Renaissance in Italy, Volume 1 (of 7)
by John Addington Symonds
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The Age of the Despots



Author of Studies of the Greek Poets, Sketches in Italy and Greece, etc.

'Di questi adunque oziosi principi, e di queste vilissime armi, sara piena la mia Istoria'

Mach. 1st. Fior. lib. i.

New York Henry Holt and Company










Though these books taken together and in the order planned by the author form one connected study of Italian culture at a certain period of history, still each aims at a completeness of its own, and each can be read independently of its companions. That the author does not regard acquaintance with any one of them as essential to a profitable reading of any other has been shown by the publication of each with a separate title-page and without numeration of the volumes, while all three bear the same general heading of "Renaissance in Italy."


This volume is the First Part of a work upon the 'Renaissance in Italy.' The Second Part treats of the Revival of Learning. The Third, of the Fine Arts. The Fourth Part, in two volumes, is devoted to Italian Literature.

Owing to the extent of the ground I have attempted to traverse, I feel conscious that the students of special departments will find much to be desired in my handling of each part. In some respects I hope that the several portions of the work may complete and illustrate each other. Many topics, for example, have been omitted from Chapter VIII. in this volume because they seemed better adapted to treatment in the future.

One of the chief difficulties which the critic has to meet in dealing with the Italian Renaissance is the determination of the limits of the epoch. Two dates, 1453 and 1527, marking respectively the fall of Constantinople and the sack of Rome, are convenient for fixing in the mind that narrow space of time during which the Renaissance culminated. But in order to trace its progress up to this point, it is necessary to go back to a far more remote period; nor, again, is it possible to maintain strict chronological consistency in treating of the several branches of the whole theme.

The books of which the most frequent use has been made in this first portion of the work are Sismondi's 'Republiques Italiennes'; Muratori's 'Rerum Italicarum Scriptores'; the 'Archivio Storico Italiano'; the seventh volume of Michelet's 'Histoire de France'; the seventh and eighth volumes of Gregorovius' 'Geschichte der Stadt Rom'; Ferrari's 'Rivoluzioni d' Italia'; Alberi's series of Despatches; Gino Capponi's 'Storia della Repubblica di Firenze'; and Burckhardt's 'Cultur der Renaissance in Italien.' To the last-named essay I must acknowledge especial obligations. It fell under my notice when I had planned, and in a great measure finished, my own work. But it would be difficult for me to exaggerate the profit I have derived from the comparison of my opinions with those of a writer so thorough in his learning and so delicate in his perceptions as Jacob Burckhardt, or the amount I owe to his acute and philosophical handling of the whole subject. I must also express a special debt to Ferrari, many of whose views I have adopted in the Chapter on 'Italian History.' With regard to the alterations introduced into the substance of the book in this edition, it will be enough to say that I have endeavored to bring each chapter up to the level of present knowledge.

In conclusion, I once more ask indulgence for a volume which, though it aims at a completeness of its own, is professedly but one part of a long inquiry.




Difficulty of fixing Date—Meaning of Word Renaissance—The Emancipation of the Reason—Relation of Feudalism to the Renaissance—Mediaeval Warnings of the Renaissance—Abelard, Bacon, Joachim of Flora, the Provencals, the Heretics, Frederick II.—Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio—Physical Energy of the Italians—The Revival of Learning—The Double Discovery of the World and of Man—Exploration of the Universe and of the Globe—Science—The Fine Arts and Scholarship—Art Humanizes the Conceptions of the Church—Three Stages in the History of Scholarship—The Age of Desire—The Age of Acquisition—The Legend of Julia's Corpse—The Age of the Printers and Critics—The Emancipation of the Conscience—The Reformation and the Modern Critical Spirit—Mechanical Inventions—The Place of Italy in the Renaissance P. 1.



The special Difficulties of this Subject—Apparent Confusion—Want of leading Motive—The Papacy—The Empire—The Republics—The Despots—The People—The Dismemberment of Italy—Two main Topics—The Rise of the Communes—Gothic Kingdom—Lombards—Franks—Germans—The Bishops—The Consuls—The Podestas—Civil Wars—Despots—The Balance of Power—The Five Italian States—The Italians fail to achieve National Unity—The Causes of this Failure—Conditions under which it might have been achieved—A Republic—A Kingdom—A Confederation—A Tyranny—The Part played by the Papacy P. 32.



Salient Qualities of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries in Italy—Relation of Italy to the Empire and to the Church—The Illegitimate Title of Italian Potentates—The Free Emergence of Personality—Frederick II. and the Influence of his Example—Ezzelino da Romano—Six Sorts of Italian Despots—Feudal Seigneurs—Vicars of the Empire—Captains of the People—Condottieri—Nephews and Sons of Popes—Eminent Burghers—Italian Incapacity for Self-government in Commonwealths—Forcible Tenure of Power encouraged Personal Ability—The Condition of the Despot's Life—Instances of Domestic Crime in the Ruling Houses—Macaulay's Description of the Italian Tyrant—Savonarola's and Matteo Villani's Descriptions of a Tyrant—The Absorption of Smaller by Greater Tyrannies in the Fourteenth Century—History of the Visconti—Francesco Sforza—The Part played in Italian Politics by Military Leaders—Mercenary Warfare—Alberico da Barbiano, Braccio da Montone, Sforza Attendolo—History of the Sforza Dynasty—The Murder of Galeazzo Maria Sforza—The Ethics of Tyrannicide in Italy—Relation of the Despots to Arts and Letters—Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta—Duke Federigo of Urbino—The School of Vittorino and the Court of Urbino—The Cortegiano of Castiglione—The Ideals of the Italian Courtier and the Modern Gentleman—General Retrospect P. 99.



The different Physiognomies of the Italian Republics—The Similarity of their Character as Municipalities—The Rights of Citizenship—Causes of Disturbance in the Commonwealths—Belief in the Plasticity of Constitutions—Example of Genoa—Savonarola's Constitution—Machiavelli's Discourse to Leo X.—Complexity of Interests and Factions—Example of Siena—Small Size of Italian Cities—Mutual Mistrust and Jealousy of the Commonwealths—The notable Exception of Venice—Constitution of Venice—Her wise System of Government—Contrast of Florentine Vicissitudes—The Magistracies of Florence—Balia and Parlamento—The Arts of the Medici—Comparison of Venice and Florence in respect to Intellectual Activity and Mobility—Parallels between Greece and Italy—Essential Differences—The Mercantile Character of Italian Burghs—The 'Trattato del Governo della Famiglia'—The Bourgeois Tone of Florence, and the Ideal of a Burgher—Mercenary Arms P. 193.



Florence, the City of Intelligence—Cupidity, Curiosity, and the Love of Beauty—Florentine Historical Literature—Philosophical Study of History—Ricordano Malespini—Florentine History compared with the Chronicles of other Italian Towns—The Villani—The Date 1300—Statistics—Dante's Political Essays and Pamphlets—Dino Compagni—Latin Histories of Florence in Fifteenth Century—Lionardo Bruni and Poggio Bracciolini—The Historians of the First Half of the Sixteenth Century—Men of Action and Men of Letters; the Doctrinaires—Florence between 1494 and 1537—Varchi, Segni, Nardi, Pitti, Nerli, Guicciardini—The Political Importance of these Writers—The Last Years of Florentine Independence, and the Siege of 1529—State of Parties—Filippo Strozzi—Different Views of Florentine Weakness taken by the Historians—Their Literary Qualities—Francesco Guicciardini and Niccolo Machiavelli—Scientific Statists—Discord between Life and Literature—The Biography of Guicciardini—His 'Istoria d'Italia,' 'Dialogo del Reggimento di Firenze,' 'Storia Fiorentina,' 'Ricordi'—Biography of Machiavelli—His Scheme of a National Militia—Dedication of 'The Prince'—Political Ethics of the Italian Renaissance—The 'Discorsi'—The Seven Books on the Art of War and the 'History of Florence. P. 246.



The Sincerity of Machiavelli in this Essay—Machiavellism—His deliberate Formulation of a cynical political Theory—Analysis of 'The Prince'—Nine Conditions of Principalities—The Interest of the Conqueror acknowledged as the sole Motive of his Policy—Critique of Louis XII.—Feudal Monarchy and Oriental Despotism—Three Ways of subduing a free City—Example of Pisa—Principalities founded by Adventurers—Moses, Romulus, Cyrus, Theseus—Savonarola—Francesco Sforza—Cesare Borgia—Machiavelli's personal Relation to him—Machiavelli's Admiration of Cesare's Genius—A Sketch of Cesare's Career—Concerning those who have attained to Sovereignty by Crimes—Oliverotto da Fermo—The Uses of Cruelty—Messer Ramiro d' Orco—The pessimistic Morality of Machiavelli—On the Faith of Princes—Alexander VI.—The Policy of seeming virtuous and honest—Absence of chivalrous Feeling in Italy—The Military System of a powerful Prince—Criticism of Mercenaries and Auxiliaries—Necessity of National Militia—The Art of War—Patriotic Conclusion of the Treatise—Machiavelli and Savonarola P. 334.



