Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/204

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the indecencies were included scientific studies from the nude; two of Savonarola's artistic followers, Bartolommeo della Porta and Lorenzo di Credi, had, as is known, devoted themselves to the new study, and yet the examples that survive are extremely rare. In literature Burlamacchi, the Friar's biographer, speaks with delight of the destruction of Pulci and Boccaccio; and this sacrifice Savonarola's own sermons might lead us to think possible. The idea of the dances was perhaps derived from the well-known pictures of the Dominican artist, Fra Angelico. Three rings of dancers, novices with boys, young friars with young laymen, priests with aged citizens, tripped it round the square with garlands on their heads. Folly, Savonarola preached, had its proper seasons; had not David danced before the ark? There was in this some fantastic exaggeration which did the cause of righteousness no good; all Italy laughed, and this was a pity, for the Florentines were of all Italians the most sensitive; they were too clever to bear ridicule.

No one has questioned the moral transformation wrought by Savonarola. For many, no doubt, it was the beginning of a new life; many resisted the disillusion caused by the tragic circumstances of his end. Nevertheless in a city, where individual liberty was highly prized, the methods of transformation were not always welcome. Street urchins are no trained judges as to what luxuries are meet food for flames; it is not surprising that young bloods jostled the boys in their processions, and threw their crosses into the river. The savage penalties proposed for gambling affected a large proportion of the citizens; the very suggestion that slaves, who turned informers, should be liberated by the State, disturbed the peace of many a fairly decent household. All satirists and reformers believe that their own is an age of decadence, that luxury and vice are the mushroom growth of their own short day. Had Savonarola read his Dante, he would have found his own invectives applied to the golden age of Florence. The effective scene-painting of sin had been the task of generations of mission-friars. But in Savonarola's character there had been from childhood an element that was at once morbid and quixotic. His early isolation from his fellows, his vivid imagination, his premature and phenomenal horror of sin, his knowledge of the world through the confessional, all caused him to exaggerate the wickedness of his time. There was, moreover, in the religious exaltation of Florence an element of hysteria. The oft-repeated statement, that Savonarola broke up families by encouraging married women to enter nunneries, rests upon a single passage in a Mantuan ambassador's report, which has been strangely misunderstood. But it would seem true that women would rush at night to the Cathedral to struggle with the Friar's opponents, and that they saw in him the true light that was to come into the world. At the convent of Santa Lucia there was an epidemic of religious mania among nuns of good family; even Savonarola on his trial laughed at the memory of one who snatched away his crucifix and