페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

to that Solitude which his relinquishment of every public employment afforded him. His countrymen, however, forced him to abandon his retreat, gave him the absolute command of the army; and, by his military skill, he saved the Republic.

PETRARCH also, a character I never contem. plate but with increasing sensibility, formed his mind, and rendered it capable of tranfacting the most complicated political affairs, by the habits he acquired in Solitude. He was, indeed, what persons frequently become in Solitude, choleric, satirical, and petulant; and has been severely reproached with having drawn the manners of his age

with too harsh and sombrous a pencil, particularly the scenes of infamy which were transacted at the court of Avignon, under the pontificate of Clement the Sixth; but he was a perfect master of the human heart, knew how to manage the passions with uncommon dexterity, and to turn them directly to his purposes. The Abbê de Sades, the best historian of his life, says, “he is scarcely “ known, except as a tender and elegant poet, “ who loved with ardour, and sung, in all the “ harmony of verse, the charms of his mistress.” But was this in reality the whole of his character? Certainly not. Literature, long buried in the ruins of barbarity, owes the highest obligations to bis pen : he rescued some of the finest works of

antiquity

antiquity from duft and rottenness; and many of those precious treafures of learning, which have fince contributed to delight and instruct mankind, were discovered by his industry, corrected by his learning and fagacity, and multiplied in accurate copies at his expence. He was the great reftorer of elegant writing and true taste; and by his own compositions, equal to any that ancient Rome; previous to its fubjugation, produced, purified the public mind, reformed the manners of the age, and extirpated the prejudices of the times. Pursuing his studies with unremitting firmness to the hour of his death, his last work surpassed all that had preceded it. But he was not only a tender lover, an elegant poet, and a correct and classical hiftorian, but an able ftatefinan also, to whom the most celebrated fovereigns of his age confided every difficult negociation, and consulted in their most important concerns. He pofsessed, in the Fourteenth Century, a degree of fame, credit, and influence, which no man of the present day, however learned, has ever acquired. Three Popes, an Emperor, a Sovereign of France, a King of Naples, a crowd of Cardinals, the greatest Princes, and the most illustrious Nobility of Italy,cultivated his friendship, and solicited his correspondence. In the several capacities of Statesman, Minister, and Ambassador, he was employed in transacting the greatest affairs, and by that means was enabled to

acquire acquire and disclose the most useful and important truths. These high advantages he owed entirely to Solitude, with the nature of which as he was better acquainted than any other person, so he cherished it with greater fondness, and resounded its praise with higher energy; and at length preferred his liberty and leisure to all the enjoyments of the world. Love, to which he had consecrated the prime of his life, appeared, indeed, for a long time, to enervate his mind; but suddenly abandoning the soft and effeminate style in which he breathed his fighs at Laura's feet, he addressed Kings, Emperors, and Popes, with manly boldness, and with that confidence which splendid talents and a high reputation always inspire. In an elegant oration, worthy of Demosthenes and Cicero, he endeavoured to compose the jarring interests of Italy; and exhorted the contending Powers to destroy, with their confederated arms, the Barbarians, those common enemies of their country, who were ravaging its very bosom, and preying on its vitals. The enterprizes of Rienzi,* who seemed like an agent sent from Heaven to restore the decayed metropolis of the Roman

Empire Empire to its former splendour, were suggested, encouraged, directed and supported by his abilities. A timid Emperor was roused by his eloquence to invade Italy, and induced to seize upon the reins of government as successor to the Cæfars. The Pope, by his advice, removed the holy chair, which had been transported to the borders of the Rhine, and replaced it on the banks of the Tiber; and at a moment even when he confessed, in one of his letters, that his mind was distracted with vexation, his heart torn with love, and his whole foul difgusted with men and measures. Pope Clement the Sixth confided to his negociation an affair of great difficulty at the Court of Naples, in which he succeeded to the highest satisfaction of his employer. His residence at courts, indeed, had rendered him ambitious, busy, and enterprizing; and he candidly acknowledged that he felt a pleasure on perceiving a hermit, accustomed to dwell only in woods, and to faunter over plains, running through the magnificent palaces of cardinals with a crowd of courtiers in his suite. When John Visconti, Archbishop and Prince of Milan, and Sovereign of Lombardy, who united the finest talents with an ambition so insatiable that it threatened to swallow up all Italy, had the happiness to fix Petrarch in his interests, by inducing him to accept of a seat in his council, the friends of the philosopher whispered one among another,

* For an elegant and highly interesting account of this enterprize, and of the character, abilities, conduct, and fate, of this extraordinary man, see Mr. Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. xii. p. 331, 8vo. edition.

1

2

« This

“ This stern republican, who breathed no senti. « ments but those of liberty and independence ; “ this untamed bull, who roared fo loud at the “ slightest shadow of the yoke; who could endure

no fetters but those of love, and who even felt " these too heavy; who has refused the first offers « at the court of Rome, because he disdained to

wear golden chains; has at length submitted to “ be shackled by the Tyrant of Italy; and this great • apostate of Solitude, who could no longer live " except in the tranquillity of the groves, now

contentedly resides amidst the tumults of “ Milan.' My friends,” replied Petrarch,

[ocr errors]

u have

* The conduct of Petrarch might here have been finely contrasted with the conduct of Horace on an occasion in some degree fimilar. Macenas bad bestowed upon him a little estate near Tibur, to which he retired, and wrote those poems that have fince so much amused and instructed mankind. His fame soon reached the ears of Auguftus, who offered him the place of his private secretary, which Horace declined, because the duties of it would have interfered with the pleafures he enjoyed in retirement. This fondness for a sequestered life he has very happily expressed in the fixth ode of the seventh hook, addressed to Sep. timius, of which we insert an elegant and highly poetical translation by William Boscawen, Esq.

1.

Septimius, who would dare explore
With me the distant Gades' shore,

Prepar'd alike to brave

Realms

« 이전계속 »