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narrow or personal; it united Christendom into a vast federal republic; it was constantly endeavouring to advance the borders of the Christian world—to reclaim the heathen barbarism of the North of Europe—or to repel the dangerous aggressions of Mohammedanism. The Papacy, during the dark ages, notwithstanding its presumptuous and insulting domination over the authority of kings and the rights of nations, was a great instrument in the hand of Divine Providence, a counteracting principle to the wild and disorganizing barbarism which prevailed throughout Europe, a rallying point for the moral and intellectual energies of mankind, when they should commence the work of reconstructing society upon its modern system. In such lawless times it was an elevating sight to behold an Emperor of Germany, in the plenitude of his power, arrested in his attempts to crush the young freedom of the Italian republics; a warlike or a pusillanimous tyrant, a Philip Augustus of France, or a John of England, standing rebuked for their crimes and oppressions, at the voice of a feeble old man in a remote city, with scarcely a squadron of soldiers at his command, and with hardly an uncontested mile of territory. From this lofty position, the Popes, towards the end of the fifteenth century, voluntarily descended. The strong man was caught in the toils of local and territorial interests. Low motives of personal and family aggrandizement degraded him into the common herd of kings; and from the arbiter of the world, the acknowledged ruler of the moral and intellectual destinies of mankind, his ambition dwindled into that of a small sovereign prince, or the founder of a petty dynasty of Italian dukes. Had the Popes stood aloof from the politics of Italy, and only consulted the higher interests, we will not say of religion, but of the See of Rome, how commanding would have been their station during the conflict between the great monarchies into which Europe began to be divided ! At all events, how much would they have gained, had they been spared the animosities and the crimes into which they were
plunged by the more ambitious nepotism of the times on which we are about to enter !
Sixtus IV. conceived the plan of forming a principality for his nephew Girolamo Riario, in the beautiful and fertile plains of Romagna. The rest of the Italian powers were already contesting for predominance in, or for the possession of, these territories; and, as a question of right, the Pope had clearly a better title than the others. He was only deficient in political resources and in the means of war. He did not scruple to make his spiritual power, exalted in its nature and in its object above everything earthly, subservient to his temporal designs, and to debase it to the intrigues of the day, in which he was thus involved. As the Medici stood principally in his way, he mingled himself up with the feuds of Florence, and brought on himself, as is well known, the suspicion that he was cognizant of the Pazzi conspiracy; that he was not without knowledge of the murder which these men perpetrated before the altar of the cathedral—he the Father of the Faithful! When the Venetians ceased to favour the enterprise of his nephew, which they had some time done, the Pope was not satisfied with deserting them in the midst of a war to which he himself had urged them; he went so far as to excommunicate them for continuing the war. He acted with no less violence in Rome. He persecuted with wild relentlessness the adversaries of Riario, the Colonnas; he forced from them Marino; he stormed the house of the prothonotary Colonna, took him prisoner and executed him. His mother came to the church of St. Celso, in Banchi, where the body lay; she lifted up by the hair the dissevered head, and cried—' This is the head of my son ! this is the truth of the Pope !-He promised, if we would yield up Marino, that he would liberate my son; Marino is in his hands, my son in mine, but dead ! Lo! thus does the Pope keep his word.'
The first act of Cæsar Borgia, the too-famous son of Alexander VI., who, though not the immediate successor to the popedom, was the immediate heir to the splendid nepotism of Sixtus, was to drive the widow of Riario from Imola and Forli, of which the possession had been bought by so much crime, and by such a fatal precedent of degradation of the Papal power. In Cæsar Borgia, Papal nepotism rose to its height of ambition and of guilt.2 The inquiries of Ranke have thrown discredit on
? We have heard a striking anecdote relating to these times from one of the contemporary MS. documents. The writer, if we remember right, a Venetian ambassador, was present at Rome during the tumult caused by the disappearance of
no one crime; they have confirmed the monstrous mass of iniquity which has been charged against this man. But with all his subtlety, and all his profound Machiavellism, Cæsar Borgia alone did not perceive the inherent instability of a power which must depend on the life of the reigning Pope. It was built on sand, and, however he might cement it with blood, it could not endure the shock. The sagacious Venetians, according to a MS. chronicle quoted by Ranke, looked on without concern, for they well knew that the conquests of the Duke Valentino were but “a fire of straw, which would soon go out of itself. We may add to Mr. Ranke's authorities a passage from a curious and nearly contemporaneous life of Guido baldo, Duke of Urbino, by Bernardino Baldi. When this duke was driven from his city by the extraordinary arts of Borgia, his subjects consoled him with the observation, that Popes do not live for ever.'
Julius II., by fortunately obtaining the inheritance of this dukedom of Urbino in a peaceful way, was enabled to satisfy the claims of his family without warlike aggression. Thenceforward he could entirely devote himself to the nobler, yet by no means spiritual, object of his life, his warlike achievements for the aggrandizement of the Papal territory, and the expulsion of foreign powers from Italy.
