Page:The Oxford book of Italian verse.djvu/14

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of Heaven and Hell; an ironical toleration of the Popes who were so often masters of all dubious arts. A more or less strict observance of the outward forms of faith existed side by side with the most hearty paganism; we find Lorenzo de' Medici, whose brilliant and useful life was certainly not limited within the bounds of the Christian conception of virtue, writing Laudi and a very good Sacra rappresentazione, and perhaps a certain spirit of indifference is manifest in the fact that religious songs were sung to airs which were usually associated with effusions of quite another character. The graver spirits of the age attempted to prove that the Pagan and Christian doctrines were essentially the same; Ficino and Pico della Mirandola discovered Moses in Plato—but the general attitude was hedonistic: a blend of the sacred thirst for learning, for speculative inquiry which was a pleasure in itself quite apart from its result as a guide to living, and an eager intention to enjoy the bel viver italiano without fear or scruple.

The centre of this bel viver was Florence, that loveliest of cities where the spirit of the Quattrocento seems chiefly to linger, in spite of the annual horde of invaders and the atrocious bric-à-brac of modern shop-windows. And the central figure of all that comely life was the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, a wise ruler, a fervent lover of all that was fine in scholarship and art, and almost a great poet. We are not concerned here with his political qualities or defects, but it may be noted that probably far too much stress has been laid by stern moralists on his alleged deliberate debauchery of the Florentines with pageants and festivities; even if the charge were true,