The Times, Character, And Political System Of Machiavelli -- By: Daniel R. Goodwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 003:9 (Feb 1846)
Article: The Times, Character, And Political System Of Machiavelli
Author: Daniel R. Goodwin

The Times, Character, And Political System Of Machiavelli1

Daniel R. Goodwin

Among the most remarkable phenomena of mediaeval history, may be reckoned the rise and fall of the Italian republics. In the course of what, for most of Europe, was the night of the dark ages, Italy, by a more rapid revolution, had its own early night; then its dawn, its noon, and its second decline; another cloud of darkness gathering over it just as the returning light was chasing away the lingering shades of barbarism from the rest of Europe. It was midnight in Italy when it was but evening in Britain and France; again it was morning in Italy when it was hardly midnight in the neighboring countries.

As early as the 13th century Italy contained an almost incredible number of separate republics—independent cities, some of which were respectively possessed of greater wealth, power and foreign influence than England, France or Spain. Their merchants were princes, the islands and coasts of the sea their possessions, the whole commercial world their tributaries. Literature and the arts also shone forth with a short but magnificent effulgence. The great poem of Dante—one name for all, was written about the year 1300, in a language which differs not so much from that now spoken in Italy, as Shakspeare’s does from the present ordinary English; while in Dante’s time the English language could hardly be said to exist.

While the great warlike and maritime republics of Venice and Genoa were under an aristocratic form of government, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Verona, Padua, Milan, Parma, Mantua and a host more, were democracies more or less pure. In the course of time, Florence subjected or subordinated to herself most of the other Tuscan republics. In her most flourishing periods her wealth was almost incredible. Her revenues were many times greater than those of the crown of England. Some idea of her population may be gathered from the fact that in the great plague of 1348, which has been immortalized by the Description and the Decameron of Boccaccio, more than 100,000 of her inhabitants died; and again, in the long mortality which prevailed from 1522 to 1527, of which Machiavelli has left an almost equally graphic description, more than 250,000 of her citizens perished; and in six months of the year 1527, there died within her walls no less than 40,000 persons. Yet she survived, and, but for other causes, might have soon recovered from the blow.

Like all the other democratic republics, Florence was subject to many violent revolutions, constantly torn by factions, often under the control of tyrants; but her liberties were not entirely ...

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