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expedition against Sicily, and undertook, at the request of the pope, to act as mediator in Tuscany. His mediation was but a license to the Neri, the more violent of the parties, to commit every excess.
The houses of the moderate party were pillaged and burnt,--themselves butchered, or sent into exile. Among those who incurred the latter penalty, was Dante," the great poet-sire of Italy,”—who was sentenced, by partisan fury, to perish by the flames, should he be again found in the territory of Florence.
Wearied out, at length, with the tyranny of contending factions, the Florentines submitted, with willingness, to the yoke of a single master. They gave the supreme government of their city to Walter de Brienne, duke of Athens, a native of Greece, but of French descent. Happily, however, for Italy, this man's tyranny was too atrocious to be lasting. He had made arrangements for the murder of three hundred distinguished Florentines, at a banquet, but the plan was detected, and the intended victims were ready. The historian says:
“In each of the massive palaces of Florence, the citizens were silently assembling. They arrived one by one, without noise, and unperceived. The cavalry of the duke filled the street, where every body seemed occupied only with their own affairs. No agitation, no apparent confusion, announced any explosion ; when, suddenly, the cry "To arms !' burst from the old market place, and was reëchoed to the gates of St. Peter's. Instantly, from every window, from the roofs of all the houses, fell a shower of stones and tiles, previously made ready, on the heads of the duke's cavalry ; every palace opened, and poured forth armed men, who threw chains across the streets, and made barricades. The cry of Popolo ! popolo ! libertà ! resounded from one extremity of Florence to the other." The foreign tyrant was expelled from the trust he had so grossly betrayed, before the termination of the first year.
The event, which has just been related, occurred about one hundred and eighty years after the first achievement of Italian independence, in the days of Frederick Barbarossa ; and, for nearly a hundred years after the expulsion of the duke of Athens, Florence enjoyed a state of liberty and glory, less disturbed by contending factions, within her walls, than in the previous portion of her history. We pass over this period, to speak of the rise of that family, which, after completing the subjugation of their native state, occupied a position of no small importance, for centuries, in the politics of Europe,--the family of the Medici.
The foundation of the power of the Medici was their immense wealth. Italy, at the period of which we speak,—the middle of the fifteenth century,--possessed the commerce of the world. Cosmo di Medici was the wealthiest of her princely merchants, and his immense revenues were employed with princely munificence. Learning and the arts received from him the most liberal patronage; and never was there an age, in which patronage thus bestowed could do more to acquire public favor for its dispenser; for the world had, at length, awakened from its slumber of ages. The revival of letters was no longer, at least in Italy, in its incipient state. The treasures of ancient eloquence, poetry and philosophy, had attracted the eager attention of her people, and they had engaged, with characteristic enthusiasm, in the pursuit
. Cosmo di Medici granted pensions to artists and learned men; he collected ancient manuscripts, at great expense, and procured them to be copied and translated. His hand, too, was ever open to the relief of his fellow citizens; and he possessed an advantage for the acquisition of popularity, in having been treated with injustice by his predecessors in power. On such foundations rose the dominion of the Medici, in Florence, a dominion not sanctioned, for several generations, by any ostensible rank. Cosmo, and his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, were neither dukes nor princes; they were, in nominal rank, only the wealthiest merchants of their native city; and the forms of a republican government were still retained; but their word was law in Florence; they determined upon peace and war; their fellow citizens courted their favor, or trembled at their power, and neighboring and foreign states sought their alliance. The memory of this illustrious house is adorned by the glory of much true greatness and distinguished virtue,-enough, as it has proved, to dazzle the vision even of a true friend of liberty. Roscoe, in his lives of Lorenzo de' Medici, and of his son Leo X., has given two of the most interesting and valuable historical biographies that have ever been written; but his partiality for the Medici, as the friends of learning and the arts, has disposed him to keep out of sight, as far as possible, the unquestionable fact, that they subverted the liberties of their country.
It may be said, that Florence was ripe for subjugation that the spirit of freedom was extinct in Italy,—that the Medici scarcely did more than assume the control which was voluntarily tendered to them; but to us, who have been educated in the school of Washington, it must ever remain a stain upon their otherwise lofty fame,--that, under their sway, Florence forgot that she was a republic.
