Valla, Lawrence

, a man of letters of great emience in the fifteenth century, was born at Rome in 1407. His father was a doctor of civil and common law, and advocate of the apostolic consistory. He was educated at Rome, and learned Greek under Aurispa; but in consequence of the troubles which arose on the death of pope | Martin, and the advancement of Eugenius to the papal chair, he retired to Pavia. Here he read lectures on rhetoric, and wrote his three books “De Voluptate ac vero bono.” From thence he removed to Milan, and read the same lectures: and before 1435 read them to Alphonsus, king of Arragon, Sicily, and Naples, that learned patroa of letters, who took minutes of his lectures, and acknowledged his literary obligations to him. While in this place he wrote his book on free-will, against Bbetius, and his detection of the forged gift which Constantine is said to have made, of liome, to pope Sylvester, which was first published in 1492. Here too he translated Homer into Latin, and began his six books of “Elegantiae linguae Latinae.” All this while he had followed Alpbonsus in his wars, and had exposed his person in several sea-fights; and, among his other literary undertakings he had written three books of logical disputations, in which, having reduced the ten predicaments, or elements, to three, he was accused of heretical pravity by the inquisitor-general.

He next turned his thoughts to Livy, and drew up notes on that author on the following occasion. It was the custom of Alphonsus to have some ancient author read by one of the literati about his court, during his public dinners, where the king himself gave some opinion on the subject of the book, and invited the different guests to give theirs; and, as the discussion of any particular point pleased him, he divided the sweetmeats among the competitors, and poured out a glass of wine to the reader. This office had fallen on Beccadelli and Valla, who, from intimate friends, became inveterate enemies, by disputing about passages in Livy on these occasions. Valla became equally hostile to Bartholomew Facio (see Facio), whom Alphonsus had made his historiographer, and had appointed Valla at the same time to write the Life of his royal father Ferdinand. The first copy of this Life, in three books, drawn up in two months, and submitted to the king for his correction, was privately overlooked by Facio, who, boasting of having detected five hundred errors in it, was answered by Valla in four books of invectives, or recriminations, in the last of which he inserted his corrections and notes on the first six books of Livy, on the Punic war. These books he had heard Beccadelli read before Alphonsus, and his enemies charged him with saying that he would undertake to correct these better than Aretine, Guarini, and eve | Petrarch himself, whose corrections were in the ms. at Naples sent to the king by Cosmo de Medici from Florence. Valla’s frequent attacks on barbarous Latinists and ignorant theologists of his time exposed him to imminent danger from the inquisition; bat he generally found a protector in the king.

Having accepted an invitation to return to Rome from pope Nicholas V. he was favourably received by that pontiff, who settled a handsome pension on him. He now applied himself to a translation of Thucydides, and on presentino- it to the pope, was rewarded by a gratuity of five hundred gold crowns, and was recommended to translate Herodotus, which death prevented him from finishing. What he had done came into the possession of Alphpnsus, and was published by Pontanus, but neither of these translations have been thought eminently successful. That of Thucydides is charged by H. Stephens (who printed it along with his edition of the original (1564) as well as separately) with ignorance, carelessness, and inelegance of language, and Dr. Hudson repeats the charge. Wesseling speaks equally unfavourably of his Herodotus, but he apologizes that the ms. whence he translated was imperfect, and himself overwhelmed with the hostilities of his enemies. Pope Nicholas, in addition to his other favours, appointed him professor of rhetoric; and he employed his leisure time in putting the finishing hand to his “Elegantise lingua: Latino?,” which, as we already noticed, he began at Naples, and sent to the king’s secretaries, one of whom published them without his knowledge. He seems to have written six more books on this subject, which may possibly be concealed in some of the libraries of Italy. He also completed his “Illustrations” of the New Testament, which the pope, and many of the cardinals, earnestly solicited him to circulate, and which Erasmus published in 1504. Valla attacked the Vulgate Latin version by Jerome, which drew on him the censure of his antagonists, and occasioned his notes to be condemned by Paul IV. after the council of Trent had given its sanction to Jerome’s translation. Among the bitterest of his antagonists was the celebrated Poggio, with whom he quarrelled late in life on account of some criticisms of that eminent scholar. It is difficult perhaps to say who gave the first provocation, but it is certain that nothing can exceed the intemperate language and low abuse which passed between them, for 'an account of | which we may refer to Mr. Shepherd’s excellent Life of Poggio. Another of Valla’s enemies was Morandus of Bologna, who accused him to pope Nicholas V. of misrepresenting Livy. This Valla answered by two “Confutations,” written with much asperity.

As Valla had formerly entertained thoughts of a clerical life, he declined forming any matrimonial engagement, but is reproached by Poggio with having debauched his sister’s husband’s maid, by whom he had three children, and of whom he speaks, for he does not deny this charge, with tenderness and affection. He afterwards became a canon of St. John Lateran, and secretary and apostolical writer to the pope. He died in 1457, in his fiftieth year, and was buried in the church of which he was canon, where there is a monument and inscription, the latter wrong in stating his death to have happened in 1465. Of all his writings his “Elegantiae linguae Latinos” only serves now to preserve him in the rank of eminent schotars of his time. His irritable temper rendered his life a perpetual literary warfare, but at no time were the quarrels of authors more disgraceful than at the revival of literature.

If Valla had his enemies, he has also had his defenders, and of these Erasmus was one of the most strenuous. He expresses his indignation that Poggio should be in every body’s hands, while Valla, who had a hundred times his learning, “centuplo doctior,” was read by nobody and he declares, in the same epistle, that “the mordacity of Valla alone, if they will call it so, has contributed more to the promoting of literature than the foolish and insipid candour of thousands, who admire all the productions of all men without distinction, and who applaud and (as they say) scratch one another:” “itaque unius Laurentii mordacitas, siquidem ita malunt appellare, non paulo plus conduxit rei literarire, quam plurimorum ineptus candor, omnia omnium sine delectu mirantium, sibique invicem plaudentium, ac mutuum (quod aiunt) scabentium.” In short, this whole epistle, which is by no means a short one, is written entirely in the defence of Valla; though at the same time it would be easy to collect from it, if Valla’s works were not extant, that he cannot be defended from the charge of envious and abusive language. The first edition of his “Elegantiae” was printed at Rome in 1471, folio, and the last by Robert Stephens, at Paris, in 1542, 4to.1

1 Tiraboschi. Sketch by Mr. Gough in Geot. Mag.Yol. LIX. Gen. Dict. Shepherd’s Life of Poggio. Hody de Grsec. Illust.