political and moral revolution, for the Medici had closely associated themselves with these, and their return was to be marked by a revival of the old magnificence. Savonarola knew, as all earnest reformers know, that such holidays not only contain possibilities of irreparable evil in themselves, but taint the preceding and succeeding months, and permanently lower the standard of national purity and sobriety. He insisted on the suppression by the State of the horse-races, the bonfires and allegorical processions, the gross carnival songs, which would have been tolerated at no other season; in the country-towns the podesta was to forbid the public dances. His enemies accused him of imposing total abstinence on Florence; a Sienese satirist has jeered at Florentine teetotalism. But this was an exaggeration, based apparently on recommendations for a short fast in time of national humiliation. Savonarola was aware that men and children cannot live without amusement, and hence the processions, the religious dances, the burning of the vanities, which have become so celebrated. Bands of urchins had been wont to stretch poles across the streets and levy black-mail upon the passers-by. The proceeds were expended on a supper, while faggots and brooms were piled around the pole, and the stack converted into a bonfire, after which the rival bands would stone each other throughout the night, leaving some dead upon the square. Savonarola stopped this disgraceful custom; the children used their poles with offertory-bags suspended to collect alms; and marched through the streets in thousands bearing crosses or olive-branches. These bands of hope were organised into a moral police. Gamblers fled at their approach; they freely tore veils, which they thought immodest, from girls' heads; no lady dared flaunt her finery in the street. They visited houses to collect materials for the great public bonfires, known as the Burning of the Vanities. This latter was no new custom; it had been a common practice with mission friars; so lately as 1493 Fra Bernardino of Feltre had made a bonfire of false hair and books against the faith. Savonarola's bonfires have become more celebrated, because they replaced the great public feasts, and the process of collection was more elaborate and inquisitorial. All the implements of gambling, false hair, indecent books and pictures, masks and amulets, scents and looking-glasses were cast into the flames. It is impossible to decide whether objects of permanent value were destroyed. Savonarola had some love for poetry and much for art; his denunciations against the realism of contemporary art referred usually to the introduction of portraiture or of nudities into sacred subjects, representations of which should be the picture-books by which to teach the young; among his devotees were several of the leading artists. On the other hand, there is a passage which urges the destruction of objects representing the pagan deities. Drawing from the life had lately been the chief novelty in the development of Florentine art; precisians could scarcely as yet accept this as a matter of course; it would not be surprising if among
Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/203
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