Critical and Historical Essays Volume 2
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Part 1 out of 16

Scanned by Martin Adamson











(March 1827)

Oeuvres completes de MACHIAVEL, traduites par J. V. PERIER Paris:

Those who have attended to the practice of our literary tribunal
are well aware that, by means of certain legal fictions similar
to those of Westminster Hall, we are frequently enabled to take
cognisance of cases lying beyond the sphere of our original
jurisdiction. We need hardly say, therefore, that in the present
instance M. Perier is merely a Richard Roe, who will not be
mentioned in any subsequent stage of the proceedings, and whose
name is used for the sole purpose of bringing Machiavelli into

We doubt whether any name in literary history be so generally
odious as that of the man whose character and writings we now
propose to consider. The terms in which he is commonly described
would seem to import that he was the Tempter, the Evil Principle,
the discoverer of ambition and revenge, the original inventor of
perjury, and that, before the publication of his fatal Prince,
there had never been a hypocrite, a tyrant, or a traitor, a
simulated virtue, or a convenient crime. One writer gravely
assures us that Maurice of Saxony learned all his fraudulent
policy from that execrable volume. Another remarks that since it
was translated into Turkish, the Sultans have been more addicted
than formerly to the custom of strangling their brothers. Lord
Lyttelton charges the poor Florentine with the manifold treasons
of the house of Guise, and with the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
Several authors have hinted that the Gunpowder Plot is to be
primarily attributed to his doctrines, and seem to think that his
effigy ought to be substituted for that of Guy Faux, in those
processions by which the ingenious youth of England annually
commemorate the preservation of the Three Estates. The Church of
Rome has pronounced his works accursed things. Nor have our own
countrymen been backward in testifying their opinion of his
merits. Out of his surname they have coined an epithet for a
knave, and out of his Christian name a synonym for the Devil.

[Nick Machiavel had ne'er a trick,
Tho' he gave his name to our old Nick.

Hudibras, Part iii. Canto i.

But, we believe, there is a schism on this subject among the

It is indeed scarcely possible for any person, not well
acquainted with the history and literature of Italy, to read
without horror and amazement the celebrated treatise which has
brought so much obloquy on the name of Machiavelli. Such a
display of wickedness, naked yet not ashamed, such cool,
judicious, scientific atrocity, seemed rather to belong to a
fiend than to the most depraved of men. Principles which the most
hardened ruffian would scarcely hint to his most trusted
accomplice, or avow, without the disguise of some palliating
sophism, even to his own mind, are professed without the
slightest circumlocution, and assumed as the fundamental axioms
of all political science.

It is not strange that ordinary readers should regard the author
of such a book as the most depraved and shameless of human
beings. Wise men, however, have always been inclined to look with
great suspicion on the angels and daemons of the multitude: and
in the present instance, several circumstances have led even
superficial observers to question the justice of the vulgar
decision. It is notorious that Machiavelli was, through life, a
zealous republican. In the same year in which he composed his
manual of King-craft, he suffered imprisonment and torture in the
cause of public liberty. It seems inconceivable that the martyr
of freedom should have designedly acted as the apostle of
tyranny. Several eminent writers have, therefore, endeavoured to
detect in this unfortunate performance some concealed meaning,
more consistent with the character and conduct of the author than
that which appears at the first glance.

One hypothesis is that Machiavelli intended to practise on the
young Lorenzo de Medici a fraud similar to that which Sunderland
is said to have employed against our James the Second, and that
he urged his pupil to violent and perfidious measures, as the
surest means of accelerating the moment of deliverance and
revenge. Another supposition which Lord Bacon seems to
countenance, is that the treatise was merely a piece of grave
irony, intended to warn nations against the arts of ambitious
men. It would be easy to show that neither of these solutions is
consistent with many passages in The Prince itself. But the most
decisive refutation is that which is furnished by the other works
of Machiavelli. In all the writings which he gave to the public,
and in all those which the research of editors has, in the course
of three centuries, discovered, in his Comedies, designed for the
entertainment of the multitude, in his Comments on Livy, intended
for the perusal of the most enthusiastic patriots of Florence, in
his History, inscribed to one of the most amiable and estimable
of the Popes, in his public despatches, in his private memoranda,
the same obliquity of moral principle for which The Prince is so
severely censured is more or less discernible. We doubt whether
it would be possible to find, in all the many volumes of his
compositions, a single expression indicating that dissimulation
and treachery had ever struck him as discreditable.

After this, it may seem ridiculous to say that we are acquainted
with few writings which exhibit so much elevation of sentiment,
so pure and warm a zeal for the public good, or so just a view of
the duties and rights of citizens, as those of Machiavelli. Yet
so it is. And even from The Prince itself we could select many
passages in support of this remark. To a reader of our age and
country this inconsistency is, at first, perfectly bewildering.
The whole man seems to be an enigma, a grotesque assemblage of
incongruous qualities, selfishness and generosity, cruelty and
benevolence, craft and simplicity, abject villainy and romantic
heroism. One sentence is such as a veteran diplomatist would
scarcely write in cipher for the direction of his most
confidential spy; the next seems to be extracted from a theme
composed by an ardent schoolboy on the death of Leonidas. An act
of dexterous perfidy, and an act of patriotic self-devotion, call
forth the same kind and the same degree of respectful admiration.
The moral sensibility of the writer seems at once to be morbidly
obtuse and morbidly acute. Two characters altogether dissimilar
are united in him. They are not merely joined, but interwoven.
They are the warp and the woof of his mind; and their
combination, like that of the variegated threads in shot silk,
gives to the whole texture a glancing and ever-changing
appearance. The explanation might have been easy, if he had been
a very weak or a very affected man. But he was evidently neither
the one nor the other. His works prove, beyond all contradiction,
that his understanding was strong, his taste pure, and his sense
of the ridiculous exquisitely keen.

This is strange: and yet the strangest is behind. There is no
reason whatever to think, that those amongst whom he lived saw
anything shocking or incongruous in his writings. Abundant proofs
remain of the high estimation in which both his works and his
person were held by the most respectable among his
contemporaries. Clement the Seventh patronised the publication of
those very books which the Council of Trent, in the following
generation, pronounced unfit for the perusal of Christians. Some
members of the democratical party censured the Secretary for
dedicating The Prince to a patron who bore the unpopular name of
Medici. But to those immoral doctrines which have since called
forth such severe reprehensions no exception appears to have been
taken. The cry against them was first raised beyond the Alps, and
seems to have been heard with amazement in Italy. The earliest
assailant, as far as we are aware, was a countryman of our own,
Cardinal Pole. The author of the Anti-Machiavelli was a French

It is, therefore, in the state of moral feeling among the
Italians of those times that we must seek for the real
explanation of what seems most mysterious in the life and
writings of this remarkable man. As this is a subject which
suggests many interesting considerations, both political and
metaphysical, we shall make no apology for discussing it at some

During the gloomy and disastrous centuries which followed the
downfall of the Roman Empire, Italy had preserved, in a far
greater degree than any other part of Western Europe, the traces
of ancient civilisation. The night which descended upon her was
the night of an Arctic summer. The dawn began to reappear before
the last reflection of the preceding sunset had faded from the
horizon. It was in the time of the French Merovingians and of the
Saxon Heptarchy that ignorance and ferocity seemed to have done
their worst. Yet even then the Neapolitan provinces, recognising
the authority of the Eastern Empire, preserved something of
Eastern knowledge and refinement. Rome, protected by the sacred
character of her Pontiffs, enjoyed at least comparative security
and repose, Even in those regions where the sanguinary Lombards
had fixed their monarchy, there was incomparably more of wealth,
of information, of physical comfort, and of social order, than
could be found in Gaul, Britain, or Germany.

That which most distinguished Italy from the neighbouring
countries was the importance which the population of the towns,
at a very early period, began to acquire. Some cities had been
founded in wild and remote situations, by fugitives who had
escaped from the rage of the barbarians. Such were Venice and
Genoa, which preserved their freedom by their obscurity, till
they became able to preserve it by their power. Other cities seem
to have retained, under all the changing dynasties of invaders,
under Odoacer and Theodoric, Narses and Alboin, the municipal
institutions which had been conferred on them by the liberal
policy of the Great Republic. In provinces which the central
government was too feeble either to protect or to oppress, these
institutions gradually acquired stability and vigour. The
citizens, defended by their walls, and governed by their own
magistrates and their own by-laws, enjoyed a considerable share
of republican independence. Thus a strong democratic spirit was
called into action. The Carlovingian sovereigns were too imbecile
to subdue it. The generous policy of Otho encouraged it. It might
perhaps have been suppressed by a close coalition between the
Church and the Empire. It was fostered and invigorated by their
disputes. In the twelfth century it attained its full vigour,
and, after a long and doubtful conflict, triumphed over the
abilities and courage of the Swabian princes.

The assistance of the Ecclesiastical power had greatly
contributed to the success of the Guelfs. That success would,
however, have been a doubtful good, if its only effect had been
to substitute a moral for a political servitude, and to exalt the
Popes at the expense of the Caesars. Happily the public mind of
Italy had long contained the seeds of free opinions, which were
now rapidly developed by the genial influence of free
institutions. The people of that country had observed the whole
machinery of the Church, its saints and its miracles, its lofty
pretensions and its splendid ceremonial, its worthless blessings
and its harmless curses, too long and too closely to be duped.
They stood behind the scenes on which others were gazing with
childish awe and interest. They witnessed the arrangement of the
pulleys, and the manufacture of the thunders. They saw the
natural faces and heard the natural voices of the actors. Distant
nations looked on the Pope as the Vicegerent of the Almighty, the
oracle of the All-wise, the umpire from whose decisions, in the
disputes either of theologians or of kings, no Christian ought to
appeal. The Italians were acquainted with all the follies of his
youth, and with all the dishonest arts by which he had attained
power. They knew how often he had employed the keys of the Church
to release himself from the most sacred engagements, and its
wealth to pamper his mistresses and nephews. The doctrines and
rites of the established religion they treated with decent
reverence. But though they still called themselves Catholics,
they had ceased to be Papists. Those spiritual arms which carried
terror into the palaces and camps of the proudest sovereigns
excited only contempt in the immediate neighbourhood of the
Vatican. Alexander, when he commanded our Henry the Second to
submit to the lash before the tomb of a rebellious subject, was
himself an exile. The Romans apprehending that he entertained
designs against their liberties, had driven him from their city;
and though he solemnly promised to confine himself for the future
to his spiritual functions, they still refused to readmit him.

In every other part of Europe, a large and powerful privileged
class trampled on the people and defied the Government. But in
the most flourishing parts of Italy, the feudal nobles were
reduced to comparative insignificance. In some districts they
took shelter under the protection of the powerful commonwealths
which they were unable to oppose, and gradually sank into the
mass of burghers. In other places they possessed great influence;
but it was an influence widely different from that which was
exercised by the aristocracy of any Transalpine kingdom. They
were not petty princes, but eminent citizens. Instead of
strengthening their fastnesses among the mountains, they
embellished their palaces in the market-place. The state of
society in the Neapolitan dominions, and in some parts of the
Ecclesiastical State, more nearly resembled that which existed in
the great monarchies of Europe. But the Governments of Lombardy
and Tuscany, through all their revolutions, preserved a different
character. A people, when assembled in a town, is far more
formidable to its rulers than when dispersed over a wide extent
of country. The most arbitrary of the Caesars found it necessary
to feed and divert the inhabitants of their unwieldy capital at
the expense of the provinces. The citizens of Madrid have more
than once besieged their sovereign in his own palace, and
extorted from him the most humiliating concessions. The Sultans
have often been compelled to propitiate the furious rabble of
Constantinople with the head of an unpopular Vizier. From the
same cause there was a certain tinge of democracy in the
monarchies and aristocracies of Northern Italy.

