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Character and Coronation of Petrarch.-Restoration of the Freedom and Government of Rome by the Tribune Rienzi.-His Virtues and Vices, his Expulsion and Death.-Return of the Popes from Avignon.—Great Schism of the West.—Re-union of the Latin Church-Last Struggles of Roman Liberty.—Statutes of Rome.—Final Settlement of the Ecclesiastical State.
N. the apprehension of modern times, Petrarch *
is the Italian songster of Laura and love. In the harmony of his Tuscan rhymes, Italy applauds, or rather adores, the father of her lyric poetry; and his verse, or at least his name, is repeated by the enthusiasm or affectation of amorous sensibility. Whatever may be the private taste of a stranger, his slight and superficial knowledge should humbly acquiesce in the taste of a learned nation; yet I may hope or presume, that the Italians do not compare the tedious uniformity of sonnets and elegies, with the sublime compositions
* The Memoires sur la Vie de Francois Petrarque (Amsterdam, 1764, 1767, 3 vols. in 4to) form a copious, original, and entertaining work, a labour of love, composed from the accurate study of Petrarch and his contemporaries; but the hero is too often lost in the general history of the age, and the author too often languishes in the affectation of politeness and gallantry. In the preface to his first volume, he enumerates and weighs twenty Italian biographers, who have professedly treated of the same subject.
compositions of their epic muse, the original wild- C H A P.
nes of Dante, the regular beauties of Tasso, and the boundless variety of the incomparable Ariosto. The merits of the lover I am still less qualified to appreciate ; nor am I deeply interested in a metaphysical passion for a nymph so shadowy,
that her existence has been questioned “; for a .
matron so prolific f, that she was delivered of eleven legitimate children i, while her amorous swain sighed and sung at the fountain of Waucluse ||. But in the eyes of Petrarch, and those of his graver contemporaries, his love was a sin, and Italian verse a frivolous amusement. His Latin works of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, established his serious reputation, which was soon diffused from Avignon over France and Italy; his
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* The allegorical interpretation prevailed in the 15th century; but the wise commentators were not agreed whether they should understand by Laura, religion, or virtue, or the blessed Virgin, or . See the prefaces to the 1st and 2d volumes. + Laure de Noves, born about the year 1307, was married in January 1325 to Hugues de Sade, a noble citizen of Avignon, whose jealousy was not the effect of love, since he married a second wife within seven months of her death, which happened the 6th of April 1348, precisely one and-twenty years after Petrarch had seen and loved her. f Corpus crebris partubus exhaustum ; from one of these is issued, in the tenth degree, the Abbé de Sade, the scnd and grateful biographer of Petrarch; and this domestic motive most probably suggested the idea of his work, and urged him. to inquire into every circumstance that could affect the history and character of his grandmother, (see particularly tom. i. p. 122–133. notes, p. 7–58. tom. ii. p. 455-495. not. p. 76 -82.). | Vaucluse, so familiar to our English travellers, is described from the writings of Petrarch, and the local knowledge of his biographer, (Memoires, tom. i. p. 340–359.). It was, in truth, the retreat of an hermit; and the moderns are much mistaken, if they place Laura and an happy lover in the grotto,
friends and disciples were multiplied in every city; and if the ponderous volume of his writings be now abandoned to a long repose, our gratitude must applaud the man, who by precept and example revived the spirit and study of the Augustan age. From his earliest youth, Petrarch aspired to the poetic crown. The academical honours of the three faculties had introduced a royal degree of master or doctor in the art of poetry f ; and the title of poet laureat, which custom, rather than vanity, perpetuates in the English court j, was first invented by the Caesars of Germany. In the musical games of antiquity, a prize was bestowed on the victor ||; the belief that Virgil and Horace had
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* Of 1250 pages, in a close print, at Basil, in the 16th century, but without the date of the year. The Abbé de Sade calls aloud for a new edition of Petrarch's Latin works; but I much doubt whether it would redound to the profit of the bookseller, or the amusement of the public. + Consult Selden's Titles of Honour, in his works, (vol. iii. p. 457—466.). An hundred years before Petrarch, St Francis received the visit of a poet, qui ab imperatore fuerat coronatus et exinde rex versuum dictus. t. From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal; but I must doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice ayear a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence of the Sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is, while the prince is a man of virtue, and the poet a man of genius. | Isocrates (in Panegyrico, tom. i. p. 1 16, 117. edit. Battie, Cantab. 1729) claims for his native Athens the glory of first instituting and recommending the eyeva, kai ra agaz *Y** **n foove, raxis; xat founs, *Axa, xa, Aoya, was young. The example of the Panathenaea was imitated at Delphi; but the Olympic games were ignorant of a musical crown, till it was extorted by the vain tyranny of Nero, Sueton. in Nerone, c. 23 ; Philostrat. apud Casaubon ad locum; Dion Cassius, or Xiphilin, l. lxiii. p. 1032. Icil. Potter's Greek An. tiquities, vol. i. p. 445. 45c.).
been crowned in the Capitol inflamed the emulation of a Latin bard *; and the laurel t was endeared to the lover by a verbal resemblance with the name of his mistress. The value of either object was enhanced by the difficulties of the pursuit; and if the virtue or prudence of Laura was inexorable i, he enjoyed, and might boast of enjoying, the nymph of poetry. His vanity was not of the most delicate kind, since he applauds the success of his own labours ; his name was popular; his friends were active; the open or secret opposition of envy and prejudice was surmounted by the dexterity of patient merit. In the thirty-si..th year of his age, he was solicited to accept the object of his wishes; and on the same day, in the solitude of Vaucluse, he received a similar and solemn invitation from the senate of Rome and the university of Paris. The learning of a theological school, and the ignorance
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* The Capitoline games (sertamen quinquenale, musicur, equestre, gymnicum) were instituted by Domitian (Sueton. c. 4.) in the year of Christ 86, (Censorin. de Die Natali, c. xviii. p. 1 oo. edit. Havercamp), and were not abolished in the 4th century, (Ausonius de Professor bus Burdegal. V.). If the crown were given to superior merit, the exclusion of Statius (Capitolia nostrae inficiata lyrae, Sylv. l. iii. v. 31.) may do honour to the games of the Capitol; but the Latin poets who lived before Domitian were crowned only in the public opinion.
+ Petrarch and the senators of Rome were ignorant that the laurel was not the Capitoline, but the Delphic crown, (Plin. Hist. Natur. xv. 39. Hist. Critique de la Republique des Lettres, tom. i. p. 150-220.). He victors in the Ca. pitol were crowned with a garland of oak-leaves, (Martial, 1. iv. epigram 54.).
f The pious grandson of Laura has laboured, and not without success, to vindicate her immaculate chastity against the censures of the grave, and the sneers of the profane, (tom. ii. notes, p. 76–82.).
of a lawless city, were alike unqualified to bestow
* The whole process of Petrarch's coronation is accurately described by the Abbé de Sade, (tom. i. p. 425—435. tom. ii. p. 1–6. notes, p. 1–13.), from his own writings, and the Roman Diary of Ludovico Monaldeschi, without mixing in this authentic narrative the more recent fables of Sannuccio