The Papacy between 1447 and 1527—The Contradictions of the Renaissance Period exemplified by the Popes—Relaxation of their hold over the States of the Church and Rome during the Exile in Avignon—Nicholas V.—His Conception of a Papal Monarchy—Pius II.—The Crusade—Renaissance Pontiffs—Paul II.—Persecution of the Platonists—Sixtus IV.—Nepotism—The Families of Riario and Delia Rovere—Avarice—Love of Warfare—Pazzi Conspiracy—Inquisition in Spain—Innocent VIII.—Franceschetto Cibo—The Election of Alexander VI.—His Consolidation of the Temporal Power—Policy toward Colonna and Orsini Families—Venality of everything in Rome—Policy toward the Sultan—The Index—The Borgia Family—Lucrezia—Murder of Duke of Gandia—Cesare and his Advancement—The Death of Alexander—Julius II.—His violent Temper—Great Projects and commanding Character—Leo X.—His Inferiority to Julius—S. Peter's and the Reformation—Adrian VI.—His Hatred of Pagan Culture—Disgust of the Roman Court at his Election—Clement VII.—Sack of Rome—Enslavement of Florence P. 371.



Corruption of the Church—Degradation and Division of Italy—Opinions of Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and King Ferdinand of Naples—Incapacity of the Italians for thorough Reformation—The Worldliness and Culture of the Renaissance—Witness of Italian Authors against the Papal Court and the Convents—Superstitious Respect for Relics—Separation between Religion and Morality—Mixture of Contempt and Reverence for the Popes—Gianpaolo Baglioni—Religious Sentiments of the Tyrannicides—Pietro Paolo Boscoli—Tenacity of Religions—The direct Interest of the Italians in Rome—Reverence for the Sacraments of the Church—Opinions pronounced by Englishmen on Italian Immorality—Bad Faith and Sensuality—The Element of the Fancy in Italian Vice—The Italians not Cruel, or Brutal, or Intemperate by Nature—Domestic Murders—Sense of Honor in Italy—Onore and Onesta—General Refinement—Good Qualities of the People—Religious Revivalism P. 447.



The Attitude of Savonarola toward the Renaissance—His Parentage, Birth, and Childhood at Ferrara—His Poem on the Ruin of the World—Joins the Dominicans at Bologna—Letter to his Father—Poem on the Ruin of the Church—Begins to preach in 1482—First Visit to Florence—San Gemignano—His Prophecy—Brescia in 1486—Personal Appearance and Style of Oratory—Effect on his audience—The three Conclusions—His Visions—Savonarola's Shortcomings as a patriotic Statesman—His sincere Belief in his prophetic Calling—Friendship with Pico della Mirandola—Settles in Florence, 1490—Convent of San Marco—Savonarola's Relation to Lorenzo de' Medici—The death of Lorenzo—Sermons of 1493 and 1494—the Constitution of 1495—Theocracy in Florence—Piagnoni, Bigi, and Arrabbiati—War between Savonarola and Alexander VI.—The Signory suspends him from preaching in the Duomo in 1498—Attempts to call a Council—The Ordeal by Fire—San Marco stormed by the Mob—Trial and Execution of Savonarola P. 497.



The Italian States confront the Great Nations of Europe—Policy of Louis XI. of France—Character of Charles VIII.—Preparations for the Invasion of Italy—Position of Lodovico Sforza—Diplomatic Difficulties in Italy after the Death of Lorenzo de' Medici—Weakness of the Republics—Il Moro—The year 1494—-Alfonso of Naples—Inefficiency of the Allies to cope with France—Charles at Lyons is stirred up to the Invasion of Italy by Giuliano della Rovere—Charles at Asti and Pavia—Murder of Gian Galeazzo Sforza—Mistrust in the French Army—Rapallo and Fivizzano—The Entrance into Tuscany—Part played by Piero de' Medici—Charles at Pisa—His Entrance into Florence—Piero Capponi—The March on Rome—Entry into Rome—Panic of Alexander VI.—The March on Naples—The Spanish Dynasty: Alfonso and Ferdinand—Alfonso II. escapes to Sicily—Ferdinand II. takes Refuge in Ischia—Charles at Naples—The League against the French—De Comines at Venice—Charles makes his Retreat by Rome, Siena, Pisa, and Pontremoli—The Battle of Fornovo—Charles reaches Asti and returns to France—Italy becomes the Prize to be fought for by France, Spain, and Germany—Importance of the Expedition of Charles VIII. P. 537.

* * * * *


No. I.—The Blood-madness of Tyrants 589

No. II.—Translations of Nardi, 'Istorie di Firenze,' lib. l. cap. 4; and of Varchi, 'Storia Fiorentina,' lib. iii. caps. 20, 21, 22; lib. ix. caps. 48, 49, 46 592

No. III.—The Character of Alexander VI., from Guicciardini's 'Storia Fiorentina,' cap. 27 603

No. IV.—Religious Revivals in Mediaeval Italy 606

No. V.—The 'Sommario della Storia d' Italia dal 1511 al 1527, by Francesco Vettori 624




Difficulty of fixing Date—Meaning of Word Renaissance—The Emancipation of the Reason—Relation of Feudalism to the Renaissance—Mediaeval Warnings of the Renaissance—Abelard, Bacon, Joachim of Flora, the Provencals, the Heretics, Frederick II.—Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio—Physical Energy of the Italians—The Revival of Learning—The Double Discovery of the World and of Man—Exploration of the Universe and of the Globe—Science—The Fine Arts and Scholarship—Art Humanizes the Conceptions of the Church—Three Stages in the History of Scholarship—The Age of Desire—The Age of Acquisition—The Legend of Julia's Corpse—The Age of the Printers and Critics—The Emancipation of the Conscience—The Reformation and the Modern Critical Spirit—Mechanical Inventions—The Place of Italy in the Renaissance.

The word Renaissance has of late years received a more extended significance than that which is implied in our English equivalent—the Revival of Learning. We use it to denote the whole transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern World; and though it is possible to assign certain limits to the period during which this transition took place, we cannot fix on any dates so positively as to say—between this year and that the movement was accomplished. To do so would be like trying to name the days on which spring in any particular season began and ended Yet we speak of spring as different from winter and from summer. The truth is, that in many senses we are still in mid-Renaissance. The evolution has not been completed. The new life is our own and is progressive. As in the transformation scene of some great Masque, so here the waning and the waxing shapes are mingled; the new forms, at first shadowy and filmy, gain upon the old; and now both blend; and now the old scene fades into the background; still, who shall say whether the new scene be finally set up?

In like manner we cannot refer the whole phenomena of the Renaissance to any one cause or circumstance, or limit them within the field of any one department of human knowledge. If we ask the students of art what they mean by the Renaissance, they will reply that it was the revolution effected in architecture, painting, and sculpture by the recovery of antique monuments. Students of literature, philosophy, and theology see in the Renaissance that discovery of manuscripts, that passion for antiquity, that progress in philology and criticism, which led to a correct knowledge of the classics, to a fresh taste in poetry, to new systems of thought, to more accurate analysis, and finally to the Lutheran schism and the emancipation of the conscience. Men of science will discourse about the discovery of the solar system by Copernicus and Galileo, the anatomy of Vesalius, and Harvey's theory of the circulation of the blood. The origination of a truly scientific method is the point which interests them most in the Renaissance. The political historian, again, has his own answer to the question. The extinction of feudalism, the development of the great nationalities of Europe, the growth of monarchy, the limitation of the ecclesiastical authority and the erection of the Papacy into an Italian kingdom, and in the last place the gradual emergence of that sense of popular freedom which exploded in the Revolution; these are the aspects of the movement which engross his attention. Jurists will describe the dissolution of legal fictions based upon the false decretals, the acquisition of a true text of the Roman Code, and the attempt to introduce a rational method into the theory of modern jurisprudence, as well as to commence the study of international law. Men whose attention has been turned to the history of discoveries and inventions will relate the exploration of America and the East, or will point to the benefits conferred upon the world by the arts of printing and engraving, by the compass and the telescope, by paper and by gunpowder; and will insist that at the moment of the Renaissance all these instruments of mechanical utility started into existence, to aid the dissolution of what was rotten and must perish, to strengthen and perpetuate the new and useful and life-giving. Yet neither any one of these answers taken separately, nor indeed all of them together, will offer a solution of the problem. By the term Renaissance, or new birth, is indicated a natural movement, not to be explained by this or that characteristic, but to be accepted as an effort of humanity for which at length the time had come, and in the onward progress of which we still participate. The history of the Renaissance is not the history of arts, or of sciences, or of literature, or even of nations. It is the history of the attainment of self-conscious freedom by the human spirit manifested in the European races. It is no mere political mutation, no new fashion of art, no restoration of classical standards of taste. The arts and the inventions, the knowledge and the books, which suddenly became vital at the time of the Renaissance, had long lain neglected on the shores of the Dead Sea which we call the Middle Ages. It was not their discovery which caused the Renaissance. But it was the intellectual energy, the spontaneous outburst of intelligence, which enabled mankind at that moment to make use of them. The force then generated still continues, vital and expansive, in the spirit of the modern world.

How was it, then, that at a certain period, about fourteen centuries after Christ, to speak roughly, the intellect of the Western races awoke as it were from slumber and began once more to be active? That is a question which we can but imperfectly answer. The mystery of organic life defeats analysis; whether the subject of our inquiry be a germ-cell, or a phenomenon so complex as the commencement of a new religion, or the origination of a new disease, or a new phase in civilization, it is alike impossible to do more than to state the conditions under which the fresh growth begins, and to point out what are its manifestations. In doing so, moreover, we must be careful not to be carried away by words of our own making. Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolution are not separate things, capable of being isolated; they are moments in the history of the human race which we find it convenient to name; while history itself is one and continuous, so that our utmost endeavors to regard some portion of it independently of the rest will be defeated.

