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the 26th May, 141G.J Poggio, who was present at this
second trial of Jerome, gave the following interesting account
of it to his^ friend Leonardo Aretino.

" Soon after my return from Baden to Constance, the

L'EnfanCs History of the Council of Constance, vol. i. p. 204.
f Ibid. p. 512.

* Ibid. p. 584.

In the Fasciculus Her. expel, et fugiend. it is erroneously asserted that
the following letter was addressed to Niccolo Niccoli.



" cause of Jerome of Prague, who was accused of heresy,
" came to a public hearing. The purport of my present
'* letter is to give you an account of this trial, which must
** of necessity be a matter of considerable interest, both on
" account of the importance of the subject, and the eloquence
" and learning of the defendant. I must confess that I never
" saw any one who in pleading a cause, especially a cause on
" the issue of which his own life depended, approached
" nearer to that standard of ancient eloquence, which we so
" much admire. It was astonishing to witness with what
" choice of words, with what closeness of argument, with
" what confidence of countenance he replied to his adversaries.
" So impressive was his peroration, that it is a subject of
" great concern, that a man of so noble and excellent a
" genius should have deviated into heresy. On this latter
" point however, I cannot help entertaining some doubts.
" But far be it from me to take upon myself to decide in
(< so important a matter. I shall acquiesce in the opinion
" of those who are wiser than myself.

" Do not however imagine that I intend to enter into
" the particulars of this cause I shall only touch upon the
" more remarkable and interesting circumstances, which will
" be sufficient to give you an idea of the learning of the
" man.

" Many things having been alleged against the prisoner
" as proofs of his entertaining heretical notions? and the
" council being of opinion, that the proof was sufficiently
" strong to warrant further investigation, it was ordered that
" he should publicly answer to every particular of the charge.

CHAP. II. 71

" He was accordingly brought before the council. But
" when he was called upon to give in his answers, he for
" a long time refused so to do ; alleging, that he ought
" to be permitted to speak generally in his defence, before
" he replied to the false imputations of his adversaries. This
" indulgence was however denied him. Upon which, stand-
" ing up in the midst of the assembly What gross injustice
" is this ! exclaimed he, that though for the space of three
" hundred and forty days, which I have spent in filth and
" fetters, deprived of every comfort, in prisons situated at
" the most remote distances from each other, you have been
" continually listening to my adversaries and slanderers, you
" will not hear me for a single hour ! The consequence of
" this is, that while on the one hand, every one^s ears are
" open to them, and they have for so long a time been
" attempting to persuade you that I am a heretic, an enemy
" of the true faith, a persecutor of the clergy ; and on the
" other hand, I am deprived of every opportunity of defend-
" ing myself; you have prejudged my cause, and have in
" your own minds condemned me, before you could possibly
" become acquainted with my principles. But, s#ys he, you
" are not Gods, but men, not immortals, but mortals, liable
" to error, and subject to imperfection. We are taught to
" believe that this assembly contains the light of the world,
" the prudent men of the earth. You ought therefore to be
" unremittingly careful not to do any thing rashly, foolishly
" or unjustly. I indeed, who am pleading for my life,
" am a man of little consequence ; nor do I say what I
" do say through anxiety for myself (for I am prepared
" to submit to the common lot of mortality) but I am

72 CHAP. II.

" prompted by an earnest desire, that the collective wis-
" dom of so many eminent men may not, in my person,
" violate the laws of justice. As to the injury done to
" myself, it is comparatively of trifling consequence ;
" but the precedent will be pregnant with future mis-
" chief. These and many other observations he made
" with great eloquence ; but he was interrupted by the
" murmurs and clamours of several of his auditors. It
" was decreed, that he should first answer to the charges
" exhibited against him, and afterwards have free liberty
" of speech. The heads of the accusation were accor-
" dingly read from the desk. When, after they had been
" proved by testimony, he was asked whether he had
" any remarks to make in his defence, it is incredible
" with what skill and judgment he put in his answers.
" He advanced nothing unbecoming a good man ; and if his
" real sentiments agreed with his professions, he was so far
" from deserving to die, that his principles did not even give
" just ground for the slightest offence. He denied the whole
" impeachment, as a fiction invented by the malice of his
" enemies. Amongst others an article was read, which
" accused him of being a detractor of the apostolic see, an
" oppugner of the Roman pontiff, an enemy of the cardi-
" nals, a persecutor of prelates, and an adversary of the
" Christian clergy. When this charge was read, he arose,
" and stretching out his hands, he said in a pathetic tone of
" voice, Fathers ! to whom shall I have recourse for succour ?
" Whose assistance shall I implore ? Unto whom shall I
" appeal, in protestation of my innocence ? Unto you ?
" But these my persecutors have prejudiced your minds