Thus liberty, partially indeed and transiently, revisited Italy;
and with liberty came commerce and empire, science and taste, all
the comforts and all the ornaments of life. The Crusades, from
which the inhabitants of other countries gained nothing but
relics and wounds, brought to the rising commonwealths of the
Adriatic and Tyrrhene seas a large increase of wealth, dominion,
and knowledge. The moral and geographical position of those
commonwealths enabled them to profit alike by the barbarism of
the West and by the civilisation of the East. Italian ships
covered every sea. Italian factories rose on every shore. The
tables of Italian moneychangers were set in every city.
Manufactures flourished. Banks were established. The operations
of the commercial machine were facilitated by many useful and
beautiful inventions. We doubt whether any country of Europe, our
own excepted, have at the present time reached so high a point
of wealth and civilisation as some parts of Italy had attained
four hundred years ago. Historians rarely descend to those
details from which alone the real state of a community can be
collected. Hence posterity is too often deceived by the vague
hyperboles of poets and rhetoricians, who mistake the splendour
of a court for the happiness of a people. Fortunately, John
Villani has given us an ample and precise account of the state of
Florence in the early part of the fourteenth century. The revenue
of the Republic amounted to three hundred thousand florins; a sum
which, allowing for the depreciation of the precious metals, was
at least equivalent to six hundred thousand pounds sterling; a
larger sum than England and Ireland, two centuries ago, yielded
annually to Elizabeth. The manufacture of wool alone employed two
hundred factories and thirty thousand workmen. The cloth annually
produced sold, at an average, for twelve hundred thousand
florins; a sum fully equal in exchangeable value to two millions
and a half of our money. Four hundred thousand florins were
annually coined. Eighty banks conducted the commercial
operations, not of Florence only but of all Europe. The
transactions of these establishments were sometimes of a
magnitude which may surprise even the contemporaries of the
Barings and the Rothschilds. Two houses advanced to Edward the
Third of England upwards of three hundred thousand marks, at a
time when the mark contained more silver than fifty shillings of
the present day, and when the value of silver was more than
quadruple of what it now is. The city and its environs contained
a hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants. In the various
schools about ten thousand children were taught to read; twelve
hundred studied arithmetic; six hundred received a learned

The progress of elegant literature and of the fine arts was
proportioned to that of the public prosperity. Under the despotic
successors of Augustus, all the fields of intellect had been
turned into arid wastes, still marked out by formal
boundaries, still retaining the traces of old cultivation, but
yielding neither flowers nor fruit. The deluge of barbarism came.
It swept away all the landmarks. It obliterated all the signs of
former tillage. But it fertilised while it devastated. When it
receded, the wilderness was as the garden of God, rejoicing on
every side, laughing, clapping its hands, pouring forth, in
spontaneous abundance, everything brilliant, or fragrant, or
nourishing. A new language, characterised by simple sweetness and
simple energy, had attained perfection. No tongue ever furnished
more gorgeous and vivid tints to poetry; nor was it long before a
poet appeared who knew how to employ them. Early in the
fourteenth century came forth the Divine Comedy, beyond
comparison the greatest work of imagination which had appeared
since the poems of Homer. The following generation produced
indeed no second Dante: but it was eminently distinguished by
general intellectual activity. The study of the Latin writers had
never been wholly neglected in Italy. But Petrarch introduced a
more profound, liberal, and elegant scholarship, and communicated
to his countrymen that enthusiasm for the literature, the
history, and the antiquities of Rome, which divided his own heart
with a frigid mistress and a more frigid Muse. Boccaccio turned
their attention to the more sublime and graceful models of

From this time, the admiration of learning and genius became
almost an idolatry among the people of Italy. Kings and
republics, cardinals and doges, vied with each other in honouring
and flattering Petrarch. Embassies from rival States solicited
the honour of his instructions. His coronation agitated the Court
of Naples and the people of Rome as much as the most important
political transaction could have done. To collect books and
antiques, to found professorships, to patronise men of learning,
became almost universal fashions among the great. The spirit of
literary research allied itself to that of commercial enterprise.
Every place to which the merchant princes of Florence extended
their gigantic traffic, from the bazars of the Tigris to the
monasteries of the Clyde, was ransacked for medals and
manuscripts. Architecture, painting, and sculpture, were
munificently encouraged. Indeed it would be difficult to name an
Italian of eminence, during the period of which we speak, who,
whatever may have been his general character, did not at least
affect a love of letters and of the arts.

Knowledge and public prosperity continued to advance together.
Both attained their meridian in the age of Lorenzo the
Magnificent. We cannot refrain from quoting the splendid passage,
in which the Tuscan Thucydides describes the state of Italy at
that period. "Ridotta tutta in somma pace e tranquillita,
coltivata non meno ne' luoghi piu montuosi e piu sterili che
nelle pianure e regioni piu fertili, ne sottoposta ad altro
imperio che de' suoi medesimi, non solo era abbondantissima d'
abitatori e di ricchezze; ma illustrata sommamente dalla
magnificenza di molti principi, dallo splendore di molte
nobilissime e bellissime citta, dalla sedia e maesta della
religione, fioriva d' uomini prestantissimi nell' amministrazione
delle cose pubbliche, e d'ingegni molto nobili in tutte le
scienze, ed in qualunque arte preclara ed industriosa." When we
peruse this just and splendid description, we can scarcely
persuade ourselves that we are reading of times in which the
annals of England and France present us only with a frightful
spectacle of poverty, barbarity, and ignorance. From the
oppressions of illiterate masters, and the sufferings of a
degraded peasantry, it is delightful to turn to the opulent and
enlightened States of Italy, to the vast and magnificent cities,
the ports, the arsenals, the villas, the museums, the libraries,
the marts filled with every article of comfort or luxury, the
factories swarming with artisans, the Apennines covered with rich
cultivation up to their very summits, the Po wafting the harvests
of Lombardy to the granaries of Venice, and carrying back the
silks of Bengal and the furs of Siberia to the palaces of Milan.
With peculiar pleasure, every cultivated mind must repose on the
fair, the happy, the glorious Florence, the halls which rang with
the mirth of Pulci, the cell where twinkled the midnight lamp of
Politian, the statues on which the young eye of Michael Angelo
glared with the frenzy of a kindred inspiration, the gardens in
which Lorenzo meditated some sparkling song for the May-day dance
of the Etrurian virgins. Alas for the beautiful city! Alas for
the wit and the learning, the genius and the love!

"Le donne, e i cavalier, gli affanni, e gli agi,
Che ne 'nvogliava amore e cortesia
La dove i cuor son fatti si malvagi."

A time was at hand, when all the seven vials of the Apocalypse
were to be poured forth and shaken out over those pleasant
countries, a time of slaughter, famine, beggary, infamy, slavery,

In the Italian States, as in many natural bodies, untimely
decrepitude was the penalty of precocious maturity. Their early
greatness, and their early decline, are principally to be
attributed to the same cause, the preponderance which the towns
acquired in the political system.

In a community of hunters or of shepherds, every man easily and
necessarily becomes a soldier. His ordinary avocations are
perfectly compatible with all the duties of military service.
However remote may be the expedition on which he is bound, he
finds it easy to transport with him the stock from which he
derives his subsistence. The whole people is an army; the whole
year a march. Such was the state of society which facilitated the
gigantic conquests of Attila and Tamerlane.

But a people which subsists by the cultivation of the earth is in
a very different situation. The husbandman is bound to the soil
on which he labours. A long campaign would be ruinous to him.
Still his pursuits are such as give to his frame both the active
and the passive strength necessary to a soldier. Nor do they, at
least in the infancy of agricultural science, demand his
uninterrupted attention. At particular times of the year he is
almost wholly unemployed, and can, without injury to himself,
afford the time necessary for a short expedition. Thus the
legions of Rome were supplied during its earlier wars. The season
during which the fields did not require the presence of the
cultivators sufficed for a short inroad and a battle. These
operations, too frequently interrupted to produce decisive
results, yet served to keep up among the people a degree of
discipline and courage which rendered them, not only secure, but
formidable. The archers and billmen of the middle ages, who, with
provisions for forty days at their backs, left the fields for the
camp, were troops of the same description.

But when commerce and manufactures begin to flourish a great
change takes place. The sedentary habits of the desk and the loom
render the exertions and hardships of war insupportable. The
business of traders and artisans requires their constant presence
and attention. In such a community there is little superfluous
time; but there is generally much superfluous money. Some members
of the society are, therefore, hired to relieve the rest from a
task inconsistent with their habits and engagements.

The history of Greece is, in this, as in many other respects, the
best commentary on the history of Italy. Five hundred years
before the Christian era, the citizens of the republics round the
Aegean Sea formed perhaps the finest militia that ever existed.
As wealth and refinement advanced, the system underwent a gradual
alteration. The Ionian States were the first in which commerce
and the arts were cultivated, and the first in which the ancient
discipline decayed. Within eighty years after the battle of
Plataea, mercenary troops were everywhere plying for battles and
sieges. In the time of Demosthenes, it was scarcely possible to
persuade or compel the Athenians to enlist for foreign service.
The laws of Lycurgus prohibited trade and manufactures. The
Spartans, therefore, continued to form a national force long
after their neighbours had begun to hire soldiers. But their
military spirit declined with their singular institutions. In the
second century before Christ, Greece contained only one nation of
warriors, the savage highlanders of Aetolia, who were some
generations behind their countrymen in civilisation and

All the causes which produced these effects among the Greeks
acted still more strongly on the modern Italians. Instead of a
power like Sparta, in its nature warlike, they had amongst them
an ecclesiastical state, in its nature pacific. Where there are
numerous slaves, every freeman is induced by the strongest
motives to familiarise himself with the use of arms. The
commonwealths of Italy did not, like those of Greece, swarm with
thousands of these household enemies. Lastly, the mode in which
military operations were conducted during the prosperous times of
Italy was peculiarly unfavourable to the formation of an
efficient militia. Men covered with iron from head to foot, armed
with ponderous lances, and mounted on horses of the largest
breed, were considered as composing the strength of an army. The
infantry was regarded as comparatively worthless, and was
neglected till it became really so. These tactics maintained
their ground for centuries in most parts of Europe. That foot-
soldiers could withstand the charge of heavy cavalry was thought
utterly impossible, till, towards the close of the fifteenth
century, the rude mountaineers of Switzerland dissolved the
spell, and astounded the most experienced generals by receiving
the dreaded shock on an impenetrable forest of pikes.