A glance at the history of the preceding centuries shows that, after the dissolution of the fabric of the Roman Empire, there was no immediate possibility of any intellectual revival. The barbarous races which had deluged Europe had to absorb their barbarism: the fragments of Roman civilization had either to be destroyed or assimilated: the Germanic nations had to receive culture and religion from the people they had superseded; the Church had to be created, and a new form given to the old idea of the Empire. It was further necessary that the modern nationalities should be defined, that the modern languages should be formed, that peace should be secured to some extent, and wealth accumulated, before the indispensable conditions for a resurrection of the free spirit of humanity could exist. The first nation which fulfilled these conditions was the first to inaugurate the new era. The reason why Italy took the lead in the Renaissance was, that Italy possessed a language, a favorable climate, political freedom, and commercial prosperity, at a time when other nations were still semi-barbarous. Where the human spirit had been buried in the decay of the Roman Empire, there it arose upon the ruins of that Empire; and the Papacy, called by Hobbes the ghost of the dead Roman Empire, seated, throned and crowned, upon the ashes thereof, to some extent bridged over the gulf between the two periods.

Keeping steadily in sight the truth that the real quality of the Renaissance was intellectual, that it was the emancipation of the reason for the modern world, we may inquire how feudalism was related to it. The mental condition of the Middle Ages was one of ignorant prostration before the idols of the Church—dogma and authority and scholasticism. Again, the nations of Europe during these centuries were bound down by the brute weight of material necessities. Without the power over the outer world which the physical sciences and useful arts communicate, without the ease of life which wealth and plenty secure, without the traditions of a civilized past, emerging slowly from a state of utter rawness, each nation could barely do more than gain and keep a difficult hold upon existence. To depreciate the work achieved during the Middle Ages would be ridiculous. Yet we may point out that it was done unconsciously—that it was a gradual and instinctive process of becoming. The reason, in one word, was not awake; the mind of man was ignorant of its own treasures and its own capacities. It is pathetic to think of the mediaeval students poring over a single ill-translated sentence of Porphyry, endeavoring to extract from its clauses whole systems of logical science, and torturing their brains about puzzles hardly less idle than the dilemma of Buridan's donkey, while all the time, at Constantinople and at Seville, in Greek and Arabic, Plato and Aristotle were alive but sleeping, awaiting only the call of the Renaissance to bid them speak with voice intelligible to the modern mind. It is no less pathetic to watch tide after tide of the ocean of humanity sweeping from all parts of Europe, to break in passionate but unavailing foam upon the shores of Palestine, whole nations laying life down for the chance of seeing the walls of Jerusalem, worshiping the sepulcher whence Christ had risen, loading their fleet with relics and with cargoes of the sacred earth, while all the time within their breasts and brains the spirit of the Lord was with them, living but unrecognized, the spirit of freedom which erelong was destined to restore its birthright to the world.

Meanwhile the middle age accomplished its own work. Slowly and obscurely, amid stupidity and ignorance, were being forged the nations and the languages of Europe. Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany took shape. The actors of the future drama acquired their several characters, and formed the tongues whereby their personalities should be expressed. The qualities which render modern society different from that of the ancient world, were being impressed upon these nations by Christianity, by the Church, by chivalry, by feudal customs. Then came a further phase. After the nations had been molded, their monarchies and dynasties were established. Feudalism passed by slow degrees into various forms of more or less defined autocracy. In Italy and Germany numerous principalities sprang into pre-eminence; and though the nation was not united under one head, the monarchical principle was acknowledged. France and Spain submitted to a despotism, by right of which the king could say, 'L'Etat c'est moi.' England developed her complicated constitution of popular right and royal prerogative. At the same time the Latin Church underwent a similar process of transformation. The Papacy became more autocratic. Like the king, the Pope began to say, 'L'Eglise c'est moi.' This merging of the mediaeval State and mediaeval Church in the personal supremacy of King and Pope may be termed the special feature of the last age of feudalism which preceded the Renaissance. It was thus that the necessary conditions and external circumstances were prepared. The organization of the five great nations, and the leveling of political and spiritual interests under political and spiritual despots, formed the prelude to that drama of liberty of which the Renaissance was the first act, the Reformation the second, the Revolution the third, and which we nations of the present are still evolving in the establishment of the democratic idea.

Meanwhile, it must not be imagined that the Renaissance burst suddenly upon the world in the fifteenth century without premonitory symptoms. Far from that: within the middle age itself, over and over again, the reason strove to break loose from its fetters. Abelard, in the twelfth century, tried to prove that the interminable dispute about entities and words was founded on a misapprehension. Roger Bacon, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, anticipated modern science, and proclaimed that man, by use of nature, can do all things. Joachim of Flora, intermediate between the two, drank one drop of the cup of prophecy offered to his lips, and cried that 'the Gospel of the Father was past, the Gospel of the Son was passing, the Gospel of the Spirit was to be.' These three men, each in his own way, the Frenchman as a logician, the Englishman as an analyst, the Italian as a mystic, divined the future but inevitable emancipation of the reason of mankind. Nor were there wanting signs, especially in Provence, that Aphrodite and Phoebus and the Graces were ready to resume their sway. The premature civilization of that favored region, so cruelly extinguished by the Church, was itself a reaction of nature against the restrictions imposed by ecclesiastical discipline; while the songs of the wandering students, known under the title of Carmina Burana, indicate a revival of Pagan or pre-Christian feeling in the very stronghold of mediaeval learning. We have, moreover, to remember the Cathari, the Paterini, the Fraticelli, the Albigenses, the Hussites—heretics in whom the new light dimly shone, but who were instantly exterminated by the Church. We have to commemorate the vast conception of the Emperor Frederick II., who strove to found a new society of humane culture in the South of Europe, and to anticipate the advent of the spirit of modern tolerance. He, too, and all his race were exterminated by the Papal jealousy. Truly we may say with Michelet that the Sibyl of the Renaissance kept offering her books in vain to feudal Europe. In vain because the time was not yet. The ideas projected thus early on the modern world were immature and abortive, like those headless trunks and zoophitic members of half-molded humanity which, in the vision of Empedocles, preceded the birth of full-formed man. The nations were not ready. Franciscans imprisoning Roger Bacon for venturing to examine what God had meant to keep secret; Dominicans preaching crusades against the cultivated nobles of Toulouse; Popes stamping out the seed of enlightened Frederick; Benedictines erasing the masterpieces of classical literature to make way for their own litanies and lurries, or selling pieces of the parchment for charms; a laity devoted by superstition to saints and by sorcery to the devil; a clergy sunk in sensual sloth or fevered with demoniac zeal: these still ruled the intellectual destinies of Europe. Therefore the first anticipations of the Renaissance were fragmentary and sterile.

Then came a second period. Dante's poem, a work of conscious art, conceived in a modern spirit and written in a modern tongue, was the first true sign that Italy, the leader of the nations of the West, had shaken off her sleep. Petrarch followed. His ideal, of antique culture as the everlasting solace and the universal education of the human race, his lifelong effort to recover the classical harmony of thought and speech, gave a direct impulse to one of the chief movements of the Renaissance—its passionate outgoing toward the ancient world. After Petrarch, Boccaccio opened yet another channel for the stream of freedom. His conception of human existence as joy to be accepted with thanksgiving, not as a gloomy error to be rectified by suffering, familiarized the fourteenth century with that form of semi-pagan gladness which marked the real Renaissance.

In Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio Italy recovered the consciousness of intellectual liberty. What we call the Renaissance had not yet arrived; but their achievement rendered its appearance in due season certain. With Dante the genius of the modern world dared to stand alone and to create confidently after its own fashion. With Petrarch the same genius reached forth across the gulf of darkness, resuming the tradition of a splendid past. With Boccaccio the same genius proclaimed the beauty of the world, the goodliness of youth and strength and love and life, unterrified by hell, unappalled by the shadow of impending death.

It was now, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, when Italy had lost indeed the heroic spirit which we admire in her Communes of the thirteenth, but had gained instead ease, wealth, magnificence, and that repose which springs from long prosperity, that the new age at last began. Europe was, as it were, a fallow field, beneath which lay buried the civilization of the old world. Behind stretched the centuries of mediaevalism, intellectually barren and inert. Of the future there were as yet but faint foreshadowings. Meanwhile, the force of the nations who were destined to achieve the coming transformation was unexhausted; their physical and mental faculties were unimpaired. No ages of enervating luxury, of intellectual endeavor, of life artificially preserved or ingeniously prolonged, had sapped the fiber of the men who were about to inaugurate the modern world. Severely nurtured, unused to delicate living, these giants of the Renaissance were like boys in their capacity for endurance, their inordinate appetite for enjoyment. No generations, hungry, sickly, effete, critical, disillusioned, trod them down. Ennui and the fatigue that springs from skepticism, the despair of thwarted effort, were unknown. Their fresh and unperverted senses rendered them keenly alive to what was beautiful and natural. They yearned for magnificence, and instinctively comprehended splendor. At the same time the period of satiety was still far off. Everything seemed possible to their young energy; nor had a single pleasure palled upon their appetite. Born, as it were, at the moment when desires and faculties are evenly balanced, when the perceptions are not blunted nor the senses cloyed, opening their eyes for the first time on a world of wonder, these men of the Renaissance enjoyed what we may term the first transcendent springtide of the modern world. Nothing is more remarkable than the fullness of the life that throbbed in them. Natures rich in all capacities and endowed with every kind of sensibility were frequent. Nor was there any limit to the play of personality in action. We may apply to them what Mr. Browning has written of Sordello's temperament:—

A footfall there Suffices to upturn to the warm air Half germinating spices, mere decay Produces richer life, and day by day New pollen on the lily-petal grows, And still more labyrinthine buds the rose.

