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In the Italian Renaissance, we find first the inspiration and then its outcome, that diligent activity which left nothing undone in the task of recovering authors, of garnering up the ancient wisdom, partially and temporarily eclipsed after the barbarian attack on the Roman Empire.
Without in any way forgetting the immense debt due from later ages to Dante, it may be claimed nevertheless, from the pedagogue's standpoint, that by his personal character, special predilections, and by his material wealth, Petrarch was enabled to play the role of Inspirer of the Revival of Learning, and to assist and foster the collection of the necessary materials for it.
It is not given to every man, or to many men, to foresee the salient characteristics of the time to come: it is given perhaps to fewer still to perceive these, and also to possess both the power of influencing others to prepare themselves to meet the dawning day, and the wealth which is subsidiary no doubt but still essential to the progress and full development even of intellectual movements, so hard is it in any and every department of life to disconnect wholly the material and the spiritual.
Petrarch was one of this small elect band thus trebly dowered. He laid very great stress on the importance of visible tangible aids to learning : Symonds? speaks of him as “the first to understand the value of public libraries; the first to accumulate coins and inscriptions as the sources of accurate historical information, the first to preach the duty of preserving ancient monuments.”
Yet perhaps he perceived that there is a more real reality even than that which resides in these outward things : for he pleaded that only that is fruitful which comes “straight from a man's soul, speaking to the soul of one who heard him?."
i Renaissance, Vol. ii. p. 54.
What poets feel not, when they make,
A pleasure in creating,
And then Petrarch was the inspirer of that restless nomadic teacher, John of Ravenna ; and where this man's influence will stop, no one can say. The men he stirred are, some of them at any rate, masters of modern students : that is true obviously of Vittorino da Feltre, Peter Paul Vergerius, Guarino da Verona, and Lionardo Bruni.
The first period of Italian humanism is more truly to be described however as one of learning than of teaching : it was a time devoted rather to the collection of the raw materials of scholarship than to the elaboration of pedagogic method, or the framing of actual curricula. This harvesting of materials was absolutely essential to the development of that system of learning and education which followed.
The second period of the Italian Renaissance was an enthusiastic age of the advancement and development of learning; combined with efforts to mark out a definite system of education. In the Universities of Italy, and still more markedly in the princely and ducal courts, under the patronage of men like Cosimo and Lorenzo dei Medici, Alfonso of Naples, Gian Francesco Gonzaga, Ludovico Sforza, and of Popes like Eugenius IV', and, to a far greater extent, Nicholas V?, learning enjoyed freedom, the resources of comparative wealth, and esteem; while education, as an art to be practised, engaged the attention of the most capable and devoted scholars; among the artists, architects, litterati and poets, there rose to places of honour and distinction a class of men not invariably singled out for reward, the great schoolmasters, Peter Paul Vergerius, Vittorino da Feltre, Guarino da Verona.
The present inquiry does not aim at being a chapter in the History of Scholarship, but, so far as the two can be divided,
1 Eugenius became Pope in 1431.
2 Nicholas V was born of humble parents at Pisa in 1398. He became Pope in 1447. “The profuse liberality of Nicholas,” Symonds observes, “ brought him thus into relation with the whole learned world of Italy.” (Renaissance, Vol. ii. p. 165.)
of Education. What then was the aim of education ? Put in a few words the answer is—the creation of character, which was to be effected first by discipline physical, intellectual, moral (with the addition, in the practice of Vittorino da Feltre, definitely religious); and, secondly, by the provision and assimilation of suitable mental and moral food. By this clearly formulated scheme, the greater schoolmasters sought to solve the problem of giving their due to form and matter.
No student of the educational method of this period can doubt that while much importance was attached to the matter of the classic literature, considerable effort and time were devoted also to the acquisition of the more formal parts of the classic tongues. Grammar, as we understand it,—not as it was understood, for example, by Quintilian, when it seemed to take “all knowledge for” its "province,"_was insisted upon as the foundation of linguistic and literary knowledge; “Grammar it is allowed is the portal to all knowledge whatsoever," wrote Æneas Sylvius, and he is careful to state that though “Grammar is identical with literature,” yet one part of it is concerned with the “right choice both of vocabulary and construction.” Maffeo Vegio, the author of the De Educatione Liberorum, urges the necessity of voicetraining and production : "vox distincta sit, robusta, sonora.” Pellegrino Morato and Æneas Sylvius will give attention to handwriting, to the actual formation of the several letters in a word : “it is worth while,” writes Æneas, “to be careful over so small a thing as the shape of the letters : let round letters be round, looped letters shew their loops, and so on."