The use of the Grecian spear, the Roman sword, or the modern
bayonet, might be acquired with comparative ease. But nothing
short of the daily exercise of years could train the man-at-arms
to support his ponderous panoply, and manage his unwieldy weapon.
Throughout Europe this most important branch of war became a
separate profession. Beyond the Alps, indeed, though a
profession, it was not generally a trade. It was the duty and the
amusement of a large class of country gentlemen. It was the
service by which they held their lands, and the diversion by
which, in the absence of mental resources, they beguiled their
leisure. But in the Northern States of Italy, as we have already
remarked, the growing power of the cities, where it had not
exterminated this order of men, had completely changed their
habits. Here, therefore, the practice of employing mercenaries
became universal, at a time when it was almost unknown in other

When war becomes the trade of a separate class, the least
dangerous course left to a government is to force that class into
a standing army. It is scarcely possible, that men can pass their
lives in the service of one State, without feeling some interest
in its greatness. Its victories are their victories. Its defeats
are their defeats. The contract loses something of its mercantile
character. The services of the soldier are considered as the
effects of patriotic zeal, his pay as the tribute of national
gratitude. To betray the power which employs him, to be even
remiss in its service, are in his eyes the most atrocious and
degrading of crimes.

When the princes and commonwealths of Italy began to use hired
troops, their wisest course would have been to form separate
military establishments. Unhappily this was not done. The
mercenary warriors of the Peninsula, instead of being attached to
the service of different powers, were regarded as the common
property of all. The connection between the State and its
defenders was reduced to the most simple and naked traffic. The
adventurer brought his horse, his weapons, his strength, and his
experience, into the market. Whether the King of Naples or the
Duke of Milan, the Pope or the Signory of Florence, struck the
bargain, was to him a matter of perfect indifference. He was for
the highest wages and the longest term. When the campaign for
which he had contracted was finished, there was neither law nor
punctilio to prevent him from instantly turning his arms against
his late masters. The soldier was altogether disjoined from the
citizen and from the subject.

The natural consequences followed. Left to the conduct of men who
neither loved those whom they defended, nor hated those whom they
opposed, who were often bound by stronger ties to the army
against which they fought than to the State which they served,
who lost by the termination of the conflict, and gained by its
prolongation, war completely changed its character. Every man
came into the field of battle impressed with the knowledge that,
in a few days, he might be taking the pay of the power against
which he was then employed, and, fighting by the side of his
enemies against his associates. The strongest interests and the
strongest feelings concurred to mitigate the hostility of those
who had lately been brethren in arms, and who might soon be
brethren in arms once more. Their common profession was a bond of
union not to be forgotten even when they were engaged in the
service of contending parties. Hence it was that operations,
languid and indecisive beyond any recorded in history, marches
and counter-marches, pillaging expeditions and blockades,
bloodless capitulations and equally bloodless combats, make up
the military history of Italy during the course of nearly two
centuries. Mighty armies fight from sunrise to sunset. A great
victory is won. Thousands of prisoners are taken; and hardly a
life is lost. A pitched battle seems to have been really less
dangerous than an ordinary civil tumult.

Courage was now no longer necessary even to the military
character. Men grew old in camps, and acquired the highest renown
by their warlike achievements, without being once required to
face serious danger. The political consequences are too well
known. The richest and most enlightened part of the world was
left undefended to the assaults of every barbarous invader, to
the brutality of Switzerland, the insolence of France, and the
fierce rapacity of Arragon. The moral effects which followed from
this state of things were still more remarkable.

Among the rude nations which lay beyond the Alps, valour was
absolutely indispensable. Without it none could be eminent; few
could be secure. Cowardice was, therefore, naturally considered
as the foulest reproach. Among the polished Italians, enriched by
commerce, governed by law, and passionately attached to
literature, everything was done by superiority and intelligence.
Their very wars, more pacific than the peace of their neighbours,
required rather civil than military qualifications. Hence, while
courage was the point of honour in other countries, ingenuity
became the point of honour in Italy.

From these principles were deduced, by processes strictly
analogous, two opposite systems of fashionable morality. Through
the greater part of Europe, the vices which peculiarly belong to
timid dispositions, and which are the natural defence Of
weakness, fraud, and hypocrisy, have always been most
disreputable. On the other hand, the excesses of haughty and
daring spirits have been treated with indulgence, and even with
respect. The Italians regarded with corresponding lenity those
crimes which require self-command, address, quick observation,
fertile invention, and profound knowledge of human nature.

Such a prince as our Henry the Fifth would have been the idol of
the North. The follies of his youth, the selfish ambition of his
manhood, the Lollards roasted at slow fires the prisoners
massacred on the field of battle, the expiring lease of
priestcraft renewed for another century, the dreadful legacy of a
causeless and hopeless war bequeathed to a people who had no
interest in its event, everything is forgotten but the victory of
Agincourt. Francis Sforza, on the other hand, was the model of
Italian heroes. He made his employers and his rivals alike his
tools. He first overpowered his open enemies by the help of
faithless allies; he then armed himself against his allies with
the spoils taken from his enemies. By his incomparable dexterity,
he raised himself from the precarious and dependent situation of
a military adventurer to the first throne of Italy. To such a man
much was forgiven, hollow friendship, ungenerous enmity, violated
faith. Such are the opposite errors which men commit, when their
morality is not a science but a taste, when they abandon eternal
principles for accidental associations.

We have illustrated our meaning by an instance taken from
history. We will select another from fiction. Othello murders his
wife; he gives orders for the murder of his lieutenant; he ends
by murdering himself. Yet he never loses the esteem and affection
of Northern readers. His intrepid and ardent spirit redeems
everything. The unsuspecting confidence with which he listens to
his adviser, the agony with which he shrinks from the thought of
shame, the tempest of passion with which he commits his crimes,
and the haughty fearlessness with which he avows them, give an
extraordinary interest to his character. Iago, on the contrary,
is the object of universal loathing. Many are inclined to suspect
that Shakspeare has been seduced into an exaggeration unusual
with him, and has drawn a monster who has no archetype in human
nature. Now we suspect that an Italian audience in the fifteenth
century would have felt very differently. Othello would have
inspired nothing but detestation and contempt. The folly with
which he trusts the friendly professions of a man whose promotion
he had obstructed, the credulity with which he takes unsupported
assertions, and trivial circumstances, for unanswerable proofs,
the violence with which he silences the exculpation till the
exculpation can only aggravate his misery, would have excited the
abhorrence and disgust of the spectators. The conduct of Iago
they would assuredly have condemned; but they would have
condemned it as we condemn that of his victim. Something of
interest and respect would have mingled with their
disapprobation. The readiness of the traitor's wit, the clearness
of his judgment, the skill with which he penetrates the
dispositions of others and conceals his own, would have ensured
to him a certain portion of their esteem.

So wide was the difference between the Italians and their
neighbours. A similar difference existed between the Greeks of
the second century before Christ, and their masters the Romans.
The conquerors, brave and resolute, faithful to their
engagements, and strongly influenced by religious feelings, were,
at the same time, ignorant, arbitrary, and cruel. With the
vanquished people were deposited all the art, the science, and
the literature of the Western world. In poetry, in philosophy, in
painting, in architecture, in sculpture, they had no rivals.
Their manners were polished, their perceptions acute, their
invention ready; they were tolerant, affable, humane; but of
courage and sincerity they were almost utterly destitute. Every
rude centurion consoled himself for his intellectual inferiority,
by remarking that knowledge and taste seemed only to make men
atheists, cowards, and slaves. The distinction long continued to
be strongly marked, and furnished an admirable subject for the
fierce sarcasms of Juvenal.

The citizen of an Italian commonwealth was the Greek of the time
of Juvenal and the Greek of the time of Pericles, joined in one.
Like the former, he was timid and pliable, artful and mean. But,
like the latter, he had a country. Its independence and
prosperity were dear to him. If his character were degraded by
some base crimes, it was, on the other hand, ennobled by public
spirit and by an honourable ambition,

A vice sanctioned by the general opinion is merely a vice. The
evil terminates in itself. A vice condemned by the general
opinion produces a pernicious effect on the whole character. The
former is a local malady, the latter a constitutional taint. When
the reputation of the offender is lost, he too often flings the
remains of his virtue after it in despair. The Highland gentleman
who, a century ago, lived by taking blackmail from his
neighbours, committed the same crime for which Wild was
accompanied to Tyburn by the huzzas of two hundred thousand
people. But there can be no doubt that he was a much less
depraved man than Wild. The deed for which Mrs.Brownrigg was
hanged sinks into nothing, when compared with theconduct of
the Roman who treated the public to a hundred pair of
gladiators. Yet we should greatly wrong such a Roman if we
supposed that his disposition was as cruel as that of Mrs.
Brownrigg. In our own country, a woman forfeits her place in
society by what, in a man, is too commonly considered as an
honourable distinction, and, at worst, as a venial error. The
consequence is notorious. The moral principle of a woman is
frequently more impaired by a single lapse from virtue than that
of a man by twenty years of intrigues. Classical antiquity would
furnish us with instances stronger, if possible, than those to
which we have referred.

We must apply this principle to the case before us. Habits of
dissimulation and falsehood, no doubt, mark a man of our age and
country as utterly worthless and abandoned. But it by no means
follows that a similar judgment would be just in the case of an
Italian of the middle ages. On the contrary, we frequently find
those faults which we are accustomed to consider as certain
indications of a mind altogether depraved, in company with great
and good qualities, with generosity, with benevolence, with
disinterestedness. From such a state of society, Palamedes, in
the admirable dialogue of Hume, might have drawn illustrations of
his theory as striking as any of those with which Fourli
furnished him. These are not, we well know, the lessons which
historians are generally most careful to teach, or readers most
willing to learn. But they are not therefore useless. How Philip
disposed his troops at Chaeronea, where Hannibal crossed the
Alps, whether Mary blew up Darnley, or Siquier shot Charles the
Twelfth, and ten thousand other questions of the same
description, are in themselves unimportant. The inquiry may amuse
us, but the decision leaves us no wiser. He alone reads history
aright who, observing how powerfully circumstances influence the
feelings and opinions of men, how often vices pass into virtues
and paradoxes into axioms, learns to distinguish what is
accidental and transitory in human nature from what is essential
and immutable.

In this respect no history suggests more important reflections
than that of the Tuscan and Lombard commonwealths. The character
of the Italian statesman seems, at first sight, a collection of
contradictions, a phantom as monstrous as the portress of hell in
Milton, half divinity, half snake, majestic and beautiful above,
grovelling and poisonous below, We see a man whose thoughts and
words have no connection with each other, who never hesitates at
an oath when he wishes to seduce, who never wants a pretext when
he is inclined to betray. His cruelties spring, not from the heat
of blood, or the insanity of uncontrolled power, but from deep
and cool meditation. His passions, like well-trained troops, are
impetuous by rule, and in their most headstrong fury never forget
the discipline to which they have been accustomed. His whole soul
is occupied with vast and complicated schemes of ambition: yet
his aspect and language exhibit nothing but philosophical
moderation. Hatred and revenge eat into his heart: yet every look
is a cordial smile, every gesture a familiar caress. He never
excites the suspicion of his adversaries by petty provocations.
His purpose is disclosed only when it is accomplished. His face
is unruffled, his speech is courteous, till vigilance is laid
asleep, till a vital point is exposed, till a sure aim is taken;
and then he strikes for the first and last time. Military
courage, the boast of the sottish German, of the frivolous and
prating Frenchman, of the romantic and arrogant Spaniard, he
neither possesses nor values. He shuns danger, not because he is
insensible to shame, but because, in the society in which he
lives, timidity has ceased to be shameful. To do an injury openly
is, in his estimation, as wicked as to do it secretly, and far
less profitable. With him the most honourable means are those
which are the surest, the speediest, and the darkest. He cannot
comprehend how a man should scruple to deceive those whom he does
not scruple to destroy. He would think it madness to declare open
hostilities against rivals whom he might stab in a friendly
embrace, or poison in a consecrated wafer.

