Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

and the French retired from Italy. I The Florentines had been spectators rather than actors in these great events. But -they were now destined to feel the full effects of them. The cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, who was present at the battle of Ravenna, brought a Spanish army into Tuscany. Prato was sacked in the August of 1512. Florence, in extreme terror, deposed the gonfalonier, and opened her gates to the princes of the house of Medici.

The government onwhich Machiavelli depended had fallen, never to rise again. The national militia in which he placed unbounded confidence had proved inefficient to protect Florence in the hour of need. He was surrounded by political and personal enemies, who regarded him with jealousy as the ex-gonfalonier's right-hand man. Yet at first it appears that he still hoped to retain his office. He showed no repugnance to a change of masters, and began to make overtures to the Medici. The nove della milizia were, however, dissolved; and on the 7th of November ISI2 Machiavelli was deprived of his appointments. He was exiled from Florence and confined to the dominion for one year, and on the 17th of November was futher prohibited from setting foot in the Palazzo Pubblico. Ruin stared him in the face; and, to make matters worse, he was implicated in the conspiracy of Pier Paolo Boscoli in February 1 513.. Machiavelli had taken no share in that feeble attempt against the Medici, but his name was found upon a memorandum dropped by Boscoli. This was enough to ensure his imprisonment He was racked, and only released upon Giovanni de' Medici's election to the papacy in March 1 513. When he left his dungeon he retired to a farm near San Casciano, and faced the fact 'that his political career was at an end. ' I, 1

Machiavelli now entered upon a period of life to which we, owe the great works that have rendered his name immortal; -But it was one of prolonged disappointment and annoyance. He had not accustomed himself to economical living; and, when the emoluments of .his office were withdrawn, he had barely enough to support his family. The previous years of his manhood had been spent in continual activity. Much as he -enjoyed the study of the Latin and Italian classics, literature was not his business; nor had he looked on writing as more than an occasional 3 amusement. He was now driven in upon his books for the ernployment of a restless temperament; and to this irksomeness of enforced leisure may be ascribed the production of the Principe, the Discorsi, the Arte della guerra, the comedies, and the H islorie fiarenline. The uneasiness of Machiavelli's the first years of this retirement is brought before us by his private correspondence. The letters to Vettori paint a man of vigorous

intellect and feverish activity, dividing his time between studies and vulgar dissipation's, seeking at one time distraction in low intrigues and wanton company, at another turning to the great minds of antiquity for solace. It is not easy to understand the spirit in which the author of the Principe sat down to exchange obscenities with the author of the Somrnario della sloria d'Ilalia. At the same time this coarseness of taste did not blunt his intellectual sagacity. His letters onpublic affairs in Italy and Europe, especially those which he meant Vettori to communicate to the Medici at Rome, are marked by extraordinary fineness of perception, combined, as usual in his case, with philosophical breadth. In retirement at his villa near Percussina, a hamlet of San Casciano, Machiavelli completed the Principe 'before the end of 1513. This famous book is an analysis of the methods whereby an ambitious man may rise to sovereign power. It appears to have grown out of another scarcely less celebrated work, upon which Machiavelli had been engaged before he took the Principe in hand, and which he did not finish until so me 'time afterwards. This second treatise is the Discorsi sopra la prima deca di. Tito Livio. ' .

