Studies in the Correspondence of Petrarch



AMONG the great families who disputed, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the civil dominion of Rome and its adjacent territory, precedence is invariably and rightly accorded to the Colonna, or Colonnesi. They were not, indeed, of Roman origin. Even Petrarch, who owed them so much, and really loved them so well, when his own proud sentiment of Italian nationality had been inflamed by the crusade of Cola di Rienzo, did not hesitate to sneer at them as adventurers from the barbarous borders of the Rhine. Yet, at that period, the middle of the fourteenth century, they had been exercising for fully two hundred and fifty years a prominent and often controlling influence in the chaotic affairs of the states of the Church. Their name and device were in all probability adopted from Trajan’s Column, which marked as nearly as possible the centre of their possessions within the walls of Rome. Outside, they had early intrenched themselves on the commanding heights of Palestrina, while the exquisite region over which, in their greatest days, they exercised the rights of sovereign princes embraced almost the entire range of the Alban hills, and extended far into the Sabine territory. They were, in the main, strongly Ghibelline, and as such the hereditary foes of the Popes ; yet they received, or perhaps it would be more correct to say extorted, a vast amount of church preferment, and the annals of their warlike line bristle with the names of legates, cardinals, and actively militant bishops. A Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, titular of Sta. Prisca, was legate to France and Germany in 1193. Another Cardinal Giovanni was ambassador to Constantinople, and brought thence in 1222 the Column of the Scourging, still venerated in the ancient and splendid Church of Sta. Prassede, of which this second Giovanni was titular, though screened from the eyes of the profane in a dark chapel, which no woman’s foot may invade. A grandnephew of this Giovanni, Giacomo, son of Oddone, was created cardinal when a mere boy, in 1278. Giacomo’s nephew, Pietro, took orders after the entrance into religion — some say the death — of his young wife, and speedily received the scarlet hat at the hands of Nicholas IV.

These two, Giacomo and Pietro, were the pair of Colonnesi cardinals who disputed the election, in 1294, of Boniface VIII., Benedetto Gaetani, the great foe of their race, thus winning excommunication for themselves, and drawing down upon the whole circle of their kindred the vengeance of that violent pontiff. The uncle and nephew were of nearly the same age, and the family touched, in their lifetime, the summit of its greatness, both in good and evil fortune. One of Pietro’s brothers was Giacomo, the ancestor of the Sciarra-Colonna, who was hunted like a wild beast through the pestilential woods encompassing Turnus’s town of Ardea; and having been seized by pirates when he emerged upon the classic shore, he preferred to row four years in the galleys rather than disclose his identity to Boniface VIII. But he ultimately passed from the society of the chain-gang to a seat in the council chamber of Philippe le Bel, whose tutor had been Egidio Colonna. Another brother was Giovanni, called of San Vito, the stately Roman senator who was Petrarch’s first cicerone in the Eternal City. A third, the most illustrious of all, was the great Stefano, whose crowded and glorious life lacked but little of filling the entire century from 1250 to 1350 ; who survived in godlike vigor of mind and body two generations of his own descendants, and seemed to belittle, by contrast with his own heroic style, every human being ever brought into intimate relations with him. Despoiled at one time by Boniface VIII. of all his vast possessions, and banished to Provence, it was he who, when tauntingly asked whether there were a fortress he could still call his own, struck his hand upon his breast, and answered “ Eccola ! ”

Of the seven legitimate sons of Stefano, we are chiefly concerned in this place with the two who were Petrarch’s best and most powerful friends at Avignon, and through whom he was introduced to the great men of the elder generation. Both these brothers, Giovanni and Giacomo, grew up during the exile of the family in France, Giacomo, the younger, having been born there ; and from the time when the Holy See was transferred to Avignon, in 1309, the influence of this inevitably domineering race became paramount in the papal councils.

Giovanni was made cardinal by John XXII., in 1327, while he was still under thirty ; Giacomo received the see of Lombez two years later, when he could hardly have passed his twenty-sixth year. Giacomo had been the fellow-student of Francesco Petrarca and his brother Gerardo at Bologna, but had not known them personally there. Doubtless the difference in rank told exactly as it would do in a college of to-day. Only when the university career of the two brilliant young Tuscans had been cut short by their father’s death, and, finding themselves, on their return to France, orphans without resources, they had both received the tonsure and become candidates for preferment at the papal court, Giacomo Colonna remembered them, especially the extraordinary beauty and distinction of the elder brother, which had haunted him, so he says, all through those university days. Their success was thus immediately assured ; and they were launched, for weal or for woe, in the most distinguished circles of Avignonese papal society.

“ Do you remember,” wrote Francesco to Gerardo long afterward, in September of the fatal year 1348, when his woes and those of the world had subdued the soul of the poet, no less than seven years in the silence of a Carthusian cloister that of the younger brother, — " do you remember the sort of life we used to live; how that toil of pleasure weighed upon our spirits, and with what heart-burnings it was interspersed ? . . . Do you remember the ridiculous splendor of our exquisite costumes, which amazes me when I think of it even yet ? . . . How excessively particular we were to change our garments morning and evening ; how distressed for fear a hair should get out of place, or a light breeze disturb the studied arrangement of our curls! What care we used to take of our elaborate and perfumed togas, lest they should be splashed with mud, either before or behind, by some passing horseman, or deranged, by rude contact, in the precise arrangement of their folds! . . . And what can I say of our shoes, and the sharp and incessant torment they inflicted on the members they professed to protect ? I verily believe my feet would have been entirely disabled if I had not decided, in the last extremity, that it was better to offend the eyes of others a little than to suffer such torture in my own nerves and joints.”

