Petrarch (Ital Petrarca), Francesco
Petrarch (Ital. Petrarca), Francesco
one of the most celebrated of Italian writers of prose and poetry, deserves a place here because he was for many years a devout and consistent ecclesiastic, and exerted a farreaching ilfluence on the classical culture of Italy in the later mediaeval period known as the Renaissance (q.v.). Petrarch was born at Arezzo, in Tuscany, July 20, 1304. His father, a Florentine notary, had been exiled two years before, in the same disturbance which drove out the poet Dante; and he soon left Italy for Avignon, where the papal court then resided. The son was educated in this French city washed by the Rhone, and at Montpellier, and then sent to study law at Bologna. Though Petrarch certainly loved the lEneid more than the Pandects, and copied ancient manuscripts more willingly than law papers, yet the subsequent course of his public life proves that he did not neglect professional pursuits, and that he prepared himself for being a useful man of business. Returning to, Avignon soon after he became of age, he found himself ia possession of a small inheritance, and indulged for some years in an aLternation of classical studies and political composition, with such gayety (sombre, perhaps, but not the more pure on that account) as the clerical court offered. In the year 1327 he conceived an attachment to an Avignonese lady, young but already married. Some slight obscurity still hangs over his relation to this lady, but it is almost certain that she was no less a paragon of virtue than of loveliness. He met her on April 6, 1327, in the church of St. Clara in Avignon, and at once and forever fell deeply in love with her. The lady was then nineteen, and had been married for two years to a gentleman of Avignon, named Hugues de Sade. For ten years Petrarch lived near her in the papal city, and frequently met her at church, in society, at festivities, etc. He sang her beauty and his love, under the name of his "Laura," in those sonnets whose mellifluous conceits ravished the ears of his contemporaries, and have not yet ceased to charm. The lady, whoever she was, knew how to keep Petrarch at a respectful distance, and for using the only opportunity he had of avowing his love in her presence she so severely reproved him that he never repeated the offence. About 1338 he retired for two or three years to dwell in the beautiful valley of Vaucluse, near Avignon. He himself said that his withdrawal to the retreat which he immortalized was caused by no reason more sentimental or poetic than his disgust with the licentiousness of the papal court, and the disappointment of the hopes of preferment which the pope had held out to him. Long before this time Petrarch's talents and accomplishments had procured for him not only distinguished patronage, but frequent and active employment. A most brilliant honor awaited him at Rome in 1341, where, on Easter-day, he was crowned in the Capitol with the laurel-wreath of the poet. The ceremonies which marked this coronation were a grotesque medley of pagan and Christian repreo sentations. Petrarch was, however, as ardent a scholar as he was a poet; and throughout his whole life he was occupied in the collection of Latin MSS., even copying some with his own hand. To obtain these, he travelled frequently throughout France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In 1353 Petrarch returned to Italy, and soon became the trusted counsellor and diplomatic agent of several of his country's rulers. He was sent on missions at home and abroad. He finally settled at Milan, where he spent ten years, and lived for a season also at Parma, Mantua, Padua, Verona, Venice, and Rome. Though he had never entered holy orders, he was rewardqd for his faithful services to the state by ecclesiastic benefices in the north of Italy. He might have risen to positions of great influence and rich returns if he had chosen, but he preferred the quiet life of a recluse. In 1370 Petrarch removed to Arquh, a little village prettily situated among the Euganean hills, where he spent his closing years in hard scholarly work, much annoyed by visitors, troubled with, epileptic fits, not over rich, but serene in heart, and displaying in his life and correspondence a rational; and beautiful piety. He died July 18, 1374. Petrarch was not only far beyond his age in learningvbut had risen above many of its prejudices and superstitions. He despised astrology, and the childish medicine of his times; but, on the other hand, he had no liking for the conceited scepticism of the mediaeval savans; and in his De sui ipsius et multorum aliorum Ignorantia he sharply attacked the irreligious speculations of those who had acquired a shallow, free-thinking habit from the study of the Arabico-Aristotelian school of writers, such as Averroes. Petrarch's Latin works were the first in modern times in which the language was classically written. The principal are his Epistolae, consisting of letters to his numerous friends and acquaintances, and which rank as the best of his prose works: De Vitis Virorum Illustrium: — De Remedis utriusque Fortunae: — De Vita Solitaria: — Rerum Memorandarum libri 4: — De Contemptu Mundi, etc. Besides his prose epistles, he wrote numerous epistles in Latin verse, eclogues, and an epic poem called Africa, on the subject of the Second Punic War. It was this last production which obtained for him the laurel-wreath at Rome. Petrarch, whose life was thus active, is immortal in history by reason of more claims than one. He is placed as one of the most celebrated of poets in right of his "Rime," that is, verses in the modern Italian tongue of which he was one of the earliest cultivators and refiners. Celebrating in these his visionary love, he modelled the Italian sonnet, and gave to it, and to other forms of lyrical poetry, not only an admirable polish of diction and melody,.but a delicacy of poetic feeling which has hardly ever been equalled, and a play of rich fancy which, if it often degenerates into false wit, is as often delightfully and purely beautiful. But though Petrarch's sonnets and canzoni and "triumphs" could all be forgotten, he would still be honored as one of the benefactors of European civilization. No oaie but Boccaccio shares with him the glory of having been the chief restorer of classical learning. His greatest merit lay in his having recalled attention to the higher and more correct classical authors; in his having been an enthusiastic and successful agent in reviving the study of the Greek tongue, and in his having been, in his travels and otherwise, an indefatigable collector and preserver of ancient manuscripts. To his care we owe copies of several classical works which, but for him, would, in all likelihood, have perished. Collective editions of his whole works have been repeatedly published (Basle, 1495, 1554, and 1581 sq.). His life has employed many writers, among whom may be mentioned Bellutello, Beccadelli, Tomasini, De la Bastie, De Sades, Tirabosehi, Baldelli, Ugo Foscolo, Campbell, and Geiger. In July 1874, a Petrarch festival' was held at Padua, and a statue of the great poet by Ceccon was erected. The eulogy on this occasion was pronounced by Alcardi, in the aula magna of the university. See, besides the complete biographies, Longfellow, Poets and Poetry of Europe; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Romnan Empire. chapter 70; Preseott, Miscellanies, page 616; For. Qu. Rev. July 1843; Contemp. Rev. July 1874; Revue des Deux Mondes, July 15, 1874; Ueberweg, Hist. of Phil. 2:7, 8, 462; Revue Chretienne, 1869, page 143.