Poggio, Braccolini Giovanni-francesco
Poggio, Braccolini Giovanni-Francesco a celebrated Italian humanist, who contributed richly to the revival of classical studies in the period of the Italian Renaissance, and did much to encourage scholarship in the Church of Rome, was born at Terranuova, near Florence, in 1380. He was the grandson of a notary, and studied the Latin language under the direction of Giovanni di Ravenna, the Greek under Emanuel Chrysoloras, and applied himself also to the Hebrew a fact which confutes the opinion of Huetius and others, who have said that this language was not cultivated in Italy till after the 14th and 15th centuries.
After the completion of his education he went to Rome, and was for some time a copyist, and finally entered the service of the cardinal di Bari. In 1413 Poggio was appointed apostolic secretary, a poorly paid charge, which he occupied forty years. Thus he spent a large part of his life in brilliant surroundings. Eight popes bequeathed him to one another, as he had belonged to the chattels of St. Peter. The life which he led in the office he held was favorable to study, and he devoted much of it to inquiries into antiquity. His great title to the esteem of posterity is the zeal he displayed in the search for the monuments of Roman literature. He made his most important discoveries during a protracted stay in Switzerland, whither he repaired in 1414 to attend the Council of Constance. He visited the library of the monastery of St. Gall, which he found in a kind of dungeon. Here he discovered a copy, almost complete, of Quintilian's Institutiones Orattoriae, of which fragments only were known at the time; four books of the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus, and the Commentaries of Asconius Pedianus. Afterwards he found, in divers places, the History of Ammianus Marcellinus and Frontinus's Treatise on Aqueducts. The searches which he caused to be made in the monasteries of France and Germany brought to light the works of Manilius, of Vitruvius, of Columella, of Priscianus, of Nonius Marcellus. a considerable portion of the poems of Lucretius and Siliums Italicus, eight orations of Cicero, twelve comedies of Plautus, etc.
The freedom with which Poggio criticized several acts of the Council of Constance, especially in the affair of Jerome of Prague, was punished with a short disgrace, during which he visited England. Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, received him with distinction. But as little effect followed the brilliant promises of the prelate, and as the English libraries offered no temptations to a man of Poggio's propensities, he left a country the inhabitants of which he describes as plunged in the grossest sensuality, and returned to Rome at the close of 1420. He was reinstated into his former charge. The calm which the pontifical court enjoyed for some years gave him full leisure to correspond with his friends Niccoli, Leonardo d'Arezzo. Traversari, etc., and to write several dialogues and philosophical treatises, in which he exposes without mercy the failings of monks and priests which Poggio was most competent to describe, as he had himself at the time three sons by a mistress, though he was an ecclesiastic. His own course he excuses in the following pleasantry, in one of his letters to cardinal Julian of St. Angelo: "You say that I have sons, which is not lawful for a cleric; and without a wife, which does not become a laic. I may answer that I have sons, which is fitting for laics; and without a wife, which from the beginning of the world has been the custom of clerics; but I will not defend my failings by any excuse." When, after the accession of Eugenius IV, in 1434, a sedition compelled the pope to retire to Florence, Poggio set out on his way to join his master. He was taken by soldiers of Piccinino, and given his liberty only after a heavy ransom paid by his friends. In; Florence he met Filelfo, against whom he had long entertained a secret jealousy, which changed into actual hatred when his venerated and beloved Niccoli was the object of a violent attack from Filelfo. He launched against his enemy a libel, in which he heaped up all the most injurious and obscene expressions which the Latin language would afford. Filelfo answered him in the same style; whereupon Poggio replied in a still more insulting strain. After a truce of four years this edifying dispute between two of the most distinguished men of their time recommenced: Poggio wrote against Filelfo a libel full of the most atrocious accusations, almost all of his own invention. Filelfo again returned the blow. They were reconciled afterwards: neither had damaged himself in the eyes of their contemporaries, who enjoyed these invectives as literary dainties. Meanwhile Poggio had bought a villa in the vicinity of Florence, and formed there a museum of sculptures, medals, and other objects of art. Towards the close of 1435 he had married the young and beautiful Vaggia di Bondelmonti. He was poor and on the decline of life; but the young heiress of an illustrious and ancient family was in love with his literary fame, which had induced the senate of Florence to grant immunity from taxes to him and his descendants. His married life was a happy one.
