Page:History of Freedom.djvu/257

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213
INTRODUCTION TO IL PRINCIPE

Michelet has said: "Rapportons-nous-en sur ceci à quelqu'un qui fut bien plus Machiavéliste que Machiavel, à la republique de Venise." Before his day, and long after, down almost to the time when a price was set on the heads of the Pretender and of Pontiac, Venice employed assassins. And this was not the desperate resource of politicians at bay, but the avowed practice of decorous and religious magistrates. In 1569 Soto hazards an impersonal doubt whether the morality of the thing was sound: "Non omnibus satis probatur Venetorum mos, qui cum complures a patria exules habeant condemnatos, singulis facultatem faciunt, ut qui alium eorum interfecerit, vita ac libertate donetur." But his sovereign shortly after obtained assurance that murder by royal command was unanimously approved by divines: "A los tales puede el Principe mandarlos matar, aunque esten fuera de su distrito y reinos.—Sin ser citado, secretamente se le puede quitar la vita.—Esta es doctrina comun y cierta y recevida de todos los theologos." When the King of France, by despatching the Guises, had restored his good name in Europe, a Venetian, Francesco da Molino, hoped that the example would not be thrown away on the Council of Ten: "Permeti sua divina bontà che questo esempio habbi giovato a farlo proceder come spero con meno fretta e più sodamente a cose tali e d' importanza." Sarpi, their ablest writer, their official theologian, has a string of maxims which seem to have been borrowed straight from the Florentine predecessor: "Proponendo cosa in apparenza non honesta, scusarla come necessaria, come praticata da altri, come propria al tempo, che tende a buon fine, et conforme all'opinione de'molti.—La vendetta non giova se non per fugir lo sprezzo.—Ogn' huomo ha opinione che il mendacio sia buono in ragion di medicina, et di far bene a far creder il vero et utile con premesse false." One of his countrymen, having examined his writings, reports: "I ricordi di questo grand' uomo furono più da politico che da christiano." To him was attributed the doctrine of secret punishment, and the use of poison against public enemies: "In casi d' eccessi