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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Machiavelli, Volume I, by Niccolò

Machiavelli, Translated by Peter Whitehorne and Edward Dacres

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Title: Machiavelli, Volume I

The Art of War; and The Prince

Author: Niccolò Machiavelli

Translator: Peter Whitehorne and Edward Dacres

Release Date: May 6, 2005 [eBook #15772]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


E-text prepared by Ted Garvin, David King, and the Project Gutenberg

Online Distributed Proofreading Team














Published by DAVID NUTT

at the Sign of the Phoenix



Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty





[Sidenote: The Life of a Day.]

'I am at my farm; and, since my last misfortunes, have not been in

Florence twenty days. I spent September in snaring thrushes; but at the

end of the month, even this rather tiresome sport failed me. I rise with

the sun, and go into a wood of mine that is being cut, where I remain

two hours inspecting the work of the previous day and conversing with

the woodcutters, who have always some trouble on hand amongst themselves

or with their neighbours. When I leave the wood, I go to a spring, and

thence to the place which I use for snaring birds, with a book under my

arm--Dante or Petrarch, or one of the minor poets, like Tibullus or

Ovid. I read the story of their passions, and let their loves remind me

of my own, which is a pleasant pastime for a while. Next I take the

road, enter the inn door, talk with the passers-by, inquire the news of

the neighbourhood, listen to a variety of matters, and make note of the

different tastes and humours of men.

'This brings me to dinner-time, when I join my family and eat the poor

produce of my farm. After dinner I go back to the inn, where I generally

find the host and a butcher, a miller, and a pair of bakers. With these

companions I play the fool all day at cards or backgammon: a thousand

squabbles, a thousand insults and abusive dialogues take place, while we

haggle over a farthing, and shout loud enough to be heard from San


'But when evening falls I go home and enter my writing-room. On the

threshold I put off my country habits, filthy with mud and mire, and

array myself in royal courtly garments. Thus worthily attired, I make my

entrance into the ancient courts of the men of old, where they receive

me with love, and where I feed upon that food which only is my own and

for which I was born. I feel no shame in conversing with them and asking

them the reason of their actions.

'They, moved by their humanity, make answer. For four hours' space I

feel no annoyance, forget all care; poverty cannot frighten, nor death

appal me. I am carried away to their society. And since Dante says "that

there is no science unless we retain what we have learned" I have set

down what I have gained from their discourse, and composed a treatise,

_De Principalibus_, in which I enter as deeply as I can into the science

of the subject, with reasonings on the nature of principality, its

several species, and how they are acquired, how maintained, how lost. If

you ever liked any of my scribblings, this ought to suit your taste. To

a prince, and especially to a new prince, it ought to prove acceptable.

Therefore I am dedicating it to the Magnificence of Giuliano.'

[Sidenote: Niccolò Machiavelli.]

Such is the account that Niccolò Machiavelli renders of himself when

after imprisonment, torture, and disgrace, at the age of forty-four, he

first turned to serious writing. For the first twenty-six or indeed

twenty-nine of those years we have not one line from his pen or one word

of vaguest information about him. Throughout all his works written for

publication, there is little news about himself. Montaigne could

properly write, 'Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moy-mesme la matière de mon

livre.' But the matter of Machiavelli was far other: 'Io ho espresso

quanto io so, e quanto io ho imparato per una lunga pratica e continua

lezione delle cose del mondo.'

[Sidenote: The Man.]

Machiavelli was born on the 3rd of May 1469. The period of his life

almost exactly coincides with that of Cardinal Wolsey. He came of the

old and noble Tuscan stock of Montespertoli, who were men of their hands

in the eleventh century. He carried their coat, but the property had

been wasted and divided. His forefathers had held office of high

distinction, but had fallen away as the new wealth of the bankers and

traders increased in Florence. He himself inherited a small property in

San Casciano and its neighbourhood, which assured him a sufficient, if

somewhat lean, independence. Of his education we know little enough. He

was well acquainted with Latin, and knew, perhaps, Greek enough to serve

his turn. 'Rather not without letters than lettered,' Varchi describes

him. That he was not loaded down with learned reading proved probably a

great advantage. The coming of the French, and the expulsion of the

Medici, the proclamation of the Republic (1494), and later the burning

of Savonarola convulsed Florence and threw open many public offices. It

has been suggested, but without much foundation, that some clerical work

was found for Machiavelli in 1494 or even earlier. It is certain that on

July 14, 1498, he was appointed Chancellor and Secretary to the Dieci di

Libertà e Pace, an office which he held till the close of his political

life at fall of the Republic in 1512.