(HAP. II. 78

" against me, by declaring that I entertain hostility against
" all my judges. Thus have they artfully endeavoured, if
" they cannot reach me by their imputations of error, so to
" excite your fears, that you may be induced to seize any
" plausible pretext to destroy your common enemy, such as
" they most falsely represent me to be. Thus, if you give
" credit to their assertion, all my hopes of safety are lost.
" He caused many to smart by the keenness of his wit, and
" the bitterness of his reproaches. Melancholy as the occa-
" sion was, he frequently excited laughter, by turning to
" ridicule the imputations of his adversaries. When he was
" asked what were his sentiments concerning the sacrament,
" he replied, that it was by nature bread ; but that at the
" time of consecration, and afterwards, it was the true body
" of Christ, &c. according to the strictest orthodoxy. Then
" some one said, but it is reported that you have maintained,
" that there remains bread after consecration. True, said
" Jerome, there remains bread at the baker's. When one
" of the order of preaching friars was railing against him
" with uncommon asperity, he said to him Hold thy peace,
" hypocrite f When another swore by his conscience, this,
" said he, is a very safe mode of deceiving. One man, who
" was particularly inveterate against him, he never address-
" ed but by the title of ass or dog. As, on account of the
" number and importance of the articles exhibited against
" him, the cause could not be determined at that sitting,
" the court was adjourned to another day, on which the
" proofs of each article of impeachment were read over,
" and confirmed by more witnesses. Then he arose and
" said, since you have attended so diligently to my adver-


74 CHAP. II.

" saries, I have a right to demand that you should also
" hear me with patience. Though many violently objected
" to this demand, it was at length conceded to him that he
" should be heard in his defence. He then began by
" solemnly praying to God, so to influence his mind, and
" so to inspire his speech, that he might be enabled to
" plead to the advantage and salvation of his soul. He
" then proceeded thus I know, most learned judges, that
" many excellent men have been most unworthily dealt with,
" overborne by false witnesses, and condemned by the most
" unjust judgments. Illustrating this position by particu-
" lar instances, he began with Socrates, who was unjustly
" condemned by his countrymen, and Avho could not be
" persuaded by the dread of the most formidable evils,
" imprisonment or death, to avail himself of an opportu-
" nity which was presented to him of escaping out of cus-
" tody. He then proceeded to mention the captivity of
" Plato, the torments endured by Anaxagoras and Zeno,
" and the unjust condemnations of many other gentiles
" the banishment of Rutilius, the unmerited death of
" Boetius, and of others mentioned in the writings of that
" author. He then passed on to the instances which are
" recorded in the Jewish history and in the first place,
" he observed, that Moses, the deliverer and legislator
" of the Jews, was frequently calumniated by his own
" countrymen, as a seducer and contemner of the people.
" He also instanced Joseph, who was sold to slavery, in
" consequence of the envy of his brethren, and afterwards
" imprisoned under a groundless suspicion of incontinence.
" Besides these, he enumerated Isaiah, Daniel, and almost


" all the prophets, who were calumniated and persecuted,
" as despisers of God and sowers of sedition. He also
" alluded to the trial of Susannah, and of many others,
" who, notwithstanding the integrity of their lives, perished
" by unjust sentences. Coming down to the time of John
" the Baptist and our Saviour, he observed, that all are
" agreed that they were unjustly condemned, upon false
" charges, supported by false witnesses. He next quoted
" the case of Stephen, who was put to death by the priests ;
" and reminded the assembly that all the apostles were con-
" demned to die, as seditious movers of the people, con-
" tcmners of the gods, and workers of iniquity. He niain-
" taincd that it was a scandalous thing that one priest
" should be unjustly condemned by another ; that it was
" still more scandalous) that a college of priests should be
" guilty of this crime ; and that it was most scandalous
" of all, that it should be perpetrated by a general council.
" Nevertheless he proved from history that these circum-
" stances had actually occurred. Upon these topics he
" enlarged in so impressive a manner, that every body
" listened to him with fixed attention. But as the weight of
" every cause rests upon the evidence by which it is supported,
" he proved, by various arguments, that no credit was due
" to the witnesses who deposed against him, more especially
" as they were instigated to give evidence against him by
" hatred, malevolence, and envy. He then so satisfacto-
" rily detailed the causes of the hatred which he imputed
" to his prosecutors, that he almost convinced his judges
" of the reasonableness of his objections against their testi-
" mony. His observations were so weighty, that little

