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which the vicissitudes of fortune obliged him to take at
different periods of his life, he had the satisfaction to
discover the following orations of the same author, the loss
of which had been long deplored by the learned De lege
Agraria contra Rullum liber primus Ejusdem liber secun-
dus Contra legem Agrariam ad populum In L. Pisonem.
A copy of these orations is preserved in the Abbey of Santa
Maria, at Florence, to which is affixed a memorandum,
which records the fact of their having been discovered by

* Mehus is of opinion that the copy of Quintilian, thus found by Poggio,
is preserved in the Laurentian library.

Prcefatlo ad vitam Ambrosii Traversarii, p. xxxiv.


Poggio. This memorandum indeed makes mention of
seven orations as having been found by him in France and
Germany; and the catalogue prefixed to the manuscript,
besides the works above mentioned, enumerates the Oration
pro C. Rabirio Pisone Pro C. Rabirio perduellionis reo
and pro Roscio Comrade but these orations have been torn
from the volume in question.* With the assistance of
Bartolomeo di Montepulciano, Poggio also restored to light
the poem of Silius Italicus Lactantius's treatise de ira Dei
et opificio hominis Vegetius de re Militari Nonius Mar-
cellus Ammianus Marcellinus^ Lucretius J Columella
and Tertullian.

Before the time of Poggio, eight only of the comedies
of Plautus were known to the classical student- But by the

Mehi Prafatio ad vitam Ambrosii Traversarii, p. xxxv. xxxvi.

f The manuscript of this author was sent by Poggio to Martin V. who
permitted Niccolo Niccoli to transcribe it. Niccolo's transcript is preserved in
the Marcian library at Florence.

Mehi Pros/at, p. xxxvii. xxxviii.

* Poggio transmitted his newly recovered copy of Lucretius to Niccolo
Niccoli, who, with his usual diligence, made with his own hand a transcript of
it, which is yet extant in the Laurentian library.

Mehi Prtefal. p. xxxviii.

Poggio found this copy of Tertullian in a monastery of the monks of
Clugny at Rome. By some means the cardinal Ursini got possession of it, and
morosely locked it up from the inspection of the learned. At the instance of
Ix>renzo de' Medici, however, he suffered the manuscript to be transported to
Florence, where it was copied, first by Ambrogio Traversari, and afterwards by
Niccolo Niccoli. The transcript of Niccol% is lodged in the library of St.

Mehi Prafalio, p. xxxix.


industry or good fortune of one Nicolas of Trevcs, whom
Poggio employed in continuing the researches in the monas-
teries of Germany, which he was unable to conduct in
person, twelve more were brought to light. When Poggio
had notice of this discovery, he was highly elated, and
strenuously exhorted the cardinal Ursini to dispatch a trusty
messenger to bring these valuable treasures to Rome. " I
" was not only solicitous, but importunate with his cmi-
" nence,' 1 says Poggio in a letter to Niccolo Niccoli, "to
" send somebody for the books." The cardinal did not how-
ever second the impatience of the Italian literati, who waited
nearly two years before the manuscripts in question arrived
in Rome, whither they were brought by Nicolas of Treves

* The volume which Nicolas of Treves thus conveyed from Germany,
contained, besides four comedies which had been already recovered, the follow-
ing twelve, which had been till then unknown, Bacchides, Moslellaria, Men-
aechrni, Miles gloriosus, Mercator, Pseudolus Peenulus, Pcrsa, Rudens, Stichus,
Trinummus, Truculentus This volume was seized by cardinal Ursini, who
would not permit Poggio to take a copy of it. Poggio highly resented the
illiberality of the cardinal's conduct. *' I have not been able," says he, address-
ing himself to Niccolo Niccoli, " to get possession of Plautus. Before the
" cardinal's departure, I begged him to send you the book, but he refused to
" comply with my request. I do not understand what the man means. He
" seems to think that he has done something great, though in fact he has not had
" the least participation in the discovery of the book. It was found by another,
' but it is hidden by him. I told both him and his people, that I would never
" again ask him for the book, and I shall be as good as iny word. I had rather
" unlearn what I have learnt, than acquire any knowledge by the means of his
" books." By the interposition of Lorenzo de' Medici, however, the cardinal
was induced to intrust the volume to Niccolo Niccoli, who copied it, and
returned it to the Cardinal. Niccolo's copy is deposited in the Marcian library.

Mehi Prafatio, p. xi xliii.

