Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/580

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utility thus conspired with patriotic sentiment and with the zeal of scholarship. But it was not easy to lift Latin to a higher level, while the medieval form of it was still current in the learned professions, in the offices of the Church, and in ordinary correspondence. Letter-writing was the department of Latin composition to which the humanists naturally and properly gave their first attention. It was in this that Petrarch had especially shown his power. His younger contemporary, Coluccio de1 Salutati, who became Chancellor of Florence in 1375, set the example of writing classical and elegant Latin in public documents. The higher standard of official and diplomatic Latinity which he introduced had the effect of opening employment to professional scholars in many chanceries and Courts of Italy. A close study of Cicero's Letters, with a view to correctness and fluency in Latin correspondence, won a reputation for Gasparino da Barzizza, who, on the invitation of Filippo Maria Visconti, opened a school at Milan in 1418.

Latin epistolography was now cultivated as a special branch of literature. The letters exchanged between eminent scholars were, as a rule, private only in form, being vehicles for the display of style, wit, and learning. They were usually intended, if not for publication in the modern sense, at least for a large circulation. The range of topics was conventionally restricted by a pervading desire to write somewhat as Cicero might have written to Atticus. Notices of books and manuscripts, literary criticism, introductions or recommendations of friends, requests and commissions^ thanks, compliments, occasional glimpses into the writer's daily occupations, form the staple of such epistles. There is seldom any reference to contemporary politics, to questions of theology, or to any modern subjects which could not be handled without breaking the classical illusion. Sometimes, indeed, eminent scholars addressed theological or political pamphlets, in choice Latin, to princes or prelates; but such efforts lay outside the ordinary province of humanistic letter-writing. Nor were really private matters often confided to these Latin letters. "I always write in the vulgar tongue (alia grossoland)," says Filelfo, "those things which I do not wish to be copied." Nevertheless, the Latin letter-writing of the Renaissance has the interest of exhibiting with great distinctness the characters of the writers and their friends. It has also a larger claim on our gratitude. It was an exercise, sufficiently pleasurable to be widely used, by which successive generations of lettered men gradually rose to the conception of a style which should be correct, fluent, and easy. In the darker ages the model of a good prose had been lost. The Italian letter-writers of the Renaissance, the imitators of Cicero, were labouring to restore it. They achieved their object; and the achievement bore fruit, not merely in Latin, but afterwards in the modern languages of Europe.

It was to be expected that, as the cultivation of Latin style progressed, the imitation of the ancient models should become more