13 JANUARY 1894, Page 19

A HISTORY OF FLORENCE.* M. PEERENS is already known as

a historian of Florence, having published six volumes of its history, from the earliest times to the recall of Cosmo de Medicis from exile. To these he is now adding three further volumes, which carry on the record up to the final crushing of the liberties of the city by the imperial forces about a century later. The volume, how- ever, which is now before us only deals with what may be called the first domination of the Medici, ending with the death of Lorenzo in 1491 The author is good enough to in- troduce the present work to us with a complacent reflection on the success of the former one, which "obtained the grand prize Jean R,eynand " (translation-English) "from the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, and soon after opened the doors of the Institute to its author. In Italy it was also crowned with academical honours and honorary dis- tinctions, as may be gathered from the current criticism of the Italians. It is, to our shame, the best history of Florence known." There is a mingled geniality and confidence about this self-introduction of the author to the public, which has a peculiar charm for the sympathetic reader.

Personally, however, we are rather inclined to think that those kindly Italian critics must have been somewhat easily pleased, at least to judge from the specimen before us. It is true that M. Perrens has been abominably translated. The English version here presented to us could hardly • be worse,—indeed, we can hardly speak of it as being written in English ; it is rather in that most impossible of dialects, the language of the translator. The words employed are no doubt to be found, without an exception, in English dictionaries, but their combinations are so strange and so feeble as to convey hardly any idea to the mind. Taking an instance at random, we find the following description of Sforza :—" Strong, brave upon necessity, capable of fixed ideas, and turned to evil by interest or by hate, he inspired distrust, and forced others to reckon with him." It may be more or less Intelligible, but is it fair to the translated P In another place we hear of Diotisalvi Neroni that "twice, while he was Gonfalonier of Justice, he attempted to restore liberty. But his contemporary Nerli quite understood that this byword was then nothing but a cover of ambition." We have less objection to the young man who had "flown to Sienna "—though this was undoubtedly a remarkable feat— and to whom, when he was recaptured, the crowd cried " Scampa!" which is strangely rendered as meaning "Save yourselves !" We are not told how many selves that young man had. There was another young man, called Piero de' Bibbiena, whom Lorenzo made "his secretary-general, as we should call him." We cannot make oath that we should not have called him so, but we have certainly not the remotest. idea what we should have meant.

These are small points, no doubt, quite unworthy of notice if the translation had been made viva voce, or written down negligently by one person with little knowledge of French for the benefit of another with less ; but they become serious faults in the case of one who comes before the public as the translator of a work of importance. From such a person we are entitled to expect some knowledge of the qualities requisite for a translator, and a certain comprehension of both the French and the English languages. This deficiency is the more unfortunate in a case like the present, where we have a history of the graver—not to say the more tedious—type, which the author has tried to enliven by indulging in that

• The History of Florence, from the Domination of the Medici to the Fan of the Republic, 1434-1631. By F. T. Perrens, Sember of the Institute. Translated from the French by Hannah Lynch. London: Methnen and Co.

effervescent and frothy style which finds favour among many of his countrymen, and which certainly reads best in French.

It is usually somewhat toilsome for the dull Anglo-Saxon intellect to follow the skipping historian ambling up and down among his facts, chiefly preoccupied with the laborious effort to put a smart phrase in every sentence. This we

have found a hard thing to digest, even when presented to us in its first freshness in the wittiest of living languages,—

much harder to follow when transferred into our own more formal speech, even where the original matter and the rendering were alike good. When both are alike indifferent,

and the reader wanders hopelessly through a wilderness of pages bristling with abortive attempts at epigram, rendered yet more futile by mistranslation, the task is almost too great for human energy.

That M. Perrens is a historical scholar, deeply versed in the difficult and complicated annals of Italian mediwval history, no one can doubt; that he is a historian, the book before us does not so clearly prove. We see at every point how carefully be has got up his materials; we are willing to grant that he may possess those qualities of sound judgment and insight which go to make up the true historian ; we concede him the power to study history, to think history, even perhaps to understand history ; but in writing it we cannot hold him to excel. The want of this one needful quality has spoiled many a would-be historian already. In our time and country we have had two remarkable instances in Lord Stanhope and John Hill Burton. Both these learned men left works con- taining vast stores of historical knowledge, but each lacked that fundamental attribute of the historian, the ability to retail their knowledge to the world, and upon neither there- fore would we confer that honourable title. Yet their works are standard works, they have a place on the shelves of every library, and he who reads them shall perchance have his reward hereafter. To such a degree of immortality M. Perrens may also with sufficient reason pretend, but to no higher; for the same fatal defect we have noted appears to us to be his in a marked degree.