Yet this man, black with the vices which we consider as most
loathsome, traitor, hypocrite, coward, assassin, was by no means
destitute even of those virtues which we generally consider as
indicating superior elevation of character. In civil courage, in
perseverance, in presence of mind, those barbarous warriors, who
were foremost in the battle or the breach, were far his
inferiors. Even the dangers which he avoided with a caution
almost pusillanimous never confused his perceptions, never
paralysed his inventive faculties, never wrung out one secret
from his smooth tongue, and his inscrutable brow. Though a
dangerous enemy, and a still more dangerous accomplice, he could
be a just and beneficent ruler. With so much unfairness in his
policy, there was an extraordinary degree of fairness in his
intellect. Indifferent to truth in the transactions of life, he
was honestly devoted to truth in the researches of speculation.
Wanton cruelty was not in his nature. On the contrary, where no
political object was at stake, his disposition was soft and
humane. The susceptibility of his nerves and the activity of his
imagination inclined him, to sympathise with the feelings of
others, and to delight in the charities and courtesies of social
life. Perpetually descending to actions which might seem to mark
a mind diseased through all its faculties, he had nevertheless an
exquisite sensibility, both for the natural and the moral
sublime, for every graceful and every lofty conception. Habits of
petty intrigue and dissimulation might have rendered him
incapable of great general views, but that the expanding effect
of his philosophical studies counteracted the narrowing tendency.
He had the keenest enjoyment of wit, eloquence, and poetry. The
fine arts profited alike by the severity of his judgment, and by
the liberality of his patronage. The portraits of some of the
remarkable Italians of those times are perfectly in harmony with
this description. Ample and majestic foreheads, brows strong and
dark, but not frowning, eyes of which the calm full gaze, while
it expresses nothing, seems to discern everything, cheeks pale
with thought and sedentary habits, lips formed with feminine
delicacy, but compressed with more than masculine decision, mark
out men at once enterprising and timid, men equally skilled in
detecting the purposes of others, and in concealing their own,
men who must have been formidable enemies and unsafe allies,
but men, at the same time, whose tempers were mild and equable,
and who possessed an amplitude and subtlety of intellect which
would have rendered them eminent either in active or in
contemplative life, and fitted them either to govern or to
instruct mankind.

Every age and every nation has certain characteristic vices,
which prevail almost universally, which scarcely any person
scruples to avow, and which even rigid moralists but faintly
censure. Succeeding generations change the fashion of their
morals, with the fashion of their hats and their coaches; take
some other kind of wickedness under their patronage, and wonder
at the depravity of their ancestors. Nor is this all. Posterity,
that high court of appeal which is never tired of eulogising its
own justice and discernment, acts on such occasions like a Roman
dictator after a general mutiny. Finding the delinquents too
numerous to be all punished, it selects some of them at hazard,
to bear the whole penalty of an offence in which they are not
more deeply implicated than those who escape, Whether decimation
be a convenient mode of military execution, we know not; but we
solemnly protest against the introduction of such a principle
into the philosophy of history.

In the present instance, the lot has fallen on Machiavelli, a man
whose public conduct was upright and honourable, whose views of
morality, where they differed from those of the persons around
him, seemed to have differed for the better, and whose only fault
was, that, having adopted some of the maxims then generally
received, he arranged them more luminously, and expressed them
more forcibiy, than any other writer.

Having now, we hope, in some degree cleared the personal
character of Machiavelli, we come to the consideration of his
works. As a poet he is not entitled to a high place; but his
comedies deserve attention.

The Mandragola, in particular, is superior to the best of
Goldoni, and inferior only to the best of Moliere. It is the work
of a man who, if he had devoted himself to the drama, would
probably have attained the highest eminence, and produced a
permanent and salutary effect on the national taste. This we
infer, not so much from the degree, as from the kind of its
excellence. There are compositions which indicate still greater
talent, and which are perused with still greater delight, from
which we should have drawn very different conclusions. Books
quite worthless are quite harmless. The sure sign of the general
decline of an art is the frequent occurrence, not of deformity,
but of misplaced beauty. In general, Tragedy is corrupted by
eloquence, and Comedy by wit.

The real object of the drama is the exhibition of human
character. This, we conceive, is no arbitrary canon, originating
in local and temporary associations, like those canons which
regulate the number of acts in a play, or of syllables in a line.
To this fundamental law every other regulation is subordinate.
The situations which most signally develop character form the
best plot. The mother tongue of the passions is the best style.

This principle rightly understood, does not debar the poet from
any grace of composition. There is no style in which some man may
not under some circumstances express himself. There is therefore
no style which the drama rejects, none which it does not
occasionally require. It is in the discernment of place, of time,
and of person, that the inferior artists fail. The fantastic
rhapsody of Mercutio, the elaborate declamation of Antony, are,
where Shakspeare has placed them, natural and pleasing. But
Dryden would have made Mercutio challenge Tybalt in hyperboles
as fanciful as those in which he describes the chariot of Mab.
Corneille would have represented Antony as scolding and coaxing
Cleopatra with all the measured rhetoric of a funeral oration.

No writers have injured the Comedy of England so deeply as
Congreve and Sheridan. Both were men of splendid wit and polished
taste. Unhappily, they made all their characters in their own
likeness. Their works bear the same relation to the legitimate
drama which a transparency bears to a painting. There are no
delicate touches, no hues imperceptibly fading into each other:
the whole is lighted up with an universal glare. Outlines and
tints are forgotten in the common blaze which illuminates all.
The flowers and fruits of the intellect abound; but it is the
abundance of a jungle, not of a garden, unwholesome, bewildering,
unprofitable from its very plenty rank from its very fragrance.
Every fop, every boor, every valet, is a man of wit. The very
butts and dupes, Tattle, Witwould, Puff, Acres, outshine the
whole Hotel of Rambouillet. To prove the whole system of this
school erroneous, it is only necessary to apply the test which
dissolved the enchanted Florimel, to place the true by the false
Thalia, to contrast the most celebrated characters which have
been drawn by the writers of whom we speak with the Bastard in
King John or the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. It was not surely
from want of wit that Shakspeare adopted so different a manner.
Benedick and Beatrice throw Mirabel and Millamant into the shade.
All the good sayings of the facetious houses of Absolute and
Surface might have been clipped from the single character of
Falstaff, without being missed. It would have been easy for that
fertile mind to have given Bardolph and Shallow as much wit as
Prince Hal, and to have made Dogberry and Verges retort on each
other in sparkling epigrams. But he knew that such indiscriminate
prodigality was, to use his own admirable language, "from the
purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was,
and is, to hold, as it were, the mirror up to Nature."

This digression will enable our readers to understand what we
mean when we say that in the Mandragola, Machiavelli has proved
that he completely understood the nature of the dramatic art, and
possessed talents which would have enabled him to excel in it. By
the correct and vigorous delineation of human nature, it produces
interest without a pleasing or skilful plot, and laughter without
the least ambition of wit. The lover, not a very delicate or
generous lover, and his adviser the parasite, are drawn with
spirit. The hypocritical confessor is an admirable portrait. He
is, if we mistake not, the original of Father Dominic, the best
comic character of Dryden. But old Nicias is the glory of the
piece. We cannot call to mind anything that resembles him. The
follies which Moliere ridicules are those of affection, not those
of fatuity. Coxcombs and pedants, not absolute simpletons, are
his game. Shakspeare has indeed a vast assortment of fools; but
the precise species of which we speak is not, if we remember
right, to be found there. Shallow is a fool. But his animal
spirits supply, to a certain degree, the place of cleverness. His
talk is to that of Sir John what soda water is to champagne. It
has the effervescence though not the body or the flavour. Slender
and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are fools, troubled with an uneasy
consciousness of their folly, which in the latter produces
meekness and docility, and in the former, awkwardness, obstinacy,
and confusion. Cloten is an arrogant fool, Osric a foppish fool,
Ajax a savage fool; but Nicias is, as Thersites says of
Patroclus, a fool positive. His mind is occupied by no strong
feeling; it takes every character, and retains none; its aspect
is diversified, not by passions, but by faint and transitory
semblances of passion, a mock joy, a mock fear, a mock love, a
mock pride, which chase each other like shadows over its surface,
and vanish as soon as they appear. He is just idiot enough to be
an object, not of pity or horror, but of ridicule. He bears some
resemblance to poor Calandrino, whose mishaps, as recounted by
Boccaccio, have made all Europe merry for more than four
centuries. He perhaps resembles still more closely Simon da
Villa, to whom Bruno and Buffalmacco promised the love of the
Countess Civillari. Nicias is, like Simon, of a learned
profession; and the dignity with which he wears the doctoral
fur, renders his absurdities infinitely more grotesque. The old
Tuscan is the very language for such a being. Its peculiar
simplicity gives even to the most forcible reasoning and the most
brilliant wit an infantine air, generally delightful, but to a
foreign reader sometimes a little ludicrous. Heroes and statesmen
seem to lisp when they use it. It becomes Nicias incomparably,
and renders all his silliness infinitely more silly.
We may add, that the verses with which the Mandragola is
interspersed, appear to us to be the most spirited and correct of
all that Machiavelli has written in metre. He seems to have
entertained the same opinion; for he has introduced some of them
in other places. The contemporaries of the author were not blind
to the merits of this striking piece. It was acted at Florence
with the greatest success. Leo the Tenth was among its admirers,
and by his order it was represented at Rome.

[Nothing can be more evident than that Paulus Jovius designates
the Mandragola under the name of the Nicias. We should not have
noticed what is so perfectly obvious. were it not that this
natural and palpable misnomer has led the sagacious and
industrious Bayle into a gross error.]

The Clizia is an imitation of the Casina of Plautus, which is
itself an imitation of the lost kleroumenoi of Diphilus. Plautus
was, unquestionably, one of the best Latin writers; but the
Casina is by no means one of his best plays; nor is it one which
offers great facilities to an imitator. The story is as alien
from modern habits of life, as the manner in which it is
developed from the modern fashion of composition. The lover
remains in the country and the heroine in her chamber during the
whole action, leaving their fate to be decided by a foolish
father, a cunning mother, and two knavish servants. Machiavelli
has executed his task with judgment and taste. He has
accommodated the plot to a different state of society, and has
very dexterously connected it with the history of his own times.
The relation of the trick put on the doting old lover is
exquisitely humorous. It is far superior to the corresponding
passage in the Latin comedy, and scarcely yields to the account
which Falstaff gives of his ducking.