76 CHAP. II.

" credit would have been given to the depositions of the
" witnesses for the prosecution, in any other cause except
' 4 in a trial for heresy. He moreover added, that he had
" voluntarily come to the council, in order to defend his in-
" jured character ; and gave an account of his life and stu-
" dies, which had been regulated by the laws of duty and
" of virtue. He remarked, that holy men of old were ac-
" customed to discuss their differences of opinion in mat-
" ters of belief, not with a view of impugning the faith,
" but of investigating the truth that St. Augustine and
" St. Jerome had thus differed in opinion, and had upon
*' some points even held contrary sentiments, without any
" suspicion of heresy. All the audience entertained hopes
" that he would either clear himself by retracting the
" heresies which were objected to him, or supplicate pardon
" for his errors. But he maintained that he had not
" erred, and that therefore he had nothing to retract. He
" next began to praise John Huss, who had been con-
" demned to the flames, calling him a good, just, and
" holy man, a man who had suffered death in a righteous
" cause. He professed that he himself also was prepared
" to undergo the severest punishment with an undaunted
" and constant mind, declaring that he submitted to his
" enemies, and to witnesses who had testified such shame-
" ful falsehoods ; who would however, on some future
" day, give an account of what they had said, to a God
" who could not be deceived. When Jerome made these
*' declarations, the assembly was affected with the greatest
" sorrow ; for every body wished, that a man of such
" extraordinary talents should repent of his errors and be

CHAP. ii. 77


" saved. But he persisted in his sentiments, and seemed
" to court destruction. Dwelling on the praises of John
;< Huss, he said, that he entertained no principles hostile
" to the constitution of the holy church, and that he only
*' bore testimony against the abuses of the clergy, and
" the pride and pomp of prelates : for that since the
" patrimony of the church was appropriated first to the
" poor, then to strangers, and lastly to the erection of
" churches, good men thought it highly improper that it
" should be lavished on harlots, entertainments, dogs,
4< splendid garments, and other things unbecoming the
" religion of Christ. It may be mentioned as the greatest
** proof of Jerome's abilities, that though he was fre-
" quently interrupted by various noises, and was teased by
" some people who cavilled at his expressions, he replied
" to them all, and compelled them either to blush or to be
" silent. When the clamour incommoded him, he ceased
*' speaking, and sometimes reproved those who disturbed him.
" He then continued his speech, begging and entreating
" them to suffer him to speak, since this was the last time
' they would hear him. He was never terrified by the
** murmurs of his adversaries, but uniformly maintained
" the firmness and intrepidity of his mind. It was a won-
" derful instance of the strength of his memory, that
** though he had been confined three hundred and forty
" days in a dark dungeon, where it was impossible for
*' him to read, and where he must have daily suffered
" from the utmost anxiety of mind, yet he quoted so
k many learned writers in defence of his opinions, and
" supported his sentiments by the authority of so many

78 CHAP. II.

" doctors of the church, that any one would have been
" led to believe, that he had devoted all the time of his
" imprisonment to the peaceful and undisturbed study of
" philosophy. His voice was sweet, clear and sonorous ;
" his action dignified, and well adapted either to express
" indignation, or to excite compassion, which however he
" neither asked nor wished for. He stood undaunted and
" intrepid, not merely contemning, but like another Cato
" longing for death. He was a man worthy to be held in
" everlasting remembrance. I do not commend him for
" entertaining sentiments hostile to the constitution of the
' church ; but I admire his learning, his extensive know-
" ledge, the suavity of his eloquence, and his ability in
" reply. But I am afraid that all these endowments were
" bestowed on him by nature, in order to effect his destruc-
44 tion. As he was allowed two days for repentance, several
" learned men, and amongst the rest the cardinal of Flo-
" rence, visited him, with a view of persuading him to
" change his sentiments, and turn from the error of his
" ways. But as he pertinaciously persisted in his false
" notions, he was condemned as guilty of heresy, and
" consigned to the flames. No stoic ever suffered death


