Poggio, Bracciolini

, one of the. revivers of literature, was the son of Guccio Bracciolini, and was born in 1380, at Terranuova, a small town situated in the territory of the republic of Florence, not far from Arezzo. He inherited from his father who had been a notary, but had lost his property, no advantages of rank or fortune, yet in a literary point of view, some circumstances of his birth were singularly propitious. At the close of the fourteenth century, the dawn of literature was appearing, and the city of Florence was distinguished by the zeal with which its principal inhabitants cultivated and patronized the liberal arts. It was consequently the favourite resort of the ablest scholars of the time; some of whom were induced by the offer of considerable salaries, to undertake the task of public instruction. In this celebrated school, Poggio applied himself to the study of the Latin tongue, under the direction of John of Ravenna; and of Greek, under Manuel Chrysoloras. When he had acquired a competent knowledge of these languages, he quitted Florence, and went to Rome, where his literary reputation introduced him to the notice of pope Boniface IX. who took him into his service, and promoted him to the office of writer of the apostolic letters, probably about 1402. At this time Italy was convulsed by war and faction, and in that celebrated ecclesiastical feud, which is commonly distinguished by the name of the “schism of the West,” no fewer than six of Poggio’s patrons, the popes, were implicated in its progress and consequences. In 1414 we find Poggio attending the infamous pope John to Constance, in quality of secretary; but as this pontiff fled from the council, his household was dispersed, and Poggio remained some time at Constance. Having a good deal of leisure, he employed his vacant hours in studying the Hebrew language, under the direction of a Jew who had been converted to the Christian faith. The first act of the council of Constance was the trial of pope John, who was convicted of the most atrocious vices incident to the vilest corruption of human nature, for which they degraded him from his dignity, and deprived him of his liberty. It was also by this council that John Huss, the celebrated Bohemian reformer, was | examined and condemned, and that Jerome of Prague, in 1416, was tried. Poggio, who was present at Jerome’s trial, gave that very eloquent account of the martyr’s behaviour which we have already noticed (See Jerome Of Prague), and which proves, in the opinion of Poggio’s biographer, that he possessed a heart “which daily intercourse with bjgoted believers and licentious hypocrites could not deaden to the impulses of humanity.

The vacancy in the pontifical throne still affording Poggio a considerable degree of leisure, he undertook about this time an expedition of no small importance to the interests of literature, in quest of such ancient manuscripts of classic authors as were scattered rh various monasteries and other repositories in the neighbourhood of Constance, where they were in danger of perishing through neglect and in this he was successful beyond any individual of his time. Among other precious relics thus recovered, was a complete copy of Quintilian pare of the Argonautics of Valerius Flaccus; Asconius Pedianus’s Comment on eight of Cicero’s orations several of the orations of Cicero Silius Italicus; Lactantiusde ira Dei” Vegetius “de re militari” Nonnius Marcellus Ammianus Marcellinus Lucretius Columella Tertullian twelve of the comedies of Plautus and various other works, or parts of the works of the ancient classics, which are enumerated by his Biographer.

