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Published by DAVID NUTT
at the Sign of the Phoenix


Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty




[Sidenote: The Life of a Day.]

'I am at my farm; and, since my last misfortunes, have not been in
Florence twenty days. I spent September in snaring thrushes; but at the
end of the month, even this rather tiresome sport failed me. I rise with
the sun, and go into a wood of mine that is being cut, where I remain
two hours inspecting the work of the previous day and conversing with
the woodcutters, who have always some trouble on hand amongst themselves
or with their neighbours. When I leave the wood, I go to a spring, and
thence to the place which I use for snaring birds, with a book under my
arm--Dante or Petrarch, or one of the minor poets, like Tibullus or
Ovid. I read the story of their passions, and let their loves remind me
of my own, which is a pleasant pastime for a while. Next I take the
road, enter the inn door, talk with the passers-by, inquire the news of
the neighbourhood, listen to a variety of matters, and make note of the
different tastes and humours of men.

'This brings me to dinner-time, when I join my family and eat the poor
produce of my farm. After dinner I go back to the inn, where I generally
find the host and a butcher, a miller, and a pair of bakers. With these
companions I play the fool all day at cards or backgammon: a thousand
squabbles, a thousand insults and abusive dialogues take place, while we
haggle over a farthing, and shout loud enough to be heard from San

'But when evening falls I go home and enter my writing-room. On the
threshold I put off my country habits, filthy with mud and mire, and
array myself in royal courtly garments. Thus worthily attired, I make my
entrance into the ancient courts of the men of old, where they receive
me with love, and where I feed upon that food which only is my own and
for which I was born. I feel no shame in conversing with them and asking
them the reason of their actions.

'They, moved by their humanity, make answer. For four hours' space I
feel no annoyance, forget all care; poverty cannot frighten, nor death
appal me. I am carried away to their society. And since Dante says "that
there is no science unless we retain what we have learned" I have set
down what I have gained from their discourse, and composed a treatise,
_De Principalibus_, in which I enter as deeply as I can into the science
of the subject, with reasonings on the nature of principality, its
several species, and how they are acquired, how maintained, how lost. If
you ever liked any of my scribblings, this ought to suit your taste. To
a prince, and especially to a new prince, it ought to prove acceptable.
Therefore I am dedicating it to the Magnificence of Giuliano.'

[Sidenote: Niccolò Machiavelli.]

Such is the account that Niccolò Machiavelli renders of himself when
after imprisonment, torture, and disgrace, at the age of forty-four, he
first turned to serious writing. For the first twenty-six or indeed
twenty-nine of those years we have not one line from his pen or one word
of vaguest information about him. Throughout all his works written for
publication, there is little news about himself. Montaigne could
properly write, 'Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moy-mesme la matière de mon
livre.' But the matter of Machiavelli was far other: 'Io ho espresso
quanto io so, e quanto io ho imparato per una lunga pratica e continua
lezione delle cose del mondo.'

[Sidenote: The Man.]

Machiavelli was born on the 3rd of May 1469. The period of his life
almost exactly coincides with that of Cardinal Wolsey. He came of the
old and noble Tuscan stock of Montespertoli, who were men of their hands
in the eleventh century. He carried their coat, but the property had
been wasted and divided. His forefathers had held office of high
distinction, but had fallen away as the new wealth of the bankers and
traders increased in Florence. He himself inherited a small property in
San Casciano and its neighbourhood, which assured him a sufficient, if
somewhat lean, independence. Of his education we know little enough. He
was well acquainted with Latin, and knew, perhaps, Greek enough to serve
his turn. 'Rather not without letters than lettered,' Varchi describes
him. That he was not loaded down with learned reading proved probably a
great advantage. The coming of the French, and the expulsion of the
Medici, the proclamation of the Republic (1494), and later the burning
of Savonarola convulsed Florence and threw open many public offices. It
has been suggested, but without much foundation, that some clerical work
was found for Machiavelli in 1494 or even earlier. It is certain that on
July 14, 1498, he was appointed Chancellor and Secretary to the Dieci di
Libertà e Pace, an office which he held till the close of his political
life at fall of the Republic in 1512.

