Page:Machiavelli, Romanes Lecture, 2 June 1897.djvu/21

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pleasure in the revenge that goes with perfidy, than if it were open. All this was just as true of Florence in the sixteenth century, as it was of Athens, Corinth, and Corcyra in the fifth century before Christ. The postulate of Thucydides, that human nature should remain the same, still held good, as it has held good at many a stormful period since, the social progress of the ages notwithstanding.

Whether the moral state of Italy was intrinsically and substantially worse than that of other European nations, is a question which those who know most, are least disposed to answer offhand.16 Still Italy presents some peculiarities that shed over her civilisation at this time a curious and deadly iridescence. Passions moved in strange orbits. Private depravity and political debasement went with one of the most brilliant intellectual awakenings in the history of the western world. Another dark element is the association of merciless selfishness, violence, craft, and corruption with the administration of sacred things. If politics were divorced from morals, so was theology. Modern conscience is shocked by the resort to hired crime and stealthy assassination, especially by poison. Mariana, the famous Spanish Jesuit, tells us (De Rege, i. 7) that when he was teaching theology in Sicily (1567), a certain young prince asked him whether it were lawful to slay a tyrant by poison. The theologian did not find it easy to draw a distinction between poison and steel, but at last he fell upon a reason (and a most absurd reason it is) for his decision that a poniard is permitted and white powder