After the ecclesiastical feud had been in some measure composed, Martin V. became the new pontiff, but Poggio did not at first hold any office under him, as he visited England in consequence of an invitation which he had received from Beaufort, bishop of Winchester. He is said to have observed with chagrin the uncultivated state of the public mind in Britain, when compared with the enthusiastic love of elegant literature, which polished and adorned his native country. During his residence here he received an invitation to take the office of secretary to Martin V. which was the more readily accepted by him, as he is said to have been disappointed in the expectations he had formed from the bishop of Winchester. The time of his arrival at Rome is not exactly ascertained but it appears that his first care afcer his re-establishment in the sacred chancery, was to renew with his friends the personal and epistolary communication which his long absence from Italy had interrupted. He now also resumed his private studies, and in 1429 published his “Dialogue on | Avarice,” in which he satirized, with great severity, the friars who were a branch of the order of the Franciscans, and who, on account of the extraordinary strictness with which they professed to exercise their conventual discipline, were distinguished by the title of Fratres Observantly. He inveighs also against the monastic life with great freedom, but with a levity which renders it very questionable whether any kind of religious life was much to his taste. When Eugenius IV. was raised to the pontificate, his authority commenced with unhappy omens, being engaged in quarrels both in Italy and Germany and Poggio, foreseeing the disastrous event, wrote freely upon the subject to the cardinal Julian, the pope’s legate, that he might gain him over to his master’s interest. In this letter were some smart strokes of satiric wit, which the disappointed and irritated mind of Julian could not well bear. Poggio’s morals were not free from blame; and the cardinal in his answer reminds him of having children, which, he observes, “is inconsistent with the obligations of an ecclesiastic and by a mistress, which is discreditable to the character of a layman.” To these reproaches Poggio replied in a letter replete with the keenest sarcasm. He pleaded guilty to the charge which had been exhibited against him, and candidly confessed that he had deviated from the paths of virtue, but excused himself by the common-place argument that many ecclesiastics had done the same. In 1433, when the pope was obliged to fly from Rome, Poggio was taken prisoner, and obliged to ransom himself by a large sum of money. He then repaired to Florence, where he attached himself to the celebrated Cosmo de Medici, and in consequence became involved in a quarrel with Francis Philelphus (See Philelphus), which was conducted with mutual rancour. Poggio now purchased a villa at VaJdarno, which he decorated with ancient sculpture and monuments of art; and such was the esteem in which he was held by the republic of Florence, that he and his children were exempted from the payment of taxes. These children, all illegitimate, amounted to fourteen but in 1435, when he had attained his fifty-fifth year, he dismissed them and their mother without provision, and married a girl of eighteen years old. On this occasion he wrote a formal treatise on the propriety of an old man marrying a young girl the treatise is lost, and would be of little consequence if recovered, since the question was not whether an old | man should marry a young girl, but whether an old man should discard his illegitimate offspring to indulge his sensuality under the form of marriage. As however, men in years who marry so disproportionately are generally very ardent lovers, he celebrates his young bride for her great beauty, modesty, sense, &c.

Whatever might be the case with his moral, Poggio’s literary reputation began about this time to be extensively diffused, and his writings became an object of frequent inquiry among the learned, some of whom solicited him to publish a collection of his epistles, from a perusal of which they had often derived gratification. This request could not but be highly agreeable to his feelings, and he readily took the requisite steps to comply with it. This was followed by a funeral oration in honour of his friend Niccolo Niccoli. In 1440 he published his “Dialogue on Nobility,” a work which, his biographer says, greatly increased his reputation, by the luminousiiess of its method, the elegance of its diction, and the learned references with which it was interspersed. This was followed by his dialogue “On the unhappiness of Princes,” in which he dwells with so much energy on the vices of exalted rank, as to afford room for suspicion, that resentment and indignation had at least as much influence in its composition as the suggestions of philosophy. However the effusions of moroseriess that occur in this dialogue are interspersed with precepts of sound morality, and the historic details with which it abounds are both entertaining and instructive.

