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Title: Petrarch - The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters
Author: Robinson, James Harvey
Language: English
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D'Hooghe at http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously




A Selection from his Correspondence with
Boccaccio and other Friends, Designed to Illustrate
the Beginnings of the Renaissance.
Translated from the Original Latin, together
with Historical Introductions and Notes



Professor of History in Columbia University



Sometime Professor of Latin in Swarthmore College




The Knickerbocker press


[Illustration: PETRARCH.]


G. R. R.


B. C. R.


During the fifteen years which have elapsed since the appearance of
the first edition of this volume a marked changed of attitude has
taken place among scholars in regard to the "Renaissance" and the
nature and importance of the revival of classical literature. This
change is briefly explained in the opening pages of the introductory
chapter (which have been entirely rewritten), and the reasons given for
assigning to the "Renaissance" a less distinctive place in the history
of culture than it formerly enjoyed. While this does not essentially
affect the value of Petrarch's letters and the interest and importance
of the personality which they reveal, it enables us to put him and his
work in a more correct perspective.

There has, moreover, been added to Chapter VI (pp. 413 _sqq_.) a
careful analysis of Petrarch's _Secret_. These confessions must be
accorded a high place in the literature of self-revelation; they
furnish the reader a more complete and vivid impression of Petrarch's
intellectual life as well as of his strange and varied emotions than
can be formed from reading the correspondence alone. He not only
understood his complicated self but possessed in an unprecedented
degree the power of conciliating the interest of others in his own
troubles and perplexities. In short, this new edition will serve at
once to rectify certain general misapprehensions and at the same time
to give a more adequate account of the truly extraordinary person with
which it deals.

J. H. R.


November, 1913.


The purpose of this volume is essentially historical. It is not a piece
of literary criticism; it is only incidentally a biography. It has been
prepared with the single but lively hope of making a little clearer the
development of modern culture. It views Petrarch not as a poet, nor
even, primarily, as a many-sided man of genius, but as the mirror of
his age--a mirror in which are reflected all the momentous contrasts
between waning Mediævalism and the dawning Renaissance.

Petrarch knew almost everyone worth knowing in those days; consequently
few historical sources can rival his letters in value and interest;
their character and significance are discussed at length in the
introduction which follows.

We have ourselves come to love the eager, independent, clear-sighted,
sensitive soul through whose eyes we have followed the initial
spiritual struggle of modern times; we would that others might learn to
love him too.

In the preparation of this volume the editors have naturally availed
themselves of the excellent edition of Petrarch's _Epistolæ de Rebus
Familiaribus et Variæ_, by Giuseppe Fracassetti, 3 vols., 8°, Florence,
1859-63. For the _Epistolæ de Rebus Senilibus_, and the remaining Latin
works, they have necessarily relied upon the lamentably incorrect
edition of the _Opera_ printed at Basle in 1581, for in spite of its
imperfections it is the most complete collection of Petrarch's writings
that we possess. The references in the foot-notes are, therefore,
to the pages of Fracassetti's edition or of that of 1581, as the
case may be. Much aid has been derived from Körting's standard work,
_Petrarca's Leben und Werke_; from Fracassetti's elaborate notes to
his Italian version of the letters; from Voigt's masterly analysis of
Petrarch's character and career, at the opening of _Die Wiederbelebung
des classischen Alterthums;_ and especially from M. Pierre de Nolhac's
scholarly and fascinating study, _Pétrarque et l'Humanisme._

Part third of the present volume, upon Petrarch's classical studies, is
the work of Mr. Rolfe, and the whole book has had the benefit of his
acute and painstaking revision.

J. H. R.


September, 1898.






     IV.   TRAVELS






Through the kindness of M. de Nolhac, and with the generous permission
of the École des hautes Études at Paris, the editors have been enabled
to reproduce three plates of unusual historical interest.

I.--THE SKETCH OF VAUCLUSE with the inscription, _Transalpina solitudo
mea jocundissima_--my delightsome Transalpine retreat--which appears
on the front cover of this volume, was discovered by M. de Nolhac in
Petrarch's own copy of Pliny's _Natural History._ A reference in the
book to the Fountain of the Sorgue suggested to its owner the idea of
recalling by a few strokes of the quill his memories of a spot where
he had spent so many years. This sketch, his only essay at pictorial
reproduction which has come down to us, is an interesting illustration
of the versatility of self-expression which distinguished him from his
predecessors and contemporaries.

II.--THE PORTRAIT, which forms the frontispiece, is taken from a
manuscript in the National Library at Paris, and its history has been
carefully traced by M. de Nolhac (_op. cit_., pp. 376 _sqq_.). It
adorns the first page of a copy of Petrarch's own work, _The Lives
of Illustrious Men_, which was transcribed with unusual care for his
last princely patron, the ruler of Padua, by one of the poet's most
intimate and trusted friends, Lombardo della Seta. A note at the end
of the work states that Lombardo completed his task January 25, 1379.
We may, therefore, assume that this portrait was executed _not later_
than four and a half years after Petrarch's death, in the city where he
spent much of his time during the closing period of his life, and by an
artist selected by the poet's devoted friends. It is maintained by some
modern historians of art that there was, in those days, no real feeling
for portraiture; without, however, venturing into the domain of art
criticism, we may, at least, claim for this sketch almost unimpeachable
historical authenticity.

III.--THE FACSIMILE of a page from one of Petrarch's own volumes will
give some idea, to those unfamiliar with manuscripts, of the appearance
of a book in the fourteenth century; it shows us, too, the untiring
energy of the first modern scholar in emending and elucidating the
scattered and neglected fragments of ancient literature, for which he
made such diligent search.


      "La formule qui définit le mieux Pétrarque est celle qui le
      désigne comme "le premier homme moderne." Par la direction
      de sa pensée, il échappe presque entièrement à l'influence
      de son siècle et de son milieu, ce qui est sans doute la
      marque la moins contestable du génie."--PIERRE DE NOLHAC.

History is the memory of mankind; it far outruns the narrow range
of our own personal recollections and enables us to participate
consciously in a process of change so impressive in its vast length
and complexity as to reduce the experiences of our own generation to a
mere incident. It makes it possible for us to see not only how to-day
is growing out of yesterday, and this year out of last, but how the
nineteenth century prepared the way for the twentieth, the eighteen
for the nineteenth, and so on, back and back to the very beginnings
of man's lineage. No one of us has precisely the same experiences two
days in succession, and yet amid the most considerable vicissitudes of
life we always carry over from day to day and year to year a great part
of our habits and convictions,--which constitute what others call our
character. The life of a people, although much more stable than that
of most of its members, is always slowly and irrevocably altering; it
is in the main a perpetuation of the old but always possesses some
element of the new, since the individuals who compose a nation, as well
as the conditions under which they live, are always changing.

The historian should reckon with both the old and the new in tracing
man's past; he must show not only how things have changed but how they
have remained the same. The mass of hoary tradition and ancient custom
which enters so generously into every stage of civilisation, no matter
how progressive, often, however, escapes his observation. Successful
historians are men of letters who have something of the poet, the
dramatist or the story-teller in them, and in order to construct a
narrative which has any chance of appealing to their readers they are
forced, following the example of the playwright, to divide the past
into periods, like the scenes in a play, and assign to each a dominant
motive. In doing this they are tempted greatly to exaggerate the
exceptional and novel. Moreover, since the historian can include in his
story but a very small part of the multitudinous experiences of mankind
during the period with which he is dealing, he inevitably selects what
will fit into a coherent narrative and neglects all the rest; he must
introduce order where there is essential confusion, lucidity where
there is obscurity, and discover simplicity where their is inextricable

As a result of this highly artificial nature of the historian's
work--of which he himself is usually unconscious--historical legends
arise, which by reason of their dramatic character and their plausible
simplicity are eagerly and widely accepted, and only reluctantly
abandoned when some of the vast number of facts which have been
neglected in their formation are given an opportunity to assert
themselves. The pretty myth of the common origin and gradual dispersion
of all those peoples whose language belongs to the Indo-European group
has been dissipated by recollecting that a common language does not
necessarily imply a common racial origin. The legend that Luther first
translated the Bible into German vanishes before a list of the numerous
editions of German Bibles printed during the fifty years previous to
his undertaking. The publication of Napoleon's letters add too many
facts to permit one longer to accept what Thiers and John S. C. Abbott
say of him. A similar fate awaits _the Renaissance_; that, too, has
assumed the form of a myth, which is threatened by a consideration of
certain obvious facts which its authors innocently, but none the less
fatally, overlooked.

As this word is used in histories of literature, art, and philosophy,
it implies a freeing of man's mind from the shackles of the Middle
Ages; he discovers himself and the world in all its beauty and
interest; he shakes off religious dependence and becomes self-reliant;
he casts aside the cowl and goes forth joyfully into the sunlight. This
awakening has been attributed to a revived interest in the neglected
works of the classical authors. They were potent, it has been assumed,
to bring new life into a paralysed world, so soon as they become the
object of passionate study and emulation. It was they, it has been
claimed, that dispelled the gloomy superstition of the Dark Ages and
aroused a buoyant spirit of Hellenism which enabled men to soar above
the fruitless subtleties of Scholastic Theology.

This conception of the Renaissance is much more recent in origin than
is usually supposed; it is scarcely more than fifty years old, and
finds its first clear presentation in the well-known _Civilisation
of the Renaissance_, which the Basel professor, Jacob Burckhardt,
published in 1860. Fifteen years later John Addington Symonds began to
issue his stately series of volumes on _The Renaissance in Italy_. The
charm of his style served to popularise the conception of a distinctive
period during which Europe awoke from its winter sleep and developed
those traits of character which we deem essentially modern. For a
generation or more the Renaissance has been the theme of innumerable
popular books and lectures and has constituted a recognised "epoch" in
manuals of historical instruction.

That it is a convenient term no one will deny! The civilisation of the
Italian city states in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth
centuries, from Dante to Machiavelli, from Giotto to Raphael, presents
so much of rich delight that we ought to have a suitable name for it
all. In this sense the expression, Renaissance, will probably continue
to be used; but it is safe to predict that as we gain fuller insight
into the conditions which preceded and followed this period it will be
ranked much lower than hitherto as a time of decisive progress in human
knowledge and ideals. Neither Burckhardt nor Symonds were cognisant of
the extraordinary achievements of what they called vaguely the Middle
Ages. And both of them were so classical-minded as to have but an
inadequate appreciation of how slight were the intellectual changes of
the Renaissance compared with those that developed in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, the results of which make the world in which
we live what it is.

It is clear enough to historical students of to-day that the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries offer the spectacle of a far more unmistakable
awakening than does the so-called Renaissance. These centuries
witnessed the development of the towns, the revival of the Roman
Law, the founding of the universities, in which the encyclopædic
works of the most learned, penetrating, and exacting of all ancient
thinkers--Aristotle--were made the basis of a liberal education; and
they beheld the literary birth of those vernacular languages which
were one day to displace the speech of the Romans. These centuries
devised, moreover, a new, varied, and lovely style of architecture,
sculpture, and ornament, which still fills us with wonder and delight;
they carried the knowledge of natural things and the practical arts
beyond the point reached by Greeks or Romans; they sketched out the
great career of experimental and applied science, which was hidden from
the ancients and which is one of the main revolutionising forces of our

When we consider these and other achievements which preceded the
Renaissance we are forced to ask what did it contribute that was
equally important and distinctive? This question is a difficult
one. Neither Burckhardt nor Symonds were in a position even to ask
it, and only recently are students in this field setting themselves
to re-examine more carefully and fully the facts, and place the
achievements of the period in proper relation to what went before and
what came after.[1]

One thing at least is clear. The knowledge of the Greek language
had died out in western Europe with the disruption of the Roman
Empire, and except in so far as Greek thought and taste had become
embodied in Latin, it was lost for several hundreds of years. In
the thirteenth century Aristotle's works were put into Latin, and
so deeply did they impress their readers that they were assigned a
supreme place, alongside the Bible and the Church and Roman Law. Two
centuries later a great part of the Greek classics, Homer, Æschylus,
Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, and above all Plato, were brought
from Constantinople, translated into Latin and made available for
such scholars as cared to read them. This was the great literary work
of the fifteenth century. Meanwhile every vestige of Latin literature
was being hunted out, copied, and edited. There was not a great deal
to be found that had not been known and read more or less all along,
but the sense of its preciousness increased and a conviction developed
that it was far better than anything that had been produced since the
German Barbarians broke up the Roman Empire. The scholars who carried
on this work had much to say of _humanitas_, by which they meant the
culture to which man alone, of all creatures, is able to aspire. Cicero
uses the word in this sense, and they found it defined for them by
Aulus Gellius, a compiler who lived under Marcus Aurelius. Culture to
them was in the main what it has been to the classical-minded ever
since--namely, familiar intercourse with the best authors of Greece and

The Humanists did not, however, at once cast off the mediæval modes of
thought. They ranged on their library shelves side by side with the
pagan classics, the works of the Greek and Latin Christian fathers;
they fell under the spell of Neoplatonism and deemed Plotinus and
Porphyry legitimate interpreters of Plato. They were not even proof
against the crude superstitions and futilities of the Jewish Cabbala.

The rôle of classical literature in the development of thought and
taste is momentous, but it has served to hamper as well as to forward
the progress of knowledge and the increase of insight. The classics
have to-day worn out their welcome in many quarters. The more bigoted
among the classicists of our own time have little of the truly Hellenic
about them. Greece in its finest period owed its greatness partly to
its frank use of its own vernacular language, partly to its exceptional
freedom from tradition and routine. The classicist, on the contrary,
would have us base our education upon dead languages and adhere piously
to tradition, and routine. The Greek writers of the fifth century
before Christ were free and progressive; their modern retainers are too
often ultra-conservative and indifferent to the glowing opportunities
of their own time.

But their position in any case is very different from that of the
Humanists of the fifteenth century. To-day we can acquaint ourselves
with the best that has been said and thought without going back to the
masterpieces of antiquity. Each European people has developed its own
national literature and given birth to geniuses able to assimilate,
elaborate, and augment the older heritage in modern speech and
modern literary forms. So the importance of the revival of classical
scholarship five hundred years ago is not to be judged by the position
that Greek and Roman books occupy in our intellectual life to-day.
However conscious one may be of the limitations of classical thought
and the obstacles which its unconditional admirers have opposed to
natural and salutary intellectual readjustments, no one will have any
inclination to underrate its vast significance in the development of
modern culture.

       *       *       *       *       *

Francesco Petrarch is generally accorded the distinction of being the
first great leader in the revival of classical literature. He did
not live to see the incoming of the Greek books, but he made a vain
effort to learn the language and fully realised its importance. He
was, moreover, untiring in promoting the study of Roman literature and
writes to his dearest friend Boccaccio: "I certainly will not reject
the praise which you bestow upon me for having stimulated in many
instances, not only in Italy but perchance beyond its confines, the
pursuit of studies such as ours, which have suffered neglect for so
many centuries. I am indeed one of the oldest among us who are engaged
in the cultivation of these subjects."[2]

But Petrarch's claim upon our attention as the father of Humanism
is only one--and that perhaps a minor one--among many. In his own
humanity lies perhaps his chief charm: A poor mortal like ourselves,
he tells us so persuasively and fully of his own feelings, his self
contradictions and spiritual, conflicts, that, as we read his letters
and "Confessions," we greet him across the gulf of centuries and
recognise in him a man of like passions with ourselves. We can become
more intimately acquainted with him than with any one in the whole
history of mankind before his time, not excepting Cicero and Augustine.
Those who know Petrarch, know him ordinarily only through his Italian
verses, now somewhat out of style. But Petrarch the reformer, the first
modern scholar, the implacable enemy of ignorance and superstition;
Petrarch the counsellor of princes, the leader of men, and the idol of
his time, is to be sought in his letters, of which some of the more
striking are made available in this volume.

His incomparable sonnets seemed to their author in his later years
little more than a youthful diversion. They earned for him among
the illiterate multitude a reputation which he claimed to despise;
they could never constitute the foundation for the scholar's fame to
which he aspired. Had he foreseen that posterity would brush aside the
great works in Latin which, cost him years of toil, and keep only his
"popular trifles in the mother tongue" (_nugellas meas vulgares_),
his chronic melancholy might have deepened into dark despair. Near
the close of his life, in preparing a copy of his Italian verses for
a friend, he says: "I must confess that I look with aversion upon the
silly boyish things I at one time produced in the vernacular (_vulgari
juveniles ineptias_). Of these I could wish everyone ignorant, myself
included. Although their style may testify to a certain ability
considering the period at which I composed them; their subject matter
ill comports with the gravity of age. But what am I to do? They are in
the hands of the public and are read more willingly than the serious
works which with more highly developed faculties I have written

A German scholar (Voigt) has gone so far as to declare that Petrarch
would be no less bright a star in the history of the human mind, had
he never written a verse of Italian. This very obvious exaggeration
is perhaps both natural and salutary. The Latin works, especially the
letters, are so fascinating and exhibit such new and important phases
of his character and ideals, that those who have enthusiastically
busied themselves with them have gradually come to accept the poet's
repeated assertion that his Italian works were mere youthful trifles,
of little interest as compared with his great Latin epic or his various
treatises.[4] Yet the world has decided otherwise, and decided rightly.
It has allowed over three hundred years to pass without demanding a
new edition of those Latin works, by which the author sought to gain
everlasting renown, while, on the other hand, hundreds of editions of
the despised Canzoniere have been published, not only in the original
but in many translations. For the poet finds his fullest expression
in his greatest literary work, the Italian lyrics. No one really
familiar with the letters will fail to recognise in them the author
of the sonnets. We find there the same strength and weakness, the
same genuine feeling, often disguised by mannerisms and traditional
conceits, the same aspirations and conflicts, the same subjectivity
and self-analysis. We have to do with a single great spirit revealing
itself with a diversity and mobility of literary form known only to
genius. Opening the _Canzoniere_, we find in the following lines
sentiments which might have been despatched in an elegant epistle to
his friend Nelli, or to "Lælius," or recorded in his Confessions.

    Ma ben veggi' or sì come al popol tutto
    Favola fui gran tempo: onde sovente
    Di me medesmo meco mi vergogno:
      E del mio vaneggiar vergogna è 'l frutto,
    E 'l pentirsi, e 'l conoscer chiaramente
    Che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.[5]

But even if it be admitted that the lyrics form Petrarch's greatest
claim to renown, and that the letters often only reflect, as might
be anticipated, sentiments familiar to the thoughtful reader of the
Italian verses, yet the poems alone can never tell the whole story of
their author's importance and influence. Literary ideals which have no
place in the sonnets are to be found in the letters; in them we may
study the reviver of a forgotten culture, and the prophet of an era of
intellectual advance the direct results of which we still enjoy.

The Middle Ages furnish us no earlier example of the psychological
analysis which we discover in both the verse and prose of Petrarch.
His writings are the first to reveal completely a human soul, with its
struggles, its sufferings, and its contradictions. "Petrarch was a
master in one respect at least, he understood how to picture himself;
through him the inner world first receives recognition; he first notes,
observes, analyses, and sets forth its phenomena."[6] The all-pervading
self-consciousness that meets us in the letters is sure to produce a
painful impression as we first open them. It may, for a time, indeed,
seem little better than common priggishness. But behind a thin veil of
vanity and morbid sensitiveness we straightway discover a great soul
grappling with the mystery of life. Baffled by the contradictions that
it feels within itself, it gropes tremblingly towards a new ideal of
earthly existence.

Petrarch was not content to live unquestioningly, adjusting his conduct
to the conventional standard. He was constantly preoccupied with his
own aims and motives. Nor was the problem that he confronted a simple
one, for the old and the new were contending for supremacy within
his breast. The mediæval conception of our mortal life was that of a
brief period of probation, during which each played his obscure rôle
in the particular group, guild, or corporation to which Providence had
assigned him, bearing his burdens patiently in the beatific vision
of a speedy reward in another and better world. Petrarch formally
assented to this view but never accepted it. The preciousness of life's
opportunity was ever before him. Life was certainly a preparation
for heaven, but, he asked himself, was it not something more? Might
there not be worthy secular aims? Might not one raise himself above
those about him and earn the approval of generations to come, as
the great writers of antiquity had done? His longing to obtain an
earthly reputation, and the temptation consciously to direct his
energies toward achieving posthumous fame, seemed to him now a noble
instinct, and again where tradition weighed heavily upon him, a godless
infatuation. In order to put the matter before himself in all its
aspects he prepared an imaginary dialogue, after the model offered by
Boëthius and Cicero, between himself and Saint Augustine. This little
book he called his _Secret_, as he did not desire to have it enumerated
among the works he had written for fame's sake: and here he recorded
his spiritual conflicts for his own personal good.[7] Of the contents
of this extraordinary confession something will be said later. Its very
existence is an historic fact of the utmost significance.[8]

Petrarch aspired to be both a poet and a scholar, and it is not easy
to determine definitely whether in his later years he looked upon
his great Latin epic or upon his historical works as his best title
to fame. He often refers to the high mission of the poet, and in the
address that he delivered at Rome, when he received the laurel crown,
he took for his subject the nature of poetry. For him poetry embraced
only Latin verse in its classical form. The popular, rhyming cadences
of the Middle Ages, in which the rhythmic accent followed not quantity
but the prose accent,[9] doubtless seemed to him no more deserving of
the name of poetry than Dante's _Commedia_ or his own Italian sonnets.
We shall have occasion later to describe his peculiar conception of

As a scholar Petrarch had no definite bent. "Among the many subjects
which have interested me," he says, "I have dwelt especially upon
antiquity, for our own age has always repelled me, so that, had it not
been for the love of those dear to me, I should have preferred to have
been born in any other period than our own. In order to forget my own
time I have constantly striven to place myself in spirit in other ages,
and consequently I have delighted in history."[11] We shall not then be
going far astray if we style Petrarch a classical philologist, using
the term in a broad sense, and always remembering that an enlightened
and enthusiastic classical philologist was just what the world much
needed in the fourteenth century.

Although the letters are by far the most interesting of Petrarch's
Latin productions, the reader may be curious to know something of the
character and extent of the other long-forgotten books which the author
trusted would earn him eternal fame. No complete edition of his works
has ever been published,[12] but were they brought together, they would
fill some seventeen volumes of the size of the present one, and we may
imagine that the publishers would issue them somewhat as follows:

Vols. I-VIII, _The Letters._

IX-X, _Phisicke against Fortune, as well Prosperous as Adverse_[13] (De
Remediis Utriusque Fortunæ).

XI, _Historical Anecdotes_ (Rerum Memorandum Libri IV).

XII, _Lives of Famous Men._

XIII, _The Life of Julius Cæsar_.[14]

XIV, _The Life of Solitude_ and _On Monastic Leisure_.

XV, Miscellany, including the Confessions (De Contemptu Mundi seu Suum
Secretum), Invectives, Addresses, and Minor Essays.

XVI, Latin Verse, comprising the _Africa_, the _Eclogues_, and
sixty-seven _Metrical Epistles_.

XVII, The Italian Verse, comprising the _Sonnets, Canzone_, and
Occasional Poems.

Of the Latin works only one can be said to have enjoyed any
considerable popularity. Of the _Antidotes for Good and Evil Fortune_
there were over twenty Latin editions issued from 1471 to 1756.[15] And
besides the Latin original, translations exist in English, Bohemian,
French, Spanish, Italian, and several in German. Yet only one or two
new editions have been demanded during the past two hundred and fifty
years. The first part of the work is destined to establish the vanity
of all earthly subjects of congratulation, from the possession of a
chaste daughter to the proprietorship of a flourishing hennery. In the
second part comfort is administered to those who have lost a wife or
child, or are suffering from toothache, a ruined reputation, the fear
of lingering death, or are painfully conscious that they are growing
too fat. What seems to us mere cant and cynical commonplace may well
have gratified a generation that delighted in the frescos of the
cemetery at Pisa, but the popularity of the book naturally waned just
as Dances of Death lost their charm. Yet the essays are not entirely
without interest,[16] and their variety and paradoxicalness, if nothing
else, may still hold the attention.

The two works upon which Petrarch probably based his literary
reputation were the long Latin epic, the _Africa_, and his _Lives
of Famous Men_. These are often referred to in his correspondence,
especially the _Africa._ This was, however, never finished, and in
his later years came to be a subject which the author could not hear
mentioned without a sense of irritation. The poem was printed half a
dozen times in the sixteenth century.[17] The biographical work fared
much worse, and was, with the exception of the _Life of Cæsar,_ not
printed until our own day.[18]

Among the lesser works, the Confessions and an essay on _The Life of
Solitude_ were each printed eight or nine times before the year 1700.
The letters also found readers. We have, however, but to glance at the
list of editions of the _Canzoniere_ to see how "these trivial verses,
filled with the false and offensive praise of women," rather than his
Latin epic and scholarly compilations, have served to keep his memory
green. Thirty-four editions of the Italian verses were printed before
1500, and one hundred and sixty-seven in the sixteenth century. Since
1600 some two hundred more have appeared.[19]

It is not, however, in his formal treatises that the source of
Petrarch's influence is to be found. They may aid us better to
understand their author, but they can never explain the charm which he
exercised over his contemporaries. He was not only an indefatigable
scholar himself, but he possessed the power of stimulating, by his
example, the scholarly ambition of those with whom he came in contact.
He rendered the study of the Latin classics popular among cultivated
persons, and by his own untiring efforts to discover the lost or
forgotten works of the great writers of antiquity he roused a new and
general enthusiasm for the formation of libraries and the critical
determination of the proper readings in the newly found manuscripts.

It is hard for us to imagine the obstacles which confronted the
scholars of the early Renaissance. They possessed no critical editions
of the classics in which the text had been established by a comparison
of all the available codices. They considered themselves fortunate to
discover a single copy of even well-known authors. And so corrupt was
the text, Petrarch declares, by reason of careless transcriptions, that
should Cicero or Livy return and stumblingly read his own writings once
more, he would promptly declare them the work of another, perhaps of a

While copies of the _Æneid_, of Horace's _Satires_, and of certain of
Cicero's _Orations_, of Ovid, Seneca, and a few other authors, were
apparently by no means uncommon during the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, it seemed to Petrarch, who had learned through the
references of Cicero, Quintilian, Saint Augustine, and others,
something of the original extent of Latin literature, that treasures
of inestimable value had been lost by the shameful indifference of
the Middle Ages. "Each famous author of antiquity whom I recall,"
he indignantly exclaims, "places a new offence and another cause of
dishonour to the charge of later generations, who, not satisfied
with their own disgraceful barrenness, permitted the fruit of other
minds and the writings that their ancestors had produced by toil and
application, to perish through insufferable neglect. Although they
had nothing of their own to hand down to those who were to come after,
they robbed posterity of its ancestral heritage."[21] The collection
of a library was, then, the first duty of one whose mission it was to
re-establish the world in its literary patrimony.

A man's books are not a bad measure of the man himself, provided he be
what Lowell calls a book-man, and his collections be really a genuine
expression of his preferences and not those of his grandfather or his
bookseller. If this is true to-day, with the all-pervading spirit
of commercial enterprise which constantly imposes upon our tastes,
how much more true must it have been when Petrarch, with all his
self-sacrificing enthusiasm and industry, brought together during a
long life only two hundred volumes.[22] Books in those days were of
course laboriously produced by hand. There was no device to secure
uniformity in the copies of a work as they were slowly written off by
the same or different persons. Each scribe inevitably made new mistakes
which could be safely corrected only by a comparison with the author's
manuscript. The average copyist was apparently hardly more careful
than the type-setter of to-day. A book as it came from his hands was
little better than uncorrected galley proof.

In one case, Petrarch tried for years to get one of his shorter works,
_The Life of Solitude,_ satisfactorily transcribed, so that he could
send a copy of it to the friend to whom he had dedicated it. He writes:

"I have tried ten times and more to have it copied in such a way that,
even if the style should not please either the ears or the mind,
the eyes might yet be gratified by the form of the letters. But the
faithfulness and industry of the copyists, of which I am constantly
complaining and with which you are familiar, have, in spite of all my
earnest efforts, frustrated my wishes. These fellows are verily the
plague of noble minds. What I have just said must seem incredible. A
work written in a few months cannot be copied in so many years! The
trouble and discouragement involved in the case of more important books
is obvious. At last, after all these fruitless trials, on leaving
home, I put the manuscript into the hands of a certain priest to copy.
Whether he will, as a priest, perform his duty conscientiously, or, as
a copyist, be ready to deceive, I cannot yet say. I learn from the
letters of friends that the work is done. Of its quality, knowing the
habits of this tribe of copyists, I shall continue to harbour doubts
until I actually see it. Such is the ignorance, laziness, or arrogance
of these fellows, that, strange as it may seem, they do not reproduce
what you give them, but write out something quite different."[23]

Each copy of a work had, therefore, before the invention of printing,
its own peculiar virtues and vices. A correct and clearly written codex
possessed charms which no modern "numbered" edition on wide-margined
paper can equal. We have many indications of the affection which
Petrarch felt for his books and which he instilled into others. Even
his rustic old servant at Vaucluse learned to distinguish the various
volumes, great and small. The old fellow would glow with satisfaction,
his master tells us, when a book was put into his hands to be replaced
upon the shelves; pressing it to his bosom, he would softly murmur the
name of the author.[24] Petrarch's interest was, however, no selfish
one; he fondly hoped that his collection would become the nucleus of
a great public library, such as we find a century or two after his
time. When he could no longer foster interest in his favourite studies
by his own potent presence and by his letters to his friends and
fellow-scholars, his books, with their careful annotations and textual
corrections, would form a permanent incentive to progress.

He chose Venice as the most appropriate place to establish his library.
The letter in which he offers to leave his books to that city gives us
a clear notion of his purpose. Laying aside all regard for classical
models, he addressed the Venetian Government in the current Latin of
the chancery:

"Francesco Petrarca desires, if it shall please Christ and St. Mark, to
bequeath to that blessed Evangelist the books he now possesses or may
acquire in the future, on condition that the books shall not be sold or
in any way scattered, but shall be kept in perpetuity in some appointed
place, safe from fire and rain, in honour of the said saint and as a
memorial of the giver, as well as for the encouragement and convenience
of the scholars and gentlemen of the said city who may delight in such
things. He does not wish this because his books are very numerous or
very valuable, but is impelled by the hope that hereafter that glorious
city may, from time to time, add other works at the public expense,
and that private individuals, nobles, or other citizens who love their
country, or perhaps even strangers, may follow his example and leave
a part of their books, by their last will, to the said church. Thus
it may easily fall out that the collection shall one day become a
great and famous library, equal to those of the ancients. The glory
which this would shed upon this State can be understood by learned and
ignorant alike. Should this be brought about, with the aid of God and
of the famous patron of your city, the said Francesco would be greatly
rejoiced, and glorify God that he had been permitted to be, in a way,
the source of this great benefit. He may write at greater length if the
affair proceeds. That it may be quite clear that he does not mean to
confine himself in so important a matter to mere words, he desires to
accomplish what he promises, etc.

"In the meantime he would like for himself and the said books a
house, not large, but respectable [_honestam_] in order that none of
the accidents to which mortals are subject shall interfere with the
realisation of his plan. He would gladly reside in the city if he can
conveniently do so, but of this he cannot be sure, owing to numerous
difficulties. Still he hopes that he may do so."[25]

September 4, 1362, the grand council determined to accept the offer of
Petrarch, "whose glory," the document recites, "was such throughout the
whole world that no one, in the memory of man, could be compared with
him in all Christendom, as a moral philosopher and a poet." The expense
for a suitable dwelling was to be met from the public treasury, and the
officials of St. Mark's were ready to provide a proper place for the

Petrarch lived for several years, as we shall see, in the house
furnished by the Venetian Government, and it was, until recently,
believed that his books were sent to the city, and, to the disgrace of
the Republic, allowed to perish from negligence. Tommasini, the author
of a once esteemed life of Petrarch, reports the discovery in 1634,
in a room of St. Mark's, of certain stray volumes nearly destroyed
by moisture and neglect,[26] which he assumed to be the remains of
Petrarch's original collection. This has recently been shown to be a
mistake, for the books in question never belonged to Petrarch, many
indeed dating from the next century. There is, in fact, no reason to
suppose that his library ever reached Venice after his death.

M. Pierre de Nolhac has succeeded, by the most minute and painstaking
study of Petrarch's handwriting and habits of annotation, in partially
reconstructing a catalogue of his books. The fate of the poet's
collection was a matter of vital interest to the literary men of his
time. Immediately after his death, Boccaccio wrote to ask what had been
done with the _bibliotheca pretiosissima_. Some, he said, reported
one thing and some another. But the books evidently found their way
to Padua, for it was there that Coluccio Salutati and others sent
for copies, not only of Petrarch's own works, but of rare classics
which he possessed, such as Propertius and the less known orations of
Cicero. Petrarch's last tyrant-patron, Francesco di Carrara, Lord of
Padua, had for several years been upon bad terms with Venice, and it
is easy to understand why the famous library, once in his possession,
was never delivered to St. Mark's, as its owner had intended. The
prince appears to have sold many of the volumes, although he retained a
choice selection for himself. A renewal of the wars with his neighbours
brought upon him, however, a final calamity, and he was forced to
cede all of his possessions, in 1388, to Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The
latter carried off the precious books to Pavia, where he added them to
his own important collection. One volume has been discovered by M. de
Nolhac, which bears the half-obliterated name of Francesco di Carrara.
But Pavia was in turn robbed of its treasures, for in 1499 the French
seized them and transported them to Blois, whence they have found their
way to Paris. Some twenty-six volumes in the National Library have been
satisfactorily proven actually to have belonged to Petrarch, while Rome
can boast of but six, and Florence, Venice, Padua, and Milan of one
each. The rest may either have been destroyed, or be wanting in those
characteristic traits by which they could be identified.

Petrarch's habit of annotating the books in which he was most
interested[27] gives the volumes which have come down to us a certain
autobiographical value, and M. de Nolhac's study of these extempore
and informal impressions will fascinate every admirer of the _premier
humaniste._ We cannot, of course, infer from the fragments of the
library which can now be identified what the original collection
included, but a careful study of his works and of the extant marginal
glosses has led M. de Nolhac to the following conclusions. The
library doubtless contained almost all the great Latin poets except
Lucretius. Petrarch probably knew Tibullus only from an anthology.
There were serious gaps in his Latin prose, but he had an especially
good collection of the Latin historians. Tacitus, although known to
Boccaccio, was quite missing, and he had only the more important
portions of Quintiliano _Institutes_, which he much admired. Seneca was
nearly complete, and he had most of the best-known works of Cicero,
although the letters _Ad Familiares_ and a number of the _Orations_
were wanting. Of the early Christian Fathers, Ambrose, Jerome, and
Augustine were prominent, but this section of his library contained
relatively few authors, while the mediæval writers were very scarce
indeed. The _Letters_ of Abelard, some works of Hugh de Saint Victor,
Dante's _Commedia,_ and the _Decameron_ of Boccaccio were, we know,
included. Petrarch could not read Greek, but he possessed Latin
versions of the _Timæus_ of Plato, the _Ethics_ and _Politics_, at
least, of Aristotle, Josephus's _Histories_, and the translation of
the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ that he and Boccaccio had had made. The want
of Greek literature was the greatest weakness in his education; for,
having no means of comparison, he was led to estimate falsely the value
of the Latin classics.

In considering the powers of criticism which Petrarch exhibits in his
discussion of the Latin language and literature, the study of which
was his main occupation during a long life, we must not unconsciously
allow ourselves to judge him by the scientific standard of to-day.
Before we can give full credit to his genius we must recollect the
incredible ignorance of his time. To give but one instance--an eminent
professor in the University of Bologna, in a letter to Petrarch,
gravely ranked Cicero among the poets, and assumed that Ennius and
Statius were contemporaries.[28] A free fancy was the only prerequisite
for establishing derivations. We find no less a student than Dante
explicitly rejecting a correct etymology in order to substitute for
it one which suited him better,[29] when he claims that _nobile_ is
derived from _non vile_ instead of from _nosco._

In order to understand the deep significance of Petrarch's scholarship,
one must turn to a book like the _Etymologies_ of the saintly Isidore
of Seville, whose work was a standard treatise in the Middle Ages.
To choose an example or two at random, we find that the lamb (Latin,
_agnus_) owes its name to the fact that "it recognises [_agnoscit_]
its mother at a greater distance than other animals, so that in even a
very large herd it immediately bleats response to its parent's voice."
_Equi_ (horses) are so called because they were equal (_æquabantur_)
when hitched to a chariot.[30] It may well be that Petrarch knew but
little more about the science of language in the modern sense of the
word than Isidore or the author of the _Græcismus_, another famous
text-book of the period, but his spirit is the spirit of a scholar.
Speculations of the kind above noted seemed to him fatuous and puerile,
although he might have been entirely at a loss to suggest any more
scientific derivations to replace the currently accepted ones. He
distinguished instinctively between fact and fancy, and the reader will
discover in his letters much sound criticism and an innate sense of
fitness and proportion quite alien to the Middle Ages.

In no respect, indeed is his greatness more apparent than in his
general rejection of the educational ideals of his times. He was as
little in sympathy with the intellectual predilections of the period as
was Voltaire with the contentions of Jansenist and Jesuit. He disliked
dialectics, the most esteemed branch of study in the mediæval schools;
he utterly disregarded Scotus and Aquinas, and cared not for nominalism
or realism, preferring to derive his religious doctrines from the
Scriptures and the half-forgotten church Fathers, his partiality
for whom, especially for Augustine and Ambrose, is evident from his
numerous references to their works. His neglect of the Schoolmen is
equally patent. Lastly, he dared to assert that Aristotle, although a
distinguished scholar, was not superior to many of the ancients, and
was inferior at least to Plato. He ventured to advance the opinion that
not only was Aristotle's style bad, but his views upon many subjects
were quite worthless.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the powerful fascination which
Aristotle exercised over the mediæval mind. Only the Scriptures and
the stately compilations of the civil and canon law were classed with
his works. His knowledge seemed all-embracing, and his dicta were
accepted as unquestionable. He was "the Philosopher" (_philosophus_),
"the master," as Dante calls him, "of them that know." Nor is his
supremacy hard to understand. When his works reached Western Europe,
at the end of the twelfth and the opening of the thirteenth century,
partly through the Arabs of Spain and partly from Constantinople, men
were filled with an eager, undiscriminating desire for knowledge. His
treatises afforded both an acceptable method and the necessary data for
interminable dialectical activity. His _Metaphysics, Physics, Ethics_,
and the rest, supplied abundant material upon which his principles of
logic might be brought to bear by a disputatious generation. So the
greatest of inductive philosophers became the hero of a recklessly
deductive age, which was both too indolent and too respectful of
authority to add to or correct his observations. It was assumed that
nothing remained to be done except to understand, expound, and comment
upon the writings of a genius to whom all the secrets of nature and of
man had been revealed. Even theology, a characteristic creation of the
Middle Ages, was greatly affected, if not dominated, by Aristotle, so
that Luther's first act of revolt took the form of an attack upon "that
accursed heathen."

Some of his acquaintances in Venice were accustomed, during their
conversations together, to suggest some problem of the Aristotelians or
to talk about animals; Petrarch says:

"I would then either remain silent or jest with them or change the
subject. Sometimes I asked, with a smile, how Aristotle could have
known that, for it was not proven by the light of reason, nor could it
be tested by experiment. At that they would fall silent, in surprise
and anger, as if they regarded me as a blasphemer who asked any proof
beyond the authority of Aristotle. So we bid fair to be no longer
philosophers, lovers of the truth, but Aristotelians, or rather
Pythagoreans, reviving the absurd custom which permits us to ask no
question except whether _he_ said it.... I believe, indeed, that
Aristotle was a great man and that he knew much; yet he was but a man,
and therefore something, nay, many things, may have escaped him. I will
say more.... I am confident, beyond a doubt, that he was in error all
his life, not only as regards small matters, where a mistake counts for
little, but in the most weighty questions, where his supreme interests
were involved. And although he has said much of happiness, both at the
beginning and the end of his _Ethics_, I dare assert, let my critics
exclaim as they may, that he was so completely ignorant of true
happiness that the opinions upon this matter of any pious old woman, or
devout fisherman, shepherd, or farmer, would, if not so fine-spun, be
more to the point than his."[31]

Commonplace as these reflections seem to us, they resound in the
history of culture like a decisive battle in the world's annals.
Nor was it mere pettishness which led Petrarch to speak thus of the
supreme authority of his age: the instincts and training which made
it impossible for him to bow down and worship the Stagirite, implied
a great intellectual revolution. Nowhere is the broadening effect of
his intelligent and constant reading of the classics more apparent
than in his estimate of Aristotle's relative greatness. He was far too
intimately acquainted with the history of literature to feel for any
one man the respect entertained for their master by the Schoolmen.

The so-called natural science of his day was scornfully put aside by
Petrarch as unworthy the attention of a man of culture. Those fond
of the subject, he tells us, "say much of beasts, birds, and fishes,
discuss how many hairs there are on the lion's head and feathers in
the hawk's tail, and how many coils the polypus winds about a wrecked
ship; they expatiate upon the generation of the elephant and its
biennial offspring, as well as upon the docility and intelligence of
the animal and its resemblance to human-kind. They tell how the phœnix
lives two or three centuries, and is then consumed by an aromatic fire,
to be born again from its ashes." This characteristic mediæval lore
he rejects as false, and sensibly declares that the accounts of such
wonders as reach his part of the world relate to matters unfamiliar
to those who describe them. Hence, such stories are readily invented
and received by reason of the distance from the places where the
phenomena are said to occur. "Even if all these things were true," he
characteristically urges, "they help in no way toward a happy life, for
what does it advantage is to be familiar with the nature of animals,
birds, fishes, and reptiles, while we are ignorant of the nature of the
race of man to which we belong, and do not know or care whence we come
or whither we go?"[32]

The astrologers, so highly esteemed in his day, seemed to him mere
charlatans, who were supported by the credulity of those who were madly
curious to know what could not be known, and should not be known if it
could. Cicero and Augustine had demonstrated the futility of the claims
made by the _mathematici_, as they were long called, and Petrarch
ratified their judgment; yet so general was the belief in their powers
that astrology was taught in the universities of Italy.[33] Even the
hard-headed despot of Milan once deferred a military expedition because
an astrological friend of Petrarch's declared the proposed time to
be unpropitious. The army had, however, scarcely started, with the
approval of the astrologer, before such terrible and prolonged rains
set in that only the personal courage and good fortune of the prince
prevented a disaster. When Petrarch inquired of his friend how he
made so grievous, a miscalculation, the astrologer replied that it
was especially difficult to forecast the weather. He received the
triumphant retort: "It is easier, then, to know what is going to happen
to me alone or to some other individual several years hence, than that
which threatens heaven and earth to-day or to-morrow!"[34]

Petrarch's good sense was once or twice tested to the utmost, and
yet he refused to give a supernatural explanation even to startling
personal experiences, such as still occasionally disturb the precarious
adjustment of our generally accepted scheme of the universe. He gives
two curious instances of prophetic visions that came true. On one
occasion, he had left the bedside of a very dear friend, whose case
had been pronounced hopeless by the physicians. Upon his falling into
a troubled sleep the sick man appeared to him and announced that he
would get the better of his malady if only he were not deserted. There
was one already at hand, he said, who might save him. Hereupon Petrarch
awoke to find one of the doctors at his door, who had come to comfort
him for the loss of his friend. He thereupon compelled the reluctant
physician to return to the sick-room: they immediately perceived
hopeful signs in the condition of the patient, who was in due time
completely restored to health.

The second dream that Petrarch narrates concerned his noble friend,
Giacomo of Colonna, who while still a young man had been made Bishop
of Lombez, a town not far from Toulouse. Petrarch was, at the time
of which we are speaking, at Parma, separated from his friend, as he
points out, by no inconsiderable stretch of country.

"Vague rumours of his illness had reached me, so that, swayed
alternately by hope and fear, I was eagerly awaiting more definite
news. I shudder even now as I recall it all; my eye rests upon the
very spot where I saw him in the quiet of the night. He was alone,
and crossed the brook that is running before me through my garden. I
hastened to meet him, and in my surprise and astonishment I overwhelmed
him with questions--whence he came, whither he was going, why he was in
such haste, and entirely alone? He made no reply to my queries, but,
smiling as was his wont when he spoke, he said: 'Do you remember how
you were troubled by the storms of the Pyrenees, when you once spent
some time with me beyond the Garonne?[35] I am worn out by them now,
and have left them never to return. I go to Rome.' While saying this
he had swiftly reached the limits of the enclosure. I pressed him to
permit me to accompany him, but twice he gently repulsed me with a wave
of the hand, and finally, with a strange change in his face and voice,
said: 'Desist, I do not wish your companionship now.' Then I fixed my
eyes upon him and recognised the bloodless pallor of death. Overcome
by fright and sorrow, I cried out, so that, as I awoke at that very
moment, I heard the last echoes of my own scream. I marked the day and
told the whole story to the friends who were within reach and wrote
about it to those absent. Twenty-five days later the announcement of
his death reached me. Upon comparing the dates, I discovered that he
had appeared to me upon the same day upon which he departed this life.
His remains were carried to Rome three years later--I, however, neither
suspected nor anticipated anything of the kind at the time of my dream.
His spirit, as I ardently hope, triumphs in heaven, to which it has

"But we've dreamed enough, let us awake! I will add but a word. It
was not because, in a period of anxiety, first my friend and then my
master appeared to me in a dream, that the one recovered and the other
died. In both cases I simply seemed to behold what, in the one case, I
dreaded and, in the other, desired, and fate coincided with my vision.
I have, therefore, no more faith in dreams than Cicero, who said that
for a single one which accidentally came true he was perplexed by a
thousand false ones."[36]

Petrarch's enlightenment and scholarship would, however, have
availed the world but little, had he not possessed at the same time
certain quite different qualities which go to make up the successful
reformer. History abundantly proves that one may be far in advance
of one's age and yet leave not a solitary disciple behind. In the
fourteenth century, to cite one or two instances, a certain Pierre
Dubois eloquently advocated the higher education of women and their
instruction in medicine and surgery, the study of the modern languages,
the marriage of the clergy and the secularisation of their misused
property, the simplification of judicial procedure, and a system of
international arbitration.[37] But no one, so far as is known, gave
ear to his suggestions, however salutary: six centuries have elapsed
and the world has still but half carried out his programme. While
Petrarch was studying law at Bologna, Marsiglio of Padua issued one
of the most extraordinary treatises ever produced on government, but,
although the circumstances of its publication were favourable to
publicity, its influence was imperceptible.

We have, therefore, but half explained the secret of Petrarch's
influence if we dwell only upon his profound insight and his moral
and intellectual saneness. He might well have been "the first modern"
and yet have suffered the fate of many another whom we know to have
conceived prophetic ideals. He was in advance of his world, it is true,
but he was of it. There was a fundamental sympathy between him and his
age. He was mediæval as well as modern. He belonged both to the present
and the future. Like Luther and Voltaire, he spoke to a generation
that was eagerly and expectantly awaiting its leader, and ready to
obey his summons when it should come. Luther was a monk before he was
a reformer. Had he been less certain that the devil disported himself
in the box of hazel-nuts that he kept on his desk, he might, in just
so far, have exercised a less potent influence over a superstitious
people. Had Voltaire been less blasphemous and more appreciative of the
true greatness of Hebrew literature, he might never have advanced the
cause of humanity.

Of Petrarch's affinities with the culture of his time the reader may
form his own judgment from the abundant evidence furnished by the
letters. In one important respect he was ever the child of the Middle
Ages; he never freed himself from the monastic theory of salvation,
although he frequently questioned some of its implications.

His success was not, however, due solely to the gospel that he preached
and its fitness for his day and generation. He enjoyed, in addition to
these, the inestimable advantage of personal popularity. He was the
hero of his age. He was courted, as he says with perfect truth, by
the greatest rulers of his time, who omitted no inducement that might
serve to draw him to their capitals. He was the friend of successive
Popes and of the far-away Emperor himself. The King of France claimed
the honour of his presence at the French Court, as Frederick the Great
sought that of Voltaire. Luther and Erasmus were scarcely more widely
known than he.

It was, however, with men of letters that his influence was most
potent. Among his fellows he ruled supreme. His relations with
Boccaccio, the greatest of his Italian contemporaries, were especially
sympathetic and affectionate, but scarcely less cordial was his esteem
for aspiring young Humanists whose names are now forgotten. Of their
feelings for him we can judge from the few letters addressed to him
that have come down to us. A modest Florentine scholar, Francesco
Nelli, who had won the great man's love, tells us of the rejoicing
which the arrival of Petrarch's messages occasioned among his
Florentine friends.

"Your circle," Nelli writes, "assembled to partake of an elegant
repast.... Those who live and rejoice in the renown of your name and
profess your revered friendship (you will understand me, although I
express myself but ill) each brought forth his treasure and refreshed
us with its sweetness.... Your poem was eagerly read with delight and
fraternal good-will. Then we joyously discussed your letters, by means
of which you were joined to each of us by a lasting bond of friendship,
so that we each silently proved your affection for us by thus producing
incontestable evidence. There was no envy, such as is usually aroused
by commendation, no detraction or aspersions; each was bent upon adding
his part to the applause aroused by your eloquence."[38]

As the reader turns to the letters themselves, he will soon discover
that, in spite of their author's assertions to the contrary, each is a
well-rounded and carefully elaborated Latin essay, hardly destined to
perform the ordinary functions of a letter. While he believed Cicero to
be his model, he allowed himself, whether by some natural inclination
or from the fact that he knew them earlier, to follow Seneca's epistles
more closely. All trivial domestic matters or questions of business,
which he regarded as beneath his own dignity and that of the Latin
language, were relegated to a separate sheet, written presumably in
Italian, which was much better adapted to every-day affairs than the
intractable classical forms which he strove to imitate.[39] But none
of these contemned post-scripts, interesting as they would probably be
to us, have been preserved, and we have not a single line of Italian
prose from Petrarch's pen.[40]

Although he was fond of saying that he took no pains with his style
in his intercourse with his friends, the constant traces of care and
revision will scarcely escape the reader. Moreover, these finished
communications were not to be treated lightly. "I desire," he says,
"that my reader, whoever he may be, should think of me alone, not of
his daughter's wedding, his mistress's embraces, the wiles of his
enemy, his engagements, house, lands, or money. I want him to pay
attention to me. If his affairs are pressing, let him postpone reading
the letter, but when he does read, let him throw aside the burden of
business and family cares, and fix his mind upon the matter before him.
I do not wish him to carry on his business and attend to my letter at
the same time. I will not have him gain without any exertion what has
not been produced without labour on my part."[41]

The conditions were, indeed, very untoward in those days for regular
correspondence between friends, and it is natural that the modern
note, lightly dashed off and despatched for the most trifling sum,
with almost unfailing security, to any part of the globe, should have
had no analogy in the fourteenth century. There was in Petrarch's
time no regular postal system. Letters were intrusted to a special
messenger, or to someone going in the proper direction, pilgrim or
merchant. Sometimes a long period might elapse without any opportunity
of forwarding a letter, for the scarcity of messengers was as familiar
an evil to those living in a great city like Milan as to the solitary
sojourner in the wilderness.[42] Once Petrarch resorted to his cook
as a messenger. When once under way, there was no assurance that the
letter would reach its destination. Many are Petrarch's laments,
over the loss of his own and his friends' messages. They were often
intercepted and opened, sometimes apparently by autograph-mongers; they
might then be returned or not as it pleased those who violated them.
Once, as he was returning to Padua, Petrarch came upon two letters
from his friend Nelli, in the hands of certain fellows--"not bad men
indeed," but those whom he was as much surprised to find interested
in such things as if he had discovered "a mole amusing itself with a

At last Petrarch's patience was quite exhausted and he resolved to
give up writing letters altogether. About a year before his death he
imparted his purpose to Boccaccio, as follows:

"I know now that neither of two long letters that I wrote to you have
reached you. But what can we do?--nothing but submit. We may wax
indignant, but we cannot avenge ourselves. A most insupportable set of
fellows has appeared in northern Italy, who nominally guard the passes,
but are really the bane of messengers. They not only glance over the
letters that they open, but they read them with the utmost curiosity.
They may, perhaps, have for an excuse the orders of their masters, who,
conscious of being subject to every reproach in their restless careers
of insolence, imagine that everyone must be writing about and against
them; hence their anxiety to know everything. But it is certainly
inexcusable, when they find something in the letters that tickles their
asinine ears, that instead of detaining the messengers while they take
time to copy the contents, as they used to do, they should now, with
ever increasing audacity, spare their fingers the fatigue, and order
the messengers off without their letters. And, to make this procedure
the more disgusting, those who carry on this trade are complete
ignoramuses, suggesting those unfortunates who possess a capacious and
imperious appetite together with a weak digestion, which keeps them
always on the verge of illness. I find nothing more irritating and
vexatious than the interference of these scoundrels. It has often kept
me from writing, and often caused me to repent after I had written.
There is nothing more to be done against these letter-thieves, for
everything is upside down, and the liberty of the state is entirely

"To this obstacle to correspondence I may add my age, my flagging
interest in almost everything, and not merely satiety of writing but an
actual repugnance to it. These reasons taken together have induced me
to give up writing to you, my friend, and to those others with whom I
have been wont to correspond. I utter this farewell, not so much that
these frivolous letters shall, at last, cease to interfere, as they
so long have done, with more serious work, but rather to prevent my
writings from falling into the hands of these paltry wretches. I shall,
in this way, at least escape their insolence, and when I am forced to
write to you or to others I shall write to be understood and not to
please.[43] I remember already to have promised, in a letter of this
kind, that I would thereafter be more concise in my correspondence, in
order to economise the brief time which remained to me. But I have not
been able to keep this engagement. It seems to me much easier to remain
silent altogether with one's friends than to be brief, for when one has
once begun, the desire to continue the conversation is so great that it
were easier not to begin than to check the flow."[44]

If the letters of Erasmus can, as Mr. Froude suggested, be properly
regarded as the most important single source for the history of the
Reformation, those of Petrarch must, by reason of the scantiness of
other material, be looked upon as indispensable to an understanding of
the intellectual life of Italy at the opening of the Renaissance. Still
his entire correspondence is by no means available as yet in even a
tolerable Latin edition, and, except for an Italian translation, his
letters are quite out of the reach of those who cannot read them in
the original.[45] The editors of the present volume therefore feel no
hesitation in offering to the English-reading public a version of some
of the more characteristic examples of a correspondence possessing
such exceptional interest. They were unfortunately forced to select,
since the letters that have been preserved would, if reproduced _in
extenso_, fill no less than eight volumes of the size of this. The
choice has been determined by a desire to shed all possible light
upon the historical rôle of Petrarch and upon the times in which he
lived. Some explanations have necessarily been added to the text, but
a constant effort has been made to exclude all that was mere erudition
or interesting only to the special student. The letters selected have
nearly always been given in their entirety and with all possible
literalness, for condensation would inevitably have interfered with the
true impression which the original produces, even if it served at times
to render the book more readable. We can but hope that the choice that
we have made will, so far as is possible in so brief a compass, give a
correct notion, at first hand, of the extraordinary character with whom
we have to do.

[1] The writer has ventured to suggest that the thought of the
Renaissance is much more akin to that of the Middle Ages than with that
of to-day. See _The New History_ pp. 101 _sqq_.

[2] _Ep. de Rebus Sen_., xvi., 2.

[3] _Sen_., xiii., 10; _Opera_ (1581), p. 923.

[4] For Petrarch's attitude toward the Italian language the reader is
referred to Part II., below.

[5] From the first sonnet, beginning, Voi ch'ascoltate.

[6] Gaspary, _Geschichte der italienischen Literatur_, 1885, i., 480.

[7] _Cf_. Preface to _Dialogus de Contemptu Mundi_, as the work
is called in the Basle editions. Many MSS. entitle the work more
appropriately _De Secreto Conflictu Curarum Suarum. Cf_. Voigt, _op.
cit_., p. 132.

[8] See below, pp. 93 _sqq_. [In order to discuss...] and 404 _sqq_ [In
spite, however, of the conventional ...].

[9] For example the familiar,

    Dies iræ, dies illa,
    Solvet sæclum in favilla.

or Abelard's lines:

    In hac urbe lux solemnis,
    Ver æternum, pax perennis.
    In hac odor implens cœlos,
    In hac semper festum melos.

10: See below, p. 233 _sqq._ [Such remarks, which are not infrequent.]

11: _Letter to Posterity._

12: The wretchedly printed, editions published at Basle in 1554 and
1581 are the most complete, but they omit the work on _Famous Men_ and
nearly half of the letters.

13: As first (and last) Englished by Thomas Twyne, London, 1579.

14: This is a part of the _Lives of Famous Men_, but is nearly as long
as all the others together.

15: _Cf_. Ferrazzi, "Bibliografia Petrarchesca," in vol. v. of his
_Enciclopedia Dantesca_, Bassano, 1877.

16: _E.g._, Book i., chap, xliii.: on the possession of a library.

17: Conradini has edited the work in _Padova a Petrarca_, 1874, and
there are now two Italian versions and one in French.

18: Edited by A. Razzolini, Bologna, 1874-9, in _Collezione di Opere
Inedite o Rare_. Vols. 34-36. The _Life of Cæsar_ was carefully
edited by Schneider (Leipzig, 1827), with a discussion of Petrarch's
divergences from classical Latin.

19: For this whole subject see Ferrazzi, _op. cit_., especially p.
760. An excellent analysis of the Latin works may be found in Körting,
_Petrarca's Leben u. Werke_, Leipzig, 1878, pp. 542 _sqq_.

20: _De Rem. Utriusq. Fortunæ_, i., 43; _Opera_ (1581), p. 43.

21: _Rerum Mem_., i., 2, as corrected by M. de Nolhac: _Pétrarque et
l'Humanisme_, p. 268.

22: _Cf_. de Nolhac, _op. cit_., p. 99.

23: _Sen_., v., 1; _Opera_ (1581), p. 792. Compare, on the general
subject, G. H. Putnam's _Books and their Makers in the Middle Ages_,
New York, 1896.

24: _Epistolæ de Rebus Familiaribus_, xvi., 1 (Fracassetti's edition,
vol. ii., p. 363).

25: The Latin original, transcribed from the archives of Venice, is to
be found in de Nolhac, _op. cit_., p. 80.

26: _Petrarcha Redivivus_, 2d ed. (Padua, 1650), p. 72.

27: _Cf. Fam_., xxiv., 1 (vol. iii., p. 250).

28: _Fam_., iv., 15.

29: _Il Convito_, iv., 16. For the conceptions of grammar in the
thirteenth century see Turot's remarkable study in the _Notices et
Extraits des MSS_., vol. 22.

30: Migne, _Patrologia Lat_., vol. 82, pp. 408, 426.

31: "De Sui ipsius et Multorum Ignorantia," _Opera_ (1581), pp. 1042,

32: _Opera_ (1581), p. 1038. Steele's extracts from Bartholomew
Anglicus, in _Mediæval Lore_ (Stock, London), give a good idea of the
popular science of the thirteenth century.

33: _Cf_. Rashdall, _Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages_,
Oxford, 1895.

34: _Sen_., iii., 1; _Opera_ (1581), pp. 768, 769.

35: See below, p. 68. (by the incomparable Giacomo Colonna,...)

36: _Fam_. v., 7.

37: _Cf. De Recuperatione Terre Sancte_, excellently edited by Ch.-V.
Langlois, Paris, 1891.

38: _Lettres de F. Nelli_, ed. Cochin. Paris, 1892, p. 166.

39: He says distinctly in one letter: Ad epistolæ tuæ finem de
familiaribus curis stilo alio et seorsum loquar, ut soleo. _Fam._, xx.,
2 (vol. iii., p. 11). Again we find: Quidquid hodie æconomicum mihi
domus attulit, seorsum altera perleges papyro. _Fam_., xviii., 7 (vol.
ii., p. 486). _Cf._ below, p. 230 _sq_.

40: There is one possible exception, a short address upon the death of
the Archbishop of Milan, delivered in 1354; given by Hortis, _Scritti
Inediti_, pp. 335 _sqq_. The reader will find a discussion of the
editing of the letters below, p. 150 _sqq_ (Well, this which I dedicate
to you, my brother,...).

41: _Fam_., xiii., 5 (vol. ii. pp. 232, 233).

42: _Fam_., xx., 6 (vol. iii., p. 25).

43: Perhaps with a hope that simple notes would escape the fate of his
more polished missives.

44: _Opera_ (1581), p. 546 _sq._

45: M. Victor Develay has turned a part of the correspondence into
French, with conscientious fidelity to the original.]  I


    Vestro de grege unus fui autem, mortalis homuncio.
                         _Epistola ad Posteros._

_Francesco Petrarca to Posterity._

Greeting.--It is possible that some word of me may have come to you,
though even this is doubtful, since an insignificant and obscure name
will scarcely penetrate far in either time or space. If, however, you
should have heard of me, you may desire to know what manner of man I
was, or what was the outcome of my labours, especially those of which
some description or, at any rate, the bare titles may have reached you.

To begin with myself, then, the utterances of men concerning me will
differ widely, since in passing judgment almost every one is influenced
not so much by truth as by preference, and good and evil report alike
know no bounds. I was, in truth, a poor mortal like yourself, neither
very exalted in my origin, nor, on the other hand, of the most humble
birth, but belonging, as Augustus Cæsar says of himself, to an ancient
family. As to my disposition, I was not naturally perverse or wanting
in modesty, however the contagion of evil associations may have
corrupted me. My youth was gone before I realised it; I was carried
away by the strength of manhood; but a riper age brought me to my
senses and taught me by experience the truth I had long before read in
books, that youth and pleasure are vanity--nay, that the Author of all
ages and times permits us miserable mortals, puffed up with emptiness,
thus to wander about, until finally, coming to a tardy consciousness of
our sins, we shall learn to know ourselves. In my prime I was blessed
with a quick and active body, although not exceptionally strong; and
while I do not lay claim to remarkable personal beauty, I was comely
enough in my best days.[1] I was possessed of a clear complexion,
between light and dark, lively eyes, and for long years a keen vision,
which however deserted me, contrary to my hopes, after I reached my
sixtieth birthday, and forced me, to my great annoyance, to resort to
glasses.[2] Although I had previously enjoyed perfect health, old age
brought with it the usual array of discomforts.

My parents were honourable folk, Florentine in their origin, of
medium fortune, or, I may as well admit it, in a condition verging
upon poverty. They had been expelled from their native city,[3] and
consequently I was born in exile, at Arezzo, in the year 1304 of this
latter age which begins with Christ's birth, July the twentieth, on
a Monday, at dawn. I have always possessed an extreme contempt for
wealth; not that riches are not desirable in themselves, but because
I hate the anxiety and care which are invariably associated with
them. I certainly do not long to be able to give gorgeous banquets. I
have, on the contrary, led a happier existence with plain living and
ordinary fare than all the followers of Apicius, with their elaborate
dainties. So-called _convivia_, which are but vulgar bouts, sinning
against sobriety and good manners, have always been repugnant to me.
I have ever felt that it was irksome and profitless to invite others
to such affairs, and not less so to be bidden to them myself. On the
other hand, the pleasure of dining with one's friends is so great that
nothing has ever given me more delight than their unexpected arrival,
nor have I ever willingly sat down to table without a companion.
Nothing displeases me more than display, for not only is it bad in
itself, and opposed to humility, but it is troublesome and distracting.

I struggled in my younger days with a keen but constant and pure
attachment, and would have struggled with it longer had not the
sinking flame been extinguished by death--premature and bitter, but
salutary.[4] I should be glad to be able to say that I had always been
entirely free from irregular desires, but I should lie if I did so.
I can, however, conscientiously claim that, although I may have been
carried away by the fire of youth or by my ardent temperament, I have
always abhorred such sins from the depths of my soul. As I approached
the age of forty, while my powers were unimpaired and my passions were
still strong, I not only abruptly threw off my bad habits, but even the
very recollection of them, as if I had never looked upon a woman. This
I mention as among the greatest of my blessings, and I render thanks to
God, who freed me, while still sound and vigorous, from a disgusting
slavery which had always been hateful to me.[5] But let us turn to
other matters.

I have taken pride in others, never in myself, and however
insignificant I may have been, I have always been still less important
in my own judgment. My anger has very often injured myself, but never
others. I have always been most desirous of honourable friendships,
and have faithfully cherished them. I make this boast without fear,
since I am confident that I speak truly. While I am very prone to take
offence, I am equally quick to forget injuries, and have a memory
tenacious of benefits. In my familiar associations with kings and
princes, and in my friendship with noble personages, my good fortune
has been such as to excite envy. But it is the cruel fate of those who
are growing old that they can commonly only weep for friends who have
passed away. The greatest kings of this age have loved and courted
me. They may know why; I certainly do not. With some of them I was on
such terms that they seemed in a certain sense my guests rather than
I theirs; their lofty position in no way embarrassing me, but, on the
contrary, bringing with it many advantages. I fled, however, from many
of those to whom I was greatly attached; and such was my innate longing
for liberty, that I studiously avoided those whose very name seemed
incompatible with the freedom that I loved.

I possessed a well-balanced rather than a keen intellect, one prone
to all kinds of good and wholesome study, but especially inclined to
moral philosophy and the art of poetry. The latter, indeed, I neglected
as time went on, and took delight in sacred literature. Finding in
that a hidden sweetness which I had once esteemed but lightly, I came
to regard the works of the poets as only amenities. Among the many
subjects which interested me, I dwelt especially upon antiquity, for
our own age has always repelled me, so that, had it not been for the
love of those dear to me, I should have preferred to have been born
in any other period than our own. In order to forget my own time,
I have constantly striven to place myself in spirit in other ages,
and consequently I delighted in history; not that the conflicting
statements did not offend me, but when in doubt I accepted what
appeared to me most probable, or yielded to the authority of the writer.

My style, as many claimed, was clear and forcible; but to me it seemed
weak and obscure. In ordinary conversation with friends, or with those
about me, I never gave any thought to my language, and I have always
wondered that Augustus Cæsar should have taken such pains in this
respect. When, however, the subject itself, or the place or listener,
seemed to demand it, I gave some attention to style, with what success
I cannot pretend to say; let them judge in whose presence I spoke. If
only I have lived well, it matters little to me how I talked. Mere
elegance of language can produce at best but an empty renown.

