HOW MUCH FORTUNE CAN DO IN HUMAN AFFAIRS
AND HOW IT MAY BE OPPOSED
It is not unknown to me how many have been and are of opinion that worldly events are so governed by fortune and by God, that men cannot by their prudence change them, and that on the contrary there is no remedy whatever, and for this they may judge it to be useless to toil much about them, but let things be ruled by chance. This opinion has been more believed in in our day, from the great changes that have been seen, and are daily seen, beyond every human conjecture.
When I think about them at times, I am partly inclined to share this opinion. Nevertheless, that our freewill may not be altogether extinguished, I think it may be true .that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or a little less to be governed by us. I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, ruins trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flies before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it; and yet though it is of such a kind, still when it is quiet, men can make provision against it by dams and banks, so that when it rises it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous. It happens similarly with fortune, which shows her power where no measures have been taken to resist her, and turns her fury where she knows that no dams or barriers have been made to hold her. And if you regard Italy, which has been the seat of these changes, and who has given the impulse to them, you will see her to be a country without dams or barriers of any kind. If she had been protected by proper measures, like Germany, Spain, and France, this inundation would not have caused the great changes that it has, or would not have happened at all. This must suffice as regards opposition to fortune in general. But limiting myself more to particular cases, I would point out how one sees a certain prince to-day fortunate and to-morrow ruined, without seeing that he has changed in character or otherwise. I believe this arises in the first place from the causes that we have already discussed at length; that is to say, because the prince who bases himself entirely on fortune is ruined when fortune varies. I also believe that he is happy whose mode of proceeding accords with the needs of the times, and similarly he is unfortunate whose mode of proceeding is opposed to the times. For one sees that men in those things which lead them to the aim that each one has in view, namely, glory and riches, proceed in various ways; one with circumspection, another with impetuosity, one by violence, another by cunning, one with patience, another with the reverse; and each by these diverse ways may arrive at his aim. One sees also two cautious men, one of whom succeeds in his designs, and the other not, and in the same way two men succeed equally by different methods, one being cautious, the other impetuous, which arises only from the nature of the times, which does or does not conform to their method of proceeding. From this results, as I have said, that two men, acting differently, attain the same effect, and of two others acting in the same way, one arrives at his good and not the other. From this depend also the changes in fortune, for if it happens that time and circumstances are favourable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful, but if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change his mode of proceeding. No man is found able to adapt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it; and therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined; for if one could change one's nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change. Pope Julius II. acted impetuously in everything he did and found the times and conditions so in conformity with that mode of proceeding, that he always obtained a good result. Consider the first war that he made against Bologna while Messer Giovanni Bentivogli was still living. The Venetians were not pleased with it, the King of Spain and like- wise France had objections to this enterprise, notwithstanding which with his fierce and impetuous disposition he engaged personally in the expedition. This move caused both Spain and the Venetians to halt and hesitate, the latter through fear, the former through the desire to regain the entire kingdom of Naples. On the other hand, he engaged with him the King of France, because seeing him make this move and desiring his friendship in order to put down the Venetians, that king judged that he could not refuse him his troops without manifest injury. Thus Julius by his impetuous move achieved what no other pontiff with the utmost human prudence would have succeeded in doing, because, if he had waited till all arrangements had been made and everything settled before leaving Rome, as any other pontiff would have done, it would never have taken place. For the king of France would have found a thousand excuses, and the others would have inspired him with a thousand fears. I will omit his other actions, which were all of this kind and which all succeeded well, and the shortness of his life did not suffer him to experience the contrary, for had times succeeded in which it was necessary to act with caution, his ruin would have resulted, for he would never have deviated from these methods to which his nature disposed him. I conclude then that fortune varying and men remaining fixed in their ways, they are successful so long as these ways conform to each other, but when they are opposed to each other then they are unsuccessful. I certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force; and it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by these rather than by those who proceed coldly. And therefore, like a woman, she is a friend to the young, because they are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater audacity.