[Sidenote: Official Life.]

The functions of his Council were extremely varied, and in the hands of
their Secretary became yet more diversified. They represented in some
sense the Ministry for Home, Military, and especially for Foreign
Affairs. It is impossible to give any full account of Machiavelli's
official duties. He wrote many thousands of despatches and official
letters, which are still preserved. He was on constant errands of State
through the Florentine dominions. But his diplomatic missions and what
he learned by them make the main interest of his office. His first
adventure of importance was to the Court of Caterina Sforza, the Lady of
Forlì, in which matter that astute Countess entirely bested the teacher
of all diplomatists to be. In 1500 he smelt powder at the siege at Pisa,
and was sent to France to allay the irritations of Louis XII. Many
similar and lesser missions follow. The results are in no case of great
importance, but the opportunities to the Secretary of learning men and
things, intrigue and policy, the Court and the gutter were invaluable.
At the camp of Cæsar Borgia, in 1502, he found in his host that
fantastic hero whom he incarnated in _The Prince_, and he was
practically an eye-witness of the amazing masterpiece, the Massacre of
Sinigaglia. The next year he is sent to Rome with a watching brief at
the election of Julius II., and in 1506 is again sent to negotiate with
the Pope. An embassy to the Emperor Maximilian, a second mission to the
French King at Blois, in which he persuades Louis XII. to postpone the
threatened General Council of the Church (1511), and constant
expeditions to report upon and set in order unrestful towns and
provinces did not fulfil his activity. His pen was never idle. Reports,
despatches, elaborate monographs on France, Germany, or wherever he
might be, and personal letters innumerable, and even yet unpublished,
ceased not night nor day. Detail, wit, character-drawing, satire,
sorrow, bitterness, all take their turn. But this was only a fraction of
his work. By duty and by expediency he was bound to follow closely the
internal politics of Florence where his enemies and rivals abounded. And
in all these years he was pushing forward and carrying through with
unceasing and unspeakable vigour the great military dream of his life,
the foundation of a National Militia and the extinction of Mercenary
Companies. But the fabric he had fancied and thought to have built
proved unsubstantial. The spoilt half-mutinous levies whom he had spent
years in odious and unwilling training failed him at the crowning moment
in strength and spirit: and the fall of the Republic implied the fall of
Machiavelli and the close of his official life. He struggled hard to
save himself, but the wealthy classes were against him, perhaps afraid
of him, and on them the Medici relied. For a year he was forbidden to
leave Florentine territory, and for a while was excluded from the
Palazzo. Later his name was found in a list of Anti-Medicean
conspirators. He was arrested and decorously tortured with six turns of
the rack, and then liberated for want of evidence.

[Sidenote: After his Fall.]

For perhaps a year after his release the Secretary engaged in a series
of tortuous intrigues to gain the favour of the Medici. Many of the
stories may be exaggerated, but none make pleasant reading, and nothing
proved successful. His position was miserable. Temporarily crippled by
torture, out of favour with the Government, shunned by his friends, in
deep poverty, burdened with debt and with a wife and four children, his
material circumstances were ill enough. But, worse still, he was idle.
He had deserved well of the Republic, and had never despaired of it, and
this was his reward. He seemed to himself a broken man. He had no great
natural dignity, no great moral strength. He profoundly loved and
admired Dante, but he could not for one moment imitate him. He sought
satisfaction in sensuality of life and writing, but found no comfort.
Great things were stirring in the world and he had neither part nor lot
in them. By great good fortune he began a correspondence with his friend
Francesco Vettori, the Medicean Ambassador at Rome, to whom he appeals
for his good offices: 'And if nothing can be done, I must live as I came
into the world, for I was born poor and learnt to want before learning
to enjoy.' Before long these two diplomats had co-opted themselves into
a kind of Secret Cabinet of Europe. It is a strange but profoundly
interesting correspondence, both politically and personally. Nothing is
too great or too small, too glorious or too mean for their pens. Amid
foolish anecdotes and rather sordid love affairs the politics of Europe,
and especially of Italy, are dissected and discussed. Leo X.

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