Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/574

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two respects from any which the earlier Middle Ages could show. In the first place, the excellence of literary form exhibited by the ancient masters of Latin style now became a direct object of study and of imitation. Such portions of these authors as had been read in the period preceding the Renaissance had been valued chiefly for the facts, or sentiments, or supposed allegorical meanings, which could be drawn from them; they were, as a rule, but dimly apprehended as literature, and had very little influence on the medieval writing of Latin. The second difference was still more important. Ancient literature was now welcomed, not only as supplying standards of form, but as disclosing a new conception of life; a conception freer, larger, more rational, and more joyous, than the medieval; one which gave unfettered scope to the play of the human feelings, to the sense of beauty, and to all the activities of the intellect. Ancient Latin writers used the word humanitas to denote the civilising and refining influence of polite letters and of the liberal arts; as they also applied the epithet humanus to a character which had received that influence. The Italian scholars of the Renaissance, to whom the classical literature of antiquity was not merely a model, but a culture, and, indeed, a life, found it natural to employ a phrase not used by the ancients, and to speak of Utterae humanae or Utterae humaniores; meaning by the comparative, not "secular rather than theological," but "distinctively humane"; more so, that is, than other literature. The "humanist," a term already known to Ariosto, is the student of humane letters. A man like John of Salisbury, imbued with the loving study of good Latin classics, or even a man like Gerbert, whose genius gave almost a foretaste of the revival, was still divided by a broad and deep gulf from the Italian humanist of the age opened by Petrarch. Medieval orthodoxy would have recoiled from that view of human life, and especially from that claim of absolute liberty for the reason, which formed part of the humanist's ideal. Indeed we are continually reminded, throughout the course of the Italian Renaissance, that the new movement has medieval forces to combat or to reconcile. It is only some of the clearer and stronger spirits, in that time of transition, that thoroughly succeed in harmonising Christian teaching with a full acceptance of the New Learning.

Francesco Petrarca (1304-74),—who thus modified, for euphony's sake, his surname Petracco,—was born at Arezzo. He was nine years old when his father settled at Avignon, the seat, since 1309, of the Papacy. At Avignon Petrarch passed his boyhood,—already charmed, at school, by Cicero's periods; and there, when he was twenty-three, he saw in a church the Laura of his sonnets. The central interest of his life, from an early age, was in the classical past of Italy. He longed to see the ancient glories of Rome revived. Twice, in poetical epistles, he adjured Benedict XII to quit the "Babylon" on the Rhone for the city