It was in the year 1327, — while Giovanni Colonna was organizing his cardinal’s establishment at Avignon, — on the 6th of April, a day of destiny for the poet throughout his entire life, that Petrarch first saw Laura, then twenty years of age, and two years married to Hugues de Sade. She was in the full splendor of a beauty which was destined to fade unusually early ; and the budding ecclesiastic, the romantic child of genius, who had studied the troubadours at Carpentras and the Latin poets at Bologna more zealously than he had studied law at either place, accepted her forthwith as his goddess, and vowed her the worship of a life. The sentiment thus impulsively adopted, and worn at first perhaps as a mere poetic ornament, came soon to overmaster its subject, and little by little to pervade and color his entire being; and under its disquieting influence, added to that of his own keen curiosity, he began that series of restless journeyings which he was to pursue to the very verge of old age. Ostensibly with the purpose of collecting rare books and unearthing classical manuscripts, with funds which had doubtless been supplied by his new and powerful protectors, Petrarch first visited Belgium, Switzerland, and the chief towns of eastern France, returning from Liege near the close of the year 1329.

His fellow-student of former days, Giacomo Colonna, had lately come back from a still more adventurous journey to Rome, where the most amiable of churchmen, as Petrarch always called him, had approved his fighting blood by proclaiming the excommunication, at the hands of John XXII., of the Emperor Louis of Bavaria, then present in the Eternal City. The see of Lombez was Giacomo’s reward for this act of temerity; and when he went into Gascony to take possession, he carried with him a choice company of friends, of whom Petrarch was one, for that “divine summer” which was remembered so long and so wistfully.

That the enamored poet should have talked much, if mysteriously, to his young patron of the passion that enthralled him was inevitable; but there is curious proof in one of the most interesting of Petrarch’s letters, written some years later from Avignon to Giacomo in Rome, that the latter had been disposed to treat the initial stages, at least, of his friend’s immortal malady rather lightly.

“ Your clamorous epistle,” Petrarch begins, “ woke me from a species of lethargy, and I read it from beginning to end, laughing heartily over the charges which you half jestingly bring against me. So now, to repel your shafts in their order, I beg you to observe, my good father, how entirely inconsistent with your many accusations are the very first words of your own letter. You say that the fine contempt of the world at which I have so early arrived is a standing marvel to you, because it seems to be quite as much the result of experience as of nature. You might have chanted me a longer panegyric, but certainly not a more flattering one. . . . The compliment is immense, provided you really mean it; and if it be not true of me to-day, I pray God, who can rescue from hell itself, that it may be so before I die. But you proceed to say, in the same facetious vein, that I have artfully contrived to excite in many minds a magnificent opinion of my own merits. Unquestionably there have been illustrious men who were open to the charge of trying, artificially, to enhance the effect upon their admirers of their real qualities ; as when Numa Pompilius professed to hold colloquies with a goddess, and Publius Africanus claimed a divine origin. But my case is very different from theirs. I have nothing to boast of, unless it be the excessive and incomprehensible good fortune which has followed me from infancy. I am better known than I could wish to be, — an insignificant person, yet generally talked about. It is a fact which neither elates nor depresses me, for I know that common rumor is a common liar. So, indeed, it has been hitherto, but I understand that it would take very little to turn the populace against me. Your amenities, however, do not stop here. You say that I have not merely bewitched the crowd, but attempted to impose upon Heaven itself ; and you cite my pretended admiration for Augustine and his works, whereas the truth is, you say, that I am not to be detached from the poets and philosophers. And indeed, why should I, when Augustine himself was so devoted to them ? Had this not been so, he would surely not have composed those books concerning the City of God — to say nothing of his other works — out of the very material furnished him by philosophers and poets, nor painted it with hues borrowed from the historian and the orator.”

Observe, Petrarch proceeds, that my Augustine was never cited in dreams before the divine tribunal for his love of Cicero, as your Jerome was ; and, having come under no visionary interdict, “ not only was he not in the least ashamed of his intimacy with the classic authors, but he frankly owned that he had found a large part of our faith in the books of Plato; while as to Cicero’s Hortensius, it had had the most marvelous effect in turning him from delusive hopes and the vain wrangling of discordant sects to the study of the one truth.”

He goes on for some time in this strain, repelling the bishop’s only halfserious accusations, and defending his favorite authors lightly, but eloquently, and with an undertone of sincere feeling. Then, suddenly, he becomes wholly grave. To jest, he says, is easy; but, that tone once adopted, it is difficult to rid one’s self of it. " And what can you mean by hinting that the very name Laurea (laurel) is but a graceful play upon words, designed to express both her whom I would honor, and the honor which many would award to me ? How can you say that there is really no Laura enshrined in my heart, save that crown of poesy to which I aspire, and that my long and unremitting studies prove it; that all which I have written concerning the living, breathing Laura, by whose loveliness I am enslaved, are but imaginative lays, cunning fables, and simulated sighs ? Would to God that it were only an idle dream, a fancy, and not a fury, which possessed me! But nobody, trust me, can dissemble forever; and deliberately to strive to appear mad were in itself the height of madness. Moreover, a well man may imitate the actions of a sick one, but he cannot imitate his pallor. And you know whether I was wan and wasted ; you know whether I was oppressed in spirit! It almost seems to me as if in that so-called Socratic play of irony, in which you are hardly surpassed by Socrates himself, you were insulting my distress. But wait a little ! This malady will doubtless run its course. I will think of what Cicero says : The day wounds, and the day heals. My fictitious Augustine may yet prevail over her whom you call my fictitious Laura, and by diligent and sober study and much meditation I may arrive at being an old man before my time.”

