Page images
PDF
EPUB

upon the relatives of the ruling Pontiff, assumed a bolder flight. The state of Italy was tempting, and the Popes not only began to form schemes for the extension of their own temporal dominions, but aspired to found independent principalities in the persons of their relations. Native sovereigns, or at least native republics, now occupied the whole of Italy. The Sforzas on the throne of Milan, and the republic of Venice, ruled in Lombardy; the Medici in Florence, the House of Aragon in Naples. These powers had gradually absorbed many of the smaller states, and had reduced their sovereigns into subjects or feudatories. The subjugation of the turbulent barons of Romagna, and the extension of the Papal territory into a powerful kingdom, offered immediate advantages which might have blinded the wisest of the Pontiffs to its remote and dangerous consequences. But the more fatal ambition of establishing an hereditary sovereignty in their own house led to more immediate and inevitable evil. The succeeding Pontiff found the fairest possessions of the Church alienated ; the favourite of one reign became of necessity the deadly enemy of the next; the usurper must be ejected to make room for the present claimants on the Papal bounty. The Pope was thus more and more embroiled with his own vassals, more inextricably entangled in the labyrinthine politics of Italy, more fatally diverted from the higher objects of his temporal policy, as holding the balance between the great sovereigns of Europe. At all events the spiritual ruler of the world sank into a petty Italian prince.

That was indeed a splendid dominion which had been erected over the mind of man by the Gregories and Innocents! Its temporal were always subordinate to its spiritual ends. It was a tyranny which repaid by ample and substantial benefits its demands upon the independence of mankind. It required tribute and homage, but it bestowed order, civilization, and, as far as was possible, in such fierce and warlike times, peace. It was a moral sway, not, like the temporal sovereignties of the time, one of brute force. It had comparatively nothing

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

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 war.

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.? 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

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

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 Guidobaldo, 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

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

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 river; 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,'

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.

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

« PreviousContinue »