Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/182

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by contact with his fellows. He had the gift of teaching younger men; he was a good master. Occasionally in his later sermons he would inveigh against the futility of human knowledge; he would cry that a little old woman who held the faith knew more than did Aristotle and Plato. Nevertheless he was convinced of the merits of education, of the power of human reasoning. Reason justified his flying from his home; reason supported his attack upon astrology; his own prophecies found their proof in reason. His farewell letter to his father had concluded with the plea that his little brother might be taught, in order not to waste his time. Hereafter he was to urge the Florentines to have their children taught the art of grammar, and that by good masters. The old-fashioned Scholastic dialectics in which the Dominicans were trained were to Savonarola a real vehicle of thought; to the last he was always thinking, putting everything to the test of his own judgment; page upon page of his sermons form one long argument. Savonarola was in fact eminently argumentative. If the coarse and tightly compressed lips betokened obstinacy and self-assertion, sympathy shone in the expressive eyes. Savonarola held his audience with his eyes as well as with his voice. The small plain-featured Lombard with the awkward gestures and the ill-trained voice was early loved in Florence by those who knew him. Impatient of indifference or opposition, his sympathy readily went out to those who welcomed him, expanding into a yearning love for Florence, his adopted city, and her people. Sympathy and self-assertion are perhaps the two keys to his character and his career.

Until Savonarola steps into the full light of history the tales told by his early biographers must be received with caution. The temptation to exaggerate and ante-date is with hagiologists and martyrologists of all ages irresistible. The atmosphere of asceticism favours imagination, and the houses of the great Religious Orders were natural forcing-beds for legends relating to their members. Such legends, serving to edification, will be welcome to all but dry historians who are more perplexed by the unconscious exaggerations of devotees than by the deliberate falsehoods of opponents. Savonarola's party in 1497 destroyed the heads of the Medicean group; after the Medicean restoration of 1512 his name was indelibly stamped on the popular cause which had been overthrown; above all, his name became a watchword during the passionate struggle of the Second Republic. What then was more natural than to represent him as, from the moment of his settlement in Florence, promoting opposition to the Medici? The stories of his attitude of independence or incivility towards Lorenzo may or may not be true. The sermon which he preached before the Slgnoria on April 6, 1491, has been regarded as an attack upon the Medici. It is rather an academic lecture upon civic justice, which might have been appropriately preached before any European magistracy. Had the Friar been the recognised opponent of the ruling house, he would not have been invited to address the Signor'ia,