During the Middle Ages man had lived enveloped in a cowl. He had not seen the beauty of the world or had seen it only to cross himself, and turn aside and tell his beads and pray. Like S. Bernard traveling along the shores of the Lake Leman, and noticing neither the azure of the waters, nor the luxuriance of the vines, nor the radiance of the mountains with their robe of sun and snow, but bending a thought-burdened forehead over the neck of his mule; even like this monk, humanity had passed, a careful pilgrim, intent on the terrors of sin, death, and judgment, along the highways of the world, and had scarcely known that they were sightworthy, or that life is a blessing. Beauty is a snare, pleasure a sin, the world a fleeting show, man fallen and lost, death the only certainty, judgment inevitable, hell everlasting, heaven hard to win; ignorance is acceptable to God as a proof of faith and submission; abstinence and mortification are the only safe rules of life: these were the fixed ideas of the ascetic mediaeval Church. The Renaissance shattered and destroyed them, rending the thick veil which they had drawn between the mind of man and the outer world, and flashing the light of reality upon the darkened places of his own nature. For the mystic teaching of the Church was substituted culture in the classical humanities; a new ideal was established, whereby man strove to make himself the monarch of the globe on which it is his privilege as well as destiny to live. The Renaissance was the liberation of the reason from a dungeon, the double discovery of the outer and the inner world.

An external event determined the direction which this outburst of the spirit of freedom should take. This was the contact of the modern with the ancient mind which followed upon what is called the Revival of Learning. The fall of the Greek Empire in 1453, while it signalized the extinction of the old order, gave an impulse to the now accumulated forces of the new. A belief in the identity of the human spirit under all previous manifestations and in its uninterrupted continuity was generated. Men found that in classical as well as Biblical antiquity existed an ideal of human life, both moral and intellectual, by which they might profit in the present. The modern genius felt confidence in its own energies when it learned what the ancients had achieved. The guesses of the ancients stimulated the exertions of the moderns. The whole world's history seemed once more to be one.

The great achievements of the Renaissance were the discovery of the world and the discovery of man.[1] Under these two formulae may be classified all the phenomena which properly belong to this period. The discovery of the world divides itself into two branches—the exploration of the globe, and that systematic exploration of the universe which is in fact what we call Science. Columbus made known America in 1492; the Portuguese rounded the Cape in 1497; Copernicus explained the solar system in 1507. It is not necessary to add anything to this plain statement; for, in contact with facts of such momentous import, to avoid what seems like commonplace reflection would be difficult. Yet it is only when we contrast the ten centuries which preceded these dates with the four centuries which have ensued, that we can estimate the magnitude of that Renaissance movement by means of which a new hemisphere has been added to civilization. In like manner, it is worth while to pause a moment and consider what is implied in the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system. The world, regarded in old times as the center of all things, the apple of God's eye, for the sake of which were created sun and moon and stars, suddenly was found to be one of the many balls that roll round a giant sphere of light and heat, which is itself but one among innumerable suns attended each by a cortege of planets, and scattered, how we know not, through infinity. What has become of that brazen seat of the old gods, that Paradise to which an ascending Deity might be caught up through clouds, and hidden for a moment from the eyes of his disciples. The demonstration of the simplest truths of astronomy destroyed at a blow the legends that were most significant to the early Christians by annihilating their symbolism. Well might the Church persecute Galileo for his proof of the world's mobility. Instinctively she perceived that in this one proposition was involved the principle of hostility to her most cherished conceptions, to the very core of her mythology. Science was born, and the warfare between scientific positivism and religious metaphysic was declared. Henceforth God could not be worshiped under the forms and idols of a sacerdotal fancy; a new meaning had been given to the words: 'God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' The reason of man was at last able to study the scheme of the universe, of which he is a part, and to ascertain the actual laws by which it is governed. Three centuries and a half have elapsed since Copernicus revolutionized astronomy. It is only by reflecting on the mass of knowledge we have since acquired, knowledge not only infinitely curious but also incalculably useful in its application to the arts of life, and then considering how much ground of this kind was acquired in the ten centuries which preceded the Renaissance, that we are at all able to estimate the expansive force which was then generated. Science, rescued from the hand of astrology, geomancy, alchemy, began her real life with the Renaissance. Since then, as far as to the present moment she has never ceased to grow. Progressive and durable, Science may be called the first-born of the spirit of the modern world.

[1] It is to Michelet that we owe these formulae, which have passed into the language of history.

Thus by the discovery of the world is meant on the one hand the appropriation by civilized humanity of all corners of the habitable globe, and on the other the conquest by Science of all that we now know about the nature of the universe. In the discovery of man, again, it is possible to trace a twofold process. Man in his temporal relations, illustrated by Pagan antiquity, and man in his spiritual relations, illustrated by Biblical antiquity; these are the two regions, at first apparently distinct, afterwards found to be interpenetrative, which the critical and inquisitive genius of the Renaissance opened for investigation. In the former of these regions we find two agencies at work, art and scholarship. During the Middle Ages the plastic arts, like philosophy, had degenerated into barren and meaningless scholasticism—a frigid reproduction of lifeless forms copied technically and without inspiration from debased patterns. Pictures became symbolically connected with the religious feelings of the people, formulae from which to deviate would be impious in the artist and confusing to the worshiper. Superstitious reverence bound the painter to copy the almond eyes and stiff joints of the saints whom he had adored from infancy; and, even had it been otherwise, he lacked the skill to imitate the natural forms he saw around him. But with the dawning of the Renaissance, a new spirit in the arts arose. Men began to conceive that the human body is noble in itself and worthy of patient study. The object of the artist then became to unite devotional feeling and respect for the sacred legend with the utmost beauty and the utmost fidelity of delineation. He studied from the nude; he drew the body in every posture; he composed drapery, invented attitudes, and adapted the action of his figures and the expression of his faces to the subject he had chosen. In a word, he humanized the altar-pieces and the cloister-frescoes upon which he worked. In this way the painters rose above the ancient symbols, and brought heaven down to earth. By drawing Madonna and her son like living human beings, by dramatizing the Christian history, they silently substituted the love of beauty and the interests of actual life for the principles of the Church. The saint or angel became an occasion for the display of physical perfection, and to introduce 'un bel corpo ignudo' into the composition was of more moment to them than to represent the macerations of the Magdalen. Men thus learned to look beyond the relique and the host, and to forget the dogma in the lovely forms which gave it expression. Finally, when the classics came to aid this work of progress, a new world of thought and fancy, divinely charming, wholly human, was revealed to their astonished eyes. Thus art, which had begun by humanizing the legends of the Church, diverted the attention of its students from the legend to the work of beauty, and lastly, severing itself from the religious tradition, became the exponent of the majesty and splendor of the human body. This final emancipation of art from ecclesiastical trammels culminated in the great age of Italian painting. Gazing at Michael Angelo's prophets in the Sistine Chapel, we are indeed in contact with ideas originally religious. But the treatment of these ideas is purely, broadly human, on a level with that of the sculpture of Pheidias. Titian's Virgin received into Heaven, soaring midway between the archangel who descends to crown her and the apostles who yearn to follow her, is far less a Madonna Assunta than the apotheosis of humanity conceived as a radiant mother. Throughout the picture there is nothing ascetic, nothing mystic, nothing devotional. Nor did the art of the Renaissance stop here. It went further, and plunged into Paganism. Sculptors and painters combined with architects to cut the arts loose from their connection with the Church by introducing a spirit and a sentiment alien to Christianity.

Through the instrumentality of art, and of all the ideas which art introduced into daily life, the Renaissance wrought for the modern world a real resurrection of the body, which, since the destruction of antique civilization, had lain swathed up in hair-shirts and cerements within the tomb of the mediaeval cloister. It was scholarship which revealed to men the wealth of their own minds, the dignity of human thought, the value of human speculation, the importance of human life regarded as a thing apart from religious rules and dogmas. During the Middle Ages a few students had possessed the poems of Virgil and the prose of Boethius—and Virgil at Mantua, Boethius at Pavia, had actually been honored as saints—together with fragments of Lucan, Ovid, Statius, Juvenal, Cicero, and Horace. The Renaissance opened to the whole reading public the treasure-houses of Greek and Latin literature. At the same time the Bible in its original tongues was rediscovered. Mines of Oriental learning were laid bare for the students of the Jewish and Arabic traditions. The Aryan and Semitic revelations were for the first time subjected to something like a critical comparison. With unerring instinct the men of the Renaissance named the voluminous subject-matter of scholarship 'Litterae Humaniores,'—the more human literature, or the literature that humanizes.