The history of the fifteenth century in Italy is, in its external aspect, not a lovely thing to look upon. The whole country is embroiled in a seething atmosphere of little wars and petty intrigues; every man's hand is against his brother, and every little State nourishes against its neighbours a furious rancour of jealousy such as has been rarely known in history. Venice is at feud with Milan, and Milan threatens Florence; Florence defies the Pope, who, in his turn, excommunicates the King of Naples. Next year they are all friends again, striving to cheat each other in peace and amity, till some more than usually successful coup on the part of one of the schemers puts all the others in temporary league against him. Never was such a constant changing of partners as in this little round game of treachery which Italy then kept snugly to herself, before the intervention of the more formidable gamesters from outside, France, Spain, and Austria. As a rule, the antagonists were thoroughly worthy of each other, the Pope perhaps proving as a rule the least scrupulous ; but the churchmen of this period were no models, and the best of them seldom rose to the Holy See. Regarding the manners of the Church, M. Perrens tells a very curious incident of the attempted murder of the Medici brothers in the conspiracy of the Pazzi. They were to be killed at high-mass in the cathedral, Franceschino de Pazzi and another being intended to attack Giuliano, while Lorenzo was left to the sure hand of the candot- tiere,Montesecco. But Montesecco drew back, partly because Lorenzo had shown him some kindness, but chiefly from his repugnance to commit such a crime upon holy ground. To replace him, the leaders of the conspiracy determined to select two priests, on the ground that they, being accustomed to go about their daily avocations. in the cathedral, would have no such scruples about sacrilege. The leaders were right, for two priests were readily found to take upon themselves the crime which the soldier of fortune shrank from committing. We are happy to say that they were both killed in the tumult which followed the attempt. Archbishop Salviati, whom. Lorenzo afterwards hung in his archiepiscopal robes, was present in Florence on a special mission from the Pope to superintend the assassination. The defailiii of all these wretched little netwerks of in- trigue, all the useless, trivial wars of the time, are followed out by M. Perrens with a conscientiousness that we cannot

blame, as the world seems convinced of the propriety of sweeping out these dirty back-stairs of history. The policy of the Medici is carefully and skilfully brought out. It was not over-scrupulous—whose policy was in those days P—and M. Perrens is far more bitter against it than has been usual with modern historians. "One of the fundamental principles," he tells us, "in the politics of the Medici was unceasing and unscrupulous persecution in every form and in every degree."

This is, no doubt, strong, but they were rather cruel to their enemies, a fact on which our author lays great stress; it was the fashion of the times. An enthusiast for Republican • Government, such as every Frenchman now professes to be, must censure those who took away from Florence even the semblance of liberty. It is curious to notice the progress of tyranny, from the Albizzi, who really respected the liberties of Florence now and then, through Cosmo de Medici, who respected them still in name though not in fact, to Lorenzo, who denied their even nominal existence.

For an Italian family, the Medici were singularly averse to war. Personally, they bad a strong distaste for any kind of fighting, and their invariable policy was to turn the minds of the people rather to peaceful arts and industries. Yet in foreign policy they were always strong, Lorenzo being per- haps the greatest diplomatist of his day. As M. Perrens insists, with perhaps excessive earnestness, they were merchants before everything, and, as merchants, of course they were greatly benefited by the increased prestige of Florence, which resulted chiefly from their own vigorous and adroit management of foreign affairs. Curiously enough, Cosmo, a far less eminent statesman than his grandson, was a good man of business, while Lorenzo was a bad one. The latter took as much interest in the mercantile affairs of the family, but he mismanaged them dreadfully, and repaired the disasters his bungling bad occasioned, by unscrupulously helping himself to the funds of the State. Whether Florence actually pros- pered under the Medici is doubtful. Undoubtedly she grew in outward importance, especially towards the end of Lorenzo's reign. The Medici were also, of course, liberal encouragers of the arts and letters; but this was probably as much for their own pleasure as for any public-spirited object. It is curious to notice their different manners of dealing with these as with other things. Como loves all things that show; the outward and visible signs of the art of Brunelleschi and G-hiberti, Donatello and Luca della Robbia, delight him more than any- thing. He is a great builder of libraries, but cares little if the manuscripts contained in them are genuine or not. To the company of scholars be is "but a courteous host,"—a perfect type of the serious millionaire, who can see that there is advantage to be got out of this kind of thing, but sets no real value in his mind on anything without outward show.

Lorenzo, on the other hand, comes among his scholars as a Prince unbending from his State labours. They are his real companions by choice, to whom he gladly devotes the boars that can be spared from public duties. He is a poet himself, too,—over-praised, perhaps, by flatterers, but still not con- temptible; and he chooses for a time to call these men his fellows, all the while, it is true, with a consciousness of his own ineffable superiority, but only shown in his superb graciousness, widely different—more different than the natural progress of two generations would account for—from the half-concealed sneer of the practical Cosmo. M. Perrens cleverly suggests this comparison. The fatuousness of our author's art-criticisms we have seldom seen equalled, and never surpassed. It is pleasing, however, to know that he "can still admire" Fra Angelico. If earthly criticism can still reach Fm Angelico's ears, he should be comforted by this.