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Photo: Rischgitz Collection.


Author of The Prince, and minister of Cesare Borgia.

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Photo: W. A. Mansell & Co.


The greatest of the Italian Renaissance poets. From the painting by Titian in the National Gallery, London.

Photo: Rischgits Collection.


Monk, wit, laughing philosopher. One of the three supreme

figures of the Renaissance.


Photo: IV. A. Mansell & Co.

Tate Gallery, London.
Sancho Panza was Don Quixote's servant-foolish, dishonest, but faithful to the Knight.

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knew the whole of “Orlando Furioso” by heart. It may from the short quotations printed here how direct is the connection between Ariosto and Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan poets.

Nicolo Machiavelli was the most important European politician of the early Renaissance. In his Outline of History, Mr. H. G. Wells has well described how profoundly Machiavelli's famous book The Prince affected the thoughts of men and the course of human affairs.

Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469. Before he was thirty he was appointed secretary to the governing body of the Florentine Republic. This office led to his being sent as envoy to other Italian cities, as well as to the court of Louis XII of France. His most important mission occurred in 1502, when he was sent to represent Florence with Cesare Borgia, then at the height of his insolent and magnificent power. Machiavelli told the story of this mission in a series of letters, in which he described Cesare as “a prince who governs for himself.” In another place he speaks of him as “a man without compassion, rebellious to Christ, a basilisk, a hydra, deserving of the most wretched end." Yet for this picturesque monster Machiavelli conceived a considerable admiration, and in The Prince Cesare becomes a sort of model for other rulers to imitate. In 1512 the rule of the Medicis was restored in Florence and Machiavelli lost his official position. He was imprisoned and tortured, and afterwards retired to a small country estate, where The Prince was written. He died in Florence at the age of fifty-eight.

“Machiavellian” has come to mean subtle, unscrupulous craft. But the common judgment of Machiavelli is not entirely justified. He was a realist, with no great belief in either God or man, and he sets out in The Prince the principles of what is now generally described by the German phrase “Realpolitik,” the political principles, that is, of Queen Elizabeth, Napoleon, and Bismarck. Machiavelli was not an idealist. He was concerned not with men as they ought to be, but as they are. Francis Bacon was a great admirer of The Prince, and he said: “We are much beholden to Machiavelli and others that wrote what men do and not what they ought to do.” Hobbes, Bolingbroke, Hume, and Montesquieu were all to some extent his pupils.

The most conspicuous Italian writer of the later Renaissance period was the poet Torquato Tasso, the author of “Jerusalem Delivered,” who was born in 1544 and died in 1595. Tasso was a poet of sentiment, and sentiment expressing the growing feeling for woman and music. Tasso finished his great poem when he was thirty-one. The last twenty years of his life were tragic. He became half insane, and spent his time “wandering like the world's rejected guest.”

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A Giant of the Renaissance

After Italy, the revival of literature came in France. François Rabelais, the greatest of all French Renaissance writers, was born in 1490 and died in 1553. The Frenchman Rabelais, the Spaniard Cervantes, and the Englishman Shakespeare, are without question the three giants of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a period of intense life following a period of stagnation, an age of learning, optimism, and courage. Its spirit finds triumphant expression in the two great books of Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel.

François Rabelais was born at Chinon in the province of Touraine in southern France. Very little is known about his youth, though it is said that his father was either an apothecary or an innkeeper. He took priest's orders in 1511, and for a year or two prior to that date and until 1524 he was a Franciscan monk, living in the monastery of Fontenay le Comte. Afterwards he became a Benedictine, and in 1530 he gave up his monk's habit to be a secular priest. He died on April 9, 1553. There are many legends about Rabelais's death-bed. He is said to have exclaimed: “The farce is finished” and “I am going to seek the great perhaps.” But all these stories are probably apocryphal.

The Renaissance was, in a sense, a rebellion against the domination of a narrow, ignorant, monastical tyranny. Rabelais was a monk for over thirty years. He had an intimate knowledge of the abuses of the sheltered life, and he laughs at monks, and be it added, at most other people and things of his time, with whole-hearted laughter. Professor Saintsbury insists that Rabelais “neither sneers nor rages.” He is a sort of sixteenth century Charles Dickens, “a humorist pure and simple, feeling often in earnest, thinking almost always in jest.” Gargantua and Pantagruel are hard books to read. They are extremely obscene, though really not more so than other literature of the period, and Professor Saintsbury is perfectly justified in pointing out that the coarseness is open and natural and far less revolting than “the sniggering indecency which disgraces men like Pope, like Voltaire, and like Sterne.”

His book is an orgy of words written in whirling sentences. He anticipated the love of fine-sounding words of Mr. Wells's Mr. Polly. The intention of Gargantua and Pantagruel is to preach the gospel of Pantagruelism, which teaches that only by humour and laughter can the world be cleaned and saved. Pantagruelism is a good and a true gospel preached by many another great man since the days of the great French laughing philosopher. As proof that Rabelais could be simple and unaffected, and that he has been grossly libelled when he has been described as nothing but a “dirty old blackguard,” one may quote the following paragraphs from the description of the life of the monks and nuns in the Abbey of Theleme in the translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart:


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