" with such constancy of mind. When he arrived at the
" place of execution, he stripped himself of his garments,
, ^) " and knelt down before the stake, to which he was soon
" after tied with wet ropes and a chain. Then great
" pieces of wood, intermixed with straw, were piled as
" high as his breast. When fire was set to the pile, he
" began to sing a hymn, which was scarcely interrupted by
" the smoke and flame. I must not omit a striking circum-

CHAP. II. 79

" stance, which shows the firmness of his mind. When
" the executioner was going to apply the fire behind him,
" in order that he might not see it, he said, come this way,
" and kindle it in my sight, for had I been afraid of it, I
" should never have come to this place. Thus perished a
" man, in every respect exemplary, except in the errone-
" ousness of his faith. I was a witness of his end, and ob-
" served every particular of its process. He may have been
" heretical in his notions, and obstinate in perservering in
" them, but he certainly died like a philosopher. I have
" rehearsed a long story, as I wished to employ my leisure
" in relating a transaction which surpasses the events of
" ancient history. For neither did Mutius suffer his hand
" to be burnt so patiently as Jerome endured the burning
" of his whole body ; nor did Socrates drink the hemlock
" as cheerfully as Jerome submitted to the fire."*

They who are admitted within the veil which hides
the daily transactions of the great from the profane eyes
of the vulgar, rarely entertain an excessive reverence for
dignities. From a variety of passages which occur in the
works of Poggio, it is evident, that he was by no means
insensible of the corruptions of the pontifical court ; and '
on more occasions than one, he drew upon himself the
severity of reproof, by the freedom with which he ex-

* Poggii Opera, p. 301305.



posed the vices of the clergy.* Whether his indignation
against the disgraceful conduct of the teachers of the
Catholic doctrine had shaken his belief in the Catholic creed,
his prudence has rendered it impossible to ascertain. It
is certain, that he thought a reformation of the manners of
ecclesiastics absolutely necessary to the credit of the church ;
and though he was not inspired by the zeal which prompted
John Huss, and Jerome of Prague, publicly to arraign the
conduct of their ecclesiastical superiors, let it be recorded to
his honour, that he did not, as many have done, reprove
and ridicule prevailing corruptions in private, and at the
same time join in the persecution of those who had sufficient
courage to impugn the same corruptions by open hostility.
The feeling manner in which he describes the trial and execu-
tion of Jerome, evinces a heart which daily intercourse with
bigoted believers and licentious hypocrites could not deaden
to the impulses of humanity. Indeed the manifest interest
which he took in the fate of a man, who was held by the
church as an object of unqualified abhorrence,^ awakened
the fears of Leonardo Aretino on his behalf. Leonardo was

* See a letter from Poggio to Alberto di Sarteano, which is preserved in the
collection of Ambrogio Traversari's epistles, edited by Mehus, (lib. xxv. ep.
xxii.) in which he defends his strictures on the immoralities of the clergy; his
dialogue on Hypocrisy, printed in the second volume of the Fasciculus Rerum
expetend. el fugiend. ; his treatise on Avarice ; and many of his epistles.

f- The sentence passed by the council upon Jerome concluded with the
following declaration. " Propter quae eadem fancta synodus eundem Hierony-
" mum palmitem putridum et aridum, in vite non manentem, foras mittendum
" decernit : ipsumque hsereticum, et in haeresim relapsum, excommunicatum,
" anathematizatum pronuneiat et declarat atque damnat."

Fasciculus Her. Expet. et Fug. torn. i. p. 303.

CHAP. II. 81

undoubtedly apprehensive, lest his admiration of the abilities,
and his compassion for the fate of the heretic, should be
attributed to a latent love of heresy. He therefore thought
it requisite to admonish his friend in the following terms.
" I received the day before yesterday, by the medium of
" Barbaro, your letter on the subject of the execution of
" Jerome of Prague. I very much admire its elegance ;
" but you seem to give a more ample testimony to the
" merits of the heretic than I could wish. You take care
" indeed frequently to put in proper caveats ; but upon the
" whole, you show too great an affection for his cause. I
" must advise you henceforth to write upon such subjects in
" a more guarded manner. 1 '*

The cold caution of Leonardo may be a quality con-
ducive to the insurance of personal safety ; but the gene-
rous warmth of Poggio lays an irresistible claim to the
applause of every ingenuous mind.

