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viver of the
genius from that of his contemporaries.
attributable to his example,-the revival of Latin scholar- CHAP. V. ship in connexion with the discovery and study of the writings of Cicero, and, though less directly, the awakening of (1) on Latin Italy to the value of the Greek literature and, as a collateral (2) as a reresult, the resuscitation of the Platonic philosophy and the study of commencement of a less slavish deference to the authority of Aristotle,―admit of a comparatively brief discussion. An accurate estimate of his more immediate influence is to be arrived at only by a careful study of the writings of those Italian scholars who adorned the succeeding generation. Their reverence and regard for his genius while he lived and Change in the for his memory when dead, rested, as their language clearly mate of his shews, on a very different basis from that which has sustained his reputation in later times. During the last three centuries his fame has been derived chiefly from his merits as a poet; the sonnetteer has almost completely eclipsed the reviver of classical learning. But such was certainly not the view of the generations to whom he was more directly known, living as they did surrounded by the trophies of his great triumph. Nor was it his own view. His poems were the productions of his ardent but immature youth, and he never for a moment believed that they were destined to outlive his later writings'. This seeming reversal of the original Reason of verdict can however be easily if not satisfactorily explained. It was one of the services, though by no means the greatest, rendered by Petrarch to the cause of learning, that he brought back the use of the Latin tongue to something more nearly approaching a classic standard. From the days of Boethius down to the fourteenth century, we may seek vainly for any author who appears even to have aimed at an imitation of the models of antiquity. Mediævalism altogether ignored those models and set up a standard of its own. It can scarcely therefore be considered surprising that Petrarch himself failed, all unaided as he was, in reaching the highest excellence. His Latinity, though of Ciceronian elegance when compared with that of Matthew Paris, of Anselm, or of Dante, is still characterised by numerous defects. Gramma1 Voigt, pp. 13, 14.
CHAP. V. tical errors and even barbarisms are not infrequent; the PART I. structure of the sentences is often awkward and obscure; the affectation of antiquity often clumsy and overwrought. Thus neither his letters, his essays, nor his orations can compare as specimens of a correct style with the prose of a later period,—with the standard of elegance attained to by Politian, Bembo, or Muretus; and hence the undeserved neglect into which they have been allowed to fall by those who, careless of their historical value, have chosen to set mere elegance of form above vigour of thought. It is only when we consider that Petrarch's merits as a Latin writer were the result solely of his own efforts,-that his models were chosen with no other guide than the intuitions of his own genius,—and that his errors have evidently been greatly multiplied by the carelessness of transcribers and errors of the press, that we begin to perceive that his style, when compared with the barbarous idiom of the schoolmen, was, in spite of the severe criticisms of Erasmus and Cortesius', itself no inconsiderable achievement.
It is scarcely necessary to say that Ciceró was his chief the works of model; to Petrarch's efforts it was mainly due that, long
in relation to
before the more general revival, the great Roman orator had ceased to be any longer regarded as an ἄγνωστος θεός, and that appreciation of his merits which culminated under Erasmus was first awakened in the student of Latin literature. The list of his works that up to this time had been known to scholars would seem to have been singularly meagre, but the frequent quotations and allusions to be found in other writers were sufficient to indicate the existence of numerous productions still buried in oblivion. From this oblivion it was Petrarch's ambition to rescue them; in fact,
1 See criticisms quoted by Hallam, Literature of Europe, 1o 84.
2 The only orations of Cicero known in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, according to Voigt, were the Catilines, the Philippics, part of the Verrines, and the Pro Lege Manilia, with one or two other minor ones. This however is an inference from merely
negative evidence: So schliesse
in his efforts to recover the long lost masterpieces of antiquity CHAP. V. he represented very much the part of Richard of Bury in England, though far the superior of his indefatigable contemporary both in genius and learning; and without entering upon the question as to how far he is entitled to be considered the discoverer of any one treatise', we may safely assume that he was the first who directed the attention of scholars to the value of Cicero's writings, and who kindled among his countrymen that spirit of active research which brought again to light so many a long lost treasure and so largely enriched the literary resources of Europe.
