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Soderini both failed, because they did not destroy their enemies when in their power. Savonarola was disarmed by his profession and position, Soderini by his humanity (Discourses, Book III. chap. ix.).
Machiavelli at once submitted to the new government. He seems to have considered that it is the duty of a good citizen to make the best of the Constitution under which he lives, and to refrain from conspiring against it; but if it come to be overthrown, then to obey the de facto ruler. Machiavelli trusted to be allowed to serve the Medici, if not with as much pleasure, at any rate as faithfully as he had served Soderini and the Republic. But he had taken too prominent a part in the late administration for the Medicean faction to permit him to retain his office. The power of the Medici after the withdrawal of the Spanish troops was but ill-established. Conspiracies were feared, Machiavelli, with other friends of the late government, was imprisoned and tortured on scanty evidence, and he was only set at liberty when the elevation of Leo X. made the Pope's family strong enough to be clement.
Despairing of employment for the present, Machiavelli retired to a little property he possessed near Florence, and to this retirement we owe his most celebrated works-The Discourses on the First Decade of Livy, The Prince, The Discourse on the Art of War, and his Comedies. The life he led, and the objects of his literary activity, are described in a well-known letter to his friend Vettori. "Since the last events I have remained at my farm, and have not spent in all twenty days at Florence. . . . In the morning I go to a coppice which I am having felled, and spend a couple of hours with the wood-cutters, looking at what they have done the day before, and listening to the disputes which constantly arise between them and their neighbours. Then I sit down by a spring or visit my decoy, a book under my arm, Dante or Petrarch, or one of the less renowned poets, such as Ovid or Tibullus. I read of their loves and tender passions and recall my own. In these thoughts some time slips pleasantly away. Then I walk on to the inn by the wayside; enter into conversation with any travellers who pass and learn their news. Thus I hear something new, and observe the various opinions and fancies of men. So dinner time comes, and with my family I sit down to such cheer as my poor farm and slender patrimony can afford. After dinner I return to the inn; there I find the host, a butcher, a miller, and a couple of charcoal-burners: in their company I besot myself while day lasts over some game of chance, the source of endless quarrels and of much gross and unmannerly abuse-generally it is all about a farthing, but we scream loud enough to be heard at S. Casciano.
"Thus I plunge and wallow in the base lot which fortune has reserved for me; if so, perchance, she may feel some shame for her
cruelty in thus trampling me under her feet. When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; but before I cross the threshold I throw off my filthy, mud-stained peasant's dress and put on fair and courtly garments, in order that I may enter into the presence of the great men of antiquity reverently and decently clad. They receive me lovingly, and I am allowed to satiate myself with the only food which suits me, and for which I was born. I do not hesitate to converse with them, and to ask them the motives and objects of their actions. They, in their courtesy, answer me, and I spend four hours without cares and without weariness. I forget my misfortunes, I fear neither poverty nor death, I lose myself entirely. But, as Dante says, there is no profit in learning unless we remember what we have heard; and I have, therefore, noted down all that has seemed to me most profitable in these conversations, and I have composed a treatise, 'De Principatibus,' in which I have gone as deeply into the subject as I am able. I have inquired into the definition of a monarchy, into its varieties, how it can be acquired, how maintained, how lost. If anything I ever scribbled pleased you, this ought not to displease you. It should be acceptable to a prince, and especially to one who is new to power. I have, therefore, dedicated it to the magnificence of Juliano. I wish my lords the Medici would set me to work, were it only to roll a stone; for if I did not then win their favour I should blame none but myself."
Juliano de' Medici read The Prince, but Machiavelli was disappointed in his hopes of employment. It was not till after the death of Lorenzo, in 1519, that Leo X. began to consult him and to send him on trifling missions. Guicciardini compares his friend to Lysander superintending the rations of the soldiers he had used to lead to victory. Once Machiavelli had been an ambassador to princes and kings, now he was sent to negotiate with the Franciscan friars of Carpi. The ill-advised conspiracy of the Soderini aggravated the tyranny of the Medici and threw increased suspicion on Machiavelli: he was not again employed. He died in June, 1527, in his fiftyninth year, a month after the expulsion of Ippolito and Alessandro de' Medici and the restoration of Florentine liberty had opened to him a new prospect of public activity.
Even such a slight sketch as I have been able to give may show that Machiavelli's political life was perfectly simple and straightforward. He was a Republican by conviction, but not unwilling to serve his country under another form of government. This may not be the conduct of an ideal patriot, but it has at all times been that of many useful and not dishonourable public servants. How many men in France held office with little blame or loss of credit under LouisPhilippe, the Republic of '48, and the Second Empire? Nor because we excuse Machiavelli, and the more readily when we
take into account the time and the place of his life, does it follow that we must approve him. M. Sismondi, and other writers, have endeavoured to show that unbridled ferocity, shameless perfidy, and cynical hypocrisy were not less rife in other parts of Europe at this period than in Italy. It is easy to point to the unscrupulous statecraft of the princes of the House of York, of Lewis XI., of Ferdinand the Catholic; to the sensuality, grovelling superstition, and hardly more enlightened infidelity prevalent among the clergy; to the absence of any higher aims and aspirations which characterised all classes; to the fact that even the renewed interest in ancient culture seemed at first only to introduce an additional element of corruption, and produced monsters such as Tiptoft, the butcher Earl of Worcester, or that Marshal de Retz who, after murdering two or three thousand children with circumstances of nameless infamy, was tardily overtaken by reluctant justice. But what is proved by these facts? That morality, both public and private, had sunk to a very low ebb during the century which preceded the Reformation-not that there were no degrees in that corruption, not that the Italians might not be worse than their neighbours. But, says M. Sismondi, the social life of the Italians in the little states which then composed Italy was all public, and their private sufferings were often historical. Each individual was in immediate contact with the government, his intrigues, his passions, his crimes, were intimately connected with the revolutions and the history of the state. In the great monarchies of Europe we hear little of the sufferings of the mass of the people, of the oppression of subordinate officials, of the injustice and cruelty of the nobles, and of other petty tyrants. If we would compare the condition of the French people during the fifteenth century with that of the Italians, we ought to be intimately acquainted with the daily history of the citizens of Blois, Angers, Rouen, and other great towns, with the private crimes and tragedies of many hundred families. This, no doubt, is true, yet we may prefer to believe the concurrent testimony of natives and foreigners, and the proofs which constantly meet us in her literature, that Italy was pre-eminently corrupt. The courts of France and England and Spain were assuredly no schools of virtue, their royal families were stained with fratricide or its suspicion; but nowhere, except in Italy, can we find such long records of crime as are presented by annals of the Scalas, the Viscontis, the Malatestas, the Estes, or the Baglioni of Perugia.