The reader should remember, with reference to the skepticism of Bishop Giacomo, that the two friends had seen comparatively little of each other in the four or five years which had intervened between that pleasant summer in Gascony and the date of the above letter. In the autumn of the earlier year Petrarch received the appointment of private chaplain to Cardinal Giovanni, with a nominal oversight of the education of two of the prelate’s innumerable nephews. This necessitated his return to Avignon ; and how warmly he was received, and with what delicate consideration he was treated there, we have already seen in the Letter to Posterity. But the astute cardinal, who was older and more mundane than his brother the bishop, soon saw that the infatuation of his young protégé about the wife of Hugues de Sade was unfitting him for the serious business of life; and it seems to have been he who originally proposed to Petrarch another and longer journey than his first, which should embrace Paris and the principal German cities and seats of learning. The poet was of course bound, and probably under explicit promise, to keep his patron and banker informed of his adventures ; and accordingly there are two interesting if somewhat stiff and studied letters to Cardinal Giovanni, dated respectively June 21 and August 9, 1333. In the first of these Petrarch sketches his route as far as Aquis Granum, or Aix-la-Chapelle, where he saw the marble tomb of Charlemagne, and heard from the priest in attendance the well-known legend of the Emperor’s insane devotion to the corpse of his dead love,—all of which he relates to the cardinal in his most choice and touching style.

In the second letter he has a livelier story to tell from his own personal observation of what he saw at Cologne. " ’T is really wonderful,” he observes, “ here in this barbarous land, to see such a handsome city, so high a degree of civilization, such dignified men and such elegant matrons. I happened to arrive on the vigil of St. John the Baptist, just as the sun was setting; and my friends advised me (for report rather than merit had provided me with friends beforehand even here) to go directly from my inn to the river, if I wanted to see a remarkable sight. Sure enough, the bank was literally thronged with a large and very striking assemblage of women. I was amazed. Ye gods, what beautiful forms and faces were there ! And what costumes! Any one with a heart not fully preoccupied must have fallen in love upon the spot. I stood upon a slight rise of ground, whence I could have a good view of what went on. It seemed incredible that there could be so great a crowd without the least rudeness or confusion. But so it was. Some of them were girt with sweet grasses, and all took turns in rolling their sleeves up above the elbows, and going gayly down to bathe their white hands and arms in the running water, murmuring I know not what sweet things to one another all the while in that strange language of theirs. I never understood so well before what Cicero and the old proverb mean by saying that, among those who speak an unknown tongue, we are all deaf-mutes. However, I was fortunate enough to find most amiable interpreters, . . . and, singling out one of my friends, I asked for enlightenment in those words of Virgil: —

‘ Quid vult concursus ad amnem,
Quidve petunt animse ? ' 1

He replied that it was a very ancient rite of their people, in which the women especially put great faith, believing that any calamity which threatened them for the whole year to come might be washed away by bathing in the river on that day, and a happier fortune substituted: and this is why they practice their annual lustration with such unflagging zeal. I laughed, and said that the dwellers by the Rhine were fortunate indeed if that river could exorcise their ills ; it was more than the Po or the Tiber had ever been able to do for us.”

The last words are significant. If the impassioned love of Petrarch for his native land had slumbered awhile, amid the varied fascinations of his early court life at Avignon, this journey had reawakened it in full force ; and the most heartfelt and least formal passage in either of the letters which relate to his wanderings of this year is the one in which he says that, after all he has seen of the Gauls and the Germans at home, “ and much that is magnificent everywhere,” he thanks God that he was born an Italian.

To this same year, 1333, belongs also Petrarch’s Latin poem, addressed in the form of an epistle to Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini of Siena (afterwards Pius II.), on the Woes of Italy, and culminating in the piercing lines in which he says that he feels as one who stands upon the shore and sees his mother drowning beyond reach of help.

The most important episode, however, of Petrarch’s tour through France and Germany, and the most influential upon his future career, his reception, namely, at the University of Paris, and especially by the Augustinian monk, Dionysius of Borgo San Sepolcro, then a professor there, is lightly touched upon in the letters to Cardinal Colonna. We shall find him reverting to it, a year or two later, in the graceful epistle where he describes his ascent of Mont Ventoux.