The liberty of Milan had fallen, long before. The family of Visconti had, partly by their influence among the people, partly by force, established themselves as sovereigns of that noble city, and their title, as dukes of Milan, had been confirmed by the German emperors. The fate of the greater part of the republics had been similar; but Milan claims peculiar notice, not only from its superior power, and the noble stand it had made against usurpation, in former days, but from the important consequences which resulted, through its means, to the peace of Italy, after the extinction of the Visconti family. Several princes, of that name, reigned in succession. At length, the male line became extinct; an attempt was made, with temporary success, to restore the republic; but Francesco Sforza, who had, by marriage, a connection with the Visconti, afterwards gained command of the state. A nearer right,-if any right could be derived from a line of usurpers and tyrants, right, to speak according to the views of that age, had become vested in a line of French princes, by the marriage of the duke of Orleans with the sister of the last Visconti. The royal family of France had inherited, also, the claims, of the house of Anjou, upon the kingdom of Naples. Thus furnished with a double cause of interest, the French monarchs soon undertook the invasion of Italy. Italy, still wealthy, offered a tempting prize; and no longer free, no longer united, even by the slight bonds which had formerly existed, her power to resist foreign encroachment was gone. At length the German was called in to resist the Frank; but the ally was scarcely less rapacious, than the foe to whom he was opposed ; and Italy, at variance within herself, oppressed by domestic tyrants, and pillaged by foreign princes; her fields the seat of long-continued war between the two great empires of the age, saw herself, in the language of her own poet, while defending her rights by foreign hands,
“Conquering, or conquered, evermore a slave !"
a nearer It was
The lessons afforded to future republics, by the history of those of Italy, are too obvious to need lengthened illustration. Those lessons are, the necessity of union, and of watchfulness over those entrusted with the interests of the state; the ruinous effects of party spirit; the dangers of unbounded prosperity, and of the accumulation of wealth and power, in the hands of the few. We find, in the ages of freedom which Italy enjoyed, the source of that rapid advancement, in civilization and the arts, by which she was so early, and so gloriously distinguished, and of that spirit of enterprize which sent her commerce into every sea of the world then known, and impelled her adventurous sons to spread their sails for shores beyond the Atlantic. while liberty was taking her last flight from Italia's shores, that the Genoese, Columbus, found for her a future home, and the Florentine, Vespucius, gave to it the name, America.
And here, while in the possession of that precious gift, conferred on us more richly than it has ever yet been enjoyed, we meditate on the fall of free states, in former times, it may be, indeed, with interest, to learn what instruction we can derive from their experience, and, with deep sympathy in their sufferings, their struggles, and their final overthrow. But, these feelings must be blended with grateful joy, as we perceive the advantages which we possess, and contemplate the majestic structure of our own Constitution,-not like the league of Lombardy, the result of a brief necessity, and lasting but while that necessity continued ; but, bearing in every portion, the evidence that it is built to endure for ages. From nearly all the evils which threatened, and at length terminated, the existence of Italian freedom, we are secured, by our acknowledged independence of any foreign sway, by our remoteness from foreign power, by the extent of our territory, and the representative form of our government. In our extended republics, and, guarded as we are, against the existence of hereditary privileged classes, individual wealth and influence cannot acquire the same ascendancy, as in the insulated cities of Italy; while, instead of each state looking on, in cold indifference, upon the sufferings experienced by its fellows, or the usurpations exercised over them, our great confederacy provides for the defence, and guarantees the freedom of all. Still, some of those causes, which ruined Italy, may exist among us. Let us guard
against the corruption of luxury; let us guard against the corruption of party spirit. Let us feel, that the sacred pledge of liberty, entrusted to us, rendered precious, as it is, by the great deeds of former ages and distant lands, and yet more precious, by the sufferings and the virtues of our own heroes and sages, deserves, and requires of us, not only that we should be ready to shed our blood in its defence, but that we should prove, by wisdom, by temperance, by public spirit, by every manly and every christian virtue, our worthiness to bear the name of American freemen.
ART. V.-Letters from Abroad, to Kindred at Home, by
Miss Sedgwick; in 2 vols. Harper & Brothers, N. Y.
These letters have now been several months before the public, and have been so generally read, and freely commented upon, that it would be a work of supererogation, to enter fully into a criticism of them here. Yet, as one of the most widely circulated works that appeared during the past year, we cannot omit some notice of them.
The just reputation, which Miss Sedgwick had acquired, by her previous writings, and which has made her name so generally and approvingly known, not only in her own country, but in England, excited the curiosity of the public, to peruse her record of her thoughts and sensations, on treading the soil of the old world, with its rich store of classic and historic associations. Here she appeared not as the erudite recluse, just emerged from his closet, his mind only imbued with the lore of Greece and Rome,-nor as the unenlightened, unphilosophic youth, who steals a few months from his counting-room, or office, to take a flying journey, of three months, over scenes which could not be viewed in years, nor understood in half a life time, and who hastens home, to give his crude and unmatured judgments to his countrymen.
Miss Sedgwick possesses a well-informed mind, and her reading has awakened her curiosity, and stimulated her desire to use her perceptive faculties, and to behold those things of which she had heard and read so much. Those who know, from experience, what it is to be enVOL. I.-NO. 1.