My life up to the present has, either through fate or my own choice,
fallen into the following divisions. A part only of my first year
was spent at Arezzo, where I first saw the light. The six following
years were, owing to the recall of my mother from exile, spent upon
my father's estate at Ancisa, about fourteen miles above Florence. I
passed my eighth year at Pisa,[6] the ninth and following years in
Farther Gaul, at Avignon, on the left bank of the Rhone, where the
Roman Pontiff holds and has long held the Church of Christ in shameful
exile. It seemed a few years ago as if Urban V. was on the point of
restoring the Church to its ancient seat, but it is clear that nothing
is coming of this effort, and, what is to me the worst of all, the Pope
seems to have repented him of his good work, for failure came while he
was still living. Had he lived but a little longer, he would certainly
have learned how I regarded his retreat.[7] My pen was in my hand
when he abruptly surrendered at once his exalted office and his life.
Unhappy man, who might have died before the altar of Saint Peter and in
his own habitation! Had his successors remained in their capital he
would have been looked upon as the cause of this benign change, while,
had they left Rome, his virtue would have been all the more conspicuous
in contrast with their fault.[8]

But such laments are somewhat remote from my subject. On the windy
banks of the river Rhone I spent my boyhood, guided by my parents,
and then, guided by my own fancies, the whole of my youth. Yet there
were long intervals spent elsewhere, for I first passed four years at
the little town of Carpentras, somewhat to the east of Avignon: in
these two places I learned as much of grammar, logic, and rhetoric as
my age permitted, or rather, as much as it is customary to teach in
school: how little that is, dear reader, thou knowest. I then set out
for Montpellier to study law, and spent four years there, then three
at Bologna. I heard the whole body of the civil law, and would, as
many thought, have distinguished myself later, had I but continued my
studies. I gave up the subject altogether, however, so soon as it was
no longer necessary to consult the wishes of my parents.[9] My reason
was that, although the dignity of the law, which is doubtless very
great, and especially the numerous references it contains to Roman
antiquity, did not fail to delight me, I felt it to be habitually
degraded by those who practise it. It went against me painfully to
acquire an art which I would not practise dishonestly, and could
hardly hope to exercise otherwise. Had I made the latter attempt, my
scrupulousness would doubtless have been ascribed to simplicity.

So at the age of two and twenty[10] I returned home. I call my place
of exile home, Avignon, where I had been since childhood; for habit
has almost the potency of nature itself. I had already begun to be
known there, and my friendship was sought by prominent men; wherefore I
cannot say. I confess this is now a source of surprise to me, although
it seemed natural enough at an age when we are used to regard ourselves
as worthy of the highest respect. I was courted first and foremost by
that very distinguished and noble family, the Colonnesi, who, at that
period, adorned the Roman Curia with their presence. However it might
be now, I was at that time certainly quite unworthy of the esteem in
which I was held by them. I was especially honoured by the incomparable
Giacomo Colonna, then Bishop of Lombez,[11] whose peer I know not
whether I have ever seen or ever shall see, and was taken by him to
Gascony; there I spent such a divine summer among the foot-hills of
the Pyrenees, in happy intercourse with my master and the members of
our company, that I can never recall the experience without a sigh of

Returning thence, I passed many years in the house of Giacomo's
brother, Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, not as if he were my lord
and master, but rather my father, or better, a most affectionate
brother--nay, it was as if I were in my own home.[13] About this time,
a youthful desire impelled me to visit France and Germany. While I
invented certain reasons to satisfy my elders of the propriety of the
journey, the real explanation was a great inclination and longing to
see new sights. I first visited Paris, as I was anxious to discover
what was true and what fabulous in the accounts I had heard of that
city.[14] On my return from this journey I went to Rome,[15] which I
had since my infancy ardently desired to visit. There I soon came to
venerate Stephano, the noble head of the family of the Colonnesi, like
some ancient hero, and was in turn treated by him in every respect like
a son. The love and good-will of this excellent man toward me remained
constant to the end of his life, and lives in me still, nor will it
cease until I myself pass away.

On my return, since I experienced a deep-seated and innate repugnance
to town life, especially in that disgusting city of Avignon which
I heartily abhorred, I sought some means of escape. I fortunately
discovered, about fifteen miles from Avignon, a delightful valley,
narrow and secluded, called Vaucluse, where the Sorgue, the prince
of streams, takes its rise. Captivated by the charms of the place, I
transferred thither myself and my books. Were I to describe what I did
there during many years, it would prove a long story. Indeed, almost
every bit of writing which I have put forth was either accomplished or
begun, or at least conceived, there, and my undertakings have been so
numerous that they still continue to vex and weary me. My mind, like my
body, is characterised by a certain versatility and readiness, rather
than by strength, so that many tasks that were easy of conception have
been given up by reason of the difficulty of their execution. The
character of my surroundings suggested the composition of a sylvan or
bucolic song. I also dedicated a work in two books upon _The Life of
Solitude,_[16] to Philip, now exalted to the Cardinal-bishopric of
Sabina. Although always a great man, he was, at the time of which I
speak, only the humble Bishop of Cavaillon.[17] He is the only one of
my old friends who is still left to me, and he has always loved and
treated me not as a bishop (as Ambrose did Augustine), but as a brother.

While I was wandering in those mountains upon a Friday in Holy Week,
the strong desire seized me to write an epic in an heroic strain,
taking as my theme Scipio Africanus the Great, who had, strange to say,
been dear to me from my childhood. But although I began the execution
of this project with enthusiasm, I straightway abandoned it, owing to
a variety of distractions. The poem was, however, christened _Africa_,
from the name of its hero, and, whether from his fortunes or mine, it
did not fail to arouse the interest of many before they had seen it.

While leading a leisurely existence in this region, I received,
remarkable as it may seem, upon one and the same day,[18] letters both
from the Senate at Rome and the Chancellor of the University of Paris,
pressing me to appear in Rome and Paris, respectively, to receive the
poet's crown of laurel. In my youthful elation I convinced myself that
I was quite worthy of this honour; the recognition came from eminent
judges, and I accepted their verdict rather than that of my own better
judgment. I hesitated for a time which I should give ear to, and sent
a letter to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, of whom I have already spoken,
asking his opinion. He was so near that, although I wrote late in
the day, I received his reply before the third hour on the morrow. I
followed his advice, and recognised the claims of Rome as superior to
all others. My acceptance of his counsel is shown by my twofold letter
to him on that occasion, which I still keep. I set off accordingly; but
although, after the fashion of youth, I was a most indulgent judge of
my own work, I still blushed to accept in my own case the verdict even
of such men as those who summoned me, despite the fact that they would
certainly not have honoured me in this way, had they not believed me

So I decided, first to visit Naples, and that celebrated king and
philosopher, Robert, who was not more distinguished as a ruler than as
a man of culture.[20] He was, indeed, the only monarch of our age who
was the friend at once of learning and of virtue, and I trusted that
he might correct such things as he found to criticise in my work. The
way in which he received and welcomed me is a source of astonishment
to me now, and, I doubt not, to the reader also, if he happens to
know anything of the matter. Having learned the reason of my coming,
the King seemed mightily pleased. He was gratified, doubtless, by my
youthful faith in him, and felt, perhaps, that he shared in a way the
glory of my coronation, since I had chosen him from all others as the
only suitable critic. After talking over a great many things, I showed
him my _Africa_ which so delighted him that he asked that it might be
dedicated to him in consideration of a handsome reward.[21] This was a
request that I could not well refuse, nor, indeed, would I have wished
to refuse it, had it been in my power. He then fixed a day upon which
we could consider the object of my visit. This occupied us from noon
until evening, and the time proving too short, on account of the many
matters which arose for discussion, we passed the two following days
in the same manner. Having thus tested my poor attainments for three
days, the King at last pronounced me worthy of the laurel. He offered
to bestow that honour upon me at Naples, and urged me to consent
to receive it there, but my veneration for Rome prevailed over the
insistence of even so great a monarch as Robert. At length, seeing
that I was inflexible in my purpose, he sent me on my way accompanied
by royal messengers and letters to the Roman Senate, in which he gave
enthusiastic expression to his flattering opinion of me. This royal
estimate was, indeed, quite in accord with that of many others, and
especially with my own, but to-day I cannot approve either his or my
own verdict. In his case, affection and the natural partiality to youth
were stronger than his devotion to truth.

On arriving at Rome, I continued, in spite of my unworthiness, to rely
upon the judgment of so eminent a critic, and, to the great delight of
the Romans who were present, I who had been hitherto a simple student
received the laurel crown.[22] This occasion is described elsewhere in
my letters, both in prose and verse.[23] The laurel, however, in no way
increased my wisdom, although it did arouse some jealousy--but this is
too long a story to be told here.

On leaving Rome, I went to Parma, and spent some time with the members
of the house of Correggio, who, while they were most kind and generous
towards me, agreed but ill among themselves. They governed Parma,
however, in a way unknown to that city within the memory of man, and
the like of which it will hardly again enjoy in this present age.

I was conscious of the honour which I had but just received, and
fearful lest it might seem to have been granted to one unworthy of the
distinction; consequently, as I was walking one day in the mountains,
and chanced to cross the river Enza to a place called Selva Piana, in
the territory of Reggio, struck by the beauty of the spot, I began
to write again upon the _Africa_, which I had laid aside. In my
enthusiasm, which had seemed quite dead, I wrote some lines that very
day, and some each day until I returned to Parma. Here I happened upon
a quiet and retired house, which I afterwards bought, and which still
belongs to me. I continued my task with such ardour, and completed
the work in so short a space of time, that I cannot but marvel now at
my despatch.[24] I had already passed my thirty-fourth year when I
returned thence to the Fountain of the Sorgue, and to my Transalpine
solitude. I had made a long stay both in Parma and Verona,[25] and
everywhere I had, I am thankful to say, been treated with much greater
esteem than I merited.

Some time after this, my growing reputation procured for me the
good-will of a most excellent man, Giacomo the Younger, of Carrara,
whose equal I do not know among the rulers of his time. For years he
wearied me with messengers and letters when I was beyond the Alps,
and with his petitions whenever I happened to be in Italy, urging me
to accept his friendship. At last, although I anticipated little
satisfaction from the venture, I determined to go to him and see what
this insistence on the part of a person so eminent, and at the same
time a stranger to me, might really mean. I appeared, though tardily,
at Padua,[26] where I was received by him of illustrious memory, not as
a mortal, but as the blessed are greeted in heaven--with such delight
and such unspeakable affection and esteem, that I cannot adequately
describe my welcome in words, and must, therefore, be silent. Among
other things, learning that I had led a clerical life from boyhood,
he had me made a canon of Padua, in order to bind me the closer to
himself and his city. In fine, had his life been spared, I should have
found there an end to all my wanderings. But alas! nothing mortal is
enduring, and there is nothing sweet which does not presently end in
bitterness. Scarcely two years was he spared to me, to his country,
and to the world. God, who had given him to us, took him again.[27]
Without being blinded by my love for him, I feel that neither I, nor
his country, nor the world was worthy of him. Although his son, who
succeeded him, was in every way a prudent and distinguished man, who,
following his father's example, always loved and honoured me, I could
not remain after the death of him with whom, by reason especially of
the similarity of our ages, I had been much more closely united.

I returned to Gaul, not so much from a desire to see again what I
had already beheld a thousand times, as from the hope, common to the
afflicted, of coming to terms with my misfortunes by a change of
scene.[28] ..............

       *       *       *       *       *

The preceding brief autobiography, written at the close of his
life,[29] does not extend beyond Petrarch's forty-seventh year, and
in spite of its peculiar interest it is but a very imperfect sketch,
which must be supplemented by the abundant data scattered through the
correspondence. In order that the reader may approach the letters with
a fuller understanding of the circumstances in which they were written,
it is therefore desirable to touch upon certain points which Petrarch
neglected in his account of himself, and then to trace his life from
his return to Vaucluse in 1351, the last event mentioned in the _Letter
to Posterity_ to his death, twenty-three years later.

Of his parents he tells us but little. His father had, before his
exile, held a responsible position in the Florentine Republic, and his
readiness of speech had caused him to be chosen upon more than one
occasion to perform important public missions. His name, _Petracco_,
was changed by his son to _Petrarca;_ why, we do not know. It has
been suggested that Francesco invented the latter as more rhythmical,
or adopted it on account of some hidden symbolic meaning, as four
centuries later young Arouet mysteriously chose to call himself
Voltaire. It is perhaps safer to look upon the alteration as merely an
instance of the Latinisation of proper names, which was quite natural
and almost necessary at a time when Latin was so generally employed.

Petracco _père_ was a friend of Dante while they lived in Florence
together, and when it pleased the citizens of that most beautiful and
most famous daughter of Rome to cast them out from her sweet bosom,
and they were, as Dante tells us, borne to divers ports "by the dry
wind that blows from grievous poverty,"[30] the bonds of friendship
were knit the closer, for a community of misfortune as well as of
tastes and interests served to bring them together. Petrarch's father
was, however, forced by the care of his family to give up his studies.
We know nothing of his literary tastes, except that he was an ardent
admirer of Cicero; and, although his interest was probably legal
rather than literary, his son confidently assumes that, had he been
permitted by circumstances to continue his intellectual pursuits, he
would have reached a high degree of scholarship.[31] Almost the only
anecdote recorded of him is a trifling instance of his personal vanity.
When somewhat past his fiftieth birthday, he was one day horrified to
discover, upon looking into the glass, a single hair verging upon grey.
Amazed at this indication of premature decay, he not only filled his
own home but roused the whole neighbourhood with his laments. Petrarch
adds, with an air of conscious virtue, that his own hair began to grow
grey before he reached five and twenty.[32]

The only other kinsman to whom we need refer is Petrarch's brother,
Gherardo, who was apparently two or three years his junior. A
considerable number of the letters are addressed to him. The two
spent much of their early life together, but Gherardo, when about
thirty-five years old, turned his back upon the world and entered a
Carthusian monastery. Some years later the elder brother felicitated
him upon his escape from the exacting cares of a life of fashion: he no
longer suffered the "piratical tortures" of the curling-iron, and his
close-cropped hair left eyes and ears free to perform their functions;
the elaborate costume of the fourteenth-century dandy, whose scrupulous
folds were liable to be discomposed by every careless movement, had
been exchanged for a simple monastic garment, readily donned or laid
aside, and affording its wearer no anxiety. Petrarch admits that he is
himself still held in bondage, that he still has a partiality for good
clothes, though this passion grows hopefully less from day to day. He
had, however, worse sins to reflect upon than the elaborate coiffures
and tight boots of their frivolous days at Avignon. "What," he asks,
for example, "have trivial verses, tilled with the false and offensive
praise of women,[33] in common with songs of praise and holy vigils?"
We shall refer later to these letters addressed to Gherardo, for they
afford a convenient illustration of Petrarch's views of that most
cherished of mediæval ideals, the monastic life.[34]

Petrarch, like Erasmus and Voltaire, had no place that he could call
home, unless it were the hated Avignon, whither he was taken when
about nine years old. This migration to Provence, to which Avignon
then belonged, important as it was in the life of our poet, did not
involve so complete a separation from Italian influences as would at
first sight appear. The boy had in his earliest years learned the
Tuscan dialect, which, Dante impatiently declares, was unreasonably
held by the Florentines to be the highest form of Italian.[35] There
was on the Rhone a considerable Italian colony, with which Petrarch's
family associated, and at Carpentras, not far from Avignon, whither
the family moved on account of the cheaper living, the little Checco,
as he was familiarly called, had an Italian schoolmaster from Prato.
Moreover, his later friends and patrons of the noble Roman house of
Colonna undoubtedly maintained their national traditions, in spite of
the growing French influences at the papal court.

At school (1315-19) Petrarch soon discovered an extraordinary fondness
for Latin. While the other boys were still struggling with the simple
Æsop, he was poring over Cicero's works, which fascinated him with
their sonorous periods before he could grasp their meaning.[36] His
old schoolmaster, Convennevole, was very proud of his pupil, and
singled him out as the most illustrious of those whom he had instructed
during his sixty years as pedagogue.

Petracco was anxious to provide a career for his son, and not
unnaturally chose for him his own profession of the law. Like so many
other notable literary spirits since his day, Petrarch began his career
in a law school, first at the neighbouring University of Montpellier,
and later at Bologna. But while Schumann began composing symphonies
at Heidelberg, and intercalated a waltz "here and there between
Justinian's Institutes and the Pandects," Petrarch appears to have made
some progress in his uncongenial subject, and to have gained the esteem
of one at least of his teachers. Of his four years at Montpellier we
know practically nothing. The boy was only about nineteen when he
removed to Bologna, the greatest of mediæval law schools. His three
years here were pleasantly spent with the congenial friends he made
among his fellow-students. They took long excursions into the country,
often not returning until late at night, but such was the happy
security of the time that, even if the gates were closed, they had
no difficulty in getting over the dilapidated fortifications, which
presented no very formidable barrier to active young students. It was
during this period that he first visited Venice, then at the height of
her glory.

The motives that induced Petrarch promptly to give up the law as soon
as he heard of his father's death, are not far to seek. Some of them
are noted in his _Letter to Posterity,_ One of his professors, whom
in later life he sharply criticised for his ignorance of classical
philology, accused him, in turn, of cowardly desertion. He replied
that it was never wise to oppose nature, who had made him a devotee of
solitude, not of the courts; and while he conceded it to be a happy
circumstance that he had spent some time in Bologna, he believed
himself to have been equally fortunate in leaving it when he did.[37]
As an old man, however, he judged these seven years at the universities
to have been "not so much spent, as totally wasted."[38]

Once at least (in 1335) Petrarch put his legal knowledge to the test,
by acting as counsel for the Correggi in a case involving the control
of the city of Parma. The merits of the case need not occupy us;
Petrarch believed the claims of his client to be just, and he assures
us that only the fairest means were employed in his successful defence
before the papal consistory.[39] He certainly won the friendship of
Azzo di Correggio; and his cordial relations with this equivocal person
afford the first example of the sympathetic intercourse which he
maintained throughout his life with the distinguished despots of the

It is probable that Petrarch's mother soon followed his father to the
grave. The modest property which Petracco had accumulated in exile
was dishonestly appropriated by the executors, and the brothers were
left to shift for themselves. Petrarch almost immediately took orders,
but probably did not, as has been generally supposed, ever become
a priest.[40] He had to face the same problem that in succeeding
centuries confronted those who wished to devote themselves to
literature. At a time when an author could expect no remuneration for
his work, except perhaps for dedications, he might secure a livelihood
by putting himself in the way of preferments in the church, or, as
was the custom of the Humanists of the fifteenth century, he might
rely upon the patronage of some great prince or prelate. Petrarch
enjoyed the advantages of both these sources of income. He was, very
early in life, so fortunate as to gain the esteem of the Colonnesi,
the most influential of the noble Italian families at the papal court.
Giacomo, the youngest of the seven sons of old Stephano Colonna, had
been struck by Petrarch's appearance when they were students together
at Bologna, and on returning to Avignon and learning of Petrarch's
situation he made advances which led to one of the most enthusiastic
friendships which the poet records. With his aid and that of his eldest
brother, Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, the young writer gained immediate
recognition, and did not thereafter want for friends and admirers. It
was through the influence of Cardinal Colonna that he received his
first benefice, in 1335.

Although Petrarch had, as Dante says of himself, "drunk the waters
of the Arno before he had cut his teeth," fate made him, like Dante,
a citizen of the world.[41] His life was interrupted by frequently
recurring journeys and changes of residence. Scarcely two years had
elapsed after his return to Avignon before an invitation from Giacomo
Colonna, newly appointed Bishop of Lombez, enabled him to visit
Toulouse and spend a "celestial summer" within sight of the Pyrenees.

But before we trace his various pilgrimages, a word must be said of the
curious city in which he and several of his most intimate friends spent
much of their life. Avignon, although a town of no great importance
when Petracco first brought his wife and family thither, was destined
to become one of the great European capitals. Clement V., a Gascon,
who had been chosen pope in 1305, summoned the cardinals to Lyons to
celebrate his coronation, instead of going himself to Rome. During his
pontificate he held his court at various French towns, and resided for
a time in the Dominican cloister at Avignon. He was succeeded by the
energetic old Frenchman, John XXII. (1316-1334), who was followed by
six other French popes, all of whom maintained their court at Avignon.
Although they appear to have been, upon the whole, good and upright
men, they were all Frenchmen, and deliberately chose to reside in
a city but just across the Rhone from France; they thus inevitably
sacrificed the cosmopolitan character that their predecessors had
enjoyed at Rome. Moreover, the college of cardinals became largely
French, so that the curia soon came to be regarded as a servile
exponent of French interests. The national jealousy in Germany was
augmented by the long struggle between the popes and Louis of Bavaria,
while the outbreak of the Hundred Years' War produced in England a
revolt against the claims not only of "French popes," but of popes in
general. An added explanation of the ill-repute into which the head of
the Church fell is to be found in the extortions of the papal treasury;
for it became necessary to repair in some way the deficiency caused by
the diminution of the Italian revenue, and to meet the ever-increasing
expenses of a scandalously luxurious court. The most loudly decried of
the financial expedients of the popes owe their origin, or at least
their outrageous extension, to this period.

Petrarch's span of life exactly coincided with the exile of the popes
from Rome, and his "fate or his sins" made him a most unwilling citizen
of their new home, "the Babylon of the West." He never tires of
execrating the city, but we may safely assume that he paints too lurid
a picture of its condition when he declares that it was "filled with
every kind of confusion, the horror of darkness overspreading it, and
contained everything fearful which had ever existed or been imagined
by a disordered mind." Although the popes were building a magnificent
palace, calling a Giotto to aid in their artistic undertakings, and
collecting a large library,[42] Petrarch describes their capital as "a
hell on earth," and no longer what it was in his earlier days, although
even then the most foul and filthy of places.[43] But doubtless he owed
more to his residence in the "windy city" than he was ready to admit.
He was willing to share in the good things at the pope's disposal,
so long as no duties were involved which would interfere with his
cherished freedom. To his sojourn in this great centre of international
intercourse may be ascribed, in large part, his wide acquaintance
with men of all nations, as well as the profound influence which he
exercised over his contemporaries.

It was not long after his return from Bologna that Petrarch first saw
his Laura. Twenty-one years later he made a note upon a fly-leaf of
his favourite copy of Virgil, in which he was accustomed to record his
bereavements. Placed apart from the others, in order that it might
often catch his eye, it reads as follows: "Laura, who was distinguished
by her own virtues, and widely celebrated by my songs, first appeared
to my eyes in my early manhood, in the year of our Lord 1327, upon
the sixth day of April, at the first hour, in the church of Santa
Clara at Avignon; in the same city, in the same month of April, on the
same sixth day, at the same first hour, in the year 1348, that light
was taken from our day, while I was by chance at Verona, ignorant,
alas! of my fate. The unhappy news reached me at Parma, in a letter
from my friend Ludovico, on the morning of the nineteenth of May, of
the same year. Her chaste and lovely form was laid in the church of
the Franciscans, on the evening of the day upon which she died. I am
persuaded that her soul returned, as Seneca says of Scipio Africanus,
to the heaven whence it came. I have experienced a certain satisfaction
in writing this bitter record of a cruel event, especially in this
place where it will often come under my eye, for so I may be led to
reflect that life can afford me no farther pleasures; and, the most
serious of my temptations being removed, I may be admonished by the
frequent study of these lines, and by the thought of my vanishing
years, that it is high time to flee from Babylon. This, with God's
grace, will be easy, as I frankly and manfully consider the needless
anxieties of the past, with its empty hopes and unforeseen issue."[44]

This meagre notice contains all that we really know of the woman whose
name is associated for all time with that of Francesco Petrarca. While
she is, it is hardly necessary to say, the theme of nearly all his
Italian lyrics, little or no reference is made to her in the Latin
works, with two notable exceptions, to be spoken of later. In the
vast collection of prose letters two or three vague allusions to his
love for her may be found. Once only is Laura mentioned by name,--in
a letter to Giacomo Colonna, who had begun to suspect that the much
besung sweetheart was but a play upon words--a personification of
the longed-for poet's laurel (_Laurea_). "Would that your humorous
suggestion were true," Petrarch replies; "would to God it were all
a pretence, and not a madness!"[45] From none of these sources do
we learn anything of the lady herself. Many ingenious theories have
been based upon the descriptions in the _Canzoniere,_ which, though
often sufficiently detailed, are however poetic, allegorical, and
conflicting. The futility of such deductions can be made clear by a
single example. Upon no other topic does the poet dwell with more
evident pleasure, or more varied detail, than the eyes of his mistress;
yet it cannot be determined whether these were blue or dark.[46]

While it must, therefore, be acknowledged that attempts to learn more
of the object of Petrarch's devotion have proved unavailing, it is
possible, from the material at our disposal, to study satisfactorily
and profitably the poet's attitude toward one great preoccupation of
humanity, the love of woman. The genuineness of the passion that fills
the sonnets, no one who reads the Latin works can doubt, although
it is touched upon in only a very few instances. Its reality is
attested by two passages of considerable length, which also serve
to explain the conflict of emotions depicted in the Italian lyrics.
One of these, a Latin metrical epistle to Giacomo Colonna, we may
neglect[47]; the other bit of self-analysis it behooves us to examine
somewhat carefully, since it casts a flood of light, not only upon the
extraordinary man with whom we are dealing, but upon a fundamental
contrast between mediæval and modern thought.[48]

Petrarch was, as we have seen, engaged in a lifelong struggle to
reconcile the opposing ideals, both moral and intellectual, toward
which he felt himself drawn. During his best years the most terrible of
his inward conflicts was that between the monk and the self-respecting
lover; between the mediæval, ecclesiastical, and the modern, secular,
conception of love. By the ecclesiastical, or monkish, conception,
we mean the belief in the inherent sinfulness of love, regardless of
the relations that may exist between the lover and the object of his
affection. This belief was, of course, part of a complex theological
system, which owes its formulation, in large measure, to Petrarch's
spiritual guide, St. Augustine.[49] A great deal of the unnatural and
often indecent twaddle about women which fills the theological works
of the Middle Ages may be traced more or less directly to him. It was
woman who brought sin into the world in the beginning; it is she who
is responsible for its propagation ever since. Man, it is assumed,
would be a pure, God-fearing, well-nigh angelic being were it not for
the perverse seductions of the other sex. The most scandalous tales
were not considered out of place by the preachers of the thirteenth
century, to illustrate the diabolical origin of woman's charms and
the disastrous effects of the only kind of love of which a Jacques
de Vitry or the retired inquisitor, Stephen of Bourbon, could form a

In order to discuss the matter in all its bearings, Petrarch chose the
form of an imaginary dialogue, his _Secret_, between himself and his
favourite ghostly adviser, St. Augustine; and a most extraordinary bit
of modern introspective and psychological acumen it is.

In this dialogue, of which some account is given later in this volume,
Petrarch defends, with refreshing earnestness, the higher conception
of love; but his respect for Augustine, who vigorously asserts the
debasing nature of the passion, is too great to permit him ultimately
to reject the monkish notions. Much he freely confesses to the Bishop;
much is extorted from him by a clever process of cross-questioning.
This love for a woman, together with his longing for fame,[51]
Augustine declares to be the poet's most conspicuous failings, which
serve to bar his way to a higher life. Upon Augustine's expressing his
astonishment that so superior a mind should languish for so many years
in the shameful bonds of love, Francesco passionately declares that it
is the soul, the innate celestial goodness, that he loves and admires;
that he owes all to her, who has preserved him from sin and stimulated
him to develop his greatest powers.[52] These arguments are, however,
easily met. The poet is forced to acknowledge that his life has shown
only degeneration since he first saw Laura; it was her virtue, not his,
which maintained a purely platonic relation between them. His confessor
points out that if he looks in the glass he cannot fail to see how the
fire of passion and the loss of sleep have made him old before his
time. However, he must not despair; let him travel, that may furnish a
remedy. But Petrarch has already vainly fled from temptation. Then let
him meditate upon the infirmity of the body, and the shortness of life.
"Think shame of yourself," his mentor exclaims, "that you are pointed
at, and have become a subject of gossip with the common herd! Think how
ill your morals correspond with your profession; how this passion has
injured you in soul, body, and estate; how much you have needlessly
suffered on its account; how often you have been deluded, despised,
and neglected! Think how proud and distant your mistress has always
shown herself toward you, how you have made her famous and yet have
sacrificed yourself, solicitous for her good name when she spent no
thought upon your welfare! Separated from God by this earthly love, you
have subjected yourself to a thousand miseries. Consider the useful and
honourable tasks that you have so long neglected, the many incompleted
works that lie before you and that demand your whole energy, not merely
the odd moments which your passion leaves free." "Few indeed there be,"
Augustine characteristically remarks, "who, having once imbibed the
sweet passion of desire, manfully endeavour to grasp the truly foul
character of woman's person."[53] Consequently they easily relapse with
every new temptation. If the poor victim would be free, he must banish
the past from his thoughts; no day or night must elapse without tearful
prayers which may, perchance, at last bring divine relief.

It is only by remembering the general condemnation of the love of woman
among the ecclesiastical class, which was, up to Petrarch's time,
nearly synonymous with the literary class, that we can understand
the general form which the discussion takes in the dialogue just
outlined. It is his pure affection for a pure woman that fills Petrarch
with apprehension. He studiously neglects all other considerations,
however important. One possible vague reference to his connection
with the church occurs[54]; but there is none at all to the fact that
the object of his devotion was, as we may assume, a married woman.
If Laura was unmarried, the arguments against the attachment become
still more unnatural, as measured by a modern or secular standard. Of
that _liaison_ which resulted in two illegitimate children no notice
is taken, although it would seem a natural subject for criticism upon
the part of a confessor like Augustine. The dialogue is therefore a
discussion of love at its best. The arguments which Petrarch puts
in the mouth of St. Augustine are mainly conventional and monastic,
with some suggestions of the interference with work which a literary
bachelor would be likely to apprehend.[55] The defence, on the other
hand, is purely modern,--modern enough fully to grasp, and even defend
against the perversions of monasticism and the current theological
speculation, one of the noblest of man's attributes. But Petrarch was
too thoroughly conservative in everything touching religion to reject a
view of love so systematically inculcated by the church.

Turning again to the course of Petrarch's life, we find him undertaking
his first long journey in 1333. He visited Paris, the Netherlands,
and the Rhine, and described his experiences in two charming letters
to his friend, Cardinal Colonna, who probably supplied him with the
means necessary for the expedition. The poet exhibited the same love of
travel for travel's sake that was characteristic of his countrymen from
Marco Polo to Columbus, but unfortunately the letters describing his
impressions of foreign lands are relatively few.[56]

Three years after the journey to the north Petrarch first visited
Rome. Both as a Humanist and as a mediæval Christian he had longed to
behold that holy city, "which never had and never would have an equal."
It was there that Scipio Africanus, the hero of his epic, had dwelt,
and there, too, was the resting-place of innumerable other men whose
names would never die. He might also, he hoped, wander among the tombs
of the saints, and gaze upon the spots that had been hallowed by the
presence of the Apostles.[57] Petrarch was much too ardent and sincere
a Catholic to allow Brutus and Cato to crowd out Peter and Paul. Indeed
there was no break, in his mind, between the history of pagan and
Christian Rome. It was to him, as it had been to Dante, a single divine
epic: "When David was born, Rome was born; then it was that Æneas came
from Troy to Italy, which was the origin of the most noble Roman city,
even as the written word bears witness. Evident enough, therefore, is
the divine election of the Roman Empire, by the birth of the holy city,
which was contemporaneous with the root of the race from which Mary

Petrarch might have rejected as faulty Dante's proof from chronology,
but they would have agreed that Rome was always peopled not with
human, but with heavenly citizens, who were inspired by divine love
in loving Rome. "Wherefore," Dante exclaims, "one should not need to
inquire further to see that an especial birth and an especial destiny
were decreed, in the mind of God, to that holy city. I am of the
firm opinion that the stones that remain in her walls are deserving
of reverence, and that she is worthy, beyond all that is praised and
glorified by men."[59] A similar conviction in Petrarch's mind helps to
explain his unquestioning devotion to Cicero and Augustine alike, and
his mystical trust in the eternal youth of the hopelessly senile Holy
Roman Empire.[60]

He was not disappointed in what he saw, in spite of the apprehension
expressed by Cardinal Colonna that the city, in its terrible state of
ruin,[61] would seem sadly different from the picture the poet had
formed of it in his anticipations. On the contrary, his wonder and
admiration were but increased by the sight of what remained of the
ancient mistress of the earth. That she should have conquered the world
no longer affords him surprise, but only that she did not conquer it

Upon his return to Avignon, Petrarch found the city more disgusting
than ever, and in turning over the question of a more agreeable home
he bethought him of a valley not far away, which he had visited in his
boyhood, and there he determined to take up his abode. Of the beauties
of Vaucluse, where he spent most of the following fifteen years, and
of his life and surroundings there, he has given us many a charming
picture. This life of literary seclusion in the suburbs of a great city
is so essentially modern in character that it serves to bridge the five
centuries that separate us from Petrarch and to bring him into sympathy
with the scholar and litterateur of to-day.

The form which Petrarch's desire for glory assumed in his earlier days
was the aspiration publicly to receive the laurel crown of the poet.
One of his most intimate friends came to the conclusion, as we have
seen, that this yearning for the laurel had led the poet, by a skilful
personification, to delude the world into the belief that it was a
woman's charms that held him captive. Augustine is made to say in
the Confessions that Petrarch's worldly madness reaches its climax in
the worship that he paid, not only to Laura's person, but even to her
name, so that he cherished, "with incredible levity," everything that
resembled it in sound. "Wherefore thou hast so loved the imperial or
poetic laurel, which was called by her name [_Laurea_], that since that
time thou hast let scarcely a song escape thee without mentioning it."

However thoroughly convinced he may have become in later life of the
vanity of such a distinction, Petrarch appears to have been willing as
a young man to resort even to somewhat undignified, if not actually
dishonest, expedients to accomplish his end. When he tells us that upon
the same day (September 1, 1340) invitations to receive the laurel
chaplet reached him from both Rome and Paris, we may safely look,
primarily at least, to the poet's own contrivances, for an explanation
of this double honour. Up to the time of his coronation he was known
only by his Italian verses, since his great epic, the _Africa_, had
but just been got under way. He had influential friends, however. At
Paris his fellow-citizen Roberto de' Bardi, chancellor of the renowned
university, was ready to do him a good turn; and at Rome his powerful
friends the Colonnesi were in a position to help him to realise his
cherished ideal. He seems, nevertheless, to have relied chiefly upon
the aid of King Robert of Naples.[63] He was, it must be remembered, a
subject of this monarch, to whom Avignon at that time belonged. It was
doubtless his friend Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro who first brought
the comparatively unknown poet to the attention of the King, and Robert
showed his awakened confidence by despatching to him an epitaph of his
own composition for criticism. Petrarch was, not unnaturally, dazzled
by the royal verses: "Happy the pen," he exclaims, "to which such words
were committed!" Far from venturing any strictures, he is doubtful
what he should most admire, the classic brevity of the diction, the
elevation of the thought, or the grace of expression.[64] It occurred
to him later that he might employ the favour of Robert to gratify his
own ambition. The following extract from a letter to Dionisio (January
4, 1339) tells us more, perhaps, than we should wish to know of his
plans: "As for me, I intend soon to follow you [to Naples]. You well
know how I regard the laurel. I have resolved, all things being
considered, to be indebted for it to no one else than the King of whom
we have just been speaking. If I shall seem sufficiently worthy in his
eyes for him to invite me, all will be well. Otherwise, I may pretend
to have heard something which will explain my coming, or I will, as
if in doubt, so interpret the letter which he sent me containing such
friendly and flattering recognition of an unknown man, that I shall
appear to have been summoned."[65] Happily, however, subterfuges were
unnecessary, as two invitations to receive the laurel came without
applying to Robert.

After some feigned hesitation Petrarch chose Rome rather than Paris.
There is in reality little doubt that nothing would have induced him
to give the preference to any other place than the Capitol, which
exercised an unrivalled fascination over his mind. Poets had, during
his time, been crowned elsewhere,--Mussato, a poet and historian, at
Padua, and his old master, Convennevole, at Prato; but centuries had
passed since anyone had been granted cosmopolitan recognition by having
the laurel placed upon his head by a Roman senator. In imitation of
the Olympian games Domitian had, toward the end of the first century,
established similar periodical contests in Rome in honour of Jupiter
Capitolinus. The victor's brow, according to Martial, was encircled
by an oak chaplet; but in other contests held at the Emperor's villa,
the laurel crown was given. The later history of the institution is
obscure, but the custom doubtless perpetuated itself, and may have
lasted until the destruction of the Empire. A vague tradition was
current that many poets had received the laurel upon the Capitol. This
Petrarch accepted, evidently assuming that the great Augustan writers,
whom he so much admired, had enjoyed this distinction; and in his
address upon the occasion of his coronation he refers to the numerous
distinguished poets who had been crowned before him upon that spot.
Statius, who died _circa_ 96 A.D., and who must have been one of the
first to gain the honour, he cites as the last person recorded to have
received it.[66]

As he tells us in his _Letter to Posterity_, Petrarch first betook
himself to Naples, where, as a preparation for his coronation, he
submitted to an examination by the King. Robert was somewhat of a
philistine, as we may infer from the fact that Petrarch found it
necessary carefully to explain to him the nature of poetry, the
function of the poet, and the significance of the laurel, and to
defend his noble art against the aspersions of a theological age.
However skilled in other matters, the King was but slightly versed in
literature. Yet he expressed the conviction that, could he earlier
have heard Petrarch's defence, he would have devoted no inconsiderable
portion of his time to poetry.[67] Of the details of the coronation
very little is known. Petrarch describes it in very general terms in
a metrical epistle,[68] and we have besides two or three brief and
inaccurate contemporary accounts.[69] The address which he made upon
the Capitol has, however, recently been discovered and printed,[70] but
it is, unfortunately, a very disappointing composition quite unworthy
of Petrarch's powers. His text is a line or two from Virgil:

    "But I am caught by ravishing desire, above the lone
    Parnassian steep,"[71]

but instead of developing his subject, as does Cicero in his defence
of Archias, he adopts the repellent, conventional form of the times,
pedantically classifying his ideas by headings and numbers, like a
scholastic theologian. He extols the laurel in a truly mediæval fashion
for its magic virtues in causing its wearer to dream true dreams, and
in protecting him from lightning, etc. The most significant part of the
address is his defence of poetry.

"The coronation of Petrarch as poet," Körting declares, "is an episode
standing alone, not only in the annals of the city of Rome, but in
the whole history of mankind. It is an epoch-making event in the
fullest acceptance of the word."[72] This may very well be somewhat
exaggerated, but the coronation was certainly a solemn attestation
of a new interest in culture, although as we have seen by no means a
spontaneous tribute, unsought by the poet. Later in life he deprecated
the whole affair as a piece of youthful arrogance which left him, in
Faust's words, _so klug als wie zuvor_. At the time, however, he was
confident that the revival of the custom of Imperial Rome would be a
source of glory, not only to the city, but to Italy as a whole.

From Rome Petrarch--went northward to Parma, where he arrived most
opportunely, since his old friend Azzo di Correggio and his three
brothers had just obtained possession of the town. The poet's
relations with the professional despot of the time are so cordial
and constant as naturally to arouse astonishment in one unfamiliar
with the political and social conditions of the period. Yet he but
furnishes an illustration of one of the most curious characteristics
of the Renaissance, the--comradery between the bloodstained tyrant
and the man of letters. The "age of despots" and the palmy days of
humanism coincide. Tyranny and the revival of classical learning are
historically so closely affiliated as to suggest some causal relation.
Certain it is that they flourished together, and early in the sixteenth
century disappeared together.

The fate of Parma, where Petrarch resided at intervals, and the
future career of his beloved and respected Azzo, are too typical of
the period to be completely ignored even in this brief sketch. Azzo
had first taken orders, but married later, and entered upon the then
recognised _métier_ of tyrant.[73] It will be remembered that Petrarch
had earlier represented him in a lawsuit involving the possession of
a town, and the friendship formed at Avignon remained constant to
the end. A lull in the business of the Correggio family led Azzo to
make what our less picturesque bosses of the present day would call a
"deal." Parma was, at the moment, under the control of the Scaligeri of
Verona. Azzo, anxious for even temporary occupation, promised Luchino
Visconti of Milan, another of Petrarch's friends, to turn over the town
to the Visconti after four years, if he would aid him to dispossess
the present proprietors. It was under these conditions that, with the
incidental approbation and support of the citizens, the Scaligeri were
ousted. Petrarch celebrated the occasion in an enthusiastic ode to

The administration of the Scaligeri had been execrable, and there was
some reason for looking upon the _coup de main_ as a deliverance.
The brothers, says a chronicler, began to reign not as lords but as
fathers, without partiality or oppression of any kind. Had they but
persevered, they might have continued to hold the town forever, but at
the end of a year they changed their policy.[75] The most fair-minded
of the brothers died, and, regardless of the arrangement for the speedy
transfer to Milan, Azzo sold the town, in 1344, to the Marquis of Este,
for 60,000 gold florins, hoping to retain the position of governor.
This led to a struggle between half a dozen neighbouring despots, and
two years later the town was ceded to Milan, on condition that the
Marquis of Este should be reimbursed for the sum he had paid to Azzo.
Azzo soon made up with his enemies, the Scaligeri, and so far gained
their confidence that he was twice appointed governor of Verona. During
his master's absence, however, a revolt broke out, which was naturally
attributed to him, and the shifty adventurer found that no excuses or
explanations would serve to pacify the offended Can Grande. He was
obliged to flee, leaving his wife and children in the hands of his
incensed lord. For a time he wandered helplessly about among the towns
of northern Italy, until Petrarch, who was at that time residing at the
court of the Visconti, procured him a comfortable refuge at Milan. As a
salve for his wounds, the poet dedicated to the ill-starred ex-tyrant,
his _Antidotes for Good and Evil Fortune_.[76] We have abundant proof,
in both his Latin and Italian verses, of Petrarch's partiality and
admiration for this strange character. Upon Azzo's death, he addressed
letters of consolation to the widow and children of the deceased, and
asserted that in him he had lost that which gave life its especial
charm--_Perdidi propter quod præcipue me vivere delectabat!_[77]
We must recollect that the affinities which lead to friendship are
often obscure, even where our opportunities for observation are
most favourable. Petrarch doubtless saw something more than a mere
adventurer in this man, who has left so despicable an historical record.

Petrarch lingered in Parma, or its suburbs, about a year, but the
election of a new pope, Clement VI. (May, 1342), made it expedient for
him to return to Avignon and present his compliments to the head of
the church, with a hope, perhaps, of securing some favour that might
increase his precarious income from the prebend at Lombez. As we have
seen, benefices were regarded, and with justice, as foundations for
the support of indigent scholars. Before returning to Avignon the poet
addressed a lengthy metrical epistle[78] to Clement, urging his return
to Rome. The Pope accepted some, at least, of the suggestions contained
in the letter, and furthermore granted its author a priorate near Pisa.

The quiet life at Vaucluse was resumed only to be again interrupted
by a journey to Naples, as representative of the Pope. The mission
was not particularly successful, but the letters written from Naples,
describing the savage state of the inhabitants and the continued
celebration of gladiatorial contests, are of great interest.[79] It was
on his return from Naples, while visiting some of the towns of Lombardy
(1345), that he discovered at Verona a codex containing Cicero's
letters to Atticus, Brutus, and Quintus. They came, however, too late
to exercise any important influence upon his own epistolary style.[80]
The following two years (1346-7) were spent at Vaucluse, where he made
certain improvements in his villa and began his work in praise of the
life of solitude. But soon an extraordinary and absorbing political
crisis distracted his attention from the amenities of his country home.

Cola di Rienzo, with whose ideas he had been fascinated upon their
first meeting, three years before, had suddenly proclaimed himself, in
the name of the people, ruler of Rome (May 20, 1347). An explanation of
Petrarch's interest in this famous _coup d'état_ will be given later in
connection with some of the letters which passed between him and the
tribune.[81] So fully was his sympathy aroused that late in the year
1347, some six months after Rienzo's accession to power, he resolved to
go to Rome and join in the glorious movement of enfranchisement. But,
on reaching Genoa, he was arrested by the news of Rienzo's mad conduct,
and abruptly gave up the journey southward. After despatching a letter
of expostulation and warning, he turned toward Parma, where another
prebend had recently been granted him by the Pope. The town, which had
fared hardly during the later years of Azzo's rule, was now under the
undisputed sway of Luchino Visconti, and Petrarch found the conditions
there much improved. We may infer that he now enjoyed a tolerable
income from his benefices; he was at any rate able to build himself a
house, which still stands at the corner of Borgo di San Giovanni and
Vicolo di San Stephano. He seems always to have had a genuine fondness
for outdoor life as a relief and recreation. In his garden at Parma
he raised choice fruits, and he took pride in the specimens of his
horticulture that he sent to Luchino, the lord of the city.

But, in spite of the seemingly favourable conditions, his residence
at Parma marks a crisis of affliction and bereavement in Petrarch's
life, from which he never entirely recovered. "This year, 1348," he
declared long after, "I now perceive to have been the beginning of
sorrow." Rienzo, in whose fate he was so deeply concerned, soon weakly
abdicated, but not before Petrarch's former friends the Colonnesi
had been slaughtered at the gates of Rome. Then came the fearful
plague which swept over Italy and far beyond, and which Boccaccio has
pictured in his introduction to the _Decameron_." Life is but one long
agony"--_Magnus dolor est vivere_--our poet cried in desperation,
as bereavement after bereavement was announced to him. The death of
Laura and of Cardinal Colonna severed the two dominant attachments
of his earlier life. Many other friends fell victims to the same
fearful disease, among them Roberto de' Bardi, who had procured him the
invitation to receive the laurel at Paris, and Luchino Visconti himself.

We may infer that the once attractive Parma now aroused only sombre
associations. Petrarch wandered for a time hither and thither, but at
the end of 1348 he appears to have taken up a transitory residence at
Padua, at the urgent invitation of its ruler, Giacomo II. of Carrara.
Here, as he tells us, he was received as the blessed are welcomed in
heaven. His new friend was a typical despot, who had murdered his
cousin, the legitimate successor, and was himself murdered a few years
later (December, 1350), by his nephew. He proved himself, nevertheless,
a wise ruler and an enthusiastic friend of literature; he, too, gave
Petrarch a prebend, in order to keep him at his court. In the poet's
admiration for this man we perceive the same instinctive deference to
political sagacity that led Machiavelli to declare Cæsar Borgia to be
the model of princes.

The year 1350 had been designated as a year of jubilee, a timely
occasion for the exhibition of the devotion stimulated by the terrible
calamities of the preceding years. With mediæval fervour Petrarch
joined the pilgrims bound for Rome. On his way southward he visited
Florence for the first time, and for the first time saw face to face
his greatest literary contemporary and most sympathetic friend,
Giovanni Boccaccio. At Rome he did not neglect to visit the various
churches and perform the usual devotions. Writing to a friend a little
later, he declares that it was providentially arranged that they did
not meet in Rome, else, instead of visiting the churches _devotione
catholica_, they would, careless of their souls, have wandered about
the city _curiositate poetica,_ for, however delightful intellectual
pursuits may be, they are as nothing unless they tend to the one great
end.[82] But the stay in Rome was short, and we have no picture of the
impressions which this international mediæval "revival" produced upon
the enlightened traveller.

This visit to his father's native city of Florence had suggested to
its people the idea of re-establishing the distinguished son of their
exiled fellow-citizen in his rights; they even extended to him an
invitation to occupy a position in their newly founded university.
For these attentions the poet thanked the Florentines warmly, but
discreetly put aside the suggestion of the university position. He
had estimated fairly the quality of Florentine admiration, and
preferred the patronage of the despots. He felt, instinctively, the
danger to his reputation from continued contact with his carping,
novelty-loving, outspoken compatriots. Some years later (1363), in a
moment of irritation at the comments made by the Florentines upon a
portion of his great epic which had, by accident, fallen into their
hands, he writes to Boccaccio that the wise prince, Frederick II., who
knew the nation well, concluded that "all familiarity with the Italians
should be avoided, since they are extremely curious and perceive all
too quickly the defects of others. They pass judgment upon everything,
not only upon the truth, but upon what they have entirely misconceived,
so that everything is turned to ridicule that is not just what they
would have it. Such is their presumption that they esteem themselves
capable of criticising anything and everything." "I will not," Petrarch
continues, "discuss the truth of this opinion, but I believe myself to
be right in saying that if these words were applied not to the Italians
at large but to our fellow-citizens, nothing could be truer or more to
the point. With them there is no such thing as intimacy and friendship,
but only censure, and that by no means mild and benevolent, but harsh
and inexorable. There is no one among them who, although he may be
more lax than Sardanapalus in his conduct, does not outdo Fabricius or
Cato in the severity of his judgments. But I will not discuss their
views of things which have nothing to do with my case. In dealing with
literature they seem to assume that nothing is properly expressed which
does not tickle their own great spreading ears.... Elsewhere, even
beyond the Alps and the Danube, my poor verses have encountered no
fault-finders; but nothing fills the Florentines with such horror as
the mention of a fellow-citizen. It is not I alone who suffer; anyone
who would rise above the common level becomes thereby a public enemy.
Believe me, my friend, you who sympathise so fully in my indignation
at the wrong I suffer, believe me, we were born in a city[83] where
to praise one, is to reproach many."[84] Petrarch had doubtless long
harboured such feelings, and wisely chose not to risk the danger, upon
which both he and Dante dwell, of the contempt which comes from close

In June, 1351, after four years filled with bereavement and anxiety,
we find Petrarch back in his old surroundings at Vaucluse. During his
brief stay here he was called upon to co-operate in no less a task than
the drafting of a constitution for Rome. The Pope, convinced by the
disorders of the past years that some change was necessary, deputed a
commission of cardinals to prepare a new form of government, and they,
aware of Petrarch's familiarity with the conditions in Rome, asked his
co-operation. Those curious to study the poet as constitution-monger
will find his plan among his letters.[85] The power, he urged, should
be given back to the people, and the barons should be excluded, for the
time being, from the government. It was about this time that he avoided
accepting an onerous papal secretaryship which his friends were anxious
to force upon him, by ingeniously submitting so elegant a sample of his
style that he was rejected on the ground that he could not write in the
barbarous but official forms of the curia.[86]

Pope Innocent VI., who followed Clement VI. at the close of the year
1352, was an exceptionally unenlightened person, who, from Petrarch's
well-known fondness for Virgil, inferred that he must be addicted to
magic. After the confidence and respect that he had enjoyed under the
preceding popes, Innocent's suspicions appeared to him intolerable,
and doubtless supplied one of the motives which led him definitely to
abandon his old haunts. The death, or departure from Avignon, of many
of his friends, and the loss of his trusted and faithful housekeeper
at Vaucluse, had helped to render the city and its surroundings more
distasteful than ever, and in May, 1353, he left the region forever and
joyfully saluted his own dear Italy:

    Salve cara Deo tellus sanctissima salve,
    ... agnosco patriam gaudensque saluto,
    Salve pulchra parens, terrarum gloria salve.[87]

Luchino Visconti had, at his death in 1349, been succeeded in Milan by
his brother, the famous Bishop Giovanni, from all accounts one of the
greatest rulers of his century. Like his brother, he was an admirer of
literature, or at least he realised that the presence of distinguished
scholars at his court might enhance his influence; and by the mild but
potent aid of science and letters he sought, as Rousseau declares the
tyrant is wont to do, "to overspread his iron chains with garlands
of flowers." His rule could not but receive a certain sanction,
which would serve to give it an air of legitimacy in the eyes of the
Italians, if Petrarch, the exponent of Italian patriotism, could be
induced to come and reside in his capital. The now homeless poet, while
doubtless flattered by the august attentions of the Bishop, evidently
felt some hesitation in accepting his hospitality. He objected on the
ground that the noise of a city disturbed him; he feared, too, that
his duties towards his new lord might restrict his now inveterate
and somewhat vagrant fondness for liberty and change. But upon his
inquiring what was expected of him, the Bishop replied that he asked
only his presence, "which, he believed, would grace both himself and
his reign."[88] To his scandalised friends in republican Florence the
poet confesses that he was induced to stay, partly because he was
quite at a loss where else to go, and partly out of respect for the
ill-disguised commands of "the greatest of the Italians." He defends
himself against the reproaches of Boccaccio and other friends on the
ground that he has in no way sacrificed his freedom; but he admits that
it will be no such easy matter to convince the public of the purity of
his motives.[89]

A commodious house was selected for the new-comer in the retired
western portion of the city, where he could look out upon the church of
St. Ambrose, and, far beyond the walls, could see the snowy circle of
the Alps. Eight years were spent in Milan, which, under the Visconti,
was rapidly becoming the busy capital of a small but important European
state. There is no reason to think that Petrarch did not sincerely
love the solitude and quiet delights of the country, but, like many a
modern man of letters, he recognised that urban life, if an evil, was
after all a necessary one. It is probable, too, that, like the later
Humanists, he was dependent upon princely patronage for the funds
required to support himself and to hire the necessary copyists, since
his benefices appear to have afforded him an insufficient income.
Whatever his motives, the precedent was established, and later
Humanists were not only subservient to princes, but even resorted to
a species of blackmail, by threatening, if money was not forthcoming
for dedications, to blast the reputation of the offender to all coming

That Petrarch was a member of the Bishop's council of state is not
probable, but he certainly delivered more than one address upon
solemn occasions, and undertook several embassies for the Visconti.
Bishop Giovanni lived but a year and a half after his arrival, and
was succeeded by his three notorious nephews, Matteo, Bernabò, and
Galeazzo, the first of whom soon died, leaving the possessions of the
Visconti to be divided between the two other brothers.

No very satisfactory history of the Visconti has been written; the
opinions of their contemporary judges, as well as of later writers,
are exceedingly contradictory. In reaching a conclusion as to the
character of the more prominent members of the family, the reader
may always choose between the seemingly irreconcilable epithets of
_vir diabolicus_ and _pater patriæ_. There is nothing extraordinary
in this, however, and when the earnest investigator has examined all
the testimony he will doubtless accept both titles, for they are
not really incompatible. All periods offer instances of the most
conflicting qualities in the leaders of men, and the Renaissance was
especially rich in examples, from the conduct of Boniface VI., that
upright and conscientious savage, who read the hours in a loud voice
as he walked up and down near the place of torture, listening to the
cries of his aged victims,[91] to the licentious pranks which Cellini
narrates of himself and his fellow-artists. Especially common are the
examples of bad men who were unquestionably great statesmen. It may
be true that Galeazzo Visconti introduced the most hideous system
of producing death, by a carefully graduated process of mutilation,
but it may be equally true that he himself suffered tortures of gout
little inferior to those of the unfortunate criminal with a fortitude
and equanimity which brought tears to the eyes of his attendants.
For years he not only endured these torments with patience, but,
according to Petrarch, carried on his government with magnanimity
and foresight, and when fortune went against him,[92] exhibited a
high degree of philosophical resignation. The same man who induced
his courtiers to play at dice to their undoing, might conciliate the
learned by supporting scholars or establishing a university. The
magnificent palace at Pavia, although one of the most beautiful in the
whole world, as Corio declares,[93] may well have sadly afflicted the
tax-payer. The public man, whatever his character and aims, is pretty
sure, if he rises above mediocrity, to be accused of unscrupulousness.
The expedients of a fifteenth-century tyrant were doubtless of a
fiercer stamp than the shifts of to-day, but that need not prevent our
understanding the admiration expressed by Petrarch or Machiavelli for
the better qualities of a Giacomo di Carrara, a Galeazzo Visconti, or a
Cæsar Borgia.

The sojourn at Milan was interrupted, as we have said, by several
diplomatic missions. In November, 1353, Petrarch was sent to Venice to
try to arrange a peace between that city and Genoa. But his eloquence
was vain, and the war was continued, in spite of a personal letter of
expostulation to the Doge.[94] Of Petrarch's relations with the Emperor
Charles IV. something will be said later.[95] In 1356, the year after
he first met Charles in Italy, Petrarch was sent to Prague as the
representative of the ruler of Milan. He tells us little or nothing
of his experiences, but he evidently made several friends in this
northern centre of culture, with whom he continued to correspond after
his return, thereby greatly widening the scope of his influence.[96]
Still a third mission remained, which was to carry him beyond the Alps.
King John of France had, in 1356, been defeated by the Black Prince and
carried a prisoner to England, where, four years later, he gained his
freedom only by the payment of an enormous ransom. At this juncture
Galeazzo Visconti offered him timely pecuniary aid, upon condition that
his son, Gian Galeazzo, should marry King John's daughter. The match
was promptly arranged, and the nuptials took place in October, 1360.
It then seemed only proper that Galeazzo should give some formal proof
of the satisfaction he felt at King John's release, and Petrarch was
chosen as a fitting person to carry his congratulations. The King and
his court were so delighted with the poet that they would gladly have
induced him to remain at Paris. This was, as Petrarch complacently
points out in a letter to the Emperor Charles, but another proof of the
skill of the astrologer who had long before predicted that he would be
upon terms of intimacy with almost all the great princes of his age.[97]

A new outbreak of the plague, the invasion of the mercenary troops
(_compagnies_) which had been left without resources by the temporary
cessation of the Hundred Years' War, and personal bereavement in the
death of his son and of his friend "Socrates," all served to cast a
shadow over the opening years of the period covered by the _Letters of
Old Age_ (1363-1374). The plague, which had spared Milan in 1348, raged
there with especial fury in 1361, and compelled Petrarch to leave the
city. After a time of hesitation, during which he resolved first to
return to Vaucluse, and then to accept Charles's invitation to Prague,
he was forced, by the uncertainty of the roads, to give up both plans.
He decided in the fall of 1362 to establish himself in Venice. Here he
was furnished with a mansion, on the Riva degli Schiavoni, upon the
condition that he should leave his library to the city. But, while
Venice fulfilled her part of the bargain, the books, as we have seen,
were never delivered.[98] The quiet of the city and its freedom from
the martial turmoil of Lombardy, as well as the circumstance that
it was the home of his daughter, who was happily married to a young
nobleman,--all served to make Venice an attractive refuge. The city
was naturally much visited by travellers, and Petrarch often had the
pleasure of entertaining distinguished guests in his charming home,
from the windows of which he could look off upon the busy harbour.
Boccaccio came to see him more than once, but would not consent, in
spite of Petrarch's entreaties, to make his permanent home with him.

The rest of the story is soon told. After five years at Venice the
restless old man moved to Padua, where Francesco di Carrara, the son
of his former friend, was in power. It was for this younger prince,
with whom he lived upon the happiest terms, that he composed his little
work upon _The Best Form of Government_.[99] This affords, as may
readily be inferred, a marked contrast to the practical suggestions of
Machiavelli's famous hand-book. The latter, however, only formulated
principles of conduct already discovered by the very house of Carrara
for which Petrarch prepared his manual.

Distracted by the noise of the city, which his failing health rendered
the more distressing, the poet found a charming home at Arquà,
pleasantly situated in the Euganean Hills, some twelve miles south of
Padua. In this new Vaucluse he passed, with few interruptions, the last
four years of his life. He was found by his attendants upon the 18th of
July, 1374, his face bowed upon the book before him, dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the long life that we have just reviewed Petrarch allowed
scarcely a day to pass without writing one or more letters. The
historical importance and multiform interest of his correspondence
have already been dwelt upon. Letter-writing was, as he was aware,
a veritable passion with him, which was destined to retain its hold
until the very end. He frequently reasoned about it with characteristic
self-consciousness, and the reader will note many allusions to the
subject throughout the present collection. There is, however, one
particularly full discussion of his feelings towards his favourite
literary occupation, which is to be found in the following dedicatory
preface, written, probably in 1359, as an introduction to his first
collection of letters. In many ways it is one of the most suggestive of
the epistles and merits careful study.

1: None of the portraits of Petrarch, not even the well-known one in a
codex of the Laurentian library, are authentic, unless it be the one
reproduced at the beginning of this volume. See page vii. (Prefatory
Note to First Edition).

2: Eye-glasses were a somewhat new invention when Petrarch resorted
to them. Poggendorf (_Geschichte der Physik_, pp. 93 _sqq_.) cites
the first reference to them (1299), which reads as follows: "I found
myself so oppressed by age that without the so-called eye-glasses,
which have recently been discovered as a godsend to poor old persons,
I could neither read nor write." We know little of the construction of
these first spectacles. An early German painting (15th century), in the
National Gallery at London, shows a saint with a completely developed

3: Petrarch's father and Dante were banished forever from Florence upon
the same day, January 27, 1302.

4: This is doubtless one of the two or three obscure references to
Laura, in Petrarch's correspondence. His frigid statement of the case
is characteristic of Petrarch the Humanist as contrasted with Petrarch
the singer. Compare the fervour of the sonnets with the original of
this passage:--Amore acerrimo, sed unico et honesto, in adolescentia
laboravi, et diutius laborassem, nisi iam tepescentem ignem mors
acerba, sed utilis, extinxisset.

5: Petrarch, although a churchman, was the father of two illegitimate
children, a son, Giovanni, born in 1337, and a daughter, Francesca,
born, probably of the same mother, some six years later. The
unfortunate mother was, according to Petrarch's own story, very harshly
treated by him. This obscure _liaison_ seems not to have afflicted
him with the remorse which his purer attachment for Laura caused
him. Only the latter is spoken of, and that at great length, in his
imaginary confession to St. Augustine (see below, p. 93 _sqq_.). The
son proved an idle fellow who caused his father a world of trouble,
even entering into collusion with a band of thievish servants to rob
him. The plague cut short his unpromising career in his twenty-fourth
year. Petrarch noted in his copy of Virgil, which he used as a family
record: "Our Giovanni was born to be a trial and burden to me. While
alive he tormented me with perpetual anxiety, and his death has
wounded me deeply." The daughter was of a happier disposition. She
married, and Petrarch rejoiced in two grandchildren. One of these,
the little Francesco, was, when but a year old, a "perfect picture"
of his illustrious grandfather, but the great hopes for the child's
future were cut short by its early death. Petrarch comforts himself
with the thought that the child "has gained eternal happiness without
effort, and by his departure has freed me from a continual source of
solicitude." _Sen_., x., 4. See Fracassetti's Italian translation of
Petrarch's letters, _Lettere delle Cose Familiari_, ii., 256; Körting,
_Petrarca's Leben und Werke_, Leipzig, 1878, pp. 143 _sqq_.

6: Petrarch's father, being still an exile, could not return with the
family to Ancisa, in Florentine territory, but joined them when they
moved to Pisa, which did not in those days belong to Florence.

7: Urban V. (1362-1370) had transferred the papal court back to
Rome after it had remained for sixty years in France and Avignon,
but after a year or two the disorder in Italy, as well as his own
longing and that of his cardinals for their native land, overcame
his good intentions and he returned to Avignon, where he died almost
immediately, in December, 1370.

8: Petrarch had not only exhorted Urban V. to return to Rome, but had
previously sent metrical epistles to his predecessors, Benedict XII.
and Clement VI., urging them to restore the papacy to its ancient
seat. The letters which Petrarch wrote to his friends in regard to the
abominations of the "Babylonish Captivity" form a separate collection
of his correspondence, _Epistolæ sine Titulo_, in which the names
of those to whom they were addressed are suppressed for fear of
compromising them.

9: The news of the death of Petrarch's father recalled him and his
brother from Bologna in April, 1326. _Cf. Fam_., iv., 1.

10: It seems strange that at twenty-two Petrarch should already have
spent some seven years at the universities. It was not, however,
unusual then. There were no entrance requirements, and the students
were often mere boys. Rashdall places the age of freshmen at thirteen
to sixteen years, but they might enter still younger. See _Universities
of Europe in the Middle Ages_, vol. ii., p. 604.

11: Some thirty miles southwest of Toulouse.

12: It was on this occasion that Petrarch formed his life-long
friendship with "Socrates," who lived at Avignon, and with "Lælius," a
Roman, who also resided at Avignon until the death of Cardinal Colonna,
in 1348. To these two a great many of his letters are addressed.

13: Petrarch was a commensal chaplain in the house of the Cardinal,
as we learn from the Papal document granting him his first benefice,
_apud_ De Sade, _Mémoires sur la Vie de Pétrarque_, "Pièces
justificatives," vol. iii., No. 15.

14: Petrarch's letters relating to Paris and Cologne are given below,
Part iv.

15: Probably some three years after the journey to the north.

16: See below, p. 373 _sq_. (... and that they had caught the eye ...)

17: The castle of Cavaillon is close by the valley of the Sorgue.

18: September 1, 1340, when Petrarch was thirty-six years old.

19: The invitations to Rome and Paris to receive the laurel crown have
a history, as the reader will easily infer. See below, p. 100 _sqq_.

20: Robert (who died in 1343) was the grandson of that Charles of Anjou
(the brother of St. Louis) who had been called in by the popes to
succeed the house of Hohenstaufen in the kingdom of Naples and Sicily.
He was Petrarch's sovereign (_Fam_., iv., 3), for Avignon belonged to
him as Count of Provence, until sold to the popes by Robert's successor
in 1348. Robert had resided at Avignon, 1318-1324. A letter from
Petrarch to Robert, dated December 26, 1338, is preserved, as well as a
second one (Pisa, April 21, 1341), describing his coronation at Rome:
_Fam._, iv., 3, 7.

21: The Latin--ut eam (scil. Africam) sibi inscribi magno pro munere
posceret--may perhaps mean that the king asked that the book be
dedicated to him as a _great favour_. If, however, Petrarch was
rewarded for the attention, he was only one of the first to enjoy a
source of revenue which was well known to later Humanists.

22: Upon Easter Sunday, April 8, 1341.

23: See below, p. 105 _sq._ (As he tells us in his Letter to

24: The great epic was never really finished (_cf. Fam_., xiii., 11),
and Petrarch came in his old age to dislike even the mention of it.
Corradini's edition is the best we have of the poem. An analysis of the
_Africa_ may be found in Körting, _op. cit_., 654 _sqq._

25: Petrarch returned to Vaucluse in 1342, when he was toward
_thirty-eight_ years old. There is an air of _Wahrheit und Dichtung_
noticeable elsewhere in the letter. It was, for example, probably
later, in 1344, on a second visit to Parma, that he bought his house,
and then went to Verona, where he found the letters of Cicero.

26: 1349.

27: Giacomo was killed by his nephew, December, 1350.

28: The autobiography breaks off abruptly here; we know not why.

29: The fact that Petrarch mentions the death of Urban V., which
occurred in December, 1370, indicates that the autobiography was
written during the last three years of its author's life.

30: See the pathetic passage in the _Convito_, i., ch. 3.

31: _Fam_., xxi., 15 (vol. iii., p. 110).

32: _Fam_., vi., 3 (vol. i., p. 324).

33: Cantiunculæ inanes, falsis et obscœnis muliercularum laudibus
refertæ.--_Fam_., x., 3 (vol. ii., p. 73).

34: See below, Part VI.

35: _De Vulgari Eloquio_, lib. i., cap. 13.

36: See _Sen_., xv., 1 (_Opera_, 946).

