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The book De Viris Illustribus, and the three books Rervm Memorandanim, may be dismissed more briefly. Historical Like Rollin's Ancient History, they were writings. educational. The biographical work may be compared to Plutarch's gallery, save that the personages, with two exceptions, are all Romans; and it is needless to add that these later portraits have little of the undefinable charm which has meant for Plutarch an immortality of fame. The other work, composed of anecdotes so arranged as to illustrate consecutively the four cardinal virtues, may be looked upon as completing the Lives, and, for us, derives its chief interest from contemporary examples relating to Dante, King Eobert of Sicily, Castraccio Castracani, Uguccione della Faggiuola, &c. Neither of these compilations, to which Petrarch kept adding during ten or twenty years, was ever completed by him.
Petrarch's writings nearly all exhibit a tendency to moralise. With the progress of years this tendency Praise 0/sou- becomes more marked. Petrarch, though tude. his guidance affected others that way, him
self never fully accepted the pagan conception of life as a feast. His nature was pensive and prone to melancholy, but sadness and disappointment, far from conducting him, like Leopardi, to fierce, implacable revolt, turned his thoughts into another channel. In 1347 Petrarch, always very impressionable, visited the Carthusian monastery of Montrieu, of which his brother Gerard was an inmate, and, captivated with the placid sweets of such an existence, wrote a panegyric entitled De Ocio Rcligiosorum. But Petrarch did not need
spiritual motives in order to appreciate solitude. He loved pomp, it is true, but he did not love perpetual pomp. The claims of society were hard to reconcile with study and meditation, and after admitting them for a time, he would shake them off as an intolerable load. In his treatise De Vita Solitaria he justifies his preference, alleging, among other things, that a man cannot be an active citizen and preserve his integrity; and, strange to say, he is very severe on women as the fount and source of every ill The work is a monument of erudition; but it seems a pity that Petrarch, who, though a scholar and city-bred, could write so well of "green fields and babbling brooks," did not dwell rather, after the manner of Marmontel, on the simple pleasures of country life.
The ascetic tone of these writings characterises also the Dc Rcmediis Utrimque Fortuncc. The composiPetrarchas ti°n was germane to the period, when SMc- captains of the people turned despots
and were again hurled from their giddy height by the expiring efforts of communal freedom; but, as to practical utility, the work might just as well not have been written. It contradicts itself, and it contradicts human nature. A parent's joy over the birth of a son must be tempered by the reflection that sons are a burden; if, on the other hand, too many sons are born, a man is to remember that sons are a parent's greatest wealth. The balm, however, most generally applicable is that nothing is important. Even to mourn for lost friends is an act of folly. If Stoicism be so good, why, it may be asked, did not Petrarch himself practise it in respect of Madonna Laura? In G. K. Pfeffele's little poem, Der neue Striker, Herr Thorns, an easygoing skipper, the idol of the sailors, has a trick of saying, "Es hat nichts zu bedeuten." A parrot learns, and exultingly repeats, the phrase. By-and-by the ship is becalmed, and provisions run short. Then Herr Thorns decides that he must strangle poor Poll, but with its last breath the bird gurgles out, "Es hat nichts zu bedeuten." Petrarch's Remedies are only a refined kind of parrot-talk.
More attractive is the De Contemptu Mundi, written about 1342. Petrarch calls this his Sceretum, and spiritual affects that it was composed, not so much am/iiet. with a view to publicity, as to satisfy certain inner needs. There may be a modicum of truth in this statement; but, in point of style, Petrarch was prepared for either event. Probably the declaration was a mere ruse, and he intended from the first to admit the public to his confidence. A favourite author of Petrarch was St Augustine, whose Confessions he had always within reach. In the Seeretum he presents himself in a white sheet, whispers his sins in the ear of the great saint, and echoes St Augustine's sentiments regarding spiritual matters. But even in the book he manifests considerable reluctance to accept the practical conclusion and at once renounce his errors. Before he can forsake the world, he must at least finish the Africa and the De Viris Illustribus. It would seem also, from the pitiless arithmetic of Signor Bartoli, that there were other pursuits which he was not yet inclined to abandon. About a year after this very imperfect conversion a natural daughter was born to him. But Petrarch was not merely fooling. The cry that rises in the Seeretvm did not issue from " feigned lips." Any one who thinks otherwise omits to consider the fund of religious feeling, amounting to downright superstition, which at one time all but consigned his beloved Rime to the flames. Only his capacity for religious emotion is allied with moral infirmity, and that is one of the reasons why his character is apparently so complex. This, however, is a familiar experience. St Paul himself confesses,"That which I do, I allow not"; and Ovid observes in a similar strain—
"... Video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor."1
Petrarch shares their inconsistency. Pitying himself, he would gladly flee from his earthly prison-house to the arms of the Crucified, but doubts and fears hold him back. The desire for fame which has clung to him from boyhood, he cannot give it up. However, it is not only ambition that enslaves him. We cannot fully comprehend this mental conflict without recollecting that poison of love which, if it continually tormented him, gained for him, far more than his erudite Latin writings and untiring research for manuscripts, the coveted renown. Petrarch spent his last years at Arqua, on the Euganean Hills, in the company of his daughter Francesca and her husband. He was found dead, with his hand resting on a book, the 18th July 1374.
1 Met., vii. 20. It is noticeable that in his ode T vo pcnsando, in which Petrarch gives poetical expression to the war in his members, it is the pagan writer whose words occur to his mind :—
"B veggio '1 meglio, ed al IH.'t&io m' appigllo."
In 1350, when Petrarch passed through Florence on his way to Rome, he met for the first time Bocretmrchand caccio. In the following year Boccaccio Bocauxio. was kne bearer of a letter, of which he was not improbably the author, addressed to Petrarch by the Prior of the Arts, the People, and the Commonwealth, announcing the restoration of his paternal property and beseeching him to make Florence his home. Although his mission was not publicly successful, the visit proved very delightful to Boccaccio, since it enabled him to spend several evenings with the poet in his garden. Boccaccio's attitude towards the older writer—older, however, by less than ten years—is that of a reverent and admiring disciple. Petrarch is his master, a kind of god on whom he lavishes all those ingenious phrases and periphrases of which worshippers always have plenty. In one letter he tells him that the name Boccaccio will be honoured by the latest posterity, because it were inconceivable that such an one as Petrarch should correspond with a slight, unmeritable man. When, however, he learns that Petrarch has stayed with the tyrant Visconti, Boccaccio is shocked. He regards such conduct as apostasy, and with the freedom of fast and intimate friendship, reproves the wrong-doer. Still more notable is the way he tries to school Petrarch into due appreciation of Dante. Himself an enthusiastic votary, he was well aware of Petrarch's indifference and even