He was disappointed to receive at Lyons, on his way home, the tidings that Giacomo Colonna, who had been planning to spend the ensuing winter in Avignon, under his brother’s roof and in the society of Petrarch, had been suddenly summoned, on important family business, to Rome, where indeed he was destined to be detained for a number of years. The bishop and the poet had long dreamed and often talked of making the Roman pilgrimage together, and the latter addressed to his friend, on the spur of the moment, a somewhat reproachful letter, reminding him of those delightful old plans. “ You have done,” he cries, “ what you surely promised me that you would never do, — you have gone to Rome without me ! What am I to say ? . . . Can I think of you as either suspicious or unmindful of your friends ? Nothing could be further from your character ! Can I chide you as forgetful, — I, to whom your fine memory is a constant marvel; or inconstant, when your loyalty is known of all men ? How then ? You must find a name for your own fault, and condemn or absolve yourself. Let the case come before your own personal tribunal; and do you be culprit, witness, and judge in one. . . . Only please to answer my forlorn inquiry, ‘ Why are you in Rome and I in Gaul, and what have I done to merit such a divorce ? ’ ”

This letter is dated Lyons, August 9, 1333. But if the sensitive poet felt himself wounded at the moment, it is plain that he was easily appeased, since it is now considered certain, by the best Petrarchian authorities, that the beautiful twelfth canzone, “ O aspettata in ciel,” was written during the autumn of this year, and sent to Giacomo Colonna in Rome, — ”O thou for whom they wait in heaven, beautiful and happy soul, who goest arrayed in our humanity, not burdened by it, as others are,” etc.2

Petrarch’s Italian muse was very prolific at this time. The earlier sonnets, those “ short swallow flights ” of ineffably sweet song, addressed to the living and still youthful Laura, followed one another in swift succession, interspersed with a few longer canzoni, more mystical in spirit and involved in style, and plainly modeled on Cavalcanti and Cino da Pistoja. In December, 1334, John XXII. died, and was succeeded, after a short conclave, by Benedict XII., to whom Petrarch, immediately on his accession, addressed an epistolary poem in Latin, urging, by every solemn and imperious motive, the restoration of the Holy See to Rome. Nothing was further from the new pontiff’s intentions than to obey the high-flown summons of the Italian minstrel, but he made him a canon of his friend’s cathedral at Lombez, and allowed him to advocate, before himself and his cardinals, the claim, through the Scaligeri, of the Correggi to Parma. This was the beginning of the intimacy between Petrarch and Azzo di Correggio, who was now in Avignon upon the same business, and of his permanent connection with Parma, his “ cisalpine Parnassus,” as the poet rather affectedly called it.

On the 26th of April, 1336, while still a member of Cardinal Colonna’s household, Petrarch and his brother Gerardo accomplished that ascent of Mont Ventoux of which they had dreamed from boyhood.

All who are familiar with Avignon and its environs know how the whole region is dominated by the aerial majesty of that solitary peak, — the king and leader of the lesser Alps of Provence, — and how much the delicate purple tints which it is wont to wear enhance the beauty of the noble but singularly pallid landscape which it overlooks. It is easy to understand how so grand an object must have affected two boys like the Petrarca brothers, and at the same time how they may have been deterred from undertaking what is even now a comparatively rare and rather difficult adventure. But the occasion had at last arrived, and we make a few extracts from the narrative which Francesco sent on the very next day, from the hamlet at the foot of the mountain, where the brothers passed the night, to his friend and director, Father Dionysius, in Paris :

“ The long spring day was balmy, and we pedestrians had active and vigorous frames and were full of enthusiasm, so that our sole obstacle lay in the nature of the ground. We found an old shepherd in a hollow of the hill, who did his best to dissuade us from the ascent, saying that he himself, some fifty years before, impelled by the same juvenile ardor as ourselves, had scaled the highest peak, and that he had had his labor for his pains ; and his clothes had been torn and his limbs lacerated by the stones and briers, and he had never heard of anybody else, either before or since, who had so much as made the experiment. But the more he howled, the more eager we were to go, being as patient under advice as the young usually are. So at last, finding his monitions quite useless, the old man moved on a little, and pointed with his finger to a steep and rocky path ; and we could still hear him chiding and groaning behind us for a long time after we parted.”