[Sidenote: Official Life.]

The functions of his Council were extremely varied, and in the hands of

their Secretary became yet more diversified. They represented in some

sense the Ministry for Home, Military, and especially for Foreign

Affairs. It is impossible to give any full account of Machiavelli's

official duties. He wrote many thousands of despatches and official

letters, which are still preserved. He was on constant errands of State

through the Florentine dominions. But his diplomatic missions and what

he learned by them make the main interest of his office. His first

adventure of importance was to the Court of Caterina Sforza, the Lady of

Forlì, in which matter that astute Countess entirely bested the teacher

of all diplomatists to be. In 1500 he smelt powder at the siege at Pisa,

and was sent to France to allay the irritations of Louis XII. Many

similar and lesser missions follow. The results are in no case of great

importance, but the opportunities to the Secretary of learning men and

things, intrigue and policy, the Court and the gutter were invaluable.

At the camp of Cæsar Borgia, in 1502, he found in his host that

fantastic hero whom he incarnated in _The Prince_, and he was

practically an eye-witness of the amazing masterpiece, the Massacre of

Sinigaglia. The next year he is sent to Rome with a watching brief at

the election of Julius II., and in 1506 is again sent to negotiate with

the Pope. An embassy to the Emperor Maximilian, a second mission to the

French King at Blois, in which he persuades Louis XII. to postpone the

threatened General Council of the Church (1511), and constant

expeditions to report upon and set in order unrestful towns and

provinces did not fulfil his activity. His pen was never idle. Reports,

despatches, elaborate monographs on France, Germany, or wherever he

might be, and personal letters innumerable, and even yet unpublished,

ceased not night nor day. Detail, wit, character-drawing, satire,

sorrow, bitterness, all take their turn. But this was only a fraction of

his work. By duty and by expediency he was bound to follow closely the

internal politics of Florence where his enemies and rivals abounded. And

in all these years he was pushing forward and carrying through with

unceasing and unspeakable vigour the great military dream of his life,

the foundation of a National Militia and the extinction of Mercenary

Companies. But the fabric he had fancied and thought to have built

proved unsubstantial. The spoilt half-mutinous levies whom he had spent

years in odious and unwilling training failed him at the crowning moment

in strength and spirit: and the fall of the Republic implied the fall of

Machiavelli and the close of his official life. He struggled hard to

save himself, but the wealthy classes were against him, perhaps afraid

of him, and on them the Medici relied. For a year he was forbidden to

leave Florentine territory, and for a while was excluded from the

Palazzo. Later his name was found in a list of Anti-Medicean

conspirators. He was arrested and decorously tortured with six turns of

the rack, and then liberated for want of evidence.

[Sidenote: After his Fall.]

For perhaps a year after his release the Secretary engaged in a series

of tortuous intrigues to gain the favour of the Medici. Many of the

stories may be exaggerated, but none make pleasant reading, and nothing

proved successful. His position was miserable. Temporarily crippled by

torture, out of favour with the Government, shunned by his friends, in

deep poverty, burdened with debt and with a wife and four children, his

material circumstances were ill enough. But, worse still, he was idle.

He had deserved well of the Republic, and had never despaired of it, and

this was his reward. He seemed to himself a broken man. He had no great

natural dignity, no great moral strength. He profoundly loved and

admired Dante, but he could not for one moment imitate him. He sought

satisfaction in sensuality of life and writing, but found no comfort.

Great things were stirring in the world and he had neither part nor lot

in them. By great good fortune he began a correspondence with his friend

Francesco Vettori, the Medicean Ambassador at Rome, to whom he appeals

for his good offices: 'And if nothing can be done, I must live as I came

into the world, for I was born poor and learnt to want before learning

to enjoy.' Before long these two diplomats had co-opted themselves into

a kind of Secret Cabinet of Europe. It is a strange but profoundly

interesting correspondence, both politically and personally. Nothing is

too great or too small, too glorious or too mean for their pens. Amid

foolish anecdotes and rather sordid love affairs the politics of Europe,

and especially of Italy, are dissected and discussed. Leo X. had now

plunged into political intrigue. Ferdinand of Spain was in difficulty.

France had allied herself with Venice. The Swiss are the Ancient Romans,

and may conquer Italy. Then back again, or rather constant throughout,

the love intrigues and the 'likely wench hard-by who may help to pass

our time.' But through it all there is an ache at Machiavelli's heart,

and on a sudden he will break down, crying,

Però se aleuna volta io rido e canto

Facciol, perchè non ho se non quest' una

Via da sfogare il mio angoscioso pianto.