CHAP. III. 101

Besides Plautus's comedies, Nicolas of Trcves brought
to Rome a fragment of Aulus Gcllius.

Poggio also found a copy of Julius Frontinus de
Aquseductis, and eight books of Firmicus's treatise on the
mathematics, lying neglected and forgotten in the archives
of the monastery of Monte Cassino ; and at the instance of
Niccolo Niccoli he prevailed upon the governors of that
religious house, to allow him to convey these manuscripts
to his own residence, for the purpose of decyphering and
copying them. After he had transcribed Frontinus with his
own hand, he returned the original manuscript to the library
where it had been discovered.* He also procured at Cologne
a copy of Petronius Arbiter, a small fragment of which
author he had before discovered in Britian. By his exertions
also the entire work of Columella was brought to light, of
which only fragments had been known to the earlier scho-
lars. For the preservation of Calpurnius's Bucolic also, the
republic of letters is indebted to the sagacious diligence of

* Joannes Polenus, who published an elegant edition of Frontinus de
Aquaeductis at Padua in the year 1722, procured a transcript of this manuscript,
which was still preserved in the monastery of Monte Cassino, and which he
found to be much more correct than any printed editions of Frontinus's treatise.
It is in the form of a quarto volume, written on parchment, and, as appears
from a fac simile of the first ten or twelve lines, in a very legible character.
From the form of the letters, Polenus conjectures that it was written at the end
of the thirteenth, or the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Prolegomena ad Poleni editioiiem Frontini de Aqaeduclis, p, 19, 20.

-Mention is made of this manuscript by Mabillon, in his Museum Italicitm,
torn. i. p. 123.

t Mehi Prafalio, p. xlviii. xlix.

102 CHAP. III.

In a long and elaborate letter which Poggio received
from Francesco Barbaro, and which bears the date of June
7th, 1417, this learned patrician congratulates his cor-
respondent on the glory which he had acquired by his labours
in the cause of learning, and ascribes to the unremitted
diligence of his investigations, the recovery of the works
of the following authors, in addition to others which have
been already enumerated ; Manilius, Lucius Septimius,
Caper, Eutychius, and Probus. From this letter of Bar-
baro, it appears, that the republic of letters had expected
that Poggio would have been materially assisted in his
inquiries after the relics of ancient literature by Bartolomeo
di Montepulciano, but that in consequence of the ill state of
his associate's health, he was under the necessity of taking
upon himself almost the entire conduct and trouble of the

The expense occasioned by these literary excursions was
a heavy incumbrance upon Poggio, whose property could
by no means bear any extraordinary diminution : and the
fatigue and inconvenience which he experienced in the course
of his travels in quest of manuscripts, induced him at one
time to declare to Niccolo Niccoli that he could not possibly
spend more time in this pursuit.* This declaration was

* Ambrosii Traversarii Opera, torn. ii. p. 285. To the decline of life
Poggio retained a considerable degree of indignation, which was at this time
excited in his mind, by the indifference with which his labours to recover the
los't writers of antiquity were regarded by the great. In the introduction to his
dialogue, De I nfelicitate Principum, he pnts the following strictures on their
conduct into the mouth of Niccolo Niccoli. '' When many of the ancient

CHAP. III. 103

however nothing more than the result of a temporary de-
jection of spirits. During the remainder of his life he
eagerly took advantage of every opportunity of recovering
the lost works of the writers of antiquity, many of which
he transcribed with his own hand. In several of his letters
the zeal with which he endeavoured to procure good copies
of the Latin classics is strikingly conspicuous. His in-
quiries were incessantly and anxiously directed after the
ancient compositions which had not yet been rescued from
beneath the ruins of ages. In the course of his investiga-
tions, he once entertained hopes of recovering the lost
Decads of Livy. A Swede, of the name of Nicolaus, had
solemnly assured him, that he had seen a perfect copy of
Livy's Roman history in a monastery of Cistercian monks
in Hungary. On the receipt of this intelligence, he imme-
diately applied by letter to Niccolo Niccoli, not doubting
but that he could persuade Cosmo de' Medici to dispatch
one Gherardo de 1 Buris to the monastery where the manu-
script was said to be deposited. He was also in hopes that
cardinal Ursini would send a confidental agent to procure
this valuable work ; but in these expectations he was disap-

" classics had been brought to light by our friend Poggio, and there was a most
" flattering prospect of the recovery of others of still greater consequence, uo
" sovereign prince or pontiff contributed in the least degree to the liberation of
" those most excellent authors from the prisons of the barbarians. These
" exalted personages spend their days and their money in pleasures, in unworthy
" pursuits, in pestiferous and destructive wars. So great is their mental tor-
" pidity, that nothing can rouse them to search after the works of excellent
" writers, by whose wisdom and learning mankind are taught the way to true
" felicity."

