Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/575

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on the Tiber. In 1336, when he saw Rome for the first time, he was impressed by the contrast between the grandeur of the decaying monuments and the squalor of their medieval surroundings. Then he spent some years in his beautiful retreat at Vaucluse, near Avignon, brooding on Roman history. There he began a Latin epic, Africa, with Scipio Africanus for its hero, a poem which slowly grew under his hands, but was never completed; tame in parts, and lacking Virgilian finish, yet full of powerful and musical lines. But it was chiefly, if not wholly, his Canzoniere,—where he had reached absolute perfection within a limited sphere,—that won him the honour of being crowned with the laurel on the Capitol at Rome (1341, net. 37). Thenceforth he was recognised as the foremost man of letters in Europe. When, in May, 1347, Rienzi was proclaimed head of "the Holy Roman Republic," Petrarch hailed the "tribune" as a heaven-sent deliverer, who was to rid Italy of the "foreign tyrants," as humanism loved to style the feudal nobles. With many of these "tyrants," such as the Colonnesi and the Visconti, Petrarch lived, then and afterwards, on terms of much cordiality and reciprocal advantage. Patriotic archaeology had inspired that crazy scheme of restoring the Roman Commonwealth. But the same enthusiasm for classical antiquity made Petrarch the leader in a solid and permanent restoration of literature.

He was steeped in the life, the thoughts, and the emotions of the Latin classics. His way of using them might be contrasted with Dante's in the De Monarchia. To Petrarch they were real men, his Italian ancestors. He was the first who zealously collected Latin manuscripts, inscriptions, and coins. He was the first typical humanist in his cultivation of Latin style. And with him the imitatio veterum was never slavish. In a letter to Boccaccio he remarks that the resemblance of a modern's work to his ancient model should not be that of a portrait to the original, but rather the family likeness of child to parent. He deprecated even the smallest debts of phrase to the ancients, and was annoyed when it was pointed out to him that in one of his Eclogws he had unconsciously borrowed from Virgil the words atque intonat ore. The Latin letters which he poured out so abundantly were in large part finished essays, in a style founded mainly on Seneca and St Augustine, but tinged (especially in his later period) by Cicero. In them he was ever pleading, directly or indirectly, the cause of humanism. An orthodox Churchman, a student of the Vulgate and of the Fathers, he had nothing in common with the neopaganism of some later men. He advocated the study of the classics as the key to a larger mental life, not contrary to the Christian, but ancillary to it; one which should educate and exercise men's highest faculties. In all subjects he was adverse to pedantic and narrowing methods. If his egotism was absorbing, it was the reflex of a passion for self-culture; here he had a kinship with Goethe. The desire of fame was a ruling motive with him,