It may be argued that this is to descend to the very trivialities of technique. But there is another possible point of view. Æneas wrote in an age that cared with passion for beautiful craftsmanship. The zeal which fired the architect, and the artist, glowed in the souls of lesser men. It was not a time, like our own, loving cheapness and allowing rough work and
scamped methods to pass muster? And this spirit was educational. By such means discipline was ensured, discipline of intellect and of temper: the desire and the power to overcome difficulties, the present sacrifice for the future gain, thoroughness—even down to the last detail of a crossed t or a dotted i
-firmness and coherence of structure, all the qualities and methods in fact which together build up a well-knit character, were sought after and secured often. Language, style, metre, rhythm, handwriting, enunciation and all the rest of the literary technicalities were really bent into the service of man. Nothing was absolutely trivial in a system which, all the while and to a remarkable degree, contrived to keep its due sense of perspective.
And then, when care for form had been exercised, there still remained the matter, the contents, of literature, history and philosophy. As education was to be the concern of the State, so citizenship,—the capacity to quit one's self like a man, like a woman, the power to satisfy what is due to the individual while paying the debt to the commonweal, so true fine citizenship was to be the finest flower of scholarship, the uttermost result of education. To this end, the matter of the ancient and newly recovered literatures was to be pressed, like technique, into the service of man: its polity, its philosophy, its ethics, its serenity, its reasonableness, its light were to form the mind and soul. And, as an outcome of this, in theory always, in practice sometimes, the minds of men were relieved from the overshadowing of petty conceptions. We cannot forget, for instance, that in the practice and theory of the finer
1 " The speech of the Italians at that epoch, their social habits, their ideal of manners, their standard of morality, the estimate they formed of men, were alike conditioned and qualified by art. ...On the meanest articles of domestic utility, cups and platters, door-panels, chimney-pieces, coverlets for beds and lids of linen-chests, a wealth of artistic invention was lavished by innumerable craftsmen, no less skilled in technical details than distinguished by rare taste.” (J. A. Symonds, Renaissance, Vol. iii. p. 3.)
minds of the Renaissance, ability, not birth, position or sex, was accounted the sole test of worth. “In all departments open to a man of talents," says Symonds, “birth was of less importance than natural gifts....... It followed that men were universally rated at what they proved themselves to be?.” And Dr Creighton, writing of 16th century Italy, observes, “There was no notion of rivalry between the sexes, any more than between classes in the State. All were at liberty to do their best; and they had an audience sufficiently critical to take whatever was said at its real worth?” The fact dwelt on in this closing sentence is of great importance, since an age willing to accept ability as the test of worth, and yet without the critical faculty to appraise it justly, would be deplorably at the mercy of any noisy charlatan. Such a disability, Italy seems most fortunately to have escaped.
It may be urged that we are confronted with the facts that in spite of this environment of freedom and criticism, Alexander VI could sit in the chair of Peter, and Savonarola could meet a shameful death on the Piazza at Florence. But the freedom which leaves men and women free to do their best, also—and that surely of necessity-leaves them free to do their worst. It has been affirmed and denied that by means of gold, poured out with profligate lavishness, Alexander VI succeeded to the Papacy: whatever the truth about his expenditure may have been it is probably true to say that no one was deceived: men estimated him at his real worth, at . least that is suggested by Cardinal Giovanni dei Medici's remark to his kinsman?. It was easily possible, in a moment
i Renaissance, Vol. ii. p. 3.
3 “We are in the wolf's jaws: he will gulp us down unless we make our flight good.” Similarly Guicciardini observes, “The King of Naples, though he dissembled his grief, told the queen, his wife, with tears...that a Pope had been made who would prove most pestilent to the whole Christian commor wealth.” (Symonds, Renaissance, Vol. i. p. 321.)