We have not space to follow step by step the lively account of all the mistakes and mishaps of the inexperienced mountaineers, still less the allegory which Petrarch feels bound, as a man of letters, to interweave with his tale, and the moral reflections by which it is adorned. At last they were nearing their goal. “ The highest peak of all is named by the woodmen ' Filiolus,’ the little son, — why, I cannot imagine, unless by that figure of speech which is called antiphrasis ; for it looks more like the father of all the neighboring mountains. On the summit of this there is a narrow level space ; and there, utterly exhausted, we sank down to rest. . . . At first, we were so affected by the vast outlook and the unwonted exhilaration of the air that we sat as if dazed, gazing back over the way by which we had come. There were clouds beneath our feet; and I could the better believe what I had read of Athos and Olympus for what I beheld on this less renowned mountain. I then turned my eyes whither my heart inclined, — I mean in the direction of Italy. The precipitous and snowy Alps, once crossed by that bitter enemy of the Roman race, who split the rocks, if we may believe the tale, with vinegar, seemed close upon me, though they were in reality far away. In the spirit rather than in the body, I must confess, I drew a deep breath of Italian air, and an inexpressible longing seized me to see again my native land, and the dear friend who is there. . . . Presently a new thought occurred, and after my vision of space I had a vision of time.” He reviews the decade which had now elapsed since he finished his studies at Bologna, the mutations of his lot, the infinite sweetness and sorrow of his hopeless love, his vain efforts to free himself from its thralldom. “ So I lived over those ten years, . . . almost forgetting where I was, and why I had come hither; then I flung my cares aside, postponing them to a fitter season, and looked about me again, and saw what I had come to see. The sinking sun and the enlarging shadow of the mountain warned us that it was almost time to be gone, and, as one awakened from a dream, I turned me round again toward the western view. The range of the Pyrenees, that wall of division between France and Spain, cannot be seen from this point, — whether through the frailty of mortal vision or because of some intervening object, I do not know; but the mountains of the province of Lyons rise on the right and on the left, though distant by several days’ journey; the sea off Marseilles is distinctly visible, and that which washes the walls of Aigues Mortes, while the eye embraces the whole course of the Rhone. Wondering at all I saw, now visited by thoughts of earth, and now endeavoring to lift up my mind to higher things, even as my body had ascended, it occurred to me to look into that book of Augustine’s Confessions which you once so kindly gave me, and which I keep about me always, in memory of the author and the donor, — a tiny volume, but one of infinite sweetness. So I opened it at random, for how could I chance on anything which should not be pious and devout ? My brother stood by much interested, expecting to hear me read out something of Augustine’s; and I call God to witness, who surely was present there, that the first words upon which my eyes lighted were these : ‘ Men go about admiring mountain summits and the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of mighty rivers, the expanse of ocean, and the revolution of the stars, and utterly neglect themselves.’ ”

The reader will readily understand that the aptness of this sors Augustiniana was quite sufficient to recall the mind of Petrarch to personal reflections of the most serious character; but we need not follow him through the second stage of his humble and candid if somewhat over-subtle self-examination. The coincidence of the passage in Augustine, as well as the leap of his heart toward Italy from the summit of the mountain, helped to make the day of this ascension ever memorable to the poet; and indeed, before many more months had passed, one, at least, of his mystical presentiments had fulfilled itself, and he was entering the harbor of Civita Vecchia, after a stormy autumnal passage from Marseilles, on his way at last to Rome. He had still, however, a visit to pay before his journey’s end was reached, and we must look in the letters which he sent back to the cardinal in Avignon for some of the incidents of his interesting sojourn at Monte Capranica, in the castle of Count Orso dell’ Anguillara, who had married Agnese della Colonna, one of the younger daughters of old Stefano.

“ No spot in the Roman territory could be more to my mind than this to which I have come,” he says in the first of these letters, “ were it not that I am so impatient to get on. It was called the Mons Caprarum in ancient times, — I suppose because it was then all one thicket of that wild shrubbery which is more to the taste of goats than of man. But the beauty of the site and the fertility of the soil soon attracted inhabitants, who founded a citadel on the summit of the steep little hill, and crowded it with as many dwellings as the strait space would hold, though still it retained the old sylvan name.”

How natural all this is ; and how familiar, to every lover of Italian landscape from Virgil’s day, the picture of the

“ Tot congesta manu præruptis oppida saxis ”! 3

“ The place itself,” Petrarch proceeds, “ is unknown to fame, but all about it are more illustrious sites. On one side is Soracte, famous as the retreat of Pope Sylvester, but renowned long before his day in the strains of the poets. Yonder lie the Ciminian mere and mountain mentioned by Virgil, while barely two miles away is Sutri, a site beloved of Ceres, and said to be an old Saturnian colony. They show the very field, hard by our walls, where the first grain of wheat was planted by the foreign king, and the first harvest reaped. . . . No wonder,” he goes on, “ that the giver of so great a gift to man should have been deified after his death.”

Petrarch dilates yet farther on the infinite picturesqueness, as we should now call it, of the region, — its wealth of wheat fields and vineyards, its breezy and beautiful pasture lands, the watercourses in every valley, the birds that fill the hillside groves with song. " One thing alone is lacking here, I know not by what fault of man, or mandate of heaven, 1 Geor. ii. 156. or fatal influence of the stars, and that one boon is peace. The very shepherds and husbandmen have to go armed.”

In a second letter to Cardinal Giovanni from the same place, the poet dwells on the gifts and graces of his good host and hostess, punning rather clumsily on the name of Count Orso, whom he calls “ the mildest of the ursine race ; ” “ a lover of peace, who yet does not fear war; resolved in war, even while he longs for peace. . . . And as for his wife, Agnese, your most distinguished sister, she is one of those concerning whom — as Sallust says of Carthage — it is better to be silent than to say too little; for there are some women, and I think your sister is one, who are better praised by a reverent silence than by any speech.”

A little later, January 26, 1337, the Bishop of Lombez and his eldest brother, Stefano, arrived at Capranica, having come on purpose to escort Petrarch on the last stage of his journey. They had provided themselves with a guard of a hundred men-at-arms, which they judged a quite sufficient protection against five hundred or more of their enemies, the Orsini, whom they understood to be lying in wait for them. “ And so sweet is the life which I lead here with these generous souls,” the poet adds, “ that I sometimes forget that I am still upon earth, and cease to long immoderately for Rome. However, we are going.” And accordingly, the next note, a short one, is written from the Capitol on the Ides of March : —

“ You thought I would have wonderful things to write from Rome itself, and I may indeed be laying up vast material for the future ; but at present I have no courage to begin, for I am fairly crushed and stupefied by the miracle of what I see. . . . You used, I remember, to try to dissuade me from coming hither, on the ground especially that the ruinous aspect of the city, so unworthy of its fame, and of the ideas which I had conceived from books, would chill my ardor ; . . . but the fact is that Rome must have been greater than I ever imagined, and her ruins are more impressive. I no longer marvel that the whole world was subjugated by this one city: I only wonder that the world resisted her so long.”