37: _Fam_., iv., 16 (vol. i., p. 246).

38: _Sen_., xv., I (_Opera_, 947).

39: _Fam_., ix., 5 (toward the end). _Cf._ Körting, _op. cit_., 99

40: See Pastor, _Geschichte der Päpste_, vol. i., p. 3, n. 1,
who asserts that "officium quotidianum celebrare," in _De Otio
Religiosorum_, does not refer to the celebration of the mass, as
previous writers inferred.

41: Nos autem cui mundus est patria, velut piscibus æquor.--_De Vulgari
Eloquio_, lib. i., cap. 6.

42: Described by M. Faucon, in the _Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises
d'Athènes et de Rome_, Fas. 43, 50.

43: _Ep. sine Titulo_, No. 7; also _Sen_., x., 2.

44: See the facsimile of this famous entry in Geiger's _Humanismus_,
p. 44, and the corrected transcription furnished by M. de Nolhac, _op.
cit_., pp. 407, 408.

45: _Fam_., ii., 9 (vol. i., p. 124).

46: Many attempts have been made to establish some theory of Laura's
life; the most plausible, by reason of the documentary evidence which
he adduces, is that given in the eighteenth century by De Sade, in
his well-known _Mémoires pour la Vie de Pétrarque_ (vol. i., pp. 111
_sqq_., and appendix; also _Pièces Justificatives_, at the end of vol.
iii., containing Laura di Noves's marriage contract, etc.). Even if
the documents were not forged or modified by the lawyers of Avignon,
in view of De Sade's asserted descent from Laura, and even if, as is
not certain, they refer at all to Petrarch's Laura, we learn little or
nothing from them. It may be inferred from the _Canzoniere_ that Laura
belonged to a good family, and almost everyone (except Geiger) agrees,
nowadays, that there is every reason to suppose that she was married,
since the freedom she appears to have enjoyed and the ornaments she
wore, as well as Petrarch's use of the word _Mulier_, all seem to
render the assumption a natural one. Any other view would indeed be
out of harmony with the habits of an Italian lover of the fourteenth
century. The reader who wishes to pursue a somewhat fruitless line
of research may compare the views of De Sade with those of Geiger,
_Petrarka_, pp. 211 _sqq_., and Körting, _op. cit_., pp. 687 _sqq_.,
and may proceed from the references there given to the sources
themselves, such as they are.

47: _Ep. Poet. Lat_., i., 7, lines 38 _sqq_. A German version of these
will be found in Körting, _op. cit_., pp. 689 _sqq_.

48: The passage here referred to is in the third book of the
Confessions (_Suum Secretum_), _Opera_, pp. 352 _sqq_. Those portions
which relate to his love for Laura have been translated into German by
Geiger, _Petrarka_, 231 _sqq_., and summarised by Körting, _op. cit.,_
pp. 639 _sqq_. The whole work is translated by Develay into French.

49: Peter Lombard reproduces, in the middle of the twelfth century,
much of Augustine's reasoning, in his _Sentences_, a work destined to
be the standard theological manual for generations to follow.

50: _Cf. Anecdotes historiques tirés du recueil inédit d'Etienne de
Bourbon, publiés pour la Société de l'Histoire de France par Leroy de
la Marche_, 1867. Professor Crane, of Cornell, has edited the _Exempla
of Jacques de Vitry_ for the Folk-Lore Society, London, 1890.

51: This subject will be considered later. See below, Part VI.

52: _Cf_. the lines:--

Onde s' alcun bel frutto
Nasce di me, da voi vien prima il seme.
Io per me son quasi un terreno asciutto,
Colto da voi; e' l pregio è vostro in tutto--

in the canzone beginning, Perchè la vita.

53: For Petrarch's views of marriage see _Fam_., xxii., 1, as well as
several unworthy dialogues in _De Remediis Utriusque Fortunæ, e. g._,
i., 45-47; ii., 18, 20, 22.

54: Cogita quantum professio tua discordet a moribus.--_Opera_, p. 363.

55: Magnæ corporis magnæ animi vires sunt, quæ simul et litteris
sufficiant et uxori.--_Fam_., xx., 4 (vol. iii., p. 21).

56: Two or three examples of such descriptions will be found below,
Part. IV.

57: See his enthusiastic letter to Giacomo Colonna, who had invited him
to undertake the journey.--_Fam_., ii., 9.

58: _Convito_, iv., 5.

59: _Convito_, iv., 5.

60: See below, Part V.

61: All authorities agree as to the fearful degradation of Rome during
the absence of the popes.

62: _Fam_., ii., 14.

63: Petrarch confesses that he owed the crown to Robert. _Ecl_., x.,
370 _sqq_.

64: _Fam_., iv., 3 (the opening lines).

65: _Fam_., iv., 2 (vol. i., p. 206).

66: Recolo ... in hoc ipso capitolio romano ubi nunc insistimus
tot tantosque vates ad culmen preclari magisterii provectos
emeritam lauream reportasse ... post statium pampineum illustrem
poetam qui domitiani temporibus floruit nullum legimus tali honore
decoratum.--Hortis, _Scritti Inediti_, p. 316.

67: _Rerum Mem_., end of book i.; an interesting estimate of Robert.

68: _Ep. Poet. Lat_., ii., 1.

69: _Cf._ Hortis, _op. cit_., chap, i., "La Laurea del Petrarca."

70: _Ibid_., 311 _sqq_.

71: _Georgics_, iii., 291, 292, as translated by Rhoades.

72: _Op. cit_., p. 174. _Cf._ Gregorovius, _Geschichte der Stadt Rom_.,
vi., pp. 207 _sqq_.

73: _Cf._ Fracassetti, _Let. delle Cos. Fam._, i., 525 _sqq_.

74: The canzone beginning, Quel c' ha nostra natura in se più degno.

75: See Fracassetti, _op. cit_., i., 527.

76: In the dedicatory preface to that work the reader will find an
interesting review of Azzo's career.

77: _Var_., 16 (vol. iii., p. 337), also _Var_., 4. For the whole
matter see Fracassetti, _Let. delle Cos. Fam_., i., pp. 525 _sqq._

78: _Ep. Poet. Lat._, ii., 5.

79: _Fam_., v., 3, 4, and 5. In the last of these there is a fine
description of a terrible storm.

80: _Fam_., xxiv., 3; also Voigt, _op. cit._, p. 42. It has been
satisfactorily proved that Petrarch was unaware of the existence of the
important collection _Ad Familiares. Cf_. de Nolhac, _op. cit_., 94 and
211 _sqq_.

81: See below, Part V.

82: _Fam_., xii., 7 (vol. ii., p. 186).

83: Ex ea urbe nati sumus, an inexact expression, since neither was
born in Florence, but a confession that they both felt themselves to be
Florentine citizens.

84: _Sen_., ii., 1 (_Opera_, p. 751). Note Dante's bitterly sarcastic
characterisation of the Florentine readiness to express an opinion, in
the _Purgatorio_, vi., especially lines 127 _sqq_.:

Molti han giustizia in cuor; ma tardi scocca,
Per non venir senza consiglio all' arco;
Ma 'l popol tuo l' ha in sommo della bocca.

85: _Fam_., xi., 16 and 17.

86: _Fam_., xiii., 5.

87: _Ep. Poet. Lat_., iii., 24.

88: _Fam_., xvi., 12 (vol. ii., p. 403). _Cf._ also _Fam_., xvii., 10.

89: _Cf_. close of _Fam_., xvi., 12. For Boccaccio's words of protest,
see Corazzini's edition of his letters, p. 47 _sqq_. Nelli did not join
in the criticisms of the other friends, but advised him to do as he
pleased. See his letter (x.), in the edition of Cochin.

90: See the amusing instances cited by Voigt, _op. cit_., i., 446 _sqq_.

91: _Cf_. Dietrich von Niehm, _De Scismate_, ed. Erler, p. 94.

92: _Sen_., viii., 3 (_Opera_, p. 836).

93: _Historia di Milano_ (ed. of 1565), p. 567.

94: _Fam_., xviii., 16.

95: See below, Part V.

96: For the humanistic tendencies at Prague, see Voigt, _op. cit_.,
ii., 261 _sqq_., and Friedjung, _Kaiser Karl IV. und sein Antheil am
geistigen Leben seiner Zeit_, Vienna, 1876.

97: _Fam_., xxiii., 2 (vol. iii., p. 184).

98: See above, p. 31 _sqq_. (He would gladly reside in the city...)

99: _Opera_, pp. 372 _sqq_.

Petrarch's Preface to his First Collection of Letters_

_To his Friend "Socrates"_[1]

What now, brother? We have tried almost everything, and nowhere have
we found peace. When may we hope for that, and where shall we seek it?
Time, as the saying is, has slipped between our fingers. Our early
hopes are buried with our friends. The year 1348 has left us solitary
and bereaved; and has taken from us what all the wealth of Ormus and of
Ind could never replace.[2]

Such final losses are irreparable, and the wounds inflicted by death
can never be healed. There is but one source of consolation; we shall
soon follow those who have gone before. How long we must wait we know
not. But this we do know, it cannot be for long; and the delay,
however short, will not be without its trials. Yet let us, here at the
outset at least, refrain from lamentation.

I do not know, brother, what anxieties are weighing upon you or what
your present preoccupations may be. As for me, I am making up my
bundles and, as those on the verge of departure are wont to do, I am
trying to decide what to take with me, what to distribute among my
friends, and what to throw into the fire. At any rate, I have nothing
to sell. I possess, or rather am burdened by, more than I supposed. I
found, for example, a vast store of scattered and neglected writings
of different kinds in the house. I have laboriously exhumed boxes,
buried in dust, and bundles of manuscript, half-destroyed by time. The
importunate mouse as well as the insatiable bookworm, have plotted
against me, and, a devotee of Pallas, I have been entangled in the
toils of Pallas's enemy, the spider. There is, however, no obstacle
which may not be overcome by persistent effort. Surrounded by the
confused masses of letters and manuscripts I began, following my first
impulse, to consign everything to the flames, with a view to escaping
from the inglorious task of assorting the papers. Then, as one thought
springs from another, it occurred to me that, like a traveller weary by
reason of the long road, I might well look back as from an eminence,
and step by step review the history of my younger days.

This counsel prevailed. It seemed to me, if not an exalted undertaking,
at least not a disagreeable one, to recall the shifting feelings and
sentiments of earlier times. But, taking up the disordered papers at
random, I was astonished to see how distorted and blurred the past
appeared to me, not of course that it, but rather that my mental
vision, had changed, so that I hardly recognised my former self. Still,
some things that I happened upon called up pleasant reminiscences of
long ago. Some of the productions moved with the free step of prose,
some were held in check by Homeric reins (I have rarely used those of
Isocrates),[3] others, destined to charm the ear of the people, also
obeyed their own appropriate laws. The last mentioned style of verse,
revived, it is said, not many generations ago, among the Sicilians,
spread in a short time throughout Italy, and even beyond. This kind
of poetry was held in great repute by the earliest writers among the
Greeks and Romans, and the common people of Rome and Athens are said to
have been accustomed to the rhythmical lyrics only.

This chaotic medley kept me busy for several days, and, although I felt
the potent charm and natural partiality which are associated with all
one's own productions, the love for my more important works finally got
the upper hand. These had suffered a long interruption and were still
uncompleted, although they were anxiously awaited by not a few. The
shortness of life was borne in upon me. I feared, I must confess, its
snares and pitfalls. What indeed is more transient than life, and what
more certain than death? It occurred to me to ask what foundation I had
laid, and what would remain to me for all my toil and vigils. It seemed
a rash, an insane thing, to have undertaken such long and enduring
labours in the course of so brief and uncertain an existence, and thus
to scatter my talents, which would scarcely suffice for the successful
accomplishment of a single undertaking. Moreover, as you well know,
another task awaits me more glorious than these in proportion as
actions merit more enduring praise than words.[4]

But why dwell longer upon this matter? It will perhaps seem incredible
to you, but it is none the less true, that I committed to Vulcan for
correction a thousand or more scattered poems of all kinds and letters
of friendly intercourse, not because I found nothing in them to my
liking, but because they involved more work than pleasure. I did this,
however, with a sigh, as I am not ashamed to confess. But with a mind
so occupied it was necessary to resort even to somewhat harsh measures
for relief, just as an overburdened ship must sometimes be lightened by
the sacrifice of valuable cargo.

After disposing of these I noticed, lying in a corner, a few papers
which had been preserved rather by accident than intention, or had,
at some former time, been copied by my assistants, and so in one way
or the other had escaped the perils of advancing age. I say a few--I
fear they will seem a great many to the reader, and far too numerous to
the copyist. I was more indulgent to these, and allowed them to live,
not so much on account of their worthiness as of my convenience, for
they did not involve any additional labour of my own. As I considered
them with regard to the natural inclinations of two of my friends, the
prose fell to you, while the verse I decided to dedicate to our friend
Barbato. I recollected that this used to be your preference, and that
I had promised to follow your wishes. My mood was such that I was
on the point of destroying everything which I came across, not even
sparing those writings just mentioned, when you both seemed to appear
to me, one on my right and one on my left, and, grasping my hands, you
admonished me in a friendly manner not to do violence at once to my
good faith and your anticipations. This was the chief reason why these
were spared, for otherwise, believe me, they would have gone up in
smoke like the rest.

You will read your portion of what remains, such as it is, not only
patiently, but even eagerly. I do not venture to repeat the boast of
Apuleius of Madaura, "Reader, you have but to listen to be charmed";
for on what grounds could I venture to promise pleasure to the reader?
But, you at least, will read the letters, my good Socrates, and, as
you are very fond of your friends, you may discover some charm in
them. Your partiality for the author will make his style pleasing
(indeed what beauty of style is likely to be perceived by an unfriendly
judge?); it is vain to adorn what already delights. If anything
gratifies you in these letters of mine, I freely concede that it is
not really mine but yours; that is to say, the credit is due not to
my ability but to your good-will. You will find no great eloquence or
vigour of expression in them. Indeed I do not possess these powers,
and if I did, in ever so high a degree, there would be no place for
them in this kind of composition. Even Cicero, who was renowned for
these abilities, does not manifest them in his letters, nor even in his
treatises, where, as he himself says, the language is characterised
by a certain evenness and moderation. In his orations, on the other
hand, he displayed extraordinary powers, pouring out a clear and rapid
stream of eloquence. This oratorical style Cicero used frequently for
his friends, and against his enemies and those of the republic.[5] Cato
resorted to it often on behalf of others, and for himself four and
forty times. In this mode of composition I am wholly inexperienced,
for I have been far away from the responsibilities of state. And while
my reputation may sometimes have been assailed by slight murmurs, or
secret whisperings, I have so far never suffered any attack in the
courts which I must needs avenge or parry. Hence, as it is not my
profession to use my weapons of speech for the defence of others, I
do not frequent the tribunals, nor have I ever learned to loan my
tongue. I have, indeed, a deep repugnance for such a life, for I am by
nature a lover of silence and solitude, an enemy of the courts, and a
contemner of wealth. It was fortunate for me that I was freed from the
necessity of resorting to a weapon which I might not have been able
to use if I had tried. I have therefore made no attempt to employ an
oratorical style, which, even if it had been at my disposal, would have
been uncalled for in this instance. But you will accept this homely
and familiar language in the same friendly spirit as you do the rest,
and take in good part a style well adapted to the sentiments we are
accustomed to express in ordinary conversation.

All my critics, however, are not like you, for they do not all think
the same, nor do they all love me as you do. But how can I hope to
please everybody, when I have always striven to gratify a few only?
There are three poisons which kill sound criticism, love, hate, and
envy. Beware lest through too much love you should make public what
might better be kept concealed. As you are guided by love, so others
may be influenced by other passions. Between the blindness of love and
that of jealousy there is indeed a great difference in origin, but
not always in effect. Hate, to which I have assigned a middle place,
I neither merit nor fear. Still it can easily be so arranged that
you may keep and read my trifling productions for your own exclusive
pleasure, thinking of nothing except the incidents in our lives and
those of our friends which they recall. Should you do this, it would
be most gratifying to me. In this way your request will have been
satisfied and my reputation will be safe. Beyond this I do not deceive
myself with the vain hope of favour. For how can we imagine even a
friend, if he be not an _alter ego_, reading without weariness such
a mass of miscellaneous and conflicting recollections? There is no
unity in the themes or composition of the letters, and with the various
matters treated went varying moods, which were rarely happy and usually

Epicurus, a philosopher held in disrepute among the vulgar but esteemed
by those better able to judge, confined his correspondence to two or
three persons--Idomeneus, Polyænus, and Metrodorus. Cicero wrote to
hardly more, to Brutus, Atticus, and the other two Ciceros, his brother
and son. Seneca wrote to few except his friend Lucilius. It obviously
renders felicitous letter-writing a simple matter if we know the
character of our correspondent and get used to his particular mind, so
that we can judge what he will be glad to hear and what we may properly
communicate. But my lot has been a very different one, for heretofore
almost my whole life has been passed in journeying from place to place.
I might compare my wanderings with those of Ulysses; and certainly
were we only on the same plane in reputation and in the fame of our
adventures, I might claim that he had not wandered farther or been cast
upon more distant shores than I. He was already well advanced in years
when he left his native land, and, since nothing is long in our lives,
the experiences of his old age were necessarily brief indeed: I, on the
other hand, was conceived and born in exile, costing my mother such
grievous pangs, and in such critical circumstances, that not only the
midwives but the physicians long believed her to be dead. Thus I began
to encounter dangers before I was born, and attained the threshold of
life under the auspices of death. The event is commemorated by the
no means insignificant city of Arezzo,[6] whither my father, driven
from his country, had taken refuge, together with many another worthy
man. Thence I was taken in my seventh month and carried about all over
Tuscany by a certain sturdy youth, who wrapped me up in a cloth, just
as Metabus did Camilla, and bore me suspended from a knotty staff, so
as not to injure my tender body by any rough contact. But once, in
crossing the Arno (I delight to recall with you the beginnings of my
tribulations), his horse stumbled and he fell into the water, and while
striving to save the burden entrusted to him he nearly sacrificed his
own life in the raging flood.

Our wanderings through Tuscany finally ended at Pisa. From here,
however, I was dragged away again, in my seventh year,[7] and in our
journey to France by sea we were wrecked by winter storms, not far from
Marseilles, and I was on the verge of being summoned away anew from
the vestibule of life.--But I am straying from my subject. From then
until now I have had little or no opportunity to stop and take breath.
How many and how various the dangers and apprehensions I have suffered
in my migrations no one, after myself, better knows than you. Hence I
have felt free to recall these events, that you may keep in mind that
I was born among perils and among perils have grown old,--if old I am,
and there are not worse trials ahead. Although similar vicissitudes
may be common to everyone entering this life, since existence is a
warfare--nay more, a battle,--each nevertheless has his peculiar
experiences, and the fighting differs greatly in kind. Each has his
own burdens to bear, but it still makes a great difference what these
burdens are.

Well then, to return to the matter in hand,--since amid the tempests
of life I have never for long cast anchor in any one port, I have
naturally made innumerable acquaintances. How many true friends I
know not, for friends are not only exceedingly few, but difficult
to distinguish. It has fallen to my lot, in consequence, to write
to a great many who differed so widely from one another in mind and
condition that on re-reading my letters it sometimes seemed to me as if
I had said in one precisely the opposite from what I had in another.
Yet anyone who has been in a similar position will readily admit that
I was almost forced into such contradictions. The first care indeed
in writing is to consider to whom the letter is to be sent; then we
may judge what to say and how to say it. We address a strong man in
one way and a weak one in another. The inexperienced youth and the
old man who has fulfilled the duties of life, he who is puffed up
with prosperity and he who is stricken with adversity, the scholar
distinguished in literature and the man incapable of grasping anything
beyond commonplace,--each must be treated according to his character
or position. There are infinite varieties among men; minds are no
more alike than faces. And as the same stomach does not always relish
the same kind of food, the same mind is not always to be fed upon the
same kind of writing. So the task becomes a double one, for not only
have we to consider the person to whom we propose to write, but how
those things we are planning to say are likely to affect him when he
reads them. Owing to these difficulties I have often been forced into
apparent contradictions. And in order that unfavourable critics may not
turn this against me, I have relied in a measure upon the kind aid of
the flames for safety, and for the rest, upon your keeping the letters
secret and suppressing my name.

But friends are lynx-eyed, and nothing is likely to escape them; so
that if you cannot keep the letters from the few who still remain,
be sure to urge them to destroy immediately any of my communications
that they may possess, lest they be disturbed by any changes which I
have made in the words or matter. These changes are due to the fact
that, since it never occurred to me that you would ask or that I would
consent to have the letters brought together in a single collection,
I was accustomed, in order to avoid labour, to repeat now and then
something I had said in a previous letter, using my own as my own, as
Terence says. Now that letters sent off years ago to the most distant
regions are brought together at once in a single place, it is easy to
perceive deformities in the whole body which were not apparent in
the separate parts. Phrases which pleased when they occurred but once
in a letter, begin to annoy one when frequently repeated in the same
collection; accordingly they must be retained in one and expunged from
the others. Many things, too, which related to every-day cares and
which deserved mention when I wrote, would now weary even the most
eager reader, and were therefore omitted. I recollect that Seneca
laughed at Cicero for including trivial matters in his letters, and yet
I am much more prone in my epistles to follow Cicero's example than
Seneca's. Seneca, indeed, gathered into his letters pretty much all the
moral reflections which he had published in his various books: Cicero,
on the other hand, treats philosophical subjects in his books, but
fills his letters with miscellaneous news and the gossip of the day.
Let Seneca think as he likes about this; as for me, I must confess that
I find Cicero's letters very agreeable reading. They relax the tension
produced by weighty matters, which if long continued strains the mind,
though if occasionally interrupted it becomes a source of pleasure.

I cannot sufficiently wonder at the boldness of Sidonius, although I
may be a bit rash myself in denouncing this boldness when I do not
very well understand his sarcasms, either because of my slow wit or
his obscure style, or, as is not impossible, by reason of some error
in the text. One thing, however, is clear; Cicero is ridiculed, and by
a Sidonius![8] What liberty!--effrontery I would say, did I not fear
to exasperate those whom I have already offended by calling him bold.
Here is one of the Latin people who finds it in his heart to attack
Cicero. Nor does he speak of some single weakness, for if that were all
I should have to ask pardon for both Seneca and myself; human frailty,
indeed, can hardly escape criticism. But this Sidonius has dared to
make sport of Cicero's eloquence,--his whole style and his method in
general. This Arvernian[9] orator does not simply imagine himself,
as he says, a brother of the Latin orator, which would be audacious
enough, but he assumes the rôle of a rival, and, what is worse, of a
scoffer. He would deprive him of the renown which all but a few of his
contemporaries and fellow-citizens unanimously concede to him: even
those few were doubtless warped in their judgment and goaded on by
envy, the constant attendant upon contemporary fame. But neither time
nor place afford any extenuation in the case of Sidonius. Consequently
I wonder more and more what manner of person this was who thus attacked
the undoubted prince of orators, although he was himself a disciple of
oratory, and belonged to another age, and was born in another land.
Upon turning the whole matter over in my mind, I find it impossible to
accept in the case of so learned a man the excuse of ignorance, and to
ascribe his perverted opinions to a weakness of the head rather than
of the heart. I may be mistaken in this matter, as in many others, but
if I am I rejoice that I am mistaken in company with many, and those
by far the most distinguished, judges in believing that Cicero leaves
all fault-finders far behind, and that to him belongs the palm for
prose eloquence. From this point of view the moral and intellectual
perversity of those who deny him pre-eminence becomes as clear as day.

Sidonius brings forward, it is true, a certain Julius Titianus and
certain Frontoniani,[10] of whom I have never heard, as the authorities
for his sarcasms. To these, and to all those holding such views, I
make one and the same reply, namely, that Seneca was right when he
said, "Whatever strength or advantage Roman eloquence may have to
oppose to the arrogance of Greece was developed by Cicero." Moreover,
Quintilian, among the many glorious things which he says of Cicero,
well observes: "He was sent by the special gift of providence, with
such extraordinary powers that in him eloquence might manifest all
her resources." And after many proofs of this, he continues: "It
was therefore but right that his contemporaries should declare with
one accord that he reigned supreme in the courts. With succeeding
generations it has come to pass that Cicero is no longer regarded as
the name of a man, but of eloquence itself. To him, therefore, let
us look, placing him before us as our model. When a student comes to
admire Cicero greatly, he may know that he is making progress."[11]
I hold moreover that, conversely, it is quite true that one to whom
Cicero's style is displeasing either knows nothing of the highest
eloquence or hates it.

Anxious as I was to hasten on, I could not pass over this calumny
altogether. To return again to the letters, you will find many written
in a familiar style to friends, including yourself; sometimes referring
to matters of public or private interest, sometimes relating to
bereavements, which form, alas! an ever recurring theme, or to other
matters which circumstances brought into prominence. I have discussed
almost nothing else, except as I have spoken of my state of mind, or
have imparted some bit of news to my friends. I approve, you see, what
Cicero says in his first letter to his brother, that it is the proper
aim of a letter to inform the one to whom it is addressed of something
of which he was ignorant. These considerations account for the title
which I have selected. For, on thinking over the matter, although the
simple rubric "epistles" was quite appropriate, I rejected it, both
because many older writers had chosen it, and because I myself had
applied it to the verses to my friends which I mentioned above,[12] and
consequently disliked to resort to it a second time. So I chose a new
name, and entitled the volume _Letters of Familiar Intercourse_,[13]
letters, that is, in which there is little anxious regard to style, but
where homely matters are treated in a homely manner. Sometimes, when it
was not inappropriate, there may be a bit of simple narration or a few
moral reflections, such as Cicero was accustomed to introduce into his

To say so much about a small matter is justified by the fear of
censorious critics, who, instead of producing work of their own to
be judged, set themselves up as the judges of others' talents--a
most audacious and impudent set, whose only safety lies in holding
their tongues. Sitting upon the shore with folded hands, we are safe
in expressing any opinions we please upon the art of navigation.
By keeping the letters secret you will at least shield these crude
productions, that I have carelessly thrown off, from such impudence.
If ever I put the last touches to this work, I will send you, not a
Phidian Minerva, as Cicero says, but an image, in some sort, of my mind
and character, hewn out with great labour. When it reaches you, place
it in some safe niche.

So far, so good. The next matter I would gladly say nothing about, but
a serious ailment is not easily concealed; its very symptoms betray it.
I am ashamed of a life which has lapsed into weakness. As you will see,
and as the order of the letters testifies, the language of my earlier
years was sober and strong, betokening a valiant heart. I not only
stood firm myself, but often consoled others. The succeeding letters
become day by day weaker and more dispirited, nor have the lamentations
with which they are filled a sufficiently manly tone. It is these that
I would ask you to guard with special care. For what would others say
to sentiments which I myself cannot re-read without a blush? Was I
indeed a man in my youthful days, only to become a child when I reached

With a disingenuousness which I reprehend and deplore, I conceived
the plan of changing the order of the letters, or concealing from you
entirely those that I condemn. Neither subterfuge would have deceived
you, since you possess the originals of these melancholy missives, and
are aware of the year and day upon which each was written. Consequently
I must arm myself with excuses. I have grown weary in the long and
arduous battle. While courage and valour stood by me, I made a stand
myself and encouraged others to resist; but when, by reason of the
strength of the enemy and the fierceness of his onset, I began to
lose my footing, and my spirits began to droop, that fine, bold tone
promptly deserted me, and I descended to those weak laments which are
so displeasing. My affection for my friends may perhaps extenuate my
offence, for while they remained unharmed I never groaned on account
of any wound of fortune. But when almost all of them were hurried away
in a single great catastrophe, nay when the whole world seemed about
to perish,[14] it would have been inhuman, rather than courageous,
to remain unmoved. Before that who ever heard me complain of exile,
disease, litigation, elections, or the whirl of public affairs?[15] Who
ever heard a tearful regret for my father's house, for lost fortune,
diminished fame, squandered money, or absent friends? Cicero, however,
shows such a want of manliness in the way he writes of such grievances
that his sentiments often offend as much as his style delights me.
Add to this his litigious epistles, and the complaints and insults
which, with the utmost fickleness, he directs against distinguished
men whom he himself has but just been lauding to the skies! On reading
these I was so shocked and discomposed that I could not refrain in my
irritation from writing to him and pointing out what offended me in his
writings, as if he were a friend and contemporary.[16] Ignoring the
space of time which separates us, I addressed him with a familiarity
springing from my sympathy with his genius. This letter suggested
others of the kind. For instance, on re-reading, after some years,
Seneca's tragedy of _Octavia_,[17], I felt the same impulse to write
to him, and later I wrote, on various themes, to Varro, Virgil, and
others.[18] A few of these, which I have inserted in the latter part
of this work, might produce the utmost astonishment in the mind of the
reader, were he not forewarned. The rest I burned up in that general
holocaust of which I told you above.

Just as Cicero was absorbed in his trials, so was I at one time in
mine. But to-day--that you may know my present temper--it would not be
inappropriate to attribute to me that serenity which comes, as Seneca
says, even to the most untried, the serenity of despair itself. Why
indeed fear, when one has so many times striven with death itself?

    Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem.

You will see me work and speak with growing courage from day to day. If
I should hit upon any subject worthy of my pen, the style itself will
be more vigorous. Many themes will undoubtedly offer themselves. My
writing and my life I foresee will come to an end together.

But while my other works are finished, or bid fair to be, these
letters, which I began in an irregular fashion in my early youth, and
am now bringing together in my old age and arranging in a volume,--this
work the love of my friends will never permit me to finish, since I
must conscientiously reply to their messages; nor can I ever persuade
them to accept the oft-repeated excuse of my other occupations. When
you shall learn that I have at last begged to be freed from that duty,
and have brought this work to an end, then you may know that I am dead
and freed from all life's burdens. In the meantime I shall continue
to follow the path which I have entered upon, not looking for its end
until darkness comes upon me. Pleasant work will take the place of
repose with me. Moreover, having placed the weakest of my forces in
the centre, as orators and generals are wont to do, I shall take care
that, as I showed a solid front in beginning my book, so my rear-guard
too shall not be wanting in courage. Indeed, I may make better head
against the attacks and buffets of fortune, thanks to a gradual process
of hardening which has gone on through life. In short, although I dare
not assert how I shall demean myself in the stress of circumstances, I
am firmly resolved not to succumb to any trial hereafter. "Beneath the
crash of worlds undaunted he appears." You may picture me thus armed
with the good thoughts of Virgil and Horace, which I used often to
read and praise in my earlier years, and which, in my latter days of
calamity, stern necessity has forced me to make my own.

My communion with you has been very pleasant, and I have, in my
enjoyment, been led half unconsciously to prolong it. It brought back
your face over land and sea, and kept you with me until evening. I took
up my pen this morning, and the day and this letter are coming to an
end together.

Well, this which I dedicate to you, my brother, is a fabric, so
to speak, of many coloured threads. But should I ever find a
resting-place, and the leisure I have always sought in vain (and there
is the promise of such a change), I intend to weave for you a more
worthy and certainly more uniform web. I should be glad to think that
I am among the few who can promise and confer fame; but you can lift
yourself into the light without my aid, borne on the wings of your own
genius. However, if I am able to rise, in spite of all the difficulties
which beset me, you hereafter shall assuredly be my Idomeneus, my
Atticus, and my Lucilius. Farewell.

       *       *       *       *       *

The selection and copying of the letters, which Petrarch appears to
have begun about 1359, when he was fifty-five years old, proved to
be a trying task that dragged through five or six years. Writing to
Boccaccio, in 1365, he describes a clever youth of Ravenna who had come
to him two years before and, among other duties, had assisted him in
editing the correspondence.[19] "My prose epistles to my friends,"[20]
he says, "are very numerous; would that they were proportionately
valuable! What with the confusion of the copies and the pressure of
my other occupations I had almost despaired of editing them. Four
friends had promised me their aid, but after a trial had left the
task half done; yet this young man has, quite by himself, completed
the collection, which does not include all indeed, but as many of
them as will go into a not too huge volume. Counting this one, they
amount to three hundred and fifty,[21] which, if it please God, you
shall sometime behold, written in his hand. You will not find the
ill-defined though sumptuous penmanship affected by our copyists, or
rather painters, of to-day, which delights us at a distance, but, as
if invented for any other purpose than to be read, strains and tires
the eyes when we look at it intently, thus belying the saying of the
prince of grammarians that the word _letter_ comes from _legere_, to
read. This youth's characters are, on the contrary, compressed[22] and
clear, carrying the eye with them, nor will you discover any faults of
orthography or grammatical errors."

It is safe to infer that the additional labour involved in duplicating
from the outset all his letters, so that he might retain copies
of them, was not undertaken without the expectation of ultimately
bringing them together into a collection for publication, like the
correspondence of Seneca and that of Abelard, with both of which he
was familiar. (Of Cicero's letters he knew little if anything until
he himself discovered a copy of part of them at Verona, in 1345, when
he was already forty-one years old, too late for them to exercise any
decisive influence upon the formation of his epistolary style.[23])
He had, moreover, long before the editing began, promised his friend
"Socrates" that these prose epistles should be dedicated to him.[24]
There can even be no doubt that individual letters were destined for
a more or less wide circle of readers, as is shown by their careful
composition and, here and there, by a naive confession, as in the
repetition for the benefit of others of the earlier part of the story
of the goldsmith, with which the friend to whom he was writing was
already familiar.[25] Indeed he closes his collection with an explicit
appeal to the "candid reader, whoever thou art," exhorting him by their
common love for the same studies not to allow himself to be disturbed
by the confusion and unstudied language of the work, but to recall the
excuses offered in the Preface.[26]

The entire prose correspondence of Petrarch falls into four divisions.
The largest group, the one that he discusses in the Preface given
above, embraces three hundred and forty-seven letters, which were
written between the years 1332 and 1362.[27] To this collection, which
filled the "not too huge volume," he decided to give the unassuming
general title of _De Rebus Familiaribus_, by which he meant to imply
that every-day topics were therein discussed with his friends, with no
especial attention to style. He evidently wished to avoid any possible
inference that he supposed that so miscellaneous and heterogeneous a
mass of work could possess real literary form and merit. The title may
fairly enough, if not literally, be translated _Letters of Friendly

A second and much smaller collection was formed from those which
could not be included in the main volume without unduly increasing
its bulk.[28] About seventy of these have been re-discovered, and
constitute the so-called _Miscellaneous Letters (Epistolæ Variæ)_.

But the editing of this earlier correspondence did not bring the work
to a close; the love of his friends admitted no conclusion to the
task. "Their messages," he declares, "will still continue to come
and I must continue to reply to them." Consequently a new division
of the correspondence was formed, the important _Epistolæ de Rebus
Senilibus,--Letters of Old Age_,--which were written during the last
twelve years of the poet's life. A short dedication to "Simonides"
(_i.e._, Francesco Nelli) is prefixed to them.[29] There are one
hundred and twenty-four in this group, some of them very long.

Lastly, there is a little group of about twenty letters, some of which
contained such frank strictures upon the régime of the popes at Avignon
that Petrarch found it expedient to put them by themselves and to
suppress the names of those to whom they were addressed. These, the
_Epistolæ sine Titulo_,[30] are so acrid in tone, and so unmeasured
in the abuse which they heap upon the degraded churchmen, that their
author has sometimes mistakenly been reckoned as a forerunner of the
Reformation; but, as we shall see, he had no thought of questioning a
single dogma of the Catholic Church.

Of the _Letters of Friendly Intercourse_, scarcely half appear in the
most complete of the older printed editions,[31] but they have, not
long since, been edited in full by Giuseppe Fracassetti, who includes
no less than one hundred and twenty-eight never before printed. The
_Epistolæ Variæ--Miscellaneous Letters_--are also to be found in his
excellent edition.[32] The _Letters of Old Age_ were early printed
in their entirety, but unfortunately have not been reproduced since
1581. If one would read them in the original he must still turn to the
miserable Basle editions of the works, which would almost appear to
have been printed by persons unfamiliar with the rudiments of Latin, so
numerous and incredible are the typographical errors which not only try
the reader's temper but often entirely obscure the meaning.

How far Petrarch modified the original form of the letters in editing
them is an important question, but one upon which we have but little
information. He says in the Preface that the unworthy expedient
occurred to him of suppressing such letters as exhibited his past
weakness, or so changing their order that he should at least appear in
a more favourable light. But this, he decided, would be quite useless,
since his friends possessed the properly dated originals. On the other
hand, he certainly destroyed a large number of his papers. What canons
he adopted in his selection we cannot determine, but obviously the
temptation to exclude those which might seem to place him in a false
position must have been almost irresistible. Moreover, he did not
hesitate, as we have seen, in order to avoid repetition and monotony,
to so alter the language that he felt it necessary to ask his friends,
in some instances, to destroy their original copies lest they should be
hurt by the changes he had made.

There seems to be no doubt that the _Letters of Friendly Intercourse_
are arranged in the codices, and published by Fracassetti, in the order
in which Petrarch first placed them. His intention was to observe
chronological sequence, for he says explicitly that with the exception
of the letters to dead authors, which he put together at the end of
the volume, almost all the rest remained in the order in which they
were written.[33] While this is true in general, there are many
obvious exceptions. Unfortunately he did not ordinarily indicate the
year, but only the day and the month upon which he wrote. It is very
probable, therefore, that in arranging the letters years later he was
often unable to determine just where a letter belonged. Fracassetti has
devoted a great deal of attention to establishing the dates, where it
is possible,[34] and has in this way done much to make the course of
the poet's life clearer.

There is but one letter among those which have been preserved to
which an earlier date than 1331 can be ascribed. The series begins,
therefore, in Petrarch's twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth year. Some
ninety of the letters were probably written before he was forty, but
the great bulk of them belong to his later years. Almost one-half of
those included in the various collections were composed after he had
reached fifty.

It will naturally be asked if any of the replies called forth by
Petrarch during toward half a century of indefatigable letter-writing
have come down to us. A few only have been preserved. Recently a
little volume containing thirty letters from his Florentine friend
Francesco Nelli, has been published.[35] Besides these, there are four
letters from Boccaccio,[36] one from Rienzo,[37] one from the Emperor
Charles IV.,[38] three from Guglielmo di Pastrengo,[39] five from the
enthusiastic young Humanist, Coluccio Salutati,[40] and perhaps a very
few others. With these exceptions, Petrarch's correspondence includes
only his own letters; and his friends often exist for us only in his
kindly allusions to them. This is pre-eminently true of "Socrates" and
"Lælius," to whom so many of the letters are addressed.

1: Of "Socrates," as Petrarch chose to call one of his most intimate
friends whose real name was Ludovico, we know almost nothing. He was
born in the Netherlands but appears to have spent most of his life in
Avignon, where he died in 1362. Although he never visited Italy he
would seem to have been thoroughly Italian in his tastes.

2: Laura, Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, and other friends of Petrarch fell
victims to the plague in that year.

3: It was probably Cicero's expressions of admiration in _De Oratore_
which led Petrarch to choose Isocrates as typifying the oratorical

4: This reference is obscure.

5: Reading _reipublicæ_ for _rempublicam._

6: Petrarch learned upon visiting Arezzo, as he was returning from the
Jubilee in 1350, that the magistrates had ordered that no alterations
should be made in the humble house where he was born. See _Sen_.,
xiii., 3.

7: Petrarch refers this journey to his _ninth_ year in his _Letter to

8: Sidonius Apollinaris, a Christian writer of the fifth century, is
here the innocent victim of Petrarch's doubtless excusable ignorance.
In speaking of his own letters Sidonius says that he has modestly
refrained from attempting to imitate Cicero's style, and cites the fate
of Titianus, who brought derision upon himself by so doing. Unless,
as is quite possible, the text which Petrarch used was corrupt, it
is difficult to explain how, even if, as he admits (see below p.
143: Consequently I wonder more ...), he had never heard of Fronto,
the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, he could have so completely missed
the point. The offending passage reads: "Nam de Marco Tullio silere
me in stylo epistolari melius puto, quem nec Julius Titianus totum
... digna similitudine expressit. Propter quod illum cæteri quique
Frontonianorum [_i.e._, admirers of Fronto], utpote consectaneum
æmulati, cum veternorum dicendi genus imitaretur, oratorum simiam
nuncupaverunt."--Migne, _Patrologia Latina_, vol. lviii., pp. 444-5.

9: Sidonius was born in Lyons; the epithet "arvernus" refers to his
bishopric of Clermont, anciently called Arverni.

10: See note above, p. 141 (Phrases which pleased when they

11: Quintilian's _Institutes_, bk. x., ch. i., §§ 109-112.

12: _I.e._, the metrical epistles.

13: Familiarum rerum liber. See below, p. 153 _sqq_ (The entire prose
correspondence of Petrarch...)

14: A reference to the plague of 1348; see above, pp. 113, 114. (We may
infer that he now enjoyed...)

15: This list of woes seems to have been suggested by Cicero's
experience rather than his own.

16: See the letters to Cicero, given below, p. 239 _sqq_. (He wrote to
the emperor and the pope...)

17: Petrarch elsewhere expresses doubts whether Seneca really wrote
this tragedy which, it is now generally believed, is by another hand.
See _Fam_., xxiv., 5.

18: See below, Part III., for examples of these letters.

19: _Fam_., xxiii., 19 (vol. iii., pp. 237, 238).

20: Familiares epistolæ.

21: There are but three hundred and forty-seven in the codices used by
Fracassetti. See _Let. delle Cos. Fam_., v., p. 110.

22: _Castigata, i.e_., without any flourishes such as disfigure the
manuscripts of the period. See the facsimile of Petrarch's own clear
handwriting, p. 238. (A PAGE OF PETRARCH'S COPY OF THE "ILIAD.")

23: The other great classical collections of letters, Pliny's,
appears to have been unknown to Petrarch. See, further, p. 230 _sq_.
(Petrarch's letters afford countless illustrations...)

24: See above, p. 134. (I was more indulgent to these,...)

25: See below, p. 172. (His age seemed to be the only obstacle)

26: _Fam_., xxiv., 13 (vol. iii., p. 307).

27: One earlier letter (1326), and a half dozen written later, have
found their way into this group.

28: _Fam_., xxiv., 13 (vol, iii., p. 306).

29: _Sen_., i., 1, and iii., 1.

30: In the Basle editions of the works, and in the editions of the
letters published in 1601, some letters are included among the
_Epistolæ sine Titulo_ which apparently do not belong there.

31: Not more than one-third are to be found in the Basle editions of
1554 and 1581.

32: _Francisci Petrarcæ Epistolæ de Rebus Familiaribus et Variæ_,
studio et cura Josephi Fracassetti, Tom. iii., 8°, Florentiæ, 1859-63.

33: _Fam_., xxiv., 13 (vol, iii., p. 306).

34: In the notes to his Italian version of the letters.

35: _Lettres de Francesco Nelli à Pétrarque_, publiées par Henry
Cochin, Paris, 1892.

36: In _Le Lettere di Boccaccio_, edited by Corazzini, Florence, 1877.

37: In the _Epistolario di Cola di Rienzo_, edited by Gabrielli, Rome,

38: In Mehus's _Vita Ambrosii_, p. 191. Translated into Italian by
Fracassetti, _Let. delle Cos. Fam_., iv., 85 _sq_.

39: These were formerly attributed to Petrarch, and are printed in the
Venetian edition of his letters (1503). See Fracassetti, _Let. delle
Cos. Fam_., ii., 439 _sqq_.

40: In the _Epistolarium de Coluccio Salutati_, edited by Novati, vol.



      Quotidie epistolas, quotidie carmina omnis in caput hoc
      nostri orbis angulus pluit;... jam nec Gallis modo,
      sed Graiis et Teutonis et Britannis tempestatibus
      litterarum pulsor, omnium ingeniorum arbiter, mei ipsius
      ignarus.--_Fam_., xiii., 7.

The following letters have been selected with a view to illustrating
Petrarch's attitude toward the Italian language and literature, his
estimate of the other writers of his time, especially Dante and
Boccaccio, and, in general, his literary ideals, and habits of work.
An effort has been made to secure some continuity by the arrangement
of the matter and the accompanying explanations, but any strictly
logical presentation is precluded by the miscellaneous contents of the
letters themselves. The reader is left, in most cases, to make his own
deductions from Petrarch's words, but a brief excursus is added here
and there, with the hope of emphasising some of the more important

The first two letters would indicate that there was a wide-spread
interest in literature during the fourteenth century, and that Petrarch
was looked upon as the highest tribunal before which the aspirant could
lay his work. Few of his letters are more instructive or are written
in a lighter and more felicitous tone than the one which follows.

_Petrarch's Passion for Work--The Trials of a Man of Letters_

_To the Abbot of St. Benigno_[1]

Strangely enough I long to write, but do not know what or to whom.
This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and
paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking
than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and
languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it
seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour. My mind is
hard as rock, and you might well think that it really sprang from one
of Deucalion's stones. Let this tireless spirit pore eagerly over
the parchment, until it has exhausted both fingers and eyes by the
long strain, yet it feels neither heat nor cold, but would seem to be
reclining upon the softest down. It is only fearful that it may be
dragged away, and holds fast the mutinous members. Only when sheer
necessity has compelled it to quit does it begin to flag. It takes a
recess as a lazy ass takes his pack when he is ordered up a sharp hill,
and comes back again to its task as a tired ass to his well-filled
manger. My mind finds itself refreshed by prolonged exercise, as the
beast of burden by his food and rest. What then am I to do, since I
cannot stop writing, or bear even the thought of rest? I write to you,
not because what I have to say touches you nearly, but because there
is no one so accessible just now who is at the same time so eager for
news, especially about me, and so intelligently interested in strange
and mysterious phenomena, and ready to investigate them.

I have just told you something of my condition and of my indefatigable
brain, but I will tell you now an incident which may surprise you even
more, and will at the same time prove the truth of what I have said.
It happened at a time when, after a long period of neglect, I had just
taken up my _Africa_ again, and that with an ardour like that of the
African sun itself. This is the task which, if anything will help me,
I trust may some time moderate or assuage my insatiable thirst for
work. One of my very dearest friends, seeing that I was almost done for
with my immoderate toil, suddenly asked me to grant him a very simple
favour. Although I was unaware of the nature of his request, I could
not refuse one who I knew would ask nothing except in the friendliest
spirit. He thereupon demanded the key of my cabinet. I gave it to him,
wondering what he would do, when he proceeded to gather together and
lock up carefully all my books and writing materials. Then, turning
away, he prescribed ten days of rest, and ordered me, in view of my
promise, neither to read nor write during that time. I saw his trick;
to him I now seemed to be resting, although in reality I felt as if I
were bound hand and foot. That day passed wearily, seeming as long
as a year. The next day I had a headache from morning till night. The
third day dawned and I began to feel the first signs of fever, when my
friend returned, and seeing my plight gave me back the keys. I quickly
recovered, and perceiving that I lived on work, as he expressed it, he
never repeated his request.

Is it then true that this disease of writing, like other malignant
disorders, is, as the Satirist claims, incurable, and, as I begin
to fear, contagious as well? How many, do you reckon, have caught
it from me? Within our memory, it was rare enough for people to
write verses.[2] But now there is no one who does not write them;
few indeed write anything else. Some think that the fault, so far as
our contemporaries are concerned, is largely mine. I have heard this
from many, but I solemnly declare, as I hope some time to be granted
immunity from the other ills of the soul--for I look for none from
this--that I am now at last suddenly awakened for the first time by
warning signs to a consciousness that this may perhaps be true; while
intent only upon my own welfare, I may have been unwittingly injuring,
at the same time, myself and others. I fear that the reproaches of an
aged father, who unexpectedly came to me, with a long face and almost
in tears, may not be without foundation. "While I," he said, "have
always honoured your name, see the return you make in compassing the
ruin of my only son!" I stood for a time in embarrassed silence, for
the age of the man and the expression of his face, which told of great
sorrow, went to my heart. Then, recovering myself, I replied, as was
quite true, that I was unacquainted either with him or his son. "What
matters it," the old man answered, "whether you know him or not? He
certainly knows you. I have spent a great deal in providing instruction
for him in the civil law, but he declares that he wishes to follow in
your footsteps. My fondest hopes have been disappointed, and I presume
that he will never be either a lawyer or a poet." At this neither I
nor the others present could refrain from laughter, and he went off
none the better humoured. But now I recognise that this merriment was
ill-timed, and that the poor old man deserved our consolation, for his
complaints and his reproaches were not ungrounded. Our sons formerly
employed themselves in preparing such papers as might be useful to
themselves or their friends, relating to family affairs, business,
or the wordy din of the courts. Now we are all engaged in the same
occupation, and it is literally true, as Horace says, "learned or
unlearned, we are all writing verses alike."

It is after all but a poor consolation to have companions in misery.
I should prefer to be ill by myself. Now I am involved in others'
ill-fortune as well as in my own, and am hardly given time to take
breath. For every day letters and poems from every corner of our land
come showering down upon my devoted head. Nor does this satisfy my
foreign friends. I am overwhelmed by floods of missives, no longer
from France alone, but from Greece, from Germany, from England. I am
unable to judge even my own work, and yet I am called upon to be the
universal critic of others! Were I to answer the requests in detail, I
should be the busiest of mortals. If I condemn the composition, I am a
jealous carper at the good work of others; if I say a good word for the
thing, it is attributed to a mendacious desire to be agreeable; if I
keep silence altogether, it is because I am a rude, pert fellow. They
are afraid, I infer, that my disease will not make way with me promptly
enough. Between their goading and my own madness I shall doubtless
gratify their wishes.

But all this would be nothing if, incredible as it may seem, this
subtle poison had not just now begun to show its effects in the Roman
Curia itself. What do you think the lawyers and doctors are up to?
Justinian and Æsculapius have palled upon them. The sick and the
litigious cry in vain for their help, for they are deafened by the
thunder of Homer's and Virgil's names, and wander oblivious in the
woody valleys of Cirrha, by the purling waters of the Aonian fountain.
But it is hardly necessary to speak of these lesser prodigies. Even
carpenters, fullers, and ploughmen leave the implements of their
calling to talk of Apollo and the Muses. I cannot say how far the
plague, which lately was confined to a few, has now spread.

If you would find an explanation for all this, you must recollect that
although the delights of poetry are most exquisite, they can be fully
understood only by the rarest geniuses, who are careless of wealth
and possess a marked contempt for the things of this world, and who
are by nature especially endowed with a peculiar elevation and freedom
of soul.[3] Consequently, as experience and the authority of the most
learned writers agree, in no branch of art can mere industry and
application accomplish so little. Hence--and you may find it comical
although it disgusts me--all the poets are nowadays to be found on the
street corner, and we can descry scarcely one on Helicon itself. They
are all nibbling at the Pierian honeycomb, but no one can manage to
digest it. How delightful indeed must this gift be to those who really
possess it, when it can exercise such a fascination over sluggish
minds, and in our vain and degenerate age can induce even the most
avaricious to leave the pursuit of gain! On one thing, at least, our
country may be congratulated: in spite of all the tares and sterile
stalks which cumber the earth, some signs of true youthful genius are
to be discovered. Some, if I am not misled by my hopes, will not drink
in vain of the Castalian spring.--I felicitate thee, Mantua, beloved of
the Muses, thee, Padua, thee, Verona, thee, Cimbria,[4] thee, Sulmo,
and thee, Parthenope, home of Maro, when I see elsewhere the thirsty
herd of upstart poetasters wandering drearily among uncertain byways!

It pricks my conscience that I should be responsible in great part for
fostering all these forms of literary madness, and should have misled
others through my example,--by no means the least of offences. I fear
lest those laurel leaves, which in my eagerness I tore prematurely
from the branch, may in a way be answerable for the trouble. While, as
many believe, they have been the means of bringing true dreams to me,
they have caused in others a multitude of delusive visions, which were
allowed to escape while all the world was asleep, through the ivory
gates, into the autumnal air. But never mind, I suffer for my sins,
for I am in a rage if I stay at home, and yet hardly dare nowadays to
venture into the street. If I do, wild fellows rush up from every side
and seize upon me, asking advice, giving me suggestions, disputing and
fighting among themselves. They discover meanings in the poets of which
the Mantuan shepherd, or the old blind man of Mœonia never dreamed. I
become more and more irritated, and at last begin to fear that I may be
dragged off before a magistrate for breaking the peace.

But how I am running on! I have spun a whole letter out of mere
trifles....[5] I have just arrived here,[6] and will await you as
long as I possibly can. I know not whether it be that the air here
renders the mind less susceptible to foreign impressions, or whether
this "closed valley" does, as its name indicates, shut out alien
preoccupations, but certain it is that, although I have from my
earliest manhood spent many years here, none of the inhabitants have
yet become poets through contagious contact with me, with the sole
exception of one of my farm-hands. Although advanced in years he, as
Persius hath it, is beginning to dream on the two-peaked Parnassus.
If the disease spreads I am undone. Shepherds, fishermen, hunters,
ploughboys,--all would be carried away, even the cows would low in
numbers and ruminate sonnets. Do not forget me. Farewell.


_The Visit to the Goldsmith at Bergamo_

_To Neri Morando_[7]

Enough has been said of my own trifling experiences, and the story of
the wound inflicted upon me by Cicero has reached an unconscionable
length.[8] But I will add another incident to prove that Cicero is not
the only one who enjoyed the affection of those who had never seen him.
Although an old story to you, it may nevertheless arouse new interest
when you hear it again.

From here I have always in sight a certain Alpine town, the Italian
Pergamum,[9] to distinguish it from an Asiatic city of the same name,
which, as you know, was once the capital of Attalus, who bequeathed
his possessions to Rome. In our Pergamum there lives a certain man,
who, while he has but a slight knowledge of literature, possesses a
good mind,--had he earlier applied himself to study. By profession he
is a goldsmith, remarkably successful in the practice of his art; he
enjoys moreover the best gift that nature can bestow, for he is an
admirer and lover of all that is good and beautiful. The gold in which
he works, and other forms of worldly wealth, appeal to him only in so
far as they are means to higher ends. This old man, having heard of me
by reputation, was immediately seized with a most ardent desire to win
my friendship.

It would be a long story were I to recount all the devices he used in
order to gratify this modest wish. By constant, courteous attentions
and compliments to me and to those about me, he at last succeeded in
his ardent efforts to bridge the chasm between us. While I had never
seen him before, I knew his name and object, indeed his longing was
plainly depicted in his face and expression. No one surely would have
been so rude and surly as to refuse to see him under the circumstances.
How could I have done otherwise? I was completely vanquished by the
man's attractive countenance and his sincere and persistent attentions,
and received him with hearty and unreserved good-will; indeed, it would
have been inhuman to have rejected such proofs of genuine affection.
His exultation and pride were at once obvious in every accent and
gesture. He seemed to have reached the very summit of his fondest
hopes and to be metamorphosed by his joy.

He began long ago to spend no small part of his patrimony in my honour.
In every corner of his house he placed the arms, name, and portrait
of his new friend, whose face was even more deeply graven in his
heart. Another portion of his wealth he devoted to procuring copies of
anything of mine which he could get hold of, no matter what might be
its character. I could not be very hard-hearted when it came to letting
so enthusiastic and novel a collector have what I certainly would have
denied a man of more consequence. He moreover gradually weaned himself
from his previous life, habits, and interests, and so completely
altered his whole former self as to be a source of utter astonishment
to his friends.

In one matter, however, he refused to be guided by me, and, in spite
of my opposition and frequent admonitions that he should not, at so
late a day, exchange his customary vocations for a life of study, he
finally left his shop and began to frequent the schools and cultivate
teachers of the liberal arts. He took the greatest delight in his new
life and was extremely sanguine as to the results. I cannot say how
he actually got along, but he certainly merited the highest degree
of success in his fond undertaking. No one could have shown greater
ardour in a good cause, or more contempt for the less worthy objects of
desire. He was at least equipped with a good mind and great enthusiasm,
and could find plenty of teachers in his city. His age seemed to be
the only obstacle, although I well know that Plato took up the study
of philosophy late in life, and Cato made no little progress in Greek
literature when he was already an old man. Perhaps it is but right that
this man should for this very reason find a niche in some of my works.
So I will add that he is called Henry, his surname being Capra,[10] a
most energetic and lively animal, fond of leaves and always climbing
upwards. For these reasons Varro believes that the name is, by a
transposition of letters, derived from this animal's tendency to
_nibble_ twigs, and certainly _carpa_ and _capra_ are not very unlike.
If anyone ever deserved the name it is our friend, who, if he had got
at the woods in the morning would have returned with a full paunch and
plenty of milk. All this you yourself have heard often enough, but I
tell it for the benefit of others.[11] The rest of my story you do not
yet know.

This fellow, whose character and devotion to me I have so carefully
portrayed, had long been urging me to honour him and his lares with
a visit, and by a sojourn of at least a single day to render him, as
he put it, happy and renowned to all future generations. I continued,
however, not without difficulty, to postpone his desire for several
years. But at last, influenced by the nearness of the place, and
overcome not only by prayers but by objurations and tears, I consented
to accompany him, in spite of the objections of my more haughty
friends, to whom he seemed unworthy of the honour.

I reached Bergamo on the evening of October thirteenth. My host had
accompanied me the whole of the way, and, in constant fear lest I might
perhaps change my mind, he and those with him exerted all their powers
of invention to discover topics of conversation which might make the
way less wearisome. Thus we traversed a short and easy road without
fatigue. A few gentlemen had accompanied me with the special purpose of
finding out what this enthusiastic person might have in store.

Well, when we approached the town I was cordially received by friends
who had come out to meet me. They, with the Podestà, the Captain of
the People, and other local magistrates, vied with each other in
urging me to put up at the palazzo or at some gentleman's house. All
this time my poor goldsmith was trembling for fear I might give in
to such insistence. But I did what I believed to be proper under the
circumstances, and alighted with my companions at the house of my more
humble friend. There I was received with great pomp, and sat down
to a kingly banquet rather than to the good cheer of an artisan or
philosopher. My couch of purple was spread in a room glittering with
gold, where, as my host swore by all that was holy, no one else had
ever slept or ever would sleep. The books I found were not technical,
but such as would be dear to a student and a lover of good literature.
Here I passed the night. Certainly no one ever enjoyed the hospitality
of so delighted a host. In fact his delight was so great that his
friends began to fear for his sanity, or lest, as has happened to not a
few, he should actually die of joy.

The next day I departed, loaded with honours and surrounded by a great
crowd. The Podestà and many others whose society I did not care for
accompanied me much farther on my way than was agreeable. It was late
before I had finally shaken off my fervid host and was again at my
country place.

You have now heard, good Neri, what I had in mind to tell you, and this
nocturnal epistle must come to an end,--for my anxiety to get my letter
done has kept me writing straight on until nearly dawn. I am weary now
and the morning quiet invites me to enjoy the best part of the night
for slumber. Farewell, remember your friend.

Written with a rural pen, just before light, on October 15.

       *       *       *       *       *

The three following letters furnish a very clear expression of
Petrarch's feelings towards the Italian language and his great
collaborators in its formation, Dante and Boccaccio.

Grieved by a certain indifference which his friend exhibited towards
Dante, Boccaccio, soon after his return from a visit to Petrarch, sent
him a copy of the _Divine Comedy_.[12] Accompanying the volume was a
Latin poem, in which he requested that Petrarch read the work of his
distinguished fellow-citizen and place it among his other books.[13]

The letter that Petrarch wrote in acknowledgment of the gift is one of
the most important in his correspondence. Strangely enough, there are
but two in all the vast collection of prose letters in which he makes
any allusions to Dante, and then never by name. In one of his lesser
works he narrates one or two anecdotes of Dante's brusqueness towards
the despots whose hospitality he enjoyed.[14] It is nevertheless
probably unfair to accuse Petrarch of jealousy. In the first place,
the assumption that he had never read the _Divine Comedy_ is hardly
justifiable. It is true that he did not possess a copy of the work, and
that Boccaccio urged him to read and cherish it. But he must assuredly
have been acquainted with the writings of an author whom he declared to
be without question the greatest master of the vernacular. The reader
can, however, reach his own conclusions, as all the data which we have
are given below. He should remember that Petrarch was placed in a
trying position. It is impossible to appear wholly unconstrained and
natural when one is meeting the charge of jealousy towards a popular
contemporary. Then, a scholar or an author may not be completely or
enthusiastically in sympathy with some of his fellow-workers to whom he
would nevertheless accord a very high rank. We may safely infer that
Petrarch was not drawn towards Dante, although he frankly acknowledged
his greatness. The two men had much in common, their Christian humanism
for example,[15] but Dante's devotion to mediæval theology and science
must have repelled the younger poet, whose studies were exclusively
literary, including perhaps moral philosophy and history, but utterly
foreign to the lucubrations of Peter Lombard or Thomas Aquinas. An able
Italian critic[16] has suggested that we may find an analogy between
Petrarch's attitude toward Dante, and that of Erasmus toward Luther, or
Voltaire's toward Rousseau. Once, when but eight years old, he had seen
the dark, emaciated poet of the Ghibellines. The harsh manner and the
haughty profile of the man may, as Carducci says, have impressed the
rosy youngster with fear and created a feeling of dislike which he did
not entirely outgrow.

The second letter to Boccaccio upon the Italian poets was written
some five years after the one of which we have been speaking, and
a difference in the tone of the references to Dante is perhaps
perceptible. The _Trionfi_, the latest of Petrarch's Italian poems,
somewhat resemble in style the _Divine Comedy_, and were perhaps
written partly with the aim of showing that he could rise to the same
high strain.

Petrarch entertained much less regard for the vulgar tongue than
Dante and Boccaccio, because more completely engrossed by the
strength of the Latin. To him "prose and verse," as we shall see,
meant compositions in Latin, which was alone adapted to the highest
purposes of expression. From his scornful treatment of the Italian
language the reader will naturally turn to the first book of Dante's
_Convito_,[17] or to his little treatise, _The Vernacular_ (_De Vulgari
Eloquio_), where the advantages and weaknesses of the mother tongue are
sympathetically discussed.

_Petrarch Disclaims all Jealousy of Dante_

_To Boccaccio_[18]

There are many things in your letter which do not require any answer;
those, for example, which we have lately settled face to face. Two
points there were, however, which it seemed to me should not be passed
over in silence, and I will briefly write down such reflections
concerning them as may occur to me. In the first place, you excuse
yourself with some heat for seeming to praise unduly a certain poet,
a fellow-citizen of ours, who in point of style is very popular, and
who has certainly chosen a noble theme. You beg my pardon for this,
as if I regarded anything said in his, or anyone else's praise, as
detracting from my own. You assert, for instance, that if I will only
look closely at what you say of him, I shall find that it all reflects
glory upon me. You take pains to explain, in extenuation of your
favourable attitude towards him, that he was your first light and guide
in your early studies. Your praise is certainly only a just and dutiful
acknowledgment of his services, an expression of what I may call filial
piety. If we owe all to those who begot and brought us forth, and much
to those who are the authors of our fortunes, what shall we say of our
debt to the parents and fashioners of our minds? How much more, indeed,
is due to those who refine the mind than to those who tend the body, he
will perceive who assigns to each its just value; for the one, it will
be seen, is an immortal gift, the other, corruptible and destined to
pass away.

Continue, then, not by my sufferance simply, but with my approbation,
to extol and cherish this poet, the guiding star of your intellect,
who has afforded you courage and light in the arduous way by which you
are pressing stoutly on towards a most glorious goal. He has long been
buffeted and wearied by the windy plaudits of the multitude. Honour
him now and exalt him by sincere praise worthy alike of you and of
him, and, you may be sure, not unpleasing to me. He is worthy of such
a herald, while you, as you say, are the natural one to assume the
office. I therefore accept your song of praise with all my heart, and
join with you in extolling the poet you celebrate therein.[19]

Hence there was nothing in your letter of explanation to disturb me
except the discovery that I am still so ill understood by you who, as
I firmly believed, knew me thoroughly. You think, then, that I do not
take pleasure in the praises of illustrious men and glory in them?
Believe me, nothing is more foreign to me than jealousy; there is no
scourge of which I know less. On the contrary, in order that you may
see how far I am from such feelings, I call upon Him before whom all
hearts are open to witness that few things in life have caused me more
pain than to see the meritorious passed by, utterly without recognition
or reward. Not that I am deploring my own lot, or looking for personal
gain; I am mourning the common fate of mankind, as I behold the reward
of the nobler arts falling to the meaner. I am not unaware that
although the reputation which attaches to right conduct may stimulate
the mind to deserve it, true virtue is, as the philosophers say, a
stimulus to itself; it is its own reward, its own guide, its own end
and aim. Nevertheless, now that you have yourself suggested a theme
which I should not voluntarily have chosen, I shall proceed to refute
for you, and through you for others, the commonly accepted notion of my
judgment of this poet. It is not only false, as Quintilian says of the
construction put upon his criticism of Seneca,[20] but it is insidious
and, with many, out-and-out malevolent. My enemies say that I hate
and despise him, and in this way stir up the common herd against me,
for with them he is extremely popular. This is indeed a novel kind of
perversity, and shows a marvellous aptitude for harming others. But
truth herself shall defend me.

In the first place, there can be no possible cause for ill-will
towards a man whom I never saw but once, and that in my very earliest
childhood. He lived with my grandfather and my father,[21] being
younger than the former, but older than my father, with whom, on the
same day and by the same civil commotion, he was driven from his
country into exile. At such a time strong friendships are often formed
between companions in misery. This proved especially true of these
two men, since in their case not only a similar fate but a community
of taste and a love for the same studies, served to bring them
together. My father, however, forced by other cares and by regard for
his family, succumbed to the natural influences of exile, while his
friend resisted, throwing himself, indeed, with even greater ardour
into what he had undertaken, neglecting everything else and desirous
alone of future fame. In this I can scarce admire and praise him
enough,--that neither the injustice of his fellow-citizens, nor exile,
nor poverty, nor the attacks of his enemies, neither the love of wife,
nor solicitude for his children, could divert him from the path he
had once decided upon, when so many who are highly endowed are yet so
weak of purpose that they are swerved from their course by the least
disturbance. And this most often happens to writers of verse, for
silence and quiet are especially requisite for those who have to care
not only for the thought and the words but the felicitous turn as well.
Thus you will see that my supposed hate for this poet, which has been
trumped up by I know not whom, is an odious and ridiculous invention,
since there is absolutely no reason for such repugnance, but, on
the contrary, every reason for partiality, on account of our common
country, his friendship with my father, his genius, and his style, the
best of its kind, which must always raise him far above contempt.