Two other comedies without titles, the one in prose, the other in
verse, appear among the works of Machiavelli. The former is very
short, lively enough, but of no great value. The latter we can
scarcely believe to be genuine. Neither its merits nor its
defects remind us of the reputed author. It was first printed in
1796, from a manuscript discovered in the celebrated library of
the Strozzi. Its genuineness, if we have been rightly informed,
is established solely by the comparison of hands. Our suspicions
are strengthened by the circumstance, that the same manuscript
contained a description of the plague of 1527, which has also, in
consequence, been added to the works of Machiavelli. Of this last
composition the strongest external evidence would scarcely induce
us to believe him guilty. Nothing was ever written more
detestable in matter and manner. The narrations, the reflections,
the jokes, the lamentations, are all the very worst of their
respective kinds, at once trite and affected, threadbare tinsel
from the Rag Fairs and Monmouth Streets of literature. A foolish
schoolboy might write such a piece, and, after he had written it,
think it much finer than the incomparable introduction of the
Decameron. But that a shrewd statesman, whose earliest works are
characterised by manliness of thought and language, should, at
near sixty years of age, descend to such puerility, is utterly

The little novel of Belphegor is pleasantly conceived and
pleasantly told. But the extravagance of the satire in some
measure injures its effect. Machiavelli was unhappily married;
and his wish to avenge his own cause and that of his brethren in
misfortune, carried him beyond even the licence of fiction.
Jonson seems to have combined some hints taken from this tale,
with others from Boccaccio, in the plot of The Devil is an Ass, a
play which, though not the most highly finished of his
compositions, is perhaps that which exhibits the strongest proofs
of genius.

The Political Correspondence of Machiavelli, first published in
1767, is unquestionably genuine, and highly valuable. The unhappy
circumstances in which his country was placed during the greater
part of his public life gave extraordinary encouragement to
diplomatic talents. From the moment that Charles the Eighth
descended from the Alps, the whole character of Italian politics
was changed. The governments of the Peninsula ceased to form an
independent system. Drawn from their old orbit by the attraction
of the larger bodies which now approached them, they became mere
satellites of France and Spain. All their disputes, internal and
external, were decided by foreign influence. The contests of
opposite factions were carried on, not as formerly in the senate-
house or in the marketplace, but in the antechambers of Louis and
Ferdinand. Under these circumstances, the prosperity of the
Italian States depended far more on the ability of their foreign
agents, than on the conduct of those who were intrusted with the
domestic administration. The ambassador had to discharge
functions far more delicate than transmitting orders of
knighthood, introducing tourists, or presenting his brethren with
the homage of his high consideration. He was an advocate to whose
management the dearest interests of his clients were intrusted, a
spy clothed with an inviolable character. Instead of consulting,
by a reserved manner and ambiguous style, the dignity of those
whom he represented, he was to plunge into all the intrigues of
the Court at which he resided, to discover and flatter every
weakness of the prince, and of the favourite
who governed the prince, and of the lacquey who governed the
favourite. He was to compliment the mistress and bribe the
confessor, to panegyrise or supplicate, to laugh or weep, to
accommodate himself to every caprice, to lull every suspicion, to
treasure every hint, to be everything, to observe everything, to
endure everything. High as the art of political intrigue had been
carried in Italy, these were times which required it all.

On these arduous errands Machiavelli was frequently employed. He
was sent to treat with the King of the Romans and with the Duke
of Valentinois. He was twice ambassador of the Court of Rome, and
thrice at that of France. In these missions, and in several
others of inferior importance, he acquitted himself with great
dexterity. His despatches form one of the most amusing and
instructive collections extant. The narratives are clear and
agreeably written; the remarks on men and things clever and
judicious. The conversations are reported in a spirited and
characteristic manner. We find ourselves introduced into the
presence of the men who, during twenty eventful years, swayed the
destinies of Europe. Their wit and their folly, their fretfulness
and their merriment, are exposed to us. We are admitted to
overhear their chat, and to watch their familiar gestures. It is
interesting and curious to recognise, in circumstances which
elude the notice of historians, the feeble violence and shallow
cunning of Louis the Twelfth; the bustling insignificance of
Maximilian, cursed with an impotent pruriency for renown, rash
yet timid, obstinate yet fickle, always in a hurry, yet always
too late; the fierce and haughty energy which gave dignity to the
eccentricities of Julius; the soft and graceful manners which
masked the insatiable ambition and the implacable hatred of
Caesar Borgia.

We have mentioned Caesar Borgia. It is impossible not to pause
for a moment on the name of a man in whom the political morality
of Italy was so strongly personified, partially blended with the
sterner lineaments of the Spanish character. On two important
occasions Machiavelli was admitted to his society; once, at the
moment when Caesar's splendid villainy achieved its most signal
triumph, when he caught in one snare and crushed at one blow all
his most formidable rivals; and again when, exhausted by disease
and overwhelmed by misfortunes, which no human prudence could
have averted, he was the prisoner of the deadliest enemy of his
house. These interviews between the greatest speculative and the
greatest practical statesman of the age are fully described in
the Correspondence, and form perhaps the most interesting part of

From some passages in The Prince, and perhaps also from some
indistinct traditions, several writers have supposed a connection
between those remarkable men much closer than ever existed. The
Envoy has even been accused of prompting the crimes of the artful
and merciless tyrant. But from the official documents it is clear
that their intercourse, though ostensibly amicable, was in
reality hostile. It cannot be doubted, however, that the
imagination of Machiavelli was strongly impressed, and his
speculations on government coloured, by the observations which he
made on the singular character and equally singular fortunes of a
man who under such disadvantages had achieved such exploits; who,
when sensuality, varied through innumerable forms, could no
longer stimulate his sated mind, found a more powerful and
durable excitement in the intense thirst of empire and revenge;
who emerged from the sloth and luxury of the Roman purple the
first prince and general of the age; who, trained in an unwarlike
profession, formed a gallant army out of the dregs of an
unwarlike people; who, after acquiring sovereignty by destroying
his enemies, acquired popularity by destroying his tools; who had
begun to employ for the most salutary ends the power which he had
attained by the most atrocious means; who tolerated within the
sphere of his iron despotism no plunderer or oppressor but
himself; and who fell at last amidst the mingled curses and
regrets of a people of whom his genius had been the wonder, and
might have been the salvation. Some of those crimes of Borgia
which to us appear the most odious would not, from causes which
we have already considered, have struck an Italian of the
fifteenth century with equal horror. Patriotic feeling also might
induce Machiavelli to look with some indulgence and regret on the
memory of the only leader who could have defended the
independence of Italy against the confederate spoilers of

On this subject Machiavelli felt most strongly. Indeed the
expulsion of the foreign tyrants, and the restoration of that
golden age which had preceded the irruption of Charles the
Eighth, were projects which, at that time, fascinated all the
master-spirits of Italy. The magnificent vision delighted the
great but ill-regulated mind of Julius. It divided with
manuscripts and sauces, painters, and falcons, the attention of
the frivolous Leo. It prompted the generous treason of Morone. It
imparted a transient energy to the feeble mind and body of the
last Sforza. It excited for one moment an honest ambition in the
false heart of Pescara. Ferocity and insolence were not among the
vices of the national character. To the discriminating cruelties
of politicians, committed for great ends on select victims, the
moral code of the Italians was too indulgent. But though they
might have recourse to barbarity as an expedient, they did not
require it as a stimulant. They turned with loathing from the
atrocity of the strangers who seemed to love blood for its own
sake, who, not content with subjugating, were impatient to
destroy, who found a fiendish pleasure in razing magnificent
cities, cutting the throats of enemies who cried for quarter, or
suffocating an unarmed population by thousands in the caverns to
which it had fled for safety. Such were the cruelties which daily
excited the terror and disgust of a people among whom, till
lately, the worst that a soldier had to fear in a pitched battle
was the loss of his horse and the expense of his ransom. The
swinish intemperance of Switzerland, the wolfish avarice of
Spain, the gross licentiousness of the French, indulged in
violation of hospitality, of decency, of love itself, the wanton
inhumanity which was common to all the invaders, had made them
objects of deadly hatred to the inhabitants of the Peninsula. The
wealth which had been accumulated during centuries of prosperity
and repose was rapidly melting away. The intellectual superiority
of the oppressed people only rendered them more keenly sensible
of their political degradation. Literature and taste, indeed,
still disguised with a flush of hectic loveliness and brilliancy
the ravages of an incurable decay. The iron had not yet entered
into the soul. The time was not yet come when eloquence was to be
gagged, and reason to be hoodwinked, when the harp of the poet
was to be hung on the willows of Arno, and the right hand of the
painter to forget its cunning. Yet a discerning eye might even
then have seen that genius and learning would not long survive
the state of things from which they had sprung, and that the
great men whose talents gave lustre to that melancholy period had
been formed under the influence of happier days, and would leave
no successors behind them. The times which shine with the
greatest splendour in literary history are not always those to
which the human mind is most indebted. Of this we may be
convinced, by comparing the generation which follows them with
that which had preceded them. The first fruits which are reaped
under a bad system often spring from seed sown under a good one.
Thus it was, in some measure, with the Augustan age. Thus it was
with the age of Raphael and Ariosto, of Aldus and Vida.

Machiavelli deeply regretted the misfortunes of his country, and
clearly discerned the cause and the remedy. It was the military
system of the Italian people which had extinguished their value
and discipline, and left their wealth an easy prey to every
foreign plunderer. The Secretary projected a scheme alike
honourable to his heart and to his intellect, for abolishing the
use of mercenary troops, and for organising a national militia.

The exertions which he made to effect this great object ought
alone to rescue his name from obloquy. Though his situation and
his habits were pacific, he studied with intense assiduity the
theory of war. He made himself master of all its details. The
Florentine Government entered into his views. A council of war
was appointed. Levies were decreed. The indefatigable minister
flew from place to place in order to superintend the execution of
his design. The times were, in some respects, favourable to the
experiment. The system of military tactics had undergone a great
revolution. The cavalry was no longer considered as forming the
strength of an army. The hours which a citizen could spare from
his ordinary employments, though by no means sufficient to
familiarise him with the exercise of a man-at-arms, might render
him an useful foot-soldier. The dread of a foreign yoke, of
plunder, massacre, and conflagration, might have conquered that
repugnance to military pursuits which both the industry and the
idleness of great towns commonly generate. For a time the scheme
promised well. The new troops acquitted themselves respectably in
the field. Machiavelli looked with parental rapture on the
success of his plan, and began to hope that the arms of Italy
might once more be formidable to the barbarians of the Tagus and
the Rhine. But the tide of misfortune came on before the barriers
which should have withstood it were prepared. For a time, indeed,
Florence might be considered as peculiarly fortunate. Famine and
sword and pestilence had devastated the fertile plains and
stately cities of the Po. All the curses denounced of old against
Tyre seemed to have fallen on Venice. Her merchants already stood
afar off, lamenting for their great city. The time seemed near
when the sea-weed should overgrow her silent Rialto, and the
fisherman wash his nets in her deserted arsenal. Naples had been
four times conquered and reconquered by tyrants equally
indifferent to its welfare and equally greedy for its spoils.
Florence, as yet, had only to endure degradation and extortion,
to submit to the mandates of foreign powers, to buy over and over
again, at an enormous price, what was already justly her own, to
return thanks for being wronged, and to ask pardon for being in
the right. She was at length deprived of the blessings even of
this infamous and servile repose. Her military and political
institutions were swept away together. The Medici returned, in
the train of foreign invaders, from their long exile. The policy
of Machiavelli was abandoned; and his public services were
requited with poverty, imprisonment, and torture.