The names of Stefano della Colonna the younger, who was Roman senator during this year of Petrarch’s first visit, and for the moment exceedingly popular, and of his uncle, Giovanni di San Vito, the man of many vicissitudes and vast antiquarian lore, are added to the list of Petrarch’s Colonnesi correspondents from this time, and naturally appear more frequently, after his return to Provence, than that of Cardinal Giovanni. His voyage, this time, was a roundabout one, for he had touched the shores both of Spain and Britain before he arrived, on the 16th of August, in Avignon; nor did he then take up his abode in the churchman’s house, as before, but retired almost immediately to Vaucluse, and began his arrangements for a regular habitation there.

Scattered up and down his writings in prose and in verse, we have all the testimony we need to the fact that his manly purpose, in making this retreat, was to withdraw himself from the fascination exercised by the too frequent sight of his beloved mistress, and to gather strength, in hours of silent recollection, for definitively breaking the bond which had perhaps been first loosened a little by his larger experiences, and the new direction given to his thoughts in Rome. His first installation, beside the sources of the Sorgue, was an extremely primitive one, — in a mere laborer’s cottage, which he apparently found standing on the spot. His only servants were the peasant and his wife, to both of whom, however, he soon became warmly attached, and whose portraits he hits off in more than one letter, humorously, but always affectionately. He congratulates his Lælius, at one time, on the tact with which he had managed, when at Vaucluse, to win the friendship of “ this aquatic animal of mine, brought up in the water, and getting his livelihood off the rocks;” but he said of the man, long after, to another friend, that “ to call him faithful is to say little : be was fidelity in person, the most humble, helpful soul that ever lived.” Of the contadina he observes that her face was scorched and tanned as if by the suns of the Libyan desert, and that, “ if Helen had looked like her, Troy would be standing still; . . . and yet, her loyalty, her docility, her industry, are above everything. She toils all day in the fields, under a sun so hot that the cicadas themselves can hardly endure it, heedless of the havoc that Cancer and Leo have wrought with her cuticle. This little old woman, coming home late at night, addresses her small person to the work of the house with inexhaustible strength and unflagging good will, like a young maid just risen from refreshing sleep ; and never a murmur or complaint, or the faintest sign of ill humor, but the utmost care of her husband and children, my family and my guests, and an incredible disregard of self.”

The letters from Vaucluse to Stefano the younger begin in May, 1338, and continue at intervals throughout the summer ; and there is one to Giovanni di San Vito, dated “ Ad fontem Sorgiæ, June 22,” and apparently of this year, in which Petrarch permits himself to admonish the old man that his gout would be better if he would adopt his (Petrarch’s) abstemious habits; which, considering how very fresh the poet’s own conversion was, must be regarded as slightly forward and pharisaical. For himself, he adhered bravely to his selfdenying resolutions, made his cottage at Vaucluse a little more commodious, and had the greater part of his books removed thither. In Holy Week of the next year, while Simone Memmi of Siena was beginning to decorate the new papal palace at Avignon, and incidentally painting Madonna Laura’s portrait, Petrarch, as we know from his Apologia, was still in the wilderness, revolving the project of a poem to be called Africa. Exactly two years later, on Easter Day, 1341, he received the laurel wreath at Rome.

It was his courteous host at Capranica, Count Orso dell’ Anguillara, who actually bestowed the crown which had been awarded by Robert of Naples, while Stefano Colonna the younger pronounced the poet’s eulogy. There was only one drawback to the intoxicating pride and pleasure of that day, — the Bishop of Lombez was not there. After a seven years’ absence from France, he had hurried back, in the last days of 1340, to his see in Gascony, stopping just long enough in Avignon to embrace the cardinal, but not long enough to summon Petrarch, who was buried at Vaucluse. It was the last meeting of the brothers; and had Petrarch known that the end was so near, the letter of farewell which he sent to Bishop Giacomo, before setting out on his eventful second journey to Rome, would have been fuller even than it reads to-day of unavailing regret and the vague presentiment of sorrow. From Rome, as we know, Petrarch went to Parma, was with his new friends, the brothers Correggi, when they made their triumphant entry into that city, and remained for some time as their guest in a pleasant villa which they had placed at his disposal. And there a strange but by no means unprecedented thing happened to him, which we must let him describe in his own vivid words. In a letter to a friend at Bologna on the subject of dreams and visions, after a most affecting tribute to the beauty of Bishop Giacomo’s character and the saintlike piety of his latest days, he says : —

