« PredošláPokračovať »
the vindictive jealousy of scholars. The protestations, which Petrarch mingles with the confessions of his other failings, and which he repeats in his old age, “that envy never dwelt in his heart,” sprang from one of the countless illusions which bewilder us, precisely when we fancy that our own heart can hide nothing from our penetration. Envy remained dormant, because no one about Petrarch was pre-eminent enough to awaken it. He uttered rarely the name, and affected never to peruse the works, of Dante; and if he cannot always avoid speaking of his predecessor, it is to record less his excellencies than his faults. With respect to his contemporaries, Petrarch was so far above jealousy himself, that he often contrived to extinguish it among them. But whenever his interference was not attended with success, he lamented it as an undeserved misery, to which, however, he submitted, perhaps, from the ambition of displaying his superiority. To this trait of his character he seems to allude in some lines which, undoubtedly, were prompted by his own experience.
With anxious toil, he, through his lengthen'd life,
The copious flood of eloquence applied,
For with the growth of arts, grew envious pride.
And urg'd its velom o'er the inflated breast. Although his vanity was gratified at the expense of his peace, his mediation in the literary quarrels was grounded on the generous principle,-“that they who burn with the love of their country, being essentially virtuous, are formed by nature for indissoluble friendship.” But lofty maxims, when proclaimed amongst people with whom they are impracticable, inevitably provoke ridicule; and Petrarch, by reproving those who laughed at his advice, in some measure justified the jest against him. A literary club of young men at Venice, brought him to a formal trial, for having usurped and exercised an illegal jurisdiction over all questions of learning. They appointed, from their own body, judges and counsel ; and after hearing the pleadings for the prosecution, and the defence, they decided that Petrarch's crime consisted only in being a good sort of man. Of this farce no one, save Petrarch himself, took any serious notice. To repel the insinuation, he composed a large book, which has actually forced posterity to join in the merriment of his accusers.
Thinking that mankind conspired, not so much against him as against wisdom and virtue, his character acquired a tint of misanthropy by no means natural to him. All those who approached him nearly, perceived that he had more of fear than hatred, more of pity than contempt, for man. Indeed, the propensity to be useful to others, although too loudly professed, was born with him, and, instead of being abated by the selfishness of old age, it grew into an anxiety which ceased only with his life. When one of his friends was persecuted, he wrote to him :-“Take your choice, either come and find an asylum under my roof, or you will compel me to come into France for your protection.” The lessons of early adversity, which harden selfish dispositions, had taught the generous heart of Petrarch to feel for the sufferings of others; and shunning like all-men, who are merely busied with their own feelings and intellectual faculties" the exertion
necessary for the acquirement and preservation of riches,” he was led, in the fearlessness of youth, to spend for the benefit of others, nearly all of the scanty inheritance he derived from his parents, who died in exile. He bestowed one part as a dowry on his sister, who married at Florence, and gave up the other to two deserving friends, who were in indigent circumstances. He lent even some classic manuscripts, which he called his only treasures, to his old master, that he might pawn them: in this manner, Cicero's books De Glo: RIA were irrecoverably lost. If his presents were de+ clined, he attached some verses to them, which compelled his friends to accept them; and he distributed his Italian poetry as alms amongst rhymesters and ballad singers. As he advanced in years, the sovereign conteinpt for riches which he continued to profess, was more apparent than real, especially towards the end of his career: yet he never forgot those who looked to him for aid, which he always bestowed with kindness. Among the many legacies of his testament, he left to one of his friends his lute, that he might sing the praises of the Almighty ; to å domestic, a sum of money, intreating him not to lose it at play, as usual ; to his amanuensis, a silver goblet, recommending him to fill it with water in preference to wine ; and Boco cacio, a winter pelisse, for his nocturnal studies. Nor did he wait till death had compelled him to be liberal. “ In good truth,” he writes to Boccacio, “I know not what you mean, by answering that you are my debtor in money. Oh! if I were able to enrich you !-but for two friends like ourselves, who possess but one soul, one house is sufficient."
These offers arose, also, from the loneliness in which Petrarch often passed his days. To be the parent of illegitimate children, chilled the domestic charities, which alone could offer consolation to his ardent heart. His son, either from the perverseness of his disposition, or from the father's excessive anxiety about his future eminence, was a source of tribulation and shame; and he never mentionis him by any other name than--the youth, so that, had it not been for D. Sade's recent discovery of a bull of Clement VI., legitimating him, nobody, not even Tiraboschi, could have guessed that he was Petrarch's son. He was appointed a canon at Verona, and when he died, his father recorded the event in the same copy of Virgil wherein he had inserted the memorandum of Laura's death." He, who was born for my vexation and sorrow, who, while he lived, was the cause of grievous and endless cares to me, and whose death opened a wound in my heart, after having enjoyed a few days of happiness, departed in the twenty-fifth year of his age.” The older he grew, the more desolate he felt, and the more he longed for “that youth, whom he professed to hate when alive, but on whom his thoughts now dwelt with fondness; his heart cherished; his memory continually set before him; and his eyes sought every where." Petrarch had less reserve in speaking of his daughter, whom he loved the more, because she resembled him in features and disposition. Yet, it would seem, that she never set a foot in his house, until she was married ; and, in his will, he only makes the following indirect allusion to her, “I beg Francesco di Brossano" (this was his daughter's husband) “not only as my heir, but as my very dear son, to divide whatever money he may find, after my death, into two portions ; one he will reserve for himself, and the other he will bestow upon the person whom he knoweth.
While he longed to have somebody always near him, who might love him, yet was he often condemned to live quite alone, by the fear that a too frequent intercourse with the persons dearest to him, would furnish him with reasons for distrusting them. It was by opening his heart and his purse more frequently than his doors, that he boasts, and with reason, “that no man was more devoted to his friends, and that he never lost one.” Even in his early youth, when the heart is more confiding, and he really wished to live with them, he was always afraid of discovering their defects.
“Nothing," says he, “is so tiresome, as to converse with a person who has not the same information as one's self." But the moment that he felt disposed to give himself to society, he conversed with the utmost freedom. “If I seem to my friends,” says he, “to be a great talker, it is because I see them seldom, and then I talk as much in a day as will compensate for the silence of a year. In the judgment of many of them, I express myself clearly and strongly; but, in my own opinion, my language is feeble and obscure, for I never could impose upon myself the task of being eloquent in conversation. I have never liked dinners, and have always considered it as troublesome as it is useless, to invite, or be invited, to them; but nothing gives me more pleasure than any one dropping in on me at my meals, and I never eat alone if I can help it.” To the very end of his life, Petrarch cherished his habits of