Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/181

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stronger characteristics have been attributed, as is usual, to his Mantuan mother. He thus had no inheritance in the keen, rarefied air from the Tuscan mountains, which is believed to brace the intellect and add intensity to the imagination of the dwellers in the Arno valley; he was a child of the north-eastern waterlands, more sluggish in intellectual movement but swept from time to time by storms of passion. Girolamo refused to enter his grandfather's profession for which he was brought up; he secretly left home to enter the Order of St Dominic at Bologna. He preached later at Ferrara, but was no prophet in his own country, and was thence ordered to Florence to join the convent of Lombard Dominican Observantists who had been established by Cosimo de' Medici in San Marco. Successful in teaching novices, he failed as a preacher until he found his natural gift of utterance among a more simple, less critical congregation at San Gimignano. His reputation was made at Brescia, and it is noticeable that in both these cases the fire of eloquence was kindled by a spirit of prophecy; the people were spell-bound by the denunciation of wrath to come. When he returned to Florence he stood on a different plane; the Florentines always gave a warm welcome to a reputation. In the following year (1491) he was elected Prior of San Marco. As this convent was under the peculiar patronage of the ruling house of Medici, Savonarola was in a position to become a leader of Florentine opinion.

The character of the new Prior had hitherto offered more features of interest than his career. He had been an unattractive, unchildlike child, shunning his playmates, poring over books often far beyond his years. He had no love for pleasure, for which Ferrara and its rulers lived; there is a tale that he was once taken to the palace and would never again cross its threshold. His peculiar characteristic was an overpowering sense of sin, a conviction of the wickedness of the world and more especially of the Church. He must have seen the festivities which greeted Pius II on his way to open the Congress of Mantua; it may have struck the serious child that they ill accorded with the sacred object of the Congress, the Crusade against the infidel. But after all, the court of Pius II was relatively decent. At all events in the most youthful of Savonarola's writings is expressed a loathing for the Court of Rome, a belief that throughout all Italy, and above all at Rome, virtue was spent and vice triumphant. The tribute which solitude exacts from those who court her is an abnormal consciousness of self. In Girolamo's letter to his father, excusing his flight from home, he urges that he at least must save himself. In his boyish poetical tirade against the Papacy, it is he who must break the wings of the foul bird; in praying for a new passage across the Red Sea, his own soul must traverse the waves which flow between the Egypt of Sin and the Promised Land of Righteousness.

In the conventual life of the fifteenth century absolute segregation was fortunately impossible. Savonarola's latent sympathies were awakened