Cast in the form of comments on the history of Livy, the Discorsi are really an inquiry into the genesis and maintenance of states. The Principe is an' offshoot from the main theme of the Discorsi, setting forth Machiavelli's views at large and in detail upon the nature of principalities, the method of cementing them., and the qualities of) a successful autocrat. Being more limited in subject and more independent as a work of literary art, this essay detaches itself from the main body of the Discorsi, and has attracted far more attention. We feel that the Principe is inspired with greater fervency, as though its author had more than a speculative aim in view, and brought it forth to serve a special crisis: The moment of its 'composition was indeed decisive. Machiavelli judged the case of Italy so desperate that salvation could only be expected front the intervention of a powerful despot. The unification of Italy in a state protected by a national army was the cherished 'dream of his life; and the peroration of the Principe shows. that he meant this treatise to have a direct bearing on theproblern. We must be careful, however, not to fall into the error of supposing that he wrote it with the sole object of meeting an occasional emergency. Together with the Discorsi, the Principe contains the speculative fruits of his experience' and observation combined with his deductions;from Roman history. The two works form one coherent body of opinion, not systematically expressed, it is true, but based on the same principles, involving thepsame conclusions, and directed to the same philosophical end. That end is the analysis of the conception of the state, studied under two main types, republican and monarchical. Up to the date' of Machiavelli, modern political philosophy had always presupposed an ideal. Medieval speculation took-the Church and the. Empire for granted, as divinely appointed institutions, under which the nations of the earth must flourish for the space of man's probation on this planet. Thinkers differed only as Guelfs and Ghibellines, as leaning on the one side to papal, on the other to imperial supremacy. In the revival of learning, scholarship supplanted scholasticism, and the old ways of medieval thinking were forgotten. "But no substantial philosophy of any kind emerged from humanisrn; the political lucubration's of the scholars were, like their ethical treatises, for the most part rhetorical. Still the humanists effected delivery of the intellect from whathad become the bondage of obsolete ideas, and created a new medium for the speculative faculty. Simultaneously with the revival, Italy, had passed into that stage of her existencefwhich has been called the age of despots. The yoke of the Empire had been shaken off. The Church had taken rank among Italian tyrannies. The peninsula was, rou hly s eaking, divided into principalities and sovereign cities, 6351 of which claimed autocratic jurisdiction. These separate despot isms owned no common social tie, were founded on no common jus or right, but were connected in ag network of conflicting interests and changeful diplomatic combinations. A keen and positive olitical intelligence emerged in the Italian race. The reports of 5/enetian and Florentine ambassador sat this epoch contain the first germs of an attempt to study politics from the point of view of science. f

~, At this moment Machiavelli intervenes. He was conscious of the change which had come over Italy and Europe. He was aware that the old strongholds of medieval thought must be abandoned, and that the' decaying ruins 'of medieval institutions furnished no basis for the erection of solid political edifices. He felt the corruption of -his cofuntry, and sought to bring, the world back to a lively sense of the necessity for reformation. His originality consists in having extended the positive intelligence of his century from the sphere of contemporary politics and special interests to man at large regarded as a political-being. He founded the science of politics' for the modern world, by concentrating thought upon its fund amen tel principles. He began to study men, not according to some preconception, but as hefound them-men, not in the isolation of one century, 'but as a whole in history. He drew his conclusions from t-he nature of mankind itself, “ ascribing all things to natural' causes or to fortune." In this way he restored theiright method of study, a method which had been neglected since the days of Aristotle. He formed a conception of the modern state, which marked the close of the middle ages, and anticipated the next phase of European development. His prince, abating those points which are purely Italian or stronglyytinctured with the author's personal peculiarities, prefigured the monarchs of the 16th and 17th centuries, the monarchs whose motto was I/élal c'esl mai/, His doctrine of a national militia foreshadowed the system which has iven strength in arms to France and Germanyt His insight into tire causes of Italian decadence was complete; and the remedies which he suggested, in the perorations of the Principe and the Arie della guerra, have since been applied in the unification of Italy. Lastly, when we once have freed ourselves from'the antipathy engendered' by his severancelof' ethics from the field of politics, when -we have once made proper allowance for his peculiar use of phrases like frodi onorevoli or scelleratezze gloriase, nothing is left but admiration for his mental attitude. That is the attitude of a patriot, who saw with open eyes the ruin of his country, who *burned above 'all things to save Italy and set her in her place among the powerful nations; who held t-he duty of self sacrifice in the most absolute sense, whose very limitations' and mistakes were due to an absorbing passion for the state he dreamed might be reconstituted. It was Machiavelli's intense preoccupation with this problem-what a state is and how to found one inyexisting circumstances-which caused the many riddles of his speculative writings. Dazzled, as it were, with the brilliancy of his own discovery, concentrated in attention on the one necessity for organizing a powerful coherent nation, he forgot that .men are more than po itical beings., He neglected religion, or regarded it as part of