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THE fame of Francis Petrarch, which assigns to him the second place among the classics of Italy, and ranks him amongst the greatest poets of the world, rests mainly on the composition of about four thousand lines of Italian verse, addressed to a beautiful and virtuous lady of Provence, who was neither his wife nor his mistress, between his twenty-fourth and his fiftieth year. These sonnets, although the subject is monotonous, and the tone of them frequently affected and unreal, have had a success unexampled in literature. For five hundred years they have been read with pleasure and admiration by twenty generations. They retain to this day all their freshness and their grace. The pure and elegant language in which they are written has nothing of the archaic grandeur and severity of the style of Dante. Like that stream of the Sorgia in the valley Petrarch chose for a retreat, his Italian verse sprang pure and abounding from its source; and although the poet' affected to treat these compositions as the " mere trifles of his youth" (nugellas meas vulgares), he had, perhaps unconsciously, created a language, and scattered round


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him exquisite beauties, which retain, like the lyrical fragments of the Greek poets, a consecrated immortality. The latest and the most accomplished of the historians of Florence, Gino Capponi, says: "The poetical language of the Canzoni' followed a straight track from the Sicilians to the Bolognese, and thence to Cavalcanti, to the supreme Alighieri, and to Cino da Pistoia; but these fell short of the ultimate and inimitable perfection given to poetic diction by Francis Petrarch. In his 'Rime' there is never a word or mode savouring of old age, or which cannot be used without affectation at the present day." There is no similar instance in literature of a writer whose language attained perfection at the first jet, and retains an immaculate purity for five hundred years.

But this portion of the life and work of Petrarch, though by far the most familiar to posterity, was certainly that which least distinguished him in the eyes of his contemporaries and in his own. Nor is it easy to explain or account for the extraordinary position to which, in his own age, he attained. Born in the humbler ranks of life, and of a family exiled from Florence, he obtained the rudiments of education at Carpentras, in Provence, where his talents attracted the favourable notice of the chief of the great house of Colonna, then residing with the Papal Court at Avignon. To the patronage of the Colonnas he owed his whole advancement in life. He refused to pursue the study of the law; he refused to enter the Church as a priest; he despised monastic life; he refused office, though the great post of Papal Secretary was five times offered to him. In a warlike and lawless age he lived exclusively for the glory of letters. In a clerical age he

denounced the corruptions and evils of the Church. In a superstitious age he professed a pure and ideal religion. In a scholastic age he taught a philosophy far removed from the traditions of Aristotle and the categories of the Schools. Although his patrimony must have been very small, and the benefices he afterwards held were not important, he never wanted the means of subsistence, for incessant journeys, and of collecting books.1 Nevertheless, such was the fame and influence he had acquired at an early age, that, before he had completed his thirty-sixth year, he was simultaneously invited by the University of Paris and by the Senate of Rome to accept the laurel crown of poetry-an honour which had not been conferred by the latter for 1300 years. No doubt this singular pre-eminence and rare distinction were aided by the exertions of powerful friends and by his own solicitations (although all trace of them has disappeared from his correspondence), but the fact is not the less extraordinary. "The learning of a theological school, and the ignorance of a lawless city," says Gibbon, "were alike unqualified to bestow the ideal though immortal wreath which genius may obtain from the free applause of the public and of posterity; but the candidate dismissed this troublesome reflection, and, after some moments of complacency and suspense, preferred the summons of the metropolis of the world." That wreath cannot be said to have been vainly bestowed, since the lapse of five centuries has not withered it. From whatever cause, we find the Laureate Petrarch

1 A canonry in the chapter of Lombes, where his friend Giacomo Colonna was bishop, was his first benefice, conferred on him by Boniface XII. in January 1335. These stalls could be held by persons in deacon's orders.



invested, at the age of forty, with a species of contemporary dignity which has no parallel, save that of a Hebrew prophet; or, if that expression be too strong for his character, he was a præceptor mundi, a teacher of the world. The far grander genius of Dante had been tried by poverty and exile; the far more varied genius of Tasso was consigned, in another century, to a madman's cell. Petrarch lived on to the verge of human life, rich, honoured of all men, speaking his thoughts on all subjects with absolute freedom; treating as his equals popes, emperors, kings, and senators; rebuking the listless or the corrupt; stimulating the brave and the free; receiving homage enough to gratify his capacious van ity; and exercising a vast intellectual power over a lawless and barbarous age. Not Voltaire at Ferney, surrounded by the refinements of the eighteenth century-not Goethe at Weimar, where he lived in Olympian majesty, were more honoured than Petrarch amidst the convulsions and ignorance of the fourteenth century. Whatever else he may have done, he was undoubtedly the first man who, after the irruption of the barbarians and the night of the middle ages, raised the culture of letters to supreme honour.

It has been well said by a recent writer,1 that Petrarch was the apostle of scholarship, the inaugurator of the humanistic impulse of the fifteenth century. He foresaw in a large and liberal spirit a new phase of European culture, a revival of the studies and the arts which constitute the chief glory and dignity of man; and there are some fine lines in his "Africa" in which he predicts the advancement of knowledge as he discerned it from afar.

1 Symond's Renaissance in Italy, p. 70.

"To thee, perchance, if lengthened days are given,
A better age shall mark the grace of Heaven;
Not always shall this deadly sloth endure:
Our sons shall live in days more bright and pure;
Then with fresh shoots our Helicon shall glow;
Then the fresh laurel spread its sacred bough;
Then the high intellect and docile mind
Shall renovate the studies of mankind-
The love of beauty and the cause of truth
From ancient sources draw eternal youth."
-Africa, lib. ix.

Petrarch, then, was great, not only by a bootless passion which his poetical genius clothed in imperishable language--the chaste language of tenderness and of regret, without a single line that can wound the most refined sensibility-but he was great by the love of letters to which he devoted a life of indefatigable industry; by his extraordinary learning and memory, which enabled him, we know not how, to acquire and retain a minute knowledge of classical literature and history, inconceivable in an age when every writer had to be studied in manuscript, and manuscripts themselves were scarce and costly; by his independence of character and love of truth, which made him the fearless advocate of every good and great cause, speaking his mind with an eloquence and energy then unknown to Europe, and without regard to consequences; and by his devoted and passionate adherence to the freedom and glory of Italy, which he sought to promote alike by imperial or aristocratic influence and by the democracy of Rome-the inspired herald of a struggle of five centuries, which has accomplished in our times the liberation of united Italy. A man blest with such gifts, such opportunities, such

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