There are three stages in the history of scholarship during the Renaissance. The first is the age of passionate desire; Petrarch poring over a Homer he could not understand, and Boccaccio in his maturity learning Greek, in order that he might drink from the well-head of poetic inspiration, are the heroes of this period. They inspired the Italians with a thirst for antique culture. Next comes the age of acquisition and of libraries. Nicholas V., who founded the Vatican Library in 1453, Cosimo de Medici, who began the Medicean Collection a little earlier, and Poggio Bracciolini, who ransacked all the cities and convents of Europe for manuscripts, together with the teachers of Greek, who in the first half of the fifteenth century escaped from Constantinople with precious freights of classic literature, are the heroes of this second period. It was an age of accumulation, of uncritical and indiscriminate enthusiasm. Manuscripts were worshiped by these men, just as the reliques of Holy Land had been adored by their great-grandfathers. The eagerness of the Crusades was revived in this quest of the Holy Grail of ancient knowledge. Waifs and strays of Pagan authors were valued like precious gems, reveled in like odoriferous and gorgeous flowers, consulted like oracles of God, gazed on like the eyes of a beloved mistress. The good, the bad, and the indifferent received an almost equal homage. Criticism had not yet begun. The world was bent on gathering up its treasures, frantically bewailing the lost books of Livy, the lost songs of Sappho—absorbing to intoxication the strong wine of multitudinous thoughts and passions that kept pouring from those long-buried amphora of inspiration. What is most remarkable about this age of scholarship is the enthusiasm which pervaded all classes in Italy for antique culture. Popes and princes, captains of adventure and peasants, noble ladies and the leaders of the demi-monde, alike became scholars. There is a story told by Infessura which illustrates the temper of the times with singular felicity. On the 18th of April 1485 a report circulated in Rome that some Lombard workmen had discovered a Roman sarcophagus while digging on the Appian Way. It was a marble tomb, engraved with the inscription, 'Julia, Daughter of Claudius,' and inside the coffer lay the body of a most beautiful girl of fifteen years, preserved by precious unguents from corruption and the injury of time. The bloom of youth was still upon her cheeks and lips; her eyes and mouth were half open; her long hair floated round her shoulders. She was instantly removed, so goes the legend, to the Capitol; and then began a procession of pilgrims from all the quarters of Rome to gaze upon this saint of the old Pagan world. In the eyes of those enthusiastic worshipers, her beauty was beyond imagination or description: she was far fairer than any woman of the modern age could hope to be. At last Innocent VIII. feared lest the orthodox faith should suffer by this new cult of a heathen corpse. Julia was buried secretly and at night by his direction, and naught remained in the Capitol but her empty marble coffin. The tale, as told by Infessura, is repeated in Matarazzo and in Nantiporto with slight variations. One says that the girl's hair was yellow, another that it was of the glossiest black. What foundation for the legend may really have existed need not here be questioned. Let us rather use the mythus as a parable of the ecstatic devotion which prompted the men of that age to discover a form of unimaginable beauty in the tomb of the classic world.[1]

[1] The most remarkable document regarding the body of Julia which has yet been published is a Latin letter, written by Bartholomaeus Fontius to his friend Franciscus Saxethus, minutely describing her, with details which appear to prove that he had not only seen but handled the corpse. It is printed in Janitschek, Die Gesellschaft der R. in It.: Stuttgart, 1879, p. 120.

Then came the third age of scholarship—the age of the critics, philologers, and printers. What had been collected by Poggio and Aurispa had now to be explained by Ficino, Poliziano, and Erasmus. They began their task by digesting and arranging the contents of the libraries. There were then no short cuts to learning, no comprehensive lexicons, no dictionaries of antiquities, no carefully prepared thesauri of mythology and history. Each student had to hold in his brain the whole mass of classical erudition. The text and the canon of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and the tragedians had to be decided. Greek type had to be struck. Florence, Venice, Basle, Lyons, and Paris groaned with printing presses. The Aldi, the Stephani, and Froben toiled by night and day, employing scores of scholars, men of supreme devotion and of mighty brain, whose work it was to ascertain the right reading of sentences, to accentuate, to punctuate, to commit to the press, and to place beyond the reach of monkish hatred or of envious time that everlasting solace of humanity which exists in the classics. All subsequent achievements in the field of scholarship sink into insignificance beside the labors of these men, who needed genius, enthusiasm, and the sympathy of Europe for the accomplishment of their titanic task. Virgil was printed in 1470, Homer in 1488, Aristotle in 1498, Plato in 1513. They then became the inalienable heritage of mankind. But what vigils, what anxious expenditure of thought, what agonies of doubt and expectation, were endured by those heroes of humanizing scholarship, whom we are apt to think of merely as pedants! Which of us now warms and thrills with emotion at hearing the name of Aldus Manutius, or of Henricus Stephanus, or of Johannes Froben? Yet this we surely ought to do; for to them we owe in a great measure the freedom of our spirit, our stores of intellectual enjoyment, our command of the past, our certainty of the future of human culture.

This third age in the history of the Renaissance Scholarship may be said to have reached its climax in Erasmus; for by this time Italy had handed on the torch of learning to the northern nations. The publication of his "Adagia" in 1500, marks the advent of a more critical and selective spirit, which from that date onward has been gradually gaining strength in the modern mind. Criticism, in the true sense of accurate testing and sifting, is one of the points which distinguish the moderns from the ancients; and criticism was developed by the process of assimilation, comparison, and appropriation, which was necessary in the growth of scholarship. The ultimate effect of this recovery of classic literature was, once and for all, to liberate the intellect. The modern world was brought into close contact with the free virility of the ancient world, and emancipated from the thralldom of unproved traditions. The force to judge and the desire to create were generated. The immediate result in the sixteenth century was an abrupt secession of the learned, not merely from monasticism, but also from the true spirit of Christianity. The minds of the Italians assimilated Paganism. In their hatred of mediaeval ignorance, in their loathing of cowled and cloistered fools, they flew to an extreme, and affected the manner of an irrevocable past. This extravagance led of necessity to a reaction—in the north to Puritanism, in the south to what has been termed the Counter-Reformation effected under Spanish influences in the Latin Church. But Christianity, that most precious possession of the modern world, was never seriously imperiled by the classical enthusiasm of the Renaissance; nor, on the other hand, was the progressive emancipation of the reason materially retarded by the reaction it produced.

The transition at this point to the third branch in the discovery of man, the revelation to the consciousness of its own spiritual freedom, is natural. Not only did scholarship restore the classics and encourage literary criticism; it also restored the text of the Bible, and encouraged theological criticism. In the wake of theological freedom followed a free philosophy, no longer subject to the dogmas of the Church. To purge the Christian faith from false conceptions, to liberate the conscience from the tyranny of priests, and to interpret religion to the reason has been the work of the last centuries; nor is this work as yet by any means accomplished. On the one side Descartes and Bacon, Spinoza and Locke, are sons of the Renaissance, champions of new-found philosophical freedom; on the other side, Luther is a son of the Renaissance, the herald of new-found religious freedom. The whole movement of the Reformation is a phase in that accelerated action of the modern mind which at its commencement we call the Renaissance. It is a mistake to regard the Reformation as an isolated phenomenon or as a mere effort to restore the Church to purity. The Reformation exhibits in the region of religious thought and national politics what the Renaissance displays in the sphere of culture, art, and science—the recovered energy and freedom of the reason. We are too apt to treat of history in parcels, and to attempt to draw lessons from detached chapters in the biography of the human race. To observe the connection between the several stages of a progressive movement of the human spirit, and to recognize that the forces at work are still active, is the true philosophy of history.

The Reformation, like the revival of science and of culture, had its mediaeval anticipations and foreshadowings. The heretics whom the Church successfully combated in North Italy, France, and Bohemia were the precursors of Luther. The scholars prepared the way in the fifteenth century. Teachers of Hebrew, founders of Hebrew type—Reuchlin in Germany, Aleander in Paris, Von Hutten as a pamphleteer, and Erasmus as a humanist—contribute each a definite momentum. Luther, for his part, incarnates the spirit of revolt against tyrannical authority, urges the necessity of a return to the essential truth of Christianity, as distinguished from the idols of the Church, and asserts the right of the individual to judge, interpret, criticise, and construct opinion for himself. The veil which the Church had interposed between the human soul and God was broken down. The freedom of the conscience was established. Thus the principles involved in what we call the Reformation were momentous. Connected on the one side with scholarship and the study of texts, it opened the path for modern biblical criticism. Connected on the other side with the intolerance of mere authority it led to what has since been named rationalism—the attempt to reconcile the religious tradition with the reason, and to define the logical ideas that underlie the conceptions of the popular religious consciousness. Again, by promulgating the doctrine of personal freedom, and by connecting itself with national politics, the reformation was linked historically to the revolution. It was the Puritan Church in England stimulated by the patriotism of the Dutch Protestants, which established our constitutional liberty, and introduced in America the general principle of the equality of men. This high political abstraction, latent in Christianity, evolved by criticism, and promulgated as a gospel in the second half of the last century, was externalized in the French Revolution. The work that yet remains to be accomplished for the modern world is the organization of society in harmony with democratic principles.

