Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

supplied with means, journeyed in state from one brilliant scene to another, only, however, to confirm the Wise Man's verdict on all things earthly—Vanity of Vanities! If the life of both poets was largely consumed in travel, with Dante this course of action was involuntary. He was always longing for the "dolcissimo seno" of Florence. For Petrarch, on the other hand, continual change was almost a condition of existence. In 1353, Giovanni Visconti sent him on a mission to Venice, in order, if possible, to negotiate a peace between that republic and Genoa. The famous old doge, Dandolo, was then presiding over the destinies of Venice, and after courteously discussing the ambassador's proposals, addressed to Petrarch a personal question, What was the reason of his restless life? There was no doubt one definite and admitted reason; but, apart from Laura, these frequent mutations were probably only the outward symptom of a profound constitutional restlessness, which extended, in a greater or less degree, to every thought, purpose, and action.

The circumstance that Petrarch was chosen on more than one occasion ambassador, is sufficiently striking, The influence nor, perhaps, entirely to be explained by his 0/utters. talent and reputation considered in themselves. Villemain remarks that about this time men of letters began to form a class independent of the clergy, wielding a force like that of the profession named in our day the Fourth Estate, the force of educated opinion. Their influence, though doubtless illdefined, was real, and accounts for the fact that, at the courts of the new lords, the place once held by minstrels and jongleurs was now taken by scholars and poets. When we find men like Petrarch preferred to high official positions—he might have been Apostolic Secretary had he wished—and intrusted with important diplomatic charges, we are naturally reminded of similar honours paid to literature by successive Governments of the United States—and of Addison.

To return to the Visconti. In 1368 Petrarch was present at the wedding of Violante, daughter of the ne moral younger Galeazzo, with Lionel Duke of atmosphere. Clarence, when, according to the story, he met Chaucer. The brothers Galeazzo and Bernabo Visconti were men of infamous character, and Giangaleazzo, the son and successor of Galeazzo, was, if anything, worse. The annals of the dynasty teem with betrayals and assassinations, yet it could count Petrarch as a friend. Similarly, in one of his letters1 Petrarch speaks of Jacopo da Carrara, who had procured his lordship by the murder of a cousin, as "a man distinguished for every laudable quality, but especially for an extraordinary and angelic sweetness of character, . . . the lord of Padua, nay, rather, the father of his country." Is there not some inconsistency here? It is impossible to deny it, but we need not conclude therefore that the writer was a sycophant or a coward. The truth is, that Petrarch at each moment writes as he feels. He is the slave, not of circumstances, but of his own passing mood. 1 Fam., xi. 2.

It is probable that Petrarch's courage was never subjected to any severe test. As a man of affairs politicians did not take him seriously.1 When he was sent on a mission, he went as an ornamental figurehead, and the prosaic practical work was placed in the hands of a subordinate. The widespread feeling that he was a most estimable man, a man of social charm, a man of learning and genius, but immaculate as a schoolgirl of every dangerous art, conferred upon him an immunity of which he was not slow to avail himself. He did not break with the Colonnas, the Visconti, and the rest, for the simple reason that" they lived with him, not he with them ";2 but he did not permit such friendship to silence him, when, as he conceived, public duty or personal conviction called upon him to speak.

The capacity of the scholar-poet to speak and act

for himself is seen more than anywhere else in his

association with Rienzi and the rivolution

IiieTizi. . .

de theatre. It is indeed not unlikely that Petrarch's inspiration, his constant preaching of a united Italy, was the cause of Rienzi setting about his task. Cola di Rienzi was of obscure origin, his father being an inn-keeper and his mother a laundress, but he studied the classics and perused the inscriptions on the monuments until he not only became penetrated with the thought of Rome's ancient glory, but infected also his fellow-citizens, llienzi's personality appears to have been magnetic. Even Petrarch, writing to him, observes, "When I think of the grave and holy discourse you held with me the other day, at the gate of the old church, I seem to have heard a sacred oracle, a god, not a man." Rienzi, however, was about as well fitted to execute an actual coup d'itat as Petrarch himself. He was a dreamer and egoist, whose sentimental vagaries, ramifying into filial impiety and absurd and arrogant blasphemy, stamp him as an impostor. If for a time he seemed likely to succeed, it was because the political condition of Rome, and the general misery of the peninsula, afforded a congenial soil for the hardy plotter. The transference to Avignon of the Papal see left the Eternal City a prey to faction. First the Orsini and the Colonnas, rival aristocratic families, contended for the senatorial dignity; then, on the crest of a popular upheaval, the iconoclast Jacopo Arlotta "had the cry." But Arlotta failed, just as Rienzi was destined to fail, because he possessed neither the practical genius nor the force of character requisite for a situation of tremendous urgency.

1 Petrarch himself was under no delusion. *'Ut enim re intelligo, nihilo melior ccconomicus quam politicus aum; omnia hice unus aolitudini8ac litterarum amor abstulit" {Parn., xxii. 12).

2 Sen., xxvii. 2.

Rienzi's ideal was the establishment of a Roman republic on the model of the old, but tinctured by Christianity. This was his inflated style: "Nicolo, by the authority of our most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, severe and merciful, tribune of liberty, of peace, and of justice, and deliverer of the Holy Roman Republic." Notwithstanding his ancient friendship with the Colonnas, Petrarch warmly supported the adventurer. He called him a "new Brutus," and, addressing the citizens, exclaimed, " Honour this man, honour him as a messenger of heaven, a rare gift of God, and hazard your life for his safety." And when Rienzi failed and lay in the prison at Avignon, Petrarch interposed his good offices, and obtained his release on the ground that he was a poet .

In spite of this fiasco, the resuscitation of Italy continued to engage Petrarch's thoughts. He abandoned A change of —indeed, he could not choose but abandon /nmt. —tne hope of a real Italian awakening, the

erection of a strong and stable Italian Government from the Alps to the Strait of Messina. But he fell back on the next best expedient, and espoused what was, in fact, Dante's great panacea, the Gbibelline cult. Directing three letters to Charles IV., he styled him, with Petrarchian pomp, a "new Augustus," and reminded him, with Petrarchian finesse, of such oldworld heroes as Caiuillus, Curius, and Cincinnatus. In 1354, the emperor appeared in Italy. Whilst he was at Mantua, he sent Petrarch a cordial invitation, and the poet in a letter to his friend " Laelius" describes the momentous interview. Petrarch, it seems, presented some coins to the monarch, and, on condition that he played his part manfully, consented to dedicate to him his unfinished work De Viris Illustribus. The emperor, on his side, was favourably impressed with Petrarch, who records with evident pleasure that he had "joked and disputed with Caesar." Characteristically as regards the poet, the matter ended as it began—in a joke, if not in a dispute. Charles was the

« AnteriorContinuar »