Poggii Opera, p. 394.

104 CHAP. III.


pointed.* The testimony of Nicolaus the Swede being a
a few years afterwards corroborated by another traveller,
Poggio wrote a letter to Leonello d' Este, Marquis of
Ferrara, giving him an account of the infonnation which
he had received, and intimating, that though the authority
upon which it rested was not of the highest nature, still it
was worthy of attention. Whether Leonello was induced
by Poggio's letter to institute any inquiry after the manu-
script in question, cannot perhaps now be ascertained. Cer-
tain it is, that the learned still lament the imperfect state of
the history of Livy.-f-

Poggio had also at one time conceived hopes of obtain-
ing from a German monk a copy of the works of Tacitus,
containing many portions of that historian's writings, which
had till then lain neglected beneath the accumulated dust of
ages. These hopes were likewise frustrated. By the course
of events, however, it was afterwards proved that they were
not void of foundation : for during the pontificate of Leo. X.
an ancient manuscript containing five books of the history
of Tacitus, which had been long regarded as irrecoverably
lost, was found in Germany, and presented to that pontiff",
according to whose directions it was deposited in the Lau-
rentian library at Florence.^

Amongst the literary characters whose applause ani-

* Mehi Prccfatio, p. xlvi. xlvii.
f Poggii Epistolte Ivii. ep. xxx.

* Mehi Prtpfatio, p. xlvii.

CHAP. III. 105

mated Poggio to persevere in his researches after the lost
writers of antiquity, a place of distinguished honour is due
to Ambrogio Traversari. This learned ecclesiastic was the
son of Bencivennj dei Traversari, and was born on the 16th
of September, 1386, in Portico, a town of Romagna. His
biographers arc not agreed whether his family was poor
or rich, plebeian or noble.* It appears however from in-
contcstible evidence, that soon after he had completed his
fourteenth year, he was admitted into the Camaldolese con-
vent Degli Angioli, at Florence, and that he there took
the monastic vows, on the sixth day of November, 1401.
At the time of his entrance into this religious seminary, it
was governed by Matteo di Guido, a Florentine, who, hap-
pily for the welfare of the ecclesiastical fraternity committed
to his care, tempered the severity, and beguiled the weari-
someness of the cloistered life, by the study of polite letters.
Kindly desirous of communicating to others the pleasure
which he himself experienced in literary pursuits, he person-
ally superintended the education of the youths whom puerile
enthusiasm, or parental authority, had secluded from the
world within the walls of his monastery. Under the care of
this enlightened superior, Ambrogio continued his Latin
studies, which he had commenced under the guidance of

* Mchus, on the authority of one Vespasiano di Filippo, says, that he was
born of poor parents. The author of his life, in the Eloffi degli Illustri
urnnini Toscani, maintains, on the contrary, that his family was graced with
the honours of nobility ; and he supports his position by very cogent arguments.
These different statements may be reconciled by an hypothesis by no means
devoid of probability, namely, that the father of Ambrogio was descended of
noble blood, but that the fortunes of his house were fallen to decay.


106 CHAV. in.

John of Ravenna. In the Greek language he was instructed
by Demetrius Scaranus, an eminent scholar, whom the
alarming inroads of the Turks had caused to fly from Con-
stantinople, and who was induced by the liberality of Matteo
to read lectures on the Grecian classics, in the cloisters of
this convent.* As Ambrogio was actuated by the genuine
enthusiasm of literary zeal, he made a rapid progress in
knowledge. In the prosecution of his studies, indeed, he
enjoyed peculiar advantage. The retirement of the monastic
life afforded him considerable leisure- The library of his
convent was well furnished with books, and he had more-
over the free use of the copious collection of Niccolo
Niccoli, who regarded him with parental affection, and
assiduously fostered his ripening talents by the most liberal
patronage. Inspired by a profound veneration of the models
of just taste, which are to be found in the writings of anti-
quity, he assiduously employed a considerable portion of his
time in multiplying the copies of the classic authors : and
his elegant transcripts of the works which Poggio had res-
cued from obscurity, at once testified his love of literature,
and the high estimation in which he held the labours of his

Demetrius was so much pleased with the respectful attention which he
received from his Camaldolese pupils, that he became a member of their frater-
nity in the year 141fi.

