Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire

Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Chapter LXX: Final Settlement Of The Ecclesiastical State. Part I.

Character And Coronation Of Petrarch. -- Restoration Of The Freedom And Government Of Rome By The Tribune Rienzi. -- His Virtues And Vices, His Expulsion And Death. -- Return Of The Popes From Avignon. -- Great Schism Of The West. -- Reunion Of The Latin Church. -- Last Struggles Of Roman Liberty. -- Statutes Of Rome. -- Final Settlement Of The Ecclesiastical State.

In the apprehension of modern times, Petrarch ^1 is the Italian songster of Laura and love. In the harmony of his Tuscan rhymes, Italy applauds, or rather adores, the father of her lyric poetry; and his verse, or at least his name, is repeated by the enthusiasm, or affectation, of amorous sensibility. Whatever may be the private taste of a stranger, his slight and superficial knowledge should humbly acquiesce in the judgment of a learned nation; yet I may hope or presume, that the Italians do not compare the tedious uniformity of sonnets and elegies with the sublime compositions of their epic muse, the original wildness of Dante, the regular beauties of Tasso, and the boundless variety of the incomparable Ariosto. The merits of the lover I am still less qualified to appreciate: nor am I deeply interested in a metaphysical passion for a nymph so shadowy, that her existence has been questioned; ^2 for a matron so prolific, ^3 that she was delivered of eleven legitimate children, ^4 while her amorous swain sighed and sung at the fountain of Vaucluse. ^5 But in the eyes of Petrarch, and those of his graver contemporaries, his love was a sin, and Italian verse a frivolous amusement. His Latin works of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, established his serious reputation, which was soon diffused from Avignon over France and Italy: his friends and disciples were multiplied in every city; and if the ponderous volume of his writings ^6 be now abandoned to a long repose, our gratitude must applaud the man, who by precept and example revived the spirit and study of the Augustan age. From his earliest youth, Petrarch aspired to the poetic crown. The academical honors of the three faculties had introduced a royal degree of master or doctor in the art of poetry; ^7 and the title of poet-laureate, which custom, rather than vanity, perpetuates in the English court, ^8 was first invented by the Cæsars of Germany. In the musical games of antiquity, a prize was bestowed on the victor: ^9 the belief that Virgil and Horace had been crowned in the Capitol inflamed the emulation of a Latin bard; ^10 and the laurel ^11 was endeared to the lover by a verbal resemblance with the name of his mistress. The value of either object was enhanced by the difficulties of the pursuit; and if the virtue or prudence of Laura was inexorable, ^12 he enjoyed, and might boast of enjoying, the nymph of poetry. His vanity was not of the most delicate kind, since he applauds the success of his own labors; his name was popular; his friends were active; the open or secret opposition of envy and prejudice was surmounted by the dexterity of patient merit. In the thirty-sixth year of his age, he was solicited to accept the object of his wishes; and on the same day, in the solitude of Vaucluse, he received a similar and solemn invitation from the senate of Rome and the university of Paris. The learning of a theological school, and the ignorance of a lawless city, were alike unqualified to bestow the ideal though immortal wreath which genius may obtain from the free applause of the public and of posterity: but the candidate dismissed this troublesome reflection; and after some moments of complacency and suspense, preferred the summons of the metropolis of the world.

[Footnote 1: The Mémoires sur la Vie de François Pétrarque, (Amsterdam, 1764, 1767, 3 vols. in 4to.,) form a copious, original, and entertaining work, a labor of love, composed from the accurate study of Petrarch and his contemporaries; but the hero is too often lost in the general history of the age, and the author too often languishes in the affectation of politeness and gallantry. In the preface to his first volume, he enumerates and weighs twenty Italian biographers, who have professedly treated of the same subject.]

[Footnote 2: The allegorical interpretation prevailed in the xvth century; but the wise commentators were not agreed whether they should

understand by Laura, religion, or virtue, or the blessed virgin, or
--------. See the prefaces to the first and second volume.]

[Footnote 3: Laure de Noves, born about the year 1307, was married in January 1325, to Hugues de Sade, a noble citizen of Avignon, whose jealousy was not the effect of love, since he married a second wife within seven months of her death, which happened the 6th of April, 1348, precisely one-and-twenty years after Petrarch had seen and loved her.]

[Footnote 4: Corpus crebris partubus exhaustum: from one of these is issued, in the tenth degree, the abbé de Sade, the fond and grateful biographer of Petrarch; and this domestic motive most probably suggested the idea of his work, and urged him to inquire into every circumstance that could affect the history and character of his grandmother, (see particularly tom. i. p. 122--133, notes, p. 7--58, tom. ii. p. 455--495 not. p. 76--82.)]

[Footnote 5: Vaucluse, so familiar to our English travellers, is described from the writings of Petrarch, and the local knowledge of his biographer, (Mémoires, tom. i. p. 340--359.) It was, in truth, the retreat of a hermit; and the moderns are much mistaken, if they place Laura and a happy lover in the grotto.]

[Footnote 6: Of 1250 pages, in a close print, at Basil in the xvith century, but without the date of the year. The abbé de Sade calls aloud for a new edition of Petrarch's Latin works; but I much doubt whether it would redound to the profit of the bookseller, or the amusement of the public.]

[Footnote 7: Consult Selden's Titles of Honor, in his works, (vol. iii.

  1. 457--466.) A hundred years before Petrarch, St. Francis received the visit of a poet, qui ab imperatore fuerat coronatus et exinde rex versuum dictus.]

[Footnote 8: From Augustus to Louis, the muse has too often been false and venal: but I much doubt whether any age or court can produce a similar establishment of a stipendiary poet, who in every reign, and at all events, is bound to furnish twice a year a measure of praise and verse, such as may be sung in the chapel, and, I believe, in the presence, of the sovereign. I speak the more freely, as the best time for abolishing this ridiculous custom is while the prince is a man of virtue and the poet a man of genius.]

[Footnote 9: Isocrates (in Panegyrico, tom. i. p. 116, 117, edit. Battie, Cantab. 1729) claims for his native Athens the glory of first instituting and recommending the alwnaV -- kai ta aqla megista -- mh monon tacouV kai rwmhV, alla kai logwn kai gnwmhV. The example of the Panathenæa was imitated at Delphi; but the Olympic games were ignorant of a musical crown, till it was extorted by the vain tyranny of Nero, (Sueton. in Nerone, c. 23; Philostrat. apud Casaubon ad locum; Dion Cassius, or Xiphilin, l. lxiii. p. 1032, 1041. Potter's Greek Antiquities, vol. i. p. 445, 450.)]

[Footnote 10: The Capitoline games (certamen quinquenale, musicum, equestre, gymnicum) were instituted by Domitian (Sueton. c. 4) in the year of Christ 86, (Censorin. de Die Natali, c. 18, p. 100, edit. Havercamp.) and were not abolished in the ivth century, (Ausonius de Professoribus Burdegal. V.) If the crown were given to superior merit, the exclusion of Statius (Capitolia nostræ inficiata lyræ, Sylv. l. iii.

  1. 31) may do honor to the games of the Capitol; but the Latin poets who lived before Domitian were crowned only in the public opinion.]

[Footnote 11: Petrarch and the senators of Rome were ignorant that the laurel was not the Capitoline, but the Delphic crown, (Plin. Hist. Natur

  1. 39. Hist. Critique de la République des Lettres, tom. i. p.

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Fall of Roman Empire