Although Poggio held the office of apostolic secretary under seven pontiffs, he had never reached any of the superior departments of the Roman chancery. But when Nicholas V. ascended the pontifical throne, his prospects were brightened and he indulged the hope of spending the remainder of his days in a state of independence, if not of affluence. With a viewof improving his interest with the new pontiff, he addressed to him a congratulatory oration, which was recompensed by very liberal presents. This was succeeded by a dedicatory epistle, introducing to his patronage a dialogue “On the Vicissitudes of Fortune,” the most interesting of Poggio’s works, and inculcating maxims of sublime philosophy, enforced by a detail of splendid and striking events. Confiding in the pontiff, he also published the dialogue “On Hypocrisy,” already mentioned. At the request, and under the patronage of | Nicolas, he also contributed to the illustration of Grecian literature, by a Latin translation of the works of Diodorus Siculus, and the “Cyropaedia” of Xenophon. During the plague, which raged in various parts of Italy, in 1450, Poggio visited the place of his nativity; and availing himself of this interval of relaxation from the duties of his office, he published his “Liber Facetiarum,” or collection of jocose tales, containing anecdotes of several eminent persons who flourished during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This work acquired a considerable degree of popularity, and was read, not only in the native country of its author, but also in France, Spain, Germany, and Britain, very little indeed to the credit of the readers, as it abounds with gross and abominable indecencies. In 1451 he dedicated to the cardinal Prospero Colonna, his “Historia disceptativa convivialis.” In 1453 Poggio was elevated to the chancellorship of Florence; and at the same time he was chosen one of the “Priori degli arti,” or presidents of the trading companies; both which offices he held till his death, which happened October 30, 1459. Notwithstanding the multiplicity of his business, and the advances of age, he prosecuted his studies with his accustomed ardour, and published a dialogue “De miseria hurnanae conditionis,” and a version of Lucian’s “Ass,” with a view of establishing a point of literary history, which seems to nave been till that time unknown namely, that Apuleius was indebted to Lucian for the stamina of his “Asinus aureus.” The last literary work in which he engaged, was his “History of Florence,” divided into eight books, and comprehending the events in which the Florentines were concerned from 1350 to the peace of Naples in 1455. This history was translated into Italian by Jacopo, the son of Poggio but the original was published by Recanati, and has been republished in the collections of Graevius and Muratori. Poggio concluded his career in the possession of universal respect, and in the tranquil enjoyment of social and domestic comforts. His remains were interred with solemn magnificence in the church of Santa Croce at Florence and his fellow-citizens testified thek respect for his talents and virtues, by erecting a statue to his memory on the front of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore. As the citizeu of a free state, which he deemed a high honour, he improved every opportunity that occurred for increasing and displaying the glory of the | Tuscan republic. Although he was honoured by the favour of the great, he never sacrificed his independence at the shrine of power, but uniformly maintained the ingenuous sentiments of freedom. Such was the state of morals in his time, that the licentiousness which disgraced the early period of his life, and the indecent levity which occurs in some of his writings, did not deprive him of the countenance of the greatest ecclesiastical dignitaries, or cause him to forfeit the favour of the pious Eugenius, or of the moral and accomplished Nicolas V. To those with whom he maintained a personal intercourse, he recommended himself by the urbanity of his manners, the strength of his judgment, and the sportiveness of his wit. “As a scholar, Poggio is entitled to distinguished praise. By assiduous study, he became a considerable proficient in the Greek language, and intimately conversant with the works of the Roman classic authors. In selecting, as his exemplar in Latin composition, the style of Cicero, he manifested the discernment of true taste and his endeavours to imitate this exquisite model, were far from being unsuccessful. His diction is flowing, and his periods are well balanced. But by the occasional admission of barbarous words and unauthorized phraseology, he reminds his readers that at the time when he wrote, the iron age of literature was but lately terminated. His striking fault is diffuseness a diffuseness which seems to arise, not so much from the copiousness of his thoughts, as from the difficulty which he experienced in clearly expressing his ideas. It must, however, be observed, that he did not, like many modern authors who are celebrated for their Latinity, slavishly confine himself to the compilation of centos from the works of the ancients. In the prosecution of his literary labours, he drew from his own stores and those frequent allusions to the customs and transactions of his own times, which render his writings so interesting, must, at a period when the Latin language was just rescued from the grossest barbarism, have rendered their composition peculiarly difficult.” When compared with the works of his immediate predecessors, the writings of Poggio are truly astonishing. Rising to a degree of elegance, to be sought for in vain in the rugged Latinity of Petrarca and Coluccio Salutati, he prepared the way for the correctness of Politian, and of the other eminent scholars whose gratitude has reflected such splendid lustre on the character of Lorenzo de Medici." | The works of Poggio were published together at Basil, in 1538, which is reckoned the most complete edition. 1


It is unnecessary to add any other reference than to Shepherd’s elegant and elaborate life of Poggio, published in 1802, and which is at the same time an excellent historical iliustration of a very interesting period in the revival of literature.