Thus what the word Renaissance really means is new birth to liberty—the spirit of mankind recovering consciousness and the power of self-determination, recognizing the beauty of the outer world, and of the body through art, liberating the reason in science and the conscience in religion, restoring culture to the intelligence, and establishing the principle of political freedom. The Church was the schoolmaster of the Middle Ages. Culture was the humanizing and refining influence of the Renaissance. The problem for the present and the future is how through education to render knowledge accessible to all—to break down that barrier which in the Middle Ages was set between clerk and layman, and which in the intermediate period has arisen between the intelligent and ignorant classes. Whether the Utopia of a modern world, in which all men shall enjoy the same social, political, and intellectual advantages, be realized or not, we cannot doubt that the whole movement of humanity from the Renaissance onward has tended in this direction. To destroy the distinctions, mental and physical, which nature raises between individuals, and which constitute an actual hierarchy, will always be impossible. Yet it may happen that in the future no civilized man will lack the opportunity of being physically and mentally the best that God has made him.

It remains to speak of the instruments and mechanical inventions which aided the emancipation of the spirit in the modern age. Discovered over and over again, and offered at intervals to the human race at various times and on divers soils, no effective use was made of these material resources until the fifteenth century. The compass, discovered according to tradition by Gioja of Naples in 1302, was employed by Columbus for the voyage to America in 1492. The telescope, known to the Arabians in the Middle Ages, and described by Roger Bacon in 1250, helped Copernicus to prove the revolution of the earth in 1530, and Galileo to substantiate his theory of the planetary system. Printing, after numerous useless revelations to the world of its resources, became an art in 1438; and paper, which had long been known to the Chinese, was first made of cotton in Europe about 1000, and of rags in 1319. Gunpowder entered into use about 1320. As employed by the Genius of the Renaissance, each one of these inventions became a lever by means of which to move the world. Gunpowder revolutionized the art of war. The feudal castle, the armor of the Knight and his battle-horse, the prowess of one man against a hundred, and the pride of aristocratic cavalry trampling upon ill-armed militia, were annihilated by the flashes of the canon. Courage became more a moral than a physical quality. The victory was delivered to the brain of the general. Printing has established, as indestructible, all knowledge, and disseminated, as the common property of every one, all thought; while paper has made the work of printing cheap. Such reflections as these, however, are trite, and must occur to every mind. It is far more to the purpose to repeat that not the inventions, but the intelligence that used them, the conscious calculating spirit of the modern world, should rivet our attention when we direct it to the phenomena of the Renaissance.

In the work of the Renaissance all the great nations of Europe shared. But it must never be forgotten that as a matter of history the true Renaissance began in Italy. It was there that the essential qualities which distinguish the modern from the ancient and the mediaeval world were developed. Italy created that new spiritual atmosphere of culture and of intellectual freedom which has been the life-breath of the European races. As the Jews are called the chosen and peculiar people of divine revelation, so may the Italians be called the chosen and peculiar vessels of the prophecy of the Renaissance. In art, in scholarship, in science, in the mediation between antique culture and the modern intellect, they took the lead, handing to Germany and France and England the restored humanities complete. Spain and England have since done more for the exploration and colonization of the world. Germany achieved the labor of the Reformation almost single-handed. France has collected, centralized, and diffused intelligence with irresistible energy. But if we return to the first origins of the Renaissance, we find that, at a time when the rest of Europe was inert, Italy had already begun to organize the various elements of the modern spirit, and to set the fashion whereby the other great nations should learn and live.



The special Difficulties of this Subject—Apparent Confusion—Want of leading Motive—The Papacy—The Empire—The Republics—The Despots—The People—The Dismemberment of Italy—Two main Topics—The Rise of the Communes—Gothic Kingdom—Lombards—Franks—Germans—The Bishops—The Consuls—The Podestas—Civil Wars—Despots—The Balance of Power—The Five Italian States—The Italians fail to achieve National Unity—The Causes of this Failure—Conditions under which it might have been achieved—A Republic—A Kingdom—A Confederation—A Tyranny—The Part played by the Papacy.

After a first glance into Italian history the student recoils as from a chaos of inscrutable confusion. To fix the moment of transition from ancient to modern civilization seems impossible. There is no formation of a new people, as in the case of Germany or France or England, to serve as starting-point. Differ as the Italian races do in their original type; Gauls, Ligurians, Etruscans, Umbrians, Latins, Iapygians, Greeks have been fused together beneath the stress of Roman rule into a nation that survives political mutations and the disasters of barbarian invasions. Goths, Lombards, and Franks blend successively with the masses of this complex population, and lose the outlines of their several personalities. The western Empire melts imperceptibly away. The Roman Church grows no less imperceptibly, and forms the Holy Roman Empire as the equivalent of its own spiritual greatness in the sphere of secular authority. These two institutions, the crowning monuments of Italian creative genius, dominate the Middle Ages, powerful as facts, but still more powerful as ideas. Yet neither of them controls the evolution of Italy in the same sense as France was controlled by the monarchical, and Germany by the federative, principle. The forces of the nation, divided and swayed from side to side by this commanding dualism, escaped both influences in so far as either Pope or Emperor strove to mold them into unity. Meanwhile the domination of Byzantine Greeks in the southern provinces, the kingdom of the Goths at Ravenna, the kingdom of the Lombards and Franks at Pavia, the incursions of Huns and Saracens, the kingdom of the Normans at Palermo, formed but accidents and moments in a national development which owed important modifications to each successive episode, but was not finally determined by any of them. When the Communes emerge into prominence, shaking off the supremacy of the Greeks in the South, vindicating their liberties against the Empire in the North, jealously guarding their independence from Papal encroachment in the center, they have already assumed shapes of marked distinctness and bewildering diversity. Venice, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Bologna, Siena, Perugia, Amalfi, Lucca, Pisa, to mention only a few of the more notable, are indiscriminately called Republics. Yet they differ in their internal type no less than in external conditions. Each wears from the first and preserves a physiognomy that justifies our thinking and speaking of the town as an incarnate entity. The cities of Italy, down to the very smallest, bear the attributes of individuals. The mutual attractions and repulsions that presided over their growth have given them specific qualities which they will never lose, which will be reflected in their architecture, in their customs, in their language, in their policy, as well as in the institutions of their government. We think of them involuntarily as persons, and reserve for them epithets that mark the permanence of their distinctive characters. To treat of them collectively is almost impossible. Each has its own biography, and plays a part of consequence in the great drama of the nation. Accordingly the study of Italian politics, Italian literature, Italian art, is really not the study of one national genius, but of a whole family of cognate geniuses, grouped together, conscious of affinity, obeying the same general conditions, but issuing in markedly divergent characteristics. Democracies, oligarchies, aristocracies spring into being by laws of natural selection within the limits of a single province. Every municipality has a separate nomenclature for its magistracies, a somewhat different method of distributing administrative functions. In one place there is a Doge appointed for life; in another the government is put into commission among officers elected for a period of months. Here we find a Patrician, a Senator, a Tribune; there Consuls, Rectors, Priors, Ancients, Buonuomini, Conservatori. At one period and in one city the Podesta seems paramount; across the border a Captain of the People or a Gonfaloniere di Giustizia is supreme. Vicars of the Empire, Exarchs, Catapans, Rectors for the Church, Legates, Commissaries, succeed each other with dazzling rapidity. Councils are multiplied and called by names that have their origin and meaning buried in the dust of archaeology. Consigli del Popolo, Credenza, Consiglio del Comune, Senato, Gran Consiglio, Pratiche, Parlamenti, Monti, Consiglio de' Savi, Arti, Parte Guelfa, Consigli di Dieci, di Tre, I Nove, Gli Otto, I Cento—such are a few of the titles chosen at random from the constitutional records of different localities.