When we remember how superficial was his knowledge His knowof the Greek tongue,-it was with difficulty that he spelt Plato. out the Iliad with the wretched version by Pilatus at his side, it may seem a somewhat overstrained interpretation of his influence to speak of him as in any sense the originator of the Florentine school of Platonism. But if there be any truth in the dictum of Coleridge, that every man is born either an Aristotelian or a Platonist, there can be no doubt as to which genius presided over Petrarch's birth. In an age when every pretender to knowledge was hastening to
1 Voigt sums up the conclusion of the matter in the following terms: 'So ist es nun im Allgemeinen kein Zweifel, dass Cicero's Werke, auch die philosophischen und rhetorischen, durch Petrarca's Anregung unendlich mehr copirt und gelesen wurden als vorher; davon zeugt ihre Verbreitung im Beginne des folgenden Jahrhunderts. Aber um zwei Klassen derselben hat Petrarch ein unmittelbares Verdienst, um die Reden und Briefe. Einen Codex, der eine Reihe von Reden enthielt, copirt er Jahre lang mit eigener Hand, damit ihm nicht die bezahlten Abschreiber den Text verdürben. Mehrere einzelne Reden hat er auf Reisen gefunden, doch besass er noch lange nicht alle diejenigen, die wir jetzt lesen. Aber welchen Triumph empfand er, als ihm 1345 zu Verona die seit dem 10 Jahrhundert völlig verschollenen sogenannten familiären Briefe Cicero's in die Hand fielen. Zwar besass er wahrscheinlich damals schon die beiden an
dern Sammlungen dieser Briefe und
The manner in which Pilatus, whose knowledge of Latin was ludicrously insufficient, rendered the opening lines of the Iliad, will serve as a specimen :
'Iram cane Dea Pelida Achillis | Corruptibilem, quæ innumerabiles Græcis dolores posuit. | Multas autem robustas animas Inferno antea misit | Heroum; ipsorum autem cadavera ordinavit canibus | Avibusque omnibus. Iovis autem perficiebatur consilium, | Ex quo jam primitus separatim litigaverunt | Atridesque Rex Virorum et Divus Achillea, Melas, p 276.
CHAP. V. join the noisy throng in the Lyceum, he turned aside to explore the dim solitudes of the Academy. His actual knowledge of Plato, it is true, was but slight; but, as Voigt observes, he was guided in this direction by a kind of instinct, an instinct awakened of course, in the first instance, by the study of Cicero's philosophical treatises. Like the geologist, though he himself sank not the shaft, he pointed out to his followers where the hidden wealth lay buried. To the Aristotelians of his time Plato was no better known than Pythagoras, and in fact they believed, for the most part, that the Timæus and the Phædo' were the only two treatises he had ever written. Petrarch however was the possessor of sixteen; and though these reposed on his shelves dark as the utterances of the Sibyl, he knew that Cicero, Seneca, Apuleius, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine had held them in high esteem, while the professed contempt of the Aristotelians served rather to commend them to his respect. In his highly against the of characteristic essay, De sui ipsius et aliorum ignorantia, we have the earliest intimations of that impending struggle between the modern partisans of the Platonic and Aristotelian schools of philosophy, which under varying forms may be said
in relation to
to have lasted to our own time, and to be even yet undecided. His position It is interesting in connexion with this controversy to comAristotle pare the position of Aquinas with that of Petrarch. The with that of schoolman, in his endeavour to introduce the New Aristotle, had found his most formidable difficulty in the evident disagreement between that literature and traditional dogma; the Italian scholar, in his efforts on behalf of a more liberal culture, found himself confronted in every direction by the supposed infallibility of what, but a century before, had been looked upon as heterodox! It was not much to say, but to say it in those days at Padua and at Venice was the height of boldness, that though Aristotle was a man of vast learning, he was after all only a man and liable to error.
1 De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia, Opera, 1162. Voigt, p. 48. I presume that the Phædo was the second. Cousin informs us that the library of the Sorbonne contains a
Latin translation of this dialogue in a manuscript of the thirteenth century. Fragments Philosophiques, Abelard. Appendix.
the style of
The absolute value of the Aristotelian decisions was not CHAP. V. the only article of the schoolman's faith that he was now compelled to hear called in question. It marks the singular He attacks insensibility to literary excellence of form induced by the the existing scholastic training, that it was commonly believed that the works of the great master, even in the shape in which they were then known, were models of style and expression. And here again Petrarch ventured upon a decided demurrer, declaring that though Aristotle's discourses, as originally delivered, might have been characterised by considerable grace of style, no such merit was discernible either in the treatises which survived the fall of the empire or in those which had more recently been brought to light'. While, finally, even the ethical system of the Stagirite failed to awaken much admiration in the poet's fervid and enthusi- He rejects astic nature, the doctrine of the Mean appeared to him cold system of and formal when compared, not merely with the Christian morality, but with the lofty Stoicism of the Academicians'.
The services of Petrarch to the cause of the new learning, The Italian as marking the initial chapter of its history and scarcely of the later perhaps estimated at their full value by many modern writers, have seemed to call for the foregoing comments; but the history of the Italian Humanismus after his time is, in its main outlines, a well-known episode in the annals of European culture, and, even if our limits permitted, it would be unnecessary here to recall the varied phases of the onward movement. The activity of that little band of enthusiasts who, assembling within the walls of the convent of San Spirito, sustained and enriched the traditions he had bequeathed to them, the wider extension and deeper flow of the same. spirit as seen in the researches and discoveries of Poggio, in the masterly criticisms of Valla (Erasmus's great exemplar), and in the scholarship and satirical genius of Philelphus,the circle of laborious though less original literati, chiefly known as translators, that gathered round the court of Nicholas v,-the splendid array of genius fostered under the
1 Rerum Memorand. Lib. 11; Opera, p. 466.
Opera, p. 1159.