Mehi Vita Ambros. Travers. p. ccclxv.

f Elogi degli uomini illus. Toscani, lorn. i. p. cccxl. Mehi Vila Ambros.
Trovers, p. crelxiv. $ seq. Ejusdem Pratfatio ad Colucii Salutati Epis-
lolas, p. xli.

CHAP. III. 107


After the deposition of John XXII. Poggio still re-
mained at Constance, anxiously hoping that the appoint-
ment of a successor to that ill-fated pontiff would enable
him once more to establish himself in the Roman chancery.
In the prosecution of his interests, he had great dependance
upon the support and patronage of Zabarella, cardinal of
Florence. But his expectations of preferment from this
quarter were unfortunately destroyed by the death of that
illustrious ecclesiastic. [A. D. 1417.] This event, which
occurred on the twenty-sixth of September, 1417, deprived
the council of one of its ablest members, and Poggio of a
kind and zealous friend. The obsequies of Zabarella were
celebrated with extraordinary pomp ; and on this occasion,
Poggio fulfilled the last duties of friendship, by commemo-
rating his virtues in a funeral oration. Impressed by the
solemnity of the subject, and the dignity of his audience,
he exerted in the composition of this oration the full powers
of his eloquence and learning. After a modest exordium,
he proceeded to give a brief account of his departed friend
he then entered into the detail of his good qualities, and
concluded by an impassioned burst of sorrow for the loss
which the lovers of union and peace had sustained ; and by
an exhortation to the assembled dignitaries to pay to their
deceased brother the honours due to his virtues, and to
imitate the moral graces which they had so much admired in
his conduct.

Franceso Zabarella was a native of Padua. His
parents, who moved in the superior circles of society, readily
indulged his early love of literature, and procured him the

108 CHAP. III.

best instructions which their city could afford. Having
finished his preparatory education, Francesco applied him-
self to the study of the civil law, tempering the severity of
this pursuit by the cultivation of polite letters. When he
was arrived at years of maturity, he delivered public lec-
tures on the science of jurisprudence. In discharging the
duty of instruction, he gained the respect and love of his
pupils, by the variety of his knowledge and the benevolence
of his disposition. The celebrity which he acquired by
the ability with which he filled the professor's chair,
attracted the notice of John XXII., who, without any
solicitation on his part, nominated him to the bishopric of
Florence, and afterwards raised him to the dignity of car-
dinal. Stimulated by an earnest desire to put an end to
the schism, he successfully exerted his influence with the
pontiff to induce him to assent to the wishes of the em-
peror of Germany, by summoning a general council ; and
being deputed on the part of the pope, to confer with the
representatives of Sigisrnund, concerning the place where
the council should assemble, he concurred with them in
fixing, for that purpose, upon the city of Constance. He
entered with great zeal into the discussion of the various
subjects which engaged the attention of that renowned
synod. The ardour of his mind indeed hastened his end.
Engaging with uncommon warmth in a tumultuous debate,
at a time when he was languid with sickness, he found
himself so much exhausted, that making a last effort, he
declared, that the speech which he had just concluded was
his testamentary oration, and that he felt himself dying in
defence of the church. He did not long survive this exer-

CHAP. III. 109

tion. After a short residence at the baths of Baden, which
seemed to be of service in recruiting his constitution, he
returned to renew his labours at Constance, where he soon
died, a victim to the ardour of his zeal, and to the unre-
mitting toil of his exertions.*


In the funeral eulogium which Poggio pronounced over
the remains of Zabarella, he asserts, that had the life of
his friend been prolonged, he would in all probability have
been invested with the pontifical purple. All orders of men
now began impatiently to demand the election of a sove-
reign pontiff. [A. D. 1417.] In compliance with their
wishes, the cardinals assembled in conclave on the tenth of
November, and after the usual vehemence of dissention,
they at length agreed in the nomination of Otto Colonna,
who immediately after his election assumed the appellation
of Martin V.f

Thus was terminated the famous schism of the west.
Gregory XII. had died on the 18th of October preceding
the election of Martin :J and though Benedict XIII., con-
fident in the strength of the fortifications of Paniscola,
refused to submit to the decrees of the council, and still
assumed the style, and pretended to exercise the functions
of the pontificate, his adherents were so few, and the tide
of general opinion ran so strongly in favour of Martin V.,

* Pogyii Opera, p. 'J52 261.

f M urn tori .l/inuli if Italia, torn. ix. p. 34.