The fallen statesman still clung to his project with unabated
ardour. With the view of vindicating it from some popular
objections and of refuting some prevailing errors on the subject
of military science, he wrote his seven books on The Art of War.
This excellent work is in the form of a dialogue. The opinions of
the writer are put into the mouth of Fabrizio Colonna, a powerful
nobleman of the Ecclesiastical State, and an officer of
distinguished merit in the service of the King of Spain. Colonna
visits Florence on his way from Lombardy to his own domains. He
is invited to meet some friends at the house of Cosimo Rucellai,
an amiable and accomplished young man, whose early death
Machiavelli feelingly deplores. After partaking of an elegant
entertainment, they retire from the heat into the most shady
recesses of the garden. Fabrizio is struck by the sight of some
uncommon plants. Cosimo says that, though rare, in modern days,
they are frequently mentioned by the classical authors, and that
his grandfather, like many other Italians, amused himself with
practising the ancient methods of gardening. Fabrizio expresses
his regret that those who, in later times, affected the manners
of the old Romans should select for imitation the most trifling
pursuits. This leads to a conversation on the decline of military
discipline and on the best means of restoring it. The institution
of the Florentine militia is ably defended; and several
improvements are suggested in the details.

The Swiss and the Spaniards were, at that time, regarded as the
best soldiers in Europe. The Swiss battalion consisted of
pikemen, and bore a close resemblance to the Greek phalanx. The
Spaniards, like the soldiers of Rome, were armed with the sword
and the shield. The victories of Flamininus and Aemilius over the
Macedonian kings seem to prove the superiority of the weapons
used by the legions. The same experiment had been recently tried
with the same result at the battle of Ravenna, one of those
tremendous days into which human folly and wickedness compress
the whole devastation of a famine or a plague. In that memorable
conflict, the infantry of Arragon, the old companions of
Gonsalvo, deserted by all their allies, hewed a passage through
the thickest of the imperial pikes, and effected an unbroken
retreat, in the face of the gendarmerie of De Foix, and the
renowned artillery of Este. Fabrizio, or rather Machiavelli,
proposes to combine the two systems, to arm the foremost lines
with the pike for the purpose of repulsing cavalry, and those in
the rear with the sword, as being a weapon better adapted for
every other purpose. Throughout the work, the author expresses
the highest admiration of the military science of the ancient
Romans, and the greatest contempt for the maxims which had been
in vogue amongst the Italian commanders of the preceding
generation. He prefers infantry to cavalry, and fortified camps
to fortified towns. He is inclined to substitute rapid movements
and decisive engagements for the languid and dilatory operations
of his countrymen. He attaches very little importance to the
invention of gunpowder. Indeed he seems to think that it ought
scarcely to produce any change in the mode of arming or of
disposing troops. The general testimony of historians, it must be
allowed, seems to prove that the ill-constructed and ill-served
artillery of those times, though useful in a siege, was of little
value on the field of battle.

Of the tactics of Machiavelli we will not venture to give an
opinion: but we are certain that his book is most able and
interesting. As a commentary on the history of his times, it is
invaluable. The ingenuity, the grace, and the perspicuity of the
style, and the eloquence and animation of particular passages,
must give pleasure even to readers who take no interest in the

The Prince and the Discourses on Livy were written after the fall
of the Republican Government. The former was dedicated to the
young Lorenzo di Medici. This circumstance seems to have
disgusted the contemporaries of the writer far more than the
doctrines which have rendered the name of the work odious in
later times. It was considered as an indication of political
apostasy. The fact however seems to have been that Machiavelli,
despairing of the liberty of Florence, was inclined to support
any government which might preserve her independence. The
interval which separated a democracy and a despotism, Soderini
and Lorenzo, seemed to vanish when compared with the difference
between the former and the present state of Italy, between the
security, the opulence, and the repose which she had enjoyed
under her native rulers, and the misery in which she had been
plunged since the fatal year in which the first foreign tyrant
had descended from the Alps. The noble and pathetic exhortation
with which The Prince concludes shows how strongly the writer
felt upon this subject.

The Prince traces the progress of an ambitious man, the
Discourses the progress of an ambitious people. The same
principles on which, in the former work, the elevation of an
individual is explained, are applied in the latter, to the longer
duration and more complex interest of a society. To a modern
statesman the form of the Discourses may appear to be puerile. In
truth Livy is not an historian on whom implicit reliance can be
placed, even in cases where he must have possessed considerable
means of information. And the first Decade, to which Machiavelli
has confined himself, is scarcely entitled to more credit than
our Chronicle of British Kings who reigned before the Roman
invasion. But the commentator is indebted to Livy for little more
than a few texts which he might as easily have extracted from the
Vulgate or the Decameron. The whole train of thought is original.

On the peculiar immorality which has rendered The Prince
unpopular, and which is almost equally discernible in the
Discourses, we have already given our opinion at length. We have
attempted to show that it belonged rather to the age than to the
man, that it was a partial taint, and by no means implied general
depravity. We cannot, however, deny that it is a great blemish,
and that it considerably diminishes the pleasure which, in other
respects, those works must afford to every intelligent mind.

It is, indeed, impossible to conceive a more healthful and
vigorous constitution of the understanding than that which these
works indicate. The qualities of the active and the contemplative
statesman appear to have been blended in the mind of the writer
into a rare and exquisite harmony. His skill in the details of
business had not been acquired at the expense of his general
powers. It had not rendered his mind less comprehensive; but it
had served to correct his speculations and to impart to them that
vivid and practical character which so widely distinguishes them
from the vague theories of most political philosophers.

Every man who has seen the world knows that nothing is so useless
as a general maxim. If it be very moral and very true, it may
serve for a copy to a charity-boy. If, like those of
Rochefoucault, it be sparkling and whimsical, it may make an
excellent motto for an essay. But few indeed of the many wise
apophthegms which have been uttered, from the time of the Seven
Sages of Greece to that of Poor Richard, have prevented a single
foolish action. We give the highest and the most peculiar praise
to the precepts of Machiavelli when we say that they may
frequently be of real use in regulating conduct, not so much
because they are more just or more profound than those which
might be culled from other authors, as because they can be more
readily applied to the problems of real life.

There are errors in these works. But they are errors which a
writer, situated like Machiavelli, could scarcely avoid. They
arise, for the most part, from a single defect which appears to
us to pervade his whole system. In his political scheme, the
means had been more deeply considered than the ends. The great
principle, that societies and laws exist only for the purpose of
increasing the sum of private happiness, is not recognised with
sufficient clearness. The good of the body, distinct from the
good of the members, and sometimes hardly compatible with the
good of the members, seems to be the object which he proposes to
himself. Of all political fallacies, this has perhaps had the
widest and the most mischievous operation. The state of society
in the little commonwealths of Greece, the close connection and
mutual dependence of the citizens, and the severity of the laws
of war, tended to encourage an opinion which, under such
circumstances, could hardly be called erroneous. The interests of
every individual were inseparably bound up with those of the
State. An invasion destroyed his corn-fields and vineyards, drove
him from his home, and compelled him to encounter all the
hardships of a military life. A treaty of peace restored him to
security and comfort. A victory doubled the number of his slaves.
A defeat perhaps made him a slave himself. When Pericles, in the
Peloponnesian war, told the Athenians, that, if their country
triumphed, their private losses would speedily be repaired, but,
that, if their arms failed of success, every individual amongst
them would probably be ruined, he spoke no more than the truth,
He spoke to men whom the tribute of vanquished cities supplied
with food and clothing, with the luxury of the bath and the
amusements of the theatre, on whom the greatness of their Country
conferred rank, and before whom the members of less prosperous
communities trembled; to men who, in case of a change in the
public fortunes, would, at least, be deprived of every comfort
and every distinction which they enjoyed. To be butchered on the
smoking ruins of their city, to be dragged in chains to a slave-
market. to see one child torn from them to dig in the quarries of
Sicily, and another to guard the harams of Persepolis, these were
the frequent and probable consequences of national calamities.
Hence, among the Greeks, patriotism became a governing principle,
or rather an ungovernable passion. Their legislators and their
philosophers took it for granted that, in providing for the
strength and greatness of the state, they sufficiently provided
for the happiness of the people. The writers of the Roman empire
lived under despots, into whose dominion a hundred nations were
melted down, and whose gardens would have covered the little
commonwealths of Phlius and Plataea. Yet they continued to employ
the same language, and to cant about the duty of sacrificing
everything to a country to which they owed nothing.

Causes similar to those which had influenced the disposition of
the Greeks operated powerfully on the less vigorous and daring
character of the Italians. The Italians, like the Greeks, were
members of small communities. Every man was deeply interested in
the welfare of the society to which he belonged, a partaker in
its wealth and its poverty, in its glory and its shame. In the
age of Machiavelli this was peculiarly the case. Public events
had produced an immense sum of misery to private citizens. The
Northern invaders had brought want to their boards, infamy to
their beds, fire to their roofs, and the knife to their throats.
It was natural that a man who lived in times like these should
overrate the importance of those measures by which a nation is
rendered formidable to its neighbours, and undervalue those which
make it prosperous within itself.

Nothing is more remarkable in the political treatises of
Machiavelli than the fairness of mind which they indicate. It
appears where the author is in the wrong, almost as strongly as
where he is in the right. He never advances a false opinion
because it is new or splendid, because he can clothe it in a
happy phrase, or defend it by an ingenious sophism. His errors
are at once explained by a reference to the circumstances in
which he was placed. They evidently were not sought out; they lay
in his way, and could scarcely be avoided. Such mistakes must
necessarily be committed by early speculators in every science.

In this respect it is amusing to compare The Prince and the
Discourses with the Spirit of Laws. Montesquieu enjoys, perhaps,
a wider celebrity than any political writer of modern Europe.
Something he doubtless owes to his merit, but much more to his
fortune. He had the good luck of a Valentine.

He caught the eye of the French nation, at the moment when it was
waking from the long sleep of political and religious bigotry;
and, in consequence, he became a favourite. The English, at that
time, considered a Frenchman who talked about constitutional
checks and fundamental laws as a prodigy not less astonishing
than the learned pig or the musical infant. Specious but shallow,
studious of effect, indifferent to truth, eager to build a
system, but careless of collecting those materials out of which
alone a sound and durable system can be built, the lively
President constructed theories as rapidly and as slightly as
card-houses, no sooner projected than completed, no sooner
completed than blown away, no sooner blown away than forgotten.
Machiavelli errs only because his experience, acquired in a very
peculiar state of society, could not always enable him to
calculate the effect of institutions differing from those of
which he had observed the operation. Montesquieu errs, because he
has a fine thing to say, and is resolved to say it. If the
phaenomena which lie before him will not suit his purpose, all
history must be ransacked. If nothing established by authentic
testimony can be racked or chipped to suit his Procrustean
hypothesis, he puts up with some monstrous fable about Siam, or
Bantam, or Japan, told by writers compared with whom Lucian and
Gulliver were veracious, liars by a double right, as travellers
and as Jesuits.

