Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/43

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facts that of a miser for his gold, of a savage for shiny, many-colored beads?

A fact is a delightful, wholesome thing. To the everlasting credit of the Renaissance men they appreciated its value, and worked hard to acquire it, thus grappling with reality. No longer would they merely scan the surface of things; they would pierce, as Dante said, to the very marrow with the eyes of the mind. Two or more centuries later than Dante, Machiavelli complained that his contemporaries loved antiquity, but failed to profit by the lessons which are implicit in its history. But Machiavelli was not entirely just. The Renaissance men were tender gardeners, and in their loving care every fact, every theory, every suggestion burgeoned, flowered, and bore fruit.

Some of them, it is true, recognized limitations to the versatility characteristic of the spirit of the age. Pier Paolo Vergerio, after reviewing the principal branches of study, states that a liberal education does not presuppose acquaintance with them all; "for a thorough mastery of even one of them might fairly be the achievement of a lifetime. Most of us, too, must learn to be content with modest capacity as with modest fortune. Perhaps we do wisely to pursue that study which we find most suited to our intelligence and our tastes, though it is true we cannot rightly understand one subject unless we can perceive its relation to the rest." These words might well have been written to-day. Very probably they were equally apposite in the Renaissance; yet they seem cautious, almost over-timorous, in a period when so many men were not only accomplished scholars, authors of repute, capable public servants or statesmen, connoisseurs of the fine arts, painters, sculptors, and architects themselves. There seems to have been nothing that they could not do if they wished.


Every interest was turned to account. In their pursuit of perfection they required an ampler environment. The age of the Renaissance is the age of the great discoveries, of Diaz, Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Vespucci, the Cabots, Magellan, Francis Drake,[1]

  1. For the narratives of these explorers see H. C., xliii, 2 iff., xxxiii, 129 ff.