This brings us to the second reproach cast upon me, which is based
upon the fact that, although in my early years I was very eager in my
search for books of all kinds, I never possessed a copy of this poet's
work, which would naturally have attracted me most at that age. While
exceedingly anxious to obtain other books which I had little hope of
finding, I showed a strange indifference, quite foreign to me, towards
this one, although it was readily procurable. The fact I admit, but I
deny the motives which are urged by my enemies. At that time I too was
devoting my powers to compositions in the vernacular; I was convinced
that nothing could be finer, and had not yet learned to look higher.
I feared, however, in view of the impressionableness of youth and its
readiness to admire everything, that, if I should imbue myself with his
or any other writer's verses, I might perhaps unconsciously and against
my will come to be an imitator. In the ardour of youth this thought
filled me with aversion. Such was my self-confidence and enthusiasm
that I deemed my own powers quite sufficient, without any mortal aid,
to produce an original style all my own, in the species of production
upon which I was engaged. It is for others to judge whether I was right
in this. But I must add that if anything should be discovered in my
Italian writings resembling, or even identical with, what has been
said by him or others, it cannot be attributed to secret or conscious
imitation. This rock I have always endeavoured to avoid, especially in
my writings in the vernacular, although it is possible that, either
by accident or, as Cicero says, owing to similar ways of thinking, I
may ignorantly have traversed the same path as others.[22] If you ever
believe me, believe me now; accept this as the real explanation of
my conduct. Nothing can be more strictly true; and if my modesty and
sense of propriety did not seem to you sufficient to vouch for this, my
youthful pride at any rate certainly might have explained it.

To-day, however, I have left these anxieties far behind, and,
having done so, I am freed from my former apprehension, and can now
unreservedly admire other writers, him above all. At that time I was
submitting work of my own to the verdict of others, whereas now I am
merely passing my own silent verdicts upon my fellows. I find that
my opinion varies as regards all the rest, but in his case there can
be no room for doubt; without hesitation I yield him the palm for
skill in the use of the vulgar tongue. They lie, then, who assert
that I carp at his renown; I, who probably understand better than the
majority of these foolish and immoderate admirers of his what it is
that merely tickles their ears, without their knowing why, but cannot
penetrate their thick heads, because the avenues of intelligence are
obstructed. They belong to the same class that Cicero brands in his
_Rhetoric_, who "read fine orations or beautiful poems, and praise
the orators or poets, and yet do not know what it is that has aroused
their admiration, for they lack the ability to see where the thing is
that most pleases them, or what it is, or how it is produced." If this
happens with Demosthenes and Cicero, Homer and Virgil, among learned
men and in the schools, how will it fare with our poet among the rude
fellows who frequent the taverns and public squares?

As for me, far from scorning his work, I admire and love him, and in
justice to myself I may venture to add that if he had been permitted to
live until this time he would have found few friends more devoted to
him than myself, provided, of course, that I had found his character as
attractive as his genius. On the other hand, there are none to whom
he would have been more obnoxious than these same silly admirers, who,
in general, know equally little about what they praise and what they
condemn, and who so mispronounce and lacerate his verses that they do
him the greatest injury that a poet can suffer. I might even strive to
the best of my powers to rescue him from this abuse, did not my own
productions give me enough to think about. As it is, I can only give
voice to my irritation, when I hear the common herd befouling with
their stupid mouths the noble beauty of his lines.

Just here it may not be out of place to say that this was not the least
of the considerations which led me to give up a style of composition
to which I devoted myself in my early years. I feared for my writings
the same fate which I had seen overtake those of others, especially
those of the poet of whom we are speaking. I could not in my own
case look for more musical tongues or more flexible minds among the
common people than I noted in the rendering of those authors whom long
favour and habit have made popular in the theatres and public squares.
That my apprehensions were not idle is clear from the fact that I am
continually tortured by the tongues of the people, as they sing the few
productions which I allowed to escape me in my youth. I indignantly
reject and hate what I once loved; and day by day walk the streets with
vexation and execrate my own talents. Everywhere a crowd of ignorant
fellows, everywhere I find my Damœtas ready at the street corner "to
murder with his screeching reed" my poor song.

However, I have already said more than enough concerning a trifling
matter which I ought not to have taken so seriously, for this hour,
which will never return, should have been devoted to other things.
And yet your excuse did seem to me to have just a little in common
with the accusations of these critics, some of whom are constantly
asserting that I hate, some that I despise, this person,--whose name I
have intentionally refrained to-day from mentioning, lest the mob, who
catch up everything without understanding it, should cry out that I was
defaming it. Others again claim that I am actuated by envy;--men who
are jealous of me and my fame; for, although I scarcely am an object
for envy, I yet have noticed late in life that there are those who
entertain this feeling towards me, a thing that at one time I could
not have believed possible. In answer to this charge of envy brought
against me, I might reply that, many years ago, in the ardour of
youth, and with an approving conscience, I ventured to assert, not in
any ordinary manner, but in a poem addressed to a certain illustrious
personage, that I envied no man.[23] Suppose, though, that I am not
worthy of belief. Still, even then, what probability is there that
I should be jealous of a writer who devoted his whole life to those
things which with me were but the flower and first-fruits of my youth.
What to him was, if not his only occupation, certainly the supreme
object of his life, to me was mere sport, a pastime, the first essay of
my powers.[24]

What occasion is there here for rancour? What ground is there for even
a suspicion of jealousy? When you say, in praising him, that he might
have devoted himself to another kind of composition, had he wished, I
heartily agree with you. I have the highest opinion of his ability,
for it is obvious from what he has done that he would have succeeded
in anything he might have chosen to undertake. But suppose that he had
turned his powers in another direction, and successfully--what then?
What would there be in that to make me jealous? Why should it not
rather be a source of satisfaction to me? Who indeed could excite envy
in me, who do not envy even Virgil?--unless perhaps I should be jealous
of the hoarse applause which our poet enjoys from the tavern-keepers,
fullers, butchers, and others of that class, who dishonour those whom
they would praise. But, far from desiring such popular recognition,
I congratulate myself, on the contrary, that, along with Virgil and
Homer, I am free from it, inasmuch as I fully realise how little the
plaudits of the unschooled multitude weigh with scholars. Should it
be suggested that the citizen of Mantua is, when all is said, dearer
to me than my fellow-citizen of Florence, I must urge that, although
I will not deny that jealousy does flourish most rankly between
neighbours, the mere fact of common origin cannot by itself justify
such an inference. Indeed the simple fact of our belonging to different
generations would make this latter supposition absurd, for as one has
elegantly said, who never speaks otherwise than elegantly, "The dead
are neither hated nor envied."

You will accept my solemn affirmation that I delight in both the
thought and style of our poet, nor do I ever refer to him except with
the greatest admiration. It is true that I have sometimes said to
those who wished to know precisely what I thought, that his style was
unequal, for he rises to a higher plane of excellence in the vernacular
than in poetry and prose.[25] But you will not deny this, nor will it,
if rightly understood, carry with it any disparagement of his fame and
glory. Who, indeed--I will not say at the present time, when eloquence
has so long been mourned as dead, but at the time when it flourished
most--who, I say, ever excelled in all its various branches? Witness
Seneca's _Declamations!_[26] No one dreams of attributing inexhaustible
versatility even to Cicero, Virgil, Sallust, or Plato. Who would lay
claim to a degree of praise which must be denied even to such genius?
It is enough to have excelled in one kind of composition. This being
true, let those be silent who attempt to twist my words into calumnies,
and let those who have believed my calumniators read here, if they
will, my opinion of them.

Having disposed thus of one matter which has been troubling me, I come
now to a second. You thank me for my solicitude for your health. While
you do this from courtesy, and in accordance with conventional usage,
you well know that such acknowledgment is quite unnecessary. For who is
ever thanked for his interest in himself, or his own affairs? and you,
dear friend, are part and parcel of myself.

Although, next to virtue, friendship is the most sacred, the most
God-like and divine thing in human intercourse, yet I think that it
makes a difference whether one begins by loving or by being loved,
and that those friendships should be more carefully fostered where
we return love for love than where we simply receive it. I have been
overwhelmed in a thousand instances by your kindness and friendly
offices, but among them all there is one that I can never forget.

In days gone by, I was hurrying across central Italy in mid-winter;
you hastened to greet me, not only with affectionate longings, which
are the wings of the soul, but in person, impelled by a wondrous
desire to behold one whom you had never yet seen,[27] but whom you
were nevertheless resolved to love. You had sent before you a piece
of beautiful verse, thus showing me first the aspect of your genius,
and then of your person. It was evening, and the light was fading,
when, returning from my long exile,[28] I found myself at last within
my native walls. You welcomed me with a courtesy and respect greater
than I merited, recalling the poetic meeting of Anchises and the King
of Arcadia, who, "in the ardour of youth, longed to speak with the
hero and to press his hand."[29] Although I did not, like him, stand
"above all others," but rather beneath, your zeal was none the less
ardent. You introduced me, not within the walls of Pheneus, but into
the sacred penetralia of your friendship. Nor did I present you with
"a superb quiver and arrows of Lycia," but rather with my sincere and
unchangeable affection. While acknowledging my inferiority in many
respects, I will never willingly concede it in this, either to Nisus,
or to Pythias, or to Lælius. Farewell.

1: _Fam_., xiii., 7. This is the only letter that is preserved of
Petrarch to this person.

2: _Hæc_, here used, we may safely infer, means verses.

3: _I.e._, a soul able to free itself from the influence of the mere
word and perceive the hidden allegorical meaning which to Petrarch was
the essence of real poetry. See below, p. 233 _sqq_. (Such remarks,
which are not infrequent,...)

4: This name is perhaps incorrect, owing to some error in the MSS.
upon which Fracassetti based his edition.

5: About a page is omitted here relating to some lucrative or
honourable appointment which Petrarch's friends were anxious to obtain
for him.

6: _I.e._ at Vaucluse.

7: _Fam_., xxi., 11. The events here narrated probably occurred in

8: Petrarch had just finished one letter to Morando, in which he had
told him of a wound received on the heel from a great copy of Cicero's
works, which had fallen down and struck him.

9: Bergamo.

10: Namely, she-goat.

11: ... sed noscenda aliis dicta sint. Petrarch always wished his
letters to be complete even at the risk of repetition. We have here a
frank confession that he was not writing for the benefit of the friend
alone to whom the letter was addressed. Fracassetti has perversely
translated this passage, _odi adesso quel che ancora non sai._

12: A MS. of the _Divine Comedy_ in the Vatican has, it would appear,
been at last satisfactorily proven to be the very one which Boccaccio
sent. See Pakscher's scholarly paper in _Zeitschrift für romanische
Philologie_, vol. x., p. 226 _sqq_. De Nolhac has reached the same
conclusion; _cf. La Bibliothèque de Fulvio Orsini_, p. 304.

13: The little poem closes with the lines:

    "Hunc oro, mi care nimis spesque unica nostrûm,
    .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
    Concivem doctumque satis pariterque poetam
    Suscipe, junge tuis, lauda, cole, perlege. Nam si
    Feceris hoc, magnis, et te decorabis et illum
    Laudibus, O nostræ eximium decus urbis et orbis."

Corazzini, _Le Lettere di Boccaccio_, p. 54. Also in Fracassetti's
_Let. delle Cos. Fam_., iv., pp. 399, 400.

14: "Rerum Memorandum," _Opera_, p. 427. The misprints in the Basle
editions give the anecdotes an ill-natured turn which Petrarch did
not intend. The opening of the passage should read: _Dante Algherius
et ipse concivus nuper meus, vir vulgari eloquio clarissimus fuit sed
moribus parumper contumacior_ [the Basle editions have _parum per
contumaciam_] _et oratione liberior quam delicatis et fastidiosis
ætatis nostræ principum auribus atque oculis acceptum fuit,_ etc. See
Hortis, _Studi sulle Opere Latine del Boccaccio_, Trieste, 1879, p. 303.

15: See the close of the fourth canto of the "Inferno," and especially
the _Convito_, iv., ch. 4.

16: Carducci, _Studi Letterari_, 2d ed., p. 334.

17: The best edition is that of Dr. Moore (Clarendon Press, Oxford).

18: _Fam_., xxi., 15 (probably written in 1359).

19: This refers to the poem, spoken of above, with which Boccaccio
accompanied his copy of Dante.

20: Quintilian's strictures on Seneca's style had given rise to the
opinion that he not only disapproved of Seneca's works, but hated him
personally. He refutes (_Institutes_, x., i) that "vulgatam falso de me
opinionem, qua damnare eum [sc. Senecam] et invisum quoque habere sum
creditus." This naturally seemed to Petrarch a very exact analogy to
the charges of jealousy brought against him.

21: Cum avo patreque meo vixit. The reader is left to conjecture how
intimate Dante and Petracco may have been when they lived together in
Florence. Petrarch, in a reference to his father in _Sen_., x., 2,
would lead us to infer that he was born about 1252, twelve or thirteen
years before Dante. There seems to be no means of deciding whether that
statement or the one given in this letter, which makes Dante the older,
is nearer the truth.

22: This matter of plagiarism is a subject to which Petrarch often
reverts in his letters. He realised the difficulty of producing
anything essentially new after the great works of classical antiquity.

23: This is probably a reference, as M. Develay suggests, to a
metrical epistle addressed to Giacomo Colonna, the Bishop of Lombez, in
which the following lines occur:

    _Nil usquam invideo, nullum ferventius odi,_
    _Nullum despicio nisi me...._

24: Namely, literary productions in the Italian tongue.

25: Quod in vulgari eloquio, quam in carminibus aut prosa clarior
atque altior assurgit. The literal form is retained in the rendering
above, as Petrarch's very language is significant of his contempt for
the Italian. Prose and verse could only be Latin.

26: The work here referred to, which Petrarch supposed to be an
inferior production of Seneca the Philosopher, is now attributed to his
father, the Rhetor, of whose existence Petrarch was unaware.

27: This would seem sufficient proof that Petrarch and Boccaccio first
met on this occasion of Petrarch's visit to Florence.

28: Petrarch had never been in Florence before, although reckoned
as a Florentine. He uses here the phrase _longo postliminio
redeuntem_,--referring to the right in the Roman law to return home and
resume one's former rank and privileges--a reminiscence possibly of the
law school.

29: _Cf_. the _Æneid_, viii., 162 _sqq_., for this and the succeeding

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Story of Griselda_

_To Boccaccio_[1]

Your book, written in our mother tongue and published, I presume,
during your early years, has fallen into my hands, I know not whence
or how. If I told you that I had read it, I should deceive you. It
is a very big volume, written in prose and for the multitude. I have
been, moreover, occupied with more serious business, and much pressed
for time. You can easily imagine the unrest caused by the warlike stir
about me, for, far as I have been from actual participation in the
disturbances, I could not but be affected by the critical condition of
the state. What I did was to run through your book, like a traveller
who, while hastening forward, looks about him here and there, without
pausing. I have heard somewhere that your volume was attacked by the
teeth of certain hounds, but that you defended it valiantly with staff
and voice. This did not surprise me, for not only do I well know your
ability, but I have learned from experience of the existence of an
insolent and cowardly class who attack in the work of others everything
which they do not happen to fancy or be familiar with, or which they
cannot themselves accomplish. Their insight and capabilities extend no
farther; on all other themes they are silent.

My hasty perusal afforded me much pleasure. If the humour is a little
too free at times, this may be excused in view of the age at which you
wrote, the style and language which you employ, and the frivolity of
the subjects, and of the persons who are likely to read such tales. It
is important to know for whom we are writing, and a difference in the
character of one's listeners justifies a difference in style. Along
with much that was light and amusing, I discovered some serious and
edifying things as well, but I can pass no definite judgment upon them,
since I have not examined the work thoroughly.

As usual, when one looks hastily through a book, I read somewhat more
carefully at the beginning and at the end. At the beginning you have,
it seeing to me, accurately described and eloquently lamented the
condition of our country during that siege of pestilence which forms
so dark and melancholy a period in our century. At the close you have
placed a story which differs entirely from most that precede it, and
which so delighted and fascinated me that, in spite of cares which
made me almost oblivious of myself, I was seized with a desire to
learn it by heart, so that I might have the pleasure of recalling it
for my own benefit, and of relating it to my friends in conversation.
When an opportunity for telling it offered itself shortly after, I
found that my auditors were delighted. Later it suddenly occurred to
me that others, perhaps, who were unacquainted with our tongue, might
be pleased with so charming a story, as it had delighted me ever
since I first heard it some years ago, and as you had not considered
it unworthy of presentation in the mother tongue, and had placed it,
moreover, at the end of your book, where, according to the principles
of rhetoric, the most effective part of the composition belongs. So
one fine day when, as usual, my mind was distracted by a variety of
occupations, discontented with myself and my surroundings, I suddenly
sent everything flying, and, snatching my pen, I attacked this story
of yours. I sincerely trust that it will gratify you that I have of my
own free-will undertaken to translate your work, something I should
certainly never think of doing for anyone else, but which I was induced
to do in this instance by my partiality for you and for the story.
Not neglecting the precept of Horace in his _Art of Poetry_ that the
careful translator should not attempt to render word for word, I have
told your tale in my own language, in some places changing or even
adding a few words, for I felt that you would not only permit, but
would approve, such alterations.[2]

Although many have admired and wished for my version, it seemed to me
fitting that your work should be dedicated to you rather than to anyone
else; and it is for you to judge whether I have, by this change of
dress, injured or embellished the original. The story returns whence
it came; it knows its judge, its home, and the way thither. As you and
everyone who reads this knows, it is you and not I who must render
account for what is essentially yours. If anyone asks me whether this
is all true, whether it is a history or a story, I reply in the words
of Sallust, "I refer you to the author "--to wit, my friend Giovanni.
With so much of introduction I begin....[3]

My object in thus re-writing your tale was not to induce the women
of our time to imitate the patience of this wife, which seems to
me almost beyond imitation, but to lead my readers to emulate the
example of feminine constancy, and to submit themselves to God with
the same courage as did this woman to her husband. Although, as the
Apostle James tells us, "God cannot be tempted with evil, and he
himself tempteth no man," he still may prove us, and often permits us
to be beset with many and grievous trials, not that he may know our
character, which he knew before we were created, but in order that our
weakness should be made plain to ourselves by obvious and familiar
proofs. Anyone, it seems to me, amply deserves to be reckoned among the
heroes of mankind who suffers without a murmur for God, what this poor
peasant woman bore for her mortal husband.

My affection for you has induced me to write at an advanced age what I
should hardly have undertaken even as a young man. Whether what I have
narrated be true or false I do not know, but the fact that you wrote it
would seem sufficient to justify the inference that it is but a tale.
Foreseeing this question, I have prefaced my translation with the
statement that the responsibility for the story rests with the author;
that is, with you. And now let me tell you my experiences with this
narrative, or tale, as I prefer to call it.

In the first place, I gave it to one of our mutual friends in Padua
to read, a man of excellent parts and wide attainments. When scarcely
half-way through the composition, he was suddenly arrested by a burst
of tears. When again, after a short pause, he made a manful attempt
to continue, he was again interrupted by a sob. He then realised
that he could go no farther himself, and handed the story to one of
his companions, a man of education, to finish. How others may view
this occurrence I cannot, of course, say; for myself, I put a most
favourable construction upon it, believing that I recognise the
indications of a most compassionate disposition; a more kindly nature,
indeed, I never remember to have met. As I saw him weep as he read, the
words of the Satirist came back to me:

    "Nature, who gave us tears, by that alone
    Proclaims she made the feeling heart our own;
    And 't is our noblest, sense."[4]

Some time after, another friend of ours, from Verona (for all is common
between us, even our friends), having heard of the effect produced
by the story in the first instance, wished to read it for himself.
I readily complied, as he was not only a good friend, but a man of
ability. He read the narrative from beginning to end without stopping
once. Neither his face nor his voice betrayed the least emotion, not
a tear or a sob escaped him. "I too," he said at the end, "would have
wept, for the subject certainly excites pity, and the style is well
adapted to call forth tears, and I am not hard-hearted; but I believed,
and still believe, that this is all an invention. If it were true, what
woman, whether of Rome or any other nation, could be compared with
this Griselda? Where do we find the equal of this conjugal devotion,
where such faith, such extraordinary patience and constancy?" I made no
reply to this reasoning, for I did not wish to run the risk of a bitter
debate in the midst of our good-humoured and friendly discussion.
But I had a reply ready. There are some who think that whatever is
difficult for them must be impossible for others; they must measure
others by themselves, in order to maintain their superiority. Yet there
have been many, and there may still be many, to whom acts are easy
which are commonly held to be impossible. Who is there who would not,
for example, regard a Curtius, a Mucius, or the Decii, among our own
people, as pure fictions; or, among foreign nations, Codrus and the
Philæni; or, since we are speaking of woman, Portia, or Hypsicratia,
or Alcestis, and others like them? But these are actual historical
persons. And indeed I do not see why one who can face death for
another, should not be capable of encountering any trial or form of

1: This letter, written in 1373 and containing a Latin translation of
Boccaccio's story of Griselda, is printed as a separate work in the
_Opera_ (1581), p. 540 _sqq_., but appears as _Sen_., xvii., 3, in
Fracassetti's Italian version.

2: The additions are so considerable that Fracassetti, in translating
this letter into Italian, could make use of the words of Boccaccio's
original in scarcely more than half of the tale.

3: Petrarch's version of the tale is here omitted.

4: Juvenal, xv., 131-3, as translated by William Gifford.

5: The close of this letter is given above, pp. 53 _sqq_. (..."a mole
amusing itself with a mirror.")

       *       *       *       *       *

_On the Italian Language and Literature_

_To Boccaccio_[1]

"I have somewhat to say unto thee," if a poor sinner may use the words
of his Saviour, and this something for which you are listening, what
should it be but what I am wont to tell you? So prepare your mind for
patience and your ears for reproaches. For, although nothing could
be more alike than our two minds, I have often noticed with surprise
that nothing could be more unlike than our acts and resolutions. I
frequently ask myself how this happens, not only in your case but in
that of certain others of my friends, in whom I note the same contrast.
I find no other explanation than that our common mother, nature, made
us the same, but that habit, which is said to be a second nature, has
rendered us unlike. Would that we might have lived together, for then
we should have been but one mind in two bodies.

You may imagine now that I have something really important to tell you,
but you are mistaken;--and, as you well know, a thing must be trivial
indeed which the author himself declares to be unimportant, for our own
utterances are so dear to us that scarcely anyone is a good judge of
his own performances, so prone are we to be misled by partiality for
ourselves and our works. You, among many thousands, are the only one
to be betrayed into a false estimate of your compositions by aversion
and contempt, instead of inordinate love,--unless, mayhap, I am myself
deceived in this matter, and attribute to humility what is really due
to pride. What I mean by all this you shall now hear.

You are familiar, no doubt, with that widely distributed and vulgar,
set of men who live by words, and those not their own, and who have
increased to such an irritating extent among us. They are persons of
no great ability, but of retentive memories; of great industry too,
but of greater audacity. They haunt the antechambers of kings and
potentates, naked if it were not for the poetic vesture that they
have filched from others. Any especially good bit which this one or
that one has turned off, they seize upon, more particularly if it be
in the mother tongue, and recite it with huge gusto. In this way they
strive to gain the favour of the nobility, and procure money, clothes,
or other gifts. Their stock-in-trade is partly picked up here and
there, partly obtained directly from the writers themselves, either by
begging, or, where cupidity or poverty exists, for money. This last
case is described by the Satirist: "He will die of hunger if he does
not succeed in selling to Paris his yet unheard _Agave_."[2]

You can easily imagine how often these fellows have pestered me, and I
doubt not others, with their disgusting fawning. It is true I suffer
less than formerly, owing to my altered studies, or to respect for my
age, or to repulses already received; for, lest they should get in the
habit of annoying me, I have often sharply refused to aid them, and
have not allowed myself to be affected by any amount of insistence.
Sometimes indeed, especially when I knew the applicant to be humble
and needy, a certain benevolent instinct has led me to assist the poor
fellow to a living, with such skill as I possessed. My aid might be of
permanent use to the recipient, while it cost me only a short hour of
work. Some of those whom I had been induced to assist, and who had left
me with their wish fulfilled, but otherwise poor and ill-clad, returned
shortly after arrayed in silks, with well-filled bellies and purses,
to thank me for the assistance which had enabled them to cast off the
burden of poverty. On such occasions I have sometimes been led to vow
that I would never refuse this peculiar kind of alms; but there always
comes a moment, when, wearied by their importunities, I retract the

When I asked some of these beggars why they always came to me, and
never applied to others, and in particular to you, for assistance, they
replied that so far as you were concerned they had often done so, but
never with success. While I was wondering that one who was so generous
with his property should be so niggardly with his words, they added
that you had burnt all the verses which you had ever written in the
vulgar tongue. This, instead of satisfying me, only served to increase
my astonishment. When I asked the reason of your doing this, they all
confessed ignorance and held their tongues, except one. He said that
he believed--whether he had actually heard it somewhere or other, I
do not know--that you intended to revise all the things which you had
written both in your earlier days, and, later, in your prime, in order
to give your works, in this revision, the advantage of a mature,--I am
tempted to say hoary, mind. Such confidence in the prolongation of our
most uncertain existence, especially at your age, seemed to both of us
exaggerated. Although I have the greatest confidence in your discretion
and vigour of mind, my surprise was only increased by what I had heard.
What a perverted idea, I said, to burn up what you wished to revise, so
as to have nothing left for revision!

My astonishment continued until at last, on coming to this city, I
became intimate with our Donato, who is so faithful and devoted a
friend of yours. It was from him that I learned recently, in the course
of our daily conversation, not only the fact which I had already heard,
but also the explanation of it, which had so long puzzled me. He said
that in your earlier years you had been especially fond of writing in
the vulgar tongue, and had devoted much time and pains to it, until
in the course of your researches and reading you had happened upon
my youthful compositions in the vernacular. Then your enthusiasm for
writing similar things suddenly cooled. Not content simply to refrain
from analogous work in the future, you conceived a great dislike
to what you had already done and burned everything, not with the
idea of correcting but of destroying. In this way you deprived both
yourself and posterity of the fruits of your labours in this field
of literature, and for no better reason than that you thought what
you had written was inferior to my productions. But your dislike was
ill-founded and the sacrifice inexpedient. As for your motive, that is
doubtful. Was it humility, which despised itself, or pride, which would
be second to none? You who can see your own heart must judge. I can
only wander among the various possible conjectures, writing to you, as
usual, as if I were talking to myself.

I congratulate you, then, on regarding yourself as inferior to those
whose superior you really are. I would far rather share that error than
his who, being really inferior, believes himself to be on a higher
plane. This reminds me of Lucan of Cordova, a man of the ardent spirit
and the genius which pave the way alike to great eminence and to an
abyss of failure. Finding himself far advanced in his studies while
still young, he became, upon turning over in his mind his age and the
successful beginnings of his career, so puffed up that he ventured
to compare himself with Virgil. In reciting a portion of a work on
the Civil War, which was interrupted by his death, he said in his
introductory remarks, "Do I in any way fall short of the _Culex?_"[3]
Whether this arrogant speech was noticed by any friend of the poet, or
what answer he received, I do not know; for myself, I have often, since
I read the passage, inwardly replied indignantly to this braggart: "My
fine fellow, thy performance may indeed equal the _Culex_, but what a
gulf between it and the _Æneid!_" But why, then, do I not praise your
humility, who judge me to be your superior, and praise it the more
highly in contrast with the boast of this upstart, who would believe
himself superior, or at least equal, to Virgil?

But there is something else here which I would gladly discover, but
which is of so obscure a nature that it is not easily cleared up
with the pen. I will, however, do the best I can. I fear that your
remarkable humility may after all be only pride. This will doubtless
seem to many a novel and even surprising name for humility, and if it
should prove offensive I will use some other term. I only fear that
this signal exhibition of humility is not altogether free from some
admixture of haughtiness. I have seen men at a banquet, or some other
assembly, rise and voluntarily take the lowest place, because they
had not been assigned the head of the table, and this under cover of
humility, although pride was the real motive. I have seen another so
weak as even to leave the room. Thus anger sometimes, and sometimes
pride, leads men to act as though one who did not enjoy the highest
seat, which in the nature of things cannot be assigned to more than a
single individual, was necessarily unworthy of any place except perhaps
the lowest. But there are degrees of glory as well as of merit.

As for you, you show your humility in not assuming the first place.
Some, inferior to you both in talents and style, have laid claim to
it, and have aroused our indignation, not unmixed with merriment, by
their absurd aspirations. Would that the support of the vulgar, which
they sometimes enjoy, weighed no more in the market-place than with the
dwellers on Parnassus. But not to be able to take the second or third
rank, does not that smack of genuine pride? Suppose for the moment that
I surpass you, I, who would so gladly be your equal; suppose that you
are surpassed by the great master of our mother tongue; beware lest
there be more pride in refusing to see yourself distanced by one or the
other, especially by your fellow-citizen, or, at most, by a very few,
than in soliciting the distinction of the first place for yourself. To
long for supremacy may be regarded as the sign of a great mind, but
to despise what only approaches supremacy is a certain indication of

I have heard that our Old Man of Ravenna,[4] who is by no means a
bad judge in such matters, is accustomed, whenever the conversation
turns on these matters, to assign you the third place. If this
displeases you, and if you think that I prevent your attaining to the
first rank--though I am really no obstacle--I willingly renounce all
pretensions to precedence, and leave you the second place. If you
refuse this I do not think that you ought to be pardoned. If the very
first alone are illustrious, it is easy to see how innumerable are the
obscure, and how few enjoy the radiance of glory. Consider, moreover,
how much safer, and even higher, is the second place. There is someone
to receive the first attacks of envy, and, at the risk of his own
reputation, to indicate your path; for by watching his course, you will
learn when to follow it, and when to avoid it. You have someone to aid
you to throw off all slothful habits through your effort to overtake
him. You are spurred on to equal him, and not be forever second. Such
an one serves as a goad to noble minds and often accomplishes wonders.
He who knows how to put up with the second place will ere long deserve
the first, while he who scorns the second place has already begun to be
unworthy even of that. If you will but consult your memory, you will
scarcely find a first-rate commander, philosopher, or poet, who did not
reach the top through the aid of just such stimulus.

Furthermore, if the first place is to most persons a source of
complacent satisfaction with themselves, and of envy on the part of
others, it is certainly also liable to produce inertia. The student
as well as the lover is spurred on by jealousy: love without rivalry,
and merit without emulation are equally prone to languish. Industrious
poverty is much to be preferred to idle opulence. It is better to
struggle up a steep declivity with watchful care than to lie sunk in
shameful ease; better and safer to trust to the aid of active virtue
than to rely upon the distinction of an idle reputation.

These are good reasons, it seems to me, for cheerfully accepting the
second place. But what if you are assigned to the third or the fourth?
Will this rouse your anger? or have you forgotten the passage where
Seneca defends Fabianus Papirius against Lucilius? After assigning
Cicero a higher rank, he remarked: "It is no slight thing to be second
only to the highest." Then, naming Asinius Pollio next to Cicero, he
added, "Nor in such a case is the third place to be despised." Lastly,
placing Livy in the fourth rank, he concluded, "What a vast number
of writers does he excel who is vanquished by three only, and these
three the most gifted!" Does not this apply very well to you, my dear
friend? Only, whatever place you occupy, or whomsoever you may seem to
see ahead of you, it cannot, in my judgment, be I who precede you. So,
eschew the flames, and have mercy on your verses.

If, however, you and others are, in spite of what I say, thoroughly
convinced that I must, willy-nilly, be your superior in literary rank,
do you really feel aggrieved, and regard it as a shameful thing to be
ranked next to me? If this be true, permit me to say that I have long
been deceived in you, and that neither your natural modesty nor your
love of me is what I had hoped. True friends place those whom they love
above themselves. They not only wish to be excelled, but experience an
extreme pleasure in being outstripped, just as no fond father would
deny that his greatest pleasure consisted in being surpassed by his
son. I hoped and hope still that I am inferior to you. I do not claim
to be like a dear son to you, or to believe that my reputation is
dearer to you than your own. I remember, though, that you, in a moment
of friendly anger, once reproached me for this. If you were really
sincere, you ought to grant me the right of way with joy. Instead of
giving up the race, you should press after me with all your might, and
so prevent any other competitor from thrusting himself between us and
stealing your place. He who sits in the chariot or runs by his friend's
side does not ask who is first, but is only anxious that they two
shall be as near as possible. Nothing is sweeter than the longed-for
closeness of companionship. Love is everything, precedence next to
nothing, among friends. The first are last and the last first, for all
are really one in friendship.

So much for the case against you. Let us now turn to the excuses for
your conduct. In spite of your own explanation and that which comes to
me through such a very good friend of yours, I have tried to discover
some higher motive for your action than that which you mention; for the
same act may be good or bad according to the motives which dictate it.
I will tell you, then, what has occurred to me.

You did not destroy your productions, in a manner so unfair both
to you and to them, through false pride, which is quite foreign to
your gentle character; nor because you were jealous of someone else,
or dissatisfied with your own lot. You were actuated by a noble
indignation against the emptiness and vanity of our age, which in its
crass ignorance corrupts or, far worse, despises everything good. You
wished to withdraw your productions from the judgment of the men of
to-day, and, as Virginius once slew his own daughter to save her from
shame, so you have committed to the flames your beautiful inventions,
the children of your intellect, to prevent their becoming the prey
of such a rabble. And now, my dear friend, how near the truth have
I guessed? I have indeed often thought of doing the same for my own
compositions in the vulgar tongue, few as they are; and it was my own
experience which suggested this explanation of your conduct. I should
perhaps have done so, had they not been so widely circulated as to
have long ago escaped my control. And yet, on the other hand, I have
sometimes harboured quite the opposite design, and thought of devoting
my whole attention to the vernacular.

To be sure, the Latin, in both prose and poetry, is undoubtedly the
nobler language, but for that very reason it has been so thoroughly
developed by earlier writers that neither we nor anyone else may expect
to add very much to it. The vernacular, on the other hand, has but
recently been discovered, and, though it has been ravaged by many,
it still remains uncultivated, in spite of a few earnest labourers,
and still shows itself capable of much improvement and enrichment.
Stimulated by this thought, and by the enterprise of youth, I began
an extensive work in that language. I laid the foundations of the
structure, and got together my lime and stones and wood. And then I
began to consider a little more carefully the times in which we live,
the fact that our age is the mother of pride and indolence, and that
the ability of the vainglorious fellows who would be my judges, and
their peculiar grace of delivery is such that they can hardly be said
to recite the writings of others, but rather to mangle them. Hearing
their performances again and again, and turning the matter over in my
mind, I concluded at length that I was building upon unstable earth
and shifting sand, and should simply waste my labours and see the
work of my hands levelled by the common herd. Like one who finds a
great serpent across his track, I stopped and changed my route,--for a
higher and more direct one, I hope. Although the short things I once
wrote in the vulgar tongue are, as I have said, so scattered that they
now belong to the public rather than to me, I shall take precautions
against having my more important works torn to pieces in the same way.

And yet why should I find fault with the unenlightenment of the common
people, when those who call themselves learned afford so much more
just and serious a ground for complaint? Besides many other ridiculous
peculiarities, these people add to their gross ignorance an exaggerated
and most disgusting pride. It is this that leads them to carp at the
reputation of those whose most trivial sayings they were once proud
to comprehend, in even the most fragmentary fashion. O inglorious
age! that scorns antiquity, its mother, to whom it owes every noble
art,--that dares to declare itself not only equal but superior to the
glorious past. I say nothing of the vulgar, the dregs of mankind,
whose sayings and opinions may raise a laugh but hardly merit serious
censure. I will say nothing of the military class and the leaders
in war, who do not blush to assert that their time has beheld the
culmination and perfection of military art, when there is no doubt
that this art has degenerated and is utterly going to ruin in their
hands. They have neither skill nor intelligence, but rely entirely upon
indolence and chance. They go to war decked out as if for a wedding,
bent on meat and drink and the gratification of their lust. They think
much more of flight than they do of victory. Their skill lies not in
striking the adversary, but in holding out the hand of submission;
not in terrifying the enemy, but in pleasing the eyes of their
mistresses.[5] But even these false notions may be excused in view of
the utter ignorance and want of instruction on the part of those who
hold them.

I will pass over the kings, who act as if they thought that their
office consisted in purple and gold, in sceptre and diadem, and that,
excelling their predecessors in these things, they must excel them
likewise in prowess and glory. Although they were put upon the throne
for the single purpose of ruling (whence their title, _rex_, is
derived), they do not in reality govern the people over whom they are
placed, but, as their conduct shows, are themselves governed by their
passions. They are rulers of men, but, at the same time, slaves of
sloth and luxury. Still ignorance of the past, the ephemeral glory that
fortune bestows and the vanity that always attends undue prosperity,
may serve to excuse in some measure even these. But what can be
said in defence of men of education who ought not to be ignorant of
antiquity and yet are plunged in this same darkness and delusion?

You see that I cannot speak of these matters without the greatest
irritation and indignation. There has arisen of late a set of
dialecticians, who are not only ignorant but demented. Like a black
army of ants from some old rotten oak, they swarm forth from their
hiding-places and devastate the fields of sound learning. They condemn
Plato and Aristotle, and laugh at Socrates and Pythagoras. And, good
God! under what silly and incompetent leaders these opinions are put
forth! I should prefer not to give a name to this group of men. They
have done nothing to merit one, though their folly has made them
famous. I do not wish to place among the greatest of mankind those whom
I see consorting with the most abject. These fellows have deserted all
trustworthy leaders, and glory in the name of those who, whatever they
may learn after death, exhibited in this world no trace of power, or
knowledge, or reputation for knowledge. What shall we say of men who
scorn Marcus Tullius Cicero, the bright sun of eloquence? Of those who
scoff at Varro and Seneca, and are scandalised at what they choose to
call the crude, unfinished style of Livy and Sallust? And all this
in obedience to leaders of whom no one has ever heard, and for whom
their followers ought to blush! Once I happened to be present when
Virgil's style was the subject of their scornful criticism. Astonished
at their crazy outbreak, I turned to a person of some cultivation and
asked what he had detected in this famous man to rouse such a storm of
reproach. Listen to the reply he gave me, with a contemptuous shrug of
the shoulders: "He is too fond of conjunctions." Arise, O Virgil, and
polish the verses that, with the aid of the Muses, thou didst snatch
from heaven, in order that they may be fit to deliver into hands like

How shall I deal with that other monstrous kind of pedant, who wears
a religious garb, but is most profane in heart and conduct; who would
have us believe that Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome were ignoramuses,
for all their elaborate treatises? I do not know the origin of these
new theologians, who do not spare the great teachers, and will not much
longer spare the Apostles and the Gospel itself. They will soon turn
their impudent tongues even against Christ, unless he, whose cause is
at stake, interferes and curbs the raging beasts. It has already become
a well-established habit with these fellows to express their scorn by
a mute gesture or by some impious observation, whenever revered and
sacred names are mentioned. "Augustine," they will say, "saw much, but
understood little." Nor do they speak less insultingly of other great

Recently one of these philosophers of the modern stamp happened to be
in my library. He did not, like the others, wear a religious habit,
but, after all, Christianity is not a matter of clothes. He was one of
those who think they live in vain unless they are constantly snarling
at Christ or his divine teachings. When I cited some passage or
other from the Holy Scriptures, he exploded with wrath, and with his
face, naturally ugly, still further disfigured by anger and contempt,
he exclaimed: "You are welcome to your two-penny church fathers; as
for me, I know the man for me to follow, _for I know him whom I have
believed_." "You," I replied, "use the words of the Apostle. I would
that you would take them to heart!" "Your Apostle," he answered, "was a
sower of words and a lunatic." "You reply like a good philosopher," I
said. "The first of your accusations was brought against him by other
philosophers, and the second to his face by Festus, Governor of Syria.
He did indeed sow the word, and with such success that, cultivated by
the beneficent plough of his successors and watered by the holy blood
of the martyrs, it has borne such an abundant harvest of faith as we
all behold." At this he burst forth into a sickening roar of laughter.
"Well, be a 'good Christian'![6] As for me, I put no faith in all that
stuff. Your Paul and your Augustine and all the rest of the crowd you
preach about were a set of babblers. If you could but stomach Averroes
you would quickly see how much superior he was to these empty-headed
fellows of yours." I was very angry, I must confess, and could scarcely
keep from striking his filthy, blasphemous mouth. "It is the old feud
between me and other heretics of your class. You can go," I cried, "you
and your heresy, and never return." With this I plucked him by the
gown, and, with a want of ceremony less consonant with my habits than
his own, hustled him out of the house.

There are thousands of instances of this kind, where nothing will
prevail,--not even the majesty of the Christian name nor reverence for
Christ himself (whom the angels fall down and worship, though weak and
depraved mortals may insult him), nor yet the fear of punishment or the
armed inquisitors of heresy. The prison and stake are alike impotent to
restrain the impudence of ignorance or the audacity of heresy.

Such are the times, my friend, upon which we have fallen; such is the
period in which we live and are growing old. Such are the critics
of to-day, as I so often have occasion to lament and complain,--men
who are innocent of knowledge or virtue, and yet harbour the most
exalted opinion of themselves. Not content with losing the words of
the ancients, they must attack their genius and their ashes. They
rejoice in their ignorance, as if what they did not know were not worth
knowing. They give full rein to their licence and conceit, and freely
introduce among us new authors and outlandish teachings.

If you, having no other means of defence, have resorted to the fire to
save your works from the criticism of such despotic judges, I cannot
disapprove the act and must commend your motives. I have done the same
with many of my own productions, and almost repent me that I did not
include all, while it was yet in my power; for we have no prospect of
fairer judges, while the number and audacity of the existing ones
grow from day to day. They are no longer confined to the schools, but
fill the largest towns, choking up the streets and public squares.
We are come to such a pass that I am sometimes angry at myself for
having been so vexed by the recent warlike and destructive years,
and having bemoaned the depopulation of the earth. It is perhaps
depopulated of true men, but was never more densely crowded with vices
and the creatures of vice. In short, had I been among the Ædiles,
and felt as I do now, I should have acquitted the daughter of Appius
Claudius.[7]--But now farewell, as I have nothing more to write to you
at present.

VENICE, August 28.

The belief that the Middle Age was an age of faith has so long found
universal acceptance that Petrarch's _rencontre_ with a group of men
who freely made sport of Christianity may seem anomalous to some.
There was, however, a wide-spread and persistent tendency toward
rationalism and materialism in the universities during the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries. Christianity was evidently repudiated by no
inconsiderable number, for the church found it necessary to promulgate
a sweeping condemnation of rationalistic theses at Paris in 1277. Early
in the thirteenth century Arabic learning had begun to influence
Western Europe, and the writings of Arabic philosophers, especially
of Averroes,[8] became widely known. The orthodox schoolmen, like
Thomas Aquinas, gladly made use of his commentary upon Aristotle, but
rejected his philosophic teachings with horror. Others, however, became
enamoured of the Arabic philosophy and deserted their former religious
beliefs, even venturing somewhat publicly to denounce Christianity,
as fit only for those who were incapable of following Averroes. Among
the simple and devout, the Arabian became an object of mysterious
abhorrence, so that Orcagna in his frescoes gives him a distinguished
place among the damned, with Mohammed and Antichrist.[9]

During his residence in Venice and Padua Petrarch came into close
contact with the Averroists, and was led more than once, in his
irritation at their unbelief, to attack them violently.[10] Of their
philosophical tenets nothing need be said here, as Petrarch probably
troubled himself but little about their doctrines. It was enough for
him that they called Paul a madman and looked upon Augustine and
Ambrose as prating fools. The real interest of Petrarch's assault upon
the Averroists lies not so much in his rejection of their heresies
as in his attitude toward the intellectual hero of the Middle Ages,
Aristotle, who was the accepted authority of those who rejected, as
well as of those who implicitly trusted, the Gospel. The importance of
this has, however, already been noted.[11]

We have seen how little Petrarch was in sympathy with the intellectual
interests of his time. The vast theological literature of the
thirteenth century was neither represented in his library nor noticed
in his works. Pure logic, which was then looked upon not only as the
necessary foundation of all sound learning and the key to all science
but as a legitimate and worthy occupation of a lifetime, seemed to him
an essentially elementary subject, fit only for boys. As he refused
to recognise the supremacy of Aristotle himself, so he rejected the
absurd claims made for Aristotle's dialectic. The following letter,
written apparently while he was still a young man, shows how correctly
he estimated the real educational value of a study with which his
predecessors and contemporaries were so notoriously infatuated.

1: _Sen_., v., 3. Written, Fracassetti believes, about 1366.

2: Juvenal, vii., 87.

3: A trifling poem once universally attributed to Virgil.

4: It is not known who is meant here. _Cf._ Fracassetti, _Lettere
Senile_, vol. i., p. 283.

5: Machiavelli's _Prince_, chap, xii., contains a similar description
of war in his day.

6: Luther reports that in his time, in Rome, they called an earnest
believer "bon Christian."

7: Who was fined for speaking against the Roman people.

8: A corruption of the Arabic name of Ibn Roschd, who died in 1198.

9: For this whole matter see Renan's charming book, _Averroes._ Also,
Reuter's _Religiöse Aufklärung des Mittelalters._

10: Especially remarkable in this connection is the curious work _De
Suiipsius et Aliorum Ignorantia_, the origin of which may be briefly
described. A group of Petrarch's young Averroist friends happened one
day in a post-prandial conversation to discuss among themselves his
real claim to distinction. They decided that his fame rested largely
upon the mistaken and ill-judged attentions of popes and princes, and
that, although a good man, he could not be regarded as a person of
great knowledge or literary power. This frank estimate of his ability
reached the ears of Petrarch and naturally irritated the now failing
old man, accustomed for many years to the world's adulation. The reply,
written a year later, shows unmistakable signs of wounded pride and
vanity. The criticism of the young men was, he assumes, dictated purely
by envy of his reputation. He is indeed ignorant, but others are still
more hopelessly benighted--hence the title, Of His Own Ignorance and
That of Others. _Opera_ (1581), pp., 1035-1059.

11: See above, pp. 37 _sqq_. (In no respect, indeed is his

       *       *       *       *       *

_His Aversion to Logicians_

_To Tomasso da Messina_[1]

It is hazardous to engage an enemy who longs rather for battle than
for victory. You write to me of a certain old logician who has been
greatly excited by my letter, as if I condemned his art. With a growl
of rage, he loudly threatened to make war in turn upon our studies, in
a letter for which, you say, you have waited many months in vain. Do
not wait longer; believe me, it will never come. He retains some traces
of decency, and this is a confession that he is ashamed of his style
or an acknowledgment of his ignorance. The most implacable in contests
with the tongue will not resort to the pen. They are reluctant to show
how ill-armed they are, and so follow the Parthian system of warfare,
carried on during a rapid retreat, by letting fly a shower of winged
words and committing their shafts to the wind.

It is foolhardy, as I have said, to accept an engagement with these
fellows upon their own terms. It is indeed from the fighting itself
that they derive their chief pleasure; their object is not to discover
the truth, but to prolong the argument. But you know Varro's proverb:
"Through over-long contention the truth is lost." You need not fear,
then, that these warriors will come out into the open fields of honest
discussion, whether with tongue or pen. They belong to the class of
whom Quintilian speaks in his _Institutes of Oratory_, whom one finds
wonderfully warm in disputation, but once get them away from their
cavilling, they are as helpless, in a serious juncture, as certain
small animals which are active enough in a narrow space, but are easily
captured in a field. Hence their reluctance to engage in an open
contest. As Quintilian goes on to say, their tergiversations indicate
their weakness; they seek, like an indifferent runner, to escape by

This is what I would impress upon you, my friend; if you are seeking
virtue or truth, avoid persons of that stripe altogether. But how shall
we escape from these maniacs, if even the isles of the sea are not free
from them? So neither Scylla nor Charybdis has prevented this pest from
finding its way into Sicily?[2] Nay, this ill is now rather peculiar
to islands, as we shall find if we add the logicians of Britain to the
new Cyclopes about Ætna. Is this the ground of the striking similarity
between Sicily and Britain, which I have seen mentioned in Pomponius
Mela's _Cosmographia?_ I had thought that the resemblance lay in
the situation of the countries, the almost triangular appearance of
both, and perhaps in the perpetual contact which each enjoys with the
surrounding sea. I never thought of logicians; I had heard of the
Cyclopes, and then of the tyrants, both savage inhabitants; but of the
coming of this third race of monsters, armed with two-edged arguments,
and fiercer than the burning shores of Taormina itself, I was unaware.

There is one thing which I myself long ago observed, and of which
you now warn me anew. These logicians seek to cover their teachings
with the splendour of Aristotle's name; they claim that Aristotle was
wont to argue in the same way. They would have some excuse, I readily
confess, if they followed in the steps of illustrious leaders, for
even Cicero says that it would give him pleasure to err with Plato,
if err he must. But they all deceive themselves. Aristotle was a man
of the most exalted genius, who not only discussed but wrote upon
themes of the very highest importance. How can we otherwise explain so
vast an array of works, involving such prolonged labour, and prepared
with supreme care amid such serious preoccupations--especially those
connected with the guardianship of his fortunate pupil--and within
the compass, too, of a life by no means long?--for he died at about
sixty-three, the age which all writers deem so unlucky. Now why should
these fellows diverge so widely from the path of their leader? Why is
not the name of Aristotelians a source of shame to them rather than
of satisfaction, for no one could be more utterly different from that
great philosopher than a man who writes nothing, knows but little,
and constantly indulges in much vain declamation? Who does not laugh
at their trivial conclusions, with which, although educated men,[3]
they weary both themselves and others? They waste their whole lives in
such contentions. Not only are they good for nothing else, but their
perverted activity renders them actually harmful. Disputations such as
they delight in are made a subject of mirth by Cicero and Seneca, in
several passages. We find an example in the case of Diogenes, whom a
contentious logician addressed as follows: "What I am, you are not."
Upon Diogenes conceding this, the logician added, "But I am a man."
As this was not denied, the poor quibbler propounded the conclusion,
"Therefore you are not a man." "The last statement is not true,"
Diogenes remarked, "but if you wish it to be true, begin with me in
your major premise." Similar absurdities are common enough with them.
What they hope to gain from their efforts, whether fame or amusement,
or some light upon the way to live righteously and happily, they may
know; to me, I confess, it is the greatest of mysteries. Money,
certainly, does not appeal at least to noble minds as a worthy reward
of study. It is for the mechanical trades to strive for lucre; the
higher arts have a more generous end in view.

On hearing such things as these, those of whom we are speaking grow
furious;--indeed the chatter of the disputatious man usually verges
closely on anger. "So you set yourself up to condemn logic," they
cry. Far from it; I know-well in what esteem it was held by that
sturdy and virile sect of philosophers, the Stoics, whom our Cicero
frequently mentions, especially in his work _De Finibus_. I know that
it is one of the liberal studies, a ladder for those who are striving
upwards, and by no means a useless protection to those who are forcing
their way through the thorny thickets of philosophy. It stimulates
the intellect, points out the way of truth, shows us how to avoid
fallacies, and finally, if it accomplishes nothing else, makes us ready
and quick-witted.

All this I readily admit, but because a road is proper for us to
traverse, it does not immediately follow that we should linger on it
forever. No traveller, unless he be mad, will forget his destination
on account of the pleasures of the way; his characteristic virtue
lies, on the contrary, in reaching his goal as soon as possible, never
halting on the road. And who of us is not a traveller? We all have
our long and arduous journey to accomplish in a brief and untoward
time,--on a short, tempestuous, wintry day as it were. Dialectics may
form a portion of our road, but certainly not its end: it belongs
to the morning of life, not to its evening. We may have done once
with perfect propriety what it would be shameful to continue. If as
mature men we cannot leave the schools of logic because we have found
pleasure in them as boys, why should we blush to play odd and even,
or prance upon a shaky reed, or be rocked again in the cradle of our
childhood? Nature, with cunning artifice, escapes from dull monotony by
her wondrous change of seasons, with their varying aspects. Shall we
look for these alternations in the circuit of the year, and not in the
course of a long life? The spring brings flowers and the new leaves of
the trees, the summer is rich in its harvest, autumn in fruit, and then
comes winter with its snows. In this order the changes are not only
tolerable but agreeable; but if the order were to be altered, against
the laws of nature, they would become distasteful. No one would suffer
with equanimity the cold of winter in summer time, or a raging sun
during the months where it does not belong.

Who would not scorn and deride an old man who sported with children,
or marvel at a grizzled and gouty stripling? What is more necessary
to our training than our first acquaintance with the alphabet itself,
which serves as the foundation of all later studies; but, on the other
hand, what could be more absurd than a grandfather still busy over his

Use my arguments with the disciples of your ancient logician. Do not
deter them from the study of logic; urge them rather to hasten through
it to better things. Tell the old fellow himself that it is not the
liberal arts which I condemn, but only hoary-headed children. Even
as nothing is more disgraceful, as Seneca says, than an old man just
beginning his alphabet, so there is no spectacle more unseemly than
a person of mature years devoting himself to dialectics. But if your
friend begins to vomit forth syllogisms, I advise you to take flight,
bidding him argue with Enceladus.[4] Farewell.

AVIGNON, March 11.

1: _Fam_., i., 6.

2: His friend's home.

3: _Homines litterati_, probably simply those versed in the Latin

4: It is interesting to compare these views with those of John
of Salisbury who, writing almost two centuries before the time of
Petrarch's letter says: "It seemed to me pleasant to revisit my old
companions on the Mount [of St. Geneviève at Paris], whom I had left
and whom dialectic still detained, and to confer with them touching
the old subjects of debate, that we might by mutual comparison measure
our respective progress. I found them as before, and where they were
before; they did not appear to have advanced an inch in settling the
old questions, nor had they added a single proposition. The aims that
once inspired them inspired them still; they had progressed in one
point only, they had unlearned moderation, they knew not modesty; and
that to such an extent that one might despair of their recovery. So
experience taught me a manifest conclusion, that, while logic furthers
other studies, it is by itself lifeless and barren, nor can it cause
the mind to yield the fruit of philosophy except the same conceive from
some other source." Migne, _Pat. Lat._, vol. cxcix., p. 869.



      Quæ cum scholar atque ævi comitibus quædam quasi somnia
      viderentur, mihi jam tunc, omnia videntem testor Deum, et
      vera et pæne præsentia videbantur.

      _Fam_., xxiv., 1.

Every age has a philosophy of life, which reaches and affects, in
greater or less degree, the thought and action of all of its members.
To the centuries before Petrarch the world was a place in which to
prepare for a life beyond; the noblest subject of thought was theology;
the saving of the soul was the one important task. The centuries since
have realised in some measure that the present life is precious in
itself and is not to be thus subordinated. This shifting of the view is
of immense significance; and it is owing to Petrarch, more than to any
other one man.

The process was, after all, not so much a shifting as a blending, a
powerful modification of the mediæval notions by those of the ancient
world. The ancients frankly delighted in sensuous beauty, and felt an
unrestrained joy in mere living, and trusted nature and the natural
impulses. They were thoroughly human, and the return to them humanised
the narrow conceptions of the Middle Ages. And this return was largely
Petrarch's work.

Men had conversed with the classics before his day. They were by no
means unstudied in mediæval times. John of Salisbury, for example,
in the twelfth century, had known almost as many of the Roman poets
and moralists and historians as Petrarch himself. He had known them,
however, and used them, in a very different fashion. He had read them
with no surrender to their charm, and no response to their views
concerning life and its uses. We wonder at his knowledge of the text
of his classical authors, and at the aptness with which he cites them
in illustration of his thought; but we wonder still more at his utter
inability to understand their attitude, to find their point of view.
Lifelong intercourse with them failed to widen his range of vision.
Despite their influence he remained mediæval in all his thought.

But with Petrarch it was otherwise. He first, among the men of the
Middle Ages, was endowed with a passionate love for the beauty of
ancient literature, and an entire sympathy with its ruling ideas, and
at the same time, it must be observed, with a saving incapacity to
foresee the disintegration of thought and faith that in the long run
would inevitably result from such sympathy. Both in his strength and in
his weakness he was eminently fitted to be the founder, or furtherer,
of Humanism.

Petrarch's love of the classics began in admiration of their more
superficial charm, which is just what would be expected of the
youth who wrote the graceful lyrics of the _Canzoniere_. But this
feeling developed soon into a perception of their deeper beauty and
significance. At the time when he first becomes thoroughly known to
us as a student of antiquity we are amazed at the justness of his
appreciation. Only occasionally does he betray the fact that he is a
man of the Middle Ages, hampered by a narrow intellectual inheritance;
and that his work is that of a pioneer, in a country which is
absolutely unexplored.

Of these rare limitations we detect the fewest traces in his criticism
of Cicero. This may be accounted for largely on the ground that Cicero
and Petrarch were men of the same temperament and cast of mind. They
were both typical men of letters. The man of letters is intellectually
alert; sensitive to impressions and able to report them; hospitable
to all the ideas of his time; sometimes inconsistent, because of
this very catholicity; and often despised in consequence by practical
men, although in reality more practical than they, inasmuch as he
has the art of communicating his flashes of insight and his generous
enthusiasm to others, who in the end reconcile his inconsistencies
and make his dreams come true. This is an exceptional character, but
Cicero sustained it fully, and so did Petrarch too. They were thus
of the same stamp. Moreover, their circumstances were similar in
many respects. Cicero's task as an interpreter of Greek thought was
not unlike Petrarch's life-work. It was impossible, with all these
likenesses, that the one, however defective his knowledge, should fail
to comprehend the other.

Petrarch's letters afford countless illustrations of the truth of these
statements. In outward form, to be sure, and once in a while in their
material and the treatment of it, they suggest rather Seneca than
Cicero. That, however, is easily explained. Petrarch's epistolary ways
had been fully determined before ever he saw Cicero's correspondence,
or any portion of it.[1] So it was quite impossible that he should
follow him in matters of fashion and form. But in spirit and intention,
in all their deeper affinities, the letters are distinctly Ciceronian,
akin to Cicero's essays and treatises. Cicero's style is plainly
Petrarch's ideal, although he is too wise to imitate it slavishly. And
he falls, at his best, not very far short of Cicero's clearness and
animation, his variety, his aptness of quotation and illustration.
A clearer case of sympathetic comprehension of another, and of
reproduction without imitation, it would be hard to find.

Next to Cicero, Petrarch cared most among Roman writers for Virgil.
One would have expected to find this order reversed,--to find the
poet of the _Africa_ far more devoted to his great forerunner than to
one who was essentially unpoetical, a rhetorician and prosaist. The
explanation of the seeming anomaly is twofold. In the first place, it
was in temperament only that Petrarch was a poet, and not, after the
splendid lyrical outburst of the _Canzoniere_, in the whole compass
of his thought and feeling. He could not have done the work which he
did if it had been otherwise. It was necessary that the first Humanist
should combine with the poet's openness of mind, and love of whatever
is beautiful, scholarly patience and a willingness to lead a scholar's
life. And then, in the second place, Petrarch was debarred from full
appreciation of Virgil by an inability to escape from the dominion of
certain mediæval conceptions of poetry.

For one thing, he valued poetry largely in proportion as it is made
the vehicle of criticism of life, of the more obvious sort. One is
surprised, in examining the numerous quotations from Virgil that are
scattered throughout the letters, to find how invariably they are
chosen either because they are strikingly rhetorical in form or in
consequence of their didactic quality. Poetry seems to have become to
Petrarch, as his life and his studies advanced and he drew farther away
in time and temper from his early creative period, little more than a
somewhat finer form of prose. Virgil, with all his reverence for him,
was not unlike another Cicero. He says in one of his letters: "Our
beloved Cicero is beyond doubt the father of Latin eloquence. Next to
him comes Virgil. Or perhaps, since there are some who dislike the
order in which I am placing them, I had better say that Tullius and
Maro are the two parents of Roman literature." Such remarks, which
are not infrequent, are indicative of an incapacity to feel keenly and
enjoy deeply what is finest in Virgil. Petrarch seems to us to-day like
a child, who values the beautiful commonplaces of the poet more highly
than his occasional soundings of the depths and mysteries of life.
He had no adequate appreciation of Virgil's 'majestic sadness,' his
'pathetic half lines,' his 'tears for the things that are.'

To this same insensitiveness on the æsthetic side we must ascribe
Petrarch's inability to free himself from the mediæval delusion as to
the profound allegorical significance of the _Æneid,_ and of all other
noble poetry as well. A true poet may entertain very strange theories
concerning the nature of his art, but in his better moments he will
rise above them and unconsciously belie them, both in his practice
and in his criticism of others. This Petrarch, after his early youth,
never did. His highest aim in his own poetical compositions was to set
forth moral truths under an obscure veil of allegory, and his greatest
delight in studying the poets of antiquity was to penetrate the veil
under, which he believed they had hidden their wisdom. Dante's chance
lines in the ninth book of the _Inferno_ give exact expression to this
ruling thought of his:

    O voi che avete gl' intelletti sani,
    Mirate la dottrina che s'asconde
    Sotto il velame degli versi strani!

Dante's application of this idea, however, was one thing and Petrarch's
another. Petrarch aimed at nothing worthier than a multitude of minute
and trivial correspondences. The effect upon his verse is indicated by
the letter to his brother Gherardo which is given toward the close of
this chapter. The effect upon his criticism may be learned by examining
certain other letters, in the _Seniles_. In one of these he says:[2]

"Virgil's subject, as I understand the matter, is The Perfect Man....
In the passage that you ask me to explain I look upon the winds as
nothing more nor less than blasts of anger and mad desire, which
disturb with their wild storms the quiet of our life, as tempests do
some tranquil sea. Æolus is our reason, which curbs and controls these
headstrong passions. If it did not do so they would sweep away sea and
land and the overarching sky, that is, our blood and flesh and bones
and our very souls, and plunge them down to death and destruction:

      ... maria ac terras cœlumque profundum quippe ferant
      rapidi secum.

The dark caverns where Virgil represents them as being hidden away,
what are they but the hollow and hidden parts of our bodies, where,
according to Plato's determination, the passions dwell in abodes of
their own, in the breast and entrails? The mountain mass which is
placed above them is the head, where Plato thinks the reason has its
home.... Venus, who meets them in the middle of the wood, is pleasure,
whose pursuit by us becomes hotter and keener toward the middle of our
life. Her assumption of a maidenly look and air is for the purpose
of deceiving the unwary. If we saw her as she is we should flee from
her in fear and trembling; for, as there is nothing more tempting
than pleasure, so there is nothing more foul. Her garments are girded
up because her flight is swift. For this same reason she is compared
to the swiftest of creatures and things.[3] It cannot be denied that
nothing swifter exists, whether you consider her comprehensively
or part by part; for pleasure as a whole passes from us very soon,
and even while it still abides with us each taste of it lasts but
a moment. And then, finally, she appears in the garb of a huntress,
because she hunts for the souls of miserable mortals. And she has a
bow, and has flowing hair, in order that she may smite us and charm

Petrarch's love for Cicero and Virgil sprang from what one may call
the fundamental humanistic impulse, delight in the free play of the
mind among ideas that are stimulating and beautiful. His devotion to
Livy came, in part, from a different source, from a singular sort of
patriotism. He felt that he, and every other Italian of his day, was
descended in a certain sense from the Romans of old; that their glory
was his rightful heritage; that Rome, the ancient Rome, which he found
still in existence beneath the wretched mediæval stronghold, was the
city of his love and allegiance. Livy's pages accordingly were to him
the record of the great deeds of his forefathers. He studied them with
the utmost eagerness.

Under the influence of one or the other of these two passions, the
thirst for new truth and beauty and the love of the past, or of
both of them in conjunction, Petrarch laboured strenuously, until
he had gathered together from a hundred obscure sources all the
remains of Roman literature that were obtainable in his day, and had
made himself familiar with them. Greek literature, unfortunately,
it was impossible for him to know. In spite of a lifelong desire,
and at least one determined effort, he was unable to acquire even a
rudimentary knowledge of the Greek language.[5] He read in barren
Latin translations more or less of Plato and Aristotle and Homer, but
this could afford him nothing like an adequate conception of the power
and beauty of the literature as a whole. It is a sad pity that he was
so handicapped, for if the first Humanist had known and appreciated
Homer and Plato and Sophocles, as he did Cicero and Virgil and Seneca
and Livy, all our modern culture would be something far finer. We
should be simpler and clearer in our conceptions, and better developed
æsthetically. If Hellenic influences have never played their due part
in our education, if the proportion between the Greek and the Roman
elements has been unnatural, this is owing mainly to the insufficient
opportunities of Petrarch and his earliest disciples.

To the classical authors that he did possess he devoted a prolonged
and intense study that has very rarely been equalled. He followed
faithfully his own injunctions given in the _De Remediis Utriusque
Fortunæ:_ "If you would win glory from your books you must know them,
and not merely have them; must stow them away, not in your library, but
in your memory, not in your bookcases, but in your brain." Annotations
in his hand on the manuscripts that have been traced back to him[6]
show that he weighed with care every word of his favourite writers.
But external evidence like this is not necessary. Every page of his
letters, and of all his other Latin writings too, is proof in itself
that as far as his limitations permitted he had absorbed the very
spirit of his beloved classics.

[Illustration: A page of Petrarch's copy of the "Iliad."]

The letters show also how eager he was to hand on to others the light
that he had gained from these studies. He had as wide and varied an
acquaintance as any man of his time, thanks to the fame that he had won
in his youth by his verses, and to the attraction that he exercised
upon everyone in later life, through his personal charm and his
remarkable intellectual powers; and one of the inevitable consequences
of such a connection was a correspondence that was both active and
large. He wrote to the emperor and the pope, to kings and their
regents, to churchmen of every degree, to scholars in almost all parts
of Europe, to men of every profession, every age, every taste; and he
wrote always as a Humanist, a lover of the classics, who found in them
the quintessence of human wisdom. Men everywhere were ready for broader
views, deeper knowledge, keener life, and he, through these letters
and through personal contact, stimulated their longing and showed them
where they might find that which would satisfy it. The influence that
he thus exerted is incalculable. This volume is but an effort to give
some comprehension of it.

1: He did not discover the group _Ad Atticum_ until 1345, when he was
more than forty years old. And Voigt and Viertel have shown that the
very existence of the _Ad Familiares_ was unknown to him.

2: _Sen_., iv., 4

3: ......... qualis equos Threissa fatigat Harpalyce volucremque fuga
prævertitur Hebrum.

4: Petrarch sometimes applies this method of criticism more wisely and
with better results. _Cf. Fam._, xiv., 1 (vol. ii., pp. 268, 269).

5: There was no apparatus for the study of Greek at that time. Oral
instruction from Greek or Byzantine scholars was the only possible
means of access to the great writers of the past. Such instruction was
difficult to secure, as Petrarch's efforts and failure prove.

6: Through the patience and ingenuity of M. de Nolhac.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the letters that follow the first four are given for the sake of
showing the range and quality of Petrarch's classical scholarship. They
are taken, with one exception, from the letters to dead authors, which
constitute a large part of the twenty-fourth book of the _Familiares_.
The first is addressed to Cicero.