“ He had returned to his see in remote Gascony . . . while I was here in cisalpine Gaul, in the selfsame little garden where I now write, feeling very tranquil. I had indeed heard a rumor that he was not quite well, and was on the watch for more definite news, but not seriously anxious. I cannot think of it without a shudder, for I am looking on the very spot where he appeared to me in the stillness of the night. He was crossing the stream which flows through the garden, and quite alone. In amazement I rushed to meet him, pouring out a flood of questions : whence had he come ? where was he going ? why had he come so suddenly ? why was he alone ? He paid no heed to my other inquiries, but said, with a smile and his old charm of manner, ‘ Do you remember how you disliked the climate of the Pyrenees, when you were living with me, long ago, beyond the Garonne ? I too am thoroughly weary of it, and have left it forever. I am on my way to Rome.’ He had moved on rapidly while he spoke, and was now come to the confines of the garden, and I was entreating him to take me with him, when, after having gently waved me backward once and again, he said, with a sudden change of look and tone,

‘ Let be ! I do not now desire your company! ’ Then I looked hard at him, and by his bloodless pallor I knew that he was dead ; and in my anguish I gave such a cry that I awoke with the sound of my own last accents yet ringing in my ears. I made a note of the time, and told the tale to the friends who were with me, and wrote it to some who were absent; and on the twenty-fifth day thereafter came a messenger with tidings that the bishop was no more. Then I compared notes, and knew that he had departed this life the very day on which he came to me. But what I did not then know, nor even guess, was that, three years later, his remains would be taken back to Rome.”

Petrarch wrote a long and loving but formal memorial of the deceased, which he addressed, in the form of a letter, to Cardinal Giovanni, early in the new year, 1342. If the Bishop of Lombez had lived, that eminently sweet, liberal, and reasonable soul, would Petrarch’s brief but bitter estrangement from the Colonna, which came so soon to pass, ever have happened ? It is an idle speculation. One can readily understand that a man with so intense a sentiment of nationality as Petrarch’s, and so towering a pride in his visionary inheritance of the “ great Roman name,” must have been inexpressibly shocked by much that he saw, even during those first brilliant Roman visits, when he was the honored and pampered guest of the most powerful of all the predominant families. For the Roman populace the times were about as evil as they could be. The very men who had adopted the poet so heartily, and afforded him so chivalrous a protection, exercised over their unhappy vassals, especially inside the city, the most callous and ruthless tyranny. Petrarch heard the wail of the people’s torment in the to him sacred streets, and his spirit rose up in angry revolt against his own benefactors. For the oppressed were his kindred, and the true heirs of the kingdom ; while what were these others, after all, but parvenus from the savage north, — one more barbarian horde, like those who had trampled in the dust the supreme incivilimento of old ? Thus an ideal patriotism contended against natural affection and the sentiment of private loyalty.

The year 1342 was Petrarch’s thirtyninth, and a very memorable one in his history. Circumstances compelled him, rather against his will, to return from Parma to Avignon during the winter months; and there, in April, Benedict XII. died, and was succeeded, after ten days or so, by Clement VI. ; the poet’s brother Gerardo lost his beloved young wife, and began his novitiate as a Carthusian monk; his former confessor, Father Dionysius, died at Naples ; and he wrote, in the sylvan solitude of Vaucluse, the three dialogues of the Secret, which we already know. Most important of all to the Italian patriot, Cola di Rienzo came to Avignon, as ambassador from the Roman people to entreat the new Pope to return from “ Babylon,” restore peace to his distracted and outraged city,punish the excesses of the feudal lords, and assume his true place among his own flock once more.

The fact that Clement, at least in the beginning of his pontificate, was extremely jealous of the power of the great Roman nobles prepared a cordial reception for the future tribune at the papal court, and rendered easy that frequent intercourse with the laureate which disclosed the identity of their political dreams, and resulted in a passionate alliance between these two seemingly incompatible beings.

Cola’s vast project of himself grasping the civil headship of an emancipated and united Italy, in connection with the spiritual headship of the Pope, took five more years completely to ripen. Meanwhile Petrarch went again to Rome, and was again the guest of Giovanni di San Vito. The old senator’s bread, one would think, must sometimes have been bitter in the mouth of the man who was even then brooding over that burning twenty-ninth canzone, “ Italia mia, benchè il parlar sia indarno ; ” but never had he been more cordially received or treated with greater consideration by every branch and member of the Colonna family, and the acknowledgments of their assiduous kindness which abound in the letters of this period to Cardinal Giovanni seem to receive poignancy from an obscure touch of compunction on the poet’s part, and a presentiment, shapeless as yet, of all that was to follow.

“ Do you think I can forget such things ? ” he says in the first of these. “ It would be a long story indeed were I to tell of all the like favors I have received, and this is not the time nor place. I hear your noble father’s voice calling me at this moment ; he has come of his own accord to escort me beyond the city walls ; for to-day I am to be entertained at his castle of Palestrina.4 My host there will be his brilliant grandchild, your brother’s [Stefano’s] son.”

He speaks of old Stefano again in the next letter : —

“ It was late at night when I arrived in Rome, but I felt as if I must see your glorious father before I slept. Good God ! what a majestic human being! What a voice, what a brow, what a face and mien ! What vigor of mind and strength of body at his advanced age! . . . He looks exactly as he did when I said good-by to him in Rome, seven years ago; exactly as he did when I first saw him, more than twelve years since, in Avignon-on-the-Rhone. ’T is nothing short of a miracle. Rome grows old, but this one man is always young! ”

The remaining letters of this year to the cardinal are full of Petrarch’s journey to Naples, and of the perplexing politics of that turbulent kingdom. Those which he sent back to the other Giovanni, his Roman host, — one written on his homeward journey, and one after he had reached Avignon, — seem already a little cold and formal.