With Julius II. the proper subject of Mr. Ranke's narrative commences. It was in the third year of the sixteenth century, that the poison which had served the house of Borgia with so much fidelity, revenged and liberated the world from the supremacy of Alexander VI. It was a singular coincidence, that exactly at the period at which the pure and genuine gospel of Christ was about to be re-opened, as it were, to the eyes of man—when, even if Luther had never lived, the art of printing must to a certain extent have revealed again the true character of the evangelic faith—the highest office in the Christian community should have been filled by such men. The successor of Christ and his apostles was Alexander, in the midst of his blood-stained and incestuous family; Julius II. in full armour, at the head of an host of condottieri ; and even Leo X., in his splendid and luxuriant court, where, if Christianity was not openly treated as a fable, it had given place, both in its religious and moral influence, to the revived philosophy and the unregulated manners of Greece. The pontificate of Leo X. is sketched with admirable fairness and judgement by Mr. Ranke. The effect of the study of antiquity on poetry and the arts is developed with peculiar felicity. The men of creative genius at this stirring period had discovered the beauty, and deeply imbued their minds with the harmonious principles, of the ancient poets—but they were not yet enslaved to their imitation.
the Duke of Gandia, Alexander's eldest son. “All Rome is in an uproar,' he writes : the Duke of Gandia has been murdered, and his body thrown into the Tiber. I have been upon the bridge ; I saw the body taken out of the riser; I followed it to the gates of the Castle of St. Angelo. We thought we heard the voice of the old Pope wailing audibly above all the wild tumult.'
Not that the Middle Ages had been altogether ignorant of the classic writers. The ardour with which the Arabians, from whose intellectual labours so much passed back into the south, collected and appropriated the works of the ancients, did not fall far short of the zeal with which the Italians of the fifteenth century did the same; and Caliph Maimun may be compared, in this respect, with Cosmo de' Medici. But let us observe the difference. Unimportant as it may appear, it is, in my opinion, decisive. The Arabians translated, at the same time they often destroyed, the original. As their own peculiar ideas impregnated the whole of their translations, they turned Aristotle, we might say, into a system of theosophy; they applied astronomy only to astrology, and astrology to medicine ; and medicine they diverted to the development of their own fantastic notions of the universe. The Italians, on the other hand, read and learned. From the Romans they advanced to the Greeks; the art of printing disseminated the original works throughout the world in numberless copies. The genuine expelled the Arabian Aristotle. In the unaltered writings of the ancients, men studied the sciences : geography directly out of Ptolemy, botany out of Dioscorides, the knowledge of medicine out of Galen and Hippocrates. How could mankind be so rapidly emancipated from the imaginations which hitherto had peopled the world—from the prejudices which enslaved the mind.
It was precisely at this period of transition from the dark
ages to the revival of learning, that the second great epoch of the creative genius of Italy took place. The study of antiquity was now free, noble, emulative—not servile, cold, and pedantic. The old poetic spirit was yet unextinguished ; it admired, with kindred and congenial rapture, the graceful and harmonious forms of Grecian skill—it aspired to array its own conceptions in the same kind of grace and majesty. From this union of original and still unfettered imagination with the silent influence of familiarity with the most perfect models, sprung the Romantic Epic, the Sculpture and Architecture of Michael Angelo, the Loggie of Raffaelle. It is singular that Italy alone, which, perhaps, contributed nothing to the treasures of romance -excepting indeed that curious specimen of early Tuscan prose, the • Aventuriere Siciliano,' by Busone da Gubbio (lately discovered and admirably edited by our countryman, Dr. Nott)
—that Italy should alone have founded great poems on the old romances of chivalry. But how wonderful the transmutation of the rude and garrulous, and sometimes picturesque, old tales, by the magic hand of Bojardo and Ariosto, into majestic poems!
The following observations of Mr. Ranke are marked, in our opinion, with equal ingenuity and taste :
This is the peculiar character of the romantic epic, that its form and matter were equally foreign to the genius of antiquity; yet it betrays the inward and unseen influence. The poet found prepared for his subject a Christian fable of mingled religious and heroie interest ; the principal figures, drawn in a few broad and strong and general lines, were at his command; he had ready for his use striking situations, though imperfectly developed; the form of expression was at hand, it came immediately from the common language of the people. With this blended itself the tendency of the age to ally itself with antiquity. Plastic, painting, humanizing, it pervaded the whole. How different is the Rinaldo of Bojardo— noble, modest, full of joyous gallantry—from the terrible son of Aimon, of the ancient romance ! How is the violent, the monstrous, the gigantic, of the old representation subdued to the comprehensible, the attractive, the captivating !
3 The Spanish Cid and the German Nibelungen are ancient national epic poems, not poems founded on old romances.