_To Marcus Tullius Cicero_[1]

Your letters I sought for long and diligently; and finally, where I
least expected it, I found them. At once I read them, over and over,
with the utmost eagerness. And as I read I seemed to hear your
bodily voice, O Marcus Tullius, saying many things, uttering many
lamentations, ranging through many phases of thought and feeling. I
long had known how excellent a guide you have proved for others; at
last I was to learn what sort of guidance you gave yourself.

Now it is your turn to be the listener. Hearken, wherever you are, to
the words of advice, or rather of sorrow and regret, that fall, not
unaccompanied by tears, from the lips of one of your successors, who
loves you faithfully and cherishes your name. O spirit ever restless
and perturbed! in old age--I am but using your own words--self-involved
in calamities and ruin! what good could you think would come from your
incessant wrangling, from all this wasteful strife and enmity? Where
were the peace and quiet that befitted your years, your profession,
your station in life? What Will-o'-the-wisp tempted you away, with
a delusive hope of glory; involved you, in your declining years, in
the wars of younger men; and, after exposing you to every form of
misfortune, hurled you down to a death that it was unseemly for a
philosopher to die? Alas! the wise counsel that you gave your brother,
and the salutary advice of your great masters, you forgot. You were
like a traveller in the night, whose torch lights up for others the
path where he himself has miserably fallen.

Of Dionysius I forbear to speak; of your brother and nephew, too; of
Dolabella even, if you like. At one moment you praise them all to the
skies; at the next fall upon them with sudden maledictions. This,
however, could perhaps be pardoned. I will pass by Julius Cæsar, too,
whose well-approved clemency was a harbour of refuge for the very men
who were warring against him. Great Pompey, likewise, I refrain from
mentioning. His affection for you was such that you could do with
him what you would. But what insanity led you to hurl yourself upon
Antony? Love of the republic, you would probably say. But the republic
had fallen before this into irretrievable ruin, as you had yourself
admitted. Still, it is possible that a lofty sense of duty, and love
of liberty, constrained you to do as you did, hopeless though the
effort was. That we can easily believe of so great a man. But why,
then, were you so friendly with Augustus? What answer can you give to
Brutus? If you accept Octavius, said he, we must conclude that you are
not so anxious to be rid of all tyrants as to find a tyrant who will
be well-disposed toward yourself. Now, unhappy man, you were to take
the last false step, the last and most deplorable. You began to speak
ill of the very friend whom you had so lauded, although he was not
doing any ill to you, but merely refusing to prevent others who were.
I grieve, dear friend, at such fickleness. These shortcomings fill
me with pity and shame. Like Brutus, I feel no confidence in the arts
in which you are so proficient. What, pray, does it profit a man to
teach others, and to be prating always about virtue, in high-sounding
words, if he fails to give heed to his own instructions? Ah! how much
better it would have been, how much more fitting for a philosopher, to
have grown old peacefully in the country, meditating, as you yourself
have somewhere said, upon the life that endures for ever, and not
upon this poor fragment of life; to have known no fasces, yearned
for no triumphs, found no Catilines to fill the soul with ambitious
longings!--All this, however, is vain. Farewell, forever, my Cicero.

Written in the land of the living; on the right bank of the Adige, in
Verona, a city of Transpadane Italy; on the 16th of June, and in the
year of that God whom you never knew the 1345th.

1: _Fam._, xxiv., 3. This epistle was written very soon after
Petrarch's discovery, at Verona, of the _Letters to Atticus and
Quintus_ and the _Correspondence with Brutus_, known collectively
as the _Letters addressed to Atticus_. It undoubtedly gives us the
impressions derived from the first eager perusal of these.

It will be observed that Petrarch is less at his ease here than in his
ordinary correspondence. One feels in all his letters to the great men
of the past a certain constraint. He was awe-struck, and his style
consequently is a little self-conscious and laboured.

       *       *       *       *       *

With that should go the following interesting little account of a
controversy between Petrarch and a certain aged scholar whom he met
in the course of one of his journeys. Nothing could afford a clearer
insight into either the nature of Petrarch's own feeling for the
classics or the general humanistic conditions of the time. This is one
of the letters, as the opening sentences show, that were carefully
revised for the public.

_The Old Grammarian of Vicenza,_

_To Pulice di Vicenza_[1]

On my way I stopped overnight in one of Vicenza's suburbs, and there I
found something new to write about. It happened that I had left Padua
not much before noon, and so did not reach the outskirts of your city
until the sun was getting low. I tried to make up my mind whether I had
better put up there or push on a little farther; for I was in a hurry,
and the days are long now, and it would be light for a good while yet.
I was still hesitating, when lo!--for who can remain hidden from the
friends who love him?--all my doubts were happily resolved by your
arrival, in company with several other men of mark, such as that little
city has always produced in great abundance. My mind was tossing this
way and that, but you and your companions, with your pleasant varied
talk, furnished the cable that bound it fast. I planned to go, but
still stayed on; and did not realise that the daylight was slipping
away from me until night was actually at hand. So I discovered once
again what I had observed often before, that there is nothing that
filches time away from us, without our perceiving it, like converse
with our friends. They are the greatest of all thieves of time. And yet
we ought to deem no time less truly stolen from us, less truly lost out
of our lives, than such as is expended (next to God) upon them.

Well, not to review the story at too great length, you remember that
some one made mention of Cicero, as will very often happen among men of
literary tastes. This name at once brought our desultory conversation
to an end. We all turned our thoughts toward him. Nothing but Cicero
was discussed after that. As we sat and feasted together we vied with
one another in singing his praises. Still, there is nothing in this
world that is absolutely perfect; never has the man existed in whom
the critic, were he ever so lenient, would see nothing at all to
reprehend. So it chanced that while I expressed admiration for Cicero,
almost without reservation, as a man whom I loved and honoured above
all others, and amazement too at his golden eloquence and his heavenly
genius, I found at the same time a little fault with his fickleness
and inconsistency, traits that are revealed everywhere in his life and
works. At once I saw that all who were present were astonished at so
unusual an opinion, and one among them especially so. I refer to the
old man, your fellow-citizen, whose name has gone from me, although his
image is fresh in my memory, and I revere him, both for his years and
for his scholarship.

Well, the circumstances seemed to demand that I fetch the manuscript
of my correspondence with my friends, which I had with me in my chest.
It was brought in, and added fuel to the flame. For among the letters
that were written to my contemporaries there are a few, inserted with
an eye to variety and for the sake of a little diversion in the midst
of my more serious labours, that are addressed to some of the more
illustrious men of ancient times. A reader who was not forewarned would
be amazed at these, finding names so old and of such renown mingled
with those of our own day. Two of them are to Cicero himself; one
criticising his character, the other praising his genius. These two
you read, while the others listened; and then the strife of words grew
warmer. Some approved of what I had written, admitting that Cicero
deserved my censure. But the old man stood his ground, more stubbornly
even than before. He was so blinded by love of his hero and by the
brightness of his name that he preferred to praise him even when he
was in the wrong; to embrace faults and virtues together, rather than
make any exceptions. He would not be thought to condemn anything at all
in so great a man. So instead of answering our arguments he rang the
changes again and again upon the splendour of Cicero's fame, letting
authority usurp the place of reason. He would stretch out his hand and
say imploringly, "Gently, I beg of you, gently with my Cicero." And
when we asked him if he found it impossible to believe that Cicero
had made mistakes, he would close his eyes and turn his face away and
exclaim with a groan, as if he had been smitten, "Alas! alas! Is my
beloved Cicero accused of doing wrong?" just as if we were speaking
not of a man but of some god. I asked him, accordingly, whether in his
opinion Tullius was a god, or a man like others. "A god," he replied;
and then, realising what he had said, he added, "a god of eloquence."
"Oh, very well!" I answered; "if he is a god, he certainly could not
have erred. However, I never heard him styled so before. And yet, if
Cicero calls Plato his god, why should not you in turn speak of Cicero
as yours?--except that it is not in harmony with our religious beliefs
for men to fashion gods for themselves as they may fancy." "I am only
jesting," said he; "I know that Tullius was a man, but he was a man of
godlike genius." "That is better," I responded; "for when Quintilian
called him heavenly he spoke no more than the truth. But then, if you
admit that he was a man, it follows necessarily that he could make
mistakes, and did so." As I spoke these words he shuddered and turned
away, as if they were aimed not at another man's reputation but at his
own life. What could I say, I who am myself so great an admirer of
Cicero's genius? I felt that the old scholar was to be envied for his
ardour and devotion, which had something of the Pythagorean savour. I
was rejoiced at finding such reverence for even one great man; such
almost religious regard, so fervent that to suspect any touch of human
weakness in its object seemed like sacrilege. I was amazed, too, at
having discovered a person who cherished a love greater than mine for
the man whom I always had loved beyond all others; a person who in old
age still held, deeply rooted in his heart, the opinions concerning
him which I remember to have entertained in my boyhood; and who,
notwithstanding his advanced years, was incapable of arguing that if
Cicero was a man it followed that in some cases, in many indeed, he
must have erred, a conclusion that I have been forced, by common sense
and by knowledge of his life, to accept at this earlier stage of my
development,--although this conviction does not alter the fact that the
beauty of his work delights me still, beyond that of any other writer.
Why, Tullius himself, the very man of whom we are speaking, took this
view, for he often bewailed his errors, bitterly. If, in our eagerness
to praise him, we deny that he thus understood himself, we deprive him
of a large part of his renown as a philosopher, the praise, namely,
that is due to self-knowledge and modesty.

To return, however, to that day; after a long discussion we were
compelled by the lateness of the hour to desist, and separated with
the question still unsettled. But as we parted you asked me to send
you from my first resting-place, inasmuch as the shortness of the
time would not let me attend to it just then, a copy of each of these
letters of mine, in order that you might look into the matter a little
more carefully, and be in a position to act as a mediator between the
parties, or, possibly, as a champion of Cicero's steadfastness and
consistency. I approve of your intention, and send the copies herewith.
I do so, strange to say, with a fear that I may be victorious, and a
hope that I may be vanquished. And one thing more: I must tell you that
if you do prove the victor you have a larger task on your hands than
you now imagine. For Annæus Seneca, whom I criticise in my very next
letter in a similar way, insists that you act as his champion too.

I have dealt familiarly with these great geniuses, and perhaps boldly,
but lovingly, but sorrowfully, but truthfully, I think[2]; with
somewhat more of truthfulness, in fact, than I myself relish. There are
many things in both of them that delight me, only a few that trouble
me. Of these few I felt constrained to write; perhaps to-day I should
feel otherwise. For, although I have grouped these letters together
at the end, it is only because their subject-matter is so unlike the
others; they came from the anvil long ago.

The fact is, I still grieve over the fate of these great men; but I
do not lament their faults any the less because of that. Furthermore,
I beg you to note that I say nothing against Seneca's private life,
nor against Cicero's attitude toward the state. Do not confuse the
two cases. It is Cicero alone whom we are discussing now; and I am
not forgetting that he as consul was vigilant and patriotic, and
cured the disease from which the republic was suffering; nor that as
a private citizen he always loved his country faithfully. But what
of his fickleness in friendship; and his bitter quarrels upon slight
provocation,--quarrels that brought ruin upon himself and good to no
one; and his inability to understand his own position and the condition
of the republic, so unlike his usual acumen; and, finally, the
spectacle of a philosopher, in his old age, childishly fond of useless
wrangling? These things I cannot praise. And remember that they are
things concerning which no unbiassed judgment can be formed, by you or
anyone else, without a careful reading of the entire correspondence of
Cicero, which suggested this controversy.[3]

May 13th, _en route_.

1: _Fam_., xxiv., 2.

2: This artificial repetition of the adversative conjunction is a
trick of style that Petrarch is very fond of.

3: This last sentence, with its schoolmasterly tone, is an interesting
revelation of Petrarch's feeling of superiority, in point of
scholarship, to all of his associates. It was a feeling that the facts
fully justified.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of the two letters addressed directly to Cicero himself, and referred
to in the preceding epistle, one has already been given. The other is,
in part, as follows:

_To Marcus Tullius Cicero._[1]

If my earlier letter gave you offence,--for, as you often have
remarked, the saying of your contemporary in the _Andria_ is a faithful
one, that compliance begets friends, truth only hatred,--you shall
listen now to words that will soothe your wounded feelings and prove
that the truth need not always be hateful. For, if censure that is true
angers us, true praise, on the other hand, gives us delight.

You lived then, Cicero, if I may be permitted to say it, like a mere
man, but spoke like an orator, wrote like a philosopher. It was your
life that I criticised; not your mind, nor your tongue; for the one
fills me with admiration, the other with amazement. And even in your
life I feel the lack of nothing but stability, and the love of quiet
that should go with your philosophic professions, and abstention from
civil war, when liberty had been extinguished and the republic buried
and its dirge sung.

See how different my treatment of you is from yours of Epicurus,
in your works at large, and especially in the _De Finibus_. You
are continually praising his life, but his talents you ridicule. I
ridicule in you nothing at all. Your life does awaken my pity, as I
have said; but your talents and your eloquence call for nothing but
congratulation. O great father of Roman eloquence! not I alone but all
who deck themselves with the flowers of Latin speech render thanks unto
you. It is from your well-springs that we draw the streams that water
our meads. You, we freely acknowledge, are the leader who marshals us;
yours are the words of encouragement that sustain us; yours is the
light that illumines the path before us. In a word, it is under your
auspices that we have attained to such little skill in this art of
writing as we may possess....

You have heard what I think of your life and your genius. Are you
hoping to hear of your books also; what fate has befallen them, how
they are esteemed by the masses and among scholars? They still are in
existence, glorious volumes, but we of to-day are too feeble a folk
to read them, or even to be acquainted with their mere titles. Your
fame extends far and wide; your name is mighty, and fills the ears of
men; and yet those who really know you are very few, be it because the
times are unfavourable, or because men's minds are slow and dull, or,
as I am the more inclined to believe, because the love of money forces
our thoughts in other directions. Consequently right in our own day,
unless I am much mistaken, some of your books have disappeared, I fear
beyond recovery. It is a great grief to me, a great disgrace to this
generation, a great wrong done to posterity. The shame of failing to
cultivate our own talents, thereby depriving the future of the fruits
that they might have yielded, is not enough for us; we must waste and
spoil, through our cruel and insufferable neglect, the fruits of your
labours too, and of those of your fellows as well, for the fate that
I lament in the case of your own books has befallen the works of many
another illustrious man.

It is of yours alone, though, that I would speak now. Here are the
names of those among them whose loss is most to be deplored: the
_Republic_, the _Praise of Philosophy_, the treatises on the _Care of
Property_, on the _Art of War_, on _Consolation_, on _Glory_,--although
in the case of this last my feeling is rather one of hopeful
uncertainty than of certain despair. And then there are huge gaps in
the volumes that have survived. It is as if indolence and oblivion had
been worsted, in a great battle, but we had to mourn noble leaders
slain, and others lost or maimed. This last indignity very many of
your books have suffered, but more particularly the _Orator_, the
_Academics_, and the _Laws_. They have come forth from the fray so
mutilated and disfigured that it would have been better if they had
perished outright.

Now, in conclusion, you will wish me to tell you something about the
condition of Rome and the Roman republic: the present appearance of
the city and whole country, the degree of harmony that prevails, what
classes of citizens possess political power, by whose hands and with
what wisdom the reins of empire are swayed, and whether the Danube, the
Ganges, the Ebro, the Nile, the Don, are our boundaries now, or in very
truth the man has arisen who 'bounds our empire by the ocean-stream,
our fame by the stars of heaven,' or 'extends our rule beyond Garama
and Ind,' as your friend the Mantuan has said. Of these and other
matters of like nature I doubt not you would very gladly hear. Your
filial piety tells me so, your well-known love of country, which you
cherished even to your own destruction. But indeed it were better that
I refrained. Trust me, Cicero, if you were to hear of our condition
to-day you would be moved to tears, in whatever circle of heaven above,
or Erebus below, you may be dwelling. Farewell, forever.

Written in the world of the living; on the left bank of the Rhone, in
Transalpine Gaul; in the same year, but in the month of December, the
19th day.

1: _Fam_., xxiv., 4.

       *       *       *       *       *

Over against the foregoing should be placed a part at least of the long
letter addressed to Homer. This will serve to correct the somewhat too
favourable impression of Petrarch's critical insight that the letters
to Cicero may have induced, and will reveal some of the limitations of
his scholarship.

_To Homer_[1]

Long before your letter[2] reached me I had formed an intention of
writing to you, and I should really have done it if it had not been
for the lack of a common language. I am not so fortunate as to have
learned Greek,[3] and the Latin tongue, which you once spoke, by
the aid of our writers,[4] you seem of late, through the negligence
of their successors, to have quite forgotten. From both avenues
of communication, consequently, I have been debarred, and so have
kept silence. But now there comes a man[5] who restores you to us,
single-handed, and makes you a Latin again.

Your Penelope cannot have waited longer nor with more eager
expectation for her Ulysses than I did for you. At last, though, my
hope was fading gradually away. Except for a few of the opening lines
of certain books, from which there seemed to flash upon me the face
of the friend whom I had been longing to behold, a momentary glimpse,
dim through distance, or, rather, the sight of his streaming hair, as
he vanished from my view,--except for this no hint of a Latin Homer
had come to me, and I had no hope of being able ever to see you face
to face. For as regards the little book that is circulated under your
name, while I cannot say whose it is I do feel sure that it is yours
only as it has been culled from you and accredited to you, and is not
your real work at all.[6] This friend of ours, however, if he lives,
will restore you to us in your entirety. He is now at work, and we are
beginning to enjoy not only the treasures of wisdom that are stored
away in your divine poems but also the sweetness and charm of your
speech. One fragment has come to my hands already, Grecian precious
ointment in Latin vessels....[7]

To turn now to details, I am very eager for knowledge, and consequently
was delighted beyond all measure and belief by what you wrote about
your instructors, of whom I had never before heard, although now I
shall reverence them because of the merits of their great pupil; and
about the origin of poetry, which you explain at the greatest length;
and about the earliest followers of the Muses, among whom, in addition
to the well-known dwellers upon Helicon, you place Cadmus, the son of
Agenor, and a certain Hercules, whether the great Alcides or not I do
not fully understand; and, finally, about the place of your nativity,
concerning which there used to be very vague and misty views here in
my country, and no great clearness, so far as I can see, among your
compatriots; about your wanderings, too, in search of knowledge,
into Phœnicia and Egypt, whither, several centuries after you, the
illustrious philosophers Pythagoras and Plato also made their way, and
the Athenian law-giver who in his late years wooed the Pierian Muses,
wise old Solon, who while he lived never ceased to admire you, and when
he died doubtless became one of your cherished friends; and, last of
all, about the number of your works, the majority of which even the
Italians, your nearest neighbours, have never so much as heard of.
As for the barbarians, who bound us upon two sides, and from whom I
would that we were separated not by lofty Alps alone but by the whole
wide sea as well, they scarcely have heard--I will not say of your
books, but even of your very name. You see how trivial a thing is this
wonderful fame which we mortals sigh for so windily....

And now what shall I say about the matter of imitation? When you found
yourself soaring so high on the wings of genius you ought to have
foreseen that you would always have imitators. You should be glad that
your endowments are such that many men long to be like you, although
not many can succeed. Why not be glad, you who are sure of holding
always the first place, when I, the least of mortals, am more than
glad, am in fact puffed up with pride, because I have grown great
enough for others--though I scarcely can believe that this is really
true--to desire to imitate and copy me? In my case the pride and joy
would only increase if among these imitators there should be found
some few who were capable of surpassing me. I pray--not your Apollo,
but the true God of Intellect whom I worship, to crown the efforts of
all who may deem it worth their while to follow after me, and to grant
that they may find it an easy thing to come up with me, and outstrip me

But I am wandering. It was my intention to speak to you of Virgil,
than whom, as Flaccus says, this earth has produced no soul more
spotless; and to suggest to you, great master of us both, certain
excuses for his conduct.... I admit the truth of everything that you
say concerning him, but it does not necessarily follow that I lend a
sympathetic ear to the charges that you base upon this failure of his
to make anywhere any mention of your name, laden and bedecked though
he is with your spoils,--mention, you remind me, such as Lucan made,
remembering in grateful strains the honour due to Smyrna's bard. Far
from that, I am even going to suggest to you additional cause for
complaint. Flaccus also remembers you, in many a passage, and always
with the highest praise. In one place he exalts you above the very
philosophers; in another he assigns to you the highest seat among the
poets. Naso remembers you too, and Juvenal, and Statius. But why try
to mention all who mention Homer? There is scarcely one of our writers
but that belongs in that class. Why is it then, you will say, that I
find the one man from whom I deserved most gratitude proving so utterly
ungrateful? Before I answer you let me furnish you still another reason
for complaint. Observe that he was not equally ungrateful in every
case. Musæus and Linus and Orpheus are referred to more than once. So
also, and with even greater humility, Hesiod the Ascræan and Theocritus
of Syracuse. And finally, a thing that he never would have done if he
had had any touch of jealousy, he takes pains to speak of Varus, and
Gallus, and certain others of his contemporaries.

Well, have I aggravated sufficiently the resentment which I proposed
to assuage, or entirely remove? The natural conclusion, certainly, for
anyone to draw, if this were all that I had to say. But it is not;
we have not considered yet the reasons for all this, and given them
their due weight, and that we should always do, especially when we are
sitting in judgment upon others.

Is it not true, then, that he chose Theocritus for his guide and model
in the Bucolics, and Hesiod in the Georgics, and, having done so,
took pains to introduce the name of each in its appropriate place?
Yes, you will say; but after choosing me for his third model, in his
heroic poem, what was there to prevent his making some mention there,
in like manner, of my name? He would have done so, believe me, for he
was the gentlest and most unassuming of men, as is proved by all that
is written of him and all that we know of his daily life; but impious
death forbade. The others he had referred to wherever he thought of it
or found it convenient; for you, to whom he owed so much more, he was
reserving a place that had been determined not by mere chance but by
the most careful consideration. And what place, think you? What but
the most prominent and conspicuous of all? The end of his glorious
work!--it was for that that he was waiting; it was there that he was
intending to exalt you and your name to the stars in resounding verse,
and to hail you as his leader. What better place to praise a leader
than at the journey's end? You have good reason, then, for lamenting
his too early death, and so has the whole Italian world; but for
reproaching your friend, none whatever....

Now, in conclusion, I must run over the various little complaints that
are scattered up and down the whole length of your letter. You grieve
because you have been mangled so by your imitators. But do you not
see that it could not possibly have been otherwise? No one could deal
comprehensively with so great a genius. Then you mourn because your
name, which was held in great honour by the lawyers and physicians of
old, is despised by their successors of to-day. But you forget that
these professions are filled now by men of a very different stamp from
those who followed them in former times. If they were of the same
sort they would love and cherish the same things. So put away your
indignation and your grief, and be of good hope; for to have gained the
disfavour of the evil and the ignorant is to have given sure sign of
virtue and genius....

A word now with reference to your complaint that the valley of Fiesole
and the banks of the Arno can furnish only three men who know you and
love you. You ought not to wonder at this. It is enough; indeed, it is
a very great deal, more than I should have expected, to discover three
Pierian spirits in a city so entirely given up to gain. But even if you
think otherwise you need not be discouraged; it is a large and populous
place, and if you seek you will find there a fourth. And to these four
I could once have added a fifth, a man who well deserves to be honoured
thus, for the laurels of Peneus bind his brow--or of Alpheus rather.
But alas! the great Babylon beyond the Alps has contrived to steal
him away from us. To find five such men at one time and in one city,
is that, think you, a little thing? Search through other cities. Your
beloved Bologna that you sigh for,[8] hospitable though she is to all
who are of studious mind, has yet but one such person, though you seek
in every corner and crevice. Verona has two; Solmona one; and Mantua
one, if the heavens have not tempted him quite away from the things of
earth, for he has left your banner and enlisted under that of Ptolemy.
Rome herself, the capital of the world, has been drained of such
citizens almost to a man, strange though it seems. Perugia did produce
one, a man who might have made a name for himself; but he has neglected
his opportunities, and turned his back not on Parnassus only but on our
Apennines and Alps as well, and now, in old age, is leading a vagabond
life, in Spain, toiling as a copyist to earn his daily bread. And other
cities have given birth to others, but all of these whom I have known
have before now left this mortal home and migrated to that continuing
city which one day shall receive us all....

For a long while I have been talking to you just as if you were
present; but now the strong illusion fades away, and I realise how far
you are from me. There comes over me a fear that you will scarcely
care, down in the shades, to read the many things that I have written
here. Yet I remember that you wrote freely to me.

And now farewell, forever. To Orpheus, and Linus, and Euripides, and
all the others, I beg you to give my kindest greetings, when you come
again to your abode.

Written in the world above; in the _Midland_ between the famous rivers
Po and Ticino and Adda and others, whence some say our _Milan_ derives
its name; on the ninth day of October, in the year of this last age of
the world the 1360th.

1: _Fam_., xxiv., 12.

2: Someone had sent Petrarch an epistle that purported to come from
the shade of Homer. It must have been even more interesting than this
reply, in its unconscious revelation of mediæval limitations. Petrarch
took it very seriously. He often forgets in this answer that he is not
writing to Homer himself.

3: In Petrarch's day, as has been hinted above (p. 237), [Petrarch
laboured strenuously,...] there was no apparatus for the study of
Greek. Oral instruction, from Greek or Byzantine scholars, was the
only possible means of access to the great writers of the past. Such
instruction was very difficult to secure, as Petrarch's repeated
efforts and final failure prove. For his own statements concerning this
subject see _Fam_., xviii., 2.

4: The reference is of course to the Latin translations of Homer,
the _Odyssey_ of Livius Andronicus and the abridgment of the _Iliad_
mentioned just below, p. 254, note 1. (Your Penelope cannot have

5: Leo Pilatus (or Leontius Pilatus, as Boccaccio writes the name), a
Calabrian, who, at the instance of Petrarch and Boccaccio, was making
at Florence at about this time a Latin prose version of the _Iliad_ and
the _Odyssey_. For a good brief account of what is known concerning
Pilatus, with a few specimens of his translation, see Körting, _op.
cit_., i., 474 _sqq_.

6: The reference here is to the metrical abridgment of the _Iliad_
by Silius Italicus. This contains 1070 lines, half of them condensed
translation of passages from books I.-V., the remainder little more
than the driest epitome. Poor as it is, it was widely accepted in the
middle ages, in some confused sort of a way, as 'Homer.' But Petrarch
was able to look below the surface and see just what it was.

7: De Nolhac has shown (_op. cit_., pp. 342, 354) that Pilatus
probably had made for Petrarch alone, more than a year before this
epistle was written, a preliminary translation of the first five books
of the _Iliad._

8: Voigt argues from these words that the letter to which this of
Petrarch's is a reply came from Bologna. De Nolhac thinks it more
probable that it was written from Florence, by Boccaccio and his

       *       *       *       *       *

With this, as throwing further light upon Petrarch's limitations, may
be placed the letter to his brother, upon the nature of poetry, to
which reference was made above in discussing the question of allegory:

_On the Nature of Poetry._

_To his Brother Gherardo._[1]

I judge, from what I know of your religious fervour, that you will
feel a sort of repugnance toward the poem which I enclose in this
letter, deeming it quite out of harmony with all your professions,
and in direct opposition to your whole mode of thinking and living.
But you must not be too hasty in your conclusions. What can be more
foolish than to pronounce an opinion upon a subject that you have not
investigated? The fact is, poetry is very far from being opposed to
theology. Does that surprise you? One may almost say that theology
actually is poetry, poetry concerning God. To call Christ now a lion,
now a lamb, now a worm, what pray is that if not poetical? And you will
find thousands of such things in the Scriptures, so very many that I
cannot attempt to enumerate them. What indeed are the parables of our
Saviour, in the Gospels, but words whose sound is foreign to their
sense, or allegories, to use the technical term? But allegory is the
very warp and woof of all poetry. Of course, though, the subject matter
in the two cases is very different. That everyone will admit. In the
one case it is God and things pertaining to him that are treated, in
the other mere gods and mortal men.

Now we can see how Aristotle came to say that the first theologians
and the first poets were one and the same. The very name of poet is
proof that he was right. Inquiries have been made into the origin of
that word; and, although the theories have varied somewhat, the most
reasonable view on the whole is this: that in early days, when men
were rude and unformed, but full of a burning desire--which is part
of our very nature--to know the truth, and especially to learn about
God, they began to feel sure that there really is some higher power
that controls our destinies, and to deem it fitting that homage should
be paid to this power, with all manner of reverence beyond that which
is ever shown to men, and also with an august ceremonial. Therefore,
just as they planned for grand abodes, which they called temples, and
for consecrated servants, to whom they gave the name of priests, and
for magnificent statues, and vessels of gold, and marble tables, and
purple vestments, they also determined, in order that this feeling of
homage might not remain unexpressed, to strive to win the favour of
the deity by lofty words, subjecting the powers above to the softening
influences of songs of praise, sacred hymns remote from all the forms
of speech that pertain to common usage and to the affairs of state,
and embellished moreover by numbers, which add a charm and drive tedium
away. It behoved of course that this be done not in every-day fashion,
but in a manner artful and carefully elaborated and a little strange.
Now speech which was thus heightened was called in Greek _poetices_;
so, very naturally, those who used it came to be called _poets._

Who, you will ask, is my authority for this? But can you not dispense
with bondsmen, my brother, and have a little faith in me? That you
should trust my unsupported word, when I tell you things that are true
and bear upon their face the stamp of truth, is nothing more, it seems
to me, than I have a right to ask of you. Still, if you find yourself
disposed to proceed more cautiously, I will give you bondsmen who are
perfectly good, witnesses whom you may trust with perfect safety.
The first of these is Marcus Varro, the greatest scholar that Rome
ever produced, and the next is Tranquillus, an investigator whose
work is characterised always by the utmost caution. Then I can add a
third name, which will probably be better known to you, Isidore. He
too mentions these matters, in the eighth book of his _Etymologies_,
although briefly and merely on the authority of Tranquillus.

But you will object, and say, "I certainly can believe the saint, if
not the other learned men; and yet the fact remains that the sweetness
of your poetry is inconsistent with the severity of my life." Ah! but
you are mistaken, my brother. Why, even the Old Testament fathers made
use of poetry, both heroic song and other kinds: Moses, for example,
and Job, and David, and Solomon, and Jeremiah. Even the psalms, which
you are always singing, day and night, are in metre, in the Hebrew; so
that I should be guilty of no inaccuracy or impropriety if I ventured
to style their author the Christian's poet. Indeed the plain facts
of the case inevitably suggest some such designation. Let me remind
you, moreover, since you are not inclined to take anything that I
say to-day without authority, that even Jerome took this view of the
matter. Of course these sacred poems, these psalms, which sing of the
blessed man, Christ,--of his birth, his death, his descent into hell,
his resurrection, his ascent into heaven, his return to judge the
earth,--never have been, and never could have been, translated into
another language without some sacrifice of either the metre or the
sense. So, as the choice had to be made, it has been the sense that has
been considered. And yet some vestige of metrical law still survives,
and the separate fragments we still call verses, very properly, for
verses they are.

So much for the ancients. Now as regards Ambrose and Augustine and
Jerome, our guides through the New Testament,--to show that they too
employed poetic forms and rhythms would be the easiest of tasks; while
in the case of Prudentius and Prosper and Sedulius and the rest the
mere names are enough, for we have not a single word from them in
prose, while their metrical productions are numerous and well known.
Do not look askance then, dear brother, upon a practice which you
see has been approved by saintly men whom Christ has loved. Consider
the underlying meaning alone, and if that is sound and true accept it
gladly, no matter what the outward form may be. To praise a feast set
forth on earthen vessels but despise it when it is served on gold is
too much like madness or hypocrisy....

But enough of preface, and of apology for form and style. Let me come
to the point, without further explanation. You must know that three
summers ago, when I was in Gaul, the heat drove me to the Fountain of
the Sorgue, which we once fixed upon, you will remember, as the place
where we would pass our life. By the grace of God, however, a far more
safe and tranquil abode was being prepared for you; while I was to be
denied the enjoyment of even the little tranquillity that would have
been possible there, since fortune was planning to raise me to a much
higher station, very little to my liking.

Well, here I was, with my mind divided, afraid to undertake a task of
any magnitude while I was under such a burden of care, and yet quite
unable to be altogether idle, because I have been nourished from my
infancy on activity, an activity which I hope has been praiseworthy,
but which I know has been incessant. So I chose a middle course,
postponing all work that was of much importance but doing little odds
and ends of writing, trifles that would help me pass away the time.
Now the very nature of the region, the forest recesses to which the
coming of dawn made me long to flee and forget my cares, and from
which only the return of night could bring me home, suggested that
I sing a woodland strain. Accordingly I began to compose a pastoral
poem, in twelve eclogues, a thing that I had long had in mind; and you
would scarcely believe me if I told you in how few days I had it all
completed, under the stimulus of the place.

Now the first of these eclogues, in accordance with the intention that
I had all along entertained, was about our two selves. Consequently it
has won the distinction of being chosen to be sent to you; whether with
the result of giving you pleasure or of completely spoiling all your
pleasure I scarcely can decide. But that is neither here nor there.
In either case this kind of poetry is one that cannot be understood
unless a key to it is furnished by the person who constructed it. So,
as I would not have you weary yourself to no purpose, I must give you a
brief outline, first of what I say, then of what I mean by it.

Two shepherds are introduced, for it is of the pastoral style. Pastoral
names are given them, naturally: Silvius and Monicus. Silvius, seeing
Monicus lying all alone in a cave, happy and at his ease, envies him
and speaks to him, expressing amazement at his good fortune, and
lamenting his own estate. Monicus may forget his flocks and fields, and
think of rest alone, while he must make his painful way over the rough
hills. He marvels the more at this great difference in their lot from
the fact that, as he expresses it, one and the same mother bore them
both,--so that we may understand that they are brothers. Monicus, in
response, throws all the blame for this hard life on Silvius himself,
saying that he is under no constraint whatever, but is wandering of
his own free will through the trackless forests and over the mountain
summits. Silvius replies that there is a reason for these wanderings;
the reason is love, nothing less than love of the Muse. To make
this clear he begins a rather long story of two shepherds, who sing
very sweetly. He tells how he heard one of them in his boyhood, and
afterwards the other, and was so captivated by them that he began to
neglect everything else. He has been following them eagerly through the
mountains, and while doing so has learned to sing, with a skill that
others have praised, although he himself is not yet satisfied with it;
and he intends to struggle on toward the summit, and either reach it or
perish in the attempt.

Monicus now begins to urge Silvius to come into the cave, for he
will hear there even sweeter singing. Presently, though, he breaks
off, suddenly, as if he saw signs of agitation in the other's face.
Silvius, however, offers some excuse, and Monicus continues. When he
has finished, Silvius asks who this shepherd is that sings so sweetly;
never before has he heard him mentioned. Thereupon Monicus, in the
roundabout way that would be natural in an artless shepherd, instead
of giving his name describes the land of his birth, making mention,
after the fashion of rustics, who often wander in telling a story, of
two rivers that spring from one source. Then immediately, as if he saw
that he had made a mistake, he turns his words round, and where he had
begun to speak of two rivers he goes on to tell of one, which flows
from two sources. Both of these are in Asia. Silvius declares that
he knows this river, citing in confirmation the fact that a certain
youth who goes clad in hairy raiment bathes Apollo in it. In that
region, continues Monicus, a singer has arisen. Silvius, upon hearing
these words, remembers that he has heard of this man, and proceeds
to speak slightingly of his voice and mode of singing, exalting his
own by comparison. But Monicus objects, and heaps upon the far-away
singer well-deserved praise. Thereupon Silvius after a time pretends to
acquiesce, and says that later he will return and test the sweetness
of these songs; now he must hurry away. Monicus, wondering at this,
begs to know the reason of his haste, and learns that Silvius is intent
upon a song of his own which he has begun to compose, concerning a
certain famous youth whose deeds he is briefly reviewing, and that he
consequently has no leisure now for other things. Monicus accordingly
brings the conversation to an end. He bids Silvius good-bye, concluding
with an earnest exhortation to weigh well the dangers and chances of
such delay. And there you have the sum and substance of the narrative.

Now as to its meaning. The shepherds who converse are ourselves. I am
Silvius, you are Monicus. These names are chosen for the following
reasons: the former, partly because the scene of the eclogue is of a
sylvan character, partly because I always have felt, from my earliest
childhood, a hatred of cities, implanted in me by nature, and a love
of sylvan life, which has led many of our friends to style me Sylvanus
much more frequently than Francesco. Then the other name comes from the
fact that there was one of the Cyclops who was called Monicus, that is
to say, one-eyed, and there seemed a certain fitness in applying the
name to you, since of the two eyes which we mortals all use, one to
behold heavenly things and the other those of the earth, you have cast
away that which looks earthward and are content to employ the nobler
one alone.

The cave, where Monicus dwells in solitude, is Montrieux, where you are
living your life in the midst of grottoes and woods. Or it may be taken
for the very cave of Mary Magdalene, close by your monastery, the place
where she passed her period of penitence, and where God lent the props
of his grace to your vacillating heart and made you steadfast in the
holy purpose which you had so often discussed with me.

For flocks and fields, which you are said to care for no longer,
understand your fellow-men and their haunts, which you abandoned
when you fled away into solitude. The statement that we had one and
the same mother, and father too for that matter, is not allegory but
naked truth. The word sepulchre[2] is to be taken as referring to
our final abode. The meaning is that heaven awaits you, but Tartarus
me, unless divine mercy comes to my rescue. Or the sentence can be
taken literally, just as it reads, for you have now a sure abode,
and consequently a fairly sure hope of sepulture, while I am still
wandering about at random, and everything in my future is quite unsure.

The inaccessible peak, which Monicus upbraids Silvius for struggling
toward, panting and exhausted though he is, is the height of fame,
the rarer sort of fame, which but few succeed in attaining to. The
deserts where Silvius is said to wander are scholarly pursuits.
These to-day are desert places indeed, being in some cases forsaken
outright, through love of money, in others despaired of and neglected,
in consequence of intellectual sluggishness. The mossy rocks are the
rich and great, the moss being their inherited wealth, which has slowly
gathered about them. Murmuring fountains can be used of men of letters
and of those who have the gift of eloquence, inasmuch as little streams
of intellectual influence flow from the well-springs of genius that are
within them, with a sound, so to speak, that charms and delights us.
As for Silvius' swearing by Pales, that is a shepherd oath, for Pales
is the shepherds' goddess. We may understand there Mary, who is not a
goddess, to be sure, but yet is the mother of God. Parthenias is Virgil
himself. It is not a name of my devising. We read in his biography that
he well deserved to be styled Parthenias, or the virgin; so his whole
life showed. That the reader may be sure to understand this reference
the place is added; the region, as I express it, where Benacus, a lake
of Cisalpine Gaul, produces a son that closely resembles himself. This
son is the Mincius, a river that we associate with Mantua, which is
Virgil's native town.

On the other hand, the shepherd of noble blood who has been brought
here from another land signifies Homer. In that passage almost every
word has a meaning. Even the _inde_, which is put for _deinde,_ is used
not without a certain mysteriousness, seeing that I came in contact
with Virgil when I was a boy, but with Homer _afterwards_, when I was
somewhat advanced in years....[3] The epithet _noble_ is of course
Homer's by right, for what is more truly noble than his language or
mind? Again, _I know not from what valley he has come_ was added
because there are varying opinions as to the place of his birth, no
one of which have I accepted in that place in the eclogue. Finally,
that Virgil _drank at the Homeric spring_ is a fact which is known
to everyone who has to do with poetry. The _mistress_ of whom they
both are said to be worthy is Fame, for whose sakes they are poets.
Except for their mistresses lovers would not sing. The _bristling
forest_ and the _mountains that rise into the air_, at which Silvius
is amazed because they do not follow after these sweet singers, are
the uncultivated multitude and the persons who occupy high stations.
The _descent from the mountain-tops_ to the bottom of the valleys,
and the ascent from the valleys into the mountains again, which
Silvius refers to in speaking of himself, are the transition from
the heights of theory to the low and level ground of practice, and,
conversely, the movement in the opposite direction, when our attitude
changes. The _fountain_ which praises the singer is the chorus of
scholars. The _dry and barren crags_ are the ignorant and illiterate,
who, like the rocks where echo dwells, possess mere voice and power
of agreement, without any power of discrimination. The _nymphs_, the
goddesses of the fountains, are the divine minds of scholars. The
_threshold_ over which Monicus invites Silvius to pass is that of the
Carthusian order, into which assuredly no one has ever been lured by
deception, or against his will, as many persons have been into other
religious bodies. The _shepherd_ whose singing Monicus prefers to
Homer and Virgil is no other than David. The mention of _singing to
the psaltery_ is peculiarly appropriate in his case, because of the
psalms, which are his work. _In the middle of the night_, on account
of the singing of the psalms in your churches at early dawn. The _two
rivers from a single source_, as Monicus puts it first by mistake, are
the Tigris and the Euphrates, well-known streams of Armenia. Then the
_single river from a double source_ is the Jordan, in Judæa. For this
fact we have many authorities, among them Jerome, who was a diligent
student of those regions and lived there for a long time. The names
of the two sources are Jor and Dan. By their union both the stream
and its name are formed. The Jordan empties, it is said, into the
Sea of Sodom, where we are told that the fields are strewn with ashes
from the burning of the cities. In this river Christ, we learn, was
baptised by John. So the _hairy youth_ is John the Baptist, who was
but a youth, virgin, pure, innocent, clad in hairy raiment, unkempt,
wearing the skin of a goat, with locks uncombed, with face blackened
by the suns. Then by _Apollo,_ whom I describe as son of Jupiter and
god of intellect, I mean Christ, who is the son of God, and very God
himself, and moreover, as I suggest, our god of intellect and wisdom.
For, as all theologians know, among the attributes of the persons that
constitute the Holy Trinity, one and indivisible, wisdom belongs to the
Son; he is the wisdom of the Father.

Again, the _hoarse voice_ and _never-ceasing tears_ and _oft-repeated
name of Jerusalem_ are intended as a reference to David, because of
his style, which at first seems rough and full of lamentation, and
furthermore because there really is frequent mention of that city in
the psalms, sometimes historical, sometimes allegorical. Now there
follows a brief enumeration of the subjects which the poets whom
Silvius is striving to exalt are wont to sing. To explain all this
would take a long time. Besides it is sufficiently clear already to
those who are proficient in such matters. And then Monicus replies,
excusing this harshness of David, and running with like brevity over
the list of subjects which he has treated.

The youth about whose deeds Silvius has begun to weave his song is
Scipio Africanus, who laid Polyphemus low upon the African shore.
The reference there is to Hannibal, the Carthaginian leader. Hannibal
and Polyphemus were both one-eyed, after Hannibal's loss of an eye in
Italy. The _Libyan lions_, in which we know that Africa abounds, are
the other Carthaginian leaders, who were hurled from power by the same
conqueror. The _sacrifices_ that were consumed are the ships which he
burned, the ships upon which all the hopes of the Carthaginians had
hung. He destroyed five hundred of them before their very eyes, so
Roman history tells us. The designation of _starry youth_ is partly
because of the heroic valour which he possessed above all other men,
and which Virgil characterises as 'burning,' Lucan as 'fiery'; and
partly because the Romans of his day were led by their admiration of
him to credit him with divine origin. The Italians are said to praise
him _from the opposite shore_ because of the fact that the shore of
Italy really was opposed to that of Africa, not alone in temper and
feeling but in situation too. Rome itself is directly across from

However, although this youth is praised so widely, nobody has sung of
him; by which I meant to suggest that although all history is full of
his deeds and his renown, and Ennius has written a great deal about
him, in his rude and unpolished style, as Valerius calls it, there
still is no carefully finished metrical treatment of his achievements
as yet. So I decided long ago to sing of him myself, as best I could.
My poem of _Africa_ is about him. I began it in my youth, with a high
heart. God grant that I may be permitted in my old age to bring it
to the happy conclusion which I then dreamed of. The danger which
always inheres in such postponement of a well-considered plan, and
the mutability and uncertainty of this life of ours, Monicus bids us
ponder upon, in his concluding remarks, which scarcely call for further
explanation. And you will also understand the few sentences at the
close, if you will reflect a little. Farewell.

Written at Padua, on the second day of December, toward evening.

1: _Fam_., x., 4.

2: The fifth line of the eclogue reads:

    Una fuit genetrix, at spes non una sepulchri.

[3] The reference here seems to be to lines 13 _sqq_. (Basle edition of
the _Opera_, 1581.) Possibly _inde_ stood originally at the beginning
of line 20, for _ecce_. There is much evidence, throughout the letter,
to the effect that Petrarch either had before him a slightly different
text from that known to us or merely reviewed the eclogue hastily and
then trusted to his memory or impressions while writing.

       *       *       *       *       *

This next letter gives one some notion of the difficulties of a
scholar's life in Petrarch's day:

_On the Scarcity of Copyists._

_To Lapo da Castiglionchio._[1]

Your Cicero has been in my possession four years and more. There is a
good reason, though, for so long a delay; namely, the great scarcity
of copyists who understand such work. It is a state of affairs that
has resulted in an incredible loss to scholarship. Books that by their
nature are a little hard to understand are no longer multiplied, and
have ceased to be generally intelligible, and so have sunk into utter
neglect, and in the end have perished. This age of ours consequently
has let fall, bit by bit, some of the richest and sweetest fruits that
the tree of knowledge has yielded; has thrown away the results of the
vigils and labours of the most illustrious men of genius, things of
more value, I am almost tempted to say, than anything else in the whole

But I must return to your Cicero. I could not do without it, and the
incompetence of the copyists would not let me possess it. What was
left for me but to rely upon my own resources, and press these weary
fingers and this worn and ragged pen into the service? The plan that I
followed was this. I want you to know it, in case you should ever have
to grapple with a similar task. Not a single word did I read except as
I wrote. But how is that, I hear someone say; did you write without
knowing what it was that you were writing? Ah! but from the very first
it was enough for me to know that it was a work of Tullius, and an
extremely rare one too. And then as soon as I was fairly started I
found at every step so much sweetness and charm, and felt so strong
a desire to advance, that the only difficulty which I experienced in
reading and writing at the same time came from the fact that my pen
could not cover the ground so rapidly as I wanted it to, whereas my
expectation had been rather that it would outstrip my eyes, and that my
ardour for writing would be chilled by the slowness of my reading. So
the pen held back the eye, and the eye drove on the pen, and I covered
page after page, delighting in my task, and committing many and many a
passage to memory as I wrote. For just in proportion as the writing is
slower than the reading does the passage make a deep impression and
cling to the mind.

And yet I must confess that I did finally reach a point in my copying
where I was overcome by weariness; not mental, for how unlikely that
would be where Cicero was concerned, but the sort of fatigue that
springs from excessive manual labour. I began to feel doubtful about
this plan that I was following, and to regret having undertaken a task
for which I had not been trained; when suddenly I came across a place
where Cicero tells how he himself copied the orations of--someone or
other; just who it was I do not know, but certainly no Tullius, for
there is but one such man, one such voice, one such mind. These are his
words: "You say that you have been in the habit of reading the orations
of Cassius in your idle moments. But I," he jestingly adds, with his
customary disregard of his adversary's feelings, "have made a practice
of _copying_ them, so that I might _have_ no idle moments." As I read
this passage I grew hot with shame, like a modest young soldier who
hears the voice of his beloved leader rebuking him. I said to myself,
"So Cicero copied orations that another wrote, and you are not ready to
copy his? What ardour! what scholarly devotion! what reverence for a
man of godlike genius!" These thoughts were a spur to me, and I pushed
on, with all my doubts dispelled. If ever from my darkness there shall
come a single ray that can enhance the splendour of the reputation
which his heavenly eloquence has won for him, it will proceed in no
slight measure from the fact that I was so captivated by his ineffable
sweetness that I did a thing in itself most irksome with such delight
and eagerness that I scarcely knew I was doing it at all.

So then at last your Cicero has the happiness of returning to you,
bearing you my thanks. And yet he also stays, very willingly, with
me; a dear friend, to whom I give the credit of being almost the only
man of letters for whose sake I would go to the length of spending
my time, when the difficulties of life are pressing on me so sharply
and inexorably and the cares pertaining to my literary labours make
the longest life seem far too short, in transcribing compositions not
my own. I may have done such things in former days, when I thought
myself rich in time, and had not learned how stealthily it slips away:
but I now know that this is of all our riches the most uncertain and
fleeting; the years are closing in upon me now, and there is no longer
any room for deviation from the beaten path. I am forced to practice
strict economy; I only hope that I have not begun too late. But Cicero!
he assuredly is worthy of a part of even the little that I still have
left. Farewell.

[1] _Fam_., xviii., 12.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two letters that follow, and that conclude this chapter, are
given as indicative of the various ways in which Petrarch brought his
enthusiasm for the classics to bear upon his contemporaries. It was
partly through such conscious effort, and partly through the general
spirit and tone of all his letters, and of his other writings too, that
he affected the thought of his time.

_Ignorance and Presumption Rebuked._

_To Giovanni Andrea di Bologna._[1]

I find it hard to tell you how much my ears, fatigued by the clamour of
the multitude, have been refreshed by your letter, which I have read
and re-read several times over. You thought it verbose, as I learned
at the end; but I found nothing to criticise in it except its brevity.
Your threat at the close, that in the future you will be more concise,
I did not like. I should prefer to have you more detailed. But that
shall be as you please; you are my master; it is not for you to think
of my preferences, but for me to try to adapt myself to yours.

This, however, does not necessarily mean that the game is to be
entirely in your hands. Things often turn out, as you very well know,
quite differently from what we expect. It is possible that you may
once in a while hear something from me that would force even the most
devoted lover of silence to speak out. Do you want me to show you,
here and now, that I can live up to that threat? Very well; I will do
it. But first of all let me protest that I entertain the same opinion
concerning you that Macrobius does of Aristotle; begotten perhaps by
my love for you, perhaps by the truth,--I do not attempt to decide. I
consider you scarcely capable of ignorance, upon any subject whatever.
If anything. does escape you that seems contrary to fact, I conclude
either that you have spoken a little hastily, or, as Macrobius says,
that you were indulging in a playful jest. I am not thinking now of
what you wrote concerning Jerome, that you place him above all the
other fathers of the church. Your opinion upon that subject is of long
standing and widely known, and not at all new to me. Although it really
seems to me idle to contend thus from the comparative point of view
about geniuses who are all superlative, still, on the other hand, you
cannot be mistaken in what you say. Whatever wins your approval will be
greatest and best. And yet I remember that I used to debate this matter
a great deal with your friend of glorious memory, Giacomo, Bishop of
Lombez, and that, while he followed in your footsteps and always and
invariably preferred Jerome, I used to give the palm among all our
Catholic writers to Augustine. And--well, I believe upon reflection
that I will dismiss my fears of offending either the truth or your
susceptibilities, my father, and say precisely what I think. There
are many bright stars, of varying magnitude; one we may call Jupiter,
another Arcturus, another Lucifer, but the great Sun of the Church is
surely Augustine.

This, however, as I have implied, is a matter on which I am not
disposed to lay much stress. Freedom of choice can harm no one; freedom
of judgment must be respected. But the statement that follows, that
among ethical writers you place Valerius highest, does amaze me; that
is, if you were speaking seriously and will abide by what you say,
and not jestingly, just for the sake of trying me. For if Valerius is
first, where pray does Plato stand? and Aristotle? and Cicero? and
Annæus Seneca, whom good judges have ranked as a moralist above them
all? Perhaps Plato and Tullius will have to be dropped from my list,
however, on grounds that you have stated elsewhere in your letter.
For, to my great astonishment--I really cannot conceive what you were
thinking of--you declare that they are poets, and ought to be admitted
to the poetic choir! If your saying so should make it so, you would
accomplish more than you imagine. Apollo would smile upon you and the
Muses applaud, when they found you introducing your distinguished new
denizens to the hills and groves of Parnassus.[2]

What in the world induced you to think or say such a thing, when it is
so plain that Tullius in his early works is the greatest of orators,
and in his later an eminent philosopher? Besides, while we feel
everywhere that Virgil, for instance, is a poet, Tullius is nowhere so.
What we read in the _Declamations_ is certainly true, that Virgil's
felicity deserted him when he wrote in prose, and Cicero's eloquence
when he wrote in verse. And then what am I to say of Plato, who by the
consensus of all the greatest judges is not a poet at all, but the
prince of philosophers? Turn to Cicero, to Augustine, to other writers
who speak with authority, as many of them as you please, and you will
find that wherever in their books they have exalted Aristotle above the
rest of the philosophers they have always taken pains to declare that
Plato is the one exception. What it is that makes Plato a poet I cannot
imagine, unless it be a remark of Panætius, quoted by Tullius, where
he is denominated the Homer of philosophy. This means nothing more
than chief of philosophers; as preëminent among them as Homer among
the poets. If we do not explain it so, what are we to say of Tullius
himself, when in a certain passage in the letters to Atticus he calls
Plato his God? They are both trying in every possible way to express
their sense of the godlike nature of Plato's genius; hence the name of
Homer, and, more explicit still, that of God.

Next, prompted by this reference to Cicero and Plato, you
discourse--with wonderful eloquence and charm for one who is speaking
about things that he does not understand--upon the poets in general,
entering into an enthusiastic discussion of the identity of one and
another of them, the time when they were born, the characteristics of
their style, the particular kind of poetry that they affected, and
their place upon the roll of fame. To review all this in detail would
be too long a task,--so numerous are the things which none of us had
ever heard of before, but you have now disclosed to such of us as are
eager to learn, in this eloquent epistle. And yet on second thought,
if you will concede to me, or rather not to me but to my calling,
the right to offer just one objection, I shall express my wonder at
finding the names of Nævius and Plautus so entirely unknown to you
that you think me guilty of a solecism in inserting them in my letter,
and reprove me indirectly for daring, as Flaccus puts it, to invent
characters before unheard of. You do not make this charge in so many
words, but your doubts are such and so stated as to amount to nothing
less than a condemnation of my temerity in bringing upon the stage
names that are strange and foreign. It is true, you did in the end
curb your longing to speak plainly, and with your usual courtesy and
modesty chose to blame rather your own ignorance. And yet, unless I
am greatly mistaken, it is one of those cases where a man's words say
one thing but his real convictions loudly proclaim another. I wonder
at this, for Terence you seem to know very well, and he, at the very
beginning of his works, in the prologue of the _Andria_, makes definite
mention of Nævius and Plautus, and, in the same verse, of Ennius too.
Then in the _Eunuchushe_ refers to them again, and in the _Adelphi_
speaks of Plautus alone. Cicero, too, mentions them together, in his
_De Senectute_, and Aulus Gellius in his _Nodes Atticæ_, where he gives
their epitaphs, in old-fashioned Latin. All this argument is needless,
however, for who ever heard the name of poetry apart from the names of
these two men? Your amazement therefore fills me with amaze; and I beg
you, my father,--if you will let me speak freely,--not to allow these
lucubrations of yours to pass into any hands but mine. The brighter
one's renown, the more carefully should it be guarded. To me, indeed,
you may say whatever you wish, as freely as to yourself. You may change
and retract, as scholars have to do when they commune with their own
past thoughts. But when your words have gone abroad all power of choice
is taken away, and you must submit to whatever judgments the multitude
may pronounce upon you. I send your letter back to you in safe custody,
and send this with it, keeping a copy, though, simply that I may be
able, if you should desire to continue the discussion, to place your
arguments by the side of mine which called them forth, instead of
having to tax my memory for what I had said....

In writing thus I do not for a moment forget that a letter of reproof
addressed to a father by a son can scarcely fail to seem harsh and
rude. But you must let my love for you excuse such boldness. My regard
for your reputation compels me to speak, for if I keep silent you will
be sure to hear these things from others, or, still worse, will be
injured by severe judgments uttered behind your back....

Let me say, then, that I detect in your writings a constant effort to
make a display. This, I take it, accounts for your tendency to roam
through strange volumes, culling out fine passages to weave into your
own discourses. Your pupils, amazed at such an array of names, applaud
you and call you omniscient, just as if you really knew every author
the titles of whose books your memory happens to retain. Scholars,
however, find it easy to discriminate between a man's acquisitions and
his borrowings; easy, too, to determine what portion of the latter he
has a right to, what he holds by precarious tenure, and what he has
simply stolen; when he has drunk deep, from a full fountain, and when
he has taken only a hasty sip.

It is a childish thing to glory in a mere display of memory. As Seneca
has said, it is unseemly for a grown man to go gathering nosegays;
he should care for fruit rather than flowers. But you, in spite of
your years and the venerableness that they have brought with them; in
spite of the fact that you are of great eminence in your profession;
indeed,--for this task of taking you down is a thankless one, and I am
glad now and then to try smoothing you down instead,[3]--are the very
first man of your time in the department of literature to which you
have devoted yourself, nevertheless, like a truant child, break bounds,
and go wandering away into fields where you do not belong, and spend
the evening of your days in picking pretty flowers. You seem to take
delight in exploring new regions, where the paths are unknown to you
and you are sure to go astray once in a while or fall into a pit. You
like to follow the example of those who parade their knowledge before
their doors, like so much merchandise, while their houses within are
empty. Ah! it is safer to be something than to be always trying to seem
to be. Ostentation is difficult and dangerous. Moreover, just when you
are most desirous of being deemed great, innumerable little things
are sure to happen which not only reduce you to your true dimensions
but bring you below them. No one intellect should ever strive for
distinction in more than one pursuit. Those who boast of preëminence in
many arts are either divinely endowed or utterly shameless or simply
mad. Who ever heard of such presumption in olden times, on the part of
either Greeks or men of our own race? It is a new practice, a new kind
of effrontery. To-day men write up over their doors inscriptions full
of vainglory, containing claims which, if true, would make them, as
Pliny puts it, superior even to the law of the land. But when one looks
within--ye gods! what emptiness is there!

So, in conclusion, I beg you, if my words have any weight, to be
content within your own bounds. Do not imitate these men who are all
promise and no performance; who, as the comic poet has said, know
everything and yet know nothing. There is a certain wise old Greek
proverb that bids everyone stick to the trade that he understands.

1: _Fam_., iv., 15. Giovanni Andrea(✝1348), whose lectures Petrarch had
attended when at the University of Bologna, was renowned as an expert
in the canon law; he was called "the Archdoctor of the Decretum," and
held his chair in the University for no less than forty-five years.
His extant writings do not exhibit the ignorance which Petrarch here
exposes. He was perhaps, as Fracassetti suggests, _un poco più cauto e
considerato_ in his books than in his lectures to his students and his
letters to his friends. _Cf. Let. delle Cose Fam_., i., 568 _sqq_.

2: Petrarch not infrequently said sharp things, and said them well,
as here. He is witty, too, at times. He often indulges, also, in a
quiet jest or a bit of banter. He habitually takes the mellow tolerant
view of harmless follies and foibles. But humour, pure and simple, of
the highest type, the humour that is a deep and essential part of a
man's nature, and that consequently is all-embracing and ever-present,
he lacks. To this lack may be ascribed, in his life, the tendency to
take himself at times somewhat too seriously; and, in his writings,
the absence of that saving sense of 'the little more' and 'the little
less' without which perfect proportion and perfect taste are well-nigh
impossible in artistic productions.

3: The original demands some such forced play upon words: 'ut non
semper pungam sed interdum ungam.'

4: The old jurist did not take this criticism kindly, but made an angry
effort to justify himself; whereupon Petrarch wrote again, exposing
his ignorance and childishness more savagely even than in this first

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Young Humanist of Ravenna._

_To Boccaccio_[1]

A year after your departure I had the good fortune to secure the
services of a fine, generous, young lad, whom I am sorry you do not
know. He knows you well, for he has often seen you, at Venice, in your
house,[2] where I am now living, and also at the home of our friend
Donato, and on such occasions has observed you very carefully, as
is natural at his age. I want you to know him, too, so far as that
is possible at such long range, and to see him with the mind's eye,
when you read my letters, and so I will tell you a little about him.
He was born on the coast of the Adriatic, at about the time, if I am
not mistaken, when you were living there,[3] with the former lord of
that region, the grandfather of him who now holds sway. The lad's own
family and fortune are humble. But he is well endowed, nevertheless.
He has a force of character and a power of self-control that would be
praiseworthy even in old age; and a mind that is keen and flexible; and
a memory that is rapacious, and capacious, and, best of all, tenacious.
My bucolics, which are divided off into twelve eclogues, as you know,
he committed to memory within eleven days, reciting one section to me
each evening and two the last time, repeating them without a single
hitch, as if he had the book before his eyes. Besides that, he has
himself a great deal of invention,--a rare thing in these days,--and a
fine enthusiasm, and a heart that loves the Muses; and he is already,
as Maro hath it, making new songs of his own; and if he lives, and
his development keeps pace with his years, as I am confident it will,
he surely will be something great, as was prophesied of Ambrose by
his father. There is much to be said for him even now, at an age when
usually there is very little to say. Of one of his good tendencies
you have just heard. You shall hear now of another, a trait that
constitutes the best possible foundation for sound character and solid
intellectual attainments. As the common herd loves money and longs to
possess it, even so, and more, does he hate it and spurn it. To 'add to
golden numbers golden numbers' he considers labour worse than lost. He
is scarcely willing to acquire the necessaries of life. In his love
of solitude, his fasting, his vigils, he vies with me, often surpasses
me. In brief, his character has so recommended him to me that he is
every bit as dear to me as a son whom I had begotten; perhaps dearer,
because a son--such alas! are the ways of our young men nowadays--would
wish to rule, while all his study is to obey, to follow not his own
inclinations but my will, and this not from any selfish motive, such as
the hope of reward, but solely from love and, possibly, an expectation
of being benefited by association with me....[4]

And now I come, at the close, to what really was first in my thoughts.
The lad has a decided leaning toward poetry; and if he perseveres
in his efforts, till in due time he learns to think clearly and
vigorously, he will compel your wonder and your congratulations. But
so far he is vague and uncertain, because of the feebleness of youth,
and does not always know what he wants to say. What he does want to,
however, he says very nobly and beautifully. So it frequently happens
that there falls from him some poem that is not only pleasing to
the ear but dignified and graceful and well-considered, the sort of
work that you would ascribe, if you were ignorant of the author, to
some writer of long experience. I am confident that he will develop
vigour of thought and expression, and work out, as the result of his
experiments, a style of his own, and learn to avoid imitation, or,
better, to conceal it, so as to give the impression not of copying
but rather of bringing to Italy from the writers of old something
new. Now, however, imitation actually is his greatest joy, as is usual
at his time of life. Sometimes his delight in another's genius seems
to lend to his spirit wings, and he defies all the restraints of his
art and soars aloft, so high that he cannot continue his flight as he
should, and has to descend in a fashion that betrays him. The strongest
of all these admirations is for Virgil. It is marvellously strong.
He thinks very many of our poets worthy of praise, but Virgil worthy
almost of worship. He loves him so, is so fascinated by him, that he
often takes pains to weave bits from his poems into his own verse.
I, rejoicing to find that he is overtaking me and longing to see him
press on and become what I have always aspired to be, warn him, in a
fatherly and friendly fashion, to consider carefully what he is about.
An imitator must see to it that what he writes is similar, but not the
very same; and the similarity, moreover, should be not like that of a
painting or statue to the person represented, but rather like that of a
son to a father, where there is often great difference in the features
and members, and yet after all there is a shadowy something,--akin
to what our painters call one's _air_,--hovering about the face,
and especially the eyes, out of which there grows a likeness that
immediately, upon our beholding the child, calls the father up before
us. If it were a matter of measurement every detail would be found to
be different, and yet there certainly is some subtle presence there
that has this effect.

In much the same way we writers, too, must see to it that along
with the similarity there is a large measure of dissimilarity; and
furthermore such likeness as there is must be elusive, something that
it is impossible to seize except by a sort of still-hunt, a quality to
be felt rather than defined. In brief, we may appropriate another's
thought, and may even copy the very colours[5] of his style, but we
must abstain from borrowing his actual words. The resemblance in the
one case is hidden away below the surface; in the other it stares
the reader in the face. The one kind of imitation makes poets; the
other--apes. It may all be summed up by saying with Seneca, and with
Flaccus before him, that we must write just as the bees make honey,
not keeping the flowers but turning them into a sweetness of our own,
blending many very different flavours into one, which shall be unlike
them all, and better.

I often say such things, and he always listens as he would to his
own father. It happened the other day, though, as I was advising him
in this fashion, that he offered the following objection. "I see your
meaning," he said, "and I admit the truth of all that you say. But the
occasional, sparing, use of others' words,--that is a thing for which I
have abundant warrant, in the practice of very many of our poets, and
of yourself above all." I was amazed, and replied, "If ever you have
found such things in my works, my son, you may be sure that it is due
to some oversight, and is very far from being my deliberate intention.
I know that cases of this sort, where a writer makes use of another's
words, are to be found by the thousand in the poets; but I myself
have always taken the utmost pains, when composing, to avoid every
trace both of my own work and, more particularly, of my predecessors',
difficult though such avoidance is. But where, pray, is this passage
of mine, by which you justify yourself?" "In your bucolics, number
six, where, not far from the end, there is a verse that concludes with
these words: _atque intonat ore_." I was astounded; for I realised,
as he spoke, what I had failed to see when writing, that this is the
ending of one of Virgil's lines, in the sixth book of his divine poem.
I determined to communicate the discovery to you; not that there is
room any longer for correction, the poem being well known by this time
and scattered far and wide, but that you might upbraid yourself for
having left it to another to point out this slip of mine; or, if it
has chanced to escape your own notice so far, that you might learn of
it now, and at the same time might be led to reflect on the fact that
we mortals, all of us,--not I alone, who with all my zeal and industry
am handicapped by insufficiency of talent and literary training,
but all other men as well, however great their learning and their
abilities,--are so limited in our powers that all our inventions have
some element of incompleteness, perfection being the prerogative of him
alone from whom proceeds the little that we know and are able to do.
Then, in conclusion, I want you to join me in praying Virgil to pardon
me, and not harden his heart against me for unwittingly borrowing--not
stealing--these few words from him,--who himself has stolen outright,
many and many a time, from Homer, and Ennius, and Lucretius, and many
another poet. Farewell.

PAVIA, Oct. 28, [1365].

1: _Fam_., xxiii., 19

2: The reader must not be led by this _facon de parler_ to infer that
the impecunious Boccaccio owned a mansion in Venice. Petrarch was
fond of speaking of his own possessions as belonging to his friends;
he refers here to the house furnished him by the Venetian government
in exchange for his library. Boccaccio had visited him there, in the
summer of 1363, some two years before this letter was written.--For the
discussions to which the description of this brilliant youth have given
rise the reader is referred to Fracassetti's long note, _Let. delle
Cose Fam_., v., 91 _sqq_.