110 CHAP. 111.

that he was henceforth regarded rather as an object of con-
tempt than of fear.

The council had given an awful admonition to here-
tics. It had also, by an extraordinary exertion of autho-
rity, effected an union of the true believers under a legiti-
mate head. But a most important and difficult matter
remained unaccomplished, namely, the reformation of the
church. The newly elected pontiff listened with apparent
complacence to the petitions which were from time to time
preferred to him, by the various subdivisions of the council,
beseeching him to prosecute this good work by all the means
in his power; but he contrived by studied delays so to
protract the consideration of the particular heads of reform,
that the members of the assembly, weary of their long resi-
dence in Constance, were eager to embrace the first oppor-
tunity of returning to their respective homes. This oppor-
tunity was afforded them on the twenty-second day of April,
1418, on which day the pope formally dismissed the
council.* On the sixteenth of May he left Constance, and
passing through Schaffausen, he proceeded by easy stages

* From a MS. which is preserved at Vienna, L' Enfant has given the fol-
lowing list of the persons who attended this wonderfully numerous assembly
Knights, 2300 Prelates, Priests, and Presbyters, 18,000 Laymen 80,000.
In a more detailed catalogue, the Laymen are thus enumerated Goldsmiths,
45 Shopkeepers, 330 Bankers, 242 Shoemakers, 70 Furriers, 48, Apothe-
caries, 44 Smiths, 92 Confectioners, 75 Bakers belonging to the pope, &c.
250 Vintners of Italian wines, 83 Victuallers for the poorer sort, 43 Floren-
tine Money-changers, 48 Tailors, 228 Heralds at Arms, 65 Jugglers, or
Merry Andrews, 346 Barbers, 306 Courtezans, whose habitations were
known to the author of the list, 700. It should sccrn, however, that this indus-


to Geneva, where he arrived on the eleventh of June.*
At this city he kept his court for some months. Quitting
Germany on the twelfth day of September, he proceeded
to Milan, and afterwards to Mantua. Here he fixed his
residence during the remainder of the year, being prevented
from visiting his capital by the anarchy which the long
absence of legitimate authority had occasioned in the states
of the church. As a grateful return for the hospitality
with which he was received by the duke of Milan, he me-
diated a peace between that prince and Pandolfo Mala-
testa, who, after having taken Bergamo, had directed his
march to Brescia, and by the vigour of his operations had
caused the duke to tremble for the safety of the rest of his

Though it does not appear that Poggio held any office
under the new pontiff, he travelled in the suite of Martin V.
to Mantua. At this city he suddenly quitted the Roman
court with a determination to spend some time in England,
to which country he had been invited by Beaufort, bishop
of Winchester. This prelate, who is well known to all the
admirers of Shakspeare by the title of cardinal Beaufort,
was the son of the celebrated John of Gaunt, duke of Lan-

trious chronicler had not visited all these professional ladies, as the Vienna list
estimates their number at 1500 ! From a memorandum subjoined to this list, it
appears, that during the sitting of the council, one of these frail fair ones earned
the sum of 800 Florins.

L'EnfanCs History of the Council of Constance, vol. ii. p. 415 416,

Muratori Annnli, torn. ix. p. 80.

f Ibid. p. 95.

112 CHAP. III.

caster, and uncle to the reigning English monarch Henry V.
whose studies he had superintended during his residence at
Oxford. In the year 1397 he was elected bishop of Lincoln.
After having enjoyed this promotion for the space of eight
years, he succeeded William of Wickham in the see of
Winchester. He was a man of boundless ambition, well
versed in the crooked policy of court intrigue, and enor-
mously rich. In the course of a pilgrimage which he under-
took to make to Jerusalem, he visited the council of Con-
stance,* where it is probable he first became acquainted with
the merits of Poggio.

Nothing but some suddenly conceived dissatisfaction
with his actual situation, or the prospect of considerable
emolument, could have induced Poggio to fix his residence
in Britain, a country regarded by the Italians as the remo-
test corner of the globe, and as the abode of ignorance and
barbarity. He was in fact led to entertain great expectations
by the magnificent promises of the bishop of Winchester.
But when he arrived in London, he found himself doomed
to the common lot of those who depend upon the patronage

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 8 of 31)