Not one is insignificant. Not one but indicates some moment of importance in the social evolution of the state. Not one but speaks of civil strife, whereby the burgh in question struggled into individuality and defined itself against its neighbor. Like fossils, in geological strata, these names survive long after their old uses have been forgotten, to guide the explorer in his reconstruction of a buried past. While one town appears to respect the feudal lordship of great families, another pronounces nobility to be a crime, and forces on its citizens the reality or the pretense of labor. Some recognize the supremacy of ecclesiastics. Others, like Venice, resist the least encroachment of the Church, and stand aloof from Roman Christianity in jealous isolation. The interests of one class are maritime, of another military, of a third industrial, of a fourth financial, of a fifth educational. Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, and Venice depend for power upon their fleets and colonies; the little cities of Romagna and the March supply the Captains of adventure with recruits; Florence and Lucca live by manufacture; Milan by banking; Bologna, Padua, Vicenza, owe their wealth to students attracted by their universities. Foreign alliances or geographical affinities connect one center with the Empire of the East, a second with France, a third with Spain. The North is overshadowed by Germany; the South is disquieted by Islam. The types thus formed and thus discriminated are vital, and persist for centuries with the tenacity of physical growths. Each differentiation owes its origin to causes deeply rooted in the locality. The freedom and apparent waywardness of nature, when she sets about to form crystals of varying shapes and colors, that shall last and bear her stamp for ever, have governed their uprising and their progress to maturity. At the same time they exhibit the keen jealousies and mutual hatreds of rival families in the animal kingdom. Pisa destroys Amalfi; Genoa, Pisa; Venice, Genoa; with ruthless and remorseless egotism in the conflict of commercial interests. Florence enslaves Pisa because she needs a way to the sea. Siena and Perugia, upon their inland altitudes, consume themselves in brilliant but unavailing efforts to expand. Milan engulfs the lesser towns of Lombardy. Verona absorbs Padua and Treviso. Venice extends dominion over the Friuli and the Veronese conquests. Strife and covetousness reign from the Alps to the Ionian Sea. But it is a strife of living energies, the covetousness of impassioned and puissant units. Italy as a whole is almost invisible to the student by reason of the many-sided, combative, self-centered crowd of numberless Italian communities. Proximity foments hatred and stimulates hostility. Fiesole looks down and threatens Florence. Florence returns frown for frown, and does not rest till she has made her neighbor of the hills a slave. Perugia and Assissi turn the Umbrian plain into a wilderness of wolves by their recurrent warfare. Scowling at one another across the Valdichiana, Perugia rears a tower against Chiusi, and Chiusi builds her Becca Questa in responsive menace. The tiniest burgh upon the Arno receives from Dante, the poet of this internecine strife and fierce town-rivalry, its stigma of immortalizing satire and insulting epithet, for no apparent reason but that its dwellers dare to drink of the same water and to breathe the same air as Florence. It would seem as though the most ancient furies of antagonistic races, enchained and suspended for centuries by the magic of Rome, had been unloosed; as though the indigenous populations of Italy, tamed by antique culture, were reverting to their primal instincts, with all the discords and divisions introduced by the military system of the Lombards, the feudalism of the Franks, the alien institutions of the Germans, superadded to exasperate the passions of a nation blindly struggling against obstacles that block the channel of continuous progress. Nor is this the end of the perplexity. Not only are the cities at war with one another, but they are plunged in ceaseless strife within the circuit of their ramparts. The people with the nobles, the burghs with the castles, the plebeians with the burgher aristocracy, the men of commerce with the men of arms and ancient lineage, Guelfs and Ghibellines, clash together in persistent fury. One half the city expels the other half. The exiles roam abroad, cement alliances, and return to extirpate their conquerors. Fresh proscriptions and new expulsions follow. Again alliances are made and revolutions accomplished, till the ancient feuds of the towns are crossed, recrossed, and tangled in a web of madness that defies analysis. Through the medley of quarreling, divided, subdivided, and intertwisted factions, ride Emperors followed by their bands of knights, appearing for a season on vain quests, and withdrawing after they have tenfold confounded the confusion. Papal Legates drown the cities of the Church in blood, preach crusades, fulminate interdictions, rouse insurrections in the States that own allegiance to the Empire. Monks stir republican revivals in old cities that have lost their liberties, or assemble the populations of crime-maddened districts in aimless comedies of piety and false pacification, or lead them barefooted and intoxicated with shrill cries of 'Mercy' over plain and mountain. Princes of France, Kings of Bohemia and Hungary, march and countermarch from north to south and back again, form leagues, establish realms, head confederations, which melt like shapes we form from clouds to nothing. At one time the Pope and Emperor use Italy as the arena of a deadly duel, drawing the congregated forces of the nation into their dispute. At another they join hands to divide the spoil of ruined provinces. Great generals with armies at their backs start into being from apparent nothingness, dispute the sovereignty of Italy in bloodless battles, found ephemeral dynasties, and pass away like mists upon a mountain-side beneath a puff of wind. Conflict, ruin, desolation, anarchy are ever yielding place to concord, restoration, peace, prosperity, and then recurring with a mighty flood of violence. Construction, destruction, and reconstruction play their part in crises that have to be counted by the thousands.

In the mean time, from this hurricane of disorder rises the clear ideal of the national genius. Italy becomes self-conscious and attains the spiritual primacy of modern Europe. Art, Learning, Literature, State-craft, Philosophy, Science build a sacred and inviolable city of the soul amid the tumult of seven thousand revolutions, the dust and crash of falling cities, the tramplings of recurrent invasions, the infamies and outrages of tyrants and marauders who oppress the land. Unshaken by the storms that rage around it, this refuge of the spirit, raised by Italian poets, thinkers, artists, scholars, and discoverers, grows unceasingly in bulk and strength, until the younger nations take their place beneath its ample dome. Then, while yet the thing of wonder and of beauty stands in fresh perfection, at that supreme moment when Italy is tranquil and sufficient to fulfill the noblest mission for the world, we find her crushed and trampled under foot. Her tempestuous but splendid story closes in the calm of tyranny imposed by Spain.

Over this vertiginous abyss of history, where the memories of antique civilization blend with the growing impulses of modern life in an uninterrupted sequence of national consciousness; through this many-chambered laboratory of conflicting principles, where the ideals of the Middle Age are shaped, and laws are framed for Europe; across this wonder-land of waning and of waxing culture, where Goths, Greeks, Lombards, Franks, and Normans come to form themselves by contact with the ever-living soul of Rome; where Frenchmen, Spaniards, Swiss, and Germans at a later period battle for the richest prize in Europe, and learn by conquest from the conquered to be men; how shall we guide our course? If we follow the fortunes of the Church, and make the Papacy the thread on which the history of Italy shall hang, we gain the advantage of basing our narrative upon the most vital and continuous member of the body politic. But we are soon forced to lose sight of the Italians in the crowd of other Christian races. The history of the Church is cosmopolitan. The Sphere of the Papacy extends in all directions around Italy taken as a local center. Its influence, moreover, was invariably one of discord rather than of harmony within the boundaries of the peninsula. If we take the Empire as our standing-ground, we have to write the annals of a sustained struggle, in the course of which the Italian cities were successful, when they reduced the Emperor to the condition of an absentee with merely nominal privileges. After Frederick II. the Empire played no important part in Italy until its rights were reasserted by Charles V. upon the platform of modern politics. A power so external to the true life of the nation, so successfully resisted, so impotent to control the development of the Italians, cannot be chosen as the central point of their history. If we elect the Republics, we are met with another class of difficulties. The historian who makes the Commune his unit, who confines attention to the gradual development, reciprocal animosities, and final decadence of the republics, can hardly do justice to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papacy, which occupy no less than half the country. Again, the great age of the Renaissance, when all the free burghs accepted the rule of despots, and when the genius of the Italians culminated, is for him a period of downfall and degradation. Besides, he leaves the history of the Italian people before the starting-point of the Republics unexplained. He has, at the close of their career, to account for the reason why these Communes, so powerful in self-development, so intelligent, so wealthy, and so capable of playing off the Pope against the Empire, failed to maintain their independence. In other words he selects one phase of Italian evolution, and writes a narrative that cannot but be partial. If we make the Despots our main point, we repeat the same error in a worse form. The Despotisms imply the Communes as their predecessors. Each and all of them grew up and flourished on the soil of decadent or tired Republics. Though they are all-important at one period of Italian history—the period of the present work—they do but form an episode in the great epic of the nation. He who attempts a general history of Italy from the point of view of the despotisms, is taking a single scene for the whole drama. Finally we might prefer the people—that people, instinctively and persistently faithful to Roman traditions, which absorbed into itself the successive hordes of barbarian invaders, civilized them, and adopted them as men of Italy; that people which destroyed the kingdoms of the Goths and Lombards humbled the Empire at Legnano, and evolved the Communes; that people which resisted alien feudalism, and spent its prime upon eradicating every trace of the repugnant system from its midst; that people which finally attained to the consciousness of national unity by the recovery of scholarship and culture under the dominion of despotic princes. This people is Italy. But the documents that should throw light upon the early annals of the people are deficient. It does not appear upon the scene before the reign of Otho I. Nor does it become supreme till after the Peace of Constance. Its biography is bound up with that of the republics and the despots. Before the date of their ascendency we have to deal with Bishops of Rome, Emperors of the East and West, Exarchs and Kings of Italy, the feudal Lords of the Marches, the Dukes and Counts of Lombard and Frankish rulers. Through that long period of incubation, when Italy freed herself from dependence upon Byzantium, created the Papacy and formed the second Roman Empire, the people exists only as a spirit resident in Roman towns and fostered by the Church, which effectually repelled all attempts at monarchical unity, playing the Lombards off against the Goths, the Franks against the Lombards, the Normans against the Greeks, merging the Italian Kingdom in the Empire when it became German, and resisting the Empire of its own creation when the towns at last were strong enough to stand alone. To speak about the people in this early period is, therefore, to invoke a myth; to write its history is the same as writing an ideal history of mediaeval Europe.

The truth is that none of these standpoints in isolation suffices for the student of Italy. Her inner history is the history of social and intellectual progress evolving itself under the conditions of attraction and repulsion generated by the double ideas of Papacy and Empire. Political unity is everywhere and at all times imperiously rejected. The most varied constitutional forms are needed for the self-effectuation of a race that has no analogue in Europe. The theocracy of Rome, the monarchy of Naples, the aristocracy of Venice, the democracy of Florence, the tyranny of Milan are equally instrumental in elaborating the national genius that gave art, literature, and mental liberty to modern society. The struggles of city with city for supremacy or bare existence, the internecine wars of party against party, the never-ending clash of principles within the States, educated the people to multifarious and vivid energy. In the course of those long complicated contests, the chief centers acquired separate personalities, assumed the physiognomy of conscious freedom, and stamped the mark of their own spirit on their citizens. At the end of all discords, at the close of all catastrophes, we find in each of the great towns a population released from mental bondage and fitted to perform the work of intellectual emancipation for the rest of Europe. Thus the essential characteristic of Italy is diversity, controlled and harmonized by an ideal rhythm of progressive movement.[1] We who are mainly occupied in this book with the Italian genius as it expressed itself in society, scholarship, fine art, and literature, at its most brilliant period of renascence, may accept this fact of political dismemberment with acquiescence. It was to the variety of conditions offered by the Italian communities that we owe the unexampled richness of the mental life of Italy. Yet it is impossible to overlook the weakness inflicted on the people by those same conditions when the time came for Italy to try her strength against the nations of Europe.[2] It was then shown that the diversities which stimulated spiritual energy were a fatal source of national instability. The pride of the Italians in their local independence, their intolerance of unification under a single head, the jealousies that prevented them from forming a permanent confederation, rendered them incapable of coping with races which had yielded to the centripetal force of monarchy. If it is true that the unity of the nation under a kingdom founded at Pavia would have deprived the world of much that Italy has yielded in the sphere of thought and art, it is certainly not less true that such centralization alone could have averted the ruin of the sixteenth century which gives the aspect of a tragedy to each volume of my work on the Renaissance.