3: At Ravenna.

4: For the passage here omitted see p. 150 _sq_. above. (But should I
ever find a resting place...)

5: A metaphor of which Petrarch is fond. Usually his employment of
it can be traced directly to Cicero and Quintilian, but now and then
it occurs in a passage that seems to tell of his own keen delight in
the sensuous side of language; as in _Fam_., viii., 7, where he says
to 'Socrates': 'Ubi ... dulciter intermicantes colores rhetoricos
quærebamus, nil nisi dolentis interjectiones ... aspicimus.' This
quotation, and the entire letter above, concerning the young Humanist,
are but two among very many indications, scattered through the whole
correspondence, that Petrarch had thought long and carefully about
literary art, and had formulated to himself all of its principles, down
to the very least. His judgment and feeling concerning literature were
unerring, except when he was led astray by his allegorising tendency
and by a mediæval fondness for senseless plays upon words. Yet outside
of his own art he seems to have been decidedly crude æsthetically, as
has been the case with many another great man of letters, before and



      Ulysseos errores erroribus meis confer: profecto si
      nominis et rerum claritas una foret, nec diutius erravit
      ille, nec latius.--_Præfatio._

The Italians were probably the first among modern peoples to discover
the outer world to be something beautiful in itself. "Would that you
could know," Petrarch writes to a friend, "with what delight I wander,
free and alone, among the mountains, forests, and streams." He spent
many years, as we have seen, in his simple rustic home at Vaucluse, and
throughout his life he was in the habit of retiring now and then to the
seclusion of the country. In no way did his tastes more nearly approach
our modern predilections than in his love of nature and his passion for

He was once invited to accompany a friend upon a pilgrimage to the
Holy Land, but he discreetly refused the invitation; not that he
feared the perils of the deep, but he could not overcome his horror
of sea-sickness, which he had several times experienced upon the
Mediterranean. Instead of joining his friend, he prepared a little
guide-book[1] for him, which might serve to call his attention to the
noteworthy objects upon the long journey from Genoa to Jerusalem. It
is significant that Petrarch deals principally in his little manual
not with the half-legendary attractions of the Orient, but with the
familiar beauties of their own Italy. He does not forget, at the very
opening of the journey, the lovely valleys of the Riviera, with their
tumbling brooks, and the pleasing contrast of wildness and verdure on
the hills to the east of Genoa. But, like a true lover of nature, he
felt himself powerless adequately to describe the scene, and contented
himself with commending to his friend's admiration the beauties which
no mortal pen could depict.[2] The four letters which follow have been
chosen with the aim of illustrating Petrarch's attitude toward the
world about him.

1: _Itinerarium Syriacum, Opera_, pp. 556 _sqq_.

2: "Quæ multo facilius tibi sit mirari quam cuiquam hominum stylo
amplecti." _Itinerarium Syriacum, Opera_, p. 557.

_An Excursion to Paris, the Netherlands, and the Rhine._

_To Cardinal Giovanni Colonna._[1]

I have lately been travelling through France, not on business, as
you know, but simply from a youthful curiosity to see the country.
I finally penetrated into Germany, to the banks of the Rhine itself.
I have carefully noted the customs of the people, and have been much
interested in observing the characteristics of a country hitherto
unknown to me, and in comparing the things I saw with those at home.
While I found much to admire in both countries, I in no way regretted
my Italian origin. Indeed, the more I travel, the more my admiration
for Italy grows. If Plato, as he himself says, thanked the immortal
gods, among other things, for making him a Greek and not a barbarian,
why should not we too thank the Lord for the land of our birth, unless
to be born a Greek be considered more noble than to be born an Italian.
This, however, would be to assert that the slave was above his master.
No Greekling, however shameless, would dare to make such a claim, if he
but recollected that long before Rome was founded and had by superior
strength established her sway, long before the world yet knew of the
Romans, "men of the toga, lords of the earth," a beggarly fourth part
of Italy, a region desert and uninhabited, was nevertheless styled by
its Greek colonists "Greater Greece." If that scanty area could then be
called great, how very great, how immense, must the Roman power have
seemed after Corinth had fallen, after Ætolia had been devastated and
Argos, Mycenæ, and other cities had been taken, after the Macedonian
kings had been captured, Pyrrhus vanquished, and Thermopylæ a second
time drenched with Asiatic blood! Certainly no one can deny that it
is a trifle more distinguished to be an Italian than a Greek. This,
however, is a matter which we may perhaps take up elsewhere.

To revert to my travels in France,--I visited the capital of the
kingdom, Paris, which claims Julius Cæsar as its founder. I must have
felt much the same upon entering the town as did Apuleius when he
wandered about Hypata in Thessaly. I spent no little time there, in
open-mouthed wonder; and I was so full of interest and eagerness to
know the truth about what I had heard of the place that when daylight
failed me I even prolonged my investigations into the night. After
loitering about for a long time, gaping at the sights, I at last
satisfied myself that I had discovered the point where truth left off
and fiction began. But it is a long story, and not suited for a letter,
and I must wait until I see you and can rehearse my experiences at

To pass over the intervening events, I also visited Ghent, which
proudly claims the same illustrious founder as Paris, and I saw
something of the people of Flanders and Brabant, who devote themselves
to preparing and weaving wool. I also visited Liège, which is noted for
its clergy, and Aix-la-Chapelle, Charles's capital, where in a marble
church I saw the tomb of that great prince, which is very properly an
object of veneration to the barbarian nations....[2]

I did not leave Aix-la-Chapelle until I had bathed in the waters, which
are warm like those at Baiæ. It is from them that the town is said
to derive its name.[3] I then proceeded to Cologne, which lies on the
left bank of the Rhine, and is noted for its situation, its river, and
its inhabitants. I was astonished to find such a degree of culture
in a barbarous land. The appearance of the city, the dignity of the
men, the attractiveness of the women, all surprised me. The day of my
arrival happened to be the feast of St. John the Baptist. It was nearly
sunset when I reached the city. On the advice of the friends whom my
reputation, rather than any true merit, had won for me even there, I
allowed myself to be led immediately from the inn to the river, to
witness a curious sight. And I was not disappointed, for I found the
river-bank lined with a multitude of remarkably comely women. Ye gods,
what faces and forms! And how well attired! One whose heart was not
already occupied might well have met his fate here.

I took my stand upon a little rise of ground where I could easily
follow what was going on. There was a dense mass of people, but no
disorder of any kind. They knelt down in quick succession on the
bank, half hidden by the fragrant grass, and turning up their sleeves
above the elbow they bathed their hands and white arms in the eddying
stream. As they talked together, with an indescribably soft foreign
murmur, I felt that I had never better appreciated Cicero's remark,
which, like the old proverb, reminds us that we are all deaf and dumb
when we have to do with an unknown tongue. I, however, had the aid of
kind interpreters, for--and this was not the least surprising thing I
noted there--these skies, too, give nurture to Pierian spirits. So when
Juvenal wonders that

      Fluent Gaul has taught the British advocate,[4]

let him marvel, too, that

      Learned Germany many a clear-voiced bard sustained.

But, lest you should be misled by my words, I hasten to add that
there are no Virgils here, although many Ovids,[5] so that you would
say that the latter author was justified in his reliance upon his
genius or the affection of posterity, when he placed at the end of his
_Metamorphoses_ that audacious prophecy where he ventures to claim that
as far as the power of Rome shall extend,--nay, as far as the very name
of Roman shall penetrate in a conquered world,--so widely shall his
works be read by enthusiastic admirers.

When anything was to be heard or said I had to rely upon my companions
to furnish both ears and tongue. Not understanding the scene, and being
deeply interested in it, I asked an explanation from one of my friends,
employing the Virgilian lines:

    ... What means the crowded shore?
    What seek these eager spirits?[6]

He told me that this was an old custom among the people, and that the
lower classes, especially the women, have the greatest confidence that
the threatening calamities of the coming year can be washed away by
bathing on this day in the river, and a happier fate be so assured.
Consequently this annual ablution has always been conscientiously
performed, and always will be. I smiled at this explanation, and
replied, "Those who dwell by Father Rhine are fortunate indeed if he
washes their misfortunes away with him; I fear that neither Po nor
Tiber could ever free us of ours. You send your ills to the Britons, by
the river; we would gladly ship ours off to the Africans or Illyrians."
But I was given to understand that our rivers were too sluggish. There
was a great laugh over this, and then, as it was getting late, we left
the spot and returned home.

During the few days following I wandered about the city, under the
guidance of my friends, from morning until night. I enjoyed these
rambles not so much for what I actually saw as on account of the
reminiscences of our ancestors, who have left such extraordinary
monuments to the Roman power in this far-distant country. Marcus
Agrippa came, perhaps, most prominently before me. He was the founder
of this colony, to which, in preference to all his other great works
whether at home or abroad, he gave his own name. He was a great builder
as well as a distinguished warrior. His fame was such that he was
chosen by Augustus as the most desirable son-in-law in the world. His
wife, whatever else we may say of her, was at least a remarkable
woman, the Emperor's only child and very dear to him. I beheld the
bodies of the thousands of holy virgins who had suffered together, and
the ground dedicated to these noble relics--ground which they say will
of its own accord reject an unworthy corpse. I beheld the Capitol,
which is an imitation of ours. But in place of our senate, meeting to
consider the exigencies of peace and war, here one finds beautiful boys
and girls ever lifting up together their harmonious voices in nightly
hymns of praise to God. There one might hear the rattle of arms, the
rolling chariots and the groans of captives; but here are peace and
happiness and the voice of mirth. There it was the warrior who made his
triumphal entry; here it is the Prince of Peace.

I saw, too, the great church in the very centre of the town. It is very
beautiful, although still uncompleted, and is not unjustly regarded
by the inhabitants as the finest building of its kind in the world. I
looked with reverence upon the relics of the Three Kings, who, as we
read, came once upon a time, bringing presents, to worship at the feet
of a Heavenly King as he lay wailing in the manger. Their bodies were
brought from the East to the West in three great leaps.[7]

You may perhaps think, noble father, that I have gone too far just
here, and dwelt upon unimportant details. I readily admit it, but it
is because I have nothing more at heart than to obey your commands.
Among the many instructions which you gave me, as I was leaving, the
last one was that I should write to you as fully about the countries I
visited and the various things I saw and heard as I should tell about
them, were we face to face. I was not to spare the pen, nor to strive
for elegance or terseness of expression. Everything was to be included,
not simply the more picturesque incidents. In Cicero's words, you told
me to write "whatever might come into the cheek." I promised to do
this, and from the numerous letters which I have despatched on the way
it would seem that I had kept my engagement. If you had desired me to
treat of higher things I should have done what I could; but it seems to
me in the present case that the object of my letter should be rather to
instruct the reader than to give consequence to the writer. If you and
I wish to appear before the public we can do so in books, but in our
letters let us just talk with one another.

But to continue, I left Cologne June 30, in such heat and dust that
I sighed for Virgil's "Alpine snows and the rigours of the Rhine." I
next passed through the Forest of Ardennes, alone, and, as you will
be surprised to hear, in time of war. But God, it is said, grants
especial protection to the unwary. I had long known something of this
region from books; it seemed to me a very wild and dismal place indeed.
However, I will not undertake with my pen a journey which I have but
just completed with my horse. After many wanderings I reached Lyons
to-day. It, too, is a noble Roman colony, a little older even than
Cologne. From this point two well known rivers flow together into our
ocean,--the Rhone here joining the Arar, or, as the inhabitants now
call it, the Saône. But I need not tell you more about them, for they
are hurrying on, one led by the other, down to Avignon, where the Roman
pontiff detains you and the whole human race.

This morning when I arrived here I ran across one of your servants by
accident, and plied him, as those newly arrived from foreign parts
are wont to do, with a thousand questions. He knew nothing, however,
except that your noble brother, whom I was hastening to join, had gone
on to Rome without me. On hearing this my anxiety to proceed suddenly
abated. It is now my purpose to wait here until the heat too shall
abate somewhat, and until I regain my vigour by a little rest. I had
not realised that I had suffered from either source until I met your
servant; no kind of weariness indeed is so keenly felt as that of the
mind. If the journey promises to seem tedious to me I shall float
down the Rhone. In the meantime I am glad to know that your faithful
servant will see that this reaches you, and that you will know where
I am. As for your brother, who was to be my guide, and who now (my
disappointment must be my excuse for saying it) has deserted me, I feel
that my expostulations must be addressed to him directly. I beg that
you will see that the enclosed message[8] reaches him as soon as may
be. Farewell. Remember your friend.

LYONS, August 9.

1: _Fam_., i., 3, 4. The two letters in which Petrarch describes his
journey to the north are here given together. The first is dated from
Aix-la-Chapelle, June 21 [1333], and the second from Lyons, August 9,
of the same year.

2: This first letter closes here with a legend of Charles the Great
which Petrarch heard at Aix-la-Chapelle.

3: _I.e._, Aquisgrana.

4: _Sat_., xv., 111.

5: The context would seem to indicate (as Fracassetti and de Nolhac
[_op. cit._, p. 148] assume) that Petrarch means that many copies of
Ovid but none of Virgil were to be found at Cologne.

6: _Æneid_, vi., 318 _sq._

7: Namely, to Constantinople, then to Milan, and finally to Cologne.

8: This letter to the Bishop of Lombez is preserved, and is to be
found next in order in Fracassetti's collection. _Fam_., i., 5.

       *       *       *       *       *

A good deal has been written about Petrarch's famous ascent of Mount
Ventoux. Körting assuredly exaggerates its significance when he
declares it "an epoch-making deed" which would by itself substantiate
Petrarch's title to be called the first modern man.[1] The reader
will observe that, however modern may have been the spirit in which
the excursion was undertaken, the relapse into mediæval sentiment was
speedy and complete. As we shall find, Petrarch had no sooner reached
the top than he bethought himself of his Augustine, before whose stern
dictum the wide landscape quickly lost its fascination.

       *       *       *       *       *

_The Ascent of Mount Ventoux._

_To Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro._[2]

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which
is not improperly called Ventosum.[3] My only motive was the wish to
see what so great an elevation had to offer. I have had the expedition
in mind for many years; for, as you know, I have lived in this region
from infancy, having been cast here by that fate which determines the
affairs of men. Consequently the mountain, which is visible from a
great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of
some time doing what I have at last accomplished to-day. The idea took
hold upon me with especial force when, in re-reading Livy's _History of
Rome_, yesterday, I happened upon the place where Philip of Macedon,
the same who waged war against the Romans, ascended Mount Hæmus in
Thessaly, from whose summit he was able, it is said, to see two seas,
the Adriatic and the Euxine. Whether this be true or false I have not
been able to determine, for the mountain is too far away, and writers
disagree. Pomponius Mela, the cosmographer--not to mention others who
have spoken of this occurrence--admits its truth without hesitation;
Titus Livius, on the other hand, considers it false. I, assuredly,
should not have left the question long in doubt, had that mountain been
as easy to explore as this one. Let us leave this matter one side,
however, and return to my mountain here,--it seems to me that a young
man in private life may well be excused for attempting what an aged
king could undertake without arousing criticism.

When I came to look about for a companion I found, strangely enough,
that hardly one among my friends seemed suitable, so rarely do we meet
with just the right combination of personal tastes and characteristics,
even among those who are dearest to us. This one was too apathetic,
that one over-anxious; this one too slow, that one too hasty; one
was too sad, another over-cheerful; one more simple, another more
sagacious, than I desired. I feared this one's taciturnity and that
one's loquacity. The heavy deliberation of some repelled me as much
as the lean incapacity of others. I rejected those who were likely to
irritate me by a cold want of interest, as well as those who might
weary me by their excessive enthusiasm. Such defects, however grave,
could be borne with at home, for charity suffereth all things, and
friendship accepts any burden; but it is quite otherwise on a journey,
where every weakness becomes much more serious. So, as I was bent
upon pleasure and anxious that my enjoyment should be unalloyed, I
looked about me with unusual care, balanced against one another the
various characteristics of my friends, and without committing any
breach of friendship I silently condemned every trait which might prove
disagreeable on the way. And--would you believe it?--I finally turned
homeward for aid, and proposed the ascent to my only brother, who is
younger than I, and with whom you are well acquainted. He was delighted
and gratified beyond measure by the thought of holding the place of a
friend as well as of a brother.

At the time fixed we left the house, and by evening reached Malaucène,
which lies at the foot of the mountain, to the north. Having rested
there a day, we finally made the ascent this morning, with no
companions except two servants; and a most difficult task it was. The
mountain is a very steep and almost inaccessible mass of stony soil.
But, as the poet has well said, "Remorseless toil conquers all." It
was a long day, the air fine. We enjoyed the advantages of vigour of
mind and strength and agility of body, and everything else essential to
those engaged in such an undertaking, and so had no other difficulties
to face than those of the region itself. We found an old shepherd in
one of the mountain dales, who tried, at great length, to dissuade us
from the ascent, saying that some fifty years before he had, in the
same ardour of youth, reached the summit, but had gotten for his pains
nothing except fatigue and regret, and clothes and body torn by the
rocks and briars. No one, so far as he or his companions knew, had ever
tried the ascent before or after him. But his counsels increased rather
than diminished our desire to proceed, since youth is suspicious of
warnings. So the old man, finding that his efforts were in vain, went
a little way with us, and pointed out a rough path among the rocks,
uttering many admonitions, which he continued to send after us even
after we had left him behind. Surrendering to him all such garments or
other possessions as might prove burdensome to us, we made ready for
the ascent, and started off at a good pace. But, as usually happens,
fatigue quickly followed upon our excessive exertion, and we soon came
to a halt at the top of a certain cliff. Upon starting on again we went
more slowly, and I especially advanced along the rocky way with a more
deliberate step. While my brother chose a direct path straight up the
ridge, I weakly took an easier one which really descended. When I was
called back, and the right road was shown me, I replied that I hoped
to find a better way round on the other side, and that I did not mind
going farther if the path were only less steep. This was just an excuse
for my laziness; and when the others had already reached a considerable
height I was still wandering in the valleys. I had failed to find an
easier path, and had only increased the distance and difficulty of
the ascent. At last I became disgusted with the intricate way I had
chosen, and resolved to ascend without more ado. When I reached my
brother, who, while waiting for me, had had ample opportunity for rest,
I was tired and irritated. We walked along together for a time, but
hardly had we passed the first spur when I forgot about the circuitous
route which I had just tried, and took a lower one again. Once more I
followed an easy, roundabout path through winding valleys, only to
find myself soon in my old difficulty. I was simply trying to avoid the
exertion of the ascent; but no human ingenuity can alter the nature of
things, or cause anything to reach a height by going down. Suffice it
to say that, much to my vexation and my brother's amusement, I made
this same mistake three times or more during a few hours.

After being frequently misled in this way, I finally sat down in a
valley and transferred my winged thoughts from things corporeal to the
immaterial, addressing myself as follows:--"What thou hast repeatedly
experienced to-day in the ascent of this mountain, happens to thee, as
to many, in the journey toward the blessed life. But this is not so
readily perceived by men, since the motions of the body are obvious
and external while those of the soul are invisible and hidden. Yes,
the life which we call blessed is to be sought for on a high eminence,
and strait is the way that leads to it. Many, also, are the hills that
lie between, and we must ascend, by a glorious stairway, from strength
to strength. At the top is at once the end of our struggles and the
goal for which we are bound. All wish to reach this goal, but, as Ovid
says, 'To wish is little; we must long with the utmost eagerness to
gain our end.' Thou certainly dost ardently desire, as well as simply
wish, unless thou deceivest thyself in this matter, as in so many
others. What, then, doth hold thee back? Nothing, assuredly, except
that thou wouldst take a path which seems, at first thought, more easy,
leading through low and worldly pleasures. But nevertheless in the end,
after long wanderings, thou must perforce either climb the steeper
path, under the burden of tasks foolishly deferred, to its blessed
culmination, or lie down in the valley of thy sins, and (I shudder to
think of it!), if the shadow of death overtake thee, spend an eternal
night amid constant torments." These thoughts stimulated both body
and mind in a wonderful degree for facing the difficulties which yet
remained. Oh, that I might traverse in spirit that other road for which
I long day and night, even as to-day I overcame material obstacles by
my bodily exertions! And I know not why it should not be far easier,
since the swift immortal soul can reach its goal in the twinkling of
an eye, without passing through space, while my progress to-day was
necessarily slow, dependent as I was upon a failing body weighed down
by heavy members.

One peak of the mountain, the highest of all, the country people call
"Sonny," why, I do not know, unless by antiphrasis, as I have sometimes
suspected in other instances; for the peak in question would seem to be
the father of all the surrounding ones. On its top is a little level
place, and here we could at last rest our tired bodies.

Now, my father, since you have followed the thoughts that spurred me
on in my ascent, listen to the rest of the story, and devote one hour,
I pray you, to reviewing the experiences of my entire day. At first,
owing to the unaccustomed quality of the air and the effect of the
great sweep of view spread out before me, I stood like one dazed. I
beheld the clouds under our feet, and what I had read of Athos and
Olympus seemed less incredible as I myself witnessed the same things
from a mountain of less fame. I turned my eyes toward Italy, whither
my heart most inclined. The Alps, rugged and snow-capped, seemed to
rise close by, although they were really at a great distance; the
very same Alps through which that fierce enemy of the Roman name once
made his way, bursting the rocks, if we may believe the report, by
the application of vinegar. I sighed, I must confess, for the skies
of Italy, which I beheld rather with my mind than with my eyes. An
inexpressible longing came over me to see once more my friend and my
country. At the same time I reproached myself for this double weakness,
springing, as it did, from a soul not yet steeled to manly resistance.
And yet there were excuses for both of these cravings, and a number of
distinguished writers might be summoned to support me.

Then a new idea took possession of me, and I shifted my thoughts to
a consideration of time rather than place. "To-day it is ten years
since, having completed thy youthful studies, thou didst leave Bologna.
Eternal God! In the name of immutable wisdom, think what alterations
in thy character this intervening period has beheld! I pass over a
thousand instances. I am not yet in a safe harbour where I can calmly
recall past storms. The time may come when I can review in due order
all the experiences of the past, saying with St. Augustine, 'I desire
to recall my foul actions and the carnal corruption of my soul, not
because I love them, but that I may the more love thee, O my God.' Much
that is doubtful and evil still clings to me, but what I once loved,
that I love no longer. And yet what am I saying? I still love it, but
with shame, but with heaviness of heart. Now, at last, I have confessed
the truth. So it is. I love, but love what I would not love, what I
would that I might hate. Though loath to do so, though constrained,
though sad and sorrowing, still I do love, and I feel in my miserable
self the truth of the well known words, 'I will hate if I can; if not,
I will love against my will.' Three years have not yet passed since
that perverse and wicked passion[4] which had a firm grasp upon me
and held undisputed sway in my heart began to discover a rebellious
opponent, who was unwilling longer to yield obedience. These two
adversaries have joined in close combat for the supremacy, and for a
long time now a harassing and doubtful war has been waged in the field
of my thoughts."

Thus I turned over the last ten years in my mind, and then, fixing
my anxious gaze on the future, I asked myself, "If, perchance, thou
shouldst prolong this uncertain life of thine for yet two lustres, and
shouldst make an advance toward virtue proportionate to the distance
to which thou hast departed from thine original infatuation during
the past two years, since the new longing first encountered the old,
couldst thou, on reaching thy fortieth year, face death, if not with
complete assurance, at least with hopefulness, calmly dismissing from
thy thoughts the residuum of life as it faded into old age?"

These and similar reflections occurred to me, my father. I rejoiced
in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal
instability of human conduct. I had well-nigh forgotten where I was
and our object in coming; but at last I dismissed my anxieties, which
were better suited to other surroundings, and resolved to look about me
and see what we had come to see. The sinking sun and the lengthening
shadows of the mountain were already warning us that the time was near
at hand when we must go. As if suddenly wakened from sleep, I turned
about and gazed toward the west. I was unable to discern the summits
of the Pyrenees, which form the barrier between France and Spain; not
because of any intervening obstacle that I know of but owing simply to
the insufficiency of our mortal vision. But I could see with the utmost
clearness, off to the right, the mountains of the region about Lyons,
and to the left the bay of Marseilles and the waters that lash the
shores of Aigues Mortes, altho' all these places were so distant that
it would require a journey of several days to reach them. Under our
very eyes flowed the Rhone.

While I was thus dividing my thoughts, now turning my attention to
some terrestrial object that lay before me, now raising my soul, as
I had done my body, to higher planes, it occurred to me to look into
my copy of St. Augustine's _Confessions_, a gift that I owe to your
love, and that I always have about me, in memory of both the author
and the giver. I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in
size, but of infinite charm, with the intention of reading whatever
came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise
than edifying and devout. Now it chanced that the tenth book presented
itself. My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from
my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness
that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: "And men go about to
wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the
sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and
the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not." I was
abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not
to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still
be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even
the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which,
when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth,
I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my
inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from
my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me
occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere
accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed
to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine
had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening
the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that
he saw there were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering
and wantoness, not in strife and envying. But put you on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts

The same thing happened earlier to St. Anthony, when he was listening
to the Gospel where it is written, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and
sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure
in heaven: and come and follow me." Believing this scripture to have
been read for his especial benefit, as his biographer Athanasius says,
he guided himself by its aid to the Kingdom of Heaven. And as Anthony
on hearing these words waited for nothing more, and as Augustine upon
reading the Apostle's admonition sought no farther, so I concluded my
reading in the few words which I have given. I thought in silence of
the lack of good counsel in us mortals, who neglect what is noblest in
ourselves, scatter our energies in all directions, and waste ourselves
in a vain show, because we look about us for what is to be found only
within. I wondered at the natural nobility of our soul, save when it
debases itself of its own free will, and deserts its original estate,
turning what God has given it for its honour into dishonour. How many
times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit
of the mountain, which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the
range of human contemplation,--when it is not immersed in the foul mire
of earth? With every downward step I asked myself this: If we are ready
to endure so much sweat and labour in order that we may bring our
bodies a little nearer heaven, how can a soul struggling toward God, up
the steeps of human pride and human destiny, fear any cross or prison
or sting of fortune? How few, I thought, but are diverted from their
path by the fear of difficulties or the love of ease! How happy the lot
of those few, if any such there be! It is of them, assuredly, that the
poet was thinking, when he wrote:

    Happy the man who is skilled to understand
    Nature's hid causes; who beneath his feet
    All terrors casts, and death's relentless doom,
    And the loud roar of greedy Acheron.[5]

How earnestly should we strive, not to stand on mountain-tops, but
to trample beneath us those appetites which spring from earthly

With no consciousness of the difficulties of the way, amidst these
preoccupations which I have so frankly revealed, we came, long after
dark, but with the full moon lending us its friendly light, to the
little inn which we had left that morning before dawn. The time during
which the servants have been occupied in preparing our supper, I
have spent in a secluded part of the house, hurriedly jotting down
these experiences on the spur of the moment, lest, in case my task
were postponed, my mood should change on leaving the place, and so my
interest in writing flag.

You will see, my dearest father, that I wish nothing to be concealed
from you, for I am careful to describe to you not only my life in
general but even my individual reflections. And I beseech you, in
turn, to pray that these vague and wandering thoughts of mine may some
time become firmly fixed, and, after having been vainly tossed about
from one interest to another, may direct themselves at last toward the
single, true, certain, and everlasting good.

MALAUCÈNE, April 26.

1: _Op. cit_., p. 105.

2: _Fam_., iv., 1. This letter, written when Petrarch was about
thirty-two years old, is addressed to an Augustinian monk, professor
of divinity and philosophy in the University of Paris, which drew
several of its most famous teachers from Italy. It was probably in
Paris, during the journey described above, that Petrarch first met
him. The poet, we may infer from the present letter, made him his
spiritual confidant, confessed to him his sinful love for Laura, whom
he had first met six years before, and received from the monk, in
addition to the natural spiritual counsels, a copy of St. Augustine's
_Confessions_, to which he refers below. Dionysius was called in
1339 to Naples, and proved an agreeable companion for the sage ruler
of that kingdom, not only on account of his distinguished moral and
intellectual qualities, but by reason of his proficiency in the theory
and practice of astrology, in which Robert took a profound interest.
This branch of his knowledge is--to the surprise of one familiar with
his views--sympathetically dwelt upon by Petrarch, in a poetic epistle
(i., 13) addressed to Robert on the death of their common friend in
1342. Petrarch nevertheless often fiercely attacks the astrological
arts, and is distinguished in this respect from even the most
enlightened men of his time, including Boccaccio. _Cf._ Fracassetti,
_Let. delle Cose Fam_., i., p. 425.

3: That is, Windy.

4: This is a reference, we may assume, to his love for Laura. See the
note at the opening of this letter.

5: _Georgics_, ii., 490 _sqq_. The version here given is based upon
that of Rhoades.

6: It is but fair to the translators to note that Petrarch's style is
at its worst when he falls into a train of moralising.

       *       *       *       *       *


_To Boccacio._[1]

You have done well to visit me by letter, since you either would not
or could not come to see me in person. On hearing that you had crossed
the Alps to see the Babylon of the West, worse than the ancient city of
that name because nearer to us, I was in a constant state of anxiety
until I learned of your safe return. For I well know the difficulties
of the route, having traversed it frequently, and I thought, too, of
your heaviness of body, and of your seriousness of mind, so favourable
to scholarly leisure and so averse to the responsibilities which you
had assumed. Worried by these considerations, I enjoyed no peace,
day or night, and I thank God that you are back safe and sound. The
greater the perils of the sea that you have escaped, the greater is my
gratitude for your return.

But, unless you were in a very great hurry, it would have been very
easy for you, on reaching Genoa, to have turned this way. It would have
required but two days to come to see me--whom indeed you see always and
wherever you go,--and you would also have seen this city of Ticinum,
on the banks of the Ticino, which I believe you have never visited. It
is now called Pavia, which the grammarians tell us means admirable, or
wonderful. It was long the celebrated capital of the Lombards. Still
earlier than their time I find that Cæsar Augustus took up his quarters
here, on the eve of the German war. I suppose he wished to be nearer
the scene of action. He had sent his step-son on into Germany; where he
was performing the most glorious deeds of prowess. From here Augustus
could observe the campaign as from a watch-tower, stimulating the
leader, and ready, should one of the reverses so common in war occur,
to bring to his succour all the imperial forces, as well as the majesty
of his own name.

You would have seen where the Carthaginian leader gained his first
victory over our generals, in a conflict during which the Roman
commander was snatched from the enemy's weapons and saved from imminent
death by his son, scarcely more than a boy,--a striking presage that
the lad would himself one day become a great leader. You would have
seen where St. Augustine is buried, and where Boethius found a fitting
place of exile in which to spend his old age and to die. They now
repose together in two urns, under the same roof with King Luitprand,
who transferred the body of St. Augustine[2] from Sardinia to this
city. This is indeed a pious and devout concourse of illustrious
men. One might think that Boethius followed in the footsteps of St.
Augustine, during his life, by his spirit and writings, especially
those on the Trinity,[3] which he composed after the example of
Augustine, and in death, because his remains share the same tomb. You
would wish that your mortal remains might have been destined to lie
near such good and learned men. Finally, you would have seen a city
famous in the mouths of men for its age. It is true that no reference
to it occurs, so far as I can recollect, earlier than the period of the
second Punic war, of which I just spoke. Indeed, if my memory does not
play me false, even in connection with that period Livy only mentions
the river and not the town. However, the similarity of the names--the
river, _Ticinus_, and the town, _Ticinum_--might easily lead to the
confusion of one with the other.[4]

But I will leave one side all such doubtful matters and confine
myself to what is certain. You would find the air of the place very
salubrious. I have now spent three summers here, and I do not remember
to have experienced ever anywhere else such frequent and plentiful
showers with so little thunder and lightning, such freedom from
heat, and such steady, refreshing breezes. You would find the city
beautifully situated. The Ligurians, of old a notable race and to
this day a very powerful people, occupy the greater part of northern
Italy, and the city lies in the midst of their territory. Commandingly
situated on a slight elevation, and on the margin of gently sloping
banks, it raises its crown of towers into the clouds, and enjoys a
wide and free prospect on all sides, one which, so far as I know,
is not exceeded in extent or beauty by that of any town which lies
thus in a plain. By turning one's head ever so little one can see
in one direction the snowy crest of the Alps, and in the other the
wooded Apennines. The Ticino itself, descending in graceful curves
and hastening to join the Po, flows close by the walls, and, as it is
written, makes glad the city by its swift waters. Its two banks are
joined by as fine a bridge as you would wish to see. It is the clearest
of streams, both in reputation and in fact, and flows very rapidly,
although just here, as if tired after its long journey and perturbed by
the neighbourhood of a more famous river, it moves more deliberately,
and has been deprived of some of its natural purity by the brooks
which join it. It is, in short, very much like my Transalpine Sorgue,
save that the Ticino is larger, while the Sorgue, on account of the
nearness of its source, is cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

You would see, also, one of those works in which you have such
an interest, and in which I, too, take the greatest delight,--an
equestrian statue in gilded bronze. It stands in the middle of the
market-place, and seems to be just on the point of reaching, with a
spirited bound, the summit of an eminence. The figure is said to have
been carried off from your dear people of Ravenna. Those best trained
in sculpture and painting declare it to be second to none.

Lastly, in order of time, though not of importance, you would see the
huge palace, situated on the highest point of the city; an admirable
building, which cost a vast amount. It was built by the princely
Galeazzo, the younger of the Visconti,[5] the rulers of Milan, Pavia,
and many neighbouring towns, a man who surpasses others in many ways,
and in the magnificence of his buildings fairly excels himself. I am
convinced, unless I be misled by my partiality for the founder, that,
with your good taste in such matters, you would declare this to be the
most noble production of modern art.

So if you had come you would not only have seen your friend, which I
hope, and indeed know, would have been most agreeable to you, but you
would have been delighted also by the spectacle, not, as Virgil says,
of wonderful little things, but of a multitude of great and glorious
objects. I must confess that in my own case these objects are a source
of supreme pleasure, and would keep me here, were it not that other
interests call me away. I leave here shortly, but very gladly return to
pass the summer months--if fate grant me more summer months....[6]

1: _Sen_., v., 1, written probably in 1365, the year in which
Boccaccio undertook the embassy to Avignon to which Petrarch refers

2: It was the body not of Augustine but of Boethius which was
transferred from Sardinia. See Rashdall's _Hist. of the Universities_,
i., 34, n. 1.

3: Boethius was probably not a Christian, although he was until recent
times regarded almost as one of the Church Fathers. It is hardly
necessary to say that the theological works attributed to him are by
some other hand.

4: This is an interesting illustration of Petrarch's careful reading
of the classics. He evinces a modern conscientiousness in examining the
evidences of the city's age.

5: Galeazzo's rule was divided with his elder brother Bernabo.

6: The description of Pavia closes here.




      Principum ac regum familiaritatibus et nobilium amicitiis
      usque ad invidiam fortunatus fui.... Maximi regum meæ
      ætatis amarunt et coluerunt me; cur autem nescio; ipsi
      viderint: et ita cum quibusdam fui, ut ipsi quodam modo
      mecum essent, et eminentiæ eorum nullum tædium, commoda
      multa perceperim.

      _Epistola ad Posteros._

Petrarch exhibits in his letters a deep and constant interest in public
affairs, albeit, like others of his time, he views political problems
somewhat broadly, with a generous disregard not only of technical
detail but of human nature itself. He tells us that his intercourse
with kings and princes and his friendship with noble personages was
such as to excite envy in the less fortunate. His international fame,
seconded by his own tastes and ambition, brought him into intimate
association during a great part of his life with the potentates of
his day, not only of Italy but of France and Germany,--even with
the Emperor of the East. While he did not actually participate in
the government, even during his stay at Milan, we find him sent
upon important public missions. He prepared and delivered political
addresses, and wrote letters to rulers and public men, with a hope of
influencing their policy; he composed a considerable treatise upon the
art of government;[1] he even participated, as a consulting expert, in
drafting a constitution for the city of Rome.

Petrarch's interest in political reform is doubtless attributable in
no small part to the patriotic enthusiasm aroused by the study of his
nation's glorious past. Romans were to him but earlier Italians. Scipio
Africanus was a national hero; Virgil, the great national poet; the
Cæsars, the Italian rulers of the world. On visiting Cologne nothing
so fascinated him as the vestiges of his forefathers. Moreover, he had
ever before him in his fellow-countryman, Cicero, a literary spirit and
philosopher like himself, who had not hesitated to devote his energies
to public affairs.

The history of Italy under the rule of their Roman ancestors took on
a celestial radiance in the eyes of those who viewed the sad decline
of their country's greatness. Petrarch would, he says, have preferred
any age to his own. His sole consolation lay in the rooted conviction
that times were going rapidly from bad to worse. He saw upon every hand
examples of the terrible inadequacy of the existing system to yield
even the most primitive benefit of government,--the reasonable security
of person and property. Disorder, robbery, and murder were every-day
occurrences. When he first visited Rome, his friends deemed a hundred
horsemen a necessary escort to protect him from the Orsini on his way
to the city.[2] Upon the occasion of his coronation the representative
of the King of Naples, who was to accompany him, failed to reach Rome;
he had been captured by bandits.[3] Petrarch himself was attacked as
he left the city, and was obliged to return within its walls.[4] The
danger upon the highroads kept him in a constant state of apprehension
when he or his friends undertook a journey. Even the peaceful retreat
at Vaucluse was at last plundered and burned, and the poet declared
that nowhere was one any longer sheltered from the ferocious robber
bands which moved about with the precision of regular armies, and which
the walls of fortified towns and the arms of their rulers were alike
powerless to check.[5]

This lawlessness was naturally attributed to Italian disunion. The
subdivision of Italy into a multitude of practically independent
states and urban communities stimulated the development of personal
political ambition and produced the "age of despots." The tyrants,
in their struggle to maintain their power at home and increase their
prestige abroad, inevitably resorted to the approved expedient of the
usurper, territorial aggrandisement. The discomfiture or subjugation
of their neighbours became the absorbing object of the foreign policy
of Milan, Venice, and Florence, and of the lesser states as well.
Peace, the natural enemy of the usurper, was thoroughly banished from
Italy, and a perpetual state of war prevailed. There were few serious,
decisive conflicts, it is true, but there was an all-pervading,
self-perpetuating, Ishmaelitish antagonism between the various
countries, which precluded all hope of national cooperation. "Servile
Italy," indeed, "ship without a pilot!"[6]

In the face of such evils, and hopeless of reform from within, a
patriotic Italian of the fourteenth century might be pardoned for
looking to a foreign ruler, even to a somewhat commonplace and
unpromising prince, for the initiative in restoring order. The
Italians were too completely engrossed by their own complex interstate
relations, and too thoroughly convinced of the absolute inferiority
of "the barbarians," seriously to apprehend that foreign intervention
might ultimately develop into subjugation. History was, indeed, quite
explicit upon this point. The German emperors had never been able to
establish their control over Italy except partially and for the moment.

Practical considerations were not, however, the most fundamental
justification and explanation of the Ghibelline reliance upon foreign
intervention. The political speculation of the time shows clearly that
theory was much more potent than the obvious necessity of governmental
reform in fostering the imperial cause. The theory in question was
that of the perpetuity of the Holy Roman Empire, with its divinely
recognised centre at Rome. Even at the courts of the despots, whose
practical sagacity was creating the first modern states with their
elaborate systems of administration, Petrarch, like Dante, loved to
brood, with a half-mystical, half-humanistic partiality, upon that
perdurable illusion which exercised such an inexplicable charm over
the mediæval mind. It was the same craving for an ideal union of
humanity under one consecrated head that led Dante joyfully to hail
the coming of Henry VII. In the same great cause,--the defence of
the Empire,--Marsiglio of Padua, by far the keenest of the political
thinkers of Petrarch's time, composed his extraordinary treatise upon
government and the relations of church and state. Longing for the
restoration of Rome's supremacy, Petrarch first placed his hopes in
Rienzo, and then, after the Tribune's fall, sent message after message
to Charles IV., King of Bohemia, the grandson of Dante's imperial hero,
exhorting him to have pity upon Italy and widowed Rome.

Mr. Bryce calls Dante's treatise on government an epitaph, not a
prophecy. Petrarch, too, was blind to the forces about him which made
for political progress. He learned nothing from that race of really
great rulers, the Visconti, with whom he was intimately associated.
Moreover, the most original and profound work upon government which
the Middle Ages produced, the _Defensor Pacis_ of Marsiglio of Padua,
written in 1324, appears to have exercised no influence upon him, and
although he confined his reading to the classics and the writings
of the Fathers, his political sympathies and ideals are typically
mediæval. In his treatment of these matters he does not rise above
the current argumentation of the Imperialists, although he re-enforces
his position with a greater abundance and precision of historical

       *       *       *       *       *

Rienzo had found in Petrarch a sympathetic confidant when, as early as
1343, upon visiting Avignon, he had unfolded his audacious schemes to
him.[7] When, four years later, at Pentecost, 1347, the innkeeper's son
carried out his successful _coup d'état_ and got possession of the city
of Rome, Petrarch was enchanted, as is shown by the letter given below.
The immediate results of Rienzo's accession to power were indeed almost
magical: order was restored, the roads were rendered safe for the first
time in the memory of man, and an Italian parliament was summoned to
consider the unification of Italy. The Tribune's manifestoes aroused
universal enthusiasm; and, in spite of the writer's inflated and
obscure style, Petrarch pronounced him, long after the spell was
broken, a most eloquent and persuasive orator and a graceful writer.
Petrarch seemed to see his own dreams realised; the ancient dignity
and ascendancy of Rome were re-established; the foreign tyrants, as he
called the Roman nobility, including the Colonnesi, had been expelled;
the power was once more in the hands of the divinely elected people
of Rome. Rome was soon to be the head of a unified and rejuvenated
Italy, perhaps of a redeemed Europe. By November Petrarch was on his
way to join Rienzo. He was probably actuated to some extent, however,
by his desire to see Italy once more, and to escape from the reproaches
of his former friends at the papal court, especially of Giovanni
Colonna, whose favour he necessarily sacrificed by his public espousal
of Rienzo's cause. But upon his reaching Genoa, letters forwarded
to him from Avignon brought the sad story of the Tribune's fatal
indiscretions. He thereupon gave up the idea of going to Rome, and
contented himself with addressing a sharp reprimand to the delinquent
ruler, to whom he recalled the truth: _Magnus enim labor est magnæ
custodia famæ_.[8]

After scarcely seven months of power Rienzo ignominiously retired
from the Capitol and fled to the solitudes of the Abruzzi. There,
while living the life of a hermit, he was encouraged by prophetic
revelations to renew his attempts to establish the Roman power. He
determined to conciliate the new Emperor, Charles IV., foreigner as
he was, and win him if possible to his fantastic[9] schemes. This
strangest of all Italian ambassadors must have reached Prague when
Charles was fresh from a perusal of Petrarch's first summons to him,
which is given below.[10] The Emperor listened curiously to Rienzo's
representations, but instead of joining him in a campaign for the
realisation of the ideal Roman Empire he shut up the ex-Tribune as an
enemy of the Church, and later turned him over to the pope at Avignon.
Petrarch still sympathised with the unfortunate captive, and prepared
an appeal to the Roman people in his favour.[11] After a brief return
to a restricted exercise of power as senator under the papal control,
Rienzo was killed by a mob, October 8, 1354.[12]

1: _Sen_., xiv., i. Printed as a separate tractate in the Basle
editions, under the title _De republica optime administranda. Opera_,
pp. 372 _sqq_.

2: _Fam_., ii., 13 (vol. i., p. 133).

3: _Ep. Poet. Lat_., ii., 1.

4: _Fam_., iv., 8 (vol. i., p. 219).

5: _Cf. Sen_., x., 2 (_Opera_, pp. 870-872), where Petrarch describes
the sad change of times since his student days. The mercenary bands
(_grandes compagnies_) who wandered into Italy from France were
doubtless a prime cause of the poet's gloomy views.

6: _Purgatorio_, vi.

7: Petrarch's letter "to a Friend" (_Ep. sine Titulo_, vii.; also
_apud_ Fracassetti, _App. Lit_., No. 2) was doubtless addressed to
Rienzo in 1343, and expresses the enthusiasm which he felt upon first
meeting him.

8: _Fam_., vii., 7.

9: _Fantastic_ is the adjective applied to Rienzo, even by
contemporaries. Giovanni Villani (xii., 90) says that the more
thoughtful judged that "la dita impreso del tribuno era un opera
_fantastica_ e da poco durare." The author of the _Vita di Cola di
Rienzo_ refers to his _fantastic_ smile.

10: See pp. 361 _sqq_. (To Charles IV., Emperor August...)

11: Given below, pp. 348 _sqq_. (To the Roman People, urging...)

12: The chief source for the life of Rienzo is the _Vita di Cola di
Rienzo_ by an unknown author (_apud_ Muratori's _Antiquitates_, and in
a modern edition, Florence, 1854). Gregorovius gives a charming account
of Cola in the sixth volume of his _Geschichte der Stadt Rom._

       *       *       *       *       *

Petrarch's letters to Rienzo do not simply show an absorbing
interest in the attempt of a national leader to restore the ancient
prestige of Rome and to establish the unity of Italy; they seem
to prove that there was a fundamental congruity, a spiritual
affinity--_Wahlverwandtschaft_[1]--between the two men, which would
have made them firm friends had they been brought together. One,[2]
at least, of the eight letters of Petrarch to Rienzo which have been
preserved is strikingly free from constraint, and would lead us to
believe that the poet, on his part, was anxious that their relations
should be those of cordial familiarity. The letter which follows gives
us some notion of the widespread interest aroused by the Tribune's
first acts.

_To Cola di Rienzo, Tribune of the Roman People._[3]

I shall continue to write to you every day, not from any hope of a
reply,--for, in view of your heavy and varied cares, I must admit that
while I long for an answer I can hardly expect one,--but rather that
you may be the first to learn what goes on in my mind respecting you,
and especially that I may in this way assure you of my deep concern
for your welfare. I clearly perceive, in the first place, that you
are set on a high pinnacle, exposed to the gaze, the judgment, and the
comments not only of the Italians but of the whole human race; not
only of those who are now alive but of those who shall be born in all
the centuries to come. I realise, too, that you have assumed a heavy
but a splendid and honourable responsibility, and undertaken a task at
once glorious and unique. Never will our own generation, never will
posterity, as I believe, cease to think of you. The speech of other men
is as idle and discordant as their fleeting whims, but your purpose, no
whit less firm than the Capitoline rock upon which you dwell, is one
not to be shaken by every breath.

I know not whether you are aware of one thing, or, if so, whether you
have given it any thought. You must not imagine that your letters which
have hitherto reached us have remained in the hands of those to whom
they were addressed. They are promptly copied by everybody with such
eagerness, and circulated about the papal corridors with such interest
that one would suppose that they came from a celestial being, or a
dweller at the antipodes, rather than from one of our own race. At the
rumour of a letter from you the whole populace gathers. Never was an
utterance of the Delphic Apollo interpreted in so many senses as your
words. I cannot but extol your circumspection in maintaining a tone at
once so temperate and so free from offence, and I pray most fervently
that you will henceforth take greater and greater precautions in this
respect. Your words reflect the noble spirit of the writer and the
majesty of the Roman people, without derogating in any way from the
reverence and honour due to the Roman pontiff. It beseems your wisdom
and eloquence to be able so to associate things which appear, but are
not in reality, contradictory, that each is given its due weight.[4]
I have noted how astonished some have been that the conflict in your
letters between modesty and assurance resulted in so equal a contest
and so doubtful a victory, for neither cowardly fear nor swelling pride
showed themselves in the arena. Men hesitate, I observe, whether to
admire most your deeds or your words, since all admit that for your
devotion to liberty they may well declare you a Brutus, and for your
eloquence, a Cicero,--whom Catullus of Verona calls "most fluent."

Continue, then, as you have begun. Write not only as if everyone were
to see your letters, but as if they were to be sent forth from all
our shores, and transmitted to every land. You have laid the firmest
of foundations, in peace, truth, justice, and liberty; build upon
these; for what you raise thereon shall be established, and he who
runs upon them shall be dashed to pieces. He who opposes truth shall
prove himself a liar; he who opposes peace, a turbulent spirit; he who
opposes justice is himself unjust, and he who opposes liberty, arrogant
and shameless.

I approve of your custom of keeping copies of all the letters which
you send to various parts of the globe, for these copies are useful in
determining what you should say by what you have already said, and they
enable you, when it is necessary, to compare the letters of others with
your own. That you do this is proved to me by the manner in which you
dated your letter. Your magnificent subscription, moreover, "in the
first year of the Republic's freedom," smacks of the intent to begin
our annals anew. The expression delights and comforts me. And since you
are wholly engaged in action, and until you discover a genius equal
to the affair, I tender you, unless God ...,[5] my little skill and
this pen of mine, as Livy says, to uphold the memory of the people who
rule the earth; nor will my _Africa_ disdain to give place a little.

1: _Cf_. Voigt, _op. cit_., i., p. 52.

2: _Var_., 47.

3: _Var_., 38. Written in 1347.

4: Rienzo found it impossible in the long run to reconcile his
assumption of power with the prerogatives of Rome's papal sovereign.

5: A word is apparently missing here in the MS.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following letter, written some five years after Rienzo's _coup
d'état_, is not only important for its references to the ex-Tribune's
reception at Avignon, but it enables us to judge how the whole affair
appeared to Petrarch after his friend's disgrace.

_Rienzo under the Protection of the Muses._

_To Francesco Nelli._[1]

What do you expect me to tell you now?--something more of the episode
in my last letter, which may equally well have brought indignant tears
to your eyes or made you laugh?[2] At this moment I certainly have
nothing more important on hand, although there are plenty of trifling
duties. Indeed, lack of time prevents my turning to more weighty
matters, and even what little time I have is not really free, but is
filled with astonishing interruptions. I am in a constant hubbub,
always in motion, running here, there, and nowhere.[3] This is an ill
that is all too familiar to those who move from place to place. Having
left Babylon[4] for the last time, I am now at the Fountain of the
Sorgue, my usual port of refuge from the storms that overtake me. Here
I am waiting for travelling companions, as well as for late autumn,
or at least for that season when, as Virgil hath it, "the shortening
days bring a waning heat." In the meantime, that my country life may
not be wholly profitless, I am gathering together the results of past
meditation. Every day I try either to make some progress in the more
important writings which I have in hand or to finish outright some one
little thing. This letter will show you what I am doing to-day.

Poetry, a divine gift which belongs of necessity to the few, is now
beginning to be usurped, not to say profaned and degraded, by the
many. To me there is nothing more irritating than this, and if I
know your disposition, my friend, you will find it no less hard than
I to reconcile yourself to this unbecoming state of affairs. Never at
Athens or Rome, never in the times of Homer or Virgil, was there such
an ado about poets as we have now on the banks of the Rhone; although
I believe there was never a place or a time when the knowledge of
these matters was at so low an ebb. But I would have you smother your
irritation in a laugh, and learn to jest even in the midst of sadness.

Cola di Rienzo has recently come, or rather been brought, a prisoner,
to the papal curia. He who was once the Tribune of the city of Rome,
inspiring terror far and wide, is now the most miserable of men, and,
what is worst of all, I fear that, miserable as he undoubtedly is,
he ought scarcely to arouse our pity, since he who might have died
with glory upon the Capitol has submitted to be imprisoned, first by
a Bohemian and then by a native of Limoges,[5] thus bringing derision
upon himself and upon the Roman name and state. How active my pen was
in praising and admonishing this man is perhaps better known than I
should wish. I was enamoured of his virtue; I applauded his design,
and admired his spirit; I congratulated Italy, and anticipated a
restoration of dominion to the mother city, and peace for the whole
world. I could not disguise the joy that such hopes engendered, and
it seemed to me that I should become a participant in all this glory
if I could but urge him on in his course. That he keenly felt the
incentive of my words his letters and messages amply testified. This
aroused me the more, and incited me to discover what would serve to
inflame further his fervid spirit; and, as I well knew that nothing
causes a generous heart to glow like praise and renown, I disseminated
enthusiastic eulogies, which may have seemed exaggerated to some,
but which were in my opinion perfectly justified. I commended his
past actions, and exhorted him to persevere in the future. Some of my
letters to him are still preserved, and I am not altogether ashamed
of them. I am not addicted to prophecy; would that he, too, had
refrained from it! Moreover, at the time when I wrote, what he had done
and what he seemed about to do was worthy not only of my admiration
but of that of the whole human race. I doubt whether these letters
should be destroyed for the single reason that he preferred to live a
coward rather than die with dignity. But it is useless to discuss the
impossible; however anxious I might be to destroy them I cannot, for
they are now in the hands of the public, and so have escaped from my

But to return to our subject. He who had filled evil-doers throughout
the world with trembling apprehension, and the good with glad hope and
anticipation, approached the papal court humbled and despised. He who
had once been attended by the whole Roman people and the chiefs of the
Italian cities was now accompanied by two guards only, one on either
side, as he made his unhappy way through the people, who crowded about
him in their eagerness to see the face of one of whom they had only
heard the proud name....[6] In this plight, as I understand from the
letters of friends, one hope is left him; a rumour has spread among
the people that he is an illustrious poet. It seems to them a shameful
thing that one devoted to so sacred a pursuit should suffer violence.
The elevated sentiment that now prevails with the crowd is the same
to which Cicero once appealed before the magistrates, in favour of
his teacher, Aulus Licinius Archias. But I need not add a description
of the oration, which I formerly fetched from farthest Germany when
travelling through that region as an eager sight-seer in my early days.
During the year following my return, in response to the desires of your
friends, I sent it to our native city. That you have it and have read
it carefully I can see from the letters which reach me from there. But
what shall I say of Rienzo's affair? I am delighted, and rejoice more
than words can tell, that such honour is now rendered to the Muses,
and--what is the more astonishing--by those who are unacquainted with
them; so that they are able to save by their name alone a man otherwise
hateful even to his very judges. What more exalted prerogatives could
they have enjoyed under Augustus Cæsar, at a time when they were held
in supreme honour, when poets came from all parts to look upon the
illustrious countenance of that unique prince who was at once their
friend and the ruler of the earth? What greater tribute, I ask, could
be paid to the power of the Muses than that they should be permitted
to snatch from death's door a man certainly detested,--with how much
reason I will not discuss,--a convicted and confessed criminal (even
if not guilty of the offence of which he is accused), about to be
condemned by the unanimous vote of his judges to capital punishment.
I am delighted, again I say it; I congratulate both him and the
Muses,--him upon the protection he enjoys, them upon the honour in
which they are held. Nor do I grudge an offender, reduced to his last
hope and in such critical circumstances, this saving title of poet.

Yet if you asked my opinion I should say that Cola di Rienzo is very
eloquent, possessed of great powers of persuasion, and ready of speech;
as a writer also he is charming and elegant, his diction, if not very
copious, is graceful and brilliant. I believe, too, that he reads all
the poets that are generally known; but he is not a poet for all that,
any more than one is a weaver who dons a garment made by another's
hands. Even the writing of verses does not suffice by itself to earn
the title of poet. As Horace most truly says,

    'T is not enough then merely to inclose
    Plain sense in numbers,--which if you transpose,
    The words were such as any man might say.[7]

But this man has never composed a single poem which has reached
my ears, nor has he applied himself to such things; and without
application nothing, however easy, can be well done.

I wished to tell you all this in order that you first might be moved
by the fate of one who was once a public benefactor, and then might
rejoice in his unexpected deliverance. You will, like me, be equally
amused and disgusted by the cause of his escape, and will wonder, if
Cola--which God grant!--can, in such imminent peril, find shelter
beneath the ægis of the poet, why Virgil should not escape in the
same way? Yet he would certainly have perished at the hands of the
same judges, because he is held to be not a poet but a magician. But
I will tell you something which will amuse you still more. I myself,
than whom no one has ever been more hostile to divination and magic,
have occasionally been pronounced a magician by quite as acute judges,
on account of my fondness for Virgil. How low indeed have our studies

1: _Fam_., xiii., 6. This letter was probably written in 1352.

2: This refers to an account of the refusal to grant Petrarch a papal
secretaryship because of his too elegant Latin. See above, p. 118.

3: The Latin--Nam et ego totus in motu, et multa circumstrepunt,
simulque hic et alibi, atque ita nusquam, sum--forcibly expresses what
is often supposed to be a quite modern experience.

4: _I.e._ Avignon.

5: Namely, by Emperor Charles IV. and Pope Clement VI. _Cf._
Papencordt, _Rienzi_, 254, n. 1.

6: In the portion of the letter here omitted Petrarch laments Rienzo's
inconstancy and want of insight, and dwells upon the fact that he is
accused not of having deserted a noble cause but of having dared to
contemplate a free republic. The same sentiments are expressed in the
letter which follows this.

7: Howes' version of _Sat_., i., 4, 42.

8: The letter closes with a last illustration of the prevailing
ignorance. A highly talented and well-educated man (vir litterarum
multarum et excelsi ingenii) of Avignon gravely asked Petrarch if a
certain person, who could make a public speech and write a letter with
some ease, might not properly be called a _poet_.

       *       *       *       *       *

The treatment of Rienzo by the papal officials at Avignon seemed to
Petrarch an insult to the Roman people; and he determined, shortly
after the prisoner's arrival, to appeal to those who had once shared
in the Tribune's fleeting glory. Petrarch's interest in the case may
very well be ascribed, in part at least, to his former friendship for
Rienzo; his letter is, however, chiefly important as illustrating his
political ideas and his highly fantastic conception of the Roman Empire.

_To the Roman People, urging them to Intervene in Rienzo's Trial._[1]

Invincible people, to whom I belong, Conquerors of the Nations! there
is a grave question which I would discuss with you, briefly and in
confidence. I pray you therefore, I conjure you, illustrious men, to
grant me your attention, for yours are the interests at stake. It is
a serious matter, a most serious matter, with which none other in the
world can be compared. But lest I should exhaust your interest by
delay, or seem to endeavour to give added weight to a matter that by
its very nature is of supreme importance, I will omit any introduction
and come at once to the point.

Your former Tribune is now a captive in the power of strangers,
and--sad spectacle indeed!--like a nocturnal thief or a traitor to his
country, he pleads his cause in chains. He is refused the opportunity
of a legitimate defence by the highest of earthly tribunals. The
magistrates of justice themselves reject the claims of justice,
and deny him what has never been denied to even the most impious
offenders.[2] It is true that he may perhaps deserve to suffer in this
manner, for, after he had planted the Republic by his skill, with his
own hands so to speak, after it had taken root and flowered, in the
very bloom of glorious success he left it. But Rome assuredly does not
merit such treatment. Her citizens, who were formerly inviolable by law
and exempt from punishment, are now indiscriminately maltreated, as
anyone's savage caprice may dictate, and this is done not only without
the guilt that attaches to a crime, but even with the high praise of

But that you may not be ignorant, most illustrious sirs, why he who
was formerly your head and guide and is still your fellow-citizen--or
shall I say your exile?--is thus persecuted, I must dwell upon a
circumstance of which you may already be aware, but which is none the
less astounding and intolerable. He is accused not of betraying but of
defending liberty; he is guilty not of surrendering but of holding the
Capitol. The supreme crime with which he is charged, and which merits
expiation on the scaffold, is that he dared affirm that the Roman
Empire is still at Rome, and in possession of the Roman people. Oh
impious age! Oh preposterous jealousy, malevolence unprecedented! What
doest thou, O Christ, ineffable and incorruptible judge of all? Where
are thine eyes with which thou art wont to scatter the clouds of human
misery? Why dost thou turn them away? Why dost thou not, with thy
forked lightning, put an end to this unholy trial? Even though we be
not deserving, look upon us, have pity upon us! Behold our enemies (who
are not less thine), for they are multiplied, and they hate us even
as they hate thee, with a cruel hate. Judge, we beseech thee, between
our cause and theirs, unlike in every respect. From thy mouth let our
judgment go forth; let thine eyes behold equity.

That one nation, or indeed that all nations, as we perceive, should
have desired to withdraw themselves from that easiest and most just
of all yokes, the yoke of Rome, need not surprise nor anger us, since
there is in the souls of all mortals an innate love of liberty.
Inadvisable and premature this desire may often be, and those whom
shame forbids to obey their superiors ofttimes command but ill, and
might better have submitted to be led. In this way all things are
thrown into a state of turmoil and confusion; and in place of a
suitable dominion we not infrequently find an unworthy subjection;
instead of a dignified subordination, an unjust authority. Were this
otherwise, human affairs would be upon a better footing, and the world,
its head erect, would be vigorous still.

If this cannot be accepted upon my authority, experience may be
trusted. When have we seen such peace, such tranquillity, such justice,
such glory of well-doing, such rewards for virtue, such punishments for
evil,--when did such order reign in all things, as when the world had
but a single head, and that head Rome? It was that time which God, who
loves peace and justice, chose above all others to humble himself to be
born of the Virgin and to visit our earth. To each body is given its
respective head; so the whole world, which the poet calls "the great
body," should content itself with a single temporal head. A creature
with two heads is a monster; how much more horrid and frightful a
prodigy is a being with a thousand separate heads, wrangling among
themselves and tearing each other. But if there must be several heads,
there certainly should be one which is above the others and controls
everything, so that the whole body may remain at peace. It is a truth
amply proved by innumerable experiences, and supported by the authority
of the most learned, that in heaven and on earth unity of rule has
always been best. That God Omnipotent has willed that the supreme head
should be no other than Rome, he has shown by a thousand signs, for he
has rendered Rome worthy, by the glory of both peace and war, and has
granted her a preëminence of power, marvellous and unexampled.

Although this be true, yet if in the past a nation, following the
custom of the human heart, which daily rejoices in its own evil, has,
as I have said, chosen to embrace a harmful and doubtful liberty rather
than accept the safe and advantageous dominion of the common mother,
it may still be pardoned for its audacity or stupidity. But who can,
without scandal, hear the question raised among learned men whether
the Roman Empire is at Rome? Must we assume, then, that the Parthian,
the Persian, and the Median kingdoms remain with the Parthians, the
Persians, and the Medes, respectively, but that the Roman Empire
wanders about? Who can stomach such an absurdity? Who will not, rather,
vomit it up and utterly reject it? If the Roman Empire is not at Rome,
pray where is it? If it is anywhere else than at Rome it is no longer
the Empire of the Romans, but belongs to those with whom an erratic
fate has left it. Although the Roman generals were, owing to the
exigencies of the Republic, often engaged with their armies in the far
east or extreme west, or found themselves in the regions of Boreas or
of Auster, the Roman dominion in the meantime was at Rome, and Rome
it was which determined whether the Roman generals merited reward or
punishment. It was determined upon the Capitol who should be honoured,
who punished, who should enter the city as a private citizen, who with
the honours of an ovation or of a triumph. Even after the tyranny, or,
as we prefer to say, the monarchy, of Julius Cæsar was established,
the Roman rulers, although they were assigned a place in the council
of the gods themselves, continued, as we well know, to ask the consent
of the Senate or of the Roman people in the conduct of the government,
and according as that permission was granted or refused they proceeded
with, or desisted from, their proposed action. Emperors may, therefore,
wander about, but the Empire is fixed and forever immovable. And we may
well infer that it was no temporary site but its eternal place to which
Virgil refers when he says:

      While on the rock-fast Capitol Æneas' house abides, And
      while the Roman Father still the might of Empire guides.[3]

... It was, however, also a Roman who wrote, "All that is born dies,
and that which increases grows old." Nor does it distress me that
Fortune exercises her prerogatives in your case as well as in that of
others, and, in order plainly to show that she is mistress of human
affairs, fears not to lay hands upon the very head of the world. I
well know her violence and her inconstancy. Still, I cannot endure the
idle boasts of certain unbridled nations, and the insolent conduct of
those whose neck long bore the yoke of Rome. To pass over many other
outrageous themes of discussion, they raise the question--oh, unhappy
and shameful suggestion!--whether the Roman Empire is at Rome.

It is indeed true that upon a spot now covered with trackless forest
royal palaces may some time arise; and where to-day stand halls
resplendent with gold, the hungry flocks may some time pasture, and the
wandering shepherds occupy the apartments of kings. I do not depreciate
the power of Fortune. As she has obliterated other cities, so, with
no more effort, if with greater ruin, she may destroy the queen of
cities. Alas, she has already partially accomplished this; but she can
never bring it about that the Roman Empire can be anywhere else than at
Rome, for as soon as it is anywhere else it ceases to be Roman.

This your unfortunate fellow-citizen has maintained, and will not deny
that he still maintains; and this constitutes the terrible crime for
which his life is endangered. He claims that his assertion is based
upon the opinion of many wise men, nor do I think that he is wrong. He
further entreats that counsel and the opportunity to defend himself
be granted him. This is refused; and, without divine mercy and your
support, he is undone; innocent and defenceless, he will be condemned.

Almost everyone pities him; there is scarcely one who is not distressed
for him, except those whose duty it is to be compassionate, to forgive
the erring, and to feel no envy toward virtue. Distinguished lawyers
are not wanting here who claim that this same proposition can be most
clearly proved by the civil law. Others maintain that they could cite
many and weighty references in the histories, which go to substantiate
this opinion, if it were only permitted them to speak freely. But no
one now dares to hint a word of this, except in a corner, or timidly
and in secret. Even I who write this to you, although I might not
refuse to die for the truth, if my death would seem to promise any
advantage to the Republic,--even I now keep my peace, and do not affix
my name to this present communication, believing that the style itself
will suffice to indicate the writer, though I may add that it is a
Roman citizen who speaks.[4] But if the matter should be considered
in a place of safety, before a just judge, and not in the tribunal of
our enemies, I hope, with the truth illuminating my intellect, and God
directing my speech or pen, to be able to say that which will render
it clearer than day that the Roman Empire, although long wasted and
oppressed by the attacks of fortune, and occupied in turn by Spaniards,
Africans, Greeks, Gauls, and Germans, still exists; that it is at
Rome, not elsewhere; and that it will always remain there, although
absolutely nothing of that great city should be left except the naked
rock of the Capitol. I will prove, further, that even before we were
ruled by foreigners, and while the Roman Cæsars still held the power,
all the authority of the Empire was lodged, not in them, but in the
citadel of the Capitol and in the Roman people....[5]

Bear such aid, then, as you can and ought, to your Tribune, or, if
that title is extinguished, to your fellow-citizen, who has merited
well at the hands of the Republic; first and foremost, because he has
raised a great and important question which had been lost sight of and
neglected for centuries, and which indicates the only means toward
a reformation of the state and the ushering in of the golden age.
Succour this man! Do not neglect the safety of one who has incurred
a thousand perils and subjected himself to eternal despite in your
behalf. Consider his spirit and his purpose, and remember the former
state of your affairs, and how quickly the advice and efforts of a
single man excited a wonderful hope, not only in Rome, but throughout
Italy. Remember how speedily the Italian name and the glory of Rome
were elevated and purified; remember the fear and disappointment
of your enemies, the joy of your friends, the anticipations of the
people; how the course of events was altered, how the whole universe
assumed a new aspect, and the disposition of men's minds was changed.
Among all the revolutions under heaven none has been so wonderful and
astounding as this. For seven months, not longer, he held the reins
of the Republic by an effort which in my judgment finds scarcely a
parallel in the whole history of the world; and had he continued as he
began he would have accomplished a divine rather than a human work.
Indeed, whatever man does well is the work of God. There is, then, no
doubt that this man, who is known to have acted for your glory and
not to satisfy his own ambition, deserves your favour. You must blame
Fortune for the outcome. If his original fervour gave way to a certain
lethargy, forgive this in the name of human inconstancy and weakness,
and save your fellow-citizen while you may from his enemies; you, who
formerly protected the Greeks from the Macedonians, the Sicilians from
the Carthaginians, the Campanians from the Samnites, and the Etrurians
from the Gauls, and that not without serious peril to yourselves.