Vettori promised much, but nothing came of it. By 1515 the

correspondence died away, and the Ex-Secretary found for himself at last

the true pathway through his vale of years.

[Sidenote: The true Life.]

The remainder of Machiavelli's life is bounded by his books. He settled

at his villa at San Casciano, where he spent his day as he describes in

the letter quoted at the beginning of this essay. In 1518 he began to

attend the meetings of the Literary Club in the Orti Oricellarii, and

made new and remarkable friends. 'Era amato grandamente da loro ... e

della sua conversazione si dilettavano maravigliosamente, tenendo in

prezzo grandissimo tutte l'opere sue,' which shows the personal

authority he exercised. Occasionally he was employed by Florentine

merchants to negotiate for them at Venice, Genoa, Lucca, and other

places. In 1519 Cardinal Medici deigned to consult him as to the

Government, and commissioned him to write the History of Florence. But

in the main he wrote his books and lived the daily life we know. In 1525

he went to Rome to present his History to Clement VII., and was sent on

to Guicciardini. In 1526 he was busy once more with military matters and

the fortification of Florence. On the 22nd of June 1527 he died at

Florence immediately after the establishment of the second Republic. He

had lived as a practising Christian, and so died, surrounded by his wife

and family. Wild legends grew about his death, but have no foundation. A

peasant clod in San Casciano could not have made a simpler end. He was

buried in the family Chapel in Santa Croce, and a monument was there at

last erected with the epitaph by Doctor Ferroni--'Tanto nomini nullum

par elogium.' The first edition of his complete works was published in

1782, and was dedicated to Lord Cowper.

[Sidenote: His Character.]

What manner of man was Machiavelli at home and in the market-place? It

is hard to say. There are doubtful busts, the best, perhaps, that

engraved in the 'Testina' edition of 1550, so-called on account of the

portrait. 'Of middle height, slender figure, with sparkling eyes, dark

hair, rather a small head, a slightly aquiline nose, a tightly closed

mouth: all about him bore the impress of a very acute observer and

thinker, but not that of one able to wield much influence over others.'

Such is a reconstruction of him by one best able to make one. 'In his

conversation,' says Varchi, 'Machiavelli was pleasant, serviceable to

his friends, a friend of virtuous men, and, in a word, worthy to have

received from Nature either less genius or a better mind.' If not much

above the moral standard of the day he was certainly not below it. His

habits were loose and his language lucid and licentious. But there is no

bad or even unkind act charged against him. To his honesty and good

faith he very fairly claims that his poverty bears witness. He was a

kind, if uncertain, husband and a devoted father. His letters to his

children are charming. Here is one written soon before his death to his

little son Guido.--'Guido, my darling son, I received a letter of thine

and was delighted with it, particularly because you tell me of your full

recovery, the best news I could have. If God grants life to us both I

expect to make a good man of you, only you must do your fair share

yourself.' Guido is to stick to his books and music, and if the family

mule is too fractious, 'Unbridle him, take off the halter and turn him

loose at Montepulciano. The farm is large, the mule is small, so no harm

can come of it. Tell your mother, with my love, not to be nervous. I

shall surely be home before any trouble comes. Give a kiss to Baccina,

Piero, and Totto: I wish I knew his eyes were getting well. Be happy and

spend as little as you may. Christ have you in his keeping.'--There is

nothing exquisite or divinely delicate in this letter, but there are

many such, and they were not written by a bad man, any more than the

answers they evoke were addressed to one. There is little more save of a

like character that is known of Machiavelli the man. But to judge him

and his work we must have some knowledge of the world in which he was to

move and have his being.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: State of Italy.]

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Italy was rotten to the core.

In the close competition of great wickedness the Vicar of Christ easily

carried off the palm, and the Court of Alexander VI. was probably the

wickedest meeting-place of men that has ever existed upon earth. No

virtue, Christian or Pagan, was there to be found; little art that was

not sensuous or sensual. It seemed as if Bacchus and Venus and Priapus

had come to their own again, and yet Rome had not ceased to call herself


[Sidenote: Superstition.]

