the multitudes
of learned men who adorned his age, he occupied a station
of the highest eminence. His admission into the Roman
chancery, and his continuance in offices of confidence under
eight successive pontiffs, afford an ample proof not only of
his ability in business, but also of his fidelity and integrity.
Honoured by the favour of the great, he did not sacrifice
his independence at the shrine of power, but uniformly
maintained the ingenuous sentiments of freedom. The
whole tenor of his writings evinces, that he united to the
accomplishments of literature an intimate knowledge of the
world ; and many passages might be quoted from his works
to prove that the eye of his mind surveyed a wider intel-
lectual horizon than fell to the general lot of the age in
which he lived. He was warm and enthusiastic in his
friendly attachments, and duteously eager to diffuse the
renown of those whom he loved. But acute sensations are
not productive of signal virtues alone ; they too frequently
betray mankind into capital errors. Though Poggio was
by no means implacable in his anger, yet he was as energetic
in the expression of his resentment, as he was enthusiastic
in the language in which he testified his esteem for those to
whom he was bound by the ties of friendship. The licen-
tiousness in which he occasionally indulged in the early part

460 CHAP. XI.

of his life, and the indecent levity which occurs in some of
his writings, arc rather the vices of the times than of the
man. We accordingly find that those circumstances did not
deprive him of the countenance of the highest ecclesiastical
dignitaries they did not cause him to forfeit the favour of
the pious Eugenius, or of the virtuous and accomplished
Nicolas V. His failings, indeed, were fully counterbalanced
by several moral qualities of superior excellence by his
gratitude for benefits received ; by his sincerity in friend-
ship ; by his compassion for the unfortunate ; and by his
readiness, to the extent of his ability, to succour the dis-
tressed. To which it may be added, that he seems to have
recommended himself to most of those with whom he main-
tained a personal intercourse, by the urbanity of his
manners, and by the sportiveness of his wit.

As a scholar Poggio is entitled to distinguished praise.
By a course of assiduous study, commenced at an early
period of his life and continued to its close, be became
intimately conversant with the works of the Roman classic
authors ; and though he was somewhat advanced in age
when he began to direct his attention to Grecian literature,
by dint of methodic industry he made a considerable pro-
ficiency in a knowledge of the writings of the Greek
philosophers and historians. From those enlightened pre-
ceptors he imbibed those principles, whicluin his graver
treatises he applied with fidelity and skill to the investigation
of moral truth. To them, also, he was in no small degree
indebted for that noble spirit of independence, and for that
frankness of sentiment, which gave so much animation to

CHAP. XI. 401

bis writings. The pictures of life and manners which he
exhibits in his works are sketched by the decisive hand of a
master, and are vividly coloured. His extensive erudition
supplied him with that abundance of apt illustration with
which his compositions are enriched. His Latin style is
singularly unequal. In the letters which he wrote in haste,
and which he addressed to his familiar friends, there occur
frequent specimens of a phraseology in which his native
idiom is thinly covered, as it were, with a transparent Roman
robe. But in his more elaborate compositions he manifested
the discernment of true taste, in selecting as his exemplar
the style of Cicero. His spirited endeavours to imitate this
exquisite model were far from being unsuccessful. His dic-
tion is flowing, and his periods are all well balanced; but,
by the occasional admission of barbarous words and un- ,'
authorized phraseology, as well as his evident want of an ,
intimate acquaintance with the philosophy of grammar, he
reminds his reader that at the time when he wrote, the Iron
age of literature was but lately terminated. His most strik-
ing fault is diffuseness a difFuseness which seems to arise,
not so much from the copiousness of his thoughts, as from
the difficulty which he experienced in clearly expressing his
ideas. It must, however, be observed, that he did not, like
many modern authors who are celebrated for their Latinity,
slavishly confine himself to the compilation of centos from
the works of the ancients. In the prosecution of his literary
labours he drew from his own stores ; and those frequent
allusions to the customs and transactions of his own times,
which render his writings so interesting, must, at a period
when the Latin language was just rescued from the grossest

462 CHAP. XI.

barbarism, have rendered their composition peculiarly difficult.
When compared with the works of his immediate predeces-
sors, the writings of Poggio are truly astonishing. Rising
to a degree of elegance, to be sought for in vain in tlie rug-
ged Latinity of Petrarca and Coluccio Salutati, he prepared
the way for the correctness of Politiano, and of the other
eminent scholars, whose gratitude has reflected such splendid
lustre on the character of Lorenzo de' Medici.






Santa Barbara


Series 9482


A 000 892 085 2

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