Your resources are, I confess, no longer what they once were, but never
did your fathers show such valour as when Roman poverty, which forms
the wealth of virtue, flourished. Your power is less, that I do not
forget; but believe me, if a drop of the old blood still flows in your
veins, you may yet enjoy no little majesty and no trifling authority.
Venture somewhat, I adjure you, in memory of past greatness, in the
name of the ashes and fame of your ancestors, in the name of the
Empire, in the name of Jesus Christ, who bade us love our neighbour
and aid the afflicted. Have courage, I beseech you, above all in a
matter where your petition is honourable, and silence shameful and
unbecoming. If not for his welfare, dare to do something for the
sake of your own reputation, if you would still count for anything.
There is nothing less Roman than fear. I forewarn you that if you are
afraid, if you despise yourselves, others, too, will despise you; no
one will fear you. But if you once begin to desire not to be scorned
you will be feared far and wide, as has often been proved in the past,
and but lately, also, when that ruler to whom I refer was governing
the Republic. You have but to speak as one; let the world recognise
that the Roman people has but a single voice, and no one will reject
or scorn their words; everyone will respect or fear them. Claim the
captive, or demand justice; one or the other will be conceded to you.
And you, who once by a trifling embassy freed a King of Egypt besieged
by the Syrians, free now your fellow-citizen from a shameful prison.

1: _Ep. sine Titulo_, iv. (Also in Fracassetti's _App. Lit_., No. 1.)

2: Rienzo was accused of heresy, and it was quite in accord with the
jurisprudence of the inquisition to refuse him counsel.

3: _Æneid_, ix., 448, 449, as translated by William Morris. Petrarch
here makes an excursus in order to free Virgil from the reproach of
Augustine, who asserts that the poet mendaciously promises (_Æneid_,
i., 278, 279) the Romans an endless empire. These words, Petrarch
points out, were discreetly put into Jove's mouth, whereas, when
speaking for himself, Virgil refers (_Georgics_, ii., 498) to _res
Romanæ perituraque regna._

4: Petrarch had been made a citizen of Rome at the time of his

5: Petrarch, in the passage which follows, urges the Romans to procure
the transfer of Rienzo's case to Rome, or at least to demand that he
shall be granted a public audience and a fair trial.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some two years after Rienzo's retirement, Petrarch addressed his first
letter to Charles of Bohemia, who already enjoyed the title of King of
the Romans, but had not yet been crowned Emperor at Rome, as was then
customary. While we cannot attempt to analyse the anomalous character
of this historically important personage, it will nevertheless be
readily and justly inferred that little real sympathy could exist
between our ardent southern _doctrinaire_ and the sober northern
ruler. Petrarch was too thoroughly Italian really to respect Charles
personally. He could never place unreserved confidence in a German
from the cold north, "where there is no noble ardour or vital heat
of empire."[1] To his fellow-countryman, Rienzo, had been drawn both
by the hope of seeing Rome once more supreme and, as we have seen,
by natural affinity, and a common fiery enthusiasm for the mighty
lessons of antiquity. Charles enlisted his interest only as the titular
successor of the Cæsars. The vitality, and, it must be admitted, the
absurdity, of Petrarch's political theories are clearly seen in his
long correspondence with the Emperor. He clung to his ideal with such
tenacity that he continued to despatch appeal after appeal across the
Alps, in spite of deluded hopes and disappointments which might well
have appeared decisive.[2]

The letters shed little or no light upon the conditions of the times,
or upon the interrelations of the Italian states. We hear of Veii
and of the Samnites, but the writer passes over the more pertinent
Florence and the Visconti in silence. In one instance only does he
refer to existing conditions. The success of Rienzo is cited with a
hope of rousing the King's emulation.[3] If Peace and Justice and
their inseparable companions, Good Faith and sweet Security, returned
at the call of the Tribune, how much might not justly be expected
from the spell of the imperial name? Charles was to free the Italians
from slavery, to reinstate justice, now prostituted to avarice, and
once more to bring back peace, long fallen into utter oblivion.[4]
No more complete or specific program is offered; the poet satisfies
himself with the constant reiteration of the eternal fitness of Rome's
headship. This had satisfied many generations of political writers;
it is the central idea of mediæval thought, whether in the field of
secular or ecclesiastical political speculation. Petrarch adds nothing
to it, and the chief interest in his messages is, perhaps, their
conservatism. His study of the classics did not modify but served
only to intensify the current conception. For him there was no mean
between the traditional anachronism of a world-monarchy and the petty,
unscrupulous, restless despotisms about him.

In one respect, however, Petrarch advanced beyond the fruitless
repetition of old fantastic theory, for he viewed Charles not only as
Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire but as a new Augustus, a patron of
literature. Upon receiving a letter from his royal friend he exclaims,
"If it was deemed a glorious thing for Virgil and Horace to gain the
notice and companionship of Cæsar Augustus and to receive his letters,
why should not I, their successor, not indeed in merit but in time, and
perhaps in the opinion of men,--why should not I feel justly proud to
be similarly distinguished by Augustus' successor?"[5] The tribute here
implied to the Emperor's interest in letters was by no means entirely
unmerited. Petrarch, as we have repeatedly seen, was strongly attached
to the rulers of his day, in whom he either discovered, or quickly
aroused, a certain enthusiasm for the new culture. They came to relish
the society of men of letters, and to extend to them their princely
patronage, during the long humanistic epoch of which he was the herald.

1: _Fam._, xx., 2 (vol. iii., p. 9).

2: The senselessness of anticipating good from the arrival of the
Emperor is bitterly dwelt upon in _De Remediis Utriusque Fortunæ_, book
i., chap. 116.

3: _Fam_., xviii. (vol. ii., p. 464).

4: _Fam_., xviii. (vol. ii., p. 468).

5: _Fam._, xxiii., 2 (vol. iii., p. 184).

       *       *       *       *       *

_To Charles IV., Emperor August of the Romans._[1]

My letter, most serene Emperor, when it considers its origin, whence it
proceeds and whither it is bound, is filled with dread at the thought
of the gulf over which it must pass. Born in the shadow of obscurity,
what wonder if it is dazzled by the brilliancy of your splendid name?
But love casteth out fear: it will, as it ventures into the light of
your presence, at least serve to bear to you the message of my faithful
affection. Read, then, I pray you, Glory of our Age, read! for you need
fear no empty flattery, that common affliction of kings, so irksome
and hateful to you. The art of adulation is repugnant to my character;
prepare rather to listen to my lamentations, for you are now to be
disturbed not by compliments but by complaints.

Why do you forget us--nay, forget yourself, if I may be pardoned for
so speaking? How is it that your Italy no longer enjoys your watchful
care? We have long placed our hope in you, as one sent to us from
heaven, who would speedily re-establish our liberty; but you have
forsaken us, and, when action is most essential, you occupy your time
in lengthy deliberations.--You will perceive, Cæsar, how frankly I
dare to address you, though a person insignificant and unknown. Be not
offended at my boldness, I beseech you, but congratulate yourself upon
the possession of a nature which can arouse this confidence in me.

To revert to the question in hand, why do you spend your time in mere
consultation, as if master of the future? Do you not know how abruptly
the most important matter may reach a crisis? A day may bring forth
what has been preparing for centuries. Believe me, if you but consider
your own reputation, and the condition of the state, you will clearly
perceive that neither your interests nor ours require longer delay.
What is more fleeting and uncertain than life? Although you are now
at the height of manly vigour, your strength will not endure, but is
slipping from you steadily and apace. Each day carries you insensibly
toward old age. You hesitate and look about you; ere you are aware,
your hair will be white. Can you apprehend that you are premature in
undertaking a task for which, as you must know, the longest life would
scarcely suffice? The business before you is no common or trifling
affair. The Roman Empire, long harassed by storms, and again and
again deluded in its hopes of safety, has at last placed its waning
reliance in your uprightness and devotion. After a thousand perils, it
ventures. under the protection of your name, to breathe once more; but
hope alone cannot long sustain it. You must realise how great and how
holy a burden of responsibility you have assumed. Press on, we exhort
you, to the goal, with the utmost speed!

Time is so precious, nay, so inestimable a possession, that it is
the one thing which the learned agree can justify avarice. So cast
hesitation to the winds and, as behooves one who is entering upon a
momentous task, count every day a priceless opportunity. Let this
thought make you frugal of time, and induce you to come to our rescue,
and show the light of your august countenance, for which we long
amidst the clouds of our adversity. Let not solicitude for Transalpine
affairs, nor the love of your native soil, detain you; but whenever you
look upon Germany, think of Italy. There you were born, here you were
nurtured; there you enjoy a kingdom, here both a kingdom and an empire;
and, as I believe I may, with the consent of all nations and peoples,
safely add, while the members of the Empire are everywhere, here you
will find the head itself. There must, however, be no slothfulness if
you would reach the desired result, for it will prove no small matter
to re-unite all these precious fragments into a single body.

I well know that novelty always excites suspicion, but you are not
summoned to an unknown land. Italy is no less familiar to you than
Germany itself. Pledged to us by divine favour from your childhood,
you followed, with extraordinary ability, the footsteps of your
illustrious father.[2] Under his guidance you made yourself acquainted
with the Italian cities, the customs of the people, the configuration
of the land, and mastered in this way the first principles of your
glorious profession. Here, while still a boy, and with a prowess more
than mortal, you gained many a famous victory. Yet great as were these
deeds they but foreshadowed greater things; since, as a man, you could
not look with apprehension upon a country which had afforded you, as
a youth, the opportunity for such signal triumphs. You could forecast
from the auspicious results of your first campaign what you might, as
Emperor, anticipate upon the same field.

Moreover, Italy has never awaited the coming of any foreign prince
with more joy; for not only is there no one else to whom she can look
for the healing of her wounds, but your yoke she does not regard as
that of an alien. Thus your majesty, although you may not be aware of
it, enjoys a peculiar position in our eyes.--Why should I fear to say
frankly what I think, and what will, I am confident, appear to you
as true?--By the marvellous favour of God our own national character
is once more restored to us, after so many centuries, in you, our
Augustus. Let the Germans claim you for themselves, if they please;
we look upon you as an Italian. Hasten then, as I have so often said,
and must continue to say, hasten! I know that the acts of the Cæsars
delight you,--and rightly, for you are one of them. The founder of
the Empire moved, it is reported, with such rapidity that he often
arrived before the messengers sent to announce his coming. Follow his
example. Strive to rival in deeds him whom you equal in rank. Do not
longer deprive Italy, which deserves well of you, of your presence.
Do not cool our enthusiasm by continued delay and the despatch of
messengers. It is you whom we desire, it is your celestial countenance
that we ask to behold. If you love virtue (I address our Charles as
Cicero addressed Julius Cæsar), and thirst for glory--for you will not
disclaim this thirst, wise though you be--do not, I beseech you, shun
exertion. For he who escapes effort escapes both glory and virtue,
which are never attained but by a steep and laborious path. Arise then
and gird up your loins, for we know you to be eager for true praise and
ready for noble toil.

You will rightly place the heaviest burdens in this mighty undertaking
upon the strongest backs, and upon those in the prime of life, for
youth is the suitable time for work, old age for repose. Surely there
is among all your important and sacred duties none more pressing than
that you should restore gentle peace once more to Italy. This task
alone is worthy of your manly strength; others are too slight to occupy
so great and generous a spirit. Do this first, and the rest will find
an appropriate time. Indeed, I cannot but feel that little or nothing
would remain to be done when peace and order were again established in

Picture to yourself the Genius of the city of Rome, presenting herself
before you. Imagine a matron, with the dignity of age, but with her
grey locks dishevelled, her garments rent, and her face overspread with
the pallor of misery; and yet with an unbroken spirit, and unforgetful
of the majesty of former days, she addresses you as follows: "Lest thou
shouldst angrily scorn me, Cæsar, know that once I was powerful, and
performed great deeds. I ordained laws, and established the divisions
of the year. I taught the art of war. I maintained myself for five
hundred years in Italy; then, as many a witness will testify, I carried
war and victory into Asia, Africa, and Europe, finally compassing
the whole world, and by gigantic effort, by wisdom and the shedding
of much blood, I laid the foundation of the rising Empire.[3] ... At
last the ocean, which I had dyed with the blood of both my enemies
and my children, was subjected to our fleets, in order that from the
seeds of war the flower of perpetual peace might spring; and by the
work of many hands the Empire might be so established that it should
endure until thy time. Nor was I disappointed in my hopes; my wish was
granted, and I beheld everything beneath my feet. But then, I know not
why, unless it is not fitting that the works of mortals should prove
themselves immortal, my magnificent structure fell a prey to sloth and

"I need not relate again the sad story of its decline; thou canst
behold the state to which it is reduced. Thou, who hast been chosen to
succour me when hope had well-nigh deserted me, why dost thou loiter,
why dost thou vainly hesitate and consider? Assuredly, I never stood
in more dire need of assistance, nor hast thou ever been better placed
to bear aid. Never was the Roman pontiff more mildly inclined, nor
the favour of God and man more propitious; never did greater deeds
await the doing. Dost thou still defer? Delay has always been most
fatal to great princes. Would that thou mightest be moved to emulate
the illustrious example of those who left nothing for old age, but
straightway grasped an opportunity which might offer itself but once.
Alexander of Macedon had at thine age traversed the whole Orient, and,
burning to extend his kingdom over alien races, knocked at the gates
of India. Dost thou, who wouldst only recover thine own, hesitate to
enter thy devoted Italy? At thine age Scipio Africanus crossed into
Africa, in spite of the adverse counsels of older men, and supported
with pious hands an empire tottering upon the verge of ruin. With an
incredible display of valour he freed me from the impending yoke of
Carthage. His was a mighty task, and, by reason of its unheard-of
dangers, memorable to all generations. While war was bitterly waging in
our country he invaded the land of the enemy. Hannibal, conqueror of
Italy, Gaul, and Spain (who was already contemplating, in his dreadful
ambition, the dominion of the whole earth), Scipio cast out of Italy
and vanquished upon his own soil. But thou hast no seas to cross nor
a Hannibal to defeat; the way is free from difficulty, all is open
and accessible. Should obstacles present themselves, as some fear, thy
presence will shatter them as with a thunderbolt. A vast field of fresh
glory spreads out before thee, if thou dost not refuse to enter it.
Press bravely, confidently forward. God, the companion and present help
of the righteous prince, will be with thee. The armed cohorts of the
good and upright will gather about thee, demanding to regain under thy
leadership their lost liberty.

"I might urge thee on by examples of another character, of those who
by death or by some other insuperable check were unable to bring their
glorious undertakings to an end. But we need not look abroad for
instances when such excellent illustrations are to be had at home.
Without searching the annals, a single example, most familiar to thee,
will serve for all, that of Henry VII., thy most serene grandfather of
glorious memory. Had his life been spared to accomplish what his noble
mind had conceived, how different would have been the fate of Italy!
He would have driven his enemies to despair, and would have left me
once more queen of a free and happy people. From where he now dwells in
heaven he looks down upon thee and considers thy conduct. He counts the
days and the hours, and joins me in chiding thy delay.

"'Beloved grandson,' he pleads, 'in whom the good place their hope,
and in whom I seem still to live, listen to our Rome, give heed to her
tears and noble prayers. Carry out my plan of reforming the state,
which my death interrupted, working thereby greater harm to the world
than to me. Imitate my zeal, fruitless as it was, and mayest thou, with
like ardour, bring thy task to a happier and more joyful issue. Begin,
lest thou shouldst be prevented; mindful of me, know that thou, too,
art mortal. Up, then; surmount the passes! Joyful at thy approach,
Rome summons her bridegroom, Italy her saviour, yearning to hear thy
footsteps. The hills and rivers await thy coming in glad anticipation;
the cities and towns await thee, as do the hearts of all good men. If
there were no other motive for thy departure, a sufficient reason would
be found in the opinion of evil men, in whose eyes thou canst never
linger too long, and in the belief of the good, that thy coming cannot
be unduly hastened. For the sake of both, delay no longer; let the
virtuous receive their reward; bring retribution upon the evil, or, if
they come to their senses, grant them thy forgiveness. To thee alone
God Omnipotent has granted the final glory of my interrupted purpose.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles finally decided that it would be to his advantage to visit
Italy and receive the imperial crown at Rome. His motives, however,
had little in common with those which are set forth in the preceding
letter. He arrived in Lombardy in the autumn of 1354; and after
adjusting, temporarily at least, his complicated diplomatic relations
with the states of northern Italy, he called Petrarch to him, in the
bitter cold of December.

1: _Fam_., x., 1. This letter may with confidence be dated Padua, Feb.
24, 1350. _Cf._ Gregorovius, _op. cit._, vi., 341.

2: That is, King John of Bohemia, who perished romantically in the
battle of Crécy. He made an expedition into Italy in 1329, to which
Petrarch here refers.

3: A page is here omitted which briefly reviews the gradual extension
of the Roman power.

       *       *       *       *       *

_His Audience with the Emperor._

_To "Lælius."_[1]

... On the fourth day after leaving Milan I arrived at Mantua, where I
was received by the successor of our Cæsars with a cordiality hardly to
be expected from a Cæsar, and with a graciousness more than imperial.
Omitting details, I may say that we two sometimes spent the whole
evening, from the time the lights were first lit until an unseasonably
late hour of the night, in conversation and discussion. Nothing, in a
word, could be more refined and engaging than the dignified manners
of this prince. So much, at least, I know; but I must defer a final
judgment upon his other traits, in accordance with the dictum of the
Satirist, "Trust not the face." We must wait! We must, if I mistake
not, take counsel of the acts of the man and their outcome, not of his
face and words, if we would determine how far he merits the title of
Cæsar. Nor did I hesitate frankly to tell him this.

The conversation happening to descend to my works, the Emperor
requested copies of some of them, especially of that one which I
have entitled _Lives of Famous Men_. I replied that the latter was
still unfinished, and that time and leisure were necessary to its
completion. Upon asking me to agree to send it to him later, he met
with an example of my customary freedom of speech when talking with
persons of rank. This frankness, which I had by nature, becomes more
pronounced as the years go on, and by the time I reach old age it will
doubtless exceed all bounds. "I promise that you shall have it," I
answered, "if your valour approves itself, and my life is spared."? As
he asked, in surprise, for an explanation, I replied that as far as I
was concerned I might properly demand that a suitable period be granted
me for the completion of so considerable a work, as it was especially
difficult to set forth the history of great deeds in a limited space.
"As for you, Cæsar," I continued, "you will know yourself to be worthy
of this gift, and of a book bearing such a title, when you shall be
distinguished not in name only, and by the possession of a diadem,
insignificant in itself, but also by your deeds; and when, by the
greatness of your character, you shall have placed yourself upon a
level with the illustrious men of the past. You must so live that
posterity shall read of your great deeds as you read of those of the

That my utterance met with his ready approval was clearly shown by
the sparkle of his eye and the inclination of his august head; and it
seemed to me that the time had come to carry out something which I had
long planned. Following up the opportunity afforded by my words, I
presented him with some gold and silver coins, which I held very dear.
They bore the effigies of some of our rulers,--one of them, a most
lifelike head of Cæsar Augustus,--and were inscribed with exceedingly
minute ancient characters. "Behold, Cæsar, those whose successor you
are," I exclaimed, "those whom you should admire and emulate, and with
whose image you may well compare your own. To no one but you would
I have given these coins, but your rank and authority induces me to
part with them. I know the name, the character, and the history, of
each of those who are there depicted, but you have not merely to know
their history, you must follow in their footsteps;--the coins should,
therefore, belong to you." Thereupon I gave him the briefest outline of
the great events in the life of each of the persons represented, adding
such words as might stimulate his courage and his desire to imitate
their conduct. He exhibited great delight, and seemed never to have
received a present which afforded him more satisfaction.

But why should I linger upon these details? Among the many things we
discussed I will mention only one matter, which will, I think, surprise
you. The Emperor desired to hear, in due order, the history--or
shall I say the romance?--of my life, from the day of my birth to
the present time. Although I protested that the story was long and
by no means diverting, he listened to me through it all with grave
attention, and when, from forgetfulness or a desire to hasten on, I
omitted some event, he straightway supplied it, seeming often to be
better acquainted with my past than I myself. I was astonished that any
wind was strong enough to have wafted such trifles across the Alps,
and that they had caught the eye of one whose attention was absorbed
by the cares of state. When I finally reached the present time in my
narrative I paused, but the Emperor pressed me to tell him something
of my plans for the future. "Continue," he said; "what of the future?
What objects have you now in view?" "My intentions are of the best,
Cæsar," I replied, "although I have been unable to bring my work to the
state of perfection I should have desired. The habits of the past are
strong, and prevail in the conflict with the good intentions of the
present. The heart opposes a new determination, as the sea which has
been driven by a steady breeze rises up against a contrary wind." "I
can well believe you," he answered, "but my question really referred
to a different matter, namely, to the kind of life which pleases you
best." "The life of solitude," I promptly and boldly answered, "for no
existence can be safer, or more peaceful and happy. It transcends, in
my opinion, even the glory and eminence of your sovereign position. I
love to pursue solitude, when I may, into her own proper haunts,--the
forests and mountains. Often in the past have I done this, and when,
as at present, it is impossible, I do the best I can, and seek such
seclusion as is to be found in the city itself." He smiled, and said,
"All this I well know, and have intentionally led you step by step,
by my questions, to this confession. While I agree with many of your
opinions, I must deprecate this notion of yours."

And so a great discussion arose between us, which I did not hesitate
to interrupt by exclaiming: "Beware, Cæsar, of your course! for in this
conflict your arms are by no means equal to mine. This is a debate in
which not only are you predestined to defeat, but a very Chrysippus,
armed with syllogisms, would have no chance of victory. I have for a
long time meditated upon nothing else, and my head is full of arguments
and illustrations. Experience, the mistress of the world, sides with
me, although the stupid and ignorant multitude oppose my view. I refuse
to engage with you, Cæsar, for I should inevitably be declared the
victor by any fair-minded person, although he were himself a dweller in
the city. Indeed, I am so absorbed by the subject that I have recently
issued a little book which treats of some small part of it." Here he
interrupted me, declaring that he knew of the book, and that, should it
ever fall into his hands, he would promptly commit it to the flames. I
told him, in reply, that I should see to it that it never came in his
way. Thus our discussion was protracted by many a merry sally, and I
must confess that, among all those whom I have heard attack the life of
seclusion, I have never found one who advanced more weighty arguments.
The outcome was, if I do not deceive myself, that the Emperor was
worsted (if it is permissible to say or think that an Emperor can be
worsted), both by my arguments and by reason, but in his own opinion he
was not only undefeated but remained clearly the victor.

In conclusion, he requested me to accompany him to Rome. This request
was, he explained, his primary motive in subjecting one who held
quiet in such esteem to the discomforts of this inclement season.
He desired to behold the famous city not only with his own but, so
to speak, with my eyes. He needed my presence, he said, in certain
Tuscan cities,--of which he spoke in a way that would have led one to
believe him an Italian, or possessed, at least, of an Italian mind.
This would have been most agreeable to me, and the two words "Rome" and
"Cæsar" rang most gratefully in my ears; nothing, I thought, could be
more delightful than to accompany Cæsar to Rome; nevertheless I felt
obliged, for many good reasons, and owing to unavoidable circumstances,
to refuse him.

A new discussion ensued in regard to this matter, which lasted many
days and did not end until the last adieux were said. For as the
Emperor left Milan I accompanied him to the fifth milestone beyond the
walls of Piacenza, and even then it was only after a long struggle of
opposing arguments that I could tear myself away. As I was about to
depart a certain Tuscan soldier in the imperial guards took me by the
hand, and, turning to the Emperor, addressed him in a bold but solemn
voice. "Here is he," he said, "of whom I have often spoken to you. If
you shall do anything worthy of praise, he will not allow your name to
be silently forgotten; otherwise, he will know when to speak and when
to keep his peace."

But to return to our first subject.[2] I do not, as you can see,
repudiate the honour you ascribe to me, because it is distasteful, but
because truth is dearer to me than all else. I did not negotiate the
peace, though I ardently desired it; I was not deputed to bring it
about, but only aided with exhortations and words of encouragement. I
was not present at the beginning but only at the close, since Cæsar and
my good fortune decreed my presence at the solemn public ratification
of the treaty which followed its conclusion.

Assuredly no Italian has ever received such tributes as I have at this
juncture. I have been summoned by Cæsar and urged to be his companion;
I have been permitted to jest and argue with him. The tyrant Dionysius,
as Pliny tells us, once sent a ship covered with garlands to fetch
Plato, the disciple of wisdom; and as he disembarked he was received
upon the shore by the prince himself, in a chariot drawn by four white
horses. These things are spoken of as magnificent tributes to Plato,
and as redounding to his glory. You see now, my dear Lælius, whither I
am tending, and that I omit no opportunity which promises distinction.
What might I not venture, who do not fear to compare myself to

       *       *       *       *       *

The hasty, undignified retreat of Charles from Italy, and the bitter
reproaches which Petrarch sent after him, did not prevent a resumption
of the intercourse begun in 1350.[4] A year after the Emperor's
departure Petrarch went to Prague, as ambassador of the Visconti, but
we hear no particulars of his sojourn at that new centre of culture. In
a letter written after this visit we find the graceful acknowledgment
of the gift of a golden cup from the Emperor, who continued to urge
the poet to make his home in Prague? Petrarch at last reluctantly
prepared to obey the summons, but was happily prevented by the military
occupation of the Alpine passes from undertaking a journey which he
little relished. He continued to press the return of the Emperor as
Italy's saviour until, finally, "hoarse" with repeated cries for help,
he sent his last vain appeal,[5] some ten years after Charles departure.

1: _Fam_., xix., 3. The first part of the letter, describing, among
other things, the severe cold, is omitted.

2: The rumour had reached Lælius that Petrarch had been deputed by the
Milanese government to negotiate a peace with Charles.

3: The closing paragraph is omitted.

4: Fourteen letters to Charles are preserved in all.

5 _Fam_., xxiii., 21.



      Non sumus aut exhortatione virtutis aut vicinæ mortis
      obtentu a litteris deterendi.--_Sen_., i., 4.

The tendencies toward Paganism which the enthusiastic and exclusive
study of the ancient classics produced among the Italian Humanists
of the fifteenth century are so well known that it is natural to ask
what was the attitude of the founder of Humanism toward the generally
accepted religious beliefs of his day.

The question of the propriety of reading pagan works had agitated the
Church from the first, and the views of the devout had varied greatly.
There had always been distinguished leaders, like Augustine, who made
due use of pagan learning and eloquence, and defended a discriminating
study of the heathen writers; while others, among whom Gregory the
Great was preëminent, had harshly condemned "the idle vanities of
secular learning," for the reason "that the same mouth singeth not the
praises of Jove and the praises of Christ."[1] Many timid churchmen
were fearful, like Jack Cade, of those who talked of "a noun and a
verb and such abominable words as no Christian can endure to hear."
In short, the effects produced upon the religious convictions by a
study of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and Lucretius have always
varied with the mental make-up, the maturity and surroundings, of
the individual, just as nowadays a study of science may or may not
influence the faith of the believer. In notable instances, scientific
pursuits not only leave the student's religious system essentially
unimpaired but may even serve to fortify a traditional form of
theology. On the other hand, an absorbing interest in scientific
investigation often produces religious indifference. In still other
minds such research will arouse opposition to what comes to seem to
them a vicious and degraded form of superstition. This opposition
will vary from dignified but uncompromising negation to a frantic
belligerency not unlike that of the ecclesiastical opponents of
"poetry" in the middle ages.

Turning to Petrarch, we may at first be tempted to infer that his
religious beliefs were in no way affected by his sympathetic study of
pagan literature. His writings prove beyond a peradventure that he was
a devout Catholic, even an ardent defender of orthodoxy. He composed
several devotional works, unimpeachably sound in their teaching,
as, for example, the tract upon _True Wisdom_, and his _Penitential
Psalms_. He was deeply incensed by the defection of the young men who
accepted the doctrines of Averroes, and prepared a refutation of their
heresies, as we have seen.[2] And he was no exception to the rule, for
there were few, if any, among the first generation of Humanists who
affected the paganism characteristic of the later Renaissance.[3] But
Petrarch not only refused to question the authority of the Church;
he went much farther, and, in, theory at least, heartily accepted
the prevalent ascetic ideals. He freely, acknowledges the superior
perfection of the monastic life; it is, he feels, the only sure road to
Heaven. In writing to Gherardo, who had become a Carthusian monk, he
begs him not to despair of his salvation although, he still remains in
the world. His sins, however great, are still finite, while the divine
clemency upon which he relies is boundless.[4]

But such reflections as fill the letter from which we quote are, the
writer explicitly tells us, not his own, for it is the pen of another
self, a "monastic pen," which records them. He speaks truly; he had no
real love for a consistent life of seclusion and maceration, yet when
his spirit was heavy, when the vanity of earthly ambition was more than
usually oppressive, he might long for the irresponsible routine of the
monastery. Sometimes, too, he seems unconsciously to have confused a
scholar's desire for leisure and retirement with the quite different
claims of the cloister.[5]

1: _Ep_., ix., 54.

2: _I.e., De Suiipsius et Multorum Ignorantia_. See above, pp. 215,
216. (During his residence in Venice...)

3: _Cf_. Pastor, _Geschichte der Päpste_, vol. i., p. 1 _sqq_.

4: _Fam_., x., 3.

5: Once, upon his return from a visit to the Carthusian monastery
which Gherardo had selected, Petrarch wrote a eulogy of monastic life,
_De Otio Religiosorum_, which may be found among his works.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following letter to Boccaccio explains itself.

_Religion does not Require us to Give up Literature._

_To Boccaccio._[1]

Your letter, my brother, filled me with the saddest forebodings.
As I ran through it amazement and profound grief struggled for the
supremacy in my heart, but when I had finished, both gave way to other
feelings. As long as I was ignorant of the facts, and attended only to
the words, how indeed could I read, with dry eyes, of your tears and
approaching death? For at first glance I quite failed to see the real
state of affairs. A little thought, however, served to put me in quite
a different frame of mind, and to banish both grief and surprise.

But before I proceed I must touch upon the matter to which you refer in
the earlier part of your letter. You dare not deprecate, you say with
the utmost deference, the plan of your illustrious master--as you too
humbly call me--for migrating to Germany, or far-off Sarmatia (I quote
your words), carrying with me, as you would have it, all the Muses, and
Helicon itself, as if I deemed the Italians unworthy longer to enjoy
my presence or the fruits of my labour. You well know, however, that I
have never been other than an obscure and lowly dweller on Helicon, and
that I have been so distracted by outside cares as to have become by
this time almost an exile. I must admit that your method of holding me
back from such a venture is more efficacious than a flood of satirical
eloquence would have been. I am much gratified by such tokens of your
esteem, and by the keen interest you exhibit. I should much prefer
to see signs of exaggerated apprehension on your part (_omnia tuta
timens_, as Virgil says) than any suggestion of waning affection.

I have no desire to conceal any of my plans from you, dear friend,
and will freely tell you the whole secret of my poor wounded heart. I
can never see enough of this land of Italy; but, by Hercules! I am so
utterly disgusted with Italian affairs that, as I recently wrote to our
Simonides, I must confess that I have sometimes harboured the idea of
betaking myself--not to Germany, certainly, but to some secluded part
of the world. There I might hope to escape this eternal hubbub, as well
as the storms of jealousy to which I am exposed not so much by my lot
in life (which to my thinking might rather excite contempt than envy)
as by a certain renown which I have acquired in some way or other.
Thus secluded I should have done what I could to live an upright life
and die a righteous death. This design I should have carried out had
not fortune prevented. But as to turning my thoughts northward, that
was by no means done with the intention which you imagine. I did not
think of seeking repose in that barbarous and uninviting land, with
its inclement sky. I was only submitting, from motives of respect and
propriety, to the solicitations of our Emperor, who had repeatedly
urged me to come and see him, with such insistence that my refusal to
visit him, for a short time at least, might have been regarded as an
exhibition of pride and rebellion, or even as a species of sacrilege.
For, as you have read in Valerius, our ancestors were wont to regard
those who could not venerate princes as capable of any form of crime.
But you may dismiss your fears, and cease your laments; for--to my
not very great regret--I have found this road, too, blocked by war.
Anomalously enough, I am glad not to go where I should with even
greater gladness have gone if I had been able. To have wished to go is
enough to satisfy both my ruler's desires and my own scruples; for the
rest fortune was responsible.

Leaving this matter, I come back to that part of your letter which so
affected me on first reading. You say that a certain Peter, a native of
Sienna, noted for his piety and for the miracles which he performed,
has recently died; that on his death-bed, among many predictions
relating to various persons, he had something to say of both of us;
and that, moreover, he sent a messenger to you to communicate his last
words. When you inquired how this holy man, of whom we had never heard,
happened to know so much about us, the messenger replied that the
deceased had, it is understood, undertaken a certain work of piety; but
when, having been told as I surmise that death was near, he saw himself
unable to accomplish his proposed mission, he prayed a prayer of great
efficacy, which could not fail to make its way to Heaven, that proper
substitutes might be designated, who should bring to a successful close
the chosen task which it was not the will of God that he himself should
complete. With that intimacy of intercourse which exists between God
and the soul of the just, Heaven ordained that he should see Christ in
person, and thus know that his petition had been heard and granted. And
in Christ's face it was conceded to him to read "_the things that are,
the things that have been, and the things that are to come_," not as
Proteus does in Virgil, but far more perfectly, clearly, and fully; for
what could escape one who was permitted to look upon the face of him to
whom all things owe their being?

It is certainly a most astounding thing, this seeing Christ with
mortal eyes, if only it be true. For it is an old and much-used device,
to drape one's own lying inventions with the veil of religion and
sanctity, in order to give the appearance of divine sanction to human
fraud. But I cannot pronounce upon this case at present, nor until the
messenger of the deceased presents himself to me in person. For you
tell me that he visited you first because you were nearest, and, having
delivered his message, departed for Naples, intending to go thence by
sea to France and England, and lastly to visit me and impart such of
his instructions as related to my case. I can then see for myself how
much faith he succeeds in arousing in me. I shall closely interrogate
everything about him,--his age, face, eyes, dress, bearing, gait, even
his tone of voice, movements, style of address, and, above all, his
apparent object and the upshot of his discourse.

The gist of the whole matter is then, as I infer, that the holy man
as he was dying had a vision of us two, and along with us of several
others as well, and intrusted certain secret messages for us all to
this zealous and, as he seems to you, faithful executor of his last
wishes. Now what messages the other persons may have received we do
not know. But you yourself received the following communications, both
relating to the general course and conduct of your life. If there
were others you suppress them. You were first informed that your life
is approaching its end, and that but a few years remain to you.[2]
Secondly, you were bidden to renounce the study of poetry. Hence your
consternation and sorrow, which I shared at first as I read, but which
a little reflection served to efface, as it will in your case too, if
you will but lend me your ears, or listen to the utterances of your own
better reason. You will see that, instead of being a source of grief,
the message ought to give you joy.

I do not belittle the authority of prophecy. What comes to us from
Christ must indeed be true. Truth itself cannot lie. But I venture to
question whether Christ was the author of this particular prophecy,
whether it may not be, as often happens, a fabrication attributed
to him in order to insure its acceptance. And what of the fact that
similar phenomena have been recorded among those who are quite ignorant
of his name? If we may believe the pagan poets and philosophers, it
was not at all unusual for dying men to utter prophecies; both the
Greek literature and our own mention many such instances. Note, for
example, that Homer makes Hector foretell the death of Achilles; Virgil
tells us how Rhodes warns Mezentius of his doom; Cicero mentions the
same prophetic power in the cases of Theramenes, who foresaw the death
of Critias, and of Calanus, who foretold that of Alexander. Another
example, more like that which troubles you, is mentioned by Posidonius,
the most celebrated philosopher of his time. He tells us of a certain
inhabitant of Rhodes who, on his death-bed, indicated six of his
contemporaries who were shortly to follow him to the grave; and, what
is more, he actually foretold the order in which those people would
die. This is not the place to consider either the authenticity or the
explanation of such cases. Suppose, though, that we do grant their
trustworthiness, as well as that of other similar prophecies which
are reported to us, including the one by which you have recently been
terrified; what is there, after all, which need fill you with such
apprehension? We are usually indifferent to those things with which we
are familiar, and are excited and disturbed only by the unexpected. Did
you not know well enough, without hearing it from this man, that you
had but a short span of life before you?...[3]

I might commend to you, in your perplexity, the reflections of
Virgil,[4] as not only helpful but as the only advice to be followed
at this juncture, were it not that I wished to spare the ears of one
to whom poetry is absolutely forbidden. This prohibition filled me
with much more astonishment than the first part of the dying man's
message. If it had been addressed to an old man who was, so to speak,
just learning his letters, I might have put up with it, but I cannot
understand why such advice should be given to an educated person in
the full possession of his faculties, ... one who realises what can
be derived from such studies for the fuller understanding of natural
things, for the advancement of morals and of eloquence, and for the
defence of our religion. (We have seen with what signal success those
whom I have just enumerated[5] used their learning.) I am speaking
now only of the man of ripe years, who knows what is due to Jupiter
the adulterer, Mercury the pander, Mars the man-slayer, Hercules the
brigand, and--to cite the less guilty--to the leech Æsculapius, and
his father, Apollo the cither-player, to the smith Vulcan, the spinner
Minerva; and, on the other hand, to Mary the virgin-mother, and to her
son, our Redeemer, very God and very man. If, indeed, we must avoid the
poets and other writers who did not know of Christ, and consequently do
not mention his name, how much more dangerous must it be to read the
books of heretics, who only speak of Christ to attack him. Nevertheless
the defenders of the true faith do read them, and with the greatest

Believe me, many things are attributed to gravity and wisdom which are
really due to incapacity and sloth. Men often despise what they despair
of obtaining. It is in the very nature of ignorance to scorn what it
cannot understand, and to desire to keep others from attaining what it
cannot reach. Hence the false judgments upon matters of which we know
nothing, by which we evince our envy quite as clearly as our stupidity.

Neither exhortations to virtue nor the argument of approaching death
should divert us from literature; for in a good mind it excites the
love of virtue, and dissipates, or at least diminishes, the fear of
death. To desert our studies shows want of self-confidence rather than
wisdom, for letters do not hinder but aid the properly constituted mind
which possesses them; they facilitate our life, they do not retard
it. Just as many kinds of food which lie heavy on an enfeebled and
nauseated stomach furnish excellent nourishment for one who is well
but famishing, so in our studies many things which are deadly to the
weak mind may prove most salutary to an acute and healthy intellect,
especially if in our use of both food and learning we exercise proper
discretion. If it were otherwise, surely the zeal of certain persons
who persevered to the end could not have roused such admiration. Cato,
I never forget, acquainted himself with Latin literature as he was
growing old, and Greek when he had really become an old man. Varro, who
reached his hundredth year still reading and writing, parted from life
sooner than from his love of study. Livius Drusus, although weakened by
age and afflicted with blindness, did not give up his interpretation
of the civil law, which he carried on to the great advantage of the

Besides these and innumerable others like them, have not all those of
our own religion whom we should wish most to imitate devoted their
whole lives to literature, and grown old and died in the same pursuit?
Some, indeed, were overtaken by death while still at work reading or
writing. To none of them, so far as I know, did it prove a disadvantage
to be noted for secular learning, except to Jerome, whom I mentioned
above; while to many, and Jerome himself not least, it was a source
of glory. I do not forget that Benedict was praised by Gregory for
deserting the studies which he had begun, to devote himself to a
solitary and ascetic mode of life. Benedict, however, had renounced,
not the poets especially, but literature altogether. Moreover, I very
much doubt if his admirer would have been himself admired had he
proceeded to adopt the same plan. It is one thing to have learned,
another to be in the process of learning. It is only the hope of
acquisition which the boy renounces,--quite a different thing from
the learning itself, which an older person gives up; the former but
turns away from an obstacle, while the latter sacrifices an ornament.
The trials and uncertainties of acquisition are alone surrendered in
one case; in the other the man sacrifices the sure and sweet fruit of
long, laborious years, and turns his back upon the precious treasure of
learning which he has gathered together with great effort.

While I know that many have become famous for piety without learning,
at the same time I know of no one who has been prevented by literature
from following the path of holiness. The apostle Paul was, to be sure,
accused of having his head turned by study, but the world has long
ago passed its verdict upon this accusation. If I may be allowed to
speak for myself, it seems to me that, although the path to virtue
by the way of ignorance may be plain, it fosters sloth. The goal of
all good people is the same but the ways of reaching it are many and
various. Some advance slowly, others with more spirit; some obscurely,
others again conspicuously. One takes a lower, another a higher path.
Although all alike are on the road to happiness, certainly the more
elevated path is the more glorious. Hence ignorance, however devout, is
by no means to be put on a plane with the enlightened devoutness of one
familiar with literature. Nor can you pick me out from the whole array
of unlettered saints, an example so holy that I cannot match it with a
still holier one from the other group.

But I will trouble you no longer with these matters, as I have already
been led by the nature of the subject to discuss them often. I will
add only this: if you persist in your resolution to give up those
studies which I turned my back upon so long ago, as well as literature
in general, and, by scattering your books, to rid yourself of the very
means of study,--if this is your firm intention, I am glad indeed that
you have decided to give me the preference before everyone else in this
sale. As you say, I am most covetous of books. I could hardly venture
to deny that without being refuted by my works. Although I might seem
in a sense to be purchasing what is already my own, I should not like
to see the books of such a distinguished man scattered here and there,
or falling, as will often happen, into profane hands. In this way,
just as we have been of one mind, although separated in the flesh, I
trust that our instruments of study may, if God will grant my prayer,
be deposited all together in some sacred spot where they may remain
a perpetual memorial to us both.[6] I came to this decision upon the
day on which he died who I hoped might succeed me in my studies.[7] I
cannot, however, fix the prices of the books, as you most kindly would
have me do. I do not know their titles and number, or their value. You
can arrange this by letter, and on the understanding that if it should
ever occur to you to spend with me the little time which remains to us,
as I have always wished, and you at one time seemed to promise, you
will find the books you send with those that I have recently gathered
together here, all of them equally yours, so that you will seem to have
lost nothing, but rather gained, by the transaction.

Lastly, you assert that you owe money to many, to me among others.
I deny that it is true in my case. I am surprised at so unfounded
and even absurd a scruple of conscience on your part. I might apply
Terence's saying, that you seem "to be looking for a joint in a reed."
You owe me nothing but love, and not even that, since you long ago paid
me in full,--unless it be that you always are owing, because you are
always receiving. Still, one who pays back so promptly cannot properly
be said ever to owe.

As to the complaint of poverty, which I have frequently heard from you
before, I will not attempt to furnish any consolation or to cite any
illustrious examples of indigence. You know them already. I will only
say plainly what I have always said: I congratulate you for preferring
liberty of mind and tranquil poverty to the opulence which I might
have procured for you, even though tardily.[8] But I cannot praise you
for scorning the oft-repeated invitation of a friend. I am not in a
position to endow you. If I were, I should not confine myself to pen
or words, but should address you with the thing itself. But I am amply
supplied with all that two would need, if, with a single heart, they
dwelt beneath a single roof. You insult me if you scorn my offers,
still more so, if you are suspicious of their sincerity.

PADUA, May 28 (1362).

1: _Sen_., i, 4.

2: Boccaccio at this time was about fifty-one years old.

3: Here follows a series of reflections upon the brevity of life and
the inevitability of death, supported by excerpts from Ambrose and
Cicero. Petrarch often reverts to this subject in his letters.

4: To wit, the lines, "Stat sua cuique dies ... sed famam extendere
factis, Hoc virtutis opus."

5: _Viz_., Lactantius, Augustine, and Jerome.

6: In regard to Petrarch's library see above, pp. 28 _sqq_. "Each copy
of a work had...)

7: It is not known to whom Petrarch refers here; de Nolhac suggests
his son Giovanni, who died a year before this was written. _Cf. op.
cit_., p. 68, note 1.

8: The pope had asked Petrarch to suggest someone for a papal
secretaryship. He had offered the place to Boccaccio, who however
refused it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following letter is one of Petrarch's most unreserved confessions
of confidence in Christian asceticism.

_On a Religious Life._

_To his Brother Gherardo, a Carthusian Monk._[1]

Your double gift,--the boxwood box, which you yourself in your leisure
moments had polished so carefully on the lathe, and the very edifying
letter, built up and strengthened by a vast number of quotations from
the Fathers, and testifying a truly religious spirit,--reached me
yesterday evening. I was delighted to receive them both, but as I read
the letter I was, I must confess, affected by strangely conflicting
emotions, now warmed by generous impulses, now paralysed by chilling
fear. Your admirable example aroused in me the longing to lead a better
life, and supplied the incentive; it loosed the hold which the present
exercised over me, enabling me to see more clearly where I really
stood. You showed me the road which I must follow, and the distance
which still separates me, miserable sinner that I am, from our other
home, the New Jerusalem, for which we must always sigh, unless this
dark and noisome dungeon of exile has destroyed all recollection of our
true selves.

Well, I congratulate both of us,--you, that you have such a soul,
myself, that I have such a brother. Yet, in spite of this, one thing
fills me with pain and regret,--that while we had the same parents we
should not have been born under the same star. We are sprung from the
same womb; but how unlike, how unequal! This serves to show us that our
natures are the gift, not of our earthly parents, but of our Eternal
Father. We were begotten in carnal depravity by our father; to our
mother we owe this vile body; but from God we receive our soul, our
life, our intellect, our desire for good, our free will. All that is
holy, religious, devout, or excellent in human nature comes directly
from him.

So your letter at once comforted and distressed me. I rejoiced in
you and blushed for myself. I can only say in reply to it that what
you write is all very good and helpful, though it would have been
quite as true even if you had not supported it so abundantly by high
authorities. Take, for example, the opinion, which you call in St.
Augustine to defend, that our endeavours, as well as our desires, are
often at variance with one another.--I should like, however, if you
will permit me, to express my own views upon this matter before coming
to Augustine's. By so doing I shall gratify myself without, perhaps,
annoying you.

The aims of mankind as a whole, and even those of the individual,
are conflicting. This must be admitted; I know others and myself all
too well to deny it. I have looked at the race as a whole, and have
examined individuals in detail. What can, in truth, be said that will
apply to all; or who can possibly enumerate the infinite diversities
which distinguish mortals from one another, so that men do not seem to
belong to the same species or even to the same genus?...[2] This, I
confess, surprises me, but it is much more astonishing that the wishes
of one and the same man should so ill agree. Who of us, indeed, desires
the same thing when he is old that he craved as a youth? Or, what is
still stranger, who wants in the winter what he wished in the summer?
Nay, who of us would have to-day what we longed for yesterday, or this
evening what we sought only this morning? As for that, we can see the
vacillation from hour to hour, from minute to minute. Yes, there are
more desires in man than minutes to realise them. This is a constant
source of wonder to me, and I marvel that everyone should not find it
so. But I am losing myself, and must return to you and your Augustine.

That the same individual may at the same moment be in disagreement
with himself in regard to the same object--a truth which you call St.
Augustine to witness, although you do not express yourself in exactly
his words--is a source of the most profound astonishment to me. How
common, nevertheless, is this species of madness,--to desire to
continue our journey but without reaching the end, to wish to go and
stay at the same time, to live and yet never die! Yet it is written
in the Psalms, "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?"
Still, we harbour these contradictory desires. In our blindness and
incredible perversity we yearn for life, and execrate its outcome,
death. These wishes are, however, thoroughly at variance with each
other, and mutually exclusive. Not only does death necessarily follow
life, but, as Cicero says,--in whose opinion on this point I have,
for some reason, almost more confidence than in that of Catholic
writers,--" What we call our life is in reality death." So it falls
out that we both hate and love death above all things, and are fitly
described in the words of the comic poet,--_Volo nolo, nolo volo._

But let us leave aside for the time being these philosophical
reflections, which, although perhaps inopportune, are none the less
true, and deal with this matter as a common man might. Let us accept
this life as it is generally conceived and so fondly cherished; let us
suppose it to begin to-day--what does it really promise us? Surely
anyone can readily infer the answer who reviews the experience of
the years already passed, and uses the same measure for the future,
although in his imagination he may extend his hopes and cares to a full
century of life. What, may I ask, is the prospect for those who are
already advanced in years? What is past is certainly dead and gone, and
for the future we can only rely upon the assurances of a fleeting and
precarious existence. Even if its promises should be fulfilled, the
stubborn fact remains that the same number of years seems in old age,
for some reason which I cannot explain, shorter than in the first part
of our life. Who, then, can doubt the full truth of your assertions,
that we are constantly occupied in a fervid quest for happiness and
prosperous days, when neither happiness nor prosperous days are to be
found? Nor can we hope for rest or safety, or life itself, or anything
except a hard and weary journey toward the eternal home for which we
look; or, if we neglect our salvation, an equally pleasureless way to
eternal death. Should we not, then, seek our true welfare while we
still have time, in the only place where the good and perfect can be

Of the other matter which you treat in so finished a manner in your
letter I will say nothing, both because your treatment is quite
exhaustive, and because the language of religious discussion could
have little weight in the mouth of a sinful and miserable man, such
as I. I content myself with admiring in silence the constancy of your
mind and the vigour of your style. It is plain that you have had a
very different preceptor in the monastery from what you found in the
world. It is not surprising that he who could teach you to will and
to act could also teach you to speak, for speech follows the mind and
actions closely. You have, in a brief space, altered greatly as to both
the inner and the outer man. This would surprise me more had I not
learned the power of the Most High to change the heart of man. For he
can with equal ease affect the disposition of the race or of a single
individual; he can move the earth or change the whole face of nature.
You have sought out for me a noble array of passages from the Fathers,
and ordered them so artfully that I am led to admire your arrangement
almost as much as the sentiments themselves. Skilful composition
frequently brings home to us what we should otherwise miss, as we learn
when we study the art of poetry. You will forgive me one suggestion.
You are extremely modest, perhaps too modest, and wanting in proper
self-confidence. You would do well to trust, for a time at least, more
to your own powers; nor be afraid that the same spirit which made the
Fathers wise will not aid you. For it is written, "It is not ye who
speak, but the spirit of my Father which speaks in you." You may give
utterance to truths of your own, perhaps very many, which will benefit
not only yourself but others as well.

Coming finally to myself, who have been, by reason of the storms
which rage about me, a serious source of brotherly solicitude and
apprehension to you, I can only say that you are justified in
cherishing a lively hope, if riot the complete assurance, of my safety.
I have not forgotten the counsel you gave when you left me. I cannot
maintain that I have actually reached the haven, but, like sailors
caught in a storm out at sea, I have found my way to the leeward of
an island, so to speak, where I am protected from the wind and waves.
Here I lie and wait until I may make a safer harbour. On what do I base
my hope? you will ask. With Christ's help, I have sought to fulfil
the three duties which you recommended to me, and have, with all my
might, tried to carry them out more and more fully each day. I do not
tell this for my own glory, for I am still afflicted by many ills and
misgivings, and have much to regret in the past, much to trouble me
in the present, and much to fear in the future, but I send you word
of my progress in order that you may rejoice in the first fruits of
your efforts, and that the greater the hopes you have of me, the more
frequently you may pray for my salvation.

In the three following respects I have complied with your injunctions.
In the first place, I have, by means of solitary confession, laid open
the secret uncleanness of my transgressions, which would otherwise have
fatally putrified, through neglect and long silence. I have learned to
do this frequently, and have accustomed myself to submit the secret
wounds of my soul to the healing balm of Heaven. Next, I have learned
to send up songs of praise to Christ, not only by day but in the night.
And following your admonitions I have put away habits of sloth, so
that even in these short summer nights the dawn never finds me asleep
or silent, however wearied I am by the vigils of the evening before.
I have taken the words of the Psalmist to heart, "Seven times a day
do I praise thee"; and never since I began this custom have I allowed
anything to distract me from my daily devotions. I observe, likewise,
the admonition, "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee."
When the hour arrives I feel a mysterious stimulus which will not allow
me to sleep, however oppressed I may be with weariness.

In the third place, I have learned to fear more than death itself that
association with women which I once thought I could not live without.
And, although I am still subject to severe and frequent temptations,
I have but to recollect what woman really is, in order to dispel all
temptation and return to my normal peace and liberty. In such straits
I believe myself aided by your loving prayers, and I trust and beg
that you will continue your good offices, in the name of him who had
mercy on you, and led you from the darkness of your errors into the
brightness of his day. In all this you are most happy, and show a most
consistent contempt for false and fleeting joys. May God uphold you. Do
not forget me in your prayers.

IN SOLITUDE. June 11 (1352).

1: _Fam_., x., 5.

2: Four or five pages of somewhat trite reflections are here omitted,
as they cast no real light upon the writer's attitude toward religion.

       *       *       *       *       *

In spite, however, of the conventional and even ardent respect which
Petrarch paid to the monkishness of his age, he was, after all, too
genuine and independent a thinker not to turn against some of its
implications. For instance, he would never consent to give up his
secular literary pursuits, or admit that they were unholy. He was
always ready to defend the study of the classics, and, as we have
seen, he vigorously dissuaded his more impressionable friend Boccaccio
from yielding to spiritual intimidation. He frankly admits, moreover,
that he could never overcome the longing for personal glory, which he
hoped to secure by his Latin writings. The proud boasts of Horace and
Ovid, who claimed immortality for their works, suggested to his eager,
restless spirit something very different from the self-annihilation
of the cloister. Whether he really believed such aspirations to be
utterly incompatible with Christian humility, is difficult to decide.
Late in life he did not hesitate to celebrate the "Triumph of Glory"
in Italian verse, but in his earlier days he was less confident of the
righteousness of merely earthly aspirations.

Most of us would nowadays doubtless agree that few things in this
world are on the whole less vain than fame. At the least, the pursuit
of it seems to us in no way ignoble; it is, as Petrarch says, a
"splendid preoccupation." The reader will have noted from time to time
references in the letters to Petrarch's longing for undying renown. It
is one of the chief themes of the _Secret_, to which we shall turn in a

The letter which follows deals with this matter; it is the earliest
which we have from his hand, and was written, probably, in 1326, while
he was still a student at Bologna. His views at the age of twenty-two
were not essentially different from those which he held at seventy.

_On the Impossibility of Acquiring Fame during one's Lifetime._

_To Tommaso di Messina._[1]

No wise man will regard as peculiar to himself a source of
dissatisfaction which is common to all. Each of us has quite enough to
complain of at home; a great deal too much, in fact. Do you think that
no one ever had your experience before? You are mistaken,--it is the
common fate of all. Scarcely anyone ever did or wrote anything which
was regarded with admiration while he still lived. Death first gives
rise to praise,--and for a very simple reason; jealousy lives and dies
with the body. "But," you reply, "the writings of so many are lauded
to the skies, that, if it be permissible to boast,..." Here you stop,
and, as is the habit of those who are irritated, you leave your auditor
in suspense by dropping your sentence half finished. But I easily
guess your half-expressed thought, and know what you would say. Many
productions are received with enthusiasm which, compared with yours,
deserve neither praise nor readers, and yet yours fail to receive any
attention. You will certainly recognise in my words your own indignant
reasoning, which would be quite justifiable if, instead of applying it
exclusively to yourself, you extended it to all those who have been,
are, or shall be, seized by this passionate and diseased craving to

Let us look for a moment at those whose writings have become famous.
Where are the writers themselves? They have turned to dust and ashes
these many years. And you long for praise? Then you, too, must die.
The favour of humanity begins with the author's decease; the end of
life is the beginning of glory. If it begins earlier, it is abnormal
and untimely. Moreover, so long as any of your contemporaries still
live, although you may begin to get possession of what you desire,
you may not have its full enjoyment. Only when the ashes of a whole
generation have been consigned to the funeral urn do men begin to pass
an unblassed judgment, free from personal jealousy. Let the present age
harbour any opinion it will of us. If it be just, let us receive it
with equanimity; if unjust, we must appeal to unprejudiced judges,--to
posterity, seeing that a fair-minded verdict can be obtained nowhere

Personal intercourse is a most delicate matter, disturbed by the merest
trifles. Actual contact with a person is peculiarly disastrous to his
glory. Intercourse and familiarity are sure to beget contempt.[2]

When we turn to the scholars--and we are all familiar with that
half-starved, overworked breed--we find that, in spite of all their
toil, they, too, are totally wanting in critical ability. They read a
deal, but never subject what they read to criticism; and it certainly
would never occur to them to examine the merits of a man's work if
they thought they knew the man himself. They all follow one law; let
them but cast their eyes on the author, his works invariably weary and
disgust them. But you will say, "This may happen to the less highly
gifted; a really great genius will, however, overcome all obstacles."
But if you will bring back Pythagoras I will see that his detractors
are not wanting. Suppose Plato to return to Greece, Homer and Aristotle
to rise from the dead, Varro and Livy to appear again in Italy, and
Cicero to flourish once more,--they would find not only lukewarm
admirers but jealous and virulent calumniators, such as each found in
his own generation. Who among all Latin writers is more truly great
than Virgil? Let him appear among us, and he would be a poet no longer,
but a low-lived plagiarist, or a mere translator. He, however, dared to
rely upon his own genius and the patronage of a judge like Augustus,
and so disdained from the bottom of his heart the carpings of envious

You also, I know, are confident of your powers, but where will you find
a judge like Augustus, who, as is well known, assiduously encouraged
every kind of talent in his time? Our kings can pass judgment on the
flavour of a dish, or the flight of a hawk; but on human qualities they
can offer no opinion, and, should they try, their insolent pride would
blind them or keep their eyes from the truth. Lest they should seem to
respect anything in their own age, they profess an admiration for the
ancients, about whom, however, they scorn to learn anything. So with
them the praise of the dead entails an affront to the living. It is
among such critics that we must live and die, and, what is hardest,
hold our peace.

Where, I asked, are you to find a judge like Augustus? Italy rejoices
in one, indeed. Yes, there is one such on earth, Robert, the Sicilian
king. Happy Naples! which enjoys the unequalled good fortune of
possessing the single ornament of our age. Happy and most enviable
Naples, the august home of literature! If thou once seemedst sweet to
Virgil, how much greater thy charm since the most equitable of censors
of talent and learning lives within thy borders! All who have faith
in their powers flee to him. Nor should they delay, for delay is
dangerous. He is well advanced in age; the world has long deserved to
lose him, while he has well earned the title to happier realms. I fear
that I myself may be storing up unavailing regrets by my delay. It is
always shameful to put off a good thing, and deliberation may be so
prolonged as to become blameworthy. The opportunity should be improved,
and that which could not be accomplished earlier should be done now,
without further delay. As for myself, I have resolved to hasten with
all possible speed, and to dedicate all my powers to him (as Cicero
says, in one of his letters, of Cæsar). It may come to pass that, by
ardent application, I may yet reach the goal. As a belated traveller,
although he has overslept, may yet, with speed, reach his destination
earlier than if he had spent the night on the road, so I, late as I
have been in offering my homage to this man, may still make up for
lost time by increased diligence. As for you, you must adopt your own
expedients, since it is not simply the narrow strait, but war, which
forms the obstacle between you and this monarch. Your country, which
has no more loyal citizen than yourself, now lies under the dominion of
a hostile ruler,[3] or tyrant, as I might say, did I not fear to offend
your ears. But such a mighty question as this is to be decided, not by
our pens, but by the swords of those interested.

Reverting now to our original discussion, to-day [we see about us,
among others,] the lawyers, in whom the passion for self-glorification
is universal, and those fellows who spend their whole time in
disputations and dialectic subtleties, forever wrangling over some
trivial question:--hear my verdict upon the whole pack of them. Their
fame will surely die with them; a single grave will suffice for their
name and their bones. When death shall have forced their own paralysed
tongues to silence, those of others will be equally silent in regard
to all that concerns them. ... But what is it, after all, that we are
so anxiously striving for? The fame we reach after is but a breath, a
mist, a shadow, a nothing. A sharp and penetrating mind will therefore
easily learn to scorn it. But if, perchance,--since it is a pest which
commonly pursues the generous soul,--thou canst not radically extirpate
this longing, thou mayest at least check its growth with the sickle of
reason. Accept the laws of time and circumstances. Finally, to sum up
my advice in a word, seek virtue while thou livest, and thou shalt find
fame in thy grave. Adieu.

BOLOGNA, April 18th.

1: _Fam_., i., 1.

2: Dante's reasoning in the _Convito_ (cap. iii. _sq_.) offers an
interesting analogy to that of Petrarch. "I have," he says, "gone
through almost all the land in which this language [Italian] lives,--a
pilgrim, almost a mendicant;... and I have appeared despicable in the
eyes of many who perhaps, through some report, had imagined me in other
guise; in the sight of whom not only did my person become contemptible,
but my works, both those that were completed and those that remained to
be done, appeared less worthy." Dante adds a philosophical explanation
of this.

3: Sicily, it will be remembered, had revolted from the rule of
Charles of Anjou, at the time of the Sicilian Vespers, 1282, and still
remained under rulers belonging to a branch of the house of Aragon.



      Est autem aliqua propositi mei ratio. Earn enim quam his
      sperare licet gloriam, his quoque manenti quaerendam
      esse persuadeo ipse mihi. Illa maiore in coelo fruendum
      erit, quo qui pervenerit hanc terrenam ne cogitare quidem
      velit. Itaque istum esse ordinem ut mortalium rerum inter
      mortales prima sit cura: transitoriis aeterna succedant:
      quod ex his ad illa sit ordinatissimus progressus.
      _Secretum_, in Ed. of 1496, _Colloquium tertii diei_, k
      (the pages are unnumbered).

The art of self-revelation is no easy one to acquire and when acquired
it must be practiced with circumspection. It is however possible to
talk of oneself with good grace and to get others to listen. Indeed
a man's opinion of himself--if only we can come at it--is rarely
indifferent to us. We have an almost morbid anxiety to know what others
think of themselves, if only they can and will tell us. We all like
to take our turn behind the grating of the confessional. Artistic
confessing is essentially a very modern accomplishment. While the
nineteenth century furnishes us many charming examples, the instances
of satisfactory self-exposure before Rousseau's unblushing success are
really rare. Probably Augustine is the first name that will occur to
us. Job's case and that of the far more ancient Egyptian who has left
his weary reflection on life are hardly in point. The Greek and Roman
writers have left us plenty of comments on the inner life, but no
one tells us his own individual intimate story, unless it be Marcus
Aurelius. In the Middle Ages Peter Damianus, Abelard and Héloïse,
and others shed abundant tears over their evil thoughts, without
however giving us any complete pictures of their varied emotions and
ambitions. Nor does Dante succeed in doing this; although he may be
dimly seen through a mist of allegory. Petrarch's _Secret_ is the
earliest unmistakable example of cool, fair, honest and comprehensive
self-analysis that we possess.

Few have suffered more keenly than Petrarch from a troublesome form
of self-consciousness. He was, as we have seen, ever concerned with
his conduct, ever fearful lest his high pursuits were vain, if not
unequivocally wicked. He was half-ashamed of his noblest sentiments;
even his popularity disturbed him.

    . . . . . . . . onde sovente
    Di me medesmo meco mi vergogno.

His love for Laura long tormented his conscience: he even doubted
whether his craving for literary fame were not a fatal propensity which
might endanger his eternal welfare.

With a view of getting clearly before himself all the questions which
were constantly harassing him he prepared an imaginary dialogue,
suggesting somewhat Boethius's _Consolation of Philosophy_, in order
to do full justice to the claims of each and all of his conflicting
desires and emotions.

One day, he tells us, as he was meditating upon the confused mysteries
of life, there appeared before him a wondrous Lady, whom, after his
eyes had recovered from the dazzling light about her, he recognised as
Truth. With her came a venerable person of profoundly religious mien,
in whom Petrarch immediately discovered his favorite ghostly comforter,
Saint Augustine. The Lady, having perceived the straits in which the
poet was, had taken pity on him in his moral illness and had brought
with her her cherished devotee, to whom she now commends him.

Having all retired to a secluded spot, they join in a consultation,
which was prolonged during three days. Much was said of the evils of
the age and of mortal perversity in general, but the discussion of his
own sins made the deepest impression upon Petrarch. "And lest this
friendly conference should fade from my mind," he says, "I resolved
to write it down and have filled this little book with it. Not that I
would wish it to be reckoned with my other works, nor do I write it
for fame's sake (I am now dealing with higher matters), but solely in
order that I may revive at will the delight which I then derived from
our converse. Therefore, little book, thou wilt avoid the intercourse
of men and wilt contentedly abide with me, not forgetful of thy name:
for thou art 'My Secret' and so thou shalt be called."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Confessions are, as their author tells us, not very
voluminous--less than 30,000 words. They consist of the three dialogues
that took place upon the three successive days; the conversation
is spirited and natural throughout and infinitely superior to the
pseudo-dialogues of the better known _Remedies for both Good and Evil
Fortune_ by the same author. We have no means of determining exactly
when the Confessions were written. As Petrarch was accustomed to revise
his work over and over again, it is probable that several years elapsed
after the plan was once conceived before the little book received the
finishing touches. There is, however, sufficient internal and external
evidence to indicate that the work was written between the years
1342 and 1353; that is, at a time when its author's literary powers
may be assumed to have been at their height. He must have been about
thirty-eight years old when he began it, and had perhaps reached his
fiftieth birthday before he laid it aside in the form that it has come
down to us. In the printed editions the Confessions are called _De
Contemptu Mundi_, a title that is at once misleading and unsupported
by Petrarch's own authority. A much more pertinent heading is found
in most of the manuscripts, namely, _De secreto Conflictu curarum
suarum_,--the inward struggle between the monastic and secular ideals
of life.[1]

It would be a grave misapprehension to suppose that the dialogue does
not reflect a very real contradiction in the soul of the writer. No
careful reader can fail to see in it the bitterness of a spirit at
odds with itself. Indeed its whole significance lies in the sturdy and
heartfelt defence of the intrinsic virtue of the more noble temporal
ambitions, especially those of a man of letters, against the deadening
suggestions of monasticism. The dialogues were written after Petrarch
had outgrown his youthful unquestioning exuberance and before he had
reached the philosophic calm of his later years. Even if he gives way,
often reluctantly indeed and doubtfully, before Augustine's reasoning,
his habitual conduct and his attitude of mind in old age prove that he
was not vanquished. In the long run, the modern, or, if you will, the
classical, spirit was destined to prevail, as we shall later see.