There are, moreover, so many reasons why the Italians should have been more vicious than men of other nations, that if there were no other evidence we should be almost justified in concluding that such must have been the case. Machiavelli is never tired of insisting on the evil influence of the Church and of the Papal Court. The Papacy had rapidly descended to the lowest depths of infamy. The
fiercely avaricious and cruel Paul II. had been succeeded by Sixtus IV., who was steeped in bloodshed and diabolic lust; under Innocent VIII., more contemptible and scarcely less guilty, the imperial city became once more the asylum of murderers and robbers, till finally, in Alexander VI. the Christian nations saw a monster who excelled in depravity the most hated names of the pagan empire seated on the throne of St. Peter and presented to their adoration as the Vicar of God. Such religion as the Italians still possessed was almost purely formal; there was a complete separation between religion and morality. Benvenuto Cellini in this as in many other things, is the type of his countrymen. He believed himself to have been allowed to communicate directly with the Deity; he possessed an outward sign of the divine favour in the halo which surrounded his head, and which under favourable atmospheric conditions was, he assures us, distinctly visible. Yet he seems to have felt no scruple in assassinating his enemies, or in dragging round his studio by her hair the wretched woman who was his model and his mistress. No wonder that many of the nobler spirits, who rose to virtue through philosophy, looked upon such Christianity with contempt; but they could offer no popular doctrine capable of regenerating the multitude.
Nor did the sense of honour serve the Italians as a restraining principle and substitute for conscience. Their idea of honour seems to have been entirely different from that of the Western nations. A man's honour forbids him to do that which would forfeit his self-respect; courage, and all the virtues which imply courage, were most highly respected in feudal Europe, and these a man would wish to convince himself that he possessed. The Italian especially admired that versatile, unscrupulous, and audacious cleverness which Machiavelli calls "virtù." They could, therefore, retain their selfrespect and commit the basest crimes; especially if prepared, "vitam impendere falso," to stake their life on the success of their treachery. The sense of honour is purely subjective, it may be rooted in dishonour, it may even assume the form of pride in bolder and more cynical wickedness than that of others, it may lead us to say, "evil, be thou my good." The very circumstances and qualities which had been so favourable to the progress of Italy in the arts and humanities of life had been hostile to moral growth. Over great subtlety of intellect, and a tendency to analyze motives and conduct, are always fatal to delicacy of moral fibre. Whatever the origin of conscience may be, it does not bear arguing with; the devil still proves the better logician. The numerous little courts of the despots were centres of culture, they vied in encouraging artists and men of letters, but they were also centres of a corruption brought close to the door of every
citizen. All the demoralising effects of despotism were intensified tenfold by the narrowness of the dominions, and also by the skill and vigour of many of these petty tyrants. The only public life open in most cases to an Italian was to enter the service of some despot, the only object of his ambition to win his master's favour, or perhaps to supplant him; and it is obvious what the means were by which alone these ends could be attained.
Machiavelli's writings were, perhaps, more influenced by the evil atmosphere in which he lived than his actions; yet if it be allowed that Machiavelli's political career was straightforward and comprehensible, neither do I believe that an unprejudiced reader will find in his books that strange confusion of good and evil which Macaulay so characteristically describes when he tells us that "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 scarce 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." To be understood, Machiavelli's works must be read as a whole, and we must not isolate sentences from their context and discuss them as maxims of universal applicability; and especially we must not separate the Discourses on Livy and The Prince, but remember that they were written at the same time, and that they do not represent different phases in the development of their author's political opinions, but supplement and explain each other.
Machiavelli attributes the corruption and immorality which he recognises and deplores to defective institutions, for men, he asserts, are always the same. The rough material on which the legislator works varies as little as the marble of the sculptor; if, therefore, we can discover the means by which Romulus and Lycurgus of old produced such good results, if we can observe the rules they followed, we shall be as certain to succeed in establishing a well-constituted state, and in raising men from their present degeneracy, as an artist well acquainted with, and capable of following, the method of Praxiteles would be certain to produce a good statue.1
This belief in the identity of human nature at all times and in all races, and the absence of any conception of development, is no doubt one of the most obvious defects in Machiavelli's political philosophy. But though he does not recognise any difference which will prevent the same institutions from producing at all times the same results, yet he does not assert that all men, as circumstances have fashioned them, are the same. Men now are different from what they were; the Italian is very different from the German. And though these (1) Discourses on Livy. Introduction to Book I. et passim.