Propriety of thought, and propriety of diction, are commonly
found together. Obscurity and affectation are the two greatest
faults of style. Obscurity of expression generally springs from
confusion of ideas; and the same wish to dazzle at any cost which
produces affectation in the manner of a writer, is likely to
produce sophistry in his reasonings. The judicious and candid
mind of Machiavelli shows itself in his luminous, manly, and
polished language. The style of Montesquieu, on the other hand,
indicates in every page a lively and ingenious, but an unsound
mind. Every trick of expression, from the mysterious conciseness
of an oracle to the flippancy of a Parisian coxcomb, is employed
to disguise the fallacy of some positions, and the triteness of
others. Absurdities are brightened into epigrams; truisms are
darkened into enigmas. It is with difficulty that the strongest
eye can sustain the glare with which some parts are illuminated,
or penetrate the shade in which others are concealed.

The political works of Machiavelli derive a peculiar interest
from the mournful earnestness which he manifests whenever he
touches on topics connected with the calamities of his native
land. It is difficult to conceive any situation more painful than
that of a great man, condemned to watch the lingering agony of an
exhausted country, to tend it during the alternate fits of
stupefaction and raving which precede its dissolution, and to see
the symptoms of vitality disappear one by one, till nothing is
left but coldness, darkness, and corruption. To this joyless and
thankless duty was Machiavelli called. In the energetic language
of the prophet, he was "mad for the sight of his eye which he
saw," disunion in the council, effeminacy in the camp, liberty
extinguished, commerce decaying, national honour sullied, an
enlightened and flourishing people given over to the ferocity of
ignorant savages. Though his opinions had no escaped the
contagion of that political immorality which was common among his
countrymen, his natural disposition seem to have been rather
stern and impetuous than pliant and artful When the misery and
degradation of Florence and the foul outrage which he had himself
sustained recur to his mind, the smooth craft of his profession
and his nation is exchanged for the honest bitterness of scorn
and anger. He speaks like one sick of the calamitous times and
abject people among whom his lot is cast. He pines for the
strength and glory of ancient Rome, for the fasces of Brutus, and
the sword of Scipio, the gravity of the curule chair, and the
bloody pomp of the triumphal sacrifice. He seems to be
transported back to the days when eight hundred thousand Italian
warriors sprung to arms at the rumour of a Gallic invasion. He
breathes all the spirit of those intrepid and haughty senators
who forgot the dearest ties of nature in the claims of public
duty, who looked with disdain on the elephants and on the gold of
Pyrrhus, and listened with unaltered composure to the tremendous
tidings of Cannae. Like an ancient temple deformed by the
barbarous architecture of a later age, his character acquires an
interest from the very circumstances which debase it. The
original proportions are rendered more striking by the contrast
which they present to the mean and incongruous additions.

The influence of the sentiments which we have described was not
apparent in his writings alone. His enthusiasm, barred from the
career which it would have selected for itself, seems to have
found a vent in desperate levity. He enjoyed a vindictive
pleasure in outraging the opinions of a society which he
despised. He became careless of the decencies which were expected
from a man so highly distinguished in the literary and political
world. The sarcastic bitterness of his conversation disgusted
those who were more inclined to accuse his licentiousness than
their own degeneracy, and who were unable to conceive the
strength of those emotions which are concealed by the jests of
the wretched, and by the follies of the wise.

The historical works of Machiavelli still remain to be
considered. The Life of Castruccio Castracani will occupy us for
a very short time, and would scarcely have demanded our notice,
had it not attracted a much greater share of public attention
than it deserves. Few books, indeed, could be more interesting
than a careful and judicious account, from such a pen, of the
illustrious Prince of Lucca, the most eminent of those Italian
chiefs who, like Pisistratus and Gelon, acquired a power felt
rather than seen, and resting, not on law or on prescription, but
on the public favour and on their great personal qualities. Such
a work would exhibit to us the real nature of that species of
sovereignty, so singular and so often misunderstood, which the
Greeks denominated tyranny, and which, modified in some degree by
the feudal system, reappeared in the commonwealths of Lombardy
and Tuscany. But this little composition of Machiavelli is in no
sense a history. It has no pretensions to fidelity. It is a
trifle, and not a very successful trifle. It is scarcely more
authentic than the novel of Belphegor, and is very much duller.

The last great work of this illustrious man was the history of
his native city. It was written by command of the Pope, who, as
chief of the house of Medici, was at that time sovereign of
Florence. The characters of Cosmo, of Piero, and of Lorenzo, are,
however, treated with a freedom and impartiality equally
honourable to the writer and to the patron. The miseries and
humiliations of dependence, the bread which is more bitter than
every other food, the stairs which are more painful than every
other ascent, had not broken the spirit of Machiavelli. The most
corrupting post in a corrupting profession had not depraved the
generous heart of Clement.

The History does not appear to be the fruit of much industry or
research. It is unquestionably inaccurate. But it is elegant,
lively, and picturesque, beyond any other in the Italian
language. The reader, we believe, carries away from it a more
vivid and a more faithful impression of the national character
and manners than from more correct accounts. The truth is, that
the book belongs rather to ancient than to modern literature. It
is in the style, not of Davila and Clarendon, but of Herodotus
and Tacitus. The classical histories may almost be called
romances founded in fact. The relation is, no doubt, in all its
principal points, strictly true. But the numerous little
incidents which heighten the interest, the words, the gestures,
the looks, are evidently furnished by the imagination of the
author. The fashion of later times is different. A more exact
narrative is given by the writer. It may be doubted whether more
exact notions are conveyed to the reader. The best portraits are
perhaps those in which there is a slight mixture of caricature,
and we are not certain that the best histories are not those in
which a little of the exaggeration of fictitious narrative is
judiciously employed. Something is lost in accuracy; but much is
gained in effect. The fainter lines are neglected but the great
characteristic features are imprinted on the mind for ever.

The History terminates with the death of Lorenzo de' Medici.
Machiavelli had, it seems, intended to continue his narrative to
a later period. But his death prevented the execution of his
design; and the melancholy task of recording the desolation and
shame of Italy devolved on Guicciardini.

Machiavelli lived long enough to see the commencement of the last
struggle for Florentine liberty. Soon after his death monarchy
was finally established, not such a monarchy as that of which
Cosmo had laid the foundations deep in the institution and
feelings of his countryman, and which Lorenzo had embellished
with the trophies of every science and every art; but a loathsome
tyranny, proud and mean, cruel and feeble, bigoted and
lascivious. The character of Machiavelli was hateful to the new
masters of Italy; and those parts of his theory which were in
strict accordance with their own daily practice afforded a
pretext for blackening his memory. His works were misrepresented
by the learned, misconstrued by the ignorant, censured by the
Church, abused with all the rancour of simulated virtue by the
tools of a base government, and the priests of a baser
superstition. The name of the man whose genius had illuminated
all the dark places of policy, and to whose patriotic wisdom an
oppressed people had owed their last chance of emancipation and
revenge, passed into a proverb of infamy. For more than two
hundred years his bones lay undistinguished. At length, an
English nobleman paid the as honours to the greatest statesman of
Florence. In the church of Santa Croce a monument was erected to
his memory, which is contemplated with reverence by all who can
distinguish the virtues of a great mind through the corruptions
of a degenerate age, and which will be approached with still
deeper homage when the object to which his public life was
devoted shall be attained, when the foreign yoke shall be broken,
when a second Procida shall avenge the wrongs of Naples, when a
happier Rienzi shall restore the good estate of Rome, when the
streets of Florence and Bologna shall again resound with their
ancient war-cry, Popolo; popolo; muoiano i tiranni!


(October 1840)

The Ecclesiastical and political History of the Popes of Rome,
during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. By LEOPOLD RANKE,
Professor in the University of Berlin: Translated from the
German, by SARAH AUSTIN. 3 vols. 8vo. London: 1840.

It is hardly necessary for us to say that this is an excellent
book excellently translated. The original work of Professor Ranke
is known and esteemed wherever German literature is studied, and
has been found interesting even in a most inaccurate and
dishonest French version. It is, indeed, the work of a mind
fitted both for minute researches and for large speculations. It
is written also in an admirable spirit, equally remote from
levity and bigotry, serious and earnest, yet tolerant and
impartial. It is, therefore, with the greatest pleasure that we
now see this book take its place among the English classics. Of
the translation we need only say that it is such as might be
expected from the skill, the taste, and the scrupulous integrity
of the accomplished lady who, as an interpreter between the mind
of Germany and the mind of Britain, has already deserved so well
of both countries.

The subject of this book has always appeared to us singularly
interesting. How it was that Protestantism did so much, yet did
no more, how it was that the Church of Rome, having lost a large
part of Europe, not only ceased to lose, but actually regained
nearly half of what she had lost, is certainly a most curious and
important question; and on this question Professor Ranke has
thrown far more light than any other person who has written on

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human
policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic
Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great
ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing
which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of
sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers
bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses
are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme
Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the
Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope
who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin
the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of
fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the
republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and
the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The
Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of
life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending
forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous
as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting
hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted
Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former
age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated
for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency
extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of
the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may
not improbably contain a population as large as that which now
inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not
fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult
to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred
and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that
the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the
commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical
establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no
assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all.
She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on
Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian
eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still
worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in
undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall,
in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch
of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.

We often hear it said that the world is constantly becoming more
and more enlightened, and that this enlightening must be
favourable to Protestantism, and unfavourable to Catholicism. We
wish that we could think so. But we see great reason to doubt
whether this be a well-founded expectation. We see that during
the last two hundred and fifty years the human mind has been in
the highest degree active, that it has made great advances in
every branch of natural philosophy, that it has produced
innumerable inventions tending to promote the convenience of
life, that medicine, surgery, chemistry, engineering, have been
very greatly improved, that government, police, and law have been
improved, though not to so great an extent as the physical
sciences. Yet we see that, during these two hundred and fifty
years, Protestantism has made no conquests worth speaking of.
Nay, we believe that, as far as there has been a change, that
change has, on the whole, been in favour of the Church of Rome.
We cannot, therefore, feel confident that the progress of
knowledge will necessarily be fatal to a system which has, to say
the least, stood its ground in spite of the immense progress made
by the human race in knowledge since the days of Queen Elizabeth.

Indeed the argument which we are considering, seems to us to be
founded on an entire mistake. There are branches of knowledge
with respect to which the law of the human mind is progress. In
mathematics, when once a proposition has been demonstrated, it is
never afterwards contested. Every fresh story is as solid a basis
for a new superstructure as the original foundation was. Here,
therefore, there is a constant addition to the stock of truth. In
the inductive sciences again, the law is progress. Every day
furnishes new facts, and thus brings theory nearer and nearer to
perfection. There is no chance that, either in the purely
demonstrative, or in the purely experimental sciences, the world
will ever go back or even remain stationary. Nobody ever heard of
a reaction against Taylor's theorem, or of a reaction against
Harvey's doctrine of the circulation of the blood.