* Leon. Arct. Epist. lib. iv. ep. x.



POGGIO receives a copy of Francesco Barbarous treatise
De Re Uxoria Memoirs of Francesco Barbara
Poggio's journey in quest of ancient manuscripts
Account of the ancient autliors recovered by him
Death of Cardinal Zabarella Poggio^s oration pro-
nounced at Zabarella 1 s funeral Account of Zabarella
Martin V. elected to the pontificate Termination
of the Schism Dissolution of the Council Poggio
attends the pontiff to Mantua He visits England,
at the instance of Beaufort, bishop of Winchester
He is disappointed State of literature in Britain
Several of Cicero's works recovered in Italy Quarrel
between Leonardo Aretino and Niccolo Niccoli
Poggio obtains a small benefice He is still dissatisfied
He returns to Italy Notices of the state of society
in Britain which occur in his works.



C5OON after the execution of Jerome of Prague, Poggio
received from Guarino Veronese,* a copy of a treatise,
De Re Uxorid, i. e. on the duties of a wife, which had

* Guarino Veronese, as his surname imports, was a native of Verona, in
which city he was born A. D. 1370. Dedicating himself to study from his early
years, he became a pupil of John of Ravenna. Not contented with acquiring,
under the instructions of this able tutor, a knowledge of the Latin language, he
undertook a voyage to Constantinople for the express purpose of reading the
Greek classics in the school of Manuel Crysoloras. Ponticio Virunio, who
flourished in the beginning of the 16th century, affirms, that when Guarino had
finished his Greek studies, he returned to Italy with two large chests full of
books, which he had collected during his residence in Constantinople ; and that
he was so much affected by the loss of one of these valuable packages, which
perished in a shipwreck, that his hair became grey in the space of a single night.
But this story is generally considered as fabulous. On his return to his native
country, he adopted the profession of a public lecturer on Rhetoric, in which
capacity he visited various cities of Italy. The names of these cities arc thus
enumerated by Janus Pannonius, who testified his gratitude for the benefit
which he had derived from Guarino's instructions, by composing a poem to his

" Tu mare fnrnantes Venetos, tu Antcnoris alti

" Instituis cives, tua te Vcroua legcntcm,

Finis ct Italia: stupuit sublime Tridcntum ;

" Ncc jam flumineuiu rcfcrens Florentia nomcn,

" Ac Phaibo quondam, uunc sacra Bononia Marti .

" Tandem mansiirum placida stationc rcccpit

" Pads et aligcri Fcrraria mater amoris."


been lately published by Francesco Barbaro, a Venetian
scholar, who was now beginning to attain a considerable
degree of celebrity. His opinion of this composition he
expressed in the following terms. " I thank you, my
" dear Guarino, for the little volume which you have been
" so kind as to communicate to me. My obligation to you
" would be immense, had I any thoughts of matrimony ;
" but I must acknowledge, that the perusal of this treatise
" has done away the little inclination which I previously
" felt to enter into the married state ; for how can I expect
" to find a help-mate who concentrates in her character all
" the good qualities, the union of which, in the opinion of
" wise judges, constitutes a good wife. But to be serious.
" As soon as I received the book, I began to peruse it ;
" and found the subject so novel, the style so excellent,

Ferrara was the last abode of Guarino. After having resided many years iu
that city under the protection of the Marquis d'Este, he there terminated a life
of literary labour, in the year 1460, at the advanced age of ninety. Bartolomeo
Facio, who had been of the number of his pupils, made mention of him during
his lifetime in the following flattering terms.

" Artem Rhetoricam profitetur, qua in re supra quinque et triginta anuos se
'' exercuit. Ab hoc uno plures docti et eloquentes viri facti sunt quam a ceteris
" omnibus hujus ordinis, ut non immerito quidam de eo dixerit quod de Isocrate
" dictum fcrunt, plures ex ejus schola viros erudites, quam ex equo Trojauo
" milites prodiise Ejus quoque prsestantiae singulare testimonium est Epigramrna

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 6 of 31)