That Cola di Rienzo, during the single summer of his more than fabulous first triumph (1347), should have appeared to an Italian enthusiast like Petrarch an avenging angel divinely commissioned to restore the glories of the Roman name, to put down the mighty from their seat, and to exalt them of low degree is not wonderful. It is harder to accept the absolutely unquestionable fact that the heart of the sensitive poet should have been so hardened and his brain so turned by the frenzy of that strange time as to permit of his writing to Cola in terms of keen reproach because the tribune had not grasped the occasion of a banquet, to which he had invited them, to rid himself once for all of the most eminent of the Roman barons, — the chief Colonnesi, and the venerable Stefano himself among them !

Cola did, in fact, seize and imprison his guests for one night, with an unpleasant offer of priests to shrive them ; but the next day, in a sudden freak of clemency, he let them all go. It was the signal, as we know, for a desperate league among the nobles for their own defense and his destruction ; but when the fierce conflict that ensued had culminated in the battle of November 20, 1347, and Petrarch, who was again on his way from France, to see with his own eyes the salvation of Rome, heard at Parma how many of the Colonna had fallen on that day, he was brought to a terrible pause.

One of the victims was certainly the younger Stefano, who had spoken Petrarch’s eulogy when he had received the laurel; another was his son Giovanni, the same brilliant youth who had entertained the poet at Palestrina four years before. What wonder that Petrarch could with difficulty bring himself to write a word to the Colonna survivors, and that, while he addressed Cola himself in terms of unmeasured reproach, the letter which he finally sent to the cardinal at Avignon should have been embarrassed, conventional, and almost cold ? Doubtless it seemed as painfully so to himself as it does to the reader of to-day; but let us remember, on the poet’s behalf, that the situation was paralyzing and all but impossible. Old friendship was dear, but so had been that bright dream of the rehabilitation of Rome ; and the sense of old benefits must have lain with crushing weight upon the heart of the doubly depressed writer.

Cardinal Giovanni, at all events, understood and forgave him. If there was one of the admiring epithets which Petrarch had been wont to lavish on the Colonnesi which the sons of that proud and despotic house deserved better than another, it was magnanimous. The word leaps to the lips when one seeks to characterize them collectively. Moreover, the shadow of his own death was upon the cardinal. The air was already infect with the plague, and before another half year had passed both he and Laura de Sade were to be numbered among its victims. Petrarch escaped the contagion; so did the indomitable head of the house of Colonna, who must have looked from the bleak solitude of his accumulated years with something like the sick envy of the fabled Tithonus upon “ the sons of men who die.” This was the thought which haunted Petrarch all through the letter which he sent to the venerable survivor of so many of his line, in the first days of September, 1348. By that time, to the credit of human nature be it said, the laureate had found his own sensibility once more, and something like the natural accents of love and pity.

“ Ah, what hast thou done to deserve the torment of so long a life ? . . . Naked thou camest hither, and naked thou goest away. Yet take heart to disdain that fortune whom they call the mistress of human events. She has harmed thee to the very utmost of her power. What plot, what threat of hers, can any longer avail ? Her quiver is exhausted ; she is disarmed; she has not another shaft to speed, nor thou a spot where she might wound thee still.”

The year and circumstances of the old hero’s death are unknown, but it could not, in the nature of things, have been very long delayed ; and Petrarch had at least been able to persuade himself, before he penned his apology to posterity, that the veteran clung to him at the last (as indeed he may well have done) as representing in some sort his own lost progeny. Meanwhile Petrarch had associated in one plaintive lament the names of his adored mistress and of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna :5

Harriet Waters Preston.

Louise Dodge.

Sonnet ccxcix.: “ Rotta è l’alta Colonna.”
Prone lie the Column tall, the Laurel fair,
In shade whereof my weary thought found rest:
They whom I miss may never homeward fare,
From north or south, by seas of east or west. Death, thou hast robbed me of my twofold best,
The joy of life, the pride that trod on air.
Earth’s empire would but mock me dispossessed ;
Her gold, her orient gems, no ransom were !
And I, foredoomed in all to acquiesce,
May live, indeed, but evermore forlorn,
Nor lift my head, nor clear my eyes of tears.
Of life, so sweet, in prospect, who could guess
The fated havoc of a single morn
Among the hoarded hopes of many years!
  1. Æn. vi. 318, 319.
  2. “ What means the throng at the river, Of what are these souls in search ? ”
  3. The best modern criticism is also pretty nearly unanimous in referring to a period earlier even than this the famous sonnet, Gloriosa Colonna, which was addressed to Stefano, the illustrious father of Petrarch’s two friends, and where that magnificent senior is hailed as " the sole remaining hope and stay of the great Latin name.” The one difficulty about assigning it so early a date lies in the fact that the sonnet contains a most dulcet and beguiling invitation to Vaucluse. Now, though Petrarch had had a great penchant for the place ever since he first saw it, as a schoolboy, on an excursion from Carpentras, and frequently went out there from Avignon, he certainly did not make himself the sort of home in the Closed Valley to which he would have been likely to invite so distinguished a guest until 1337.
  4. The fortress leveled by Urban VIII. had been replaced by the one whose ruins still surmount the peak, of Palestrina.