[1] See Guicciardini (Op. Ined. vol. i. p. 28) for an eloquent demonstration of the happiness, prosperity, and splendor conferred on the Italians by the independence of their several centers. He is arguing against Machiavelli's lamentation over their failure to achieve national unity.

[2] This was the point urged by Machiavelli, in the Principe, the Discorsi, and the Art of War. With keener political insight than Guicciardini, he perceived that the old felicity of Italy was about to fail her through the very independence of her local centers, which Guicciardini rightly recognized as the source of her unparalleled civilization and wealth. The one thing needful in the shock with France and Spain was unity.

Without seeking to attack the whole problem of Italian history, two main topics must be briefly discussed in the present chapter before entering on the proper matter of this work. The first relates to the growth of the Communes, which preceded, necessitated, and determined the despotisms of the fifteenth century. The second raises the question why Italian differs from any other national history, why the people failed to achieve unity either under a sovereign or in a powerful confederation. These two subjects of inquiry are closely connected and interdependent. They bring into play the several points that have been indicated as partially and imperfectly explanatory of the problem of Italy. But, since I have undertaken to write neither a constitutional nor a political history, but a history of culture at a certain epoch, it will be enough to treat of these two questions briefly, with the special view of showing under what conditions the civilization of the Renaissance came to maturity in numerous independent Communes, reduced at last by necessary laws of circumstance to tyranny; and how it was checked at the point of transition to its second phase of modern existence, by political weakness inseparable from the want of national coherence in the shock with mightier military races.

Modern Italian history may be said to begin with the retirement of Honorius to Ravenna and the subsequent foundation of Odoacer's Kingdom in 476. The Western Empire ended, and Rome was recognized as a Republic. When Zeno sent the Goths into Italy, Theodoric established himself at Ravenna, continued the institutions and usages of the ancient Empire, and sought by blending with the people to naturalize his alien authority. Rome was respected as the sacred city of ancient culture and civility. Her Consuls, appointed by the Senate, were confirmed in due course by the Greek Emperor; and Theodoric made himself the vicegerent of the Caesars rather than an independent sovereign. When we criticise the Ostro-Gothic occupation by the light of subsequent history, it is clear that this exclusion of the capital from Theodoric's conquest and his veneration for the Eternal City were fatal to the unity of the Italian realm. From the moment that Rome was separated from the authority of the Italian Kings, there existed two powers in the Peninsula—the one secular, monarchical, with the military strength of the barbarians imposed upon its ancient municipal organization; the other ecclesiastical, pontifical, relying on the undefined ambitions of S. Peter's See and the unconquered instincts of the Roman people scattered through the still surviving cities.[1] Justinian, bent upon asserting his rights as the successor of the Caesars, wrested Italy from the hands of the Goths; but scarcely was this revolution effected when Narses, the successor of Belisarius, called a new nation of barbarians to support his policy in Italy. Narses died before the advent of the Lombards; but they descended, in forces far more formidable than the Goths, and established a second kingdom at Pavia. Under the Lombard domination Rome was left untouched. Venice, with her population gathered from the ruins of the neighboring Roman cities, remained in quasi-subjection to the Empire of the East. Ravenna became a Greek garrison, ruling the Exarchate and Pentapolis under the name of the Byzantine Emperors. The western coast escaped the Lombard domination; for Genoa grew slowly into power upon her narrow cornice between hills and sea, while Pisa defied the barbarians intrenched in military stations at Fiesole and Lucca. In like manner the islands, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, were detached from the Lombard Kingdom; and the maritime cities of Southern Italy, Bari, Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta asserted independence under the shadow of the Greek ascendency. What the Lombards achieved in their conquest, and what they failed to accomplish, decided the future of Italy. They broke the country up into unequal blocks; for while the inland regions of the north obeyed Pavia, while the great duchies of Spoleto in the center and of Benevento in the south owned the nominal sway of Alboin's successors,[2] Venice and the Riviera, Pisa and the maritime republics of Apulia and Calabria, Ravenna and the islands, repelled their sovereignty. Rome remained inviolable beneath the aegis of her ancient prestige, and the decadent Empire of the East was too inert to check the freedom of the towns which recognized its titular supremacy.

[1] When I apply the term Roman here and elsewhere to the inhabitants of the Italian towns, I wish to indicate the indigenous Italic populations molded by Roman rule into homogeneity. The resurgence of this population and its reattainment of intellectual consciousness by the recovery of past traditions and the rejection of foreign influence constitutes the history of Italy upon the close of the Dark Ages.

[2] It will be remembered by students of early Italian history that Benevento and Spoleto joined the Church in her war upon the Lombard kingdom. Spoleto was broken up. Benevento survived as a Lombard duchy till the Norman Conquest.

The kingdom of the Lombards endured two centuries, and left ineffaceable marks upon Italy. A cordon of military cities was drawn round the old Roman centers in Lombardy, Tuscany, and the Duchy of Spoleto. Pavia rose against Milan, which had been a second Rome, Cividale against Aquileia, Fiesole against Florence, Lucca against Pisa. The country was divided into Duchies and Marches; military service was exacted from the population, and the laws of the Lombards, asininum jus, quoddam jus quod faciebant reges per se, as the jurists afterwards defined them, were imposed upon the descendants of Roman civilization. Yet the outlying cities of the sea-coast, as we have already seen, were independent; and Rome remained to be the center of revolutionary ideas, the rallying-point of a policy inimical to Lombard unity. Not long after their settlement, the princes of the Lombard race took the fatal step of joining the Catholic communion, whereby they strengthened the hands of Rome and excluded themselves from tyrannizing in the last resort over the growing independence of the Papal See. The causes of their conversion from Arianism to orthodox Latin Christianity are buried in obscurity. But it is probable that they were driven to this measure by the rebelliousness of their great vassals and the necessity of resting for support upon the indigenous populations they had subjugated. Rome, profiting by the errors and the weakness of her antagonists, extended her spiritual dominion by enforcing sacraments, ordeals, and appeals to ecclesiastical tribunals, organized her hierarchy under Gregory the Great, and lost no opportunity of enriching and aggrandizing her bishoprics. In 718 she shook off the yoke of Byzantium by repelling the heresies of Leo the Isaurian; and when this insurrection menaced her with the domestic tyranny of the Lombard Kings, who possessed themselves of Ravenna in 728, she called the Franks to her aid against the now powerful realm. Stephen II. journeyed in 753 to Gaul, named Pippin Patrician of Rome, and invited him to the conquest of Italy. In the war that followed, the Franks subdued the Lombards, and Charles the Great was invested with their kingdom and crowned Emperor in 800 by Leo III. at Rome.

The famous compact between Charles the Great and the Pope was in effect a ratification of the existing state of things. The new Emperor took for himself and converted into a Frankish Kingdom all the provinces that had been wrested from the Lombards. He relinquished to the Papacy Rome with its patrimony, the portions of Spoleto and Benevento that had already yielded to the See of S. Peter, the southern provinces that owned the nominal ascendency of Byzantium, the islands and the cities of the Exarchate and Pentapolis which formed no part of the Lombard conquest. By this stipulation no real temporal power was accorded to the Papacy, nor did the new Empire surrender its paramount rights over the peninsula at large. The Italian kingdom, transferred to the Franks in 800, was the kingdom founded by the Lombards; while the outlying and unconquered districts were placed beneath the protectorate of the power which had guided their emancipation. Thus the dualism introduced into Italy by Theodoric's veneration for Rome, and confirmed by the failure of the Lombard conquest, was ratified in the settlement whereby the Pope gave a new Empire to Western Christendom. Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and the maritime Republics of the south, excluded from the kingdom, were left to pursue their own course of independence; and this is the chief among many reasons why they rose so early into prominence. Rome consolidated her ancient patrimonies and extended her rectorship in the center, while the Frankish kings, who succeeded each other through eight reigns, developed the Regno upon feudal principles by parceling the land among their Counts. New marches were formed, traversing the previous Lombard fabric and introducing divisions that decentralized the kingdom. Thus the great vassals of Ivrea, Verona, Tuscany, and Spoleto raised themselves against Pavia. The monarchs, placed between the Papacy and their ambitious nobles, were unable to consolidate the realm; and when Berengar, the last independent sovereign strove to enforce the declining authority of Pavia, he was met with the resistance and the hatred of the nation.

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