In this three-days' conference the first two days are devoted to the
nature and cause of man's earthly misery, and its cure. "You remember,"
Augustine inquires, "that you are mortal?" Francesco replies that he
not only remembers it but that the thought never fails to fill him with
a certain horror. "If this be so it is well," his Confessor rejoins,
"it will much lighten my duties; for it is certainly true that nothing
is so efficacious against the seductions of this life and so potent to
strengthen the soul amid the tempests of the world as the recollection
of our own misery and meditation upon death; but this thought should
produce no light and fleeting impression; it must sink into our very
bones and marrow. I very much fear that in this respect, as in many
other ways that I have observed, you deceive yourself."

Francesco replies that he does not think the remedy for human misery
so simple as that suggested by Augustine, but admits that he
does not altogether understand his reasoning. "I thought you had
a better-developed mind," Augustine sharply rejoins; "it had not
occurred to me that we should have to go back to first principles. Had
you committed to memory the truths and salutary injunctions of the
philosophers which you have often encountered in my works, and (if you
will permit me to say it) had you laboured for yourself rather than for
others and made the result of so much reading the rule of your life
instead of an idle boast to gain the empty plaudits of the common herd,
you would not be guilty of such crude and silly utterances."

No one is unhappy or can become so except voluntarily, Augustine
continues. Cicero and the other philosophers amply prove that only that
which is opposed to virtue can make us truly unhappy. "I remember,"
Francesco replies, "that these are the doctrines of the Stoics, but
they are opposed to popular belief, and are better in theory than
in practice (_veritati propinquiora quam usui_)." All vice begins
voluntarily, he admits, yet he has seen many a man, himself included,
who would gladly throw off the yoke of sin but who tries to do so in
vain. In spite of the Stoics' cold comfort they remain the miserable
victims of evil their lives long. He does not deceive himself as to
the serious nature of his condition; on the contrary, he sheds many
a bitter tear but finds no relief. Augustine replies that he himself
experienced the same trials at the time of his own conversion, his
account of which is doubtless familiar to Petrarch. The fundamental
difficulty lies in our indifference to spiritual liberty. We do not, as
Petrarch readily agrees, really desire to be free from our sins.

"No one can be dominated absolutely by this desire unless he puts
an end to all other desires; for you well know how many and various
are the objects of our wishes in life, all of which must come to
be reckoned of no value if one would rise to the true yearning for
the highest happiness.... Who is there indeed who could succeed in
extinguishing all his desires,--it would be a long task even to
enumerate them, to say nothing of conquering them,--in order that he
might some day hope to guide his soul by the reins of reason, and dare
to say 'I have nothing in common with the body; all that once seemed
pleasing has become vile in my sight: I aspire to higher things,'" Such
an one is rare enough, Francesco concedes. "But what in your opinion,"
he asks, "must we do in order that we may cast off our earthly shackles
and rise to heaven?"

The problem has now been enunciated. Let us see what is the solution
which the "First Modern" accepts in the heyday of his life and success.
He admits the inefficacy of Cicero's admonitions. Of the Bible he says
little or nothing. Virgil's words, not David's or Paul's, come to his
mind in the depths of his perplexity. The dialogue continues as follows:

      _Augustine_. We have now reached the point toward which I
      have been guiding you. It is that form of meditation (on
      Death) that we mentioned at the beginning, coupled with
      an ever-present consciousness of our mortality, which
      produces the desired result.

      _Francesco_. Unless I am again misled, no one has oftener
      been preoccupied by these thoughts than I.

      _Augustine_. Alas, here is a new task for me.

      _Francesco_. What? I am not lying?

      _Augustine_. I prefer to express myself more politely.

      _Francesco_. But that is your meaning.

      _Augustine_. Assuredly.

      _Francesco_. Then I do not think of death?

      _Augustine_. Very rarely, and then so indolently that
      the thought cannot penetrate into the depths of your

      _Francesco_. I had thought otherwise.

      _Augustine_. You should look not to what you thought but
      to what you should have thought.

The Confessor explains that he does not refer to the general
recognition of the possibility of death as a distant contingency or
even of its imminence as illustrated by the death of those who fall
about us. We can hope for no advantage except we vividly reproduce
its physical and spiritual horrors. He then enters upon a concise
description of the physical accompaniments of dissolution in its most
distressing forms, with the painful minuteness which we might expect
in a treatise upon epilepsy. He dwells upon the advantage of exposing
the bodies of the dead to the view of those earnestly struggling
toward spiritual enfranchisement, and upon the salutary and permanent
impressions that come from witnessing the preparation of the corpse for
burial. In this way the trite idea of our mortality may become vivid
and life-giving.

Francesco readily assents to Augustine's reasoning, for he recognises
in it much that he habitually turns over in his own mind. He asks,
however, for some sure sign by which he can determine whether his
ascetic meditations are doing their work, or whether he is deceiving
himself by false appearances instead of walking in the path of virtue.
Augustine explains accordingly that so long as we do not become
literally pale and rigid with the very thought of death our labours are

The soul must leave the members and stand before the judgment seat of
eternity about to render an exact account of the words and deeds of its
whole past life. It places no hope in bodily beauty or the applause
of the world, in eloquence, riches, or power; the judge cannot be
corrupted or deceived. Death may not be placated, nor is it the end
of torments but only a step toward worse things. "Let the soul sink
to Hell itself, _inter mille suppliciorum, mille tortorum genera, et
stridor et gemitus Averni et sulphurei amnes et tenebrae et ultrices
furiae_." If you can bring all these before your eyes at once, not as
mere imaginings, but as necessary, inevitable, nay as already upon you,
and yet not yield to despair but abide strong in the faith that God can
reach out his hand to snatch you from these horrors, you show yourself
curable. Anxious to rise and tenacious of purpose you will go forth
with confidence and may know that you have not meditated in vain.

This spiritual exercise appears to have been an habitual one with
Petrarch, but, as is not unnatural, he was disappointed in its results.

When I dispose my body like that of a dying person, and bring vividly
before me the hour of death and all the attendant terrors that
the mind can conjure up, so that I seem to be in the very agony of
dissolution, I sometimes behold Tartarus and all the terrors you depict
and am so afflicted by the vision that I arise terrified and trembling,
and to the horror of those about me I break forth in the words, "Alas
how shall I escape these sufferings? What is to be the end of my woes?
Jesus, help me!..."

I rave like a madman and talk to myself, as my distracted and terrified
intellect is driven this way and that. I address my friends, and my
own tears force tears from them. Yet I return to my old ways when my
burst of weeping is once past. What holds me back in spite of these
experiences? What hidden impediment has rendered these meditations up
to the present only a source of pain and terror? I am still exactly
what I was before, and what those are to whom nothing of this kind
perhaps ever happened in their life. I am indeed more miserable than
they in one respect, for whatever may be the outcome, they at least
rejoice in the pleasure of the present while I, uncertain of the end,
experience no joy that is not embittered by the reflections of which I
have spoken.

Against such a sentiment Augustine naturally protests, but somewhat
weakly; and Petrarch firmly maintains that the worldly man is the
better off.

At the close of this first dialogue Petrarch gives a brief analysis
of his character which displays his profound self-knowledge. Augustine
declares that Francesco's spiritual welfare is threatened by his want
of concentration and by the multitude and variety of conflicting
purposes which oppress his weak mind. He has not the strength or
time to accomplish half of what he lightly undertakes. "So it comes
to pass," Augustine continues," "that, as many things brought into a
narrow space are sure to interfere with one another, so your mind is
too choked up for anything useful to take root or grow. You have no
settled plan, but are turned hither and thither in an amazing whirl;
your energies are never concentrated: you are never wholly yourself."

The dialogue on the second day opens with a critical examination
by Augustine of the main sources of Francesco's pride and
self-complacency. This is, at bottom, as we shall see, a confession
of Petrarch's own misgivings that his literary ambitions are vain
and hopeless. Augustine declares that Francesco is distracted by the
phantoms and idle anxieties of ambition, which are especially likely
to drag down the more noble spirits to their ruin; and that it is high
time to endeavour to save him from such a fate. It is easy to prove
how trivial are the advantages that have aroused his pride.

      You trust to your intellectual powers and your reading
      of many books; you glory in the beauty of your language
      and take delight in the comeliness of your mortal frame.
      But do you not perceive in how many respects your powers
      have disappointed you, in how many ways your skill does
      not equal that of the obscurest of mankind, not to speak
      of weak and lowly animals whose works no effort on your
      part could possibly imitate? Exult then if you can in your
      abilities! And your reading, what does it profit you? From
      the mass that you have read how much sticks in your mind,
      how much takes root and brings forth fruit in its season?
      Examine your mind carefully and you will find that all
      you know, if compared with your ignorance, would bear to
      it the same relation as that borne to the ocean by a tiny
      brook, shrunk by the summer heats.

Man may know much of heaven and earth, of the courses of the stars,
the virtues of herbs and stones and the secrets of nature, and still
be ignorant of himself. He may be familiar with all the deeds of
illustrious men in the past, but not heed his own conduct.

      What shall I say of your eloquence [Augustine continues],
      except what you yourself confess? Has not your reliance
      on it often proved vain? Your hearers may perhaps have
      applauded what you said, but what advantage is that, if
      you yourself condemn your words? Although the applause of
      the auditors seems the natural fruit of eloquence, not
      to be despised, yet if the inward applause of the orator
      himself be wanting, how little gratification can the
      cheers of the crowd afford!

Then follows a very interesting digression upon the poverty of
language. Words are often wanting worthily to express the commonest of
our daily experiences. How many things about us have no names at all!
How many that have names can never be adequately described by human
speech! "How often have I heard you bitterly complain and seen you
silent and dejected, because thoughts that were perfectly clear and
easily understood in the mind, could not be fully expressed by tongue
or pen." This leads to a discussion of the asserted superiority of
Greek over Latin in respect to the richness of its vocabulary, and of
the opinions of Cicero and Seneca. Augustine concludes with his own
conviction that both languages are poor.

Petrarch was far too gifted a scholar not to recognise the limitations
of language. In the little guide-book which he once prepared for a
friend who was planning to visit the Holy Land, he speaks again of
his inability to describe the beauties of nature. He felt the same
discouragements that the conscientious student feels to-day, although
his field of knowledge seems to us hopefully limited and well-defined.

Francesco refutes Augustine's accusations with some warmth:

      You say that I rely upon my abilities, although I
      certainly discover no indication of genius in myself,
      unless it be the fact that I place no faith in possessing
      it. My reading of books, moreover, is not a source of
      pride, since it has brought me little knowledge and new
      causes of anxiety. I strive, you say, to gain fame by my
      style, and yet, as you yourself mentioned, nothing so
      vexes me as that my words are inadequate to reproduce
      my conceptions. You know, unless you are merely aiming
      to try me, that I have always been conscious of my
      insignificance; and if I have sometimes thought otherwise,
      it was due to a consideration of the ignorance of others.
      It has happened to me, as I am accustomed often to repeat,
      that according to the well-known saying of Cicero, we
      shine rather by the obscurity of others than by our own

Augustine sees in this the most noxious kind of pride, and says that he
would prefer that Francesco should frankly overrate himself rather than
that he should assume a haughty humility through despising everyone

Augustine charges Petrarch with worldliness and avarice, which will
be sure to grow stronger as he gets older. He once delighted in the
country and its simplicity, but the life in the city has made him
sordid and grasping. Francesco admits that he dreads the thought
of poverty during his declining years. His demands are modest and
legitimate; his daily bread and a book or two are all he asks. Like
Horace, his only object is _nec turpem senectam degere, nec cythera
carentem_. Augustine acquits Francesco at least of any tendency to
over-indulgence in food and drink, and approves of his friends, who, he
has observed, are both sober and dignified in their deportment.

Purity is then spoken of. Francesco admits that he has sometimes
wished himself a senseless stone. He has made a desperate struggle to
free himself from the bonds of sensuality, but he has not been wholly

Augustine now startles Francesco by the abrupt statement that the worst
is still to come. The most serious spiritual disease has not yet been

      _Augustine_. You suffer from a certain dismal malady of
      the mind that the moderns call _acedia_ and which the
      ancients termed _aegritudo._

      _Francesco_. The very name of the disease fills me with

      _Augustine_. No wonder, for you have long been grievously
      vexed by it.

      _Francesco_. I admit it; and it is because there is after
      all a certain admixture of sweetness, however false,
      in almost all the other things that torment me. When I
      am in this sad state everything is bitter, wretched,
      terrible, the road to desperation opens before me and
      I behold all those things which may drive an unhappy
      soul to destruction. The attacks of my other passions,
      if frequent, are short and fleeting, but this plague
      sometimes holds me with such persistence that it binds
      and tortures me for days and nights together. Light and
      life are blotted out and I seem plunged in Tartarean gloom
      and the bitterness of death. But nevertheless, as the
      culmination of my miseries, I feast upon the very pangs
      and throes of my anguish with a certain confined pleasure,
      so that I am reluctant to be torn from them.

      _Augustine_. You seem to know your disease well; We will
      now look to the cause. Say on; what is it that so saddens
      you--some adversity in your worldly affairs, bodily pain,
      or some stroke of ill fortune?

      _Francesco_. Not any one of these. If I were engaged in
      single combat I should certainly hold my own. But as it is
      I am overwhelmed by an army.

Affliction after affliction has attacked him in rapid succession.
He has finally been forced to take refuge in the stronghold of
reason. There his ills lay siege to him and receiving constant
reënforcements they set up their battering-rams and mine the walls.
The turrets tremble and the scaling ladders are in place, and he sees
the glittering swords and the threatening visages of his enemies
appearing above the wall. "Who would not be filled with terror and
bewail his fate, even if the enemy withdrew for the moment? Liberty
is gone, the saddest of losses to the stout-hearted." Augustine finds
this figurative language a little vague and confused but thinks that
he understands Petrarch's case. He accuses him of mourning over
misfortunes long past. "No," Francesco exclaims; "on the contrary,
none of my wounds are old enough to be forgotten; those that afflict
me are all recent, and lest perchance any one of them might be healed
by time, Fortune takes care to strike me often in the same spot, so
that the gaping wound may never cicatrise. Add to these troubles a hate
and contempt for the human estate itself and I can not be otherwise
than sad and dejected when oppressed by all these woes. I by no means
exaggerate this _acedia_, or _aegritudo_, or whatever you choose to
call it; my description exactly corresponds to the facts."

We must not allow ourselves to be misled by Petrarch's use of the word
_acedia_, which is really quite inapplicable to his trouble. The term
is a common one among mediæval writers and appears in the catalogue
of the seven mortal sins. It is sometimes inadequately rendered as
"sloth," but it appears to have been loosely applied to all varieties
of depression and inertia, whether physical or moral. In the case of
monks it might take the form of a natural reaction which followed
the first enthusiasm of leaving the world and beginning a religious
life. Even the most earnest, Saint Jerome says, were sometimes plunged
into melancholy by the dampness of their cells, the loneliness and
excessive fasts that made up their lives. For such troubles, he dryly
adds, the fomentations of Hippocrates would be more in place than our
admonitions. A twelfth century theologian says, "_Acedia_ fears to
undertake anything great, and soon wearies of what it once begins.
Everything seems a burden and an obstacle to it, and nothing is light
or easy." Dante found those guilty of _acedia_ fixed in the slime of
the sixth circle of hell, and they said to him: "Sullen were we in the
sweet air that by the sun is gladdened, bearing within ourselves the
sluggish fume."

But this surely was not Petrarch's trouble. No one was ever more
prone to conceive new and noble enterprises, or more patient and
conscientious in their execution. He was as far removed from such
intellectual apathy as from the vulgar physical laziness which the
monkish chroniclers sometimes comprehend under the name _acedia_, and
which took the form of a notable reluctance to leave a warm bed for
the chilly morning service. We may then assume that Petrarch uses the
word in the very general sense of bodily depression, discouragement,
and intellectual misgiving, without any reference to its usage among
theologians and monks.[2]

The Confessor pronounces the case to be one demanding radical
treatment. "What," he asks, "seems to you the worst of all these

      _Francesco_. What I happen first to see, hear or think of.

      _Augustine_. There is then almost nothing which gives you
      any satisfaction?

      _Francesco_. Little or nothing.

      _Augustine_. Would that you enjoyed at least the more
      salutary things of life. But what displeases you most?
      Tell me, I beg of you.

      _Francesco_. I've already answered you.

      _Augustine_. This _acedia_ then, as I call it, affects
      everything; everything connected with yourself disgusts

      _Francesco_. And not less everything that has to do with

Fortune has not been simply niggardly in her treatment of him but
bitterly unjust, disdainful, and cruel. He rejects any comfort which
might come from considering the destitution that he sees among the
still less fortunate. He claims that he is not unreasonable in his

      I take it hard that no one with whom I am acquainted among
      my contemporaries has been more modest in his claims than
      I, and yet no one has found it more difficult to reach
      his end. I never have longed for the highest place. I
      call to witness Him who knows my thoughts as He knows all
      things else, that I have never supposed that the peace and
      tranquillity of mind, which I believe are to be esteemed
      above all other things, are to be found in acme of
      fortune. Hence, as I have always abhorred a life filled
      with care and anxiety, a middle station has, in my sober
      judgment, ever seemed the best, ... and yet, to my sorrow,
      I have never been able to gratify so moderate a desire. I
      am always in doubt as to the future, always in suspense.
      I find no pleasure in the favours of fortune, for, as you
      see, up to the present I live dependent on others, which
      is the worst of all. God grant that it may come about,
      even in the extreme of old age, that one who has all his
      life been tossed about on a stormy sea, shall at least die
      in port.

Petrarch has often been criticised for his subserviency to the princes
of his time, upon whom he seems to have depended for support, so far
as his revenue from several minor preferments in the Church failed to
satisfy his needs. He loved independence, however, and the concessions
that were necessary in order to maintain the favour of his patrons
evidently galled him, as is shown by the passage just cited. Augustine
comforts him with the assurance that it is given to very few indeed to
be absolutely independent. Philosophical resignation can alone bring
freedom and true wealth.

In answer to Augustine's question whether he suffered from bodily
weakness, Francesco admits that his body, if a bit troublesome at
times, is very tractable as compared with many of those he sees about
him. He refuses with propriety to enumerate his physical disabilities.

The life in a city was a constant source of irritation to the sensitive
man of letters. "Who could adequately express my weariness of life,"
he exclaims, "and the daily loathing for this sad distracted world and
for the low, degraded dregs of humanity, given over to all manner of
uncleanness, that fill it! Who can find words to describe the sickening
disgust aroused by the stinking alleys full of howling curs and filthy
hogs, the din of the passing wheels which shake the very walls, the
crooked ways blocked by carts, the confused mass of passers-by,
the revolting crowd of beggars and cut-purses!" "Add to these
distractions," Petrarch characteristically continues, "the conflicting
aims, the bewildering variety of occupations, the confused clamour of
voices, and the bitter rivalry of interests among the people; these
combine to wear out a spirit accustomed to happier surroundings,
destroy the peace of generous minds, and prevent attention to higher

His Confessor reminds him, however, that he has chosen of his own free
will to live in town and may easily retire to the country if he wishes.
On the other hand he may so accustom himself in time to the sounds of
the city that, far from distracting him, they may become as grateful
to his ears as the roar of a waterfall. "If," Augustine continues,
"you could but succeed in quieting the inward tumult of your mind, the
uproar about you might indeed strike your senses, but could not affect
the soul."

He farther recommends the careful perusal of Seneca, and especially of
Cicero's _Tusculan Disputations:_

      _Francesco_. You should be aware that I have already read
      these carefully.

      _Augustine_. And have they not profited you?

      _Francesco_. Nay, when one reads a great deal, no sooner
      is a book laid down than its effect ceases.

      _Augustine_. The common fate of readers, which produces
      those accursed monstrosities, able to read indeed, but
      forming a disgraceful, unstable band who dispute much in
      the schools on the art of living but put few of their
      principles to the test.

Petrarch was urged to make notes, as was indeed his invariable habit,
at those passages in his reading which were likely to prove most useful
for moral support and stimulus. These notes served as hooks by which
the memory might cling to thoughts that would otherwise escape it. With
such reënforcement he might face with complacency all his ills, even
the heaviness of heart that he describes.

Petrarch, it may be added, believed that he derived a double benefit
from the classical authors, upon whom he depended for moral strength
and solace. There were, of course, the numerous precepts to be found in
the writings of Cicero, Horace, and Seneca, which might be taken quite
literally. In Virgil, however, as is well known, he espied a deeper,
allegorical, meaning below the surface. In the famous description of a
storm in the first book of the _Æneid_ he sees in Æolus, for example,
reason controlling the unruly passions that are ready to carry away
heaven and earth if their master relaxes his vigilance. Petrarch
was, however, a scholar of too great insight not to suspect that
Virgil perhaps had no such moral end in view. Augustine, in a passage
that ought to be considered in any discussion of Petrarch's view of
allegory, says: "I commend these secrets of poetical narration in which
I see you abound, whether Virgil himself thought of them when he wrote,
or whether, far removed from such considerations, he simply intended in
these verses to describe a storm at sea and nothing more."

Important as are the first two dialogues for the light they shed upon
the poet's inner life, his motives and doubts, the interest of the
Confessions culminates perhaps in the conversation of the third and
last day, during which Petrarch's love for Laura and his longing for
fame are considered.

Of the woman who is the theme of nearly all of Petrarch's Italian
lyrics we know almost nothing. There is the memorable record of her
death on the fly-leaf of her lovers favourite copy of Virgil, and two
or three more or less vague references to his passion for her in his
voluminous prose correspondence. In a Latin metrical epistle he has
something to say of the matter to his friend Giacomo Colonna. The
Confessions, however, afford us the clearest picture of the lover
turned philosopher, and no one can read them without understanding the
Italian sonnets better and grasping more clearly a fundamental contrast
between the mediæval and modern theory of life.[3]

One of the most serious of Petrarch's earlier moral conflicts was that
waged in his bosom between the monk and the lover. He was forced, if
he would find rest, to reconcile, or decide between, the mediæval
ecclesiastical and the modern secular conception of man's love for
woman. By the ecclesiastical or monkish view of love is meant, of
course, the belief in its essential depravity and inherent sinfulness,
quite regardless of the particular relations between the lover and his
beloved. Petrarch, although quite averse to theology, held some of the
great Church Fathers, especially Augustine, in high esteem, and their
doctrines of the close association of sexual love and original sin
were familiar to him. He was, moreover, a priest himself and a devout
adherent of the traditional faith of his Church. On the other hand he
knew his classics well, and loved and revered the authors of antiquity
to whom love was no sin. He revolted by nature against the theory that
the deep and permanent fascination which woman exercises over man is
devilish in its origin, as was taught by the mediæval preachers and
illustrated by many a coarse and licentious tale; and in the dialogue,
to which we now turn, he hotly defends the higher and purer conception
of his affection. His veneration for Augustine, who consistently
maintains the debasing nature of earthly love is, however, too profound
to permit him in the end to repudiate altogether the teachings of

To return to the dialogue. Augustine would finally strike off two
golden manacles, love and fame, whose specious glitter so dazzles the
poor captive that he reckons them his most precious possessions. None
of his aspirations have ever seemed to him more noble than the very
ones Augustine now reproaches him for. "What have I done to you,"
Francesco indignantly asks, "that you should seek to deprive me of
my most glorious preoccupations and condemn to perpetual night the
brightest portions of my soul?" It seems to him that his Confessor is
indiscriminately condemning two quite different things when he declares
love to be the maddest of all forms of madness. If love is sometimes
the lowest form of passion it may also be the noblest activity of the
soul. He can imagine nothing happier than the attraction which a truly
noble woman has exercised over him. He has never loved aught but the
beautiful, and if he is mistaken in his conception of love he prefers
to remain so. To Augustine's ready objection that one may love even the
beautiful shamefully, he replies, with ill-timed levity, that he has
sinned neither in noun nor adverb and that Augustine must prove him to
be ill before he tries his remedies, since physic has often undone a
well man.

Augustine expresses his frank astonishment that a person of such parts
should have allowed himself to be deceived by false blandishments
during no less than sixteen years past. His lady's eyes will, however,
one day be closed by death, then the lover will recall with shame his
infatuation for the poor perishable body. Sickness and successive
trials have already told upon her, and her lovely person has lost much
of its pristine vigour. He does not question her virtues. He will grant
that she is a queen, a saint, a goddess,--Phoebus's own sister, if
her lover will have it so. Her supreme qualities, however, furnish no
excuse for Francesco's errors. Obviously the most virtuous may be the
object of an unworthy passion.

      One thing at least I will say [Francesco exclaims],
      whatever I have achieved is due to her. I should never
      have been what I am, if there be any distinction or glory
      in that, had not the scattered seeds of virtue, which
      nature implanted in this breast, been cultivated by her
      through my noble attachment. She restrained my youthful
      spirit from every shameful act;... she led me to look
      toward higher things. Is it wonderful [he continues], that
      her noble fame has provoked in me a longing for a like
      reputation and has lightened the strenuous effort with
      which I pursued my object? How could I have done better
      in my youthful days than to please her who alone pleased
      me? For I cast aside a thousand seductions of pleasure in
      order to take up the serious tasks of life before my time.
      You know this well and yet you command me to forget, or
      love in only a half-hearted fashion, her who separated me
      from the vulgar company and guided me in all my chosen
      paths, stimulating my sluggish nature and rousing my dull

To all this Augustine has two objections. In the first place, although
Francesco's love may have saved him from minor errors, his anxiety for
fame, which he attributes to it, has put him on the shortest road to
spiritual death. In the second place, it is vain for him to maintain
that he loves chiefly the soul; that he would have loved her spirit in
even "a foul and knotty body (_in squalido et nodoso corpore_)," for he
has but to interrogate the past to see that he has steadily degenerated
since first he met his lady. She, indeed, has done all she could to
keep him right. In spite of his prayers and allurements she maintained
her womanly integrity, and although their ages and circumstances
would have shaken the stoutest resolutions, she remained firm and
unapproachable. In his effort to absolve and exalt her Petrarch of
course condemns himself, and so justifies Augustine's contention.
Love, in spite of our illusions about it, is but a passion for temporal
things, and nothing so surely separates man from God. Let Francesco
consider its pestiferous effects in his own case; how, suddenly, his
life was dissolved in tears and sighs, how he spent sleepless nights
with the name of the beloved ever on his lips; how he despised his
usual pursuits, hated life, fled his fellow-beings and longed for sad
death. Wasted and pale and restless, his eyes ever moist, his mind
confused, his voice weak and hoarse,--no more miserable and distracted
creature could be imagined.

      Not contented with her living face [Augustine continues],
      you must forsooth seek out a famous painter,[5] in order
      that you might carry about her image, fearful lest your
      tears might otherwise cease. And to cap your follies
      you showed yourself as completely captivated with the
      splendour of her name as with that of her person, and
      cherished with incredible levity everything that sounded
      like it. And this is the reason you so ardently desired
      the Imperial or poet's laurel [_laurea_], for that was her
      name, and from the moment you first met her hardly a song
      has escaped you without mention of the laurel. Finally,
      since you could not hope for the Imperial you set your
      heart upon the poet's crown, of which the distinction
      of your learning held out a promise. And you loved and
      longed for that with as little modesty as you had longed
      for Lady Laura herself.

Francesco would object that he began his poetical studies before he
knew Laura, and had coveted the laurel chaplet from boyhood, and that
without the inspiration of her name he would scarcely have overcome
the many obstacles which stood between him and his coronation at Rome.
This, his Confessor declares, is but one of the excuses which passion
always finds; it is unworthy of a serious answer. The miserable results
of love have been sufficiently illustrated, of which the chief is that
it separates us from God and things divine, for how can a soul bent
under the burden of such evils drag itself to the one pure fountain of
true good?

"I am worsted," Francesco exclaims,--_Victus sum fateor_--"all these
ills which you have depicted are, I perceive, but excerpts from my own
book of experience. What am I to do?"

It is needless for Augustine to say that the subject of the remedies of
love has been treated by famous philosophers and poets; there are whole
books on the question. It would, too, be an insult to one who professes
himself a master of ancient literature to indicate to him where these
works may be found.

Cicero's suggestion, and Ovid's, that an old passion may be driven
out by a new one, _tanquam clavum clavo_, is not without its dangers,
and, moreover, Francesco asserts that he can never love another than
Laura. Then let him seek distraction in travel. Francesco replies that
he has tried this resource repeatedly; while he has assigned various
motives for his endless wanderings and his frequent sojourns in the
country, liberty was always his real object. He had sought it far and
wide but in vain, for he always carried his trouble with him. Augustine
admits that a previous change of heart is after all indispensable. He
would, nevertheless better leave Avignon at least and betake himself
to his Italy, whose skies and hills exercise over him an unrivalled
fascination. He has too long been an exile from his country and himself.

"Have you looked into your mirror lately?" Augustine abruptly asks.
"Does not your face change from day to day? Are there not already
scattered grey hairs about your temples?" Francesco has noted these,
but he sees the same thing when he looks at those of the same age about
him. He does not know why people grow old sooner than they once did.
Here Petrarch characteristically mentions a few instances of early
grey hairs among the ancients. Augustine regards these examples as
worse than irrelevant and as tending to lead one to disregard the signs
of approaching death. He says impatiently that if he had referred to
baldness, doubtless Francesco would have instanced Julius Cæsar. Of
course he would have mentioned Cæsar, Petrarch replies; and if he had
but one eye, he would take pleasure in recalling Hannibal and Philip
of Macedon. He uses these examples, like his household furniture, to
afford him simple daily comfort. "Had you upbraided me for being afraid
of thunder, since I could not deny that I was, I should have replied
that Augustus Cæsar suffered from the same trouble. Indeed, herein lies
by no means the least important reason for my cherishing the laurel,
which they say is never struck by lightning."

Consider, Augustine urges in conclusion, not only the uncertainty of
life and the imminence of death.

      Think shame to yourself that you are pointed at and have
      become a subject of gossip with the common herd. Think
      how ill your morals harmonise with your profession. Think
      how your mistress has injured you in soul, body, and
      estate. Consider how much you have needlessly suffered
      for her sake. Think how often you have been deluded,
      despised, and neglected; what blandishments, tears, and
      lamentations you have poured out, and of the haughty,
      ungrateful arrogance with which she received them. If
      there was the least indication of humanity in her conduct,
      how trifling it was, more fleeting than the summer
      breeze. Consider how you have added to her fame and what
      she has taken from your life; how anxious you have been
      for her good name, how careless of your welfare she has
      always shown herself. Think how through her you have been
      alienated from the love of God.... Consider the useful
      and honourable tasks which you have so long neglected,
      the many incomplete works which lie before you and which
      demand your whole energy, not merely the odd moments which
      your passion leaves free.... If the honour of true glory
      does not attract you nor ignominy deter you, let the shame
      of others induce you to make a change in your life. You
      should guard your good name, if for no other reason, at
      least to save your friends the disgrace of telling lies
      for your sake.

      Lastly, what is it that you long for so ardently? Consider
      it intently, practically. Few there be who when once they
      have imbibed the sweet poison of desire, really manfully,
      I will not say consistently, dwell upon the foulness of
      woman's person. Their minds consequently easily relapse,
      under the pressure of nature, into the old habits. Forget
      the past. Importune heaven with your prayers and permit
      no day or night to pass without tearful supplication, for
      perchance Omnipotence may take compassion upon you and
      bring your trial to an end.[6]

Augustine now turns to Francesco's longing for fame, which, with his
passion for Laura, is the most inveterate and uncontrollable of his
moral disorders. This yearning beyond measure for glory among men and
an undying name may block his way to true immortality. He has no more
grievous fault, although he may have uglier ones. What is fame? Nothing
whatever but the general talk of the multitude about one; it is but a
breath and, what is worse, the breath of the crowd. "I know whom I am
addressing," Augustine continues.

      You ordinarily regard nothing as more disgusting than
      the manners and doings of the common herd. What a want
      of consistency that you should habitually condemn the
      conduct of those whose chattering so delights you, nay
      more, to whom you look for the very consummation of your
      happiness! To what end are your unceasing labours, your
      tireless vigils, and excessive attention to study? You may
      answer that you are learning what will help you to live
      better. But you long ago learned all that was necessary
      for both life and death. You would, therefore, better
      put the knowledge you have acquired into practice; better
      try experience rather than laborious ratiocination, which
      ever opens up new and inaccessible vistas; for there is
      no end to vain research. Recollect farther that you have
      given your attention to those things first and foremost
      which might be expected to gratify the public, and have
      sought to please them by a means especially distasteful to
      yourself, namely, by picking out from this poet and that
      historian such choice bits as might tickle the ears of
      your listeners.

This accusation naturally irritates the scholar, who has from boyhood
scorned anthologies and favourite quotations. He cannot deny, however,
that he does sometimes store up for the benefit of his friends and
associates choice passages which he meets with. Augustine proceeds:

      Not content with this daily occupation, which, although it
      took a great deal of time, promised you only a reputation
      among your contemporaries, you conceived of a fame which
      should reach posterity. Hence you undertook an historical
      work, covering the period from King Romulus to the Emperor
      Titus, a tremendous task requiring infinite patience
      and labour. Then, before this was done, infatuated by
      this craving for fame you set off on the wings of the
      poet for Africa. Now you diligently devote yourself to
      the several cantos of your poem by that name, without,
      however, giving up the other tasks, and so your life is
      divided into two great streams at least, not to speak of
      innumerable undercurrents. Prodigal of your most precious
      and irretrievable time, you write of others and forget
      yourself. Who knows but death may snatch the weary pen
      from your hand before either work is done?

The last source of apprehension is by no means new to Francesco.--He
cannot bear to think of another laying hand to his _Africa_, and he
confesses that in periods of bitter discouragement he has been on
the point of burning the uncompleted manuscript. Augustine naturally
recalls to him the melancholy truth that even if, granting the most
favourable circumstances, he should succeed in producing a "rare and
distinguished work," its fame could not reach far in time or space.
Francesco impatiently asks to be spared the old trite reflections of
the philosophers. "If you have anything better to urge, pray produce
it; all this sounds very fine but I have never found that it helped me.
I do not ask to be God and possess eternity and fill heaven and earth.
Human glory is enough for me. I do long for that. I am a mortal and I
desire only the mortal." To Augustine's horrified deprecation of such
doctrine and his condemnation of the rashness of those who recklessly
postpone their supreme interests to their last failing years,
Francesco sturdily replies:

      There is a certain justification for my plan of life.
      It may be only glory that we seek here, but I persuade
      myself that, so long as we remain here, that is right.
      Another glory awaits us in heaven and he who reaches there
      will not wish even to think of earthly fame. So this is
      the natural order, that among mortals the care of things
      mortal should come first; to the transitory will then
      succeed the eternal; from the first to the second is the
      natural progression.[7]

After this audacious and historically remarkable statement of the
Humanists' creed, Francesco humbly asks if Augustine would have him
forsake his studies altogether and lead an inglorious existence, or
shall he pursue some middle course. His Confessor replies that we do
not live inglorious lives although we follow, not fame but virtue;
for true fame is but the shadow of virtue. "Throw off the burden of
your proposed _Roman History_," Augustine exclaims, "lay aside your
_Africa_, which cannot increase the fame of your Scipio or yourself....
Turn your thoughts upon Death! Let everything about you recall your
pending fate. The heavens, the earth, and the sea all change; what
chance that man, the weakest of creatures, should hold his own? Let
the setting sun and the waning moon teach their lesson of mortality.
Contemplate the graves of your friends. _Hoc iter est in patriam_."

Petrarch does not deny that this is wholesome advice, but he firmly
refuses to give up his literary tasks, which he cannot with equanimity
leave half done. He promises sedulously to die unto himself, and will
hasten to complete his books in order to devote himself exclusively to
religious contemplation. It will be seen that he found little to urge
against Augustine's views, but that he nevertheless refused to follow
his advice, except so far as he might do so without interfering with
what he rightly considered his life's work.

So, without ability to defend completely the modern belief that earnest
toil is presumably a far more rational preparation for death, than
is a paralysing contemplation of its horrors, Petrarch still worked
bravely on until the pen dropped from his hand. There is something
noble and pathetic in this sturdy, unflagging industry in the face of
the discomforting suggestions of monasticism. His life transcended and
belied those ideals of his age from which in his less exuberant moments
he was unable entirely to free himself.

1: The following analysis of the Confessions was published in the
_Romanic Review_, vol. i., Nos. 3-4, 1910. Since its appearance a
complete English version of the little work has appeared, _Petrarch's
Secret_, translated by William H. Draper, London, 1911.

2: The classical term _aegritudo_ is scarcely more to the point
than the mediæval expression. It is often used by Cicero in one of
his _Tusculan Disputations_, but it is not the bitterness of spirit
with which Petrarch suffered. Seneca's little work upon _Peace of
Mind_ may, as Voigt has suggested, have influenced this portion of
the Confessions. But while Petrarch resembled Seneca in more than
one respect and was drawn to his writings by an obvious spiritual
affinity, his personal experiences were far too genuine and spontaneous
to require the example of another to bring them to light. No one can
compare the Roman's treatise with the Confessions without quickly
absolving Petrarch from any attempt consciously or unconsciously to
imitate Seneca. Our conception of the nature of the poet's mental
disquiet must be sought in the dialogue itself.

3: See above, p. 87 _sqq_. (...the horror of darkness...)

4: The same idea is expressed in the canzone beginning, Perchè la vita.

5: _I.e._ Simone Memrai. _Cf._ sonnet Per mirar.

6: See above, page 96, for reflections on Petrarch's attitude in this
matter. (It is only by remembering...)

7: The original words of this paragraph are given above, p. 412. (Est
autem aliqua propositi mei ratio...)



      Nulla calamo agilior est sarcina, nulla jucundior,
      voluptates aliæ fugiunt et mulcendo lædunt, calamus et in
      manus sumptus mulcet et depositus delectat, ac prodest non
      domino suo tantum sed aliis multis sæpe etiam absentibus,
      nonnunquam et posteris post annorum millorum.--_Sen_.,
      xvi., 2.

_Petrarch's Intention to Work until the Last._

_To Boccaccio._[1]

...[2] I certainly will not reject the praise you bestow upon me for
having stimulated in many instances, not only in Italy but perhaps
beyond its confines also, the pursuit of studies such as ours, which
have suffered neglect for so many centuries; I am, indeed, almost the
oldest of those among us who are engaged in the cultivation of these
subjects. But I cannot accept the conclusion you draw from this,
namely, that I should give place to younger minds, and, interrupting
the plan of work on which I am engaged, give others an opportunity to
write something, if they will, and not seem longer to desire to reserve
everything for my own pen. How radically do our opinions differ,
although, at bottom, our object is the same! I seem to you to have
written everything, or at least a great deal, while to myself I appear
to have produced almost nothing.

But let us admit that I have written much, and shall continue to
write;--what better means have I of exhorting those who are following
my example to continued perseverance? Example is often more potent
than words. The aged veteran Camillus, going into battle like a young
man, assuredly aroused more enthusiasm in the younger warriors than
if, after drawing them up in line of battle and telling them what
was to be done, he had left them and withdrawn to his tent. The fear
you appear to harbour, that I shall cover the whole field and leave
nothing for others to write, recalls the ridiculous apprehensions which
Alexander of Macedon is reported to have entertained, lest his father,
Philip, by conquering the whole world, should deprive him of any chance
of military renown. Foolish boy! He little realised what wars still
remained for him to fight, if he lived, even though the Orient were
quite subjugated; he had, perhaps, never heard of Papirius Cursor,
or the Marsian generals. Seneca has, however, delivered us from this
anxiety, in a letter to Lucilius, where he says, "Much still remains
to be done; much will always remain, and even a thousand years hence
no one of our descendants need be denied the opportunity of adding his

You, my friend, by a strange confusion of arguments, try to dissuade
me from continuing my chosen work by urging, on the one hand, the
hopelessness of bringing my task to completion, and by dwelling, on
the other, upon the glory which I have already acquired. Then, after
asserting that I have filled the world with my writings, you ask me if
I expect to equal the number of volumes written by Origen or Augustine.
No one, it seems to me, can hope to equal Augustine. Who, nowadays,
could hope to equal one who, in my judgment, was the greatest in an age
fertile in great minds? As for Origen, you know that I am wont to value
quality rather than quantity, and I should prefer to have produced a
very few irreproachable works rather than numberless volumes such as
those of Origen, which are filled with grave and intolerable errors.
It is certainly impossible, as you say, for me to equal either of
these, although for very different reasons in the two cases. And yet
you contradict yourself, for, though your pen invites me to repose,
you cite the names of certain active old men,--Socrates, Sophocles,
and, among our own people, Cato the Censor,--as if you had some quite
different end in view. How many more names you might have recalled,
except that one does not consciously argue long against himself!
Searching desperately for some excuse for your advice and my weakness,
you urge that perhaps their temperaments differed from mine. I readily
grant you this, although my constitution has sometimes been pronounced
very vigorous by those who claim to be experienced in such matters;
still, old age will triumph.

You assert, too, that I have sacrificed a great deal of time in the
service of princes. But that you may no longer labour under a delusion
in this matter, here is the truth. I have lived nominally with princes,
in reality, the princes lived with me. I was present sometimes at
their councils, and, very rarely, at their banquets. I should never
have submitted to any conditions which would, in any degree, have
interfered with my liberty or my studies. When everyone else sought the
palace, I hied me to the woods, or spent my time quietly in my room,
among my books. To say that I have never lost a day would be false. I
have lost many days (please God, not all) through inertia, or sickness,
or distress of mind,--evils which no one is so fortunate as to escape
entirely. What time I have lost in the service of princes you shall
hear, for, like Seneca, I keep an account of my outlays.

First, I was sent to Venice to negotiate a peace between that city and
Genoa, which occupied me for an entire winter month.[3] Next I betook
myself to the extreme confines of the land of the barbarians,[4] and
spent three summer months in arranging for peace in Liguria, with that
Roman sovereign who fostered--or I had better say deferred,--the hope
of restoring a sadly ruined Empire. Finally, I went to France[5] to
carry congratulations to King John on his deliverance from an English
prison; here three more winter months were lost. Although during these
three journeys I dwelt upon my usual subjects of thought, nevertheless,
since I could neither write down my ideas nor impress them on my
memory, I call those days lost. It is true that when I reached Italy,
on my return from the last expedition, I dictated a voluminous letter
on the variableness of fortune to a studious old man, Peter of
Poitiers; it arrived too late, however, and found him dead. Here, then,
are seven months lost in the service of princes; nor is this a trifling
sacrifice, I admit, considering the shortness of life. Would that I
need not fear a greater loss, incurred long ago by the vanity and
frivolous employments of my youth!

You add, further, that possibly the measure of life was different in
olden times from what it is in ours, and that nowadays we may regard
men as old who were then looked upon as young. But I can only reply
to you as I did recently to a certain lawyer in this university,[6]
who, as I learned, was accustomed to make that same assertion in his
lectures, in order to depreciate the industry of the ancients, and
excuse the sloth of our contemporaries. I sent by one of his students
to warn him against repeating the statement, unless he wished to be
considered an ignoramus by scholars. For more than two thousand years
there has been no change in the length of human life. Aristotle lived
sixty-three years. Cicero lived the same length of time; moreover,
although he might have been spared longer had it pleased the heartless
and drunken Antony, he had some time before his death written a great
deal about his unhappy and premature decline, and had composed a
treatise on _Old Age_, for the edification of himself and a friend.
Ennius lived seventy years, Horace the same time, while Virgil died at
fifty-two, a brief life even for our time. Plato, it is true, lived
to be eighty-one; but this, it is said, was looked upon as a prodigy,
and because he had attained the most perfect age the Magi decided to
offer him a sacrifice, as if he were superior to the rest of mankind.
Yet nowadays we frequently see in our cities those who have reached
this age; octogenarians and nonagenarians are often to be met with,
and no one is surprised, or offers sacrifices to them. If you recall
Varro to me, or Cato, or others who reached their hundredth year, or
Gorgias of Leontium who greatly exceeded that age, I have other modern
instances to set off against them. But as the names are obscure I
will mention only one, Romualdo of Ravenna, a very noted hermit, who
recently reached the age of one hundred and twenty years, in spite
of the greatest privations, suffered for the love of Christ, and in
the performance of numerous vigils and fasts such as you are now
doing all in your power to induce me to refrain from. I have said a
good deal about this matter in order that you may neither believe nor
assert that, with the exception of the patriarchs, who lived at the
beginning of the world, and who, I am convinced, developed no literary
activity whatever, any of our predecessors enjoyed greater longevity
than ourselves. They could boast of greater activity, not of a longer
life,--if, indeed, life without industry deserves to be called life at
all, and not a slothful and useless delay.

By a few cautious words, however, you avoid the foregoing criticism,
for you admit that it may not be a question of age after all, but
that it may perhaps be temperament, or possibly climate, or diet,
or some other cause, which precludes me from doing what the others
were all able to do. I freely concede this, but I cannot accept the
deduction you draw from it, and which you support with laboriously
elaborate arguments; for some of your reasons are, in a certain sense,
quite opposed to the thesis you would prove. You counsel me to be
contented--I quote you literally--with having perhaps equalled Virgil
in verse (as you assert) and Cicero in prose. Oh, that you had been
induced by the truth, rather than seduced by friendship, in saying
this! You add that, in virtue of a senatus consultum following the
custom of our ancestors, I have received the most glorious of titles,
and the rare honour of the Roman laurel. Your conclusion from all
this is that, with the happy results of my studies, in which I rival
the greatest, and with my labours honoured by the noblest of prizes,
I should leave off importuning God and man, and rest content with my
fate and the fulfilment of my fondest wishes. Certainly I could make
no objection to this if what your affection for me has led you to
believe were true, or were even accepted by the rest of the world; I
should gladly acquiesce in the opinions of others, for I should always
rather trust their judgment than my own. But your view is not shared
by others, and least of all by myself, who am convinced that I have
rivalled no one, except, perhaps, the common herd, and rather than be
like it I should choose to remain entirely unknown.

As for the laurel wreath, it encircled my brow when I was as immature
in years and mind as were its leaves. Had I been of riper age I
should not have desired it. The aged love what is practical, while
impetuous youth longs only for what is dazzling. The laurel brought me
no increase of learning or literary power, as you may well imagine,
while it destroyed my peace by the infinite jealousy it aroused. I
was punished for my youthful audacity and love of empty renown; for
from that time well-nigh everyone sharpened his tongue and pen against
me. It was necessary to be constantly on the alert with banners
flying, ready to repel an attack, now on the left, now on the right;
for jealousy had made enemies of my friends. I might narrate in this
connection many occurrences which would fill you with astonishment.
In a word, the laurel made me known only to be tormented; without it,
I should have led that best of all lives, as many deem, a life of
obscurity and peace.

You put the finishing touch to your argument, it seems to me, when you
urge me to do all that I can to prolong my life as a joy to my friends,
and first and foremost as a solace to you in your declining years,
because, as you say, you desire when you depart hence to leave me still
alive. Alas! our friend Simonides[7] also expressed this wish--a wish
but too speedily granted: if there were any order in human affairs,
it is he who should have survived me. My own desires are, however,
directly opposed to those which my friends--you in particular--harbour.
I should prefer to die while you are all still alive, and leave those
behind in whose memory and conversation I should still live, who would
aid me by their prayers, and by whom I should continue to be loved and
cherished. Except a pure conscience, I believe there is no solace so
grateful to the dying as this.

If your counsels spring from the belief that I cling tenaciously to
life, you are entirely mistaken. Why should I wish to prolong my
existence among customs and manners which make me constantly deplore
that I have fallen on such times? To omit more serious disorders, I am
afflicted by the perverted and indecent clothing of a most frivolous
set of men. I have already too often complained of them, both in
speech and writing, but words are powerless to quiet my indignation
and distress of mind. These fellows, who call themselves Italians,
and were, indeed, born in Italy, do all they can to appear like
barbarians. Would that they were barbarians, that my eyes and those
of the true Italians might be delivered from so shameful a spectacle!
May God Omnipotent confound them, living and dead! Not satisfied with
sacrificing by their pusillanimity the virtues of our ancestors, the
glory of war, and all the arts of peace, they dishonour in their frenzy
the speech and dress of our country, so that we may consider our
forefathers happy to have passed away in good time, and may envy even
the blind, who are spared the sight of these things.

Finally, you ask me to pardon you for venturing to advise me and
for prescribing a mode of life, namely, that I hereafter abstain
from mental exertion and from my customary labours and vigils, and
endeavour to restore, by complete rest and sleep, the ravages wrought
by advancing years and prolonged study. I will not pardon you, but I
thank you, well aware of the affection which makes you a physician
for me, although you refuse to be one for yourself. I beg, however,
that you will obey me, although I refuse to obey you, and will let me
persuade you that, even if I were most tenacious of life, which I am
not, I should assuredly only die the sooner if I followed your advice.
Continued work and application form my soul's nourishment. So soon as
I commenced to rest and relax I should cease to live. I know my own
powers. I am not fitted for other kinds of work, but my reading and
writing, which you would have me discontinue, are easy tasks, nay, they
are a delightful rest, and relieve the burden of heavier anxieties.
There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other
pleasures fail us, or wound us while they charm; but the pen we take
up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to
advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even
though they be far away,--sometimes, indeed, though they be not born
for thousands of years to come. I believe that I speak but the strict
truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more
noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or
more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through
the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety.[8]

Pardon me then, my brother, pardon me. I am disposed to believe
anything that you say, but I cannot accept your opinion in this matter.
However you may describe me (and nothing is impossible to the pen of
a learned and eloquent writer), I must still endeavour, if I am a
nullity, to become something; if already of some account, to become
a little more worthy; and if I were really great, which I am not,
I should strive, so far as in me lay, to become greater, even the
greatest. May I not be allowed to appropriate the magnificent reply
of that fierce barbarian who, when urged to spare himself continued
exertions, since he already enjoyed sufficient renown, responded,
"The greater I am, the greater shall be my efforts"? Words worthy of
another than a barbarian! They are graven on my heart, and the letter
which follows this[9] will show you how far I am from following your
exhortations to idleness. Not satisfied with gigantic enterprises,
for which this brief life of ours does not suffice, and would not if
doubled in length, I am always on the alert for new and uncalled-for
undertakings,--so distasteful to me is sleep and dreary repose. Do you
not know that passage from Ecclesiasticus, "When man has finished his
researches, he is but at the beginning, and when he rests, then doth he
labour"? I seem to myself to have but begun; whatever you and others
may think, this is my verdict. If in the meanwhile the end, which
certainly cannot be far off, should come, I would that it might find me
still young. But as I cannot, in the nature of things, hope for that,
I desire that death find me reading and writing,[10] or, if it please
Christ, praying and in tears.

Farewell, and remember me. May you be happy and persevere manfully.

PADUA, April 28 (1373).

1: _Sen_., xvi., 2.

2: The first half of the letter is omitted.

3: In 1353.

4: That is, to Prague in 1356.

5: In 1360. All three missions were undertaken for the dukes of Milan.

6: Of Padua.

7: _I.e_., Francesco Nelli, Prior of the church of Santi Apostoli at
Florence. He died of the plague in 1363. Not only did Petrarch dedicate
his _Letters of Old Age_ to Nelli, but of the letters preserved, he
addresses a greater number (thirty-five) to him than to any other of
his correspondents.

8: _Cf_. John of Salisbury's Prologue to his _Policraticus_ for a much
earlier description of the pure joys of literature.

9: Presumably that which contained the translation of Boccaccio's
story of Griselda. See above, pp. 191 _sqq_. (The Story of Griselda)

10: A letter from a contemporary, Manzini de la Motta (July 1, 1388),
thus describes Petrarch's end: "Francesco Petrarca, the mirror of our
century, after completing a vast array of volumes, on reaching his
seventy-first year, closed his last day in his library. He was found
leaning over a book as if sleeping, so that his death was not at first
suspected by his household."--Quoted by Fracassetti, _Let. delle Cose
Fam_., vol. ii., p. 348.


    _Æneid_, allegorical significance of,
    as viewed by Petrarch
    _Africa_, Petrarch's epic;
    first conceived;
    submitted and dedicated to Robert of Naples;
    work resumed upon
    "Age of despots"
    Agrippa, Marcus
    Allegorical significance of the _Æneid_
    Allegory, Petrarch's mediæval conceptions of
    Ancient views of life
    Annotations, Petrarch's
    Anthony, St.
    _Antidotes for Good and Evil Fortune_;
    dedicated to Azzo di Correggio
    Antiquity, Petrarch's love for
    _Archia, Pro_, Petrarch's discovery of
    Ardennes, Forest of
    Aristotelians, Petrarch attacks
    Aristotle, _Ethics_ of;
    authority of, in Middle Ages;
    works of, brought to Western Europe;
    Petrarch's opinion of;
    on origin of poetry
    Arnold, Matthew, his view of fame
    Augustine, St.
    interlocutor in Petrarch's _Secret_;
    influence of his teaching;
    Petrarch's spiritual guide
    his opinion of Plato quoted
    Augustus, Cæsar
    Autobiography, Petrarch's
    Averroists, Petrarch's _rencontre_ with
    seat of papal court;
    Petrarch's removal to;
    his dislike of;
    description of;
    removal from
    Azzo di Correggio

    Babylonish Captivity
    Basle edition of Petrarch's works
    Benedict, St.
    Bergamo, goldsmith of;
    Petrarch's visit to;
    _Best Form of Government, The_, Petrarch's
    Boccaccio, Giovanni, Petrarch's first meeting with;
    Petrarch's estimate of;
    his letters to Petrarch;
    his library;
    his complaints;
    visits Petrarch at Venice;
    embassy of, to Avignon;
    burns his Italian verses;
    forewarned of approaching death;
    bidden to renounce literature;
    would persuade Petrarch to give up work;
    possible author of letter from shade of Homer
    Petrarch studies at;
    one student of Homer at
    Bologna, Giovanni Andrea di;
    ignorance of, rebuked
    Books, copying of, in the Middle Ages
    Bryce, James
    Burckhardt gives currency to idea of Renaissance

    _Canzoniere_, Petrarch's, editions of;
    as an expression of Petrarch's thought
    _See also_ Sonnets
    Capitol, the, Petrarch's address upon
    Capra, Henry
    Carpentras, Petrarch's schooling at
    Carrara, Giacomo of
    invites Petrarch to Padua
    Charles IV., Emperor, his letter to Petrarch
    campaign of, in Italy;
    visits Italy;
    retreat from Italy;
    attitude of, toward Rienzo;
    his relations with Petrarch;
    invites Petrarch to Prague;
    Petrarch's letter to, urging him to hasten to Italy;
    Petrarch's attitude toward;
    Petrarch accompanies him beyond Piacenza
    _See also_ Emperor
    Charles the Great
    Children of Petrarch
    Cicero, Petrarch's appreciation of;
    Petrarch's views concerning character of;
    concerning works of;
    influence of, on Petrarch;
    letters from Petrarch to;
    Petrarch discovers a portion of letters of;
    copies a MS. of;
    defends from supposed attack of Sidonius
    lost works of
    _Old Age_ of
    Classics, copies of, not uncommon in thirteenth century
    neglect of, in Middle Ages
    Petrarch's appreciation of
    Coins, Roman, presented to the Emperor by Petrarch
    Cologne, Petrarch's visit to
    literary spirits in
    cathedral of
    Colonna, _see_ Colonnesi
    Colonnesi, patrons of Petrarch
    Giacomo Colonna befriends Petrarch
    takes him to Gascony
    Petrarch's premonition of death of
    Giovanni Colonna, Cardinal
    Stephano Colonna
    Coluccio Salutati, letters of, to Petrarch
    Commensal chaplain, Petrarch's position as
    Confessions, Petrarch's
    _Confessions_, of Augustine
    faithlessness of
    scarcity of
    Coronation of Petrarch as poet
    importance of;
    origin of custom
    Correggio, family of
    Azzo di
    Petrarch's friendship for
    Correspondence, obstacles in way of, in Middle Ages
    Correspondence, Petrarch's, divisions of
    _See also_ Letters
    Critic, Petrarch recognised as a
    Critical editions of classics, absence of, in fourteenth century
    Criticism, want of, in Middle Ages

    Dante, friend of Petracco
    political views of
    attitude toward Rome
    on result of personal
    on allegory
    Petrarch disclaims all jealousy of
    Petrarch's estimate of
    Death, Petrarch's
    meditation on
    _Declamations_ of Seneca
    _Defensor Pacis_
    Despots, Petrarch's relations with;
    as patrons of the Humanists
    Dialectic, Petrarch's attitude toward
    Dionisio da Borgo San Sepolcro
    Diplomatic missions of Petrarch
    Disease of writing
    Display, Petrarch deprecates
    _Divine Comedy, The_
    _See also_ Dante
    Doctors fall to writing verses
    Dreams, Petrarch's view of
    Dress, Petrarch's love of
    indecent, of certain Italians

    _Eclogues_ of Petrarch
    Editing of Petrarch's letters
    _See also_ Letters
    Emperor, Petrarch's audience with;
    viewed as a patron of literature
    _See also_ Empire, and Charles IV.
    Empire, the, Petrarch's conception of, _See also_ Rome
    _Epistolæ, de Rebus Familiaribus_
    _de Rebus Senilibus_
    _sine Titulo_
    _See also_ Letters
    Erasmus, letters of
    Etymologies, mediæval
    _Etymologies_ of Isidore of Seville

    Fame, impossibility of acquiring, during one's lifetime
    Petrarch's longing for
    "Fantastic," applied to Rienzo
    Father, a, upbraids Petrarch for misleading his son
    _Finibus, De_, Cicero's
    Florentines, Petrarch's estimate of
    Dante's view of
    offer Petrarch chair in their university
    admirers of Petrarch among
    students of Homer among
    Fountain of the Sorgue
    Fracassetti, Giuseppe
    France, Petrarch's visits to
    Francesca, Petrarch's daughter
    Francesco, Petrarch's grandson
    Frederick II., his opinion of the Italians
    French popes

    German emperors in Italy
    Germany, Petrarch visits
    Gherardo, Petrarch's brother
    his religious admonitions
    letter to, on the nature of poetry
    Ghibelline views
    Giovanni Andrea di Bologna
    Giovanni, Petrarch's son
    Goldsmith of Bergamo
    Grammarian of Vicenza
    Grandes compagnies
    Greater Greece
    Greek literature, forgotten in Middle Ages
    Petrarch's slight knowledge of
    Greek studies in Petrarch's day
    Greeks, Petrarch asserts inferiority of, to Latins
    Gregory the Great
    condemns literature
    Griselda, story of
    effects of the tale
    Guglielmo di Pastrengo, letters of, to Petrarch

    Hæmus, Mount
    Hellenic influences in modern education
    Henry VII.
    History, Petrarch's fondness for
    Holy Land, Petrarch describes the journey to
    Holy Roman Empire
    _See also_ Rome
    Homer, letter to;
    Latin translation of;
    imitated by Virgil;
    students of, in Italy in fourteenth century
    Humanism, origin of
    furthered by Petrarch
    Humanistic conditions, general in fourteenth century
    Humanists, means of support of

    Ideals, conflict of, in Petrarch's mind
    Illegitimate children of Petrarch
    Innocent VI.
    Isidore of Seville
    _Itinerarium Syriacum_
    Italian language, Petrarch's opinion of;
    Petrarch's reasons for giving up writing in
    Italian prose, none from Petrarch's pen
    Italian verses of Petrarch
    Italy, disorder in
    Petrarch's love for

    Jacques de Vitry
    John, King of France
    John the Baptist, feast of
    John of Salisbury
    Journeys, frequency of Petrarch's
    _See also_ Travels
    Jubilee of 1350
    Julius Cæsar

    Lapo da Castiglionchio, letter to
    Latin literature, renewed interest in;
    not unknown in Middle Ages
    Latin works of Petrarch
    editions of; well-nigh forgotten,
    want of knowledge of;
    death of;
    genuineness of Petrarch's love for
    Laurel crown, the, Petrarch's desire for;
    his praise of; invitations to receive
    offered by King Robert; received at Rome
    Law, Petrarch's study of; his attitude toward;
    his use of
    Lawyers turn to writing verses; conceit of
    Letters, Petrarch's character of; influence of,;
    number of; style of; editing of;
    classes of; to be kept secret; destined
    for publication; often lost;
    opened on the way; to be read with attention
    "Letters to Dead Authors," Petrarch's,
    _Letters of Familiar Intercourse_
    _Letters of Old Age_
    Letters to Petrarch
    _Letter to Posterity_; importance of
    Letter-writing; Petrarch's view of;
    he resolves to desist from
    Library, Petrarch's; contents of;
    fate of; pledged to Venice
    _Life of Solitude, The_, Petrarch's
    Life, human, no longer in ancient times
    Literature, not inimical to religion
    _Lives of Famous Men_, Petrarch's
    Livy, Petrarch's appreciation of
    Logic, Petrarch's attitude toward
    Logicians, Petrarch's answer to
    Love, secular and monastic conceptions of, contrasted
    Petrarch's discussion and defence of
    Ludovico. _See_ "Socrates"

    Mankind, waywardness of
    Marsiglio of Padua
    Mediæval conception of life contrasted with that of Petrarch
    Mediæval natural science, Petrarch's attitude toward
    Mediæval traits of Petrarch
    Messengers, want of
    _Metamorphoses_ of Ovid
    Milan, Petrarch's residence at. _See also_ Visconti
    _Miscellaneous Letters_ of Petrarch
    Monastic ideals


    Name, Petrarch changes his
    Naples, Petrarch visits
    Nature, Petrarch's love of
    Nelli, Francesco
    Nolhac, Pierre de
    reconstructs catalogue of Petrarch's books

    Orders, Petrarch takes
    _Otio Religiosorum, De_, Petrarch's

    Padua, Petrarch's residence in
    Paganism, tendency toward, of Humanists
    Pagan writers, propriety of reading
    Papal secretaryship avoided by Petrarch
    Parents, Petrarch's
    Paris; University of
    Petrarch's residence in
    Patrimony, Petrarch's loss of
    Patriotism of Petrarch
    Pavia, description of
    _Penitential Psalms_, Petrarch's
    Penmanship in fourteenth century
    _See also_ Copyists
    Peter of Sienna, messages of, to Boccaccio
    Peter Lombard
    Petracco, Petrarch's father, character of
    exiled; friend of Dante; name changed by Petrarch
    Petrarch, Francesco, cosmopolitan representative of the Renaissance;
    origin and birth of; changes his name;
    bodily and mental characteristics;
    moral decline of; moral progress of;
    humour of;
    materials for life of; foreign recognition of;
    the father of humanism; his style;
    influenced by Seneca; more deeply by Cicero;
    as a poet; patriotism of;
    his method of study; understanding of literary art;
    self analysis of
    Philip, Bishop of Cavaillon
    Philologist, Petrarch as a
    Pierre Dubois
    Pilatus, Leo, and his version of Homer
    Plague of 1348
    Pliny's letters unknown to Petrarch
    Poetry, Petrarch's conception of
    his defence of; profaned by the multitude; mediæval
    _Policraticus_ of John of Salisbury
    Political activity, Petrarch's
    Political opinions of Petrarch
    Popes, court of, at Avignon
    Popularity of Petrarch
    Portraits of Petrarch
    Prague, Petrarch's visit to
    Preface to _Letters of Familiar Intercourse_
    Priest, Petrarch not a
    _Pro Archia_, Petrarch's discovery of
    Psychological analysis, Petrarch's love of
    Public library, Petrarch hopes to found a


    Ravenna, the old man of; a youth of
    Religion not inimical to literature
    Religious views of Petrarch
    _Remediis Utriusque Fortunæ, De_
    Renaissance, character of
    obstacles to
    Repose, Petrarch's dislike of
    _Republica optime administranda, De_, of Petrarch
    Rienzo, Cola di
    achievements of
    popular interest in
    believed to be a poet
    trial of
    sources for life of
    letter of, to Petrarch
    Petrarch's sympathy for, and relations with
    Robert, King of Naples
    Roman Empire, at Rome
    _See also_ Empire
    Roman literature. _See_ Latin
    Roman people, Petrarch's letter to
    divine origin and supremacy of
    constitution for
    genius of

    Sade, De
    Sanctis, De
    Scholarship, Petrarch's
    Schoolmen, Petrarch's neglect of
    Scientific investigation, diverse effects of, on religious beliefs
    Seclusion, Petrarch's love of
    _Secret_, Petrarch's
    Self-consciousness of Petrarch
    Selva Piana
    Seneca, style of
    his _Octavia_
    Seneca, the Rhetor
    Sicilian poetry
    Sidonius Apollinaris
    Silius Italicus, his metrical abridgment of the Iliad
    "Simonides." _See_ Nelli
    Solitude, Petrarch's love of
    _Solitude, The Life of_, Petrarch's
    Sonnets, Petrarch's
    _See_ Italian language
    Sorgue, Fountain of
    Stephen of Bourbon
    Style, Petrarch's
    _Suiipsius et Aliorum Ignorantia, De_, Petrarch's
    Superstition, Petrarch's freedom from
    Symonds, J. A.

    Theology, poetical elements in
    Three Kings, the
    Travels of Petrarch
    Trials of a man of letters in fourteenth century
    _Trionfi_, Petrarch's
    _True Wisdom_, Petrarch's

    Universities attended by Petrarch
    Urban V.

    Petrarch offers his library to
    Petrarch's house in
    Ventoux, Mt., ascent of
    view from
    Vicenza, grammarian of, Petrarch's discussion with
    as interpreted by Petrarch
    his imitation of Homer
    regarded as a magician
    Petrarch's copy of
    Visconti, Petrarch's relations with
    estimate of
    Bishop Giovanni
    Galeazzo; Gian Galeazzo
    Voigt defines Petrarch's historic greatness
    _Vulgati Eloquioy, De_, Dante's

    Work, Petrarch's ardour for
    Writing, passion for, contagious

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