'Owing to the evil ensample of the Papal Court,' writes Machiavelli,

'Italy has lost all piety and all religion: whence follow infinite

troubles and disorders; for as religion implies all good, so its absence

implies the contrary. To the Church and priests of Rome we owe another

even greater disaster which is the cause of her ruin. I mean that the

Church has maintained, and still maintains Italy divided.' The Papacy is

too weak to unite and rule, but strong enough to prevent others doing

so, and is always ready to call in the foreigner to crush all Italians

to the foreigner's profit, and Guicciardini, a high Papal officer,

commenting on this, adds, 'It would be impossible to speak so ill of the

Roman Court, but that more abuse should not be merited, seeing it is an

infamy, and example of all the shames and scandals of the world.' The

lesser clergy, the monks, the nuns followed, with anxious fidelity, the

footsteps of their shepherds. There was hardly a tonsure in Italy which

covered more than thoughts and hopes of lust and avarice. Religion and

morals which God had joined together, were set by man a thousand leagues

asunder. Yet religion still sat upon the alabaster throne of Peter, and

in the filthy straw of the meanest Calabrian confessional. And still

deeper remained a blind devoted superstition. Vitellozzo Vitelli, as

Machiavelli tells us, while being strangled by Cæesar Borgia's assassin,

implored his murderer to procure for him the absolution of that

murderer's father. Gianpaolo Baglioni, who reigned by parricide and

lived in incest, was severely blamed by the Florentines for not killing

Pope Julius II. when the latter was his guest at Perugia. And when

Gabrino Fondato, the tyrant of Cremona, was on the scaffold, his only

regret was that when he had taken his guests, the Pope and Emperor, to

the top of the Cremona tower, four hundred feet high, his nerve failed

him and he did not push them both over. Upon this anarchy of religion,

morals, and conduct breathed suddenly the inspiring breath of Pagan

antiquity which seemed to the Italian mind to find its finest climax in

tyrannicide. There is no better instance than in the plot of the Pazzi

at Florence. Francesco Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini decided to kill

Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici in the cathedral at the moment of the

elevation of the Host. They naturally took the priest into their

confidence. They escorted Giuliano to the Duomo, laughing and talking,

and playfully embraced him--to discover if he wore armour under his

clothes. Then they killed him at the moment appointed.

[Sidenote: Pagan influence.]

Nor were there any hills from which salvation might be looked for.

Philosophy, poetry, science, expressed themselves in terms of

materialism. Faith and hope are ever the last survivors in the life of a

man or of a nation. But in Italy these brave comforters were at their

latest breath. It is perhaps unfair to accept in full the judgment of

Northern travellers. The conditions, training, needs of England and

Germany were different. In these countries courage was a necessity, and

good faith a paying policy. Subtlety could do little against a

two-handed sword in the hands of an angry or partially intoxicated

giant. Climate played its part as well as culture, and the crude

pleasures and vices of the North seemed fully as loathsome to the

refined Italian as did the tortuous policy and the elaborate infamies of

the South to their rough invaders. Alone, perhaps, among the nations of

Europe the Italians had never understood or practised chivalry, save in

such select and exotic schools as the Casa Gioiosa under Vittorino da

Feltre at Mantua. The oath of Arthur's knights would have seemed to them

mere superfluity of silliness. _Onore_ connoted credit, reputation, and

prowess. _Virtù_, which may be roughly translated as mental ability

combined with personal daring, set the standard and ruled opinion.

'Honour in the North was subjective: _Onore_ in Italy objective.'

Individual liberty, indeed, was granted in full to all, at the

individual's risk. The love of beauty curbed grossness and added

distinction. Fraud became an art and force a science. There is liberty

for all, but for the great ones there is licence. And when the day of

trial comes, it is the Churchmen and the Princes who can save neither

themselves nor man, nor thing that is theirs. To such a world was

Machiavelli born. To whom should he turn? To the People? To the Church?

To the Princes and Despots? But hear him:--

'There shall never be found any good mason, which will beleeve

to be able to make a faire image of a peece of marble ill hewed,

but verye well of a rude peece. Our Italian Princes beleeved,

before they tasted the blowes of the outlandish warre, that it

should suffice a Prince to know by writinges, how to make a

subtell aunswere, to write a goodly letter, to shewe in

sayinges, and in woordes, witte and promptenesse, to know how to

canvas a fraude, to decke themselves with precious stones and

gold, to sleepe and to eate with greater glory then other: To

kepe many lascivious persons about them, to governe themselves

with their subjects, covetously and proudely: To roote in

idlenes, to give the degrees of the exercise of warre for good

will, to dispise if any should have shewed them any laudable

waie, minding that their wordes should bee aunswers of oracles:

nor the sely wretches were not aware that they prepared

themselves to be a pray to whome so ever should assaulte them.

Hereby grew then in the thousand fowre hundred and nintie and

fowre yere, the great feares, the sodaine flightes and the

marveilous losses: and so three most mighty states which were in

Italie, have bene dievers times sacked and destroyed. But that

which is worse, is where those that remaine, continue in the

very same errour, and liev in the verie same disorder and

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