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HIS LATIN WORKS.
An Itinerary to Palestine.
An Invective on a Physician. 1355.
Of the Remedies of either Fortune.
Of Ignorance: his own and that of others. 1368.
Invective on a Frenchman.
Epistle to Posterity. 1370.
His Latin poems are—
The Metrical Epistles.
The Eclogues (rather satirical than bucolic).
The Africa, an epic poem in nine books, chiefly written between 1339 and 1341, but not made public in his lifetime.
A large portion of these works is probably unknown to most readers of the present day, but it was not so three or four centuries ago. On the contrary, they had been largely circulated in manuscript, and upon the invention of printing, no books were more eagerly published and sought after. Six folio editions of the Epistles and other prose works were printed at Basle and at Venice between 1484 and 1500; seven more in the following century; three more soon after 1600-the last and most complete at Lyons, by Samuel Crispin. It is a curious fact that the demand for the Latin works of this great medieval classic ceased at the commencement of the seventeenth century, and no further editions of them can be traced for a period of about 160 years. But the commentators on Petrarch were in the meantime not idle. Professor Marsand of Padua collected no less than 800 works relating to Petrarch and his writings. This vast collection was purchased by Charles X., King
of France, in 1829, and is now deposited in the Library of the Louvre at Paris.
It had long been regarded as a reproach to Italy, and especially to Florence, which was Petrarch's native state, though he never lived there, that so little had been done to condense and utilise these vast materials, to correct the errors with which the earlier editions of the Latin works abound, and to print those portions which still existed in manuscript. The libraries of Italy contain at least forty-nine manuscripts of the Letters more or less complete. It was reserved for a Frenchman, the Abbé de Sade, himself descended from the family into which Laura de Noves, the object of Petrarch's amatory verses, married, to publish the first complete life of the poet, based on his own prose writings. This biography appeared in three quarto volumes in 1764, with copious translations from the Letters and Poems into French. It was on this publication, rather than on an accurate examination of the originals, that Gibbon founded his graphic account of the triumph and coronation of Petrarch, which is to be found in the seventieth chapter of his great History; and Mr Hallam appears also to have relied mainly on the Abbé de Sade in his criticism of Petrarch's philosophical and familiar compositions. Gibbon said of the Abbé de Sade, "Not an idea or a fact in the writings of Petrarch appears to have escaped him." The minor biographies of Petrarch which have since appeared in English by Mrs Dobson and Thomas Campbell the poet are mere compilations from the Abbé de Sade's Memoirs.
A more original and discriminating work is that of Ugo Foscolo, whose Essays on Petrarch, published in
English, in 1823, deserve the highest praise. nothing of the labours of Dr Beattie, who endeavoured to prove in 1810 that all we know of Laura, and much that has been written of Petrarch, are apocryphal; or of Signor Rossetti, to whom Beatrice, Laura, and Fiammetta were myths, the impersonations of what he called the " anti-Papal spirit." In truth, though the poetry addressed to these ladies is high-flown and imaginative, nothing in the history of past ages is better or more accurately known than the lives and opinions of the poets themselves and the manners of the society in which they lived. We have them before us with the stamp of a complete reality; and recent literary investigations have only rendered this certainty more absolute.
For in our own time a work of far greater importance has been accomplished in Italy, which leaves nothing to be desired, and probably little more to be discovered. One of the ablest and most indefatigable critics of Petrarch, the Cavalier Battista Baldelli, began the collection of materials at the close of the last century. Unable to complete the undertaking, he handed them over to the Abbate Antonio Meneghelli of Padua, who published in 1818 an Index to Petrarch's Letters, both printed and in manuscript; but died before he could do more. Other hands were then employed, till at length the papers were transferred to Signor Giuseppe Fracassetti, who has given to the world the most perfect edition that exists of the whole body of Petrarch's Epistles. The series was first published in Latin at Florence in 1859, with copious indexes, a corrected text, and the addition of no less than 167 unpublished letters to the collection. This Latin edition was succeeded in 1863
by an Italian translation of the whole body of Letters, made by Signor Fracassetti, accompanied by copious notes, illustrative of the circumstances under which they were written, and introducing us to all the persons to whom they were addressed. There is not in the whole history of literature, so far as I know, another instance of details so authentic and minute with reference to the life of a great writer, as those which we possess relating to Petrarch and his friends, who lived five hundred years ago. The letters of Cicero and the letters of the younger Pliny offer the nearest parallel; but Cicero leaves much to be gathered from other histories, and Pliny's life is extremely incomplete. Petrarch is his own biographer, and the annalist of that "noble and delightful company" (as he terms it) amongst whom his life was spent. From these sources Signor Fracassetti has constructed a chronological table which relates year by year every important incident of the poet's career.
These works have thrown fresh light on Petrarch and his age, and they materially lessen the difficulty of presenting a complete picture of him to the English reader. I had myself, many years ago, and long before the publication of Signor Fracassetti's editions, devoted a good deal of time to the study of Petrarch's Latin writings and philosophy; and I revert with pleasure to one of the pursuits of my youth, having always had the desire to make the man, as well as the poet, better known to my countrymen. My design has been in some measure anticipated by M. Mézières of the French Academy, whose biographical Essay on Petrarch, was published in 1868; but the existence of this interesting work was not known to me when I undertook to write this little volume.
In spite of the long popularity of the poetry of Petrarch in all parts of Europe, it cannot be said that he has been fortunate in his translators. His merit consists so much in the exquisite grace and polish of his language, that the chief beauty of his sonnets evaporates in a harsher tongue, and many a greater poet is less difficult to translate. I have endeavoured in the following pages to select those versions from different writers, which appeared best calculated to convey the impression of the original. Macgregor is, I believe, the only person who has turned the whole Canzoniere into English verse. Some elegant specimens are due to Dean Milman and Mr Merivale. But incomparably the best translations extant are those executed by the late Lady Dacre; and of these and some prose translations executed by Ugo Foscolo himself, I have gladly availed myself, as far as they extend. In a few instances I have ventured to add to them some poetical versions of my own.