He returned to Rome with the papal court, after a sojourn of ten years at Florence. During this period he had published a choice selection of letters, and composed two dialogues, full of the most curious remarks on the manners of his time (On Nobility and On the Misfortunes of Princes). He had, besides, written the panegyrics of Niccoli, Lorenzo di Medici, of the cardinal Albergato, and of Leonardo d'Arezzo. At the request of pope Nicholas V, with whom he was in great favor, he translated into Latin the first five books of Diodorus Siculus; about the same time he dedicated his version of Xenophon's Cyropaediat to Alfonso, king of Naples, and compelled the king, by the sarcastic remarks with which he filled his letters to his friends, to reward him with a present of six hundred ducats, whereupon he chanted, in the most pompous strains, the encomiums of the king. To please pope Nicholas, he wrote a violent invective against the antipope, Felix V. lie wrote also, under the same pope's auspices, an interesting dialogue On the Vicissitudes of Fortune, which, besides many curious incidents in the history of Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, contains an account of the journey of the Venetian Niccolo Conti into India and Persia, and a precious description of the monuments of Rome as they were at his time. During the plague which broke out in Rome in 1450, he retired to his birthplace, where he published his famous Facetiae, a collection of tales, partly borrowed from the French fabliaux, and excessively licentious. This book was eagerly read throughout Europe. Soon afterwards he published his Historia Disceptativa Convivmalis, a dialogue full of satirical attacks against physicians and lawyers. He returned to Rome in 1451, but in 1453 he was offered the position of chancellor of the republic of Florence, and a few months after his removal to that city was in addition made prior of the arts. In the latter quality he had to look to the maintenance of good order and of the public liberties. Though he was now fully seventy-two years of age, he applied himself to study more intensely than ever; and in that last period of his life, though he had an employment which took up much of his time, he composed the most considerable of his works. His love of retirement induced him to build a country house near Florence, which he called his academy, and in which he took much delight. He always spent the summer there. From this period and place dates his History of Florence, for which he consulted the archives of the republic, which were committed to his care. This book is one of the best historical works of the time. The Florentines, to show their gratefulness, erected to the author a statue, which now forms part of a group of the twelve apostles in the church of S. Maria del Fiore. Poggio died at Florence Oct. 30, 1459. He had some estimable parts, but these cannot make us forget his vindictive character, his irascibility, his bad manners and bad morals. Poggio appears by his works to have had a great passion for letters, and as great a regard for those that cultivated them. He excelled in Greek and Latin literature, and was one of the principal restorers of it. His pursuits were not confined to profane antiquity: we see by his quotations that he was versed in ecclesiastical history and the fathers, and especially in the writings of Chrysostom and Augustine. Poggio's treatises, especially his dialogues, are feeble imitations of the classics; though written in an easy, witty, and sometimes elegant manner, they are full of solecisms, Italicisms, and even barbarisms. His letters are altogether neglected. But the rest of his writings are still read, owing to their variety of subjects, to some ingenious ideas, and to the freedom of speech, sometimes the grace, by which they are characterized. His Works were published at Strasburg (1510, fol.; 1513, 4to), at Paris (1511, 4to; 1513, fol.), and at Basle (1538, fol.). The latter edition, by Bebel, is the best; but it is still incomplete, and does not contain the following works, afterwards published apart: De Hypocrisia (Lyons, 1679, 4to), a violent pamphlet against the clergy: Historia Florentina (Ven. 1715, 4to; and in tom. 20 of the Scriptores of Muratori), translated into Italian by Giacomo, the third of the five sons whom Poggio had by his legitimate wife (Ven. 1476, fol.; Florence, 1492 and 1598, 4to): — De Varietate Fortunce (Par. 1723, 4to), with fifty-seven unpublished Letters of Poggio. The Facetiae have often been printed apart (1470, 4to; Ferrara, 1471; Nuremb. 1475; Milan, 1477; Par. 1478, 4to; Utrecllt, 1797, 2 vols. 24mo). Poggio's Latin translation of Diodorus Siculus was published at Venice (1473, 1476, fol.) and at Basle (1530, 1578, fol.). See Thorschmidt, Vita Poggocia (Wittemb. 1713); Recanate, Vita (Ven. 1715); Lenfatt, Pogianna (1720, and enlarged 1721); Nicron, Memoires, vol. 9; Shepherd, Life of Poggio (Loud. 1802, 8vo); Nisard, Les Gladiateurs de le Republique des Lettres, vol. 1; Trollope, History of Florence (see Index in vol. 5); Hallam, Literary Hist. of Europe (Harper's edition), 1, 64, 92; id. Middle Ages (see Index); Christian Schools and Scholmars, 2, 30(6310; Piper, Monumental Theologie, § 148, 150, 153, 214; Milman, Latin Christianity, 8, 123; Edinb. Rev. 64, 32 sq.; Schlegel, Hist. of Literatutre, lect. 11; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Géneralé, s.v.