But with theology the case is very different. As respects natural
religion,--revelation being for the present altogether left out
of the question,--it is not easy to see that a philosopher of the
present day is more favourably situated than Thales or Simonides.
He has before him just the same evidences of design in the
structure of the universe which the early Greeks had. We say just
the same; for the discoveries of modern astronomers and
anatomists have really added nothing to the force of that
argument which a reflecting mind finds in every beast, bird,
insect, fish, leaf, flower and shell. The reasoning by which
Socrates, in Xenophon's hearing, confuted the little atheist
Aristodemus, is exactly the reasoning of Paley's Natural
Theology. Socrates makes precisely the same use of the statues of
Polycletus and the pictures of Zeuxis which Paley makes of the
watch. As to the other great question, the question, what becomes
of man after death, we do not see that a highly educated
European, left to his unassisted reason, is more likely to be in
the right than a Blackfoot Indian. Not a single one of the many
sciences in which we surpass the Blackfoot Indians throws the
smallest light on the state of the soul after the animal life is
extinct. In truth all the philosophers, ancient and modern, who
have attempted, without the help of revelation to prove the
immortality of man, from Plato down to Franklin, appear to us to
have failed deplorably.

Then, again, all the great enigmas which perplex the natural
theologian are the same in all ages. The ingenuity of a people
just emerging from barbarism is quite sufficient to propound
those enigmas. The genius of Locke or Clarke is quite unable to
solve them. It is a mistake to imagine that subtle speculations
touching the Divine attributes, the origin of evil, the necessity
of human actions, the foundation of moral obligation, imply any
high degree of intellectual culture. Such speculations, on the
contrary, are in a peculiar manner the delight of intelligent
children and of half civilised men. The number of boys is not
small who, at fourteen, have thought enough on these questions to
be fully entitled to the praise which Voltaire gives to Zadig.
"Il en savait ce qu'on en a su dans tous les ages; c'est-a-dire,
fort peu de chose." The book of Job shows that, long before
letters and arts were known to Ionia, these vexing questions were
debated with no common skill and eloquence, under the tents of
the Idumean Emirs; nor has human reason, in the course of three
thousand years, discovered any satisfactory solution of the
riddles which perplexed Eliphaz and Zophar.

Natural theology, then, is not a progressive science. That
knowledge of our origin and of our destiny which we derive from
revelation is indeed of very different clearness, and of very
different importance. But neither is revealed religion of the
nature of a progressive science. All Divine truth is, according
to the doctrine of the Protestant Churches, recorded in certain
books. It is equally open to all who, in any age, can read those
books; nor can all the discoveries of all the philosophers in the
world add a single verse to any of those books. It is plain,
therefore, that in divinity there cannot be a progress analogous
to that which is constantly taking place in pharmacy, geology,
and navigation. A Christian of the fifth Century with a Bible is
neither better nor worse situated than a Christian of the
nineteenth century with a Bible, candour and natural acuteness
being, of course, supposed equal. It matters not at all that the
compass, printing, gunpowder, steam, gas, vaccination, and a
thousand other discoveries and inventions, which were unknown in
the fifth century, are familiar to the nineteenth. None of these
discoveries and inventions has the smallest bearing on the
question whether man is justified by faith alone, or whether the
invocation of saints is an orthodox practice. It seems to us,
therefore, that we have no security for the future against the
prevalence of any theological error that ever has prevailed in
time past among Christian men. We are confident that the world
will never go back to the solar system of Ptolemy; nor is our
confidence in the least shaken by the circumstance, that even so
great a man as Bacon rejected the theory of Galileo with scorn;
for Bacon had not all the means of arriving at a sound conclusion
which are within our reach, and which secure people who would not
have been worthy to mend his pens from falling into his mistakes.
But when we reflect that Sir Thomas More was ready to die for the
doctrine of transubstantiation, we cannot but feel some doubt
whether the doctrine of transubstantiation may not triumph over
all opposition. More was a man of eminent talents. He had all the
information on the subject that we have, or that, while the world
lasts, any human being will have. The text, "This is my body,"
was in his New Testament as it is in ours. The absurdity of the
literal interpretation was as great and as obvious in the
sixteenth century as it is now. No progress that science has
made, or will make, can add to what seems to us the overwhelming
force of the argument against the real presence. We are,
therefore, unable to understand why what Sir Thomas More believed
respecting transubstantiation may not be believed to the end of
time by men equal in abilities and honesty to Sir Thomas More.
But Sir Thomas More is one of the choice specimens of human
wisdom and virtue; and the doctrine of transubstantiation is a
kind of proof charge. A faith which stands that test will stand
any test. The prophecies of Brothers and the miracles of Prince
Hohenlohe sink to trifles in the comparison.

One reservation, indeed, must be made. The books and traditions
of a sect may contain, mingled with propositions strictly
theological, other propositions, purporting to rest on the same
authority, which relate to physics. If new discoveries should
throw discredit on the physical propositions, the theological
propositions, unless they can be separated from the physical
propositions, will share in that discredit. In this way,
undoubtedly, the progress of science may indirectly serve the
cause of religious truth. The Hindoo mythology, for example, is
bound up with a most absurd geography. Every young Brahmin,
therefore, who learns geography in our colleges learns to smile
at the Hindoo mythology. If Catholicism has not suffered to an
equal degree from the Papal decision that the sun goes round the
earth, this is because all intelligent Catholics now hold, with
Pascal, that, in deciding the point at all, the Church exceeded
her powers, and was, therefore, justly left destitute of that
supernatural assistance which, in the exercise of her legitimate
functions, the promise of her Founder authorised her to expect.

This reservation affects not at all the truth of our proposition,
that divinity, properly so called, is not a progressive science.
A very common knowledge of history, a very little observation of
life, will suffice to prove that no learning, no sagacity,
affords a security against the greatest errors on subjects
relating to the invisible world. Bayle and Chillingworth, two of
the most sceptical of mankind, turned Catholics from sincere
conviction. Johnson, incredulous on all other points, was a ready
believer in miracles and apparitions. He would not believe in
Ossian; but he was willing to believe in the second sight. He
would not believe in the earthquake of Lisbon; but he was willing
to believe in the Cock Lane ghost.

For these reasons we have ceased to wonder at any vagaries of
superstition. We have seen men, not of mean intellect or
neglected education, but qualified by their talents and
acquirements to attain eminence either in active or speculative
pursuits, well-read scholars, expert logicians, keen observers of
life and manners, prophesying, interpreting, talking unknown
tongues, working miraculous cures, coming down with messages from
God to the House of Commons. We have seen an old woman, with no
talents beyond the cunning of a fortune-teller, and with the
education of a scullion, exalted into a prophetess, and
surrounded by tens of thousands of devoted followers, many of
whom were, in station and knowledge, immeasurably her superiors;
and all this in the nineteenth century; and all this in London.
Yet why not? For of the dealings of God with man no more has been
revealed to the nineteenth century than to the first, or to
London than to the wildest parish in the Hebrides. It is true
that, in those things which concern this life and this world, man
constantly becomes wiser and wiser. But it is no less true that,
as respects a higher power and a future state, man, in the
language of Goethe's scoffing friend,

"bleibt stets von gleichem Schlag,
Und ist so wunderlich als wie am ersten Tag."

The history of Catholicism strikingly illustrates these
observations. During the last seven centuries the public mind of
Europe has made constant progress in every department of secular
knowledge. But in religion we can trace no constant progress. The
ecclesiastical history of that long period is a history of
movement to and fro. Four times, since the authority of the
Church of Rome was established in Western Christendom, has the
human intellect risen up against her yoke. Twice that Church
remained completely victorious. Twice she came forth from the
conflict bearing the marks of cruel wounds, but with the
principle of life still strong within her. When we reflect on the
tremendous assaults which she has survived, we find it difficult
to conceive in what way she is to perish.

The first of these insurrections broke out in the region where
the beautiful language of Oc was spoken. That country, singularly
favoured by nature, was, in the twelfth century, the most
flourishing and civilised portion of Western Europe. It was in
no wise a part of France. It had a distinct political existence,
distinct national character, distinct usages, and a distinct
speech. The soil was fruitful and well cultivated; and amidst the
cornfields and vineyards arose many rich cities each of which was
a little republic, and many stately castles: each of which
contained a miniature of an imperial court. It was there that the
spirit of chivalry first laid aside its terrors, first took a
humane and graceful form, first appeared as the inseparable
associate of art and literature, of courtesy and love. The other
vernacular dialects which, since the fifth century, had sprung up
in the ancient provinces of the Roman empire, were still rude and
imperfect. The sweet Tuscan, the rich and energetic English, were
abandoned to artisans and shepherds. No clerk had ever
condescended to use such barbarous jargon for the teaching of
science, for the recording of great events, or for the painting
of life and manners. But the language of Provence was already the
language of the learned and polite, and was employed by numerous
writers, studious of all the arts of composition and
versification. A literature rich in ballads, in war-songs, in
satire, and, above all, in amatory poetry amused the leisure of
the knights and ladies whose fortified mansions adorned the banks
of the Rhone and Garonne. With civilisation had come freedom of
thought. Use had taken away the horror with which misbelievers
were elsewhere regarded. No Norman or Breton ever saw a
Mussulman, except to give and receive blows on some Syrian field
of battle. But the people of the rich countries which lay under
the Pyrenees lived in habits of courteous and profitable
intercourse with the Moorish kingdoms of Spain, and gave a
hospitable welcome to skilful leeches and mathematicians who, in
the schools of Cordova and Granada, had become versed in all the
learning of the Arabians. The Greek, still preserving, in the
midst of political degradation, the ready wit and the inquiring
spirit of his fathers, still able to read the most perfect of
human compositions, still speaking the most powerful and flexible
of human languages, brought to the marts of Narbonne and
Toulouse, together with the drugs and silks of remote climates,
bold and subtle theories long unknown to the ignorant and
credulous West. The Paulician theology, a theology in which, as
it should seem, many of the doctrines of the modern Calvinists
were mingled with some doctrines derived from the ancient
Manichees, spread rapidly through Provence and Languedoc. The
clergy of the Catholic Church were regarded with loathing and
contempt. "Viler than a priest," "I would as soon be a priest,"
became proverbial expressions. The Papacy had lost all authority
with all classes, from the great feudal princes down to the
cultivators of the soil.

The danger to the hierarchy was indeed formidable. Only one
transalpine nation had emerged from barbarism; and that nation
had thrown off all respect for Rome. Only one of the vernacular
languages of Europe had yet been extensively employed for
literary purposes; and that language was a machine in the hands
of heretics. The geographical position of the sectaries made the
danger peculiarly formidable. They occupied a central region
communicating directly with France, with Italy, and with Spain.
The provinces which were still untainted were separated from each
other by this infected district. Under these circumstances, it
seemed probable that a single generation would suffice to spread
the reformed doctrine to Lisbon, to London, and to Naples. But
this was not to be. Rome cried for help to the warriors of
northern France. She appealed at once to their superstition and
to their cupidity. To the devout believer she promised pardons as
ample as those with which she had rewarded the deliverers of the
Holy Sepulchre. To the rapacious and profligate she offered the
plunder of fertile plains and wealthy cities. Unhappily, the


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