Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/576

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as with so many Italians of the maturer Renaissance; but in him it was inseparable from the desire to have a new pattern of self-culture recognised.

Nor did he plead in vain. The age was ready for some new kind of intellectual activity; the subtleties of the Schoolmen's dialectic were beginning to pall, and the professional studies of the Universities were unsatisfying. Petrarch, by his great gifts and unique position, succeeded in making countless friends and patrons for humanism among those persons whose favour was indispensable to its earlier progress. For it should be remembered that humanism was not cradled in the bosom of Universities,—which, indeed, for a long while, were mostly hostile to it; nor, again, was it brought in by a sweeping movement of the popular mind. Humanism depended, in its infancy and youth, on encouragement by powerful and wealthy individuals, through whom the humanist gained a footing and an audience in this or that Italian city. Petrarch won the ear of men who became patrons of humanism. But he did more than that. He stimulated an inner circle of disciples, foremost among whom was his devoted friend and admirer, Boccaccio. When, therefore, Petrarch is designated as the "father" or "founder" of humanism, the description is correct, if rightly understood. He was, in his own person, the first brilliant humanist; he was also the first effective propagator of humanism in the world at large; and he inspired chosen pupils who continued the tradition.

In his letter To Homer, Petrarch says, "I have not been so fortunate as to learn Greek." But he had at least made some attempt to do so. Barlaam, a Calabrian by birth, who had long resided at Constantinople, came to Italy in 1339 on a mission from the Emperor Cantacuzenus. It was probably in 1342 that Petrarch began to study Greek with him. "I had thrown myself into the work," he says, "with eager hope and keen desire. But the strangeness of the foreign tongue, and the early departure of my teacher, baffled my purpose." The failure, thus shortly told, throws an instructive light on the difficulties which beset a revival of Greek. No aids to the acquisition of Greek then existed in the Latin or the Italian language. The rudiments of grammar and vocabulary could be acquired only from a Greek-speaking teacher. If the learner's aim had been merely to gain some knowledge of the Romaic spoken and written in the daily life of the Levant, tutors in plenty could have been found at Venice, or at any Italian centre of commerce. But a scholarly knowledge of ancient Greek was a rare attainment; rarer still was a scholarly acquaintance with the Greek classics. Even at Constantinople such knowledge was then possessed only by a few persons of superior education, including those who were professional students or men of letters. A Greek teacher of this class could be drawn to Italy, as a rule, only by some definite prospect of honour and emolument. The Italian revival of Greek in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was effected mainly by a small